Hospital visit

April 6, 2014

6April2014 hospital visit

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Accidental

Devolution for Birmingham Priceless

Mary back in hospital visit her play Scrabble

Scrabbletoday, Mary wins Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Bob Larbey – obituary

Bob Larbey was a scriptwriter who mined the comic potential of suburbia in The Good Life and Ever Decreasing Circles

Bob Larbey (right) with his writing partner John Esmonde

Bob Larbey (right) with his writing partner John Esmonde

5:46PM BST 04 Apr 2014

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Bob Larbey, who has died aged 79, co-wrote with his professional partner John Esmonde some of Britain’s most popular television sitcoms, most memorably The Good Life (1975-78).

Amiable and easy-going, Larbey was at school with Esmonde in south London just after the war. The pair sought escape from their humdrum jobs by spending their evenings and weekends writing comedy scripts. By the early 1960s they had enjoyed modest success with sketches for radio programmes such as I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again and, for television, The Dick Emery Show.

Bob Larbey

Their first major television breakthrough, however, came in 1968 with Please, Sir!, a series for ITV set in a tough south London secondary modern school; it would generate a feature film and a television sequel, The Fenn Street Gang. Frank Muir, then head of entertainment at LWT, cast John Alderton as the idealistic young teacher Bernard “Privet” Hedges who struggled to keep the unruly pupils of Class 5C in order.

As Larbey celebrated his 40th birthday, he and Esmonde devised their most popular and successful series, The Good Life. In the first episode, screened in 1975, Tom Good, a draughtsman for a plastics company (played by Richard Briers), himself turned 40, seizing this occasion to drop out of the rat-race by jacking in his job in favour of suburban self-sufficiency with his wife Barbara (Felicity Kendal).

Rather than give up their comfortable, semi-detached home in Surbiton, the Goods turned their garden into a smallholding, with pigs, a goat, chickens and assorted fruit and vegetables.

Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal in The Good Life

Although the couple’s lifestyle baffled and often appalled their social-climbing neighbours, Margo (Penelope Keith) and Jerry Leadbetter (Paul Eddington), the foursome always remained friends, and it was this rapprochement that commended the series to the middle classes, at whom it was poking fun. (Larbey himself confessed that he was too impractical to embrace self-sufficiency, but its general philosophy appealed to him.)

While The Good Life was attracting some 15 million viewers a week on the BBC, Larbey and Esmonde were enjoying further success on ITV with their RAF sitcom Get Some In! (1975-78). Starring Robert Lindsay in his first important television role, and featuring Tony Selby as the drill instructor barking orders at 1950s National Service “erks”, the series drew on the writers’ own experiences (Larbey had been in the Army, and Esmonde in the RAF).

After The Good Life, Larbey and Esmonde wrote three further series for Richard Briers, starting with The Other One (1977-79), in which the central character could not have been more different. Perhaps because Briers was cast as a compulsive and unscrupulous liar, the show failed to generate any of the affection viewers had felt for the wholesome Goods, and it was cancelled after only two series.

Larbey struck out on his own with A Fine Romance (1981-84), starring Judi Dench in her first television sitcom, alongside her real-life husband, Michael Williams. “From first to last,” one critic noted, “Bob Larbey’s scripts were well-written, providing not only laughs but also an underlying intelligence.”

He rejoined Esmonde to create another popular and long-running vehicle for Richard Briers in Ever Decreasing Circles (1984-89), in which the star returned to suburbia as Martin Bryce, an anally-retentive fusspot and do-gooder, with Penelope Wilton as his long-suffering wife, Ann.

Penelope Wilton, Richard Briers and Peter Egan in Ever Decreasing Circles

In Larbey and Esmonde’s last series together, Down To Earth (1995), Briers played Tony Fairfax, an expatriate struggling to adapt after returning to Britain from South America; but once again viewers did not warm to his character, and it ran for just seven episodes.

The youngest son of a carpenter, Robert Edward John Larbey was born on June 24 1934 in Lambeth, south London, and educated at the Henry Thornton School in Clapham, where he was captain of tennis and became friends with John Esmonde, two years his junior.

On leaving school Larbey took a job in an insurance office in Soho, then did National Service with the Army, stationed in Germany with the Education Corps.

When he and Esmonde started writing sketches, working together at nights and weekends, they submitted a few to the BBC, which eventually accepted one for a programme starring the comedian Cyril Fletcher, earning them a joint fee of two guineas. Having saved money from their day jobs, they gave themselves three months to make a go of writing full-time.

Their first radio sitcom was Spare a Copper (1965-66), featuring the Carry On film star Kenneth Connor as a bungling policeman. The pair followed this with two further radio series, You’re Only Old Once (1969), with Clive Dunn as a spry pensioner, and Just Perfick (1969-71), adapted from the Larkin family stories of HE Bates.

Meanwhile, Larbey and Esmonde had established a toehold in television, starting with sketches for The Dick Emery Show in 1963. Their first full-scale television sitcom, Room At The Bottom (1967), for the BBC, was about a gang of factory maintenance men . It made little impact, but the following year the success of Please, Sir! (1968-72) propelled them into the front rank of television comedy writers. Turned down by the BBC, the show was snapped up by ITV, attracting a weekly audience of 20 million viewers .

As their careers prospered, the pair worked business hours in an office in the centre of Dorking, midway between their respective homes, often acting out scenes together and noting down spontaneous bursts of dialogue. Distractions were confined to occasional glances at televised cricket.

In the 1980s they created Brush Strokes (1986-91), in which Karl Howman starred as a womanising painter and decorator, with Gary Waldhorn as his boss. They wrote a second sitcom for Howman called Mulberry (1992-93), in which he played the manservant of a cantankerous old spinster Miss Farnaby (Geraldine McEwan).

Although in The Good Life Larbey helped to make Surbiton synonymous with suburbia, he never visited the town he made famous. “To be honest, we were just looking for something that sounded like suburbia in big capital letters,” he explained. “We just picked it at random.” The series was actually filmed in Northwood, north London.

In 2004, 30 years after its original screening, The Good Life was ranked ninth in a BBC poll of viewers’ favourite sitcoms.

Bob Larbey married Patricia (Trish) Marshall, a script-reader for LWT, who predeceased him in 2006. Their son survives him. John Esmonde died in 2008.

Bob Larbey, born June 24 1934, died March 31 2014


The skyline statement (“London’s skyline is about to be transformed with 230 new towers“, In Focus) coincided with the submission last week of a planning proposal for what would be the tallest residential tower in Camden, north London. This massive development right next to the only green space in Swiss Cottage would dwarf Basil Spence’s adjacent Grade II listed library. Despite residents’ representations, no real changes have been made to the scheme. Indeed, the height of the tower has been increased from 16 to 24 storeys.

The bland and characterless tower would loom, without any relationship, over residential neighbourhoods. Its shocking and profound impact on the surrounding conservation areas has been ignored. No thought has been given to the ways the tower will appear from Primrose Hill, Hampstead Heath and Regent’s Park.

This damage might be justifiable if the development was offering permanent affordable housing for families. Yet of 184 flats, fewer than 14% will be allocated to social housing. The developers’ proposed model of mass private rental has not been tested successfully for five years or more anywhere in London. How can five-year tenancy agreements for small flats built over the most polluted traffic gyratory in Camden, targeted at young professionals and offering no facilities for families, build a sustainable community?

The proposed development hinges on the fact that Camden council recently reclassified Swiss Cottage as a major town centre, without any real consultation with residents. This means that high-rise building can now be encouraged here. The heart is being ripped out of local democracy. Hand in glove with the developers, London’s councils and its mayor are forcing these highly inappropriate developments on communities, irrespective of their vocal opposition.

Sarah Howard Gottlieb

Swiss Cottage Action Group

London NW3

Civic democracy will continue to be powerless as long as a minister, on a whim, can grant planning permission. In Vauxhall, three of the 10 towers about to engulf Vauxhall Cross came into being in this way, despite enormous opposition.

The St George Tower (or Vauxhall Tower) was granted on appeal by John Prescott in 2005, despite advice from his advisers in December 2004 that it “could set a precedent for the indiscriminate scattering of very tall buildings across London”.

The two towers to be built on the Kylun/Wendover site were approved by Eric Pickles in August 2012. He was apparently advised that they “would kick-start the area’s regeneration”. Two years on, the empty site is again for sale.

Pauline Gaunt

London SW8

London’s problem is not its changing skyline or the number of tower blocks springing up. It’s what those tower blocks are being built for that is the real issue.

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson approved two blocks in Islington that the council had turned down because there was insufficient housing for people on low incomes. Using his planning powers, Johnson has now given the go-ahead to the two schemes with the proviso that there should be 30% “affordable units” out of 1,000 homes.

But that is meaningless. The government’s definition of affordable is 80% of market rents, which means that for Islington a two-bedroom flat would let at £22,256 per year, affordable only to the City workers down the road.

This is happening across the capital with developments that will do nothing either to improve London’s housing situation or cater for its citizens.

Architectural fashion changes; Centre Point was once regarded as a blight on the landscape but is now seen as a masterpiece. It is not a skyline commission that is needed, but a housing commission to examine urgently the fundamental issues around homes for Londoners.

Christian Wolmar

(seeking Labour nomination for the 2016 mayoral election)

London N7

Catherine Bennett lashes out against Tony Hall’s new agenda for more arts on BBC (“Why has the BBC gone back in time to define itself?“, Comment). For instance, she doesn’t think there is much relevance in presenting opera from the “subsidised but stratospherically inaccessible Royal Op era House”. Is the ROH really so inaccessible? Despite having the lowest public subsidy – 23% – of any major opera house in Europe, tickets start from £4 and we manage to sell 50% of all tickets for £55 or less.

With 40% of our audience under 45, we have a younger audience than most opera houses in the world and our education work reaches almost 50,000 people each year. We have 27,000 student bookers for discount schemes and our live cinema relays are seen in the UK and globally by hundreds of thousands. Our YouTube channel has hours of insights freely available and there are the free activities, including BP Big Screens around the country.

If the Royal Opera House is so inaccessible, then surely one would think putting more of its work on TV would actually be a rather good idea?

Kasper Holten

Director of opera

Royal Opera House, London WC2

Scottish leaders’ fine record

Alexander Linklater has a very blinkered view of creativity and opportunity in Scotland that sharply contrasts with his pitch that “the union belongs to the Scots, it’s at the heart of our cultural identity“, Comment. He accuses the “popular and effective” SNP Scottish government of having “no record on culture”. Clearly, control of broadcasting is of no consideration in Mr Linklater’s world, so he obviously hasn’t noticed the BBC bias saga or the blind spots in BBC programming and underspend in Scotland.

On traditional arts, our indigenous languages and support for internationalising the very best of Scottish cultural output in all genres that feature in the Edinburgh international festivals the Scottish government is very active with limited resources.

Rob Gibson



The consequence of inaction

Regarding your leader column views on the criteria for making a military intervention (“Our view on foreign intervention is in chaos. We need a solution“, Comment). The decision as whether to make a military intervention should take account of the consequences of not taking action. Doing nothing is a course of action in itself, with possible consequences.

Peter Halsey



Give us proper pensions parity

I was puzzled about the pensions provisions in the recent budget and then I read Michael Freedland’s excellent article (“Sadly, new deal is too late for me (and a million or two others)“, in personal finance.

I agree with Michael and think that these annuity holders should not be excluded from the new deal. They should have a choice too.

If the government built new roads purely for new drivers, while only allowing existing drivers to drive on the old roads, it wouldn’t make sense. If for an illness or condition, the NHS offered treatments and possibly cures only to the newly diagnosed and left existing patients bereft of these it also would not make sense. Pensions should be treated in a similarly fair way.

Clearly, if annuities have been received, then the pension pot is smaller. That can’t change, but they should, from the time of the introduction of the provisions, be able to take the remaining pension pot as cash. That would be fair and equitable.

Barrie Gordon


Don’t dismiss ADHD drugs

There is no doubt that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), like many other diagnoses, is a syndromal diagnosis and that pathways into ADHD are multiple (“ADHD ‘not a real disease’ says US neuroscientist“, News). Equally, a range of social and psychological interventions are indicated.

However, there is good evidence to show that severe ADHD, or hyperkinetic disorder, has a significant neurophysiological and genetic component and that stimulants are safe and effective treatments, alongside social, educational and psychological interventions. Non-pharmacological interventions are indicated in mild to moderate ADHD but stimulants form the core of the management of severe ADHD. To argue that they are not indicated puts at risk highly vulnerable children and their overburdened families.

Dr Peter Hindley

Chair of the faculty of child and adolescent psychiatry

Royal College of Psychiatrists, London E1

A picture to die for

Robert Stummer’s article (“Message of love hidden in medieval graffiti“, News) provided a gratifying and welcome insight into an otherwise forgotten source of social history: graffiti, especially Lydgate’s rebus, notably: “Farewell Lady Catherine.” He is mistaken in thinking that cater is a term for a die; rather, it is the four of a die roll, clearly depicted in the photograph. We still retain the ace and deuce for one and two, three is trey, four cater, five cinque and six sez.

Ian Russell Lowell


Snapshot Val Waters View larger picture

Snapshot … back row, from left to right, Uncle Fred, Val Waters’ grandfather and Uncle Syd; seated, Aunt Elsie, Val’s grandmother and mother.

Snapshot: Our much loved Uncle Fred

This photograph, taken around 1920, is very important to me, as it’s the only one I have of all the members of my Hodges forebears before disaster struck in the form of illness. I was born just too late to remember Uncle Fred, but my childhood was filled with stories about him. He is standing on the left, looking quite young. Next to him is my grandfather and on the right is Uncle Syd. Seated are my favourite aunt, Auntie Elsie, with my grandmother in the middle and then my mother, holding a kitten.

Fred was a naughty little boy, so one Monday morning when she was doing the washing, Grandma was persuaded by a neighbour to give him some drops of Mother Segal’s Soothing Syrup (containing laudanum), but it made him so dopey that she never did it again. When Fred developed heart trouble (no surgery for it in those days), she nursed him so devotedly that she ruined her health and had to rest every afternoon.

As he grew up, Fred became much loved by all the members of the family. He had a good sense of humour, and was popular at school, where he was voted the most public-spirited boy. He and Syd used to go courting two sisters in the next street and their dog fetched the right girl when they called.

However, as Fred was never well enough to hold down a job, there was no engagement. He was a very handsome young man (my mother kept photos of him) and the family were broken-hearted when he died, aged 23.

Elsie would never talk about him. Syd woke one night and heard Fred’s voice saying, “I’m going now, Syd” – at the exact time he died, he discovered later. My grandparents had a tablet erected over his grave and my grandma and cousin used to lay flowers there.

As for the girl he’d courted, when she did get married several years later, she laid her wedding bouquet on his grave, with her husband’s agreement.

The Hodges were a working-class family who worked hard. All four children managed to pass the exam that enabled them to attend the local grammar school, though only my mother chose to stay on in the sixth form and go to university.

I feel very proud of them.

Val Waters


Synthetic phonics, far from letting down pupils with dyslexia, is effective for the majority and, coupled with the phonics check, can help to identify those who may be dyslexic or need a different approach (“Dyslexic pupils not helped by reading method”, 30 March).

Structured teaching of lettersound links and how to blend sounds were key components of “dyslexia teaching” long before synthetic phonics became commonplace in schools. We know that many pupils at risk of dyslexia can progress well with a structured phonics programme but would flounder if left to learn more holistically. To read in the broadest sense requires an orchestration of many other skills of which decoding is but one and, for fluent readers, one that they may seldom use; but decoding is a hurdle at which many children have fallen and it is right that early teaching of reading is directed at helping as many children over this hurdle as possible.

Dyslexia Action has supported the use of the phonics check, which involves the ability to read “non words”, as part of a process to identify those who may need a different approach. However, it should not be the only piece of evidence used to examine children’s reading. Neither should it force a straitjacket of prescriptive teaching on to those who have moved on to more advanced stages. Dyslexia Action has been working with the Department for Education to develop information and guidance for teachers on materials and on decisions about their use; more information about this can be found on our website.

Dr John Rack

Director of education and policy Dyslexia Action

Egham, Surrey

In reply to Richard Garner’s personal view regarding synthetic phonics; that is precisely what has happened with my six-year-old cousin. He can read fluently. Or he could. Now he insists on spelling out every word phonetically, even if he knows the word. He seems to think that you have to read like that.

In addition, he is penalised for wanting to read books he enjoys, and his learning has slowed as a result. As a child, I loved books, and would read in my own time for pleasure, even at the age of six. I really believe the key to improving reading is to evoke a passion for books, not turn this generation of children into phonetic robots.

Helen Brown


Joan Smith is right that religion is losing the argument on abortion, contraception and gay marriages (30 March). But if she were to speak to some of the many people, young and old, who worship at one of the newly established non-denominational churches, or, indeed, to a lot of nonconformists, she might be surprised to find that the majority of modern-thinking Christians agree.

Gillian Cook

Market Harborough, Leicestershire

Consumers can indeed play a strategic role by pressing brands to ensure decent treatment for overseas workers (“Cheap products carry a high cost”, 30 March). Thousands who signed our petition on Rana Plaza helped persuade brands to sign the legally binding Bangladesh safety accord. But retailers’ voluntary approach has still left workers toiling long hours for well below a living wage. It is time for government action to end this scandal.

Jeff Powell

Campaigns and policy director

War on Want, London N1

I was alarmed by your report (“Gaia visionary advocates city living”, 30 March) intimating that Chesil Beach had lurched into Devon. Having expended considerable energy climbing to the top of Portland on a clear day, I can assure you that the entire beach is still in Dorset.

Joe Trevett

Society of Dorset Men, Weymouth, Dorset

Columnist Andrew Martin (30 March) refers to “preparing for a dinner party” and what “dinner party hosts are supposed to ask”. Am I alone among your readers in never having been to a dinner party?

Tim Mickleburgh

Grimsby, Lincolnshire


GPs flooded by patients – and we’re struggling

CAMILLA CAVENDISH needs to spend a day shadowing me to see life from this side of the fence. I have been a GP for 30 years in the same practice and have seen huge changes in the way we operate (“Dr Useless says he’s busy. Fine, I’ll be off to the pharmacist then”, Comment, last week). I did not vote for the 2004 contract, which heralded the inability to close our list, which has nearly doubled over the past five years as disaffected patients from other practices and eastern European land workers flood in. We are unable to attract new doctors so we struggle on — with 35 to 40 patients awaiting the emergency doctor on a Monday morning. This is not medicine but crowd control.
Dr Clive Warren Boston, Lincolnshire

Investment needed
We are grateful to Camilla Cavendish (“Dr Useless says he’s busy. Fine, I’ll be off to the pharmacist then”, Comment, last week) for pointing out the huge asset of the pharmacist in the community and pleased that she found her local pharmacist to be so good.

However, different but complementary services and expertise are already offered by general practitioners and pharmacists to patients in surgeries and pharmacies every day.

Care is becoming more complex with the challenges of an ageing population, more patients presenting with multiple and complex conditions and more patients with mental health problems.

GPs are working record hours in surgery and making up to 60 patient contacts a day. Pharmacists dispense about 1bn prescriptions a year alongside the provision of an increasing range of NHS services.

Treatments are being carried out in general practice that 10 years ago would have been immediately referred to a hospital physician and pharmacists are already carrying out medication reviews, supporting people with long-term conditions to stay well and preventing illness through stop smoking services.

Both our professions would like to see a shift in resources that allows investment in primary care and services that promote wellness, preventing costly and unwanted hospital admissions.

This includes increasing the number of GPs who could provide more appointments and longer appointments for patients. A modest rise of only 1% per year would ease the pressures on other parts of the health service, ensuring that patients get access to their general practice when they need it.

We would like to see the NHS make better use of pharmacists’ skills by enabling patients to share their electronic health record with pharmacists and rewarding pharmacists for the quality of the care delivered, as well as better patient outcomes. The NHS will get the most from medicines when pharmacists are better utilised throughout the health system.

Ultimately, the answer to increasing demand, with scarce resources, when patients rightly expect high-quality care will come from collaborative, not competitive, working between GPs and pharmacists.

Enabling pharmacists and GPs to share the care of our population will only come about if patients and their carers see the benefits of such an arrangement and confidence develops that this provides better, safer care.

Dr Maureen Baker, Chair Royal College of General Practitioners,

Dr David Branford, Chair, English Pharmacy Board, Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Barriers to diagnosis
Not for the first time, GPs are left to shoulder the blame for more failures within the NHS. While I acknowledge that my GP colleagues do need to take some degree of responsibility, a difficult task is made more so by current referral channels.

The two-week-wait system has made no difference to rates of early cancer diagnosis. It only works well where the diagnosis is obvious anyway, such as with breast or skin.

Delays are increased by the barriers put up to GP access to diagnostics such as ultrasound, endoscopy and MRI. GPs can increase rates of early cancer diagnosis but must have the tools to be able to do so.
Dr Peter Holloway GP and Clinical Commissioning Group, Mendlesham, Suffol

Too few radiologists
We share the aspiration of Harpal Kumar (“GPs must end culture of delays”, Focus, last week) to achieve diagnosis of cancer at an earlier and therefore more treatable stage. However, we have reservations about his proposed strategy of carrying out diagnostic tests on more people.

The demand for imaging tests has already far outstripped the ability of NHS radiology departments to cope. With around half the number of radiologists per head of population that other western European nations enjoy, we simply do not have the capacity to interpret significantly larger numbers of scans.

We support the national screening programmes for breast and bowel cancers, which can best be detected by imaging. Earlier diagnosis of other cancers will most reliably be achieved by targeting imaging to people with specific symptom complexes and risk factors. We have been producing guidelines for doctors on the appropriate use of imaging for more than 20 years and we are keen to work with Cancer Research UK, healthcare leaders, Macmillan Cancer Support and other stakeholders to ensure that imaging strategies are designed to promote earlier diagnosis.

If this involves an increase in the number of people undergoing tests, significant further investment in radiologists and radiology services will be required.
Giles Maskell President  Royal College of Radiologists

Smear test delays
In 2003 the age to enter the NHS cervical screening programme was raised from 20 to 25 years as evidence showed that screening in the lower age group had little impact on rates of invasive cancer. Cellular changes related to HPV infection are common in younger women, but largely self-resolve.

If a woman of any age presents to a GP with cervical cancer symptoms, she must be urgently referred to a gynaecologist. A smear test at that stage would introduce further delays, even if the public thinks otherwise.
Dr Sally Wood Ludlow, Shropshire

Mum’s raw deal on pay

I COULD not agree more about women being penalised for part-time working (“Wise up, bosses, and make this mother’s day”, Eleanor Mills, last week). As an accountant I can get £35,000 to £40,000 pro rata working part-time; full-time work pays much more overall.

All of the mums I know are graduates but a very small percentage of them work — it is just not worth it. In Denmark both the mum and dad tend to work part-time. This seems a much more equitable solution.
Gill Crane Alton, Hampshire

Flexible friends
Employers continue to consider flexible working cases on an ad hoc basis. Thus many parents, especially women, are forced to leave work, taking vital skills with them. Family Lives believes that flexible working should be seen as a dynamic policy for all (men, women, old and young) to support staff to combine work, care and family life.
Anastasia de Waal Chairwoman, Family Lives

Dear dad, let’s talk

I felt very sad when I read the Mother’s Day article “Do you get on with your mum? My relationship is complex and messy” (Katie Glass, Magazine, last week), but it appears to have struck a chord with many.

My husband had a very difficult relationship with his dad, and eventually wrote a letter. The result was not an outpouring of anger or regret but a much better relationship — my husband was 59 and his dad 89. Took them a while, but it improved things.
Name and address withheld

NHS faces a weighty issue

As always, Rod Liddle has hit the nail firmly on the head with his take on obesity (“Chew on this insult, lardbucket. It’s for your own good”, Comment, last week). When I was an NHS consultant in Essex, I very politely advised a patient at my pain clinic that she could improve her back pain by losing weight. Her daughter, a hospital administrator, reported me to the authorities for being “disrespectful” to her mother.
Dr Charles Gauci, Gozo, Malta

Gluten-free isn’t a fad for coeliacs
I know Liddle is often tongue-in-cheek and that it is a fad to say you are wheat-intolerant. However, there are people, like my daughter and granddaughter, who have coeliac disease, which means they have to eat gluten-free. Going out for a meal is a nightmare, and imagine telling a child she cannot have an ice cream or chocolate sweets that contain gluten. Not life-threatening, but hard to live with.
Lesley Charnock, Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire

Intolerable string ban

BANNING steel-stringed instruments from prison would be a travesty and a truly cruel punishment for one prisoner I met when I worked in HMP Elmley, Kent (“High security, low voltage as prisons outlaw guitars”, News, last week). Elmley houses not only some of the country’s most dangerous men, but also Sarah Baker, a transgender life-sentenced prisoner, who has now served 26 years.

I knew little about Baker but soon discovered that she was full of remorse for her crimes.  I was left almost speechless by the sincerity of her words. More amazingly, I also heard  that she was a violinist and had been friends with the late, great virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin — had she not been in prison, some people felt that she could have been Britain’s greatest violinist. She used to practise for 14 hours a  day, starting with the “Kreutzer” sonata, and then Bach’s partitas for solo violin, followed by  two violin concertos. She would always end with Paganini’s caprices, which often annoyed her neighbours.

Meeting a transgender violin-playing life-sentenced prisoner was not only one of  the most surreal moments in my life, but also the greatest.
Name and address withheld

Melody maker
I do hope that staff in the 49 establishments to which Billy Bragg donated guitars inspected them to see if any files were enclosed.
Ray Watson, Beckenham, southeast London

Losing our cool

I FAIL to see how warming will improve Britain’s climate (“London a flashpoint for climate change”, News, last week). First, we shall start to lose our traditional crops and livestock. Working in summer will become intolerable and affect productivity.

Finally, the loss of the cool British seaside with its pleasantly tepid waters will be a disaster.There will be nowhere to hide from the beastly sun, while tropical fauna invade our beaches with their foul stings and noisome teeth. I don’t like it, sir.
Quentin Lotte, London SW6

Tax blowing in
Last week we were inundated with warnings about climate change, with reports from the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs — and then there were the Sahara sands polluting our air.

In my humble view, it was an orchestrated campaign to alarm us all into a state of acute responsibility — in itself a fine objective. So why do I keep wondering if we are being softened up for a raft of new rules, penalties and taxes?
Allan Falconer Nottingham


Toff luck
In November 1995 I went for a job interview at Carlton Communications (“Toff at the top”, Editorial, March 23). The man who interviewed me was smooth and ambitious. His name was David Cameron. I later got the stock “no, thanks, but we’ll keep your details on file” letter. This surely makes me the only Old Etonian to whom the prime minister hasn’t offered a job.
Boris Starling, Dorset

Desert dreams
Your article “Desert gives up Lawrence’s hideout” (News, March 23) refers to the perfect preservation of a Lawrence guerrilla camp to the east of Aqaba, from which he planned his raids on the Hejaz railway. Many of those attacks took place in Saudi Arabia as the railway line from Damascus approached Medina. When working at the new industrial city of Yanbu on the Red Sea coast, close to where Lawrence stayed at times, I ventured east towards the railway. Finding track remains, I followed it north toward the Jordan border across perfect viaducts, and found well-preserved wrecks of trains (no rust in the desert). Your article and the associated interactive map online recalled happy times in the desert — a privilege.
Clive Peacock Kenilworth, Warwickshire

Germans do remember
Harry Mount says the Germans don’t remember the First World War (“Lying cold and alone: the war dead Germany struggles to remember”, News Review, March 23), but if he visits the cemetery in Cannock, Staffordshire, dedicated to German dead of both world wars, he will find Germans looking at all the graves and spending time in the moving memorial chapel. If we had a joint memorial service for the Great War, the Germans might take part, over here.
Jane Kelly, London W3

Prince of smiles
How I had to smile on reading Prince Andrew extolling the merits of failure, sitting in the palace with his “HRH” teacup (“Failure is good for you — and I should know”, News Review, last week).
Dudley Holley, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Corrections and clarifications

We have been asked to clarify that if beaches do not pass the EU’s new bathing water directive, signs might have to be erected warning the public about water quality (“Kiss me quick before 45 top beaches close”, News, March 16). However, no beaches would actually close, and people would be free to choose to swim or not.

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to 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)


Rory Bremner, impressionist, 53; Paul Daniels, magician, 76; Myleene Klass, presenter, 36; Ian Paisley, former first minister of Northern Ireland, 88; Anita Pallenberg, model, 70; André Previn, pianist and conductor, 85; Paul Rudd, actor, 45; Dilip Vengsarkar, cricketer, 58; James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, 86


1896 first modern Olympic Games open in Athens; 1917 America declares war on Germany; 1924 first round-the-world flight takes off from Seattle (it takes 175 days); 1944 introduction of PAYE income tax in Britain; 1994 the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi die in a plane crash, sparking the Rwandan genocide


SIR – Given that Nick Clegg has so dismally failed to put the case for our continued EU membership, and that opinion polls show that the Lib Dems may have no MEPs at all in a few weeks’ time, my question is: what is the policy of the Labour Party on the EU?

I have examined the Labour website. It tells me about Ed Miliband, the shadow cabinet, its MPs and candidates. How strange that it does not even mention the European elections on May 22.

Hugo Jenks
Bath, Somerset


SIR – Rear-Admiral Frank Golden valued his dual nationality. He told me that he cherished the memory of the astonishment on the faces of those greeting him when, on an official visit to the Republic of Ireland, he was piped aboard an Irish naval vessel and, in the uniform of a British admiral, answered his welcome in fluent Gaelic.

Christopher Macy

Post earliest of all

SIR – A wooden posting box in Lyme Regis (pictured) lays claim to being the oldest surviving in Britain (Letters, April 4).

It is still set in its original place on the wall of the Old Lyme Guest House, which was, from 1799 to 1853, the post office.

It has a vertical and a horizontal slot, reflecting changing government guidelines.

John Powell
Tavistock, Devon

Too fat to fit

SIR – Why have toothbrush handles become so bulbous that they no longer fit into the receptacles designed for them?

My white bathroom holder has “Toothbrush” in blue letters and four three-quarter-inch holes. The guest room container also sports an oval aperture for the toothpaste, from a pretty rose-covered range of bed linen and accessories sold by Marks & Spencer. No use now. What do I use instead?

Prudence Seddon
Stourton Caundle, Dorset

A better sort of earl

SIR – Two of the Earl of Rosslyn’s forebears would have been particularly delighted by his new appointment as master of the household to the Prince of Wales.

His great-grandfather, the 5th Earl, who gambled away the family fortune in six years and then devised a system to break the bank at Monte Carlo (but failed), was part of the Marlborough House set that fawned on the future Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales. He was tolerated because his sister, the Countess of Warwick, was for a time the Prince’s maitresse-en-titre (later she tried to use her love letters to blackmail the Royal family, but was forgiven).

The new senior courtier’s grandfather, who died in 1929 as Lord Loughborough before inheriting the earldom, tried but failed to win the friendship of the next Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII. “He was sacked from the RN College, Osborne, my first term there in the summer of 1907”, the latter recalled. He was much taken, however, with Lady Loughborough, as was his brother, the future George VI, her lover before his marriage.

In entering the service of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, the current Earl has made up for the failings of his predecessors.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

Bad call

SIR – Infuriated at receiving unwanted calls from abroad and from British firms that do not abide by the Telephone Preference Service, I too invested in the BT blocking telephone (Letters, April 4).

It was excellent until I realised that many doctors and hospitals withhold their numbers, and that I was missing vital calls. I had no alternative but to cancel the service.

James Shone
Southwell, Nottinghamshire

Becher’s trick

SIR – Peter Oborne (Comment, April 3) tells that Captain Becher’s party-trick was “leaping on to the mantelpiece from a standing start”.

I have seen it said elsewhere that C B Fry would do the same, but starting with his back to the fireplace.

Is either feat properly attested? Or is either actually much commoner than one supposes?

Lachlan Mackinnon
Ely, Cambridgeshire

Enjoy! We’ll see about that

SIR – The politest reply that I can suggest to a waiter’s “Enjoy” (Letters, April 4) is: “I’ll try”.

Helen Atkin

Lewes, East Sussex

SIR – A late friend of mine was known to respond to instructions by waiters to “Enjoy” by saying wearily: “Enjoy is a transitive verb and requires an object.”

That was usually the end of the matter.

Charles O’Connor
London SW7

SIR – A frequent response by a waiter to any request is “No problem.”

As the politically correct brigade has substituted the word challenge for problem, I say: “You mean no challenge.” Result: incomprehension.

Vincent Howard
Barton Stacey, Hampshire

SIR – Worse is a television interview ending with, “Thanks for your time,” and, “My pleasure.” It makes me cringe.

Malcolm Cross
Plungar, Leicestershire

SIR – Two grizzled New York comedy writers I worked with in Hollywood, on being exhorted to “Have a nice day” by a head waiter, snapped back in unison: “Don’t tell us what to do!”

Lord Grade of Yarmouth
London SW1

SIR – Which particular aspect of the Maria Miller scandalis the most infuriating?

a) Her attempt to screw the maximum out of a sloppy expenses system.

b) The overruling of the conclusions of an independent body, which had spent 14 months reaching its conclusions.

c) The unseemly support shown by colleagues just before her apology in the House of Commons.

d) The backing of the Prime Minister, who values her contribution.

They still don’t get it!

Peter Edwards
Coleford, Gloucestershire

SIR – The House of Commons did itself no service on Thursday in its treatment of Mrs Miller.

When will parliamentarians of both Houses learn that this country craves leadership by example in high places?

Air Commodore Michael Allisstone (retd)

Chichester, West Sussex

SIR – I agree with Peter Oborne (Comment, Mrs Miller should have been sacked, and even deselected by the party.

How can the public have confidence in Parliament if MPs get away with this kind of action?

Michael Davey
Warminster, Wiltshire

SIR – This can only reinforce the view that collectively politicians are not to be trusted and continue to look after their own.

It’s appalling that, after the uncovering of the expenses scandal by The Daily Telegraph, these so-called “honourable” members can still make life-changing capital gains funded by the public.

John Cooper
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

SIR – The headline on your leading article “Mrs Miller should say sorry to taxpayers” almost certainly reflected the reaction of 99 per cent of the British public to the latest chapter in the seemingly never-ending saga of MPs’ expenses.

So did your following remarks, “Do MPs not know what their main homes look like? This will strike many voters as another example of the political class protecting its own – and apparently undermining their own regulator to boot.” All this hammers one more nail in the coffin of public trust in politics and politicians.

It is almost beyond parody that Maria Miller is the Cabinet minister charged with overseeing politicians’ attempts to force newspapers to sign up to an archaic, post-Leveson Royal Charter form of press regulation that would do more for politicians’ self-interest than the taxpaying public’s right to know.

Hopefully, the public will also take note of the fact that, once again, it took a newspaper to alert the public to Maria Miller’s questionable interpretation of parliamentary expenses; not to mention the clumsy attempts by government officials to lean on the Telegraph, citing the Culture Secretary’s keynote role in the press regulation debate.

Despite the desperate efforts of Maria Miller and the Prime Minister, with his hasty declarations of support and desire to call the matter closed, the aftershocks of MPs spurning the judgment of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner will reverberate through to next year’s general election. David Cameron’s decision to leave Maria Miller in place is one he could come to rue on polling day.

Paul Connew
St Albans, Hertfordshire

SIR – Why did Maria Miller need a “second home”? There are many trains between Basingstoke and London, and the journey takes less than 90 minutes. The journey from Wimbledon, where her other home was, takes half an hour.

So we taxpayers seem to have paid more than £90,000 to save this MP an hour a day.

Peter Burke
Carnoustie, Angus

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Madam – The garda commissioner makes his way up from the rank and file membership as opposed to some countries that operate a cadetship. The skills needed to perform in middle management are not necessarily adequate to fulfil the huge range of responsibilities as commissioner.

Also in this section

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Sky deal is a slap in the face for GAA fans

If future commissioners are to possess the capabilities to steer the force towards excellence, two criteria must apply. Firstly, there must be a sprinkling of candidates joining from time to time capable of surviving at the various levels and eventually taking on the giant expansion of skills required to perform as head of the force.

Secondly, the promotion system must be capable of identifying, selecting and promoting these members. sergeants, superintendents, chief superintendents and commissioners have a major say and a veto at every stage of promotion of subordinates. The chances of these fulfilling the second criteria are low. The statistical chance of both criteria existing is very remote.

Middle management have plenty to do without the need to be involved in assessing staff for promotion. It is likely that some excellent staff are blocked along the way by managers who are not up to the job themselves or just don’t understand the need for fair objective selection. Simply put, if your chief doesn’t like you, you are not going anywhere. If cadetship is not in the frame, the services of outside help to oversee promotion by continuous assessment, based on ability, will be vital. Nepotism, sporting prowess, and luck are poor alternatives to clarity of thought, training, leadership and skill. Three commissioners forced into involuntary retirement since 1978 prove the need for change.

Val Martin,



Madam – Having long been familiar with the critical work of Anthony Cronin and his thoughts on the inordinately talented trio of Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh, and Flann O’Brien, I must take issue with some of the points he raises in his interview with Willie Kealy, regarding the literary legacy of Brendan Behan (Sunday Independent, March 23, 2014).

Cronin states in relation to Behan: “… as if there’s a solid achievement to commemorate, which, alas, there isn’t. I wouldn’t think – aside from Borstal Boy, which I think is not even in print at the moment – that there’s not much to rest the reputation of the writer on”. I think Cronin sells Behan the writer very short in this assessment.

In fairness to him, Cronin at least mentions Borstal Boy, although he appears to undermine this mention by surmising that it’s not even in print at this point in time. Woe betide any writer who stakes his or her reputation on the exigencies of the publishing industry. The reputations of writers tend to go in and out of fashion, a point that Cronin himself noted some years ago in relation to the unfairly neglected Aidan Higgins. Borstal Boy itself ranks very highly in the realm of prison autobiography, bearing comparison with Jean Genet‘s The Miracle of the Rose and Our Lady of the Flowers. Indeed, Behan’s work surpasses Genet’s in its sympathy with the human condition and in his refusal to treat his characters as mere puppets and playthings.

Cronin also refers to The Hostage as “a totally different sort of entertainment”. This is a fair enough comment, but what about An Giall (the Irish-language play on which the inferior The Hostage is based and which is far more than an entertainment) and The Quare Fellow – both classics of modern Irish drama? And what about Behan’s fine poems in Irish and his masterpieces of short fiction, After the Wake and The Confirmation Suit? All in all, not an inconsiderable achievement on which to base a literary legacy.

Jim McCarthy,

Sandymount, Dublin 4


Madam – The headline to Eilis O’Hanlon’s article (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014), – “For our seasoned politicians, ignorance isn’t merely bliss, it’s good business” – angered me. Yes, true, if it’s merely a game of French roulette among themselves, while forgetting they are in charge of running a country.

Good leadership was never so necessary in Ireland as now. Tens of thousands are unemployed, mortgage debt is a disaster and the population is burdened with new schemes and taxes.

Nevertheless, for the past few weeks nothing mattered in Dail Eireann – only problems with whistleblowers and phone tapping. Both are connected with inefficiency at the top and little to do with rank and file. As for ‘whistleblowers’ – they weren’t always known by that name! The only whistleblowers familiar to the general public would be those with the local hunts or refereeing matches. Culture changes – apparently it is now honourable and necessary to have a new professional whistleblowers’ outfit set up to combat wrong-doing in higher places. So be it!

Undoubtedly, the next time-waster in Government will be the local elections, when it would serve the country far better if they got their ‘ear to the ground’, started straightening the economy and created some jobs.

James Gleeson,

Thurles, Co Tipperary


Madam – For many years, Emer O’Kelly has been one of your finest journalists, not least in respect of her consistent criticism of the Catholic Church’s dreadful behaviour with regard to clerical sex abuse. Many of the latter columns, indeed, were written long before it was fashionable to ask serious questions of the Catholic hierarchy. It was a huge disappointment, therefore, to read her column (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014), regarding former TD Patrick Nulty. This is a relatively young politician whose career has been abruptly ended and whose misdeeds have been splashed all over the national media. He has also publicly admitted to having a drink problem.

This very public shame, however, was not enough for Ms Kelly, apparently. She doesn’t consider the adjective “inappropriate”, as used in the media, to be sufficient to describe Mr Nulty’s actions. She manages to describe his behaviour as “pathetic”, “inexcusable”, “sleazy”, “exploitative”, “sordid”, “distasteful” and “contemptible”. He is among the “sad, inadequate people” who “indulge in such behaviour”. His career is ruined, and “many people will say, deservedly so”, Ms Kelly among them, clearly.

When I had finished reading Ms Kelly’s column, the phrase “kicking someone when he’s down” sprang to mind.

While Ms Kelly is clearly no fan of the Catholic Church, a little Christianity would have not gone amiss in her column.

Jim Hickey,



Madam –I think Carole Molloy (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014), is wrong when she suggests your reporters are ‘Americanised’ after spending their gap year in the States. More likely after having been there for a week’s holidays!

Patricia Keeley,

Dublin 6W


Madam – In response to John McClung‘s letter taking offence at Northern Ireland being called “the North” (Sunday Independent, March 23, 2014), and John Brady’s letter in response (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014), saying that “Ireland” is the name of this country, I was watching the Channel 4 Countdown where actress Maureen Lipman raved about her love of drinking a pint of Murphy’s in Beara in “Southern Ireland” which she repeated several times.

I checked my atlas, and googled it, but could not find “Southern Ireland” anywhere. Also Ireland is not one of the British Isles, the correct term is the British Isles and Ireland.

Pat Kelly,

Blackrock, Cork



Madam – Carol Hunt (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014), wrote an article entitled ‘Brush up on mind control and methods to medicate’. She stated that the fluoridation of our water system is for our common good and any other opinion is “pure (bull)**it”. I beg to differ, and take extreme offence to her language. I do not want someone else deciding whether I should have fluoride added to my water for my own good. I can make that decision for myself.

Sharon McCarthy,

Tuam, Co Galway


Madam – It is with complete frustration that I write to you regarding an article by Declan Waugh and the fluoridation of water in Ireland.

He makes endless claims regarding the dangers of fluoride. I am appalled that a national paper is printing this. I hope this is the last we hear of Mr Declan Waugh and his campaign in your paper.

Anita Byrne,

Clonmel, Co Tipperary


Madam – The issue of the under-representation of women in the parliaments of what are supposed to be representative democracies is an interesting topic for debate as is highlighted by your two correspondents Robert Sullivan and Hugh Gibney (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014).

The facts are that we are told that something like five per cent of TDs elected since independence were women and between 80 per cent and 90 per cent of the Dail at the moment are men. That can be accepted as a law of nature or it can be challenged by saying that it is inefficient to marginalise the interests, perspectives and talents of the majority of the population that are women in what is supposed to be a representative democracy.

The recent introduction of the condition that political parties have a minimum quota of women candidates in the next general election before they qualify for public funding has focused the debate.

What is proposed here is an increase in the number of women candidates, not, as stated by Robert Sullivan, ‘forcing us to vote for women’ and ‘sticking’ them into Leinster House. If the women on the ballot paper do not get elected that is the end of the matter.

Hugh Gibney raises the issue of ‘men of superior ability’ being ‘passed over’. The fact is that many more women of superior ability have been passed over throughout the years since independence because they did not even get as far as being considered by what Hugh Gibney himself calls ‘the relevant powers that be’.

A Leavy,

Sutton, Dublin 13


Madam – Dan O’Brien’s article “No Place for Weakness in Face of Grave Danger” is, in my view, ill-informed. I am married to a lady from a former USSR state which is now a full EU member – Latvia.

Russia has no economic interest in taking over Ukraine. Latvia was promised much when it joined the EU. When Russia was forced out of Latvia employers disappeared, and so did jobs and salaries.

They were not replaced with EU or American companies. All State pensions guaranteed by Russia disappeared. The result was economic catastrophe and today I know Latvian shop workers who earn €250 a month. So all young people left and went to Ireland and the UK as their immigration working laws were more lenient than continental Europe.

Most jobs in Ukraine are from small to medium sized local companies. The Ukraine is being sold a pretty picture in much the same way as Latvia was. Their only benefit will be the ability for their younger generations to emigrate and send home some money to their elders.

Damian Moylan,



Madam – My thanks to William Barrett (Letters, Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014) for his kind remarks. A seconding of his praise for your efforts towards encouraging a new politics.

As I write, the UN publishes its report on climate change for the benefit of those of us who experienced during the winter no mildly-moist intimations of the mortality of our planet’s doomed ecosphere. The legitimate demands of the Ukraine and the re-emergence of Tsarism have slipped us back into a new cold war, to the delight of the world’s military-industrial complex. We are being urged to solve our ‘energy security’ problems with questionable (but sectionally lucrative), quick-fix ‘solutions’ such as nuclear power and ‘cheap’ shale oil. The virus of endemic insoluble civil war spreads from the Middle East. The EU performs its snail’s-pace minuet towards serious economic, financial and institutional reforms. The success of which are all crucial to the viability of our socio-economic system (or ‘non-system’, if you prefer). But for which there is no political will, let alone zeal, among any of our European non-leaders. The wretched of the earth call out for pathetically small measures towards their subsistence and self-dependence but we cannot and – deliberately – will not hear them through the triple-glaze windows on our hearts.

Grotesquely and almost unbelievably, we can now calculate the day, the month and the year when all life on this planet will no longer be viable.

And yet in this tiny country, our ruling class is preoccupied with a sitcom about who, when, where did or did not get official communications – and process them according to standard or even commonsense procedure.

What is missing from our political equation is a pragmatic social democratic party, aware that the politics, the policies, the decisions, the actions, not ‘just’ of the future but of now, must be European and global.

They must earn the future by displaying a courage and creativity for which they have had too few role-models in the recent past.

Maurice O’Connell,

Tralee, Co Kerry


Madam – Six years after the Irish banking debt hard landing that destroyed the Irish economy, Sarah McCabe (Sunday Independent, March 30, 2014) has reported that Irish banks with recapitalised salaries and pensions for themselves, now require normal protocols in terms of debt collection for the doomed debt ratio products of 2005 to 2008. Normal debt collection protocols would apply to normal valued debt only.

From 2005 to 2008, Irish banks were selling unsustainable debt products, with the purpose of competing for aggressive profit growth.

In 2014, protocols include bonus claw back and redress for customers. Mortgage debt products that were doomed from day one will require special protocols to redress the devaluation of bank customers’ lives.

The correct protocol for Irish banks is to redress all 2005 to 2008 doomed debt ratio products before seeking an abolition of the cap on bankers’ pay.

Irish banks should be banned from declaring profitability before they redress all doomed debt ratio products of 2005 to 2008.

A long term customer- and Irish economy-friendly banking strategy is required to replace today’s aggressive profit growth strategy that ignores the Irish economy. Bank customers are the Irish economy.

Irish banks that cannot redress their doomed debt ratio products will fail the 2014 stress tests. The sustainable and honest financial reporting provided by a longer-term banking strategy is more likely to help a bank pass its stress test.

Honest financial reporting and doing the right thing for their customers may yet save Irish banks.

Mike Flannelly,


Back in hospital again

April 5, 2014

5 April2014 Back in hospital

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to test a new navigational aidPriceless

Mary back in hospital

No Scrabbletoday, Perhaps Marywill win tomorrow.


Margo MacDonald – obituary

Margo MacDonald was the charismatic face of the SNP in the 1970s whose fervent socialism led to splits with her own party

Margo MacDonald

Margo MacDonald was a doughty fighter for independence and a political gadfly who championed a variety of causes Photo: CHRIS WATT

5:46PM BST 04 Apr 2014

Comments66 Comments

Margo MacDonald who has died aged 70, was the larger-than-life face of Scottish nationalism, the winner of a sensational by-election at Govan in 1973, an inaugural member of the Scottish Parliament and the political and marital partner of Jim Sillars, who quit Labour to found his own party before also winning Govan for the SNP.

Margo MacDonald was living proof of the party’s fractiousness. Convinced that nationalism was as much about personal liberty as freedom for the Scottish nation, she twice left the party — under duress in 1982 when its leaders lost patience with her Left-wing 79 Group; and again before the 2003 Holyrood elections, sitting for her final two terms as an Independent.

Margo MacDonald was uncomfortably far to the Left for a party establishment she branded “tartan Tories”, but the SNP found it hard to live without her charisma from the moment in November 1973 when she captured solidly Labour Govan with a majority of 571.

Her tabloid image as a glamorous 29-year-old publican’s wife (her first husband, Peter, was licensee of the Hoolet’s Nest at Blantyre) did her no harm against a lacklustre opponent. But while her fervour and good looks made her a natural for television, she was serious about her politics and resented being called a blonde bombshell.

