May 14, 2014

14 May2014 Shona

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate Helping the Health Service Priceless

Knock wall down upstairs, Shona, Tracy

Scrabbletoday, Mary wins just by a few pointsperhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


Professor Howard Erskine-Hill – obituary

Professor Howard Erskine-Hill was a literary scholar who championed Pope but derided Jacques Derrida and examined the notion of ‘the ideal republic’

Professor Howard Erskine-Hill, English Literature, Cambridge University

Professor Howard Erskine-Hill

6:57PM BST 13 May 2014


Professor Howard Erskine-Hill, who has died aged 77, was a literary scholar who during his three decades at Cambridge revolutionised the critical approach to Alexander Pope ; in 1992 he led a campaign against the university’s decision to award an honorary degree to the bafflingly complex philosopher Jacques Derrida.

Erskine-Hill wrote his thesis at Nottingham University on “Tradition and Affinity” in the work of Pope, and the poet would remain the cornerstone of his work. From 1960 to 1969 he taught at Swansea, thereafter moving to Jesus College, Cambridge. There he published his first book, The Social Milieu of Alexander Pope (1975), which redefined the relationship between the poetry and its historical context.

Starting from the observation that “a literary artist, like any other man, lives in a shared world,” Erskine-Hill described six historical figures either featured in Pope’s work or whom the poet knew well; he analyses Pope’s work in the light of that knowledge, unlocking the allusive poetry with rigorous clarity. The book received glowing reviews.

His other major work was The Augustan Idea in English Literature (1983), published three years after he had moved from Jesus to Pembroke College, and two years before he was elected a fellow of the British Academy. The Augustan Idea explores how writers from Shakespeare and Jonson to Dryden and Pope used the model of the Emperor Augustus to laud or criticise the political establishment. In opposition to scholars such as Howard Weinbrot, Erskine-Hill mounted a qualified defence of the notion that Augustus was viewed by some poets as presiding over an ideal republic.

Though widely praised, The Augustan Idea received a hostile review from Frank Kermode, a former colleague. Kermode was irritated by a passage in the introduction affirming the author’s commitment to “the principle of truth”, as against “subjective myth in the guise of criticism”. This was a direct attack on the new critical approaches Kermode had encouraged while at Cambridge.

This war of theory then became as vicious as anything from Swift’s time when, in 1992, Cambridge proposed Derrida for an honorary degree. Such was the opposition that the decision was, highly unusually, put to a ballot. Erskine-Hill argued that Derrida’s scepticism about truth undermined the basis of scholarship. Somewhat dramatically, he claimed the award would be “symbolic suicide”. In the end Derrida got his degree by 336 to 204 votes.

Howard Henry Erskine-Hill was born in Wakefield on June 19 1936. He attended Ashville College in Harrogate, a Methodist boarding school. His parents’ marriage broke down during the war and his father Henry, a Scottish architect, started a family with another woman. This abandonment had a profound effect on Erskine-Hill’s attitude to personal relationships: he would remain studiedly single all his life.

After the divorce he became deeply protective of his mother. While at Nottingham, he dipped into his student grant and sent her 10 shillings a week, a considerable sum. She moved in with him in Cambridge, and they lived together until her death in 1991.

In 1994 Erskine-Hill was appointed Professor of Literary History, a position he held until his retirement in 2003. He published a highly regarded student’s guide to Gulliver’s Travels in 1993, and in 1996 produced two books on English poetry and politics ranging from Shakespeare to Wordsworth.

In later life he got to know his father’s two children from his second marriage. He grew especially close to Diane, his deaf half-sister, with whom he went on walking holidays to Scotland to see the buildings their father had designed. She died last November, at around the same time his health began to deteriorate.

As a student Erskine-Hill was a Left-wing atheist. But during his teaching career at Cambridge he moved to the Right and, in his last years, his antipathy to the EU led him to embrace UKIP. His support for Amnesty International, though, remained consistent until his death. As his politics changed so did his religious beliefs. He started slipping into Evensong at Pembroke Chapel and rediscovered his faith. When the Church of England began ordaining women in 1994 he became – like his hero Pope – a Roman Catholic. He wrote religious poetry and went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He loved singing plainchant and preferred the Latin Mass.

He also became a passionate Jacobite, and collected prints, coins and medals related to the cause. He threw merry suppers where he sang “When the King Comes Home in Peace Again”, and observed the Feast of Charles, King and Martyr, on January 30. While some thought this a harmless eccentricity, others felt his work on the 18th-century was compromised by his bias. In any case, he expressed himself reconciled to the Queen.

He could be an intimidating admissions interviewer. One student who boasted about his knowledge of Pope was, in his own words, “skewered and toasted like a marshmallow”; another was pulled up for winging a discussion of Gulliver’s Travels having only read the famous bits. Yet many of these students were grateful for Erskine-Hill’s stringency and grew protectively fond of him.

Walking through college he greeted students with a shy smile and stiff salute. In supervisions, however, Erskine-Hill quickly relaxed once the sherry was passed round – and there was always plenty of sherry. Upon graduation he sent each student a hand-written congratulatory letter. Though never one for acolytes, he proudly showed off a shelf of books written by his former students. In 2008 two of them, Richard McCabe and David Womersley, edited a Festschrift in his honour entitled Literary Milieux.

His retirement project was a biography of Pope. The book was much delayed due to ill health and an unwillingness to use computers. However the typescript is all but complete and will be published posthumously. It will likely to crown a career that aimed to live up to Pope’s ideal as described in An Essay on Criticism: “The generous critic fanned the poet’s fire, / And taught the world with reason to admire.”

Professor Howard Erskine-Hill, born June 19 1936, died February 26 2014


As schools officer for Granada Television in 1962, I remember Antony Hopkins being involved in the series The Art of Music. Schoolchildren with him in the studio in Manchester composed tunes, and he improvised on them on the piano. Eventually he orchestrated them so that the Hallé Orchestra could play the finished result in front of the children. The 13 programmes were broadcast across the ITV network and were considered to be a great success.

Polly Toynbee is right that profiteering from residential childcare is at the extreme end of outsourcing (Now troubled children are an investment opportunity, 13 May). It is also the at sharp end of social inequalities.

Proportionately, 12 times more children in the most disadvantaged 10% of small neighbourhoods are being looked after in care than in the most advantaged 10%. As social inequality in childhood is predicted to grow, this gap will grow also. Inequalities in child safeguarding interventions are not just about parenting skills, just as health inequalities are not just about lifestyle choices. Care-home profits reflect the human casualties of an unequal society.
Paul Bywaters
Professor of social work, Coventry University

• I am sure I cannot be the only one who contrasted Norman Lamb’s response to the exposure of abuse in an Essex residential care home – when he suggested greater use of CCTV monitoring – with that of Steve Mort, head of Corpus Christi Catholic college in Leeds, where the fatal stabbing of Ann Maguire occurred, who rejected calls for metal detectors in schools (Report, 29 April).

Lamb, the minister for care and support, stressed there were risks in relying solely upon CCTV to guard against abuses. He said relying on this measure to develop a good culture and compassionate care could fail completely.

Nevertheless, the emphasis upon either surveillance or trust-based approaches is significant. Strategies based on surveillance reinforce unhelpful power differentials and are often applied when trust has not been established or has broken down. Safe and compassionate spaces need to be co-created with mutual respect and cooperation (Steve Onyet, among others, has written and spoken about this.) Psychologically healthy environments help people to become and give the best they can. We have a choice.
Gillian Bowden
Clinical psychologist, Norfolk

Aneurin Bevan, the health minister, visits Park hospital, Davyhulme, Manchester, for the official launch of the NHS in June 1948. Photograph: PA

Dr Nick Hayes writes in praise of the voluntary system that helped to support many of the large acute hospitals providing care in the period before the introduction of the NHS (Letters, 9 May). He suggests that “a weekly contribution of 2d or 3d per week” would provide patients with the cover they needed for treatment in the voluntary hospital. Having worked as a house surgeon in two such hospitals before July 1948, I found things very different. First, the weekly contributions were nearer 5 shillings and, second, the lady almoner’s department was the rigorous gatekeeper, guarding access to the system. Patients were means-tested to make sure that they qualified for hospital treatment and were constantly being approached, or even badgered, to see if they could, or would, pay more.

Dr Hayes admits that care for the old, the chronic sick and mentally ill patients was patchy; in many such hospitals, it was virtually nonexistent. He also says that contemporary surveys and polls indicated that the majority of the population were largely satisfied with this system, and this is undoubtedly true, but there is presently a wealth of evidence to indicate that people are just as satisfied with the service provided by the NHS, and probably more so. From my experience of the United States and many parts of Europe, they are largely correct in this belief.
Keith Anderson

• I was born in the 1920s and am old enough to remember the health provision before the days of the NHS. It was minimal for panel patients, and the medication availablefor most ailments was a bottle of the “mixture” or the “liniment” in a clear blue, brown or green bottle, depending on the problem. It was made up at the surgery by the doctor or an employee from a row of unchanging bottles and jars on the doctor’s shelves. They did their best but were totally restricted by lack of funds.Of course it could be covered by a few pence a week and charity, but the expectation of life for the poorest was much modified as a result.

The NHS was a wonderful thing because it belonged to us. It was not cold as charity but was a national insurance-based organisation. We all paid for it from our earnings when we were young, working and fit, and we could all count on it when we needed it.

If the funding is removed from this and drawn from income tax, it can be avoided by the rich, along with so many other taxes. Money for health will be viewed as charity that should only go to the deserving poor.

There should be no ceiling on national insurance payments; they should be deducted at source from all salaries, and the money should be kept for a purpose separate from income tax. If more is needed, the charge should be increased and paid by everyone in proportion to their pay.

The reason the wealthy who govern us want to privatise everything is so they can reduce the service to the poor and buy the best for themselves as happens in the US.
Deirdre Davey

• I was born in 1936. My father had been unemployed for seven years, and my mother needed a caesarian section. My father was called to see the almoner and asked if he could afford to pay the fee. Obviously, he could not so had to approach his father to borrow the money – humiliating for a man aged 37. Fortunately, his father stumped up; I might not be here today had he not. I still have the invoice “for maternity services” in the sum of 2.5 guineas.
Margaret Gooch

Henry McDonald (Labour rejects Peter Hain’s call for Troubles amnesty,, 12 May) must know, or might have checked with me, that I have never supported an amnesty, let alone a “blanket” one for Troubles-related crimes. Labour‘s shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Ivan Lewis heard me reject an amnesty on the record in parliament. As the former secretary of state for Northern Ireland who helped negotiate the historic 2007 settlement, I believe it is no answer to pursue prosecutions for Troubles-related crimes, especially when in 90% of these cases going back 40 years or more, the evidence cannot be retrieved. That means victims need redress and justice in another way, as suggested by the 2009 Eames-Bradley and 2013 Richard Haass reports, joined by Northern Ireland’s attorney general John Larkin. Northern Ireland’s politicians need to have the courage to agree a new approach and move on from the past of horror and evil.
Peter Hain MP
Labour, Neath

Your columns regularly call for Labour to produce a manifesto, or at least some statements of intent. If Mr Miliband glanced at your readers’ letters, he would find excellent material for a programme of reform: increasing inequality of wealth and its consequences (7 and 8 May); the case against zero-hours contracts (12 May); the case for rent controls (7 May); the case for local authority management of schools (6 May); the case for public ownership – of railways (6 May), of the NHS (9 May), of the Land Registry (8 May). All this within a week.
Jim Dening
Ledbury, Herefordshire

• I’m always impressed by the incisive quality of many of your letters. So often I think to myself something like “Yes, that’s what should be done” and I make a mental note to add it to my own wishlist. With the general election coming up, wouldn’t it be good to collect all your readers’ brilliant ideas, put them on your website and ask people to vote on them so we can end up with a Guardian readers’ manifesto?
Peter Hanson

• The prime minister doesn’t think Gary Barlow should be deprived of his OBE “because of his charity work” (Report, 13 May). Maybe if Mr Barlow and the hundreds like him paid their full taxes there wouldn’t be a need for so much charity.
BJ Cairns

• Thank you, Mark Cocker (Country diary, 12 May), for highlighting the insect/pesticide issue. Every year I wait in trepidation for the arrival of the swifts who nest under our eaves and every year there seem to be fewer. They are the most wonderous, joyful creatures and they lift my heart as they scream overhead. If this world is going to survive, my grandchildren must be able to sit, as I am doing now, and watch the swifts over the river.
Margaret Hunt

• My husband is over 70 and many of our closet friends are homosexual (Most over-70s uncomfortable about gay people – Farage, 12 May).
Spencer Butler
Bridport, Dorset

• If Scotland votes yes and Farage persuades the rest of the UK to vote no in 2017, could we be faced in 2022 with the first Labour prime minister of Scotland seeking a referendum to rejoin the UK and thereby leave the EU?
John Kinder

Jealous of the US? Is John Graham kidding (Reply, 2 May)? I am a US citizen living in the US, and I would love to move to Europe.

What is to be jealous of here? We have one of the most unequal societies in the world; our healthcare is the most expensive and one the most inefficient in the world; the quality of our education is on a par with third-world countries as Republicans continue to eviscerate it through lack of funding.

We have no regulations on Wall Street; the US is one of the most corrupt countries, with legalised bribery ubiquitous; racism is rampant; guns sales are unregulated and are rapidly increasing (one can even purchase machine guns and hand grenades!).

We have a president who undercuts jobs and wages by making corporate trade deals; the internet is on the verge of losing its neutrality; whistleblowers are sent to prison and the media is controlled by corporations; our infrastructure is a disaster, again, through Republican efforts to block any funding; and the president talks about addressing climate change while encouraging the development of fossil fuels.

Who would want to live here?
Thomas Hohn
Ithaca, New York, US

Blair shows his ignorance

I would have passed over Tony Blair’s call for jihad against Islamic extremism as nonsense, but Patrick Wintour gives it a semblance of authority (2 May). In what you call his “keynote speech … Blair urged a wilfully blind west to realise it must take sides and if necessary make common cause with Russia and China to counter the Islamic extremism that lies at the root of all failures of western intervention”.

In echoing this rubbish, you help turn truth on its head: the rise and spread of Islamic extremism was the product of western intervention. We armed and fostered the Taliban in Afghanistan as once we armed Saudi bigots in Arabia,and blocked popular nationalism in Iran.

Wherever the west has most vigorously intervened in Muslim countries, the dragons teeth of Islamic insurgency have taken root.

What Blair ignores is the unfinished history of enlightenment in Europe and the west. Such secular democracy and religious tolerance as we now enjoy was not achieved by foreign, let alone military, intervention, but by often bloody argument among ourselves.
Greg Wilkinson
Swansea, UK

Scottish independence

Re: the view from England on independence for Scotland (2 May). Scotland will not separate for certain obvious reasons. First, as a part of the UK, a Scot living in Scotland can become the prime minister of Britain, but an Englishman living in England cannot become the first minister of Scotland.

Second, as an independent state, Scotland will be obliged to have its own army, navy and air force and its own embassies abroad. This will cause heavy financial strain.

Third, the breakup of the UK will make both England and Scotland less attractive for foreign investors. For these obvious reasons, I think the voters in Scotland will reject separation out of hand.

Recently, voters in French-speaking Quebec in Canada rejected the separatist Parti Québécois and elected the federalist Liberal party, despite the fact that the francophones have genuine concerns about the future of the French-language and culture in an overwhelmingly English-speaking continent. Most francophones have come to realise that they can protect their French language and culture without separating from Canada. The same applies to Scotland.
Mahmood Elahi
Ottawa, Canada

Worshipping capitalism

A thank you to Guardian Weekly for following up on the aftermath and compensation (or lack thereof) for the victims of the Rana Plaza disaster (2 May).

The Communist Manifesto had it right: “The cheap prices of [the bourgeoisie's] commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls” (for production as well as for consumption). Capitalism and immiseration go hand in hand.

As long as the Moloch of capitalism is worshipped, fresh sacrifices will be required. Will the sweat shops of the 22nd century continue in Lagos? Hanoi? Offshore?
R M Fransson
Denver, Colorado, US

Devon was its own world

Beyond the Cornish pasty by Michael Morpurgo evoked many memories (2 May). I grew up in a north Devon village on the coast with Lundy Island in full view. Cornwall was a foreign country. They even put their jam and cream on a cutround in opposite sequence.

Broad Devonian was a language with its own complexities. Before the second world war most Devonians seldom ventured away from their villages and spoke in dialect. Outsiders were completely bewildered trying to translate the ordinary conversation.

Children of my generation were the first to learn normal English. Radio – the BBC – was a teacher of the universal national language. Come the war there was a vast upheaval. The Devonians learnt to cope with Scots and Scousers, Cockney and Geordie, and many more.

To add to the melting pot, vast numbers of Americans came from 1942 to 1944. And the airfield nearby was home to a mix of pilots and ground crew from Poland, Belgium and Czechoslovakia. The place that prime minister Neville Chamberlain described as “a far away country” was one whose people we knew little about.

By comparison, Cornwall was not subjected to the influences of a myriad of “vurriners” talking their own brand of English. No wonder the Devonian dialect is now the province of a select few linguistic specialists.
Tony Fletcher
Mandurah, Western Australia

• Michael Morpurgo states: “The trouble for Devon, when it comes to identity, is maybe that we are not far-flung enough” and cites Thomas Hardy’s “old association” of people and landscape.

Well, I lived in Lulworth and Max Gate, Dorchester, for 20 years and travelled the county studying Hardy’s works and places, and am convinced Dorset has no problem with a sense of identity.
Edward Black
Pauanui, New Zealand

Proofreading is essential

I bet Hadley Freeman had someone glance through her piece, just in case; she’d never live it down (9 May)! It’s impossible to proof-read our own stuff, try as we may. The most eagle-eyed writer drops random howlers to the delight of the smug.

How right she is. Grammar, like spelling, is now a discipline, refined and defined by its universality, no longer an arbitrary Elizabethan freestyle. We can’t all be proficient, but we should and can be readable, by sharing the manuscript with others, humbly, for correction and advice, before publication, or emailing the desired one. Anger and excuses are childish.

Have pity and good-humoured forbearance, though, on those bright, intelligent, interesting but dyslexic ones who write with the wild abandon of a dropped tray of martinis.
Andy Jenner
Nudgee, Queensland, Australia

Words are very important …

As George Orwell famously said: “Words are important.” The rationale for selling the personal data of British citizens is contained in one word: “customers” (25 April). HMRC thinks citizens and taxpayers are “customers”. That sort of thinking transforms citizens into commodities that can now be legitimately used to create another income stream for a particular business.

It is all part of a regrettable trend to use the language of private enterprise as though it were entirely applicable to government activity. We’ve certainly seen this phenomenon in Canada, and it appears that we are not alone in our folly.
Peter Kagis
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

… And so are captions

Accompanying Chris Brown’s review of You Are Here (2 May), is an image that is labelled, “No place to hide … a vintage compass on an ancient world map”.

The compass may be vintage, but even that may be cast into suspicion by the fact that what you depict is not an “ancient world map” but a detail of a late 18th or early 19th century chart of the area just to the west of Vinyardhaven, Maine. I spent much of my youth sailing the waters of surrounding Hurricane Island and Greene’s Island (as it is now known).

This sort of careless captioning of an image supposedly representative of the article casts the entire pairing of images in the Guardian Weekly into an uncomfortable light. Image department, take note!
Anthony H O’Malley
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada


• I thought the whole point of drones is that they are pilot-less (Shortcuts, 9 May). Has nobody else noticed the absurdity of a “pilot project” for drones?
Ted Webber
Buderim, Queensland, Australia

• I am amazed at the naivety of Steven Kleinman in not understanding the CIA’s James Mitchell’s continuing support of torture (25 April). Samuel Johnson summed up Mitchell’s attitude in 1775: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
Jim Burns
Jesmond, NSW, Australia


Nigel Farage complains that while he is willing to engage in argument, his opponents are engaging in orchestrated violence against him. As someone who was manhandled out of the Ukip public meeting in central London last Wednesday after heckling one of the speakers, I take issue with this.

Since there was apparently no room for discussion from the floor, how else could a challenge to Ukip’s toxic, scapegoating views be made? Heckling is a long-established democratic tradition and to equate it with violence is ludicrous.

Nigel Farage and Ukip talk a lot about free speech. They certainly receive more than their fair share of it. They have received remarkable levels of media coverage.

In reality, what Farage and Ukip object to is being challenged over their views at all. They expect a free ride and wish to intimidate their opponents. We won’t shut up.

Mark L Thomas, Stand Up To Ukip, London N16 

It would be all very well for Aidan Harrison to berate Ukip for its irrationality (letter, 10 May) if he also berated the main political parties for the same.

A significant section of the Conservative Party shares Ukip’s denial of climate science, and the complex tax system supported by the three main parties that has allowed companies such as Amazon to pay little or no tax is wholly irrational.

Peter Moyes, Brightlingsea, Essex

My wife’s 86-year-old aunt turned to me, knowing of my support for Ukip, and said: “I received my postal ballot form today and I see there are two Independence parties.”

She had been confused by the inclusion of the clumsily but deliberately named An Independence for Europe. I thought I’d mention this just to let Mike Nattrass and his fellow party members know that their apparent plan to confuse voters has met with some success.

The Electoral Commission can decide to refuse to register a new political party if its name is confusingly similar to another party’s. One has to wonder why this did not happen in this case.

Tom Trust, Redruth, Cornwall

There is more than a whiff of hypocrisy about a party that celebrates freedom of speech when a member talks about “bongo bongo land” and labels women as “sluts”, but as soon as it disagrees with a negative comment about it, it calls the police (Ukip complaint prompts police to question Green blogger”, 13 May).

It speaks volumes that this party can pick and choose when the free speech argument can be used, and we should be very wary of any political party that thinks it could possibly be right to use uniformed officers to crush dissent.

Simon G Gosden, Rayleigh, Essex

Nigel Farage and Ukip state that over 75 per cent of our laws are made by the EU. Are not these laws passed by the European Parliament whose members happen to include English MEPs one of whom is Nigel Farage?

So it is not as if we don’t have a say in the framing and ratification of these laws. Perhaps he should do a better job at arguing his case if he believes they are poor laws.

Ken Osborne, Hayling Island, Hampshire

In the run-up to local and national elections in Holland large roadside boards appear plastered with the posters and slogans of competing parties.

I note that of the 20 different parties displaying their opinions, 50 per cent were anti-EU. Of these most were demanding that the Netherlands withdraw from EU membership.

As for the remaining 10 parties – almost all acknowledged anti-EU sentiment by emphasising that they placed Dutch interests above those of Brussels. This in a country which at one time was uncritically besotted with the vision of a united  liberal Europe.

Adrian Marlowe, The Hague, Netherlands

Torture is different in the real world

It is sad news that 44 per cent of Britons reject the idea of a global ban on torture (“‘24’ effect: a third of Britons think torture can be justified”, 13 May)

In fictional dramas such as 24, as in many books, films and video games, it is easy to set up a scenario in which cruelty to an enemy is necessary in order to save the lives of innocents.

First, we should realise that such situations almost never occur in real life. Even the notorious waterboarding of terror suspects by US personnel was found to produce little or no lifesaving information that was not already obtained by normal interrogation.

What it did do was erode the standards of treatment of prisoners, which had been unquestioned for decades in the armed forces.

Second, we need to look at how torture is actually used in those many countries where it is routinely practised. It is not employed to save innocent lives. It is used by those in power to suppress dissent, to persecute minorities and to humiliate and terrify political opposition. There are no good reasons to oppose a ban.

Sue Gilmurray, Ely, Cambridgeshire

It is depressing that so many people support torture. Perhaps they mistakenly think that only the guilty are tortured. Maybe they should imagine themselves or their children or parents being tortured, when innocent; I wonder if they would then support the practice.

Peter Cave, London W1

let’s have more of the Edith Cavell spirit

The final episode of the BBC’s television series about volunteer nurses in the First World War chose to draw a parallel between one of the main characters in the drama and the real-life nurse Edith Cavell.

The Crimson Field has been described by critics as “fluffy”, a “period soap”, and an “opportunistic mishmash” of previous hit TV shows. So the reference to Edith Cavell may be aimed at offering some sort of “balance” by touching on the real-life courage and ultimate sacrifice of those involved in the war.

While the hospital sister in The Crimson Field faces execution by the British for refusing to disclose the whereabouts of her German fiancé, Edith Cavell was tried and executed for helping 200 Allied soldiers to escape from German-occupied Belgium.

The two “offences” sit worlds apart. But it is a pity that the courageous, caring exploits of Edith Cavell were largely overlooked by the producers. Instead, her inclusion in the storyline seemingly only serves to deliver an anti-war, anti-establishment message by one of the other characters saying there is nothing like an executed nurse to “reignite the fervour” and get everyone behind the war effort.

It was the outcry from the general public following Edith Cavell’s death that led to the Cavell Nurses’ Trust being set up in her memory and it continues to support retired and current nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants in need today.

It is to be hoped that if a second series of The Crimson Field is commissioned, then the sense of duty, vocation and self-sacrifice shown by nurses such as Edith Cavell will be uppermost in future episodes.

Kate Tompkins, Chief Executive,, Cavell Nurses’ Trust , Redditch

First remove the beam from your own eye

I was amused to see that the Archbishop of Canterbury wishes to eliminate homophobia from church schools (“Welby condemns anti-gay bullying in schools”, 12 May).

He could start by getting rid of the verse in the Bible which states that people who commit homosexual acts should be put to death. While he’s at it, he should also get rid of the verses that relegate females to a lower status than men, as well as those that condone slavery, and those that indicate that the Earth and the universe are only a few thousand years old.

Not to mention the numerous passages where his deity comes across as nasty and vindictive.

Or he could just admit that he cherry-picks the bits of the Bible that fit in with his own opinions and ignores the bits that don’t.

David Love, Torquay

German or not, royals should stand down

John Dakin’s letter (13 May) saying that the royal family are not German may be true, but there is one inescapable fact with our royal family and that is that their claim to the throne is illegitimate.

They are descended from the Tudors via the Stuarts, and the Tudors are descended from the illegitimate Beaufort family which was John of Gaunt’s second family while still being married to Constanza.

When will the Windsors relinquish the throne and allow a legitimate heir to claim it?

J K Apps, Bury St Edmunds

This sounds like a standing joke

If it really is true that Network Rail’s proposed Northern Hub will “handle 700 more trains a year, carrying 44 million extra passengers” (“‘Oldest railway station in the world’ threatened by Network Rail plans”, 12 May), can I be guaranteed a seat?

John Driver, Abberley, Worcestershire


Sir, While I do not sympathise with Gary Barlow and other tax avoiders, should we not also be condemning the “creative” accountants who are paid to advise high-earners where to put their money (reports, May 12, 13). If Barlow and others are fined by the taxman, they should consider suing their advisors who led them into such activities.

Dr Alan Baum

Staplehurst, Kent

Sir, Gary Barlow is doing what all of us with offset mortgages are doing. They have no purpose other than avoiding tax. Venture Capital trusts anybody? What about family trusts to avoid inheritance tax? Not to mention many celebrities who avoid tax by simply not living here — some of them have knighthoods and you’re not asking for those back. Give him a break. At least he is nice to look at and writes brilliant songs.

Annabel Cartwright


Sir, No politician is daring to use
the E word about the scheme that Mr Barlow got embroiled in. “Aggressive avoidance” seems to be the gibberish of choice. Avoidance is legal — we all do it, with ISAs, pensions etc. We pay what we owe. When/if the line is judged as having been crossed from avoidance to evasion, then m’learned friends can hitch up their gowns and wigs and Mr Barlow can adopt the bread and water diet, not otherwise.

Return an OBE? When the duck house goes back, perhaps.

Tony Hale

Barnt Green, Worcs

Sir, I am delighted that the prime minister has clearly rebuked such overt tax avoidance. Leaving aside acceptable assurances on research and British jobs, I am surprised that he has equally unambiguously condemned Pfizer’s bid for AstraZeneca. The Treasury should not be allowed to prosper by Pfizer paying less tax in Britain than in other jurisdictions. Surely the government would not act in such a cynically hypocritical manner?

John Kennedy

Harpenden, Herts

Sir, HMRC is dysfunctional, unresponsive, and impossible to hold to account. It treats its captive customers with contempt and demands action from them within timescales and under evidential circumstances which it refuses to apply to itself.

The concept that this organisation will be able to raid private bank accounts in a manner which undermines centuries of established laws and liberties is enough to justify anybody seeking to put their funds beyond its extrajudicial reach, at least until a fair accounting can be made. Add to this the state’s record on wasting tax money, squeezing the earner, and raiding the prudent to subsidise the feckless, and I am sure as many people will raise a glass to Gary Barlow as will condemn him.

Victor Launert

Matlock Bath, Derbys

Sir, We may be annoyed with aggressive tax schemes that enable wealthy individuals to avoid tax thereby putting a greater burden on the rest of us but equally I’m sure all of us would like to pay the least tax possible. It seems unfair to demonise Barlow and his fellow Take That members when they only involve themselves in such schemes on the advice of their professional advisers. They are musicians not tax experts.

Gareth Tarr

Chertsey, Surrey

As a group, they are some of the most principled, personable, noble and public-spirited people I have ever met

Sir, Your leader “In Praise of Whistleblowers” (May, 7) rightly urged support for both a review of some past cases, both to address past injustice and to send out a message of encouragement to whistleblowers of the future.

However, having represented a number of whistleblowers over the past 20 years, I was struck by the implication of your suggestion that they “can be difficult people and uncomfortable colleagues. They may act from a number of motives, not all of them noble.” Although those statements are self-evidently true, in literal terms, they do not fairly reflect the whistleblowers whom I have met and for whom I have acted, many of them in the health sector. As a group, they have been some of the most sensible, principled, personable, noble and public-spirited people whom I have ever met.

Patrick Green, QC

London EC4

Roy Race of Melchester Rovers had an unfortunate habit of playing with his boots on the wrong feet

Sir, Giles Smith’s article (May 10) on Roy Race of Melchester Rovers was good, but neglected to mention his unfortunate habit of playing with his boots on the wrong feet, as illustrated. If only he could have remembered to check this before he went out I think his record would have been the equal of Dickie Ord’s, the Sunderland icon, who almost always remembered.

David Cousin

Abingdon, Oxon

Scots may yet rue the finality of the vote — and the lack of a chance to see the exact terms of the deal

Sir, With the referendum in Scotland barely four months away, and the polls showing a closer result than at one time seemed likely, there is one aspect of the process which has so far received almost no comment.

The referendum is very unusual in that the electorate is being asked to vote for or against independence with very few details of what a Yes vote will entail. This is the original “pig in a poke”. And if the Scots vote Yes, they will have given their politicians carte blanche to negotiate the best terms they can for the separation from the rest of the UK, but with no recourse and no ability to reject those terms if they turn out to be unfavourable. In a strange twist, if the Scottish electorate votes Yes, it is committed, and neither it nor its negotiators will subsequently have the power to say No if the terms of the separation are not acceptable.

This changes the negotiations after a Yes vote. With the Scots not able to walk away from the table and say, in effect, “If those are your final terms we reject them and choose not to exercise our right to leave the UK”, what incentive does Westminster have to concede anything it doesn’t want to?

Scots may yet rue the finality of the vote on September 18, and the lack of a chance to see the terms of the deal before they decide whether to accept them.

John Nugée

New Malden, Surrey


This bulldog will be banned from many beaches around Britain during the summer months  Photo: GETTY IMAGES

6:58AM BST 13 May 2014

Comments114 Comments

SIR – We have just returned from a few days in the beautiful town of St Ives in Cornwall. It’s a friendly place, with wonderful views, restaurants and accommodation. Despite all this, we felt unwelcome, because we were dog-owners.

The local council at St Ives bans dogs from almost all its beaches from the Sunday before Easter until September 30. We appreciate that there are dog-owners who are irresponsible, but we certainly don’t fall into that category, and nor do the majority of dog-owners.

We would not think of returning to St Ives because of this. But what are the local dog owners to do? Many are unhappy about the situation. One elderly lady, who walked with the aid of a crutch, could not find an accessible beach on which to walk her two small dogs.

Of the two beaches we did find, one was very small, and you almost needed climbing gear to access it. The other was a long way from any practical parking.

Terri and Neil Burman
Medstead, Hampshire

SIR – David Lowe’s disgraceful treatment by the BBC is a reflection of the change that has happened to its local radio services over the past 20 years.

When BBC local radio began in the late Sixties, local contributors from the community, such as David Lowe, were the backbone of the station’s schedules. Programmes reflecting local music, the arts and leisure activities were presented by people who also had day jobs. Sadly, many of these people have been squeezed out of the schedules, often replaced by people muttering inane comments and pressing buttons to play music from the BBC computer system. There is a drift away from the localism that once underpinned BBC regional radio.

At a time when commercial radio has been reducing its regional focus, surely it’s time the BBC spent more on providing that very element that listeners want from local radio. The BBC should find local talent, use it and nurture it. And then treat it better than they have treated Mr Lowe.

Roy Corlett
Manager, BBC Radio Devon 1982-93
Southport, Lancashire

SIR – I thought that every radio show has a producer, whose job it is to come up with a running order. This means checking out every feature on the programme, including all music to be played. After all, you don’t want to play the amusing, if inappropriate, version of Living Next Door To Alice.

So why was the producer of the show not fired, instead of Mr Lowe?

Huw Beynon
Penybanc, Carmarthenshire

SIR – David Lowe is a much-loved DJ who has given many years’ service to BBC Radio Devon, and commands a loyal audience.

His faux pas was playing one recording which contained the “n-word”. For this he attracted one complaint – set this against the furore caused by Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand and Jeremy Clarkson – and has been summarily discarded. Where is the BBC’s equal rights policy on this one?

Susie Coke-Woods
Taunton, Somerset

Testing times

SIR – Anne Longfield, the chief executive of 4Children, advocates assessing children at 11 years of age to determine if they need extra help.

This is too late to rectify poor attainment and it must be daunting, at least, for a child to be advanced to a large comprehensive if they cannot read properly, and are not sufficiently numerate. There should be tests in primary schools at nine years of age. This then leaves two years for the teachers, parents and pupil to work hard to get the child to the required standard, with the proviso that if that standard is not reached, the pupil does not progress to secondary level until it is achieved.

Teachers, parents and pupils would then have a real incentive to get the child to the correct standard.

Jennie Naylor
London SW20

The perfect cuppa

SIR – An American company is marketing a machine, with an £8,000 price tag, that is said to brew the perfect cup of tea.

But in America it is impossible to find a decent cup of tea. From diners to five-star hotels, when ordering a cup of tea you are presented with a cup of hot water with an unopened tea bag on the saucer.

Any attempt to explain to the server that in order to brew properly, the tea bag needs to be steeped in boiling water is met with a look of bemusement.

Robert Readman
Bournemouth, Dorset

Abuse in schools

SIR – The historic abuse of children at some private schools is indeed shaming, but Ray McGovern, the chairman of the Boarding Schools Association, is wrong to suggest that it is limited to the Sixties and Seventies.

William Vahey, an American teacher exposed as a serial child molester, was abusing children until last year, and the recent suicide of Frances Andrade, who killed herself after giving evidence against a former music teacher, exemplifies the deep pain felt by victims in perpetuity. Just this week, I received a letter from the father of a recent abuse victim describing the hurt still felt as a result of the actions of the jailed paedophile Paul Woodward.

In too many cases, schools have been aware of suspicions and hesitated to act appropriately, with abusers occasionally being allowed to move schools without sanction. What is shameful is the obfuscation within the sector and government over new legislation requiring the mandatory reporting of child abuse suspicions – a loophole that only favours those who prey on our children.

Neil Roskilly
Chief Executive Officer, Independent Schools Association
Saffron Walden, Essex

Barefoot poet

SIR – As long-term advocates for change on critical issues surrounding disadvantaged children, we recently became aware of the poet Philip Wells, who is undertaking an epic 1,000-mile walk barefoot across Britain. His endeavour will raise awareness and funds for the billion barefoot children of the world living in chronic poverty, and the voiceless street children whose desperate needs are often overlooked.

Mr Wells’s “barefoot billion” campaign has already gone global, with more than 300 schools involved in over 50 countries.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
Chair, All Party Group on Street Children

Sally Russell
Co-founder, Netmums

Marcus Lyon
Ambassador, Consortium for Street Children


SIR – Short men live longer? Maybe, but I am 83 and once stood 6ft 6in. Now, if I stretch out, I might be 6ft 4in. Perhaps we should conclude instead that old men grow shorter.

Maxwell Macfarlane
Southborough, Kent

Scottish, English, British – or all of the above?

SIR – Andrew H N Gray is uncertain as to his nationality and that of his brother. I think he is English by place of birth, but Scottish through his parentage, so has dual nationality. His brother is Scottish both by birthplace and parentage.

Residence in a country, for however long, does not change one’s nationality – unless of course one is a South African by birth who longs to play cricket for England.

However, in the context of the forthcoming referendum, both Mr Gray and his brother are clearly British, and I would hope they wish to remain so.

Martin Johnson
Pathhead, Midlothian

SIR – I have spent the past 25 years living in England and the previous 25 years in Scotland. I arrived in Scotland aged two, having been born in Malta to a Scottish father serving in the Royal Navy, and an English mother.

I always thought I was Scottish but I fear I no longer qualify according to the criteria laid down by Alex Salmond.

My sister, who has lived in Spain for the past 25 years, had the foresight to be born in Scotland, and therefore not only can she call herself Scottish, but her children will receive free university education in Scotland, unlike their cousins living in England.

Fiona Merchant
Thames Ditton, Surrey

SIR – I must agree with Mr Gray that he is Scottish. Since his parents are Scottish it follows that he must be Scottish, even if he was born in England. If a cat had kittens in an oven would you call them biscuits?

Dr Robert Hanson
Waterlooville, Hampshire

SIR – I have just received my postal voting form for the forthcoming European elections.

In the North West region, we have the choice of 11 parties covering 83 candidates. Of these, I recognise only one of the candidates’ names. As for the rest, I don’t know who they are, where they live, what they do and what they think. Election leaflets have been minimal.

My vote will have to be based on the party’s name and the little that I have read about its plans. We are encouraged to vote, but it is difficult to feel engaged when it all seems so remote and impersonal.

Malcolm Slee
Lytham, Lancashire

SIR – The impending EU elections will enable voters to register their anger and frustration over the failure of the main political parties to provide a referendum on EU membership. The Prime Minister says that he will allow us a say, once he has renegotiated our terms of membership, and only on condition that we re-elect him for five more years. Why not hold a referendum now, while he is still in power?

Politicians have allowed us to be sucked into the vortex of a federal European Union without mandate. They were only authorised to make us members of the Common Market. Let us hope that the electorate shows its displeasure on May 22.

Peter G Jones

SIR – David Cameron has pledged to renegotiate our membership of the EU.

But negotiations will be a conference with others with a view to compromise. What is left for us to give up in return for the repatriation of all the rights the British people want to recover?

John Ley-Morgan
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

SIR – Your headline “Cameron refuses to bar EU workers” implies that the Prime Minister has considered doing this, and has decided not to. My understanding is that neither he nor our Parliament have any power to do such a thing while we remain members of the EU.

Stuart Roberts
Southport, Lancashire

SIR – It has been stated by the Lib Dems that up to 156,000 jobs in north-east England are linked to EU membership. I asked where this figure came from, and was pointed in the direction of the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

Having checked the CEBR research, I came upon the following statement: “This piece of research does not imply that the estimated jobs would be lost if the UK were to leave the EU; it is an analysis of demand arising from UK exports to the EU.”

I appreciate that political statements are carefully worded, but this one suggests that the public will view these figures as actual job losses.

John Hewett
Ponteland, Northumberland

SIR – Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is talking about the possibility of Ofsted, the state inspectorate in England, inspecting English independent schools.

In Wales, Estyn (the office of HM Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales) has been inspecting independent schools for years.

While independent schools do vary in quality, should vast amounts of public money be spent in England on inspecting top public schools only for most of them to be awarded “Excellent”?

At least when an independent school is inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), the schools have to pay for it themselves.

Elaine Thomas
Head, The Grange Prep School

SIR – Nick Gibb MP’s dislike for so-called progressive methods of teaching is well known. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that he paints a distorted picture of the Ofsted workforce and demonstrates a poor understanding of what happens during an inspection.

I agree that traditional teaching has a role to play in raising school standards, so it’s wrong of him to suggest that we routinely penalise those who employ these methods. As Sir Michael Wilshaw has made abundantly clear, Ofsted has no preferred style of teaching.

While we want to see schools close the attainment gap between poorer and more affluent pupils, it is not true that a school would be marked down if it was driving up results for all pupils.

Mr Gibb also suggests that Ofsted is the enemy of innovation. Far from stifling creativity, inspectors have been critical of those schools that have failed to take advantage of their new freedoms to improve teaching and outcomes for pupils.

It should come as no surprise that those free schools that have been criticised by Ofsted are the ones that are failing to get the basic things right: marking books, planning lessons and managing pupils’ behaviour.

Michael Cladingbowl
National Director for Schools, Ofsted
London WC2

SIR – As a former social care inspector for Ofsted, I am not impressed by Michael Gove’s statement that Ofsted should have direct responsibility for all schools in England. Ofsted did actually have responsibility for inspecting care standards in the independent sector from 2007. However in 2010, when this Government took office, it transferred the inspection of care standards in independent schools from Ofsted to the ISI.

Now, it seems, Mr Gove wants to hand the inspection of these schools back to Ofsted, in more glorified form. He is clearly using inspection as an electoral gimmick. I would suggest the inspection of these schools is safer with the ISI.

Debra Maria Flint
Clevedon, Somerset

Irish Times:

Sir , – Maureen Dowd’s article “American nuns at rough end of Pope Francis’s mixed messages” (World, May 12th) raises a critical question on the direction the Catholic Church is taking under his papacy.

His publication Evangelium Gaudium and its inspiring content are at odds with what continues to emanate from the Vatican, especially from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is not the case that Pope Francis is unaware of the continued hard-line position being adopted by this doctrinal watchdog.

Although he inherited the well-known hardliner Archbishop Gerhard Müller as its boss, nevertheless he reappointed him and promoted him to cardinal, the highest position apart from pope in the Catholic Church .

As Ms Dowd has written, Cardinal Müller has once again harangued the organisation representing over 80 per cent of American religious sisters and has demanded that a US archbishop must be allowed to supervise all their work and even attend their meetings as they are under suspicion of “positive errors of doctrine”.

We have learned that Cardinal Müller has effectively silenced an internationally known Jesuit theologian from India, Fr Michael Amaldoss, and forbidden him from giving lectures and publishing until this Jesuit has “reworked” his most famous work The Asian Jesus. This effective silencing of Fr Amaldoss must certainly have the approval of his fellow Jesuit , Pope Francis.

Pope Francis has now signed a decree recognising a miracle attributed to a recent predecessor, Pope Paul VI, and has announced that this pope responsible for the ban on artificial contraception in the Catholic Church will be beatified on October 19th of this year .

This proposed beatification means, inter alia, that Pope Francis is officially endorsing this infamous ban on artificial contraception.

Pope Francis must not only be judged by his cool gestures and inspiring rhetoric but also by what he is doing or allowing to be done in his name, especially in the continuation of the doctrinal hardline approaches of his predecessors. – Yours, etc,


The Moorings,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Maureen Dowd contrasts the “liberal” St John XXIII and the “conservative” St John Paul II. This distinction between the two popes is now so well established as to be unquestioned; and yet questioned it must be.

On the one hand, one cannot think of any sense in which St John XXIII was a liberal – if, that is, what is meant by liberal is a person holding progressivist and relativistic opinions. The innovations that some Catholics wish to see introduced into the church were never espoused by St John XXIII.

On the other hand, it is possible to think of gestures made by St John Paul II – for example, his visits to Anglican and Lutheran cathedrals and to a synagogue – which were never even contemplated by his predecessor. – Yours, etc,


Ulidia House,


Sir, – Maureen Dowd takes Pope Francis to task over the censure of American nuns who, according to her, are “inspired by Vatican II” and are prevented from “caring for the sick” in order to “parrot church teaching”.

I would have thought it was totally acceptable that nuns, who wish to remain in the church, would at at least be willing to promote its teaching.

It is no harm to state that Catholics accept the pope as the successor of Peter appointed by Jesus to continue His ministry.

It is surprising that Ms Dowd does not see that promoting the images of God as “father, lord and king” is basic Catholic teaching. It never ceases to amaze me that so many religious wish to remain in the church while undermining so much of what it teaches.

I don’t know what “gospel-infused spirit” the nuns are allegedly being punished for but it is not for following the teaching of the church.

Catholicism is freely chosen by those who wish to follow Jesus under the leadership of the pope.

However, so many dissidents, so welcomed by the secular media, seem to wish to transform the church into their own image and likeness. For myself, as an adult I freely choose membership and am aware that if decide I cannot accept its teaching, I am free to leave, but I do not think I have the right to undermine the faith of those who wish to remain.  – Yours, etc,



Donegal Town.

Sir, – Maureen Dowd’s article on Vatican ambiguity makes for very interesting reading. Like most people, I think Pope Francis has made huge steps in giving the Catholic Church back to the ordinary people. His focus on the poor is a clear statement of intent. Therefore we might be better to take a pragmatic approach and allow more time for a truly inclusive discipleship that we would be witness to. On the other hand, Jesus did it in three years – why is the Vatican taking so long? – Yours, etc,


Manor Street,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – Further to your coverage of the correspondence between Jacqueline Bouvier and Fr Joseph Leonard (May 13th), John A Costello also corresponded with her, as I have detailed in my biography of that taoiseach. Jacqueline went on a year’s visit to Paris in 1948. With her stepbrother Hugh Auchinloss, she came to Ireland for the Dublin Horse Show. Her contact in Dublin was Fr Leonard, who had met and become a friend of her uncle Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis at Strawberry Hill in London. Fr Leonard entertained the visitors as they spent a few weeks touring the country. He brought them to meet his friend John A Costello, who described Fr Leonard as a deeply spiritual man who had little time for the “dangerously devout”.

Jacqueline again visited Dublin in 1955, with her husband Jack Kennedy. Fr Leonard gave them a book inscribed “To Jack and Jacqueline, with love and admiration. 29 September – October 2 1955”.

Costello recalled that Jacqueline invited Fr Leonard to come to Washington to baptise her son in 1960, but ill-health prevented him from making the trip. – Yours, etc,


Gilford Road,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – I was most alarmed to read how Donald Trump proposes to change the shape of things to come with the development of Doonbeg golf club (“Trump card: property tycoon lays out big plans for Doonbeg”, May 12th).

At the risk of appearing obtuse, I was flummoxed at Trump’s description of his newly acquired course in Doonbeg, along with two of his other courses in Turnberry and Aberdeen, as the “Trump Triangle” and his further illustration of the three courses being “literally a straight line from here to Turnberry and on to Aberdeen”. Let’s hope the course engineers are fully aware of these recent geometrical changes currently under way in Co Clare. – Yours, etc,


Sitric Place,


Dublin 7.

Sir, – The reception afforded Donald Trump at Shannon Airport earlier this week fell far short of what Shannon is capable of. Where were the dancing cailíní and the Bunratty harpers? – Yours, etc,




Co Dublin.

Sir, – The unedifying spectacle of a Government Minister greeting a swashbuckling property developer who appears to share the obsession of many of his ilk with helicopters and golf courses (something to do with soft landings perhaps?) indicates that our ruling elite have not yet got over their infatuation with such people. However I hope that Michael Noonan at least summoned up the temerity to inform Mr Trump that the showband era is over and it is many a long year since any Irish businessman made any money or provided any employment by opening what he so quaintly terms a “ballroom”! – Yours, etc,


Claude Road,


Dublin 9.

Sir, – Many are annoyed at idea of a royal presence in Dublin 2016 in context of a “shared history”. Diarmaid Ferriter writes that “the suggestion that Ireland should rejoin the Commonwealth . . . is indicative of a worrying postcolonial inferiority complex” (“Ordinary lives best define our revolutionary decade”, Opinion & Analysis, May 9th).

The Commonwealth is a free, voluntary association of independent states. As an Irish citizen, I prefer to see the prospect of Irish Commonwealth membership as a self-confident choice by a mature independent people and nation. – Yours, etc,


Kew Green,




Sir, – Una Mullally’s argument in favour of water charges does not present a compelling case for imposing water charges nor for the privatisation of services (“It may be hard to swallow but we should pay for water”, Opinion & Analysis, May 12th).

It is true that we are facing a global water crisis; primarily as a result of climate change. However, comparing Ireland’s situation to that of California, a desert region, does not enable our wider understanding of the issues. Ireland and California’s water challenges may both be borne out of mismanagement of public services but both regions face incomparable challenges in terms of climate and population.

Ms Mullally fails to address the fact that water is considered a fundamental human right, protected by international law. States have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right of access to safe drinking water. While this does not exclude imposing water charges nor privatising services, the State must ensure that water is accessible and affordable to all, particularly the least well-off in society.

In many instances of water privatisation, particularly in the developing world, neither access to nor the quality of water has improved. In fact the opposite often occurs. In 1999 the public water company in Cochabamba, Bolivia, was privatised. The price of water increased by nearly 50 per cent over a number of weeks but there was no corresponding improvement in either access to or the quality of the local water supply. The multinational company Bechtel was focused solely on making a profit rather than maintaining infrastructure or improving the supply and quality of water. This led to a series of protests in 2000 during which the local citizens reclaimed the public water company.

Finally, Ms Mullally’s use of the 2030 Water Resources Group as an example of progress towards sustainable water governance is baffling. Each of the companies participating in this group, with the exception perhaps of the World Bank, represent some of the principle suppliers of bottled water worldwide, and have deeply vested interests in promoting further the privatisation of water.

Yes, a debate on global water governance is urgently needed. However, this debate should be based on human rights principles rather than economic imperatives. – Yours, etc,




Co Cork.

Sir, – Further to John McManus’s claims about the implications for the public finances arising from the €240 average domestic water charge (Business Opinion, May 12th), in order to ensure Irish Water’s borrowings are excluded from the general government balance (ie State debt), certain Eurostat rules must be met. The decisions taken by the Government last week have been framed by our understanding of the Eurostat requirements and I am satisfied that these requirements will be met. The budgetary framework is based on Irish Water being classified as a market corporation from inception.

The introduction of domestic water charges is another difficult measure for the public, but is a vital part of reforming the water sector. It will ensure sustainable funding of water services and bring essential improvements to our public water and waste water systems. Sustainable funding will secure water supply in the coming years and decades. This will become increasingly important as demand increases through a growing population and a recovering economy, and new challenges emerge from a changing climate. – Yours, etc,


Minister for the



and Local Government,

Custom House, Dublin 1.

Sir, – We recently entertained some friends from Scotland. They commented on the way the city was festooned with election posters, a practice they do not know of at home. I began to wonder if anyone has ever looked into the effectiveness of these posters.

I would be interested to hear from any of the many candidates, or their campaigners, or anyone from the back rooms of the political parties, who have any evidence – other than anecdotal – that posters are an effective tool in election campaigns.

Campaigns have become such micromanaged affairs in recent years that I cannot believe that the political parties, at least, would waste money on unproven methods. But it appears to me that, in previous elections, unsuccessful candidates spent just as much on posters as successful ones. This prompts me to think that the reasons candidates use posters is “because the other candidates use them”.

Could someone with data show me that I’m wrong, and that posters are of some proven benefit to candidates? – Yours, etc,


Grangebrook Close,

Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.

Sir, – The stories of the undocumented Irish in Simon Carswell’s report on the visit of President Michael D Higgins to Chicago (“Higgins believes US politicians ‘won’t be able to ignore plight of undocument’”, Home News, May 13th) again show the human misery which results when immigration reform is stalled.

While our political leaders have been quick and adept at pointing to the impact of delayed reform in the US, few have paid heed to the personal hurt and isolation caused on our own shores by similar delays.

For the sake of thousands living in limbo in Ireland, the Government, under the guidance of Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, must end five years of delay and deliver on its promise to publish new legislation this year.

At the Immigrant Council of Ireland we have used our frontline and legal experience, as an independent law centre, to set out priorities which would make a real difference not just for migrants but also for Irish citizens.

Priorities include the introduction of clear, straightforward and fair rules and guidelines to replace a system primarily based on discretion, the right of family reunification to be enshrined in law, and an independent appeals system in the immigration system, as current users do not enjoy the protection of the Office of the Ombudsman.

These are reforms that will not only deliver real change for thousands of people torn apart from their loved ones but will also strengthen our position when making the case for US reform on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

We are committed to working with politicians from all parties to deliver these changes, and encourage Ms Fitzgerald to act decisively and end the delay on this important issue. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive,

Immigrant Council

of Ireland,

Andrew Street,

Sir, – There is a great deal of publicity regarding the new fish processing factory in Killybegs, Co Donegal, and the fact that boarfish are to be the principal feedstock of this enterprise (“Biomarine plant to bring jobs to Donegal”, Home News, May 10th).

Not wanting to pour cold water on the enterprise, but these fish are presently viewed as a nuisance catch in mackerel fisheries. Try telling that to the larger species which live on them.

Would it not be better if the present system of discards was harnessed to provide an ethical and environmental friendly source of feed stocks rather than pillaging yet another valuable and unappreciated natural asset? – Yours, etc,



Co Westmeath.

A chara, – Jason Fitzharris (May 9th) need not worry about the media explaining how our voting system works. From now until the results of the upcoming elections are announced, we will hear journalists telling us repeatedly that “transfers will be crucial”. – Is mise,


Ellensborough Drive,

Kiltipper Road,

Dublin 24.

Irish Independent:

Published 14 May 2014 02:30 AM

It’s not too often that I’ll be stuck for words, but this is exactly what happened to me a few days ago while out delivering mail of a political nature.

Also in this section

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Let’s hope moral ground in Garda Siochana rediscovered

Letters to the Editor

A similar incident happened to me in 2011 during the presidential election when I knocked on a door and after assuming there was nobody at home, I was about to turn to walk away when the door opened and a woman with tearful eyes greeted me.

On asking her ‘was there something wrong? she did not reply but thrust her hand with a piece of paper in it towards me. On reading it, I felt utterly helpless, as it was a letter from the bank threatening repossession of her home.

After getting over the initial shock, I set things in motion with a few phone calls to get her some help. Now, in 2014, and the same scenario greets me at a doorstep, as a woman opens up to me and invites me – a complete stranger – into her kitchen.

The family are at their wits’ end in fear of the postman delivering a similar letter warning of bank repossession.

I have to say that it upset me much more than I can put into words, as I lay awake thinking what could I do to help?

I would challenge any pro-austerity politician to knock on their door and explain to them why they think it is right that they are being made pay for the reckless mistakes of others?

All in a vain, shameless attempt to pay Europe‘s super-wealthy elite who gambled on our insane, runaway Fianna Fail-led economy.

The banking guarantee saw to it that those wealthy gamblers were never going to lose out, because the likes of this family I’m referring to – along with every other breadline family in the country – are the pawns who are going to spend the rest of their lives paying the price.

We are being continuously drip-fed filtered leaks and promises that we have turned a corner and things are now on the way up.

Here in Donegal things are certainly on the way up and have been for a long time – if you’re talking about unemployment and emigration.


Gort an Choirce, Dun na nGall



Instead of having an election to see which politicians we send to Europe, why don’t we have a referendum as to whether we want to be a part of the EU in the first place.

Maastricht was the last fair treaty of consequence, and there are at least two generations of Irish citizens that haven’t had a say on whether they want to be part of a united Europe. I suspect also those that voted in favour of Maastricht never envisaged quite how much sovereignty we would eventually cede.

Since 1992, the Irish people have been asked to vote on Nice and Lisbon – twice on each treaty. It appears, however, that rejecting those treaties was never actually going to be an option available to us. We have also had the fiscal treaty, which was presented as part of the solution to the financial crisis.

With the UK about to give its citizens a genuine say as to whether or not they want to be part of the EU, would it not be appropriate for Ireland to do the same thing?

As things stand, we have an increasing level of governance coming from EU institutions and while most of our political class are ideologically attached to the idea of the EU, the Irish people haven’t had a genuine voice in decades (at least not one that was accepted). That is the very antithesis of democracy.

The time has come for the Irish people to give a democratic renewal to the EU, or for the EU to accept that we no longer want to be part of the European project.


Crumlin, Dublin 12



I wish to protest at the programmes being foisted on viewers in the name of comedy. I refer to ‘The Republic of Telly’ and ‘The Centre’, respectively.

These programmes are rude, crude and devoid of any content remotely resembling comedy.

It is ironic that they are being foisted on viewers by a station where once one could see or listen to the peerless Maureen Potter, the talented Brendan Grace and last, but not least, that doyen of comedy Brendan O’Carroll, whose creation ‘Mrs Brown’ has become one of the great comedy hits of this decade, not only in Ireland but worldwide.

As an OAP I do not have to pay a licence fee but in the name of justice for the viewer being done – and being seen to be done – I will cheerfully dust off my Zimmer frame and join the protest.


Rathfarnham, Dublin 14



In response to Rob Saidlier’s letter (‘But indeed where is God’) I would certainly reiterate that the atheistic answer in the search for the ultimate meaning of life on Earth is the blindest of blind perceptions.

It is the wrong answer to that pivotal question posed by every human being.

The belief that we all have a creator – whether we call him ‘God, Truth, Allah or Sat-Chin-Ananda’ – has been embraced by and proved inspirational in the histories of peoples throughout the ages.

It has guided and maintained European civilisation up to about 200 years ago.

Rob mentions the “thousands of children who die in the world every day” as an indication that a merciful God does not exist.

Believers know that, after death, they and all others who are totally deprived do in fact attain perfect happiness in paradise.

Atheism can only offer condolence, heartfelt no doubt, to their loved ones. But it fails them completely in proffering some sort of existential nothing-but-ness as having been their unfortunate lot in life.

It also affronts our deepest and sacredly held beliefs in the existence of love, of justice and of egalitarianism as entitlements of human kind.

Simone Weil – ‘saint of those on the outside’ and formerly a Cartesian type agnostic – came to the realisation that a reality exists outside time and space and that “corresponding to this reality, at the centre of the human heart, is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object of this world”.

His visits to Auschwitz caused Rob to wonder “Where was God?” His existence was certainly witnessed to by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Edith Stein during their incarcerations and in their deaths in Flossenburg and Auschwitz concentration camps respectively. Many other believers survived and also came to forgive their tormentors.

The potential to gain paradise is open to each human being in any situation. Albert Camus‘ remark, ‘I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn’t, than live as if there isn’t and to die to find out that there is’, is highly perceptive.

However, Christ, in certainly transforming the prevailing acceptance of cruelties as well as challenging the elitism of his own people, taught that it is in loving and in accepting obligation to one another that civilised life can be made realisable.


Baile Atha Cliath 5



Ian O’Doherty asks why, with the best fishing grounds in Europe, did the Irish people of the 1800s not eat fish instead of potatoes? The problem being that the local landlord had to be paid first before anybody could launch from the shore. Denied on land and sea.


Miltown Malbay, Co Clare

Irish Independent


May 13, 2014

13 May2014 Clinic

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate A trip to the USA to sell Black Puddings Priceless

Off to the clinic Peter Rice, Mr Kel, Sharland, busy day

Scrabbletoday, Mary wins just by five pointsperhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


Sir James Holt – obituary

Sir James Holt was a medieval historian who argued that the Magna Carta was, in its time, neither unique nor successful

Sir James Holt


6:45PM BST 12 May 2014


Sir James Holt, who has died aged 91, was the third Master of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and a medieval historian, known in particular for his studies of the Magna Carta.

This was also the title of his best-known work, published in 1965 as part of the celebrations of the 750th anniversary of the meeting between the feudal barons and King John at Runnymede on June 15 1215.

The most famous single document ever produced by an English government, the Magna Carta has generally been seen as a guarantee of human rights in the English-speaking world, the first in a long and progressive series that includes the English Bill of Rights of 1689 and the American Bill of Rights of 1791. Magna Carta, in this sense, has become overlaid with centuries of Whiggish myth, during which the original document has been extracted from its original context and made to serve purposes that its original authors never had in mind.

Holt set out to strip away all such accretions and set the events of 1215 and the charter itself in the context of the law, politics and administration of England and Europe of the time, to provide an analysis of the immediate political context and contemporary meaning of the document.

Among other things, he highlighted the fact that many of the broad concepts, such as judgment by peers and protection against arbitrary disseisin (seizure of property) were hot topics all over Europe in the 13th century. Similar charters were issued in Germany, Sicily and France in the 13th and early 14th centuries. Only one thing set England’s Magna Carta apart from the rest: its survival.

The Magna Carta (REUTERS)

In its own terms the document was a failure. Part of an agreement of peace between rebellious barons and a king who had provoked them into rebellion, it tried to settle issues outstanding between the two parties, and attempted to set standards for the behaviour of the king’s government towards his free subjects (ie the barons). But not only did hostilities resume within a year, the Magna Carta also failed to assure constitutional government, even for the minority to whom it applied. Once John’s son, Henry III, grew up, government by royal will was revived, and 13th century England would endure another civil war.

On the eve of celebrations for the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which will take place next year, Holt’s study, reissued in a fully revised form in 1992, remains one of the most authoritative texts within its field.

The younger of two children, James Clarke Holt was born in Yorkshire on April 26 1922, to parents who had moved from Lancashire after the First World War. His fascination with history, which started with the Waverley History of the English-Speaking Peoples which he read as a boy, was nurtured at Bradford Grammar School, from where he won a scholarship to read the subject at Queen’s College, Oxford; there he was greatly influenced by John Prestwich and Vivian Galbraith, both respected scholars of the medieval period.

His studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, during which he served in the Royal Artillery. After graduating with a First in 1947, he remained at Oxford, transferring to Merton College as a Harmsworth Senior Scholar, to take a PhD, which he later adapted for publication as The Northerners: A Study in the Reign of King John (1961).

Holt’s first academic post was as an assistant lecturer at Nottingham University, where he was appointed to a chair in Medieval History in 1962. In 1965 he was invited to go to Reading as Professor of History. It was while he was there that, at Vivian Galbraith’s suggestion, he was invited to write his major study of the Magna Carta.

In 1978 he was appointed Professor of Medieval History at Cambridge, and a fellow of Emmanuel College.

Holt’s election in 1981 to the Mastership of Fitzwilliam marked a decisive stage in the college’s development. Only granted its Royal Charter in 1966, the college had limited residential accommodation, the expansion of which Holt saw as a priority. He launched an appeal (under the chairmanship of his friend Edmund Dell) and New Court, designed by Sir Richard MacCormac, was opened in 1988, the year he retired from the mastership.

Meanwhile Holt’s own uncompromising academic standards helped to propel Fitzwilliam to the top half of the inter-college league tables, a feat he largely achieved by appointing younger fellows to senior positions, according to his belief that young people should be “given their head”.

Holt had an unbreakable habit of not coming into college on Mondays so he could get on with his research, and when asked what he would be doing during university vacations, even during his retirement his reply was always “Work!”. This was not entirely accurate however as, being a Yorkshireman, he had a passion for cricket (he had a complete set of Wisdens) and was a keen and serious climber.

He did not have much sympathy with slackers or student rebels, partly because he was so dedicated and hardworking himself. On the other hand, he was an inspiring teacher who could be notably sympathetic to undergraduates who struggled to do their best.

Geoff Mead, a former Cambridge History student, has recalled on his website being summoned to see Holt after sitting his finals, which he was convinced he had failed due to his illegible handwriting.

“At the appointed time,” he wrote, “I knocked on the door of the Professor’s study and waited. Professor James Holt was a blunt Yorkshireman who spoke with a slight lisp… notorious for not tolerating fools – gladly or otherwise… ‘Geoffwey,’ he said. ‘We seem to have a pwoblem… Some of your scwipts are unweadable. If we cannot wead them, we cannot mark them. And if we cannot mark them we cannot award you a degwee… Fortunately for you… I’m interwested in whether you can think, and not whether you can wite. Take the scwipts to my secwetawy and dictate what you have witten. We’ll get them typed and see what you had to say, shall we?’

“I couldn’t believe my luck. The papers got typed. I got my degree.”

Much later Mead wrote Holt a letter telling him what a difference his generosity had made to his life: “He never replied. He probably couldn’t read my handwriting.”

Holt’s publications spanned some 50 years, from the early 1950s to his last article published in 2007. His books included What’s in a name? Family nomenclature and the Norman Conquest (1982); Robin Hood (1982), in which he suggested that the legend of the outlaw of Sherwood Forest had originated with the yeomen and hangers-on of the households of noblemen and gentry in the 13th century; Magna Carta and Medieval Government (1985); and Colonial England, 1066-1215 (1997).

Holt’s work was recognised by his appointment to leading positions at both the British Academy and the Royal Historical Society. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1978 and was its vice-president from 1987 to 1989. He served as president of the Royal Historical Society from 1981 to 1985.

He was knighted in 1990.

In 1950 James Holt married Alice Suley (who predeceased him in 1998), with whom he had a son.

Sir James Holt, born April 26 1922, died April 9 2014


• Having lived in Yorkshire since 1972, I am only eight years short of honorary citizenship. I endorse just about everything Simon Jenkins has to say about my adoptive homeland (Why mighty Yorkshire is another country in waiting, 9 May) except his all too common misapprehension that Yorkshire speakers “hate the definite article”.

As the proud possessor of a Leeds MA in linguistics, I can assure him that the definite article is almost always present in Yorkshire speech, but its precise articulation varies according to its phonetic environment. Generally speaking, it takes the form of a glottal stop, or more usually a glottally reinforced alveolar plosive where apical consonants are concerned, but is sometimes “softened” to a devoiced bilabial as a result of homorganic nasality. Only in Holderness, that oddly detached fragment of the Netherlands between Bridlington and Spurn Point, is it omitted entirely, as sometimes happens in the West Country for – I suspect – entirely different reasons.
Jeremy Muldowney

•  The only omission from Simon Jenkins’ catalogue of excellence is the county cricket club, which still represents the three ridings in their entirety – and is currently supplying four players to the England squad.

One immediate and relatively straightforward step towards devolution for Yorkshire would be to reinstate the metropolitan county councils that were abolished by Margaret Thatcher in 1986. They had their faults but they brought together in a single authority many services that are no longer democratically accountable and which certainly benefit from being run holistically.

The legislation for reinstatement exists and would not require much tweaking. It would thereafter be possible to bring West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire metropolitan bodies together with the North Yorkshire county into a Yorkshire region with devolved powers similar to Wales.
Michael Meadowcroft

•  Simon Jenkins calls Opera North “the most exciting opera company outside London”. First, Opera North is an excellent company and can compete with any of the London-based opera companies. Second, what about Scottish National Opera? Its ambition of staging a new production of the entire Ring cycle in a single season is the equal of anything I’ve come across in London in the past couple of decades.
Martin Gillies

•  It was heartwarming, even to a Lancastrian in exile, to read Simon Jenkins’ praise of the “mighty province of York”. He might have mentioned that some of those ancient cathedrals and parish churches now sit in the new diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, created on Easter Day by a Church of England intent on best serving the people of this region. After our church communities have welcomed visitors from across the world, coming for the Tour de France, we will continue the less glamorous work of showing the love and justice of God in those communities “blighted by a poverty to which no one had the remotest answer”. Our mission to the folk living in God’s county is to serve all people, whatever their faith or race background, so that Jerusalem might indeed be built amongst our satanic mills’ in this green and pleasant land. But for decent soccer you still need to travel west of the Pennines.
Rev Adrian Alker
Director of mission resourcing, Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales

I was happily reading the Guardian on a train journey from Durham to Birmingham on Saturday till I got to your five-page article on the north-east of England (Tory cuts have left the north-east teetering on the brink. Can it avoid becoming Britain’s Detroit?, Weekend, 10 May). This article left me heartbroken that the beautiful, proud and dynamic area I live in could be represented in such an unfair manner. I fail to see how the photographs depicted of run-down shops and graffiti in any way reflect the true north-east.

As I work in healthcare and my husband is assistant head in an inner-city secondary school, we are very well aware of the deprivation and inequalities in some parts of the north-east, but in no way can these areas simply be written off. There is plenty of hope.

Living in the north-east allows for an excellent quality of life, where we are not burdened with the huge house prices and mortgages of other parts of the country. Your article refers to Harry Pearson writing that the “north-east is at the far corner of the country”, but on a map of Britain, the north-east is firmly in the centre, where it is as easy to access both Scotland (Edinburgh is only two hours away) and London (in less than three hours).

How can you not mention the Nissan factory in Sunderland, which must be one of Europe’s biggest success stories? And what about the Hitachi Rail plant being developed in County Durham?

When I finished university in Nottingham, I could have picked any part of the country to live in, but I chose to return to the north-east as in my opinion it has so much to offer. I have not regretted this decision for a moment.
Sonia Filmer
Lanchester, County Durham

•  I moved to the north-east at the age of 19 to train as a teacher and have never moved away. I taught for 34 years in a mining town on the north-east coast of Durham. I have seen what can befall a community when it is cast adrift. I agree with much of what was written in your article. We need support, we need fair treatment.

However, we also need a balanced portrait of the area. I see a still vibrant Newcastle bristling with new building. I see Nissan in Sunderland going from strength to strength. I see throughout the area some of the most spectacular scenery to be found. I see a rare depth of history and culture that is treasured by much of the population.