The inadequacies of Labour’s Harry Selby, a hairdresser, could not alone explain the collapse of its vote. The novelty of a forceful woman candidate in a working-class Glasgow seat was a factor. So, too, was the widespread belief that, while Edward Heath’s government had been disastrous for Clydeside, a tired Labour Party had little to offer.

Yet the result also reflected a growing local militancy stemming from the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders’ work-in, and an upsurge of pressure for independence that caught Labour unawares. The publication in mid-campaign of the Kilbrandon Report recommending a Scottish Assembly, and Labour’s lukewarm response, was just the boost the SNP needed.

Margo MacDonald spent barely two months in the Commons before Heath called — and lost — a snap election. In that time she raised the standard of an independent Scotland drawing strength from North Sea oil revenues, capturing more headlines back home. The February 1974 election was bitter for her, but sweet for her party: boundary changes gave Selby his revenge by 543 votes, but the SNP gained six other seats, causing panic in both main parties.

Labour made a painful U-turn over devolution in time for a further election that October; Margo fought Govan again, but the margin widened. As the SNP’s senior vice-chairman, she urged the party Leftwards and, as Wilson and later James Callaghan saw even their modest devolution proposals hampered by lack of a clear Commons majority, she scorned their “hollow assembly” and upped the pressure for independence.

She tried once more to return to the Commons, in a by-election at Hamilton in June 1978. The omens were good: this was her home town, and the seat Winifred Ewing had captured in 1968 to launch the SNP as a serious force. But a hiding from Labour in the local elections got her campaign off on the wrong foot, the future defence secretary George Robertson proved a tough opponent, and despite her warning that if she lost there would never be a Scottish assembly, Labour doubled its majority. That August she became Scottish director of Shelter.

Labour got its devolution scheme on to the Statute Book, and a referendum was set for March 1979. Despite her reservations, Margo Macdonald campaigned energetically for a “Yes” vote. And when the campaign team was formed in 1978, she and Sillars — then leader of the two-MP Scottish Labour Party — were thrown together.

Margo MacDonald with Jim Sillars after their marriage in 1981 (CAPITAL PRESS)

She had separated from her husband two years before, and Sillars’s own marriage had broken down. Both wanted an independent, socialist Scotland, and their partnership was strengthened by the inconclusive result of the referendum and Sillars’s loss of his seat in the 1979 election (triggered by the passage of the SNP’s consequent no-confidence motion in Callaghan’s government).

Even before the referendum and the SNP’s heavy losses, she had founded the 79 Group within the party, aimed at securing a more socialist programme. This cost her the SNP vice-chairmanship at the 1979 conference, but gained a powerful recruit in Sillars, who joined the party and the Group. They married in 1981.

For a time, Sillars and MacDonald looked to their supporters a “dream ticket” who could lead the SNP Leftwards to victory. But the leadership had had enough; it cracked the whip again, and Margo resigned from the party, blaming Winifred Ewing. Sillars stayed in. He would himself win a by-election at Govan in 1988; his wife did not campaign for him despite her past triumph there, but was with him for the declaration of the result.

Margo MacDonald was back in the SNP by the time Tony Blair’s government delivered a Scottish Parliament. She stood for Edinburgh South in the first Holyrood elections in 1999, but became an MSP by virtue of topping the SNP’s list of candidates for the Lothians. She again enjoyed a bumpy relationship with the party, especially after John Swinney replaced Alex Salmond as its leader. Impatient with his moderation, she was expelled in January 2003.

Re-elected as an Independent that year — she backed the Scottish Socialist Party during the campaign — she joined a non-party group comprising health and senior citizens’ campaigners and defectors from Labour and the SNP. In the 2007 elections, only she among the Independents survived.

Her greatest contribution as an MSP was to leak in 2004 a report on the soaring cost of the new Parliament building. Discontent over the more than 10-fold increase in the original estimate of £40 million came to a head, and her action led to the First Minister, Jack McConnell, setting up an inquiry which pilloried a number of the officials responsible.

In 1996 Margo MacDonald was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Six years later she made her illness public, and demanded the legal right to end her own life. She launched a campaign for assisted dying to be legalised, and cooperated with a BBC documentary exploring both sides of the argument.

She explained on the programme: “The possibility of having the worst form of the disease at the end of life has made me think about unpleasant things. I feel strongly that, in the event of losing my dignity or being faced with the prospect of a painful or protracted death, I should have the right to choose to curtail my own, and my family’s, suffering.”

Margo Aitken was born on April 19 1943 . After attending Hamilton Academy, she trained as a PE teacher at Dunfermline College. Inspired by Winifred Ewing’s victory at Hamilton, she joined the SNP and in 1970 contested Paisley. In 1972, aged 29, she was elected a party vice-chairman; months later she was an MP.

After her break with the SNP she reinvented herself as an Edinburgh-based journalist. In 1985-86 she presented Radio 4’s Sunday Colour Supplement and the consumer programme Face the Facts, and she continued to broadcast frequently.

Margo MacDonald leaves two daughters from her marriage to Peter MacDonald, whom she married in 1965 and divorced in 1980. Jim Sillars also survives her.

Margo MacDonald, born April 19 1943, died April 4 2014


Michael Meacher claims (Letters, 2 April) that our proposals “kick away” free NHS care at the point of service. Quite the opposite: they reinforce this principle. As the Guardian reported on Monday, Solving the NHS Care and Cash Crisis proposes various hypothecated health taxes to tackle the £30bn black hole in the NHS budget. Introducing dedicated health taxes is not a madcap, rightwing idea – the move was actively considered by a previous Labour shadow cabinet. Our proposals would include a £10 a month payment from all non-exempted adults, collected with the council tax, to support individualised health MOTs and continuing personal support for healthy living. People may not like paying more taxes for an effective NHS, but we would argue that Britain has little choice, precisely so we can preserve the principle of free at the point of use and clinical need.
Norman Warner House of Lords
Jack O’Sullivan Oxford

• Every NHS doctor, every day, sees a disproportionate number of patients with illness caused by poverty and the associates of poverty – smoking, obesity, alcohol, drug use, domestic violence. The NHS should be predominantly paid for by those whose privilege is to need it least. Then it will be there for all of us when we need it. This is how tax works.
Dr Helen Holt
Consultant physician, Bournemouth

• Polly Toynbee illustrates this government’s aversion to progressive taxation, regardless of falling revenues and the resulting dereliction of public services. I believe the fairest way would be for pensioners, like me – the people who would benefit most – to pay national insurance. This could also be part of the answer to the problem of social care, which should be incorporated into the NHS.
Trevor Lashley

The prime minister refuses to sack Maria Miller over her claiming of £45,000 in accommodation allowances (Report, 4 April), while at the same time introducing a spare-room tax for the poor. Even worse, the so-called standards committee waters down an independent probe’s criticism of her expenses. The cross-party MPs overruled the key findings, demanding that she should hand back just £5,800 of taxpayers’ money.

The committee’s final report states that even if the commissioner was strictly right about the rules, it was “inappropriate” to apply them. Really? If a welfare benefit claimant had been found guilty of claiming benefits that they were not entitled to, they would be on their way to prison. In Westminster, Maria Miller’s “punishment” was being forced to apologise to the Commons. Not because she defrauded the taxpayer, but because she didn’t cooperate with the independent investigation.

We have been told by David Cameron that his welfare reforms are part of a moral mission. He wants to end the something-for-nothing culture. Hence the food banks, hence the sick and disabled dying when benefits have been withdrawn, hence the spare room tax for the poor; it’s for their own good. Yet he also says Maria Miller shouldn’t have to resign. Morality is always for the little people.
Julie Partridge

• Your report suggests the culture secretary did all she could to obstruct parliament’s investigation by “consistently responding with lengthy procedural challenges” and repeatedly failing “to provide information when asked for, or to respond adequately, to the commissioner’s questions”. The committee’s conclusion that Miller “did not pay as close attention to the rules of the house as she should” seems remarkably feeble. Surely a cabinet minister should be expected to set a better example. The lesson for any aspiring criminal seems to be first obstruct all police investigations by any available means and for as long as possible; and, second, if you are charged, get a group of your mates to sit on the jury.
Professor Robert Williams

• During the 2009 “expenses scandal”, David Cameron insisted that what was at issue was not the money itself: “How much needs to be paid back is not really a legal issue, it’s actually a moral and an ethical issue.” Does a 34-second apology deal with the latter point?
Professor Ralph Negrine
University of Sheffield

• So Denis MacShane loses his seat and gets sent down for 12 grand, while Miller apologises, repays six out of more than 40 grand and stays in the cabinet.
John Smith

Health warnings on air pollution should not be seen as isolated incidents (Editorial, 3 April). In recent years we have seen rates of major respiratory illnesses increase and in London alone an extra 4,000 premature deaths occur each year as a result of poor air quality. The European commission recently launched legal action against the UK for failing to meet mandatory air pollution targets. If we want to avoid dramatic government interventions like banning half of all cars on the road in major cities – which Paris has enacted – we need to adopt a much more proactive approach. Helping people to take simple, practical steps to rethink their travel plans can have a dramatic impact on air pollution.

In partnership with Barts NHS health trust, we are working to improve local air quality, through the development of cleaner air zones to benefit patients and incentives for suppliers and visiting vehicles to switch their engines off and operate cleaner vehicles. These sorts of initiatives are not just necessary for the environment, they will also help all of us to live longer, healthier lives.
Caroline Watson
Partner, Global Action Plan

• It’s easy to play the blame game when it comes to air pollution, but we are much less adept at coming up with answers. Air pollution is one of the most complex challenges we face – it doesn’t respect international or political boundaries. Much of it comes from the way we live our lives, but, above all, it’s usually invisible. So in some ways we should be grateful to the clouds of Saharan dust for reminding us of the importance of the air that we breathe, which most of us take for granted. The media coverage given to the smog is almost unprecedented, but what a tragedy it would be if this dispersed as soon as the dust stopped falling on our cars. I hope instead that it acts as a wake-up call for us all, especially our political leaders, and that healthy air is seen as essential a human right as clean drinking water and enough food for all.
Ruth Chambers

• The latest pollution crisis offers a compromise over the global warming debate: take all such measures to reduce CO2 ,N2O emissions that may affect long-term global warming as will also reduce immediate threats to health from pollution. It may be that action on the second will fulfil all the criteria for the first.
DBC Reed

• The reduction in pollution following the 1956 Clean Air Act failed to match the positive impact resulting from the switch from toxic “town gas” to North Sea Gas just over a decade later, when “at national level in England and Wales, infant mortality rates fell rapidly from the early 1970s and into the 1980s” (Health Stat Q 2008 Winter;(40):18-29). A similar reduction in infant death rates following a switch to natural gas occurred in Turkey, as reported in January 2013 by Resul Cesur, Erdal Tekin and Aydogan Ulker.
Michael Ryan

• The current risks to health identified with the addition of airborne dust to existing pollution levels illustrates only too well the unforeseen consequences of the interventions made by London councils to limit the speed of vehicles to below 30mph. Speed humps, alternating pinch points, chicanes, additional roundabouts and zigzag parking ensure that vehicles have to be driven in lower gear, with frequent stops and starts thus increasing harmful exhaust. Diesel particulates are particularly dangerous and a 30% increase in diesel vehicles over recent years has ensured a rise in pollution, even before the addition of cloud dust.

The supposed safety suggested by these measures are more than offset by the increased health risks for all the population and especially for young undeveloped lungs frequently blasted by exhaust fumes in their outward facing buggies.
Chloe Baveystock

• It’s not just Tories in Westminster who fail to understand the pollution crisis (Report, 4 April). Here in Uttlesford our local council is about to approve a development plan that guarantees traffic gridlock in our town. Air quality levels in Saffron Walden already breach EU limits. Perhaps we should all stay indoors for the foreseeable future?
Richard Gilyead
Saffron Walden, Essex

• Lovely photo of the Angel of the North in the smog (3 April). Shame that, as your map shows, we had very low levels of pollution that day. We have had lots of mist – commonly known up here as a sea fret.
Sally Watson
Newcastle upon Tyne

Like Edward Thomas (Letters, 4 April) I am approaching my 70th birthday. Unlike him I grew up in a provincial city in the 50s and 60s where few if any black faces were to be seen. I moved to London over 40 years ago and live in a neighbouring borough to Hackney, where I, my children and my grandchild live, work and play happily and harmoniously in a “melting pot of people of other cultures” and it is really all rather wonderful. And, Edward, I invite you to join me for a coffee, or a pint in Broadway Market, so that you can see for yourself the diversity and vibrancy which exists there 60 years from your recollection of it.
David Harrison

• Re your headline (4 April) “Average family £974 worse off in 2015 – Balls”. Please convince me that’s an attribution and not a comment.
John Emms
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

• After itemising Prince Charles’s many exemptions, privileges and prerogatives, including his right to the assets of anyone who dies intestate in Cornwall, Robert Booth writes (Peer proposes ending prince’s tax privileges, 31 March) that Lord Berkeley’s bill, to be put before the House of Lords and designed to put an end to those arcane anomalies, is “unlikely to become law”. Why not?
Victoria Glendinning
Bruton, Somerset

• I think you’ll find Tipp-Ex (G2, 3 April) was invented in Texas by Bette Nesmith, mum of Mike Nesmith, one-time Monkee.
Alan Fry

• If you’re driving around experiencing all these places (Letters, passim), you might want to avoid Carsick in Sheffield.
David Hamer

• I’ve driven through the Shropshire village of Knockin several times. I am still looking in vain for the shop.
Ian Gordon
Folkestone, Kent

• Aware that this posting risks bringing the thread to an end, can I mention that during a tour of rural Burgundy a year or two ago, we had a clear run through Anus, a small hamlet.
Les Farris
South Petherton, Somerset

It was great to read the review of Home (3 April), but Lyn Gardner’s assumption that foyers are so called because they are “just somewhere you pass through” couldn’t be further from the truth. In France, where the foyer movement started, the word has many meanings, including home and hearth, and was intended to signify a home from home for young migrants to the cities after the second world war. In the UK the word has never been understood. I remember, when running the Foyer Federation, being asked by a bemused person whether cinema foyers really needed a federation – and a puzzled conversation about the convention on “voyeurs” taking place in Liverpool. Fortunately the institution is better than its name and about to celebrate its 21st birthday, providing over 10,000 young people a year, like those in Home, with a springboard to develop their talents and rejoin the mainstream.
Carolyn Hayman


What is all this about winning or losing the debate between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg? Either you agreed with the one or the other. I doubt if many changed their minds: neither deployed any new arguments. Clegg used logic, Farage emotion.

The use of this debate was twofold. It exposed the arguments, and the “exit poll” gave an idea of how people would vote if there were a referendum today.

The good news for the “ins” like myself is that only about a sixth of the population needs to be convinced. The problem is how the ins are going to speak to the feelings of those who are not convinced by logic.

Venetia Caine, Glastonbury, Somerset

Save at the very end, nobody mentioned the word “war” in the Farage-Clegg debate on the EU. Both Farage and Clegg are too young to have experienced war in Europe.

For over 500 years nations in post-medieval Europe waged war against one another. In the last century two world wars shattered Europe. My mother had her eldest brother killed in the First World War (Ypres) and her youngest brother killed in the Second (Crete). I was born in 1938 and my father, having survived Dunkirk, was absent on active service from 1940 to 1945, so that I did not recognise him when he returned home.

My mother, sister and I slept in the cellar of our house in south-east London for the duration of the war. A good job too because the house opposite us was bombed flat in 1944 by a V2 rocket.

A united Europe (whatever its faults) is far preferable to antagonistic separate nations, and the Ukip isolation policy is simply a false dream based on outdated 19th-century notions.

David Ashton, Shipbourne, Kent

Listening to the televised debate on Wednesday evening, I realised why Nick Clegg has difficulty with a 70-year-old like me who grew up in Hackney in the 1950s. There the local population lived contentedly enough in a monocultural society in a London Cockney setting reflected by the Broadway Market round the corner, a series of cinemas in Mare Street and a straightforward English way of life.

Mr Clegg made great play of how he wants us to live in the present rather than the past. The problem is that the elements he cited were all foisted on us. We never asked for mass immigration. We never asked for multiculturalism. We never asked for diversity. We never asked for political union with 27 other countries of Europe. Mr Clegg necessarily begins from the weakest psychological stance in expecting people to accept situations which were forced on them. That is why his views carried little weight with me.

Edward Thomas, Eastbourne, East Sussex

Cinderella law: will social workers cope?

Frank Furedi (“The Cinderella law: emotional correctness gone mad”, 2 April) points out that every mother or father is  at risk of being labelled an abuser under the proposed “Cinderella law”.

The Government has proposed this new law just when the NSPCC reports that the threshold for intervening in a child’s life is actually being raised because of record reporting of child abuse. But a huge amount of this reporting is already needless. Department for Education figures for 2012-2013 show that, in England, there were 145,700 needless referrals to children’s social services in one year. Child protection is about a child “suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm”. When so many children are needlessly reported, this does indicate that people already overreact.

So why does the Government want to broaden the definition of child abuse even further, thus creating more cases for an overloaded system? Sixteen children known to Birmingham social services died in a five-year period. A report severely criticised Birmingham social services over the poor quality of referrals, leading to a surge in demand that could not be met.

Detecting child abuse in the community is akin to finding a needle in a haystack for overstretched social workers. So why make the haystack even bigger by creating more cases that will need assessment?

Tristram C Llewellyn Jones, Ramsey, Isle of Man

Consistent, loving care is critical in building the human brain, so it certainly is time that our child-protection laws reflect the long-term mental and physical damage caused by the emotional neglect and abuse of children. The announcement that the Government intends to make the emotional abuse of children a criminal offence is an important step.

Understanding the critical importance of the emotional well-being of children is vital to the well-being of society. There is a raft of evidence to show that when infants receive warm, responsive, consistent, attuned, loving care their brains develop well. They are then able to grow into adults with the capacity for empathy and the facility to become good, caring parents themselves.

Lydia Keyte, Chair, What About The Children? Newbold on Stour, Warwickshire

Frank Furedi claims our Sutton Trust report “Baby Bonds” is driven by “an authoritarian impulse whose main consequence is to diminish parental authority”. In fact, the report is driven by an egalitarian impulse, whose intended consequence is for public policy to better support parents, precisely in order to generate, as Furedi puts it, “more opportunities for children, and indeed parents, to realise their potential.”

Furedi offers no evidence to counter our empirical finding – from a review of over 100 academic studies – that a secure emotional relationship with a parent can have an important influence on children’s life chances, particularly for the most disadvantaged.

Sophie Moullin, Princeton University, Professor Jane Waldfogel, Columbia University, Dr Liz Washbrook, Bristol University

Nasty Party kicks out A-level student

What a PR disaster the removal of the 19-year-old student Yashika Bhageerathi has proved to be! It shows Theresa May in her true colours as a member of the “Nasty Party” who, having failed to meet her targets for immigration, attempts to keep her numbers up by picking on a young, vulnerable girl who came here to avoid abuse. The removal of her alone, without her mother, and a failed attempt to remove her on Mothering Sunday, only added to the disaster.

The Home Office showed a complete lack of common sense and compassion in this case. What difference would it have made if Yashika had been allowed a further six weeks here so she could take her A-levels and return home with a qualification? Instead Britain is once again portrayed as an uncaring nation instead of a just and caring society.

The only people who deserve credit in this sad situation are the head, staff and pupils of the Oasis Academy Hadley in Enfield – they may have failed but they are heroes in my book.

Ken Smith, Hinderclay, Suffolk

Why no auction for Royal Mail?

You conclude (editorial, 2 April) that “Mr Cable was still right to be cautious” over the privatisation of the Royal Mail, on the grounds that privatisations cannot be guaranteed to be successful, and that “the effects of hindsight and ‘froth’ are impossible to judge”.

Maybe so, but it is hard to understand why the Department for Business did not, apparently, even consider the use of a properly designed sealed-bid auction, instead of the conventional book-building exercise. Nor, apparently, did the National Audit Office consider this as  an option.

The Treasury uses such auctions to sell government bonds, Google was floated using one, so why not for the Post Office? At least then everyone would have had a chance at getting some shares, and the selling price would have been more likely to settle at the market clearing price, providing that the auction process was properly designed.

David Harvey, Tynemouth, Tyne & Wear

Abuse of women becomes fashion

Oh dear, here we go again. The editor of Italian Vogue, Franca Sozzani, thinks she is campaigning in some way against the abuse of women by actually showing nicely arranged “fashion” images of pretend victims (The Big Read, 3 April).

This happens again and again in film and media. You are not reflecting the horrors of society, you idiots, you are simply joining in and adding  to them.

Sue Nicholas, Cranleigh, Surrey

The battle of Richard’s bones

If there is doubt (“Car park bones disputed”, 28 March) as to whether the Leicester Greyfriars burial is indeed that of Richard III, or of a contemporary similarly slain in battle, perhaps they should be honourably interred as the Unknown Warrior of the Wars of the Roses.

Peter Forster, London N4


The Culture Secretary’s “apology” for overclaimed expenses has not defused the row

Sir, On Thursday Maria Miller made what must rank as one of the most disgraceful and contemptible speeches ever heard in the Chamber (“Fury grows as expense row minister clings to job”, Apr 4). That she was not howled down is almost as disgraceful and yet another blot on the collective reputation of our MPs.

Professor Sir Bryan Thwaites

Fishbourne, W Sussex

Sir, It is difficult to know which is more depressing: that a minister, heavily criticised by a Parliamentary committee for her obstructive attitude to its investigation which ordered her to repay overclaimed expenses, should have the gall not to offer her resignation; or that the Prime Minister does not require it.

Robert Rhodes, QC

London WC2

Sir, The Maria Miller scandal shows that party politics and allegiance will always trump truth and justice, and this extends to the highest levels. Is it any wonder that so many of our politicians are held in contempt? It is also a good reason why their ability to influence and control the free press should be strictly limited.

Dr Brian Bunday

Baildon, W Yorks

Sir, The real scandal is that an over-claiming MP can remain on the state’s payroll. In any other walk of life they would now be an

Roy Hamlin

Bridgnorth, Shropshire

Sir, The decision by the Conservative-dominated Commons Committee on Standards to overturn the ruling of the “independent” Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards regarding Maria Miller is akin to someone found guilty in court having the sentence referred to his or her family for the final resolution.

Douglas Kedge

Sonning Common, Oxon

Sir, It appears that the State has provided £90,000 towards Maria Miller’s £420,000 mortgage, just over 21 per cent of total repayments; her property, purchased for £234,000 in 1995, achieved a capital gain in excess of £1.2 million when sold this year for £1.47 million. Is it mischievous to suggest that this matter might satisfactorily be laid to rest if Mrs Miller considered a donation to good causes equivalent to 21 per cent of her profit — causes that she promotes as the Culture Secretary?

Nick Gandon

Hertford Heath, Herts

Sir, David Cameron even went so far as to claim that Miller “was cleared of the original allegation made against her”. Well, actually no she wasn’t; the independent investigation found her guilty. It was the Standards Committee which labelled the over-claimed expenses an “administrative error”. MPs seem to make the same administrative error over and over again. In other words, they judged her by their own rotten standards.

It is the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth – it is time to rename his birthday in his honour

Sir, Since this is the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, St George’s Day, April 23 — the assumed day of Shakespeare’s birth and the known day of his death — should be renamed as Shakespeare’s Day and declared a public holiday, replacing the May Day Bank Holiday.

We should emulate the Burns
Night tradition with Shakespeare Suppers, in celebration of the Bard and his works. Finally, his plays and poems should be brought into perpetual copyright for the benefit of the nation.The royalties should be used to establish a Shakespeare Fund to support young and emerging artists.

Anthony H. Ratcliffe

London W1

A diverse group of Jews explain their concern at the regulations preventing prisoners from reading books

Sir, We, a diverse group of British Jews, are concerned at regulations that prevent prisoners having books (

Jewish culture, in its many religious and secular incarnations, is united by a deep-rooted conviction in the power of the written word. As the “people of the book”, the life of the Jews has been sustained for millennia by studying Jewish texts and writing new ones. Books are the source of our solace and our redemption.

We are therefore sensitive to any attempt to restrict access to books, whether suffered by Jews or anyone else. In particular, when prisoners have limited access to books, we are concerned that they will be denied the possibilities of self-improvement and self-understanding that reading provides.

We do not dispute the principle that privileges should be earned in prison, but we do not see books as a privilege but as a resource through which prisoners can transform their lives.

Keith Kahn-Harris (editor, The Jewish Quarterly); Stephen Pollard (editor, The Jewish Chronicle); Devorah Baum, Marc Goldberg, David Paul, Marc Michaels, Deborah Kahn-Harris, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Rabbi Jeremy Gordon, Rabbi Danny Rich, Student Rabbi Robin Ashworth-Steen, Anthony Julius, Shauna Leven, Vicky Prais and Daniel Silverstone, Kevin Sefton, Lawrence Joffe, Edie Friedman

A reader is appalled by the speed with which personal computers become obsolete and have to be wastefully junked

Sir, We are replacing our computer next week because support for its operating system is being withdrawn. We must also replace a four-year-old printer as it is not compatible with the new machine’s operating system. What a waste of raw materials. It is as if the computer industry has not heard of global warming.

Audrey Pawsey

Harpenden, Herts

Maths for apprentices and craftsmen needs to be practical rather than burdened with academic proofs and principles

Sir, Sir John Armitt et al (letter, Apr 1) say maths and English education for apprenticeships must be contextual and practical rather than academic.

I failed the 11+ so my education was biased towards life as an apprentice. School, technical college and polytechnic studies were practical, easy to understand in the context of experience gained in the workplace, and I often put them into practice in day-to-day tasks.

After my apprenticeship and some years as a master craftsman I went to university to read mathematics with computer science. The change was startling: exercises and discussions were based not on practical problems but on first principles and academic proof of theory. This would have been of little use when I was an apprentice or a craftsman, but in my subsequent career as a chartered engineer the academic first principles were invaluable.

Armitt is quite right: educational requirements for an apprenticeship must be contextual and practical, and the current insistence on academic learning for all is misplaced.

John Martin

Swarthmoor, Cumbria

A long-serving teacher finds that students from a religious background have a grasp of basic moral principles

Sir, When I first taught, in the 1970s, I used to ask students to respond to scenarios involving ethical dilemmas. It was the moral reasoning that I was looking for rather than just a response.

When I repeated the exercise in my last year of teaching I was not surprised to find that many students simply could not understand why it might be considered wrong to steal money collected in school for a charity (provided you were smart enough not to get caught); or why it might be considered wrong to bully someone into providing sexual favours by threatening to spread gossip about them; or why on earth anyone would help an old person who had collapsed in the street.

What did give me pause for thought, however, was that students from religious backgrounds — Christian and Muslim, a significant proportion of whom being from ethnic minorities — met incredulity when they were brave enough to suggest that stealing, lying and bullying might be wrong.

When those who deem themselves to be morally and intellectually superior to “religious” people proclaim their superiority they should consider the feelings, values and culture of these lesser beings — who else will clean the Übermenschen’s houses, nanny their children and repair their plumbing?

R. Howgate

Great Kimble, Bucks


Withy farmers need flood control in Somerset

The recent floods prevented the withy harvest this year

Flexible working: Somerset withies being woven into a willow coffin at Stoke St Gregory  Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

6:58AM BST 04 Apr 2014

Comments11 Comments

SIR – I am with Germaine Greer in supporting Somerset’s withy industry, but that is no excuse not to dredge the River Parrett.

Withies must be cut while the plant is dormant – once they shoot, it’s too late – which means January and February. A flood such as the withy farmers have suffered this year is a disaster, as they simply couldn’t get on to the withy beds to harvest their crops.

I worked as clerk to five of the internal drainage boards that cover much of the affected area. Even then (I retired 14 years ago) my boards were agitating against the deliberate neglect of the River Parrett.

For more than 100 years our forefathers had developed a regime that maintained high water levels in summer and emptied the watercourses in the winter to provide flood storage. That system created the area’s undoubted wildlife interest in the first place. The 2014 floods have done major damage to wildlife habitats.

No amount of dredging would have prevented flooding, but a properly dredged river wouldn’t have taken two months to clear the water.

Alone of the principal Somerset rivers, the Parrett has no tidal sluice. This means that tidal silting is a major problem.

A tidal sluice would be expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as the millions spent on “fashionable” bird reserves – and nowhere near as expensive as clearing up after this winter’s floods.

John Hunt
Curry Rivel, Somerset

SIR – Mary Riddell is right: British justice is indeed under threat.

There are 773 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences who were given minimum sentences of less than two years. So they are not the most serious of offenders. They were sentenced before 2008. Yet they are still in prison more than six years later.

When indeterminate sentences were abolished in 2012, Parliament gave Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, the power to secure the early release of these prisoners. But he has declined to exercise that power. Quite apart from the sense of injustice, their release would save the taxpayer £30 million a year. When may we expect him to act?

Lord Lloyd of Berwick
London SW1

Get knotted

SIR – Japanese knotweed is not a frightening weed, and is easier to kill than horsetail.

First remove and burn the dry stalks from last year’s growth. As soon as the new red shoots appear, cut them down. Do not put them in the compost bin. Continue to cut the new shoots every week until the autumn, when they will stop reappearing.

Continue the treatment the following year when there will be far fewer shoots. It could take three years before it is all gone. If the shoots are in tarmac or cracked concrete, it might be easier to use a weedkiller, but you will need to reapply it each time the shoots appear.

S Beswick
Whitehaven, Cumberland

Electronic cigarettes

SIR – I am a 70-year-old retired consultant surgeon who smoked for 50 years until March 14 2013. On that day I smoked 30 cigarettes. The next day I gave up smoking and purchased an electronic cigarette kit online. I have not touched a cigarette since.

I use the lowest nicotine dose of 6mg. I now hardly ever use the device. I have not put on weight and I have saved £5,180 out of taxable pensions.

If only electronic cigarettes had been available years ago.

John Storrs
Canterbury, Kent

Dylan in the South

SIR – In North Wales, Dylan would be pronounced “Dullan”, in South Wales “Dillan”. Since Dylan Thomas lived in South Wales, he would probably have said “Dillan”.

Mike Maloney
Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire

Second thoughts

SIR – Britons suffered a severe jolt last Sunday morning when, by Parliamentary decree, they were obliged to rise an hour early in order to arrive at church on time.

A similar jolt is expected in a few months when we will be forced to wait an extra hour before we can enjoy our morning cups of tea.

All this could be avoided if British software engineers and Swiss watchmakers lengthened the second ever so slightly in the summer months and shortened it in the winter months. There would be no noticeable daily effect.

“Summer seconds” and “winter seconds” would be used for all purposes except for those of a scientific or sporting nature, where “standard” seconds would remain in use.

Jack R Richards
Codicote, Hertfordshire

It’s an ill wind…

SIR – It is unbelievable that on the day that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced that climate change is one of the greatest threats to our planet, David Cameron, who once claimed he was going to have “the greenest government ever”, declared that he wanted to stop all onshore wind-farm development.

He may think this move will win votes, but survey after survey, the last as recent as December, show that 64 per cent of people approve of wind farms.

Peter Edwards
Delabole, Cornwall

Buying silence

SIR – Hilda Gaddum asks if any authority has powers to stop annoying cold calls from overseas that fall outside the control of the Telephone Preference Service. I can answer: Yes!

We too were driven to distraction by such calls. The solution was a telephone from BT that blocks all “number withheld” calls, as well as all overseas calls that I have not registered in my “favourites” memory.

It was the best £45 I have ever spent.

Terry Lloyd
Darley Abbey, Derbyshire

Pillar to post

SIR – A photograph (April 2) showed “Britain’s oldest postbox”, from 1855, at Holwell, Dorset. In Guernsey last summer, I saw a pillar-box installed in 1853 on the site designated by Anthony Trollope when he was a postal surveyor.

John Piffe-Phelps
Oswestry, Shropshire

Medieval pest

SIR – Roger Gentry wonders whether dormant Black Death viruses are being unearthed by the Crossrail excavations disturbing burials under Charterhouse Square in London.

I was a medical student at Barts, living in Charterhouse Square in the Fifties. I remember being taught that the Black Death was caused, not by a virus, but by a bacillus Pasteurella pestis, an anaerobic bacterium. I understand this was renamed Yersinia pestis in 1967 after Alexandre Yersin who discovered it in 1894 as the causative agent of bubonic plague.

However, the huge size of rats seen in Birmingham recently (report, April 2) will not encourage complacency.

Dr Wendy Roles
Sunningdale, Berkshire

How to reply when the waiter says Enjoy!

SIR – His Honour Judge Patrickwonders how to reply to a waiter’s annoying injunction: “Enjoy!”

My usual response is simply: “What?” This obviously does sometimes lead to a lengthy discussion, but the point is made and hopefully remembered.

Sarah Allen
Bridgwater, Somerset

SIR – My response is: “Really?” It has the desired effect. The puzzled expression adds something to proceedings especially if the course is not interesting in itself.

Rev Dr Gareth Jones
Chaplain, Cardiff University

SIR – I consider “Enjoy” to be the English equivalent of “Bon appetit”, which I have always found charming, though it doesn’t translate well. The only response I can offer is a polite “Thank you.”

David Barnett
Thetford, Norfolk

SIR – Being ordered to “enjoy” reminds me of the time in a California store in 1983 when I overheard a customer being told by a sales lady to “have a nice day”. His reply was: “No thank you, I have made other arrangements.”

Valerie Harbidge
Cowling, North Yorkshire

SIR – Now Nick Clegg has made it clear that there is no justification for Britain to remain part of this corrupt, anti-democratic organisation, perhaps David Cameron could get on with the referendum before the country consigns him to history.

David Rammell
Everton, Hampshire

SIR – One question put by a member of the audience to Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg during their debate on Wednesday was: “What will the EU be like in 10 years’ time?”

According to the EU’s own statistics, its share of world GDP has already shrunk from 30.9 per cent in 1980 to 18.3 per cent in 2014. By comparison, the share of world GDP in other advanced countries over the same period has declined by only 7.6 per cent, while that of the rest of the world has increased by 20.1 per cent.

This pattern is projected to continue to 2050. By then, the EU’s share of world GDP is forecast to fall by a further 8.4 per cent, that of advanced countries by another 4.6 per cent, but that of the rest of the world to rise by a further 13 per cent.

Thanks to EU restrictions on negotiating our own trade agreements, we have already lost out in world markets. But we could gain a larger share of world GDP in future if we left the club.

Richard Shaw
Dunstable, Bedfordshire

SIR – Do we take it that Ukip and the Lib Dems are the only parties interested in the forthcoming European elections?

Peter Amey
Hoveton, Norfolk

SIR – You can’t help thinking how much better two former Liberal Party leaders, Lord Steel and Lord Ashdown, would have dealt with the inconsistencies and unexpurgated bias spouted by Nigel Farage in his two debates with Nick Clegg.

Despite the audience’s apparent willingness to be swayed by his bellicose and unrealistic views, Mr Farage once again had no original thoughts to offer, and could only try to win support by denigrating all those with whom he disagreed.

Dr Robin J Harman
Farnham, Surrey

SIR – Whatever else Nick Clegg said during his televised debate with Nigel Farage, at least he got one thing correct; his use of the term “human disaster”. A “humanitarian disaster” is a complete contradiction. It is a corruption imported from the American media by lazy and impressionable British journalists during the late Eighties.

Michael R Gordon
Bewdley, Worcestershire

SIR – During the EU debate, Nick Clegg accused Nigel Farage of wanting to turn back the clock and see W G Grace opening the batting for England.

I’m voting Ukip.

Bernard Anghelides
Paddock Wood, Kent

Irish Times:

Sir, – The Government will shortly publish a strategy designed to reactivate the construction sector through easing perceived obstacles to development. Such a move is welcome; there is significant capacity to boost construction to a sustainable level and in the process create jobs and build much needed infrastructure, in particular homes. According to the latest Housing Agency report, we need 80,000 new homes by the end of 2018, half in Dublin.

Many aspects of the construction strategy have been well flagged, including provisions to relax density requirements in urban areas to enable developers to build fewer, larger houses on sites instead of apartments, in order, we are told, to meet demand for family homes.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in referring to the construction strategy in the 2014 Programme for Government, says that the plan “will be based on enterprise and high standards, not speculation – we are never going back to the culture that nearly destroyed our country”. One aspect of our culture which has indeed damaged our country is urban sprawl. According to Dublin City Council’s study with DIT and UCD on Demographic Trends in Dublin 2012, “we have an American-type urban and regional settlement pattern, based on low density housing and high car dependency. The 2011 Census confirms that a pattern of population dispersal has continued even during the recession. This presents challenges with regard to provision of infrastructure; provision of social services; complex commuting patterns and accessibility; energy costs.” I am concerned that in the context of the need for new housing development, many voices are clamouring for us to make precisely the mistakes we made in the past through continuing to promote urban sprawl.

The topic is emotive, as evidenced by the reaction to recent comments by the head of the Department of Finance. A broad-ranging talk on construction and property issues – from the need to provide public housing to people who can no longer afford mortgage payments to the professionalisation of apartment block management was reduced in media reports to a reference to three-bedroom semi-detached houses.

It is possible to develop attractive family homes without resorting to the popular but unfortunately unsustainable two-storey house. The problem is that we have failed to convince people of the benefits of higher densities or the positive aspects of apartment living. To do this we need to broaden the discussion to include qualitative issues – not only in relation to the design, construction, management and maintenance of the apartments themselves but to consideration of the neighbourhood as a whole.

Developing homes and neighbourhoods in a sustainable way will pay dividends on many levels, including fairness (more people able to live closer to jobs, amenities and services) and health: the design of buildings and public spaces in cities and towns can lead to positive changes in our lifestyle and ultimately to greater levels of physical activity, which combat the root causes of obesity.

A Government strategy to re-energise the construction sector is welcome – but only if it doesn’t inadvertently perpetuate urban sprawl. Yours, etc,


Dublin City Architect,

Civic Offices,

Wood Quay,

Dublin 8

Sir, – The Housing Agency’s report projecting housing need over the next five years presents a significant opportunity to break with the mistakes of the past and ensure a considered, evidence-based approach to planning. However it also provokes pressure for a return to laissez faire, developer-led planning that must be resisted.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the modern Irish planning system, which sought “to make provision, in the interests of the common good, for the proper planning and development of cities, towns and other areas”. The National Planning Conference in Limerick this month marks this anniversary and will ask if 50 years on we have learned to avoid a knee-jerk reaction in the face of the need for new homes.

Serviced urban land remains a scarce resource that needs effective management. To construct places where people want to live, work and build communities, we must think long-term. Large volumes of low-density housing development produced at minimal cost to developers and maximum price to the consumer contributed to the problems of the property boom and often made “places” unsustainable as provision of services to low-density, remote developments became financially impracticable. This legacy must never be repeated.

As Ministers Hogan and O’Sullivan’s foreword to Local Area Plans – Guidelines for Planning Authorities (June 2013) states, we must focus on “settlements and place, rather than just development …We need to plan for communities, not for profit”.

The Housing Agency report lays down a challenge, not just for professional planners, but for all disciplines engaged in place-making. How do we ensure that good quality, affordable, efficient, well-designed houses are built where they should be and that real place-making remains at the forefront of the planning and housing agenda?

The Department has produced a range of guidelines designed to inform planning authorities, An Bord Pleanála, developers and the general public. Today we have a more comprehensive suite of guidance than ever before which demonstrates the aspiration at national level to deliver quality places. Rather than complaining about densities and the planning system we simply must implement these and get on with building high-quality, sustainable places. The days of parachute planning and place-making must be at an end. Yours, etc,



Irish Planning Institute,

Great Strand Street,

Dublin 1

Sir, – I refer to recent statements by Leo Varadkar in relation to the funding of Irish Rail. Mr Varadkar justifies his assertion that rail is inefficient on the basis of the relative numbers carried, compared to Dublin Bus or Luas. This is a shortsighted and simplistic analysis, which ignores the fact that the average rail journey is many multiples of the average Dublin Bus or Luas journey and is thus of more social and economic import.

The economic worth of the railway shouldn’t be casually dismissed – ask the people of Donegal how that region has fared since the destruction of rail infrastructure in the North West. Nor would I be particularly confident that bus-based solutions have the ability to address the transport needs of the Dublin area given that the usage of Dublin Bus services has declined sharply, from 149 million journeys in 2003/4 to 115 million in 2012. Indeed Dublin Bus carries substantially fewer passengers than in the much smaller Dublin of the 1960s while rail usage (excluding Luas) has increased by a factor of four. Indeed significant sections of the rail system are heavily congested, resulting in serious service degradation, particularly along the Dublin/Belfast corridor. Yours, etc,


Wheaton Hall,


Co Louth

Sir, – Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar is warning of possible closures on our railway network. However, on the European election campaign, his party colleague Jim Higgins MEP is still supporting the notion that the Western Rail Corridor (WRC) should be extended further. Mr Higgins is well aware that European TEN-T transport policy has made the Western Rail Corridor a non runner for European funding and there is going to be no Dublin money for this scheme.

Mairead McGuinness MEP is backing growing support in the West for the WRC to be converted to a greenway to protect the route until such time as a railway might become possible. Lorraine Higgins, Labour Party MEP candidate, and Luke Ming Flanagan, independent MEP candidate, also support the idea of a greenway.

Galway, Mayo and Sligo county councils, all with Fine Gael majorities, are against this policy, which would provide a huge boost to tourism for relatively little capital outlay. The councils seem to share the view of the three sitting Western MEPs, Jim Higgins, Marian Harkin and Pat the Cope Gallagher, that we apparently still have the money to open old rural railway lines in the West of Ireland and run them at a huge loss. It’s irresponsible politics.

Were the Minister to make it clear to our MEPs and councils that not only are some of our existing rail lines under threat but that there is no chance of more loss-making lines being reopened then perhaps they might throw their support behind a project that has a realistic chance of happening and which would bring jobs to the West. Yours, etc,


Sligo Mayo

Greenway Campaign,


Co Sligo

Sir, – Why are the views of philosophers, theologians and sociologists on our society mostly ignored, David Nelson asks (Letters, April 4th). Silly question, easy answer: there is no money in philosophy, theology or sociology. And if there is no money in philosophy, theology or sociology, they’re not worth anything, are they? That’s what kids in Ireland mostly learn, isn’t it? Ignore this message: it was written by a philosopher. In the context of the free market economy, it’s worthless. Yours, etc,






Sir, – Amid the events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of Cumann na mBan and its role in the struggle for independence, it should not be forgotten that members of that organisation were subsequently committed to the overthrow of the independent Irish state. One of its core activities in the first decade of the Irish Free State was the attempted undermining of the criminal justice system through persistent and co-ordinated jury intimidation.

Many examples of the menacing circulars sent to jurors’ homes and posted in public places survive in the National Archives, National Library and the Dublin Diocesan Archives. This campaign supplemented the activities of those who were willing to attack jurors, such as the men who shot John White in Terenure in 1929. He had been foreman of the jury which had convicted the Republican Con Healy of shooting at members of An Garda Síochána. Indeed, Cumann na mBan referred to the fate of Mr White in one of its leaflets as a warning to other jurors. Yours, etc,


Durham Law School,

Stockton Road,


United Kingdom

Sir, – Edward Collins (Letters, April 3rd) is under a misapprehension. I did not write in to moan, or to look for sympathy, but to draw attention to the simple fact that up to half of the State’s voters are being ignored by the political system and by the media.

Mr Collins portrays us as diehard conservatives, impotently angry at the loss of our former power and glory. In fact, Mary Stewart has been campaigning tirelessly for years against the death penalty, as well as against abortion, and I was a lifelong supporter of the Labour Party until it adopted pro-abortion policies.

Personally, if it were not for the issue of abortion, I would not bother to write these letters at all. Does anyone seriously think that a Catholic like me would write to The Irish Times expecting “sympathy” for my position?

I was merely pointing out to your readers, and hopefully to politicians, that while there may be consensus in the media about various issues, large numbers of us have different views, and will vote accordingly. I feel that I need to do this because the media, for the most part, are not doing it for me.

Yours, etc,



Co Waterford

Sir, – The Government’s white paper on Universal Health Insurance (UHI), published this week is fundamentally flawed.

It will place an immediate financial burden on families, and the only consultation process open to the public is restricted to deliberating on what this “competing insurers” model will look like. Meanwhile, there is no consultation of any kind taking place on any other options, such as those recommended in Dr Jane Pillinger’s 2012 report The Future of Healthcare in Ireland .

That report recommended that the competing insurers model, as proposed by the Minister, should not be adopted before all the options have been evaluated in terms of quality, equity, access to services and medium and long term value for money. The report was ignored by the Minister.

Families will be required by law to have health insurance, but there is a real risk that this will be an impossible financial burden from the very start, particularly for the growing number of people without health insurance who don’t qualify for a medical card.

This group will be required to purchase health insurance for every member of their family. While the Dutch insurance model provided the Minister with his initial inspiration for this UHI scheme, it should be noted that children are actually insured for free under the Dutch model.

The question of cost remains, but it appears that no evaluation of any other funding model has been undertaken. We have been trying to get the message across to the Minister that other options need to be considered, such as the “single-payer” social insurance model used in France, Germany and Nordic countries.

Apart from a cursory late briefing on the day of publication, where questions were not invited from trade unions or patient groups, there has been no engagement with the Minister on these issues.

The experience in other jurisdictions which have similar models of competing insurers, has been a continuing rise in the price of compulsory insurance, coupled with increasing restrictions on the health services covered. They have also experienced rising readmission rates as more people experience complications after they’ve been discharged. This can be attributed to the financial incentives to discharge patients early.

The Minister’s estimate of €900 per individual seems almost optimistic, but if this model is established, the costs are likely to continue to rise. The Minister has also boasted that the scheme will ensure no additional cost burden to the State, which will mean that the only means of raising extra revenue will be through individual insurance premiums.

Finally, if we really want to get the measure of where this scheme is going, it is telling that the €100 charge for emergency departments will remain in place. Yours, etc,


National secretary,

Health & Welfare division


Sir, – Brian McDevitt (Letters, April 2nd) is using out of date and inaccurate figures in his comments on GP incomes. As a general practitioner, I get on average €85.80 per year for a medical card patient under the age of 70.

For this sum, I provide medical cover to my patients for 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. This is before tax, and before paying staff, premises, equipment and computer costs and what is required to ensure out of hours cover etc.

For years my private patients have been subsidising my medical card practice and sustaining the standard of practice that we are trying to provide. This situation has been exacerbated by the 35 per cent cut in medical card fees unilaterally imposed by the Government in the last three years.

The recently appointed professor of general practice in UCC, who has come from the United Kingdom, has been quoted as describing the GP service in this country as “gold dust”. Under current Government proposals it may well become just dust. Yours, etc,


Crescent Medical Centre,

The Crescent,


Sir, – Brian McDevitt’s letter reflects the success of the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health in convincing the general public that global payments to a GP practice reflect the remuneration of the doctors involved.

By this logic, the situation is indeed even worse than Mr McDevitt imagines it to be since I can reveal that a certain Dr J Reilly received €13 billion in payments last year, which does seem excessive.

In Dr Reilly’s defence it should be said that this money is used to fund the health service. On a micro level the payments are the global payments to practices which fund nurses, secretaries, heat, light and medical supplies among other things. As these fees have been cut successively in recent years, the private fees that Mr McDevitt refers to are increasingly used to support the provision of services to medical card patients. Although the State has the responsibility to provide services to this group, it does not appear to be willing to adequately fund it. Yours, etc,


Family Doctor,

Baile Átha Luimnigh,

An Uaimh,

Co Na Mhí

Sir, – Your Irish language columnist Caoimhe Ní Laighin misleadingly states in her article(“Cinniúint na Catalóine”, April 2nd) that there are “77,000 cainteoir ag an nGaeilge”. This is not correct. The number of Irish speakers who claim to use Irish daily “outside the educational system only” should not be equated with the total number of Irish speakers, as your columnist has done. Many Irish speakers living outside Irish-speaking communities do not easily get opportunities on a daily basis to use Irish but they are still Irish-speakers.

In my opinion a better measure of the number of active Irish-speakers is the number of people who claim in census returns to use the language at least weekly outside education. This figure, according to the 2011 census is 188,000 for the 26 counties.

The 2011 census taken in Northern Ireland showed that there were 64,847 people who claimed to be able to understand, read, write and speak Irish. Unfortunately we don’t have figures for daily and weekly users but I would suggest a figure of approximately 16,000 would not be an exaggeration, giving a figure of a little more than 200,000 for the number of people who use Irish on a regular basis within the island of Ireland.





Co na Gaillimhe

Irish Independent:

Published 05 April 2014 02:30 AM

* Leaving my local supermarket some days ago I stopped to put some change on the table for the Kidney Association, a fantastic organisation that has done some great work over the years.

Also in this section

Put lead in your pencil and use your vote

Sky deal is a slap in the face for GAA fans

Coming back from the mother of all mistakes

I never pass its table as, many years ago, a friend of mine who was on the waiting list finally got his new kidney and I saw first-hand what a difference it made to his life.

Unfortunately he has since passed, but it left a lasting impression on my life. I now always carry my organ donor card in my wallet. But, as we all know, we often leave our wallet and driver’s licence behind, which delays any decision regarding organ donation or discussions with next-of-kin.

Investigating the matter further, I discovered that carrying an organ donor card merely indicates your intention to be an donor but does not give permission. Your next-of-kin still need to be contacted first which, understandably for the hospital, can be a very difficult conversation considering the trauma the family is experiencing.

With this in mind, I contacted my local hospital to ask if they had a list of donors which I could add my name too, “unfortunately not” was the reply – no such list exists.

Would it not make more sense to have a list of donors, where you could sign up and complete all the necessary legal forms with the consent of your next-of-kin?

Your name and medical details could be stored on computer, to be accessed only in the event of death, which removes the need to contact grief-stricken families.

Given the power of computers and with time-critical decisions required, it would also mean that your details could be immediately matched to somebody on the waiting list. If there were no suitable matches in Ireland your medical details could be instantly matched to somebody in Europe.

None of this is rocket science and, in this age of computers, carrying a small card that is easily lost or misplaced is obsolete.

I’m sure a properly constructed list, which could run in tandem with donor cards, would lead to more organs becoming available, dealt with in the fastest possible time and with a lot less stress on the donor’s family.




* President Michael D Higgins has launched a national debate about values.

Perhaps President Higgins could lead from the front on issues he refers to, such as justice and equality, by reducing his salary to a reasonable level.

Real leadership would be for the President to publicly declare what he accepts as a reasonable salary and pension.




* With regard to Brian McDevitt’s letter (Irish Independent, April 4), on NNI Press Pass winner Elayna Keller’s work on bullying, here are some great words of inspiration from Stan Rogers‘s ‘The Mary Ellen Carter’.

“And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow. With smiling b****rds lying to you everywhere you go. Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain. And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.”

The great Liam Clancy‘s version is a source of great solace to those who listen to it. Try it.




* I don’t feel particularly sorry for TDs involved in scandals. But as we leave all decency behind, the Irish world becomes less and less like the ideal we aimed for in our founding values. Partially, it is the politicians’ greed and indifference that has created this “me fein” attitude.

It was bizarre for me to find anti-Semitism in Australia and the unfounded nature of it, hatred for no reason. Hatred passed on.

Now, there is a certain amount of crying wolf in depicting criticism of Israel’s actions as anti-Semitic. Israel is often regarded as doing the wrong thing. But, as many Israelis acknowledge, they are now protesting with the Palestinians for peace in their mutual homes.

But who are we to be sending Nazi imagery to any Irish person? Is this the country we want? Where we make light of genocide? Us, who survived a famine brought upon us by the notion that we too were “unwanted” and, therefore, also disposable.

You may not like Justice Minister Alan Shatter. You may think he does a bad job. But this? Come on people, we are better than this.




* Now that it has been established that recordings of conversations took place in several garda stations and the prison service – most of them illegally – it begs the question as to how many others were also surreptitiously eavesdropped on?

In true GUBU-esque fashion, it would appear, in hindsight, the shenanigans of Sean Doherty and his cronies were boy scout-esque in comparison.




* The HSE is currently reviewing the medical card entitlements of thousands of over-70s following Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s appalling changes to the income thresholds in Budget 2014 and, in particular, the income thresholds that apply to couples.

The following statistics will demonstrate the unequal and scandalous treatment of couples in this age bracket.

* The single threshold was reduced by €5,200 per annum.

* The threshold for couples was reduced by a staggering €15,600 per annum – that’s €7,800 each.

* The new annual threshold for a single person is €26,000.

* The new annual threshold for a couple is €46,800 – this works out at €23,400 each.

It is extraordinary that no threshold applies to the new GP Visit Card for children under six. So millionaires with children under six will be entitled to it. What a joke.




* I refer to recent statements by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar in relation to the funding of Irish Rail.

Mr Varadkar justifies his assertion that rail is inefficient on the basis of the relative numbers carried compared to Dublin Bus or Luas.

This is a very blinkered, short-sighted and simplistic analysis. It ignores the fact that the average rail journey is many multiples of the average Dublin Bus or Luas journey and is thus of more social and economic importance.

The economic worth of the railway to places like Galway, Killarney or Westport shouldn’t be casually dismissed – ask the people of Donegal how that region has fared since the destruction of rail infrastructure in the north-west.

While Irish Rail may well need to make further savings, it also needs to grow the business and aggressively exploit the substantial improvements in railway infrastructure.

I wouldn’t be particularly confident that bus-based solutions have the ability to address the transport needs of the Dublin area given that the usage of Dublin Bus services has declined sharply from 149 million journeys in 2003/4 to 115 million in 2012.

Indeed, significant sections of the rail system are heavily congested, especially in the Dublin area, resulting in serious service degradation, particularly along the Dublin/Belfast corridor.



Irish Independent

Under the Weather

April 4, 2014

4 April2014 Under the Weather

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to transport a diplomatPriceless

Mary under the weather

Scrabbletoday, I win , Perhaps Marywill win tomorrow.


Richard Vaughan – obituary

Richard Vaughan was a medieval historian and ornithologist who studied bird life from Europe to the wilds of the Arctic

Richard Vaughan

Richard Vaughan

6:04PM BST 03 Apr 2014

Comments5 Comments

Richard Vaughan, who has died aged 86, had the distinction of being both a much-respected academic historian and an ornithologist of international repute.

As an expert on the Middle Ages and an accomplished linguist, he was a university professor in three different countries. As a man gripped by a lifelong passion for observing and photographing birds, he published hundreds of papers and articles in journals and magazines; these were widely respected – his writings on the birds of the Arctic were particularly admired in Russia.

Richard Vaughan

Richard Vaughan was born at Maidenhead on July 9 1927, the son of a Colonial Service lawyer who eventually became Chief Justice of Fiji. As a 15-year-old pupil at Eastbourne College during its wartime evacuation to Radley, his skill at catching in his hand food regurgitated by nesting swifts provided such valuable new evidence on their diet that he was acknowledged (as “a schoolboy near Oxford”) in David Lack’s classic Swifts in a Tower.

His precocious expertise soon led him to be invited on field trips by many other leading ornithologists of the day, including James Fisher, WB Alexander, HN Southern and BW Tucker. While still in his teens he contributed to Country Life the first of what would eventually be nearly 100 articles on birds, illustrated with his own photographs.

On National Service after the war, stationed on Salisbury Plain as an Education Corps librarian, his reading of all 400 books which were standard issue to Army libraries led him to aspire to become a professional historian. At Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, he was awarded a double First, and in 1953 became a college Fellow. Fluent in Italian (he would eventually become conversant with 13 languages), he spent one summer wandering around parts of the Abruzzi so remote that each valley still had its own distinct dialect.

In 1955, according to legend, he proposed to his future wife Margaret Morris only on condition that she could identify each species of duck in St James’s Park. In 1958 he published what became the standard work on the 13th-century chronicler Matthew Paris, who was also an artist (a talented painter himself, Vaughan created Christmas cards meticulously illuminated in medieval style).

Richard Vaughan observing bird life

Between 1962 and 1976 he completed his major work, a four-volume account of the pivotal part played in late-medieval Europe by the Duchy of Burgundy, having in 1965 become professor of history at Hull. As his family grew to include six children, he took them on camping holidays across Europe, where they could swim while he photographed birds — notably for his pioneering study of the rare Eleanora’s falcon, which nests in colonies on unoccupied Mediterranean islands, feeding its young on migrating birds.

Unaware of his reputation as an ornithologist, the Hull history department was bemused when three star-struck young birdwatchers turned up to ask whether its professor was “the Eleanora’s falcon Vaughan”.

So immersed was he in the Middle Ages that he was known to observe that “history stopped in 1492”. But in the late 1970s he leapt forward to the modern age, producing in 1978 a revealingly original account, based on key documents, of the origins of the European Community. In 1981 he became professor of medieval history at the Dutch university of Groningen, where he also became chairman of its Arctic Centre.

Vaughan’s interest in the Arctic had been sparked by a spell in Hull hospital, where a fellow-patient had been a retired whaler. The whaler’s stories led Vaughan to take an expert interest in both the history and birds of the Arctic. His many subsequent visits to the northern parts of Norway, Greenland, Russia and Canada inspired more books in addition to several he had already published on British seabirds. They included his monumental In Search of Arctic Birds (1992) and The Arctic: A History (1994)

After a year at the University of Central Michigan, he retired to a cottage on the North York Moors and then, in 1996, to Porlock in Somerset. Although this saw an end, after 50 years, to his inimitable contributions to Country Life, under such titles as “The Choughs of Grindelwald”, “Tragedy of the Ebro Delta” and “Amorous Lapwings”, his knowledge of bird life across Europe was so comprehensive that, when a friend asked him whether it was possible that birds of prey he had seen circling high above the Gorge du Tarn in southern France could have been Egyptian vultures, he immediately replied: “There were 21 of them, weren’t there? They were introduced there a few years ago.”

In 2005, with his daughter Nancy, an academic naturalist, he published the definitive monograph on the rare stone curlew, a bird he had loved since first observing it on Salisbury Plain 60 years earlier. In 2010 his last book, Rings and Wings, gave a delightful account of the four 19th-century pioneers of bird-ringing, at which Vaughan himself had become expert in his early teens, setting traps round the Devon garden where he spent his wartime holidays.

Richard Vaughan is survived by Margaret, who acted as his field assistant for five decades, and by their two sons and four daughters.

Richard Vaughan, born July 9 1927, died March 4 2014


• We agree with every word written by Robert Shore (Let’s hear it for the Midlands, G2, 26 March), especially the claim that the “Mercian supremacy” laid the foundations for a “unified” England. To remind the sceptical: Mercia was once so important in the continental context that London was perhaps seen as its sea port.

We have constructed a walking/ studying Mercia project to cross Mercia on foot, constructing a modern walkers’ Spaghetti Junction with the existing Mercian Trail in Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Our routes use towpaths (canals represent the Mercian contribution to the industrial revolution) to link Wessex from the Thames Path to the Pictish/Scottish kingdoms via the Pennine Way. Our “low speed 1″ could be constructed at a fraction of the cost of HS2. Studying follows walking: exploring the evolution of the Mercian landscape, places and language. Mercian explorers are welcome to contact us by email at
Christopher Gowers, Malcolm Southan
Oxford (Outer Mercia)

The failed asylum claim by Yashika Bageerathi and her family and the deportation of the 19-year-old back to Mauritius exposes the inflexibility of our immigration and asylum system (Report, 3 April). Especially at a time of heightened rhetoric and the public demonisation of immigrants who come to the UK, there is little scope for discretion. The definition of a refugee is an artificial construct developed to deal with displaced persons in Europe after the second world war. It was also a cold war tool, elevating issues likely to advantage those fleeing political oppression, while ignoring equally valid but differing claims of economic harm. To come within the definition, you need to flee state persecution because of your “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion (the definition has been expanded to include your sex or sexual orientation). It does not take heed of those facing starvation nor, as in the case of Yashika, the threat of violence from a family member. Those claimants are destined to become “failed asylum seekers” or “economic migrants”.

Yashika’s case is not exceptional. The family would have been expected to have moved to another area, or to have looked for protection from the state. Far more difficult claims for asylum are refused on a regular basis. Her excellent school results and the potential for her to become an asset to the UK are not relevant to the decision. There are many unaccompanied minors who are similarly deported upon their 18th birthdays, regardless of the reception they will face upon return. Hopefully this difficult case and the outcry it has caused will start a debate about the system as a whole: about who should be allowed to stay and about whether there should be discretion in these cases.
Dana Carli

Polly Toynbee is over-generous to George Osborne (Comment, 1 April). VAT inspectors’ salaries are £35,000 only in London – in the rest of the UK the starting salary is £22,000 and, due to the chancellor’s policy of no annual increments for the civil service, this is where you stay. Also, she underestimates the benefit we achieve for the country; I have identified additional VAT 20 times my salary this year. She is, however, correct in her overall analysis of what seems to be the chancellor’s dogmatic ideology in cutting HMRC staff even if the result is failure to collect all the tax that is due.
Ian Arnott (VAT officer)
Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

• In his review of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (3 April), Michael Billington claims that it is actually based on a 1988 movie starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin. That particular film was a remake of a 1964 movie called Bedtime Story, starring Marlon Brando and David Niven.
Noel Hannon

• Re the famous Shrewsbury flower show (Letters, 29 March). It is so important that Shrewsbury Town’s opening fixture of the 1985-86 season against Crystal Palace was postponed to avoid a clash with the festival. I remember because I nearly set out from Manchester to watch the mighty Palace on the wrong day.
Michael Cunningham

• Not far from Holmfirth, in West Yorkshire, Upperthong and Netherthong are well worth popping into (Letters, passim).
Fr Alec Mitchell

• If your readers get a bit peckish seeking out these weirdly named places they can always call in at Chipshop in Cornwall.
Rob Parrish
Starcross, Devon

• I agree with the suspiciously aptly named Roger Plenty (Letters, 3 April). Overpopulation is a problem, but can be alleviated by tackling its root cause, unconscious coupling.
Marcus Weeks
Hastings, East Sussex

The death sentence handed down to 529 protesters by an Egyptian court (Report, 24 March) should have produced much more than mumbled regret from the British government. This was a political show trial in which less than half the defendants were present in court. Their defence lawyers were not in the court either. The trial has been condemned by Amnesty International. The protesters were not, as reports have routinely claimed, all supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and revulsion at the verdict stretches across the political spectrum to include all but the most determined supporters of Field Marshall El Sisi. All this takes place against the background of the outright banning of Egypt‘s largest opposition group, which followed the shooting by the Egyptian army of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters last year. The British government should call in the Egyptian ambassador and demand that this judgment is withdrawn with immediate effect.
Mark Serwotka General secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union
Steve Turner Assistant general secretary, Unite the Union
Ken Loach Film director
Helena Kennedy QC
Alaa Mohamed Chair, British Egyptians 4 Democracy
Basma Muhammad Co-ordinator, International Anti-Coup Pro-Democracy Alliance
Andrew Murray Chief of staff, Unite the Union
John Rees Co-founder, Stop the War Coalition
Mohammad Soudan UK representative, Freedom and Justice Party
Louise Christian Human rights lawyer
Bernard Regan Chair, Sertuc international committee
Caryl Churchill Playwright
Peter Oborne Chief political commentator, Daily Telegraph
Lindsey German Convenor, Stop the War Coalition
Carl Arrindell Head of current affairs, Islam Channel
Paul Mackney Former general secretary Natfhe/UCU
Chris Nineham National secretary, Counterfire
Steve Bell Treasurer, Stop the War Coalition
Kate Hudson
Cherry Sewell Officer, Greek Solidarity Campaign

Maryam al-Khawaja’s claim that having Formula One in Bahrain causes human-rights violations (Report, 28 March) is little more than attention-seeking from an unrepresentative voice. Not only is there no evidence whatsoever to back this claim up, why on earth would the overwhelming majority of people – including the main opposition parties, such as Al Wefaq – support the hosting of the race if that were to be the case?

The independent inquiry in 2011 – led by one of the world’s leading human rights experts, Cherif Bassiouni – resulted in a comprehensive report and a series of recommendations for extensive reform, which was fully accepted by the government. At no stage did this report find any links whatsoever between human rights violations and Formula One, with over 9,000 testimonies taken into account. Bahrain welcomes and celebrates in the joy of Formula One, with attendance at the race representing almost 10% of the total population of the kingdom. It benefits the whole country, irrespective of religion and political affiliation and our upcoming race will be a true testament to that.
Alice Samaan
Ambassador of Bahrain

• Once again we hear pronouncements from Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted (Report, 3 March), who reveals his lack of understanding of what constitutes high-quality early years education. The purpose is not to prepare children for school but rather to give them opportunities where they can learn about the world and those in it in through their explorations of what interests them. Supported by adults who pay close attention to what they are doing, they are encouraged to express and share their developing ideas and feelings and to feel confident about what they already know and can do rather than experience failure at the start of their journey as lifelong learners. All children, from all backgrounds, will learn when what and how they learn is respected.

Wilshaw should know that evidence from neuroscience shows that we continue to be learners throughout our lives – and this tells us that learning is not a race to predetermined goals but a continuing search for meaning. He could take some time to read what people like Vygotsky and Bruner, Malaguzzi and Trevarthen have said about early learning. Do we really want our young children to be introduced to formal learning before they have had opportunities to develop the skills they need for this through everyday exploration of situations that make human sense to them? Do we really want to have our two-year-olds learning, by rote, to count and chant the sounds of our non-phonetic language? Do we really want to prepare our thinking and competent young children to be able to do no more than meet a series of meaningless targets measuring little that matters?

By all means provide funding for all schools to set up nursery classes. But if this is a serious attempt to improve early childhood education in this country, look to the funding, the philosophy and the knowledge base.
Sandra Smidt
Early years consultant and author, London

• Quite how we got to the point where one person decides what is a good school beats me, but now Michael Wilshaw is deciding what is a good pre-school education.

Too many children lack basic language and counting skills when they start school, says the chief inspector, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The cure once again is to improve the quality of teaching, when all the research points to child poverty, poor diet, housing, healthcare, parenting and environment as the major factors associated with under-achievement. Improve those and you improve achievement.

However, Wilshaw is not one to refer to the evidence, let alone understand research findings. We know his grasp of statistics is shaky with his reference to “one in five children leaving primary schools not reaching average”. A good pre-school experience is well documented, but in the face of all the evidence Michael Wilshaw focuses on a weak vision of quality: teaching and learning as a sterile process by which pre-school children acquire skills.
Dr Robin Richmond
Bromyard, Herefordshire

• Can Michael Wilshaw, who called for childminders to teach toddlers to hold a pen, actually read? Childminders do exactly what it says on the tin
Malcolm Severn
Belper, Derbyshire

Nigel Farage‘s task was relatively easy (Clegg tactics fail as Farage romps home in EU debate, 3 April). Brusque, good-humoured bigotry supported by bluster will always seem to beat thoughtful well-informed analysis. And Nick Clegg did not seem able to think on his feet. There is a difference in kind between “law” and “regulation”. The EU has contributed to 7% of our laws but to over 50% of our regulations. These regulations, worked on by the small committees which Ukip MEPs spurn, have resulted in, for example: cleaner air, cleaner beaches and rivers, the banning of harmful food additives, smoke-free workplaces, improved child and animal welfare, cross border policing, some control over human trafficking, support for democracy and human rights – and much more. And most strikingly we have had peace in what for centuries had been a war-torn Europe. In spite of the “knock out” which Ukip supporters have claimed for Clegg, I shall be changing my allegiance from Labour to the Lib Dems.
John Saunders

• In 1975, I voted no in the referendum. Bear in mind the question was should we remain in the EU? Forty years on and we are part of a very different organisation. Whereas the EU In 1975 was without a doubt a free-trade organisation, the current EU is still free trade but now also supports a strong social policy aimed at ensuring that workers in one EU country cannot be exploited to take advantage of the free trade policy. Why didn’t Mr Clegg make this point during the debate? Could it be that he does not support strong rights for “hardworking people”?
Richard Bull
Woodbridge, Suffolk

• Ian Traynor (Report, 3 April) says that Nigel Farage’s military superpower is an EU that does not exist. Let me remind him of the billions being spent on the Eurofighter Typhoon – the world’s most advanced swing-role combat aircraft, offering agile performance, interoperability and unrivalled flexibility. A lot of money just for airshows.
John Daramy
Chesterfield, Derbyshire

• Watching the televised debate, I realised why Nick Clegg has difficulty with a 70-year-old like me who grew up in Hackney in the 1950s. There the local population lived contentedly enough in a monocultural society in a cockney setting reflected by Broadway market round the corner, cinemas in Mare Street and a straightforward English way of life.

Mr Clegg made great play of how he wants us to live in the present rather than the past. The problem is that the elements he cited in his wish were all foisted on us. We never asked for mass immigration. We never asked for multiculturalism. We never asked for diversity. We never asked for political union with 27 other countries of Europe. Mr Clegg therefore necessarily begins from the weakest psychological stance in expecting people to accept situations which were forced on them.

That is why his views carried little weight with me on Wednesday. I make no bones about it. I do not want mass immigration. I do not want multiculturalism. I do not want diversity. I do not want political union with 27 other countries of Europe. Rather, I wish to be allowed to continue to live my life immersed in my own culture, with all its foibles and its faults as well as its joys, and not immersed in a melting pot of other people’s cultures, no matter how beneficial that is perceived to be for my own culture.
Edward Thomas

• Your coverage includes a brief expose on Nigel farage using a private company to avoid taxes. People use private companies for many reasons, sometimes for tax reasons, often because the contracting party will only deal with a company and not an individual. Farage is dangerous and his view offensive, but a petty and half-baked article about his tax affairs isn’t going to help people focus on the real reasons why we should be concerned about the rising profile of him and his party.
Tim Maynard
Castle Hedingham, Essex

• “Farage romps home in EU debate”. I expect it of the Mail or Express but does the Guardian need to present politics as a reality show. The ownly losers will be ordinary people and the poor if either of them “wins”.
Michael McLoughlin

• Top marks to Nick Clegg for taking on Farage. My revulsion for the Ukip leader went through the ceiling.
Bridget Wright
Malltraeth, Anglesey

• Ukip if you want to, I’m staying awake and aware.
Rev June Freshney
Grantham, Lincolnshire

Naomi Wayne writes: As a 17-year-old first-year law student at the LSE in 1968, I dropped in on a lunchtime meeting addressed by Tony Benn. Well to the left of the then centrist minister, I was at odds with his views, and said so. Ten minutes later, the meeting ended and when Benn emerged he made a beeline for me and launched into a passionate defence of his position. We spent several minutes disagreeing with each other. I was hugely impressed, not with his arguments but with his desire to engage on an equal footing with a young and obscure student and with his total lack of self-importance. Deference was dying in 1968 but for Benn it had never existed.

Hugh Kerr writes: When I was selected as the Labour candidate for the European parliamentary seat of Essex West and Hertfordshire East in 1994, the Labour party was a little doubtful, since I was a known leftwing socialist. However, since all seven Westminster seats that made up the constituency were Tory-held, the party didn’t believe I would win, so let me run. My brief was: “No money, staff or speakers, just keep the Tories busy!” I invited Tony Benn to head up my opening rally but, knowing his strong anti-EU views, not to speak about Europe. He gave a wonderful half-hour speech on socialism to 500 people, we raised £5,000, and I was elected three weeks later.

Barbara Hall writes: During the 1960s, I worked at the National Economic Development Office. One day I arrived back at Millbank Tower after lunch, before a council meeting was due to start. As I reached the door, a number of so-called captains of industry, newly arrived in their chauffeur-driven limousines, swept past me, allowing the door to slam in my face. Then came Tony Benn: he opened the door for me, stood aside to let me pass, walked to the lift with me and pressed the button for my floor, chatting amiably the while. His old-fashioned courtesy and respect for a complete stranger provided a stark contrast to the behaviour of those who had gone before.

Colin Thomas writes: Tony Benn was regarded with great affection in Bristol and, when he left the city to become the MP for Chesterfield in 1984, there was a farewell party for him at which I was asked to sing the Ballad of Joe Hill, but after the lines “Says Joe: ‘What they can never kill, Went on to organise'”, I forgot the words. Tony Benn saved me from embarrassment by joining in the last verse: “From San Diego up to Maine, In every mine and mill, Where workers strike and organise, It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill, It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.” And it’s there we’ll continue to find Tony Benn, too.


What is all this about winning or losing the debate between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg? Either you agreed with the one or the other. I doubt if many changed their minds: neither deployed any new arguments. Clegg used logic, Farage emotion.

The use of this debate was twofold. It exposed the arguments, and the “exit poll” gave an idea of how people would vote if there were a referendum today.

The good news for the “ins” like myself is that only about a sixth of the population needs to be convinced. The problem is how the ins are going to speak to the feelings of those who are not convinced by logic.

Venetia Caine, Glastonbury, Somerset

Save at the very end, nobody mentioned the word “war” in the Farage-Clegg debate on the EU. Both Farage and Clegg are too young to have experienced war in Europe.

For over 500 years nations in post-medieval Europe waged war against one another. In the last century two world wars shattered Europe. My mother had her eldest brother killed in the First World War (Ypres) and her youngest brother killed in the Second (Crete). I was born in 1938 and my father, having survived Dunkirk, was absent on active service from 1940 to 1945, so that I did not recognise him when he returned home.

My mother, sister and I slept in the cellar of our house in south-east London for the duration of the war. A good job too because the house opposite us was bombed flat in 1944 by a V2 rocket.

A united Europe (whatever its faults) is far preferable to antagonistic separate nations, and the Ukip isolation policy is simply a false dream based on outdated 19th-century notions.

David Ashton, Shipbourne, Kent

Listening to the televised debate on Wednesday evening, I realised why Nick Clegg has difficulty with a 70-year-old like me who grew up in Hackney in the 1950s. There the local population lived contentedly enough in a monocultural society in a London Cockney setting reflected by the Broadway Market round the corner, a series of cinemas in Mare Street and a straightforward English way of life.

Mr Clegg made great play of how he wants us to live in the present rather than the past. The problem is that the elements he cited were all foisted on us. We never asked for mass immigration. We never asked for multiculturalism. We never asked for diversity. We never asked for political union with 27 other countries of Europe. Mr Clegg necessarily begins from the weakest psychological stance in expecting people to accept situations which were forced on them. That is why his views carried little weight with me.

Edward Thomas, Eastbourne, East Sussex

Cinderella law: will social workers cope?

Frank Furedi (“The Cinderella law: emotional correctness gone mad”, 2 April) points out that every mother or father is  at risk of being labelled an abuser under the proposed “Cinderella law”.

The Government has proposed this new law just when the NSPCC reports that the threshold for intervening in a child’s life is actually being raised because of record reporting of child abuse. But a huge amount of this reporting is already needless. Department for Education figures for 2012-2013 show that, in England, there were 145,700 needless referrals to children’s social services in one year. Child protection is about a child “suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm”. When so many children are needlessly reported, this does indicate that people already overreact.

So why does the Government want to broaden the definition of child abuse even further, thus creating more cases for an overloaded system? Sixteen children known to Birmingham social services died in a five-year period. A report severely criticised Birmingham social services over the poor quality of referrals, leading to a surge in demand that could not be met.

Detecting child abuse in the community is akin to finding a needle in a haystack for overstretched social workers. So why make the haystack even bigger by creating more cases that will need assessment?

Tristram C Llewellyn Jones, Ramsey, Isle of Man

Consistent, loving care is critical in building the human brain, so it certainly is time that our child-protection laws reflect the long-term mental and physical damage caused by the emotional neglect and abuse of children. The announcement that the Government intends to make the emotional abuse of children a criminal offence is an important step.

Understanding the critical importance of the emotional well-being of children is vital to the well-being of society. There is a raft of evidence to show that when infants receive warm, responsive, consistent, attuned, loving care their brains develop well. They are then able to grow into adults with the capacity for empathy and the facility to become good, caring parents themselves.

Lydia Keyte, Chair, What About The Children? Newbold on Stour, Warwickshire

Frank Furedi claims our Sutton Trust report “Baby Bonds” is driven by “an authoritarian impulse whose main consequence is to diminish parental authority”. In fact, the report is driven by an egalitarian impulse, whose intended consequence is for public policy to better support parents, precisely in order to generate, as Furedi puts it, “more opportunities for children, and indeed parents, to realise their potential.”

Furedi offers no evidence to counter our empirical finding – from a review of over 100 academic studies – that a secure emotional relationship with a parent can have an important influence on children’s life chances, particularly for the most disadvantaged.

Sophie Moullin, Princeton University, Professor Jane Waldfogel, Columbia University, Dr Liz Washbrook, Bristol University

Nasty Party kicks out A-level student

What a PR disaster the removal of the 19-year-old student Yashika Bhageerathi has proved to be! It shows Theresa May in her true colours as a member of the “Nasty Party” who, having failed to meet her targets for immigration, attempts to keep her numbers up by picking on a young, vulnerable girl who came here to avoid abuse. The removal of her alone, without her mother, and a failed attempt to remove her on Mothering Sunday, only added to the disaster.

The Home Office showed a complete lack of common sense and compassion in this case. What difference would it have made if Yashika had been allowed a further six weeks here so she could take her A-levels and return home with a qualification? Instead Britain is once again portrayed as an uncaring nation instead of a just and caring society.

The only people who deserve credit in this sad situation are the head, staff and pupils of the Oasis Academy Hadley in Enfield – they may have failed but they are heroes in my book.

Ken Smith, Hinderclay, Suffolk

Why no auction for Royal Mail?

You conclude (editorial, 2 April) that “Mr Cable was still right to be cautious” over the privatisation of the Royal Mail, on the grounds that privatisations cannot be guaranteed to be successful, and that “the effects of hindsight and ‘froth’ are impossible to judge”.

Maybe so, but it is hard to understand why the Department for Business did not, apparently, even consider the use of a properly designed sealed-bid auction, instead of the conventional book-building exercise. Nor, apparently, did the National Audit Office consider this as  an option.

The Treasury uses such auctions to sell government bonds, Google was floated using one, so why not for the Post Office? At least then everyone would have had a chance at getting some shares, and the selling price would have been more likely to settle at the market clearing price, providing that the auction process was properly designed.

David Harvey, Tynemouth, Tyne & Wear

Abuse of women becomes fashion

Oh dear, here we go again. The editor of Italian Vogue, Franca Sozzani, thinks she is campaigning in some way against the abuse of women by actually showing nicely arranged “fashion” images of pretend victims (The Big Read, 3 April).

This happens again and again in film and media. You are not reflecting the horrors of society, you idiots, you are simply joining in and adding  to them.

Sue Nicholas, Cranleigh, Surrey

The battle of Richard’s bones

If there is doubt (“Car park bones disputed”, 28 March) as to whether the Leicester Greyfriars burial is indeed that of Richard III, or of a contemporary similarly slain in battle, perhaps they should be honourably interred as the Unknown Warrior of the Wars of the Roses.

Peter Forster, London N4


Sir, You report that the Commons Science and Technology Committee, chaired by Andrew Miller, wishes to censor those who question their position on climate change (“Crackdown ordered on climate-change sceptics”, Apr 2). No one can rationally argue that the climate does not change, it always has. What does require uninhibited debate is whether human activity significantly influences the global climate and, assuming that it does, the efficacy of measures proposed to reduce that influence and the manner in which such measures would be globally enforced.

Rob Harris

Farndon, Cheshire

Sir, Scientific theories can be corrected, often at no greater cost than wounded pride. Should our economic competitiveness and future living standards be ruined by unnecessary green policies, the damage will prove much more difficult to correct.

Mr Miller should welcome the critics for attempting to hold the science to account and for raising public interest in the subject, rather than trying to gag them. Where huge decisions are to be made, it is important that rigorous public debate takes place.

Mark Franklin

Bromyard, Herefordshire

Sir, Your report is a timely reminder that climate change is not wholly man-made and that this should be reflected in climate related policies.

Indeed, the IPCC has stated that up to half of the steep rise in global temperature that occurred in the second half of the last century was due to natural causes. Accordingly, it would seem sensible to reallocate some of the funds earmarked for carbon reduction such as subsidising renewable energy, to fund adaptation to the effects of climate change, especially as the UK emits only 1.5 per cent of global carbon. This rebalancing of expenditure would include upgrading of flood defences, including the Thames barrier. Such a change in climate related policy makes economic sense and would surely be welcomed by the majority of tax payers.

James Snook

Bowdon, Cheshire

Sir, I read with some concern the proposal that BBC editors should seek clearance to give air time to climate change sceptics. This subject is most difficult to understand, and we can only do so by the most rigorous application of the scientific method.

This must involve vigorous questioning of all research by those who may discern an alternative explanation. Indeed, such scrutiny can sometimes lead to new penetrating insights. While the sceptic camp does seem to contain its share of the loony Right, there are also honourable men and women who should not be censored.

H. J. Wyatt

Harrow, Middx

Sir, In seeking to gag climate change sceptics, the chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee is inviting ridicule.

Since when have arguments been won by stifling debate? To attack the BBC for airing Lord Lawson’s view is crass. The BBC is a routine proselytiser for the “warmists” and largely ignores those who question its orthodoxy. Perhaps Mr Miller has difficulty explaining why global temperatures have not shifted in the past 16 years while CO2 levels have rocketed, and why near-record levels of ice persist in the Antarctic.

Let’s have answers, not gags.

Peter Pallot

London, W6

Published at 12:01AM, April 4 2014

The decimation of the criminal bar will deprive us of an important layer of protection against corrupt police

Sir, We acted for the acquitted lead defendant in the Daniel Morgan murder trial, and the revelations from the Ellison Review (“Met will always have corrupt officers, says chief”, Mar 28) do not surprise us.

The trial process revealed that a “supergrass” had implicated a very senior policeman in corruption. Junior officers had reported this but no evidence of their report could be found in the files of the Metropolitan Police. No senior officer had any recollection of being told anything about it. The tape of the “supergrass” interview could not be found. That there was a tape was revealed only because the junior officers kept a copy of the tape for their own protection.

The point of this anecdote is that it was only thanks to the hard work of defence counsel and the integrity of prosecution counsel that this was revealed.

So, people would do well to reflect on the loss of combative lawyers who are prepared take on the state on their behalf, before it is too late. The cuts that Mr Grayling proposes to VHCC (Very High Cost) cases will decimate the criminal bar and neuter the defence in particular.

The Morgan murder occurred in 1987 and is unique in telling us how the fee income of barristers has been reduced in the intervening 25 years. The lead defendant was first charged in 1989 (the case was later dropped). In 1989 junior counsel would have been paid £100 per hour for a case of this type. In 2008, 19 years later, a QC would have been paid just £94.50 and a junior £61 per hour respectively. In 2014, after the latest cuts, a QC will be paid just £63.70 per hour and a junior just £42.70 per hour.

These are turnover figures and for the most difficult cases; there is no holiday pay, no pension entitlement and expenses of about one third of turnover need to be deducted from these figures.

The Bar only asks for a pay freeze and a pause to reflect on the potential destruction of a world class system. Sadly it is the juniors who will suffer most as it is the income of those at the top of the profession that helps support those at the bottom under the chambers system. No profession can survive this attrition.

Richard Christie, QC

Jonathan Lennon


Commercial bus fares are rising fast, and free passes are a growing drain on cash-strapped local authorities

Sir, The Labour Party may be right to pledge a freeze on rail fares (Apr 2), but there is an even more urgent need to freeze bus fares.

Outside London there are no controls on commercial bus fares. In many places fares are rising faster than inflation. The result is that, on many routes, seniors using their free passes outnumber fare-payers.

Worse still, the reimbursement to bus operators for carrying seniors is (usually) based on a percentage of the average fare charged. If fares go up, the bills to local authorities go up automatically. The expenditure on free bus travel is one over which cash-strapped authorities have no control. In a bid to save public expenditure Parliament should legislate an immediate freeze on bus fares.

Dr Roger Sexton


A former donor explains why she was compelled to refuse to allow her embryos to be used by another woman

Sir, As a former egg donor, I know that embryos are destroyed (“Three-parent baby law will lose votes, Cameron warned”, Mar 22). However, it is not because they are seen as a disposable commodity. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (Hefa) doesn’t give the full story.

I was approached about embryos from my donated eggs as the recipient had completed her family. I asked if one could be given to my younger sister (who had suffered an early menopause) as this would mean her child would be related by DNA. This was not permissible as she was not on the clinic’s waiting list.

In addition, had I let the embryos be used, I would have had to surrender my anonymity, potentially giving a stranger rights to my estate when I die. I hated refusing permission for re-use, but I also had to protect my own son’s future interests. I doubt I am the only former donor who feels this way.

Mrs J. Pilsworth

Willingham, Cambs

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools announces that a London school has found itself some premises

Sir, Your report “Homeless free schools cause chaos” (Mar 31) said Marylebone Boys School may not open due to problems finding a site. I can now confirm that the school has secured a permanent site for 2016 and will therefore open this September.

Lord Nash

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools


SIR – “The erosion of childhood” is becoming a theme of concern to citizens across the political spectrum.

The latest salvo in this “paradigm war” for the heart of childhood has been discharged by the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw. In a letter to all early-years inspectors, he instructs them to judge nurseries mainly in terms of preparation for school. They must “teach children the early stages of mathematics and reading”.

This utilitarian shift from experience to content betrays an abject (and even wilful) misunderstanding of the nature of early childhood experience. The determination to dragoon England’s young children into unconscionably early quasi-formal learning is catastrophic for their well-being, and is setting up many for failure at a very young age.

England’s early years education and care is safe in the hands neither of Sir Michael Wilshaw nor of the current incumbents at the Department for Education. We urge Sir Michael and the DfE to stop digging in their current “schoolifying” hole, and step back from this misguided drive to over-formalise England’s early-years sphere.

The alternative might be that these policy-makers end up precipitating the first wave of professional “principled non-compliance” with government policy that our education system has known in living memory. Any government that underestimates the strength of feeling on this issue, and the resolve to resist it, does so at its peril.

Dr Richard House
University of Winchester

Jess Edwards
Coordinator, Charter for Primary Education

Philip Pullman

Neil Leitch
CEO, Pre-School Learning Alliance

John Coe
National Association of Primary Education

Christine Blower
General Secretary, National Union of Teachers

Professor Penelope Leach
Birkbeck College, University of London

Michael Rosen

Christopher Clouder
Co-founder, Alliance for Childhood

Sue Gerhardt

Sue Cowley
Co-Chair, Stanton Drew and Pensford Preschool

Philipa Harvey
Senior Vice President Elect, NUT

Kevin Courtney
Deputy General Secretary, National Union of Teachers

Dr Dennis Atkinson
Professor Emeritus, Goldsmiths, University of London

Emeritus Professor Michael Bassey

Emeritus Professor Ron Best
University of Roehampton

Professor Joyce Canaan
Birmingham City University

Nancy Carlsson-Paige
Professor Emerita, Lesley University, Cambridge, MA

Michael Fielding
Emeritus Professor, Institute of Education, University of London

Emeritus Professor Philip Gammage

Tobin Hart
Professor of Psychology, University of West Georgia

Professor Dave Hill
Anglia Ruskin University

Barry J Hymer
Professor of Psychology in Education, University of Cumbria in Lancaster

Professor David Ingleby
University of Amsterdam

Professor Del Loewenthal
Director, Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, University of Roehampton

Professor Emerita Janet Moyles

Professor Jayne Osgood

Carl Parsons
Visiting Professor of Social Inclusion Studies, University of Greenwich

Professor Michael Patte
Co-Editor, The International Journal of Play

Professor Heather Piper

Professor Andrew Samuels

Brian Thorne
Emeritus Professor, University of East Anglia

Dr Terry Wrigley
Visiting Professor, Leeds Metropolitan University
Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Ballarat, Australia

Dr Jonathan Barnes
Senior Lecturer in Primary Education

Dr Teresa Belton
Visiting Fellow, School of Education and Lifelong Learning, University of East Anglia

Dr Jon Berry
Professional Doctorate (EdD) Programme Tutor, University of Hertfordshire

Simon Boxley
Programme Leader, Undergraduate Education Studies, University of Winchester

Diane Boyd

Shirley Brooks
Senior Lecturer, Early Years Care & Education, University of Winchester

Sue Callan

Dr Julia Cayne

Hatice Choli
Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Greenwich

Dr Alison Clark
Senior Lecturer in Childhood Studies, Open University

Sue Cox
Senior Lecturer, School of Education and Lifelong Learning, University of East Anglia

Dr Gail Edwards
Lecturer in Education, Newcastle University

Judith Flynn
Senior Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University

Dr Linda Hammersley-Fletcher
Reader in Educational Leadership and Management, Metropolitan University

Jill Harrison
University of Greenwich

Dr Gordon Ingram
Lecturer in Developmental Psychology, Bath Spa University

Christine Ivory
Early Years Programme Coordinator, Faculty of Education, Liverpool John Moores University

Sarah Jacques

Dr Paulette A Luff

Dr Gee Macrory
Principle lecturer in education, Manchester Metropolitan University

Alpesh Maisuria
Senior Lecturer, University of East London

Dr Jennifer Patterson
Senior Lecturer in Education, Greenwich University

Gillian Reid

Dr Kathy Ring
Senior Lecturer, York St John University

Dr Leena Robertson
Middlesex University, London

Jenny Rust

Dr Sebastian Suggate
University of Regensburg

Dr Judith Suissa
Reader in Philosophy of Education, Institute of Education, London

Peter Tallant

Chris Watkins
Reader in Education, University of London Institute of Education

Vanessa Young
Principal Lecturer Education, Canterbury Christ Church University

Pat Adams

Oona Alexander

Anna Alston

Helen Ard

Catherine Armstrong

Richard Brinton

Jodie Brooke Aujla

Kevin Avison

D. Babouris

Peter Barlow

Jane Barnard

Susan Barnicoat

Catherine Beaumont

Victoria Benson-Coakes

Kerri Bishop

Safa Bowskill

Dr Gail Bradbrook

Jenny Brain

Caroline Brooks

Laura Brown

Sarah Bryant

Tabitha Burgess

Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin

Emma Callow

Elizabeth Carlson

Paula Champion

Bridget Chapman

Marie Charlton

Regine Charriere

Anna Chesner

Ruth Cohen-Rose

Anna Colgan

Lucy Cox

Amy Crane

Gill Crawshaw

Louise Crook

Nancy Crookes

Kirsty Curtis

Amy Dadachanji

Hazel Danson

Lynne Davies

Margaret Dobbs

Polly Donnison

Louise Doublet

Susan Dovbenko

Ellie Dowthwaite

Mary Jane Drummond

Robin Duckett

Jon Duveen

Dr Andrew Evans

Andy Evans

Rachel Ford Blanchard

Irène François

Ian Gilbert

Dr Melanie Gill

Lavinia Gomez

Nick Grant

Debra Greatorex

Sam Greshoff

Fleur Griffiths

Jane Hallman

Philippe Harari

Martin Hardiman

Gemma Hawkins

Jutta Hepworth

Felicity Higginson

Isla Hill

Julie Hill

Grethe Hooper Hansen

Ann Hedley

Rosemary Hope

Saira Horner

Peter Humphreys

Nina Hurst

Kate Irvine

Lesley Jackson

Ruth James

Kate Jangra

Agnes Javor

Alice Jenkinson

Marianne Johansen

Katie Jordan

Amerjit Kambo

Beverly Keenan

Tracy King

Rupert Kingfisher

Keith Kinsella

Janet Klaar

Sarka Kubschova

Martin Larger

Trisha Lee

Mary M Leue

Kai Yee Low

Sophie McCook

Kevin McQuaid

Dorothy Marlen

Richard Masters

Alys Mendus

Christine Merrick

Gabriel Millar

Eleanor Milligan

Philippa Mitchell

Doug Morgan

Ben Morris

Winny Mossman

Julie Mountain

Dr Ursula Nerre

Vincent Nolan

Kathryn Norgrove

Daniel North

Nicola Nugent

Simon O’Hara

Kate O’Keefe

Marjorie Ouvry

Sara Paiola

Sandra Palmer

Justelene Papacosma

Emily Pardoe-Williams

Matthew Pardoe-Williams

Lynn Parker

Marie Peacock

Linda Pound

Matt Purkis

Carolyn Purser

Patty Ramirez

Natasha Ramm

Dr Bronwen Rees

Jane Roberts

Stefan Richter

Karen Ripper

Jill Robinson

Joyce Lillie Robinson

Maria Rodrigues

Louise Rogers

Anthea Rose

Victoria Sadler

David Seagrave

Dorothy Shirley

Simon Small

Ralf Smits

Susie Steel

Vicki Stinchcombe

Rosemary Stocks

Rebecca Stubbs

Dr Terry Sullivan

Elizabeth L. Swann

Jonathan W. Swann

Inbar Tamari

Laura Taylor

Pippa Taylors

Helen Thomas

Julie Thomson

Sara Tomlinson

Sarah-Jane Tucker

Anna Tuhey

Kiri Tunk

Rev Dr Chris Walton

Rachel Ward

Theresa Waterhouse

Penny Webb

Graham White

Jan White

Rosanne White

Vicki Wilcox

Francine Williams

Mervyn Wilson

Ros Wilson

Julia Wilton

Courtney Winstone

Charlotte Wright

SIR – In convicting a gambling addict for stealing some £13,000 worth of luggage from trains in the Devon area (report, March 29), the judge commented that the layout of luggage storage may have facilitated the crimes.

These crimes were almost certainly committed on trains operated by First Great Western (FGW) and Crosscountry, both of which have made life easier for such criminals. This is in spite of the constant exhortations on platforms and trains to keep a good eye on luggage.

When FGW rebuilt its High Speed Trains, in order to increase passenger capacity, it removed almost all the tables from standard class. Previously it had been possible to store a case between two back-to-back seats. All that is left is the inadequate space at the end of the carriage.

Crosscountry inherited a fleet of Voyager and Super Voyager trains that were always poorly served for luggage space, with atrocious overhead racks. In refitting their trains, it removed mid-carriage luggage racks and converted the refreshment area into a luggage storage space, making it impossible for passengers to follow the instruction to watch their luggage.

David Muir
Stoke Gifford, Gloucestershire

Stay-at-home mothers

SIR – This country has completely lost the plot. A Cinderella law is being proposed to stop emotional child abuse. But this abuse begins when mothers go to work while their children are young. There are babies of three months old in crèches, and many others with child minders, all of which costs a lot of money.

Would it not be better for women to nurture their own children at least until school age? Benefits for child care should instead go to mothers to look after their children. Poor parenting is the root of the huge problems we have with the youth of this country.

Lady Bull
Arkesden, Essex

Brighter name

SIR – There is no doubt that the correct pronunciation of Dylan Thomas’s name is “Dullan” as the y in Welsh is invariably pronounced this way. However, my understanding is that his mother insisted on his being called “Dillan” in order to avoid the possible nickname “Dull One” being used.

Howard Thomas
Newent, Gloucestershire

Knot our problem

SIR – Japanese knotweed is indeed a scourge. Our city council has issued information leaflets about the issue.

However, despite reporting to the council several outbreaks of the stuff near our home, we are just told that nothing can be done about it, because the plant is growing on private property.

Michele Platman

Boiling on the blower

SIR – I have been receiving endless nuisance calls in the form of a recorded message telling me that I am entitled to a government-funded new boiler. As they come from overseas, the Telephone Preference Service will not take any action.

It is amounting to harassment. Does no authority in this country have powers to stop such annoying cold calls?

Hilda Gaddum
Macclesfield, Cheshire

Order with your order

SIR – Among many other signs of reaching middle age is increasing irritation in restaurants at being ordered to “Enjoy!” Is there an appropriate response?

His Honour Judge Patrick
Wood Green Crown Court
London N22

Virtues of the Mainwaring type of bank manager

SIR – My father was a Mainwaring-type bank manager and I have the notes he made prior to speaking to his local Rotary club in the Fifties. The notes are on 18 sheets of small pink notepaper, obviously obtained from my mother – not for him the crime of using bank notepaper for private correspondence.

“I have been variously described by my friends as the man who will always lend you an umbrella when the sun is shining, or lend you money provided that you can prove that you don’t need it.” Then, a little further on, “To the customer, the manager is an amalgam of accountant, solicitor, tax expert, financial adviser and a sort of financial father confessor.”

“He carries a further responsibility, that of example to the younger generation whom, he hopes, will earn his pension.”

Shirley Browning
Kingston, Dorset

SIR – Forty years ago, I would ring my local branch and fix an appointment with the manager. In his office, an assistant would produce the relevant ledgers, while his secretary provided coffee and custard creams. The manager would peruse my accounts, and ask what I wanted the loan for. When I told him a sports car, he replied, “Silly bugger – but you are only young once, and we are well insured.”