We can expect no help from the coalition – they have no power base here and no interest. We are largely irrelevant. It is unfortunate therefore that your article painted a picture that reinforces the bleak image of the area without pointing out the positives. Such a view can only work to the detriment of the area and preserve the image of a population and region both separate and failing. If I had read your article at the age of 19 I would never have considered making it my home of the last 40 years.
Geoff Rigden
Beamish, County Durham

•  I am proud to lead a city which has not only a strong industrial heritage, but is modern, vibrant and confident in outlook. Like many others, I found your portrait of the north-east so far removed from reality as to be unrecognisable. The reference to Detroit was particularly offensive. There is no denying that the north-east has challenges, and many of these are being exacerbated by the aggressive austerity cuts being imposed by this government. But we also have world-class universities, an internationally significant cluster of marine and offshore engineering, a burgeoning digital and ICT sector, thriving retail and leisure, some of the fastest housing growth outside London, and a manufacturing base that makes us the only region with a balance of trade surplus. We also have an enviable quality of life, strong cohesive communities, and a fierce sense of pride – reflected with typical north-east bluntness in the angry responses to the article. It’s a shame that the Guardian, with strong northern roots of its own, chose to buy into a narrative of decline rather than reflecting what those of us who live here know – our better days are ahead of us rather than behind us.
Cllr Nick Forbes
Leader of Newcastle city council

•  Your article was as interesting for its omissions as it was for the information it included. The north-east has significant energy and water reserves, and the quality of our air and lack of congestion were other omissions – maybe that is because our “car parks full of mid-range vehicles” don’t cause the sort of pollution levels London “enjoys”.

Economic growth in the North East Local Enterprise Partnership area outstripped the rest of the country in recent years, and we have the biggest process industry cluster in the UK. We have world-leading research facilities such as the Centre for Process Innovation and the National New and Renewable Energy Centre, and labour productivity in the north-east is growing faster than anywhere else.

Gross-value-added-per-head growth in our region is ahead of the UK average, which may be down to the fact we’ve never had more people in work in the north-east than we have right now.

R&D expenditure per business is better than in many areas, including London, which is good because we have highly qualified young people carrying new ideas into our businesses.

Nowhere else in the country gets a better percentage of students achieving five A to C grades than the north-east, and we’ve topped that table since 2008.
James Ramsbotham
Chief executive, North East Chamber of Commerce

•  Your otherwise excellent article on the north-east of England, says of Darlington station that “trains rattle through without stopping”. Trains from London and Penzance, Manchester and Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen all stop at Darlington. Residents will tell you that if we wish to travel to Newcastle or York, there is no need to consult a timetable. We just turn up at the station, confident that a train will be along in the next 20 minutes or so. Darlington is very well connected and perfectly placed.
Dorothy Long

•  In a year when the Guardian can boast a Pulitzer prize, the shoddy, unfair treatment of the north-east in Weekend magazine is shocking. I can only trust in a paper I love to ensure that some balance is achieved by future editions. The north-east has much to boast about and is owed an apology, in words and pictures.
Lesley Oldfield
Newcastle upon Tyne

Nick Clegg, in his advocacy of a less punitively oriented criminal justice system, deserves widespread support (This knife law won’t work, 8 May). He speaks of Lib Dem opposition to the recent proposal to introduce a six-month mandatory sentence for anyone convicted for the second time for possessing a knife which, he says, “would undermine the government’s progress in establishing a rehabilitation revolution”.

His words would be more convincing if the Lib Dem minister in the justice department, Simon Hughes, had accepted our invitation to speak at the recent public meeting to launch Prison Learning TV.

PLTV is a new project of our charity, the Prisons Video Trust, backed by a Big Lottery two-year grant and with encouragement from the National Offender Management Service. It supports the rehabilitation of prisoners and the tackling of recidivism through the production of video programmes that aim to transform personal development, learning opportunities and life skills for serving prisoners by delivering a multi-platform TV channel to prisoners across the country.

Nick Clegg thinks the key to reducing crime is to focus on practical solutions that stop people offending in the first place; what better way to achieve this than by espousal of PLTV’s revolutionary approach to rehabilitation?
Terry Waite Chair, Benedict Birnberg Deputy chair, Antonio Ferrara CEO
The Prisons Video Trust

•  If I want to build a bridge, I call in a firm of civil engineers who specialise in bridge-building. If I want a railway built, again I call in a team of specialist railway engineers. When it comes to human beings, however, why is it that politicians seem to believe that they are the experts on dealing with crime and punishment and not psychologists, psychiatrists, probation officers, etc, who spend their lives working and studying this particularly challenging aspect of human behaviour.
Rex Harpham
Tavistock, Devon

Shadow health minister Jamie Reed’s sarcasm is misplaced when he puts the medical use of leeches in the same category as the fringe treatment homeopathy (Hunt asked chief medical officer to set up homeopathy reviews, 9 May). Leeches are still used in modern medicine, with undoubted value in plastic and reconstructive surgery. They secrete a natural anticoagulant that prevents blood clots and restores blood flow to areas of inflammation. They cost about £6 each.
Karl Sabbagh
Co-author, Magic or Medicine?

• Your review of Czesław Miłosz’s Native Realm begins with the words “the Lithuanian poet” (Non-fiction, Review, 10 May). This is a misleading description of this Nobel-prize-winning Polish author who was born in Lithuania but wrote all his life in his native Polish. This is about as fair as to characterise Tom Stoppard as “the Czech playwright” who now lives in Britain.
George Gomori
Emeritus fellow, Darwin College, Cambridge

• The issues highlighted by the Post-Crash manifesto and by Aditya Chakrabortty (Economics lobotomised, 9 May) are not new. I chucked in economics at Cambridge after the first year in 1969 for precisely the same reasons and moved to the nascent social and political science course. I doubt much has changed there since then.
Andy Webb
Medmenham, Buckinghamshire

•  You attempt to clarify the Islamic rules regarding halal slaughter by stating that “Islamic rules require the animal to be slaughtered while alive and healthy” (The truth about halal Britain, G2, 8 May). Can I please ask you to clarify how, under Islamic or any other rules, you slaughter an animal that is not alive?
Tony Schröder
Penny Bridge, Cumbria

• It was the beard wot won it (A song for Europe, 12 May).
Denis Jackson

• If they vote yes, you know who is going to win Eurovision the year after? Even if they put up a Jimmy Shand tribute act. You read it here first.
Bill Cooke

The report on asthma treatment (One in four killed by asthma had inadequate care, say GPs, 6 May) mentions that some patients had not collected their prescriptions, but not a possible cause of this – prescription charges, currently £8.05 per item. Asthma is not one of the limited number of chronic conditions that are exempt from charges, and though some people on benefits and very low incomes may get free prescriptions, there is no help available for most people of working age. Prescription charges need to be looked at again, taking account of long-term conditions and treatments: no mental health conditions, for example, are exempt, and many people who may not want to take prescribed medication are further deterred by the cost. It is about 50 years since the system was last looked at, and since then the only change in England has been the annual price rise. The comprehensive GP report just published could help consideration of the costs and benefits of free prescriptions for all chronic conditions.
Marian Nyman
Whitstable, Kent


I read with concern Adrian Canale-Parola’s letter on reforming the GP system (10 May) which suggested replacing the GP as the first contact with nurse practitioners. While the latter perform a wonderful job in freeing valuable medical time and are worth their weight in medical gold, they do not have the extensive and time-consuming training that enables an experienced GP to spot the patient needing medical help at the right level. It is this that has made our health service a model for the world.

A long medical career – first in general practice and later as a consultant in hospital – has made me realise the importance of this. I have also seen the basic errors which can occur when a nurse practitioner has been put in a front-line position without the necessary knowledge base.

As a society we must decide whether we take care of our sick, or – as some have suggested – reduce the workload by charging to see the GP. Such a hurdle will always select the wrong people; those needing little or no help would be seen easily. The needy, usually poor, would not come.

John Atkins FRCOG, Swainby, North Yorkshire

May I ask, do the BMA/NHS recommendations propose to charge for visits to nurse practitioners and triage nurses who work in General Practice? If not, perhaps they are the ones who will have two-week waiting times.

If a charge is levied on seeing a nurse, then will it be proportionate to a nurse’s salary in relation to that of a GP? If it is, I wonder if it will be worth the administrative bother, for the amount is unlikely to prove a deterrent to most people.

We are seeing the  thin edge of the wedge in the dissolution of our weary NHS.

Catherine Ormerod, Wolsingham, Co Durham

I remember the furore when politicians legislated that dentists could run a private practice alongside working for the NHS. But what bliss; I can get an emergency appointment within a day, it is easy to book regular appointments and the day before, I get a reminder on my mobile phone.

This is in stark contrast to the service provided by the doctor. Jane Merrick’s (8 May) experience is commonplace. The doctor’s receptionists refuse to answer the phone as there are no appointments and the recorded message is clear; if you are ill take yourself off to A&E. Visit the surgery and you can book an appointment in three weeks’ time.

In short, the concept of being able to see a GP on the NHS is no longer fit for purpose. We need to employ more doctors and the only way to pay for this is to charge for each visit; a charge of £25 for a 15-minute consultation seems to me reasonable.

So going down the dentists’ route would mean a two-tier system, but everyone would benefit. Private patients would be able to see a doctor within two days and if NHS patients had to wait four days, that would certainly be better than the 21 days currently suffered. Also, private patients could finance technology that would reduce missed appointments.

Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey

Anti-frackers are not all tree-huggers

Your editorial in support of fracking (8 May) was jaw-dropping. Has it not occurred to you that there must be good reason why so many people are so against fracking? Christian Aid has an anti-fracking petition. The National Trust won’t allow fracking on its land. Petitions abound on the internet supported by the RSPB, the Women’s Institute, Salvation Army, Wildlife Trust, Greenpeace, Cafod, members of the Climate Coalition. So why are their views not put forward?

People worried about the rush to start fracking are portrayed as tree-hugging fanatics when those I know who are concerned about its dangers are ordinary middle-class people, and indeed mostly Tory voters.

I don’t live anywhere near a proposed drilling site so I am not a nimby – just a concerned citizen who is capable of looking up some independent research on the topic.

The Government has neglected to devise an energy policy so it is now panicking but who will pay the price? The lifespan of each well is about three years requiring thousands to be drilled to make the industry viable. The lifespan of the agriculture and tourism industries is indefinite and will be destroyed by fracking. Remember Spanish cucumbers, as an example, and how one rumour of contamination devastated the whole industry; crops grown near fracking sites will go the same way.

The companies wishing to frack are foreign firms. The CEO of Cuadrilla has said that fracked British oil or gas won’t bring our prices down and the irony is that they will be selling it all to France and Germany, countries where there is a moratorium on fracking.

Is the pressure to rush and get drilling really worth the very real health risks – including neurological diseases and cancer –  that independent research says exist?

Fiona Watson, Mayfield, East Sussex

Several letters that were published in response to your recent shale-gas editorial (10 May) failed to take into account the most recent conclusions of the IPCC, generally recognised as the last word on climate-related issues. In the Summary for Policymakers of the latest assessment report (AR5), they state that in scenarios where CO2 is limited to 450ppm CO2eq by 2100, global natural gas consumption increases, before peaking, and only falls back below current levels after 2050, four decades from now.

When questioned on the role for shale gas during the press conference that accompanied the report’s release, co-chair Ottmar Edenhofer stated: “We have in the energy supply also the shale gas revolution, and we say that this can be very consistent with low carbon development, with decarbonisation. That’s quite clear.”

The IPCC has made its position clear, supporting the use of natural gas as a “bridging” fuel up to and beyond 2050. Whatever their reasons for opposing shale-gas development, your correspondents  should not use concerns over global climate  change as justification, unless they wish to deny the contents of the latest IPCC report.

Dr James Verdon, NERC Research Fellow, University of Bristol

So Europe is going to “cut itself off” from Russian gas and find new sources? (Oliver Wright, 9 May)  That certainly sounds like wishful thinking but, more importantly, it is definitely music to the ears of the fracking fraternity and those investing in that industry.

So the question remains as to whether the conflict in Ukraine is an (un)fortunate coincidence or whether the backroom-boys (of Nato, the US, the EU and the oil/gas industry) have used a little meddling in the Ukraine as a convenient stick with which to prod the sleeping bear (Russia) in order to create some turmoil and thereby get the European public on board the fracking bandwagon?

God help our groundwater and the future generations who might want to drink it.

Alan Mitcham, Cologne

Clarkson says what others daren’t Congratulations to Howard Jacobson (10 May) for bringing sanity to the furore over Jeremy Clarkson’s latest transgression. If Clarkson is to be held to account, let it be for the crime against civilisation that is Top Gear; not for some characteristically puerile utterance, no doubt calculated to bait his detractors and generate yet more publicity for his odious presence.

I suspect Mr Jacobson has almost put his finger on an uncomfortable truth: that Clarkson serves as a national treasure for the Daily Mail-reading, Ukip-leaning, suburban-dwelling, anti-intellectual classes who never, and painfully know they’ll never, have the courage to publicly voice the sort of twaddle that he gleefully perpetuates.

Trevor Carter

Bristol Russell brand vs William Shakespeare

I agree with John Walsh (8 May) that OCR’s plan to include Russell Brand and Dizzee Rascal in the new A-level English syllabus is probably a wind-up. On the other hand, it could be a good thing. After studying the vacuous vapourings of Brand and the pathetic prose of Rascal, discerning students will be better able to appreciate the soliloquies of Shakespeare and the beauty of Brontë.

Stan Labovitch, Windsor

Nothing German about these royals

Every so often, some bright spark will make the cheap joke that the Royal family or a member of it is actually German. For the information of David Bracey (letters, 9 May) George V was born at Marlborough House, London; his father, Edward VII, was born at Buckingham Palace.

John Dakin, Dunstable, Bedfordshire

A Eurovision to celebrate

You’ve got to love The Eurovision Song Contest, it’s the only competition where Wurst is best.

Mark Thomas, Histon, Cambridgeshire


Sir, It comes as no surprise that researchers now say that the average pensioner will end up spending £140,000 of their personal savings on a care home, well above the proposed cap of £72,000 (report, May 12).

Although the government cap seems to indicate that there is a political will to change a system that is currently incredibly complicated, if anything, the new proposals seem to recommend a system that will be even more incomprehensible. Relatives wishing to investigate the costs of a care home for a loved one will need expert guidance to explain how the funding will work.

The so-called cap is misleading on two levels. The higher costs result from the fact that the limit introduced by the government only applies to care costs set by the local council, and does not take into consideration the hidden “hotel costs” for bed and board — which are as much as £15,000 a year. In addition, there is a limit to how much you can count towards the cap each week, which is dictated by the rate the local authority would pay towards care.

For example, a care home costing £900 a week may be supported by the local authority by up to £500 a week per person. The cap would only apply to that rate set by the local authority, meaning that each resident would either need to pay the difference themselves or wait considerably longer to reach the “cap”.

Older people already have to go to extraordinary lengths to meet the financial burden of paying for their future care, and the current proposed gap is not only confusing but also only benefits a minority in practice. I find it hard to understand how the measures go far enough in alleviating the financial impact that the reforms will have on older people who have worked hard all their lives to ensure they are looked after when they may need care.

Leon Smith

Executive vice-president, Nightingale Hammerson, London SW12

Sir, Mary Conway (“Carpe diem”, letter, May 12) is understandably upset that this “grasping” government expects her father to pay for his care when admitted to a home; thus depriving her and her children of their anticipated windfall — for which they themselves have not worked.

The alternative is for this “grasping” government to add this cost to the tax bill of those who are working. Someone has to pay. Who?

AA Gibberd

Basingstoke, Hants

Sir, Mary Conway asks “what sort of nation are we to become if we’re too frightened to work hard and save, because the grasping government will snatch it back?”Perhaps a better question would be “what sort of person expects the rest of us to pick up the bill for their care so that they can blow their savings on jolly nice cars and expensive holidays?”

Andy Charlwood


Sir, Mary Conway’s father had better eat, drink and be merry in haste before HMRC empties her father’s bank account to defeat his aggressive tax avoidance.

Richard Tweed


As a group, they are some of the most principled, personable, noble and public-spirited people I have ever met

Sir, Your leader “In Praise of Whistleblowers” (May, 7) rightly urged support for both a review of some past cases, both to address past injustice and to send out a message of encouragement to whistleblowers of the future.

However, having represented a number of whistleblowers over the past 20 years, I was struck by the implication of your suggestion that they “can be difficult people and uncomfortable colleagues. They may act from a number of motives, not all of them noble.” Although those statements are self-evidently true, in literal terms, they do not fairly reflect the whistleblowers whom I have met and for whom I have acted, many of them in the health sector. As a group, they have been some of the most sensible, principled, personable, noble and public-spirited people whom I have ever met.

Patrick Green, QC

London EC4

Step-dogs have more potential to hinder relationships than stepchildren ever will

Sir, It is not stepchildren that prospective partners should be wary of (report, May 9), but step-dogs. They have greater potential to hinder relationships than children ever will.

Richard Warnock

Melton, Suffolk

Others may carp, but this customer had a rather upmarket experience in Homebase in Kensington…

Sir, My experience in Homebase is more positive than that of Hilary Johnston (letter, May 10). When I asked an assistant there where to find the 10kg sacks of salt, he started to lead me towards the area I wanted. In order not to divert him from whatever else he was doing, I suggested he simply point to the appropriate section. “Oh! Sir,” came the reply, “we don’t point in Kensington.”

Julian Nokes

London W8

Roy Race of Melchester Rovers had an unfortunate habit of playing with his boots on the wrong feet

Sir, Giles Smith’s article (May 10) on Roy Race of Melchester Rovers was good, but neglected to mention his unfortunate habit of playing with his boots on the wrong feet, as illustrated. If only he could have remembered to check this before he went out I think his record would have been the equal of Dickie Ord’s, the Sunderland icon, who almost always remembered.

David Cousin

Abingdon, Oxon

Scots may yet rue the finality of the vote — and the lack of a chance to see the exact terms of the deal

Sir, With the referendum in Scotland barely four months away, and the polls showing a closer result than at one time seemed likely, there is one aspect of the process which has so far received almost no comment.

The referendum is very unusual in that the electorate is being asked to vote for or against independence with very few details of what a Yes vote will entail. This is the original “pig in a poke”. And if the Scots vote Yes, they will have given their politicians carte blanche to negotiate the best terms they can for the separation from the rest of the UK, but with no recourse and no ability to reject those terms if they turn out to be unfavourable. In a strange twist, if the Scottish electorate votes Yes, it is committed, and neither it nor its negotiators will subsequently have the power to say No if the terms of the separation are not acceptable.

This changes the negotiations after a Yes vote. With the Scots not able to walk away from the table and say, in effect, “If those are your final terms we reject them and choose not to exercise our right to leave the UK”, what incentive does Westminster have to concede anything it doesn’t want to?

Scots may yet rue the finality of the vote on September 18, and the lack of a chance to see the terms of the deal before they decide whether to accept them.

John Nugée

New Malden, Surrey


Cleaning a Panama hat requires a gentle touch

Real McCoy: a Panama hat producer and exporter from Cuenca, in the highlands of Ecuador

Real McCoy: a Panama hat producer and exporter from Cuenca, in the highlands of Ecuador  Photo: Jeremy Horner / Alamy

6:58AM BST 12 May 2014

Comments54 Comments

SIR – Alan Watson asks how to clean his Panama hat without dissolving it. I use the steam from a kettle and a soft brush to remove dust and light dirt. Marks are tricky, but I am told a soft nail brush with lightly soaped water works.

It must be dried quickly.

Peter Owen
Claygate, Surrey

SIR – My wife’s new Panama hat came with advice to “carefully roll from front to back in line with the band, but never top to bottom”, and to remove stubborn marks using a baby wipe, taking care not to rub too hard.

Philip Wright
London SW11

SIR – Does a Panama hat need to be cleaned? My husband bought his in 1955 and has worn it every year, most recently two months ago in South Africa; but it has finally been laid to rest on a cloakroom peg.

Rosemary Morton Jack
OddinSIR – While the decision to permit women to serve in combat roles currently denied to them might well be forced on our Armed Forces by European law, the Government should remember that the purpose of our forces is the protection and defence of Britain and its interests. It is not as a vehicle for the high-minded pursuit of gender equality.

Is there really a need for women to be employed in the SAS due to a dearth of volunteers? The fitness standards for those seeking to join the top end of close combat roles are very exacting, and justly so, when one considers the environment they have to operate in.

To require our special forces to accept unsuitable candidates who cannot achieve the required fitness standards, all in the misguided name of equality, would not enhance their operational effectiveness, but more likely diminish it.

Phil Mobbs
Wantage, Oxfordshire

SIR – Have MPs who advocate that women soldiers should be allowed to bear arms seen the size of the aggressive, balaclava-covered males in the pro-Russian gangs in the Ukraine?

Would our politically-correct leaders be happy to send female soldiers into that sort of situation?

Bevill Conder
Ruislip, Middlesex

Confused robins

SIR – Seeing as the AM radio signal has been in operation in this country for over 90 years, it’s ridiculous to blame Radio 5 Live or any other AM radio station for the disorientation of robins.

If electromagnetic radiation is indeed to blame, it is far more likely to be the fault of mobile phone masts and the massive increase in the installation of domestic

wi-fi hubs, especially in cities, leaking electrical noise into the atmosphere.

Blame the digital generation, not the analogue one.

Chris Rogers
Kingsbridge, Devon

SIR – While there are undoubtedly several species of small migratory birds that might be affected by Radio 5 Live transmissions, I doubt that the robin is one of them.

The robins who are living in my garden show no urge to travel – they sunbathe on the grass in summer, pose for Christmas card portraits in the snow, devour the contents of the bird feeders in spring, and are my constant companions in any gardening efforts.

Sally Gibbons
London SW19

Stuck with Eurovision

SIR – I am sorry to disappoint Mick Ferrie but not being a member of the EU is no bar to taking part in the Eurovision song contest. Look at Israel, Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine and others.

So if we do leave the EU, don’t expect to get out of Eurovision quite so easily.

Ian Prideaux
London SW4

Nagging doubts

SIR – While cold and wet, up a ladder in indifferent weather on Saturday morning, cleaning the roof of our conservatory, I looked down to see my wife enjoying a cup of coffee, and reading The Daily Telegraph.

I could just about make out the headline: “If men weren’t so lazy, we wouldn’t have to nag them”.

Roger W Payne
Over Peover, Cheshire

Out-of-hours GPs

SIR – An elderly relative was taken ill at the weekend, so I rang the NHS 111 service for advice. The person on the other end of the line used a rigid script, and asked a list of tick-box questions, which rendered her indistinguishable from an automated response machine. Ten minutes later, I was actually asked what the problem was.

At that point, I was told that a doctor would call me back. Forty-five minutes later I received the call, and the doctor decided to call out a paramedic, which I could have done in the first place. The paramedic was very good, but he then had to report to yet another layer of the bureaucracy that has been set up to replace an out-of-hours visit from a local GP. Thirty years ago, I would have rung my local surgery, and one of the 10 doctors would have come out on a visit.

The Government must make GPs revert to the old system of doing their own out-of-hours cover. The current system is wasting a huge amount of money, and is failing the population it purports to serve.

L M Averill
Biddulph, Staffordshire

Long-haul animals

SIR – As well as information as to how an animal has been slaughtered, the public should also know whether it was subjected to the inhumane and unacceptable practice of long journeys across Europe, sometimes of more than 1,000 miles. Why is such transportation of live animals even necessary?

Roslyn Pine
London N4

Pesky children

SIR – Congratulations to Amanda Craig when she dares to ask the question: “Why should we accept the hell of other people’s children?”

My wife and I have noticed that as soon as parents limit their children’s “screen time”, the situation seems to descend into “scream time”.

We have given up frequenting public places during school holidays and at the weekends.

Neil Webster
Preston, Lancashire

SIR – Yes, other people’s children are hell. That is why, when I want a seaside holiday abroad, I go to Croatia with its beautiful rocky shoreline.

Not a bucket and spade in sight.

James Logan
Portstewart, Co Londonderry

How to make road crossings more efficient

SIR – As well as timing pedestrian lights so that elderly people can cross the road in some comfort, we should adopt the widespread Continental practice of installing countdown timers on traffic lights.

These inform drivers and pedestrians alike of the time left before the lights change. This takes the guesswork out of crossing the road, and the frustration out of waiting to drive on.

Stuart Robertson
Aboyne, Aberdeenshire

SIR – Robert Goodwill, a transport minister, said that more traffic light systems would include sensors to ensure that they remained on red if someone was making their way across the street. Will the sensors also detect when nobody is there, and turn the light to green sooner?

This would avoid motorists having to sit at a red light with no one there, thus wasting valuable fuel and time.

Paul Master
Reading, Berkshire

SIR – Instead of letting the red lights stay on longer on pedestrian crossings in order to enable older people to cross the road, we should revert to the use of the flashing amber light that was introduced precisely for this purpose.

Prof R Hanka
Wolfson College, Cambridge

SIR – I was pleased to read that we will be allowed more time to cross the road.

There is a crossing in Stratford-upon-Avon known in our family as the Roger Bannister crossing.

Anne Black
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

gton, Gloucestershire

SIR – The proposal to allow HM Revenue and Customs to raid someone’s bank account without a court order in the belief that the individual or company has evaded taxation, is against the very principles of the rule of law that originated in this country.

We live in a country that is protected from the overbearing powers of the executive and legislature by having a judiciary that protects our individual freedom and liberty. This proposal is an attack on this principle.

James A Paton
Billericay, Essex

SIR – It is extremely easy to “owe” HMRC money, because all they have to do is write and say that you do. This is what happened to me after HMRC acknowledged that they had got the tax wrong for six million people in 2011. When they were meant to be putting things right, they sent me a highly inaccurate claim for a supposedly underpaid amount of tax. It took weeks of effort to unravel.

As the law stands, there is very little incentive for HMRC to be fair or accurate; if it is allowed to raid bank accounts directly all restraints will go. The so-called safeguards are derisory, and HMRC could quickly ride roughshod over them. Thousands of people may find that money has been effectively stolen from them, with the full consent of the Treasury.

The only hope is that this measure will prove a massive vote-loser in the run-up to the general election, and will, therefore, be suspended.

Sally Wainman
Ipswich, Suffolk

SIR – I am disappointed that MPs have not refused Government plans to raid personal and business bank accounts as a matter of principle. Will reciprocal rights be offered for small businesses to collect debts from slow-paying large enterprises?

The HMRC scheme appears flawed from the outset: what good is a 14-day period for resolution, when HMRC has a seven-week backlog of unattended post.

Andrew Smith
Epping, Essex

SIR – The Government is already effectively depleting savers’ bank accounts without the need for HMRC to raid them, by imposing a derisory rate of interest at way below inflation, and also by printing money. The HMRC proposal is further encouragement to those who have savings to remove their money and spend it.

Robert Sunderland
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

SIR – Is the proposal that the HMRC can seize what it says people owe in tax a prelude to all income going straight to the taxman? They will then release what they calculate you deserve.

Given their inability to add two and two, we will not get much returned.

D M Watkins
Plaxtol, Kent

Irish Times:

Sir, – I concur with Prof Diarmaid Ferriter’s view regarding the apparent unease of Government at commemorating our revolutionary past (“Ordinary lives best define our revolutionary decade”, Opinion & Analysis, May 9th).

I believe the Government decision to invite British royalty to the centenary commemoration of the 1916 Rising is a deliberate attempt to use the glamour and cult of celebrity monarchy to distract public attention away from the ideology and ideals of the women and men of 1916. Instead of a sovereign people, we have sovereign debt. Instead of a spiritual nation, we have a spiritual wasteland. Instead of talking about an agenda of sovereignty, equality and decolonisation, we will be talking about who shook whose hand and what people were wearing.

The current political elite wants to avoid comparisons between its shabby and bankrupt political ideology and the ideals of the leaders of 1916.

What has Enda Kenny in common with Patrick Pearse other than they were both school teachers and both owned houses in Mayo? How does Eamonn Gilmore’s ideology measure up to that of James Connolly?

Our current political leaders don’t want comparisons drawn between themselves and the 1916 leaders, they don’t want to talk about their ideology and beliefs and they don’t want to talk about why the noble objectives of the Proclamation have not been attained in 100 years of independence. – Yours, etc,


Templeville Road,


Dublin 6W.

Sir, – In debating the pros and cons of a royal presence at the commemoration of the Easter Rising in 2016, don’t we need to consider extending an invitation to a representative of the House of Hohenzollern in view of the reference in the 1916 Proclamation to “our gallant allies in Europe”? – Yours, etc,


Vale View Lawn,


Dublin 18.

Sir, – Diarmuid Ferriter’s opinion piece of May 9th was a welcome relief from the latest attempt to rewrite history.

Whatever our present relationship with England, the fact is that we had hundreds of years of wars and oppression by a foreign power. Thankfully, the Rising of 1916 proved a successful forerunner to the fight for the return of Irish autonomy.

It is inconceivable to me that we should commemorate this Rising and the subsequent deaths that resulted from it and the conflicts that followed as if rule by the British Empire had been a benign agreement between two nations.

Given this, it is no surprise that the downgrading of history in schools should now be on the cards. – Yours, etc,


Crumlin Road,

Dublin 12.

Sir, – We seem to be acting out a strange echo of life in Ireland 100 years ago. We have had the royal visit, and a mild reawakening of pro-British sentiment. We have an understanding and empathy for those who decided then to rush to the British army recruiting stations. Constitutional nationalism dominates the political agenda, but is showing signs of ideological exhaustion. A Sinn Fein-led opposition is growing in strength. – Yours, etc,


Foster Place,

North Ballybough,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – Dominic Carroll (May 10th) wonders “what possessed” the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) to issue a statement regretting the resignation of the former minister for justice.

The ICCL’s statement, available on its website, regrets that it became “necessary” for the former minister to resign, clearly acknowledging the necessity of his resignation. Nonetheless, the council frankly acknowledges Mr Shatter’s significant legislative legacy, especially in the area of equality law reform. Mr Carroll may have noticed that a similar degree of magnanimity has characterised the responses to Alan Shatter’s resignation by Mick Wallace TD and Garda whistleblower John Wilson.

From the outset of the current spate of Garda-related controversies, the ICCL has called for those responsible to be held to account. It will continue to do so, but by playing the ball, not the woman or the man. – Yours, etc,



Irish Council

for Civil Liberties,

Blackhall Place,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – Readers should appreciate one aspect of Alan Shatter’s legacy – as minister for justice he ordered a review of the trial and death by hanging of Harry Gleeson for the murder of Mary McCarthy in November 1940. Harry Gleeson’s conviction has remained controversial for decades – many individuals and organisations have consistently proclaimed his innocence – and it was only because Mr Shatter reviewed the brief presented by the Innocence Project that new hope exists for a posthumous pardon for Mr Gleeson. Credit where it is due. – Yours, etc,


Redesdale Road,

Mount Merrion,

Co Dublin.

A chara, – With the resignation of Alan Shatter, the Irish people have lost the one minister for justice with the intelligence and strength of will to fix the systemic problem. Instead, the lack of accountability will probably persist under a friendlier face. – Is mise,


Charles Street East,



Sir, – I read with interest the report that the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has recently entered “talks about talks” with the Government over the proposed contract to introduce free GP care for children under six (“More talks on free GP care to take place,” Home News, May 10th).

It is truly incredible that any organisation representing doctors would even consider discussing a document that contains a “gagging clause” preventing its own members from criticising the HSE. I find it appalling to think that my constitutional right to free expression could somehow be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations between a union and the State.

Furthermore, it is my view that the IMO currently has little credibility with many members of the medical profession. This is as a result of the astonishing pension arrangements afforded to a former chief executive of that organisation and the ongoing failure to hold a promised independent inquiry into these matters.

Regrettably, in recent years the IMO also failed to support reforms that gave young, fully qualified GPs the same entitlement to treat medical card holders as their established peers.

Finally, it should be pointed out that an alternative representative organisation, the National Association of General Practitioners , has been deliberately excluded from any talks process, despite having over 1,000 GP members and no history of multimillion euro pension arrangements for its staff. Neither the Government nor the IMO appear concerned by this. I wonder why? – Yours, etc,


Bush Road,


Navan, Co Meath.

Sir, – Debra James (May 12th) informs us that one night spent in the hotel at London’s Shard building (£14,000) is the equivalent to the amount of money that half of the world’s population live on for 26 years .

I am not sure what conclusion we are expected to draw from these facts.

I am reminded somewhat of the loathing that existed for the owners of big houses who nevertheless provided employment the length and breadth of the country.

When they were successfully expelled, the call went out for factories to be provided for the unemployed in the distressed areas.

Such factories, had they been built to any extent, would probably have offered conditions that were worse than those in the big houses. Of course, the Irish solution to the problem was emigration.

A night at the Shard results in money trickling down to caterers, cleaning staff, manufacturers, food suppliers, etc, and helps to create employment in all these sectors.

On the basis that a fool and his money are soon parted, I can only encourage more visitors to avail of these bargain Shard rates whilst they are still available. – Yours, etc,


Ballyraine Park


Co Donegal.

Sir, – Paul Cullen rightly highlights concerns at the prescription charge of €2.50 for medical card holders (“GPs call for review of prescription charges”, Home News, May 6th).

However the charge for those of us who pay €144 per month under the drugs payment scheme should also be highlighted.

Currently one of the major pharmacy chains charges us a fee of €7 per item of prescription per month and another charges €5 per item.

Both say they cannot supply more than one month’s prescription at a time, thereby preventing customers from saving on the monthly prescription fee.

The lesson for all customers is to ask for details of the underlying charge per item, both product and prescription fee, even though the total is capped at €144 per month.

By doing so, customers may be able to reduce the cost of their drugs to less than €144 per month, especially if they switch to doctor-approved generics. – Yours, etc,


Waltham Terrace,


Sir, – Paddy Cosgrave, founder of the Dublin Web Summit, only wants to hire top honours graduates to fill upcoming positions (“Tech entrepreneur hits a nerve”, Education, May 9th). He is overlooking a big opportunity. The founders of the top three technology firms in the world all have one thing in common. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs all dropped out of college to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities. A more inclusive hiring process might capture more potential greats. – Yours, etc,


School of Marketing,

Faculty of Business,

Dublin Institute

of Technology,

Aungier Street,

Sir, – John Lee (May 10th) equates the reduction in numbers of smaller birds, or songbirds, to the increase in magpie numbers. If only the loss of so many songbirds could be so easily explained. Many long-term studies have proven that magpie numbers do not have a detrimental effect on songbird numbers. Indeed there is evidence to the contrary.

Because the predation by magpies at this stage of the breeding season is so easily observed, it is often misconstrued by the casual observer as being overly destructive when it is merely the normal cut-and-thrust of nature.

Rather than call for the reduction of magpie numbers, we would be better employed in looking at the real causes of a decline in songbirds and in particular the high mortality rate among newly fledged birds. Then we might do something about the loss of habitat, the use of pesticides, the free roaming of cats, the overuse of slug pellets and all the other factors that actually have an impact. – Yours, etc,




Co Louth.

Sir, – I agree that it is distressing to see and hear magpies attack nesting birds and their eggs and chicks but they are not the cause of the apparent decline in songbirds in our cities. What makes life more difficult for small birds is having nowhere to build nests safely.

Our suburban gardens are getting smaller and tidier, with fewer shrubs, trees or damaged roofs for small birds to nest safely in. On top of this, birds have fewer places to forage for food in the nesting season as we increasingly keep our gardens plant-free.

As if this were not bad enough, cats probably kill more small birds than magpies and they seem to be increasing in number, while magpie numbers have been steady for about 20 or 30 years. If you want to help birds, here are some tips: put a bell on your cat and keep it in at night; provide nest boxes and maintain or plant hedges and shrubs. Further excellent information is also available on the advice section of the Birdwatch Ireland website. – Yours, etc,


Castle Park,



Sir, – What is it with the spate of former government ministers coming out of the woodwork in an attempt to revise history?

Eamon Ryan (May 10th) did not favour privatisation of State assets, even though he signed up to the troika “review” of those assets, and Michael McDowell (May 7th) was not in favour of “light-touch regulation”, even though this was a central tenet of his former party’s philosophy.

Is it any wonder people are so cynical when it comes to politics? – Yours, etc,


Howth Road,


Dublin 5.

Sir, – I am beginning to wonder if Danske Bank really wants to leave the personal banking market in Ireland.

After 20 years of banking with Danske, my husband and I are in the switching process but Danske will just not let go. In the process (over three months now) we have had utility bills misdirected, life assurance suspended and multiple mortgages payments deducted from our account. I think this administrative blundering is really just a delaying tactic.

I have heard of the long goodbye but this is ridiculous. – Yours, etc,



Cliff Road,


Co Waterford.

Sir, – James O’Keeffe (May 10th) suggests slugs are deterred by eggshells and coffee grounds. Do slugs instinctively understand coffee is a stimulant, which would result in them being less sluggish? – Yours, etc,


Roebuck Castle,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – There are more humane ways of getting rid of slugs and snails other than killing them. You can always try to reason with them or send them a solicitor’s letter, but if that does not work you may well have to line your allotment with election posters. – Yours, etc,


Monalea Park,

Firhouse, Dublin 24.

Sir, – Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher is far too hard on himself in defending his €843,000 salary (“Bank of Ireland chief defends hard line on debt forgiveness”, Front Page, May 9th). “There will be some people . . . who if I got paid sixpence would say it’s too much”, he says. I should think that many people would be of the view that sixpence is just about right. – Yours, etc,



Oxford Road,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – Further to Mary Mulvihill’s article on William Rowan Hamilton (“Where’s the bridge for our greatest scientists?”, (Science, May 8th), in which she writes that there is not a building named after the great man, in fact there is one – a splendid sheltered housing complex in Cabra, in which I have lived for the past nine years. Not a bad memorial, I think. – Yours, etc,


Rowan Hamilton Court,

Dunmanus Road,


Dublin 7.

Irish Independent:

Let’s give humanity a chance – divinity can look after itself


An open bible with grass and a man walking towards a cross

Published 13 May 2014 02:30 AM

In response to a spate of recent over-confident letters, I should like to suggest that we cannot prove the existence of a God; we can give reasons why our convictions take us in one direction or the other.

Also in this section

Let’s hope moral ground in Garda Siochana rediscovered

Letters to the Editor

Let’s make sure we know how to vote, not just for whom

Those who appeal to the methods of science have got their science badly wrong. Other than in mathematics, we do not talk about proof but of varying levels of probability.

The notion that nothing can be said to be true unless it can be verified in experience now resides in the museum of bad ideas, as such an assertion is self-defeating. The belief that only what is verifiable in experience can be claimed to be true is not itself amenable to such verification.

Our rational lives are constituted by the exchange of ideas where we are ready to give reasons, not proofs, for what we hold to be the case. On the basis of the same considerations, some will take a deistic position, others an atheistic or agnostic one.

For years, the archpriest of the defence of atheism was Professor Anthony Flew. He is unique in also being the writer of a wholehearted defence of theism in his more recent change of mind.

We find straw arguments coming from all directions. Who needs persuading that a God who stands by and watches a child murdered or who sends offenders to a torture chamber for eternity is a monster?

In the midst of my doubts, what has never left me is the reality of a good man, Christ, who walked this Earth and revealed not what it was like to be divine but what it was like to be human.

The challenging simplicity of his life has so often been lost in a haze of convoluted discussions about whether he was God, man or both.

Let’s give humanity a chance; divinity will look after itself.

Our humanity is not constituted by being on our knees relating to God but by being on our feet relating to one another.


Higher casualties than 820

I was most interested to read Part One of ‘Ireland at War’ (Irish Independent, May 10). Diarmaid Ferriter is certainly correct when he states that the reasons why Irishmen enlisted in the British armed forces during the World War I are multi-faceted.

He is also correct that there would possibly not have been any 1916 rebellion except for the war. However, I would contend that it was the 1916 rebellion that made partition more likely and actually copperfastened it.

I would take issue with the number of casualties given for Limerick as being 820. The reason for this is that the war memorial erected in Pery Square, Limerick City, on November 10, 1929, and blown up during the month of August 1957, had as part of its inscription, ‘To the Glory of God and to the 3,000 Officers, NCOs and Men from Limerick City and County who died in the Great War 1914-18′.

There is also another version to that enunciated by Ronan Abayawickrema regarding the conscription issue. Most assuredly the British authorities had placed conscription on the Military Service Act 1918 for Ireland, this, it could be argued, was done to assuage British public opinion.

Irishmen, after all, had taken the jobs vacated by British workers who were fighting in the war, and this incensed them. There was, therefore, no attempt to introduce conscription in Ireland in April 1918.

There is also the fact that an order would have had to be issued by the government to implement this clause. This would have had to wait for a resumption of Parliament after the summer recess and, by the time this happened, peace feelers were being made that would lead to the Armistice of November 11, 1918.


No ambassador for 17 months

What has Ireland done to offend the sensitivities of US diplomacy? It is 17 months since the last US ambassador to Ireland left office and a successor has not even been nominated at this stage. Ireland ranks alongside Bolivia, Venezuela, Sudan, Syria and Eritrea in the length of time it is taking US President Barack Obama to nominate his ambassador, despite the President’s proclamation on St Patrick’s Day that, “there is a little bit of green behind the red, white and blue”.

One of the functions of an ambassador is to foster trade. It is noteworthy that during the past 17 months, imports of American goods into Ireland have fallen by 25pc.

Perhaps the strategic interest of the US in Ireland does not really extend beyond the convenience of the facilities at Shannon Airport and the warmth of our gracious hospitality.

But how can much-vaunted high-level official visits from Ireland to the United States deliver a desired outcome, or even credible progress, if the mere appointment of an ambassador to Ireland proves to be such an intractable quagmire for the Obama administration?


Archbishop’s refreshing answer

It was refreshing to hear Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, when asked by Sean O’Rourke on the radio recently, “Do you believe in hell?”, answering with great honesty and courage that he only believed in the possibility of hell. All that hell and damnation nonsense is what destroyed this country for years.


Forget about chasing phantoms

I read with interest the many letters on this page in recent weeks arguing for the existence of God and it strikes me that a thread of wishful thinking runs through them all.

A prime example of this is the argument that the beauty and magnificence of the universe is enough to prove that God exists. The very best that this argument can do is to suggest that there is some kind of intelligence behind the formation of the universe. To put a name on this intelligence and claim to know its nature and intention is a huge leap of the imagination that does not hold up to any scrutiny.

Life is meaningless without God, another letter states. I find this the saddest of arguments. Our lives are full of meaning that does not compel us to look to the stars – our families, our relationships, our children, our work, our interests, our achievements and our hopes.

It would be more accurate to say that death is meaningless without God, a thought that should spur us on to appreciate what we have and not spend our short lives chasing phantoms.

Western civilisation is at a stage now where it can be compared to a child who is on the cusp of realising that Santa Claus is not real.

He/she knows that something doesn’t make any sense here but is reluctant to let go of the magic and is afraid that the gifts might not be quite as good.

He/she soon realises, though, that December still comes around every year, Santa Claus or no Santa Claus.


Grateful for whistleblowers

It is an age of information… and disinformation. It is an age of deceit. And Ireland, being divided loosely into cliques of inscrutable loyalties, makes it an age of insider privilege, influence, and naked menace. Thank goodness for whistleblowers.


Irish Independent

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May 12, 2014

12 May2014 MoreAccounts

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate A trip to the USA to sell Black Puddings Priceless

try and sortthe papers for my accountant

Scrabbletoday, Mary wins despite me getting two seven letter words perhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


Stefanie Zweig – obituary

Stefanie Zweig was a German writer whose true-life tale of fleeing the Nazis for British-run Kenya was made into a film

Photo: Writer Pictures

5:55PM BST 11 May 2014


Stefanie Zweig, who has died aged 81, drew on her childhood experience of the Jewish diaspora during the Nazi era in her bestselling novel Nowhere in Africa (originally published in Germany as Nirgendwo in Afrika in 1995); the book was the basis for a German film of the same name which won the Academy Award for best foreign language film in 2003.

A journalist by profession, Stefanie Zweig took the theme in Nowhere in Africa of the rootlessness of her family’s life in Kenya, to which her hitherto prosperous family had escaped from Germany in 1938, when she was five. While her father — a Frankfurt lawyer given the name Walter Redlich in the novel — struggles to adjust to his new life as a farm manager in British East Africa, his daughter, “Regina”, rapidly picks up both Swahili and English and forms close friendships with the Africans who work on the land.

A still from Nowhere in Africa, which won an Academy Award

Stefanie Zweig was born in Leobschütz, a German-speaking town that is now in Poland, on September 19 1932, and soon afterwards her family moved to Frankfurt. By the time she and her mother arrived in Kenya, in June 1938, her father had been working on a farm there for six months. “Having studied only Latin and Greek,” she wrote in The Guardian in 2003, “he neither knew English or anything about cattle or crops. It took me years to understand why my parents told friend and foe that they hated farming… [before he left Germany my father] did not even know that Kenya was a British colony in East Africa.”

While her parents remained bewildered by their new life, Stefanie “loved everything about Kenya”, in particular its people; Nowhere in Africa is jointly dedicated to her father and their houseboy, Owuor. She was not so happy, however, at being sent to the government school in Nakuru, 200 miles from her home: “I hated it. I was an only child, pampered by adoring parents, homesick, shy and speechless — I could not speak a word of English and I had no idea what was expected from me. Having learned the language, I thought it my filial duty to be top of the class — school fees were £5 per month, my father earned £6, and I wanted him to feel that he was investing his hard-earned money well. It complicated my life that swots who were not good at sports were extremely unpopular at Nakuru.” She nevertheless developed a love of the English, and their literature and history.

In 1947 the family returned to Frankfurt, where her father (untainted by Nazi affiliation) resumed his career in the law and became a judge. Back in Germany, as the family mourned the loss of Stefanie’s grandfather and two of her aunts, who had perished in the concentration camps, it was Stefanie’s turn to feel uprooted — an experience she explored in Somewhere in Germany (1996), a sequel to her earlier novel. As she recalled in 2003: “Now it was I who had to give up home and language, tradition, loyalty and love.”

Post-war life was hard. Hunger was commonplace and it took the family 10 months to find one-room lodgings at the former Jewish hospital. Stefanie’s German was inadequate (she has spoken it only during the school holidays while at home with her parents), and she had to relearn the language and also erase her English accent. “The assessment as to which is my mother-language is still going on,” she noted later. “I count in English, adore Alice in Wonderland, am best friends with Winnie-the-Pooh and I am still hunting for the humour in German jokes.”

Stefanie Zweig graduated from the Schiller School in Frankfurt in 1953. From 1959 until its closure in 1988, she worked as a journalist for the Abendpost Nachtausgabe paper, and was its arts editor from 1963. In her spare time she wrote children’s books, one of which — A Mouthful of Earth (1980) — won several awards; it was set in Africa, and gave her the idea to write Nowhere in Africa.

In 2012 Stefanie Zweig published a memoir, Nirgendwo war Heimat: Mein Leben auf zwei Kontinenten (Nowhere was Home: My Life on Two Continents).

Her partner, Wolfgang Häfele, died last year.

Stefanie Zweig, born September 19 1932, died April 25 2014


We are concerned about the lack of oversight by the intelligence and security committee (ISC) regarding the role and function of the NSA at Menwith Hill and other US bases (MPs condemn oversight of spy agencies, 9 May). There is no mention of this secretive and unaccountable US agency anywhere either in the report by the home affairs select committee or in your report and leader (9 May). On 10 April, Fabian Hamilton MP, in a parliamentary question, asked the defence secretary “whether his department was (a) aware of the nature of and (b) consulted before the start of surveillance being carried out at NSA Menwith Hill?” Mark Francois (minister of state, MoD) answered: “Operations at RAF Menwith Hill have always been, and continue to be, carried out with the knowledge and consent of the UK government.”

There is a contingence of GCHQ at NSA Menwith Hill. Some of the documents Edward Snowden revealed confirm that unlawful surveillance and intelligence-gathering of vast numbers of citizens was and is carried out in covert programmes at NSA Menwith Hill and with the assistance of GCHQ. The government confirms it has always known about this. The weak and discredited ISC says it has oversight of all US bases. The government sanctions this illegal activity. It’s essential that the ISC is scrapped in favour of a meaningful and credible independent committee which has oversight of the activities of the US visiting forces and their agencies as well as GCHQ.
Lindis Percy
Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases

• Malcolm Rifkind accuses Snowden and his supporters of “insidious use of language such as mass surveillance and Orwellian” which “blurs, unforgivably, the distinction between a system that uses the state to protect the people, and one that uses the state to protect itself against the people.” Without proper oversight, how would we know?
Barnaby Harris
Buckfastleigh, Devon

In stating that he sees no role for government in setting and enforcing regulations for greater transparency in the labelling of meat, David Cameron is playing into the hands of those who think that Brussels takes too much responsibility for our domestic law (Move to label meat by slaughter method, 9 May). If he wants to show putative Ukip voters that he’s serious about renegotiating the terms of UK membership of the EU, he’d better rethink this bit of non-intervention.
Les Bright
Exeter, Devon

• Giles Fraser is right about our need to care more for living farm animals (Loose canon, 10 May). My son and his family live close to beautiful fields, full of grass, but without a dairy cow to be seen. The cows are imprisoned in vast sheds while the fields, where they should be grazing, are used for silage. Shouldn’t shops label milk to indicate whether the cows who produced it are permanently indoors or are roaming freely in green fields?
Alicia Baker

• Giles Fraser states: “I am a hypocrite in eating the very food whose production I morally condemn.” A bit like people who hunt on Saturday, then sing All Things Bright and Beautiful in church on Sunday.
Yvonne Nicola
Tiverton, Devon

• The inclusion of pigs in your list of the 114 million animals slaughtered annually in the UK according to halal rules (Report, 9 May) raises questions about where and by whom this pork is being consumed.
Sarah Ansari
Windsor, Berkshire

Ian Jack’s article on government promotion of fake self-employment (Private companies are making a fortune out of the unemployed, 10 May) made me think that this government could be staging a huge hoax on voters.

Days earlier, the Guardian reported that, everywhere except London, the government’s vaunted increase in “people in work” was solely due to the increase in “self-employment” (Explosion in self-employment across UK hides real story behind upbeat job figures, 6 May). Ian Jack points to various publicly funded programmes which get unemployed people to reclassify themselves as self-employed, not least the current enterprise allowance scheme. The latter can easily mask that unemployed people are simply accepting a modest reduction in their benefit income in return for freedom to earn a pittance from odd jobs and escape from Department for Work and Pensions harassment via major benefit “sanctions”.

Before the next election, someone should investigate a sample of the new army of “self-employed” to check the proportion for whom “self-employed” is a grossly misleading description. And to check how many of the latter result from publicly funded schemes to make them claim what is a misleading label.
Charles Patmore

• The Resolution Foundation’s research is important. While Thatcher kept the unemployment numbers down by moving many on to incapacity benefit, this government seems to be doing the same by forcing people to “choose” self-employment. However, these often inadequate incomes have to be supplemented with working tax credit just to make the income up to even the level of jobseeker’s allowance.
Jeremy Engineer
Manager, Cheetham Hill Advice Centre

•  Praise be to George Orwell for alerting us to “newspeak” in advance. A contract offered by an employer without a guarantee of paid work isn’t in fact a job (Jobseekers told they must take zero-hours jobs, 6 May). It’s a skewed contract for a new form of casual work.

It’s now possible for the economy to expand, for increasing numbers of people to be “employed”, for unemployment apparently to decrease, and the sum spent on social security to diminish, while more people earn less money in increasingly casualised workplaces. Parents are required to bring up children responsibly, while living in a form of servitude to licensed employers and petty line managers, often themselves at risk of returning to zero-hours. Please don’t use the word “jobs” again in such circumstances, without the inverted commas.
Janet Dubé
Peebles, Scottish Borders

• I found Zoe Williams’ piece (Zero-hours jobseekers? We’ve given up on workplace rights, 7 May) highly depressing but very informative. I just wish she had named and shamed more offending businesses. The only way we are going to change this culture is to vote with our feet and decide where we buy our caffè latte and which supermarket we shop in. Maybe when retailers realise that we don’t want to be served by staff who are being treated so unfairly they will decide to change their position on zero hours.
Ian Phillips

• When listing the ways the government tries to wriggle out of its obligation to provide a safety net to the unemployed, Zoe Williams might have added a bizarre definition of “immigrant” of which my stepson was recently a victim. In spite of being a British citizen who had spent 25 of his 27 years of life in the UK, on returning from a two-year working holiday in Australia he was told he’d have to wait three months before he would be entitled to any benefits. If he hadn’t a family to support him, what was he supposed to do?
Graham Hall
Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan

• Your welcome coverage (1 May) of the dark side of zero-hours contracts (ZHCs) did not mention the possible loss of state pension, one of the worst features of many such contracts. Anyone on a ZHC or short-hours contract who works for less than 18 hours a week at minimum wage, or earns less than £5,700 pa, will not get into the national insurance scheme and build a state pension. If that individual is working two or even three ZHCs or short-hours contracts, each of 15 hours, earning £5,000 in each, he must aggregate his income for tax; but he is not allowed to aggregate his income for NI cover, and thus build his state pension. If he returns to jobseeker’s allowance, having given up the struggle, he then gets credited into NI and gets his pension rights. It is desperately unfair. Why can’t the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the DWP get their act together?
Patricia Hollis
Labour, House of Lords

I look forward to David Cameron extending his “proper threshold” idea (Tories look at making it harder to go on strike, 9 May) to other votes such as local and European elections. I’m sure that both Cameron and Boris Johnson would consider these elections as being at least as important as union members voting on strike action.
Alan Hobbins
Hockliffe, Bedfordshire

•  How much credence should we place on Pfizer’s assurances about British jobs, given their record at Sandwich only three years ago (Report, 6 May)? As Aneurin Bevan once advised: “Why look in the crystal ball when you can read the book?”
Graham Sowter
Langho, Lancashire

• Your obituary on the great musician Antony Hopkins (7 May) contained a glaring omission – the hilarious 78rpm record of Hopkins and Peter Ustinov doing “Mock Mozart” and “Phony Folklore”, which was frequently played at home to huge laughter when I was a child. “Mock Mozart” can now be found on YouTube, as I discovered after reading the obit, and it’s still as brilliant and funny as ever.
Susan Castles
Wem, Shropshire

•  How better to sum up today’s society than pages 22 and 23 of the Guardian on 7 May? Centrepoint’s advert “Did you see Lisa?” opposite “Apple retail boss Ahrendts lands $68m golden hello”.
Elizabeth Dunnett
Malvern, Worcestershire

• How many more weekly columns will Chris Huhne need to write to cover his unreasonable legal costs (Huhne to pay £78,000 prosecution costs, 10 May)?
Sheila Donovan


I am no supporter of Ukip or Nigel Farage, but their rise needs to be understood in terms of the abysmal failure of our traditional three-party system.

The front benches of the main parties are mostly now filled with young professional careerist MPs, predominantly ex-special advisers with little work experience outside the Westminster village. In terms of perceived differences, there is hardly a cigarette paper between the three of them.

None of the current crop of politicians appears to speak for the average working person, and it is not only a problem of policy differences: it is the feeling of a political elite only interested in power. Many years ago, the New Labour spin doctors thought that they were being smart in helping to replace the traditional  trade-union representatives who used to fill the Labour MP ranks with ex-special advisers. But it has done them longer-term harm because now they have hardly anybody on their front bench capable of genuinely empathising with the problems of working people.

The main parties are failing to connect with the electorate and that is why Farage is striking a chord. It seems clear to me that Miliband, Cameron et al do not understand this at all, otherwise there would be a conversation about real political choice – particularly on the economy where no party has yet found a way to construct a fairer capitalism to benefit the masses.

Dr Keith Darlington, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire

Aidan Harrison (letters, 10 May) identifies the irrationality of two of Ukip’s main policies. I would add two more. First, Ukip’s commitment to the market means that even withdrawing from the EU would not make the UK an independent nation in control of its destiny.

Instead, we would be at the mercy of international companies and bankers who could dictate what economic policies, degree of workers’ rights and levels of tax they accepted in return for investing here. Free-market global capitalism is incompatible with genuine national sovereignty.

Second, many Ukip supporters are angry at the pace of change of modern life, and seem to want to return to the stability and security of life in the 1950s. Yet it is not the EU which has destroyed these, but – again – rampant free market capitalism, in which everyone and everything is subordinated to the relentless drive for higher profits. It is neoliberalism – favoured by Nigel Farage – which has created rampant consumerism, crass commercialisation, longer working hours and job-destroying technologies, not Brussels.

Pete Dorey, Bath, Somerset

Some of the Ukip-bashing is painfully stupid and bolsters the view that the establishment is against it. It is not hypocrisy that Ukip don’t dictate “No Polish, No Romanians, No Bulgarians” in their job adverts; to do so would break our current laws on equal treatment. We are still in the EU; Ukip argues to leave it to stop people having equal footing.

Jamie Neale, Sheffield

The emergence of Ukip as a major political force demonstrates the effectiveness of pandering to populist sentiments. It could further enhance its prospects of winning the 2015 General Election if it were to promise to restore the death penalty, increase the length of prison sentences, make life mean life, introduce flogging for some offences and permit the use of corporal punishment in schools, lift the ban on fox-hunting, abolish all speed limits, ban cycling, slash the price of petrol/diesel, beer and tobacco, ban wind turbines and public discussion of the subject of climate change.

Rupert Bullock, Shapwick, Somerset

The really scary development that mainstream politicians seem blissfully unaware of is the prospect of Ukip electoral success enabling them to form a coalition of the right with the Tories after the 2015 General Election.

Richard Denton-White, Portland, Dorset

What the halal row is really about

The current vociferous campaign against halal and shechita slaughter of animals is a transparent excuse to get away with showing the sort of prejudice against Muslims and Jews that is no longer acceptable in a multiracial and multi-faith society.

After all, if anybody really cared about animal suffering, they’d be vegans and not having a debate about whether pre-stunning is necessary.

John Eoin Douglas, Edinburgh

In “PM refuses to get drawn into halal meat row” (9 May), a Downing Street spokesperson is quoted saying that David Cameron is a “strong supporter of religious slaughter practices”. If true, this is a shameful admission and puts him on a collision course with the overwhelming majority of the electorate. We are rightly proud of our humane policies towards animals and it ill behoves the PM to wash his hands of this highly contentious issue and dismiss it as one that the market can decide.

Russell Webb, Ringwood, Hampshire

No one has mentioned the view of the Sikhs over this sensitive issue. Along with the ban on cutting their hair, Sikhs are also forbidden from eating any kind of ritualistically slaughtered meat, such as halal or kosher.

Satinder Singh, Edinburgh

Pfizer bid for Astrazeneca

I have a prediction for you. If this acquisition goes ahead the next step will be to move company registration to Ireland where corporate tax levels are even lower. Several US biopharm companies have already done this by buying companies based in Ireland and taking on the identity of the purchased company.

Ian Skidmore, Welwyn, Hertfordshire

Women on the front line

I was amazed to find myself agreeing with my Tory MP Richard Drax, who was talking on the radio about his own experience as a soldier in the Falklands, bayoneting other young men and asking if that is what we want women to do too? (And, logically, if we want young men to bayonet young women.)

There is a question of gender equality, but there is also a more important question of morality. Do we want more people bayoneting other people? For me the question of women on the front line (report, 9 May) is about whether we want to take a step backwards or forwards. Putting more bayonets into more hands would be a retrograde step.

Lee Dalton, Weymouth, Dorset


If you want to kill someone, use a car

Your report “Ten Years in jail for disqualified drivers who kill” (6 May) exemplifies the love/hate relationship between public, government and drivers over the years.

At one time, the motor vehicle was king and to be convicted of any offence involving such a loved machine, however heinous, was a hit-and-miss affair in higher courts, depending, it seemed, on the balance of motorists and non-motorists on the jury. The Road Safety Act 1968, introducing the legal alcohol limit, was enacted to counter “there but for the grace of God” decisions by juries.

Now it has been decided that more must be done. There remains, even now, an option of grievous bodily harm, actual bodily harm and sundry other charges (mainly under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, as amended) which could be used to charge such persons who, without regard to the effect on others, drive recklessly or disqualified. These can result in longer sentences than those available under the various Road Traffic Acts.

The decision not to use this legislation is, in my view, due to a historical blip whereby any offence involving a motor vehicle was, in the greater scheme of things, seen as less important than the use of an axe, firearm or other un-motorised implement.

I write as a former Metropolitan Police traffic officer in London, where the frustrations over such matters were, to say the least, professionally debilitating.

The reduction in “road policing” is to be deplored. Criminals use vehicles to move about. The record of crime arrests by traffic officers often exceeded those by the CID.

Chris J M Walker, London SW19

Skin-cancer, study of the obvious

A recent study has found that eczema sufferers may be less likely to develop skin cancer (report, 6 May). Did it ever occur to the researchers concerned at King’s College London that eczema sufferers generally carry some of the most hideously disfiguring body blemishes common to humans. Consequently they are far less likely to whip off their kit every the sun comes out in Hyde Park.

Mike Bellion, Sedbergh, Cumbria

Workhouse for a new generation

John Newsinger (Letters, 10 May) is on the money predicting the return of the workhouse. There our ancestors learnt the value of work. But today’s version would surely need the prefix “hard”. The hardworkhouse – preparing folk to be the “hardworking people” of this country.

Jonathan Devereux, St Albans, Hertfordshire


Empics Archive

Published at 12:01AM, May 12 2014

There are persuasive arguments for and against renationalising the railways

Sir, The last thing our railways need now is wholesale reorganisation of the kind that renationalisation would entail. Resurrecting the monolith that was British Rail would do little for customers. The massive sums spent on trains and upgrading the network since privatisation were unavailable to BR as the Treasury kept a stranglehold on spending. We could expect that again.

The franchising process does need reform, however. It is nonsense that many franchises have been awarded to consortia involving state-owned European railways when British state-owned entities are prevented from bidding. It would make sense, for example, to allow the successful team running the East Coast route to bid for the franchise. We must also stop awarding franchises to the lowest bidder. Franchise competitions need to strike a much better balance between bidders’ promises about quality and investment as well as cost.

Michael Patterson

(Secretary, Central Rail Users Consultative Committee, 1987-97)

Swineshead, Lincs

Sir, There is a flaw in Benedict Le Vay’s argument (letter, May 8) that “nostalgia is rose-tinting our view of British Rail”. Such claim assumes that British Rail could not have changed for the better in the 20 years since privatisation. When we see how technology has advanced in the interim and the subsidies to the private railways, such an assumption is groundless.

John Mattison

Beckenham, Kent

Sir, Christian Wolmar (May 6) forgets perhaps that the heyday of the railways was under private ownership funded by private investment. Nationalisation always leads to underfunding, overmanning and a politicised management. Better to manage private ownership effectively.

Roger Jobson

Tuckenhay, Devon

Sir, There is much to disagree with in Mr Le Vay’s letter. Network Rail (owner of track and signalling) is a company limited by guarantee whereas its predecessor, Railtrack, was in the private sector and was a disaster. Most train operating franchises are held by private sector businesses; foreign state-owned franchises are a minority. BR regularly had days when trains ran to time just as now train operators have days when they do not.

I worked for the drivers’ union Aslef in the 1990s when there was just a single one-day strike on BR by drivers; strikes by TSSA, the other union affiliated to Labour, are almost unheard of; strikes by RMT are more common but still rare on National Rail.

More people are travelling by rail but this is primarily because of growth in employment, especially in London but increasingly also in other cities; the rate of station re-opening slowed after privatisation; the train fleet is ageing, up from an average 15 years in 2007 to approaching 19 last year.

There was a string of serious crashes under privatised Railtrack, as victims’ relatives will recall. In fact, Railtrack managed to bring to an end the railway’s history of improving safety as time went by. The replacement of Railtrack by Network Rail led to rapid improvements in safety and the long-term trend of improving safety has thankfully been restored.

Ian Rashbrook

(Aslef HQ staff, 1992-99)

Bexley, Greater London

HMRC’s reluctance to admit mistakes means there are grave concerns about its new powers to raid bank aacounts

Sir, I am appalled by the news that HMRC can raid private bank accounts (May 9). This year I received a very brusque letter from the Inland Revenue threatening to take me to court if I did not pay my outstanding tax immediately. No amount of outstanding tax was shown. I responded by sending copies of the online payments I had made in settlement of my agreed liabilities, one of which was made on its own website. I received no letter of apology, just amended assessments showing no liabilities.

Withdrawing this comparatively large sum directly from my bank account would have been a serious embarrassment and would have undoubtedly taken weeks to obtain repayment.

This action must not be allowed to take place until the Inland Revenue has its house in order, and this seems unlikely to be in the near future.

Norman Nash

Sibford Gower, Oxon

Why don’t British housebuilders produce comfortable and affordable flats like they do in much of the rest of Europe?

Sir, While you favour burying Britain under concrete to house a surging population (leader, May 9), I am grappling with a conundrum. The British housing market could make much more of the precious available land if it were to produce substantial numbers of pleasant, spacious apartments with large balconies that overlook greenery. Why does it fail to do this?

I shall go home to just such an apartment this evening in Belgium, and I enjoy it very much. I was able to buy it. In contrast, a “house” — apparently the non-negotiable ambition of most would-be homeowners in Britain — would have been far beyond my reach.

Mike Mackenzie


Circuit leaders offer to engage with the Ministry of Justice to find savings without destroying the justice system

Sir, The Ministry of Justice is responsible for making sure that the criminal justice system functions. That includes making adequate provision for legal aid so that defendants in criminal cases are represented by suitable advocates.

Last week a judge found that the ministry had failed in its duty. He halted a fraud trial after defendants were denied adequate representation because of cuts to legal aid introduced by the ministry.

The ministry cut fees for some of the most serious, complex, state-funded fraud and terrorist cases by 30 per cent mid-contract. It is like agreeing to pay a builder £300 for a job, then saying halfway through that you that will only pay £200.

The ministry knew what might happen but chose to proceed with the cuts. The current rates of pay for these cases are publicly available. Gross fees for case preparation are between £30 (junior barrister) and £60 per hour (QC) to prepare a case, before expenses. That is less than you would pay a garage mechanic (£80) for labour.

We at the Bar want to engage constructively with the ministry to show it how savings can be
achieved while preserving our
justice system.

Sarah Forshaw, QC

Leader, South Eastern Circuit

Andrew Langdon, QC

Leader, Western Circuit

Andrew O’Byrne, QC

Leader, Northern Circuit

John Elvidge, QC

Leader, North Eastern Circuit

Paul Lewis, QC

Leader, Wales and Chester Circuit

Mark Wall, QC

Leader, Midlands Circuit

One family did some research and found out what they suspect was causing a fit teenager’s asthma

Sir, Apropos asthma (letters May 9), my teenage grandson was suffering from lack of breath at his badminton training and was prescribed an inhaler by his GP.

Fortunately, my daughter read an article about the ills of aerosol deodorants. Within a week or two of changing to a stick deodorant my grandson no longer needs an inhaler and is competing in the county badminton tournaments.

Robert Parkes

Steyning, W Sussex


SIR – Jacqui Goddard reports that a Las Vegas casino banned high-rolling actor Ben Affleck for card counting at blackjack, while pointing out quite correctly that card counting is not actually illegal.

Blackjack is surely unique in casino gambling in being the only game in which the odds can be in favour of the player. In roulette they are about 2.7 per cent in favour of the house, and in craps about 0.7 per cent, which is why craps is popular with skilled players.

Played with perfect skill, which involves using the optimum strategy and remembering all the cards remaining in the shoe, the odds in blackjack are as high as 7 per cent in favour of the player, which is why the shoe is re-loaded when there are still many cards left in it. In practice the best advantage that can be gained is about 5 per cent.

So you may well wonder why the blackjack rules are not adjusted so as to reduce the advantage to the player – but not so far as to persuade the skilled that the game is not worth the bother.

Stanley Eckersley
Pudsey, West Yorkshire

SIR – If they were not so tragic, the attempts by Irish republicans to compare Gerry Adams to Nelson Mandela (report, May 4) would be laughable. They maintain that Gerry Adams’s questioning by police over the disappearance and death of Mrs Jean McConville will jeopardise the peace process.

The “peace process” has certainly enhanced the legacy of British politicians, but the rest of Northern Ireland has been forced to live with the constant fear of offending against their real rulers, whose pleas for peace begin to sound more like thinly-veiled threats to restart the violence should they be thwarted.

Without wishing to downplay the injustices suffered by the minority community, in the Sixties and Seventies, political extremists on both sides faced the problem of Protestants and Catholics who did not hate each other: indeed, the Protestant Mrs McConville’s chief offence seems to have been marrying into the Catholic community, despite converting upon her marriage.

Terrorists from both sides have seen themselves as soldiers fighting a war; but if regular servicemen were suspected of the kidnap and murder of a widowed mother of 10 children, they would face a court martial. They would not be rewarded with money, political status and immunity from prosecution.

Ann Farmer
Woodford Green, Essex

Christian principles without the belief

SIR – Apropos the recent poll on religious beliefs, I believe that there should be another category: “Non-religious, non-practicing Christians” to cover those who practice the teachings of Jesus regarding good behaviour to fellow men, but do not believe that he was the son of a god.