Patrick Tracey
Carlisle, Cumberland

Japanese whaling ban is an international victory

The efficacy of the International Court of Justice

Getting its own back: smashing a whalers’ boat in a 19th-century French oil painting  Photo: BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY

6:58AM BST 03 Apr 2014

Comments48 Comments

SIR – The International Court of Justice’s judgment ordering a temporary halt to Japan’s cull of whales in the Southern Ocean is a victory for international law, diplomacy and international relations.

That two modern states can bring to court a dispute over the fate of whales is a mark of man’s sophistication and the state of development of the international legal order. The decision wisely leaves room for Japan to revamp its whaling programme to meet the international whaling treaty’s requirements for scientific whaling.

The ICJ has lived up to its reputation as the world’s court by demonstrating its willingness to resolve all forms of international disputes that may be brought to its attention by UN member states.

Dr Gbenga Oduntan
Kent Law School
Canterbury, Kent

SIR – Evan Davis’s Mind the Gap series suggests to me, a retired architect, that Britain needs a North East-West City.

The NEWC would not be some half-baked Liverchester or Manpool, but a linear city of the North, pulling together the hubs of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull.

Our Victorian forefathers had the vision to create the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the Manchester Ship Canal. Along their banks planning restrictions should be relaxed to let market forces develop them.

There is already the M62 corridor, which could be widened to an eight-lane super highway. The proposed HS2 would only need to go to Manchester to link up with a rapid East-West network.

After all, London is only a city made up of conjoined towns and villages. Why should Liverpool not become the West End, Manchester the Square Mile, Leeds the Oxford Street and Hull the Felixstowe of the North? National Park areas between would equate to Hampstead Heath and the Royal Parks.

Let us all be bold. If the BBC can see the economic sense in coming up North to Media City, Salford, then this could and should happen for others.

Coulton Booth
Garstang, Lancashire

SIR – Jenny Roach, a Liberal councillor, says that councillors fight destructive planning applications on behalf of their constituents. But what if a councillor approves of a scheme?

Here in Oxford, councillors frequently ignore public opinion and approve projects that are destructive to the historic character of the city. Institutional interests (the University) often seem to trump environmental concerns.

An independent planning champion, as suggested by Sir Terry Farrell would have advantages. But an architect should not be appointed to this role. I recall the former architects’ panels in historic cities. It was impossible to find any architect who would criticise the work of another architect. Professional solidarity proved an insurmountable barrier.

Paul Hornby

SIR – Sir Simon Jenkins is right about government planning policies threatening the countryside, but they have already damaged towns and cities. Councils allow unsuitable developments knowing refusal will only lead to another successful appeal by a developer to a compliant minister.

Labour has put forward no vision of what a planning system should do. Its Town and Country Planning Act 1947 had protected the countryside but allowed appropriate housing and industrial development. Conservatives largely adopted this policy. It did not limit growth in the following two decades, which saw an unparalleled boom.

I do not know if this issue will cost the Conservatives votes, but it deserves to wreck their chances.

Roger Backhouse
Ilford, Essex

Irish Times:

Sir, – The Government’s white paper on Universal Health Insurance (UHI), published this week is fundamentally flawed.

It will place an immediate financial burden on families, and the only consultation process open to the public is restricted to deliberating on what this “competing insurers” model will look like. Meanwhile, there is no consultation of any kind taking place on any other options, such as those recommended in Dr Jane Pillinger’s 2012 report The Future of Healthcare in Ireland .

That report recommended that the competing insurers model, as proposed by the Minister, should not be adopted before all the options have been evaluated in terms of quality, equity, access to services and medium and long term value for money. The report was ignored by the Minister.

Families will be required by law to have health insurance, but there is a real risk that this will be an impossible financial burden from the very start, particularly for the growing number of people without health insurance who don’t qualify for a medical card.

This group will be required to purchase health insurance for every member of their family. While the Dutch insurance model provided the Minister with his initial inspiration for this UHI scheme, it should be noted that children are actually insured for free under the Dutch model.

The question of cost remains, but it appears that no evaluation of any other funding model has been undertaken. We have been trying to get the message across to the Minister that other options need to be considered, such as the “single-payer” social insurance model used in France, Germany and Nordic countries.

Apart from a cursory late briefing on the day of publication, where questions were not invited from trade unions or patient groups, there has been no engagement with the Minister on these issues.

The experience in other jurisdictions which have similar models of competing insurers, has been a continuing rise in the price of compulsory insurance, coupled with increasing restrictions on the health services covered. They have also experienced rising readmission rates as more people experience complications after they’ve been discharged. This can be attributed to the financial incentives to discharge patients early.

The Minister’s estimate of €900 per individual seems almost optimistic, but if this model is established, the costs are likely to continue to rise. The Minister has also boasted that the scheme will ensure no additional cost burden to the State, which will mean that the only means of raising extra revenue will be through individual insurance premiums.

Finally, if we really want to get the measure of where this scheme is going, it is telling that the €100 charge for emergency departments will remain in place. Yours, etc,


National secretary,

Health & Welfare division


Nerney’s Court,

Dublin 1

Sir, – At present everyone in the State is entitled to free treatment in a public hospital paid for by our taxes.

Under the new proposal, it seems, everyone will be entitled to free treatment in a public hospital but we must pay for private health insurance as well as paying our taxes to fund it. The difference will be that there will be no option for some to go to private hospitals as happens at present, so the whole population will use the public system, which is unable to cope with the numbers currently using it. Sounds like a lose-lose situation to me. Yours, etc,


Priory Grove,


Co Dublin

Sir, – Brian McDevitt (Letters, April 2nd) is using out of date and inaccurate figures in his comments on GP incomes. As a general practitioner, I get on average €85.80 per year for a medical card patient under the age of 70.

For this sum, I provide medical cover to my patients for 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. This is before tax, and before paying staff, premises, equipment and computer costs and what is required to ensure out of hours cover etc.

For years my private patients have been subsidising my medical card practice and sustaining the standard of practice that we are trying to provide. This situation has been exacerbated by the 35 per cent cut in medical card fees unilaterally imposed by the Government in the last three years.

The recently appointed professor of general practice in UCC, who has come from the United Kingdom, has been quoted as describing the GP service in this country as “gold dust”. Under current Government proposals it may well become just dust. Yours, etc,


Crescent Medical Centre,

The Crescent,


Sir, – Brian McDevitt’s letter reflects the success of the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health in convincing the general public that global payments to a GP practice reflect the remuneration of the doctors involved.

By this logic, the situation is indeed even worse than Mr McDevitt imagines it to be since I can reveal that a certain Dr J Reilly received €13 billion in payments last year, which does seem excessive.

In Dr Reilly’s defence it should be said that this money is used to fund the health service. On a micro level the payments are the global payments to practices which fund nurses, secretaries, heat, light and medical supplies among other things. As these fees have been cut successively in recent years, the private fees that Mr McDevitt refers to are increasingly used to support the provision of services to medical card patients. Although the State has the responsibility to provide services to this group, it does not appear to be willing to adequately fund it. Yours, etc,


Family Doctor,

Baile Átha Luimnigh,

An Uaimh,

Co Na Mhí

Sir, – Your Irish language columnist Caoimhe Ní Laighin misleadingly states in her article(“Cinniúint na Catalóine”, April 2nd) that there are “77,000 cainteoir ag an nGaeilge”. This is not correct. The number of Irish speakers who claim to use Irish daily “outside the educational system only” should not be equated with the total number of Irish speakers, as your columnist has done. Many Irish speakers living outside Irish-speaking communities do not easily get opportunities on a daily basis to use Irish but they are still Irish-speakers.

In my opinion a better measure of the number of active Irish-speakers is the number of people who claim in census returns to use the language at least weekly outside education. This figure, according to the 2011 census is 188,000 for the 26 counties.

The 2011 census taken in Northern Ireland showed that there were 64,847 people who claimed to be able to understand, read, write and speak Irish. Unfortunately we don’t have figures for daily and weekly users but I would suggest a figure of approximately 16,000 would not be an exaggeration, giving a figure of a little more than 200,000 for the number of people who use Irish on a regular basis within the island of Ireland.





Co na Gaillimhe

Sir, – In response to Brenda Morgan’s argument (Letters, April 1st) about computers and their negative effects on the learning process, it has to be stated that digital literacy is an integral part of the Irish curriculum, supporting children’s learning in a positive way.

Piaget’s constructivist theory would indicate that computers support children’s learning in design and construction of projects and contribute to the cognitive development of the child. The teacher facilitates this through the correct use of such ICT tools such as laptops, iPads and interactive whiteboards.

Such technology supports inclusion, from the less able to the more able child, thus ensuring that every student actively participates in the learning process. As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure children have the skills and knowledge necessary to be at the cutting edge of the digital economy we live in.

Young learners are fast becoming fluent in computer coding as they are educated in becoming the innovators of tomorrow. As an educator, I strongly believe that a balanced approach counteracts overdependence on screens. Oral expression and writing remain a vital part of this well of rich learning experiences that are nurtured within the curriculum. — Yours, etc,




Co Cork

Sir, – Recently cosmologists have detected ripples that they claim were triggered by the expansion of the universe after the Big Bang, which occurred approximately 13.7 billion years ago. (Actually the Big Bang was a soundless phenomenon. It was more silent than the keys tapping this computer.) Most scientists agree that 13.7 billion years ago space-time was created and that prior to that there was a void.

In contradiction to the “beginning” theory, I hold that the multiverse, which contains countless universes, has always existed. Most cosmologists claim that in it new, similar and dissimilar universes to ours are constantly evolving and disintegrating.

Void is indestructible and unchangeable. Despite the claim by the religious that “God is all powerful”, he would be incapable of destroying void. (God is habitually referred to as he and hardly ever as she, they or it.) The religious also assert that “the creator of all things” is eternal and that there was only “null and void” before he created the universe, in effect before he created the Big Bang. If he is eternal and the universe had a beginning, the question presents itself: before creation how did he occupy himself? Since he was existing in a void he could not do anything, because there was nothing to do. He could not think, because there was nothing to think about. He could not see, because there was nothing to see. He could not hear as there was no medium for transmitting sound. The religious will dismiss this with a “mysteries which we cannot understand” response.

Of course the real mystery, which it seems we are destined never to find answers to, is the mystery of life. There appears to be a mental block preventing us from resolving it. Yet while we cannot make sense of life, if there was no life it would not make sense either. Yours, etc,


Carriglea Drive,


Sir, – It was with increasing frustration that I read the contribution of President Higgins (“Time for citizens to forge a better future for our country”, April 2nd).

In vain I looked for a reference to the farmers, fishermen and foresters who harness our natural resources. Where was mention of the doctors, nurses and educators who nurture our human resources? I saw no recognition either of the scientists, the engineers and the entrepreneurs who discover and develop the resources we will use tomorrow.

While I commend the President’s call to rethink the ethics and philosophy of tomorrow’s Ireland I am disappointed that he has failed to recognise what is being achieved by these citizens today. Without physics, chemistry and biology, along with the technology to make the sciences concrete, the President would be left discussing and philosophising in the dark shadows of Plato’s cave. Yours, etc,




Co Waterford

Sir, – The President’s article in yesterday’s Irish Times prompts a question: why are the views of philosophers, theologians and sociologists on our society not given the same prominence as those of economists? Yours, etc,




Co Meath

Sir, – Munster coach Rob Penney’s rant against refereeing standards was an indication of the problems faced by professional rugby in this area but not, I suggest, in the way he meant it.

Yes, I think referees are inconsistent and, in some cases, even sub-standard. However one of the reasons that this state of affairs is allowed to continue is the partisan nature of rugby. Mr Penney was not complaining about poor decisions made by the referee but only about those which adversely affected his team.

In this respect he is the same as all participants in rugby, whether players, management or supporters. Consequently, every decision made by a referee in a rugby match, whether correct or incorrect, will have the support of half the people and anger the other half.

Mr Penney and his counterparts are in the best position to influence any attempts to improve refereeing standards, but until they start looking at this area of the game impartially they will, correctly, be seen merely as moaning because they lost the game. Yours, etc,


Seafield Crescent,


Sir, – In rebranding itself, Trinity College Dublin has announced that it will update what it calls its “logo”. But the logo is actually a grant of arms, recognised in 1901 by the Ulster Kings of Arms (now the Chief Herald).

Has anyone at the college actually contacted the Chief Herald’s Office (attached to the National Library) to seek permission to change the coat of arms? Seems a bit of an oversight if not! Yours, etc,



Sydenham Terrace,


Dublin 6

Sir, – Your correspondent Denis Duff from Greystones (April 1st) suggests that Ireland needs a nuclear power station at Moneypoint.

But with the prevailing Atlantic winds, the west coast is the worst option for such an installation. It would surely make much more sense to put it on the east coast to disperse the whatever radiation might be leaked after the almost inevitable accident or leak or attack or “minor incident”.

Somewhere around Greystones perhaps, with the sea in front and reasonably empty mountains behind would be ideal, with the waste stored nearby. Yours, etc,


Tullow Road,


Sir, – A propos Sylvia Thompson’s piece on the pursuit of happiness (Life Science, April 3rd), might I suggest that there is much we can learn from philosophers on that topic.

Having reached something of a crisis in his own life, John Stuart Mill tells us in his Autobiography that the key to finding happiness is to realise that it is a mistake to seek it directly.

To achieve happiness we should rather immerse ourselves in a life that is packed with a diverse range of activities from which we derive satisfaction.

Reflecting on such a life will reveal to us that it is a happy one.

Yours etc


Maynooth Park,


Co Kildare

Sir, – Will the GAA be celebrating its bicentennial with hurling having become a major international sport? Yours, etc,




Co Westmeath

Irish Independent:

* The elation of the Irish electorate in March 2011 quickly turned to deflation and angst.

Also in this section

Sky deal is a slap in the face for GAA fans

Coming back from the mother of all mistakes

Taxpayers left to foot the bill yet again

Three years on, the words of Pat Rabbitte ring in their ears about pledges to get elected; the electorate feels totally “shattered”, no doubt leading innumerable people to think, either, “I will never vote again” or “I will spoil my vote at the local and EU elections”.

The latter is a wasted vote; not even looked at by candidates.

The ancient Chinese proverb “Revenge is a dish best served cold” provides every dissatisfied elector with the best tool to teach the Tweedledum and Tweedledee a lesson they will never forget.

Bertie’s “oul pencil” used properly on the ballot paper at the May elections will empower you.

The number of candidates on the ballot paper in your constituency is the number of votes you have; grasp this golden opportunity to number every box on the ballot paper, and reserve, with relish, the last four numbers in the order of your choice for the four main parties.

If even 10pc of a constituency did this it would send alarm bells off.

Recall, in the Meath East by-election, how Fine Gael crowed it had a massive win; when in fact more than 50pc of the electorate did not vote.

Put lead in your pencil in May and do your duty by casting your vote. Be what Kenny and Gilmore and their nodding acolytes are not: “The indomitable Irishry” invoked by W B Yeats!




* Coming soon to a cinema near you. A sort of Irish ‘Da Vinci Code’ spine-chiller. Based on the best-selling novel by Dan Murphy: ‘Da Irish Whistleblower Code.’

It all begins on a busy street near Government Buildings, and a strange, mad monk with long, blond hair is seen rushing into a clandestine meeting beneath the bowels of the building.

Intrigued, Professor Shatterproof follows this mysterious intruder, and discovers a terrible secret, as he observes a coven of hooded men at a strange filling cabinet on top of an altar.

Waiting till they had left, after they had finished whistling a strange chant, he discovers a thrown-away piece of paper on the floor, with encoded names and a map of a maze of underground tunnels.

And so begins a race against time to save the Government from collapse.

Shatterproof has to find the meanings behind the symbols that are dotted around the city. Twists and turns are everywhere. Denial, subterfuge, obfuscation. It’s an epic tale of cover-up.

Who is the whistleblower? What information does that person have? What happens to the whistleblowers, and keepers of the strange secret? All will be revealed in due time.




* So, Stoke City footballer Stephen Ireland is being considered for a return to the Irish International soccer team. Reports suggest assistant Ireland team manager Roy Keane has expressed his approval at a possible return.

On the basis of talent, ability and form, Stephen Ireland would be a most welcome addition to most international football teams, but on the basis of loyalty, honour, moral integrity and values becoming of one who is chosen to represent their national football team, he falls short.

I do not expect Roy Keane to share this view.




* When things are said to you,

No matter what time of day it is,

No matter how old you are,

No matter where you are,

No matter how long ago it was,

No matter how drunk someone is,

No matter if you know the person or not – it hurts.

And it sticks.

By Elayna Keller, from her first-hand account of being a target of bullies.

We need say no more, only read her wonderful words.

Elayna, of course, won the NNI Press Pass Competition.




* I am an award II Gaelic Coach and have been training under-age groups for 14 years.

I recently had a preseason session for the coaches and had a question-and-answer session with some of the kids.

I asked were they watching the Dublin-Kerry match a few weeks ago and then realised that it was only on Setanta, now Sky sport.

I cannot believe how out of touch the GAA hierarchy is with the grassroots.

Let them do what they want with Sky but ensure all games are shared between RTE, TV3 and TG4.




* It is good to see Dr Reilly has outlined his new system.

It is to be hoped that the system will be introduced within five years as foreseen and that time will not be wasted in searching for the perfect system.

Better to start and adapt as necessary rather than procrastinate and delay.

But one initial word of warning. Dr Reilly has estimated that the 40pc who hold medical cards will not be liable to pay any premium and that a further 30pc will have their payments heavily subsidised.

The remaining 30pc can hardly be recognised as universal.




* Arthritis is a debilitating disability, which affects around 915,000 people.

It is widely believed arthritis is an illness that accompanies old age but in Ireland alone around 1,100 children suffer from arthritis.

People’s perception of arthritis is often associated with pain; while this may be true, it fails to represent an accurate depiction of the daily struggle suffers endure.

Pain is merely a component, which contributes to a larger picture. Unless one suffers with arthritis, they cannot truly comprehend the disability accurately.

Arthritis Ireland organises various events for teenagers who have arthritis. The JA road-trip is a prime example.

The road-trip allows teenagers to discuss their illness and discover different pain-management techniques.

Arthritis Ireland also organises a number of activates and this gives teenagers an opportunity to try things they thought they never could do as a result of arthritis.

Arthritis Ireland runs frequent workshops to demonstrate new ways of dealing with pain.

It also helps people to cope with the problems they may encounter as a result of having arthritis.

Thank you for the time it took to read my piece.




* “Walking (minus) the line”?

Is the threat of a cut to train services a case of ‘fright at the end of the tunnel’?



Quiet day

April 3, 2014

3April 2014 Quiet day
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to tach Navigation Priceless
Mary better potter around
Scrabble today, I win by three points, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.



Captain Harry Beckingham – obituary
Captain Harry Beckingham was a bomb disposal officer who dealt with lethal butterflies in Hull and survived gas poisoning in Ilford

Captain Harry Beckingham
6:17PM BST 02 Apr 2014
Captain Harry Beckingham, who has died on his 94th birthday, was a bomb disposal officer in the Second World War.
On the outbreak of war, Beckingham, a draughtsman fresh from technical college, was posted to 35 Bomb Disposal Section, which was subsequently incorporated into 5 Bomb Disposal (BD) Company RE.
He was given a day’s training at Sheffield, at the end of which, as he said afterwards: “We were given a drawing which showed how to deal with an unexploded bomb.” This depicted a wall being constructed around the bomb with corrugated metal and sandbags, with an area left so that a man could crawl inside and place a charge.
After the start of the Blitz, Beckingham worked on unexploded bombs first in the north of London and then – after moving to the Duke of York Barracks – in the West End, Fulham and Victoria.
One day his section was called out to the centre of Ilford to dig for a bomb when “out of the blue a German plane swooped down on us, machine guns blazing as he roared past”. Beckingham dived for cover, while the rest of his squad took shelter in nearby shop doorways.
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The next thing he knew, he was waking up in hospital. It turned out that he had fallen into a concealed camouflet – a chamber filled with odourless carbon dioxide created when a bomb exploded underground.
Such accidents almost invariably proved fatal. The bottom of the hole could be 30ft deep, and there was often no way of knowing that the bomb had already exploded. Rescue attempts were forbidden because they usually only added to the casualties.
Fortunately for Beckingham, a policeman had seen his head suddenly disappear, and his colleagues had rushed over and pulled him out — although not before he had breathed several lungfuls of the deadly gas.
Henry William Beckingham was born at Ludlow, Shropshire, on February 28 1920 and educated locally. He was commissioned in 1943 and posted to 12 BD Company RE in Leeds. That summer he was kept busy clearing butterfly bombs from the hedges and ditches around Hull. He had to use straw, set alight, to burn off the thick undergrowth so that he did not miss any of these lethal devices.
In September 1944 he was posted to Task Force 135, which had assembled at Plymouth for the liberation of the Channel Islands. He was involved in clearing British minefields in the Weymouth and Penzance areas until May 1945, when he embarked for Jersey as commander of a detachment of 24 BD Platoon.
He went to the Pomme d’Or Hotel on the esplanade and took prisoner the head of the German civil administration on the island. The hotel was to be used for the Task Force’s commander, and he checked the place for booby traps.
Beckingham took his unit to Guernsey at the end of the month and was involved in clearing mines and bombs along the coasts of the Channel Islands until May 1946, when he was demobilised in the rank of captain.
After the war he worked for the building division of English China Clay at St Austell, Cornwall, and subsequently as a consultant at Ilkley, Yorkshire. Settled in retirement at a village in Cumbria, he enjoyed sailing, gardening, and travelling.
Beckingham published Living with Danger: Memoirs of a Bomb Disposal Officer (1997) and Achtung! Minen! Guernsey (2005).
Harry Beckingham married first, in 1945, Joan Walker, who predeceased him. He married, secondly, in 1990, Mavis Hayward, who survives him with a son and a daughter from his first marriage.
Captain Harry Beckingham, born February 28 1920, died February 28 2014
Once again we can applaud the UK government and its partners for taking a global lead on the rights of women and girls (Jolie steps up campaign to eradicate use of mass rape as weapon of war, 31 March). The London summit in June will bring unprecedented focus to sexual violence in conflict and, for that, Angelina Jolie and William Hague deserve great credit.
As the Guardian points out, the challenge will be to translate public attention into lasting change. In that mission, I believe one thing is particularly crucial: engaging youth. Let’s make sure that young women – and men – are given the platform in June so that they are not passive victims but agents of change. Ms Jolie and Mr Hague have, with others, led the way. Now, to ensure a future free from sexual violence in conflict, the experiences and recommendations of young people affected by these horrific crimes must shape the summit’s outcome.
Tanya Barron
Chief executive, Plan UK
Shirley Williams asserts (Letters, 2 April) that ex-Soviet satellite members of the EU are “bound to democracy and the rule of law”. Would that include the laws in Estonia and Latvia that deprive native-born residents of citizenship rights on the basis of ethnicity?
Ian Sutherland
Bury, Lancashire
• The gift of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s eminently re-readable short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (What book would you send to a prisoner?, 1 April) would encourage any prisoner, like Shukhov in the gulag, to develop a personal code of survival under the regime inside while purposefully preparing for release into a much harsher environment outside.
Dr Mark Stroud
Llantrisant, Glamorgan
• Experience suggests that, for some prisoners, Jane Austen is just what they’re waiting for. One of our reading groups at a women’s prison reported a lively session with Pride and Prejudice. “That first scene, guy walks in and says no one here worth dancing with – all been there, haven’t we?”
Professor Jenny Hartley
Prison reading groups, University of Roehampton
• Dangling participle alert (Evans tells jury of ‘absolute hell’ of sex allegations, 1 April): “While giving explicit details of how he and the young man performed sex acts, the judge stepped in to halt the questioning by Evans’s barrister.”
John Sibbald
Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear
• Surely conscious uncoupling (Letters, 31 March) is what the railwayman does between the engine and the carriages?
Stuart Waterworth
Tavistock, Devon
• Flintshire has the Devil’s Village (Letters, 28 March), but we are the only place in the world to have the place names Purgatory and Paradise just a few miles apart. We’ll be walking this route next All Souls’ Day as part of the Laurie Lee festival: cordial and indulgent invitations to all.
Stuart Butler
Stroud, Gloucestershire
• And when in grumpy mood, we’ve been known to take a seaside break at Buggerru in south-west Sardinia.
Tony Scull
Ilkley, West Yorkshire
Your report (Scotland plans to move to right after independence, 1 April) reminded me of a similar decision, back in the 1970s, by an ex-colonial country, determined to throw off the shackles. To smooth the transition, it was suggested that cars should make the switch first, followed by buses and trucks a week later.
Barry Wendt
Ambleside, Cumbria
• I presume there is a Möbius strip inside the traffic interchange towers shown in your illustrations of Scottish plans for the road system after independence? Without such a geometric device, the traffic would emerge on the same side of the road.
David Reed
• 1 April. Page 3: a recommended diet, consisting almost entirely of green vegetables and warning of the dangers posed by dried figs. Page 5: Scotland, after independence, would adopt driving on the right and introduce vast spiral interchanges on its borders. Page 6: Phyllida Barlow’s latest sculpture, Dock, which appeared to be the contents of a colossal builder’s skip emptied into a room at Tate Britain. Which was the spoof?
James Hornsby
Abington, Northampton
• Every 1 April, Guardian readers need to beware of the spoof story. This year it was just too easy to spot: “Osborne vows to create full employment.”
Anthony Matthew
• Two fools in the news on 1 April: the first sells off a 300-year-old national asset at nearly half price; the second lauds the deviousness, low cunning and total untrustworthiness of President Putin. I really do believe that the average market trader and person in the street would apply more intelligence and common sense to their analysis than this prize pair put together.
Mike Saunders
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

Ken Loach’s article (Labour is not the solution, 28 March) has received a fantastic response – 250 people joined Left Unity over the weekend, when we held our first national conference.
But Labour supporters would rather see us pack up our things and go home. They tell us not to rock the boat for fear of letting the Tories in next year. New Labour was founded on the assumption that Labour could tack as far as it liked to the right and still count on the left vote for lack of an alternative. And tack right it did. Now we have a Labour party signed up to Conservative spending plans, privatisation and a benefits cap that will hit disabled people hard and push 345,000 children into poverty. And whatever you do, don’t mention the (Iraq) war.
Left Unity’s conference in Manchester on Saturday agreed to campaign against austerity and war, to introduce a 35-hour week and a mandatory living wage, and to renationalise the rail and energy companies. These are policies that the vast majority of British people support but Labour, ever in the pockets of big business, will not even consider them. What does this say about the Labour party today? What does it say about the state of British democracy? This is exactly why we need Left Unity.
Salman Shaheen
Principal speaker, Left Unity
• As every year passes, the influence of the left in the Labour party diminishes; it’s almost non-existent now. In 1994, Ralph Miliband wrote in Socialism for a Sceptical Age: “The emergence of new socialist parties in many countries is one of the notable features of the present time … their growth is essential if the left is to prosper.”
The parties Ralph Miliband was referring to have developed into the Party of the European Left, an alliance of left parties in European countries. Opinion polls indicate that those parties, which have a clear policy of opposing austerity and privatisation, and which support the re-founding of Europe on a socialist basis, will get increased support in the forthcoming European elections. Syriza in Greece has 23.9% support, Izquierda Unida in Spain 14.1%, Front de Gauche in France 9% and Die Link in Germany 8%.
In Britain we have no opportunity of voting for such a party. Left Unity’s conference agreed to support the Party of the European Left’s call for a refounding of Europe on a socialist basis. For socialists in the Labour party there is an alternative – Left Unity.
David Melvin
Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester
• In threatening to split Unite from Labour (Back workers or lose election, Miliband told, 2 April), my friend Len McCluskey would be sadly destined to repeat history. Small splinter left parties in Britain have never succeeded, only played into the hands of the Tories by dividing their opponents and undermining the ability of Labour – the only party capable of forming an alternative government – to win. Far too many of my constituents, like many others, are being devastated by this Tory-Lib Dem government and are desperate to defeat them.
Peter Hain MP
Lab, Neath
• Deborah Orr wrote a very interesting article (Workers are treated with contempt in Britain. This should be Labour’s focus, 29 March), which, if I read her right, called for what at one time was described as a “middle way” between adherence to the state and reliance on the market. Leave aside the fact that her knock at New Labour may well have been misplaced (I do not believe for a moment that the Brown government was defeated in 2010 because it was New Labour), and it is possible to see that the critique she offers has been debated for the past 30 years. The battle lines of the 1980s were about a throwback to Friedrich Hayek and the “liberated individual” of Margaret Thatcher’s free-market values, and old Labour with its paternalistic, top-down approach to solving genuine problems.
The question that Orr did not answer is how you mobilise the power of people in their own lives with the influence of the state to tackle vested interests, from wherever they come, and to unite people against such vested interests across national boundaries in a rapidly developing global power struggle. The truism that all of us have to address in politics is: “Those who have power are those most likely to be in power.”
David Blunkett MP
Lab, Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report makes it clear that the future of world agriculture is precarious (UN warning over world’s food supplies, 31 March). The international mechanisms to address the complex challenges remain weak, and the UK must, as it has done in energy policy, show leadership. We need to re-engineer the UK’s food and farming system, not only because we can no longer look to global markets for a safe, secure food future, but also because we need that system to play its full part in adapting to, and reducing the severity of, climate change.
As a priority, less food must be wasted from field to fork: producing more is pointless when so much energy, effort and land is squandered through waste. Decarbonising food supply across the supply chain to cut greenhouse gas emissions is essential, but we also need to give farmers incentives to manage land in ways that store carbon to cut emissions further. Last, we need to reappraise the supply of farmland as a long-term productive resource: in a world of falling crop yields, volatile markets and unpredictable weather, farmland cannot for much longer be regarded as simply ripe for “development”.
Graeme Willis
Campaign to Protect Rural England
• If most of those working on an ageing aeroplane warned the owners there was more than a 50% chance of it crashing, then the plane would be grounded. As most climate scientists now say there is a more than 75% chance of average global temperatures exceeding a 4% rise by the end of this century, if not sooner, we surely want to take drastic action as soon as possible. The costs of not reducing greenhouse gases will far outweigh the cost of investment in alternative sources of energy. Governments, transnational corporations and others need to act now to prevent catastrophic global warming.
But they need us to tell them so – now. As well as emphasising the urgency for action, we also need to work on building up the resilience of local communities to adapt. Local communities as well as nations need to come together to work on local projects to respond creatively to climate change. Green or environmental groups, such as Transition Towns, that are already doing this need greater local and national support. We need to work together for the common good, for example, to promote local food, and we cannot afford to wait to do this until an emergency happens, such as the floods on the Somerset Levels.
Rev Timothy Fox
• The letters from Raymond Blanc et al and Caroline Lucas MP (1 April) call for action to combat climate change, but their suggestions will not achieve what is needed. Caroline Lucas rightly says that “80% of known fossil fuel reserves” will have to stay in the ground if we are to tackle the problem by cutting emissions. However, as China, India, Brazil and others continue to expand their energy use massively, it is now beyond all reasonable doubt that nothing like 80% will stay unburnt, even in the unlikely event that countries such as the UK were to reduce their usage to zero.
Environmentalists, businesses, governments and the UN now need to accept that the only feasible solutions are to remove greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere by means of reforestation and carbon scrubbing, and to cool the planet artificially by means of geo-engineering.
Richard Mountford
Tonbridge, Kent
• The latest pre-election trial balloon from David Cameron (Tories plan new attack on windfarms, 2 April) reflects a party that is not seeking a sensible energy policy for Britain. Instead it is clear that the Conservative party has adopted a strategy of chasing after Ukip, seeking to be more extreme. It seems that the fanatical opposition to windfarms from some on the right might soon prompt David “hug a husky” Cameron to be pictured instead taking an axe to a wind turbine, because the floated policy suggests that the Tories want to see existing turbines pulled down.
Britain trails nearly all the European Union in providing renewable energy – we can boast of being ahead only of those global giants Malta and Luxembourg – meanwhile, states such as the US and China are surging ahead with renewables. The refusal to provide a secure, supportive investment environment for renewables in the UK risks losing opportunities for jobs and businesses.
Natalie Bennett
Leader, Green party
• The septennial report of the IPPC adds further weight, if any was needed, to the assessment of risks posed by climate change, not only globally but to the UK economy, environment and society, not in some distant era but in the near future with potentially damaging effects on future generations. The first obligation on politicians of whatever hue is the protection of their citizens. In reality, whatever consensus existed in the UK has effectively dissipated and decisive action seems as far away as ever. We have the European elections pending and the general election in 12 months . Who would bet that the global climate and the coming storm will register on the electoral radar? To continue to dissemble and prevaricate in the face of risks to national security and wellbeing of this magnitude would surely be a criminal abrogation of political responsibility.
I call on government, together with all the parties, to initiate, facilitate and fund a sustained national debate on the risks and options, conducted in regional venues and across the web, between business, civil society and the scientific community between now and May 2015.
Neil Blackshaw
Little Easton, Essex
• Is it too much to hope that the catastrophic effects predicted for climate change later this century will feature in party manifestos next year? Or will this generation of political leaders go down in what remains of human history as those who lacked the courage and honesty to face the world’s greatest crisis?
Rev Neil Richardson
Ludlow, Shropshire
• One thing missing from the climate change debate is any suggestion that we might address world population growth. Surely it must be obvious that this crisis would be easier to cope with if population was stable or declining. But no one mentions this. Why?
Roger Plenty
Stroud, Gloucestershire

Tony Benn always tried to argue a case through reason rather than endlessly repeated slogans. His approach to political discourse was rooted deeply in his sense of history, as in the campaign against the banning of Peter Wright’s controversial book Spycatcher. At a protest event at Speakers’ Corner in ‘Hyde Park, London, in August 1987 we each took it in turns to read aloud some of the more explosive extracts from the book in defiance of government injunctions preventing publication of any part of it, with its extraordinary revelations about alleged illegality by the intelligence services.
Tony’s presence probably deterred the police, who could be seen nervously consulting with their superiors on their walkie-talkies over whether to arrest us. In a fine piece of oratory he inveighed against state censorship, invoking article one of the bill of rights of 1689. He said he was speaking out as a citizen, as an MP, as a privy counsellor and “as a member of the committee of privileges of the House of Commons to warn that we cannot, and should not accept this restriction on our liberty”.

Your editorial of 2 April is absolutely right to say that “science is not opinion” and to identify the climate change deniers as coming from the political right.
The reason the BBC cannot find experts in climate change to argue against the phenomenon is that no scientist worthy of the name would do so. What we are seeing is a new variation on the science-versus-religion debate: the god of the new dogma is the free-market.
The deniers are nearly always very comfortably off, or supported by billionaires such as the Koch brothers. In their arguments they are wrong about almost every detail except the truth which really haunts them. It is that their free-market model, based on unfettered pillaging of our planet’s resources, has to end if climate change is to be checked.
If not, we are headed for the greatest extinction of species (including our own) since the Permian era. However, like all religious fanatics, the deniers would no doubt consider that a small price to pay to protect the sanctity of their dogma.
Steve Edwards, Wivelsfield Green, East Sussex
Kate O’Mara’s theatre rescue
We at the Kings Theatre in Southsea are deeply saddened at the death of Kate O’Mara (Obituary, 1 April). Kate spent much of her youth at the Kings, which was built by her great grandfather in 1907 and later run by her actor/manager grandparents.
She loved theatre generally, and the Kings in particular. She performed here many times. We particularly remember her outstanding performances in The Taming of the Shrew and An Ideal Husband.
When the theatre was in its direst need – in danger of being converted into a theme pub or, worse, demolished – Kate became a supporter of Akter (Action for Kings Theatre Restoration) and, later, a patron of the rescued and rejuvenated theatre.
I know Kate was delighted that her beloved theatre is going from strength to strength. We will miss her passion and enthusiasm.
Paddy Drew, Southsea, Hampshire
Seven a day? Who can afford it?
We hear that if we eat seven portions of  fruit and veg a day we will live longer. Well, I’m afraid that all but the wealthy are going to die before their time.
The government recommendation of five a day was bad enough, and the poorer in our society could not have managed that. Has anyone who makes these recommendations ever thought where the money is going to come from? Anyone who actually goes shopping will realise that five a day for a family of four for seven days will cost more than their budget for an entire week’s groceries. We are now seeing fruit sold at prices per item instead of per weight.
They should think before making silly recommendations that are beyond so many people’s reach.
Dave Croucher, Doncaster
Public health doctors appear to have been taken in by the report regarding the benefits of eating 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
Only a moment’s reflection is needed to realise that those eating larger amounts of fresh fruit and veg are likely to be people who understand the benefit of a healthy lifestyle and can afford to pay for it. So they are probably, also, doing the other things that are part of a healthy lifestyle, such as taking exercise, not smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation; in addition, they are likely to have the knowledge to seek medical advice for early intervention for any health problems.
By increasing the quantity of fresh fruit and veg consumed from one portion a day to seven or more, you may improve your health and therefore reduce your risk of dying, but until all the other factors have been excluded you cannot know by how much. It’s misleading to suggest that we only have to change our diet to reduce our risk of dying by  42 per cent.
Michael Charvonia, Southgate, Middlesex
Two of the top 20 charities, receiving £100m-plus, are Cancer UK and the British Heart Foundation. I assume people hope these research charities will find the answer to these endemic ills. Yet how upset and angry people get when told we are eating junk and that eating healthily may well help us avoid suffering these diseases.
I suppose the real answer is that people want to go on eating a high meat, sugar, fat, salt, alcohol, soda-pop and refined-grain diet and do as little exercise as possible. They give to these medical charities in the hope they will come up with a pill, potion or procedure that allows them not to change their unhealthy lifestyle.
Sara Starkey, Tonbridge, Kent
Squash is not just for toffs
Squash may be “too brutal” for Roger Federer, but Lalit Bhadresha (letter, 26 March) makes a good case for bringing this sport into the Olympics. Sadly, here in Britain squash has the reputation of being a game for toffs and is little played by teenagers in the state education system.
But squash is easy to learn, can be played all year round, develops agility as well as stamina, and unlike contact sports can be enjoyed throughout our working lives and beyond. It would be relatively inexpensive to incorporate a couple of squash courts whenever a new school is built, and this would be a very cost-effective way of developing physical fitness in young people.
David Hewitt, London N1
Childless marriage is still marriage
Commenting on gay marriage, Kevin O’Donnell (letter, 31 March) defines marriage as the potential for children. That is a dangerous path. We struggled with infertility for several years. If it had been proved that one of us was infertile and therefore lacked the potential to have children, would we have been less married or not married by this definition? Infertility is a big enough cross to carry without adding this idea to it.
Brian Dalton, Sheffield
England’s share of humiliation
I think the performance of the cricket team this winter has finally sent Stephen Brenkley over the edge (2 April). Waitrose may or may not regret sponsoring the England cricket team, but they won’t be bothered about the share price as they are part of the employee-owned John Lewis Partnership.
Rob Edwards, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Every student’s education benefits us all
I am shocked that you should defend tuition fees (editorial, 1 April).
Who, among those who support tuition fees, would like to live in a society without education – a society without architects, engineers or doctors? Who can imagine what such a society would be like?
There would be much less informed discourse, more superstition, no scientific medical care or ways of fighting disease, no safely designed buildings and none of the fruits of technological progress that make the life we know possible. Who wants to step into a lift built by an unqualified engineer?
It would be a return to the jungle. We all need education, whether we take it personally or not. When we visit a doctor, switch on a light, flush a toilet, take a ship, a plane or any vehicle we are benefiting from education.
Everybody who takes an education is benefiting us all and we should all be grateful; we all need educated people. It is those who do not take an education who should be penalised.
What sense is there in making education obligatory until a certain age and then obliging people to pay to continue?
The goal of education should be simple – to nurture everyone according to their ability. The better we do that the better our society will be. Education is the best and most important investment we can make.
Dennis Leachman, Reading
You ask “How can it possibly be fair for those without a university degree to stump up for the income-boosting education of those who do?” (editorial, 1 April). That is entirely reasonable.
But should you not also ask “How can it possibly be fair for those graduates who repay their debt to society by doing comparatively low-paid work in nursing, teaching or social work to stump up for the income-boosting education of highly-paid graduates in banking or hedge fund management?”
The answer to both questions is the same. The fair way to pay for higher education is to use the income tax system to ensure that the more a graduate is paid, the more they pay towards the HE costs of all graduates, while non-graduates are left with nothing to pay towards HE costs at all.
What is blatantly unfair is to charge all graduates the same £9,000 per year, regardless of how much financial benefit they gain from their graduate status.
David Rendel, (Higher education spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, 2003-2005), Upper Bucklebury, West Berkshire

Sat-nav is marvellous when it works, but when it stops we have to fall back on old tech
Sir, Maps are not just a means of getting from A to B; they are a source of interest and pleasure (report, Mar 31; letters, Apr 1 & 2). Perusing a map, one can discover lanes and byways, remote villages, churches, monuments and much more. We live in a county with very many little lanes, and our map-reading friends arrive on time while our sat-nav friends get lost.
Joan Westall
Newton Ferrers, Devon
Sir, It’s not just roadworks which are not recognised by sat-nav. En route to a meeting in Burton on Trent last week I was held up by a lorry fire on the A38 near Sutton Coldfield. As the diversion signs were deficient, I switched on the sat-nav.
How I wished afterwards that I had stopped for just a few minutes to consult the map. The satnav did not know where the accident was, nor even that one may not turn right across a major dual carriageway. By contrast, the map showed a simple detour.
Sat-navs certainly have their place, but the humble map, though several years out of date, is still a worthwhile travelling companion.
Howard Lamb
Wargrave, Berks
Sir, I am curious how Bernard Kingston (letter, Apr 1) with his memorised road map could outwit the sat-navs of his fellow guests travelling through “numerous” roadworks to a central London location. This would require memorising a broad swathe of the road map along the route. Some months ago I was travelling north on the A34 from Winchester to Oxford only to be confronted by a sign on the approach to the M4 warning me that the A34 was closed north of the M4. The resultant diversion was over 30 miles long and I was more than glad not to stop to consult maps but let the sat-nav take over.
Roger Porter
Whaddon, Bucks
Sir, I can assure Bernard Kingston that endeavouring to read an inverted A-Z by the feeble interior car light when trying to navigate in the pouring rain to a house-warming party did not promote any euphoric feelings of spatial awareness in my breast.
Passing the same garage for the second time I was about to abandon the whole expedition when I remembered the much maligned
sat-nav in the boot. Typing in the post code I was immediately greeting by an encouraging dulcet female voice suggesting that I “perform a U-turn, when possible” and was then seamlessly directed to the front door of the location, where I arrived neither hot nor bothered.
Kay Bagon
Radlett, Herts
Sir, Mr Kingston drove to a social engagement in “central London”. Where the hell did he park?
Graham Steel
Dover, Kent
Sir, My recent experiences in the narrow streets of Willesden Green, North London, suggest that throwing away one’s A-Z might be premature. In one week I twice met gigantic lorries advised by their
sat-navs to head for a particular road in NW2 which isn’t wide enough to swing a cat, let alone manoeuvre a juggernaut.
Both drivers very much appreciated my offer to guide them to the other Chandos Road, which is in NW10.
Hefty Employment Tribunal fees have wiped out 80 per cent of claims — good news for unscrupulous employers
Sir, The Government’s own figures showed that its introduction of Employment Tribunal fees of between £390 and £1,200 in July 2013 have wiped out 80 per cent of claims. Most of the claims that have gone were brought by employees alone and without lawyers.
The shop assistant whose boss didn’t pay him the minimum wage, the pregnant woman underpaid for maternity leave, the factory worker denied proper holiday pay, the transport worker sacked for raising a safety concern, the abused migrant worker — they are just not bringing their claims. The effect on women has been to reduce sex discrimination claims by 77 per cent and the effect on other minority groups such as the disabled has been almost as severe.
Should business rejoice at the lower costs in not fighting claims? Not the many good employers I work for. The cowboys are now waking up to a new Victorian landscape where they can strip employees of statutory rights and discriminate, hire and fire at will safe in the knowledge that justice has been locked up behind a pay wall unaffordable to four out of five members of their staff.
I call on the Government to review the effect of fees urgently. The facts now show that tribunal fees are bad for business, bad for hard-working families and have destroyed access to employment justice in England, Wales and Scotland.
Caspar Glyn, QC
Chair, The Industrial Law Society
The National Childbirth Trust rejects the accusation that it is oldfashioned or locked into outdated ways
Sir, Your report “Inside the Bump Class” (Apr 1) gives an outdated view of NCT — we have changed a great deal since the 1950s. We aim to help all parents to be informed about their choices, and we offer information to cover all eventualities that expectant and new parents face: caesarean sections, other interventions and pain relief, as well as straightforward births and home births.
And because not all parents can afford antenatal classes, we provide courses at a discounted rate and many free classes commissioned by the NHS.
Belinda Phipps
Rebels don’t have big causes like the rebels of the past — but each generation finds something to get heated about
Sir, “Today’s rebels have been left without a cause”, says Hugo Rifkind (Opinion, Apr 1). This was echoed not only by Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953) but Jimmy Porter in John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1956), when he observed: “People of our generation aren’t able to die for good causes any longer. We had all that done for us, in the Thirties and Forties . . . There aren’t any good brave causes left.”
However, it does seem that each new generation finds itself a cause — even if it’s only climate change.
m. g. sherlock
Colwyn Bay, North Wales
The energy market shambles stems from weak regulation by bodies who put suppliers’ interests ahead of customers’ needs
Sir, The shambles in the energy market stems mainly from weak regulation but also from a succession of inadequate and badly run consumer bodies. Energywatch never found direction and Consumer Focus had too broad a remit to even begin to understand the energy market. They were out of their depth even on some basic issues.
Ofgem has lacked firm leadership since the tenure of Sir James McKinnon in the 1990s and instead of steering the industry in the right direction it consulted and consulted, and nothing got done.
In my own area of interest I am appalled that Ofgem has not stood up for consumers on billing accuracy. Smart meters will cost consumers £12 billion but they will not address any of the billing errors in gas. This is not a minor issue that can be ignored as some gas users could be paying 10 per cent more for the same level of usage.
So what should be done until the Competition and Markets Authority completes it investigation?
Appoint Richard Lloyd of Which? to guide Ofgem on consumer issues. It would be a culture shock, but it is badly needed. Set up a consumer body solely for energy users with staff who are committed to consumers and also understand the market.
Ray Cope
(former director, Gas Consumers Council), Langford, Beds


State of the history of art will change Civilisation
History of art, as a discipline, has changed. This will be reflected in the new version of Civilisation.

Kenneth Clark presented ‘Civilisation’ in 1969, covering 1,000 years of art and philosophy  Photo: BBC
6:58AM BST 02 Apr 2014
SIR – Those of us who enjoyed Kenneth Clark’s style and learnt so much from his assured presentation of Civilisation 40 years ago, must realise that a revolution has taken place in the teaching and scope of the history of art.
No longer is a linear account of the history of (mainly) Western European art a sufficient account. The place of the art connoisseur – of which Clark, who studied with Bernard Berenson, was such an informed exponent – has been discredited and effectively disregarded by the art establishment; since the Seventies, the “new art history” has triumphed.
Additionally, with the growth of university places in the subject, the old order of discourse within art history has become almost taboo. Thus, the use of terms Clark would have been familiar with, such as style, attribution, beauty, genius and quality, has been replaced by less subjective methodology – ideology, class, and feminist and Marxist readings – to the extent that a new vocabulary is inherently a part of the discipline.
The choice of a suitably informed presenter for the new series is, indeed, daunting. Clark was exactly the right man for his time. I hope that the new programme “for the digital age” will prove as informative and memorable. One thing is clear: it will be quite different.
Hugh McIlveen
Wigginton, Oxfordshire

SIR – A remake of Civilisation calls for Lord Hall, director-general of the BBC, to remind the producers of the tremendous impact Neil MacGregor made with A History of the World in 100 Objects – and all we heard was his voice.
David Blake
Bexley, Kent

SIR – The Campaign to Protect Rural England welcomes the findings of the Farrell Review. It is only through intelligent, proactive planning that our housing problems can be solved. We know that more, and affordable, homes are needed but they must be well located, well designed and built to excellent environmental standards.
An important finding of the review was that our current planning system has become too reactive and reliant on development control rather than forward planning. This echoes the findings of the CPRE’s recent report, which found that the current planning system is undermining local democracy and handing power to major developers.
The balance of power should be restored, with local government and communities having more say in what is built, how it is designed and where it is located.
John Rowley
Planning Officer, Campaign to Protect Rural England
London SE1
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SIR – On the edge of the London Green Belt, there are well-advanced plans by The Jockey Club to build 1,500 homes and a number of commercial units on their Kempton Park estate.
Neighbouring communities face not only the power and wealth of The Jockey Club and their multifarious planning consultants, but also the legal powers of the local council, which sees such a development as the solution to the cap on council tax and rapidly decreasing income flows from central government.
The response of Nick Boles, the planning minister, to this is to raise his hands defensively and say that it is up to local councils to decide whether to build on Green Belt land or not.
Alan Doyle
Sunbury, Middlesex
Climate change report
SIR – The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that no one on the planet will be untouched by the damaging effects of global warming in coming decades.
I wonder if these effects will be as damaging as the policies of governments in response to previous IPCC reports.
Simon Malcolm
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire
SIR – The “climatic reality” is that world temperatures are not presently increasing.
IPCC members, whose jobs or status depend on climate change, forecast what might happen rather than extrapolate what is happening, or rather not happening.
Michael Tyce
Waterstock, Oxfordshire
Dillan or Dullan?
SIR – Dylan Thomas, whom I saw through a painful tooth crisis in Iowa, responded to “Dillon”. That’s what John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Ruthven Todd and others who knew him shortly before his death in New York, also called him.
Keith Botsford
London SW18
Fool team
SIR – I note that the £90 England World Cup replica shirts “contain innovative performance technologies”.
Is this an April Fool? If not, perhaps the England cricket team could get some.
James McBroom
Pangbourne, Berkshire
Reforming the Lords
SIR – At a time when the opinion of all MEPs is to be assessed, during the European Parliament elections next month, and a critically important decision is to be made by the Scottish electorate over the 307-year union with England, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs are bent on “completing unfinished business” by, once again, attacking the constitution of the House of Lords.
Whereas Tony Blair initiated his premiership with a guaranteed “easy win” and seemingly popular Act to remove the majority of hereditary peers, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are wasting parliamentary time and public funds if they feel that House of Lords reform is a priority in the mind of the public.
Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
London SW1
Judging the police
SIR – Boris Johnson writes: “Beneath the hullabaloo the police are doing an outstanding job.”
Late last Wednesday night, an officer left my house after my wife reported a burglary. Early on Thursday morning, she received an email from the police saying: “It has been concluded at this time unfortunately there is insufficient information to proceed, and that the specific investigation into your crime will now be closed.” Neither a door knocked nor a neighbour questioned, and 12 hours later: case closed. Surely there should be a tiny bit of a hullabaloo.
Chris Boffey
London N8
SIR – Political correctness, health and safety and increasing regulation have altered the manner in which police officers go about their duties. They have become more inclined to self-protection, which can isolate them from their community.
I remember when the local police got involved in youth club or school activities and had sports teams that competed with other community teams.
Ron Starkey
Kendal, Cumberland
Distinguishing traits
SIR – Can anyone explain why such a high proportion of Members of Parliament, themselves a tiny proportion of the British population, turn out to be stupid, incompetent, criminal or unfit to hold public office?
Jeremy Nicholas
Great Bardfield, Essex
If we double our fruit and veg, what will we get?
SIR – You report that consuming 10 portions of fruit and vegetables per day will allow us to live longer. How can that be proven? How does one know if one has lived longer?
Dr E S Garbett
Sheffield, South Yorkshire
SIR – Faced with 10 portions of fruit and vegetables every day, I’m not at all sure that I would want to live any longer.
Martyn Pitt
Hardwicke, Gloucestershire
SIR – There will be precious little time left to do any work if I have to double the time I devote to eating my meals after switching to a 10-portions-a-day fruit and vegetable regime.
Ron Kirby
SIR – Eat 10 portions, live longer, and end up being neglected or mistreated in an old people’s care home.
Keith Moore
Yoxford, Suffolk

SIR – To legislate on the “emotional, social and behavioural well-being” of children is to introduce the worst kind of nannying. Parental cruelty to children is covered by existing legislation.
While all children deserve love, who is to decide how much love is sufficient? The needs of different children vary hugely and some become hard to handle after puberty, if not before. An excess of affection can sometimes be the root of children’s problems and therefore precisely what is not needed.
Well-meaning legislation, brought in at the behest of pressure groups, is often flawed. Parents must be allowed to bring up their children as they think best. While there will be victims in every society, this kind of well-intentioned law may not reach them and it may have the unintended consequence of further undermining the family and parental authority.
Gregory Shenkman
London W8
SIR – Compelling parents to provide emotional input to their children represents not only the height of naivety but also typifies the current trend to manipulate us socially via legislation.
How can an Act of Parliament force a second-rate parent to love his or her child?
Peter Mahaffey
Cardington, Bedfordshire
SIR – The Government is considering making emotional cruelty to children a criminal offence, and yet the same Government is encouraging young mothers to go out to work while penalising those who stay at home.
Peter Seccombe
Bodenham, Herefordshire
SIR – Many children or teenagers go through a stage in which parents appear to be the enemy. What vindictive fun some would have with the Cinderella Law.
We still read of dreadful cases of uncared-for children dying unnecessarily, despite the services in place. Time and money should be spent on securing what is already in place.
Joy Watkins
London SW11
SIR – Legislation to criminalise the parental neglect of children’s “intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development” could, in the hands of liberal totalitarians and case-hungry lawyers, provide a “politically correct” instrument to outlaw religious education, gender differentiation, unfashionable discipline, sexual restraint and even patriotism.
David Ashton
Sheringham, Norfolk
SIR – If children will be able to sue their parents when dissatisfied with their upbringing, will parents have equal rights to sue offspring who have not lived up to their expectations?
Dennis Peirson
Ventnor, Isle of Wight
Irish Times:


Sir, – Averil Power highlights some of the problems that attend increasing women’s representation in the Dáil (Opinion and Analysis, April 2nd). It is very unusual for a member of a political party to write an article for the media criticising that party’s action or lack of action. So congratulations to her for her honesty.
She should realise, however, that the recent introduction of the condition that political parties have a minimum quota of women candidates in the next general election, before they qualify for full public funding, has not only focused the debate but it has also started a bitter struggle.
Now, when there is a chance that the more than 50 per cent of the electorate that are women might get more of their kind on the ballot paper the insiders and the incumbents will fight tooth and nail to undermine that effort. As a practising woman politician Ms Power is in a better position than most to see this.
Getting women onto the ballot paper, difficult and all as it is, is only the first step. Getting them elected is not going to be easy. Ms Power is wrong when she says that women candidates have the same chance as men. That was true for the 2011 election, when the average woman candidate polled as well as the average man. But that was the first time this was the case and the result was influenced by the fact that a large number of male independents stood in that contest and got very low votes. In previous elections women candidates attracted fewer votes than men.
Increasing the number of women in the Dáil is not going to be easy and the effort is by no means guaranteed to succeed. Yours, etc,
Shielmartin Drive,
Dublin 13
Sir , – Averil Power’s contention that Countess Markievicz would be horrified that the party she helped establish hasn’t a single female TD may well be true. However, I think the countess might feel a greater sense of horror at the devastation left in wake of 15 years of Fianna Fáil-led government. I am not sure what would motivate any woman with a memory of the last 15 years to stand for Fianna Fáil – regardless of the supports they may put in place to encourage our participation. Yours, etc,
Dublin 13

Sir, – I have been living in Dublin since 2005 and think it is a wonderful city. Concerning its governance though, I could and still cannot not grasp the low level of decision-making power that elected politicians can exercise vis-a-vis unelected officials at the helm of local government. Dublin is a metropolitan region that is the economic engine for the country. Geographically, it has outgrown its administrative boundaries and people’s concept of the city is not defined by signposts demarcating the city limits. Dublin does compete with other European regions for business. Reassessing the responsibility for the governance of the metropolitan region should not be left in the hands of a small group of politicians in Fingal, who do not seem to see the wider implications of their decision. The development of a democratic governance structure for a city region like Dublin should not be held to ransom by the outcome of the Fingal vote. Maybe the process that allowed a predominantly rural area to determine the future of the city should be revisited. The call on the Minister responsible, Phil Hogan, to reassess the boundaries of the city seems appropriate. Yours, etc,
Buckingham Street Lower,
Dublin 1
Sir, – The people of Dublin have been denied the opportunity to participate in important decision-making by the rejection by Fingal councillors of the proposed plebiscite on a directly elected major for Dublin. I hope the people of Fingal will send a clear message to these councillors in May and give these so-called public representatives a lesson in democracy. What a missed opportunity for an international capital city! Yours, etc,
Carrs Mill,
Co Dublin


Sir, – Jacky Jones is right to raise the important issue of the lack of individual care plans for people using mental health services (“Second Opinion”, April 2nd). Individualised, person-centred, recovery-orientated plans are a basic requirement of a good quality mental health service.
In 2013, Mental Health Reform worked with our member organisations to define five components of a recovery-focused mental health service: hope, listening, partnership, choice and social inclusion. Working in partnership with individuals who use mental health services and, where appropriate, their family supporters, in a hopeful process of listening and engagement is vital if services are to be effective in supporting a person’s recovery.
In simple terms, people recover better when they are given hope, involved in decisions about their own treatment, offered a range of therapeutic options, and are supported to live a full live in the community.
While we were disappointed that the HSE’s Operational Plan for mental health services for 2014 did not commit to ensuring that every mental health service user would have an individual care/recovery plan, there is now an opportunity for the National Director of Mental Health to drive such an improvement across the country. The implementation of this basic reform could have wide-reaching effects in the system and would benefit everyone who seeks support from the HSE’s mental health services. Yours, etc,
Mental Health Reform,
Coleraine Street,
Dublin 7
Sir, – Jacky Jones misses the real point in her criticism of mental health services not providing a care plan for every individual. As a social worker in a multidisciplinary mental health team, I, like others, work with patients with a variety of needs, from the most complex, such as severe and enduring mental disorders, with dual diagnosis of addiction and intellectual disabilities and with limited family support to deal with significant life stressors, to less complex cases where patients can be managed by one worker or be relatively quickly referred back to their GP.
Providing a quality, efficient and effective service entails focusing in on those with the greatest needs, having transparent, screening processes in place to ensure meaningful care plans with a responsible key worker to co-ordinate the plan rather than a superficial one size fits all care plan, merely to tick the box. Yours, etc,
Ballyroan Park,
Sir, — It is not often that, where a controversy arises such as the recent one concerning Trinity’s change of logo, an elegant and simple solution should lie so close to hand.
Why not replace the Bible, not with a blank book but with an image of the Book of Kells (which is of course housed in Trinity)? Those who wish to see the Bible retained could find in the Book of Kells the iconic referencing they would prefer; while those opposed to the retention of the Bible would surely be reconciled to an image of what is, after all, a major Irish cultural achievement, and, more to the point, a striking reminder of a longstanding Irish tradition of learning and scholarship.
Thus the Book of Kells would prove equally acceptable to both parties: the saints and the scholars, the former doubtless less numerous than they were of old but both still, happily, so vocal in our insular home. Yours, etc.,
Cornelscourt Hill,
Dublin 18
Sir, – President Michael D Higgins was right to argue (Opinion & Analysis, April 2nd) that “we now have a generational opportunity to ask probing questions about the type of society we wish to build together, and the type of public world we wish to share with one another and with future generations”.
His ethics initiative, aiming to place citizens at the centre of the debate about the future of our society is both topical, timely and welcome. For the development model Ireland chose during the Celtic Tiger era has been shown to be fundamentally flawed – yet to date no alternative vision for a fair and sustainable future for our country has emerged.
Our recent history has shown that Ireland’s problems cannot be solved through a “laissez-faire” approach to public policy, and it has also highlighted the fact that our future is intrinsically linked to decisions (or non-decisions, as the case may be) of the wider international community. But we have yet to develop a plan on how to manage the challenges arising from this new awareness.
The President’s call for a conversation about our values as a nation could not be more timely. Our citizens feel less empowered than ever before, and our public goods have been damaged by greed, breach of trust and by global forces of enormous strength. It is not a good time in which to be rudderless.
Realising this, our colleagues at the United Nations have spent much of the last two years asking every country to undertake discussions about national values and national priorities. It has asked citizens, companies and governments to come up with visions of “the world we want”, to help set the agenda for the global community in the coming decades.
On the back of global UN summits of the past decade, the member countries of the UN – including Ireland – have decided to develop a set of global goals to address the world’s most pressing issues in the coming 15 years, goals that will set the framework for national and international decisions on education, equality, democracy, jobs and the environment and which could end up becoming a sort of second-level constitution for our country.
If we seize the opportunity that the President is offering us to rethink who we are and what our values as a nation are, and ought to be, then we will be all the stronger for it, and all the better able to cope with the challenges associated with being a small country in such an interdependent and volatile world. Yours, etc,
Baggot Court,
Dublin 2

Sir, – I strongly disagree with Frank Byrne’s views (Letters, April 1st) on the practice of women applying their makeup on public transport.
The application of makeup is an intimate and private moment for women in which they construct their daily mask. The public application of makeup is fascinating, and very modern. To watch a woman apply makeup is profoundly erotic (in the post-Freudian sense).
To suffer these small darts of Eros at a time of day when one is moving into the profoundly mundane space of most white collar work is a privilege. Yours, etc,
Ryebridge Lawns,
Sir, – I once witnessed a middle-aged lady cut her male partner’s hair on the upper deck of a bus I was travelling on. The episode was punctuated by squeals of delight from the stylist and some loud resistance from her man. Yours, etc,
Mount Argus Court,
Harold’s Cross ,
Dublin 6W

Sir, – Regarding Hendy Joyce’s suggestion (Letters, April 1st) that summer time augments the hours of daylight (refuted the day before by Kevin Devitte) and the suggestion that Ireland might change to be on a par with Spain and other European countries, he might be surprised to know that there is a movement to return Spain to GMT, the time zone the country geographically falls under and from which it switched during the early days of the Franco dictatorship as a sign of subservience to Hitler’s Germany.
This return is being urged as part of a return to a more Anglo-Saxon timetable, which would help Spaniards get sufficient sleep (they sleep an hour less than most Europeans) and eliminate the huge lunch gap in the middle of the day (few have the luxury of working close enough to home for a siesta). Opposition is coming from the Canary Islands, already on GMT, because it might eliminate the mention they get on the radio every hour. It seems the grass is always greener on the other side of the time zone. Yours, etc,
Calle Dormitaleria,
Sir, – The fact that the Taoiseach appointed a justice minister who did not have the powers of time-travelling, clairvoyance and omnipresence seems to disturb Fintan O’Toole, but every cloud has a silver lining and at least the current crisis has enable him to find his faith again. Meanwhile, the only way Mr Shatter will be able to satisfy the perfect is to gallop through Dublin on Shergar, playing O’Carolan’s harp and wearing the Irish crown jewels. Yours, etc,
Monalea Park,
Dublin 24
Sir, – Marie C O’Byrne’s potted history of Crimea makes it seem entirely logical for the region to be part of the Russian Federation and not Ukraine, and she’s probably right. The problem is, however, not what the people of Crimea want but the fact that the region was effectively annexed by Russia without any diplomatic avenues being explored. This is what makes a lot of countries generally, and Russia’s neighbours in particular, very nervous. Yours, etc,
Belton Terrace,
Co Wicklow
Sir, – With European sanctions showing no signs of encouraging Russia to leave Crimea I think stronger action may now be needed. Can I suggest that the threat of a permanent exclusion from the Eurovision Song Contest might help get things moving? Yours, etc,
College Park Close,
Dublin 16

Sir, – Perhaps it is worth reminding Jim Stack, Mary Stewart and others bemoaning the lack of acknowledgement of the views of so-called “family values” voters that their views were, for decades, fully acknowledged and acted upon by successive governments, to the detriment of other excluded groups and individuals. Little concern was recorded at that time by the “family values” populace over the failure to include or acknowledge those who did not conform to an Ireland of conservative Catholicism and patriarchal norms. They cannot expect a huge degree of sympath now that the shoe is (inaccurately) perceived to be on the other foot. Yours, etc,
Niall Street,
Dublin 7


Irish Independent:
The GAA decision to give certain championship matches to Sky is a slap in the face to the real GAA supporter.
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The real supporters are the people who travel and pay to attend regularly at their club and county games when at all possible.
They will not be like elected officials of county boards, provincial or other councils who seldom have to put their hands in their pockets to attend.
Even when they are stuck, they will always get a few from part of a golden circle of sponsored tickets.
The same could be asked of the full-time paid officials of the GAA, how many games do they actually pay into?
It is very easy to scoff at the cost this Sky deal will burden the real supporter with, if one attends these games free or with sponsored tickets. There are many people who will only be seen attending games when they do not have to pay to attend.
While I agree with the efforts to generate a wider exposure to our games worldwide, I am not blind to how this also results in junkets for our paid officials.
When asked on the news programme on TV whether the topic should have been brought before the GAA annual congress for approval, the general secretary appeared to me to think those who made the decision were a higher authority.
I would have no great problem with the deal if another channel was allowed cover the game(s) on a free-to-view delayed showing.
I wonder did this thought enter the minds of those negotiating the deal – but then again, why would it?
They will hardly be affected by it.

Croke Park is debt-free. GAA fans are struggling enough as it is – just because a certain number of the population have Sky membership, it does not mean they all have Sky Sports.

The absence of a timely apology has taken out one player and the flames are licking the posteriors of a few more.
Time to lance the boil in this debacle and come clean. Each time the heat threatens Alan Shatter, a grave-faced Enda Kenny informs us of another debacle.
The Gardai, now the Prison Service, and previously GSOC have been dragged into an unholy mess. To each, Mr Shatter has ordered inquiry after inquiry. The problem is this, though: he is the problem.
The Attorney General, the Secretary General of Justice and the head of prisons need to consider their positions. Information on their desks ought to reach the minister in a timely fashion. That this failed to happen is the minister’s fault. He seems to have a poor grip on his minions. So let him lead by example and step down. Then let the trio do what they must do and follow suit.
Ireland’s legal and moral authority is at stake here, not the careers of a handful of highly paid public servants. Mr Kenny needs to lance this boil, otherwise he might be engulfed too.

Considering the fact that Ryanair carries so many British passengers and has around 15 bases in the UK and Northern Ireland, one would imagine Michael O’Leary would not make such an offensive comment about their queen.
Has Ryanair made enough money and doesn’t need the UK for revenue?

April 2014 is a very special time for the Irish people, but particularly the people of Clontarf, as it is the celebration of the 1,000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf.
One of the events in Clontarf is an Ecumenical Camino Peace Walk. The various Christian churches are supporting this peace walk.
The walk will be held on Sunday, April 13, Palm Sunday, starting at 2.30pm at the corner of the Howth Road and Clontarf Road. The route will move to St Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church, then to the Methodist Church on the Clontarf Road, then St John’s Church of Ireland on Seafield Road, on to St John’s Catholic Church, Clontarf Road, and finish at St Gabriel’s Catholic Church, Dollymount.
Clontarf passports will be issued and stamped at each church and a certificate given to those who complete the walk. Those who cannot make the full walk are welcome to make a partial walk or call to a church.
On behalf of the organisers and the people of Clontarf, we say: “All are welcome in this place.”

Louise McBride wrote on March 30: “If you have four penalty points, you could pay between 20 and 25pc more for your insurance than someone who has none, and many insurers will refuse to pay out if you haven’t been upfront with them, according to Conor Faughnan, director of consumer affairs with AA Ireland.”
Mr Faughnan has written in the past about the enforcement of incorrect low speed limits, which leads to many of the penalty points issued in Ireland and results in a 25pc increase in insurance premiums.
In the US, penalty points are not issued for speeding offences unless the driver is stopped by a police officer as it is often not possible to identify the driver.
There are more penalty points issued in Ireland for speeding than the combined number of penalty points for all other motoring offences and this has done little to eliminate road traffic accidents.

A short while ago, Leo Varadkar seemingly put his neck on the line and praised the whistleblowers. This was the right thing to do and he received plaudits. I even went to the bother of wasting my time and penned some praise for him.
The reason I say I wasted my time is because he has since come out to bat in defence for Mr Shatter. He accused the opposition of playing “old politics” and pointed to the former garda commissioner not informing the minister about the tapes. He completely ignored the fact that the Attorney General had been informed.
Meanwhile, the Justice Minister resembled Captain Smith of Titanic fame: big on reputation yet in charge of a sinking ship.

Trinity College has reduced its logo colours to two: blue and white. This choice totally ignores the sensitivities of feminist groups who no doubt will eventually register objections over the choice of the prominent blue background (for boys); and anti-racist groups who will certainly not be happy with the white, or indeed with the total absence of black.
To cap it all, anti-Israel activists will have to be be reminded when they pass by the college on one of their protest marches that the blue-and-white flag contains the colours of the Israeli flag. How could the college have spent over €100,000 on this rebranding exercise?
Irish Independent


Mary Home

April 2, 2014

2 April 2014 Mary home
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to search for a stolen yacht Priceless
Mary Home, Peter mr Sorenson we are both very tired
No Scrabble today, too tired Perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Sir Robin Dunn – obituary
Sir Robin Dunn was a Lord Justice of Appeal who was decorated in war then dealt with film stars and traitors in peace

Sir Robin Dunn
6:50PM BST 31 Mar 2014
Sir Robin Dunn, the former Lord Justice of Appeal, who has died aged 96, was among the more engaging and colourful members of the bench; he was also awarded an MC in the Second World War .
Dunn’s often lengthy divorce cases made him a fierce critic of their cost to the taxpayer. His bench also became a platform for outspoken social commentary, including, most notoriously, his 1974 remark about the differences between wives north and south of the border.
In the North, said Dunn, wives did not mind their husbands beating them but drew the line at adultery; in the South, the opposite was the case. He withdrew his observations the next day, and apologised to the angry women of the North.
But despite the odd maverick outburst, Dunn was widely liked and respected, and was being tipped as a likely candidate to take over as president of the Family Division shortly before his promotion to the Court of Appeal in 1980.
As a committee member of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, he was at the forefront of its legal battle with the League Against Cruel Sports in the mid-1980s, after the hunt fenced in the League’s so-called “sanctuaries” which it owned on Exmoor.
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Sir Robin Dunn at the Bristol Assizes in 1970
Dunn was also unusual in the ranks of the judiciary in having served as a regular Army officer for 10 years; in 1980 he was made Honorary Colonel Commandant, the highest honour that the Royal Artillery can bestow on a non-serving officer.
The son of a Royal Artillery brigadier, Robin Horace Walford Dunn was born on January 16 1918 and educated at Wellington and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, where he won the Sword of Honour. He joined the RA in 1938, and fought during the Second World War in France, Belgium and North Africa. He was thrice wounded, mentioned in despatches and awarded a Military Cross in 1944.
On July 8 of that year, Major Dunn, as he then was, was Battery Commander and Commanding Officer’s representative with 1st Battalion the Royal Norfolk Regiment during an attack on Lébisey wood, near Caen, accompanying the CO on foot with his signallers carrying the wireless sets.
During the whole period of the attack he was under heavy shell and mortar fire, but never failed to maintain communications with the regiment. In the later stages of the assault he organised a fresh fire plan to assist the infantry, who were being held down by an enemy post in the south-west corner of the wood.
The citation for his MC stated: “It was largely due to his efforts that the infantry were enabled to clear the wood with comparatively few casualties. Towards the end of the action Major Dunn was wounded in the head, but refused to go for treatment until ordered by the CO of the Norfolks. During the whole operation Major Dunn, under heavy fire, exhibited a calm and resolute bearing which was an example to both his own party and the infantry.”

Robin Dunn with Field Marshal Montgomery
After the war, Dunn attended Staff College but left the Army as an honorary major in 1948, the same year that he was called to the Bar by Inner Temple. He soon established himself as an eloquent and persuasive advocate, frequently appearing for the rich and famous. While still a junior, he represented Vivien Leigh (in her successful divorce action against Laurence Olivier), and the publisher George Weidenfeld, who was granted a divorce after his wife’s adultery with the writer Cyril Connolly.
Another client was the Russian-born marathon walker Barbara Moore, who alleged she had been defamed by a series of advertisements for shoes, bananas and oranges which surrounded coverage in the Daily Mail of her walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End. She said the advertisements implied that she had undertaken the walk for financial gain rather than to prove the capabilities of a 55-year-old woman on a vegetarian diet.
“Some people may think she’s a crank,” said Dunn, “but most great causes have been started by single-minded people who some consider to be cranks.”
From 1959 to 1962, Dunn was Western Circuit junior counsel to the Registrar of Restrictive Trading Practices. In 1961 he represented the Attorney General at the election petition over whether Viscount Stansgate (Tony Benn) should be allowed to take his place in the Commons following his Bristol South-East by-election victory.
Dunn took Silk in 1962, and as a QC his clients included the former MP Patricia Fisher, injured when a bottle of jewellery cleaner she had bought at Harrods exploded in her hand; the racehorse trainer Florence Nagle, to whom the Jockey Club refused to issue a licence because she was a woman; and the “spoilt” wife of the Swiss film producer Robert Velaise, himself described by Dunn as “a debonair international playboy, expert skier and water-skier, the dashing Don Juan with women”.
One of the highlights of Dunn’s career was the Vassal Tribunal in 1968, at which he represented The Daily and Sunday Telegraph. The inquiry concerned the activities of the homosexual Admiralty spy in Moscow, John Vassal, but an important side issue was whether journalists should disclose their sources.
Dunn was appointed a Judge of the High Court, Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division (later Family Division) in 1969.
He was soon ordering the pop singer Gene Vincent to pay maintenance arrears to his former wife or go to prison; granting a divorce to a young wife who objected to her husband’s dressing up in drag; and refusing to believe a petitioner who claimed that his wife charged him half-a-crown for sex.
As presiding judge on the Western Circuit from 1974 to 1978, Dunn proved a tough sentencer. In 1977 he jailed stately home robber Denis Morley — who went in for fast cars, beautiful women and gambling — to 15 years. The trial was the longest in Exeter Crown Court’s history, involving 170 witnesses and more than 700 exhibits. He also gave mandatory life terms to several murderers .
Probably Dunn’s best-known judgment on appeal was in the Sidaway case in 1984. Mrs Sidaway was suing Bethlem Royal Hospital over damage to her spinal cord. She said she was not told of the possibility of such damage before she consented to an operation. But Dunn agreed with the then Master of the Rolls, Sir John Donaldson, that a doctor (or surgeon) fulfilled his duty to inform a patient if he acted in accordance with a practice rightly accepted as proper by a body of skilled and experienced medical men.
Because the surgeon had assessed the risk of damage to the spinal cord at only one to two per cent, he had considered it too remote a risk to form the basis of Mrs Sidaway’s decision on whether or not to consent to the operation. The judges held this to be reasonable after listening to other expert witnesses.
The decision — later upheld by the Law Lords — was welcomed by medics, but criticised by others as legitimising the idea of passive patients and authoritarian doctors. Some went so far as to claim a professional conspiracy, with lawyers closing ranks behind the doctors.
Dunn was among the judges who ruled that a wife’s once-a-week sex ration was fair, and who turned down the Moonies’ request for a retrial following their failed libel action against the Daily Mail.
He warned divorced parents not to try to take revenge on their former husbands or wives by refusing them access to their children. “These courts have said over and over again, that although you can dissolve marriages, you cannot dissolve parenthood,” Dunn observed. He also warned divorced mothers not to expect that custody of their children would automatically be granted to them.
Dunn retired from the Court of Appeal in 1984. He was, variously, treasurer of the Bar Council (1967-69); deputy chairman of Somerset Quarter Sessions (1965-71); and a member of the Lord Chancellor’s Committee on Legal Education (1968-69). He was knighted in 1969 and sworn of the Privy Council in 1980.
In 1994 he published Sword and Wig: The Memoirs of a Lord Justice. He later wrote a book about stag hunting on Exmoor, one of his passions. He was a fierce opponent of the National Trust’s decision to ban stag hunting on their land.
Robin Dunn married, in 1941, Judith Pilcher, who died in 1995; they had a son and two daughters, and one daughter survives him with his second wife, Joan (née Stafford-King-Harman), whom he married in 1997.
Sir Robin Dunn, born January 16 1918, died March 5 2014
When Kingsley Amis was a young man, he was one of many authors swindled by RA Caton, the unsavoury proprietor of the Fortune Press. He took his revenge by incuding in each of his novels an unpleasant, and often unlucky, minor character with Caton’s name. I suggest to the writers who have rallied to protest at the cruel ban on books for prisoners (‘It’s the most bonkers thing I’ve ever heard’, 29 March) that the name Christopher Grayling has a certain cracked ring to it. I can see him as an incompetent potboy getting a kicking from Thomas Cromwell, or a bumbling spy caught in a Le Carré double-cross; indeed, the possibilities are endless.
Peter Grant
• Ha! The solar panels on the roof in the artist’s impression of the proposed England-Scotland spiral interchange show this is the Guardian’s April Fool spoof (Scotland plans to move to right after independence, 1 April): a cost-benefit analysis would show that there is not enough sunshine in the frozen north of the UK to make it viable.
Lyn Summers
• Most aspects of the plan to revise the road infrastructure in Scotland are perfectly feasible and overdue. However, as a Scottish resident, I disapprove of the cost to the taxpayer of the spiral interchange at the Scottish-English border. Surely the best place to make the change would be when the motorist goes through immigration and visits duty-free, which will be unavoidable without the Schengen agreement.
Matthew Williamson
Isle of Bute
• Great April Fools’ Day story this year (England cap shambolic winter with humiliating defeat by the Netherlands, 1 April).
Geoff Dobson
• Anthropomorphic buses are but a later manifestation of what the Romans did for us (Letters, 1 April). A recently discovered fragment of a casket from Caistor is inscribed: “Cunobarrus fecit vivas (Cunobarrus made me, may you live happily).”
Jane Lawson
• When I lived in Bishop Auckland 60-odd years ago, there were two outlying so-called villages, Seldom Seen and Never Seen (Letters, 1 April). I went to the former, once. I never saw the latter.
John Abbott
The kite flown by a rightwing thinktank that everyone should have to pay for access to healthcare (£10 each can save the NHS, 31 March) marks a crucial turning point in switching towards a fully paid-for health service. This process has been long planned. First Blair encouraged and then pressured NHS hospitals into becoming independent foundation trusts, self-standing suppliers within a competitive market. Cameron took this much further by ruling that all NHS functions would be open to tender by any qualified provider. The Lansley health and social care bill, hatched in deepest secrecy before the 2010 election with not a word about it in the Tory manifesto so that it had no electoral mandate, opened the floodgates for full-scale privatisation of the NHS. But always the mantra was repeated that the NHS would remain “free at the point of service”. Now that assurance is being kicked away.
The thinktank authors decry the NHS as “an outdated, cosseted and unaffordable healthcare system”. They don’t mention that the Tory government has deliberately imposed a £20bn cut in NHS funding over the current five-year period to put it under intolerable strain and maybe breakdown in order to pave the way for a gradual switch to a fully paid-for private service, which has always been their secret aim, just like before 1948. Nor do they mention that the NHS, at a cost of 8% of GDP, is the most cost-efficient in the world, half the comparative cost of the private US healthcare system.
We now see why the Tories have been so keen to demean the NHS on every occasion over the past few months. Cue the need to junk the old, failing NHS and announce the dawn of a brand-new, burnished private healthcare system – and at a bargain price of £10 a month. But remember tuition fees: capped at £3,000, then trebled. If every UK adult paid £10 a month, this new tax would raise £5.4bn. Treble that, or more, and we’re talking serious money for the healthcare privateers.
Michael Meacher MP
Labour, Oldham West and Royton
• How dare Norman Warner and Jack O’Sullivan denigrate the NHS in such strident terms? I refer them to the carefully documented report in August 2013 by Dr Don Berwick, who was commissioned to investigate patient safety in the NHS. Berwick recognised that healthcare is political and that the current sustained denigration of the NHS is an ideological campaign which smears “a world-leading example of commitment to health and healthcare as a human right” that should be emulated, and that although the NHS does have patient safety problems, so “does every other healthcare system in the world”. Noting that big changes are needed, Berwick also says the achievements of the NHS are enormous and suggests that “drama, accusations and overstatement” are best avoided.
Reform, which published Warner and O’Sullivan’s report, believes that “by liberalising the public sector, breaking monopoly and extending choice”, high-quality services can be made available to everyone. Recent experiences with private providers to the NHS in Cornwall and Suffolk, for instance, indicate otherwise. Reform was set up by a Conservative MP and a Tory strategist. The membership of Reform’s advisory board shows that it is funded by private companies, with chief executives, chairmen and directors of major pharmaceutical companies, global investment banks, and accountancy firms constituting the majority of board members. Could there be an ideological or possibly even some other agenda here?
Gwen Parr
Pulborough, West Sussex
• It is extremely misleading to describe the thinktank Reform as “independent”. In 2012, its top six funders included Prudential Insurance, KMPG (consultants involved with the NHS), McKesson (a pharmaceutical distributor and healthcare information company), Baxter (a private healthcare company) and BMI (which runs 66 hospitals and treatment centres in the country). These organisations all have a vested interest in the tendering out and privatisation (“reform”) of the NHS and in reports that support the idea of charging for NHS services.
Sean de Podesta
• It would have been good if the Guardian had mentioned Norman Warner’s and Reform’s vested interest in criticising the NHS. Warner is an advisory board member of Synlab, a German firm involved in NHS privatisation, while Reform is funded by BMI Healthcare, Serco and Sodexo – organisations that have much to gain from the break-up of the heath service (hat-tip to @SolHughesWriter on Twitter for this information).
Ian Sinclair
• The suggestion of an NHS membership fee is the latest example of weird and unsocial reasoning. People apparently won’t put up with tax rises to help the NHS; so let’s complicate matters by charging fees. How does that help – unless the motive is to exclude those unable to pay the fee from NHS services? The denigration of tax leads to lower taxes, leading to reductions in public services, which leads to the wealthy paying for private medicine, private education and, one day no doubt, private street lighting and refuse collections, leaving the dispossessed with ever-dwindling services.
Peter Cave
• Alternatively, Warner and O’Sullivan could propose a 0.05% rise in income tax, to raise roughly the same amount, but with no extra collection charges, unlike their scheme, which, if it is anything like road tax, would lose over half the amount collected in administration.
Rod Parfitt
Cleeve, Somerset
• I read with interest your article on a potential £10 per month membership for the NHS. As a surgeon in the NHS, one of the major issues I face with planned and emergency surgery is obesity. Most obese patients are aware of the health consequences of their obesity; however, they don’t seem to know of the hazards they face for abdominal surgery. Simply moving them on and off an operating tables can be hazardous for the staff alone. The risks of surgery and post-operative complications can lead to a prolonged recovery with a risk of major disability. Perhaps there should be an increased membership fee in line with BMI?
Kathryn McCarthy
Consultant surgeon, Bristol
• Nice juxtaposition of headlines on page 2 on Monday: “Pay £10 a month to use the NHS” and “Poorest homes face £120 council tax rise as safety net goes”.
Jeanne Warren
Garsington, Oxfordshire
• The health sector regulator Monitor is committed to parity of esteem for physical and mental health services, and is not recommending that funding for mental health services should be cut by 20% more than for acute hospitals (Mental health services need targeted investment, not even more cuts, 26 March). Under the NHS payment system, national prices are not set for mental health services. Pricing decisions for mental health services are made at local level by commissioners and providers, who are expected to have regard to the national rules but can make their own price adjustments where there are good reasons to do so.
Professor Ric Marshall
Director of pricing, Monitor

Your editorial (29 March) argues that the Byles bill now before parliament, which, for the first time, allows peers to resign, could lead to aspirant politicians using the Lords as a springboard into Commons seats, thus diluting its independence. Though understandable, such fears turn out on examination to be insubstantial.
It is not likely that many people would get peerages under the existing arrangements, then resign and then move on to the Commons. This would clearly be an abuse of the system, which intends lords to remain in the house as working peers. It would not be appealing for a party leader to appoint someone so motivated, as they would be heavily criticised for doing so. The Lords appointments commission, which has to approve political appointments, would be unlikely to support many such people. Constituency parties would be unlikely to choose them as candidates, as their opponents would highlight their ruthlessly self-seeking behaviour.
If it did it happen on any scale, the law could be changed to prevent it; then any politician on the make who had sought to use this route might be left stranded in the Lords. Moreover, anyone going down this route would, under the terms of the bill, be barred for ever from Lords membership, from which so many ex-members of the Commons have obtained a valuable opportunity to serve in their later years.
If the bill was amended in the Lords to prevent ex-members standing for the Commons, however, that would be the end of the current bill. No more private members’ days remain in the Commons this session to consider Lords amendments. The government has made it clear that, so far as it is concerned, unless the bill clears the Lords intact, that will be the end of it. And if the Byles bill fails it will be a major negative for those who argue that piecemeal reform of the Lords rather than a big bang is the right way forward. If as limited and simple a measure as the Byles bill cannot get through, what prospect is there for further piecemeal change in the future?
David Lipsey
Labour, House of Lords
Last night Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage held their second debate (Voters give credit to Farage in head-to-head with Clegg, 27 March). In the first debate, Clegg clearly triumphed on facts and statistics. But the European issue is a complicated one, as much based on emotions, historical attitudes and nostalgia as on detailed knowledge. It may seem astonishing that we Britons debate a possible exit from the EU in the year of the centenary of the first world war.
There have been no new or deadly battles between any EU members since Britain decided to stay in the EEC in 1975. Almost all the countries that were once Soviet satellites have been EU members, bound to democracy and the rule of law by the Copenhagen principles, a far more successful soft-power strategy than all the west’s military interventions put together. It would be sheer lunacy to abandon a European future for a backward-looking, isolated and diminished role.
Shirley Williams
Liberal Democrat, House of Lords
In a conventional share flotation, the price shares will fetch is an important issue for the seller, which needs to balance the interests of existing owners in raising cash against the dilution of ownership involved in expanding the share base. Hence the need for expert advice, underwriting etc. In the Royal Mail case (Undervaluing Royal Mail cost taxpayer £750m in one day, 1 April), the institution was going to be sold/privatised no matter what and the appropriate objective was to raise as much cash as possible for the public purse. The obvious way to proceed would have been through an auction based on sealed bids. Shares could then simply have been allocated to willing buyers, in order of price bid. The full volume would have been allocated and revenue to the owners of the institution – the taxpayer – would have been maximised.
The shares would have ended up with those who valued them highest, just as now, but without the intermediary profit. This would also have saved us the cost of the advice of the experts who valued the shares so inaccurately.
Chris Perry
Instow, Devon
• Vince Cable believes what he did was right: “achieving the highest price … was never the aim of the sale”. That’s just the point, Mr Cable: the Tories’ aim was to flog it off regardless. A failed sale would not have been a disaster.
We are witnessing the disaster that all privatisations have engendered, with soaring energy prices, water bills, rail fares, bus fares and on and on, as the new companies, now mostly foreign-owned, try to keep their greedy managers and shareholders happy, while their services decline. And soon Royal Mail services will show the same trend. Perhaps it was just bad timing, but over the weekend I and most other people in north-west London received a flyer from Royal Mail’s operations director telling us that TNT Post UK may be delivering some of our mail, when they feel like it, so our Royal Mail postman “may no longer be wholly responsible for your postal service”. But it doesn’t tell us who to complain to when a letter fails to arrive.
David Reed
• Perhaps Vince Cable would care to visit Mid Devon to see some of the benefits he claims were the reason behind the dramatic undervaluing of the Royal Mail share offering. Within two months we received a letter informing us that due to implementing efficiency measures our post was to be rescheduled and may be later. It now arrives between 3pm and 4pm. Royal Mail said it was contractually entitled to deliver mail up to 4pm. The result? A long-established business renting office accommodation in our converted barn has given in its notice because, being mail-order driven, it is unable to cope with such a service.
Andrew Dale-Harris
Oakford, Devon
• There are few business people who manage to cost their organisation £750m with one decision and even fewer who do that and remain in their job. You itemise some of the ways this sum could have been spent, but I find it equally depressing that Vince Cable doesn’t even show any remorse. In the current austerity climate, it is surely vital that every available pound is both collected and spent on the correct priorities.
Pete Radcliffe
Warrington, Cheshire

Your coverage on the situation in Ukraine has dealt almost exclusively with Vladimir Putin and Russian intentions. This is unfortunate. While the events regarding Crimea are serious, focusing mainly on them misses the major problems facing Ukraine: poverty and corruption. These have stifled Ukrainian progress, causing severe economic hardships for the population. Thousands of Ukraine’s young and talented have left the country to work abroad. The diaspora continues.
Ukrainians need to look in the mirror. They have had full independence since 1991 and are ostensibly a democracy. Their “orange revolution” failed because of corruption and their new government under Viktor Yanukovych failed because of corruption and his government’s failure to address the real problems in the country.
Ukrainians need to stop blaming Russia, communism and Stalin and start enacting major reforms. The power to do this is in their hands. The Maidan demonstrators in Kiev represented a good start. There were progressive forces among the demonstrators that signalled the direction in which Ukraine should move. Ukrainians must hold the government accountable and ensure that meaningful reforms are enacted.
Robert Milan
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
• Your report of the US and EU reaction to the Crimean situation is depressing (21 March). The US will always do and say whatever it likes, and there’s no changing that. It is worrying that the EU has decided to take action, however limited, against Russia, as it has the potential to lead to an economic cold war directly affecting all EU citizens. But it is completely outrageous that the UK government should take such an active stance against Russia and Putin. As a British citizen, I am incensed that it should act in this way.
For many years successive British governments have refused to even talk to Argentina about a change of ownership of the Falklands, stating that the will of the inhabitants is paramount. Nobody can possibly be in any doubt as to the will of the vast majority of the Crimean inhabitants, even if there were legal or technical problems surrounding the recent referendum. So for the British government to condemn Russia and Putin and to threaten and take economic action against them for acceding to the will of the Crimean inhabitants is nothing short of 24-carat-gold-plated hypocrisy.
Alan Williams-Key
Madrid, Spain
• Many commentators have seen fit to draw an analogy between the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and the aggressive expansionism of the Nazi government of Germany that precipitated the second world war. But perhaps the more relevant analogy is the war that preceded it.
The leaders of the great European powers in 1914 did not plan to lead their nations into years of terrible destruction, but they did, through a combination of ambition, ignorance, miscalculation and pride. Let us hope that our leaders are not so foolish, because the potential consequences are not the destruction of a first world war or a second world war, but the nuclear destruction of a third world war.
Alex Gill
Ottawa, Canada
Seems it’s OK for the US and some of its allies, including Israel, to thumb their noses at “international law and order” by invading and occupying other people’s territories when they feel their national self-interest is threatened. When Russia does the same, however, these defenders of the “free world” pretend to be outraged. Double standard indeed!
Ron Date
Victoria, British Columbia,
Chasing the grey vote
I live in a benighted country that unlike most countries in the democratic world has compulsory voting at all levels of government and am often berated that such compulsion is an infringement of my democratic freedoms. However, I have always been conscious of the fact that with compulsory voting the elected politicians can never totally ignore some or even most sections of society and concentrate only on that part of society that votes. The article Osborne targets grey vote (28 March) reminds me of the strength of a compulsory voting system. When politicians “woo actual voters and sod the rest” democracy suffers and long term the society suffers as well.
The advantage of compulsory voting is that politicians must at least pay lip service to the whole of the society because everyone votes and this advantage far outweighs any infringement on my freedom.
Edwin Carter
Blackburn, Victoria, Australia
Property and generosity
Peter Johnston’s letter (Reply, 21 March) on the apparent discrepancy in the availability of homes in the UK overlooks the elephant in the housing complex: property as a long-term investment. Everywhere in the developed world the demand for the expansion of housing and the consequent erosion of irreplaceable agricultural, recreational and environmentally sensitive land is seemingly irresistible.
While greedy developers and those who depend on construction for their living are partly to blame, the underlying problem is multiple home ownership, accompanied by favourable taxation treatment and the publicly subsidised costs of development. It is in the interest of most investors in residential property to promote the myth of scarcity, as well as frequently maintaining vacancies, to enhance the capital appreciation on which they rely, rather than accepting a reasonable income from rental or leasing.
There is a strong parallel with food production and distribution. It is accepted that there is adequate food produced world-wide to feed the current population, though not at the excessive and wasteful level of first-world nations. Those who control the production and distribution of these essential resources look to the wealthier nations for their profits, rather than satisfying the needs of the wider population.
The injunctions of Pope Francis to the wealthy to “help, respect and promote the poor” will fall on deaf ears, as long as he and other spiritual leaders fail to address the underlying causes of inequality and rely instead on the trickle-down effect – and earning a place in heaven – to motivate them to be a bit more generous to the needy. The world has never worked that way and probably never will.
Noel Bird
Boreen Point, Queensland, Australia
Syria’s fight to the finish
It’s become clear that the Syrian struggle now is not Assad’s government against the rest – but rather Assad’s Alawites and the Shias and Christians and others against Sunni Islam (including al-Qaida) – ie minorities of all shades against the Sunni majority (Iran-controlled militia calls on Iraqis to shed blood for Assad, 21 March).
This is the struggle the Middle East is now engaged in. The Alawites face extinction or permanent subjugation by a Sunni majority that they have dominated for too long. That’s why, in fear of extinction, they will not compromise or admit defeat. The outlook is bleak – a fight to the finish.
Alaisdair Raynham
Truro, UK
• I was delighted to see Tim Entwisle’s commentary in support of taxonomists (21 March). Many people call us bean-counters, but they miss the point. Far from being an arcane branch of biology, taxonomy underlies the study of the world’s biodiversity, and its distribution and evolution.
Species have varied and often astounding strategies for making a living here on Earth. It takes time to develop expertise in a group of organisms, but we now live in an academic world that is too impatient to invest in that time, saying that we are somehow not “productive” enough.
Sandra L Brantley
Albuquerque, New Mexico, US
• The apparent demise of the ice-cream cone (Shortcuts, 21 March) reminds me that as a child we had wafers. These were either wrapped or, as was the case with my uncle in his small shop in Defynnog, prepared on demand. A rectangular wafer was placed in a hand held device which was filled with his own ice-cream another wafer placed on the top and the whole pushed up to be held gently and licked from the sides. Like the wafer the shop is long gone.
Steve Thomas
Yarralumla, ACT, Australia
• Re Oliver Burkeman’s columns, as I don’t necessarily want to change my life, would it be possible to offer an edition of the Guardian Weekly without this headline on one of its pages please?
Adrian Betham
London, UK