Such people uphold Christian principles in a predominantly Christian country.

Dr Lionel Blackman
Woking, Surrey

SIR – Tim Deane says: “Looking at a beautiful image from the Hubble space telescope of a spiral galaxy, it is difficult to conceive of an all-powerful deity”.

I would suggest just the opposite. A Big Bang may have started it all, but you need an all-powerful deity to provide the materials for a Big Bang out of nothing.

Bill Scott
Mawnan Smith, Cornwall

SIR – The Rev Dr Peter Mullen hit the nail on the head. Our church leaders have been woefully lacking in their proclamations to follow the Gospel of Christ our Saviour. They have either sat on the fence or bent so far over backwards that they have fallen off.

Nora Jackson
Uttoxeter, Staffordshire

Energy efficiency

SIR – As representatives from a variety of businesses, we urge the Government to support stronger energy efficiency action within an ambitious EU 2030 climate package. There are many opportunities to be more energy efficient, for example, more intelligent design and management of energy networks, refurbishment programmes and community energy initiatives.

The EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive is currently under review. This is an opportunity to build on existing EU energy-saving measures, such as setting common market standards for vehicles and energy-using goods. It is also an opportunity to address its biggest failure: the voluntary nature of the EU 2020 efficiency target, which has led to weak national energy efficiency programmes.

The benefits for Britain would be higher economic productivity, as business and consumers spend less on energy overheads, higher energy security from reducing energy imports, and lower carbon emissions as we will burn fewer fossil fuels.

John Swinney
Business Development Director, Energy and Public Services, Carillion plc

Mike Barry
Director Plan A, M&S

Richard Gillies
Group Sustainability Director, Kingfisher

Nigel Holden
Head of Energy, Environment & Engineering, The Co-operative Group

Paul Hicks
Sustainability & Design Manager, Velux

Matthew Rhodes
Managing Director, Encraft

Andrew Raingold
Executive Director, Aldersgate Group

Andrew Warren
Director, Association for the Conservation of Energy

Paul Ellis
CEO, Ecology Building Society

Paul King
Chief Executive, UK Green Building Council

John Sinfield
Managing Director, Knauf Insulation Northern Europe

Robert Barclay
Managing Director, SIG UK and Ireland

Colin Calder
Founder and CEO, PassivSystems

Neil Marshall
Chief Executive,National Insulation Association

Everlasting attorney

SIR – Betty Goble complained about the cost of registering for lasting powers of attorney, and the following week the Public Guardian responded saying how easy the process is. This emboldened us to complete the forms ourselves.

We are completing Health (12 pages) and Property (11 pages) — a total of 46 pages for the two of us. The forms themselves are not difficult to complete but the witness requirements are mind-numbing in their complexity. Even worse, though, is the application to register the powers. Much of the information is either a repetition or irrelevant but the Office of the Public Guardian confirms that we must submit all 14 pages for each of the four powers (56 pages) even though most of them will be blank. This means we shall be sending a total of 102 pages. Is it any wonder that the recorded message tells you that the registration process is currently taking a minimum of 14 weeks?

We can quite see how your original correspondent quoted a cost of £700 per power. It is disingenuous of the Public Guardian to quote the fee of £110 per power as the likely cost when, faced with this level of bureaucracy, many people will need a solicitor’s assistance.

Dr Roger Litton
Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Sign language

SIR – Robert Park longs for British signposts.

We too have just driven 1,000 miles in Spain. However, we marvelled at the excellent road network, often with little traffic and no potholes: a marked contrast to this part of Surrey and much of Britain.

Tim Price
Epsom, Surrey

SIR – In the six miles between my house and Sainsburys in Street there are nine changes of speed limit – plus, of course, all the reminders and the derestriction signs.

Donald R Clarke
Barton St David, Somerset

Religious slaughter

SIR – I wait with bated breath for the next open letter from “prominent secularists/atheists” protesting about the increasingly likely (and unsolicited) prospect of eating meat over which Islamic prayers have been said.

Can you imagine their outrage if Michael Gove announced that pupils in all state schools must say grace before school lunches?

Sally Magill

Girls and boys

SIR – Why is there angst among some women about being referred to as “girls” in the workplace, as discussed on the Today programme this week? I work at a Royal Mail plant where many of the chaps are middle-aged or elderly and we revel in referring to each other as “ the boys”, and “the lads”.

At my advanced age I am flattered to be called “young man” by either sex. The women are generally known as “the ladies” or “the girls”, no matter what their age may be, and they always take it in good part.

Ted Shorter
Hildenborough, Kent

Fishy greetings

SIR – My response to “You all right there?” is to say, “I will be when I’m being served”. That usually produces the required result, particularly at the fish counter in my local Tesco. The assistant there seems to think I’m looking at pictures in an art gallery.

William Morris
Ludlow, Shropshire

SIR – On a recent shopping trip to Luton I was inflicted with at least 12 greetings and farewells which went something like “Ruawlroit?” and “Cyerlayyter!” – a contraction of six words into two. We can thank television for brutalising the vocabulary of at least three generations of children. However, all is not lost, as the current BBC Director General has stated that he is committed to raising standards.

John Smith
Kimpton, Hertfordshire

SIR – At 9 o’clock one morning last week I was asked by a young man at the checkout, “And how has your day been so far?”

I thought it best not to regale him with the details of the gastro-intestinal upset I had suffered earlier.

Christine Holmes
Reigate, Surrey

SIR – David Woodhead says that the Coalition reports on the costs and benefits of the European Union support Britain’s continued membership. Analysis by others, including Professor Patrick Minford, however, says the case for Britain leaving is now overwhelming.

For example, EU regulation alone costs business, trade and employment an estimated £165 billion a year – equal to 11 per cent of GDP. On this evidence, politicians who say jobs will be at risk if Britain were to leave the EU should be more honest and admit that membership could actually be costing jobs and prosperity.

However, what should really concern us is how our politicians are using our democratic electoral process to defend a system of government that avoids the ballot box altogether and allows rampant corruption.

This is morally indefensible. It is no wonder that the British Electoral Study recently found that 60 per cent of those who will support Ukip in the European elections are unlikely to change their allegiance in 2015.

Ann Taylor
Lymington, Hampshire

SIR – Ukip supporters keep claiming that the Labour-appointed peer, Lord Jones of Birmingham, believes that, should we leave the EU, we could have new treaties with all the remaining EU member countries and those outside of it within 24 hours. Would Lord Jones state publicly that this is total nonsense?

Similarly, Ukip supporters like to claim that Winston Churchill would not have wanted a united Europe. As I understand it, the former Conservative prime minster and sometime Liberal very much wanted us to be involved in an organisation which would be willing to co-operate and stop any further wars. As the saying goes, “You keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer”.

As for the eurozone, the collapse has bottomed out and is showing small signs of recovery.

Once that takes full effect, what happens to Little Britain?

Richard Grant
Ringwood, Hampshire

SIR – A “cost/benefit analysis” suggests, to most people, an examination of advantages and disadvantages in terms of cost, and a conclusion as to which is the most beneficial.

“Competence” is defined, in my dictionary at least, as “the quality or extent of being competent.” That the EU’s Court of Auditors has refused, for some 18 years, to give the EU’s accounts unqualified approval may, perhaps, illustrate the gulf between the EU’s understanding of “competence” and that of the man in the street. While the fact that we have traded with the EU at a loss for almost 40 years speaks for itself.

Richard Shaw
Dunstable, Bedfordshire

SIR – David Cameron has promised to carry out an EU referendum if the Tories return to power.

This may convince some voters, but what happens if Mr Cameron is no longer the leader? What guarantee do we have that any successor would fulfil the promise?

Eve Wilson
Fareham, Hampshire

SIR – Although a Conservative voter and interested in politics, I find the Conservative leaflet on the EU Elections rather confusing.

It states that the Conservatives “are fighting to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU”. It then states that I, as a voter, “get the final decision on Britain’s membership of the EU at an in/out referendum by the end of 2017.

Do I understand from that statement that if Britain votes “out” then we will have the opportunity to renegotiate new terms and conditions?

And if the country votes “in”, does that also partially open the door to renegotation? I am confused. Or perhaps politically naive.

Brian Hatch
Marlow, Buckinghamshire

SIR – “In or Out” – why not “In or Common Market”?

P F Fairclough
Tattenhall, Cheshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – I am a parent of two children with special needs, one with Down syndrome and another with autism spectrum disorder. I am also a teacher of three children with special needs in a mainstream class of 28 children in St Anne’s school in Shankill, Co Dublin. My children also attend this school. Most of the special educational needs (SEN) children in St Anne’s have behaviour modification programmes and individualised plans.

The Department of Education and Science recently published a circular (0030/2014) that will drastically reduce the level of support for children and teenagers with special needs. A shocking aspect of this circular is their intention to remove almost all access to specials needs assistants in secondary schools.

This withdrawal of specials needs assistant support in secondary schools comes at a crucial stage for both students and teachers. Secondary schools are only now having to cope with increasing numbers of children with special needs as they come up through the system. Many teachers are still in the early stages of working with children with special educational needs in an inclusive environment. Many of them have not been provided with relevant training to upskill to meet the challenging demands of working with children with SEN children.

This “inclusion policy” is negligent and finance driven. Under the guise of “value for money” it makes victims of our precious, vulnerable children by kicking away their specials needs assistant support.

Both of my children have access to a specials needs assistant as part of an individualised plan and appropriate interventions. Without their invaluable help, they would not be as productive and independent as they are.

My son is starting in mainstream secondary school in September. He suffers from extreme anxiety as part of his Asperger’s syndrome and requires access to a specials needs assistant to take him out of class for breaks to keep him calm.

He knows when he needs to go and get some time out and then he can return calmly to class without affecting his classmates.

If, as the circular suggests, he should be left until he has a meltdown, he would disrupt and upset all the other children and the teacher, embarrass himself and reduce his self-esteem.

Did these policy reviewers come into classrooms? Did they talk to teachers? Did they talk to parents?

This is not inclusive education. It is blatantly excluding children with special needs from reaching their full potential and is therefore denying them the right to access the same educational opportunities as their peers. By removing access to specials needs assistants, the rights of all children in these “inclusive classrooms” to an equal education will be denied.

Maybe these policy reviewers need to upskill themselves on what is really needed in our schools?

I invite them to come to our school any day of the week to see how invaluable the specials needs assistant are.

Is it not better practice if a specials needs assistant accompanies the child rather than a teacher out of the classroom? According to this circular, we should wait until the child or teenager displays violent behaviour or self-harms before we intervene.

I would ask all parents to raise this matter with their public representatives and all candidates in the upcoming local and European elections. – Yours, etc,


Rochestown Avenue,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

A chara, – I wish to respond to Mark Hilliard’s article on the exclusion of the families of ordinary combatants in the 1916 centenary celebrations (“1916 families fear exclusion from centenary commemorations”, Home News, May 6th). A similar issue was raised in your letters page by Kieran Forde (January 23rd), when he highlighted his and his family’s exclusion from the commemoration of the centenary of the founding of the Volunteers, of which his father was a member. This exclusion would give weight to the contention that the 1916 commemorations will also remain “the preserve of VIPs dignitaries, and the relatives of the executed leaders”. I am the respective granddaughter and grandniece of Peadar and Michael McNulty (A Coy 1st Battalion Dublin Brigade), who fought in the North King St/Church St area in 1916. Both have a living child. I believe if the 1916 commemorations are to have a real and lasting impact on the ordinary people of Ireland they must be given ownership of the celebrations at all levels. The symbolic damage of excluding the relatives of the ordinary combatants from the celebrations should not be underestimated. Given that just under 2,500 1916 medals were given out, a least one representative from each family should easily be accommodated at the official commemorations.

Hilliard’s article highlighted the frustrations of Dave Kilmartin and Gerry Carroll in their attempts to engage the present government in this issue. Rather than wait passively for permission from a disinterested and unmotivated State body, shouldn’t we, the relatives of the ordinary combatants, come together and form our own committee? Surely we are more likely to get our voices heard if we can lobby as an organised grouping to make sure our dead relatives are remembered and represented at all 1916 commemorations. I for one would sign up for this and am open to being contacted by any of the above mentioned relatives who wish to do likewise. – Is mise,


Salisbury Avenue,


Sir, – John McManus (“Blame McCreevy and Harney not regulator for light touch”, Business Opinion, 5th May) reflects on where blame lies for the business failures of recent times. He believes that our principles-based regulation proved to be “almost comically inept”.

It may be inferred from this that a rules-based approach is better than a principles-based approach. I would suggest, however, that this would be an erroneous conclusion to draw. The point about a principles-based approach is that principles by themselves are not enough. A principles-based approach must be populated by men and women of principle. Men and women with strong ethical values lacked the freedom to exercise their values.

It can be compared to making a cake. A rules-based approach would give us a tight, step by step, specific recipe with a comprehensive list of ingredients. Then, regardless of who the cook is, a uniform, identical cake of rigid standard will emerge. On the other hand, if we have a simple statement of the values of excellent cake-making , but a cook who is not imbued with those values, of course you will have a horrible cake. You need a cook who understands those values and has the freedom, flair and experience in making cakes that are delicious , varied, can be trusted and in which the cook has pride; as well as providing him/her with a living.

The principles-based approach is not discredited. The ethics of the business people and professionals who applied those principles were under-valued and, in some cases, underdeveloped. Moral agency did not exist. It is in the area of professional and business ethics that we should direct our attention now and not towards an ever-increasing, restrictive mountain of reactive code, regulation and rules. – Yours, etc,




Co Dublin.

Sir, – I was saddened to learn that a “forgotten” Irish teenager is still in jail. I am a personal friend of the Halawa family in Clonskeagh. Ibrahim Halawa, who is only 18 years of age and a brilliant student (all straight As in his Leaving Cert), was due to start an engineering course in Trinity College Dublin. When qualified he would be a tremendous asset to his native Egypt or Ireland if he decided to live and work here. He is an all-round sportsman. He excelled in rugby and soccer in Clonskeagh. He also excelled in equestrian sports, especially showjumping.

He went with his family to Egypt on a holiday after his Leaving Cert and got caught up in a riot in Cairo, which is his native city, and only a few blocks away from his house. Like all inquisitive teenagers he and his sisters walked over to see what the riot was about. The rest is history and he was arrested and is still in jail.

I love Egypt and I spent some time in Cairo learning Arabic and studying Sharia law. I have many friends among the Muslim Brotherhood and among the present government in Egypt. I have also friends in the Egyptian embassy in Dublin.

The Halawa family are an exceptional family and Ibrahim is unique. Ibrahim is just starting off in life and I am prepared to contact the prison authorities and negotiate directly with them. They have a difficult job to do. Egyptians are a very friendly people and I loved my stay there. I have promised to return there soon and renew acquaintances.

I hope the prison authorities will allow a young man who was probably misguided to join his family in Ireland and to continue his studies. For showing humanitarian concern and compassion for Ibrahim and for his family, their gesture would have an everlasting effect and they would have the admiration of the whole world. – Yours, etc,



Whitehall Road, Dublin 12.

Sir, – Thomas Piketty’s analysis (Capital in the Twenty-First Century) of global income inequality is brought into sharp relief with the news today that a one-night stay in the hotel located in London’s Shard building will cost you £14,000. According to the World Bank Development Indicators 2008, half the world’s population lives on $2.50 a day. £14,000 is worth $23,728, which divided by $2.50 gives 9,491 days. Dividing this by 365 gives 26 years. One night in the Shard costs the amount of money that half of the world’s population live on for 26 years. – Yours, etc,


Primrose Lodge,


Gorey, Co Wexford.

Mon, May 12, 2014, 01:04

First published: Mon, May 12, 2014, 01:04

Sir, – Olan McGowan (May 7th), responding to the article by Joe Humphreys on Richard Kearney (Arts & Ideas, “How Atheists Can Still Believe in God”, May 2nd), writes that we need to embrace the simplicity of atheism.

May I ask what is simple about a position which asserts that, due to lack of evidence, we must conclude that God does not exist, while also asserting that no evidence can be provided for God’s non-existence? One cannot “prove a negative”, as they say, but it might just be that the non-existence of God is as significant for human consciousness as His existence. This is a quandary that the atheist position cannot resolve, despite the best efforts of its intellectual heavyweights, and why we need philosophers such as Richard Kearney. – Yours, etc,


Clare Street,



Sir, – In “Where’s the bridge for our greatest scientists?”, (Science, May 8th), Mary Mulvihill laments the lack of “a public statue, bridge or building honouring any of our scientists or mathematicians”. There is a public park, however. In Abbeyside, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, Walton Park is dedicated to Noble Prize laureate Ernest Walton, who was born in Abbeyside and who went on to split the atom. – Yours, etc,


Shandon Street


Sir, – Practising Catholics often dismiss the morally objectionable content and injunctions of the Bible on the basis that they emanate from the Old Testament, but it’s not until the New Testament that we are introduced to the concept of Hell, with its terrifying vista of eternal damnation and punishment. Hell still forms part of the official catechism of the church.Interestingly, the Catholic Church is very quiet about hell these days, its very own “Room 101”. However, unlike Orwell’s Room 101, if you end up in the Bible’s Room 101, you’re there forever.

Thankfully there is not a shred of evidence that such a place exits. – Yours, etc,


Stocking Wood Hall,

Stocking Avenue,

Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.

Sir, – The proposal that all new buildings must have carbon monoxide detectors is a step in the right direction (“Carbon monoxide alarms to be compulsory from September”, Home News, May 5th), but does not affect existing buildings. Manufacturers of appliances capable of producing carbon monoxide should be required to include a built-in carbon monoxide detector – in the same way that cars are supplied with safety belts. – Yours, etc,


Taney Rise,

Dundrum, Dublin14.

Irish Independent:

Published 12 May 2014 02:30 AM

It seems at last that Maurice McCabe is finally on the road to vindication and the term whistleblower will finally be restored to its more ethical meaning rather than that of being classed as a rat; all a whistleblower wants to do is expose injustice and is against those who had sworn to uphold the law but chose to flout it instead.

Also in this section

Letters to the Editor

Let’s make sure we know how to vote, not just for whom

That was the week that was in Irish politics

I choose these words carefully about the road he is on for though he may be on it, he has yet to finish the journey.

On a positive note, he represents everything that good character calls for. I have talked to other members of the Garda Siochana who are like Maurice.

But like any group or fraternity, gardai can easily fall prey to wrongdoing. Yet, this week, accountability has, for the first time, shone the light directly on a hidden part of the police force that most people did not know of, and it may never be the same again.

Corruption within a police force should be the business of a minority that are against the majority. In this way they will be more easily crushed. Unfortunately we have witnessed an attempt by elements within An Garda Siochana trying to crush the whistleblowers. The only thing now left to do is hope that the moral ground that was lost in the fog of a dangerous tradition will be rediscovered.

Barry Clifford, Oughterard, Co Galway



It is staggering that no notes or records regarding the complaints of the whistleblowers could be found, as reported by Sean Guerin after his inquiries.

The paradox here is the commented upon presumption that due to the Freedom of Information Act, a reticence to commit findings to paper for fear that some day they may see the light has been inculcated.

One wonders will the Government and its institutions ever introduce a policy of glasnost.

As the Taoiseach Mr Kenny pointed out “Paddy likes to know what’s going on…”

Ed Toal, Dublin 4



Having read the report of Sean Guerin, it is not only plausible but quite probable, that the only competent person in the entire Garda workforce who is fit to apply for the Garda Commissioner’s job is Sgt McCabe.

Liam Power, San Pawl Il-Bahar, Malta



With yet another pillar of our democracy shaken to its core following the findings of the Guerin Report, the citizens of this Republic have every right to wonder what part of the 1916 Proclamation has been left untarnished.

However, the same selfless spirit that brought about this State, has not been fully destroyed by the avarice, corruption and incompetence that has marred so many levels of Irish society for too long.

Sgt Maurice McCabe, John Wilson and all the other whistleblowers who steadfastly refuse to be silenced, despite consistent attacks on their personal character and integrity, have held true to the ideals that secured us our democracy.

How ironic it is then, as we we plan to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising, that we punish the few who have not compromised on the principles it was built upon.

Adrienne Garvey, Pleasants Street, Dublin 8



If last week in Ireland had been a Hollywood movie, sometime early on Saturday morning we would have seen a John Wayne character riding out of town with the cattle drive.

But it wasn’t a movie. It was real life and it was a horror story – much worse than anything that Hollywood could ever throw up and I, for one, was extremely fearful that the baddies might win out this time.

Almost to the moment that the Guerin Report was released to the public, there was a battle in and around Leinster House with the heavy-hitters grabbing microphones to let the world know of the part that they played in righting the great wrongs of these times – as usual.

I have been in awe of the whistleblowers. I had begun to think that such strength in beliefs was only for fiction – and how they held their concentration and sanity I do not know.

To Sergeant Maurice McCabe and ex-Garda John Wilson I say thank you and offer the great words of Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.”

Thank you, again for not doing nothing.

RJ Hanly, Screen, Co Wexford



We have all heard the phrases, “clothes maketh the man” and “dress to impress”. But, I’m afraid both these sayings are not ‘Shatterproof’ as the well manicured minister was discommoded by the jeans and T-shirt backbencher.

Between cover-ups/recorded phone calls/denials and then resignations, I believe I saw all this before on ‘Reeling in the Years’, only now it includes ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘The Pink Panther’.

Sean Kelly, Tramore, Waterford



It may come as a surprise to most people, but according to the latest Company Registration Office figures, over 511 companies have closed so far this year, representing a loss of 5,000 to 10,000 jobs.

No sign of Enda Kenny or Richard Bruton jostling for the photo opportunity at any of these calamitous life-changing events, where ordinary people suffer the loss of their jobs and livelihoods.

No succour for the entrepreneurs or small business owners, many of whom have been financially ruined and whose hopes and dreams have been destroyed, often as a direct result of counterproductive and relentless government austerity measures.

These closures represent the hidden and unsung reality of life in the trenches today, out of sight and away from the spin doctors and the PR consultants.

Nothing to spin here and no winners accept the new troika of liquidators, banks and lawyers.

For those unfortunates involved, it would appear that these apocalyptic business closures are just collateral irritants for a government devoid of empathy or vision.

Unbelievably, Michael Noonan is under orders and unapologetically hellbent on piling misery upon misery by extracting another two billion euro from the heart of the indigenous Irish economy in the next year.

When will they ever learn? Maybe sometime after the May 23 elections.

John Leahy, Cork



The top four in Eurovision on Saturday night were: Austria, Netherlands, Sweden, Armenia. Put aside the beard for a minute and focus instead on the fact that they were four outstanding songs performed by very accomplished professional singers.

No gimmicks, no fancy dance numbers, just good songs. RTE please take note. It’s time to up our game and attract the very best of Irish talent back to the contest. And that means ditching the formula of Celtic themes which, while successful in the 90s, are now tired and out of date.

Ken O’Sullivan, Ashbourne, Co Meath

Irish Independent


May 11, 2014

11May2014 Accounts

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate A trip to Scotland Priceless

try and fnd the papers for my accountant

Scrabbletoday, Mary wins just by a few points perhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


Sir Ben Gill – obituary

Sir Ben Gill was the National Farmers’ Union leader during the foot-and-mouth crisis and argued that mass slaughter of livestock was the only solution

Sir Ben Gill, president of the NFU

Sir Ben Gill Photo: STEPHEN LOCK

6:51PM BST 09 May 2014


Sir Ben Gill, who has died aged 64, was president of the National Farmers’ Union from 1998 to 2004, some of the most difficult years for farmers in living memory.

If representing the manifold interests and concerns of farmers is never easy, Gill’s period at the helm was particularly fraught, coinciding as it did with twin crises: the fallout from BSE (popularly known as “mad cow disease”) and the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001.

BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) had first been identified in British cattle in 1987, and over the next 20 years more than 160 people died from the related human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). In March 1996 the European Union imposed a ban on exports of British beef which was not lifted until 2006 — a ban which Gill had spent much of his time as the NFU’s deputy president (1992-98) trying to get overturned.

The outbreak of foot-and-mouth, first detected in pigs in February 2001, led to an EU ban on all British exports of livestock, meat and animal products. In the effort to eradicate the disease, 10 million sheep and cattle were slaughtered, and their carcasses burned in enormous “funeral pyres” which became a sad and shocking feature of the rural landscape. Livestock could not be moved from one place to another (the Cheltenham National Hunt festival was among the events that had to be cancelled), and public footpaths and rights of way were closed.

Gill might have been expected to spare his NFU members the full force of these draconian measures; instead he gave the culling his complete support, lobbying the Labour government and winning the debate against those who argued (civil servants and the Prince of Wales among them) that the vaccination of livestock would be a more constructive approach. He was always tickled by an edition of Newsnight which opened with footage of him in discussion with Tony Blair outside No 10 Downing Street. “One of these men is running the country,” Jeremy Paxman began, in a voice-over. “The other is the Prime Minister.” For Gill, it was an exhausting year: “On a number of occasions I would go back to the flat after Newsnight at midnight and be in the car at 5.30am to talk to GMTV.”

Sir Ben Gill with Tony Blair in 2001 during the foot-and-mouth crisis

The cost to farmers — both financial and emotional — of the wholesale slaughter of their livestock was immense, and Gill admitted that the decisions he made had “weighed heavy” on his mind. His lasting memory of the crisis, he said, would be the pain of the farmers who contacted him, particularly those who had culled animals piled up on their farms. But the foot-and-mouth outbreak was over after eight months, and Gill never doubted that he had steered the correct course: “The people who were vociferous in favour of vaccination thought I didn’t give a damn and made all sorts of claims that I didn’t understand the subject,” he said in 2011. “There were inevitably animals slaughtered that needn’t have been, but you have to be hard to be kind. It is a fact that we stamped out disease.”

Later, in 2004, Gill called for a cull of badgers to stop the epidemic of bovine tuberculosis in areas where the disease had become most prevalent, and for a comprehensive survey of the badger population to be carried out to estimate the extent of the possible threat to the national cattle herd. He also urged ministers to look at vaccinating cattle in infected areas in a bid to curtail the spread of bovine TB which, he said, was “clearly linked” to badgers: “The suffering of cattle, wildlife and humans caught up in this saga has now reached a stage where drastic action is needed.”

The only son of a farmer, Arthur Benjamin Norman Gill was born in York on New Year’s Day 1950 and educated at Barnard Castle School and St John’s College, Cambridge, where he read Agriculture. He then spent three years in Idi Amin’s Uganda, teaching agriculture (“I was the wrong end of a machine gun three times, and talking your way out of that with a drunken soldier is not easy,” he later recalled) before returning home to run a pig farm in East Yorkshire .

In 1978 he took over his father’s 400-acre mixed farm in the Vale of York, and was soon active in the NFU, serving as a member of its council from 1985; as vice-chairman (1986–87); and as chairman of the livestock and wool committee from 1987 to 1991. In 2006 Gill sold the farm, although he retained the house and some of the buildings to develop commercial offices and establish Hawkhills Consultancy, which advises the agrifood industry and specialises in renewable energy.

Sir Ben Gill

He continued to take a keen interest in the farming industry, in 2008 insisting that food prices had dropped so low that farmers struggled to make a living. “When I returned home from East Africa to farm in the mid-1970s, UK farmers were receiving about £60 per tonne for their wheat. Twelve months ago, we were receiving little more than that.” Moreover, he argued that cheap prices meant that the British public could no longer assume that food was produced in an environmentally-sensitive way.

Among many other roles, Gill served as chairman of Westbury Dairies (2004–06); of Eden Research (from 2009); and of Visit Herefordshire (since 2010), the county to which he moved after giving up his farm. He was also a director of Countrywide Farmers (from 2004), and chairman of the Government Biomass Task Force in 2004–05.

He was appointed CBE in 1996 and knighted in 2003.

Ben Gill married, in 1973, Carolyn Davis, who survives him with their four sons.

Sir Ben Gill, born January 1 1950, died May 8 2014


Will Hutton (“Is science about to lose a battle it is used to winning?” Comment) writes on antibiotic resistance and the cost to public health thus arising. However, it might be said that he is already far too late: the Swann report on the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry and veterinary medicine (1969) was a wake-up call to all those using antibiotics other than for the treatment of humans. Little notice was taken of the underlying message of this report (the seriousness of the wider threat of antibiotic resistance).

As a result of a combination of overuse in the wider environment and, more recently, in human medicine, the useful lifetime of any new antibiotic – the time before resistance becomes so prevalent as to make the compound essentially useless – has become shorter over time. Hutton criticises the US FDA for licensing antibiotics for particular rather than generalised use, yet it is the latter that results in inappropriate uses of antibiotics and the rapid rise in resistance rather than the former. A company producing a new antibiotic family could well see it wasted through overuse in a relatively short time and while it is fashionable to lambast big pharma for being profit-oriented, it is hard to see how otherwise the likely cost could be raised.

Dr Peter B Baker

London W5

Keep competition on the rails

The successful model for the railways that Labour’s parliamentary candidates desire already exists, particularly in the north, but on too small a scale (“The solution to rail misery“).

Only more on-track rail competition between franchises and private rail companies, known as open access, can better serve passengers, deliver lower fares and serve more routes to places that have previously not enjoyed direct high-speed rail connections. The state-run east coast mainline franchise is the only line where the franchise holder has to compete on a large part of the line with non-franchised, open-access railway companies.

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 those stations that enjoy rail competition between the franchised operator and open access, compared with 27% for those without competition; revenue increased by 57% where competition occurs compared with 48% for those without and average fares increased by only 11% at those stations with competition, compared with 17% at those stations without.

Those open-access companies that compete with East Coast, Grand Central and First Hull Trains also consistently record the highest passenger satisfaction statistics of all the UK train companies and they receive no money from the government.

More rail competition is in the interests of the passenger, the taxpayer, the government and the regions. The Labour party should support more open-access rail competition.

Tony Lodge

Author, Rail’s second chance – putting competition back on track (CPS)

London SW1

Bicycle policy still wobbly

Cycling in London may have doubled because of costs of public transport and congestion, but outside the selected cycling cities, the picture is grim (“This is how we roll“, New Review). On Merseyside, we have the biggest cycle-training programme in the country yet just over 1% of residents cycle to work.

As a cycle leader, I see many middle-aged riders returning to cycling who find traffic conditions very different from the days of their youth. The road skills to become a safe and confident rider cannot be taught in a few hours, but that is all that’s on offer throughout the country. Nearly all of the training is aimed at recreational offroad cycling. Until the funding patterns change, and there is an incentive for training providers to target commuters through the workplace, we will remain in a rut.

Derek Massey


Treat Scotland like Ukraine

Two lapidary sentences in your leader on the takeover of AstraZeneca by Pfizer (“This Pfizer takeover would be a real threat to British sovereignty“) exactly sum up the single issue at the heart of the referendum debate on Scottish independence: the inalienable right to self-determination. What a pity that the prime minister cannot be as generous minded to Scotland as he is to the people of Ukraine: “I think all of us in this house should be supporting the Ukrainian desire to be a sovereign, independent country and to have the respect of the international community and party leaders for that ambition.”

Ian Boyes


Take your sward in hand

Asked about lawnmowers, Lucy Siegle (“Cutting-edge lawns“, Observer magazine) states that a “mildly toxic” lithium ion battery-powered one “is the best option” from an environmental point of view. It might be the less damaging of the two kinds mentioned in the question, but the overall “best option” must be a manual mower, which is non-polluting, lasts until it falls to pieces and gives you a little more gentle exercise than a motorised one.

Benny Ross

Newcastle upon Tyne

Mr Squeers from Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. Photograph: Rischgitz/Getty Images

We applaud Alex Renton’s courageous article about abuse and neglect in boarding schools (“Abuse in Britain’s boarding schools: why I decided to confront my demons“, Magazine). The suffering caused by the British habit of sending children away from parental love and the safety of their homes to educational institutions has been ignored for much too long. Materially rich but emotionally poor, with small classes, large playing fields but “no hugs”, as Renton puts it – boarders lose out on a normal childhood. Children may learn to function competently, but at the cost of dissociation from their feelings of abandonment, even if there is no outright abuse. The ex-boarder may never develop emotional intelligence.

To most people, the inherent wrong of early boarding is obvious, as was clear from the majority of comments on Renton’s article. For those requiring more convincing, the evidence is weighty and wide-ranging. Attachment theory plus the work of clinicians over the last two decades and now the findings of neuroscience leave no doubt about the psycho-emotional consequences of depriving children of touch, warmth and a “secure base”.

The privileges of boarding education can no longer compensate its cost to our society. Its elitism is at odds with the goals of an inclusive liberal social democracy; it remains a major force in the sidelining of women and the maintenance of an outdated class system. If boarding once played a role in preparing men for the rigours and cruelties of an imperial age, our present interdependent world calls for a different, more complex and caring set of values. We call for an end to early boarding along with the privations that are demonstrably detrimental to children’s wellbeing.

Felicity de Zulueta, Tavistock Clinic; Professor Joy Schaverien, University of Leeds and Sheffield University NHS Trust; Dr Susie Orbach, psychoanalyst Don Boyd, film director; Kate White, editor, Attachment Journal; Emerald Davis, Lindsay Hamilton, the Bowlby Centre; Pippa Foster, Darrel Hunneybell, Boarding Recovery; Nicola Miller, Russell Bowman, Simon Partridge, Boarding School Survivors; Dr Alastair MacIntosh, broadcaster and writer; AL Kennedy, broadcaster and writer; Mark Smalley, radio producer; Sally Fraser, Boarding School Action; Peter Saunders, NAPAC; Danny Dorling, Marston, Oxford; Nick Duffell, psychotherapy trainer and psychohistorian; George Monbiot; Orit Badouk Epstein, Attachment-based psychoanalytic psychotherapist; Michael Goldfarb, freelance writer; Professor Andrew Samuels, University of Essex; Barry Sheerman MP (former chair of the Select Committee for Children, Schools and Families); John Tosh, Professor of History, Roehampton University

Alex Renton’s compelling account of his time at school once more exposes the systemic failure of the child-protection “framework”. Whenever an abuse incident is exposed, we hear from all quarters that “everything is different now”.  My response to this is very simple: Southbank International school, Hillside first school, Bishop Bell, Little Heath primary. The very recent failures in child protection at all these schools contradict any such assertions.  I was serially sexually abused at Caldicott school in 1967. I was the first person to file a complaint, and the multiple convictions that followed demonstrate that the school had been specifically targeted by perpetrators.  At that time, there was no requirement to report suspected or known abuse: it was discretionary. The situation is exactly the same today.  Your child has no statutory right to have his or her known rape reported to anyone. Private schools are presented with a further conflict of interest by the Department for Education’s “statutory guidance”, because no law is broken for failing to report the worst news any fee-receiving institution can inflict on its balance sheet.

To deliver culture change, the legislative catalyst of mandatory reporting must be applied to all institutional settings. Until then, children will continue to be abused and no one will know.

Tom Perry @MandateNow, Amersham

We welcome Alex Renton’s contribution to the debate about children living in institutions. In the British care system, we aim to place looked-after children in foster families rather than children’s homes. When we know that children need love and attention within a family, why do we deprive boarders of this?

Suggestions that children choose to board implies that these children made an informed decision. This might be true for those over 16; it is not true for those under the “age of consent”. There is a trade-off to going away to boarding school. Shuttered emotional development, clinging to institutional life, compared with growing up normally within their family and community.

Boarding Concern



How can the Government countenance the Secretary of State for Justice shutting down an investigation by the Howard League for Penal Reform into sexual violence and harassment in prison? (“Chris Grayling blocks inquiry into sexual assaults inside jails”, 4 May). Threatening witnesses who come forward with being in breach of licence conditions (leading to recall) is an atrocious breach of trust and power.

Mr Grayling’s keenness to brush a serious problem under the carpet promises to increase victimisation in prison (by less understanding of the problem) and so spell further misery for victims, and for society in general when they are released (as their trauma plays out in violent, sexual or acquisitive offending to cope or react to the ensuing post-traumatic stress).

I wonder if his view on sexual violence in prison comes from a “prison isn’t supposed to be nice” attitude, and he thinks that if he spends his time trying to protect future rape victims (who happen to be prisoners) then “prison wouldn’t be as much of a deterrent, would it?”

John Zachary

Chertsey, Surrey

New Labour gave the doctors a generous rise and no evening or weekend duty (“Pay doctors extra to help the poor, say Lib Dems” 4 May). Raise the minimum wage and make workers better off – it is better economic conditions and a decent standard of living which will improve people’s health. Everyone contributing has a right to health care, and it is the Government’s responsibility to provide it.

Jenny Bushell

London SW19

With regard to halal meat, when it comes to showing respect for animals who are raised and killed for food, there is only one label that matters: “vegan”.

The slaughter, whether the animal is stunned and then killed or just killed, is only part of the long and cruel process of modern meat production. The vast majority of the one billion animals eaten every year in the UK are raised on factory farms, where they are crammed into windowless sheds, wire cages, crates and other confinement systems – all of which contradict the basic principles of compassion shared by most religions.

Yes, people have a right to know what is in their food, but the simple solution to avoid mystery-meat scandals is to eat plant-based meals, which are kinder to the environment, our bodies and animals, and are also open to all faiths.

Ben Williamson

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta)

London N1

Why is Inheritance Tax “a pernicious tax” (Julian Knight, Money, 4 May)? It only takes money from the well-to-do, and raises revenue from the tax-free wealth gains people have enjoyed thanks to inflation-busting property prices. What’s more it is paid by those taking over an estate who haven’t done anything to earn it.

Tim Mickleburgh

Grimsby, Lincolnshire

Russell Hobby is right when he says “Don’t allow these people to run free schools”, (4 May). They shouldn’t be allowed. And they aren’t. As Mr Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers pointed out, “some free schools are performing highly” and, as the Department for Education has pointed out, they are – based on Ofsted inspections – performing better than many comparable settings.

Expose free schools to journalistic scrutiny, by all means, but in the interests of the hundreds of dedicated professionals endeavouring to deliver new and, in some cases, ground-breaking schools under difficult circumstances, don’t resort to headlines that should be the preserve of the red tops.

Alan Swindell

Principal, Steiner Academy Exeter

There is a very simple answer to the lack of high-quality social workers: a reasonable salary and a reasonable work load (“Top graduates wanted to work in mental health,” 4 May). But I can’t see the idea catching on.

Sylvia rose


Age has to be a factor when allocating drugs within limited budgets, said Karol Sikora Age has to be a factor when allocating drugs within limited budgets, said Karol Sikora (Suzanne Plunkett)

Ageist NHS has left elderly at back of queue for care

YET again we see older people being written off as the pariahs of society (“‘Old should be denied cancer drugs’”, News, last week). Professor Karol Sikora, a former hospital cancer services director, says “rigorous anti-ageism” policies in the NHS are deterring doctors from using their judgment in withholding expensive treatment from the frail elderly where they believe there is little chance of prolonging a quality of life.

In my experience of working with older people, doctors discriminate all the time, some barely concealing their contempt for “old bones”. No wonder depression is so high among the elderly.
Kathy Tucker, Paignton, Devon

Bottom line

Sadly the elderly are already unofficially at the bottom of the pile when it comes to medical treatment. Formally exempting medical care from age discrimination laws, however, insults a generation that paid its economic dues throughout its life.
Sheila Edwards, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire

Heal thyself

What happened to the long-held NHS ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth? Now I read that costly drugs should be provided only to patients who pay tax or are able to contribute to family finances. Not only those on a state pension, but anyone out of work or on sick leave should take heed. Just think how much more could be saved if we were all dead and buried.
Fran Holland, Oswestry, Shropshire

Do not resuscitate

Your article opens up a debate over NHS resources, where the right to choose should be paramount. My late 94-year-old mother understood she had put in place her choice not to be resuscitated in documentation with her doctor.

Yet when she had a cardiac arrest this document was not on her and paramedics resuscitated her. She lived for three weeks in distressing circumstances and would have been concerned these costly resources were not used for younger or fitter people.
Jean Bennett, Tarporley, Cheshire

Restored to health

My 82-year-old husband of 56 years has had a great zest for life — we are both active members of the Northumberland Cancer Support Group and attend a gym regularly — until recently, when his PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level increased significantly (an indicator of cancer).

Thanks to a lovely, kind consultant oncologist he has been allowed access to one of the new drugs. After six weeks he is fully restored to his usual happy self, even if it will only be for a matter
of months. I feel so grateful (and selfish). He is my best friend.
Dee Townshend, Hexham, Northumberland

Age of enlightenment

How old is Professor Sikora?
Dr JD Baines, Par, Cornwall

Trivialising the vote insults those who fought for it

SHAME on Katie Glass (“The reason I don’t vote? It’s nothing to do with apathy, cynicism or Big Brother”, Magazine, last week). She says that she doesn’t engage in the political process because she keeps moving home and therefore has never put herself on the electoral roll.

It’s a good job that a certain Ms Emmeline Pankhurst took politics a little more seriously; without the suffragettes Glass might not even have had a choice to vote. Our electoral system is far from perfect, but to trivialise the right to vote is somewhat disingenuous.
Stuart Allan, Nottingham

Gaining a disadvantage

Many of your correspondents indicated why they might vote for UKIP in the EU elections (“Bottled it? Me? Pull the other one”, Focus, and “Cameron: I am ready for Farage”, News, last week).

While I sympathise with much of their reasoning, I doubt that voting for UKIP is the wisest response. If you believe membership of the EU is not to Britain’s advantage, it hardly makes sense to vote for a party whose MEPs have had some of the worst attendance and voting records.

The question of whether we should leave the EU is best dealt with by the proposed referendum in 2017. Voting
for Nigel Farage and his ramshackle crew will not hasten our exit from the EU but will ensure we get a raw deal in the meantime.
Mark Stevenson, Wallingford, Oxfordshire

String theory

I must protest about the media’s treatment of Farage. Most interviews with him start with an outrageous quote from one of the flakier associates of UKIP, and it is presented to Farage as if it is his own view or party policy. The bias is so extreme, I am beginning to wonder who is pulling the strings.
Jim Harvey, Leatherhead, Surrey

Taking a yolk

I have renewed civic pride in my home town since the recent egging here of Farage.
Michelle Varney, Nottingham

Green light

Now that we have overtaken the Liberal Democrats at the polls (“Greens push Clegg back to fifth place”, News, last week) it is clear that voters are contrasting the positive experience of the Greens with the fading Lib Dem party, which has failed to keep its promises on tuition fees and, instead of curbing the excesses of its Tory counterparts, has partnered them by bringing in cuts to the most vulnerable in our society.
Andy Cooper (Yorks and Humber), Rupert Read (Eastern England), Peter Cranie (Northwest), Molly Scott Cato (Southwest), lead Green party MEP candidates, and Maggie Chapman, lead Green party MEP candidate in Scotland

Rent controls could get our house in order

THE proposal by Ed Miliband to control rents is unlikely to prove as catastrophic as Dominic Lawson suggests (“A political triumph, Red Ed, but an economic disaster”, Comment, last week). Controlling rents and extending tenure periods will probably discourage some people from becoming landlords, or be a disincentive to existing ones to extend their property portfolios. It may even encourage some to sell. If so, it should have the effect of slowing the seemingly unstoppable rise in house prices in some parts of the country.

Would-be first-time buyers, who today have to compete with buy-to-let landlord “investors”, will find their main competition limited to others in the same position as them on the property ladder. In that case we would be returning to the 1970s situation that Lawson thinks so little of. But that decade marked the beginning of a time when many people, now smug about the price of their property, were able to become homeowners with relative ease.

If new regulations led to fewer of us aspiring to be landlords, more people would be permitted to take pride in owning their own homes. Governments have always intervened in property markets: the Help to Buy scheme provides the latest example. The Labour party’s proposed interventions appear to me to be well considered and likely to rectify imbalances.
Tony Bowers, Huntingdon, Cambridge

Female presenters must be up to the job

WHY should Jeremy Paxman’s replacement on Newsnight, or the presenter of the new Civilisation series, be a woman (Eleanor Mills, News Review, last week)? The best people are needed for these jobs, not token females, and I hope the BBC realises this and ignores any feminist Twitter campaign.

Mary Beard is not suitable to front the Civilisation series. She’s a good classicist but that’s about it, and in addition has too much feminist baggage. If you had heard the British Museum director Neil MacGregor’s wonderful radio series on world history in 100 objects, you would know that he is the obvious person — quiet, cultured, highly intelligent, possessed of an excellent manner, never patronising and without any baggage. Of course he’s a man, but most of us don’t have an agenda and don’t mind that, funnily enough.
Ann Keith, Cambridge


Throwaway comment
Poor show, Tom Hodgkinson, to “chuck everything out” and not recycle (“If in doubt, chuck it out”, Home, last week). What he took to the “dump” in his declutter will pollute for centuries.
Terry Slater, Harlow, Essex

Braving adversity
Katie Gee’s account of her horrendous attack in Zanzibar was extremely moving (“Acid victim: I will live my dream”, News, last week). Both Katie and her friend Kirstie Trup are truly inspirational, and a credit to this country.
Graeme Warner, Manchester

Tourist information
I think your “Confessions of a tourist” article (“While her husband snored through their Italian honeymoon, she found a life-saver”, Travel, last week) is awful. What would probably happen is that she would catch a sexual disease from the pool attendant and pass it on to her husband.
Cherry Green, Norwich

Twinned with Cyprus
The situation in Ukraine seems similar to that in Cyprus 40 years ago (“Ukraine is at war — and the east is almost lost”, News, last week). The division of the island at that time has never, I believe, been officially recognised, but it seems to have kept the peace.
Richard Clatworthy, Beverley, East Yorkshire

Don’t keep the change
Perhaps another reason why many people resent parking ticket machines is that they rarely give change (“The peasants are revolting, and they’re armed with chewing gum”, Comment, last week). It has just been reported
that last year our councils made up to £38m from overpayments when motorists did not have the exact change. This surely should not be allowed.
Anthony Roberts, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex

Suffolk lunch
So AA Gill is surprised at getting a decent lunch in deepest, darkest Suffolk (“Table talk”, Magazine, last week). Maybe he would better off sticking to the capital, where he is able to find a plethora of one-star and two-star establishments deserving of his encouragement to improve.
Tim Bennett, Ipswich

Feathered friends
In response to the letter from Alf Menzies about the slaughter of migrating birds (“Hit Malta in pocket”, Letters, last week), boycotting Malta will hit the innocent, who outnumber the hunters and trappers . Far better would be to support the excellent conservation group BirdLife Malta, which not only campaigns vigorously against the killing but also has a programme that educates schoolchildren, which will clearly pay off in the future.
Jennifer Powell, Ascot, Berkshire

Minority report
The insightful article “PM joins battle against Islamism in schools” (News, last week) raises all manner of questions, including over the role played by Ofsted in allowing this situation to develop. Perhaps if Sir Michael Wilshaw and his chief inspector predecessors had employed more black and ethnic-minority inspectors in recent years, the present situation in our schools might have been understood more by the watchdog.
Michael Cosh, London N19

Study aid
The fall in the number of overseas students regretted by Sir David Warren, chairman-designate of the council of Kent University, should instead be welcomed (“Britain is throwing the race for foreign students”, Comment, last week). Canterbury is overrun by large numbers of fee-paying scholars from abroad. Other economic activity is being driven out.

Rather than fill second-tier universities such as Kent with foreign students, the government should invest in 21st-century industry, which would give British graduates properly paid jobs and enable them to produce competitive exports.
Frederic Stansfield, Canterbury

Corrections and clarifications

There was an error in the article “Stand by for invasion of hornets that eat 50 honey bees a day” (News, last week). We stated that there were 50,000 honey bees at the height of summer. It should have read that there are around 100,000 colonies of bees, each containing about 50,000 bees.

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission ( or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)


Eric Burdon, singer, 73; Louis Farrakhan, US Nation of Islam leader, 81; Andres Iniesta, footballer, 30; John Parrott, snooker player, 50; Jeremy Paxman, broadcaster, 64; Jason Queally, cyclist, 44; Mort Sahl, comedian, 87; Holly Valance, actress and singer, 31; Judith Weir, composer, 60


1812 Spencer Perceval, the PM, is assassinated; 1960 Israeli agents capture the fugitive Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires; 1964 Sir Terence Conran opens first Habitat shop in London; 1981 Bob Marley dies; 1985 56 football fans die in a fire at Bradford City’s ground;  2010 David Cameron becomes PM

Send your letters to: The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST Email Fax 020 7782 5454


The Duchess of Cambridge watches Team GB take on New Zealand at the London Olympics  Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

6:58AM BST 10 May 2014

Comments172 Comments

SIR – The World Cup is due to begin on May 31, but you wouldn’t know it. I’m talking of course of the Hockey World Cup. It, too, takes place every four years and this time it will be on our doorstep, in the Netherlands.

Both men’s and women’s tournaments, which are equal in status, are run concurrently. England’s men’s and women’s teams are ranked fourth and third in the world respectively, and both have a real chance of beating rivals Germany, Australia and Holland to the title.

By some estimates, hockey is the third-largest team participation sport in the world. It is fast-moving, highly skilled and extremely exciting to watch. Why does nobody seem to care?

David Schofield
London SW4

SIR – We agree with Shechita UK and the Muslim Council of Britain that consumers should be informed about the food they are buying and eating.

We have been campaigning for an end to non-stun slaughter, which compromises animal welfare at the time of death, and have started a government epetition that has attracted huge public support.

But as long as non-stun slaughter remains permissible, we want to ensure that consumers can make an informed choice. We want simple labelling that lets customers know whether the animal has been pre-stunned to render it insensible to pain before the throat is cut, in line with British and EU legislation, or if it has been slaughtered without stunning.

Robin Hargreaves
President, British Veterinary Association London W1

Brain cancer research

SIR – You report the good news that a tipping point for cancer has been reached, as half of patients are now cured. However, the prognosis for individuals facing a brain cancer diagnosis is still relatively poor.

While most cancers have reached this tipping point, with survival rates jumping in the past 40 years, brain tumours remain almost as deadly as they were in 1970, which is a terrifying prospect for the 16,000 people diagnosed each year in Britain. The survival rate is 13 per cent, up from 6 per cent. The 10-year rate for testicular cancer jumped from 69 to 98 per cent, while breast cancer went from 40 to 84 per cent.

Why have brain tumour survival rates remained so static? There is a direct correlation between the money spent on research and an increase in survival rates. The latest figures show that brain cancer receives 1.3 per cent of total cancer research spend.

The thousands of people facing a brain tumour diagnosis need more invested in research so they, too, can have the prospect of a cure or better treatment.

Sue Farrington Smith
Chief Executive, Brain Tumour Research

Avoiding prison

SIR – I am sure that Penelope Gibbs is correct when she says that there is no evidence that imprisonment acts as a deterrent. The reason for that is that prevention is unmeasurable. As a youngster, the knowledge that I would be punished for wrongdoing kept me on the straight and narrow – and probably still does.

Ben White
Congresbury, Somerset

Bank on it

SIR – I am pleased to report that my bank is also hyper-vigilant when looking out for possible fraudulent transactions. I recently received a telephone call warning me that on the previous Friday night, my card had been used to pay for beer in a London pub, pizza in a London pizzeria, and then a London taxi fare.

I was able to set their minds at rest.

Mark Wallace
London SW1

Rhyming slang Romeo

SIR – On our 40th wedding anniversary, my husband took me out for a “ruby murray”. Ten years on, I am hoping there isn’t a Golden Palace Chinese restaurant in our vicinity.
Pat Burr
West Byfleet, Surrey

Street light switch-off

SIR – Congratulations to Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, for standing up for switch-off schemes and the beauty of starry skies, which is one of the distinctive characteristics of the English countryside. Many councils, including Essex, should be applauded for their efforts to strike a balance between necessary street lighting, saving energy and money, and reducing light pollution.

Where switch-off schemes cannot win public support, councils should consider street light dimming schemes, which our research shows are supported by more than two thirds of communities.

That way we can all enjoy the beauty of dark skies, and get a good night’s sleep.

Emma Marrington
Senior Rural Policy Campaigner, Campaign to Protect Rural England
London SE1

Is he an Englishman?

SIR – I was born in England to Scottish parents and moved to Scotland at the age of nine. I have lived here ever since. My brother was born in Scotland and, excepting his secondary schooling, has lived in England his entire life. We both sound English, but I have represented Scotland in a sporting context.

Are we Scottish, are we English and Scottish respectively, as well as British, or are we only British? We have always assumed that we are Scottish and British. Does anyone disagree?

Andrew H N Gray

European drag

SIR – If David Cameron stands by his word and we are given our promised referendum, would we have to participate in the Eurovision song contest if we voted No? Forget all the other extraneous arguments, this ridiculous event alone is good enough reason for me to want to leave the EU behind.

Mick Ferrie
Mawnan Smith, Cornwall

Play that funky music

SIR – Having suffered the attempts of my five children to play the recorder, I wish to make the case for its replacement by the harmonica, which is cheap, pocket-sized, and makes the least unpleasant sound in the hands of a novice.

Tony Blighe
Warminster, Wiltshire

Little sympathy for the ‘squeezed middle class’

SIR – Should I laugh or cry at Judith Woods’s article featuring the family that “makes £120,000 but can’t recall the last time we went out for dinner”?

I could laugh because by sending their children to state schools along with 93 per cent of children in Britain, the Jacksons could splash out more than £120 on dinner for their family every night of the year with the savings. (Or shop at Ocado once again instead of Tesco.)

Or should I cry because a good proportion of the current Cabinet has a similar background to the Jacksons, and, I fear, the same attitudes?

Andrew Kennedy

SIR – Although I can both sympathise with Mr Jackson that he has not been out for dinner recently and applaud him for investing so much in the education of his two sons, he has made a lifestyle choice and the Government is not responsible for his resultant frugality. I wonder just how squeezed the middle classes would be if such things as three-car families, holidays in far-flung places, private education, state-of-the-art entertainment systems and other personal choices were stripped out.

Charles Holden
Lymington, Hampshire

SIR – We all share the crippling pain of no longer being able to shop at Ocado, and the novelty of shopping at Tesco is worsened by having to do it without the most basic necessity of a new car.

It pleases me to see that, despite their credit catastrophe, they have not been so stingy as to deprive their children of an independent education.

Perhaps one effect of the financial crisis has been to redefine the meaning of the phrase “squeezed middle”.

Samuel Hudson

SIR – As a former head and governor in both maintained and independent schools, I find Michael Gove’s suggestion that Ofsted rather than the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) should assess schools in the private sector quite baffling. Ofsted inspections are narrow and increasingly statistically based, while the ISI looks at the value of a well-rounded education.

Mr Gove should note that it is our independent schools that are envied across the globe and realise that the ISI system would be of huge benefit to state schools.

Tim Lowe
Stockport, Cheshire

SIR – I am sceptical about Michael Gove’s suggestion that Ofsted is the body most trusted to “speak out on educational standards in this country”. I have experienced two Ofsted inspections during my teaching career. In both cases, the inspectors were hostile and openly critical of private education. In the boarding houses, for example, they focused more on the number of sinks and lavatories (easier to measure) than on the benefits of boarding.

I have been struck by the increased number of teachers from the state sector applying for jobs here in recent months; when asked why, many express frustration at a growing focus on trying to measure everything.

Warminster is an academic school. But in addition to good exam results, we work to develop intellectual curiosity and a love of learning. We also emphasise the importance of character, values, leadership and service.

What makes a person successful and fulfilled in life, both professionally and personally, is his or her emotional intelligence and ability to interact with others. It is not easy to assess whether a school is developing well-rounded, decent human beings. The Independent Schools Inspectorate, directed as it is by the Department for Education, struggles valiantly to do so. I have little confidence that Ofsted would do better.

Mark Mortimer
Headmaster, Warminster School
Warminster, Wiltshire

SIR – I find it strange that Richard Cairns, the headmaster of Brighton College, should object to Ofsted inspecting his and other independent schools. Ofsted should be more than capable of assessing the suitability of a curriculum as well as being able to determine how successfully it is being delivered.

His unfortunate reference to “very different educational worlds” reinforces the perception that we still live in a

silver-spoon society ridden with class divisions and privilege for some. Such a judgmental remark will find no favour with an Old Etonian Prime Minister who travels by Easyjet and does his best to steer clear of the trappings of power.

Nicholas Dear
Wombourne, Staffordshire

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Published 11 May 2014 02:30 AM

‘Downton’ republicans

Also in this section

Let’s make sure we know how to vote, not just for whom

That was the week that was in Irish politics

Lessons on society you can pick up from a penguin

Madam – To counter all the rhetoric about Mr Adams’ arrest emerging from Sinn Fein, the following facts must be acknowledged: Jean McConville was abducted, beaten, tortured and brutally murdered by Provisional republicans.

Her young children were physically and psychologically abused by members of the Provisional republican movement.

Violence against women is always a crime; child abuse is always a crime; police forces are obliged to investigate such matters thoroughly; and at the basis of authentic republicanism is the belief that all are equal before the law.

The sight of Sinn Fein advocating that the current questioning of Mr Adams is ‘political’ invites the claim that Sinn Fein advocates a Downton Abbey form of republicanism where some citizens are ‘betters’ who should be treated differently from the rest of us.

One of the greatest sources of scandal in the Irish Republic, and in the UK at present, is that some influential people appear to escape justice altogether or are treated differently from less influential people, and the McConville case cannot be seen as anything other than an investigation of abuse, against a vulnerable woman and her young children. The only way to tackle this perception that some escape the law is to assume the innocence of everyone before the law, including Mr Adams, and then to investigate all regardless of privilege.

However difficult it is for Sinn Fein, no genuine republican should oppose such an investigation whenever it happens.

Sinn Fein’s stance in this matter is a test of its belief in republican principles concerning the equality of all citizens. At present, it is dismally failing this test.

Peter Caffrey, Glasnevin, Dublin 9

Armchair critics unfair to councils

Madam – Reluctant as I am to disagree with a constituent, Emer O’Kelly (Sunday Independent, May 4, 2014) has tempted me. Her comments about the role of councillors are ill-informed and unfair.

Her dismissal of those of us who wish to be local councillors is based on an antiquated view of the role of local government and indeed of citizens. I believe local government has a major role to play, way beyond being a kindergarten for the really dysfunctional chamber of Irish political life – Dail Eireann. I am not an apprentice TD – nor would I want to be. Twenty years after first joining the city council I am proud of a record that I would not have been able to deliver from the Dail.

Last January, as leader of the Labour Group on Dublin City Council, I helped force the city manager to increase funding for homelessness by €6m, to increase funding for housing adaption grants for people with disabilities by €3.5m, while at the same time agreeing a commercial rate reduction for the fifth year in a row.

This was achieved through a mixture of political lobbying and a forensic analysis of the city accounts and the proposals from management.

Contrary to Ms O’Kelly’s implication, the adoption of a budget is a reserved function for councillors.

Over the next five years, councillors will adopt a development plan that will either be planning-led or, as has happened too often in too many councils in the past, developer-led. The electorate’s choice will determine that outcome.

Repeatedly in the media, commentary on local government is confined to armchair spectators and academics far removed from the realities of local government. Recent debates on the property tax and the water charges were examples of these. Focusing on the impact of local elections on national politics adds to that sense of pointlessness.

Ireland cannot be reformed if we do not seriously reform local government. So let’s have some coverage on the possibilities of a genuinely different local government scenario as we face into the local elections.

Councillor Dermot Lacey, Dublin 4

Setting out stall on policy

Madam – With reference to John Drennan’s article, ‘Ex-FG TD and McDowell are in a very similar space now': I am surprised to hear this, as in April 2012 at a “town hall” meeting in Dublin city centre, at which I was present, Michael McDowell stood up and spoke at length about how the euro was not working for Ireland and how we should consider other possibilities.

Lucinda Creighton is an established member of the European People’s Party.

Evidently one has changed their political discourse on their “stance”. The electorate has every right, now more than ever, to be told exactly what new parties are proposing. No more pussyfooting around.

When you hear of two people who are “chalk and cheese” on political vision, suddenly forming alliances, this really makes you think it’s all about being at the helm of power.

Can Ms Creighton and Mr McDowell tell us if they support the euro, want to reform it, or to be out of the currency and the European Union completely?

Olivia Hazell, Clane, Co Kildare

Dawn of new parties too late

Madam – Given that we live in a democracy and enjoy the benefits of having a free press, I am all in favour of giving ‘it in the neck’ to those in power (Daniel McConnell and John Drennan, Sunday Independent, April, 2014), and advocating the formation of new political parties. My problem is that the time for doing both was 10 or more years ago when a small number of our most powerful citizens in government, financial institutions etc, who seemed to be immune to challenge, were making decisions which would bankrupt the country.

At this stage we can get rid of all the existing political parties and replace them with a whole new set and the conditions for all in the aftermath of the bankrupting of the country will not change one iota.

A Leavy, Sutton, Dublin 13

Say no to Quinn

Madam – Megaphone man and bad-mannered teachers aside (Sunday Independent, April 27, 2014), a more pressing issue is the nature of education itself as opposed to a ‘skills’ version now being proposed by the Minister for Education. Skills such as concentration, observation, discrimination, perseverance and moderation, as opposed to fanaticism in thought, are all by-products of learning.

Since the humanities are to be a matter of indifference in the Quinn ‘curriculum’, it will be intriguing to see what content will fill the vacuum to facilitate the non-mathematical/scientific mind. It is well documented that young children are natural learners and thrive best when exposed to meaningful activities. Unless we say no to this caricature of education, the ‘child’ inside every student of tomorrow will look up and not be fed.

How a half-baked ‘education’ could be more conducive to a successful nation than the rounded education (liberal, in the sense of liberating the mind from ignorance) Quinn wants to abandon, defies logic.

Agnes McEvilly, Co Galway

O’Leary reminds us of royal joke

Madam – Reading of Michael O’Leary’s recent gaffe, when he said that addressing an “august body” reminded him of making love to the Queen of England, I was reminded of this story.

Evidently an Irishman some years ago was a dead ringer for the Prince of England. On hearing of this he was invited to Buckingham Palace. The prince remarked that the resemblance was uncanny, and they were of a similar age.

Seemingly said the prince: “Your mother was in England at one stage.” Quick as a wink our Irish friend replied: “No, but the ould fella was.”

Murt Hunt, Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo

Catholicism and fight for freedom

Madam – The point of two juxtaposed letters in last week’s Sunday Independent is significant and instructive, since each illustrates differing and conflicting narratives of Irish historiography.

Noreen Dunne, having expressed her concerns with regard to perceived losses of freedom asked: “Did the people who sacrificed their lives for our freedom (including freedom of speech) ever think…? The problem with the letter is that it nauseatingly resonates of the doctrinaire received, tendentious and sloganised verities of Catholic nationalism. Claims for a ‘democracy’ sound hollow in the light of the fact that the men of 1916 were un-mandated and we still live with their hideous legacy.

I am reminded of the time when I seized the opportunity to remind an ambassador that the only real freedom I experienced in Ireland was the freedom to leave it for Britain, after he had referred to the so-called ‘struggle for freedom and independence’ no less than three times, during a spiel to a group of pathetic exiles here in London.

Vincent J Lavery commendably reminded readers of the virtues of Daniel O‘Connell, including his commitment to non-violence, constitutionalism and civil rights for all. However, the flip side is that O’Connell fatally yoked Catholicism to nationalism, and he lamentably failed to appreciate the potency of Protestant resistance in the north of Ireland. It strikes one as a thorough vindication of the Shakespearian assertion: “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones,” as we now know to our cost.

Republicans and nationalists are all too ready to blame Britain for Ireland’s woes. We saw in your columns recently a reference to Queen Victoria as the Famine Queen. I seem to recall that the Queen’s personal donation exceeded that of the Catholic church, which continued to build cathedrals while the people starved.

Might one suggest that an appropriate form of amendment on behalf of the Catholic church, on the eve of 2016, would be to commit itself strenuously and unreservedly to the de-segregation of schooling in Northern Ireland?

William Barrett, Surrey, UK


Madam – Just because there might be a majority of Irish nationalists in some faraway day in Northern Ireland, who want it, it doesn’t mean a ‘united Ireland’ will follow.

There is a constant debate going on among a small section of the “32 or nothing” brigade that this is inevitable. It’s been my reading of the political situation here in the south for many decades, that the citizens of this Republic want as little contact with ‘up there’ as is possible. For those in the ‘fantasy camp’, just leave us out of the quagmire because we’ve long ago moved on from the madness. Furthermore, the divisions are undeniably sectarian and cannot be fixed by political goodwill, even if it comes from every politician in this land and in the UK.

Someone is always eager to shoot and bomb for myriad reasons – and for no reason at all, in the name of Northern Ireland, with the rest of us down here expected to be understanding.

The reason we all voted for the Good Friday Agreement fluff in the 26 counties was because it bought time and distance, and some peace from the North.

We, too, will have to be asked if we want the nightmare that would follow a forced unity because of mere numbers in the six counties.

Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken. Martin McGuinness learned this hard and valuable lesson when his own protests against the Queen coming to Ireland fell as flat as his tired old rhetoric. He’s on page two now.

Robert Sullivan, Bantry, Co Cork


Madam – What a tour de force in today’s Sunday Independent (May 4, 2014). Eoghan led the way with JP, Jim, Brendan, Eilis and Declan laying into the elephant (Sinn Fein). If we could only export this stuff? All will be rewarded when the penny finally drops. Let’s hope the cheque doesn’t arrive posthumously.

Niall Ginty, Killester, Dublin 5

Alarm at broken rural peace

Madam – Having come to Wicklow for the bank holiday weekend partially to escape the noise of burglar alarms that accompany every holiday period in Ireland, readers may imagine my dismay to hear a lone burglar alarm in the desolate hills.

On the beaches, we will have to fight them on the beaches…

Christian Morris, Howth, Dublin 13


Madam – Your leading article’s headline, (Sunday Independent 20 April, 2014) , ‘So long to the revolution’ can be read in at least two ways:

‘Goodbye to the Revolution!’ and ‘Why do we have to wait so long for the revolution to happen?’

A further nuance arises from the underlying question as to which ‘revolution’ are we referring? That of 2011? That of 1916-1921? That of some date in the future when – finally – we get it right politically?

I have to indicate my broad support for Eoghan Harris when he makes extremely unpopular but soundly based suggestions that the Rising had no mandate, was profoundly undemocratic, (if not anti-democratic) – and left us with a toxic legacy – undermining true democracy which has rumbled on for a century. It could explode like an unstable hand-grenade in 2016.

At the core of both the 1916 ‘problem’ and the more immediate 2014 mega-problem is our very human (and extremely Irish) inability to face facts – and to tell ourselves and each other the truth about the world as it is. Our unwillingness to accept the burden of reasoned principle – and values that can never be compromised or betrayed.

It was naive of us to think that simply changing the names of the players on the team in 2011 would change everything.

Is there nobody among the ‘younger’ and more junior TDs and senators willing to provide pragmatic social democracy unmistakably committed to constitutional democracy – and to cherishing all the children of the nation equally?

Though the task be heavy, cruel and tedious, what we have to save – our people and our country – is too valuable and sacred to be thrown on the rubbish heap of history.

Maurice O’Connell, Tralee, Co Kerry


Madam – Please pass the word to Gene Kerrigan to get himself a life. Chill out and smell the flowers. From his dour picture, he looks like a smile would do no harm.

The constant drivel and bile on a weekly basis from his pen makes me wonder why I should pay to read it.

J Dawson, Dublin 24


Madam – I have just spent my whole day reading the Sunday Independent and really enjoyed it, warts and all. Why? There was not one nasty swearword and this is why I left down my paper fully satisfied, thank you.

Angela Joyce, Co Galway


Madam – In politics you are obliged to praise a colleague to the hilt and show God-like respect when questioned about their competence.

However, as soon as a damning report comes along that highlights that person’s inadequacies, they are manoeuvred towards the exit.

Alan Shatter’s demise was inevitable. He failed to deal with issues that saw his department spiral out of control.

The reasons why Alan Shatter had to go are very well documented (300 pages).

It is now time for the new Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, to gain the public’s confidence lost during Shatter’s tenure and that, for sure, will not be an easy task.

Vincent O’Connell, Wexford

Sunday Independent

Optician again

May 10, 2014

10May2014 Optician again

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate A trip to Arabia Priceless

Off to the Opticians I have ‘significant deterioration’ so I have a field test its peripheral vision

No Scrabbletoday, perhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


Charles Hughesdon – obituary

Charles Hughesdon was an amorous aviator who married a film star and crashed in the African bush during a 1930s air race

Charles Hughesdon

Charles Hughesdon

6:52PM BST 09 May 2014

Comments2 Comments

Charles Hughesdon, who has died aged 104, was a daredevil aviator, champion ballroom dancer, insurance broker and airline executive who married the film star Florence Desmond and boasted of affairs with Shirley Bassey and Margot Fonteyn.

In the mid-1930s Hughesdon was an aspiring young insurance salesman. As a fledgling pilot, however, he kept an eye on the sky and his chance for a daring flight of fancy came in the 1936 Schlesinger African Air Race. With a route running 6,000 miles from Portsmouth to Johannesburg, the contest aimed to promote the Johannesburg Empire Exhibition and offered a £10,000 prize.

At dawn on Tuesday September 29, Hughesdon and his co-pilot, David Llewellyn, took off in a Percival Vega Gull wood-and-fabric monoplane from Portsmouth aerodrome. Their dinner jackets were safely stowed in the hold.