Students from state schools are more likely to achieve top-grade degrees than those from the independent sector (report, 28 March), and there is a call for leading universities to place more emphasis on applicants’ backgrounds when offering places to study. Great, so all graduates will be on a level playing field in the jobs market, right? Wrong!
Too many employers are unforgiving in the requirements for their graduate jobs. As well as a minimum of a 2:1, they also require 300 or more Ucas points (BBB or higher at A-level). For jobs in IT, to take an example, TARGETjobs lists employers requiring 300 Ucas points or more including: Accenture, CHP Consulting, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Ocado, PA Consulting, SunGuard, Tessella, and TPP.
Many employers have exceptions for those with illness or family circumstances, or for those who are exceptional in sporting or similar achievements, but the barrier still remains for many. Forget how brilliant you are in your chosen subject: what did you do when you were 18? This question might more accurately be framed as “Which school did you attend when you were 18?”, because three times as many private school pupils gain three A grades at A-level as those in state schools.
Leading employers visit universities’ careers fairs but, while almost all will attend Russell Group universities, the number of employers attending universities in the lower half of the “university league tables”  dwindles.
Some employers are coming round to the idea that recruiting graduates from Russell Group universities and with 300-plus Ucas points does not lead to a very diverse intake, and diversity is essential for success in the global markets. Some employers visit universities outside the Russell Group. Some are more open-minded about your past life: TARGETjobs lists AVEVA and Hewlett Packard as employers who do not have a minimum Ucas points cut-off for IT jobs. In accounting and finance, the professional services firm PwC has recently relaxed its graduate  intake requirements for audit and assurance so that if you obtain a first-class degree, the Ucas points requirements drop to 240 (CCC).
As well as universities levelling the applications playing field, employers also need to play their part. I am teaching some fantastic accounting and finance students. Are there any enlightened employers out there who would like to offer summer internships to the highest achieving students? Many do not have the academic requirements you stipulate and may not have the strongest CVs in terms of relevant work experience or volunteering but they are intelligent, diligent, sometimes brilliant.
Dr Maria Gee, Senior Lecturer in Accounting, University of Winchester
I was concerned by your editorial on tuition fees (1 April), which questioned the fairness of making those who do not go to university “stump up” for those  who do.
Applied more generally, this principle would remove the argument for collective, public provision of any service. Why should the healthy “stump up” for the sick to be treated, those without children for others’ education, or those with cars for public transport?
Taken to its logical conclusion, this argument would destroy the civilised basis of our national life and create the situation found in the USA where those who can pay for services will do so and those who can’t are excluded and marginalised.
Alan Brown, Bromborough, Wirral
Plainly, the right language matters
Your article on Plain English (28 March) reminded me of the start of my Probation Service career in Barnsley in the early 1960s, where to know the difference between a shovel and a spade was a matter of civic pride.
For a social worker to use the term “sibling” in court invited a broadside below a career water-line. When once asked by a chairman what the term meant, his clerk advised: “I think it’s something to do with chickens, sir.”
One day a “gentleman of the road” appeared, brought off the street for some minor matter which couldn’t be dealt with on the spot. As if speaking to a simpleton, the chairman slowly and deliberately explained to the defendant, to the accompaniment of a nodding clerk, “Your case is being adjourned sine die. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” came the reply.
It seems judgements on plain English can depend on who is dishing it out.
Roy Spilsbury, Penmaenmawr, Conwy
Simplicity and clarity can go too far, even in official communications. I was once told of a major group in dispute with the Revenue. Top accountants were involved, top solicitors engaged. The issue was referred to leading counsel. They drew up a long, closely-argued case.
The Revenue’s reply arrived by return of post: “Thank you for your letter. I do not agree.”
Robert Davies, London E3
Books for prisoners
The issue of prisoners receiving parcels containing books is not straightforward.
Having taught in prisons for many years, I need no convincing of the value of books in that environment. I came across many prisoners who, for the first time in their lives, were reading and enjoying a variety of books. However, I have some sympathy with prison governors whose perpetual security nightmare is maintaining some degree of control over contraband entering prison. Drugs are easily concealed and screening is neither cheap nor quick (most prisons have to buy in the service of sniffer dogs, for example).
I do wonder how many parcels sent to prisons contained books. Not as many as the literary establishment likes to think I imagine; items of clothing are likely to be higher on the list. Be that as it may, governors know their prisons and it should be left to their discretion to decide what is and isn’t manageable rather than politicians making rulings calculated to appeal to the “give them nothing” brigade.
Sue Turner, Lowdham, Nottinghamshire
April Fools at the wicket
At first glance it seemed obvious that Scottish/UN peacekeeping story was your April Fool spoof (“Peacekeeping plan drawn up by UN in event of a Scottish Yes vote”, 1 April) but then I reached the sports section to read some nonsense about Holland beating England at cricket. How ridiculous! Did you really think we’d fall for that?
Michael O’Hare, Northwood, Middlesex
Loved the item about the UN’s proposed post-independence referendum peacekeeping force; “Avril Prime” was a gem. I’ve already booked the last remaining room from which to watch the manoeuvres. BMW’s ad was a surprise, though.
John Crocker, Cheltenham
Hey, you had me going there!  That lead story on the front page (1 April) about the Royal Mail flotation. Apparently Vince Cable’s City chums agreed to buy RM shares and promised to hold on to them. But then it’s said they went and sold them straight away at a vast profit.
I mean, honestly, how believable is that? Wasn’t born yesterday y’know!
Ed Sharkey, Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire
Texting in the street
Apple’s pedestrian-avoidance plan for the terminally phone-struck (“Text-and-walk plan for those trying to do two things at once”, 31 March) is  one more blow in the drive to render normal human behaviour redundant.
The massive surge in numbers of those who “walk and talk” has become one of the most annoying features of the urban landscape. It’s bad enough coping with the ear-plug barkers shouting into thin air, but ten times worse with those who simply stare at their phones while veering randomly into fellow pedestrians.
The moment you step out of that door it is essential to have your mobile amulet to hand, ready to combat the hideous dangers of actually observing the world around you. Now, combine that, as some already do, with a bicycle …
Christopher Dawes, London W11
Financial community rumbled again
What arrant nonsense is this clamour for the head of Martin Wheatley, Chief Executive of the Financial Conduct Authority. The plunge in insurance company share prices was due to the financial community fearing that they had been rumbled, again, and with just cause. The pity is that the inquiry is not going to be as wide-ranging as at first suggested.
Peter English, Rhewl, Denbighshire
Is this contract really a job?
I am reassured that the Chancellor has signed up to a full employment pledge, or perhaps aspiration. However I am unclear if a zero-hours contract is a job, as it appears to involve a firm commitment neither to work nor to wages, or am I just an economic illiterate?
Lee Dalton BSc Econ, Weymouth, Dorset
Rising fees seem not to deter many students but interest on their debt is worse
Sir, Fees of £6,000 may end up as a credible position but it is deeply worrying that Labour sees this as its starting point rather than the result of calculations based on a well-designed student finance and university funding system (“Reducing fees would mean fewer students”, Mar 31).
Before you go near the headline- grabbing sticker price of fee levels, there are bigger questions around how students should be supported while they study, how universities should be funded, what the balance of contribution should be and what a well-designed graduate loan system looks like (not like the current one, that is for sure).
We hope to offer some clear thinking and simple steps to improve the loan design, bring down the massive subsidy on loans from the government and re-balance the contribution between the state and individual to higher education. This is less complicated than it sounds. You may end up with fees at £6,000 in some parts of the system, but it is strange to know the answer before you’ve done your sums.
Libby Hackett
University Alliance
Sir, The 45 per cent estimate (leader, Mar 31) means about 9 out of 20 graduates will not repay their loans. The other 11, who not only repay their loans but will continue paying in taxes a lot more than the 9 for the rest of their working lives, might be forgiven for wondering if they are all in this together.
Paul Murgatroyd
Sir, You argue that students should pay more for their education. You oppose transferring costs to taxpayers. When I had my hip replaced by the NHS, two of the junior doctors involved turned out to be former students of mine. They told me that my education benefited them. I clearly benefited from their education, as will all the patients they treat until they retire. Those patients will contribute benefit to the community.
It is arguable that each student benefits from their education more than any other single person does. However, if you aggregate all the benefits gained by all beneficiaries, the overwhelming share of the total benefit goes not to the individual student, but to society as a whole. That is why we support education from general taxation.
Philip Burgess
Inchcoonans, Perthshire
Sir, The latest figures show that applicants to university are at their highest level, so graduating with about £40,000 of student debt has not so far been a deterrent to those seeking to benefit from a degree.
However, I wonder how many are aware of the small print. Since 2012 the student loan debt book is finance lent at RPI plus 3 per cent: this is from date of payment not from graduation. But there is minimal information on this: a student logging into his student loan account on the SLC website will not be able to see this, and googling it produces a similar vacuum of data. My son’s loan, currently about £13k, appears to be accruing interest at over £800 per annum. Next year there will be interest on interest and so on until repayment.
Our young people deserve transparency as to the terms and conditions of their indenture. Only a minority will repay their loans, and their repayments will have to carry the write-offs of all the others.
Emma Mackinnon
Fareham, Hants

Don’t blame the witnessess, the solution must start with a co-ordinated community response
Sir, The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Sir Peter Fahy, is frustrated by the HMIC report about domestic violence (letter, Mar 31)?
A victim who spends years being physically and psychologically tortured in her own home (and it is usually a woman) is unlikely to be able to deal with the criminal justice system. The answer is the coordinated community response, practised in the UK since 1997.
My former employer, Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, can give him some guidance if he genuinely wants to find out how to respond effectively in partnership, to domestic violence. Specialist domestic violence courts were also set up to deal with this issue and were successful until government and community leaders lost interest.
Why does the State not take responsibility for prosecution rather than relying on the victim’s evidence? Why does a prosecution for a domestic murder rarely fail despite the lack of a live witness? Why is not more said about the perpetrator and the importance of holding them to account while supporting the victim? These are primary functions for police leadership. Sir Peter Fahy may be frustrated, but I am furious that he and others blame the victim for not being in a position to be a prime witness. The statutory sector must stop making excuses and work in a way that fundamentally changes the whole response and delivers justice.
Anthony Wills
Iver, Bucks

Alliance may be the last surviving British wartime sub, but there is a German U-boat too, now acting as a memorial museum
Sir, You report that HMS Alliance is “the only surviving submarine from the Second World War” (“Sailors tell tales of heroism, love and war”; Mar 31). While she may be the only surviving British submarine, the German U995 has stood as a museum in front of the Kriegsmarine memorial at Laboe (Kiel Fjord), since 1972. She was commissioned in 1944 and saw service off north Norway attacking allied convoys, sinking two merchantmen and two Soviet patrol craft. From the end of the war until 1965 she served in the Norwegian navy after which she was sold back to Germany and refitted ready for her current role.
Stephen J. Lockwood
Glan Conwy, Colwyn Bay


Superstition and religious faith do not necessarily go together, in fact researchers tend to find the opposite
Sir, Melanie Phillips (Opinion, Mar 31) asks why the large numbers who believe in telepathy, astrology and other paranormal phenomena do not believe in God. And she performs some interesting mental gymnastics to answer her own question — it’s because those who believe in the supernatural resent the moral constraints implicit in religion and prefer “morality-free magic”.
That would be an intriguing explanation, if there were anything in her premise, but paranormal “faith” and religious faith are not mutually exclusive. The One Poll survey that she quotes does not say that they are and nor does a half-century of empirical research. Social scientists have sometimes found a weak negative relationship between the two sets of beliefs, but most studies show either no relationship at all or a mild positive one. In other words, believers in the paranormal are just as likely to believe in God as anyone else.
Stephen Miller
Emeritus Professor of Social Research, City University London
The recent England T20 squad had no players from the winning T20 county sides – what is cricket coming to?
Sir, Those who follow county cricket are told regularly that its main aim is to provide players for England, who then attract large sums of money to be ploughed back into the domestic game. But if the purpose of county cricket is to hone skills and match-winning attitudes, why is it that not one player from the last four teams to win the domestic T20 was included in England’s recent T20 squad? Whatever the reason(s), the selections (including three replacements) were not exactly “spot on” were they?
dr dave allen
Hon Archivist, Hampshire Cricket




How Dylan and Caitlin pronounced their names
“Dullan” or “Dillan”, “Kaytlin” or “Kathleen”?

Dylan Thomas (1914-53) with his wife Caitlin (1913-94), whom he married in 1937  Photo: BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY
6:58AM BST 01 Apr 2014
SIR – As we approach the 100th anniversary of his birth, can we have some definitive rulings on how to pronounce the Dylan in Dylan Thomas? And for that matter, the Caitlin in Caitlin Thomas?
I know the Welsh say “Dullan”, but I have heard that the poet preferred, and used, “Dillan”. I gather his friends called him something entirely otherwise and much more coprological.
Similarly, Augustus John always insisted that Caitlin was “Kathleen”, not “Kaytlin”.
Any discussion of the poet and his wife has now become a self-conscious matter of style between those who parade their knowledge of Welsh and those who claim artistic kinship with Bohemian London by insisting on different pronunciations of the first names. Does anyone know how they called each other?
Nigel Thomas
Elham, Kent
SIR – After conducting my first wedding as an Anglican priest, on Saturday, I sat down to read that day’s Daily Telegraph.
Two contributions relating to marriage struck me. One was a report on a course of action urged by the bishop in charge of the area in which I lived as a lay person. He is a man for whom I have immense respect and someone whom I regard as a friend.
The second was an opinion piece by a self-confessed homosexual art critic, whom I have never met, but whose comments in his specialist field I have always enjoyed.
I might have expected to find myself in agreement with the bishop and at variance with the art critic. To my great surprise, it was the other way round.
Rt Rev Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, and seven unnamed retired bishops, had apparently urged homosexual clergy to follow their conscience and defy the Church of England’s restrictions on same-sex marriage. The comment article was by Brian Sewell: “Why I’m no convert to gay marriage”.
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Local champions opposing ugly developments fight with their hands tied
01 Apr 2014
Mr Sewell wrote: “Civil partnerships seemed the final necessary reform, giving homosexuals the right to inherit each other’s property, just as may a man and his wife, and if they want a family, there is now no barrier to them adopting children.”
I had hoped that Church of England liturgy would come to include provisions for church blessing of civil partnerships. I fear that the precipitate and profoundly undemocratic way in which the Marriage Bill was hustled into law has set obstacles in the way of persuasive change. The Church of England will now have extreme difficulty in relating to the law on marriage.
Rev John M Overton
Buxton, Derbyshire
SIR – Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, says that Tories against gay marriage must move on. I have. I no longer vote Tory.
Oliver Pickstone
Going up in the air
SIR – New Royal Mail prices contain large hidden rises, especially for airmail. The 10g, 40g and 80g rates are abolished, so one must pay the 20g, 60g and 100g rates instead. What used to cost 88p, £1.88 and £3.08 now cost £1.28, £2.15 and £3.48.
Dr Bernard Lamb
London SW14
BSTeething trouble
SIR – I hear people complaining of being over-tired due to the loss of an hour’s sleep. I know the arguments about British Summer Time reducing accidents. But does research show peaks in the accident rate immediately following the change?
Nigel Parsons
Migrant moths
SIR – My wife and I were astonished to see a hummingbird hawk moth on a daffodil on Saturday. Do they succeed in over-wintering here or have south-easterly winds brought them from the Continent?
John Rieley
Lindfield, West Sussex
Black Death awoken
SIR – Earlier this year scientists assured us that an ancient virus dormant in the permafrost posed no threat to humans as it only ever affected single-celled organisms.
How dormant is the Black Death virus disturbed in the Crossrail excavations?
Roger Gentry
Sutton at Hone, Kent
Cinderella law
SIR – Robert Buckland MP is helpfully working towards legislation to make the emotional abuse of children a criminal act. He was asked yesterday morning how emotional abuse would be identified, and he said that expert witnesses could assist.
Expert mental health clinicians have reported to the Family Courts for several years on emotional abuse. This abuse is easy to obscure and difficult to identify. The work requires highly experienced clinicians who are allowed sufficient time to interview children and parents.
This Government has cut the number of expert reports. They argue that social workers can identify mental health problems and also that judges will make decisions based on “common sense”.
But social workers are not trained in mental health. And establishing the presence of emotional abuse will not be reached by the exercise of common sense alone. The Government has driven many senior expert witnesses away from the work by severe financial cuts. Those who remain are no longer allowed sufficient time to interview troubled families.
We hope that Mr Buckland will include in the legislation provision for sufficient funding of expert mental health clinicians to do the work that is required.
Dr Judith Freedman
Convenor of the Consortium of Expert Witnesses to the Family Court
London NW3
Kilt conundrum
SIR – Peter Humphreys says of knees and toes that either both or neither should be visible at any time.
As a habitual kilt-wearer, whose wife has forbidden him from wearing sandals when wearing a kilt, what should I do?
James Willis
Prince in peril
SIR – While Prince George looks very nice with Lupo, you should never put a child’s face that close to a dog.
Leslie Watson
Swansea, Glamorgan
SIR – My mother-in-law advised me not to have my children’s names visible on their clothes as a stranger could address them and make them think he knows them.
Prince George is supervised all the time but other children could be in danger.
Anne Weber
Thorpe End, Norfolk
Where have all the Captain Mainwarings gone?
SIR – You report that George Osborne, the Chancellor, wants the return of the “Captain Mainwaring” type of bank manager. Sadly, this particular individual disappeared some time ago, with most of his staff. Apart from counter services, branch matters nowadays appear to be dealt with by call centres.
For several weeks now, I have been trying to contact a branch of my bank without success. In my day, I would have rung the manager concerned and sorted everything out within five minutes.
Now, letters addressed to “The Manager, X Bank, Y Branch” go straight to a call centre and even when addressed to a manager by name, they are often redirected. A bank manager used to have many years of experience, with knowledge of his patch and his customers.
Now one must deal with young “relationship managers” or “lending managers”. Targets seem to be the order of the day, despite having cost the banks millions in reparation payments after customers were sold the wrong services because of them.
Alan Hayhurst
Timperley, Cheshire
SIR – I wonder what Captain Mainwaring would have thought of quantitative easing.
William Rusbridge
Tregony, Cornwall

SIR – Christopher Hope reports that an independent review by Sir Terry Farrell recommends that every community should have a “champion” to fight unsightly development. Communities already have such champions; they are called district councillors.
I am a district councillor and I continually fight battles on behalf of my constituents in relation to proposed inappropriate developments. The problem is not the lack of people willing to fight and raise issues.
The problem is that the Government has introduced policies, in particular the National Planning Policy Framework, that have as a starting point a “presumption” in favour of development.
Factor in to this situation the government inspectors who decide appeals, then add the threat of costs being awarded against an authority, and it is easy to see how poor development is being allowed.
Why create another layer of involvement in the planning process? Let those of us who were elected to represent the people have a stronger voice in order to make a stand against poor design and bad planning decisions.
Cllr Jenny Roach (Liberal)
Exeter, Devon
SIR – The articles by Rupert Christiansen on the proposed new architectural horror in Edinburgh, and Jonathan Glancey on homes fit for people, both point to what has done so much to wreck our towns and cities.
Since the Fifties and Sixties, an ever more tired and soulless late modernism has become a dogma amongst architects and planners. There are steel, glass – always vast areas of glass – and concrete, with nowhere any suggestion of a human scale and character, no decoration, just soulless engineering triumphs. London has suffered especially badly.
When someone such as the Prince of Wales speaks out against this blight of soulless dullness, he is mocked. Town planners and local authorities seem all too ready to give assent to dreariness that brings in money.
One can only hope that some day soon the tide will begin to turn, so we can have new buildings of dignity and character, which do not turn their backs on human scale.
Roger Payne
London NW3
SIR – Why should local authorities not be made legally liable for damage to property arising from their having given planning permission for development on land known to be liable to flooding?
This might cause them to take a more responsible attitude to granting such permissions and make them less susceptible to greedy developers’ often dubious means of persuasion.
Sir Charles Wolseley Bt
Irish Times:
Sir, – Phil Hogan, through the offices of a handful of councillors in Fingal, has given Dubliners a massive April Fool’s this year. Whereas 84 per cent of all Dublin’s councillors and 78 per cent of all Dubliners have indicated a will to have a democratically elected mayor, Swords County Hall has set the process back, probably for years.
The Fingal councillors in question should remember that most of their constituents are in Blanchardstown, part of the built-up west of Dublin, and see themselves as Dubliners. Blanchardstown is within the area defined by the CSO as “Dublin city and suburbs” and should remain so.
Swords County Hall has held Dublin transport back for years, calling for an underground metro to serve an outlying town, when a very good bus service will do. Now this self-centred vote brings into question Fingal councillors’ understanding of the concept of being part of a city.
Mr Hogan should now redraw the boundaries so that Swords and Fingal can continue to do the very good job they do of running a mainly rural part of Co Dublin.
That would leave the city of Dublin, including Blanchardstown and the airport, to get on with being the great European capital city its people deserve. Yours, etc,
Dublin Institute
of Technology,
Bolton Street,
Social, Economic and Planning Consultant,
Willow Park Grove,
Dublin 11,
Sir, – When I first came to live in Santry, over 40 years ago, the city/county boundary ran between the sitting room and the hallway of my very modest house. Since then the boundary has been moved a number of times, with very little regard for the social consequences of the changes. The result has been the completely chaotic state of the northern fringe area of Dublin city. Every morning the radio informs us of the traffic build-up on the Drumcondra road between Whitehall Church and the city.
Do Fingal councillors never listen to the radio and if they do, do they wonder where all those commuters are coming from? Are they not aware of how they and their constituents are dependent on the services provided by the city? Have they got their own hospitals, third level colleges or cultural institutions?
Can they not accept that some overall authority will have to be agreed to resolve the problems that are unique to the greater Dublin area? Yours, etc,
Lorcan Drive,
Dublin 9
Sir, – I hope that the good councillors of Fingal have the decency to include their voting record in their decision to prevent Dublin having a directly elected mayor on their posters and flyers for the upcoming local elections. In that way the people can decide if Dublin and democracy have been served by their decision. Yours, etc,
Co Louth
Sir, Could it be that the Fine Gael councillors on Fingal County Council were influenced by a bigger animal up the food chain, to quote a phrase from the TV series House of Cards , in their No vote against a directly elected mayor for Dublin? Yours, etc,
Meadow Copse,
Dublin 15.
Sir, – I got up early and ate a healthy breakfast to ensure I would be fully awake before picking up today’s edition of The Irish Times . Opening it with some trepidation, I was determined that I would not be caught out by any prank stories celebrating April Fool’s Day. This year your front page seems to have taken this tradition just a bit too far. The top “story” informs us that the Garda has been keeping thousands of possibly illegally made secret telephone recordings for years. Your next “story” describes how a mere 16 councillors from Fingal appear to have perverted the course of democracy in Dublin by denying its ordinary citizens of the right to vote for our mayor.
But really, your last “story” was just too much! “Politicians win respect of randomly chosen citizens”. Seriously? Just how gullible do you think we all are? Really, you are going to have to try harder on this next year. Yours, etc,
Old Bawn Road,
Dublin 24
Sir, – Acres of newsprint have been devoted to the conflict in Ukraine and the Russian takeover of the Crimean peninsula, with Russia being portrayed as the arch-villain of the piece. It is only now that we find a rare voice pointing out that the proposed eastward expansionism of the EU and with it Nato is a well-grounded cause of concern for Russia. Derek Scally, writing from Berlin (March 29th), quotes former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt describing Russia’s annexation of Crimea as “completely understandable”. (One is not claiming his approval thereof.)
There is widespread ignorance in the West of the history of Crimea vis a vis Russia. How many people for example, know that it is only 23 years since Crimea became part of Ukraine? Under Catherine the Great in the early 18th century the Crimean peninsula was absorbed into the Russian empire. It was strategically significant for Russia to have a naval base on the Black Sea, and the Russian navy has been in the Crimea for almost 200 years. (Incidentally, Gibraltar was “acquired” by the British empire later in the same century, also for strategic reasons. Thus did big powers protect their own interests.) Crimea then remained an independent region of the Russian Federation. Its population, language and culture were predominantly Russian.
In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev, then head of the Soviet Union, himself a Ukrainian and former leader of the Communist Party there, did an extraordinary thing (of which he could not have foreseen the political consequences). With a stroke of the pen he assigned Crimea to the Ukraine “to further brotherly love between Russians and Ukrainians”.
One wonders how he had the power to do this. However, since the Crimea and Ukraine were still part of the Soviet Union, the political change had no effect on people’s lives. It was in 1991, only 23 years ago, on the collapse of the Soviet Union, that Crimea, with its majority Russian population, found itself overnight part of a new Ukraine, a different country. Colloquially, Crimeans said they had been handed over “like a sack of potatoes”.
According as Ukraine’s new nationalism expressed itself ever more forcefully, Crimeans resented restrictions they felt demeaned them, for example the downgrading of the Russian language. They wanted Russian to remain (with Ukrainian) an official language. Given their loyalty to Russia,the result of the recent referendum was a foregone conclusion. The result was derided by Western governments and media. Crimeans however who, strange as it may seem to Western observers, do not want to join the EU, are grateful to Putin who enabled them, after a 23-year “exile” to return to the Russian motherland. Yours, etc,

Sir, – Is it not somewhat ironic that the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on justice is complaining that the former Garda commissioner was apparently sacrificed in order to protect the Minister for Justice when, in 2005, a former secretary-general of the Department of Health and Children was sacrificed in a blatant attempt to protect the political standing of the now Fianna Fáil leader, Mr Martin.
Indeed, in relation to Fianna Fáil’s call for the resignation of Mr Shatter – before the various inquiries and the commission of investigation into the penalty points and phone recording issues are completed and reported upon – it is worthwhile to recall that back in 2005 in relation to the Travers report on nursing home charges, RTÉ reported Mr Martin as saying that the opposition’s attacks on him on this matter had no credibility, because they called for his resignation before the report was published. As the seanfhocail goes, “what’s sauce for the goose …” Yours, etc,
Downside Park,
Co Dublin
Sir, – There is a lot of noise being made about appointing a new commissioner. Surely the establishment of the Garda Reserve included a reserve commissioner — can we not just have that one? Yours, etc,
Co Kildare
Sir, – Anyone following media coverage of the Garda commissioner’s retirement could be forgiven for thinking that he cannot have had any operational responsibility for illegal phone taping. Paradoxically, many of those media commentators now bemoaning his apparent martyrdom are the very ones who had previously been most vociferous in calling for his head. Yours, etc,
Haddington Park,
Co Dublin
Sir, – Sources close to me are fed up listening to sources close to the former Garda commissioner. Yours, etc,
Castleknock Meadows,
Dublin 15
Sir, – According to Frances Ruane and Emer Smyth, the ESRI Post Primary Longitudinal Study demonstrates that “the current Junior Cycle is not providing an engaging and challenging experience for young people”. The reason promulgated for its inadequacies is the fact that a considerable amount of the current teaching cycle is devoted to “preparing for the Junior Certificate examination, spending extra time on study and grinds, and increased class time on ‘practising’ exam questions”.
This being so, the central issue is surely the nature of the methods used to assess the learning rather than the quality of that learning or the teaching behind it. It is worrying therefore that the new Junior Cycle that will be taught from September is currently without an agreed or even suggested framework of how exactly it will be assessed.
As a teacher of English who has undergone all the currently available in-service training – a one day seminar – I have major concerns about the way in which the Department of Education has gone about its reform of the Junior Cycle. While I welcome many aspects of the new curriculum, I suspect that those behind it have not fully considered the rationale behind much of it. We have been informed that the new methods of assessment are still being determined while Ruairí Quinn is simultaneously asserting that the ship has sailed. Is it not foolhardy to set sail without knowing one’s destination, or that the new destination is going to be an improvement on the old? Yours, etc,
Clogher Road,
Dublin 12
Sir, – Tom Arnold, chairperson of the Constitutional Convention, and indeed of the Irish Times Trust, wrote (April 1st ) of the apparent success and inclusiveness of the convention.
Perhaps it was a success. Perhaps too, next time, it might include some representation from the just under 1,000 elected local government politicians who have an equal – but different – mandate from TDs and a greater mandate in this Republic than the appointed Senators and Northern Ireland representatives who were so included. The involvement of other citizens was a welcome development. Given the specific recognition of local government in the Constitution that exclusion was not. This point was made to the convention while it was sitting — we still await a reply. Yours, etc,
66 Beech Hill Drive,
Dublin 4

Sir, – With regard to Chris Goodey’s comment (Letters, April 1st) that the Minister for Health’s statement that GPs in Ireland are among the highest- earning doctors in Europe is “obtusely untrue”, I remember reading a survey many years ago that medical card patients were worth, on average, around €90,000 a year to a GP practice. So many years later, €250,000 a year seems to me to be probably just about right. Considering that patients without medical cards, a big percentage now, pay on average €50 for a visit, I think the dogs in the street know that most of the doctors in general practice in this country are very highly paid. Yours, etc,
Co Donegal

Sir,  – I was pleasantly surprised that you published the letter from Jim Stack regarding the lack of media coverage of the views of “50 per cent of those who actually vote”.   I cannot understand how it is acceptable that these views are consistently ignored in our national media.   While grateful for this first step in acknowledging this imbalance, may I look forward to it being redressed in the future by The Irish Times ?
Yours, etc,
Donegal Town

Sir, – I couldn’t agree more with Frank Byrne (Letters, April 1st) regarding women applying make-up on the bus. I had the misfortune recently to be seated beside a young lady who had the audacity to embellish her eyelashes with mascara while I was eating a box of chips and chicken nuggets. Mascara doesn’t go too well with salt and vinegar, or indeed sweet and sour sauce! There was a time when such behaviour wouldn’t have been tolerated. Yours, etc,
Beacon Hill,
Co Dublin

Irish Independent:
Also in this section
Coming back from the mother of all mistakes
Pylons will mutilate our beautiful countryside
Think the unthinkable
The Lord Mayor and the burghers in Cork City Hall have decided in their expansive wisdom and generosity that President Michael D Higgins should shortly be given the Freedom of the City.
No great harm in that, you might say – the only problem is that we, the ordinary people of Cork, will, as usual, end up footing the rather expensive bill through our rates, property and other taxes.
Conversely, there is no money for those citizens who are crippled with negative equity and unsustainable and crucifying debts, no money for the many children daily going hungry to school, no money for the homeless, the aged and the disabled or the thousands who are jobless and in despair.
No money to bring home the thousands of our young and not so young who have been forced to emigrate. No money for our struggling small businesses or to fix our potholed and broken roads.
Miraculously, however, we have plenty of money for a meaningless shindig in the present economic climate and in the throes of a raging recession.
It is, of course, in microcosm, another measure of the disdain and disconnect that those in positions of power and influence have for the lives and travails of ordinary citizens who have been force fed on debilitating austerity for the last six years.
No doubt the people of Cork and elsewhere will express their feelings on this and other matters next May.
* Reading the Irish Independent on March 24, a beautiful photograph on page 14 caught my attention; surgeon Pat Kiely and formerly conjoined twins Hussein and Hassan Benhaffaf from Cork.
Speaking as a co-founder of charity Straight Ahead (which I confess I was unaware of), Dr Kiely referred to problems caused by delays in carrying out spinal surgery on children at Crumlin and Tallaght hospitals.
Dr Kiely and his fellow surgeons have already given up their free time to operate on 26 children at no cost to the parents.
The twins’ mother, Angie, was quoted as saying “their generosity moves me . . . what they do is life changing”.
It was heartening to hear of such dedication and generosity at a time when we have been bombarded with stories of the obscenely high executive salaries/pensions in organisations like CRC, Rehab, etc – some even having the nerve to tell us they should be earning more and are entitled to bonuses but have (generously) not taken them for four years!
Do these people realise or care about the enormous damage being done to the whole charity sector?
Well done to Dr Kiely and fellow surgeons for the wonderful work you do.
* I write regarding Sinead Moriarty’s comment piece entitled ‘We’re too busy being paranoid to help a child in distress’ (Irish Independent, March 28).
About three years ago, I noticed two small children playing on a narrow path outside a newsagent’s beside a very busy roundabout in south Co Dublin. I advised the older one, a five-year-old boy, to please be very careful as it was just at dusk and traffic was heavy.
They were still there when I came out and I asked if their mother was in the shop. They said, ‘No, she’s gone to work’. It transpired that the five-year-old was ‘looking after’ his three-year-old sister. I took them to the far side of the road where the path was much wider and safer, and decided I should wait with them until a parent arrived to collect them.
Around 20 minutes later, I asked the boy if he knew where his house was and he pointed to the far side of the roundabout. It seems he had navigated this roundabout safely earlier!
We began to walk, me hoping we were going the right way, and the children chatting away happily. We reached their house about 10 minutes later to find people running around frantically looking for them, including their father who had just fallen asleep in the chair and was horrified to know they had gone so far from home.
I was very glad that I was the person who found them, but the thing is it never crossed my mind to call the police or that my motives might be suspect to anyone. I just wanted to know that they got safely home.
As a mother of four adult children, I would always be very aware of a child with apparently no adult accompanying them.
* The so-called selfie in our brave new world serves as the ultimate distraction. One’s self.
This, if I may say so, to use a word of some disputation currently, is little short of being “disgusting”.
Great hardship is being endured by men, women and children in this country and in countries across the world, and to propagate the concept that the self or narcissistic preoccupation should prevail is to veer dangerously close to fascism.
It is a time not for the selfie but for the antithesis of the selfie.
The unselfie.
* There is need for far fresher ideas than those implemented by Government (Editorial, Irish Independent, March 31) to overcome the unemployment problems that are accumulating in an entirely unprecedented work situation.
Work is being eliminated on a truly massive scale by rampant automation and much more than stopgap programmes for a few is needed.
There is need on a world basis, or at least a large trading bloc such as the EU or US, to move to much shorter hours, longer holidays and earlier retirement for all.
The maths are simple; more people working less or fewer people working more.
There is also need for Government to generate much more public service employment. Private enterprise will require fewer people even working shorter hours as technology advances.
Employment change is the most urgent crisis we face; greater even than climate change. If employment escalates out of control, as it will without drastic action, and society breaks down, climate change will matter only to the birds.
We need 21st-century thinking for 21st-century employment. There seems little sign of any yet.
Irish Independent


Mary Home

April 1, 2014

1April2014 Mary

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have an party for the admiral, Mrs Povey tries to get promotion for Henry. Priceless

Bring Mary Home

No Scrabbletoday Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Professor Margaret Spufford – obituary

Professor Margaret Spufford was a historian who overcame personal tragedy to write illuminating appreciations of the English peasant

Margaret Spufford in 1990

Margaret Spufford in 1990

6:45PM BST 31 Mar 2014

Comments1 Comment

Professor Margaret Spufford, who has died aged 78, was a historian of the 16th and 17th centuries whose “ground up” studies of life in rural England shed light on the intellectual life of peasant communities, challenging the view that they were passive recipients of ideas emanating from pulpit and manor house .

Margaret Spufford combined a high level of scholarship with a lightness of touch, and the great strength of her approach to the intellectual world of the ordinary English villager lay in the fact that her social history was firmly rooted in a hard-headed analysis of differences of wealth, agricultural systems and patterns of communication.

Her Contrasting Communities, which came out in 1974, examined three villages from the fenland, clay and chalk regions of Cambridgeshire, from 1525 to 1700, and in addition to examining their patterns of land tenure, discussed the educational opportunities open to peasant communities and the disturbance in their traditional devotional practices occasioned by the Reformation.

During her researches Margaret Spufford came across numerous examples of grass-roots literacy, including references to “little books” being sold by itinerant pedlars. Convinced that fellow historians were being conservative in their estimates of reading ability, she examined the spread of chapbooks (an early type of popular printed literature) which became available in the 17th century at prices within reach of a day labourer.

In Small Books and Pleasant Histories: Popular fiction and its readership in 17th century England (1981), she showed that elementary schooling was much more widely available than previously thought, generating a mass readership for what one publisher touted as “Small Godly Books, Small Merry Books, Double Books and History”. Among other things her examination of courtship dialogues from such works as Cupid’s Solicitor of Love and The Lover’s Academy led her to challenge the view put forward by Lawrence Stone that the basis for marriage in this period was financial rather than romantic. Despite demographic conditions that might suggest otherwise, she wrote, “this, reflected in its own twopenny literature, was not a world in which people married for economic interest rather than inclination”.

She went on to write The Great Reclothing of Rural England: Petty Chapman and Their Wares in the Seventeenth Century (1984). This was a pioneering history of popular consumption in which Margaret Spufford focused on the itinerant pedlars who brought reading matter to the people — as well as clothes and haberdashery – showing where and when they were active, their ranks and their typical careers, the variety of wares they sold and the often hostile attitude of the authorities towards them.

All Margaret Spufford’s writings contained unforgettable portraits of individual men and women, from Sister Sneesby, an elderly, deaf Cambridgeshire widow working as a casual labourer whose baptist faith had been shaken by her reading Quaker books; to the young Oxfordshire shepherd (who could read but not write) who gave a lame young man one of his two sheep “to teach me to make the letters and joyn them together”; or the shipwrecked sailor selling “pictures, ballads, and other paper wares” bought on credit.

But to those who knew her well it was not so much her achievements as a historian that marked Margaret Spufford out as the fact that she accomplished her work in the shadow of her own chronic ill-health and that of her daughter, Bridget, who was born with a serious genetic disorder and died at the age of 22.

Honor Margaret Clark was born in Cheshire on December 10 1935 to parents who were both scientists. Her father was head of research at ICI Alkali and, before her marriage, her mother had been a fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge.

Margaret was home-educated for much of her childhood by her mother, who taught her to read using headlines in The Daily Telegraph. When she was just 10, however, her mother had a devastating stroke. Possibly as a consequence, Margaret suffered from nervous illnesses for much of her early life, which led her to drop out of Newnham. None the less she went on to take an MA in local history at Leicester University, with distinction, followed by a PhD, after which she launched herself on her academic career.

After four years as a research fellow at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, she became a lecturer at Keele University. She returned to Cambridge in 1979 as a senior research associate at the History faculty and a fellow of Newnham College. Although the university never gave her a properly paid job, over the next 15 years she assembled and nurtured one of the most important groupings of young early modern English social and cultural historians, known as “the Spuffordians”, with whom she produced The World of Rural Dissenters (1995), an influential collective work on patterns of religious dissent in England.

In 1994 she was appointed Research Professor in Social and Local History at the Roehampton Institute (then part of the University of London, and now Roehampton University). While she was there, she began the British Academy Hearth Tax Project, which launched a series of edited texts, with critical introductions, of the hearth tax records of late 17th century England. Eight large county volumes had been published by the time of her death, and a two-volume edition for the hearth tax of London and Middlesex, is at the press.

In 1962 Margaret had married Peter Spufford, who would become a leading medieval monetary historian at Cambridge and with whom she formed a close and formidable academic partnership. But while pregnant with their first child, Francis, now a successful author and broadcaster, Margaret developed excruciating pains in her back and foot. Three years after her son’s birth, a daughter, Bridget, was born, and the pain returned. Eventually Margaret was diagnosed with a rare and severe form of osteoporosis and for the rest of her life she suffered back and limb pain of increasing and disabling intensity.

Worse still, a few months after her birth, Bridget became ill. One of her kidneys failed and the other was found to be malfunctioning. Doctors diagnosed a very rare genetic disorder called cystinosis and gave her between seven and 14 years to live. Terrible and invasive treatments followed, including two kidney transplants. Some of Contrasting Communities was written while Margaret Spufford was flat on her back helped by a machine which enabled her to read her sources and write her text. The book was completed during months spent in Great Ormond Street hospital with Bridget.

In 1996 Margaret Spufford was appointed OBE for services to Social History and to disabled students. After Bridget died in 1989 she established a trust to support a hostel for severely disabled students in Cambridge, enabling young people to study and live independently as Bridget had not. The hostel flourished for 12 years from 1991 to 2003.

In a deeply moving, book, Celebration (1989), Margaret Spufford wrote of how, as a Christian and a mother, she dealt with, though never fully came to terms with, the sufferings of her child. She described the trauma of living on the frontiers of medical knowledge, torn between doctors wanting to try the latest hi-tech medical intervention and the feeling that the most humane option would be to let nature take its course.

Throughout her ordeals, Margaret Spufford was sustained by the deep faith that led her to become an Anglican Benedictine oblate. But she admitted: “If those theologians who assert that God is in total control of His creation are right, I cannot worship Him. Integrity demands that I do hand in my ticket. For I still cannot cope with the endemic nature of pain. And integrity has to come higher than anything else at all, even God, or at least my present perception of Him.”

Margaret Spufford was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1995. At the time she became too ill to continue her work she was serving as an adviser to a group of Japanese historians carrying out research into local communities in early-modern Japan and had almost completed The Clothing of the Common Sort, which is being prepared for publication by her last research student.

She is survived by her husband Peter, Emeritus Professor of European History in the University of Cambridge, and her son.

Professor Margaret Spufford, born December 10 1935, died March 6 2014


My daughter and I were at a convent in southern Tanzania. After our meal (Pay as you throw, foraging and biogas: how the globe tackles food waste, 29 March) we scraped our leftovers on to one plate, to be given to the pigs. But the sisters took the plate back, and rearranged the scraps “for the builders” working on the site. Then they ground down the inedible rinds and shells “for the fish” in the pond.
Bridget Gubbins
Morpeth, Northumberland

•  Sandi Toksvig says: “Today, the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act comes into force and now every citizen is free to get married” (Family, 29 March). Unfortunately it’s not quite everybody. If you have a civil partnership you are unable to get married until the government works out how it could be done. It’s suggested it may be the end of this year, but until then we are not all equal.
Kate Gwynfyd-Sidford
Pontrhydfendigaid, Ceredigion

• Your article (Kate Bush and couscous: the VIP concert, G2, 31 March) sums up the London-centric view of the world. In discussing corporate hospitality packages, you tell us that the singer recently announced a 15-date tour. Well, excuse me, since when did a “tour” involve going to a single London venue and playing all the dates at that single venue?
Tony Fletcher

•  Down in the soft south, where people apologise if you tread on their foot, buses may well proclaim “Sorry, I’m not in service” (Letters, 27 March), but here in the plain-spoken north we make do with “Not in service” without the apology and the anthropomorphic pronoun.
Harry Watson

• Perhaps it was the same monoglot Brit (Letters, 27 March) that I met some years ago frantically ringing the bell outside the Hôtel de Ville in Les Sables-d’Olonne, France. I was able to point out a real hotel and tell him the opening hours of the town hall.
Paul Tattam

• Getting bored with funny place names (Letters, 31 March), although Durham’s Pity Me seems appropriate.
Margaret Davis

l/Getty Images

Chris Huhne’s observations on Ukip voters in the wake of the Farage-Clegg debate (Comment, 31 March) show exactly why some prefer Ukip to the mainstream parties. What arrogance and insensitivity. So Ukip voters are old, fearful, anxious and poorly educated? Has Huhne considered that they might just be thoroughly fed up with the failure of other parties to represent their interests?

Huhne refers to the recent mayoral win by the Front National at Hénin-Beaumont in France as an example of how the far right appeals to the “threatened working class”. In fact, it’s a good example of what can happen when a mainstream party messes up. The seat was targeted by the Front National after a Socialist mayor resigned following a financial scandal that emptied the mayoral coffers.

I live in the Tory heartland of Kent, as dissimilar to Huhne’s caricature Ukip constituency as one can get. At a recent council byelection, a local independent beat the Conservative into second place (by 323 votes to 240), while Ukip won 97 votes compared with the Liberal Democrats‘ 13. I don’t believe this pattern of support reflects in any way the level of education, age or psychological state of local voters, but rather a genuine attempt by people to choose someone that best represents their – and their community’s – interests.
Mary Braithwaite
Wye, Kent

•  Chris Huhne’s position is, in effect, that the uneducated plebs will vote for Farage because they are irrational, but eventually they will recognise that their masters and betters have got their interests at heart, and will return to the fold when “better times [prick] Farage’s bubble”. There are many reasons for the growth in working-class support for Ukip, but one that stands out is disgust with the kind of patrician contempt that allows Huhne to dismiss the fear of poverty and insecurity as “a vision of a better yesterday”. National chauvinism as represented by Ukip is no answer to the threats working-class communities face, but nor was it an answer when the same card was played by Labour, the Lib Dems or the Tories. Still, at least Huhne can be happy with the better class of voters who have benefited from “higher education” when they turn out in single figures for the Lib Dems.
Nick Moss

•  As a frequent Guardian reader, I am probably untypical of Ukip supporters, but I am motivated by the hope that I may find convincing rational arguments to counter my political prejudices, rather than have them reinforced elsewhere. Chris Huhne’s article was clearly written to reinforce the prejudices of his fellow travellers rather than address the real issues at stake. His insults ranged at Ukip supporters – that they are stupid smokers, insecure and authoritarian similar to American Tea Partyists, creationists, global-warming deniers and heirs to the views of some obscure French wartime collaborator – may resonate with some but don’t square with his appeal for a concentration on the facts.

At the heart of Ukip’s appeal, and courageously put by Nigel Farage, is the overwhelming suspicion that within the EU we are losing our hard-won ability to elect and hold accountable those who claim the right to govern us.
Mike Gomersall
Airton, North Yorkshire

•  The EU has been “poking the Russian bear with a stick”, “feeding Ukraine with an entirely unrealistic dream of a future as an EU member state”, and “deepening Syria’s civil war by giving false hope to forces hoping to topple Assad”. The good news is that at last we have a prominent figure in this country’s political life voicing these views; the bad news is that it is Farage (Report, 28 March).

Polly Toynbee urges us to “forget tactics” and “stand up and rally against the Ukip vision” (Comment, 28 March), and provides a useful catalogue of reasons for repudiating Ukip’s obnoxious policies. She omits, however, any mention of the one point that illustrates so clearly that if a liberal current of opinion fails to take a lead in opposing unjust policies, then a reactionary one will exploit the opportunity for its own demagogic purposes.
Hugh Goodacre
University of Westminster and University College London

• When is someone going to talk in favour of our EU membership with as much passion as Farage argues against it (Voters give credit to Farage in head-to-head with Clegg, 27 March)? Have several decades of rightwing anti-European propaganda browbeaten everyone else into submission? The fact is that if Britain were to leave the EU, all our pretensions to world influence would be over; whatever freedom we have left over our own national destiny in this age of giant trading blocks and multinational companies would be gone; and we would resume the national decline that began after the second world war (although some would say it started long before that).

The only sensible course of action for this smallish island nation is to engage as fully as possible with the EU, and become a leading and powerful member within it. We can influence decisions to our own benefit. We can sway opinion to swing laws, rules and regulations our way. We can make life better for ourselves and for the other members of the EU. All we have to do is recognise that we would be mad to leave the EU, and declare it with as much passion as Farage argues against it.

And please, for those who have forgotten what it used to be like in Europe before the EU, just observe Russia’s casual annexation of Crimea.
Steve Moran
East Grinstead, West Sussex

•  European membership is more than a question of economic benefits to the UK and has to be seen in a wider world context. Farage and Clegg both trivialised the debate and failed to create either a sense of vision or address the need for reform within the EU that can offer real hope for those in the UK who fear they are being disadvantaged by EU membership.

Although I am culturally English, my passport tells me I am British, but I went to college in England, Scotland and France, married a Dane and have an Anglo-Danish son. I think I am typical of a generation of British-born people for whom integration has already happened and Europe is seen as a continent of opportunities and friendships not to be feared. I am also old enough to remember the second world war and recognise that the EU has brought peace and prosperity to the older democracies and hope to the newer countries that have emerged from years of dictatorship including Portugal, Spain, Greece, East Germany, the old Yugoslavia, Albania etc.

We need statesmen to lead us, not self-serving politicians trading dubious statistics. Angela Merkel seem to be the only European leader with that sense of vision and statesmanship, but then she speaks from the experience of growing up in the totalitarian regime of East Germany.
Ian Haywood

The one thing lacking in your otherwise excellent coverage of the latest devastating IPCC report on the likely impacts of climate change was a sense of urgency. Your editorial (31 March) suggests that the report represents a “careful, nuanced attempt to wake people up”.  But these very same alarm bells have been sounding ever louder since the first IPCC report was published nearly 25 years ago, yet over that same period annual global greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 60%.

As a result, an increasing number of experts agree that we will need to leave around 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we’re to have any chance of avoiding 2 degrees warming.

Yet just a few weeks ago, the chancellor gave yet more tax breaks to oil and gas companies, boasting that the government intends to get “every last drop” of oil from the North Sea, while fracking company Cuadrilla’s boss, John Browne – former chair of BP – has promised to invest “whatever it takes” to get more fossil fuels out of the ground.

But the stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stone. It ended because we found smarter ways of doing things – and there are huge numbers of smarter ways of generating energy.

In Balcombe, for example, which last summer saw unprecedented protests against the prospect of fracking, a new clean energy co-op has been set up, which aims to build enough community-owned solar power to match the electricity needs of every home in the village. Profits from the scheme will go back into the village, funding more solar installations, and energy-saving measures for homes and communities.

These positive stories are the best way to engage people with the need for urgent change. As the alarm bells on the climate crisis ring ever more loudly, we can only hope that this government removes its earplugs very soon.
Caroline Lucas MP
Green party, Brighton Pavilion

•  Today, the world’s top scientists published a devastating report on the impacts of climate change. Climate change is already making it harder for millions to feed their families. Wild weather and unpredictable seasons are causing chaos for farmers. Food prices are going up. Food quality is going down.

Oxfam calculates that climate change could put the fight against hunger back by decades. If we continue to let greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures rise we will hit a threshold – in our own lifetimes – beyond which the chance of ending hunger worldwide may be lost for ever.

We will not stand by and watch this happen. People all over the world are doing their bit to tackle climate change. Now governments and big business need to step up and play their part: reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions, helping farmers adapt to changing weather and ensuring there’s enough good food for everyone.

If we act together, and if we act now, we can stop climate change causing hunger and ensure our children and our grandchildren will always have enough to eat.
Raymond Blanc Chef, Helena Christensen Photographer, Livia Firth Activist, Anna Friel Actor, Sheherazade Goldsmith Designer, Angelique Kidjo Musician, Baaba Maal Musician, Claus Meyer Chef, Dave Myers Chef, Richard Oliver Chef, Simon Pegg Comedian, Vivienne Westwood Designer, Thom Yorke Musician


As principals of the 12 sixth form colleges in London, we are writing to express our dismay at the Government’s plan to spend £45m on the Harris Westminster Sixth Form (“The most expensive free school in Britain?”, 29 March).

Our colleges have experienced three budget cuts in three years, and we expect the Government to attempt to make a fourth cut to our funding later this year. As The Independent reported in February, this has led some institutions to cut courses and increase class sizes. In January, the Government said it could not introduce a VAT refund scheme for the sixth form college sector (to mirror the arrangements in place for free school sixth forms) as the £30m cost was unaffordable.

So it is entirely unjust that £45m has been found to establish an institution that will educate less than a fifth of the number of students currently enrolled at some of the existing sixth form colleges in London. The total capital budget for all 93 sixth form colleges in England last year was less than £60m.

Michael Gove is establishing institutions like the Harris Westminster Sixth Form to break down what he has described as the “Berlin Wall” between the state and independent sectors. He has only succeeded in creating a new divide – between new, generously funded and often highly selective free school sixth forms and the very successful network of state sixth form colleges they are modelled on.

The sixth form colleges in London have an excellent record of supporting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to progress to top universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, and we do so without highly selective admissions policies. It does not make educational or economic sense to divert scarce resources away from the 20,000 16- to 18-year-olds currently studying at a sixth form college in London to benefit 500 young people at a highly selective institution in a very expensive part of the city.

We urge the Secretary of State to rethink his decision to spend £45m on this new institution, and ask that he redirect the investment to address the growing crisis in sixth form college funding.

Ken Warman, BSix Brooke House Sixth Form College

Eddie Playfair, Newham Sixth Form College

Jane Overbury, Christ the King Sixth Form College

Paul O’Shea, Saint Charles Catholic Sixth Form College

Brett Freeman, Coulsdon Sixth Form College

Andrew Parkin, Saint Dominic’s Sixth Form College

Paul Wakeling, Havering Sixth Form College

Stella Flannery, Saint Francis Xavier Sixth Form College

Tim Eyton-Jones, John Ruskin College

Paolo Ramella,  Sir George Monoux Sixth Form College

Kevin Watson, Leyton Sixth Form College

John Rubinstein, Woodhouse College

Your story “The most expensive free school in Britain?” contained inaccuracies and did not present a complete picture.

Westminster Sixth Form is an exciting and innovative project focused on the poorest in society that has never been tried before. At full capacity it will offer 300 places in each year group, giving hundreds of children from low-income families the kind of top-quality sixth form previously reserved for the better off. Westminster Sixth Form was assessed for value for money using standard Treasury tests and it passed precisely because it will open up opportunities to disadvantaged young people and their families.

Free schools offer good value for money and are opening at a fraction of the cost of previous programmes – new schools are now being built around 40 per cent cheaper than under the former government’s Building Schools for the Future programme. So far we have opened 174 free schools for 80,000 pupils, with the vast majority in areas facing a shortage of school places or in deprived communities.

It is also wrong and irresponsible to say that “there is expected to be a shortage of 240,000 primary school places by 2015”. We are giving councils £5bn to spend on new school places over this parliament – double the amount allocated by the previous government over a comparable period. This has already created 260,000 new school places, and many more are due to be delivered by 2015.

Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, Department for Education

Black box that would stay afloat

The “black box” of the missing Malaysian airliner has not yet been recovered. We are told that it emits a locating signal once the aircraft crashes, but that it is difficult to detect if the aircraft has sunk into deep water, and furthermore is only emitted for about 30 days while the batteries contain sufficient charge.

Would it not be possible to incorporate an additional device into aircraft that would be designed to break free and float in the event of the plane landing in the sea? Such a device would emit a locating “ping” detectable from satellites and could incorporate a solar charger in order to maintain battery power indefinitely until the device is retrieved. Surely this is within the capabilities of aviation engineers.

Jonathan Wallace, Newcastle upon Tyne

We need more Tories like Tapsell

I wish a very happy retirement to Sir Peter Tapsell MP, who is standing down at the next election, but it will be a great shame to see him go.

He has been a Keynesian and pro-Commonwealth opponent of the Euro-federalist project from the start. He was scathingly anti-Thatcherite, to the point that, in 1981, he became the first Conservative to vote against a Conservative Budget since Harold Macmillan in the 1930s.

He has consistently opposed the neo-conservative wars all the way back to Kosovo, and only in the last fortnight he was asking on the floor of the House why, if Scotland could have a referendum on dissolving constitutional arrangements that went all the way back to 1707, Crimea could not have one on those which dated only from 1954.

He has called for a return to the division between retail banking and investment banking.

He has identified, in their seasons, the money markets, the media moguls and the intelligence agencies as the heirs of the nabobs and of the Whig magnates whom past generations of Tories had made it their defining cause to cut down to size and to subject to the sovereignty of Parliament.

Regardless of party, some other such figure must be elected in 2015. But who?

David Lindsay, Lanchester, Co Durham

Crimea: dangerous precedents

President Putin should bear in mind the adage about people who live in glass houses. The Russian Federation is a patchwork of nationalities and ethnic minorities whose disgruntled separatist elements must have learned something from the Crimea situation. Former Soviet allies may now see their Russian connections and Russian communities as potential pretexts for Anschluss and persuade them to seek better protection.

Hamid Elyassi, London E14

The UN has set a dangerous precedent in declaring the referendum in Crimea illegal. It was a secret ballot, and with 96 per cent voting in favour with an 80 per cent turnout, the result must be democratically safe.

If the argument is that the whole of Ukraine should have voted, then we need a referendum to establish whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK or become part of a united Ireland, with the whole of Ireland voting.

Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey

Russia has annexed Crimea illegally but in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the people who live there. Israel annexed East Jerusalem illegally and contrary to the wishes of the majority of the people who live there.

Why are we applying sanctions against Russia but not Israel?

Gordon Broadbent, London SW15

Where is our pension compensation?

While Osborne may have decided to change the rules about how people coming up to retirement can use their “pension pot”, he was carefully silent about the millions of us who were constrained by the previous regime. If it is true that pensioners have lost out on the purchase of their annuities, should there not be some form of redress similar to the repayment of PPI. Perhaps it is time to refund some of the excessive fees and review the parsimonious interest rates that have condemned so many of us to a “baked beans” old age.

Simon Piney, Stroud, Gloucestershire

Reasons to boycott robot checkouts

All those readers who find automated checkouts distressing should note that the evidence of many studies suggests that the process of using one is also slower than using a manned till. Their sole purpose is to save on staff salaries, thus putting people out of work. If we all refused to use them (as I do) and insisted on using manned tills not only would they disappear, but the time we spend in queues and at the checkout would be diminished.

Michael O’Hare, Northwood, Middlesex


Sir, Oliver Kamm’s assertion that secular values, not religion, have made us a tolerant society (Thunderer, Mar 29) lacks intellectual rigour. It could be argued that the reason we have a modern, civilised democratic society in Britain is because of our Christian heritage, not despite it. Why else do modern democracies exist almost entirely in Western countries with a Christian heritage?

Kamm’s article implies that advances in civilisation and liberal democracy have taken place only in recent times, during which religious adherence has declined. This is not the case: it has been a long, slow process over decades, and even centuries, during which Christianity, with its emphasis on love of one’s neighbour, has prevailed as the norm. One has only to think of William Wilberforce’s fight to end the slave trade or the predominantly Christian founders of the modern Labour Party to find evidence of religion’s positive influence in creating a fairer society. On the other hand, one need look no further than Stalinist or Maoist Communism to find evidence of what aggressively secular, anti-religious thinking is capable of.

Hugh Rawson
London SW17

Sir, Oliver Kamm applauds Ian McEwan (Mar 28) for arguing that, “the secular mind is better equipped than religion to reach reasoned and compassionate judgments”. Tellingly, Kamm does not credit “religion” with a mind, although it is debatable whether the modern “enlightened” Western mind would have evolved without the input of Christianity. That aside, the allegation that faith is inherently lethal is itself a harmful misrepresentation which secularists indiscriminately employ to marginalise religion in the public sphere. Religion and for that matter secular belief systems are powerful because they motivate — for good or evil. They may indeed be dangerous, but that is likely to be when they are used to justify actions which their proponents take on grounds that contradict the core tenets of the religion they profess to follow. The rational response to the abuse of religion is to take theology seriously and to direct the force of faith to the compassion that is found in all the major world religions and is central to Christianity.

David Harte

Sir, Oliver Kamm contrasts slaveowner Thomas Jefferson’s secular values with freedom fighter Jephthah’s rash promise. Comparing the best secular values with the worst religious ones doesn’t do justice to either. To compare the outcome of secular values with religious ones, it would be better to compare either best with best or worst with worst.

Tony Harrop
Reading, Berks

Sir, The book of Judges has as one of its main themes the lament that “in those days . . . everyone did as he saw fit”. The horrific sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter that Oliver Kamm cites is one such example. Yet Judges is immediately followed by the book of Ruth, a story of self-sacrificial love and loyalty, and featuring a kinsman redeemer who is surely a foreshadow of Christ.

Kamm writes that religion “is more frequently a source of confusion rather than light”. Sadly that is more true of his own article.

Paul Harrod

We agree that apprenticeships are central to developing the skilled workforce of the future…


The Government recently announced further investment for apprenticeships.

We agree that apprenticeships are central to developing the skilled workforce of the future and it is encouraging to see cross-party support for them. However, we are concerned that by 2017 GCSEs will be the only way to meet maths and English requirements for apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships are about learning hands-on skills and gaining experience in the workplace. It makes sense that maths and English requirements for apprenticeships should be contextualised and practical too; this is not the case with GCSEs, which are primarily academic in focus.

Students know that maths and English are important. The City & Guilds Group’s research shows that 69% of young people believe maths can help them succeed, but also that 27% cannot see its relevance to their career goals. 54% of 16-18 year-olds think maths should involve more real-life scenarios. With National Numeracy reporting that poor adult maths skills could cost our economy £20 billion a year we should not let this problem persist.

The Government recently announced plans for a core maths qualification as a contextualised alternative for students who do not take A-level maths. Why not offer a similar option at GCSE level for students after 16? The Government can call it a GCSE if it wants to; as long as the qualification is practical, contextualised and rigorous.

Our economic future depends on a workforce that is not afraid of numbers and can apply maths, and indeed English, in the real world. GCSEs in their current form aren’t the only solution; the sooner the Government addresses this, the better.

Sir John Armitt CBE FREng FCGI, Chairman, City & Guilds and the Olympic Delivery Authority
Chris Jones, Chief Executive, The City & Guilds Group
Professor Dame Julia Higgins DBE FRS FREng FCGI, Vice-President, City & Guilds
Richard Sermon MBE HonFCGI, Vice-Chairman, City & Guilds
Sir Mike Tomlinson CBE HonFCGI, former HM Chief Inspector of Schools and Head of OFSTED
Valerie Bayliss CB FCGI, Former Vice-Chairman of City & Guilds
Steven Beharrell
Ian Billyard, Principal, Leeds College of Building
David Blake JP, Masons’ Company
Mary Crowley OBE, President, International Federation for Parenting Education
Air Commodore Peter Drissell FCGI, Director, Aviation Security, Civil Aviation Authority
Dame Jackie Fisher DBE FCGI, CEO, Barnfield Federation
Dr Paul Golby CBE FREng FCGI, Chairman, Engineering UK
Professor Brenda Gourley FCGI, former Vice-Chancellor, Open University
Professor Alison Halstead FCGI, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Aston University
Professor Chris Hankin FCGI, Director, Institute for Security Science & Technology, Imperial College
Vikki Heywood CBE, Chairman of Council, Royal Society of Arts
Professor Sir Deian Hopkin FCGI, President, National Library of Wales
Michael Howell HonFCGI, Clothworkers’ Company and former Chairman, City & Guilds
David Illingworth, Past President, ICAEW
Blane Judd FCGI, Executive Consultant
Dame Asha Khemka, DBE, Principal and Chief Executive, West Nottinghamshire College
Michael Laurie, Saddlers’ Company
Mike Lee, Needlemakers’ Company
Marie-Therese McGivern, Principal, Belfast Metropolitan College
Peter McKee, Former President, TRL Technology
Andrew Morgan, Fishmongers’ Company
Toni Pearce, President, National Union of Students
John Randall FCGI, Independent Chair, Police Negotiating Board
Dr Maggie Semple OBE FCGI, Chief Executive, The Experience Corps
Iain Smith, CEO, Network for Skills Ltd
Andy Smyth, Accredited Programmes Development Manager, TUI UK
Daniel Stewart-Roberts, Grocers’ Company
Pat Stringfellow MBE HonFCGI, Managing Director, Human Resource Solutions
Peter Taylor, Director, Goldsmiths’ Centre
Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE, Managing Director, Asap Communications
Dr The Hon Sandy Todd, Salters’ Company
Clive Turrell, Joiners & Ceilers’ Company
Dawn Ward OBE FCGI, Chief Executive and Principal, Burton & South Derbyshire College
Jacquie Wathen, Mercers’ Company
Simon Wethered, Consultant, Charles Russell Solicitors
Dr David Wilbraham FCGI, Treasurer, City & Guilds
Tom Wilson, Director, unionlearn

How can Laura Craik write about stylish fedora-wearing without mentioning the charming and twinkling Leonard Cohen?

Sir, How can Laura Craik write about stylish fedora-wearing without mentioning Leonard Cohen (Magazine, Mar 29)? At 79 he is the embodiment of wise, twinkling, self-deprecating charm. While on tour last August he came down to breakfast at the Grand in Brighton in the suit and fedora he had worn for his breath-taking concert the evening before. Typically, he waited his turn to be shown to a table. As he walked through the dining room, he responded with grace and warmth to the numerous fans. Stopping at the end of the room before entering the main section of the restaurant, he lifted the fedora, smiled broadly and thanked us, his friends, for everything. If you’re looking for “brilliantly louche”, not to mention warm, funny and wise, Leonard is your man.

Jane Duffield-Bish
Hethersett, Norwich

The judgments of many teachers will be suspect given the lack of central guidance, particularly in the first few years…

Sir, Libby Purves underplays the difficulties facing schools by testing all children at the age of 4 (Opinion, Mar 31). With the demise of national curriculum levels and descriptors, teachers are left with devising “age-related expectations of performance” as they attempt to gauge progress. The judgments of many teachers will be highly suspect given the lack of central guidance, particularly in the first few years of any new system. In other words, they’ll default to comparing a child’s progress to some ill-defined expectation of an “average” child, based on his or her performance in a very narrow range of measures as they start formal schooling — actually a test of parents rather than teachers. Yet the wonder of children is that they all develop differently, and not one of the country’s 14 million children could ever be called “average”.

Neil Roskilly
Independent Schools Association

The ongoing decline in legal aid funding for experts is driving many highly skilled professionals out of the courts

Sir, Robert Buckland’s plan to make deliberate harm of a child’s physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development a crime is to be welcomed (report, Mar 31). However, many of the prosecutions that will arise will have to be undertaken without the expert advice that Mr Buckland has suggested will be required. This is because the ongoing decline in legal aid funding for experts is driving many highly skilled professionals out of the courts. It is to be hoped that the Government will seek to reverse this decline.

Dr Peter Green
London SW12

To qualify for this reduction, prisoners must also submit a grammatically sound, legible essay on each title

Sir, Rather than preventing prisoners from receiving books, Chris Grayling should adopt the Brazilian “redemption through reading” programme. Through reading works of literature, philosophy and science, prisoners in Brazil can reduce their sentences by up to 48 days a year. To qualify for this reduction, prisoners must also submit a grammatically sound, legible essay on each title.

This approach would not only reduce overcrowding in prisons in Britain but would improve educational standards within prisons.

Andrew Copeman
London SW18


SIR – On the A10 between Cambridge and Ely a large rookery on either side of the road stretches for at least a mile.

I have noticed that while some trees have two or three nests in, others have at least eight, 10, or more.

Do rooks have “family” trees?

Susan Spencer

SIR – The real problem with woodpigeons is that they don’t just eat the food on the bird-table – they fill their crops with it for later.

Thus two of the beasts can, in minutes, clear the table of what was intended to keep a whole squadron of smaller birds happy all day.

They also make a mess that necessitates frequent scrubbing of the bird table with boiling water.

Huw Walton
Chepstow, Monmouthshire

SIR – LikeBrian Sewell I am homosexual and not comfortable with the word gay, which is a cop-out, a dilution of the true state of homosexuality.

I too am opposed to “gay marriage”. Talk of equality is baffling, since heterosexual couples cannot enter civil partnerships while same-sex partners can also marry. Nor is it valid to equate what has just been made legal with all the modifications to marriage through the ages. They involved marriage with members of the opposite sex. No comparison lies down that road.

Mr Sewell gets to the heart of the matter in pointing out the uniqueness of marriage and why it should have stayed as it was. The union of a man and a woman has the potential, even if not the result, of producing children. Union between two people of the same sex never can. The institution of marriage was established to manage such procreation.

The issue has encouraged gesture politics, including the Prime Minister’s posturing assertion: “I am for gay marriage not despite being a Conservative but because I am a Conservative.”

Mr Sewell finally points out that the battle should be against prejudice. Will those who continue to be prejudiced against people like him and me be won over by this new law, especially in light of a fifth of the population or more not wanting to accept an invitation to a ceremony now covered by it?

Edward Thomas
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – Brian Sewell writes: “Most of us are content with what we have.” I, for one, am extremely pleased that, for the first time in my 46 years, I am now equal under the law.

After serving 10 years in the military and then being ejected for reasons of sexual orientation, I will not tolerate sub-standard treatment by society because of whom I choose to have relationships with.

It could be argued that it is precisely because of those like Mr Sewell, with his willingness to tolerate discrimination, that gay members of society have had to suffer inequalities as prescribed by Parliament since the Labouchere Amendment of 1885.

This decision by the Coalition government may cost them votes at the next election but I heartily congratulate it.

Andrew Tuckwell
Plymouth, Devon

SIR – To paint the Mona Lisa required Leonardo and his subject, Lisa Gherardini. If his studio had held two artists, or two Lisas, the crowd in the Louvre would have a blank wall to look at. Marriage is about a couple complementing each other in every way, not just in mutual satisfaction. It exists that we might be fruitful.

As a lifelong scientist, I fail to see how gay marriage can ever fulfil its name. Even in an age that widely wants to believe the opposite, I am evidently far from alone. I never will be; and science, like common sense, operates by logic, not prejudice.

George B Hill
Sandbach, Cheshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Una Mullaly argues that citizens are disappointed by the lack of progress of “reform” since the 2011 general election (Opinion, March 31st).

While I share her appetite for a changed society, the media analysis on this issue is increasingly trite and too focused on the failures of politicians.

While many in the media regularly express disappointment at Government inaction on reform, I’m not so sure that many Irish citizens necessarily feel the same way.

For example, close to 50 per cent of the population still voted for the conservative parties of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail in the “radical election” of 2011. The Irish people voted to keep the clapped-out Seanad and rejected a proposal to strengthen Oireachtas committees. Only a minority of our citizens bothered to vote and put children’s rights in the Constitution in 2012.

Next year the Government will hold a referendum on same-sex marriage. I have no doubt that the usual forces of apathy and conservatism will resist this, as happens every time a Government feels brave enough to put its ahead above the parapet and propose a social reform to the Constitution. To succeed, the campaign will need to be hard fought by civil society and individual citizens alike. Politicians alone, it seems, simply cannot win the argument.

Given the record of recent referendums, you can hardly blame politicians for being reluctant to spend their political capital on reforms towards which the population seem at best apathetic.

Rather than another critique of the failure of top-down reform, I’d prefer to see a wider discussion of why our citizenry has become so apathetic and uninterested in how our society is governed. Yours, etc,


Haddington Road,

Dublin 4

Sir, – Finding an individual to lead the Garda Síochána in the 21st century is not going to be easy. The recent problems it has encountered and the difficulties it has endured are a wake-up call to policy-makers in the Republic to realign the priorities of its police and reintegrate them into the body politic of the nation.

The police do not operate in a vacuum. They are answerable to the law, accountable to the public they serve and are quite correctly subject to the forensic scrutiny of an investigative media.

Their practices and procedures should be transparent and articulated to the public in a coherent and unambiguous way. But who is to bell this cat, An Garda Síochána?

The next commissioner should not, under any circumstances be appointed from the existing management team at Phoenix Park. This has too much of a “Buggin’s turn” flavour about it and existing senior officers are carrying far too much baggage.

No, the next officer-in-command should be appointed from a reservoir of proven talent in industry, the professions and science.

Those charged with the responsibility of appointing the next chief should do so expeditiously – and yet with caution. The person selected has an overflowing in-tray to tackle. Good luck to whoever gets that poison chalice. He or she will need it.

Yours, etc,


Lonsdale Road,



Sir, – If institutional Ireland were a stick of rock, the words “loyalty is prized above honesty” would run through it. The Irish authorities always choose loyalty. Yours, etc,


Ard na Lir,



Co Cork

Sir, – Your report (March 28th) on the plans of BW Energy and the Rethink Pylons group for a pylon-free alternative to Grid25 raises important issues of national significance, as access to a reliable, affordable and clean energy supply is vital for our national well-being. The case for co-firing biomass at Moneypoint instead of increasing our use of wind-led renewables looks compelling on the grounds of cost, energy security and reliability.

Even more compelling is the argument for replacing Moneypoint with small nuclear reactors. For example, the proposed biomass option has an estimated fuel cost of around €75 per MWh while the small nuclear option has a fuel cost of only €8 per MWh. A nuclear plant at Moneypoint would also reduce emissions cheaply and safely while requiring no new pylons or overhead lines.

The primary advantage of biomass over nuclear is that biomass is classified as renewable while nuclear is not. However, both are low-carbon options and it is the low-carbon aspect that will be most important beyond 2020. In the post-2020 world, the economics of small reactors will be vital in helping us reduce our emissions in a cost-effective manner.

Perhaps a useful compromise would be to convert the peat stations to burn more biomass while replacing Moneypoint with small nuclear plant when it closes in 2025? This would satisfy our renewables mandate and reduce emissions while keeping the cost of low-carbon energy affordable.

If the Rethink Pylons report does nothing more than stimulate a much needed rational analysis of all our electricity supply options for the coming decades it will have been well worthwhile.

Such analysis has been lacking to date and the consequences for our economy and our citizens could be far-reaching. As Solomon once said: “Without foresight, the people perish.” – Yours, etc,


Burnaby Woods,


Co Wicklow

Sir, – At a time when Trinity College ought to be eagerly promoting its status as one of the seven premier ancient universities of these islands as its most potent weapon in an ever decreasing armoury of internationally recognised competitive advantages, the board of the college seems to have embarked on a fundamentally misguided campaign of destructive self-effacement (“Is nothing sacred? Trinity drops the Bible”, March 29th).

Leaving aside the aesthetic shortcomings of the new “corporate identity” (numerous as they are) and the fact that the college cannot unilaterally change its arms without making application for a new grant of arms to the relevant heraldic authority, when the board of a university is concerned that the institution may be associated with the alleged cut-price tawdriness of Ikea and Ryanair, it says more about lack of confidence in the brand of the university than it does about its visual identity.

One does not see the University of Cambridge concerned that it may be identified with the values McDonald’s nor the University of Oxford concerned that it may be associated with those of Lidl. In such challenging times of necessary change, the board of Trinity College would be well advised to take better care of its stock of existing selling points and avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Yours, etc,


Pall Mall,


Sir, – With regard to the proposed changes to the logo of Trinity College and the reasons/excuses being offered for these changes, is one allowed to ask just how far this political correctness (read madness) will be allowed to go? I am quite sure that when a prospective student considers a number of universities, the institution’s logo, or its perceived “inclusiveness”, must be well down on the list. Surely what makes a university inclusive in fact is how it treats its students. One might also ask if the political correctness behind this decision is to be extended to any crests that might be embedded in the college’s masonry.

In an era of harsh economic reality, where funding for education should be used to draw out its optimum value, it beggars belief that such time, energy and resources should be devoted to a process which resulted in such an extraordinary decision. Yours, etc,


Garland Hill,

Sir, – In the media the Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly continues to state that GPs in Ireland are among the highest-earning doctors in Europe and that having 1,000 medical card patients on one’s books is worth €250 000 per annum to a GP practice.

As a former GP and also a former president of the Irish Medical Organisation, the Minister knows this to be obtusely untrue.

Dr Reilly is clearly spinning stories for the benefit of his Oireachtas colleagues and attempting to manipulate the opinion of the general public on this matter.

I would like to respectfully ask the Minister to desist from this unhelpful and mischievous propaganda and I challenge him to produce the documentation to support either of his claims.

General practice is now failing and sadly most of the destruction is at the hands of this Minister.

Dr Reilly’s only legacy will be that of dismantling the one part of the health service that actually worked, the one part that had no waiting lists, the one part of the health service that was value for money and the one part of the health service that consistently delivered the highest satisfaction rate among patients.

If he continues down this path of destruction it could take decades to recover what he has done in three short years.

The Minister has the foundations of a first-class health system at his fingertips. We have the best-trained doctors in the world and we are the envy of Europe with regard to our practising doctors.

For the sake of our families, our friends and our future the Minister must stop the systematic devastation of family medicine in Ireland, he must follow the lead of his colleagues in Europe and the rest of the world, invest in general practice and build a health service we can be proud of, not one of which we are ashamed. Yours, etc,


Chief Executive Officer,

National Association

of General Practitioners,

Kildare Street,

Dublin 2

Sir, – Regarding Dr Muiris Houston’s “Medical Matters” column (March 25th) I think the heading’s suggestion that “summer time can be fraught with danger” gives a misleading impression, for though the actual time changes at the end of March and in October have been shown to be associated with an increase in accidents, summer time itself is surely of benefit to society as a whole.

Many, I know, greet the arrival of summer time with relief and dread the early advent of darkness in autumn. Personally, like Muiris, I would love to see the reintroduction of double summer time, remembering it nostalgically from my youth.

Failing that why not change to be on a par with Spain and other EU countries. I know Senator Feargal Quinn and others would favour this.

Surely our longer daylight hours would benefit the economy, tourism, energy conservation, the elderly like me, those suffering from SADS and those needing exercise and outdoor activities for medical and social reasons.

Yours, etc,


Dublin Road,


Sir, – As usual at this time of the year, when the clocks change from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) to British Summer Time (BST), there is a clamour to scrap the change and move permanently to BST. If we have BST all year long then in midwinter it will remain dark until about 9.15am. Some of your readers will recall a three-year experiment in the late 1960s when the clocks did not change to GMT. The idea was abandoned due to a sharp rise in the deaths of schoolchildren on the roads in the early morning. Yours, etc,


Blarney St,


Sir, – I find myself in total agreement with John Devlin’s argument (Letters, March 29th) that the “best way young children learn is via a teacher, chalk, books and pupil interaction” .

It is really a no-brainer to follow the way of Silicon Valley, where “the top primary schools have banned computers from the learning process ”.

Take a look at what the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget says: “Each time one prematurely teaches a child something he could have discovered himself, that child is kept from inventing it and consequently from understanding it completely.”

Overdependence on screens for information stunts oral expression and calculation. Ask most people when will Easter fall this year and they will generally take out their screens to answer!

Written communication also suffers from the use of screens. Being involved in primary education and communication I come acrross the increasing poverty of the written and oral word every day of my life. I believe I am not alone in this observation. DH Lawrence advised us: “Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you have to say and say it hot.” – Yours, etc,


Asgard Park,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Donald Clarke’s article (“Clubs where women aren’t welcome to join”, March 29th) is fine as far as it goes, but this subject has been discussed so many times before and one of the points clearly established is that both men and women are entitled to join clubs catering for their own sexes (and indeed do so). When Mr Clarke attacks men-only clubs as “reactionary” but ignores women-only clubs (of whose existence he must also surely be aware) he just ends up sounding reactionary himself.

As Mr Justice O’Higgins famously said in the course of the High Court case involving Portmarnock Golf Club in 2005: “it is permissible to have – exclusively – a bridge club for Bulgarians, a chess club for Catholics, a wine club for women and a golf club for gentlemen”. Perhaps it is Mr Clarke rather than the clubs who needs to be dragged “kicking and screaming into the 19th century”? Yours, etc,


Ard Haven,


Sir, – Perhaps not many of your readers are great users of public transport. Let me therefore point out a rather disconcerting phenomenon now frequently observed on Dublin buses, namely the application of make-up (by ladies). We hear much of health and safety. Is there not a danger that an errant mascara wand could deliver a nasty poke in the eye were a bus to brake suddenly. Then there’s the question of propriety. What next? Nail clipping on the 15B? A little light depilation on the 46A. — Yours, etc,


Cormac Terrace,


Dublin 6W

Sir, – I write in response to Vincent Browne’s column (“Big Issues ignored as Callinan resigns”, March 26th). It is untrue to assert that deference to status or wealth is the motivation behind the assistance of the Catholic Communications Office at certain Catholic funerals.

Among the services offered by the CCO, one is to assist a parish as it responds to the demands of media queries and/or media presence at a particular local funeral. The CCO enables media personnel to access accurate information regarding the funeral liturgy. Feedback indicates that this is viewed as a useful service. Yours, etc,


Catholic Communications



Co Kildare

Sir, – Your heading above Chris Garvey’s letter (“Uses for Ireland’s boglands”, March 29th) tickled my funny bone. I expected to read of development proposals for the barren terrain bounded by Merrion Street to the east and Kildare Street to the west, where the living dead stumble into fetid drowning pools, strange animals roam, vultures swoop, and no birds sing!

Yours, etc,


Marley Avenue,


Dublin 16

Sir, – The most recent political poll suggests that a sizeable percentage of us are not satisfied with the manner in which the Government is administering the justice system and we are opting for Sinn Féin as an alternative. Hmm. Yours, etc,


Newmarket on Fergus,

Co Clare

Irish Independent:

Also in this section

Pylons will mutilate our beautiful countryside

Think the unthinkable

Speak about feelings

The Lord Mayor and the burghers in Cork City Hall have decided in their expansive wisdom and generosity that President Michael D Higgins should shortly be given the Freedom of the City.

No great harm in that, you might say – the only problem is that we, the ordinary people of Cork, will, as usual, end up footing the rather expensive bill through our rates, property and other taxes.

Conversely, there is no money for those citizens who are crippled with negative equity and unsustainable and crucifying debts, no money for the many children daily going hungry to school, no money for the homeless, the aged and the disabled or the thousands who are jobless and in despair.

No money to bring home the thousands of our young and not so young who have been forced to emigrate. No money for our struggling small businesses or to fix our potholed and broken roads.

Miraculously, however, we have plenty of money for a meaningless shindig in the present economic climate and in the throes of a raging recession.

It is, of course, in microcosm, another measure of the disdain and disconnect that those in positions of power and influence have for the lives and travails of ordinary citizens who have been force fed on debilitating austerity for the last six years.

No doubt the people of Cork and elsewhere will express their feelings on this and other matters next May.




* Reading the Irish Independent on March 24, a beautiful photograph on page 14 caught my attention; surgeon Pat Kiely and formerly conjoined twins Hussein and Hassan Benhaffaf from Cork.

Speaking as a co-founder of charity Straight Ahead (which I confess I was unaware of), Dr Kiely referred to problems caused by delays in carrying out spinal surgery on children at Crumlin and Tallaght hospitals.

Dr Kiely and his fellow surgeons have already given up their free time to operate on 26 children at no cost to the parents.

The twins’ mother, Angie, was quoted as saying “their generosity moves me . . . what they do is life changing”.

It was heartening to hear of such dedication and generosity at a time when we have been bombarded with stories of the obscenely high executive salaries/pensions in organisations like CRC, Rehab, etc – some even having the nerve to tell us they should be earning more and are entitled to bonuses but have (generously) not taken them for four years!

Do these people realise or care about the enormous damage being done to the whole charity sector?

Well done to Dr Kiely and fellow surgeons for the wonderful work you do.




* I write regarding Sinead Moriarty’s comment piece entitled ‘We’re too busy being paranoid to help a child in distress’ (Irish Independent, March 28).

About three years ago, I noticed two small children playing on a narrow path outside a newsagent’s beside a very busy roundabout in south Co Dublin. I advised the older one, a five-year-old boy, to please be very careful as it was just at dusk and traffic was heavy.

They were still there when I came out and I asked if their mother was in the shop. They said, ‘No, she’s gone to work’. It transpired that the five-year-old was ‘looking after’ his three-year-old sister. I took them to the far side of the road where the path was much wider and safer, and decided I should wait with them until a parent arrived to collect them.

Around 20 minutes later, I asked the boy if he knew where his house was and he pointed to the far side of the roundabout. It seems he had navigated this roundabout safely earlier!

We began to walk, me hoping we were going the right way, and the children chatting away happily. We reached their house about 10 minutes later to find people running around frantically looking for them, including their father who had just fallen asleep in the chair and was horrified to know they had gone so far from home.

I was very glad that I was the person who found them, but the thing is it never crossed my mind to call the police or that my motives might be suspect to anyone. I just wanted to know that they got safely home.

As a mother of four adult children, I would always be very aware of a child with apparently no adult accompanying them.




* The so-called selfie in our brave new world serves as the ultimate distraction. One’s self.

This, if I may say so, to use a word of some disputation currently, is little short of being “disgusting”.

Great hardship is being endured by men, women and children in this country and in countries across the world, and to propagate the concept that the self or narcissistic preoccupation should prevail is to veer dangerously close to fascism.

It is a time not for the selfie but for the antithesis of the selfie.

The unselfie.




* There is need for far fresher ideas than those implemented by Government (Editorial, Irish Independent, March 31) to overcome the unemployment problems that are accumulating in an entirely unprecedented work situation.

Work is being eliminated on a truly massive scale by rampant automation and much more than stopgap programmes for a few is needed.

There is need on a world basis, or at least a large trading bloc such as the EU or US, to move to much shorter hours, longer holidays and earlier retirement for all.

The maths are simple; more people working less or fewer people working more.

There is also need for Government to generate much more public service employment. Private enterprise will require fewer people even working shorter hours as technology advances.

Employment change is the most urgent crisis we face; greater even than climate change. If employment escalates out of control, as it will without drastic action, and society breaks down, climate change will matter only to the birds.

We need 21st-century thinking for 21st-century employment. There seems little sign of any yet.




March 31, 2014

31March 2014 Mary

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have an party for the admiral, Mrs Povey tries to get promotion for Henry. Priceless

Cold slightly better Mary very under the weather visit her

No Scrabbletoday Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Kate O’Mara – obituary

Kate O’Mara was an actress who delighted ‘Dynasty’ audiences with her glowering showdowns with Joan Collins

Kate O'Mara with her Dynasty co-stars John Forsythe and Christopher Cazenove

Kate O’Mara with her Dynasty co-stars John Forsythe and Christopher Cazenove  Photo: REX

8:24PM BST 30 Mar 2014

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Kate O’Mara, who has died aged 74, was an actress whose cliff-high cheek bones, brooding glare and nifty line in tough talk fuelled a successful international television career. She first came to prominence in cult British series, such as Dr Who and Triangle, but found international fame as Joan Collins’s catty sister in the hugely popular American television show Dynasty. However, her onscreen persona — granite graced with lace — was often at odds with the more placid elements of her personality. “Recently I did The Graham Norton Show, which was very alarming,” she said in 2008. “He was being crude and I’m not very good with crude. I like sophistication and elegance.”

As Cassandra “Caress” Morrell — the revenge-obsessed sybling of Collins’s Alexis Colby — O’Mara excelled in bouts of verbal sparring with her British co-star over the course of 19 episodes in the mid-1980s. Cassandra is a jailbird with payback on her mind. Having been released from a Venezuelan prison — where she was incarcerated over an incident involving Alexis — she arrives in Denver, Colorado, under the name Caress. Her plan is to make a fortune by writing a searing exposé on her sister’s dark, salacious past.

Kate O’Mara at home in 2008 (REX)

Alexis discovers the ploy, however, covertly buys up the publishing company and pulps the project. “I’ve come to ask you for your autograph, congratulations sister dearest, it’s a wonderful piece of fiction,” sneers Alexis. “Of course I’ve read it. It doesn’t take very long. It’s like a comic book without the pictures.”

“We had a tremendous bitchy tension between us,” recalled O’Mara. “My character Caress was like an annoying little mosquito who just kept coming back and biting her.” The performance was a masterclass in melodrama — delivering a rollercoaster ride of fictional success and trauma that was matched by her own life story. “I’m part of six generations of a theatrical family,” she wrote in her memoirs, Vamp Until Ready: A Life Laid Bare (2003). “For over 40 years I’ve done everything from Shakespeare to Hollywood soaps, from Restoration Comedy to Cult Television Drama, from Westerns to Pantomime. I have been nothing if not diverse! My personal life, however, has been a disaster area. Rape, desertion, adoption, divorce and numerous relationships with very much younger men. And this for someone who sees herself as an intellectual and can’t be doing with sex at all… Oh well, the show must go on!”

Kate O’Mara with her Dynasty co-stars, Christopher Cazenove, John Forsythe and Joan Collins

Kate O’Mara was born in Leicester on August 10 1939, the daughter of John F. Carroll, an RAF flying instructor, and actress Hazel Bainbridge. After boarding school she studied at art school before becoming a full-time actress (her younger sister, Belinda, followed suit). Her early television appearances during the 1960s included roles in series such as The Saint, The Champions, The Avengers and Z-Cars.

In the early Seventies she made a more selacious name for herself as the voluptuous figure of desire in erotic horror B-movies such as The Vampire Lovers (1970). Equally dubious was Triangle, an early-Eighties soap opera in which she starred. Set on a North Sea ferry running a route between Felixstowe and Gothenberg it has often been cited as one of the worst pieces of television ever produced (although retrospectively it drew admirers).

Kate O’Mara in The Saint in 1967

The move to America for Dynasty came with its own problems for a country girl from England. “I had a five-year contract on Dynasty and after two months I was thinking, goodness, how am I going to stand it out here?” she recalled. “It’s just relentless sunshine. It’s a desert at the end of the day. I love the seasons, I love winter and autumn and rain. The people were very charming but I did find that it wasn’t terribly good for my soul.” She was let go after a series. “The studio said: ‘Joan thinks it’s not a good idea to have another brunette on the show,’” recalled O’Mara. “I was quite relieved. I’d been asked to appear in King Lear back in Britain, and they said: ‘Oh you go back and do your little play,’ which I thought was hilarious.”

If Triangle had been Crossroads-on-sea then her role as a cut-throat businesswoman in thee sailing soap opera Howard’s Way in 1990 at least saw her play up-stream with the regatta set. O’Mara also had a recurring role playing the renegade Time Lord “The Rani” in the cult Doctor Who series. Appearing opposite both the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy incarnations of the Doctor, her scientifically-minded devilish character enslaved planets to experiment on their subjects (during last year’s 50th anniversary celebrations of the series she expressed a wish to come back to the role as an older woman).

Kate O’Mara, alongside Shirley Bassey and Joan Collins, meeting the Queen at the Royal Academy in 2012

In later years she returned to familiar territory playing another character with a difficult sister — this time playing second sibling to Joanna Lumley’s Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous. During the Ninties she followed her Joan Collins lead and turned her hand to writing, publishing two novels (When She Was Bad, 1995, and Good Time Girl, 1993) and two autobiographical volumes (Vamp Until Ready, 2003, and Game Plan: A Woman’s Survival Kit, 1990).

In 2012, her son, Dickon Young — formerly a stage manager for the Royal Shakespeare Company — was found hanged at the family home. He had had a history of mental illness. Late in life she talked how she had overcome her own bouts of depression : “particularly during my first marriage break-up 31 years ago. But I’ve since learnt a cure for depression: listening to J.S. Bach and reading P.G. Wodehouse. This got me through the break-up of my second marriage 17 years ago. The great thing about Wodehouse is that his books are full of romantic problems and yet so hilarious that it puts things in perspective.” The quiet country life in occassional retirement in Somerset suited her. “I’m not frightened of dying, but I love the countryside so much and I’m going to miss it. I’d like to be out in the wind and the trees for ever.”

Kate O’Mara married twice. First to Jeremy Young in 1961 (dissolved in 1976) and, secondly, in 1993, to Richard Willis (dissolved 1996). Her son, from a separate relationship, predeceased her.

She is survived by her sister.

Kate O’Mara, born August 10 1939, died March 30 2014


The Ministry of Justice ban on families and friends sending books to prisoners is petty and mean-spirited (‘It is the most bonkers thing I’ve ever heard’, 29 March). It is argued that, should a prisoner be of good behaviour, their earnings will be at a higher rate and they will be able to buy books through the earned privileges scheme. The latter offers “basic”, “standard” and “enhanced” regimes, though a more austere one below “basic” was recently introduced for all new prisoners. Prisoners are unlikely to be able to afford books until they reach the “enhanced” level, which some never do. In over 30 years as a prison governor, I never knew of one prisoner who was badly behaved when they had their head inside a book.

For some nine years after retiring, I was a trustee of the estimable charity Prisoners Abroad. One small comfort that could be offered to British nationals jailed in some of the harshest punitive regimes imaginable was to post books to them. Well done, Mr Grayling. In this respect you have proved yourself more callously restrictive than some of the world’s most backward dictatorships.
Peter Quinn
Helperby, North Yorkshire

• No need to employ somebody to check the parcels – Chris Grayling and Joanna Trollope, please note (Thoroughly modern Jo, 29 March). Books pose no threat if sent to prisons directly from a major supplier, as recommended by the excellent website Yet the Secret Footballer books that I bought from Amazon for my son languish unopened in one of our young offender institutions. They could only have had a positive impact, so I was surprised when they were kept from him. He was told that the subject matter was unsuitable. Now I know the truth, and I’m appalled. Appalled too that it’s taken four months for news of the ban to reach the general public. The government’s action is unspeakable, though understandable – the last thing they want is well-read people leaving our prisons armed with inquiring minds and the ability to question and rebel.
Katie Farnworth
Warmington, Northamptonshire

Labour is the only realistic option to win the next general election and counter the punitive policies inflicted on the least affluent people in the UK. My heart sinks at Ken Loach‘s attempts to sell Left Unity as a viable alternative (Labour is not the solution, 28 March). Look at our electoral system – no party other than Labour has a realistic chance of getting a majority and, whatever its faults, it offers the best and quickest way of getting rid of the current lot of small-minded, nasty, scapegoating politicians.

The “left” of UK politics has a history of splitting into smaller groups who are passionate about their beliefs but who will not get a majority at an election to implement those beliefs – people who would rather be “right” than in government. That partly explains why Thatcher was able to win on a minority of the votes of the electorate. I don’t need an impassioned argument about the purity of Labour’s policies – I’ll stay in the Labour party and try to influence from within. I do need to have a Labour government in 2015 rather than the lot we have now – that’s the choice.
Jan Hill

•  Ken Loach is absolutely right to say that “Labour is part of the problem, not the solution” to the question “Where is our political fightback [against austerity]?” At the forthcoming local council elections the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), co-founded by Bob Crow and, since 2012, officially backed by the RMT union, is organising the biggest left-of-Labour challenge in such elections since the immediate aftermath of the second world war. We already have 400 candidates in place, with more coming forward each day. The recently founded Left Unity group has been invited to participate in this election coalition, joining the anti-bedroom tax campaigners, trade union activists, and members of a number of different socialist organisations who will be standing under the TUSC umbrella in May. Possibly, together, we can reach the broadcasting authorities’ threshold for “fair coverage” during the election period. This would be a breakthrough for the anti-austerity socialist message, which I’m sure Ken would support.
Clive Heemskerk
TUSC national election agent

•  Ken Loach is wrong to be so dismissive of the Green party. Most of the policies he lists at the end of his article are supported by the Greens, and his call for a assertion of the public good accords with the Green party slogan “for the common good”. Furthermore, the Green party has a social justice agenda and the infrastructure and volunteer activists to deliver it.
John Prior

•  I can’t help thinking Ken Loach is a little out of touch. He clearly feels the Labour manifesto of 1945 is a good starting point for political change in the 21st century. He goes on to say that the Labour government of ’45 “chose not to realise that ambition” and that the task today “is to turn the words of the manifesto into reality”. If the postwar government – with its enormous majority, a relatively large and homogeneous working class behind it and a powerful trade union movement – couldn’t implement socialist ideals, what chance has Left Unity? The country was indebted to a large conscripted army and needed a co-operative manufacturing workforce. None of these factors exist now. The conditions for socialism were never more right than they were in 1945, and they are certainly not right today. You may not like the social and economic reality, Ken, but, as Marx might have said, it’s got to be your starting point.
Arthur Gould
Loughborough, Leicestershire

•  Ken Loach must realise the futility of trying to form a new party of the left at this stage of the electoral cycle. The crucial thing is to get the Tories out as soon as possible, and Labour, however feeble, is the only credible opposition we have. To attempt to divide it would be fatal. We have to persuade as many people as possible to use their vote to get a Labour majority. Then we must work to get a leader and cabinet who’ll legislate to curb the activities of big business, the banks, landlords, the aristocracy and money-grubbers everywhere as ruthlessly as Thatcher did to get rid of the miners, the steelworkers, the shipbuilders and the rest of the politically active workers. Goodness knows there are so many people damaged by the effects of the Tory policies Ken mentions that they only need a credible promise to make things better for them to vote to get rid of every Tory MP outside of Kensington and Chelsea.
Tony Cheney
Ipswich, Suffolk

• The Labour thinktanks’ call for a strategic change in direction towards more devolution of power (Letters, 24 March) is welcome, but it is only a start. If your report of Jon Cruddas’s speech to Progress is accurate (25 March) – “a Labour government from 2015-20 has to be about redistributing power and not resources, he argues, because austerity makes cash handouts impossible and power becomes the new money” – there is still a long way to go. Power without resources is a contradiction in terms. And the attempt to justify this on the grounds of austerity, given the present degree of inequality in our society, is absurd. Labour must stand for the redistribution of resources, and therefore power, from large corporations to consumers, workers and local communities, and from central to local government. That would indeed be new politics.
Pat Devine

•  There is an easier way for Labour supporters to get behind an opposition party that represents their values than writing letters to a newspaper or using comment pieces to urge their leader to be more radical in policy (Polly Toynbee, 25 March) and bolder in approach (Diane Abbott, 26 March). They could simply join the Green party, which is already calling for the policies listed by Labour’s thinktanks and others as offering a radical, progressive approach: introducing a national living wage; bringing the railways back into public ownership; and launching a major programme of investment to build more affordable homes. And, if you don’t like any of our policies, we offer a far more democratic route to changing them than penning open letters: become a member and vote on policies at conference. Join us for a fairer and more progressive kind of politics.
Natalie Bennett
Leader, Green party of England and Wales

Gay couples, according to the house of bishops, can be prayed for but the B-word – blessings – is out (Bishop praises couple on eve of first gay weddings, 29 March). The day after the bishops made this decision I got an invitation to the opening of a new dairy at our local agricultural college. The ceremony included a blessing of the dairy herd by the bishop of Carlisle diocese. Now, our bishop is a good man, but there’s no better illustration of the hypocritical position in which the church now finds itself. Perhaps if my partner and I turn up at church dressed as pantomime cows we can solve the problem?
Stephen Wright
Mungrisdale, Cumbria

• One G2 reader complains that she had to look up “plushophilia” (Letters, 25 March) and suddenly “anthropomorphic” has an explanatory footnote (30 Minutes with… Kermit the Frog, G2, 27 March). Honestly! We’re not all jobbernowls, you know.
John Cranston

• If you see Sid, tell him we woz done (Miliband calls for new curbs on energy bills, 28 March).
Joan Langrognat
Harrow, Middlesex

• I thought that “conscious uncoupling” (Pass notes, 27 March) meant throwing a bucket of water over a couple of dogs.
Brian Davies

• As in life, so in Yorkshire – it’s only a short distance from Booze to Bedlam (Letters, 29 March).
Angus MacIntosh
Burley-in-Wharfedale, West Yorkshire



‘We can only serve the needs of victims [of domestic violence] by approaching this in an integrated multi-agency way’

Sir, There is considerable frustration in the police service regarding the Inspectorate report on the police handling of domestic abuse (Mar 27).

Cases of domestic abuse invariably include a far wider range of social issues, indeed only about 30 per cent of cases result in a recorded crime. Many victims refuse to make a complaint against their abuser or later withdraw the allegation because they don’t see that the criminal justice system can make their lives better.

There is a significant overlap between domestic abuse and complex dependency issues and with those involved in gangs and organised crime. Even if police can remove an abuser from a victim’s life the victim may well live in a community where they will face pressure from their families or criminal networks.

We can only truly serve the needs of victims by approaching this in an integrated multi-agency way which links up all the issues of complex dependency, as we are doing in Greater Manchester. We cannot have a system which relies so much on the victim in an abusive relationship having the courage to go to court when it is in the very nature of an abusive relationship that their self-confidence is destroyed.

My officers deal with an average of 170 domestic abuse incidents every day and become weary that the wider system is not dealing with the underlying issues or that society is not taking this more seriously.

To that end I would like to see the creation of full-item specialist magistrates able to impose a range of conditions for the protection of victims and the control of offenders, to which the police could take all high risk cases within 24 hours whether or not the victim wishes to make a complaint. This would create the space for the full range of agencies to put in a comprehensive solution.