Programme for the Schlesinger African Air Race

Their passage took them smoothly through Budapest, Cairo, Khartoum and Juba before continuing for their penultimate landing in Abercorn (now Mbala) on the southern tip of Lake Tanganyika in Zambia. As night fell, however, smoke from forest fires obscured their destination and their troubles were exacerbated by a leak in the plane’s auxiliary fuel tank.

With only a few minutes’ fuel remaining they desperately searched for an emergency landing site. “Just as the engine finally cut out we saw in the moonlight a yellow strip, which we presumed was sand, almost against the shore of the lake,” recalled Hughesdon. They crashed into the clearing; the tail of the plane came off on a tree, the undercarriage came up through the Gull’s wings and both men were injured. “We sat there for a while in silence,” wrote Hughesdon later, “before one of us remarked that it would have been a good idea if we had bothered to read up on the wildlife of Africa between packing our dinner jackets.”

Outside they were overwhelmed by insects — dousing themselves in Napoleon brandy only made the situation worse — as they hacked through the tropical undergrowth to get to the lake’s shore. There the pair slept on a narrow belt of sand peppered with crocodile tracks. The following day they were rescued by a local who guided them to his village chief. Hughesdon briefly considered the possibility that their saviours might be cannibals. “I was in trouble if they were,” he stated, “because Llewellyn didn’t carry much meat on him.”

Charles Frederick Hughesdon was born at St Margarets, outside Richmond upon Thames, on December 10 1909 — the year, he liked to point out, that Louis Blériot first flew the English Channel. Hughesdon’s origins were humble. “Socially my family were in a kind of no-man’s land,” he said. His father’s parents ran a sweet shop in Dulwich, while his maternal grandfather was a milliner. His father (after whom Charles was named) was chief engineer at the Johnny Walker & Sons warehouse on Commercial Road, a position that allowed, often to the chagrin of his family, for an unlimited supply of whisky.

While Hughesdon’s father was “somewhat inflexible”, he instilled a strong work ethic in his son and a love of motor vehicles (he gave him his first motorcycle, a Douglas EW, in reward for obtaining his General School certificate).

During the First World War the family moved to a flat above the Johnny Walker offices, and Hughesdon was educated at the nearby Raine’s Foundation Grammar School. A notion (soon abandoned) that he might be suited to the priesthood allowed for a short spell in 1922 at a seminary near Dublin, where he attended the funeral of Michael Collins.

After school and temporary jobs at Johnny Walker and Balfour Beatty he joined Provident & Accident White Cross Insurance in 1927 as a clerk. He soon passed professional examinations to become a regional representative. At this time he also learnt ballroom dancing and was selected for the first English ballroom team. “Dancing,” he asserted, “was a further step into the high life.” He went on to represent England at an international tournament in Copenhagen.

Hughesdon made his first “sale” to a slot-machine shop, insuring their cigarette and chocolate dispensers. He was hooked. “I vividly remember the thrill of that first piece of business,” he recalled late in life. His other lifelong addiction, flying, arose circuitously through his job. With friends from his competitors — Lloyds, Willis Faber, and London & Lancashire — he set up the Insurance Flying Club (with their venture duly underwritten).

“I didn’t feel superior but detached,” he recalled of his first flight. “I had a sudden new perspective on all my problems and difficulties. It is a feeling I have never lost.” Learning to fly (in Gypsy Moth biplanes) during the early 1930s was a precarious business: there were no radios and no brakes. “Once you were up and flying,” stated Hughesdon, “you were on your own.”

He got his flying instructor’s licence and was commissioned in the RAF Reserve in 1934. He got a commercial pilot’s licence two years later — by which time he had flown Sparrowhawks and Hawker Tomtits in the Isle of Man race and King’s Cup, and been half way across the world on the race to Johannesburg.

Simultaneously his career and private life soared. He joined the brokers Stewart Smith, developing their airline insurance business, and was introduced to the actress Florence Desmond (who turned up to their first date wearing crossed silver foxes and later joked that Hughesdon sold her three policies over dinner). Florence was the widow of the aviator Tom Campbell Black, who had been killed preparing for the Schlesinger Race. Hughesdon and Florence married in 1937.

Charles Hughesdon and Florence Desmond leaving Croydon by air for honeymoon, in Paris in 1937

At the outset of war he was made an RAF instructor — being considered too old at 30 for Fighter or Bomber Command — but was soon seconded to General Aircraft as its chief test pilot, flying alongside Polish pilots at Heston Airfield, testing Spitfires for the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit and 70ft tank-carrying gliders. The tests, he said, could be a “a bit hairy”.

In 1943 he was sent to America to test-fly Brewster SB2A Buccaneer bombers. While there he was questioned by the FBI over a telegram he had sent home that read: “Ill in New York. No medicine.” He explained that it was indeed a coded message, but that it was intended to tell his wife that he missed sleeping with her. On his return to Britain he rejoined the RAF as a long-distance transport pilot with No 511 Squadron. On one assignment, to recently liberated Brussels, he was astounded to discover his wife billeted in his hotel as part of an Ensa party. Hughesdon was awarded an AFC for his war service.

At the end of the war he rejoined Stewart Smith, negotiating new policies for Scandinavian Airlines System and, using his new contacts in the United States, with various American airlines, including Trans-Canada, United and Braniff. Meanwhile marriage to a film star — Florence Desmond starred alongside George Formby and Douglas Fairbanks Jnr in the 1930s and 1940s — brought house guests such as David Niven, Ava Gardner, Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Taylor.

Their marriage, however, was informed by a flexible attitude to fidelity: extramarital liaisons were considered “medicinal”. Hughesdon had flings with both the first and second wife of his friend Tyrone Power. In 1955 he was introduced to Shirley Bassey, then in her late teens, who was at the time lighting up the West End. The pair conducted an affair for several years, meeting up in Britain, America and Australia. The singer even joined Hughesdon and his family for a Boxing Day party at which she and Florence Desmond duetted. “It was riotous,” recalled Hughesdon. “Finally after much laughter and Shirley dancing barefoot on the billiards table a few of us finished in the sauna bath.”

A longer relationship evolved out of a lunch with Margot Fonteyn at Hughesdon’s house in Surrey during the early 1960s — at the end of the meal he followed his guest upstairs and kissed her. “She didn’t resist,” he recalled, “but neither did she exactly melt.” From this inauspicious start they engaged in an affair which continued sporadically for the next 10 years. “As time went on she came to depend on me in many ways,” claimed Hughesdon. “For sex, certainly, but also for companionship, advice, and strength.”

Charles Hughesdon and his wife, Florence Desmond, at home in 1957

In the early 1960s Hughesdon oversaw the indemnity policy for a troubled, and eventually abandoned, British shoot of Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor caught flu and the English fog drew a veil over any Egyptian atmosphere).

Stewart Smith merged with Bray Gibb Wrightson in 1972 to become Stewart Wrightson, with which Hughesdon remained until his retirement, as chairman, in 1976. The 1970s also saw him become the owner of his own airline, Tradewinds Airways, a cargo company with lucrative British American Tobacco and Grand Prix contracts. He sold the company in 1977 to Tiny Rowland.

Hughesdon was honorary treasurer of the Royal Aeronautical Society (1969-1971). He counted shooting, horse racing and dressage among his recreations, and in later life wrote his spectacularly indiscreet memoirs, Flying Made it Happen .

Florence Desmond died in 1993, and later that year Hughesdon married Carol Elizabeth, the widow of the former Attorney General Lord Havers. She survives him with a son, Michael, from his first marriage, and two stepsons, the actor Nigel Havers and Philip Havers, QC .

Charles Hughesdon, born December 10 1909, died April 11 2014


A cross-party group of MPs calls for sanctions against British Muslims fighting in Syria (Report, 9 May). Will the same MPs replicate those calls with regard to the British Jews serving in the Israeli army? Or is enabling Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza not a matter of concern?
Stan Brennan

• It is striking you in today’s editorial completely accept that the new chairman of the BBC should be chosen by a politician (Editorial, 8 May) and that the licence-payers should have no say whatsoever in selecting the person who will spend their money or decide the output.
Emo Williams
Shere, Surrey

• Your leader rightly argues the next BBC chair should be chosen on merit. It should have added that it is now the turn of an able person who did not go to Oxbridge.
Bob Holman

• How sad Gerard Jones intends to stop buying the Guardian because you “provide a platform” for Tory sympathisers (Letters, 9 May). He should do what I do and welcome these items because I know that within a couple of days, just by reading the letters page, I’ll have all the ammunition I need to refute their thinking.
Bob Epton
Brigg, Lincolnshire

• Helena Costa (Report, 8 May) may follow in the Gucci-clad footsteps of Gabriella Benson (brilliantly played by Cherie Lunghi), heroine of Stan Hey’s The Manageress, a great novel, serialised on Channel 4 in 1989. Finally, 25 years on, literature and art may imitate life in the tough “man’s world” of football.
Dave Massey

• While scanning the TV listings (G2, 6 May), I saw that Mr Drew’s School for Boys is broadcast with audio description (indicated as AD). So if I watch the programme on one of those fancy modern tellies, will it have ADHD?
Norman Miller
Brighton, East Sussex

• Surely a new currency should be the dram divided into the wee dram (Letters, 9 May)?
John Billard
Reading, Berkshire

Eighteen months ago we, Judy and Simon, sold our three-bedroom apartment of 34 years in West Kensington and used the money to help fund a joint purchase in south London – a four-bedroom house in Norwood/Tulse Hill. We have the ground floor, consisting of loo, double front room – we use it like a 70s bedsit – and large back kitchen; while our daughter, her husband and their little daughter have the two top floors. We share bills, garden, shower room and a study/library at the back of the first floor. Every Monday evening they come down to us for quiz night and every Saturday night we go up for TV night.

Four and a half days a week Judy is nanna/nanny to under-two Dinah, so our daughter and her husband can have careers, can save at least £20,000 a year in childcare and don’t have to stress to get home in time for the childminder. They return to a clean, fed, contented child. We, in our turn, get to have a major share in the up-bringing of our granddaughter. We have turned the clock back 30 years. In time, when we two start to fall apart, help is just one flight of stairs away.

It works all round – Germany alive and well in London SE21 (Labour party interested in German model for the ‘multigeneration house’, 2 May). The only question remains: where is our massive tax break from the government?
Simon and Judy Rodway

• It’s very good news that Jon Cruddas has discovered the German Mehrgenerationenhaus model, which really has no losers. Older people, children, families, mental and physical health and social-care budgets all benefit. And the example I know in Berlin has high environmental credentials. Members pay to join a co-operative which then has enhanced abilities to raise funds, and land is made more easily available.

Yet when I suggested something similar in Lambeth about 10 years ago – sheltered housing above a childcare facility, on the Danish model – as appropriate enabling development to fund the rescue and reuse of an historic educational building, the council officers reacted as though I had suggested housing unreformed paedophiles in a nursery. Even in Germany it is clear that state financial support is limited, but at least government doesn’t stand in the way. Local as well as national government must embrace this.

But on the basis of the dismal performance on Radio 4 this week on rent control by Labour’s shadow housing minister, Mr Cruddas has a long way to go to turn such a farsighted scheme into Labour policy.
Judith Martin
Winchester, Hampshire

To David Sainsbury’s excellent article (Pfizer: stop this sell-off, 9 May), warning of the electoral consequences of misjudging the voters’ mood on this issue, it is important to add the concerns of UK scientists and engineers. I speak as a scientist who has been involved in very fruitful collaboration with AstraZeneca. Over the last 30 years I have also seen, with dismay, several fruitful scientific collaborations with the pharmaceutical industry be completely wasted as a consequence of mergers and takeovers, followed inevitably by the shutting down of research laboratories and projects. As David Sainsbury says, this is not an ideological issue. There can be clear criteria for when takeovers and mergers are good and when they are bad for the UK economy. The warning lights in this case could not be clearer.
Professor Denis Noble
Department of Physiology, anatomy and genetics, University of Oxford

• We are deeply troubled by the proposed takeover of AstraZeneca, a key strategic national asset. This deal has the potential to tear the heart out of the UK’s science base and must be subject to the utmost scrutiny. Though we acknowledge the success of many aspects of the free market, we feel it is the responsibility of the UK government to temper the worst excesses of the market, especially when they conflict with the UK’s long-term prosperity, which is inextricably linked with the knowledge-based economy, science, engineering and innovation. We would contrast the UK’s approach with that of its competitors. Could it be imagined that Germany would have such an indifferent attitude towards a foreign takeover of BMW, or Siemens?

Over many generations, research and development in the private sector has benefited from the UK’s intellectual institutions, human, social and financial capital, and tax breaks. All this, and further potential international long-term gains which have not yet materialised, would be lost for ever, if short-term financial injection or short-term increased jobs are cited as sufficient grounds for allowing the takeover. We demand that: a compulsory independent assessment of the national interest is performed transparently for both friendly mergers and predatory takeovers; and an independent assessor should be permanently armed with a golden share (that cannot be frittered away later) to safeguard the national interest and to police any merged entity to ensure fairness for all.

It is a backward step to export our well-earned long-term world-class R&D in pharmaceuticals. This is not simply selling off the family silver, but relegating Britain to a lower scientific standing.
Prof David Caplin, Prof Willie Russell, Prof Jonathan Slack, Pamela Buchan, Dr Feroze Duggan, Dr Michael Galsworthy, Dr Matt Gwilliam, Bobbie Nicholls, Dr John Unsworth (Chair), Dr Martin Yuille Scientists for Labour

• The arguments advanced by David Sainsbury against allowing Pfizer to take over AstraZeneca are devastating. Yet David Cameron and George Osborne seem determined to support the bid. Liberal Democrats in government should make it clear that this is the view of the Conservatives in the coalition, not that of the Liberal Democrats, as Vince Cable has intimated. They should firmly and publicly oppose the bid. It is a test case for the doctrine preached by market fundamentalists that the primary aim of public companies is to maximise shareholder value, and that shareholders alone should decide the fate of companies and be free to sell to the highest bidder irrespective of the public interest or the interest of employees. This is a pernicious doctrine, one of the causes of the short-termism that is one of the main weaknesses of British industry.
Dick Taverne
House of Lords

• British science is never safe in Tory hands (Big pharma needs a public stake, 8 May). In 1987, Margaret Thatcher privatised the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge. At the time it was a world leader in plant breeding, with scientists visiting from all over the world and 70% of the cereal varieties grown in East Anglia were bred at the PBI. The site is now a park and ride and a Waitrose supermarket. In the early 90s, Craig Venter in the US tried to make a dash to sequence the human genome, expecting to be able to patent human genes. It was John Sulston and the Wellcome Trust who played a major part in sequencing the genome, making it freely available to researchers, with little support from government. Now we have AstraZeneca and your report that Cameron wants Pfizer to up their offer instead of supporting an important British science company. At the same time Kew Gardens, world famous scientifically, is under threat from government spending cuts.
These public-school educated Tory posh boys seem unable to comprehend the importance of state support of science for the public good.
Joan Green

Suzanne Moore’s piece (Jeremy Clarkson is not a maverick – he is the bullying face of the establishment, 8 May) is a most brilliant combination of outrage and logical argument. The BBC is on the wrong side of the line regarding Clarkson and must respond accordingly.
Roger Booker
Dunsfold, Surrey

Jeremy Clarkson‘s head has long been sought by the self-righteous left as it cannot abide dissent from a duplicitous intolerant version of monochrome acceptability. Clarkson admits to perhaps muttering the N-word in a recording that was not transmitted, presumably because the editor made the right decision to cut the incoherently offensive mumble. If Clarkson were to go because of an un-aired error of judgment, kept discreetly private then we should be very afraid indeed.
Charles Foster
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire

Your coverage of the Better Care Fund (Polly Toynbee: The NHS is on the brink: can it survive till May 2015?, 9 May; £3.8bn NHS Better Care Fund policy delayed after damning Whitehall review, 7 May) has highlighted a truth widely acknowledged within the NHS – that it is heading towards a financial crisis in 2015-16, if not before. The focus should now be on what needs to be done. While there is still scope to improve efficiency, and efforts to release savings should be redoubled, this will not be enough. Unless significant additional funding is provided, patients will bear the cost as waiting times rise, staff are cut and quality of care deteriorates.

Crucially, new funding must not be used to disguise the need for change by propping up unsustainable services. Instead, it should be used for two distinct purposes. First, a “transformation fund” should be established to meet the cost of service changes and invest in developing new models of care outside hospitals. Second, emergency support should be made available for otherwise sound NHS organisations in financial distress as a result of the unprecedented pressures on their budgets.

Politicians from all parties are unwilling to engage in a public debate about the future funding of the NHS. Health was not a big issue in the runup to the last general election – it needs to be this time round, otherwise the political process will have failed.
Chris Ham
Chief executive, The King’s Fund

Simon Jenkins references Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful (7 May). The problems of the NHS are very different, reflecting local conditions; like many in their ninth decade I am alive after several NHS operations, owing my life to its consistent care. Maintaining standards in a huge organisation, like liberty, calls for unfailing vigilance and the strongest sense of purpose.
Michael Watson


While everyone is focusing on whether or not Ukip is a racist party, the irrationality of just two of its major policies is being overlooked. First is Ukip’s denial of climate science which has been accepted by every research body on the planet for several decades. This short-sighted, essentially suicidal policy, will inevitably create vast  humanitarian refugee and immigration problems in the future for all developed countries, including ours.

Second is its policy of amalgamating income tax and national insurance into a new flat-rate income tax pitched at around 34 per cent. Bearing in mind that most of Ukip support comes from better-off pensioners who don’t pay National Insurance and that very few of them pay higher rate tax, Ukip is therefore proposing to raise the taxation of its main supporters by 70 per cent. Can’t they do sums? In contrast, a mere 34 per cent flat tax will obviously be a bonanza for bankers like Nigel Farage.

Aidan Harrison
Rothbury, Northumberland

The increasing gap in political cultures between Scotland and England is further evidenced by the latest research on voting intentions for the European Parliamentary elections and attitudes to the EU.

South of the border, Ukip is challenging Labour for first place in the European Parliament elections. In Scotland the Ukip vote is a third of that in England, and it is unlikely that the elections will deliver any MEPs for Mr Farage’s party.

Of those surveyed in Scotland, 48 per cent would vote to remain in the EU if a referendum was held, compared with 32 per cent who said they would vote to leave. In England  40 per cent would vote to leave the EU, compared with 37 per cent who would vote to stay in.

The results also indicate how national identity plays a key role in voters’ views about the European Union, with Ukip support in England strongest among those who identified themselves as being “English” rather than “‘British”. It is also clear from the research that “Scottish” identifiers back entirely different parties from “English” identifiers.

Scotland and England are two nations moving in different political directions. The independence referendum will determine whether Scotland will plough its own furrow or remain shackled to a political system whose values we no longer share.

Alex Orr

Commentators are surprised that damaging disclosures about Ukip candidates and members don’t harm the party’s poll ratings. Surely the answer is that most of the voters threatening to vote for Ukip will actually vote for NOTA (None of  the Above).

What is really surprising is that intelligent voters will vote for a party that opposes every proposal that comes before the European Parliament, no matter what the subject, and does little or no work in Brussels, yet will scorn the party that works its socks off in the interests of Britain in Europe.

Geoff S Harris

The letter from the selection of Ukip high-ups (7 May) has finally debunked their view of themselves as distinct from the “old” parties and reveals them to be exactly the same. They moan about people being mean to them, media conspiracy, their views and policies being misrepresented, and of personal attacks and abuse.

Is this not the same charge perennially posited by the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats about their treatment in the media? Politics? Don’t you just love it!

Paul Jenkins
Newton Abbot, Devon

The SNP hopes for Scottish independence within the EU. Ukip promises to take us out of the EU in order to control immigration.  In the unlikely event that both are successful, could Mr Farage tell us what border arrangements he would put in place between Scotland and the remainder of the UK, and would unemployed Scots be  on his exclusion list?

Les Walton

Soham, Cambridgeshire

GP system needs thorough reform

Jane Merrick’s article of 8 May highlights one of the main issues which gives rise to my increasing frustration as a GP, namely the absurdity of continuing to try to make an outdated model of primary health-care provision fit into a modern society. Leaving the issue of funding aside, my experience is of a need to simplistically split primary care into two basic components.

First, there is the need to care for the frail elderly, and those with complex long-term conditions, in a community setting. GPs are an experienced but expensive resource, ideally suited to the holistic nature of this difficult task, which is time-consuming and labour intensive if it is to be done properly, and which could potentially occupy almost all of a GP’s time.

Second is the need for readily available first-point contact primary care, which in most cases does not need to be provided by a GP, but can readily be done by nurse practitioners, extended care practitioners, pharmacists, or other suitably trained health-care professionals, who are more than capable of dealing with a considerable number of problems currently presenting at GP surgeries (and indeed many GP practices are increasingly using these resources).

The continuing perception that anyone with a new health problem must see a GP is precisely what is causing the immense strains in the system.

I am pleased Ms Merrick’s problem was of a benign nature, but would it not have been much easier and caused less emotional turmoil had she been offered a same-day appointment with a nurse practitioner in the first place?

Adrian Canale-Parola

Jane Merrick’s account of her treatment under the GP system (8 May), reminded me of other such failures. Patients requiring urgent blood tests are told that they cannot be taken. Others are told that an important appointment to discuss a health concern will take two weeks. When will one of our political leaders have the integrity to say to the electorate that the health service requires more funding and it must come from earmarked taxation? I assume that our political class has had their cojones removed under private health insurance.

John Dillon

Workhouse for a new generation

Your correspondents regarding “generation rent” (8 May) show a remarkable lack of neoliberal vision. Surely we can be absolutely confident that there are bright young Conservative advisers at this very moment working on a return of the workhouse, although in keeping with the times they will be provided by G4S or Serco rather than the local authority. A new name will be necessary, of course. The Seeking Workhouse doesn’t quite work, but I’m sure other readers can help the government out here.

John Newsinger

Saudi Arabia and kidnapped girls

Many countries are now clamouring for action to rescue the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, but the only country which might be able to pressure Boko Haram into releasing them is silent. If Boko Haram is Wahabist – and as an Al-Qa’ida affiliate it probably is – then condemnation from Saudi mullahs ought to weigh with it, even if no money or training or equipment is flowing from the Kingdom (which it probably is). Does the Saudi religious establishment really believe that kidnapping virgins and selling them as slaves is, as Boko Haram claims, proper Islamic behaviour?

Gillian Ball

A load of old rubbish

Andy McSmith’s mention of Birmingham Council’s policy of not collecting garden rubbish (The Diary, 8 May), because “there was no reason why people who have not got gardens should subsidise those who have”, astonished me. Here in Wiltshire the council provides a large green garden bin for the disposal of garden waste once a fortnight. This waste is then recycled to make compost which is sold back to gardeners. This reverses the Birmingham attitude completely as all council taxpayers, gardeners or non-gardeners, benefit as a result of the cash raised.

John Deards
Warminster, Wiltshire

Sexism on the hustings

Compare the description of these two Parliamentary candidates in Carlisle (News, 6 May): “Stevenson is a 50-year-old lawyer-turned-politician”; “Sherriff, 41, is a divorced mother of three”.

Please treat the sexes equally. We know nothing, from these descriptions, of Sherriff’s previous career path or Stevenson’s marital or parental status.

Patricia Pipe
Saltash, Cornwall

Capitalism raw in tooth and claw

Barclays makes a loss, pays those at the top increased bonuses, and then sacks 19,000 workers (“Barclays boss Antony Jenkins defends bonuses despite restructuring”, 8 May). Tells you all you need to know about capitalism, really.

Howard Pilott
Lewes, East Sussex


Kenneth Clark, centre, and crew in the making of the BBC’s Civilisation series

Published at 12:01AM, May 10 2014

Nearly half a century on, and Kenneth Clark is still drawing critics and fans

Sir, Rachel Campbell-Johnston acclaims Civilisation rightly as a landmark television series (“He came to praise art, and almost buried it”, May 7), so in fairness we should also acknowledge the key contribution of its two distinguished producers, Michael Gill and Peter Montagnon. Their visualisation of Lord Clark’s script was just as important in captivating the audience. There is much speculation about who will present the remake of the series; I hope as much thought is devoted to who will produce it.

John Miller

Bishop’s Sutton, Hants

Sir, I would give a lot to see a re-run of the original Civilisation series. Last week on my first visit to Florence I was wonderfully guided by Kenneth Clark’s accompanying book, Civilisation , specifically by his chapter on the Renaissance, entitled “Man — the Measure of all Things”. His elegant analysis of 15th-century Florence was invaluable for planning my museum visits. He will be a hard act to follow.

Frances Roberts

Clayhidon, Devon

Sir, Rachel Campbell-Johnston’s piece on Kenneth Clark raises an awkward truth about art and ordinary people, a truth that leftist art-school orthodoxy cannot cope with. Campbell-Johnston portrays Clark as hopelessly condescending towards what he called the “average man”.

His role in popularising high culture is acknowledged, before being lost in the usual list of failings that make Clark derided as out of touch by bien pensant radical, art-world figures: “clipped accents . . . Winchester College . . . Oxford . . . patrician figurehead . . . huge wealth . . . [belief in] the supremacy of figurative painting . . . conservative . . . lofty . . . suited” (even, heaven forbid, “middle-aged”).

However, this narrative cannot cope with the facts. Many millions of ordinary men and women watched Civilisation and took delight in it, or bought the accompanying book. In the US 24,000 people turned up to watch the series at an auditorium holding 300.

Despite their political sympathy with what they cannot bear to call the “average man”, today’s art-school radicals cannot cope with the fact that the 20th-century’s greatest breakthrough in public understanding of art was the work of a white man who wore a suit and went to a public school. Nor can they cope with the reality that ordinary people continue to show contempt for the kind of abstractions they so champion, many of which require the help of a (very expensive) art-school education to begin to understand.

Paul Coupar


Sir, I cannot agree with Martin Marix Evans’s opinion as to the “staggering tedium” of Kenneth Clark’s presentation of Civilisation (letters, May 3). On the contrary, his dulcet delivery, idiosyncratic inflections and lightly worn erudition introduced me, a teenager, to a world of culture that I might otherwise never have known and which has remained with me ever since.

Barry Borman

Edgware, Middx

Flower of Scotland is a fine anthem — maybe England should find an alternative to God Save the Queen?

Sir, Secure in our unifying comfort blanket of Britishness, I am sure that few of my rugby-loving English compatriots have taken offence at the lyrics to Flower of Scotland (letter, May 8) Indeed, I must admit to joining in. In its own strange way, it is one of the greatest anthems. It is also history alive.

Effort would be better expended in providing England fans with an alternative to God Save the Queen, the appropriation of which by England I do regard as an insult to our Scottish and Welsh friends, and an awkwardness at least for that part of the Irish team made up of players from Northern Ireland.

Victor Launert

Matlock Bath, Derbyshire

Alan Bennett has annoyed many of his fellow writers with his preference for American literature

Sir, The outrage from a few British writers that Alan Bennett has the temerity to prefer Americans (“Bennett should read more, say miffed writers ”, May 7) damages their own reputations more than his.

Christine Penney


Sir, England’s literary establishment always seems to react with venom to the slightest criticism. Susan Hill reduces the debate to the personal, while Professor Sutherland ungenerously suspects the opinions of Will Self and Edward St Aubyn are a function of their proximity to literary prizes (“The demise of the English novel is (again) exaggerated”, May 7). Overall, it isna picture of irate sardines “shoal supported”, to adapt a phrase of FR Leavis, by the tide.

Peter Wood

Stainton, Cumbria

Sir, John Sutherland puts up a feeble defence of the contemporary English novel when he pits “everyone’s favourites” Ishiguro and McEwan against US contemporaries such as Bellow, Roth, Pynchon and Chabon.

Current US fiction is superior in scale, psychological insight and stylistic originality. I am reading Philip Roth’s I Married a Communist. It sizzles with wit and energy, experiments with wall-to-wall dialogue, and offers liberal helpings of the poetry of politics, absent from English literature for a century.

Victor Ross

London NW8

Women of the cloth? Now female clergy can show their male colleagues who really wears the trousers

Sir, Apropos your report “Fashion twist for women of the cloth” (May 7), perhaps the designer Camelle Daley could consider a culotte dress, as long as a cassock, so that women clerics can show their male colleagues who is really wearing the trousers.

At St Paul’s I once saw a female verger wearing a divided cassock — she looked pretty amazing walking down the nave in 1970s culotte/flares a whisker wider than taxi doors.

Paul Smith

(organ builder, St Paul’s Cathedral 1972-77)

Ely, Cambs

Digital games may be wreaking havoc in the brains of impressionable and young players

Sir, I am saddened to hear a leading educationist encourage computer games as a form of learning (“Angry Birds teaches pupils life skills, says schools chief”, May 6). I agree with everything Angela McFarlane says about games, but the same is true of Snakes and Ladders, Cluedo and Monopoly — with the advantage that the life skills are not a superficial coating on an aggressive, conflict-led platform and the interaction is social and face to face.

Nor is there a marketing strategy to get our children addicted by rewarding them with a dopamine fix every six seconds (usually when they destroy something). This erodes their attention span and their ability to persevere and to learn the value of delayed gratification. Professor McFarlane says she became hooked, ironically, on a game called Lemmings. This is what marketers employ psychologists to do — to get our children hooked. I do not want our 6-year-old to be encouraged to use computer games to develop his life skills.

Violence and death are trivialised in so many games and we may well ask whether acquiring superficial life skills justifies anaesthetising our children to death.

I would encourage your readers to sit down with their teenage offspring and watch Beeban Kidron’s film In Real Life to get a more balanced view of the insidious nature of these seemingly innocent “games”.

Caroline Silver

London SW6

You can win continuing healthcare funding — but you have to be patient and do your homework first

Sir, I am one of those who won continuing healthcare (CHC) funding for a relative (letter, May 7), also getting it backdated in the process.

I urge anyone affected to study NHS CHC Checklist, Decision Support Tool for NHS CHC, and National Framework for NHS CHC and NHS-funded Nursing Care. These, all online, are well written, logical, unambiguous and easy to follow; then, to ensure that the process of assessment is initiated and allow it to evolve. If an entitlement emerges and a recommendation is made for CHC funding by a multidisciplinary team, it may not be overturned by another panel, except in exceptional circumstances, nor may either group act as a gateway for funding.

Persevere and those entitled will receive their entitlement.

Malcolm Watson

Welford, Berks


SIR – I am so heartened that we may at last be told how the meat we buy has been slaughtered, and if the animal was stunned before death.

I do not eat meat and do not condone the way most animals are bred, farmed and slaughtered. My husband does choose to eat meat, but only if the highest standards of animal welfare are observed.

I only buy meat from shops where I am sure my welfare principles have been satisfied. I never buy from supermarkets.

I am Christian but have no problem with other religions or ethnic groups. I would just ask that meat-eaters consider the poor beast dying just to feed us and that they treat the animals with respect and as much kindness as they can.

Ann Baker
Wilcove, Cornwall

SIR – No one has ever made concessions to Jews by providing kosher food in pizza restaurants or fast food chains. Jews eat at their own restaurants or buy their own kosher food to cook. Why cannot Muslims do the same?

Valerie O’Neill
Crawley, West Sussex

SIR – I am in favour of allowing religious slaughter. But it may not be well known that religiously slaughtered meat has been consumed unwittingly by the general public for decades.

The hindquarters of animals – rump or leg – killed by Jewish slaughter, shechita, is sold to the non-kosher trade in accordance with the Biblical reference in Genesis 32 that states that the children of Israel should not eat the sinews of the hip joint.

The forbidden parts – sinews, certain fats and veins – can be removed but the process is so expensive that often the relevant part of the animal is sold to the non-kosher market.

Fay Davies
Barnet, Hertfordshire

Miliband’s intellect

SIR – Perhaps Ed Miliband could explain the basis of intellectual self-confidence?

So far, there appears to be nothing in his ill-defined policies to show that his party accepts responsibility for its part in the economic crisis of 2008, let alone any credible economic policy for the future.

Shirley Elomari
Shrewsbury, Shropshire

SIR – Perhaps Mr Miliband’s claim, like Marvin the robot in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, to have a brain the size of a planet explains why so many of his policies seem to originate from a parallel universe, where rent controls do not reduce the lettings market and thereby force up market rents; energy price controls do not reduce investment in future supply and lead to higher prices; and capping rail fares does not lead to fewer trains.

Worst of all, in Mr Miliband’s world, increasing borrowing and taxation do not destroy growth and incentive, just as happened under the last Labour government.

May I suggest that the Government increase funding to the UFO research programme, as this may be our only hope of stopping more aliens coming into Westminster after the next election.

Richard Coulson
Maidstone, Kent

SIR – Socrates knew that he knew nothing, and was thereby the wisest man in Athens. Yet fools seldom lack self-confidence.

Peter Urben
Kenilworth, Warwickshire

Education equality

SIR – My school is one of those that is consulting on prioritising free school meals in our admissions criteria. Broadening access is about much more than the 11+, though. It is about a school’s commitment to openness, and about help with costs such as travel and sports equipment so that every pupil can attend on an equal basis.

My experience is that some former grammar school pupils are keen to give philanthropically to support these aims. Our donor-funded primary school programme (InspirUS) was shortlisted for a national Enterprise and Community Award, and our financial assistance fund (the Lune Scholarship) was generously established by a local entrepreneur.

Dr C J Pyle
Head, Lancaster Royal Grammar School

Keep the magic alive

SIR – I celebrated our silver wedding anniversary by taking my wife to a history lecture on the subject of “Public dissection of criminals’ corpses in the 18th century” in Oxford. This was followed by a candlelit dinner for two at a nearby Italian restaurant.

John Davis
Ringmer, East Sussex

SIR – What should I get my husband for our 30th anniversary? He says he doesn’t want anything special.

Cate Goodwin
Easton on the Hill, Northamptonshire

Indijonous mustard

SIR – Professor Faulkner’s experience in Bali reminds me of a recent visit to our local supermarket to buy French mustard. When I asked for help finding it, I was told apologetically that all they had was English and Dijon (to rhyme with pigeon).

Professor Richard Ramsden
Allostock, Cheshire

Care homes

SIR – Richard Hawkes says disabled people are campaigning against old-fashioned services. He fails to mention that he is closing 11 homes, displacing 190 residents and making 400 staff redundant.

He tells us that if Scope closes these homes, “We’ll support families to work with local bodies to find alternatives that are right for them.” That is contradictory to what parents have been told: I heard that whatever the outcome of the consultation, the homes will close and that it will be up to local authorities to provide new placements for these 190 residents.

With local government still having to make huge financial cuts, what sort of say (if, in fact, they can say) are these disabled people going to have?

Merrin Holroyd
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – I have a profoundly disabled daughter who has lived in a care home in Salisbury for the past 30 years. Throughout that time, the care she has received at the hands of Scope has been exemplary.

When the choice of care homes is being considered, we must not lose sight of some fundamental truths. First, as Richard Hawkes rightly points out, even those with the most complex needs must be given a say in where, how and with whom they live, and as new concepts and ideas arise they must always be considered carefully, but choices must only be made after the most careful assessment: they must be appropriate, realistic and they must be sustainable. If not, a scheme will fail and another devised to take it’s place, and there is nothing more unsettling for the disabled than insecurity.

Some years ago I was a member of a small Scope working party considering “empowerment”, and often during our discussions I found myself aching to cry out “Stop. Get real!”, for while there are many who will benefit from new ideas and practices, there are also many for whom they are just an irrelevance; what they need is good old-fashioned tender, loving care.

Dr Richard Riseley-Prichard
Allington, Wiltshire

Foreign flowers

SIR – Last week my wife and I were bedazzled by the colours of all the varieties of rhododendron, azalea and camellia at Exbury Gardens in the New Forest. If European bureaucrats had existed a hundred years ago, presumably they would have “saved” us from such sights.

Michael Keene
Winchester, Hampshire

(Clean) old hat

SIR – How does one clean a Panama hat without reducing it to pulp?

Alan J Watson
Cayton, North Yorkshire

Gales of laughter

SIR – I agree with John Ley-Morgan about BBC Radio 4’s so-called comedy slotat 6.30pm. For a laugh, just listen to Radio 4’s weather forecasts.

Gareth Griffiths
Porthcawl, Glamorgan

Lily Allen performs at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire at the launch of her new album last week  Photo: Redferns

5:49PM BST 08 May 2014

Comments159 Comments

SIR – Lily Allen complained that she probably only earned about £8,000 from her Christmas advert for John Lewis. Then Harry Wallop (Features, May 7) explained some of the other revenue streams that modern pop musicians enjoy to give them huge incomes.

What amazes me is that these people expect such large sums of money for so little work. I know that in the past successful artists did earn a great deal, but markets change.

Lily Allen’s £8,000, for at best a day or two of work (she didn’t even write the song), is, by most people’s standards, a very substantial income. It seems to be that people who earn enormous incomes have very little appreciation of how the average person manages.

Jeremy Bateman
Luton, Bedfordshire


SIR – Philip Johnston is quite rightto highlight the potential of brownfield sites for much-needed housing. But how can the owners of these sites be made to bring them into use?

One of the benefits of a land value tax is that it encourages landowners to develop a vacant and underused site to its full planning potential, and discourages land banking.

Michael J Hawes
Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire

SIR – You report on how buyers must be forced to find bigger deposits to slow down the booming housing market. The fault lies with the banks, which have been lending way beyond their reserves in a liquidity ratio often given as 10 to 1, but in reality, with hedge funding, far higher.

Not infrequently, foreclosure ensues, where the debtor’s house is sold to an outside party at decimated value. Though collusion between the outside party and the bank that forecloses may be hard to prove, it can easily occur. One hopes that one day, Parliament will recognise that such foul practice does exist.

Lord Sudeley
London NW1

SIR – Additional lending constraints, as suggested by the OECD, and Labour’s bureaucratic rent controls are both market-distorting measures.

Much better would be to remove tax relief on buy-to-let mortgage loans, thus treating them equally to those to owner-occupiers. A welcome by-product would be a reduction of several billion pounds in the budget deficit.

Bruce Clench
Chichester, West Sussex

SIR – The Government must control the larger planning applications being submitted by developers who want to build thousands of houses in countryside areas in order to make big profits. If it doesn’t, it is in danger of losing votes in the 2015 election.

The Prime Minister has said that villages would be protected by having house building limited to 10, 15 or 20 only. This is not happening.

Here in West Sussex, there is an application to build 10,000 houses, which has been rejected by the local authority as well as the majority of the local population, as the site covers a great deal of countryside, including small villages.

The proposal also lacks employment opportunities, schooling, shops and roads suitable for the increased traffic. The company promoting this project has a director who is leading the Government’s Planning Guidance Review.

My fear is that the planning minister will rub his hands with glee and approve the scheme, adding another 10,000 houses to his total.

John Grant
Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex

Irish Times:

Sir, – What possessed the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) to issue its statement regretting the resignation of Alan Shatter (Home News, May 8th)?

It seems to me that the ICCL has lost the run of itself in effectively siding with the minister who refused to acknowledge the shabby treatment of Garda whistleblowers, was reluctant to tackle Garda malpractice, and who breached data-protection regulations. If the ICCL thinks none of this is reason enough for Mr Shatter’s resignation, I think we’re all in trouble. – Yours, etc,


Ardfield, Co Cork.

Sir, – It is hard to believe that less than 10 years after the statutory and administrative reforms introduced in response to the Garda corruption exposed by the Morris Tribunal that we are still being confronted with a seemingly endless succession of scandals concerning the Garda. There is no reason to believe that the recent and prospective inquiries will be any more effective in delivering lasting reform.

There is a systemic malaise in the Garda organisation that can only be tackled by the establishment of a Patten-style commission with the remit and resources to conduct a thorough root-and-branch review of what we want from policing and how we should deliver policing in this country. This must include basic issues such as recruitment, training, pay and conditions, deployment, management, powers, functions, policies and mission, as well as the fundamentals of governance, accountability and transparency.

The object must be the establishment of a professional, efficient, accountable and transparent civil police organisation that reflects best international standards appropriate to a European democracy in the 21st century.

It will take a brave and visionary Minister for Justice to pursue that project and to see it through to a successful conclusion. The future of the Garda and the quality of policing, democracy and the rule of law in this country are heavily dependant on it. – Yours, etc,



Old Dover Road,


Sir, – Des Kelly (May 9th) compares the price of bottled water in supermarkets to the proposed price of mains water under the Irish Water regime. He says the disparity between the two should give us food for thought. I am feeling undernourished.

Bottled water sold in supermarkets is a commodity that serves particular purposes. Some people buy it because they do not trust tap water, others because they do not have easy access to tap water at that moment. No-one I know buys it to bathe their children. It would be needlessly lavish, inconvenient and cold.

Mr Kelly’s letter highlights a deeper social and political problem. Conventional wisdom in Ireland now thinks of a substance essential to our most basic human needs as a commodity. Under the new Irish Water regime, one of our most basic human needs will be rationed on the basis of wealth.

All of the parties in Ireland’s political establishment see water as a commodity and not as a human right. This illustrates the real attitude toward democracy and social equality in official circles.

Food for thought, perhaps. – Yours, etc,


Mount Rochford Close


Co Dublin.

A chara, – Now that the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre will be using 12,000 litres of water during every performance of Singin’ in the Rain (News, May 6th), one hopes that they won’t follow this with The Merchant of Venice. – Is mise,


Ellensborough Drive,

Kiltipper Road,

Dublin 24.

Sir, – Paddy Cosgrave’s bias towards his alma mater really has got the better of him! (“Is a Trinity degree worth more? Tech entrepreneur hits a nerve”, Education, May 9th)

I direct an advanced masters programme in software engineering in UCD that has, over the years, accepted hundreds of experienced graduates from almost all the third-level institutes in the State. I dearly wish we could predict success by such a simple measure as Paddy applies, but the truth is that there are highly talented and able students in all the third-level institutes, and employers who bias themselves for or against any particular institute are putting themselves at a disadvantage in the competition to recruit excellent graduates. – Yours, etc,


School of Computer

Science and Informatics,

University College Dublin,

Belfield, Dublin 4.

Sir, – John Fitzgerald (May 6th) starts off innocuously enough in the guise of a defence of country rambling, but soon focuses on the hunting fraternity. He is at pains to point out that huntspeople include “prominent legal eagles, bankers, property developers and super-wealthy socialites”. These same undesirables can also be seen playing tennis, rugby, golf, bridge, football and most every other recreational activity. Does this condemn all the aforementioned pursuits or is it only when they are hunting that these types are seen at their worst ?

It is true that the people Mr Fitzgerald lists have been known to hunt but, in my own experience, so too have teachers, nurses, civil servants, gardaí, shopkeepers, students and schoolchildren.

Mr Fitzgerald refers to “the foxhunts that operate in the countryside in the winter months”. He later tell us that huntspeople can be seen “ripping up whole fields of crops”. One of the reasons that hunting takes place in the winter months is precisely because there are so few crops at that time and damage is kept to a minimum. Hunts depend on the support of the farming community and they therefore know, or should know, not to leave gates open or damage crops. If they were to do so, they would be barred from that land and that would be the end of it.

Mr Fitzgerald must not be familiar with the concept of “headlands”, which is the loud cry that hunters make as they enter a field. This reminds them and those following, if it were necessary, to ride close to the hedges around the field and not to cut across it. Mr Fitzgerald omits the one group that probably comprises the largest cohort of hunt members in the country – the farmers themselves. As for the “mayhem” he says hunts cause, or the “scattering of livestock in all directions”, in many years I have not once seen an instance of either.

Ultimately the key to these rural issues is courtesy, respect and good manners. – Yours, etc,


Sefton Hall,


Foxrock, Dublin 18.

Sir, – May I suggest that before Liam Doran continues to call for an increase in nurses at ward level (“INMO seeks recruitment”, Home News, May 9th), he should consider the time they spend office-bound.

The nurse has been driven from the bedside to the office because of the ever-increasing demands of paperwork, chasing a paper trail in search of evidence-based nursing, but alas to the detriment of nursing care. It is this that is demoralising to nurses – ticking boxes, form-filling, worrying about the next checklist instead of the patient. Mr Doran would be better calling for an urgent root-and-branch review of the role of the nurse in acute and residential settings. – Yours, etc,



Glencar, Sligo.

Sir, – The things one finds out as a commuter can be quite extraordinary. I sometimes wonder if those who use train carriages or buses as an extension of their office realise that most of their fellow passengers are capable of hearing.

Just this week, I became privy to what was surely sensitive information about a high-profile sporting organisation, due to a rather disgruntled member of staff who proceeded to discuss his day at length on his mobile. This is not an isolated occurrence.

Moreover, I cannot be alone in regarding it as inconsiderate to hold extended and progressively louder – as tends to happen – phone conversations to the detriment of the right of others to a peaceful journey. Perhaps next time, I shall contact you, Sir, with the scoop. – Yours, etc,


Turvey Walk,

Donabate, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Thomas Ryan (May 8th) misunderstands my argument about the sale of State assets. My point is that in agreeing to undertake a review of such assets, it was clear that this did not bind that government or any future government to actually selling them.

What I didn’t anticipate at the time was that Labour in government would be willing to accept such privatisation plans. I still believe the sale of Bord Gáis Energy was unnecessary and that it should have been kept in public ownership. – Yours, etc,


Green Party,

16 Suffolk Street, Dublin 2.

Sir, – Rory O’Callaghan expresses his disappointment (May 9th) that the Arbour Hill commemoration seemed to give more prominence to the Irishmen who died in the first World War than to those who gave their lives for Irish freedom. But this is fully consistent with the message from our governing politicians in recent times, that the main objective of any 1916 commemoration should be to avoid giving offence to our British neighbours.

In that spirit, I propose that it is high time we did due honour to the British general who ordered the executions of the 1916 leaders. We should relabel Leinster House as “Maxwell House”. This might even attract some commercial sponsorship of our legislature. – Yours, etc,


Charlesland Court,

Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I was appalled at Fionnuala Fallon’s suggestions for slug control (Magazine, May 3rd): “slicing them with secateurs” or “impaling with a knitting needle” and “dunking in boiling water”.

Gardeners everywhere are managing to find alternative methods of dealing with slugs.Hardening off tender young plants and delaying planting, until they are tougher and more resilient, is one possibility; mulching with seaweed is another. Some gardeners have found success in providing a sacrificial patch to satisfy the slugs’ appetite.

Slugs and snails, along with earthworms, contribute to soil enhancement.

Gardeners should work with nature – not against it. – Yours, etc,


Westbrook Road,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – Slugs cannot abide broken eggshells or used coffee grounds. So please forgo the commando-style tactics against slugs and just take the route of recycling breakfast rubbish. – Yours, etc,


Stamer Street,

Dublin 8.

A chara, – According to Bishop Eamonn Walsh, “Audi alteram partem [listen to the other side] is a basic rule in resolving any issue” (“Bishop in plea for tolerance at Arbour Hill memorial to Rising”, Home News, May 8th). He added: “from experience we know that the longer a voice is suppressed, the stronger the force and resentment that will accompany it when it eventually explodes and has to be heard”.

I am looking forward to the long-suppressed voices of women to be raised up in the Vatican and the heavy stone blocking the door to women’s ordination to be rolled away. – Is mise,


Avoca Avenue,


Sir, – Am I alone in despairing of the ever-increasing number of magpies in the greater Dublin area and the consequent reduction in number of smaller garden birds, namely sparrows, finches and dunnocks?

The breeding season is upon us and so too is the yearly spectacle of these carnivorous magpies feasting themselves and their young with the defenceless nestling chicks of smaller garden birds. Let’s bring back the bounty on magpies. – Yours, etc,


Newbridge Drive,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – Having read about and listened to some of the commentaries on last night’s Eurovision Song Contest, I can surmise that most people believe that the contest is rigged. I can only presume that it is only fixed in the years that Ireland doesn’t win. – Yours, etc,


Seafield Crescent,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – It wasn’t all over for us . . . until the bearded lady sang. – Yours, etc,


Elm Mount,


Dublin 9.

Sir, – In the Press Association-sourced “Twitter troll jailed over comments on Ann Maguire death” (Home News, May 8th), Robert Riley is referred to as an “ex-junkie”.

Regardless of the reprehensible actions of Mr Riley, such cheap name-calling is beyond the scope of an objective news report.

There is enough of this rubbish invading modern media without The Irish Times getting involved. – Yours, etc,


Árd Lorcáin Grove,


Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

Published 10 May 2014 02:30 AM

* The local and European elections are now just a fortnight away and there will be wall-to-wall coverage on the candidates and likely winners and losers. What won’t be covered is the electoral system itself, because apparently the body politic assumes that voters know how to vote despite nobody telling them.

Also in this section

That was the week that was in Irish politics

Lessons on society you can pick up from a penguin

Politicians turning a blind eye to people’s suffering

Ireland is almost unique in having PR-STV (proportional representation, single transferable vote), but when was the last time you saw an information advert or received a booklet in the letterbox explaining it? We have public relations campaigns on road safety, smoking, mental health, and so on, but no PR about PR (excuse the pun).

How many readers know the answers to the following questions? What does 1, 2, 3 mean? Is there tactical voting and how can it be done? Why are candidates disappointed when voters say they will “give them a vote”? Why are candidates terrified of journalists saying that their seat is safe? Is it alright to give a protest candidate your number one, and your preferred candidate a number two? Why are there multiple counts? Are transfers important, and are transfers from eliminated candidates better than from elected candidates? Do foreign voters know that, unlike in their home country, you don’t place an X beside the party or candidate of your choice, but write 1, 2, 3 and so on in order of your choice?

Since we don’t have an electoral commission to educate the public, perhaps the media could explain how PR-STV works?





* Colm O Torna accuses me of having a “blind spot” regarding the existence of a merciful God. I keep an open mind and consider any evidence or arguments presented to me. All I ask is that the faithful do the same.

It is the faithful, who seem to have very clear ideas about God, that have the blind spot. Surely, in any debate about the existence of something, the onus of proof rests on those alleging the existence of the thing – in this case a theistic, personal, all-powerful, all-benevolent God (it is, after all, difficult if not impossible to prove a negative, eg that something doesn’t exist). The evidence points against the existence of a theistic, personal, all-powerful, all-benevolent God, but faith covers the blind spot when it comes to the evidence.

Colm blames “nature” for “horrific injuries” suffered by people. The God of the Bible (both the Old and New Testaments) can and does control nature. Moving on from that minor detail, I quote Epicurus:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.

“Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

“Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

“Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

It may provide solace and strength to believers to think that they are part of ‘our Creator’s family’, but the rest of us, on behalf of the thousands of children who die in the world every day (among others), question what kind of family this could be. A very dysfunctional one, I would submit. And paradise awaits, but for whom, and on what grounds? One institution’s rules? What about hell (which is still mentioned on the Vatican’s website), and for whom and on what grounds?

These concepts have terrified generations unnecessarily. Luckily, there is not a shred of evidence that hell exists. Why the silence on these matters from the church these days? You’d swear people were copping on.

Colm mentions Nazism and contends that it was anti-religious. The Wehrmacht Oath of Loyalty to Adolf Hitler was an oath sworn “by God”. Wehrmacht soldiers carried the slogan ‘Gott mit uns’ (‘God with us’) on their belt buckles. In Chapter 2 of ‘Mein Kampf’, Hitler says “By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord’s work” – and his truly awful book is littered with references to God, the Almighty, the Lord and heaven.

Colm mentions Auschwitz. There is no evidence that hell exists, but Auschwitz certainly did exist. I have been there twice. When I was there, I could not help thinking, “Where was God?”

The gods many of your letter-writers speak of vary from the theistic to the deistic to the pantheistic. Whatever about deism or pantheism, I have not heard a single persuasive argument to support the premise of the existence of a theistic, personal, all-powerful, all-benevolent God. The God of the Bible is certainly not all-benevolent – the injunction to Abraham to sacrifice his son to prove his devotion, or the injunction to Saul to massacre the Amalekites (“Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants”) being just two examples.

If there is an all-powerful and all-benevolent God outside of the Bible, he is at the very least guilty of gross negligence.





* It is a measure of the generosity of the American people that they are always prepared to lend their power to right a wrong and aid the helpless. Those who kidnapped schoolchildren in Northern Nigeria, and who now taunt the world with their obscene plans, are deserving of immediate retaliation. The children must be rescued and justice must be done.

I’m not sure that the 6th Cavalry with all its power and publicity is the best choice for this operation. They will be venturing into unknown and difficult terrain against indigenous guerrillas who have the best bargaining tool in the world: helpless children.

I think there might be a better way. Can anybody spell Mossad?





* Seeing the result of the Eurovision semi-final on Thursday reminded me of how, last May, I felt compelled to write the following to your Letters page, which you were kind enough to print: “‘The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Albert Einstein. Has anybody in RTE considered applying this wisdom to its continuing involvement in Eurovision?”

It would appear that my rhetorical question received a negative response.





* It wasn’t all over for us . . . until the bearded lady sang.





* It is hard to believe that the Vatican has decided to wheel out “the devil” as their saviour once again.

It would appear that demonic possession manifests itself (among other things) by “babbling in foreign languages” – is this a reference to Russian oligarchs, or, bless my soul, President Vlad himself? Or maybe those who utter business-speak, or equally meaningless jargon in politics or any other profession you care to mention?

I cannot help but think that all those jobs becoming available for “exorcists” must be sorely tempting for all those devil advocates who have been previously defrocked and are now wandering around looking for new employment opportunities.

The truth is out there, but it won’t be found in the halls of the Curia.



Irish Independent


May 9, 2014

9May2014 Optician

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate A visit to the US Priceless

Off to the Opticians I have ‘significant deterioration’ so I have a field test tomorrow

Scrabbletoday, I win, by three points perhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


Charles Marowitz – obituary

Charles Marowitz was a provocative director of British avant-garde theatre of the 1960s who played fast and loose with Shakespeare

Charles Marowitz

Charles Marowitz Photo: PA PHOTOS/TOPFOTO

6:54PM BST 08 May 2014

Comments1 Comment

Charles Marowitz, the American-born theatre director and playwright who has died aged 80, was a key figure, with Kenneth Tynan and Peter Brook, in the renaissance of British theatre in the 1960s – and one of the most provocative and controversial.

A self-appointed scourge of cultural “philistines” and unadventurous mainstream theatre, Marowitz was co-director, with Peter Brook, of the Royal Shakespeare Experimental Group in the early 1960s and went on to co-found the experimental Open Space Theatre with Thelma Holt, serving as its artistic director until its closure in 1980.

During his years in London, Marowitz directed several West End premieres, among them Joe Orton’s Loot, Sam Shepard’s Tooth of Crime, John Herbert’s Fortune and Men’s Eyes and Eugene Ionesco’s Makbett. His collaborations with Brook on RSC productions of King Lear, Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade and Jean Genet’s The Screens led, in 1964, to a “Theatre of Cruelty” season at the Lamda Theatre Club. This was inspired by the ideas of the French theorist, Antonin Artaud, a great hero of Marowitz, who had proposed that theatre should assault the senses of the audience to reveal, as Marowitz put it, “the existential horror behind all social and psychological facades”. The season made a star of a young Glenda Jackson, a Marowitz protegee, who became the first serious actress to appear nude on the British stage, in a play in which she took the role of Christine Keeler – “stripped, bathed and ritually clothed as a convict to the recitation of the Keeler court case”, according to a report at the time.

Marowitz employed a panoply of cinematic techniques, such as jump cuts, dream sequences, harsh lighting and other tricks to heighten the visual experience for his audiences. However, it was his fast-and-loose “free adaptations” of the classics that brought him greatest notoriety. Always out for the attention-grabbing theatrical coup, he staged a “black power” Othello; a feminist Taming of the Shrew; a “Freudian” Hedda Gabler (in which Hedda rides her father around the stage, thrashing him with a whip), and a Doctor Faustus with the title character based on the atomic scientist Robert Oppenheimer.

He had no compunction about revising the works of Shakespeare, observing that the Bard was “capable of some horrifically bad writing”. The sex in Marowitz’s versions was nearly always explicit. Thus, in his Measure for Measure (to which Marowitz added several new scenes and characters, while stripping out the comic interludes) Isabella and Angelo have sex while Isabella is transformed from virginal victim to worldly cynic. Meanwhile, so visceral was Marowitz’s dislike of the gloomy Dane, his version of the play had Hamlet raping Ophelia. “I despise Hamlet,” he explained. “Like the parlour liberal or paralysed intellectual, he can describe every facet of a problem yet never pull his finger out … You may think he’s a sensitive, well-spoken and erudite fellow but, frankly, he gives me a pain in the ass.”

Natasha Pyne as Ophelia, Nikolas Simmonds as Hamlet and Thelma Holt as Gertrude, in Charles Marowitz’s Hamlet (EVENING STANDARD/GETTY IMAGES)

The sentiment was typical Marowitz, who was notoriously blunt-spoken and quarrelsome, and during his career made as many enemies as friends. In Burnt Bridges, an aptly titled memoir of his time in London, he settled scores with, among others, Tom Stoppard, Peter Brook and Joe Orton’s biographer John Lahr. Elsewhere he savaged artists from Sam Shepard (“quirky and unconvincing”) to Vanessa Redgrave (“those large, mooselike and mindless eyes are two of the most appalling souvenirs I have of the Sixties”).

“I have to admit to a certain surge of misanthropy in my nature,” Marowitz wrote, though in an interview in 1994 he mused that “To be merely a provocateur [is], in the end, not such a bad epitaph.”

The youngest of three children, Charles Marowitz was born in New York City on January 26 1934 to Polish Jewish immigrant parents who worked in the clothing industry. He attended Seward Park High School and staged his first theatre production (of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus) at the age of 14 at New York’s Labor Temple. By the age of 17 he had formed his own acting company and was writing theatre reviews for Village Voice.

Drafted into the US Army during the Korean War, Marowitz ended up serving in France. He then moved to London, enrolling at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

His first London production was of Gogol’s Marriage for the Unity Theatre, King’s Cross, in 1958. After working with Peter Brook on the RSC’s revival of King Lear (1962) he worked as an assistant director with the RSC from 1963 to 1965.

In 1968 he turned a basement in the Tottenham Court Road into the Open Space Theatre (later transferred to premises on the Euston Road), which, over the next 12 years, he and Thelma Holt turned into a rival to the Royal Court as London’s most intellectually fashionable playhouse. Designed so that the stage and seating were as flexible and adjustable as possible, the Open Space became a pioneer of “environmental staging” in which the audience is immersed in the performance and boundaries between reality and illusion are blurred.

For his opening show, Fortune and Men’s Eyes, Marowitz achieved a publicity coup by turning the theatre into a “prison” where the audience was “frisked” on arrival by prison guards. Audiences attending Pablo Picasso’s Four Little Girls (1972) had to squeeze their way through a tiny doorway into an “Alice in Wonderland” fantasy setting. Marowitz once spent the equivalent of his theatre’s annual Arts Council grant on rearranging the furniture for a single production. In 1970 the theatre was busted by police for screening Andy Warhol’s Flesh.

Many of Marowitz’s Open Space productions transferred to other theatres, including Sherlock’s Last Case, which Marowitz himself wrote under the pseudonym Matthew Lang. The play, in which a downtrodden Dr Watson takes a gruesome revenge for his years of mistreatment by the vain detective, opened on Broadway in 1987 to mixed reviews, the New York Times critic complaining that the writer had “so completely diminished Victorian England’s most beloved detective that one leaves the play wishing its title were a promise rather than merely an idle threat”.

In 1980, as arts subsidy cuts began to bite, the Open Space Theatre closed its doors. By this time Marowitz had made so many enemies he despaired of continuing to work on this side of the Atlantic, and in 1981 he returned to the United States.

There he founded a new Open Space Theatre in Los Angeles and became assistant director of the Los Angeles Theatre Center, which he left abruptly in 1989 after a series of rows. He founded the Malibu Stage Company in 1990 and was its artistic director for 12 years, until he was fired in 2002 after a unanimous vote by its board of directors.

In addition to plays and reviews, Marowitz wrote some two dozen books on theatre, including The Method as Means; Recycling Shakespeare; Directing the Action; and The Other Way: An Alternative Approach to Acting & Directing His memoir, Burnt Bridges, a “souvenir of the swinging ’60s and beyond” was published in 1990.

Marowitz’s first marriage was dissolved. He is survived by his second wife, the British-born actress Jane Windsor, and their son.

Charles Marowitz, born January 26 1934, died May 2 2014


On Friday we celebrate Europe Day, a day which 64 years ago marked the foundation of what is now the European Union. Not many people will notice. They also won’t notice the safeguards they enjoy at work which are down to the efforts of the EU, nor the holiday and rest entitlements they get from being members of the group. Those in hospital may not notice the care they are getting from professionals who are able to work in the UK because of the free movement of individuals across the 28-nation organisation, nor appreciate how millions of Britons are able to settle in other parts of Europe and enjoy all the health and social security benefits of other citizens in those countries because of this rule.

They possibly won’t see the benefits for the environment that come from our membership of the EU, nor the wealth that has accrued in our country because of our membership of the world’s largest trading bloc. Just over half a century ago, our continent was torn by strife with hundreds of thousands of young British men losing their lives on the battlefields of Europe. In contrast today our continent is a beacon of hope for those around the world in terms of promoting peace and protecting human rights.

I would urge all your readers not to forget these things and to recognise the positive benefits membership of the European Union has delivered. Europe Day provides an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of Europe’s citizens in creating the European Union, forged in part by the ideas of great British patriots such as Winston Churchill, and crucially to remember these benefits when they cast their vote in the European parliamentary elections on 22 May.
Derek Hammersley
Chairman, European Movement in Scotland

• Martin Kettle berates the British people for the “insularity” of our attitude to the European elections (Comment, 8 May). Many people despise the European parliament as a democratic veneer on an anti-democratic structure. Kettle describes Christine Lagarde and Pascal Lamy as “heavyweight reformers” who might be suitable as president of the European commission. A few years ago Lamy represented the EU at the world trade negotiations, where his European selfishness prompted several governments, including the British, to repudiate his position and send their own representatives. Lagarde’s policies at the IMF place her in the same camp as Lamy. If either becomes president it will confirm that the EU is the enemy of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
John Wilson

old person in hospital

‘The very elderly come in to hospital commonly as a result of a fall, or becoming suddenly confused or less mobile.’ Photograph: Garry Weaser

I am unsurprised that the Cabinet Office review (Whitehall calls halt on £3.8bn NHS reforms, 7 May) found that plans to integrate health and social care services showed little prospect of producing savings. It is not the separation of these two services which is the underlying cause of overuse of hospital care by the frail elderly; it is the more fundamental issue of care being free in the NHS but means-tested for social services. This can lead directly to an extended length of stay in hospital while detailed assessments are carried out to decide who will be responsible for paying for the care needed on discharge.

Shortening the length of stay is where the main savings for hospitals can be made. Improved community services have only a limited role to play in reducing admissions in the first place, as nearly all admissions are the direct result of either new or worsened medical conditions. The very elderly come in to hospital commonly as a result of a fall, or becoming suddenly confused or less mobile. Although the first of these sounds amenable to better social and community care, in practice this prevents relatively few falls as most are due to medical problems. These need diagnosis and treatment, and the elderly must not be discriminated against by being denied this just because they are elderly. The underlying diagnoses are many and various, and often require the facilities of an acute hospital.

While the funding systems for health and social services remain so disparate, those who wish to find savings in the hospital sector would do better to focus on speeding patients across the boundary between the two, rather than integrating them.
Dr David Maisey
Retired consultant geriatrician, Norwich

• Contrary to your reports, far from halting the Better Care programme, we have made great progress on a project that heralds a historic merger between health and social care commissioning.

The schemes in each area start from April 2015, but we asked for early drafts to be prepared a year early so we had time to make sure they offer the real benefits for patients envisaged when the scheme was set up. That is what is happening, and the result is an exciting collaboration which has seen local government and local NHS commissioners working together in a way that has never happened before.

As your editorial states, the Better Care Fund is “essential to the long-term viability of the NHS”. Combined with the announcement by Simon Stevens last week that clinical commissioning groups will be invited to commission primary care jointly with NHS England, we have for the first time the prospect of a single organisation leading the commissioning for all out-of-hospital care, a major step forward in the integration of care that has often been talked about but never actually delivered. No doubt the road to getting there will be bumpy, but it is a vital step in the revolution in out-of-hospital care we need if the NHS is to continue to meet the growing aspirations of an ageing population.
Jeremy Hunt MP
Secretary of state for health
Eric Pickles MP
Secretary of state for communities and
local government

• Your article appeared to suggest that the fund was unravelling. Clearly, attempting to draw two very different services together – the NHS and local government – to integrate in a way that ends an institutional obsession with acute provision in hospitals as a means to provide care, the BCF is not the only way of fixing the system, but it is the best way to ensure all areas benefit from integration between the NHS and Local Government.

In Staffordshire, we have already established a partnership trust with our local NHS to bring together services from both the county council and acute sector into one vehicle that breaks down silos, avoids duplication and provides a vehicle to deliver a better service locally. We did this without a Better Care Fund.

The reality is that in Staffordshire, and in many other local areas we are already integrated, but only as far as current resources allow. The BCF is the next stage, a means of investing in prevention and community care to stop the horrendous unsustainable burden placed on acute services within the health service. Integration, the BCF and closer working with the NHS are essential simply because of the long shadow cast by the Francis report. Better integration is part of the lesson we all have to learn from the Francis report in Mid-Staffordshire.
Philip Atkins
Leader, Staffordshire county council

• The push-back on the Better Care Fund by Numbers 10 and 11 is yet another example of short-term political consideration blocking a serious attempt at rebalancing health and social care. Anyone with any grasp of health planning knows there has to be front-loading to get new community services working before any savings will be delivered at the hospital end (the transitional funding stressed by David Nicholson). It didn’t happen with the closure of the mental hospitals in the 1970s and 80s or with the Community Care Act in the 1990s. When New Labour had the money and the local structures in place to do it (coterminous and potentially co-operative primary care trusts and local authorities) political fixation with hospital targets squandered the opportunity.

Lansley’s reforms were always going to make the collaboration more difficult. Pre-election panic over hospital balance sheets yet again scuppers sensible strategy. How differently things might have gone if Norman Lamb had got Lansley’s post in 2010. Kate Barker’s interim report for the King’s Fund demonstrates very clearly that the Better Care Fund was heading in the right direction but that the politicians are never going to deliver if they can’t be honest about the cost. Her group is consulting on funding but also on how best to harmonise commissioning at national and local level. One can only hope that the next government takes better note than Gordon Brown did of her recommendations on house-building.
Colin Godber
Winchester, Hampshire

 • Lambeth (and no doubt other authorities) have put in place advanced plans for the demolition and sell-off of perfectly good and well-loved (if ill-maintained) sheltered housing schemes, built in the halcyon days of the reknowned Ted Hollamby. This has become a means for local authorities to shuffle off responsibility for their elderly tenants, bringing in “private providers” and medicalising old age.

Hundreds of the frail and elderly, whose tenancies are exempt from right-to-buy, are being subjected to anxiety and uncertainty with the threat that they will be moved to unknown destinations, away from friends and family members and their little support networks broken up. An example of the “big society” in action.

Will the Cabinet Office advice to government that the claims of the Better Care Fund do not stack up put a stop to this excoriating cruelty being visited on the elderly?

Let us hope so.
Kate Macintosh
Winchester, Hampshire

Daisy Ashford (1881-1972) in 1890, the year she wrote The Young Visiters. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Praising Daisy Ashford’s precocious and wonderful novel (Long forgotten reads, G2, 6 May), John Sutherland says that her father copied out his little daughter’s work. But Daisy originally wrote The Young Visiters in her own small red notebook; I turned its pages myself when, as a very young journalist, I had the enormous pleasure of interviewing the author in old age at her daughter’s Norfolk home. She kept it in a kitchen drawer. Where is that notebook now that she has gone? I do hope it has been preserved – but where?
Kirsten Cubitt Thorley

• Paul Myners accused Co-op board members of such financial ignorance that they did not know the difference between debits and credits (Report, 7 May). When I was an articled clerk with a firm of chartered accountants, we were always informed that the debits were on the side nearest the windows.
Gunter Lawson

• The Swiss believe Scotland already has its own currency (Letters, 8 May) which is worth less than the “English” pound. On a recent visit to Switzerland, a bank in Neuchatel was buying 1GBP from Angleterre (with a St George’s cross flag) for 1.3825 Swiss francs, and 1SCP from Écosse (with a St Andrew’s saltire flag) for 1.3325 Swiss francs. Do these wily Swiss bankers know something we don’t?
Nic Madge
St Albans, Hertfordshire

• With a Salmond and a Sturgeon, surely any new currency should be the roe?
Keith Hayton

• The Scots would be well advised to avoid calling any currency of theirs a “connery”. The French would view this as vulgar stupidity.
Barrie King
Taunton, Somerset

• We spent four pleasant days last October in the charming but modest Wiltshire town of Mere (Letters, 7 May). As we passed signs for Mere library, Mere post office, Mere pharmacy, Mere primary school etc, we couldn’t help feeling that they were overdoing the self-effacing thing a bit.
Alan Monger

Prime minister David Cameron visits Frimley Park hospital in 2011. ‘[The government] only has one more year to deliver on its promise to its friends in private healthcare that the NHS will exist no more,’ writes Jeanne Warren. Photograph: Getty

Simon Jenkins demonstrates the success of the campaign to undermine the NHS and make it ready for privatisation (Small is beautiful. The NHS now needs to be broken up, 7 May). This began with the introduction of the purchaser-provider split under John Major, not for clinical reasons but as the first step towards the introduction of private providers, paid for by our taxes but able to take some profit. All the subsequent steps – fundholders, hospital trusts, and so on – were designed to the same end. Administration costs rose from 3% to the present 15%, as more and more pseudo-market processes were introduced and had to be accounted for (See The Plot Against the NHS by Colin Leys and Stewart Player.)

The final steps – a sustained negative campaign by politicians and the press and a huge, unnecessary reorganisation, together with the biggest funding squeeze ever experienced by the NHS – have been taken by this government. They only have one more year to deliver on their promise to their friends in private healthcare that the NHS will exist no more, and they already have Simon Jenkins on board as a cheerleader. Has he never read the positive reports from the likes of the World Health Organisation, saying how good the NHS is in international comparisons, and how cost-effective? Does he know how many heart patients in the US “died because of poor care”? Does anybody? Yet he quotes a UK figure without any attempt at a context. Unhappily, many more people will fall for the government’s propaganda, and instead of sensible improvements to the NHS we may well lose it altogether.
Jeanne Warren

• Size isn’t the issue. It’s about funding: UK health spending as a share of GDP (9.2%) is less than France (11.6%), Germany (11.3%) or Canada (11.2%). Many of us close to the health service believe bad press is deliberately orchestrated by the government to undermine the NHS’s credibility as part of the plan to outsource and sell it off to the private sector for profit, ie denationalisation. It’s depressing that Jenkins now joins the bad press brigade, offering a further barrage of negative publicity, without a glance at Tory ideology, and blaming frontline staff rather than the understaffing and target culture.
Mike Campbell
Protect Our NHS, Bristol

• Simon Jenkins is right to suggest that bad structural choices were made in 1948. It used to be argued that the pre-NHS mixed system of health provision was financially moribund and profoundly unequal. Yet recent research has suggested that voluntary hospitals, accessed by most families through a weekly contribution of 2d or 3d per week, were for the most part financially stable and expanding, and that an increasingly vibrant local authority system was finally shaking off its Poor Law inheritance.

Certainly there were problems. The quality of care for the elderly, the chronic sick and mentally ill remained patchy, and geographic inequality was also evident. Looking around today, we find similar concerns. What was present then was a local connection: hospitals managed jointly by doctors, contributors, patient representatives and local politicians. This “community” link was broken in 1948. What’s also been conveniently airbrushed out of our history is that, according to polling and survey data from the period, a majority favoured retaining this system of local governance and were largely satisfied with the hospital service they had, and to which they directly contributed.
Dr Nick Hayes
Nottingham Trent University

• Simon Jenkins’s idea of denationalising the NHS has its merits (apart from resulting in the most catastrophic of all its many reorganisations), but there is one aspect of healthcare he doesn’t mention – the need for the integration of patient information. Proper health provision for the lifetime of a citizen needs information on the needs of that person to be available to all the agencies involved in their care and treatment, and this can only work with an integrated information system with rigorously managed security. The NHS has never come near to achieving this because its government-appointed managers have never really taken advice from their own employees, preferring instead to refer to useless and very expensive “consultants”, usually large accountancy firms incapable of understanding anything except the “business model” for any organisation. One solution is used in France, where everyone has a “carte vitale“, a smart card which gives accredited agencies access to all the holder’s health information, including their contacts with the social services.

Now retired, I’ve worked for much of my life in the NHS as a clinical scientist and IT manager, had my life saved by early antibiotic treatment as a child, and seen the service reorganised again and again by ignorant politicians. But never have I known such a concentrated attack on it as the one apparently organised by the media and by all those who cannot bear the idea of a public service, integrated but not centralised.
John Hewson

• I read Simon Jenkins’s article with disbelief. I wonder if he has, like me, been a user of the NHS in all its parts on a regular basis over a long number of years (in my case, since 1948). My family and friends and myself have been in-patients, out-patients, GP patients and used many subsidiary parts of the NHS in Derbyshire, Yorkshire and other parts of the country. I know of no one who has had a serious complaint. My husband died in the care of the NHS almost two years ago and his care could not have been faulted. It is important to remember that the care homes, where particularly awful treatment has been identified, are privately owned and run.
Beryl Walkden
Matlock, Derbyshire

• Simon Jenkins says “there is no reason why Britain could not go the route of other European countries, with health cover being a national responsibility but with the service offered at the local, charitable or private level”. Many of us have been saying that for years. Every reorganisation of the last 20 or so years has added another layer of management, which has increased costs without adding value. My only disagreement is in his penultimate word. Services need to be public and/or non-profit making enterprises. Evidence shows that private healthcare creams off the profitable jobs, making it difficult to fund the more useful work.
Michael Peel

• Despite what Simon Jenkins has written in the past on taxation and banking, it seems from this piece that he would frown on such reforms as the Tobin tax and safeguards against corporations, banks and wealthy individuals taking their gains offshore instead of paying the fair level of tax – an income that could go a long way toward alleviating cuts in nursing and medical staff. He seems happy to blame hospitals such as Mid Staffs for financial failings when it is clear that PFIs instituted under Thatcher and gaining steam under Major and Blair were foisted on big infrastructure projects, especially hospitals, with deliberately blinkered attitudes toward the possible downsides to such arrangements. Maybe he should read NHS SOS by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis.

Of course an institution for public service is going to have excess capacity – it could not provide that service without it (see Richard Murphy’s The Courageous State, for example) and sure, the NHS needs reform – but the politicians’ struggles to which Jenkins refers were those to extract maximum profit at least cost: not quite the right approach towards a service essential for a healthy workforce on which the entire economy depends.

Under the present lobby-friendly regime, it’s the huge corporations such as Serco and Harmoni that are going to be awarded contracts against smaller, not-for-profits companies that do give the NHS a localism already – such as the out-of-hours service provider Devon Doctors. It is government policy Jenkins should be railing against, not the NHS itself. Some of the “scandal” frowning down on the dispatch box may be down to mismanagement but it’s a sure bet that far more of it is down to debilitating cuts and a government-generated culture of financial profit at any cost.
Rosemary Haworth-Booth
Green party, North Devon

• Simon Jenkins seems to have overlooked the fact that, for the best part of the last 30 years, the NHS has been gradually broken up into numerous, illogical, often competing elements. It began under Margaret Thatcher with the introduction of the internal market and hospital trusts. Under John Smith’s leadership, Labour briefly considered placing the NHS within local authorities, combining health and social care, but this was ditched as Tony Blair’s New Labour embraced a market ideology, with foundation trusts reinforcing hospital domination of the service. Rather than harking back to pre-NHS charitable and private care, as Jenkins suggests, renationalising the currently fragmented NHS is surely the answer, with local authorities empowered to bring hospitals, primary and community care together as a long-overdue coherent whole.
David Hinchliffe
Former Labour MP and past chair of health select committee

• At last! Your leader (More cash for better care, 7 May) makes reference to the financial problems faced by NHS trusts as a result of the government requirement to make annual “efficiency savings”. The media – including the Guardian – have frequently referred to the protected, ringfenced NHS budget, implying that trusts are not subject to budget cuts. The reality is that, on top of having to cover inflation costs from within existing budgets, trusts also have to find savings currently of around 5% annually. They are now facing a fourth year of this policy, with at least two more years to follow. No surprise then that your leader refers to a looming financial crisis. How about more investigation of this issue?
Dave Rigby

• While the EU election candidates are very quiet on the topic of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) and the current incumbents mystified or in denial, those concerned with preserving the NHS would like to know their stance on this highly secret deal that would “harmonise” US and EU regulations, lowering health and safety standards for one thing, but also permitting the already harmonised NHS to be sold to the highest US bidders.

We must ensure that workers’ rights and health professionals’ training and qualifications are kept at EU standards, and primarily that the NHS is exempted from all aspects of TTIP. We need to know that EU candidates will do this before voting for them or their respective parties.
Dr Mick Phythian

• While I have great respect for Simon Jenkins and his thought-provoking column, I have to disagree with his diagnosis and solution for the NHS. The NHS already has a mixed public/provider model of NHS service delivery embracing many small organisations. What we need is for the NHS to be “joined up rather than broken up”. Many of the failings and pressures being experienced by the NHS reflect the lack of joined up government action and partnership at local level. We can no longer afford for this to continue.

I have had the privilege of working in and with the NHS for some 40 years and travelled widely assessing other health models around the world. The NHS – for all its faults and problems – is still generally viewed with envy, if nothing else because of the underlying principles of universal equity and access that it affords. England has the benefit already of being relatively small and therefore has the opportunity to deliver an NHS based on these values cost-effectively. The NHS has been re-structured “to death” without addressing the fundamental issues – with a fast-ageing population and a failure to develop or deliver an effective national strategy for preventing ill health we are now faced with a tidal wave of preventable chronic disease overwhelming the existing infrastructure.

The NHS has now become solely a “treatment service”, which is creaking at the seams. This should not be a surprise as it was highlighted in 2002 by the Wanless report and subsequent health select committee reports and the opportunities for investing in longer-term sustainable solutions when we had substantial real growth in public services was not taken. Rather late in the day, we are now contemplating solutions to these problems including the Better Care Fund as highlighted in your front page report (Whitehall calls halt on £3.8bn NHS reforms, 7 May), and by the Royal Academy of Royal Colleges (of medicine), who recently drew attention to the unsustainable level of childhood obesity.

As ever, the “devil is in the detail” when devising and implementing such critical strategic solutions and clearly more time and resources are required to get this right – failure to do so is not worth contemplating. We now need to concentrate on sickness prevention by investing heavily in evidence-based programmes in our schools and in our communities to reduce the incidence of chronic disease in the longer term while also continuing to deal with the historic levels of preventable disease – that are a product of not having made such an investment in the past – with partnership delivery models across many government and other sector services. Breaking up the NHS is not the solution. Joining it up is.
David Whitney
Hathersage, Derbyshire

• Simon Jenkins has fallen for the government’s mantra that the NHS is sick and can only be cured by larger doses of the private sector. By listening only to the relentless tales of NHS failure he has completely misdiagnosed the current ills of the service. He then compounds the error by suggesting it be cured by applying the very actions that have caused the trouble, ie greater fragmentation with healthcare offered locally “at a charitable or private level”. Bevan said that private charity can never be a substitute for organised justice, and that still holds true for the NHS.

Jenkins has got hold of the wrong end of the stick is now using it to beat the service and its staff. Wrong diagnosis, wrong treatment, wrong headed.
Dr Jacky Davis
Co-chair, NHS Consultants’ Association

• I have had enough, I am going to stop buying the Guardian. There are multiple outlets for Tory propaganda yet you continue to provide a platform for Simon Jenkins, Melissa Kite and other fellow travellers. I am aware of the adage that I should keep my enemies closer (than friends) but if I want to know what my enemies believe and do I can read the Daily Mail. Our parting of the ways makes me sad but it was you who forsook me.
Dr Gerard Jones
Fleet, Hampshire

The Russian president’s council for human rights proposes that the UN and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe should do everything possible to promote international negotiations with the aim of ending the violence in Ukraine. Chancellor Merkel and President Putin have apparently also discussed a similar initiative by phone. It is in everyone’s interest – in the rest of Europe as well as in the US, and not least in both Russia and Ukraine – that all sides should drop their pugnacious rhetoric and urgently support this proposal. Ukraine is becoming a failed state and the result could be all-out civil war – which indeed is already starting.
Charles Grant Director, Centre for European Reform
Jonathan Haslam Professor of the history of international relations, University of Cambridge
Geoffrey Hosking Emeritus professor of Russian history, University College London
Dame Caroline Humphrey Professor emerita and director of research, University of Cambridge
Catriona Kelly Professor of Russian, University of Oxford
Anatol Lieven Professor of war studies, Kings College London
Dominic Lieven Senior research fellow, Trinity College Cambridge
Robert Service Emeritus professor of Russian history, University of Oxford
Lord (Robert) Skidelsky House of Lords
Stephen White James Bryce professor of politics, University of Glasgow

You are right to remind us of the inner-city problems of the late 20th century (Editorial, 5 May) and equally right to say we urgently need to reframe regeneration. But first we need to end the threat that caused the inner-city problem in the first place.

A significant, but airbrushed, element of Ebenezer Howard’s garden city dream was his advocacy of economic and physical destruction for existing cities. This, he believed, would be vital to make us all move to his dispersed, low-density settlements. Throughout the 20th century, therefore, we were encouraged to move to garden suburbs or new towns and let the older cities crumble.

The urban renaissance policies of the late 20th and early 21st centuries achieved a great deal more than a bit of luxury housing in waterside settings. They cut across the destructive, high-carbon dream of dispersed, car-dependent garden suburbs bizarrely still being advocated by garden city enthusiasts, but were undermined by continuing out-of-town development in the south-east and then killed by government.

America now has a new name for policies to regenerate cities, attack car dependency and revive local economies: it’s called smart growth and it works. Robust regional policies and an end of the wealth drain to suburbs are key elements of the smart growth idea as it’s developing in the UK and will be a key element of any of solution to entrenched poverty.
Jon Reeds
Smart Growth UK

•  Your editorial rightly points out that the battle against poverty has not been solved by gentrifying the inner cities. But having worked in urban regeneration since before 1976, when I founded URBED, I believe we should recognise the achievements in changing the image of inner-city areas such as Hulme or Hackney that were in danger of being abandoned. The tides of private investment no longer only flow out.

The challenge now is to join up development with infrastructure so that British cities match their continental counterparts, and do not end up like American doughnuts – with holes in their centres. Smarter growth should become the new rallying cry as it is both fairer and less wasteful. This means getting control over land values and reintroducing strategic planning, rather than expecting a rising tide to lift all the boats.
Dr Nicholas Falk
Director, London Office, Urbed (Urbanism Environment Design)

Pupils study inside a Beijing classroom. Photograph: Alamy

The letter by Dr Heinz-Dieter Meyer and other academics (OECD and Pisa tests are damaging education worldwide – academics,, 6 May) makes a series of false claims regarding the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Pisa programme. There is nothing that suggests that Pisa, or other educational comparisons, have caused a “shift to short-term fixes” in education policy. On the contrary, by opening up a perspective to a wider range of policy options that arise from international comparisons, Pisa has provided many opportunities for more strategic policy design. It has also created important opportunities for policy-makers and other stakeholders to collaborate across borders. The annual International Summit of the Teaching Profession, where ministers meet with union leaders to discuss ways to raise the status of the teaching profession, is an example. Not least, while it is undoubtedly true that some reforms take time to bear fruit, a number of countries have in fact shown that rapid progress can be made in the short term, eg Poland, Germany and others making observable steady progress every three years.

Equally, there are no “public-private partnerships” or other “alliances” in Pisa of the type Dr Meyer implies. All work relating to the development, implementation and reporting of Pisa is carried out under the sole responsibility of the OECD, under the guidance of the Pisa governing board. The OECD does, of course, contract specific technical services out to individuals, institutions or companies. Where it does, these individuals, institutions or companies are appointed by the OECD following an open, transparent and public call for tender. This transparent and open process ensures that each task is carried out by those entities that demonstrate they are best-qualified and provide the best value for money. No individual academic, institution or company gains any advantage from this since the results of all Pisa-related work are placed in the public domain.

Furthermore, in the article by Peter Wilby (Pisa league tables killing ‘joy of learning’, 6 May) it is stated that Pearson is overseeing the Pisa 2015 assessment, which is not the case. Pearson was one of a number of contractors who have been appointed through a competitive tendering process to develop and implement Pisa 2015. Pearson’s contract to develop the assessment framework has been completed and has now come to an end.
Andreas Schleicher
Acting director of education, OECD

Your editorial (The Piketty phenomenon, 6 May) is right to salute the voluminous historical support that Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century provides for those campaigning against neoliberalism. But both your paper and Piketty himself undermine efforts to provide an alternative by characterising the chances of his proposed global wealth tax succeeding as “remote” or, as the author claims, “utopian”. His work provides the impressive groundwork for the development of a new economic context that could result in this and his other proposal of an 80% top tax rate on very high earners. However, he has undermined any effective solutions by making it clear he is a defender of the free market and that he wants to remodel society “into the process of globalisation” (Our manifesto for Europe, 3 May). This implied retention of the open borders system will dash hopes for effective regulation of financial capitalism, since it will be dismissed as threatening globalisation’s holy grail of international competitiveness.

Piketty needs to be far more radical. His book does make clear the potential centrality of Europe in bringing about the required changes. However, he fails to make the case that it will also mean returning to member states the ability to control their national borders and so allow for the diversification of more equal, local economies. This will involve substantial constraints on the free movement in goods, money flows and people.

The public is already clamouring for the latter and will doubtless deliver a drubbing to complacent established parties in the European elections for failing to do so. This must act as a wake-up call for fundamental EU treaty changes to allow the reintroduction of border controls to result in a localised economic model. This is the key to a more secure and civilised future for Europe, and as such could act as an example to the rest of the world.
Colin Hines
Author of Progressive Protectionism (to be published July 2014)

•  Thomas Piketty acknowledges that “the EU is experiencing an existential crisis” but nonetheless proposes “moving towards political union”. He acknowledges that many “people do not want greater European integration”, but he seems to think they want no change at all.

The logical solution would be for the EU to return to its beginnings as a free trade area. Piketty is an economic historian. He will remember the Hanseatic league, whose independent member cities managed to maintain a confederal free-trade area for four centuries.

These days, that model is being developed in South America and Asia – it is an alternative future for the EU too.
Jack Winkler
Former professor of nutrition policy at London Metropolitan University

•  Thank you for recognising in your editorial that behind Piketty’s impressive recent book lie years of statistical work on income inequality by many researchers in this and other countries. They in turn would like to acknowledge the financial support provided in the UK for this work by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, the Economic and Social Research Council, and the Programme for Economic Modelling at the Oxford Martin School. Without their support over the years for what was then an unfashionable area of economic research, and the encouragement it gave to promising young scholars, the current public debate would be less well informed.
Professor Tony Atkinson

As is pointed out in your article about e-cigarettes (What’s the new buzz?, G2, 6 May), “tobacco companies can advertise [them by] showing lots of pictures of people, basically, smoking”. And how grateful they must be to you for combining retro glamour with a frisson of sexy sinfulness in your cover image. Even the article about a smoker coughing his lungs up while trying to drag on a fag outdoors in horizontal rain (How smoking lost its cool, G2, 6 May) was illustrated with a picture of “The Thin White Duke, complete with cigarette”. How very elegant – and not at all likely to appeal to those teens who, you tell us, are likely to use e-cigarettes as a “gateway drug” leading to experimentation with traditional cigarettes.
Gayle Wade
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

• Two different stories, two different worlds. The first a positive story on efforts to increase the number of maths and physics PhDs into teaching careers within our state schools (£40k pay to lure maths postgrads into teaching, 5 May). The second a story of petulance from QCs and barristers because they are only paid between £60k-£100k for a couple of weeks’ work arguing the difference between “shall” and “will” as a point of law (Minister denies fraud lawyers are underpaid, 5 May). I know who most people would see as wastrels living off the public purse.
Chris Trude

• In October, after the game at Anfield, you were good enough to publish a letter from me about wanting a new-build Crystal Palace. Just to reassure your readers that I am happy now.
Michael Cunningham

• I see there’s a Guardian Masterclass “How to market your business on a zero budget”. It costs £229. Need I say more?
Pete Bibby

• Scottish banknotes have always been known in Lancashire as “funny money”, so maybe the new currency should be the Rab, Yin, Chic or even the Krankie (Letters, 7 May)?
Bob Hargreaves

• “N’est ce pas?“, “Nach eil?” (Letters, 7 May). Down here one says “innit?”
Gerry Bond
Earley, Berkshire

‘The Land Registry’s staff make impartial, quasi-judicial decisions on millions of transactions annually … This vital statutory function is not an activity that any responsible government can pass to the private sector.’ Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

Polly Toynbee bewails, as many of us do, the government’s determination to sell, as far as possible, all the public assets of the UK (There’s no evidence it works, but privatisation marches on, 6 May). She suggests that Cameron is motivated by a belief that things are better provided by the private sector.

But this is a naive perception; things are far worse than that. The objective is plainly to maximise party funding and support, through donations, providing offices and campaign support, and seconding staff to replace civil servants. And personal advantage is not overlooked, either. Ex-ministers and senior party members go on to lucrative jobs and directorships. Friends and supporters can also gain handsomely from rip-off sales of our assets.

It’s really not surprising that there is general disillusionment with politics and politicians, when we have this travesty of a democracy. As it is now said in the US, it’s not so much one person one vote, as one pound one vote.
Suzanne Keene

•  ”There is no evidence about how well contracting and privatising work,” says Polly Toynbee. Exactly. There is, however, a wealth of data about how the public views outsourcing companies. Our polling complements that of YouGov and the High Pay Centre, with new figures to be released this week showing support for a public option surging upwards from last year. They also show that the government’s decision to hastily forgive shamed bidders G4S and Serco was patently at odds with common sense. The headlong march towards further sell-offs will only be stopped by politicians acting boldly on this groundswell of public opinion. We’ll be outside Serco’s AGM this Thursday morning and pushing for manifesto commitments for a public service users bill. This would boost transparency and give the public a say over outsourcing and privatisation.
Cat Hobbs
Director, We Own It

•  The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has proposed that the Land Registry should cease to be a government department and be established as a “service delivery company” (Report, 6 May). Ominously its proposals “include options for moving assets to the private sector where there is no longer a strong policy reason for continued public ownership”.

The proposals are woefully misguided. Countries worldwide seeking stability and a functioning market economy recognise the need for an effective system of land transfer where land rights are guaranteed. The Land Registry, free from any conflicts of interest, has long provided such a successful and trusted system. It operates at no cost to the exchequer and has a 97% customer satisfaction rating based on the latest independent survey.

The Land Registry’s staff make impartial, quasi-judicial decisions on millions of transactions annually – transactions involving citizens, businesses, lenders, institutions, local and central government and the crown – in any combination. This vital statutory function is not an activity that any responsible government can pass to the private sector.

I hope it will recognise, as others have before, that the Land Registry must remain as a commercially neutral department of government – as it has been for over 150 years.
John Manthorpe
Former chief land registrar

•  Polly Toynbee is undoubtedly right that there is no basis in fact for the government’s endless privatisations. In my area, the Probation Service, shameless misinformation has been the government’s stock-in-trade as it bulldozes through reforms to enrich the corporations. But the key issue is surely that rational or evidence-based disagreement is futile unless one recognises how far it would be a dispute about values, and how far the government’s obsession with privatisation is based not just on shady lobbying but also on a view of democratic freedom identified with narrow and exclusive self-interest. Where the interests of others are not my interest then it is my political right to refuse to pay for them. This value system underpins the political debate, and constrains Labour, so until governments can genuinely project values of sociality, equality of opportunity, social responsibility and empathy, this bleeding dry of public resources by the private corporations will continue unabated.
Joanna Hughes

•  By saying that privatisation does not work, Polly Toynbee is missing the point. Whatever reason or justification is given for the outsourcing or selling of public services, the object of policy is to find outlets for surplus capital and deliver a return to investors, and in that sense privatisation has been a bonanza for thousands of corporations around the world. Since the demise of the Soviet Union there has been little resistance to the hegemonic neoliberal mantra stating that all barriers to capital accumulation must be systematically removed and governments should not interfere in the market, a dogma that was directly responsible for the banking crash and subsequent recession.

Arguably the most dangerous manifestation of the neoliberal project is the attempt to force through free-trade agreements that effectively force nation states to allow transnational companies to run their economies for their benefit, regardless of the popular will. The Transnational Trade and Investment Partnership, between the EU and the US, and the Trade in Services Agreement, between the EU and 21 other states, are currently being negotiated in secret and, if allowed to succeed, will completely undermine the concept of national sovereignty and leave corporate profit as the sole driver of economic activity.
Bert Schouwenburg
International officer, GMB


“Frack we must” – editorial, 8 May. No we must not. Those opposed to fracking have been demonised by politicians and industry because they threaten the development of a lucrative industry with a limited life that will generate huge profits for a few.

We should learn the lessons of history and not repeat mistakes, as alternative energy sources to unconventional gas are available. In 17th-century England, when the advent of extensive coal-based industries were welcomed, there were few energy options available and no one knew what the long-term environmental and health costs would be.

That is no longer the position. The global public-health and adverse societal implications of continuing to use energy that generates greenhouse gases are well established, not fanciful.

Unconventional gas is not part of an energy solution; it is a major pollutant. It diverts cash, resources and expertise away from work on the more sustainable energy solutions that are now available.

We are running out of time on global warming if we do not develop sustainable energy sources now and reduce unconventional gas extraction, not increase it. That is the hard-headed strategy we need to formulate, rather than manufacturing scare  stories about ephemeral energy-supply crises in Eastern Europe.

The Lords committee reporting on fracking does not argue its case cogently. We are assured by MPs and peers that the UK has some of the strongest environmental regulations and careful management for fracking. We are then told by the Lords that we need changes in the law to fast-track fracking and that fracking applications are being blocked because of confusing and time-consuming regulations.

Something does not make sense with holding both these positions at the same time.

Professor Andrew Watterson, Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, University of Stirling

Your editorial on fracking contains several unstated value judgements. First you assume that a transition to a truly green energy system is unachievable (untrue), second that shale gas is less polluting than coal (not true in the US), and third that energy security trumps climate change as the major determinant of policy (unbelievably short-sighted).

The assumption that we might as well frack because it’s just another type of fossil fuel denies the reality of global warming. We are currently emitting 33 billion tonnes of CO2 annually, which means that we will exceed the 450ppm threshold in about 20 years. In the UK it will take 10 years to establish a fracking industry, at which point the technology will be locked-in for another 30 years and we will be well beyond the point of no return.

When future generations, or what is left of humanity, look back on the failure of mankind to tackle climate change in the early part of the 21st century, your editorial will stand out as a prime example of why it all went so horribly wrong.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

Peers on the Lords Economic Affairs committee seem to have overlooked key evidence in their desire to cheer-lead for a massive fracking frenzy across the country. The shale-gas revolution in America, which they admire, has peaked, and costs are rising rapidly to extract remaining reserves. On 27 February the authoritative Bloomberg business news service reported that independent shale gas producers  “will spend $1.50 drilling this year for every dollar they get back”.

Dr David Lowry, Stoneleigh, Surrey

Astrazeneca and antibiotics

There is grave concern at the rise in the incidence of antibiotic-resistant infections. New drugs to counter them are not being developed fast enough.  At least part of the reason for this is a lack of investment by multi-national drug companies which see little or no financial incentive to do so.

Our government is now apparently standing idly by while one major drug company attempts to take over another. It is implicit that there is an intention to maximise profits by further reducing competition and investment in research and development activity.

Public health would not be well served by such a takeover. It would result in a further reduction in the number of individual companies striving and investing to gain competitive advantage through the development  of new treatments.

Roger Blassberg, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Forty-two years ago I was the science and technology counsellor at the British Embassy in Washington. A visitor from the erstwhile National Research Development Corporation came to see me. He was in the US to negotiate a licence for a process for burning powdered coal, for which the Corporation held the intellectual property rights.

Something made me realise that my visitor should see Lord Cromer, the Ambassador. This was arranged through Charles (now Lord) Powell who was the Ambassador’s Private Secretary. The Ambassador listened to what my visitor had to say and then replied: “While I have not understood all the technicalities, please remember that these people are very good at skinning the rabbit.” My visitor took heed and the eventual outcome was that the American company was not granted a licence.

If Lord Cromer were alive today, I feel sure that his advice would be the same about Pfizer’s intentions.

James F Barnes, Ledbury, Herefordshire

Would Pfizer be so keen to acquire AstraZeneca if the UK’s corporation tax rate was not much lower than in the US? Politics is always involved in business – by commission or omission.

Geoffrey Payne, London W5

Shameful infant mortality rate

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (5 May) rightly draws attention to our shameful infant-mortality rate and our government’s broken promise to make the UK the safest country in the world for children. Unfortunately, she concludes by asking us whether we “still quiver with patriotism”. What a pity to belittle such an important issue by assigning to it an association with such an irrelevant emotion.

Beryl Wall, London W4

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes: “Pro-lifers want to save foetuses, but seem to have no interest in saving the very young”. This slur mars an otherwise trenchant article. The pro-life charity Life is one of the largest providers of accommodation for young pregnant women and unsupported mothers in the UK. Their comprehensive service prepares women for independent living with their children, something that social services frequently can’t or won’t do. Rather than demonise them, Alibhai-Brown should champion them as one of the many unsung organisations that work tirelessly to lower the infant mortality rate she is rightly appalled by.

Mary Gray, Croydon

Our policy is not to give policy advice

Oliver Wright correctly identifies the Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC) as the independent non-departmental body responsible for scrutinising the evidence base for every government regulation that potentially impacts on business or civil society organisations (“A sober look at costs led to the alcohol price U-turn”,  30 April).

However, Wright implies that the committee scrutinises government policy. That is not the case. We deal only with the impact assessments prepared by government departments of the costs and benefits to business of their policy proposals.

We do not scrutinise or provide advice on policy. Decisions on whether policies are taken forward reside, quite rightly, with ministers. Our role is to help ensure that, when making decisions, ministers have access to the best assessment of the likely effects of any proposal.

If the evidence presented in the impact assessment completed by the department sponsoring any new regulation, is judged to be poor or incomplete, we advise ministers of this. In these cases, ministers will decide whether to proceed with the policy or ask for further evidence.

Michael JS Gibbons, Chairman, Regulatory Policy Committee, London SW1

Britain’s colonial future? 

Cable says Britain’s future is “not a tax haven” (6 May). The way the country is being run, Britain’s future is as someone else’s colony.

Martin London, Denbighshire, North Wales

‘Enemy aliens’ among us

The most prominent German in Britain during the First World War, but overlooked by Simon Usborne (8 May), was George V, interned in a rather luxurious and costly “privilege camp” called Buckingham Palace.

David Bracey, Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire


Doctors and sufferers could all do with more training in the management of asthma

Sir, The Royal College of Physicians report on asthma deaths (May 6) is a wake-up call for health professionals and the families of sufferers. It should dispel complacency and lead to better management of asthma.

As a community pharmacist I often saw the problems of people with asthma. The most common difficulty was inadequate teaching by GPs and practice nurses of the way to use inhalers and a lack of follow-up to ensure that they were being used correctly.

The lack of understanding of the potential danger of asthma, one hopes, might be changed by the report and the publicity it has received. I have met many asthmatic patients and parents of children with asthma who do not appreciate that an attack can be life-threatening and that preventive medication must be taken regularly. In fact a few parents have asserted that they do not want their children taking “drugs” every day and have refused the inhalers until shown a few hard facts.

Margaret Murgatroyd


Sir, It is all very well for the experts to blame GPs for the excessive deaths from asthma but the real question is why this should be. The reasons are numerous but the same experts are in large part to blame.

They have created a situation which has led to the de-skilling of GP and hospital doctors in managing the two common chest diseases — asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is largely caused by smoking. As well as overcomplicating the process whereby patients are diagnosed and managed, care of these patients has been largely delegated to nurses who follow guidelines drawn up by the experts. Following guidelines is in keeping with the training of nurses but is antithetical to medical training and not surprisingly doctors have difficulty with them and are pleased to to be able to pass these patients to the nurses to look after.

Given this situation where doctors are peripheral to a potentially fatal disease, it is not surprising that there are unnecessary deaths.

Rod Storring

Consultant chest physician

Saffron Walden, Essex

Sir, Two things seem to be misunderstood about asthma.

First, when you have an asthma attack you don’t wheeze and cough: you go still and silent because all your effort goes into trying to get a breath. As a child I remember sitting under the stairs at a party unable to move or call out during an attack.

If adults and other children realised this, then a child having an attack would be noticed.

Two, many people mistrust the word “steroid” when applied to preventative inhalers, linking it to anabolic steroids and bodybuilders, but corticosteroids are completely different and only a tiny dose is inhaled.

Even when persuaded to take them, people cease to do so once they feel normal again, so the risk returns. I had childhood asthma, and so did my elder daughter, who still takes medication as an adult.

Some GPs should realise their responsibilities when dealing with asthma, and share them with their patients. Our doctor would always give me a course of steroid tablets to give my daughter if she should have an attack away from home and help. They were swiftly effective and a source of great reassurance.

Diana Pollock

Cheltenham, Glos

Young people in trouble with the law are being publicly named – the law should be reformed and pronto

Sir, Too many children in trouble with the law are being publicly named and legislation on this is inconsistent, confusing and in need of reform.

A loophole allows under-18s to be named before they are charged. Children in the Crown, and higher, criminal courts have no automatic right to anonymity; children in the youth court do. Reports about the 15-year-old charged with the murder of the Leeds schoolteacher Ann Maguire throw the inadequacy of the law into sharp relief. Once a child is named, his or her story is online in perpetuity. Naming of children in trouble with the law stigmatises them and their family, threatens their chances of rehabilitation and of getting a job, and puts them and their family at risk of vigilante action. It also contravenes our human rights obligations.

We want the law changed so no child who has been in trouble with the law (or been a witness) can be publicly named. We also call on the media to be more responsible. If they did not ask to name children in the name of “open justice”, these children would not be identified.

Penelope Gibbs

Standing Committee for Youth Justice

John Drew

Youth Justice Board

Frances Crook

Countryside conservation bodies are not divided on fracking – and they all agree on the need for safeguards

Sir, We share grave concerns about the threats fracking poses to the countryside and climate, and about the government’s promotion of shale gas. On this we are agreed, so your headline “Green lobby splits in fight against fracking” (May 7) is misleading. Being aligned on issues does not mean that we do the same thing at the same time — we have different perspectives and areas of focus, as the article itself does explain.

We need a serious debate about safeguards before we consider drilling for shale gas.

Neil Sinden

Campaign to Protect Rural England

John Sauven

Greenpeace UK

Peter Nixon

National Trust

Martin Harper


The NHS treats millions of satisfied patients every week to very high professional standards

Sir, We must not be misled by the claim that patients are ready for privatised care (May 6). While the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust was rightly exposed by Robert Francis, QC, it does not follow that the rest of the NHS is the same. On the contrary, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that patients are queuing up for private healthcare firms, the so-called “any qualified providers” in the Health and Social Care Act 2012, to take over in the NHS or provide healthcare services.

The NHS treats millions of satisfied patients every week to very high professional standards. Private healthcare companies are only interested in their profits and do not have the excellent record of the NHS going back 66 years. The NHS does have huge problems, but they will not be solved by privatisation and fragmentation. Any government will understand that; if not, it will be putting itself in electoral peril.

Professor Robert Arnott

Cheltenham, Glos

The chairman of the General Dental Council calls for a freedom of choice which is, to say the least, hard to find

Sir, Bill Moyes, chairman of the General Dental Council, argues for dentistry to move to a “Lidl to Waitrose” model (May 6). The opportunity for this freedom of choice simply does not exist under the woeful present structure of NHS dentistry, nor will it under any of the systems being piloted.

However, it does of course exist in private dentistry, where patients have rather more freedom to choose the quality of dentistry they would wish for. If they don’t like it they go elsewhere, as Mr Moyes would deem desirable.

Interestingly, research shows many individuals find that private dental plans offer better value for money than NHS dental care.

Quentin Skinner

Tisbury, Wilts


SIR – I was pleased that Serena Davies criticised the over-abundance of crime dramas on television.

While one can understand the appeal of unravelling the intricate plot lines of something such as Line of Duty, it is the indulgence in gruesome detail and gratuitous nastiness that writers seem to delight in, or feel obliged to take to an extreme, that renders otherwise well-written programmes unwatchable for many.

It was very disappointing to find that Happy Valley fell so swiftly into this category. This does not mean that gritty subjects cannot be tackled; rather it points to a failure of imagination.

A M S Hutton-Wilson
Evercreech, Somerset

SIR – Yet again, religious slaughter is in the headlines. If two chickens reared in exactly the same conditions are both electrocuted until they are unconscious and then one goes into an enormous machine which scalds, feathers and decapitates it, while the other goes to a Muslim who happens to be reciting a prayer, why are critics quite content with the former but up in arms about the latter?

Consumers should be informed whether an animal has been mechanically stunned prior to slaughter and whether it has endured repeat stuns if the first attempt was ineffective.

They should also be told the method of slaughter: captive bolt shooting, gassing, electrocution, drowning, trapping, clubbing or any of the other approved methods.

Comprehensive labelling should be supported by faith communities and animal welfare groups alike. It would offer all consumers genuine choice, whether they are motivated by animal welfare, religious observance, or even intolerance of anyone who looks or worships differently to them.

Henry Grunwald
Chairman, Shechita UK
Dr Shuja Shafi
Deputy Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain

GCSE failure

SIR – Chris Skidmore MP, the Downing Street adviser, is right to argue that pupils at risk of failing their GCSEs should be spotted and given additional support at the age of 11.

For children who are struggling to keep up at primary school and often experiencing problems outside the classroom, the support they receive during the transition to the first years of secondary school can make the difference between success and failure. A new check at the age of 11 could be the trigger for intensive help for vulnerable young people, funded by the pupil premium, helping them and their families navigate the teenage years and succeed in school and beyond.

Anne Longfield
Chief executive, 4Children
London E14

Flexible GPs

SIR – I, like many people, would gladly pay £25 to see my GP but I’d want to be able to see them at a time of my choosing, including at the weekend.

Tim Bochenski
Bramhall, Cheshire

Will EU block Pfizer?

SIR – For once the EU may prove to be useful in defusing a growing political storm.

David Cameron is trapped between his free marketeers, who see no reason for government to intervene in the workings of global capitalism, and a phalanx of detractors who warn of endangering Britain’s science base, which is linked to universities and research funding bodies.

If the takeover goes ahead, Mr Cameron has as good as lost the 2015 election, as the electorate will see where his loyalties lie.

However, all is not lost. Any merged company would be so vast that it would be bound to offend the European competition authorities and immediately attract calls for its break-up, as happened with Lloyds Bank after it gamely tried to rescue HBOS.

Could the EU be called upon to ban the merger before it takes place?

Jane O’Nions
Sevenoaks, Kent

SIR – Investors invest because, in the long term, they expect to get more out of their investment than they put in. Successful foreign investors in Britain therefore have a negative effect on the balance of payments over the long term.

If we were a developing country, this would perhaps be something to welcome. It is certainly not something for our politicians to crow about. Furthermore, a takeover is not an investment, since all it does is replace one set of shareholders with another.

The Government should act in the long-term national interest, as other governments do, when it comes to approving takeovers of large British firms.

Michael A St Clair-George
Udimore, East Susssex

SIR – Why are politicians so exercised about Pfizer putting in a bid for AstraZeneca? How can this be so wrong when 14 years ago Vodafone bought Mannesman, a German company, for £112 billion, and this was seen as a great British success story? This is what businesses do. Politicians should stay well clear.

Steve Willis
Olney, Buckinghamshire

Skull Cracker security

SIR – If someone with 13 life sentences is serving his time in an open prison, who on earth is occupying the high-security prisons?

Nairn Lawson
Portbury, Somerset

Slugging it out

SIR – This week I have disposed of more than 600 large black slugs. Are these creatures averse to oil seed rape? Our garden backs onto a field full of it.

Dorothy Foreman
Burton-upon-Stather, North Lincolnshire

SIR – It is ironic that Chris Mitchell complains about the look of the dazzling yellow rape crop, often grown for the production of “green” fuel, from his view in a gas-guzzling aircraft.

David White
Great Wilbraham, Cambridgeshire

Where in the world?

SIR – I am currently on holiday in Bali. On Tuesday I had my HSBC bank debit card stopped and received an urgent voicemail asking me to ring the HSBC fraud office. I did this, and was informed: “You told us that you were going to Bali, so when a transaction was attempted in Indonesia, we suspected fraud and stopped the card.”

Professor R G Faulkner
Loughborough, Leicestershire

Emergency advice for 30th anniversary presents

SIR – George Brown wonders what to do for his 30th wedding anniversary when his wife says she doesn’t want anything special. He should know by now that women speak in tongues on such matters. What they really mean is, “Don’t even think about filling-station flowers or a boxed set of underwear; buy me something that sparkles and goes with anything.”

David Shaw
Codford, Wiltshire

SIR – I, too, did not want anything special for my 30th anniversary earlier this week. My husband surprised me with a beautiful bouquet and a PowerPoint presentation, with one photo from each year of our married life. Memories flooded back, and I was delighted.

Susan Coe

SIR – May I suggest a gift of a necklace with 30 pear-shaped diamonds? As I have been married for 29 years, I hope my husband is reading this. I also told him that “I don’t want anything special”.

Sara Noe
London NW11

SIR – A thoughtful present, preferably one that rekindles a memory and raises a smile, is unlikely to go down badly.

Dr Anahita Kirkpatrick
London NW3

SIR – Buy pearls, or you may need to write a similar letter next year.

Geraldine Logan
Ormskirk, Lancashire

SIR – Mr Brown should ignore his wife’s request, and pull out all the stops.

J C Craig
Bodmin, Cornwall

SIR – George Brown is wise to seek advice. For our crystal anniversary I presented a box of Epsom salts. Almost 40 years later I am still paying the price.

Christopher J Bolton
Glossop, Derbyshire

SIR – You report that only 14 per cent of white people in the UK describe themselves as British, while 64 per cent describe themselves as English.

The main reason for this, as in my case, is a gentle protest. We were all British until the government, while trying to lump us all into being European, decided to split the UK into its constituent parts.

Now we have Scotland with its own parliament, Wales with its own assembly and Northern Ireland with its own assembly while the remainder of us British must endure everyone, including Europe, meddling in our affairs.

Ask a Scot or a Welshman or a Northern Irishman if he sees himself only as British, and you know what the answer will be.

I am English, and then British.

Jeff Gowers
Moretonhampstead, Devon

SIR – In your leading article (“A nation so many are proud to call their own”, May 6), you put forward the view that “Britain is a nation”. However, you also state that Britain “includes separate nations in a single state”.

If a group of people wish to call themselves a nation, then they are one.

The question, therefore, is: do the majority of people in Britain consider themselves to be British rather than English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish or other? I think not.

Christopher Rodgers
Martlesham Heath, Suffolk

SIR – I recognise the need for optimism, but I wonder whether your leading article was a little overly optimistic.

Your statement that “among British Indians and Pakistanis, more than 60 per cent consider themselves to be British” was presented as a positive story.

Considering the first adjective in the phrase, I would hope that the percentage would be much greater.

John Haiste
Bibury, Gloucestershire

SIR – When my husband was granted British citizenship, we were given to understand that “British” applied to foreigners getting the British nationality. We were told that only people whose parents come from England can call themselves “English”. We were also told that children of British parents would be British rather than English.

Our daughter married an Englishman. Are her children English?

Elisabeth Szalay
Beckenham, Kent

SIR – The people of Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and England manifest their nationalities by naming them on forms, rather than using the word “British” – which, far from being a unifying term, has been hijacked by those who appear not to respect our laws, customs or culture and are doing all they can to change Great Britain.

Hannah Fisher
London N2

Irish Times:

Fri, May 9, 2014, 01:10

First published: Fri, May 9, 2014, 01:10

Sir, – In his time as minster for justice, Alan Shatter managed to upset politicians, solicitors, lawyers and the Garda Síochána. Will we ever see such a reforming minster again? – Yours, etc,


Skreen Road,

Dublin 7.

A chara, – The Tánaiste describes Alan Shatter’s resignation as “inevitable”. Yet the Minister had his public support, and that of the Taoiseach and the Cabinet, up to the day of his resignation. Should we take it that a few more resignations are inevitable? Or does collective responsibility only serve as cover for unpopular policy decisions and sharing the glory when things go well? – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny.

A chara, – Your front-page headline on Wednesday said “Kelly and Gilmore rally behind Shatter after data ruling”. That afternoon Mr Shatter resigned.

Why is it that politicians always circle the wagons to defend the indefensible in their colleagues? Misplaced loyalty or simply a lack of moral courage to stand up for the truth? – Is mise,


Kill Abbey,


Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The most exalted positions in law and justice in this country are now occupied by women. Have careers in the world of jurisprudence and law enforcement become “highly feminised” professions? Perhaps Ruairí­ Quinn might care to comment? – Yours, etc,


Beacon Hill,

Dalkey, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The Taoiseach deserves credit for separating the portfolios of Justice and Defence in his Cabinet appointments. It was a mistake to combine these sensitive roles and during the recent series of scandals, the Taoiseach and his Cabinet colleagues no doubt encountered the inevitable practical problems it caused. It is good that this experiment is over.

The Taoiseach’s assignment of Defence to his own department temporarily while he looks to reorganise the portfolio is prudent and accomplishes the main goal of having two security ministers at Cabinet, rather than one.

If the Taoiseach continues to feel strongly that Defence does not merit a full-time minister he could look at combining the role with that of Minister for Foreign Affairs. Our Defence Forces’ peacekeeping activities dovetail with many roles of the Department of Foreign Affairs and as our Minister for Foreign Affairs is always a senior figure, it would ensure two senior people at Cabinet would have separate security briefings, and would be listened to, fostering debate and oversight on security matters. At EU level, many external action topics involve both ministries. More trivially, many ceremonial events involve both our Defence Forces and the diplomatic corps.

The occupant of Iveagh House has a lot of additional responsibilities as Tánaiste and party leader, but if, as widely expected, he moves to a domestic ministry in the reshuffle later this year then it might be an opportune time to combine the two roles of Defence and Foreign Affairs. – Yours, etc,


Schoolhouse Lane,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – The Taoiseach’s decoupling of Defence from Justice and Law reform is welcome. Defence and Justice should not be together. To say the least, it is highly unusual in a democracy to have one person politically in charge of all the security forces of the State. – Yours, etc,

Col DORCHA LEE (retired),

Beaufort Place,

Navan, Co Meath.

Sir, – It was with deep regret that I heard of the resignation of Alan Shatter. I don’t think that any other minister could have stood up to the judiciary, An Garda Síochána, the Army, the prison warders, and so on. It is nauseating to hear TDs now saying they have nothing personal against him. They wanted him out and he is gone. I hope the next incumbent has half his determination to see through all the changes needed in the Department of Justice. – Yours, etc,


Foxhill Park,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – You report that water is soon likely to cost us 0.02 cent per litre (“Bath set to cost 16 cent while a shower will set you back 25 cent”, Home News, May 8th).

Here’s what it costs now. One major supermarket chain is today offering water for sale at prices which range from €1.80 per litre (for a branded multipack of small bottles, costing a whopping 9,000 times as much as Irish Water will charge) to 2 cent per litre (for an own brand multipack of 2l bottles, costing 10 times more).

Children’s multipacks range from 29 cent (own brand) to 58 cent (branded) per bottle.

It is also easily possible to buy a single half-litre bottle for €2 (20,000 times as much as the estimated charge).

Food for thought, perhaps. – Yours, etc,


Home Farm Park,


Dublin 9.

Sir, – Apartment dwellers, who are typically younger and less wealthy (and frequently in negative equity), will yet again subsidise the wealthy retired with their defined-benefit pensions and valuable homes.

My apartment block requires only one meter for over 100 apartments, meaning vastly less expense for Irish Water than for an equivalent suburban estate with its leaky pipes and multiple meters, yet we will individually pay much more. I have paid for water in other countries where I’ve lived, but never suffered such cynical machinations from desperate politicians. – Yours, etc,


Long Meadows Apartments,

Conyngham Road,

Dublin 8.

A chara, – If Conor Pope (“Turning on the tap”, May 7th) really needs 10 litres of water to flush his WC and two litres of water to make himself a cup of tea, perhaps he should use his two-litre teacup to flush his toilet. – Is mise,




Co Waterford.

Sir, – During the controversy over the arrest of Gerry Adams, one thing I noticed in particular was the way in which some media outlets covered the events. Notwithstanding the unease in general about the individual involved, I think that the braying for the prosecution of Mr Adams ignores the context of the history of Northern Ireland.

According to some media outlets, in any “normal” European country it would be unacceptable to tolerate any prominent figure with a past such as that of Mr Adams retaining a prominent role in that country’s political life. However, as the saying goes, the past is often a different country, and that country was anything but “normal”. Like many in my generation, my knowledge of that dark past comes from history books – and sometimes from the viewpoint of parents and family who lived through it.

The reality is that virtually no part of western Europe, save perhaps Spain’s Basque region, has quite the modern history of Northern Ireland, and even today, as was demonstrated by the “flag protests” not too long ago, the tensions across the Border still smoulder. However, that is still a lot better than the inferno of violence that took place for nearly 30 years. And whether some like it or not, Mr Adams played a key role – along with others – in dousing that searing conflict.

Undoubtedly, many were hurt by conflict, and have a perfectly reasonable expectation of trying to see justice done for their loved ones. But in the greater scheme of things, it may be best to let the flames die out, rather than inadvertently stir the regressive forces that threaten the peace process. – Yours, etc,



Ballinamore, Co Leitrim.

Sir, – Perhaps it is time for Gerry Adams to consider taking a leaf out of Pope Benedict’s book, who, perhaps appreciating his limitations in dealing with the past scandals in the Catholic Church, resigned because he believed there would be someone else more able to lead the church into the future. Sinn Féin may benefit too from having faith in others within their party who are free from the burdens of the past. – Yours, etc,


Ballyroan Park,


Dublin 16.

Sir, – I note some correspondence (April 15th) regarding the wind generating system at Cape Clear Island referred to my book, Inside RTÉ, A Memoir.

I was first alerted to the problem as some islanders saw it by island residents who were willing to go on camera in 1991. A contact of mine in the ESB confirmed that Charles Haughey was so impressed with the system on Cape Clear that he requested such a system for Inishvickillane, and this was provided. A Jesuit writer on island issues, Fr Diarmuid Ó Peicin, also wrote to The Irish Times expressing concern about the proposed removal of the generator at the time. Some island residents were certainly under the impression that their system had been replaced and the original sent to Inishvickillane, and they were anxious to be interviewed to argue their case for its restoration. The “sporadic” nature of the service was stated to me by one islander, who wished to be interviewed, and is contained in the research notes. So too is the view of the managing director of SMA Regelsystem Gmbh, who, having provided a tender, was surprised to hear he was no longer required to be involved, as the ESB had supplied the generator for Inishvickillane. He was willing to be interviewed on camera to say this.

My essential point was not to denigrate either the ESB or the wind generation project that was such a success on Cape Clear. The issue was otherwise. We had a story which was prevented by Mr Haughey at an early stage of filming. We would have sought a reply to the island residents from both the ESB and Mr Haughey had the report been allowed to proceed. – Yours, etc,


Lower Hollybank


Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

Sir, – The local and European elections are now just a fortnight away and there will be wall-to-wall coverage of the candidates and likely winners and losers. What won’t be covered is the electoral system itself, because apparently the body politic assumes that voters know how to vote despite nobody telling them. Ireland is almost unique in having the single transferable vote system of proportional representation, but when was the last time you saw an information advert or received a booklet in the letterbox explaining it? We have public relations campaigns on road safety, smoking, mental health, and so on, but no PR about PR (excuse the pun).

How many readers know how to calculate the quota, or for that matter what is a quota? Why are there multiple counts? Are transfers important, and are transfers from eliminated candidates better than those from elected candidates? Why are some candidates elected without exceeding the quota?

Since we don’t have an electoral commission to educate the public, perhaps the media could explain how our voting system works. – Yours, etc,



Swords, Co Dublin.

A chara, – On attending the Arbour Hill 1916 commemoration yesterday, I wondered if I had mistakenly arrived at the wrong venue. The whole point of this ceremony is to honour the 14 men executed for leading the Rising and who are also buried in the Arbour Hill plot. Their names were barely mentioned at yesterday’s commemoration.

Through the poetry of Francis Ledwidge, we were reminded of those who died in the first World War. There appeared to be more emphasis on the British army than those who gave their lives for Irish freedom. These leaders fought against the British army and sought to rid Ireland of British rule. Where is the connection?

In this time of the centenary of commemorations we are in danger of diluting what we are actually commemorating to such an extent that it will be virtually meaningless. If we commemorate everybody, we commemorate nobody. – Is mise,


McDowell Avenue,

Ceannt Fort, Dublin 8.

Sir, – I have read Michael Dervan’s piece about Aosdána with great interest and I think some benefit (“Aosdána is not perfect, but does anybody have a better idea?”, May 7th). But why drag in the old book-shredding business, quoting Ruairí Quinn at some length?

The facts are as follows. I had no conversations with the director of the Arts Council about the book in question [Dreams and Responsibilities, The State and the Arts in Independent Ireland] prior to the shredding, let alone, to use Mr Quinn’s curious phrase, “transactions of conversations”. The only action I took in relation to the book was to review it for The Irish Times at the request of the then literary editor, John Banville. My review was on the whole favourable, if, as was my wont about everything in those days, occasionally humorous. I did towards the end point to a certain inadequacy in the book’s author as a researcher. Why had he not interviewed me when he had spoken to so many others?

During the controversy which followed the shredding nobody apparently bothered to read my review though they copied each other in calling it an “attack”. After the event of the shredding I did speak to the director of the Arts Council, who told me that 200 unsold copies had been shredded because they were “blocking the stairs”. Mr Quinn’s statement was made under cover of Dáil privilege. Even if he were to repeat it now without that cover I’m not sure I would take legal proceedings. Time in a sense other than that in which it precludes actions for libel is against me. My 22nd book (my 13th of poetry) Body and Soul will be out this autumn. But I have much more to write and, common sense tells me, sadly not a superfluity of time to do it in.

A couple of last points about Mr Dervan’s piece. All bodies of limited numbers are in some sense “elitist”. Surely experience of other aspects of Irish life would make peer-election by fellow artists preferable to appointment? Though I tend to agree with him about the number of members, surely to have a lesser number would make it more elitist, not less? – Yours, etc,


Oakley Road,

Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

Sir, – I think that some of your correspondents on the subject of naming our naval vessels are missing two important matters. The work of the Naval Service is well illustrated by the following examples. It patrols our waters under a common fisheries policy to protect our fishing industry and prevent fishing stocks from being depleted by illegal fishing. It patrols our coasts to prevent consignments of drugs from being landed on our shores. Two noble tasks, you must agree.

The naming of our naval vessels should not be limited to writers and artists, but should include our scientists, statesmen and inventors. Unfortunately we don’t have a fleet large enough to bear an array of such distinguished names.  – Yours, etc,


Beggars Bush Court,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – Olan McGowan (May 7th) writes: “Theological debates can get so absurdly complicated that people can’t accept that there is this beautiful, fabulously simple approach to accepting what we know and don’t know. It’s called atheism.”

Imagine if someone had instead written: “Scientific debates can get so absurdly complicated that people can’t accept that there is this beautiful, fabulously simple approach to accepting how things happened. It’s called religion.”

Perhaps atheism is to metaphysics what creationism is to science? – Yours, etc,



Woodford Drive,


Sir, – Dr Kevin McCarthy (May 8th) admonishes us to be fair-minded and to understand the historical imperative. What historical imperative is there that allows European governments, with US support, to redeem their past failures by giving the land of Palestine to the Jewish people of the world? Have Palestinians – who were not involved in European persecution of Jews – no rights in their own land? – Yours, etc,


Collins Avenue,

Whitehall, Dublin 9.

Irish Independent:

Published 09 May 2014 02:30 AM

* The dictum that is often attributed to the former Labour prime minister of Britain, Harold Wilson, that “a week is a long time in politics”, was borne out when former Justice Minister Alan Shatter quit.

Also in this section

Lessons on society you can pick up from a penguin

Politicians turning a blind eye to people’s suffering

What we really want is a joyous Lord – who can also dance

This Government had an unparalleled opportunity – in recent Irish political history – to create a revolution in democratic government when it was elected. It had a majority in the Dail and the country was eager for change.

Alas, arrogance soon took over and everything was the fault of the previous administration.

Then it was the troika who forced them to debilitate the nation as young, educated Irish people were exported to the four corners of the globe.

With the troika gone, Fine Gael and Labour rapidly reverted to the bad old ways.

With the local and European elections soon approaching, yet again it was not their fault – the polls were against them!

Can someone please tell me what is it about the ambience of Dail Eireann that makes TDs so dense after they are appointed to a ministerial role? If this Government does not face reality soon and adopt some common sense, it will not last the next two years – let alone see Fine Gael win a second term in office. Can someone whisper to Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore, Pat Rabbitte, Phil Hogan and James Reilly the words of Oliver Cromwell?

“Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!” And go now!





* The resignation of Alan Shatter as justice minister should lead others in Government to question their own judgment.

Hours before Mr Shatter stood down, Leo Varadkar expressed full confidence in the then minister even though the Data Protection Commissioner had found that he had broken the law. Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore had also similarly defended Mr Shatter.

Surely all those that have endorsed his actions in these matters should be taken to task.





* Alan Shatter, very intelligent but not too perspicacious.





* Alan Shatter, hoisted by his own canard!





* None of our national institutions is perfect. Even seminarians learn that the church itself is always in need of reform (semper ecclesia reformanda).

The great majority of our gardai serve us well and are highly respected. A tiny minority of members in our national bodies that serve the public, including sport, have been found wanting. Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe was very brave indeed to have exposed elements of dishonourable activity among the few who let down such very fine comrades. Honest whistleblowers deserve our support and help in such a delicate activity of informing the nation that all is not well.





* Mary Hanafin was probably one of the more credible FF cabinet ministers. That said, she was a key member of the government that brought this country to its knees.

The sight of her, Willie O Dea and the hapless Micheal Martin in last night’s news made my blood boil. Move aside Mary, enjoy your “dolally” pension and give Kate Feeney a go. She’s young, starting out on a career.







The Government has also stated that it is restricted in the amount of state investment available for water infrastructure.

So how will the shortage be made up other than with some form of public-private finance arrangement?

In other words, the door will be opened for private corporations to take millions in profits, while the people pick up the tab.

Further, once water becomes marketable, it will fall under the competition rules of the EU.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore says that water charges will be “fair and reasonable”. Isn’t this most considerate of the leader of the Labour Party as he burdens the already over-burdened Irish taxpayers with another tax.

Water is a human right for families not a rain tax.





* I wish to comment on an article by Darragh McManus (‘I’m backing this minnow despite odds’, Irish Independent, May 8). UTV is not owned by ITV but is totally independent of ITV and is based on the island of Ireland. TV3, on the other hand, is owned in the majority by multi-national investment firm Doughty Hanson. Maybe Darragh should rewrite the article correctly.





* Should a certain election poster display the message: ‘There’s something about Mary.’





* On attending the Arbour Hill 1916 Commemoration (May 7), I wondered if I had mistakenly arrived at the wrong venue. The whole point of this ceremony is to honour the 14 men executed for leading the Rising but their names were barely mentioned.

There appeared to be more emphasis on the British army than those who gave their lives for Irish freedom. In this time of the centenary of commemorations we are in danger of diluting what we are actually commemorating to such an extent that it will be virtually meaningless.

If we commemorate everybody, we commemorate nobody.





* A thousand journalists killed in the last two decades, many more imprisoned, with China, Turkey, North Korea, Egypt and some Arab states being the worst offenders. Only 14pc of the world receives ‘free reporting’ but in the West even that is compromised by the treatment of whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

The first casualty of war is the truth and this is recently illustrated by the slanted coverage of Ukraine and the Odessa massacre.

We should never accept a one-sided argument. Journalists should be a protected species – not an endangered one, the first casualties of corrupt regimes. The UN could ostracise countries that violate basic rights. Why haven’t our elected representatives spoken out more against this travesty of injustice?



Irish Independent

Home Again

May 8, 2014

8 May2014 Home Again

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate an efficiency expert is due Priceless

Go and visit Mary Peter Tae Mary home later

Scrabbletoday, I win, by two points perhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


Leslie Thomas was a comic novelist whose bestselling The Virgin Soldiers detailed privates on parade and in the jungle

Leslie Thomas

Leslie Thomas Photo: REX FEATURES

6:20PM BST 07 May 2014

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Leslie Thomas, who has died aged 83, was a former Barnardo’s boy who became one of Britain’s most popular writers; he was the author of more than 30 books, but it was his first, The Virgin Soldiers, a comic work inspired by his experiences of National Service, made him a household name.

Published in 1966, the novel turns on the adventures in Singapore during the Malayan Emergency of Private Brigg, a career soldier called Sgt Driscoll, and Phillipa Raskin, the daughter of the Regimental Sergeant Major and the object of both men’s desires. Brigg has to undergo the terror of combat as well as the tedium of garrison duty, and has his first sexual encounter with a local prostitute known as “Juicy Lucy” — a mirror of Thomas’s own National Service experience in the Far East.

The Virgin Soldiers has sold millions of copies and remains Thomas’s best-known book. In 1969 it was turned into a film directed by John Dexter and starring Hywel Bennett, Nigel Davenport and Lynn Redgrave.

Lynn Redgrave and Hywel Bennett in a scene from The Virgin Soldiers (MOVIETONE/REX)

Leslie John Thomas was born in a council house at Newport, South Wales, on March 22 1931, the elder son of David Thomas and his wife Dorothy — who had 23 brothers and sisters between them. At his elementary school in Newport, Leslie was an undistinguished pupil, although he did show some flair for English.

He hailed from a seafaring family — his grandfather had sailed round Cape Horn, but was said to have left the sea because he objected to his shipmates’ bad language. In 1943, when Leslie was 12, his father drowned after his ship was torpedoed by a U-boat, and six months later his mother died. Leslie and his nine-year-old brother, Roy, were installed in a Dr Barnardo’s home at Kingston upon Thames in Surrey. “We had cardboard on the windows where they’d been blown in,” he later recalled. “The flying bombs were dropping then.”

One of his many uncles attempted to retrieve the boys from the orphanage, but failed to convince the institution that he would be a suitable guardian: “ Any chances of us being allowed to live with him were dashed when he offered the Barnardo’s representative a gin and tonic.”

Leslie’s education continued at Kingston Technical School, where he trained to be a bricklayer, and then South-West Essex Technical College in Walthamstow, where he took a course in journalism. His first job, in 1948-49, was as a reporter on a local newspaper at Woodford in Essex. Then came National Service in the Army, from 1949 to 1951, during which (as he put it in Who’s Who) he “rose to Lance-Corporal”.

“I wanted to go into an infantry regiment and see the world,” he later said. “They sent me to Singapore, but put me in the Pay Corps as a clerk in an accounts office, the worst possible place for me. Even now I am not good at the administration of money matters… I was basically a desk-bound soldier, and Singapore was an exciting place to be, particularly for an 18 year-old like me. In my off-duty moments I was even a singer at the famous Raffles Hotel.”

Nigel Davenport as Sergeant Driscoll in The Virgin Soldiers (MOVIETONE/REX)

Thomas did, however, see action against communist terrorists, later recalling: “The jungle was pretty terrifying. I remember we were sent up country again, this time on trains. This was particularly dangerous as the terrorists had a habit of jumping on to the roofs of the moving trains and firing down on to the squaddies below.”

In 1950 Thomas and a few of his colleagues went to Penang on leave, with the aim of losing their virginity. Thomas succeeded, courtesy of an 18-year-old Chinese girl he met in a dance hall, and for a time they continued to see one another: “She had a Chinese name, but if Doris Day was on at the cinema she’d be called Doris, or if Rita Hayworth was on it would be Rita or even Hayworth.” The night before he returned to Britain he danced the tango with her in a nightclub, then “I took a last look at her and went out in tears. ”

On being demobbed Thomas returned to working for local papers in the London area, and from 1953 to 1955 he was a reporter for the Exchange Telegraph news agency. He then began a 10-year stint as a feature writer for the London Evening News (1955–66), where he earned a respectable £20 a week — sufficient in those days to allow him to marry and secure a mortgage. For the Evening News he covered the trial of Adolf Eichmann (“I even went back for his hanging”) and the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill.

In 1964 Thomas published This Time Next Week, a memoir about his life as a Barnardo’s boy (20 years later he would bring out a second volume of autobiography, In My Wildest Dreams). He then decided to try his hand at fiction. He received £3,000 for The Virgin Soldiers — enough to persuade him to leave journalism to concentrate on writing books full time. He was later paid £10,000 for the film rights (£3,000 of which he claimed to have blown on a family cruise to South America).

The cover of Leslie Thomas’s best-known book

Thomas published 30 novels, among them Orange Wednesday (1967); The Love Beach (1968); Onward Virgin Soldiers (1971); Arthur McCann and All His Women (1972); Tropic of Ruislip (1974); Stand up Virgin Soldiers (1975); Dangerous Davies (1976); The Magic Army (1981); Dangerous in Love (1987); Orders For New York (1989); The Loves and Journeys of Revolving Jones (1991); Dangerous by Moonlight (1993); Chloë’s Song (1997); Dangerous Davies and the Lonely Heart (1998); Dover Beach (2005); and Soldiers and Lovers (2007).

He was particularly fascinated by islands, and his non-fiction works included Some Lovely Islands (1968) and A World of Islands (1983) .

For many years he lived in a magnificent canonry — once the home of the artist Rex Whistler — in Salisbury Cathedral Close, with a garden backing on to the river Avon; and in 2010 he published Almost Heaven: Tales from a Cathedral. Among his neighbours in the Close was Sir Edward Heath, who lived in an exquisite house, Arundells. Thomas became his friend, and on one occasion a BBC crew making a film in Salisbury asked Thomas if the former Prime Minister was gay. “Gay?” the author replied. “He isn’t gay, he’s ——- miserable!” In his book, Leslie writes: “He [Heath] would take walks, accompanied by a minder, armed and unspeaking, and was often to be found in the inns and pubs around Salisbury, sitting silently in the corner. He had adopted a sort of round-the-city timetable, visiting pubs clockwise, over a period. On the evening of the day his knighthood was announced we met him sitting wordlessly with his security men in a pub.”

Thomas’s documentaries and television plays included Great British Isles (1989) and The Last Detective, a series starring Peter Davison adapted from his “Dangerous Davies” novels.

Leslie Thomas enjoyed travel, cricket, and collecting stamps, antiques and old maps of islands around Britain.

He served as vice-president of Barnardo’s from 1998, and was appointed OBE in 2005.

His first marriage, to Maureen Crane in 1956, was dissolved, and he married secondly, in 1970, Diana Miles, whom he met on the Metropolitan Line of the London Underground when he was on his way to watch a Test match at Lord’s. He is survived by his second wife, by two sons and a daughter of his first marriage, and by a son of his second.

Leslie Thomas, born March 22 1931, died May 6 2014


We express strong indignation at the misleading letter by members of PEN American Center (Letters, 28 April). The letter attempts to distort facts, exonerate suspected criminal activities and interfere with China‘s judicial sovereignty and independence.

As a country ruled by law, China protects the legitimate rights and interests of Uighur compatriots and people of all ethnic groups. Ilham Tohti’s case is being handled according to the Chinese law.

Investigation shows that Ilham Tohti used his identity as a lecturer at Minzu University of China and his website, Uighur Online, to incite “overthrowing the government”, preach “Xinjiang independence”, and openly call on Uighur people to carry out “violent struggle” “as in the fight against Japanese aggression”. He also formed a criminal group around him aimed at splitting the nation. These activities constitute the violation of the Chinese law and jeopardise state security and social stability.

As any other sovereign state, China is duty-bound to tackle illicit and criminal activities according to its law. China’s judicial sovereignty and independence brooks no interference by any organisation or individual.
Miao Deyu
Spokesman, Chinese embassy in the UK

Your article (World Bank loan to Honduran bank comes under scrutiny, 1 May) relies on a deeply flawed and over-simplified compliance adviser/ombudsman (CAO) report that is based solely on unfounded allegations about the land disputes in the Bajo Aguán region of Honduras. Overwhelming evidence presented to the International Finance Corporation IFC and the Honduran courts tells a different story. 

Externally funded armed groups, with no interest in farming, are using the conflicts in Honduras for wider political ends by encouraging the illegal seizure of private lands. Dinant has never committed human-rights violations against those who protest against our legal right to farm our land. It is rarely reported that 17 Dinant employees have been killed, almost 30 injured and five remain missing due to the conflicts. We have never engaged in forced evictions of farmers from our land; such evictions are undertaken exclusively by government security forces acting within the law and under instruction from the courts. Dinant is leading the way in Honduras by implementing the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, governing how we vet, recruit and train our security staff, and how they engage with local communities.

Dinant is not in conflict with genuine peasant associations; our African palm plantations support thousands of jobs in local communities. It is true that Honduras struggles with poverty, insecurity and a lack of economic opportunities. But my fellow countrymen would be better served if those NGOs that have never visited or who hold extreme and outdated political views did not seek to represent us.
Roger Pineda Pinel
Corporate relations director, Corporación Dinant


The unease about the AstraZeneca sell-off to Pfizer is essentially a questioning of liberalisation. The Government and the City of London financial services industry want to avoid such questioning at all costs.

Since the Thatcher government, the UK has been the global model for liberalisation, taking for granted that all investment opportunities will be open to transnational and foreign investors so completely that it is never even mentioned. The results can be seen in both the private and public sectors.

In the private sector, we no longer own anything nationally. In the public sector the involvement of transnational and foreign corporations in privatisations of whichever kind (contracting, sell-offs, PFI) invokes international treaties that prevent any reversals of the underpinning privatisations – even when people want them reversed.

It is time to articulate what liberalisation means, that it has been a political choice and that there are alternatives. The 51 per cent domestic ownership that many other countries enforce would be one alternative.

Linda Kaucher

(Researcher, EU international trade policy)

London E1

Not content with clamping a new serfdom on Britain, the Cameron gang has the nerve to bray that Britain is “open for business”. Read: “Britain’s wide open for mass corporate shafting. Boys, fill your boots, and all under the sacred banner of shareholder power.

“Oh, and be sure to repay us with nice comfy jobs when we get kicked out next year.”

Richard Humble

“Could I make a suggestion,” asks Catherine Mahy of Sidcup, Kent, in one of the 1,000 reader emails containing proposals for improving i which are archived on my desk. “I don’t know if it is feasible, but would it be possible to have a page (weekly, or monthly) to review all the long-term, ongoing stories that we so  easily put in the back of our mind until they burst into the news again?”

Reader John Bestley, meanwhile, proposes a section entitled “Old News”, explaining: “Fresh exciting news can dominate the headlines,  letters and editorials for days – then just sink. What has happened following the hurricane in the Philippines? To the Liberal peer who was accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour?”

We in the media can be culpable of moving on quickly; the news agenda is by its nature a tangle of loose ends. One quarterly publication is dedicated to challenging this: Delayed Gratification describes itself as “the world’s first Slow Journalism magazine, proud to be Last to Breaking News”.

Today, we have a cheerful what-happened-next tale for you. Oliver Cameron, the kidney transplant patient whose sister was refused a UK visa to become his donor, is about to undergo the life-changing operation, following the Home Office’s change of heart. And he would like to thank i readers for your role in the reversal – and generosity in offering to pay for his sister’s travel when he could not afford the fare.

“The response was simply overwhelming,” he told our chief reporter Cahal Milmo, after we forwarded on  your many messages of support and of financial assistance. “It filled me with such gratitude and faith  that there are plenty of people out there who care, are decent and want to  help.” All the best to Mr Cameron and to his sister, Keisha Rushton, who is now in the UK and is preparing for the op. We’ll let you know how they get on.


Sir, Cancer drugs that harness our immune system may transform patient’s lives. Much of the science for this class of drug was developed in UK universities such as UCL, Imperial and Cambridge. Taking these therapies from basics to the clinic takes decades of painstaking work. Spirogen, which we sold to AstraZeneca last October, had collaborations with many global pharma companies. We were spoilt for choice of acquirer and chose AstraZeneca largely because of its focus on bringing new cancer therapies to market rapidly and efficiently, and because of its creative collaboration with ADC Therapeutics, a Spirogen spin-out. Believe it or not, this was unusual among our suitors. A company like AstraZeneca that engages with university scientists, early stage start-up and growth stage companies and which provides finance through imaginative licensing and partnering deals is vital to attracting world-class scientists and management to work in the UK. If we are serious about Britain’s scientific leadership we should support AstraZeneca’s standalone strategy of bringing drugs to market.

Chris Martin

Spirogen, London E1

Sir, I spent 14 stimulating, rewarding years (1991-2004) as a bioanalytical scientist, manager and senior director with Pfizer at Sandwich, Kent. These were the best years of my scientific life, having come to the industry late from academia. The training, support, science and camaraderie were superb.

Senior management always told us that Pfizer would only grow by discovering and developing new medicines, never by buying companies. It reneged on those promises in 1999 when it bought Warner-Lambert. The inevitable happened: productivity dropped as scientists worried more about their security rather than research. As Pfizer then bought more companies, more damage ensued at its research sites. Finally, in 2011, it closed the site in Sandwich with the loss of thousands of jobs in the company and in the surrounding economy.

What possible benefit can it be to the UK to open our doors again to a company which so callously plays with the lives of thousands in order to lessen its tax-bill? Who could possibly believe any assurances as to job security with Pfizer’s track record?

The Rev Dr Richard Venn

Lenham, Kent

Sir, David Barnes, a former AstraZeneca chief executive, said that Pfizer would act like a “praying mantis” and “suck the lifeblood” out of the British company if the takeover bid was successful (“Cameron’s strategist was hired by Pfizer”, May 7). The praying mantis is not a blood sucker, rather it dismembers and eats its partner following union.

Bruce Summers

Cheswell, Shropshire

Sir, The AstraZeneca debate finds politicians paying their usual lip service to long-term investment, yet seemingly content with a capital gains tax policy which hardly encourages this by applying a flat rate of tax irrespective of the time a share or other asset has been held. Surely a return to previous policies of a differential between short and long-term gains, or some form of taper relief would be more equitable and commercially sensible?

Lord Lee of Trafford

House of Lords

Renationalising the railways might not quite usher in a new utopia of train travel

Sir, Labour’s plan to renationalise the railways may attract many voters but — leaving aside the fact that the track and signalling are all state-owned and nearly all the train companies are run by state industries (Dutch, German and so on) — I fear nostalgia is rose-tinting our view of British Rail.

I travelled on almost all the system in recent years. I have seen busy stations where every train was new, and huge destination boards at places like Leeds with every single departure listed as on time. This would never have been true under BR, but what you would have seen plenty of were strikes (run, it must be remembered, by the same unions that finance Labour).

There are less obvious benefits from privatisation. More people are travelling by train than ever before in peacetime, and the taxpayers’ share of the cost is coming down. Where cash-strapped BR largely managed decline, look at the investment now — today’s railway is opening new connecting curves and flyovers at Hitchin, Ipswich, Manchester, and Reading, to name a few of the dozens of bottlenecks that are being removed.

The crazy track singling that took place under BR in many part of the country to save a few thousand pounds a year in maintenance is being reversed (at a cost of hundreds of millions). Hundreds of small stations have been reopened and big ones such as King’s Cross and St Pancras superbly rebuilt. All this without the massive crashes that sometimes marred BR’s time. Neither system has proved perfect, but don’t let a populist politician sell a new generation a total myth.

Benedict Le Vay

(Author of Britain From The Rails: A Window-Gazer’s Guide)

London SW19

Doctors need to remember that asthma patients are looking after themselves for 99 per cent of the time

Sir, Part of the solution to the better management of asthma is recognising that people have to manage their own long-term conditions for an average of 8,000 hours a year. Professional interaction accounts for only 3-4 hours a year yet gets 99 per cent of managerial and clinical energy.

Our report One Person, One Team, One System highlights the need for mechanisms where, by default, every patient is given the knowledge to co-manage their conditions to the best of their ability during that 8,000 hours and has a plan to work to. The evidence on better outcomes and reduced emergencies is stark.

Sir John Oldham

Independent Commission on Whole Person Care

The wobbly four-legged table can be defeated by advanced physics — and a bridge-school Polo mint

Sir, Michael McElroy need not endure wobbly four-legged café tables (letter, May 5). In 2005 André Martin, a physicist at Cern in Geneva, proved mathematically that it is always possible to rotate such a table so that it will stand steady.

Dr John Burscough

Hibaldstow, N Lincs

Sir, A wobbly, four-legged, café table is an infrequent experience, unlike our bridge club tables where three legs would not work. A Polo mint placed under one leg does the trick.

Christina Padbury

Duxford, Cambs

Perhaps families should pay for board and lodging, councils can pay for care and nursing – it’s an idea

Sir, Perhaps care home fee fraud would be better controlled if meals, laundry and heating were paid for by the family, or the person, irrespective of income — after all, in their time of health all these items were a regular expense for the patient or family. Councils, meanwhile, would be responsible for all care and nursing. If this were adopted, families could begin to prepare for the prospective costs early in their working lives.

Janie Day

Ousden, Suffolk


SIR – In his article about the recorder, Ivan Hewett was almost certainly referring to chipped descant recorders, rather than treble recorders, which have a more mellow tone. The average child is unlikely to have large enough hands for a treble recorder.

Descant recorders are cheap (under £10) and portable compared with most other instruments. Not every family can afford the expense of other instruments and tuition, once the initial free teaching period is over (in some cases, just one term).

No one should write off the recorder – it is a beautiful instrument when played well. Listen to Sophie Westbrooke (who has just won the woodwind section of the BBC Young Musician 2014 competition) and you may be surprised by what you hear.

Tessa Rolph
Chairman, Society of Recorder Players
Laxton, Nottinghamshire

SIR – The national review into asthma deaths shows a truly worrying problem. Although I accept that some of these deaths may result from sufferers underestimating their disease, I fear a significant number may be attributed to a reluctance to admit people to hospital.

There are risks associated with the NHS policies that offer incentives to GPs to reduce acute hospital admissions, and that encourages hospitals to reduce the number of beds available. It is sadly inevitable that putting pressure on doctors to think twice about admissions will lead to disaster.

This is especially a risk with a disease such as asthma, where deterioration can be unpredictable and rapid.

Dr Robert Walker
Workington, Cumbria

Juvenile knife crime

SIR – Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, is ready to support a Tory plan for an automatic prison sentence for children who commit knife crime for a second time.

This proposal is unlikely to reduce knife crime and is certain to harm the life chances of thousands of children. It is wrong that so many teenagers carry knives, but equally wrong to think imprisonment is the answer to all but the most serious crimes. There is no evidence that imprisonment acts as a deterrent, and lots of evidence that imprisoning children and teenagers is counterproductive – 69 per cent of children released from prison are re-convicted within a year of release.

The answer to knife crime is prevention programmes and effective community sentences – not mandatory prison terms.

Penelope Gibbs
Chairman, Standing Committee for Youth Justice
London EC1

No laughing matter

SIR – John Lloyd, the man who brought us Blackadder, says that television comedy is a “thoroughgoing disaster” that could sink the BBC.

The same could be said of BBC Radio 4’s 6.30pm slot during the week. Apart from periodic runs of The Unbelievable Truth, The Now Show and The News Quiz, there is little that is even faintly amusing – despite the hysterical laughter from the studio audience.

John Ley-Morgan
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

Time of your life

SIR – The best time of my life was before I was two. No worries, nobody minded if I was sick, or something similar, over them. All I had to do was eat, sleep or play.

The only problem is that I have no memories of it.

John G Prescott
Coulsdon, Surrey

SIR – My late mother used to say: “There are benefits in every stage of your life. Enjoy each day and don’t waste time looking back.”

I have followed this advice and it has stood me in good stead.

Ros Fitton
Solihull, Warwickshire

Hidden message

SIR – It is my wife’s 30th wedding anniversary on Monday. Mine, too. My wife says she does not want anything special – it is just another day. What should I do?

George Brown

Patient data in peril

SIR – Today, the Care Bill, which proposes reform to the law relating to care and support for adults, returns to the Lords. is part of NHS England plans to link England-wide aggregated patient data collected from GP practices with hospital admissions. In February, the Government paused the roll-out of, following revelations that patient data are being sold to commercial companies. It is anticipated that amendments will be tabled today to restore public trust in NHS oversight of patient data.

Patient data, in the right hands, are vital in finding new ways to protect people’s health and treat infectious diseases, cancers and many other conditions. My concern is that the net effect of the proposed new law, as well as recent changes, is too vague. It could allow a commercial healthcare provider to be given NHS funding to treat patients, and use their data for commercial insurance and marketing, and targeting patients.

The amendments tabled today would put Dame Fiona Caldicott’s Independent Oversight Panel on a statutory footing with functions to oversee the new system. They will prevent the commercial sale and exploitation of patient data for general purposes, including insurance, marketing and advertising, if patients do not consent.

Patients look to doctors and nurses to send a strong signal that their data cannot be exploited for commercial purposes. We urge the Government to do likewise.

Professor John R Ashton
President, UK Faculty of Public Health
London NW1

Moveable school terms

SIR – Staggering term dates to ease holiday price increases is a good idea. With my four children at different schools, they would be unlikely to coincide, so holidays would become a thing of the past and prices would fall. Of course, it would make my working impossible, so we would be unable to afford holidays anyway.

Susan Hair
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

Un-mellow yellow

SIR – William Blake’s vision of a “green and pleasant land” is becoming entirely different at this time of the year with rape fields almost ubiquitous and quite dazzlingly yellow from an aircraft.

Is there no other crop that is even nearly as profitable?

Chris Mitchell
Houghton on the Hill, Leicestershire

Not all birds will be lured into reality television

SIR – Many congratulations to readers who have had success with their bird-box cameras. We have placed ours in many different places over the past three years, but so far not a dicky-bird has set up home. This year the blue tits went so far as to investigate one of our older, dilapidated, boxes while studiously ignoring the special one.

Jane Davidson
Balderton, Nottinghamshire

SIR – My husband and I watched a pair of robins making their nest and busily flying in and out with their beaks laden with worms for their young.

A neighbour’s cat then came along and ate the lot.

Exactly the same happened last year, despite our efforts to protect them. It is very depressing.

Louise Steidl
London SW18

SIR – I live in one of the pleasant villages that surround Guildford.Guildford borough council proposes to increase the size of our village from approximately 1,200 homes to 2,000. The council does not propose to improve the roads or the parking at the station, or to build a new primary or secondary school.

We have agreed that there should be about 20 new houses per year in our village to accommodate young people and those who wish to downsize, but not 800.

Nick Boles, the planning minister, tells two stories. On the one hand, he talks about sustainability and affordable housing, with a goal to build as much as possible. On the other hand, he claims the Government is protecting the countryside and that green-belt land will not be built on other than in exceptional circumstances.

As a result of Mr Boles’s statements, the council has offered up 16 of the 24 villages around Guildford on the sacrificial altar. The council argues that if it does not grant planning permission, developers will apply to build over vast swathes of the countryside, and it will not be able to stop them. But the council still has the capability to refuse applications as long as the Government, on the developers’ appeals, does not grant permission for unsuitable housing estates.

Valerie Thompson
West Horsley, Surrey

SIR – There may be some hope for Neil Carmichael and other Conservative MPs fearing for their seats due to a backlash over Government planning policies. The backlash will initially occur at this month’s local elections. When the party has lost seats, then it may start to listen to voters and pause housing developments until local plans are in place.

This may save some of the MPs.

David Lawrence
Hook, Hampshire

SIR – Brownfield land should certainly be used before the green belt. On the edge of the Medway towns in Kent a new village is being built on the site of a redundant quarry and cement works.

It is beautifully landscaped with lovely homes of all types, including affordable housing. It will also have a convenience store, surgery and a pub with a restaurant.

There are many thousands of acres of such land begging to be developed. Surely these developments are the ones that should be given priority, not those that deprive us of farmland.

Ted Shorter
Tonbridge, Kent

SIR – Second-home owners rarely pay reduced council tax. Most councils have abolished any reductions.

We pay the full council tax on our property in Cornwall, even though the property is not allowed to be a main residence. We accept this as we are fortunate to have a second property.

Tuppence Hale
Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Irish Times:

Sir, – By no stretch of the imagination (or legislation) is it one of the official functions of a Minister for Justice to pass on to the public any political tittle-tattle he may have heard from a Garda Commissioner.

Accordingly, can we assume that the legal bills that Mr Shatter, who has now returned to the back benches, is running up in challenging the Data Protection Commissioner’s decision will be met from his own pocket and not from the public purse? – Yours, etc,


Abbey Hill,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – In light of the findings of the Data Protection Commissioner against Mr Shatter, it is worth casting our minds back to February 18th, 2010, when he had some damning remarks to make on the Dáil record on then minister for defence Willie O’Dea: “he admitted confidential information furnished to him as Minister for Defence . . . by members of the Garda Síochána had been improperly used for his own electoral gain . . . That is outrageous and unacceptable and he should no longer be a member of Cabinet”.

Even had Mr Shatter not already been so beleaguered by scandal, he had breached the standard to which he hoped to hold government while he was in opposition.

His resignation is appropriate, justified and overdue. – Yours, etc,


Kerrymount Rise,


Sir, – As a consequence of the arrival of water charges, will the cursory hurried ablution hitherto called “a cat’s lick” be known in future as “a phil hogan”? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 5

Sir, – Is it fair that single people should have to pay as much for water as married people, who have the advantage of no longer needing to wash themselves? – Yours, etc,


Monalea Park,


Dublin 24.

Sir, – Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan feels that his water allowances are generous. In the immediate aftermath of an earthquake, most international agencies have a target of supplying 20 litres per day to each person. The medium-term objective is to bring that up to 51 litres a day within six months, a figure which many agencies calculate is the minimum required to satisfy all basic needs. This works out at 18,615 litres.

In most households there will be at least two adults, which means that his generous allowance is less than what his Government would be called upon to supply to the people of Ireland in the event of a major catastrophe. – Yours, etc,


Calle D,



Sir, – As one of two working parents with two children in primary school, we are faced yet again with another school closure to cater for voting in the local and European elections on May 23rd, a Friday.

The result of this is that one of us will need to take annual leave, or pay for additional childcare or work from home to cover the school closure. I am sure there are many other parents similarly affected. Why cannot alternative venues be found for elections if they cannot be held at the weekend? Are there not sufficient empty buildings around the country or community halls available for such purpose? My heart sinks every time a referendum or byelection is called as it means yet again the schools are closed. Will nobody think of the parents? – Yours, etc,


Prospect Manor,


Dublin 16.

Sir, – Eamon Ryan believes the last government, of which he was a member, only agreed to the potential sale of State assets as part of the agreement with the troika because they felt that Labour would soon replace them in Government and renege on this pledge (“Greens believed Labour would not go ahead with privatisation”, Home News, May 7th). This is an absolutely extraordinary admission.

If Mr Ryan expects us to believe this, then it suggests that the last government entered into the memorandum of understanding with the troika on bad faith, since they had no intention of living up to one of the key commitments contained in it. Effectively, they were telling porkies to the only institutions that were willing to lend to Ireland at a time of imminent financial collapse.

It also suggests that the members of the last government were conspiring to make their own lives easier by agreeing to whatever the troika wanted and, in the process, make life for their successors more difficult by adding to the mess that they would have to clean up.

Does Mr Ryan really think that he is fit to serve in public office again, despite admitting to this act of gross irresponsibility? – Yours, etc,


Mount Tallant Avenue,

Harolds Cross,

Sir, – The Department of Defence states (Home News, May 5th) that naming our new naval vessels after “world-renowned literary figures” will “facilitate greater recognition” for the Naval Service “in the international maritime domain”. This excellent objective would be facilitated to a much greater degree by accepting the frequent invitations to contribute naval assets to EU-led anti-piracy operations, which up to now have invariably been refused. After all, if countries such as Estonia, Finland and Romania feel it appropriate to participate in such operations, surely Ireland, with its frequently stated objective of being a maritime nation, should do so also. – Yours, etc,


Cúil Ghlas,


Co Meath.

Sir, – I have an open mind on whether the Department of Defence and the Government should name the two new Naval Service patrol ships after Nobel prize-winning Irish writers or after mythical female figures (Home News, May 5th).

The recently built and delivered LÉ Samuel Beckett falls into the category of being named after the Nobel prize-winning Irish writer. However, the second ship to be built and called the LÉ James Joyce honours neither a Nobel prize winner nor a mythical female figure. Joyce, although one of Ireland’s most famous literary sons, was never nominated for the Nobel prize. – Yours, etc,


Templeville Road,


Dublin 6W.

Sir, – It seems to me that the decision to name the two naval ships after Joyce and Beckett wasn’t quite thought out; both writers left Ireland and finally never came back, hardly a favourable augury. Patrick O’Brian wasn’t Irish – but neither are the vessels – but liked to let on he was, and he did write what are regarded as some of the best sea-faring novels. He would have been a more obvious choice, but whoever named the ships had probably never read either writer. I can hear my late father-in-law, a merchant seaman, quietly laughing at the pretentiousness of it all. – Yours, etc,


Ceannt Fort,

Mount Brown,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – Before Tom Fuller (May 3rd) questions the legitimacy of Israel’s right to return, perhaps he should address the fundamental question of why it was implemented in the first place.

The answer would quickly emerge after an afternoon in the National Archives where document after document shows that the Irish State, alongside the other liberal democracies, almost universally rejected the many hundreds of applications for asylum from Germany’s persecuted Jews.

This historical truth is there for any rational person to see, and is exemplified by the almost universally negative government response to Robert Briscoe’s 1930s immigration initiative.

The rejection was so overt that Briscoe, the most assimilated of Irish Jews, was compelled to engage with the New Zionist Organisation in one last desperate attempt to save even a remnant of his European co-religionists.

The realisation by the new state of Israel in 1948 that the West had ignored the plight of Jews only a decade previously propelled it to introduce the right to return as a guarantee that another Holocaust could never occur if Jews had a safe haven.

When the historical imperative is understood, what fair-minded person can question it? – Yours, etc,


School of History,

University College Cork.

Sir, – Your article examining the recent wave of violence in Venezuela failed to address its most significant causes (“Latest protests underscore Maduro’s disappointing year as Venezuelan president”, World News, April 26th). 

It made no mention of the explicit political aims of the current violent protests carried out by minority sectors within Venezuela’s opposition. They are demanding the explicit overthrow of the elected and constitutional government of Venezuela.

This call for “the ousting” is led by politicians whose democratic credentials are tarnished by their links to a military coup in Venezuela in 2002.

The current wave of violence directly followed the call to bring down the government by taking the streets. Tragically it has left 41 dead. The government has condemned the small minority of the deaths, four of the 41, resulting from opposition supporters clashing with security forces.

It has taken tough action, including sacking the head of the military police and ensuring the arrest of officers involved.

But the principal cause of the deaths has been violence from extremists in the opposition. Nine police officers have been killed and even more innocent civilians have been shot dead while trying to clear opposition street barricades or killed in fatal clashes across these deliberately dangerous barricades. The uniquely negative impression given in your analysis fails to explain how parties aligned to President Maduro won December’s mayoral elections with a 10 per cent margin or why Mr Maduro’s approval ratings are considerably higher than those of opposition leaders.

The impression given certainly reflects the perspective of a section of Venezuelan society. However, it does not represent the opinion of the long-excluded majority who have consistently elected parties and candidates aligned with Hugo Chávez in 18 elections over recent years. – Yours, etc,


Chargé d’affaires,

Embassy of Venezuela

to the UK and Ireland,

Cromwell Road,

Sir, – I was relieved to read about the appointment of former taoiseach Brian Cowen to the board of Topaz (“Brian Cowen and former AIB chief appointed to board of Topaz”, Business, May 3rd). It’s good to know that while so many aspects of life are going through change, the rationale for choosing non-executive directors to boards in this country remains the same. The expertise he brought to fuelling an already growing property bubble as minister for finance and then overseeing the worst financial crisis this State has faced will serve him and the board well as they manage the business of extracting money from Irish motorists. I hope those who have been adversely affected by the economic collapse will join me in making sure they never darken the forecourts of Topaz again. – Yours, etc,


Sea Road,


Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Most citizens of this country will be aware that the last government, of which Mary Hanafin was a member, failed in the task of running this country and led us off a financial cliff.

It now appears that Fianna Fáil cannot even run its own affairs in Blackrock, Co Dublin. – Yours, etc,


Cherryfield Avenue Lower,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – As Minister for Education in Bertie Ahern’s cabinet, Mary Hanafin was most vociferous on the airwaves defending his “dig-outs”.

I hope the people of Blackrock let her know that we have said farewell to the politics that prevailed during her time in government. – Yours, etc,


Clontarf Road,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments expressed by Peter Pearson Evans regarding the architectural merit of the new Dún Laoghaire library building (May 6th). It really is a sight to behold; an edifice of genuine ascetic beauty and design.

Of course, at a cost of some €36 million, it would want to be! – Yours, etc,


Beacon Hill,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – The new library building on the Dún Laoghaire seafront, with its redbrick facade with recessed brown aluminium windows, stands in horrible contrast to the beautiful Victorian terraced seafront and looks like a 1980s correctional institute. Its positioning is completely unsympathetic to Dun Laoghaire’s other landmark buildings, such as the Royal Marine Hotel and the Mariners’ Church.

As a building, it would work better in an industrial estate or university campus with large grounds.

I’m just waiting for it to win an architectural award to prove this is a case of the emperor’s new clothes in stone! – Yours, etc,


Dundela Haven,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Transition-year students will be able to take classes in horse care, hunting, breeding and grooming as part of a new equine studies module from this September. At Friends of the Elderly we have been campaigning for years to get a “Care of the Older Person” module introduced to the transition-year curriculum. This five-day, Further Education and Training Awards Council-recognised course has been successfully taken by thousands of people, giving them the skills to care for the elderly in their communities. Are we putting the cart before the horse or is it a case of horses for courses? – Yours, etc,


Friends of the

Elderly Ireland,

Bolton Street,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – Further to Eamon McCann’s article (“Why did so few mention irrationality at heart of papal canonisations?”, Opinion & Analysis, May 1st), his theory that the alleged cure attributed to the intercession of John Paul II was due an initial misdiagnosis is worrying. Given that there are thousands of canonised saints in the church’s calendar and that each has two miraculous cures attributed to them, this would mean there are either a great deal of dubious sainthoods or a great many incompetent doctors. – Yours, etc,




Co Tipperary.

Sir, – While delighted to note the appointment of a woman ambassador (Home News, May 6th), I am at a loss to understand why an embassy to the Holy See that was closed due to the stated reason that “it yielded no economic return” should now be reopened. Is it perhaps in the hope that it will yield some electoral return? –




Dublin 24.

Sir, – Further to Kieran Fagan’s letter (May 5th), it was not only food that we once found lacking when holidaying in Spain. I knew of a family who packed their portable radio because they didn’t want to miss the Gay Byrne Show in the mornings. – Yours, etc,


Redford Park,


Co Wicklow.

Irish Independent:

Published 08 May 2014 02:30 AM

* In the animal world, the definition of democracy is the penguin. This is so because when the harsh winds blow, the penguins all huddle together to benefit from each other’s shelter. The penguins then take turns at the outside of the group so that the group as a whole survives. It is simple enough and mutually beneficial to all even though it was thought up by birdbrains.

Also in this section

Politicians turning a blind eye to people’s suffering

What we really want is a joyous Lord – who can also dance

A quiet revolution is occurring in healthcare issues

In the human world, the law is meant to perform this process. Indeed, anyone who has gone to the bother of reading the Irish Constitution will see the many rights and theories therein, which try to move us to this practical Utopia. It is why we have referenda, for example – each vote being our chance to have a “turn” in the decision-making processes.

In the modern western world, the birth of the legal system is said to go back to the Magna Carta. It was the birth of the end of the notion that some men were more equal than others.

It was signed by the elite out of fear – no other reason. They were outnumbered, plain and simple, but they still had the traditional and ignorant strength of tradition, which allowed for only a few concessions to be made.

The law has been seen as a protector of individual rights since in this part of the modern world. Therefore, the law must be fair and practical. It must respect the person regardless of any pomp or privilege they may or may not enjoy in society.

In Ireland, we have a democracy that in theory dispels the notion of kingship, that dispels the notion of an elite huddling in the middle while others take the brunt.

Yet we have an increasing burgeoning of wealth at the centre. The penguins have their own way of insuring the hardship is meted out fairly. One can only assume that, in Ireland, those we seem to elect to Government are intellectually below that of a penguin. Seeing as they seem to support vulture funds over those who stood bravely against the harsh wind of large property taxes.




* On the subject of the existence or not of God, the French Nobel Prize-winning author Albert Camus once wrote: “I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn’t, than to live my life as if there isn’t and die to find out there is.” Me too.




* Killian Foley-Walsh (Letters, May 6) seems to think that an atheist should not write a letter to this newspaper stating his belief that God does not exist. I should remind Killian that he is just one god away from being an atheist himself, presuming he does not believe in any of the other thousands of deities that are worshipped around the world.

He is absolutely right when he says that claiming that God does not exist does not mean that God does not exist. It is simply my belief, based on the lack of meaningful evidence to the contrary, and I do not understand why this belief seems to be so threatening to Killian’s sensibilities.




* I found Dermot Ryan’s beliefs (Letters, May 7) about ‘what makes man unique is a concept of time’ and that ‘nobody has answered the big questions – where did we come from and why are we here?’ extremely perceptive.

Also James Gleeson’s letter (May 7) about the Bible being the word of God and how he is able to use that greatest gift of discernment to understand his place in creation is something that I would encourage more Irish people to consider.

Ultimately we, as members of God’s creation, will answer to Jesus sooner or later. Many Irish people really seem to have lost their belief in God, which is such a shame.

On a related note and accepting of the jovial nature of her comments, I see Mary Lou McDonald on Fenian Street thinks nothing of jokes comparing Jesus Christ to Gerry Adams. One was the saviour and prince of peace and the other was the antithesis of peace.




* Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we learn to deceive, said Sir Walter Scott, and wasn’t he right?

That said, what is the difference between breaking the law and committing an offence?

The average person on the street would think they are one and the same – so does that mean that the guy in Mountjoy for not having a TV licence has not only broken the law, but has committed an offence as well?




* On Good Friday 2014, I unfortunately found myself in a position where my 12-year-old son needed medical attention. Rushing to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, we experienced first-class treatment from the moment we entered the building.

All staff conducted themselves in the most professional, yet friendly, manner. Necessary tests were carried out and my son was seen regularly by a specific nurse and doctor. Thankfully everything was fine. I must wholeheartedly thank the staff.




* M O’Brien regrets the fact that we barely hear ‘the din created by those who feel they have been short-changed by austerity’ (Letters, May 7).

The letter also quotes Edmund Burke‘s famous saying that for injustice or evil to thrive, it is sufficient that good men do nothing.

The present austerity was caused by the country being bankrupted by decisions of a small number of the most powerful during the boom.

When all of that was happening, there was no din at all about what was going on. Many of those who turned a blind eye then are complaining now about the short-changing of the most vulnerable.

They should have created much more of a din during the boom when everyone was short-changed by having the country bankrupted and condemned to austerity.




* Garda and Road Safety Authority statistics show that 82pc of accidents occur on two-way roads with 80 and 100km/h speed limits.

In 2013, 4,410 drivers received speeding penalty points in Northern Ireland, compared with 205,719 in the Republic of Ireland. On this and other bank holiday weekends, the garda speed detection unit enforced rigidly the 80 km/h speed limit on one major dual carriageway.

Insurance companies agree with the enforcement of these speed limits as they benefit to the tune of 30pc for each penalty point issued for the following three years.

When speed limits are correctly set, enforcement should take place on every kilometre of road in Ireland.

Recent road fatalities show that setting and enforcing incorrect speed limits appears to be a financial and not a road safety issue.




* Labour TD Kevin Humphreys came to the rescue of his fellow TDs on Friday when a rat was discovered in Leinster House.

Well done Kevin, that was a good start.



Irish Independent


May 7, 2014

7May2014 Peter

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate a part is ordered for a Wellington bomber Priceless

Go and visit Mary Peter arrives does some plastering

Scrabbletoday, Mary wins perhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


Antony Hopkins – obituary

Antony Hopkins was a composer and conductor whose infectious enthusiasm animated his BBC broadcasts for four decades

Antony Hopkins

Antony Hopkins Photo: LEBRECHT

7:25PM BST 06 May 2014

Comments1 Comment

Antony Hopkins, the composer and conductor, who has died aged 93, was best known for Talking About Music, the broadcast talks he gave on the BBC (and in 44 countries to which they were syndicated) from 1948 until 1992 — when they were discontinued as too elitist for the modern image of radio.

Hopkins’s ability to dissect a composition in intelligible technical language, with piano illustrations which he played himself and extracts from recordings, was appreciated by millions of listeners who were thereby enabled to understand music more fully.

One of radio’s great communicators, in the tradition of Sir Walford Davies, he modestly said that lecturing was an expedient forced on him as a cover-up for his “abysmally insecure” piano technique; it enabled him to skip all the bits he could not play, or to play them slowly under the pretext of analysis.

Hopkins’s gifts as a communicator also made him an obvious choice for children’s concerts such as the two series under the auspices of Sir Robert Mayer and Ernest Read. But he ruefully remarked that in Britain (although not in Japan and Australia) he was never offered engagements for adult concerts because the label of “children’s concert conductor” was so firmly attached to him.

Antony Hopkins was born Antony Reynolds on March 21 1921 at Enfield, son of Hugh and Marjorie Reynolds. His father was a gifted amateur pianist who worked as a schoolteacher and freelance writer but had very poor health. In 1925 he took his wife and their four children to live in Italy, and died that year in Genoa aged 34.

His penurious widow returned to England. On the advice of the former headmaster of Berkhamsted School, where her husband had been a pupil, she went to see the current headmaster Charles Greene (father of Graham Greene), who introduced her to one of the housemasters, Major Thomas Hopkins, and his wife. They volunteered to take five-year-old Antony under a joint guardianship agreement. Seven years later they officially adopted him and he took the name of Hopkins. Mrs Hopkins adored animals, and from her Antony acquired his passionate love of horses and dogs.

Antony Hopkins conducting ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at the Royal Albert Hall in 1982

After attending Berkhamsted’s preparatory school, Hopkins entered the senior school as a day boy. At that time, riding took precedence over piano-playing. But in 1937 he went to Schwaz on the Innthal in Austria to a summer school for pianists. Hearing an Austrian musician play Schubert’s Op 90 Impromptus filled Hopkins with the desire to be a musician. He went to a private piano teacher in London and also began to compose. On leaving Berkhamsted in 1938 he spent a short time as a master at Bromsgrove School, where he was able to attend concerts by the City of Birmingham Orchestra.

A cartilage operation as a boy had rendered Hopkins unfit for military service (although he later served in the Home Guard), and in September 1939 he entered the Royal College of Music. He studied harmony with Dr Harold Darke and composition with Gordon Jacob but found the piano tuition inadequate.

A chance meeting with Cyril Smith, to whom he had once written a fan letter, led to occasional lessons at the pianist’s home and also to his winning the college’s Mathilde Verne piano scholarship. He later became accompanist in Dr Reginald Jacques’s choral class and rehearsal pianist for the Bach Choir, of which Jacques was then conductor.

Despite twice failing his teacher’s diploma exams, Hopkins won the college’s Chappell Gold Medal for piano (he would not have done so, he said, in anything but wartime conditions). As a result he was invited to give a recital, in May 1943, at Dame Myra Hess’s National Gallery lunchtime concerts. He also enrolled at Morley College to sing in the choir under Michael Tippett, then director of music, in works by Monteverdi, Gesualdo, Weelkes and Purcell.

Later Hopkins said he had learned more about music from Tippett than from anyone. They became friends, and Tippett advised him about his compositions. Hopkins sang in the chorus at the first performance of Tippett’s oratorio A Child of Our Time in 1944 and remembered how the orchestra behaved badly at the final rehearsal, showing hostility to the music and to the composer, who had recently been in prison for failing to comply with the orders of a conscientious objectors’ tribunal.

In 1944 Hopkins wrote the incidental music for a Liverpool production of Marlowe’s Dr Faustus (a commission turned over to him by Tippett) and this was followed by Louis MacNeice’s request for music for two radio plays. More BBC work followed, plus Hopkins’s first involvement with a London theatre production, Oedipus Rex with Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and Sybil Thorndike.

Within three years Hopkins had 19 radio-drama scores to his credit, including one for Moby Dick. He toured France and Switzerland for the British Council as accompanist to the soprano Sophie Wyss, for whom Britten had written some of his early works. Music for the film Vice Versa followed.

In 1947 his one-act comic opera Lady Rohesia, from The Ingoldsby Legends, was produced at Sadler’s Wells to public approval and critical distaste and he was sent on a lecture tour of Germany by the Foreign Office. He also took over from Herbert Howells as lecturer on general musical topics at the Royal College of Music.

Hopkins’s gifts were noticed by the BBC producer Roger Fiske, who invited him to give a series of broadcast talks called Studies in Musical Taste. From these developed Talking About Music, in which a work to be broadcast during the week was discussed and analysed.

While continuing to compose during the 1950s — notably a successful short opera called Three’s Company, about life in an office, and music for the Peter Ustinov film Billy Budd — Hopkins also travelled far and wide as an adjudicator. In 1964 he spent six months as visiting professor of composition at the University of Adelaide.

In Britain he taught at the Royal College of Music, but was disappointed by the standard of entrants. He told the official who allocated pupils to teachers: “Either they must be very talented or very pretty. Otherwise I won’t take them on.”

In 1973 he adjudicated in Hong Kong and lectured in Japan, where he was awarded the City of Tokyo Medal for services to music. He returned to Hong Kong in 1979 to conduct its Philharmonic Orchestra.

Hopkins also wrote many books, several of them deriving from his BBC scripts, such as Talking About Symphonies (1961); Talking About Concertos (1964); and Talking About Sonatas (1971). Others included Music All Around Me (1967); Understanding Music (1979); The Nine Symphonies of Beethoven (1981); Songs for Swinging Golfers (1981); and The Concertgoer’s Companion (two volumes, 1984 and 1986). His autobiography, Beating Time, appeared in 1982.

He twice won the Italia Prize for radio programmes (1951 and 1957), and was appointed CBE in 1976.

Hopkins never regarded himself as an important composer, but his music has considerable charm and tunefulness. His gift for parody also ensured that much of it was witty. But it was as a lecturer and broadcaster that the warmth of his personality and his infectious enthusiasm, backed by expert knowledge, endeared him to listeners. A CD of some of his music was released to celebrate his 90th birthday.

He loved fast cars and lived for most of his life at Ashridge, near Berkhamsted, in the house which his adoptive parents had converted from two derelict cottages.

In 1947 he married the soprano Alison Purves, with whom he had fallen in love as a schoolboy when she sang in musical comedy. She died in 1991, and he married secondly, in 2012, Beatrix Taylor, who survives him.

Antony Hopkins, born March 21 1921, died May 6 2014


There may be many reasons to spread school holidays more evenly (Heads debate changes to long summer break, 5 May). However, to suggest that this would “reduce the holiday price premium” is disingenuous. In the absence of any regulation of the travel industry, all that would happen is that the holiday price premium season would be extended to cover any period when schools could conceivably be on holiday.
Ghislaine Peart

• While having great respect for Rebecca Green and her role as a death doula (A friend at the end, G2, 5 May), as a hospice worker of 20 years’ experience I cannot agree that we encourage patients “to die dying – doing as they’re told”. I would like to draw attention to what Dame Cecily Saunders said: “You matter because you are you and you matter to the last moment of your life. We will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but to live until you die.”
Delphine Howarth
Bednall, Staffordshire

• Natalie Haynes (Why Greeks rule the stage, 5 May) rightly seeks to rehabilitate Medea, but we should remember that Medea wasn’t a Greek but a so-called barbarian from Colchis, the present day Republic of Georgia. The Greeks demonised her. While researching my book, Please Don’t Call it Soviet Georgia, I found that, in Georgia, Medea is honoured as a healer and that many women bear her name.
Mary Russell

• Neither the merk, unicorn, testoon whole or half or connery, but surely the dram and the tot (A new currency for Scotland? Try the unicorn, G2, 6 May).
Emmeline Stevenson
Pencaitland, East Lothian

• Good grammar is particularly beneficial for getting laid if one studies Latin (Hadley Freeman, 2 May; Letters, 5 May): no classicist would decline sex.
Adelheid Russenberger

• In Cumbria, just north of Skiddaw, we have three low fells named Little Cockup, Cockup and Great Cockup (Letters, 6 May). How would one decide?
John Amos
Great Broughton, Cumbria

‘Because there are rich people in Cheshire and poor people in Kent does not mean there is no measurable difference between people in similar situations.’ Photograph: Don McPhee/

Strange to see Owen Jones (The north-south divide is a myth and a distraction, 5 May) following Tony Blair in dismissing the reality of the north-south divide.

Because there are rich people in Cheshire and poor people in Kent does not mean there is no measurable difference between people in similar situations. The 1980 Black report on inequalities in health (which the Conservative government tried to bury) showed that the mortality and morbidity rates for people in the same class and occupation were better for people in London and the south-east than in other regions.

More than 90% of non-university scientific research is spent in the so-called golden triangle between London, Cambridge and Oxford. The government spends twice as much on capital and revenue expenditure on transport in London compared with Greater Manchester and Merseyside or indeed any of our major regional centres. Astonishingly, 94% of capital expenditure on transport is spent on London. This is unjustifiable and unfair.

I have no disagreement with Owen Jones that power and wealth resides in too few hands and that this is our greatest problem, but this does not mean we should pretend that other inequities do not exist. He and John Denham are mistaken trying to bury this problem, and I and others will make sure it stays alive.
Graham Stringer MP
Labour, Blackley and Broughton

•  The north-south disparity is certainly not a myth. Look at regional per-head figures for the government’s capital projects spending, and for arts spending. But calling it a divide perpetuates the erroneous idea that it could be bridged by some link such as HS2. For the north, HS2 will be a massive waste of money. Northern railways, and the north in general, certainly need £50bn of investment – but not on a single line that will just make it easier to run everything everywhere from London headquarters.
Brian Hatton

• While pleased to see you give front-page space (3 May) to Britain’s poor performance in preventing deaths among children under five, and that inequality was mentioned in passing, we were disappointed that both the report and the accompanying analysis focused on poverty and deprivation as explanations. As long ago as 1992, research showed that even for families in the very top social class, babies were more likely to die in infancy in England and Wales than in more equal Sweden. Those deaths have little to do with poverty, deprivation or access to medical care.

Inequality damages health across the social spectrum because of its psychosocial impact. The recently published child mortality figures are significantly correlated with income inequality in rich, developed nations.

Research continues to demonstrate that in a more unequal society we are all, even at the top of the social ladder, affected by higher levels of stress and status anxiety. We must avoid conflating the effects of material poverty with those of inequality – both are bad for population health but they require different solutions.
Kate Pickett Professor of epidemiology, University of York
Nigel Simpson Senior lecturer in obstetrics and gynaecology, University of Leeds
Richard Wilkinson Emeritus professor of social epidemiology, University of York

Your report on landlords (Evicted – ‘because I wanted hot water’, 3 May) underlined how market failure in the private rented sector perpetuates injustice. But interestingly, 56% of the population support rent controls, opening an opportunity to put the public interest before the landlords’ vested interest.

For instance, in Newcastle, some £32m a year in housing benefit is paid to private landlords with virtually no conditions. Yet barely a fraction of this vast taxpayer subsidy is reflected in property improvement or better tenancy management. Restructuring housing benefit rules to improve private rented housing is long overdue.

And although councils have a limited capability to take over landlords’ empty properties, why not transfer larger numbers of these homes to local co-ownership schemes or housing co-operatives? This could reverse the neighbourhood instability that extensive private landlordism produces.

Ensuring that buy-to-let options for absentee owners are available only to those who can manage properties in accordance with locally determined standards would also stabilise neighbourhoods.

It’s time for a radical decent homes standard to be applied to the private rented sector.
Cllr Nigel Todd
Deputy cabinet member (neighbourhoods), Newcastle city council

• This government seems spectacularly unable to tackle obscene housing/rental costs. I wonder if David Cameron et al have considered what will happen in a few years’ time when Generation Rent need to fund their own old-age care. Since all their money will have passed into the hands of landlords and other “fat cats”, they will have nothing to contribute. The whole care tab will have to be picked up by the taxpayer. I wonder if this has been factored into the government’s calculations. Do they know? Do they care?
Jeremy Blythe
Burrington, North Somerset

Alistair Richardson (Letters, 2 May) wonders why Canadians use “ae” at the end of a sentence, to elicit agreement. He wonders if it comes from the “Scottish diaspora”, but perhaps should say “Gàidhlig-speaking diaspora”. He might then realise that Gàidhlig, like that of most Romance languages, uses the device. The French language has n’est ce pas? and Gàidhlig has nach eil?, basically meaning “is that not so?”, as Richardson asserts. The confusion, as usual, comes from the influence of Gàidhlig on Scots, which is a dialect of English, not a language.

Indeed, here in the Dales, when asked if we want another drink, we invariably reply “Ae lad” or “Aye lad”. The spelling is irrelevant so “Ye ken whit ah mean, ae/aye?” is perfectly understandable to all English speakers when spoken. Perhaps a short course in elementary Gàidhlig and linguistics might help Mr Richardson, who could then consider spelling his name the Gàidhlig way, “Alasdair”!
John Vaughan
Hellifield, North Yorkshire

Vince Cable is correct to query whether an AstraZeneca/Pfizer merger would be in the national interest (Report, 28 April). But while debate has thus far been limited to Britain’s “science base” regarding jobs, wider national concerns are at stake.

British science is indeed about employees undertaking research, yet also about ethical practice. While comparing the research ethics approaches of manufacturers is not straightforward, Pfizer’s record of exploiting epidemics (decried by Médecins Sans Frontières), dead and brain-damaged children, and forged certification in clinical trials in west Africa (as reported in the Washington Post in 2006) is less than enviable. Repeats of such episodes within an Anglo-American project would damage “brand Britain” and UK scientists’ reputation around the world.

Closer to home, the clout of the larger pharmaceutical manufacturers enables them to influence UK regulation policies for safety and cost-effectiveness – as Professor John Abraham’s and others’ research demonstrates. Further expansion of the world’s largest drug company would grant Pfizer greater leverage upon policies regarding the scrutinising of drug safety (MHRA; EMA) and value for money (Nice). Patient safety and future cost-effectiveness of NHS spending would not accordingly be aided by the proposed merger, especially when the politics around pharmaceuticals is blinkered towards jobs.

It thus seems naive of Shapps to advocate this merger in “economic” terms, especially given the reluctance of Pfizer’s CEO to make promises about UK-based jobs and the recent history of the company’s research and development policies in east Kent.
Dr Patrick Brown
Assistant professor, Amsterdam Institute of Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam

•  A simple solution that would protect a vital centre of British research excellence and save the taxpayer billions: the NHS should create a non-profit pharmaceutical company, supplying direct to the NHS and competing in the world market. The drugs companies would be frightened into cutting their prices, because such a model would quickly be followed by most European nations. This would protect vital R&D excellence as the inherent idealism of scientists in the field would be maximised to be able to follow need rather than profit.
Professor Colin Pritchard
School of health and social care, Bournemouth University

• Any scrutiny of the bid by Pfizer for AstraZeneca on grounds of national interest (Report, 6 May) entails an examination of the tax implications. Mergers encouraged by tax rules in the 1960s and 70s were found to have been detrimental to corporate efficiency.

Britain is now perceived as a lax tax jurisdiction compared to the US. Pfizer could gain by taking advantage of lower corporation tax rates and the culture of hesitant enforcement of tax rules by HMRC by locating its tax affairs in the UK. In the New York Times (3 May), Steven Rattner points out that about two dozen US companies have changed tax residence through cross-border mergers since 2008.

Gaming of corporate tax rules to reduce the burden to Pfizer may not necessarily free more money for R&D. In fact the pressure to earn money through product innovation may even be reduced by increasing opportunity to earn money by the gaming of tax rules, and exercising greater market power in negotiations with healthcare providers.
SP Chakravarty

• On bank holiday Monday Pfizer announced a 15% fall in profits in the three months to the end of March compared with the previous year, to $2.3bn (£1.3bn). This was caused by falling revenues (down 9%) from patents expiring. It is still a profitable company, but shareholders will now be looking urgently for changes to cut costs and increase profits in the short term. Real risks to UK jobs – both research staff and in the factories – are obvious.

David Cameron’s initial enthusiasm for this deal now appears to have been naive. Grant Shapps’s comment that Labour’s proposal to toughen the rules was “anti-business, anti-jobs and anti-jobs security” now sounds foolhardy, putting short-term election politics above the UK’s long-term interests. The defence industry is subject to detailed investigation prior to government approval for external takeovers of this sort. The business secretary, Vince Cable, can intervene under the Enterprise Act. He should do so and ensure that the pharmaceutical and other key industries are also protected against unwelcome takeovers. We are one of the few industrial countries without such safeguards. Lack of protection endangers both our economic recovery and UK jobs.

Free trade is fine, but the UK must not become an open market for foreign companies to buy our best companies and patents at knockdown prices. Such prudent action should get support across all parties.
Brian Bean

• As an investor, I will be bitterly disappointed if Pfizer takes over AstraZeneca. Annual dividends of around £1.80 still seem worthwhile, even at the inflated share price near £50 today, while Pfizer’s dollar a share last year looks puny. Even if I were offered two Pfizer shares for each Astra share, I wouldn’t be interested. And as investment manager Neil Woodford has reportedly said: “A cashing-out exercise is no use to me – there isn’t another AstraZeneca out there.”

City speculators who want a cash payout may welcome the bid, but long-term investors will not. Of course, we know from the Royal Mail sell-off that government ministers don’t care about long-term investors – their pals in the City want short-term profits. Expect ministers to procrastinate while investors suffer.
Richard Cooper
Chichester, West Sussex

• Since Thatcher, the UK has been the global model for liberalisation, taking for granted that all investment opportunities will be open to transnational and foreign investors so completely that it is never even mentioned.

The results can be seen in the private sector, where we no longer own anything nationally. In the public sector, the involvement of transnational and foreign corporations in privatisations of whichever kind (contracting, sell-offs, PFIs) invokes international treaties that prevent reversals of the underpinning privatisations – even when people want them reversed.

It is time to articulate what liberalisation means, that it has been a political choice and that there are alternatives. The 51% domestic ownership that many other countries enforce would be one alternative.
Linda Kaucher

• The reluctance of Labour to adopt the radical policies based on fairness that, according to the polls, most of the electorate want is apparently partly based on the inevitable alarmist Tory response. This fear, however, is misguided, because whatever policies are chosen, the response is always the same. Even when Miliband proposes the eminently sensible tightening of the “rules to protect key British companies” the Tories take the predictable “anti-business, anti-jobs and anti-jobs security” stance (Coalition rift over £63bn offer for UK drugs group, 5 May),

Last week Labour’s very moderate rent proposals, which concentrated on limiting future increases rather than on reversing recent rent hikes, inspecting rented property and taxing profiteering landlords, received similar treatment, even stretching to “Venezuelan-style rent controls” from Shapps (Comment is free, 1 May).

Hopefully the Labour leaders will realise the obvious; no matter what the proposal, the Tory response will be hysterical, alarmist, or inaccurate, and possibly all three. Let them rant about “red Ed”, “communism” and “written by McCluskey” for all they’re worth, because it appears that is all the Tories have; they can hardly boast of fairness. Grasp the nettle, Mr Miliband, and let’s have ideas and policies that transform, not tinkering!
Bernie Evans

• It has been said that those who control the land control our stomachs. Therefore it is as important for Labour to press for a change in the law to create a new public interest test to cover not just British industry but British land too (Co-op farms could be sold to China as hopes of community buyouts die, 5 May).
Geoffrey Keith Naylor

• Nils Pratley refers to Pfizer as “seeking rent in a country where it has no roots” (3 May). But as a child in the early 60s, I played on fields opposite its Sandwich premises, later covered by massive expansion. Older companions assured me that, if you got close to the buildings, you could hear the screams of the monkeys. Despite these formative memories, I agree with Nils Pratley that Pfizer should not be allowed to get away with buying AstraZeneca as a tax dodge. The imposition of much higher UK tax rates on companies in those days clearly didn’t stunt their growth.
Vivienne Pay

• Cameron says “the decision on any merger is a decision for the two companies and their shareholders”. If the government won’t protect the interests of the British people, why vote for it?
Emma Tait

It is important that the Guardian continues to report on Venezuela. Inevitably many of the letters and reports from the west are often ideological and dismissive of the opposition, who, by the way, obtained over 7m votes in last year’s presidential election. Guardian reporters – for example, Seumas Milne and Jonathan Watts (18 April) – continue to label protesters as mainly well-to-do. And to claim, as heavily ideological Mark Weisbrot did(28 March), that this is a revolt of the rich shows how much he and many others, who presumably have never lived in a socialist state, fail to see the reality of insecurity as millions of Venezuelans do. To dismiss all these people who voted against Nicolás Maduro as dupes of US involvement is ludicrous. And I have seen the well-to-do, both non-Chavistas and the more recently arrived Chavista functionaries, with money in upscale places such as Altamira.

There is widespread discontent and apprehension in Venezuela. Various countries besides Cuba, whose economies benefit from subsidised Venezuelan oil, supply food and household items because the local Venezuelan industries, have been devastated by dreadful economic and political management. And the government continues to borrow money from China, adding to a huge foreign debt load.

People concerned about Venezuela must insist that the government listen to the opposition and find immediate ways of addressing insecurity, rehabilitate local industries and work for Venezuelan interests. The future of socialist governments lies not with allies such as the autocratic Cuban leaders, but with challenging dialogue between Venezuela and neighbouring countries.
Alan Carter
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

India must be a moral force

In your piece India struggles to assert its influence (18 April), Jason Burke gives a comprehensive overview of the challenges facing Indian foreign policy. However, the article considers these challenges only from an economic and security perspective. India might not match up to the economic and military might of its bigger neighbour, but the world’s largest democracy has great potential to be a strong moral force in the region.

Unfortunately, India fails to recognise its strengths and continues to conduct its foreign policy based on strategic concerns. India has made some wrong choices recently, such as opposing a UN resolution on Sri Lanka that authorised an international war crimes inquiry, and failing to take a strong stance against Bangladesh’s skewed elections.

India’s foreign policy should instead be driven by moral values and respect for human rights. Otherwise, its varied humanitarian efforts, such as providing healthcare for conflict-affected people in Afghanistan, and housing to war-displaced families in northern Sri Lanka, will be seen merely as a foreign policy tool. The world would also benefit immensely if India were to exercise its moral weight in strongly advocating for peace in places such as Syria.
Arjun Claire
Delhi, India

Warnings on climate change

With a growing sense of alarm, I have been reading the many dire warnings issued by climate change scientists recently (18 April). My alarm does not stem from the warnings themselves as much as from the complete lack of documented response by government bodies, activists and other members of the general public – the very people at whom these warnings are aimed. Is western society merely content to pass the climate change buck on to governments to address the problem? If so, this sentence should restore its sight: “even the simple statement that 70% of all emissions come from just 10 countries was deemed … naming and shaming”.

In other words, government, when faced with a terminal diagnosis for the planet, is only concerned about how this makes it look. Who would trust such image-obsessed sociopaths to do the job properly – a job upon which billions of lives depend? Who would not simply fire them?

Everyone on this planet is in a tight spot due to climate change. Everybody should be doing something, however small, to stop it. Everyone should be putting pressure on the people who have the power to do more. This job is important enough to do right, which means we must do it ourselves.
A Elliott
Berlin, Germany

• I was a little surprised to find the Guardian falling for the IPCC’s over-the-top call to action. Assuming global warming does do its worst, and most of Earth changes into a global Sonoran or Mojave desert, I can assure readers that a host of snakes, scorpions, lizards, ants and their fellow desert dwellers will be dancing in the streets.

OK, so our planet won’t look quite as green as it does now, but it certainly won’t become a lifeless and doomed world. There just won’t be any people around to screw it up any more.
Bob Eley
Campbellford, Ontario, Canada

A thing of great beauty

In an otherwise well-argued piece, critical of the attitude of Unesco, Simon Jenkins is guilty of seriously underestimating the thought that went into not rebuilding Coventry’s medieval cathedral, destroyed by German bombing in the second world war (25 April). It was not, as he casually puts it, an example of “leaving fragments of churches as witness to Britain’s obsession with war”. It was an attempt to both build something of great beauty in a 20th-century way while preserving the remains of the old.

More importantly, it was constructed as a symbol of reconciliation between former enemies. There is, as a matter of fact, a close connection between churches in Berlin, Volgograd and Coventry.

The church in Berlin, incidentally, had been bombed and is a preserved ruin, but has a new church built next to it.
David Townsend
Wellington, New Zealand


• As an avid reader of the Weekly and being particularly fond of that “last page”, I was thoroughly disappointed by Stuart Heritage’s rant about Prince George (25 April). It reminded me of a teenager, voicing his ferocious attitude towards everyone in order to appear cool. Is there really nothing else in today’s world to get annoyed about, other than a baby’s face? Yes, there is extensive coverage of the royal Australia experience but I’d much rather see hundreds more royal family pictures than read another of this cynic’s tirades.
Claudia Looms
Lemsel, Germany

• I enjoyed Oliver Burkeman’s article about the perspective that distance can create (25 April). However, I can’t help but wonder about the implications. Rather than figuratively moving to the other side of the world in order to appreciate our neighbour’s idea, could we not be mindful of the fact that we are biased against their creativity and listen all the more closely to their suggestions? Offering a cup of coffee and 20 minutes of time is much cheaper than return flights to Perth. Still, Western Australia is a great place for a holiday. We have stunning beaches, brilliant weather and a vibrant culture. And that’s from someone for whom it is the closest place in the world.
Edward Tikoft
Perth, Australia

• America’s support for Japan’s attempt to build a radar station on Yonaguni island is a bad omen (Roundup, 25 April). America’s action clearly indicates that the superpower is remilitarising Japan to spite China. The people of Australia, New Zealand and east Asia should be afraid for their futures.
Bill Mathew
Melbourne, Australia

As someone who struggled largely unsuccessfully to learn to write Chinese, I can say that Chineasy (18 April), despite the beautiful artwork, doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t know before – that Chinese characters, like the letters of our alphabet, are derived from pictures.

However, only a few characters in common use are so simple: the average Chinese character is much more complex than those discussed in the article, and its origins are obscure to the average learner. I doubt whether artwork can help there.
Alec Rylands
Mugla, Turkey

• Your recent article (25 April) remarks upon the fact that one seldom, if ever, finds vegetables on menus in France. However, in all markets and supermarkets one sees magnificent vegetables of every kind, and when I stay with my family in France I thoroughly enjoy the high quality and variety. I even saw them growing in abundance when I visited Chateau de Miromesnil, Tourville-sur-Arques in 2012.
Katherine Du Plat-Taylor
Mold, UK

• CIA psychologist James Mitchell poses a lot of questions without answering them (25 April). If rather than “no” (as he expects), the answers are “yes”, then he is condemned through his own lips. As with any group that is not overseen by others outside itself, it may be all too easy for the CIA to believe unquestioningly its own rhetoric.
Adrian Betham
London, UK


We are Ukip members, candidates, spokespersons and representatives of the party’s broad range of supporters from minority ethnic and religious backgrounds. We support Ukip’s core values including its zero-tolerance approach to racism and discrimination, and, its commitment to withdrawal from the European Union.

We are deeply concerned about what appears to be a concerted effort by the media to misrepresent Ukip’s policy on immigration and to portray the party and its members as racist or xenophobic.

We have not faced discrimination within the party and we actively support the party’s practice of taking disciplinary action against any member who behaves in a discriminatory manner. Ukip has dealt rapidly with the small number of cases where such behaviour has taken place and has sent out a strong message that it will not be tolerated.

Ukip believes that immigration should be controlled by the UK government and not the EU. Migrants of all origins should have the right to apply to live and work in the UK and be entitled to equality of treatment secured by a points-based system without positive discrimination for those from EU member states. Ukip has never sought to abolish immigration, encourage repatriation, apportion blame or attack migrants or their families.

Increasingly Ukip members are becoming subject to physical and verbal abuse. Members from minority backgrounds who have faced genuine racist abuse are now abused by our opponents. Many have also suffered the humiliation of being called “Uncle Toms” or apologists for a racist party. This level of abuse is unacceptable in a modern democracy. We call on all those who wish to have a mature debate on immigration to cease perpetuating the falsehood that Ukip is “racist”, its members “xenophobic”. We demand opponents no longer engage in physical or verbal abuse and support Ukip in fighting to rid politics of racism, discrimination and sectarianism.

Steven Woolfe, Economics Spokesman, Amjad Bashir, Small Business Spokesman, Winston McKenzie, Commonwealth Spokesman, Andrew Charalambous, Housing Spokesman, and 46 others

UK Independence Party

One can’t help but smile at the predicament Nigel Farage and his party are in.

Ever since Nick Griffin won a seat in the European Parliament the whole establishment has gone out of its way to promote Ukip as a nicer alternative to the BNP, and how Nigel Farage revelled in his new-found popularity. He, or his party, were never off the BBC, from radio interviews to an unprecedented 12 invitations to Question Time .

His ratings soared, but the price paid is too much for the main three parties now that they too are losing votes to their Ukip project. The political establishment has now turned on him, branding his party racist.

They saw Ukip as a means to deal with the BNP but not as a threat to their own cosy positions. Can’t have him taking votes off Labour, Conservative or the soon-to-be-forgotten Lib Dems! No, sir!

How pathetic but predictable.

Helen Carden, Stockport, Greater Manchester

Richard Grant (letter, 6 May) points out that the UK is the third biggest member of the EU, and if we were seen to be leading the EU everyone would be happy, so why don’t we do it?

Indeed, as the third biggest member we have the third largest number of MEPs within the European Parliament, and qualified majority voting gives us equal weighting in the Council of Ministers with France, Germany and Italy, higher than all remaining member states.

But, given Ukip MEPs’ poor attendance at the European Parliament, and their tendency to vote against everything the EU proposes on principle when they do attend, the more Ukip MEPs we elect, the less influence we will have.

This is presumably more of their not-so-cunning plan to build a case against our membership on the grounds of our supposed inability to resist the power of Brussels.

Francis Kirkham, Crediton, Devon

Economy recovers, but wages falter

Your economics correspondents have drawn attention to how low wages are fuelling a false recovery, where the economy seems to improve but living standards for most people do not.

Increasing use of zero-hours contracts and other tricks which lower the take-home income of ordinary workers means that labour becomes cheaper relative to capital, and there is therefore more incentive to use it as fully as possible. So of course unemployment figures fall, and the number of “real” jobs (properly paid, rewarding skilled full-time work) falls too.

Using the tricks of the trade to lower wages also encourages lower productivity – because the incentive to invest in skills and technology is reduced. This may, of course, not apply in advanced technology manufacturing. But surely it must apply in most sectors of the economy: low wage levels and worsening working conditions are at least  one of the explanations  of the palsied levels  of productivity growth  in the UK.

Chris Farrands, Nottingham

Tories try to scare Scotland

Having worked on the preparation of UK national Budgets for much of my working life, I am irked when I hear the likes of Danny Alexander spouting figures condemning Scotland to financial disaster if it votes for independence. He has no experience of producing these figures, he is simply reading from a script, a mere puppet, while his Tory friends pull the strings.

I once met a Chancellor of the Exchequer who could not work out the PAYE tax for his domestic employees. The reason he didn’t get someone else to do it was that he was ashamed of how little he was paying them.

Amid all the claims and counterclaims, I am sure of one thing: if Scotland votes for independence on 18 September those living north of the Border will not lose out.

John S Jappy, Urray, Highland

Alex Salmond’s assertion that Scotland is a nation of drunks reminds me why I am in the No camp on the question of independence: I don’t want the Scots to leave the union – they’re my best mates.

Julian Self, Milton Keynes

The British in India

The TV review by Will Dean of Dan Snow’s The Birth of Empire: The East India Company (1 May) seethes with contempt of Britain’s past involvement in India.

The Bengal famine of the 1770s was basically a natural event, the sort of thing we still cannot manage very well in our own times. It also led to political intervention to contain the rapacity of the company, echoing current demands in the face of global corporate exploitation.

Whatever the venality of this epoch, in contrast to modern crony capitalists, many operatives had a genuine love of India which led to the rediscovery of its past glories, a renaissance in Indian scholarship and the creation of the India we know today as the world’s greatest democracy.

Dominic Kirkham, Manchester

One way or another, the taxpayer pays

Jeremy Blythe (letter, 6 May) wonders  what will happen when all the money of the “rent generation” has passed into the hands of their landlords, and hence their whole care tab in old age will have to be picked up by the taxpayer.

I in turn wonder just how much of the assets of the present “house-owning generation” is, despite half-hearted regulations, being prematurely passed into the hands of their impatient potential inheritors, so that their care tab has to be picked up by the taxpayer?

Its not only landlords who can make a killing at the taxpayers’ expense.

Alison Sutherland, Kirkwall, Orkney

US drug giant eyes its prey

Sadly, the revelations by Dr John LaMattina, lately of Pfizer, (“Drugs giant takeover could be devastating, warns insider”, 3 May) merely reinforce the simple reality that big corporations can, and do, buy up rivals and close their operations down.

That is destructive of enterprise as measured by innovation and scientific breakthroughs. Any hopes that we might defend AstraZeneca, which some regard as a national asset, were destroyed long ago: in 2002 by the Enterprise Act. Whoever dreamed that name up must have had a sick sense of humour.

Alan Hallsworth, Waterlooville, Hampshire

Sources of Great War satire

I question Guy Keleny’s  assertion that the poets of the Great War were the literary source of Oh, What A Lovely War! (The Big Read, 5 May); the show was actually inspired by the Charles Chilton radio programme The Long, Long Trail, which combined a sober narrative of the events of the war with the songs of the time.

John Dakin, Toddington, Bedfordshire


Sir, I am not surprised at fraud in the care system when the regime is so punitive (“Care home fraud soars among middle classes”, May 5). At 94 I have a broken hip and have been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and need carers to visit me three times a day. As I have savings of more than £23,000, I have to pay fees of £1,200 a month which consumes my RAF pension. If I had not managed my money wisely, full-time care would be free.

I object to paying for care when I have paid taxes all my life and see so many people getting vast sums for housing benefit. Could not carers’ fees be partially set against income tax?

Sqn Ldr JF Hawthorne

Wallington, Surrey

Sir, Years of hard work and financial prudence do not justify old people keeping the value of their estates and not paying for long-term care. This would be to overlook the major contribution of the rise in house prices to the value of such estates. For those aged 85, house-price rises over the past 20 years will probably have led to a larger gain in lifetime wealth than all their hard work.

Peter West

London SW20

Sir, Concerning the various forms of fraud in or by care homes I would be interested to see some justification of the astonishing sum of £200,000 for one year of care, £548 per day. All the same, it is comforting to know that the average price of a house in many parts of the UK will keep an old person who has worked hard all their life in comfort for about a year before becoming a burden on society.

Mike Fone

Calpe, Spain

Sir, The care home fees which the middle classes fraudulently avoid are a drop in the ocean compared with the amount by which continuing care departments and assessors are defrauding patients. Thousands, especially those with dementia, are denied the healthcare funding to which they are entitled. It is clear that since the Coughlan judgment in 1999 not much has changed and clinical commissioning groups and local authorities are still wilfully abusing the system.

In the Coughlan case the Court of Appeal stated that “where the primary need is a health need, then the responsibility is that of the NHS, even when the individual has been placed in a home by a local authority.” It is clear that many commissioning groups are in breach of this law. The Coughlan case and subsequent rules spawned a culture of funding assessors relying on subjective interpretations of the guidelines, until October 2009 and the revised national framework for continuing healthcare and NHS funded nursing care was brought in. It is evident that these guidelines are being wrongfully and unlawfully interpreted across the UK. Some win funding because tenacious relatives fight for it, while others, elderly, vulnerable and without any representation, are being fleeced of their assets irrespective of their medical needs. Many patients are bullied into disclosing financial assets before a continuing care assessment, making an objective assessment impossible.

If everyone who rightfully deserved care funding were to receive it, the NHS would be bankrupt overnight, but to use the middle classes to fill this void by the misrepresentation of medical needs is morally repugnant.

Maria Esposito

Buckland, Surrey

Head of the Rail Delivery Group lays down some facts for the debate about renationalising the railways

Sir, The crucial role the railway plays in Britain’s well-being means it is in all our interests that public debate about the industry is rooted in facts, particularly with a general election next year.

Blaming private train companies for above-inflation increases in the average cost of commuter fares is wrong. Successive governments instructed operators to increase the average price of commuter fares in real terms every year from 2004 to last year. When commuter fares were held down in line with inflation by the government this year, train companies supported that decision.

Equally mistaken is making the case for a public sector bidder for passenger operations by comparing the finances of publicly run East Coast with private sector franchisees. The rail regulator has made clear that differences in costs between franchises are due to many factors and cannot be used to draw conclusions about the financial performance of different operators.

Nor does the private sector siphon off large profits. Operating margins, on average around 3 per cent, are dwarfed by the money generated by train operations that goes back to government to reinvest in services, increasing from £400 million in
1997-98 to £1.7 billion in 2011-12.

Martin Griffiths

Rail Delivery Group

If the PM is worried about airfares he could reduce Air Passenger Duty, the second-highest duty in the world

Sir, David Cameron’s complaint about higher airline prices during school holidays (May 5) raises two points concerning the aviation industry.

First, in the highly competitive UK business any reduction of fares during one period would surely have to be matched by price increases in other periods. Is the prime minister urging airlines to increase their fares at times when many, such as senior citizens, take advantage of discounts? That is a strange policy just before elections.

Secondly, if Mr Cameron is really concerned about high air fares for children, he could reduce the Air Passenger Duty anomaly. While airlines usually offer reduced fares for children, the Treasury refuses a corresponding reduction in APD, the second-highest aviation tax in the world. So APD has a far greater proportional impact on children, and therefore on families, than on adults. How can this be justified?

Barry Humphreys

British Air Transport Association

It is hard to see the long-term benefits for the UK and for medical science in flogging the company off to Pfizer

Sir, What possible benefit is it to the UK to let ownership of AstraZeneca pass abroad to Pfizer, along with its profits and management, to create a giant oligopoly? Surely this is just the sort of investment our pension funds should hold long term. Let us name and shame those who would sell for short-term profit. The UK has sold most of its “silver”, and now it is selling what’s left of the furniture in an overdone belief in free trade. It is high time we, like many countries, put our long-term interests first.

Lord Vinson

House of Lords

Sir, AstraZeneca is in rude health and does not need Pfizer’s attentions, whereas the latter needs AstraZeneca for several reasons, none of benefit to Astra — in fact the treatment of some previous takeover victims should be a warning. The danger is that the outcome may depend not on long-term investors’ and employees’ interests but on short-term gains by arbitrageurs and hedge funds.

Hubert de Castella

London W8

Sir, In the debate over the bid by Pfizer for AstraZeneca, should not the prime consideration be whether such a merger would lead to an advance in medical science for the benefit of mankind? One would think that the fusion of two of the world’s leading drugs companies would have a positive outcome for patients.

Clyde Aylin

Bury, Cambs

The PM’s spokesman during the Northern Ireland peace talks admits that it is messy — but it is progress

Sir, Melanie Phillips (“The peace process can’t deliver true justice”, May 5) says the peace process may have brought some respite from violence but has solved nothing in Northern Ireland. And it is true that this hasn’t been our finest week; the old sores have been on full display again.

Yet, this week has also shown the progress that we have made, because those suspicions are, at least, being debated openly between, as well as within, our two communities. And

That is at the heart of the issue. The civil war has ended and while the peace may not, at times, be very civil at least people realise that because the problem is multi-dimensional it needs a multi-dimensional solution. That may not be the simple victory Melanie Phillips wants, but she should recognise the courage the people of Northern Ireland, Ireland and Britain have shown in accepting different viewpoints and in trying to deal with the consequences of those differences. Yes, it is messy, but it is also progress.

Tom Kelly

(Prime minister’s official spokesman 2001-2007)

Aghadowey, Northern Ireland

A savage London staging of Titus Andronicus is not the first to have audiences fainting in their seats

Sir, Your report of people fainting during Titus Andronicus at the Globe Theatre (May 1) reminded me of the first production of the play at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1955. Directed by Peter Brook it featured Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Maxine Audley and Anthony Quayle. The bloodthirsty scenes were so realistic and the response from the audience so upsetting that the theatre had to employ increased numbers of Red Cross personnel.

Godfrey Chesshire

Balsall Common, W Midlands

Sir, Titus Andronicus has one of my favourite stage directions: “Enter a messenger, with two heads and a hand”.

Tony Phillips

Chalfont St Giles, Bucks

Sir, In Peter Brook’s production in Stratford of Titus Andronicus the role of Lavinia was played by Vivien Leigh. She entered after being ravished, her hands cut off and tongue cut out. In the play she uses a long cane held between her forearms to spell out in the sand the names of her ravishers. One night she dropped the cane. Afterwards Noël Coward went round to her dressing room to pay his compliments. “Butter stumps,” he said.

Tarquin Olivier

London W8


Bird’s eye view: a nesting box fitted with a camera shows blue tits caring for their young  Photo: Carl Morrow / Alamy

6:58AM BST 06 May 2014

Comments71 Comments

SIR – We, too, have a camera in a nest box. In our box, we have six great tits – all yellow beaks agape when the food arrives. The hen bird is a possessive mother, and won’t allow her partner to feed the babies – she takes the food from his beak, and feeds them herself.

With the aid of a tiny camera, it is amazing to sit in comfort and watch the private life of birds.

Eileen Sanders
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

SIR – My wife bought a nesting box with a camera at Christmas.

Over the past few weeks we have watched the blue tit building her nest. On April 23, we spotted four eggs and seven days later, there were 11 eggs. She is now sitting on them, and is being fed by her mate. We are looking forward to them hatching in about two weeks. The nesting box has been a wonderful gift.

SIR – David Cameron resents travel, and holiday, companies putting up their prices in school holidays. Prices respond to supply and demand.

Supply, of aircraft in particular, is fixed on a long-term basis to optimise return on investment. At some times of year, aircraft run less than half full. At other times there are more potential customers than seats. This is modified by changing the prices.

Preventing that price variation would result in fewer aircraft, and the lack of enough flight seats during school holidays.

Kenneth Hynes
London N7

SIR – If a family has three children, ranging from, say, nine to 16, they might attend three different schools – primary, secondary and a sixth-form college.

If head teachers are allowed to stagger holidays, it is possible that the children will not be on holiday at the same time. If parents are not allowed to take them out of school in term time, this means that a family cannot go away together.

How is this going to help parents?

Pauline Streets
Maldon, Essex

SIR – Being a retired teacher, I now revel in being able to go on holiday when I wish.

I sympathise with the Prime Minister over his discovery that prices inflate during school holidays. He sympathises, however, only with parents. What about teachers who not only suffer from higher fares in school holidays, but also have to go on holiday with everyone else?

Christopher Pratt
Dorking, Surrey

SIR – I wonder if Mr Cameron resents shares in companies going up just because lots of people want to buy them?

David Watt
Oakley, Buckinghamshire

Dress code rebellion

SIR – Dr Steven Field laments the fact that his elected MP can still be refused entry to the House of Commons for not wearing a tie. He equates this with a lack of progress.

A now deceased Irish politician, Tony Gregory, was elected to Dáil Éireann in 1982. From the outset, he refused to wear a tie on the grounds that many of his constituents couldn’t afford one.

Since the 2011 general election, a number of newly elected Teachta Dála have taken matters further. These members turn up in T-shirts, casual shirts and jeans. Despite a concerted effort, the relevant committee has proved powerless to enforce what was presumed to be a dress code.

Progress should not be equated with a facile refusal to conform to the dignity of an institution.

Johanna Lowry O’Reilly

Life in the freezeframe

SIR – Recently, we have discussed with friends “freeze framing”. This involves looking back over their life, and choosing the best time.

Would it be as a 20-something-year-old, starting to earn reasonable money, with maybe a sports car, and no responsibility? Or when you were just married, two incomes, but no children. Later, watching a young family grow up, or much later, mortgage paid off, no more work worries, children grown up and grandchildren just visiting?

Age doesn’t appear to define the answer. One friend, in his late seventies, chose the age of 19, another in his mid-forties said he would “freeze-frame” his life at 40.

Paul Rutherford
Alresford, Hampshire

Futile political debates

SIR – I cannot understand why we need a debate between party political leaders prior to the next general election. This is not a republic voting for a president. What matters are policies, not personalities.

Unfortunately we had a debate before the last election, which allegedly was won by Nick Clegg, even though he was the least likely candidate to be prime minister. Subsequently, the Lib Dems have lost a great deal of support in the country. The debate misled people into voting Lib Dem, proving that the on-air discussions were a bad thing for democracy in this country.

Anthony Gould
London W1

Expats stuck abroad

SIR – The expats mentioned in Sarah Rainey’s feature are the lucky ones, as they have a choice of leaving Spain and returning to Britain. There are thousands of others who cannot leave, either because they no longer have a property in Britain or because they are financially unable to get back into the housing market.

Chasing the dream is fine, but keep a toe on the property ladder here.

D J Coode
Denmead, Hampshire

Flowers and grief

SIR – Neville Landau questions the spending of money on flowers after tragedies. It is a way in which ordinary people choose to express their grief, and support those affected by the tragedy. It helps the public, and it is also some comfort to the bereaved.

Yes, it does seem a waste of money and it does create problems concerning eventual disposal. It is, however, very important that there is an outlet for people to show support in a more personal way rather than just anonymously contributing to a fund.

Brian Smith
Dunfermline, Fife

Too many film stars

SIR – Robbie Collin, in his review of Pompeii, refers to it as being the next worst thing “to roasting to death in a pyroclastic surge”, but he still gives it two stars.

What would merit no stars?

Margaret Collins
Farnborough, Hampshire

History shows the detrimental effect of rent caps

SIR – My late father experienced the financial consequences of rent control imposed by a post-war Labour government. Although in a managerial position, his company offered no pension provision; he provided for his own retirement by investing in housing to rent.

The Labour government froze rents during a period of high inflation, when the landlord was responsible for maintaining the property with increasing costs. He was forced to sell properties at substantially reduced values in order to live.

Is Ed Miliband’s proposal to introduce rent controls on buy-to-let homes a case of history repeating itself?

Colin Powell
Ponteland, Northumberland

SIR – Ed Miliband says that there is a cost-of-living crisis, and that we should vote Labour to remedy it. At the last Labour Party Conference, he said that if elected, Labour would freeze energy prices – which caused prices to rise the next day. He has now said that they will prevent landlords increasing rents – which they will, no doubt, pre-empt by raising rents.

He is creating the very cost-of-living crisis that he says he is trying to remedy.

Ian Eyres
Oswestry, Shropshire

SIR – MPs should stop proposing rent controls, which would trigger reduced investment in property, as well as encouraging people to take their properties off the rental market.

The reason we’re in a housing crisis is because we have not built enough homes to cope with the increasing population.

Ed Miliband’s indirect method of trying to rectify Labour’s failure to build sufficient houses is extraordinary.

Dylan Carroll
London SW15

SIR – I was interested to read that the number of new housing estates has jumped by a quarter since planning reforms. There is a plan to build 1,500 dwellings at Kempton Park racecourse. The Kempton Park estate is green-belt land, and the local authority is ahead of its own housing targets. Despite these two crucial factors – which should mean the development would not be approved – the plan is receiving support from local officials and councillors. Why?

Because the scaling back of the revenue support grant from central government, the effective cap on increases in council tax, and the financial incentives from central government for each new house built, mean that local authorities are forced to sell off assets, such as green-belt land, in order to pay for current expenditures.

The new bias in the planning regime merely gives the council a convenient excuse to ignore local opinion.

Alan Doyle
Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey

SIR – Nick Boles, the planning minister, calls for local councils to make individual plots available for “do-it yourself” builders. Not before time.

Years ago, my wife and I bought a plot of land in north Hertfordshire, and built our own home. When I retired, we tried to repeat the exercise, but the bank would not offer us a short-term overdraft even though we had investments to cover any loan.

The problems facing potential DIY builders today are not just the impossibility of finding a building plot with planning consent, especially in the South East, but with funding the project.

Mr Boles should ensure that funding arrangements can be made available for self-builders at the same time as he is persuading local councils to make land available. Maybe the large developers who hold land banks should be made to sell off a few plots to self-builders as a condition of obtaining planning consent.

Robert Sunderland
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

SIR – I share Brian May’s anger over basement development, which is happening in countless London streets.

In our road, three basements are being built simultaneously. This means months of drilling; there are also fewer parking spaces as they are taken up with skips, or bays are blocked off while materials are delivered. Wandsworth council says it can do nothing about it since planning laws allow basements, and they cannot be opposed. It refuses to stagger them.

Soon our annual street party – normally a joyous occasion – will split between basements and non-basements, and there will be a fight.

Mike Griffith
London SW11

SIR – If Britain is so desperate for more houses, why are second-home owners allowed to pay a 50 per cent reduced council tax?

Julie Juniper
Bridport, Dorset

Irish Times:

Sir, – Congratulations to John McManus (Business Opinion, “Blame McCreevy and Harney not regulator for light touch”, May 5th) for bringing some insight and perspective to the Anglo trial debate and the demonisation of former financial regulator Patrick Neary. I would go a little further and suggest that the depth and severity of our current crisis, if not the crisis itself, was in no small way attributable to the political ethos of “unfettered capitalism” which was core to the PD political movement. – Yours, etc,


Grosvenor Place,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – I refer to the Business Opinion piece by John McManus on where the blame for the Anglo-Irish Bank crisis lies. I would like to correct the record.

He tells his readers that the decision to create a new financial regulator had its origins in a report of mine. That is simply not so.

The report of the Implementation Advisory Group on a Single Financial Regulatory Authority, a group which I chaired in late 1998 and early 1999, indicates that its “point of departure” was the prior decision in principle already taken by the government to create a single regulator. The report is still available online.

Months earlier, in July 1998, a report of an All-Party Oireachtas Committee (which numbered among its members three members of today’s Government) had recommended, and the then government had decided, that there should be a new independent financial services authority, an “FSA”.

That all-party committee had criticised the then Central Bank which, “while empowered to regulate banking institutions, has been largely unable to prevent the types of malpractices under current investigation”, referring to the banking sector involvement in widespread tax evasion and systematic overcharging of customers.

The advisory group that I chaired was subsequently established to advise inter alia on the powers and functions of the new single regulatory authority and whether the new regulatory body (to the establishment of which the government was already committed) should be located within the existing Central Bank or as a free-standing separate regulatory authority, a matter on which opinion in the government was then divided.

Nowhere does the report of the group which I chaired discuss, advocate, or even remotely deal with or touch on issues of “light-touch regulation” or “principles-based regulation” or of making the financial regulator “smaller and cheaper” as Mr McManus now suggests. The opposite is the case, as the report makes quite clear.

The advisory group report argued for high standards of regulation, and expressly recommended radically improved new enforcement measures including sanctions such as multimillion fines, personal disqualifications and sanctions, etc, and a statutory tribunal to enforce these standards.

The group’s report also dealt comprehensively with early implementation and with the requisite interim statutory and comprehensive legislative underpinnings.

I never championed “light-touch regulation”, or “unfettered capitalism”, or “free markets” in the context of banking and financial services where bankers were left alone to make as much money as possible as Mr McManus now suggests.

On the contrary, at the time I publicly likened “light touch-regulation” to “light-fingered regulation”, and stated my view that an effective balance had to be struck by Ireland between “heavy-handed” and “light-touch” regulation in the financial service sector.

I have always supported reforming our laws and institutions to ensure that regulation of corporate activity and financial services was effective. Indeed, the report of the Company Law Enforcement and Compliance Group which I also chaired in 1998 and which was, happily, accepted and implemented by government, shows that I was not an advocate of “light-touch” regulation but of effective regulation.

The Implementation Advisory Group’s majority report (of which I was part) concluded that the new financial regulator should be a free-standing body separate from the Central Bank, and the report also contained a dissenting minority view (held by the Central Bank and the Department of Finance representatives) that the new single regulator should instead be located within the Central Bank.

In the end, the government to which I reported rejected the model in the group’s majority report, and instead adopted a compromise “twin-pillar” structure which had featured in a footnote to the report.

I would invite your readers to read the report online to judge for themselves whether it merits the comments made by Mr McManus. – Yours, etc,


Charleston Road,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – While Gerry Adams received support from his sympathisers around the world, from New Zealand trade unionists to Basque separatists, and while twitter raged with retweets of “Tiofaidh ár lá”, the families of the over 3,700 killed in the Troubles relived the politicisation of their loss. Being a victim of the Troubles means being the victim of very public, very complex trauma. Notions of justice, truth, reconciliation are abstract ideas that while they might be desirable for most they are, in the context of a sectarian conflict, likely unachievable.

For the family of Jean McConville, who have already been through a very public and very painful process that culminated in their presence on a desolate beach in the hope of finding their mothers remains, their personal and family history became an open book. For the McConvilles being victims of the Troubles not only meant loosing their mother, it meant loosing their home, being institutionalised, being threatened and a very long struggle with the truth.

However what seems to matter in the very public dissection of the abduction and murder of their mother Jean is some notion of innocence, some idea that she was perhaps in some way complicit in her own demise. In cases such as this the notion of innocence is the holy grail, the loss of an innocent victim being the “most” horrendous of all.

In conflicts between divided societies perceptions of innocence depend on the perpetrator of the attack, the community affiliation of the victim, religion, family history, allegations of disloyalty, media coverage of the death and the form of politicisation applied to the death. This should not be the case – victims of the troubles are just that, the victims. However, they bear the burden of “preventing progress” by seeking truth and justice, notions that are increasingly counterpoised against peace.

Those who have been forced to sacrifice so much cannot be asked to sacrifice again in the name of peace, a peace that was negotiated on the back of those who died. It cannot be “peace at any cost”. – Yours, etc,


School of International


University of St Andrews,


Sir, – How can the Taoiseach state with conviction that there was no political interference in the detention of the Sinn Féin leader? He had it on the authority of the British prime minister. Now, let that be that! – Yours, etc,



Thomastown, Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – A total of 11 EU member states have announced plans to introduce a financial transactions tax.

The Government has failed to opt into this process.

Some 25 leading civil society organisations have joined Claiming Our Future to call for the introduction of a financial transactions tax in Ireland. These include the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Mandate, Impact and Siptu; Trócaire, Christian Aid and Oxfam; Feasta and Cultivate; and the European Anti Poverty Network, the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, Social Justice Ireland, and the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

The 11 member states involved in bringing forward this financial transactions tax include Germany, France, Greece and Spain. The tax would raise 0.1 per cent on trading in bonds and 0.01 per cent on trading in derivatives.

The proposal has been advanced through an “enhanced cooperation procedure”. The Government chose not to opt into this procedure and has played no role in the development of this initiative. It could have raised between €300 million and €500 million for the Irish exchequer.

We are disappointed the Government did not take the opportunity to make the financial services sector contribute to the recovery of Irish society and economy. It is extraordinary that the financial services lobby has been able to persuade the Government to opt out of this tax.

A financial transactions tax would raise much-needed revenue for the exchequer, reduce harmful economic activity by short-term speculators and high-frequency financial traders, and make resources available to invest in public services, address climate change, eliminate poverty and support development aid. – Yours, etc,



Claiming Our Future,

2/3 Parnell Square East,

Sir, – In your leader (May 5th), you refer to me by name as having said that I had “nothing but contempt” for critics of Aosdána. This is not an accurate representation of what I said. I did not aim my contempt at critics of Aosdána in general but at journalists (themselves in a privileged position) who conduct a relentless campaign against it, all based on resentment at the awarding of the cnuas to some of its members.

I also decried the total absence of serious discussion – in the public domain – on the other and more significant aspect of Aosdána, namely its place in the core of Irish cultural life. I urged that such a discussion should happen and is very long overdue. You chose not to report this important point, however. You are apparently speaking from the same “greasy till” mentality as your colleagues in your profession. I take exception to what seems to be a veiled suggestion that I am against freedom of speech.

Of course Aosdána is accountable to the people of Ireland, as also is the profession of journalism.

Finally, please consider the following – the people of Ireland voted in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Alt 1, “chun a saol saíochta a chur ar aghaidh de réir dhúchais is gnás a sinsear”.

The present State’s patronage of the arts through Aosdána puts that demand by the people into effect. – Yours, etc,


Henrietta Street,

Dublin 1.

A chara, – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has my sympathy . If, when asked on RTÉ radio about hell, he had given it a full-welly, fire and brimstone response, he would surely have been hit with a barrage of accusations that he was trying to bully and scare people back into the pews. His more nuanced reply has him all but being called a doctrine denier. Surely a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Presupposing the existence of Hell, an interesting thermodynamic conundrum then is presented, namely whether the conditions therein are exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat).

Based upon the principle of the conservation of energy, does the very high temperature in Hell, or as Milton put it “a fiery deluge, fed/With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed”, depend for its sustenance upon the injection of heat from an external source (endothermic) or does it result from an internal heat source (exothermic)?

This conundrum was considered some years ago by an engineering student who postulated that if the rate at which souls enter Hell is greater than the rate at which Hell is expanding to accommodate them then, in accordance with Boyle’s law, the temperature and pressure will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

Alternatively, if Hell is expanding faster than the rate at which souls are entering, again in conformance with Boyle’s law, the temperature and pressure will fall until Hell freezes over.

No conclusive evidence to support either scenario was forthcoming but, if Milton is to be believed, it has to be accepted that the expansion rate of Hell is exactly balanced by the ingress rate of damned souls for steady-state conditions of temperature and pressure to prevail. – Yours, etc,


Kempton Park,

South Africa.

Sir, – With regard to the question “Do you believe in Hell?”, at least, thank God, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has his doubts, when he believes in only the possibility of Hell. All that Hell and damnation nonsense is what destroyed this country for years. – Yours, etc,




Co Donegal.

Sir, – Further to the article by Joe Humphreys on Richard Kearney (Arts & Ideas, “How Atheists Can Still Believe in God”, May 2nd), I’m so tired of people misunderstanding the very simple concept of atheism.

The key to understanding atheism is to embrace its simplicity.

Theological debates can get so absurdly complicated that people can’t accept that there is this beautiful, fabulously simple approach to accepting what we know and don’t know. It’s called atheism.

It’s like that old sketch, the woman trying to understand the man’s silence on the way home from a party. She reads all kinds of things into his silence, ponders their relationship, worries about their future. When all he’s really doing is thinking about football.

Stop trying to overanalyse atheism! And stop trying to tie it up in knots as some kind of theology, which it isn’t. Read the bloody dictionary.

Atheism is blissfully simple! – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Sir, – I hope that the pen is still mightier than the sword. But, if we must have armed naval vessels then, rather than name them after poets and writers, would it not be more apt to name them after Irish people who worked on the technologies of war? People such as John Philip Holland from Liscannor, who developed the modern submarine; Louis Brennan from Castlebar, who invented the first guided missile; Sir Charles Parsons from Birr, whose turbines powered gunships; or Sir Howard Grubb from Dublin, who invented a submarine periscope and telescopic gunsights. – Yours, etc,


Ingenious Ireland,

Manor Street,

Dublin 7.

A chara, – Is this about naval vessels or navel-gazing? – Is mise,


Ellensborough Drive,

Kiltipper Road,

Dublin 24.

Sir, – I was disappointed, but not surprised, to read the letters from John Kavanagh and Sheila Griffin (May 3rd). They have missed the point. Using a mobile phone, whether hands free or otherwise, whilst driving is a major distraction. A distracted driver is a dangerous driver. Yes, there are many other forms of distractions in cars, as listed by your correspondents, but to drive safely you need to concentrate on your driving. A momentary lack of concentration can kill. You have control of the “Off” switch on your mobile phone, so use it. – Yours, etc,


Knocknacarra Park,

Salthill, Galway.

Sir, – Kieran Fagan’s letter (May 5th) reminds me of the occasion when we encountered an Irish family on a package holiday in Majorca who had brought a 20kg bag of potatoes with them as “the Spanish could not grow a decent spud”. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – The shenanigans within Fianna Fáil around Mary Hanafin running for Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Council will show the voters two things.

First, that nothing has changed in Fianna Fáil.

Second, that the old FF guard is waiting in the wings and the new people were taught everything they know by that old guard. – Yours, etc,


Wilfield Road,


Dublin 4.

Irish Independent:


Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore’s party candidates are hearing of people’s anguish

Published 07 May 2014 02:30 AM

The din created by those who feel they have been short-changed by austerity has become like background noise, we barely hear it. People become desensitised over time, the sting of the lash becomes a little less of a shock, the pain is still there, but you learn to get on with it. Some call it craven, others see it as evidence of stoicism and strength.

Also in this section

What we really want is a joyous Lord – who can also dance

A quiet revolution is occurring in healthcare issues

We must face the music

However, above the usual din, to which we have become accustomed, a different more urgent cry is now being heard.

Many of those who are now losing their discretionary medical cards cannot even shout out in protest, instead we are hearing the despairing voices of their carers. I heard recently of a postman on the minimum wage whose wife is immobilised and who has to have regular expensive hospital treatment. Too bad, is the state response, the medical card has to go.

And then there was the father of a little girl with spina bifida. The child’s medical costs are impossible to predict, but they are certainly considerable. The man has an income of €50,000 a year. Again the statutory reply is, you’re over the limit. The sick child is not entitled to a card.

Children with Down syndrome are also not automatically entitled to a card.

We have prioritised the payment of casino capitalists over the needs of sick children and invalids. As Edmund Burke said, for injustice or evil to thrive it is sufficient that good men do nothing. We see fit to hand over tens of billions to those who knew they were rolling the dice with our fates, and yet we make the most vulnerable and least able pick up the tab for this obscenity.

Apparently, the poor foot soldiers of Fine Gael are beginning to hear the anguish of the suffering as they knock on doors and appeal for votes.

Frankfurt‘s way or Labour’s way? That was one of the many distracting delusions of the last election. Sadly it seems there is another way, the Irish political way. This involves turning a blind eye to the difference between right and wrong.





With regard to the ongoing debate about “God” that is currently evolving in your paper, a writer suggested that man is unique in that he can think rationally. While I understand his contention, it seems somewhat incorrect perhaps.

There is a breed of eagles which eats turtles. How the eagle eats these turtles is fascinating because of the turtle’s shell. The eagle cannot open the turtle’s shell on the ground. How the eagle has overcome this problem displays what I contend is rational thinking. He/she grabs the turtle and brings it for a spin, and once the eagle has reached a certain height it releases the turtle so that its shell smashes on the ground below – dinner served!

So what makes man unique in the animal kingdom? I contend that what makes humans unique is the fact that we have a concept of time. We have a concept of our role within time as a temporary existence. We are conscious of our death. We mark the place where our loved ones are buried after death.

I contend that in order to conceptualise time we need God. Because once one considers the fact that they are going to disappear from the concept of reality that we observe on this planet, namely life, then we uniquely to all other animals must ask the question, why do we have to die?

The only person/entity that can answer this is God. The proof being that no one has answered the ultimate questions: where did we come from and why are we here?

To put it another way, without a “creator” then our existence is merely that of the most tortured of all animals in that we know we are going to die. Without God then there is no concept of community, no concept of purpose etc.





Paddy O’Brien (Letters, Irish Independent, April 30) claims God exists in the mind only and that man, arriving billions of years later than other creation, simply lives and dies like all other forms of life. When Christ decided to come on this earth, he came in the form of man.

Man is the only form of life academic minded enough to adapt to science, medicine, technology, philosophy, psychology, invention and all forms of manual and mental skills. I, too, have an interest in Attenborough, Darwin, Hawkins and all the other naturalists, scientists and technologists. But I also study the Bible, the Word of God, that was good enough to convince over a billion Catholics of God’s existence.

I also exercise God’s greatest gift to man – the power of discernment. If Mr O’Brien practises it, I’m sure it will make him happier and convince him of his superiority over the elephant, the mouse or the spider, despite the fact they may have similar organs, eat, live and die like us.





When you throw a boomerang you better have some clue as to how you are going to catch it. The water charges debacle is a boomerang capable of hurting the Government.

The latest compromises, which incidentally will still result in an annual minimum bill of €240, demonstrate what happens when you start off with a faulty compass, no matter how many different directions you take you are still unlikely to end up in the right place.

The compromise allows exemptions for children, this is right and proper. However, as any parent will tell you, the days of the empty nest are over. Most households have a number of adults living under the roof as grown-up offspring can no longer afford to move out.

This means that those over 18 are going to be hammered and the already hard-pressed mums and dads are going to be doubly so.

So, well done Eamon and Enda, or should that be Laurel and Hardy? One way or another this is certainly another fine mess.





Your coverage of councillors’ expenses is comprehensive except in one important measurement, and that is the amount of time county and city councillors devote to representing their communities.

Councillors are available to their local communities at all times of the day and week and are ready to respond to issues and concerns raised by individuals and groups. From Malin Head to Mizen Head, and in rural, urban and suburban settings, councillors provide an essential and accessible link between their communities and the local government system.

Later this month the people of Ireland will go to the polls to elect their council representatives for the 24th time since the first elections for democratic county and city councils in 1899.

By all means scrutinise public spending, but such scrutiny needs to be balanced by the less measurable but no less real input of elected members in serving their localities.





Good to know Fianna Fail have not lost the art of shooting themselves in the foot. Three times Micheal asked, three times Mary declined. But will it be Mary or Micheal standing when the smoke clears?



Irish Independent

Hospital again

May 6, 2014

6May2014 Hospital Again

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate Mr Lamb feels Dynamic Priceless

Go and visit Mary sell two books tidy up

Scrabbletoday, I win not by much even though perhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


  1. s

Howard Nicholson – obituary

Dr Howard Nicholson was an expert on tuberculosis who brought an old-school dedication to his patients to the new world of the NHS

Howard Nicholson

5:38PM BST 05 May 2014


Dr Howard Nicholson, , who has died aged 102, was an expert on chest diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia; his medical career began in the 1930s and spanned the introduction of the National Health Service and the antibiotic revolution.

A superb physician, Nicholson combined an old-style dedication to his patients with a willingness to adapt to the new world of the NHS after its introduction in 1948. He always kept up to date with the medical literature and expected his junior staff to do the same. He continued to read the British Medical Journal every week when he was over 100 years old.

Nicholson qualified as a doctor in 1935, a time when tuberculosis was extremely common and often lethal. Until the introduction of combination anti-bacterial medication in 1952, advances had been made through the development of surgical procedures that were as terrifying for the patient as they were heroic for the professionals involved.

For example, it had long been noted that some patients with tuberculosis went into remission if they suffered a collapsed lung (spontaneous pneumothorax). From the 1930s, as anaesthetic techniques improved, surgeons developed a variety of “collapse therapies” involving the artificial deflation of the lung — a procedure endured most famously by the writer George Orwell in 1947, when he was writing Nineteen Eighty-Four.

“[The] treatment they are giving me is to put the left lung out of action, apparently for about six months, which is supposed to give it a better chance to heal,” Orwell wrote, matter-of-factly. “They first crushed the phrenic nerve, which I gather is what makes the lung expand and contract, and then pumped air into (actually under) the diaphragm, which I understand is to push the lung into a different position.” Some critics believe that the therapy so stoically endured by Orwell may have influenced the depiction of the tortures of Winston Smith in the Ministry of Love.

Such procedures worked best when physicians collaborated closely with their surgical counterparts. At University College Hospital, London, where he was appointed consultant chest physician in 1948 and where, among other duties, he supervised an Artificial Pneumothorax clinic, Nicholson was one of the pioneers of what has come to be known as the “multidisciplinary” approach, involving regular meetings with surgeons, nurses and other health professionals to draw up “management plans” for each patient. The “multidisciplinary” approach to health care is now promoted as the gold standard for NHS hospital care. In this as in other things, Nicholson was well in advance of his time.

In 1949, when Orwell suffered a relapse of his tuberculosis under the strain of revising and completing Nineteen Eighty-Four, he was admitted to UCH under the care of Andrew Morland, Nicholson’s senior consultant, who had once attended to DH Lawrence. Morland professed vague optimism, although Nicholson later recalled: “When I first saw [Orwell], I had no serious doubt that he was dying.” Early on the morning of January 21 1950, an artery burst in Orwell’s lungs, killing him at the age of 46.

Nicholson wrote numerous papers on pneumonia and tuberculosis and, with his colleague Clifford Hoyle, published one of the first papers on combination anti-bacterial therapy for tuberculosis at a time when the Medical Research Council was undertaking its long-term controlled trials.

But he lived long enough to witness the treatment of tuberculosis threatening to come full circle as the global emergence and spread of multidrug-resistant strains of the disease has led at least some specialists to re-examine surgical solutions.

An only child, Howard Nicholson was born in Newcastle on February 1 1912. His father was killed in the First World War when Howard was four years old, and he was brought up by his mother (a schoolteacher) and his grandmother.

Howard was educated almost entirely on scholarships and at the age of 17 won a place at University College London to read Medicine. He qualified as a doctor in 1935 and held junior training posts there and at King Edward VII hospital, Midhurst.

During the Second World War he served in the RAMC, mostly in the Middle East, as physician to a chest surgical team headed by his lifelong friend and colleague Andrew Logan, whose multidisciplinary approach would inspire Nicholson’s own commitment. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and, after demob, was appointed registrar and then chief assistant at the Brompton Hospital.

Nicholson moved to a consultant’s post at UCH in 1948 to which, four years later, he added another at the Royal Brompton, where he continued his close collaboration with his surgical counterparts through weekly meetings with Sir Clement Price Thomas.

Nicholson was much sought after to write chapters on chest diseases in general textbooks; Dame Margaret Turner-Warwick, who worked as his registrar, has recalled that “he simply started at the left hand top corner and wrote fluently until he reached the bottom right”. No re-editing was required.

Nicholson was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1949 and was invited to give the Goulstonian Lecture (awarded to one of the youngest four fellows each year) the following year.

A brilliant teacher, Nicholson took great care of his junior staff, and his registrars were often invited to join him on his regular visits to patients who had been discharged from hospital to sanatoria in order to learn the importance of continuity of patient care.

In 1941 Nicolson married Winsome Piercy, who died in 2001. There were no children.

Dr Howard Nicholson, born February 1 1912, died February 11 2014


Guardian style, and indeed the modern way, is to use gender-neutral nouns where previously we would not have done, and so, for example, to refer to people we would once have called actresses as actors. So should you still use a gender-specific term to describe a recently bereaved spouse, as in “Peaches Geldof’s widower ‘not suspected of involvement in death'” (Report, 2 May)? And what will happen when one half of a gay or lesbian married couple dies?
Simon Coward
Dudley, West Midlands

• You mention that Baroness Trumpington (Digested read, G2, 5 May) was once mayor of Cambridge. While a junior agriculture minister under Margaret Thatcher she was taken on an official visit to a stud farm where her party encountered a stallion in a state of obvious and advanced excitement. She calmed her blushing officials by remarking: “Don’t worry – it obviously remembers that I used to be a mayor.”
Alex Kirby
Lewes, East Sussex

• I sympathise with Maddy Paxman and her son (Letters, 3 May). I too lost a parent as a teenager. But my O-level English studies included graphic depictions of murder, betrayal and anti-semitism (Shakespeare), brutal racism (To Kill a Mockingbird) and the horrors of chemical warfare (Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est). At the time, I found them deeply disturbing, but I’m thankful that I was exposed to them.
Dr David Harper

Paul Brazier (Letters, 3 May) may like to know that stage productions from London – including those by ENO – are shown live in cinemas around the country, in towns including Wotton-under-Edge. The experience may be different to seeing the events on stage, but it does mean the days of their being confined to the capital are over.
Gareth Negus
Electric Picture House Cinema, Wotton-under-Edge, Wiltshire

• My Uncle Bertie, who could neither play the bagpipes nor jump out of his hip bath to relieve himself (Letters, 3 May), said to be born a gentleman is an accident but to die a gentleman is an achievement.
John Fairclough Brown
Coalville, Leicestershire

• Y, oh Y, has no one yet mentioned Y, in Picardy (Letters, 5 May)?
Terence Hall

David Blunkett (Our plan for better schools, 30 April) is to be warmly congratulated on his policy suggestions for Labour to adopt. He is clearly right to propose that all schools should enjoy the “freedoms” associated with the academy programme and also that ways, now missing, must be put in place for sorting out problems that arise at all schools performing poorly.

Many other important issues are considered in his report. The first is that the academy programme is being financially mismanaged. Schools are being expensively built where there is no shortage of school places rather than where places are needed, and large sums of taxpayers’ money are routinely being paid to finance pupils who do not actually exist.

A second and crucial point is that, as David Wolfe QC brilliantly analyses in appendix III, academies are now at the end of thousands of differently framed contracts, entered into at different times for different purposes. The complexities would be impossible to manage efficiently even by more competent government ministers than the present ones.

That leads to a final point. It should surely now be evident to academy sponsors that a terminable contract with a government minister is an exceedingly dangerous thing for any institution to have to depend upon. Contracts are also unnecessary. Can anyone point to one important benefit enjoyed by an academy that can only be secured by a contract with a government minister?
Peter Newsam
Thornton Dale, North Yorkshire

•  It would help if David Blunkett would define what he means by “standards” that are to be “driven up” by “directors of school standards”, otherwise his report is just the usual waffle from politicians which has about as much meaning as the debates between the Big- and Little-Endians in Gulliver’s Travels. Are those standards to relate to outcomes – inquisitive, creative, critical school-leavers, for example? Or to the school environment – clean, dry, safe buildings? Or to exam passes – more GCSEs and A-levels at higher grades? Or to relationships in school – democratic, respectful, collegiate? Or to inputs – qualified teachers, playing fields, up-to-date labs? Or after-school clubs – theatre, chess, debates? It really would help if we knew what he (and most other politicians seeking to impress with their grip in education) was talking about.
Roy Boffy

•  Blunkett’s proposals won’t rub out all of Gove’s reforms but will at least introduce a sensible element of sub-regional oversight into a fragmented “system” where lines of accountability are blurred, where inequities prevail and where planning is problematic (Report, 30 April. They represent a marked change from the highly centralised, professionally demoralising diktats that characterised Blunkett’s earlier tenure as secretary of state. Perhaps in education, as in the economy, Labour has learnt from some of its past mistakes? But the devil will be in the detail, especially in the way 40-80 local directors of school standards interpret their brief, including their possibly vexed relationships with local education authorities and academy chains. And with such a large number, perhaps some (a half?) might also be women – unlike the current tranche of all-male regional commissioners.
Professor Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria

• Simon Jenkins’ article (Schools are held hostage by politicians’ control-freakery, 2 May) was an excellent analysis of Michael Gove‘s ridiculous activities and what led up to them. However, it went too far in identifying what Labour did in power, and now proposes, with Gove’s policies. The motivation for Labour’s limited number of academies was noble – to provide good schools where it felt local authorities could not do so. Its analysis was wrong (in the main the LEAs were not to blame) and the solution was self-defeating (sidelining the LEA and bringing in wealthy sponsors and famous governors). This is very different from the ideologically driven creation of many hundreds of free-flying institutions that Whitehall cannot hope, at reasonable cost, to ensure provide efficient and effective education.

Further, Mr Jenkins failed to note the number of financial management scandals arising in the new free schools, academies and their chains. The Department for Education has insisted that these schools are subject to more rigorous controls than those maintained by local authorities. If so, why is there misuse of public money in them to such an extent? Why hasn’t Mr Gove strengthened controls on local authority schools? Could it be that Mr Gove’s policies are encouraging people into running schools whose motivation is more about the acquisition of wealth than the education of children?
Graham Dunn
Formerly director of education standards and inclusion, Lancashire county council

•  In April Ed Miliband gave much succour to Labour supporters when he proclaimed “a new deal for England, the biggest devolution to cities in 100 years, a radical decentralisation of control with decisions to be taken by strong local leaders” (Comment, 9 April). Less than a month later we read that Tristram Hunt and David Blunkett (yesterday’s man) want to replace the Gove academies and free schools controlled from Whitehall with “independent directors of school standards”, with no local representation. Is there any joined-up policy making inside the party?
Neil Holmes
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

•  Simon Jenkins is right, the Hunt/Blunkett plan is not good enough. It won’t halt, let alone reverse the fragmentation, centralisation and lack of democratic accountability that is so damaging our education system

Elected local authorities offer the common sense route to a fairer and less turbulent approach to planning places, distributing funds to schools and overseeing admissions. Labour should be saying how it will re-empower those councils and consulting about how to ensure that their relationship with individual schools has the right balance between uniformity and autonomy.

Alongside this, Ed Milliband should announce that the 650 primary academies will be immediately returned to the local “family” of schools and say how Labour will prevent, by the end of one parliament, local authorities like mine short-sightedly disadvantaging three-quarters of its young people at 11 by pernicious selection. Then, it would not “look suspiciously as if government and opposition have been in cahoots” – voters would have a choice!
Richard Stainton
Whitstable, Kent

• Well said, Simon Jenkins. You are absolutely correct in saying “Schools are held hostage by politicians’ control-freakery”.

Kenneth Baker in 1988 started it and his 11 successors in office have steadily increased Whitehall’s pressure on schools. As Jenkins says, why create new authoritarian structures to boost school standards across the country, when local education authorities already exist. But even in their heyday, local bodies played a minor role in “raising standards”: successes were achieved by the schools themselves, albeit often supported by local authority inspectors/advisers.

Politicians need to realise that good schools grow from the inside – by the combined efforts of teachers, pupils, parents and local community – not by bullying from the outside. Jenkins is right that it is the calibre of headteachers, hardly that of governing bodies, that boosts success. He might have added that it is also the professionalism, training and commitment of teachers. Last year Ofsted reported that 79% of schools were judged to be “good or outstanding”. School by school, this is the result of the adults and youngsters within each school working hard: neither Ofsted nor Michael Gove should claim the credit.
Professor Michael Bassey
Newark, Nottinghamshire

•  David Blunkett says “the commissioning of new schools [will be] rooted in the needs of the local community”. But the discussion does not take any account of the need for adult education, which, not long ago, provided a rich and important heritage of second-chance learning, now I suspect, largely lost. Will newly commissioned schools make provision for adults in the evening? Can school holidays provide opportunities for short courses for adults – as well as summer schools for young people? Can schools become centres for “community learning”? The UK’s past experience of adult education provides rich evidence to reject the significance of “critical periods” for acquiring skills, knowledge and understanding. Whatever happened to “lifelong learning”?
David Browning

•  Simon Jenkins claims “Whitehall schools” are always more expensive than their council-run equivalents. Yet academies are funded on the same per pupil basis as their council-run equivalents and construction costs for free schools are on average less than council-run schools built under the previous government.

He is also wrong to state that free schools “admit anyone, teach anything and make money at public expense”. Only the best free school applications are approved, they must follow a broad and balanced curriculum, and they cannot make any profit. Free schools are also bound by the same admissions code as council-run schools.

And it is scaremongering to say free schools will lead to “sectarian and social divisiveness still experienced in Ulster”. I invite him to visit the London Academy of Excellence, which is helping pupils in one of London’s poorest boroughs into Oxbridge, or the Dixons Trinity academy where education is being transformed for minority communities in Bradford.

He goes on to laud the “tried and tested model” of school oversight provided by local authorities – yet this is the same model that has presided over so many failing schools for years and done nothing to raise standards. There are currently 40 council-run schools that have been in special measures for at least 18 months.

It is only thanks to our intervention through the sponsored academies programme that more than 800 schools that were failing under council control are now receiving the support they desperately need. And we are seeing sponsored academies improving at a faster rate than local authority schools.True localism puts power in the hands of teachers who know the children’s names – not electioneering politicians and bureaucracies, whether local or national.

We make no apologies for pushing ahead with reforms – like the academies programme – which are already delivering huge improvements, including a drop of a quarter of a million pupils taught in failing secondary schools since 2010.
Lord Nash
Schools minister

How can you defend your decision to publish Chris Huhne’s self-serving account (The crooked judge and I, 5 May) of how, in his view, Constance Briscoe and Vicky Price attempted to “destroy his political career”? It was bad enough when you gave the ex-jailbird a regular column to express his views on any political and economic issue he felt drawn to expound upon, but for you to stray into the tabloid territory of self-confessionals and character assassinations (deserved or not) is shameful and unforgiveable. You have allowed Huhne to launch a vindictive and self-righteous attack on two women who are already paying (or have paid) the price for their misdeeds. It shocked me to see this published in my favourite newspaper (and I am sure I am not alone in this). What fee did he receive for his labours?
Gillian Dalley

• Chris Huhne claims that “once the judge ruled that there was still a case to answer against me, I decided to plead guilty”. In fact, when Mr Justice Sweeney refused his application to dismiss the charge and to stay the indictment as an abuse of process on 27 January 2013, Huhne pleaded not guilty. He only changed his plea to guilty on re-arraignment a week later. Whatever reasons he had for changing his mind, it seems clear he contemplated a contested trial until the last moment. Nor is it credible to suggest he never had any intention of misleading the court. The judge observed in his sentencing remarks that Huhne had endeavoured to manipulate its process. Far from being a conspiracy of lawyers against the public, the legal system in these cases has brought three offenders to justice and vindicated the rule of law.
Richard Howell
Wadham College, Oxford

• Lawks-a-mercy! Chris Huhne using his column to blame others for his prison sentence, whilst admitting his guilt. Whatever next? Please find him a psychotherapist and Guardian readers a more emotionally mature ex-con.
Anna Ford
Brentford, Middlesex

Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren in The Duchess of Malfi at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre in 1981. Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

An indication of Bob Hoskins‘ humanity and confidence as a stage actor (Report, 30 April) was shown during a performance of The Duchess of Malfi I saw at the Roundhouse in London. A woman in the audience had an epileptic seizure, and Bob Hoskins calmly suggested the action of play be stopped while she was given medical assistance. When she had been removed, he returned in character straight back to the action of the stage, which had reached a very violent point in the play, as if nothing had happened. What an actor he was and he will be sorely missed.
Anita Gray

• RIP Bob Hoskins. Best remembered for the beautifully crafted BBC television series On the Move, with Donald Gee, in the late 70s. Fifty 10-minute episodes that focused, sympathetically and with subtle humour, on coping with aspects of illiteracy.
Harry Chalton


In considering the spectacular inability of this government to tackle the obscene housing/rental costs in this country, I wonder if David Cameron and his colleagues have considered what will happen in a few years’ time when the “rent generation” need to fund their own old-age care.

Since all of their money will have passed into the hands of their landlords and other “fat cats” and they will have had no chance to buy property or save because all their money has gone in extortionate rent payments, presumably they will have nothing left to contribute to their old-age care. Hence their whole care tab will have to be picked up by the taxpayer.

I wonder if this has been factored into the Government’s calculations when considering the burden on future generations. Do they know? Do they care?

Jeremy Blythe, Burrington, North Somerset

When will politicians stop proposing “rental controls” which do the opposite of what they intend by triggering reduced investment in property and encouraging people to take their properties off the rental market?

It’s about time someone either in opposition or in power actually stood up, faced the music, and admitted that the reason we’re in a housing crisis is that we have not built enough homes to cope with the increasing population. We must start going down the direct route to solve this – by actually building more affordable properties.

Dylan Carroll, London SW15

I am a 71-year-old whose private pension pot was decimated by the daylight robbery that Ed Miliband helped Gordon Brown to achieve.

Now Mr Miliband has a plan to pick the only pocket that some of us have left by way of income from rental investments on a small scale. Give me a break,  will you?

Anthony Barnes, Keston, Kent

Sex, power and Islamic extremism

A school in Birmingham, allegedly influenced by extreme Salafist or Wahhabi theology, is under investigation, reported to have taught that men are superior to women, that wives have a duty to “obey” husbands and that they may not refuse sex. At the same time, the Government calls on women living in households influenced by exactly this sort of extreme ideology to speak out if their men are thinking of travelling abroad to fight. It must realise they have little power to do so.

The potential for control of women’s labour, sexuality and fertility is probably one of the most potent recruitment tools for male Muslim extremists – as indeed it is in some fundamentalist Christian sects. The best way to counter such extremism is to empower and educate women and girls, advising them of their rights, providing the tools they need to control their own lives, and refuge and protection if they or their children need it.

A national helpline able to offer practical advice to women and children would be a good place to start.

Jean Calder, Brighton

In his book review “The visionary’s burden” (3 May), Marcus Tanner asks “why the Arab-Muslim world is so resistant to the argument for atheism”. It should surely be common knowledge that overt declarations of atheism are tantamount to apostasy and constitute a capital offence under shari’a law. Indeed, so serious is this potential threat to the continuance of the religion that the renowned Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi pronounced last year that Islam would be nothing without the law on apostasy.

Russell Webb, Ringwood Hampshire

Zero hours a boon to the disabled

The increasing call for ending zero-hours contracts is too simplistic. They are a form of employment that is callously misused by some commercial employers, and this certainly needs addressing, but it is also the way that enables thousands of individual disabled people to employ their own personal carers.

People in this position, especially if the employment is funded by severely restricted personal budgets, have to manage their care so that it’s available only when needed. Disability can’t be scheduled like a factory work-rota. Sometimes more help is needed, sometimes less. Sometimes the type of help and helper need to change, often at short notice. Disabled people on tight budgets get very good at managing their support to meet these fluctuating requirements, but they need the flexibility of zero-hours contracts to do it.

This often suits the workers too. In practice many of the helpers employed in these circumstances are not career carers seeking job security and fixed income, but people whose own lives mean they prefer doing caring shifts by mutual flexible arrangement.

So if zero-hours contracts are scrapped because of their misuse by profiteers, a new and different employment model will be needed to give the flexibility that is essential for individual disabled people and convenient for many of the helpers they employ.

Ray Chandler, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex

TB in a world with no antibiotics

The World Health Organisation’s stark warning about the risks of a post-antibiotic era comes as no surprise to people working in tuberculosis. We have long warned that we might soon need to reopen TB sanatoria and would have to pin our hopes on fresh air and relaxation as the only way to help people recover from the disease.

The way forward has to involve governments, scientists, prescribers and patients. Until recent years, investment in tuberculosis research and development all but stopped, as there was a mistaken belief that the disease was on the path to eradication in the pharmaceutical industry’s prime western markets. Hopefully new research now under way will bear fruit, and we will have a new and much more effective vaccine before BCG marks its 100th anniversary in the 2020s.

For prescribers, the issue goes way beyond GPs seeking to shepherd prescription-hungry patients out of the surgery in eight minutes. In India last week I saw a village “doctor”, with the most rudimentary training, prescribe five doses of antibiotics for a chest infection, telling his patient to buy just three from the pharmacist and only go back for the other two if she didn’t feel better. And patients need support when the treatment is especially challenging, as with the six-month course of drugs for TB.

Envisaging the risks facing us is easy. Just Google photos of sanatoria and see the way our grandparents were treated for TB, and how our grandchildren might be too if we do not take urgent global action.

Mike Mandelbaum, Chief Executive, TB Alert, Brighton

British death tolls in two world wars

In Guy Keleny’s excellent article on the First World War (5 May) I would take but one issue. The reason that the butcher’s bill for Britain was lower in the Second World War than in the First wasn’t because of the mechanisation solution. Rather it was, as John Terraine pointed out years ago, because Britain wasn’t facing the “main body of the enemy”. The Soviet Union certainly was, and suffered accordingly.

Mark Thomas, Histon, Cambridgeshire

The actress Joan Greenwood had a long and illustrious career, but this did not extend to devising and producing “Oh What A Lovely War!”, which she left to her semi-namesake Joan Littlewood.

David Bebbington, Broadstairs, Kent

Pisa university’s shady garden

In your travel guide to Pisa (3 May), it is disappointing that you have made no mention of the Botanic Garden (Orto Botanico).

It is the oldest botanic garden in Europe, founded in 1543, and has a splendid collection of rare and exotic plants. It is part of the Department of Biological Sciences at Pisa University, engaging in research on biodiversity, among other topics.

It includes a collection of large, shady palm trees, which are very welcome in the heat of a Tuscan summer.

Dr Jane Susanna Ennis, London NW6

Yes, let’s take control – of the EU

Nigel Farage keeps on saying, “Let’s take back control of our country”.

I say, we are the third largest member country of the EU. If the headlines were, “British lead European Union”, everyone would be happy. So, let’s do it.

Richard Grant, Burley, Hampshire

Uninviting undergarments

Spanx undergarments not only have an inappropriate name, but are ugly and uncomfortable (because very tight) garments (“ ‘She had Spanx on’: why the CPS dropped rape case”, 2 May). How in heaven’s name could anyone think wearing them is in any way provocative?

Sara Neill, Tunbridge Wells, Kent


Many voters feel that backing Ukip is the only guaranteed way of leaving the EU

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Last updated at 4:20PM, May 5 2014

Matthew Parris’s article about the Tories needing to stand up to Nigel Farage touched a raw nerve

Sir, Matthew Parris is right to discern Ukip’s “sly nastiness” (“Fight Ukip. Fight their lies. Fight them now”, May 3). It is a politics spreading across the Continent too.

He is wrong to suppose that the Conservative leadership has not been fighting Ukip for years, and the Referendum Party before. I served on every Conservative European election strategy committee since John Major until 2009. I sat on the Shadow Cabinet when EU matters were discussed while I was leader of the Conservative MEPs, 1997-2001. As a pro-European I tried to oppose the party’s moving to Euroscepticism — from being an internationalist party “at the heart of Europe” under Major, it now organises for exit.

The final straw for me came after the 2009 election: the true nature of the new European parliamentary group Cameron had formed. It was an alliance with, as Nick Clegg memorably described them, “a bunch of homophobes, antisemites and climate-change deniers” from East/Central Europe. I could not sit with them and joined the Liberal Democrats.

Matthew Parris might have recognised that Nick Clegg has challenged Nigel Farage. The problem is that so many in the Conservative Party do not agree with Nick: they agree with Nigel.

Edward McMillan-Scott, MEP

Vice-president, European Parliament

Sir, Matthew Parris claims that Ukip is just “an unpleasant mutiny within the Conservative Party.” David Cameron must wish it were that simple. This view is based on no contact with the electorate, and that’s the flaw. Parris should take his own advice to Conservative candidates and go out canvassing. He’d quickly find out that Ukip is a political party in its own right and one with considerable support. Ukip caught political commentators, the Conservatives and Labour strategists napping. Time will tell, but voters seem to be able to differentiate Ukip from the established parties, especially the Conservatives.

John Hesketh


Sir, Given that a number of us believe we must leave the EU and that we do not believe any politician currently in power has the will or the ability to achieve an exit, whatever “promises” they make about a referendum, what option do we have but to encourage and support Ukip?

Michael Plumbe

Hastings, E Sussex

Sir, Tim Montgomerie omits a major reason for voting for Ukip (“Ukip voters aren’t racist. They’re in despair”, May 1). Many are concerned that the EU is not a democratic organisation but rather a massively expensive bureaucracy that is fomenting a backlash of extremist views both here and in Europe. Voting for Ukip is the only way I can goad the next government of whatever colour into allowing me the right to vote to leave what I perceive as federalism by the back door. I strongly believe we would be better out of the EU and that our exit will encourage others to do the same.

The rise of the French National Front does not reflect a rise in the level of antisemitism in France but a wish to return to home rule. We are not alone in wanting out.

Marian Latchman

Romsey, Hants

Sir, Thanks to Matthew Parris as the voice of reason.

John Gribbin

Piddinghoe, E Sussex

Russia is looking at Ukraine today, but where tomorrow?

Sir, President Putin, a man with his finger on nuclear weapons, chose to confront the Ukrainian people with force; indirect and direct. However, it is not just the Ukraine that he is threatening but the European Union, Nato and much of the free world. Sadly his confrontations stem from his abysmal lack of understanding of the world outside Russia — a danger too often the problem of Russian leaders since Peter the Great. And, as with all who stay too long in leadership, he is becoming more dangerous, and more isolated, by the day.

This was evident at the Sochi Olympic ceremonies, where Putin’s face showed his fury and humiliation at the deliberate absence of many world leaders in protest at his failings on human rights within Russia. The dangerous solution he has created for himself — the creation of a personal power base, one which rules Russia — is not equipped to give him the sage advice he needs, however. His decreasing inner circle of confidantes now numbers only four; Ivanov, Patruchev, Bortnikov and Fradkov, three of whom are from St Petersburg, like Putin. None has political experience outside Russia other than of espionage, for which all have well-recorded histories. At the instant command of this quintet, though, is an impatient, modernised army with no foreign threats other than those contrived by Putin.

Ukraine today. Where tomorrow?

Sir Kenneth Warren

Cranbrook, Kent

A rather simplistic argument about the rise in house prices

Sir, Without disputing the need for more housebuilding, Julia Unwin’s analysis that it was the collapse of state housebuilding which caused the increase in house prices seems rather simplistic (“The state stopped building and prices soared”, May 2). The accompanying graph shows a large number of houses being built by local authorities at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, and yet prices — at least in London — tripled between 1970 and 1973.

Anthony Preiskel

London NW11

Are awkward parking fees simply intended to encourage us all to pay by card instead of coins?

Sir, Linda Zeff (letter, May 2) wonders if awkward parking fees are to encourage us to pay by card instead of coins. Last week in Wembley I tried to pay for my parking by phone. I inadvertently texted my location and duration to the wrong recipient and had a text confirmation stating that I had been charged $720.25. When I phoned up to query this, I was told I had paid for several weeks’ parking at an airport in Canada. Luckily, they promised me a refund.

Rachel Freedman

London NW3

Thanks to the fishmonger, I got an A in biology

Sir, Unlike Sir David Attenborough (“Cunning Attenborough cheated in biology exam”, May 3), I had no need to resort to subterfuge before my A-level biology exam in the 1970s. When I went to the fishmonger the day before to get a mackerel to practise on, I was told: “Sorry love, the school’s bought them all for an exam tomorrow.” So off I went to a fishmonger farther afield. I got an A.

Philippa Hutchinson

London NW6

President’s image may have been due to insidious onset of Alzheimer’s

Sir, President Reagan’s bumbling image may have been due to Alzheimer’s, which usually has an insidious onset (report, May 1). His reasoning skill might have been impaired when he commented on apartheid during Margaret Thatcher’s visit to the US in 1981. According to Charles Moore’s biography of Thatcher, after one remark by Reagan she pointed at her head and commented to Lord Carrington: “Peter, there’s nothing there”. It is difficult to reconcile such a persona with Reagan during his acting years, when he used to read tomes on economics by von Mises and Hayek during breaks from film shooting.

Sam Banik

London N10


SIR – During the Care Quality Commission’s investigation of abortion services (“No doctor should be immune from the law,” Leading article, May 2) there was no suggestion that patients had come to harm.

However, it did become clear that there was a widespread practice whereby doctors pre-signed abortion forms. While this had become common, as clinical practice itself had changed since the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act, it was against the law and in our view was unacceptable.

The Crown Prosecution Service looked at two of these cases, but decided that a prosecution was not in the public interest. We do act where doctors are convicted – but in these cases there were no prosecutions, let alone convictions.

The main issue for us, therefore, was how to bring this unlawful and unacceptable practice to an end. We demanded and obtained assurances from all the doctors identified in the inspections that they would no longer pre-sign these forms. We also made it clear that there would be severe consequences if doctors ignored our guidance.

Since that investigation, inspections by the Care Quality Commission have found that the practice has now stopped.

It is important not to confuse the pre-signing of abortion forms with separate cases where it is alleged that abortions were sanctioned on the basis of the gender of the foetus. We are investigating two such cases and have barred these doctors from any involvement with abortion while our inquiries are continuing.

This is a controversial aspect of medical practice and much has changed since the current law was passed. Dealing with that must be for Parliament and society.

We are working with the Department of Health on further guidance on doctors’ responsibilities under the Abortion Act – we hope this will provide doctors and patients with information about what constitutes good practice in this area.

Niall Dickson
Chief Executive, General Medical Council
London NW1

Promises, promises

SIR – In deciding whether or not to allow the takeover of AstraZeneca by Pfizer, let us not forget the promises made by Kraft (about Cadbury’s future).

Robert Ford
Retford, Nottinghamshire

Cost of coffee

SIR – I spent my entire working life as a coffee merchant. I can aver that there is little that passes as real quality in any of the coffee shops that abound in our high streets, but I think most coffee chains would take offence at the suggestion that they only sell robusta. With quality arabica coffees costing around £1.75 a kilo raw, and yield as high as 200 cups per kilo, it is difficult to make a cup of coffee cost more than 2.5p.

Duncan Rayner
Sunningdale, Berkshire

Hard to swallow

SIR – Julian Todd’s letter(May 1) on the instruction label warning against eating cricket trousers reminded me of a pair of cowboy boots I bought recently, in Texas, which carried the health warning: “This produce contains chemicals that are known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm”.

Do some people (in California) eat their boots?

Felicity Griffiths
Cobham, Surrey

Badly cut role

SIR – The report of people fainting at Titus Andronicus (April 30) brought back memories of the RSC production in 1973.

I was working in my first medical job at University College Hospital, looking after some patients with leukaemia, at a time when treatments were dangerous and often ineffective. To cheer me up, my best friend from school suggested an evening at the theatre. “It’s Titus Andronicus, one of Shakespeare’s less frequently performed plays,” he announced brightly. “And it stars Judy Geeson.” That caught my attention.

Unfortunately, the beautiful Judy Geeson, as Lavinia, had her tongue and arms cut off. After watching her crawling around gurgling for the rest of the night, I returned to work next day knowing that however great my patients’ suffering, it couldn’t be as bad as the previous evening’s.

Dr Andrew A McLeod
Bournemouth, Dorset

Peaceful Chelsea street now a builders’ hell

SIR – I could not agree more with Brian May, who complains of selfish neighbours in Kensington carrying out endless noisy building work (report, May 1).

I live in a small, pretty cul-de-sac in Chelsea which, when we first moved here many years ago, was a peaceful, happy street. In the past seven years it has become a noisy, litter-strewn builders’ car park.

Kensington & Chelsea planning department and the people who carry out extensive work on their properties appear to have no sympathy for those of us trying to go about our daily lives around them.

The vast majority of people who carry out these works rent alternative accommodation to live in while the building takes place, so they have no real idea what a noisy and inconvenient nightmare it is for their neighbours.

The borough council stated in your report that it is proposing new policies to reduce the scale of subterranean developments. I live in hope that they will consider every application submitted in the borough with much more attention, not just those that are applying to carry out work underground or extend their already large houses. I may be not far behind Mr May with a removal van if they do not.

Michala Maughan
London SW10

SIR – The Government’s plans to change apprenticeship funding “risk wrecking the training system”, reports Alan Tovey, your Jobs Editor. As business leaders, entrepreneurs and their representatives we know that improving apprenticeships is in all our interests.

Apprenticeships build the country’s skills base, support industries and create opportunities for young people leading to well-paid jobs. The proposed reforms are a welcome step towards a skills system with the needs of employers at its heart.

Placing employers in control of the design, delivery and funding of apprenticeships is essential. Through the current reform programme, employers have demonstrated leadership, creating a set of rigorous standards for a wide variety of highly skilled occupations.

Control over funding would give us the opportunity to work directly with training providers and build relationships which allow us to design apprenticeships which are more relevant to the needs of the British economy.

A simple, proportionate government contribution to each apprenticeship is a welcome step forward, as the current arrangements have more than 100 possible funding rates, and lack transparency to the employer and apprentice.

The Government has been consulting on the detail of how these changes will be delivered. It is vital they get this right, especially for smaller businesses.

We encourage all businesses to stay involved in this process to ensure that we can realise the goal of world-class apprenticeships designed and led by employers themselves.

Sir Charlie Mayfield
Chairman, John Lewis Partnership and Chairman, UK Commission for Employment and Skills

Katja Hall
Chief Policy Director, Confederation of British Industry

Mike Cherry
National Policy Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses

Terry Scuoler
Chief Executive, EEF the manufacturers’ organisation

Peter Cheese
Chief Executive, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

Tim Hames
Director General, British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association

Dr Adam Marshall
Executive Director of Policy and External Affairs, British Chambers of Commerce

Phil Orford
Chief Executive, Forum of Private Business

Simon Walker
Director General, Institute of Directors

Jeremy Hempstead
Chief Executive, The London Apprenticeship Company
Acting Chair of the Confederation of Apprenticeship Training Agencies

Jason Holt
CEO, Holts Group

Steve Holliday
Chief Executive, National Grid

Toby Peyton-Jones
Director of HR, Siemens UK and North West Europe

Paul Cadman
HR Director, Walter Smith Fine Foods

Fiona Kendrick
CEO and Chairman, Nestlé UK and Ireland

Kevin Beales
Managing Director, The Test Factory

Julie Kenny
Managing Director, Pyronix Ltd

Jenny Close
Training and Competence Director, Openwork

Scott Johnson
Chief Executive, Chas Smith Group Ltd

Sean Taggart
Chief Executive, The Albatross Group

Lee Travis
CEO, New Model Business Academy, Simply Biz Group

Will Butler-Adams
Managing Director, Brompton Bicycle

Anthony Impey
Founder and Managing Partner, Optimity

Mark Hancock
Chairman, Amerdale

Mike Davies
Group Chief Executive Officer, Principle Health Care

Andrew Weatherhead
Managing Director, H Weatherhead

Michael Bannister
Chairman, The Coniston Hotel

Nigel Whitehead
Group Managing Director Programmes & Support, BAE Systems

Sean Farbrother
Group Chief Executive, CliniMed Holdings

Jim Bedford
Chairman, Wath Group

Stephen O’Hara
Partner, Nick Tart Estate Agents

Dr Thomas Dolan
Discovery Park Site Leader, Pfizer

Valerie Todd
Talent & Resources Director, Crossrail

Andrew Churchill
Managing Director, JJ Churchill

Paul Curran
Sales Director, Northern Paper Board Ltd

SIR – The margins of the British railway system have always struggled financially, being, as it were, “at the end of the line”, with limited traffic potential. However useful they might be to the locality, their traffic remained thin and lacking in goods, which really made the money.

Routes in west and north Wales and west and north Scotland (not to mention Cornwall) have hardly ever, even when they had a monopoly of transport, been able to function in their own right without significant financial losses. These were generally covered as a result of being part of a UK-wide network that received significant subsidies from English railway companies looking for strategic advantage or lucrative long-distance traffic. Even the prosperous North British Railway, Scotland’s largest, could not afford to bridge the Forth without it being paid for by the massively wealthy English Midland, North Eastern and Great Northern Railways, which jointly owned the bridge.

It is a nonsense for the unions to claim that nationalisation would make things any different. These extremities have always relied one way or another on the wealth of England and they always will. It is yet another reason why the Scots would need their collective heads testing if they voted Yes to independence.

David Pearson
Haworth, West Yorkshire

SIR – The Russian ambassador to the United Nations has likened the activities of the interim Kiev government to those of the Nazis in the Second World War.

He should remember what happened in the Sudetenland in 1938. Some in that part of Czechoslovakia claimed that they were being persecuted for being of German origin. They asked Germany to intervene, which she did. This brought about the Second World War.

During the takeover of Crimea, President Vladimir Putin of Russia denied that the masked, green-uniformed men there were Russian troops. They were, he insisted, local defence militia. Later, when the occupation of Crimea had become a fait accompli, Mr Putin admitted that they had indeed been Russian troops.

Keith Walters
Sawtry, Huntingdonshire

SIR – All the foolish chickens sent out by the European Union and the United States have come home to roost. The result: Ukraine was and is a Slav domestic problem. For us to encourage the Ukrainians in absolutely false and stupid hopes is to encourage Ukrainian suicide.

There was opportunity for peace and negotiation at the beginning, and it had been better left to Moscow and Kiev to sort out, with British statesmen in a supporting role.

All the grandstanding, sabre-rattling and name-calling by EU, US and British politicians have done nothing but inflame the situation. Of course Mr Putin is not going to climb down. It is as though all the lessons of the cold war and diplomacy with the Societ Union have been forgotten in less than two decades.

Philip Congdon
La Bastide d’Engras, Gard, France

SIR – Ukraine is on full combat alert, while nearing bankruptcy as a consequence of Russian aggression. The EU gave the Ukrainians every encouragement to apply for membership, yet negligible practical support has been forthcoming. Milk prices have fallen to 10 euro cents per litre, as farmers cannot sell it. Why does the EU not open its markets?

The EU was created to promote peace and prosperity in Europe. Turning its back on Ukraine would represent a complete failure, with consequences even more serious than the Yugoslav conflict.

Bryony Bethell
Old Marston, Oxfordshire

SIR – Where is the evidence that Russia is considering aggression towards the Baltic states and Estonia in particular?

I am totally opposed to the dangerous plan to send a force of our troops and planes to Estonia. There is a civil war going on in Ukraine, and no intervention by the West will do anything to help the situation.

No matter how ghastly the situation may be, please may we keep out of it and not become regarded by Russia as an enemy?

John Driver
Esher, Surrey

Irish Times:

A chara, – So Gerry Adams has been released after four days of questioning, to which he submitted himself voluntarily. According to your news report (Front Page, May 5th), the PSNI said he was “released pending a report” to Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service.

This is remarkable policework indeed, since it doesn’t appear that Mr Adams has made any admissions, there surely is no forensic evidence, and that statements that may refer to his supposed involvement were made under a promise of anonymity, not under oath, by people who admitted their own roles but who are now dead.

This development has been praised by the governments on both sides of the Irish Sea, and by the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland.

Universally it has been said that the 40-year time lapse, Mr Adams’s status as the leader of a political party and elected TD, and indeed his pivotal role in the peace process, should not be taken into consideration when making decisions about the case.

Would it now be too much to hope that senior British figures who could shed some light on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings might travel to Dublin and surrender themselves? Perhaps the anonymity granted to the soldiers who testified to the very costly Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday might also be waived to facilitate prosecutions? Maybe Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers might now reconsider her decision not to allow an inquiry into the Ballymurphy killings. – Is mise,


Páirc na Cabraí,

Baile Átha Cliath 7.

Sir, – Last autumn, the attorney general in Northern Ireland suggested that a line be drawn beyond which people who were involved in the crimes associated with the period we term “The Troubles” would not face prosecution. Sinn Féin rejected this suggestion, presumably because it would grant an amnesty to members of the security forces. Does it now regret its position? – Yours, etc,




Co Tipperary.

Sir, – The circumstances that see Sinn Féin retain its popularity in defiance of virtually any revelation about its membership have arisen, at least partially, from the persistent failure of mainstream politics in Ireland. – Yours, etc,


Claremont Road,


Dublin 13.

Sir, – I share Ruth Lawlor’s concern (May 3rd) about the damage done to the academic record of history by the legal profession within the US legal system.

Happily the legal system provides the solution. In future, academics need only bring along a lawyer, or they could gain a legal qualification. The person giving the historical information hires the academic or the accompanying lawyer and so the information is covered by attorney-client privilege, and no court would overturn that. – Yours, etc,


Birchfield Park,

Goatstown, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Everybody knows the Aesop fable. The British scorpion was given a lift by the Adams frog. It’s in their nature, you know! – Yours, etc,




Co Leitrim.

Sir, – The mural in Belfast of Gerry Adams shown in Saturday’s paper is a very professional piece of work. Is it perhaps a Northern Banksy? – Yours, etc,


Ardbeg Park,


Dublin 5.

A chara, – One clear aspect of our ongoing housing crisis in the capital is that we have young families stuck in apartments unable to find family homes and empty-nesters in family homes who might like to downsize but are perhaps waiting for prices to rise before selling.

The two interests are not necessarily consistent as the hard-pressed young family needs to be able to buy at a reasonable price.

Rather than bemoaning the seemingly irresolvable problem, could we not start looking for solutions within the existing framework?

One idea might be to incentivise the selling side by, for instance, temporarily suspending capital gains tax (CGT) on the sales of family homes for a period.

The effect of a suspension of CGT collections would be significant for those who bought some time ago and for whom current price levels are still far beyond their initial investment. This taxation measure would give the seller the increased proceeds of sale that they may be seeking and at the same time stabilise rising prices. The loss to the exchequer could be made up for by the increased economic activity. – Is mise,


Loreto Abbey,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – We in the Irish Maritime Forum wish Neil Jordan every success in organising a roll call of writers and artists who will refuse to have ships named after them (May 3rd). If enough of those worthies who are alive and kicking, together with the descendants of those who have departed, decline this honour then we can revert to the much-loved and uncontentious tradition of naming our naval ships after women and men in Celtic mythology. – Yours, etc,




Co Cork.

Sir, – I fear the matelots in Haulbowline may be secretly relieved that Neil Jordan doesn’t want his name given to any of the Naval Service’s patrol ships. After all, LÉ Neil doesn’t have quite the right ring to it as a ship’s moniker. While some might prefer LÉ Jordan, that astute businesswoman with the same name, aka Katie Price, would probably need to give her blessing first. For the benefit of landlubbers let me explain that each Naval Service ship carries the designation LÉ (the abbreviation for Long Éireannach) followed by its assigned name. Two replacement ships are to be named after the writers James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Mr Jordan would appear to be worried that a similar fate could befall himself and other writers and is organising a “down with that sort of thing” campaign to prevent such a calamity occurring after his demise.

Happily I have no such qualms and would be honoured if LÉ Karl were painted on the bow of any Naval Service ship. Although not yet a member of Aosdána, I have high hopes of joining soon as my book (Irish Army Vehicles) and booklet (Irish Army Armoured Cars) were in their day highly acclaimed.

While the Naval Service is greatly respected internationally for its professionalism and expertise, it is hardly a threat to world peace. After all, just one of the Royal Swedish Navy’s tiny 650-tonne Visby-class corvettes could sink its entire fleet before it even left Cork Harbour. Perhaps Mr Jordan should watch out for the Visbys rather than the Paddys. – Yours, etc,


Bayside Walk,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – Further to Neil Jordan’s disappointment at the Naval Service naming its newest ships after famous Irish writers, I presume that the LÉ James Joyce will patrol the snotgreen sea. – Yours, etc,


Wellington Street,


Ontario, Canada.

Sir, – Neil Jordan is organising a roll call of writers and artists who will refuse to have “weaponised naval systems” named after them. I wish to register publicly my wholehearted support for this initiative. Anyone who is so self-important that they feel they ought to be on this list most certainly should not have their name emblazoned on the hull of one of our nation’s naval vessels. – Yours, etc,


Earlsfort Rise,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Breda O’Brien notes the case of a child who was fostered very successfully, until the foster parents had a child of their own (“Will courts be understanding when disadvantaged children are in trouble with the law?”, Opinion & Analysis, May 3rd).

“As the baby grew the older child became more and more insecure and resentful, until eventually the foster placement broke down, as did subsequent placements. At the age of 12 this child is now in secure care in a place with much older and hardened children. If, God forbid, this child ends up drifting into crime, will the judge take into account the loss of not one but two families, as well as inadequate State intervention?”

If ever a case were made for same-sex couples coming to the rescue of children in the need of parenting, this must surely be it.

Not doubting the successful fostering by many a heterosexual couple who went on to have a child or children of their own, it only makes sense that same-sex couples would make excellent parents to children in need of fostering.

The fact that they are far less likely to have children of their own dramatically reduces the possibility of a fostered child experiencing insecurity or resentment, whether through its own imaginings or otherwise.

The judge Ms O’Brien envisages as presiding over this young man’s case in the event of his falling into a life of crime might ask questions that Ms O’Brien never envisaged.

The judge might ask why same-sex married couples were not available as a possible option to any board in charge of fostering? The judge might also ask a jury to consider in its deliberations that while the State might not be without culpability for inadequate intervention on behalf of the child, the jury must also consider the influences which led to alternative family arrangements not being made available for children in need of fostering?

The judge might remind the jury of the constant interference of the Catholic Church in State affairs, and in particular family affairs, and of the fact that this organisation is lobbying to prevent same-sex civil marriage in this State, thus trying to ensure that no same-sex married couples will ever be in a position to foster a child since it is their hope that such couples quite simply will never exist. – Yours, etc,


Whitechurch Road,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – Brian O’Connor is critical of cyclists riding “abreast” on rural roads in Ireland (“Reeling in political breakaway on cycling issue a worthy exercise”, May 5th) and attributes this behaviour to “peloton fantasies”. I would like to invite him to reflect on the basic arithmetic of road positioning for cyclists.

Riding in compact groups and leaving gaps between groups for overtaking drivers to slot into is not inconsiderate – it’s good cycling etiquette and should be encouraged. On many Irish rural roads, it is only safe to overtake a single cyclist safely (ie with 1.5m passing distance at 30 km/h, or 4m at 80 km/h) if the overtaking motorist crosses the centre line.

Whether cyclists are two-abreast or in single file makes no difference at all to the fact that drivers will have to wait a few seconds (or, in extremis, perhaps a few minutes) until they reach a point where it is safe to cross the centre line and drive on the wrong side of the road.

The advantage of two-abreast riding is that it minimises the time motorists then spend on the wrong side of the road; it is much easier for a motorist to get back to their own side of the road quickly after overtaking a group of cyclists if the group is not strung out.

Overtaking compact groups of cyclists is like overtaking trucks or tractors – tedious, perhaps, but essentially very straightforward for a competent driver. Overtaking stretched-out lines of single-file cyclists is much more complex and fraught and more likely to result in mayhem and carnage.

So it often makes sense for cyclists to ride in compact formations rather than in single file; by doing so, they make safe overtaking easier and dangerous overtaking more difficult. Solo cyclists make it easier for motorists to spot them in good time on twisty rural roads by adopting roughly the position the outer cyclist in a two-abreast group would maintain.

Setting down clearly defined minimum passing distances in law (and integrating them into the driving test in much the same way as stopping distances feature) would make all this much clearer.

We need to talk less about the attitudes of road users and more about the basic maths involved in sharing road space. – Yours, etc,



Bamberg, Germany.

Tue, May 6, 2014, 01:06

First published: Tue, May 6, 2014, 01:06

Sir, – Any article justifying the need for water charges usually begins with a phrase like “water is a precious resource and we need to conserve it”. The fact is that Ireland is not short of water. The problem we face is the inefficiency of the water processing system.

It is difficult to understand how the setting up of a “profit-making” company paying large salaries and with the legal right to raise prices, if necessary, will improve the position. Instead of paying out more money, which will tend to encourage a continuation of the inefficiencies, we should be reducing the financial input in order to force a streamlining of the system. In other words, it is our civic duty to reject water charges. – Yours, etc,


Seafield Crescent,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – The issue of rights for walkers is back in focus, with landowners and ramblers arguing the toss over whose rights should be uppermost.

People walking dogs through fields or trekking across country to appreciate the scenery or to keep fit are deemed to pose a threat to landowners.

Why is it that the worst trespassers of all in rural Ireland are so often overlooked in this controversy?

I refer to the foxhunts that operate in the countryside in the winter months.

If somebody enjoying aerobic exercise or taking Fido for a walk can do harm, then how much more menacing to the rights of landowners is the prospect of horses and hounds encroaching on their property, in the process knocking down fences and stone walls, scattering livestock in all directions, and ripping up whole fields of crops?

It says something about the power of the hunting lobby (which includes prominent legal eagles, bankers, property developers and super-wealthy socialites) that the mayhem wrought by these relics of a bygone age – foxhunts – is airbrushed out of the whole access to the countryside debate. – Yours, etc,


Lower Coyne Street,


Sir, – Further to your recent report “New €36.6m Dún Laoghaire library criticised as monstrosity’” (Home News, May 1 st), I wish to say that the library is, in my opinion, a striking example of contemporary architecture. It is a world-class library, cultural venue and auditorium.

I am very familiar with the architecture of Dún Laoghaire, and in particular the vernacular streetscape and the form and detail of the seafront. I regard the choice of form of the library, and the modelling of its facade, as skilful, appropriate, representative of its cultural use and location, and an excellent use of space.

I regard last Thursday’s meeting, and the comments regarding the new library by public representatives, as nothing other than vote-catching rhetoric. The suggestion that the library should be demolished is regrettable and repugnant in the extreme. – Yours, etc,




Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Over the weekend we had the very good fortune to have a walk around Kilmacurragh Gardens, Co Wicklow, the outstation of our National Botanic Gardens. It is stunningly beautiful, with many-hued rhododendrons and so on rising 20 metres and covered in glorious blooms. As is the case with Glasnevin, the gardens can be visited for free. Great credit is due to the director, curator and staff for having the place in such great shape. – Yours, etc,



Church Lane,


Co Wicklow.

A chara, – In the quiet rural village of Crossakiel in north Meath last Sunday, a group of Anglo-Irish trade unionists met to celebrate the life and times of Jim Connell, who was born in nearby Kilskyre in 1852, and who went on to pen The Red Flag, the anthem of the international labour movement.

It was an almost surreal backdrop in which to listen to a trade union leader representative of Durham miners speak of the great anomaly of our times, the high levels of unemployment and underemployment present among the most highly educated generation of school-leavers to date. Though the village setting was local, the message was universal and global – the pervasive inequalities of our times. – Is mise,


Steeple Manor,

Trim, Co Meath.

Sir, – Perhaps Tom Fuller (May 3rd), who, like many Irish people these days, seems to take umbrage at Jews claiming an attachment to Israel on the basis of Bible stories, should remember that they have been the victims of a 2,000- year-old persecution, also based on Bible stories. – Yours, etc,


Dundanion Road,


Sir, – Since Stephen Lane (May 5th) is sure of the existence of hell, perhaps he would be kind enough to give us a rough idea of the population thereof and the names of some of the inhabitants. – Yours, etc,
Co Wicklow.

Irish Independent:

Published 06 May 2014 02:30 AM

* The philosopher Nietzsche declared that God was dead and that we had killed him.

Also in this section

A quiet revolution is occurring in healthcare issues

We must face the music

Time to muzzle the dogs of war

We are well rid of the God that Nietzsche ditched and would embrace willingly the God that he would have found credible – one who could dance. I am convinced that Nietzsche would have been on the side of priests such as Father Ray Kelly who break into song whilst conducting a wedding service, as he believed that without music life would be a mistake.

He was responding to the rather dour, pessimistic religion of his day where God seemed to have all the marks of a malign dictator, commanding his creation with a rod of iron, sending miscreants to an unimaginable cruel torture chamber for all eternity.

Nietzsche’s God continues to haunt believers and unbelievers alike. God is seen as some kind of supreme DIY enthusiast who tends to leave his creations unfinished, messes things up and blames us.

There are many scenes depicted in the Gospels where we can imagine Christ having a good laugh at the folly of some of the machinations, beliefs and practices of the people he encountered. Theological and philosophical discussions of the Christian life often fail to distinguish between intellectual rigour and rigor mortis.

Seriousness so often and so easily can degenerate into deathly seriousness. I sometimes think that Father Ted did more for religious belief than some earnest sermons. As Gilbert Chesterton noted: “Some things in life are too important to be taken seriously.”

I find my children are eminently effective at deflating even the slightest drift towards self-importance and humourless intensity. Once, when frustrated by the illogicality of certain statements about religious belief, I was reminded by one of my colleagues that some positions cannot be handled logically, they are best dealt with through laughter; hence the importance of comedy and satire in our lives.

Sadly, satire in Ireland seems to be tamed by hypersensitive defamation laws; the only merriment they engender is the laughter of lawyers on the way to the bank. May the Lord of the Dance be with you all.




* The price for what we accept as the “normality” of peace is more easily forgotten in a world of privilege. Despite what we call a recession, these are the best days of our lives in the free world. The only thing that ever stood in the way of that since time began is war.

War is the ultimate result of when the buck stops at the doorstep of two people who cannot articulate any more or any better since the first primitive grunt from our ancestors wielding a club made out of animal bone. Often war starts over the most trivial of things: principle, honour, jealousy or rage.

It is the soldier of war who has the most to lose in all of it – starting with his life. He is the testing ground, the prober, and ultimately the pawn. The politics and morality after the battle are left for the victors to decide, and to their political masters, the spoils of war to divide. But for the soldier, if he survives, it can be very different, and much worse for his family if he does not. If he is left able-bodied it is a blessing; if not, it is surely a curse.

This is the 100th year since the beginning of the Great War that was supposed to end all wars. Less than 21 years after its conclusion we had the beginning of World War II. Many smaller wars followed. The next major mistake made from the politics for the avoidance of war will be our last. But the argument to start war must be seen first with due respect of the soldier and to his care; and the honest, moral and just reasons why we need to go to war. To them, the soldiers, both men and women, it is their living that must matter most and not their dying.

Soldiers and their families deserve not the fickle tests of our remembrance, but real supports set in the bedrock of law that provide for them, and from that of which we take for granted: freedom in a free world.




* In response to Sean Smith, who has taken offence on Paddy O’Brien’s behalf to my “disrespectful” letter (Letters, May 5). For Mr Smith’s benefit, the point of my letter was twofold: that merely claiming God doesn’t exist does not mean that God doesn’t exist; and that consistency in nature surely points to an underlying, governing, and arguably omnipotent intelligence that we might call God.

The point of Mr O’Brien’s letter was that God doesn’t exist because Paddy says so, and that religious people, “Amazingly live in total ignorance”.

In consideration of these synopses, I would ask Mr Smith to please refrain from lecturing me or anybody on tolerance and respect, when his cited paragon of those values labelled me and billions of others as totally ignorant not five days previously.




* GPs have had to resort to Twitter @resourceGP #cardwatch to highlight the plight of their patients as letters, emails and meetings were having no effect. It is clear that the Health Minister must now rapidly implement a three-step plan.

1. Restore discretionary medical cards to people that need them; 2. Resource GPs properly so that free medical care can be extended to those at the margins financially and with chronic illness; and 3. Research, debate and plan towards universal healthcare. That would be fair; what is happening is not.




* Following the recent unrest in Labour due to MEP Phil Prendergast’s criticism of Eamon Gilmore, a common thread that explains the rise of Independents has been highlighted.

Recent opinion polls suggest surges in support for Sinn Fein and Independents at the expense of Fine Gael and Labour in particular. I suspect the opinion poll gains for Sinn Fein are soft and will not actually materialise into marked vote increases in future general elections, but there is on-the-ground support for Independents.

Labour, in particular, has shipped many defectors. Colm Keaveney left on principle after voting against the Government on a cut to the respite care grant, but others hold their tongue against their better judgment so as to retain the party whip. This type of behaviour has turned the public against many party politicians.

While many Labour candidates offer an abundance of local promise to upcoming local election voters, the fear that they will eventually have to fall into line with Enda and Co will be telling at the ballot box.

While Independents find it harder to influence the Government, at least they don’t appear to be gagged and can speak passionately from the back benches.




* In the quiet village of Crossakiel in north Meath last Sunday, a group of Anglo-Irish trade unionists met to celebrate the life and times of Jim Connell, who was born in nearby Kilskyre in 1852, and who went on to pen ‘The Red Flag’, the anthem of the international labour movement.

It was surreal to listen to a trade union leader speak of the great anomaly of our times, the high level of unemployment amongst the most highly educated-to-date generation of school leavers. Though the village setting was local, the message was universal and global. The pervasive inequalities of our times.



Irish Independent

Still in hospital

May 5, 2014

5 May2014 Still inHospital

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate Mildred has lost her boyfriend Priceless

Go and visit Mary sell two books tidy up

Scrabbletoday, I win not by much even though I get a seven letter word, perhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


Sir William Benyon – obituary

Sir William Benyon was a Tory MP and landowner who crossed swords with Mrs Thatcher but remained loyal to the end

Sir William Benyon, MP

Sir William Benyon

6:17PM BST 04 May 2014

Comments1 Comment

Sir William Benyon, who has died aged 84, was an innovative Berkshire landowner and for 22 years Conservative MP for what became the new town of Milton Keynes.

A grandson of Lord Salisbury, Bill Benyon chaired the “One Nation” group and joined Tory “wets” in opposing several of Margaret Thatcher’s policies, including the poll tax. But he respected her highly, and when his friend Michael Heseltine challenged her in 1990, he rallied behind the Prime Minister, declaring: “This is war.”

Despite their, at times, public disagreements — notably over parental contributions to student support — and the occasional “handbagging” when Mrs Thatcher met the executive of the 1922 Committee, the respect was mutual. After Benyon was mugged outside the gates of his estate, she wrote him a three-page letter of commiseration.

Bill Benyon’s surname at birth was Shelley; and he was 29, not long out of the Royal Navy and a manager at Courtaulds when, on the death of a second cousin, Sir Henry Benyon, his father inherited the Englefield Estate, west of Reading, and 400 properties in de Beauvoir Town, on the Hackney/Islington border. With his father in poor health, Bill took on the estate, which was run down and saddled with 80 per cent death duties. A condition of the bequest — which was completely unexpected — was that they change their name to Benyon.

Over the years Benyon cleared the debt, modernised the estate and added to it until it comprised 14,000 acres in Berkshire and Hampshire, always encouraging the concept of family farms and helping young entrants into farming . He put the estate into a trust from which he drew no benefits, and more recently it has been run by his elder son Richard, who followed him into the Commons as MP for Newbury.

Intelligent, reasonable and conscientious, the nearest Bill Benyon got to office was two years as PPS to Paul Channon and two more as a whip as Mrs Thatcher supplanted Edward Heath. He made his mark in the Commons with a series of Bills to tighten the law on abortion. His main contribution to British politics came, however, with his election for Buckingham in 1970 — for Benyon’s capture of the seat ended the parliamentary career of Robert Maxwell.

The future Daily Mirror proprietor had won Buckingham for Labour in 1964, and held it two years later with the slogan “Let Harold [Wilson] and Bob finish the job.” Benyon defeated Maxwell by 2,521 votes; then, at the two elections of 1974, he held off strong challenges from Maxwell despite a national swing to Labour.

No sooner had Benyon been elected than the Roskill Commission nominated Cublington, near Buckingham, as the third London airport, and Benyon led the successful campaign to kill off the project. The highlight was a protest cavalcade he organised. As it neared Cublington, the police found a “bomb” in the road and told them to stop. Realising that it was clearly a hoax, Benyon picked up the “device” and threw it over a hedge, where it landed at the feet of a policeman who had taken shelter.

Instead of an airport, his constituency played host to a new town, a project which Benyon embraced with enthusiasm. He welcomed the Open University’s choice of Milton Keynes as its base; he was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1993, and played a major role in founding the town’s ecumenical church.

When, in 1983, his fast-growing constituency was split between the safe Tory Buckingham and the unpredictable Milton Keynes, Benyon unhesitatingly went for the latter. He took it comfortably, and four years later held off a strong challenge from Bill Rodgers, of the SDP’s “Gang of Four”.

By the time of Benyon’s retirement in 1992, Milton Keynes’ electorate was, at 130,000, the largest in Britain. The constituency was split in two without waiting for a national boundary review, each part initially returning a Conservative.

Sir William Benyon with the Queen in 1995 (PA)

William Richard Shelley was born in London on January 17 1930, the son of Vice-Admiral Richard Shelley and the former Eve Gascoyne-Cecil, daughter of the Bishop of Exeter. Aged 13 he was sent to Dartmouth, where he passed out as Chief Cadet Captain, and in 1947 he was commissioned into the Royal Navy, his career culminating in a staff job under the Governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, during the Mau Mau emergency. Having also served in Korea and Malaya, he left in 1957 in the rank of lieutenant and joined Courtaulds.

After taking over the estates, Benyon was elected to Berkshire County Council in 1964. Initially he was on the Right of his party; a member of the Monday Club, he called for curbs on immigration and for Heath to put Enoch Powell in his Cabinet. In his maiden Commons speech he called for a continued naval presence East of Suez.

By the time Mrs Thatcher came to power, however, Benyon was clearly not “one of us”. He opposed cuts in spending on housing; helped force Heseltine to drop plans to make rate increases subject to referendums; and rebelled against the taxing of unemployment benefit. In 1982 he was elected to the ’22 executive.

Benyon sponsored, with the Labour Left-winger Frank Allaun, a Bill imposing a right of reply on the media, demanded that Britain have “dual control” of American Cruise missiles based here, and rebelled against Mrs Thatcher’s abolition of the Greater London Council.

In 1984 he stood for the chairmanship of the ’22, but was defeated by the loyalist Cranley Onslow. When, the next year, Francis Pym formed his abortive Conservative Centre Forward group, Benyon was one of the few recruits.

His last rebellion was against the community charge, which he branded “a bad tax: inefficient, expensive and unfair to the disadvantaged”. Thatcherites responded by denying him the vice-chairmanship of the ’22.

On leaving the Commons , Benyon chaired the Peabody Trust (1993-98), making full use of his knowledge of social housing. He completed 35 years on the University of Reading Council, and was a driving force in the rebuilding of Reading Minster. He was also active in the Country Landowners’ Association and the National Trust.

He was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for Berkshire in 1970 and High Sheriff in 1995.

He was knighted in 1994.

Benyon took politics very seriously, but lacked the pomposity or vanity that can accompany this trait. On one occasion there was a trivial survey of MPs’ favourite television programmes. Predictably high ratings were recorded for Panorama and Newsnight, but the MP for Milton Keynes replied disarmingly that he enjoyed The A-Team, Happy Days and Basil Brush.

Bill Benyon married, in 1957, Elizabeth Hallifax , who survives him with their two sons and three daughters.

Sir William Benyon, born January 17 1930, died May 2 2014


It is not only the world economy that is in crisis (IMF approves $17bn Ukraine bailout, 2 May). The teaching of economics is in crisis too, and this has consequences far beyond the university walls. What is taught shapes the minds of the next generation of policymakers and so shapes the societies we live in. Forty-one associations of economics students from 19 countries believe it’s time to reconsider the way economics is taught. We are dissatisfied with the dramatic narrowing of the curriculum that has taken place over the past couple of decades. This lack of intellectual diversity does not only restrain education and research. It limits our ability to contend with the multidimensional challenges of the 21st century – from financial stability to food security and climate change. The real world should be brought back into the classroom, as well as debate and a pluralism of theories and methods. This will help renew the discipline and ultimately create a space in which solutions to society’s problems can be generated.

United across borders, we call for a change of course. We do not claim to have the perfect answer, but we have no doubt that economics students will profit from exposure to different perspectives and ideas. Pluralism could help to fertilise teaching and research, reinvigorate the discipline and bring economics back into the service of society. Three forms of pluralism must be at the core of the curriculum: theoretical, methodological and interdisciplinary.

Change will be difficult – it always is. But it is already happening. Students across the world have already started creating change step by step. We have founded university groups and built networks both nationally and internationally. Change must come from many places. So now we invite students, economists and non-economists to join us and create the critical mass needed for change. Visit to read the full manifesto and connect with our growing networks. Ultimately, pluralism in economics education is essential for healthy public debate. It is a matter of democracy.
Severin Reissl, Max Schröder, Faheem A Rokadiya, Pia Andres, Glen Costlow, Joakim J Rietschel, Ayse Yayali
Glasgow University Real World Economics Society

Thomas Piketty has been widely feted for his economic history and analysis although it’s widely believed he is not good at providing practical solutions. His article on the EU (Comment, 3 May) will merely confirm this belief. He points to the problems of European integration and advocates solving them by – more integration. Such a pity.
Professor Alan Sked
London School of Economics

• If we are lucky enough to have more grandchildren, we would like the girls named Astra, Zeneca and Pfizer (Pfiza?) and the boys Glaxo, Smith and Kline (Report, 3 May).
Charles Booth

• I look forward to Constance Briscoe’s first column (Report, 3 May). Or do you only give jobs to convicted criminals and proven liars if they also happen to be middle-class, male and white?
Bill Carmichael
Skipton, Yorkshire

• Good grammar might help you get laid (Hadley Freeman, 2 May), but should you decline to conjugate?
Michael Peel

• I thought it must be 1 April (Forbidden fruit, 3 May). Anu Anand should try Pakistani mangoes, best in the world.
Naseem Khawaja
Yateley, Hampshire

• I was always amused by the huge British Waterways sign, north of Blackwall tunnel, which announced “Bow Locks” (Letters, 3 May).
John Amos


Saturday’s leader wisely stated that “fame does not grant impunity” regarding the trial and subsequent sentencing of Max Clifford (Getting the message, 3 May). Though in the same issue, Jonathan Freedland declares that “Whatever Gerry Adams‘ past, peace trumps justice” (Comment, 3 May). Followed to its logical conclusion, this could mean an unofficial immunity for senior Northern Ireland political figures if “peace” appears jeopardised. This could make finding the “truth” about Jean McConville’s death impossible and “reconciliation” more difficult. Most of all, though, this outcome would leave the feeling that there will always be powerful people in the UK that are above the law.
Charles Jenkins
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

•  Jonathan Freedland believes that is a choice to be made between peace and justice and that to pursue Gerry Adams for his role in the past is “to jeopardise the current tranquility”. If so, a normal society cannot be achieved in Northern Ireland; on the contrary, if normality is to be attained, then all must be amenable to justice – ex-terrorists as well as former soldiers and policemen.

I am puzzled by the view that it is only those far away and without experience of the Troubles who want to see justice. He should speak to the children of the late Mrs Jean McConville on that subject. As for myself, my childhood memories include the wrecking of my family home twice by IRA bombs and the murder by the same organisation of a cousin by marriage and a school contemporary. It is little wonder that, pace Mr Freedland, I do not see peace and justice as mutually exclusive.
CDC Armstrong

•  The victims and families who have lost loved ones and suffered during the course of the conflict in Northern Ireland have every right to seek truth and justice. Unfortunately, the current investigations into past crimes are partial, and investigations into murders committed by state forces are sadly lacking. The political nature of some policing in Northern Ireland has been made clear both by the arrest of Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, and by the statement by the secretary of state, Theresa Villiers, last week that there would be no review of the cases of the 11 civilians who died during British army operations in Ballymurphy in 1971.

We call for an end to the politically motivated attacks upon Gerry Adams, which serve only to undermine the peace process. He has been one of the key figures in driving forward the peace process, resolving the conflict in the north and positively transforming the situation in Ireland. He has also led Sinn Féin as a party that is opposing austerity and inequality, and is seeing rising political support in the polls.

We share strong concerns about the motivation behind the timing of recent events, which can only serve the interests of those who oppose both the peace process and Sinn Féin’s political advances. We call upon the British and Irish governments and all political parties to commit to the ending of political policing and to positively engage in advancing the peace process.
Diane Abbott MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, John McDonnell MP, Ken Livingstone, Kate Hudson national secretary, Left Unity, Ken Loach film director, Adrian Dunbar actor, Victoria Brittain writer, Professor Roy Greenslade journalist, Andrew Burgin Coalition of Resistance, Lindsey German writer and anti-war campaigner, Salma Yaqoob former Birmingham City councillor, John Rees writer and broadcaster

• Malachi O’Doherty’s precipitate gloating assertion that “Adams has lost the south” (Comment, 2 May) does nothing for the cause of justice and peace in Ireland.

Perhaps the most hopeful sign of the peace process has been the beginnings of Protestant or formerly unionist support for Sinn Féin, based on its impressive commitment to community politics across the false divide, as exampled in the work of Belfast’s Sinn Féin mayor. It is this new kind of people-politics in Ireland that presents the greatest challenge to those Southern establishment parties.

As far as being tainted with violence is concerned, I’d like to know of a single political party that isn’t, in Ireland, Britain or anywhere else. The point is to get serious about building peace now.

The idea that partition is “inevitable and organic”, as O’Doherty suggests, is plain obnoxious. Partition was imposed without the say-so of a single Irish person, it has been a disaster for all concerned and it remains the greatest source of sectarian division and the main obstacle to a lasting peace in Ireland.

It is more important than ever that an all-Ireland party should be able to work peacefully to right this outdated imperialism and put an end to all the violence that has sprung from it.
J McMillan
Bridgwater, Somerset

The green belt needs to be preserved. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer

Paul Cheshire criticises green-belt policy but fails to mention the huge benefits that it has given this country (“Why Surrey has more land for golf courses than for homes“, News). The article focuses on Surrey, which is actually a prime example of the positive effects of green belts. Surrey has large areas of common land, nature reserves and natural beauty that green-belt policy has helped safeguard.

Without it, the low-density sprawl you find in London boroughs such as Croydon, which were once part of Surrey, would have marched across much of the rest of the county.

In fact, rather than weakening green belts, the Campaign to Protect Rural England believes that they need to be given proper protection. CPRE Surrey is currently opposing two developments for golf courses and evidence gathered by CPRE nationally shows that green-belt land has been allocated for 190,000 new homes, despite government promises to protect it.

This alarming figure has come about because of the intense pressure put on local authorities by the government to meet inflated housing targets.

The government needs to take steps to reduce the pressure for development in the green belt, including by actively encouraging the reuse of brownfield land and existing buildings. Some small-scale, exceptional revisions to green belts may be required to accommodate necessary development in the long run, where this is justified locally, but any wholesale weakening of the policy would have a catastrophic effect on the countryside and the nation as whole.

John Rowley

Campaign to Protect Rural England

London SE1

This is the situation in my small town in Cheshire East of just over 5,000 homes: as a result of the government’s national planning policy framework and the presumption in favour of development, we are highly likely to get a housing increase of 60%, mostly on greenfield and farmland.

This despite the fact that the town is currently unsustainable, with one health centre at capacity, no employment, B-roads that are routinely gridlocked, overstretched waste disposal, schools full – to name a few of the issues. The only thing that will save our community will be commercial considerations.

We have three brownfield sites that we would like to see developed but so far the only ones being built on are greenfields.

We, as residents, are powerless despite having a very active residents’ group able to put sound arguments and provide evidence. The inspectorate can hardly be said to be independent given some of its recent decisions. Our small town has been surrendered to the developers.

Dr M Wakelin



Emma Duncan, welcoming the decline of the high street and of “offline shopping” in general, strangely fails to address an underpinning economic reality (“The high street is dying. Hurrah…“, Comment).

I live in a small town, very distant from London. Although the commercial hub is sadly diminished, it still fulfils some important functions; for those who might for various reasons feel isolated, it’s a place where they can find human contact. But also, the butcher, baker and candlestick-maker still thrive, buoyed by the fact that, across the generations and classes, many are still reassured that they can buy locally sourced meat and vegetables whose quality they can trust.

If any Westminster government is serious about addressing the decline of facilities and retail business in smaller towns and trying to nurture social cohesion, they should adequately fund local authorities so that they don’t need to raise money by squeezing communities – entrepreneurs who want to trade, shoppers coming in from adjoining villages who need to park.

In rural areas, the high street is essential and bad governance, not internet shopping, is the main problem.

Marc Hadley




While I agree with Mark Steel (“If this counts as consultation, then Gove and his allies must be taking inspiration from Kim Jong-un”, 2 May), that the headteacher of Hove Park School has a different understanding of what consultation means to most of us, this was not always the case.

He has most recently denied the staff the right to a ballot on academy status; he has also denied the council’s offer to ballot the parents on the same issue. However, there was a time when he did understand what it means to consult. Three years ago, the school proposed a uniform change. All parents were invited to vote on this; we could vote for or against a new uniform, and we could then vote on which of many options of uniform we liked the most.

I am disappointed that he is willing to extend democracy to the colour of the trim on our children’s blazers but not to the future status of the school.

Alrik Green, Hove

PS: I voted in favour of the blue trim.

Here in Leeds the school community has for the most part avoided jumping to any general conclusions on the basis of the tragic death of Ann Maguire. Even when the facts are established this shocking incident is likely to tell us little or nothing about the day-to-day challenges faced by staff and pupils in our schools.

There is, however, one aspect of the aftermath which should tell policy-makers and politicians something of real significance. The intense level of support put into Corpus Christie Catholic College by the Leeds local authority has been excellent.

A host of skilled and experienced staff, from a range of services including counsellors, educational psychologists and human resources professionals, have been in the school all week. This has been linked up with work carried out by the other social services that support the local community.

Trade unions representing staff have been kept fully briefed.

There isn’t an academy chain in the country that could provide that level of support and expertise, not to mention the local knowledge that goes with it.

Serious incidents in our schools are very rare. When they do happen, however, schools and communities need a local authority to support them. Not an academy chain, nor a government department in London and nor (if you are listening, Messrs Blunkett and Hunt), a local schools commissioner

Patrick Murphy, Division Secretary,  Leeds, National Union of Teachers

Cancer: we can save even more patients

The Royal College of Radiologists welcomes news of the increasing cancer survival rates reported by Cancer Research UK (editorial, 29 April).

However, a finding by Macmillan Cancer Support that a quarter of cancer cases are diagnosed in accident and emergency departments, when their cancer is advanced and often incurable, indicates an enormous problem in the healthcare system. If this problem of late presentation were to be addressed, then it would have an enormous impact on the profile of cancer treatments offered to patients and require a greater investment in and availability of curative treatments.

Radiotherapy is a highly effective form of cancer treatment and contributes to cure in 40 per cent of the cancer patient population. It does this either alone or in conjunction with other treatment approaches such as surgery and chemotherapy. However, advances in the range and complexity of non-surgical oncology approaches means that there needs to be an expansion of the workforce if cancer patients are to receive modern treatments delivered to the highest international standards.

Figures from the Macmillan report on late presentation are disappointing but do indicate a very identifiable problem which we have the capability of addressing through improved screening and early diagnostic initiatives. Successful implementation of these strategies will see far more patients coming to oncology services at a stage when their cancer is still curable. With appropriate investment in the clinical oncology workforce, and with expansion of cancer services more widely, the vision of survival rates of 75 per cent seems achievable.

Dr Diana Tait, Vice-President, Clinical Oncology, Royal College of Radiologists, London WC2

It was heartening to read how well Guy Keleny’s lymphoma has responded to treatment. Unfortunately there is a potentially very misleading statement in his article (1 May).

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a very heterogeneous condition; while in many cases it is indeed “about as mild as cancer gets”, in others it is an aggressive disease. Happily, there has been great progress in treatment of aggressive NHL, which can in many cases be cured.

Ken Campbell MSc (Clinical Oncology), Kettering, Northamptonshire


Church to blame in chancel liability row

The Archdeacon of Hereford’s attempted riposte (letters, 1 May) serves only to underline the heartlessness at the heart of the Chancel Repair Liability scandal. He callously suggests that it is the responsibility of conveyancing solicitors to find these things out, and that if house purchasers don’t trust their solicitors to get it right, they can always take out insurance at their own expense against the possibility of a demand.

One could equally argue that if parochial church council members are worried that if they exercise their consciences and elect not to behave like legalistic mafiosi they risk legal action being taken against them, and if they don’t trust their bishop to get it right, they could always insure themselves against him at their own expense. Of the two, the latter would be the more just course, since it is they who are the perpetrators of the injury: it is the householders who are the victims.

It is moral cowardice to place the onus upon the victims to fight their corner if they can. The right way forward is for the Church as a body to instruct its PCCs to refuse point blank to register any of these liabilities, use its influence in the House of Lords to get this pernicious, archaic, bad law abolished, and, in the meantime, take whatever action is necessary to protect their PCCs from personal liability in any legal disputes.

Chancels are holy places. You can’t “repair” them with the proceeds of extortion: you destroy their very meaning.

Bob Gilmurray, Ely, Cambridgeshire

Vince Cable’s Royal Mail mix-up

The claim that the early sales of Royal Mail shares prove that many agreed with Vince Cable’s mistaken valuation (letter, 2 May) is a fallacy.

There are many reasons for early sales. The two most common being that the purchaser just wanted to make a quick buck and couldn’t or wouldn’t tie up his money, and that the allocations were so miserly that it wasn’t worth the admin to keep them. One of these is the reason that I bought and immediately sold Royal Mail shares.

Of course this matter is all over and there is no point in grousing; but we must not forget it. At the next election Vince Cable will be touted as the Lib Dems’ business guru; if he made such a mess of this should we really trust him to make more important decisions?

Clive Georgeson, Dronfield,  Derbyshire

The Kremlin’s Italian style

Maybe it is possible to see the Kremlin less as a monument to the myth of Russia’s “otherness” (“Russia’s hidden heart”, 2 May), when we recall that Ivan III invited Italian craftsmen (Fioraventi in 1479, Solari in 1491) to complete or design considerable portions of it, and in the latter case to decorate a palace in the style current at Ferrara.

The idea of a nation’s otherness is often hard to sustain when one discovers that multicultural artists were at work.

Christopher Walker

London W14

Clarkson, big-mouth but no racist

I cannot imagine Jeremy Clarkson being embarrassed or mortified by anything he says or does. However, after listening to his N-word recording online I don’t believe there was any malicious or racist intent behind what he said either – it was hard to make much of the mumbling.

This “incident” revealed by the Daily Mirror was over two years ago and wasn’t even aired. Clarkson is an arrogant loudmouth but the only thing he is racist against is the Toyota Prius.

Emilie Lamplough, Trowbridge,  Wiltshire

Pity the poor cold-caller

You have published several letters about cold callers and how to deal with them.

Let’s remember that they are typically young people on minimum wage, trying to sell a product they may not believe in. We don’t have to buy what they’re selling; and we don’t have to be rude to them either. Asking them “what they have got on” (28 April) is just pathetic.

Keith Robinson, Beckington, Somerset


Nottingham students look for rooms — rent controls could kill short-term lets

Published at 12:01AM, May 5 2014

Ed Miliband’s plan to control rents is likely to make a serious problem even worse

Sir, If Mr Miliband’s proposals for rent controls are implemented (“Labour to bring back rent control”, May 1), it is likely that the cost of housing will plummet and rental properties will become almost unobtainable (as occurred last time such policies were tried). The policy would simply prompt many of the hundreds of thousands of buy-to-let landlords to sell — if rents lag behind inflation, mortgaged properties may be unaffordable.

Mr Miliband needs a broader vision of the rental market than an assumption that all landlords are budding Rachmans abusing their tenants for excess profit rather than, in many cases, ordinary people with tiny portfolios trying to build up modest funds for retirement.

Dr Julian Critchlow

Tregaron, Ceredigion

Sir, Under the old rent act tenants had security of tenure and housing was affordable. The family home should be just that and not a way to make money. The present surge in house prices should not be allowed to get out of control.

Bernard Parke


Sir, Ed Miliband’s rent cap proposal is flawed. Rents are determined by demand and property values. If house prices rise but rents are kept low, people won’t buy properties to let. Supply will fall and many people will have nowhere to live. I have no problem with the proposal to cap letting agents’ commissions but interfering with the rental market will have unintended consequences.

Russell Quirk

Brentwood, Essex

Sir, Rent control is one aspect of housing control. Thank goodness one political party recognises the social need and is prepared to raise an issue which is so fundamental and crucial. Oliver Kamm (“Ed’s ‘largesse’ won’t help Generation Rent’”, May 3) says “the most objective benchmark is the market itself”, but the market left to itself does not automatically provide the most desirable social outcome for a cohesive and prosperous community. One doesn’t need to be an economist to realise that — just a parent concerned for the future of their children and grandchildren.

Mike Wood

Formby, Merseyside

Sir, Ed Miliband is re-presenting the 1970s Labour socialist policy book. His previous attack on housebuilders assumes that they are wilfully passing up profit opportunities. Never mind that a good number of them went, or nearly went, to the wall during the recession that his party must take some blame for. His latest attack on landlords is also misplaced. When an asset is overpriced it is a sure indication that there is too little supply, so why is there no attempt to ease the planning regime, to look at state-imposed transaction costs and to release state-owned land to the market? Also, since Gordon Brown plundered pension funds in 1997-98 people have had to look at alternative investments. Labour’s state-knows-best policy would be less laughable if the state were not the problem.

Chris Watson

London E14

The HMIC report on crime data is disturbing, because many kinds of crime are not included

Sir, The findings of the report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) into crime data and the potential under-recording of some crimes are disturbing (“Offenders unpunished as police fail to record a fifth of crimes”, May 1).

There is also a bigger debate about whether crime figures reflect the true level and extent of criminal behaviour, which the report does not raise. Offences such as child exploitation, paedophilia, money laundering, drug trafficking and gang activity are not reflected in crime statistics but involve many victims and take much police time and resources to investigate.

The report also fails to address the main reason why some officers record crime in the ways identified by the inspection. For many years the police service, like other public services, was remorselessly driven by a government-led culture of meeting targets. Metrics, league tables and spurious performance comparisons were prioritised above the the duty to protect the public and to attack the criminals. The effects of the target culture were reflected in the recently published Public Administration Select Committee report on the police recorded crime statistics.

Any performance culture of this kind will always run the risk of unintended negative consequences at all levels. This is precisely what the latest HMIC report has exposed.

Mick Creedon

Chief Constable of Derbyshire

Morris men dance with such enthusiasm that they move an entire hill from Somerset to Wiltshire

Sir, Apropos your item on trying everything once except for incest and morris dancing, accompanied by a picture of the Wyvern Jubilee Morris Men dancing at daybreak on Ham Hill, Wiltshire, the earth must certainly have moved for them, as last time I looked, Ham Hill was most firmly located in Somerset.


Dick Carlyon

Somerton, Somerset

A reader finds that her address has been borrowed in an attempt to cash in on HS2 compensation

Sir, Boris Johnson (Apr 29) may be right when he claims critics of HS2 are “really furious that their house prices are getting it”.

Upon inquiring of HS2 how my name has been added to those complaining that compensation levels are inadequate, I received the response: “It would appear that someone has chosen to use your address in order to submit an additional response to the Property Consultation Compensation 2013.”

Jane Berry

Tibberton, Shropshire

Jeremy Paxman has many admirers, but others are concerned about his style of political interviewing

Sir, If you are right to attribute Jeremy Paxman’s resignation to the BBC’s mismanagement of his talents (May 2), I suggest a different remedy. Why not make him chairman of the BBC Trust? His integrity, intelligence and ability to speak truth to power would then be devoted to a cause which he holds dear, the continuation of the BBC as a world leader in broadcasting. Lord Reith might at last have a worthy successor.

Margaret Collier

Lostock, Bolton

Sir, Michael Howard is typically generous in his tribute to Jeremy Paxman (May 2), but we should not allow this to conceal the fact that Paxman’s style of interviewing has done immense damage to the standards of political debate.

Part of this may not be his fault. The BBC allows much less time for in-depth interviews than when Robin Day and Kenneth Harris were in harness, but that does not explain the main difference. Both Day and Harris were meticulously prepared but they did not start with a desire to embarrass the interviewee with a single criticism or allegation. Because they were there to test the arguments, they listened to them. They had respect for the political calling, and for the complexities of government. They were not there to demonstrate, as Paxman often does, their personal contempt for the person they were interviewing, or for his arguments.

One has only to watch retrospective programmes on BBC’s Parliament Channel to see what we have lost. The Paxman interview style bears a heavy responsibility for bringing politics into contempt. It forces politicians to evade questions rather than engage with the argument. Perhaps interviewers get the politicians they deserve.

Richard Ritchie

London SW18


SIR – I read with great interest William Langley’s piece on the Britannia Coconut Dancers. While dancing with the Horwich Prize Medal Morris Men, the organisers of Horwich’s Day for St George, I noticed Mr Langley interviewing members of the Nutters.

His article really caught the flavour of a Morris event and treated the dancers with balance and humour without patronising them or sneering at eccentricity.

It’s strange that the Twitter-generated “controversy” about so-called racism continued at least a week after the Coconutters Day in Bacup on Easter Saturday.

As Joe Healey, the Nutters’ secretary, stated, black faces are part of a tradition dating back to the original dancers being coal miners and affected by coal dust. This tradition is shared by the Border Morris from the Welsh/English border, where dancers were mainly miners in the Shropshire coalfields.

I was glad to see that the piece also showed a younger member of the team. Although the Horwich Morris Men have musicians and dancers over pensionable age, the team also now has five dancers under 25.

With balanced reporting such as this, interest and involvement in this peculiarly English activity will hopefully continue to grow.

Bob Bradley
Secretary, Horwich Prize Medal Morris Men
Bolton, Lancashire

SIR – It is not surprising that two-thirds of practising Christians feel afraid to express their beliefs when faced with the confidence-sapping ambivalence of church dignitaries such as Rowan Williams, who calls our country a “post-Christian nation”.

This just adds to the perception that Christians are in the minority. David Cameron’s words, by contrast, will help tremendously. Contrary to what church leaders would like to think, attendance at church does not constitute being a Christian; that depends on one trying one’s best to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Tim Coles
Carlton, Bedfordshire

SIR – Your poll on Christianity distinguished between “practising” and “non-practising” Christians. If you’re merely sentimental about Christ, then belief doesn’t come into it. And if belief doesn’t come into it, neither does Christianity. So the real statistic is Christian 14 per cent, non-Christian 86 per cent.

For credible politicians to be pushing some sort of trolley for the Established Church is disingenuous. Ours is a secular society at a loss to know what to do about First and Last Things.

Your survey might suggest that we are crying out for help.

Malcolm Ross
Littlehempston, Devon

SIR – Rowan Williams is right to maintain that “some individual Christians have had a rough time” in this country because of their faith, but that their treatment is not on a par with the violent persecution suffered by Christians elsewhere.

However, losing your job because you refuse to take off a tiny silver cross, or being arrested and held in a prison cell for preaching the Bible in public do not represent mere “stupidity and inflexibility” but a sustained campaign against Christianity.

It may not amount to deadly persecution, but it is an attempt to kill off Christian influence in Britain. If it succeeds, our chances of protecting the lives of suffering Christians throughout the world are slim indeed.

Ann Farmer
Woodford Green, Essex

SIR – As recently as the Fifties, the Church was booming: congregations were on the increase, and so were baptisms, confirmations and ordinations. I was brought up in a working-class district of Leeds and three of us offered ourselves for the priesthood in our parish alone.

This vibrant spiritual life was wilfully destroyed, first by the new theologians such as John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich. Then the General Synod was invented and with it the Liturgical Commission, which threw out the texts we had grown up with, the King James Bible and Book of Common Prayer. These were replaced by doggerel words and new hymns of stupefying banality.

Thirdly, the bishops and Synod abandoned the Church’s “one nation” role, that 16th-century creation of genius, and turned it into a Left-wing pressure group lending its enthusiastic support to every innovation in social policy that came along.

Rev Dr Peter Mullen
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – I watched Rev last week. The effects of a society that has been led by the nose by a Left-wing liberal agenda for several decades, coupled with a Church leadership that is so weak as to be ineffective, were admirably mirrored in the script.

So it was disppointing to read Rowan Williams declaring that Britain was a “post-Christian” country. While what he says is true, it will do little to encourage Christians. Bishops and clergy should lead by example and live the Gospel.

Rev Michael Wishart
St Athan, Glamorgan

SIR – Looking at a beautiful image from the Hubble Space Telescope of a spiral galaxy, it is difficult to conceive of an all-powerful deity. Equally beautiful was a recent choral evensong at Salisbury Cathedral. You do not necessarily need to be a believer to respect our Christian tradition as a force for good.

Tim Deane
Tisbury, Witshire

SIR – Last week you printed a letter from 16 very high profile financial institutions calling for action to avoid a savings crisis.

Unfortunately, the crisis is already upon us, as these same financial institutions, together with building societies and others, jumped to seize the Government’s cheap money, abandoning savers to their fate of derisory interest rates.

With the Government’s ever-increasing debt, do these people really believe a rate rise is likely when it will force ever higher payments on borrowings?

Saving will only come back when the Government and the populace start living within their means. With a decreasing debt mountain, interest rates can rise without bankrupting the country and causing a wave of house repossessions.

Present policy simply robs savers to support both Government expenditure and borrowers who are hooked on cheap money.

Michael Edwards
Haslemere, Surrey

SIR – Tony Steyning and his co-authors make a compelling case for addressing the savings crisis which the Chancellor has recognised through his recent initiatives.

Unfortunately even those who have prudently saved have suffered from the lasting damage caused by Gordon Brown’s withdrawal of tax relief on dividends received by pension funds. This has reduced their assets by £100 billion through tax, loss of income reinvested and growth foregone over the past 17 years.

Mr Brown and his Treasury team, which included the Eds Milliband and Balls, repeatedly claimed to champion “hard-working families” while secretively taxing the sources of their pension – asserting, absurdly that it would improve productivity in industry.

The public sector is very largely unaffected by this most stealthy of taxes.

Christopher Donald
Hexham, Northumberland

GP assessments

SIR – GPs should not be relying on the patient to decide which aspect of their health to bring to their attention.

It is the doctor that should assess this. GPs need to be able to examine the whole person to enable an accurate diagnosis and to prioritise problems .

Dr Annie Campbell
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Staying in the EU

SIR – The cost/benefit analysis of our membership of the EU which Christopher Gill claims successive governments have “refused to carry out” was in fact launched by the Coalition government in 2012 in its “review of the balance of competences between the UK and EU”.

Thirty-two detailed reports are analysing what EU membership means for Britain’s national interest. It is clear from those reports published so far that our national interest is best served by our remaining in the European Union.

Those relating to the single market, for example, show that “the GDP of both the EU and the UK are appreciably greater than they otherwise would be, thanks to economic integration through the single market” which “has had a net positive impact on UK trade” and investment.

The conclusion on foreign policy is typical: “Most of the evidence argued that it was strongly in the UK’s interests to work through the EU in a number of policy areas.”

David Woodhead
Leatherhead, Surrey

One man’s wine…

SIR – Prof Hodgson’s trials that showed wine testers giving differing tastes to the same wines were flawed.

He has assumed that the three bottles of wine he gave them were the same. Anyone who has bought a dozen bottles of the “same” wine, produced in the same year and by the same producer, knows that some of them are different.

Grapes come from different areas of the vineyards, often on different days under different conditions. Fermentation is in different vats and oak casks vary in their wood and charring.

The wines are bottled using corks which allow in different amounts of oxygen. I’ve always wondered how wine judges tasting one bottle can really believe that the other 10 or 20,000 bottles from the vintage are exactly the same.

John Hanford
Taplow, Buckinghamshire

Signs of the times

SIR – Signposts only spoil the countryside. We should urge local authorities to restrict the amount of “street furniture” used. Ron Kirby should consider using a road map and planning his journey.

Neil Portlock
Highworth, Wiltshire

SIR – My wife and I have just driven about 1,200 miles through Portugal and Spain. After half an hour we were longing for the clarity of British signposting.

Robert Parker

Not all right

SIR – “You all right there?” now seems to have replaced “May I help you?” or “Next, please” in shops. It’s even creeping into pubs and restaurants.

What should my response be? A list of current ailments?

Jean Nield

We are lucky to have foreign ballet dancers

SIR – John Dunkin has missed the point. The remit of English National Ballet is not to provide employment for English dancers but to provide performances of the very highest standard for the benefit of English audiences.

That there are not more English dancers of such calibre as those he mentions is regrettable but is a fact of life. Our three major English ballet companies (the Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Ballet) and other equally worthy smaller companies, would all love to employ more first-class English dancers. But such dancers are few and far between and the competition is great.

It is important to remember as well that the dancers Mr Dunkin mentioned all joined British ballet companies at a very young age and honed their craft here.

They have given us far more than we could ever give them and we should be proud of the fact that they want to be here.

Valerie Ridge
Pinner, Middlesex

SIR – For over 50 years, English National Ballet has toured Britain bringing great ballet to audiences all over the country. For many people outside London it is through the company that they get to know classical ballet.

Ballet, like all great art, is not limited by nationality. We are immensely proud that such great artists as Carlos Acosta, Daria Klimentová, Alina Cojocaru and our own artistic director Tamara Rojo, all of whom have dedicated most of their working lives to creating great ballet in this country, have chosen to dance with us. We know that our audience agrees.

Caroline Thomson
Executive Director
English National Ballet
London SW7

What Dido’s dad did

SIR – I was very interested to learn that a film has been made about Dido Elizabeth Bell. I have a portrait miniature by John Smart, signed and dated 1787, of her father Admiral Sir John Lindsay. He was knighted in 1764 for bravery in the battle of Havana and in 1787 promoted to Rear Admiral. He died at Marlborough, on his way from a health trip to Bath on June 4 1788, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

D C Miles Griffiths
Maidenhead, Berkshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Am I the only one who is getting increasingly annoyed with Sinn Féin, without a hint of irony, complaining about “dark forces’”? For me, the term sits well with a cabal of cowards, who acted as judge, jury and executioner for a defenceless widow and mother of 10 young children, when, in 1972, they dragged her, begging and screaming, from her home and children never to be seen again until her body was discovered many years later. If Mr Adams were to be charged with any offence his trial would be in open court and he would have 12 upstanding citizens sitting in judgement of him. Yours, etc,




Co Down

Sir, – In the 1970s, a Belfast mother of eight was murdered, shot in the back when she was no danger to anyone, and this week her family’s legal attempts to establish the facts of her murder were halted by the state to a background of lack of interest from the Dublin establishment and media and silence from unionism.

I refer to Joan Connolly, murdered in Ballymurphy by the parachute regiment (whose commander in chief, HRH Prince Charles, may be invited to the GPO in two years’ time). Either we have a mechanism for truth recovery on all sides, or, as the Northern Ireland attorney general, John Larkin, has suggested, we move on. The Southern establishment is disgustingly using the memory of Jean McConville to divert attention from socio-economic questions. Their interest isn’t truth (they won’t press the British for awkward evidence on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings), but rather shielding their Thatcherite fiefdom from uppity “Nordies”. Yours, etc,


Antrim Road,

Belfast BT15 5GB

Sir, – Sinn Féin spokespersons have been at pains to suggest that the timing of the arrest of Gerry Adams was politically motivated, having regard to the current election campaigns. Mr Adams was in the Dáil last Wednesday morning and later chose to travel to Belfast to meet the PSNI. If he believed there were political motivations behind the timing of this meeting, he could quite easily have stymied those motivations by choosing to remain in Dublin and to defer meeting the PSNI until after the elections. This he did not do and so he himself was the author of the timing of his detention and arrest. Could it be that Mr Adams himself was politically motivated in choosing to present himself to the PSNI in the middle of an election camapign? Yours, etc,


Downside Park,


Co Dublin

Sir, – Mary Lou McDonald assures us that Mr Adams’s arrest as a suspect in a murder investigation is politically motivated. Indeed there might well be sections of the body politic that are happy about the arrest. However Mary Lou should cheer up when she remembers that for many years Mr Adams has been clearly uninvolved in the IRA. The process of justice on the island of Ireland has at its heart the principle that Mr Adams, or anyone else, is innocent until proved guilty. Mary Lou can derive some solace knowing that Mr Adams will not be bundled into the back of a car, driven to some desolate layby and summarily executed by a band of hooded criminals. Yours, etc,


Johnstown Road,

Co Dublin

Sir , – Mary Lou MacDonald makes much play of the fact that Gerry Adams always denied he had anything to do with the murder of Jean McConville. Does she expect that if he had he would admit it ? Yours, etc,



Co Meath

Sir, – Gerry Adams has been arrested in connection with an investigation into the abduction, torture and murder of a young widow, mother of 10 children. The pundits insist that, if prosecuted, he will be found not guilty of having any connection with this heinous crime.

Over a period of more than 40 years, Mr Adams has acted as pall-bearer for IRA members, has worn paramilitary-style uniform, has been a spokesman and an apologist for IRA violence and latterly has issued apologies to victims of that violence. Despite all this, he insists that he is not now, nor ever was, a member of the IRA.

It is to be hoped that charges will be brought against the murderers of Jean McConville, some of whom are known to both the family and the authorities. Nothing will bring her children solace but, at least, let us give them justice, however long delayed. Yours, etc,



Co Dublin

Sir, – Joe Humphreys, in his column of May 1st, insists that, based on the writings of Richard Kearney, atheists can still believe in God. Of course people can believe in anything they wish, if they share Kearney’s view that words are fluffy bits of cotton wool to comfort the troubled mind rather than tools for examining reality.

God, it seems, is not an omnipotent being who created the universe, so far as this latest incarnation of Father Trendy is concerned. On the contrary, God is a weak, wobbly substance that can be used as an all-purpose wild card that serves to mean anything the listener wants to hear, and to chime in with whatever is the current fashion in delusions and fantasy. God is the cosy reassurance that all their nighttime terrors are real and all their most fantastic dreams will come true, just as soon as their hearts stop beating.

Such people always dismiss Richard Dawkins as dogmatic, because of his irritating habit of insisting that some things are fact and some are fiction, and that some theories can withstand scientific testing and some cannot. It is perfectly reasonable for people to lament the death of God. I miss my late parents but my regret cannot breathe life back into their remains.

What is unreasonable is for people who describe themselves as philosophers to deal with their regret by ceaselessly shifting the ground of their argument on to the treacherous bog of sentimentality and fairy tales.

Joe and Richard can believe in their fashionably elusive deity if they want, but they should allow atheists in turn their right to prefer knowledge to faith and reason to waffle.

God save us all from people who encourage us to believe in lies. Oh, wait. No. He can’t do that. Can he? Apparently not. Yours, etc,


Sion Hill,

Rock Road,

Sir, – Arlene Harris (Health & Family, April 30th) highlighted the vital role of informal caregivers in looking after family members with special needs and elderly relatives. Data from the Growing up in Ireland study were cited that support the case that there is an increased risk of psychological morbidity among such caregivers. Evidence is also emerging that the chronic stress associated with caregiving may have an impact on caregivers’ cognitive functioning.

A new study is under way here in the NEIL (NeuroEnhancement for Independent Lives) programme at Trinity College Dublin that examines the link between stress and brain health in dementia caregivers. The aim of this research is to understand the impact of providing dementia care on caregivers’ wellbeing and to identify factors that could help to promote caregivers’ health. We are in the process of recruiting 300 people who are over the age of 50 and providing care at home for their spouse or partner with dementia to take part in the study. By understanding the effects of caregiving on cognitive functioning, we hope to develop interventions that will help to protect the health of the caregiver and, as a result, also have a beneficial effect on the quality of life of the person with dementia.

There are currently 41,740 people living with dementia in Ireland and this figure is expected to rise to 140,000 in 2041. Informal caregiving represents a vital and invaluable resource that is associated with better quality of life and positive health outcomes for the person with dementia. However, the current heavy reliance on informal caregivers as the main providers of dementia care will only remain feasible as long as the health and wellbeing of the caregiver is preserved. See Yours, etc,


NEIL Programme,

Trinity College,

Dublin 2

Sir, – It was heartening to read Brian Keane’s article about how he has found peace and joy in following the precepts of Buddhism and the practise of mindfulness.

Having worked in Asia for 11 years, I have learned a lot from my Buddhist friends and from our common search for truth and our struggle to be compassionate and loving, especially to those who are suffering and struggling in life. I also try to live in a mindful way: in our diocese in Hsinchu, Taiwan, we had a saying “The present is a present.”

I was therefore dissappointed to read Brian summing up Christianity in these words: “Christianity gives all power and responsibility to an external figure like a child does to a parent. And Buddhism reclaims that power and responsibility.”

At the heart of Christian anthropology is the idea that we have free will and that we have to take responsibility for our lives and actions. As Christians we are invited and challenged to choose the Gospel values of love, compassion, service, justice and forgiveness. Sometimes these choices are not easy and take a lot of courage and sacrifice.

The Gospels are full of references to how we will be judged on the basis of our actions – Chapter 25 of St Matthew’s Gospel clearly states that our Christian life is one of service and love, especially to the poor and marginalised: “When I was hungry you gave me to eat, When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me etc.”

In the parable of the Good Samaritan the last sentence of Jesus to the lawyer was “Go and do the same yourself.” As I understand it, the heart of the Christian message is one of love in action. As Christians we are responsible for the choices we make and how we live out our vocation to love. Yours, etc,


St Ronan’s,


Sir, – Having recently had the dubious privilege of scrolling down the comments stream of a report in of an incident I’d been involved in, I found myself sickened by abusive comments about a good friend of mine.

The “gaping internet-shaped hole in the fractured landscape of Irish journalism regulation” referred to by Harry Browne (Letters, April 29th) suddenly felt more like a strange vortex that can suck a person’s good name and dignity into the sewer of an unmoderated comment stream.

The comments policy reads: “While we do not and cannot review every comment …” This is less a statment of fact than the articulation of a time- and money-saving policy.

What I am saying is that these internet comment streams should be moderated in real time in the same way as Joe Duffy moderates Liveline; in’s case, this would mean comments being reviewed before being published. The current legislative dispensation in respect of unmoderated comment streams is scarcely worthy of the term regulation at all, never mind light regulation and sadly, we all know where that got us. Yours, etc,


Bayview Avenue,

North Strand,

Sir, – Like James Moran (May 3rd) and Christopher Sands (April 30th) I am a member of the Labour Party, but unlike my comrades I am making no attempt to defend the austerity policies imposed by this Fine Gael-led government.

In my view, to ask for Labour votes on the basis that “we had to trim our sails” or that “you have to cut where the big spend is” is a one-way ticket to a well-deserved electoral meltdown.

When I am canvassing, I am happy to ask for votes based firstly on the excellent record of our city councillors, and secondly, on the appalling vista of a Fianna Fail-controlled city council.

Come the next general election however, I will have nothing to say to voters, unless Labour have by then made a much bigger impact than we so far have on the economic policies and priorities of this government. Yours, etc,


Upper Rathmines Road,

Dublin 6

Sir, – In response to Neil Jordan’s somewhat presumptuous letter regarding not wishing to have an Irish naval vessel named after him or his fellow artists may I point out a couple of things? Firstly, Ireland is a neutral nation and therefore these vessels would not be used in an aggressive way. They will in fact only be used in a defensive, protective manner, a perfectly acceptable and indeed laudable role I would have thought.

Secondly , while Mr Jordan is indeed talented and I have enjoyed his work, I am struggling to identify any current Irish artists, as talented as they undoubtedly are, who would stand comparison to Joyce and Beckett.

Finally, may I say – as an Anglo-Irishman who holds an Irish passport and is proud of his Irish blood – that if future naming of these vessels becomes a controversial problem I wish to place on record that I would have no objections whatsoever in the powers that be calling one after me. Yours, etc,


School Lane,


Sir – Ben Eustace and John Browne (Letters, May 2nd.) are correct. Spending on cigarettes is a discretionary matter. However, as a non-smoker I am compelled to pay for the consequences of the smoking habits of others.

The cost to the health system, according to figures quoted by the Department of Health, is €1 billion per annum — many multiples of the income to RTÉ of the licence fee.

I suppose in the type of free market on which they seem so keen smokers will pay for the full cost, or failing that I will get a tax rebate from the health budget. Yours, etc,



Merrion Road ,

Dublin 4

Sir, – In an interview with Séan O Rourke on RTÉ radio on Friday morning (May 2nd), Archbishop Diarmuid Martin took pains to avoid answering a direct and straight question: “Do you believe in hell?” At the third time of asking, he conceded that he believed “in the possibility of hell”, and that’s as concrete as he would go on it. I was quite taken aback at such a lack of clarity on what is one of the basics of the Christian faith. There is no uncertainty in the Bible on the reality and existence of hell and in the New Testament Jesus Christ refers to it on more than a few occasions with a direct clarity and warning.

It seems that the archbishop is more concerned with saving the institution of the Catholic Church than with saving souls, for if he truly cared for the latter his words on such a crucial topic as eternity and hell would echo more closely those of Jesus Christ and the apostles, who warned of the reality of hell and the hope of the Gospel message which has at its centre the death of Jesus for the atonement of the sins of the world and through that death, eternal life in heaven for all who believe. Yours, etc,




Co Cork

Sir, – The banning of e-cigarettes and the practice of “vaping” by the HSE and other bodies (Report, April 25th) is a symptom of our current dystopia, where we seem to combine the social control of the failed communist system and the economic anarchy of cannibalistic capitalism.

We now have the worst of both systems, having neither the social protection of communism nor the wealth-generating capability of healthy capitalism. Yours, etc,


Hawthorn Park,


Co Dublin

Sir , – So bookseller Edward Tobin found the food in 1970s Spain dull (Obituaries, May 3rd). He was not alone. Around that time a family I knew used to pack Lyons tea, white sliced bread and rashers and sausages when going on Spanish holidays. “We have to,” one of them told me. “The Spanish food is s***e.” Yours, etc,


Seafield Court,


Co Dublin

Irish Independent:

Letters to the Editor – Published 05 May 2014 02:30 AM

* Kudos for Susan Denham, the Chief Justice of Ireland, for illuminating the roles and responsibilities of inclusive, pluralistic and independent media, not only in ensuring accountability, transparency and the supremacy of law but also in shaping public opinion and advancing public policy agendas.

Also in this section

We must face the music

Time to muzzle the dogs of war

On a power trip

Such a role could not be more prominent than the role of media in facilitating the exchange of ideas and intermingling of critical thoughts for the betterment and advancement of the human race.

In summary, it is all about humanity’s progress and consciousness to tame disappointments, failures and change course.

The latest World Health Organisation report on maternity and children’s health has alluded to the fact that social media has revolutionised our practices and democratised policy debates through the dissemination of health information across the entire populace to unprecedented levels of accessibility which was unknown in the past.

The contagious power of media has given hope for a more meaningful data-sharing and far-reaching translation of research innovations and knowledge regarding public health issues such as infections, vaccinations, immunisation and other vital health information.

This is the quiet revolution happening in deliberative democracies where the multiplicity of voices, views, pictures, facts, experts, researchers, citizens and policy- makers that pluralistic societies encompass, become not only fairly represented but genuinely engaged in the ongoing debates/discussions of the day.




* In his letter (‘Learn Private Sector Lesson’, April 30 ) Paul O’Sullivan launches a tirade against teachers. In comparison to them, he states that he has less than two weeks holidays a year, no pension and no guaranteed employment.

While he has no empathy with teachers, I would be worried if 70pc of the workforce were subject to the draconian conditions of employment he describes.

Rather than attacking other workers who have better terms and conditions of employment, his time might be better spent organising his fellow workers into a trade union.

His letter highlights the harsh reality for many Irish workers. It would be interesting and useful if the Irish Independent concentrated a bit more on how badly many private-sector workers are treated, rather than trying to create a false divide between private and public sector workers.




* How right Peter Howick is when he states in Irish independent’s ‘Weekend Review’ of how great a year 1971 was for classic rock music. To me, it seemed the stars were perfectly aligned and even the single 45s were exceptional.

‘Who Will Stop The Rain’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival and ‘He’s Gonna Step on You Again’ by John Kongos were only two of hundreds of brilliant 45s released in 1971.

What are the chances of those halcyon days for rock music ever returning in my lifetime?

Don’t bet on it!




* Did God make man or man make God it is often asked. But I think it is both. God allows man to make God and to fill God up with the good or bad desires in man’s heart. If man fills God up with love, kindness and self- control, then people will have a long lasting reward.

But if people choosing power, money or high status seek to put into God, then these things will eventually run out and leave people empty- handed. So, God exists in so far as what you put into him.




* As a former trade union member I wonder whatever happened to the trade union movement. It seems to have lost all mobility, whether in advancing the rights of workers or defending the living standards of its members. I recently passed Liberty Hall and hanging from the building is a poster of Emer Costello MEP that covers at least one-third of the building.

Now, I ponder the question, is SIPTU now acting as an agent for the Labour Party or does it have any interest in the hardship being enforced on ordinary people, such as property taxes and water charges?

It is sad to see trade union involvement in political circles that undermines the living standards of those they are paid to protect. I really don’t think collusion in politics is a formula that enhances their so-called ideals.

Just this year the pension age was increased to 66 and the transition pension of 65 abolished and not a murmur from the trade union establishment.

I think most reasonable-minded people want to see their living standards protected. This should be the reward of trade union membership.

To date, I believe they have failed and it is inevitable their demise will come at their own hand.




* I note with interest that the number of non-aligned candidates contesting the local elections now exceeds the number of Fine Gael candidates.




* P McDonagh and Killian Foley-Walsh seem to have taken issue with Paddy O’Brien’s “God-slamming” letter and the “typical self-assuredness” with which he expressed his atheistic views.

Is this not the same self-assuredness that is so admired when someone is described as being a person of great faith?

Paddy was simply expressing his opinion in an intelligent and articulate manner; he was not slamming God or being disrespectful in any way. This indignant and intolerant reaction to Paddy’s opinion has no place in this increasingly secular society. I would suggest those upset would do well to re-read Paddy O’Brien’s letter and take a lesson on how to make a point without being disrespectful.




* “Honohan warns on deflation risk” proclaims a bold headline in the Irish Independent’s Business Section (May 1). Quantitative easing is one policy option cited that may be employed to reduce the risk of deflation.

If quantitative easing (in layman’s terms, printing money) becomes a policy choice, I suggest that tearing up that infamous promissory note that Mr Honohan is nursing in his Central Bank vault will do nicely for Ireland’s share in printing money.

By my calculation, retiring the note would raise the money supply (M3) of the eurozone by a mere 0.00025pc, a figure that will be lost in the rounding up. Subtract the few billion Sean Citizen has already scrimped and saved to pay off unknown bondholders, and the effect on M3 is even less.

Let’s be creative Mr Honohan and in the process give the long-suffering Irish citizens a break.


Irish Independent


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