The police can always do better but it has to be acknowledged that there are fundamental flaws in the way the wider system safeguards vulnerable victims.

Sir Peter Fahy

Chief Constable

Greater Manchester Police

Sir, It really is time that the Government called a halt to the public “bashing” of those in front-line public services, in the misguided belief that this is in the interests of so-called transparency. The effect on morale is devastating and counterproductive. My daughter police constable rang me tonight almost in tears at the lack of balance shown in this report. She is one of the vast majority of police officers who are dedicated to bringing violent partners to justice. They face overwhelming odds. I have watched over the years as she has expended much time and emotional energy in dealing with these cases. It is difficult and dangerous work. The violent partner at the scene will often turn on the policeman or policewoman. The victims, despite all the protection and assurances provided, will frequently retract their evidence at the last minute, squandering the efforts of many and unsurprisingly making the hard pressed CPS less than enthusiastic about bringing every case to court. Using the police as scapegoats for society’s ills in this way is unfair; this group of dedicated professionals deserve much better support and balanced judgment from those who are tasked with leading them.

Denis Wilkins

Pengover, Cornwall

Mr Clegg and Mr Farage do not properly represent the opposing views about Europe — Britain needs a proper debate

Sir, Britain needs a proper debate about Europe. Mr Clegg and Mr Farage (Mar 26) do not properly represent the opposing views on the issue. Mr Farage, who appears on one programme after another, does not have a single MP but rides on the coat-tails of those Conservative backbenchers who, since the Maastricht Treaty, have turned opinion within the party and in opinion polls. All he can do therefore is to undermine Conservatives, many of whom hold similar views. However, by defeating them in the marginals he guarantees not only to defeat them and the Conservative Party but also his own objectives, which they share, of returning self-government to the UK Parliament.

Bill Cash, MP

House of Commons

As the Allies fought their way across Europe it became easier if still dangerous for PoWs to escape and return to the UK

Sir, Max Lines (Mar 27) may be reassured; a significant number of other ranks PoWs escaped from work camps in the Reich during the Second World War. The opportunity to do so presented itself particularly to those taken each day to their place of work, where inattention by the guards gave those with pluck and the desire to slip away their opportunity.

As the Red Army and the Western Allies forces fought their way into Poland and Germany it became easier, though still very dangerous, for such PoWs to escape and return to the UK. The understandable attention given since the end of the war to the ingenuity and heroism of escapers from Colditz and Stalag Luft III (Sagan) has masked not just the bravery and resolve of those other ranks who did escape, but also the appalling conditions under which many other ranks PoWs were housed, fed and worked. It has also obscured the fact that some of those escapes were aided by local civilians, even, remarkably, in Dresden after the fire-bombing in February 1945.

Dr P. R. Gregory

Mark, Somerset

‘Too many young people are out of work and risk becoming trapped on benefits — we need to get them set up for life’

Sir, Too many young people are still out of work and risk becoming trapped on benefits. With a bit of creative thinking, we can get them off the dole and set up for life.

One idea is to divert young people’s job seeker’s allowance (JSA) cash to small businesses for apprenticeships. So, if a suitable apprenticeship is offered to a JSA claimant who turns it down or quits it, they would lose their unemployment benefits. The JSA cash which is freed up by moving the job seeker into paid training — about £3,000 per year, per person — would be given to small businesses to help them take on more apprentices. We think it is reasonable to impose benefit sanctions if someone turns down or drops out of paid training. It makes no sense to have young people going nowhere on benefits when they could be learning a trade.

If we get half of the UK’s 314,430 JSA claimants off benefits and into apprenticeships, it would free millions of pounds to fund these opportunities.

Andrew Boff

GLA Conservatives

Charlie Mullins

Pimlico Plumbers

Future research at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew is vital to resolve looming ecological or agricultural crises

Sir, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is first and foremost a scientific institution. Kew’s research is essential to address looming ecological and agricultural crises. Recent cuts in the science budget (Mar 28) threaten to undermine this. I trust that, after the proposed restructuring, Kew’s director will prioritise science. If it is to provide a credible voice on issues such as food security and biodiversity, Kew must be able to perform research of the highest quality.

Dr Samuel Brockington

Department of Plant Sciences University of Cambridge

Now the government has abolished the IPP sentence, it’s time to return to a sensible system of fairness and just deserts

Sir, Now the government has abolished the IPP (imprisonment for public protection) sentence, it’s time to return to a sensible system of fairness, proportionality and just deserts (Mar 25). There is already provision in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act for a release test which would make the State responsible for producing evidence to prove that someone still presents a significant risk. Improvements should be made to sentence planning for IPP prisoners including better use of the open estate and the well planned use of release on temporary licence. Unacceptable Parole Board delays must be eradicated. This is a hard sentence to unwind but, to restore public confidence and legitimacy, the government should finish the job it started and eradicate a stain on our justice system.

Juliet Lyon

Prison Reform Trust


SIR – As Barbara Woodhouse’s daughter, I am sure my mother would have thought that training dogs in a simply “positive” or “negative” way was too inflexible.

My mother was always firm but kind to dogs. I have never heard of any dog being traumatised by her. It was the reverse. As soon as she took a dog from its owner, its tail went up and it looked at her with adoration. My mother advocated giving treats to dogs when they deserved extra praise.

She trained more than 20,000 dogs and was in the Guinness Book of Records for the most dogs ever trained by anyone.

She was just as popular in America and did numerous television programmes, including Barbara Woodhouse in Beverley Hills. All the Hollywood stars whose dogs she worked with agreed that her training methods were excellent.

I was very pleased that Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer”, supported my mother’s methods, and that Roger Mugford, the animal psychologist, has said that relying on positive training could lead to spoilt and badly behaved pets, which I heartily agree with.

Judith Walpole
Heath and Reach, Bedfordshire

SIR – William Hague is right to say that Europe must stand up to Russia.

He also points out that corruption and the absence of the rule of law or independent institutions have damaged Ukraine. This gives me deep misgivings about the EU’s intention to develop deeper ties with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. Do we wish to be associated with countries that are undemocratic, and are we prepared for military action in their defence? If not, then provoking Russia in this way is hardly wise.

Cdr Malcolm Williams
Southsea, Hampshire

SIR – The Crimea situation reveals first that the EU is not, and never will be, a military power to be reckoned with, that Britain is no longer a world power and should recognise this and that America is sick and tired of involvement in wars in far off countries.

This being the case, the governments and peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Crimea should be left to sort out their own problems, hopefully without bloody wars. The West has blood on its hands and should stop interfering in the affairs of other countries. Vladimir Putin is well aware of this and cannot be in the least concerned about the huffing and puffing of the West.

Don Roberts
Birkenhead, Wirral

Planning Inspectorate

SIR – While I can understand Alan Overton’s negative opinion of the Planning Inspectorate, one also has to consider the situation when local planning committees override the recommendation made by the case officer when applications come before them.

In many cases, appeals to the Planning Inspectorate come about because planning committee members are inexperienced in planning matters, and are often more concerned about appeasing their electorate by refusing to consent to a contentious application than making a balanced judgment based upon the local plan and Town and Country Planning Legislation.

Monty Taylor
Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire

Assisted dying Bill

SIR – Ray Cantrell is concerned that the legalisation of assisted dying may be abused and lead to “persuaded suicide” or “mercy killing”.

We know that assisted dying already takes place, and that the legal system is (rightly) reluctant to prosecute those who help a terminally ill loved one who wishes to end their own life.

However, because this assistance is still illegal, people do it secretly. Others who wish to speed up the death of a dying relative against that relative’s will may well be able to disguise their behaviour in a similar fashion.

Lord Falconer’s Bill would prevent this abuse, by bringing things out into the open. It would only allow assisted dying for terminally ill adults, who are declaring a well-informed, persistent and voluntary wish to end their own life early, as assessed by two independent doctors. The Bill would therefore protect the wishes of terminally ill people who wish to live on until their illness kills them, as well as those who wish to end their lives at a time of their choosing.

Richard Mountford
Hildenborough, Kent

Wall charter

SIR – David Thomas’ New Magna Carta was a masterpiece. It summed up everything I would like to see happen to Britain.

I have cut it out and framed it.

Mike Hardwick
Great Somerford, Wiltshire

Stay-at-home mothers are being penalised

SIR – Mother’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the indispensable role mothers play in the home. But, as the recent Budget made clear, policy-makers only value mothers when they are doing paid work outside the home. Families with a mother or father at home full-time are penalised heavily in the tax system, often paying at least half as much tax again as dual- earner families.

Supporting paid work over unpaid care for children will not encourage mothers back to work. In a 2013 Department of Education survey, 71 per cent of parents at home said they were there by choice; only 13 per cent cited cost of childcare.

But choice has been removed from poorer families who can’t afford to survive on one income. The only viable option is for both parents to work. It is not choice if the only option is to do paid work. We call for real choice to be introduced through a fair taxation system which doesn’t penalise single and low-income families but rather recognises family responsibilities.

Claire Paye
Mothers at Home Matter
Caversham, Berkshire

SIR – It is unacceptable that any religious group’s laws should be promoted above others. The same law should apply to everyone.

This is the thin end of a very dangerous wedge. If you allow one religious group to apply its own laws, then you open up the possibility of extending the same principle to other groups.

Tony Newberry
Liss, Hampshire

SIR – As a retired solicitor, I was appalled to read of the Law Society’s intention to “promote” the recognition of wills made under sharia. I feel ashamed to have been a member of the society for 40 years. Which of its members consider this to be a sensible course of action?

Our laws against racial, religious and sexual discrimination have been built up over a long time and our legal system is respected throughout the civilised world. Why encourage a minority group to change that for its sole benefit?

Disputes over sharia wills and their enforceability under English law will become rife – no doubt creating more work for the lawyers.

Jeremy Davenport
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

SIR – The Law Society exists to guide and police the conduct of our legal representatives in the application of British law, not to promote the inclusion of the laws of another culture.

For its president to say that its guidance would promote “good practice in applying Islamic principles in the British legal system” took my breath away. He admits that sharia principles could potentially overrule British practices in some disputes which may need to be tested in court.

Previous immigrants to this country (Huguenots, Jews, West Indians, etc.) have enjoyed the freedom to practise their own religion but have also had to accept our laws.

Claire Bushby
East Horsley, Surrey

SIR – We read that the Law Society has decided that its members should support sharia in Britain, presumably for financial reasons.

Should it not be for Parliament to decide upon such important matters, not a trade union?

Bernard Vass
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

SIR – So keen are some people to pander to “inclusiveness” that they are willing to throw overboard Magna Carta and the 800 years it took to enshrine the principle of one law for all.

Enough is enough.

Andrew Dakyns
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – We have a legal system which recognises equality regardless of sex, ethnicity or religion. Religion should not be part of our law and we should uphold this principle of equality.

Why some people insist on treating women as inferior I cannot imagine.

Richard Dugdale
Clitheroe, Lancashire

SIR – If Islamic law were to be enshrined in our legal system, we would have two legal systems running in parallel. This is patently absurd. It would be like having one law for the rich and one for the poor. This is this the slow drip of the tap – the erosion of the British way of life by the minority.

R J Russell
Denver, Norfolk

SIR – It is enshrined in English law that you may leave your estate to anyone you like. If you choose to divide it between your favourite nephew and a cats’ home, then that is your right. The exception is when you have a title, and that may only be passed to your eldest son. Can someone explain to me why it is any different to leave your estate in line with your religious beliefs?

I strongly dislike much of sharia, but if there is an unqualified British right that one may dispose of one’s estate as one wishes, then everyone is entitled to that right.

Jenny Furness
Doncaster, West Yorkshire

SIR – Apart from the fact that these wills would be extremely prejudicial to women at a time when the implications of feminism for Muslim women are increasingly under discussion, why is it that the perceived rights of a population of about three million people trump the rights of the other 60 million or so people in this country?

Muslims are a minority in Britain, and their views should not be allowed to impinge on the majority. This favouritism should be stamped out.

Margaret Robinson
London SE9

SIR – It is time we stopped being afraid of upholding our hard-won democratic values for fear of offending newcomers.

Alison Smith

SIR – Lawyers have much to be ashamed of: the culture of blame and compensation, European human rights and now this. The profession is a disgrace.

Nick Farmer

SIR – In light of 529 citizens being sentenced to death in Egypt and many Muslim countries being embroiled in extremism, misery and mayhem, it is difficult to understand why the Law Society should wish to integrate sharia guidance into our own tried and tested system of law; unless perhaps, to fill the pockets of its lawyers.

Bill Newham
Worsley, Lancashire

SIR – I am not a Muslim, but a member of the Institute of Professional Willwriters. As I understand it, in Islam there is a hadith (tradition) that says, “It is the duty of a Muslim who has anything to bequeath not to let two nights pass without writing a will about it.”

I have been aware for many years that English intestacy laws and sharia succession are not compatible and I know how to draft a will for a Muslim who wishes to pass on his estate according to sharia.

What the Law Society has done is just remind solicitors that care needs to be taken in writing a sharia-compliant will and it has given an outline of how to do it. If a sharia-compliant will is not drafted correctly, an estate may pay a larger amount of inheritance tax than need be, because full use of the spouse’s exemption has not been made.

The Law Society is not suggesting that solicitors do anything against UK law (or introduce sharia to UK law).

Derek Lindsey
Ilford, Essex

SIR – What about non-religious groups with particular views on society that they would like to have recognised?

We must have one set of laws for all, otherwise it just becomes a “pick and mix” depending on whether you personally agree with that law or not.

Vince Settle
Lytham St Annes, Lancashire

SIR – Your front page (March 23) encapsulates several horrors: England now has sharia, the EU demands that migrants should be able to take my money and the money-grubbing Blairs appear in a picture looking like saints.

I look forward to my death.

Nicholas Coates
London SW6

SIR – In Britain, people often talk about how the EU needs reform, but do not recognise the reforms that have already been made, which stem from much hard work by Conservative MEPs and a Conservative government.

A few days ago, we completed a major agreement on how to change international laws for failing banks. The United Kingdom achieved three important victories.

First, future bank collapses will not result in taxpayer bail-outs but in large creditor bail-ins, with ordinary people’s deposits protected. Secondly, eurozone bank failures will not undermine the rest of Europe’s economy and create the uncertainty of recent years, thanks to a common fund for resolving their difficulties, managed at an EU level. And thirdly, Britain has been protected by a firewall from having to pay towards bank failures in a currency we chose not to join.

All this was achieved because we sat at the table and promoted this reformist agenda. That includes the final 16-hour all‑night negotiations with EU ministers.

This shows that not only is reform of the EU possible, but that we are delivering it already. We can only build on these successes if we have MEPs willing to sit around the table and fight Britain’s corner.

Vicky Ford MEP (Con)
Hardwick, Cambridgeshire

SIR – Fraser Nelson (Comment, March 28) is perceptive in his analysis of the evolving direction of Europe. Sometimes the further one looks back, the further one can look forward. It is indeed in the major chancelleries of Europe that hard realities are determined, not in televised debates.

In 1878, Disraeli and Bismarck negotiated a treaty at the Congress of Berlin that secured the critical interests of Britain and Germany in the Europe of those days.

The hand of history is similarly on their successors, David Cameron and Angela Merkel, to secure the interests of their countries in the context of today.

John Barstow
Pulborough, West Sussex

SIR – Isn’t it time that the British people were given a referendum on whether they want an EU referendum?

Dr Alan B Thomas
Great Sankey, Cheshire

Illiterate lags

SIR – It is a tragedy that so many prisoners are unable to read and write (Letters, March 29). Surely the best thing would be to enable them to do so, rather than just let them watch television.

For all concerned, I just hope that they can be sent books.

My life on a desert island would be impossible without a book.

Deirdre Lay
Peaslake, Surrey

Towns with clowns

SIR – Happy to say that the Sandow clowns are doing very nicely, appearing at provincial theatres around the North (“Tears of the clowns who are out of a job”, report, March 29). We provide good old clean slapstick that the children still love.

Tom Sandow
Bridlington, East Yorkshire

Happy Easters

SIR – Welcome into the world the wonderfully named Elektra Esmeralda Easter (Births, March 28) and congratulations to her and her siblings Dorothy, Wulfstan and Cleopatra on having such delightfully imaginative parents.

Guy Thurlow
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Causes of death in hospital

SIR – The sharp rise in the coding of deaths in hospital as “palliative” is very troubling (“Hospital fiddling death-rate figures,” report, March 28). The code is only supposed to be used when a patient’s death in hospital is an inevitable consequence of their condition – such as that from a terminal illness. Death certification is often not done well and is in need of urgent reform.

Understanding the cause of death is vitally important to our understanding of disease, its prevalence and, longer term, how we find ways to prevent or treat illness.

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 introduced a role of independent medical examiner to look into the circumstances of apparently natural deaths to ensure that cause of death is correctly recorded.

This new role would also be a conduit for any relatives with concerns about the cause of their loved one’s death.

Pilots where independent medical examiners scrutinised death certification show that almost a fifth of death certificates had a different underlying cause of death. This suggests that analysis by the medical examiner of information about the cause of death would improve understanding of the conditions that led to the death.

The scandal at Mid Staffordshire exposed how it is possible to miss causes of death that would reveal poor care.

We call for the introduction of this valuable new medical role with no further delays.

Dr Archie Prentice
President, Royal College of Pathologists
London SW1

TB cull for cats

SIR – Now that domestic cats have been identified as a reservoir of tuberculosis, should not Defra institute a cull similar to that recently directed against badgers?

Dr John H F Smith
Eyam, Derbyshire

SIR – Cat owners should be reassured that their pets are extremely unlikely to have tuberculosis and even less likely to pass the disease on to them.

TB in cats is very rare. It is believed that the small numbers of cats that do become infected have been hunting small wild rodents.

By far the greatest TB risk to people is spending time with infected people. Keeping a cat is far more likely to improve the well-being of its owner than cause any health problem.

Caroline Reay
Blue Cross Animal Hospital
London SW19

Police singled out for blame on domestic violence

SIR – HM Inspectorate of Constabulary last week issued a report into the performance of police forces in relation to domestic violence. It is a massive, complex problem, with which the police cannot deal alone.

Many publicly funded bodies have a responsibility to deal with this, yet now (as so often) society seeks to place the blame for everything at the door of the police.

Police do take resolute and direct action when faced with such circumstances, but they then have to struggle within a system that seems to stack up against them.

I have yet to see a senior Crown Prosecutor called to account at a press conference after an offender walked free after a poorly presented bail application or a decision to discontinue a prosecution, which led to a tragedy.

Social services have a 24-hour responsibility to keep the vulnerable safe, yet police officers face an uphill battle in getting much out of them after 5pm.

It is also incredible that the one person who seems to escape criticism is the actual offender. Short of putting a police officer outside the home of every vulnerable person, it is almost impossible to stop all those intent on an act of violence.

We accept there is a chance to improve, but those joining the current feeding frenzy should look at the whole picture.

One final question – we are far from perfect, but which one of all the police services in the world you would swap us with if you had the opportunity?

Ian Hanson
Chairman, Greater Manchester Police Federation
Stockport, Cheshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – I refer to Breda O’Brien’s column (Opinion & Analysis, March 23rd). Surrogates have been referred to as gestational carriers for the past 20 years. It is the legal term that was used by the first court to distinguish traditional surrogates, who relinquished their own genetic child, from women who were merely carrying the child of another. The term is the proper one in the US, and the only type of surrogacy that is permitted in most US states.

She is accurate in saying surrogates earn on average $30,000 for their services over the three months of IVF treatment and nine months of gestation (equal to approximately $2 per hour), and that the overall cost for intended parents is between $100,000 and $150,000. These numbers are clearly expressed on our website and cost sheets.

However, contrary to the assertion that when it comes to the final cost, surrogates are getting the short end of the stick, most of the remaining funds are not for the agency, but paid for the IVF, lawyers, travel and medical expenses/insurance for the surrogate and the child. The agency fees are actually less than the amount the surrogate earns.

Ms O’Brien states: “You do not find wealthy women acting as surrogates.” Our surrogates come from an array of socioeconomic backgrounds, a good percentage of whom are nurses making six-figure salaries. The majority of Circle’s surrogates are middle class, educated, and, most important, financially secure women.

It was also disappointing to see the “women are being exploited” argument surface again. Within this misconception is the notion that women are too ignorant or ill-advised to make an informed decision about becoming surrogates. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our surrogate screening team spends on average six weeks per candidate to ensure that Circle’s surrogates are fully educated on the process and aware of what surrogacy asks of them.

Ms O’Brien looks to Germany (rather than England, which permits reasonable compensation to surrogates) as a moral compass. However, Germany, despite its law banning compensated surrogacy, regularly permits intended parents to return from the United States with children born through gestational surrogacy, and to get German citizenship for those children. There is a process established for this return, which is all Ireland is looking to do as well.

What Ms O’Brien is missing most of all is the great joy that surrogacy provides to everyone involved.

At the end of the day, it’s the child’s welfare and best interests that are at the heart of every surrogacy arrangement at Circle Surrogacy. Our relationship-building between intended parents and surrogates has meant that every child born through our programme knows from where they came. – Yours, etc,


Director of Legal Services,

Circle Surrogacy,

High Street,



First published: Mon, Mar 31, 2014, 02:00

Sir, – The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, continues to insist that Mr Callinan made his own decision to resign – and he is technically correct. However, the fact of the matter is that Mr Callinan had no real choice given the actions of the Taoiseach in the lead-up to his decision.

It is obvious that Mr Kenny made a calculation that in order to retrieve anything from the awful treatment of the whistleblowers at least one of two had to go. He had previously invested so much emotional and political capital in Alan Shatter that he could not safely give him the chop. So there was only one doll still sitting on the wall and he had to be bounced.

By sending a very senior emissary to Mr Callinan’s home late on Monday evening last with the dire news that the Government was in a lather over the phone taping and that the Taoiseach was particularly upset (“this is terribly, terribly – and I mean terribly – serious, Martin”) he took any decision away from the retirement-aged commissioner.

Notwithstanding this, Mr Callinan still double-checked the following morning to ascertain if there had been any reduction in temperature, only to be told by the same official that “nothing has changed” – roughly translatable by anyone with a brain as “you know what you have to do”.

It is very important to maintain a firm grasp of reality so that “spin” does not ultimately replace it. Yours, etc,




Co Limerick

Sir, – What would now be the chances that in maintaining intact his loyalty to Mr Shatter the Taoiseach will reinstate Meryvn Taylor’s old job of Minister for Equality and Law Reform in the upcoming cabinet reshuffle?

Mr Shatter would thereby be kept at the Cabinet table and would be able to concentrate on what he seems to do best while the operational issues he has spectacularly failed to master are subsumed into one of his colleagues’ portfolios. Yours, etc,



Quilty ,

Co Clare

A chara, It doesn’t hugely matter whether Alan Shatter knew on March 10th or on March 24th what was going on. If he knew on March 10th and did nothing, it is not good enough; and if he runs his department in such a way that it knew on March 10th and he wasn’t informed until March 24th, it isn’t good enough either. Is mise,



Co Kilkenny

Sir, – The University of Dublin may very well be right to remove the Bible from its crest and replace it with an “open book”. The step is no doubt intended to be more “inclusive”. But the college’s description of the removal of the Bible as a “forward-facing” step is not without its own semiotics. Would it not then be equally appropriate to leave behind the uniquely Christian appellation “Trinity” in the same “backward” periods of the university’s history as the Bible? Yours, etc,


Station Road,


Co Dublin

Sir, – I see that Trinity College has opted to blow “religious symbolism out of the college’s ancient crest” (March 29th). Whether this is motivated by an ecumenical heart or plummeting rankings is open to question. I do note that repenting of religious symbolism hasn’t extended to the ancient and, from a marketing perspective, more significant name. To avoid their rattling around for eternity in hollowed-out hypocrisy might I suggest TCD employ the following answer to the obvious question: “Why, pounds, shillings and pence!” Your, etc,


Lauderdale Terrace,


Co Wicklow

Sir, – As a chronicler of the Irish in British construction ( The Men Who Built Britain , published in 2001), I am often asked acerbically “what about the women?” I am delighted therefore that the President will on his state visit to Britain honour the contribution of Irish women to Britain’s national health service. While Irish women worked in a great many occupations the NHS is probably the one sector which is most readily identified with Irish women emigrants in the second half of the twentieth century – a time when that institution stood for selfless service to the common good.

In the same era the construction industry was the largest single employer of Irish male migrant labour in Britain.

The indispensability of the Irish, and their colossal contribution to the building of modern Britain, were warmly acknowledged in Scottish contractor Sir William McAlpine’s 1998 remark to me that “The contribution of the Irish to the success of this industry has been immeasurable.”

The President’s awareness of this achievement has been expressed many times in his UK speeches so further public acknowledgment on this occasion might seem superfluous.

However the very inclusion of the NHS event in this itinerary points up the uniquely symbolic nature of all such gestures made on British soil in the course of a state visit by an Irish president. We cannot know which actions originate with the British and which with the Irish governments but undoubtedly they are agreed by both.

For that reason I very much hope that this visit will not be allowed to pass without some gesture or statement from the President acknowledging the contribution of generations of Irish construction workers, past and present, to the material wellbeing of both countries. Such a statement ought to clearly convey not only Irish recognition, but also British acknowledgment, of these men’s worth. They and their families deserve no less. Yours, etc,


The Potter’s Yard,


Co Wexford

Sir , – What must rank as one of the fastest U-turns in modern times has been the decision of World Vision US, a Christian humanitarian organisation with an annual budget of about $1 billion , to reverse its policy after two days on hiring employees in same-sex marriages.

Last Monday it announced that it was changing its employment policy to allow the hiring of such employees. By Wednesday, after pressure from evangelical and pentecostal Christian organisations throughout the US, it reversed its decision. A major pentecostal denomination, The Assemblies of God, had urged its members to boycott World Vision and instead support evangelical organisations which followed biblical teachings .

In its message last Wednesday addressed to its “Dear Friends”, the president of World Vision US, Richard Stearns, said that that the organisation now realised it had made a mistake and was choosing to “revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness. We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority.”

The incident shows the power of the US fundamentalist Christian movement to successfully oppose any recognition of the human right to marriage equality. Yours , etc,


The Moorings,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Today while standing in a queue at the checkout in our local supermarket I saw two separate incidents of mothers struggling valiantly to resist their children’s demands to buy them sweets displayed beside the counter. I was surprised, because I thought the cynical practice of placing sweets beside the checkout had been abandoned some years ago. At a time when the country is struggling with the tragic effects of widespread childhood obesity it is reasonable to ask supermarkets to stop putting this rubbish on display where parents are blackmailed into buying. Apart from the fact that frequent consumption of sweets is bad for children, it encourages the idea of eating whenever one is bored. The world is sometimes boring but it is better for children to learn to develop patience. Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow

Sir, – When told the reason for daylight saving time the Old Indian said: “Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom, and have a longer blanket.” Yours, etc,


Mill Street,


Co Mayo

Sir, – Only one headline could have further enhanced the uplifting photo of Barack Obama and the pope on your front page (March 28th), and that would have been your large headline on page 9 of the same paper: “Slight chill in air as Obama meets pope”. An excerpt from Paddy Agnew’s Rome report there – referring to the photo session – states that “the president was all smiles but his interlocutor remained sombre, serious and impassive”. Well … as they say … he could have fooled me!

Yours etc,


Lower Dodder Road,


Dublin 14

Irish Independent

* Six months ago, I had a chance meeting in a pub with an Australian and an American. The Australian, who has lived in Dublin for many years, was visiting the area to show his visiting American friend some of the well-known tourist sights. He said: “It’s good to get out of the city. In the city sometimes it’s hard to see the horizon.”

Also in this section

Think the unthinkable

Speak about feelings

Separating religion and education

At the time, that remark resonated with me. I live in the countryside. I see the horizon every day from my home. I tried to imagine living in my home and not being able to see the horizon, it was difficult at the time.

Not any more. Since then I have discovered that my home is directly in the path of a proposed pylon corridor that is part of the planned EirGrid gridlink project.

The plan to erect 45m-high pylons carrying 440kV power lines from Cork to Kildare will mutilate the horizon and the landscape of this country forever.

It will change not just for me and all the other so-called NIMBYs but for everybody in this country and for future generations. It is an issue that is too big to ignore.

Now when I look at the horizon, this is what I think. The countryside is not a vacuous space that the Government and its vested interests can carve up and exploit at the expense of many.

The countryside is alive and well, living and breathing. It belongs to all of the people of Ireland and it is up to us, the people, to be proactive in protecting it for future generations.




* I’m amused at the suggestion by DCU president Brian MacCraith that one way to get around teachers objecting to correcting their own students in the new Junior Certificate is for an online system that would have teachers anonymously correcting students from other schools.

Basically he wants me to do unpaid work previously paid for by the SEC because essentially it is how the present Junior Cert operates. Teachers don’t know the students they are correcting in July.

I wonder how motivated I and others might be in such a system? I have had pay cuts of plus-15pc, been told I no longer have a reasonable chance at promotion, barely get a chance to actually teach as another initiative lands on my desk, and had suggestions from the minister that CCTV cameras might be installed in my classroom. Not to monitor the kids, you understand – but me!

So excuse me if I would not be enthusiastic for such an idea. At least now those correcting are given payment. However, my union colleagues will probably be ballot-whipped into this eventually and told it’s “the only deal in town”. I despair.




* The news that the boss of Aer Lingus, Christoph Mueller, was paid €1.5m last year while he expects his workers to endure further cuts smacks of inequity and injustice.

Given that his workers are facing the prospect of a 20pc cut to their pensions and the imposition of coordination to their defined benefit scheme, the increase in the contribution rate from 25pc to 40pc to the chief executive’s pension pot must really stick in the craw of those workers.

Unions are often accused of bellyaching but they won’t take this lying down and they can’t be blamed either. The Government needs to sit up and pay attention. A third marginal rate of tax, or “rich” tax, should be introduced and the raising of corporation tax explored.

The Transport Minister should also step in before this gets out of hand and a summer of travel chaos ensues.




* Thankfully, I rarely see cancer in my under-six population. I more often detect something of concern in my older patients and early diagnosis can make a huge difference.

The Government has decided that all under-sixes should get free GP care irrespective of need but has raised the income threshold for medical cards for the over-70s and some are losing them as a result.

Healthcare must be targeted to those for whom there is proven need and benefit from improved access to their family doctor.




* Darragh Roche, chairperson of University of Limerick’s Clubs and Societies’ Council (C&SC), justifies (Letters, March 27) the vote rejecting the Life Society, claiming there were “several objections and legitimate questions . . . not answered adequately”. However, not a single objection, nor any inadequately answered questions, were identified to UL Life Society before (or after) the vote by C&SC delegates.

In fact, according to C&SC’s own rules, approval of new societies is on the basis of satisfying the conditions in their guidelines for new societies.

That UL Life Soc did satisfy these conditions was explicitly stated to council before the vote by the C&S Development Officer with responsibility for this.

These conditions include membership being open to all UL students, as per C&SC’s common constitution for all societies.

This specific membership fact was also explicitly restated by myself in the information and Q&A session before the vote.

To give the impression now that we would be “vetting” potential members is simply wrong.

Our reasonable expectation is to be shown the same fair treatment as any other club or society in UL, in accordance with the “policy of inclusion” mentioned by Mr Roche.





* The most disgusting part of our recent political shambles is not the precise meaning of each word uttered by various ministers, the commissioner and the Taoiseach, but their part in blatant obstruction of finding the truth.

This political positioning protecting their own at the expense of justice and what is right has been shown to the public in broad daylight.

Fortunately, no amount of forced and belated withdrawals of what has been said can hide this underlying political dishonesty – and contempt for finding the truth.

This is disgusting politics. All those who stand by Mr Shatter and his contempt for whistleblowers and GSOC have no place in Dail Eireann.



* Whistleblower, beware. On March 10, by notifying his boss regarding the existence of some tapes, Martin Callinan became perhaps one of the highest level whistleblowers in state history; 15 days later he was retired.



* One of the main qualities the next garda commissioner will need is to be shatterproof.



Irish Independent


March 30, 2014

30 March 2014 Sharland

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have an party for the admiral. Priceless

Cold slightly better Mary very under the weather visit her Sharland too

No Scrabbletoday Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Lord Kimball – obituary

Lord Kimball was a Conservative MP who made it his mission to champion country life and fly the flag for foxhunting

Lord Kimball inspecting one of his fishing flies

Lord Kimball inspecting one of his fishing flies Photo: GUGLIELMO GALVIN

6:19PM GMT 28 Mar 2014

Comments13 Comments

Lord Kimball, who has died aged 85, was Conservative MP for Gainsborough from 1956 to 1983 and the last of the Commons’ great country gentlemen. Ruddy of cheek, he was described by a friend as “straight out of an 18th-century hunting field… Looks as if he has port for breakfast, a very good guy who pours proper drinks.”

Marcus Kimball headed a formidable unofficial whipping operation that blocked Bills to outlaw hunting and hare coursing for several decades. Even when facing a mountainous Labour majority after 1997, Kimball, who was deputy president of the Countryside Alliance, managed to head off a ban on hunting for almost two Parliaments.

Though a diligent parliamentarian and loyal Conservative, partisan issues were of less concern to Kimball than the rural way of life. A benevolent patrician, he regarded his constituents as he did the tenants of his estates near Market Harborough and at Altnaharra in Sutherland.

Marcus Kimball in 1970

He felt there should be a sense of proportion over constituency matters, advising aspiring Tory MPs: “If you go after a seat, don’t spoil them by promising to hold surgeries; I never did. And don’t promise to live in the constituency until you’ve found out whether there is a good hunt. You can only get to know a constituency well if you ride over it .”

By the age of six Kimball had been blooded with the Cottesmore; he became joint Master of the Fitzwilliam from 1950 to 1952, and of the Cottesmore from 1956 to 1958. He hunted on 1,182 days during his 27 years as an MP, eventually quitting the field at 68.

His real foes were less on the Opposition benches than in the League Against Cruel Sports and among elements of the RSPCA (of which he was a controversial member). Opponents of hunting attacked his knighthood in 1981 as “deeply offensive”, and booed him for fighting their campaign to replace foxhunting with drag hunting. “Drag hunting,” he told them, “is no substitute for foxhunting. It merely leaves foxes to be indiscriminately butchered, and presupposes that hunting is more cruel than trapping or shooting. People are against it not because it is cruel but because others enjoy it.”

In 1965 he told the RSPCA that it was “becoming the tool of a town versus country campaign based on ignorance”; attempts were twice made to expel him over his support for coursing.

As president of the British Field Sports Society (BFSS) from 1966 to 1982, Kimball offered the RSPCA a deal: if it agreed to talks and to withdraw references to shooting and fishing from its annual report, he could promise the support of BFSS members who belonged to both societies.

At the BFSS, he sought to work with animal welfare groups to promote conservation. He pressed for limits to otter hunting, and in 1971 recommended that coursed hares be given an extra 20 yards’ start. Yet he criticised peers for deciding that curlew and redshank should be protected, saying: “It is a very dangerous precedent to say that because a bird is charming and pretty and makes a nice noise, you should not shoot it.”

Created a life peer in 1985, Kimball deployed his parliamentary skills to continue to frustrate anti-hunting legislation. Prior to the 1997 election he predicted — correctly — that if Labour were elected, a Bill to ban hunting would be promoted at once; he voiced surprise that the rest of the hunting fraternity could not see it coming.

When in 2000 the former Treasury mandarin Lord Burns conducted his inquiry into hunting for a government that privately wished the issue would go away, Kimball told him he could live with “no-go areas” and limits on the number of days hunted. To keep foxhunting alive, he was even prepared to concede the loss of coursing and deer hunting; the Countryside Alliance insisted that he was acting in a personal capacity.

Kimball hoped that the Burns Report would lead to the “survival of well-regulated and reliable hunts” and “a reduction in the impact of some hunts who go too often to their good country”. He added: “There are some very weak hunts hanging on who are not good for the sport.”

Lord Kimball with his daughter Sophie in a plaster cast on her wedding day in 1982

When curbs on shotguns were proposed in 1977, he said it would be better to act against crossbows, a “lethal poacher’s weapon”. But he was a keen advocate of responsible gun ownership, and for five years from 1989 he served on the Firearms Consultative Committee, reviewing the workings of the Firearms Acts; after the Dunblane massacre in 1996 he noted that some guns used by Thomas Hamilton would not have been available to him had the government implemented the panel’s recommendations in full.

Kimball also campaigned for protection for sites of special scientific interest, promoting a Bill in 1964. But in 1991 he claimed £3 million in compensation for not exploiting 35,000 acres of SSSIs on his Sutherland estate. When he did not receive it, he put Altnaharra up for sale.

Kimball was quick to see the threat to rural social life from the introduction of the breathalyser. He urged that magistrates should be given discretion over disqualification for drivers just over the limit whom they considered fit to drive; but his attempt in 1967 to amend the law failed after Labour ministers called for it to receive “the contempt it deserves”.

On social issues he was generally conservative. When separate taxation of married women was proposed in 1978, Kimball said there was “no great demand”, adding: “In my experience, most women faced with a tax demand shove it across to their husband.”

Kimball suffered heavy losses at Lloyds when Syndicate 553 collapsed in 1988, and again when a second syndicate hit the rocks two years later. He accepted his lot with characteristic aplomb: “Insurance underwriting is only sophisticated bookmaking. If the book goes wrong, then you lose. You always pay your bookmaker. Underwriting is the same. You pay up and shut up.”

Marcus Richard Kimball was born on October 18 1928, the son of Major Laurence Kimball, Conservative MP for Loughborough , and educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge; he was Master of the Beagles at Eton and of the Drag at Cambridge. After National Service as a subaltern with the Royal Horse Guards, he farmed near Oakham, and chaired the East Midlands Young Conservatives .

In 1955 Kimball was elected to Rutland county council and fought Derby South in the general election. In February the next year he narrowly held Gainsborough in the by-election caused by the elevation of Capt Harry Crookshank to the peerage. At Westminster, he voted to retain the death penalty; sided with dissidents who feared the Suez adventure would do lasting harm to relations with America; and proved himself one of the best shots in the parliamentary team.

Lord Kimball (centre) at the Peterborough Festival of Hunting in 2010

With Labour in power, he led the resistance to backbench Bills to abolish coursing. When Eric Heffer promoted one in 1967, Kimball told him the screaming of hares when killed was a “chorus of nature”. Harold Wilson gave his backing, and Kimball accused him of “surrender to emotional and ill-informed criticism against a legitimate and traditional country sport”. The Bill passed its Second Reading, but when too few Labour MPs turned up for it to progress further, Kimball declared it “a good day’s sport”.

He left the Commons in 1983. In the Lords he presciently attacked Kenneth Clarke’s Dangerous Dogs Bill as “not properly thought out”, but reserved his strongest criticism for Lord Young’s attempt in 1989 to reorganise England’s breweries and pubs. As the grandson of a brewer, Kimball found it “quite unacceptable” that a Tory government should propose the dissolution of the Brewers’ Society by regulation and interference.

Kimball was at various times president of the National Light Horse Breeding Society and of the Olympia International Show Jumping Championship ; and chairman of the Cambridge University Veterinary School Trust, the British Greyhound Racing Fund and the Museum of Hunting.

He was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for Leicestershire in 1984.

Marcus Kimball married, in 1956, June Fenwick, with whom he had two daughters.

Lord Kimball, born October 18 1928, died March 26 2014


Contrary to Joanna Blythman’s call for a rethink on national dietary guidelines about saturated fats, a major guidance change at this point would be premature (“Why almost everything you’ve been told about unhealthy foods is wrong“, In Focus).

The study she highlights was indeed funded by the British Heart Foundation and its finding – that there was no association between the types of fat we eat and our risk of heart disease – was surprising.

But this study alone is not enough to give the green light to eating as much saturated fat as you like. There is a wealth of evidence showing that eating too much saturated fat raises our cholesterol levels, which we know increases our risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

This new research doesn’t change that, even though it clearly shows there is more for us to find out about how the fat we eat affects our risk of cardiovascular disease.

In the meantime, we will continue to advise people not to focus on any single nutrient in their diet but their diet as a whole. We recommend a Mediterranean-style diet, which has been associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.  This represents a whole diet approach with fats mainly from unsaturated sources as well as more fruit and vegetables, fish and fewer sugary and fatty treats.

Our advice is carefully considered and regularly reviewed; it is based on the evidence of robust research, funded by us and others.

These new findings in isolation aren’t enough to change that. But there’s genuine uncertainty in the field and we’d welcome further studies to improve our understanding and help us continue to give the public the best advice possible, based on robust research.

Professor Jeremy Pearson

British Heart Foundation

London NW1

So stuff that is grown naturally, and might be found in the diet of our ancestors, is good for us. Bizarre concoctions such as margarine are bad for us. Sugar, which we cannot find in such abundance in our natural diet, is bad for us.

I guess the adage that you shouldn’t eat anything that your grandmother would not recognise as food should be amended to something that your great grandmother would not recognise as food, with the codicil that we now know that greens are good for us.


Online contribution

The recent focus on sugars rather than calories as a cause of obesity and overweight doesn’t help people to understand that balance is key – not only in the diet but also in balancing calories taken in with calories expended during physical activity. The simple healthy lifestyle message is becoming lost.

Food and Drink Federation members remain focused on working through the Responsibility Deal to play their part in tackling obesity. The calorie reduction pledge, which 11 FDF members have already signed, is directly supporting consumers to reduce their calorie intake, in some case by also reducing sugar.

Reformulating recipes is just one strand of industry action on health; companies are also creating new, healthier options and investing in consumer education. Calls for new structures are a distraction from the good work that is already underway, but, more worryingly, they are confusing public health messaging.

Individuals have access to clear and consistent nutrition information, which includes total sugar content, and which, in the vast majority of products, is also provided on the front of packets.

The labelling of added sugars, as suggested by the chief medical officer in her annual report, is not permissible under European legislation. In addition to the nutrition label, the different sources of sugars used in products will be listed in the ingredients list.

Terry Jones

Food and Drink Federation

London WC2

Will Hutton argues against the new pensions freedoms that have been given to savers on the basis that we all benefit from “risk-pooling” when we buy an annuity (“Osborne’s pensions ‘freedom’ will be a long-term social disaster“, Comment). But he seems to ignore the fact that compulsory annuities are, in effect, a tax on the poor.

Under the current system, most people hand over their pension to an insurance company that promises in return to pay an income for life. The people who do best are the ones who live the longest.

But there is a strong correlation between deprivation and life expectancy. Put crudely, on average, rich people live a long time and poor people die young. So the great winners in the annuity pool are those who have already done well out of life, paid for by those who are at the bottom of the pile. Under the new system, individuals will be free to take the whole of their pension pot as cash. Individuals with a low life expectancy will be able to guarantee that they (or their heirs) get the full benefit from their pension pot, supported by the new, free face-to-face “guidance guarantee” that we are putting in place.

Furthermore, people at the top with large pension pots already have considerable flexibility when it comes to annuities. Those with relatively small pots could find that they couldn’t cash them in but that their pension provider offered them only a lousy rate, with no realistic options for shopping around.

In principle, risk pooling is a good thing. But a system that redistributes from poor to rich does not seem to me to be a part of the fairer society that both Will Hutton and I want to see.

Steve Webb MP

Minister of State for Pensions

Free internet access for all

Michelle Obama suggests that internet access is one of the universal rights (“Internet access a right, says US first lady“, News). If it is to be a universal right then access should be universal, which means that the internet should be treated as a free core service by public libraries. This is something that the independent report on the public library service recently commissioned by the culture minister should be recommending.

Andrew Hudson


Charter won’t end free press

Catherine Bennett is mistaken when she asserts that the royal charter on press self-regulation is “state control” and means “the end of the free press”, that it was cooked up late at night over pizza and that papers that don’t sign up will face punitive damages (“The week when Jagger found the true cost of fame“, Comment).

The charter is the fruit of a year-long, judge-led public inquiry of exemplary fairness, followed by months of effort by politicians to accommodate the wishes of editors who still refuse to face up to the harm caused by their papers’ unethical and illegal conduct.

Every party in parliament endorsed the final document, which closely follows the Leveson recommendations. So did victims of press abuse. So does the public, as polls show, and so do the many eminent people with impeccable free-speech credentials who signed a declaration supporting the charter last week.

Bennett did not mention the substantial advantages of the charter system for the press. It provides the means of winning back public trust; it delivers unprecedented safeguards against political interference; it liberates editors for the first time from the “chilling” effect of litigation by wealthy people and institutions. For the public, in stark contrast with the past, the charter promises fair treatment and access to justice. No wonder so many people support it.

Brian Cathcart

Director, Hacked Off

The beingness of being

Andrew Anthony says to Mary Midgley, possibly taking on the role of devil’s advocate, that gravity or electromagnetic waves “exist –unlike poetry or music – regardless of the human landscape” (“Late stand for a thinker with soul“, New Review). But has anybody ever encountered gravity or electromagnetic waves, or, indeed, any other thing for that matter, independently of human consciousness? Consciousness is the be all and end all, the ground of being. Science may therefore be seen as one part of this consciousness making a model of another part, which is probably why it’s so successful. As Mary Midgley rightly points out, everything has to “go through oneself”.

Ian Cunliffe


West Sussex

Ditch the dye, darlings

Eva Wiseman questions our sanity in injecting poison into our faces to appear younger (Magazine,). One day, we may also look back, incredulous, at it being considered “normal” to colour hair and not wear the wisdom of grey locks with pride.

Sue Jones


The Crimean referendum may have been ‘illegal’ in terms of international law  but the result  was obviously quite genuine

Gavin Turner

Gunton, Norfolk

Heat pumps are not quite as “game changing” as Ed Davey is reported to believe (“Renewable energy from rivers and lakes could replace gas in homes”, 23 March). Typically 1 kilowatt (kW) of electricity is required to produce 3 to 4kW of useable heat from a heat pump. However, electricity can cost three or four times the price of gas per kilowatt-hour (kWh), so the running costs are not necessarily “relatively low”. This is broadly the case whether the electricity to run the heat pump is generated from renewable sources or fossil fuels, as in the case of electricity generated from renewables, there is a lost opportunity cost.

In addition, if the electricity to run the heat pump is generated in a fossil-fuel (eg gas-fired) power station, which may only produce 1kWh of electricity for every 2 to 2.5kWh of natural gas consumed, the overall energy gain is not as large as one might at first suppose.

Heat pumps certainly have their place in a coherent UK energy strategy, but they are not as revolutionary as you suggest in your article.

Dr John Coppendale

Stapleford, Cambridge

The installation of a district heating scheme supplied by heat pumps is very welcome. However, it should be noted that district heating, along with heat pumps, has rarely been found economic in the UK. In countries where district heating is widely used there is a cultural and regulatory environment that supports and encourages their use, and we don’t have this yet. We are seeing one small step, and should not confuse this with a giant leap.

David Wallis

Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Well  knock me down! The Energy Secretary has just discovered heat pumps. It only takes a crisis in the Ukraine for HMG to re-invent the wheel. I am 80 and clearly remember that in the 1950s the Festival Hall was heated by the Thames and a heat-pump system. That was a time when Croydon Council ran all its vehicles on methane gas recycled by its sewage works.

C Moorey

via email

Tony Brenton is a lone voice of reason (“Crimea is lost, but there is a deal waiting to be done” 23 March). The Crimean referendum may have been “illegal” in terms of international law, but the result was obviously quite genuine. If we cannot see that Russia has gone through a much more sudden and traumatic loss of empire than we did, we are very blind to 20th-century history.

By all means plan gradually to make western Europe free of its dependence on Russian oil and gas, which will ultimately make the Russian economy even more of a basket case and help to bring them to compromise with us; but, meanwhile, we should stop posturing and threatening, and try to get round the table with Putin anyway. The alternative of escalating conflict is far too serious for any of us to contemplate.

Gavin Turner

Gunton, Norfolk

The shadow Work and Pensions Secretary is right to say that “the problem with the Budget was that there was nothing for people who can’t afford to save” (23 March). Which doesn’t surprise me as the Chancellor was trying to play to the gallery of core Tory voters whom the party are afraid might turn to Ukip at the next general election.

Tim Mickleburgh

Grimsby, Lincolnshire

D  J Taylor almost but not quite nails the impact of Old Etonians in British society when he notes that, politics aside, David Cameron seems a more assured performer than Ed Miliband (23 March). The products of Eton are to be found on the left as well as the right, and some are very astute. That however is not what Eton has taught them. That is rather a sense of self-belief and self-confidence that was not imparted, for example, at my north London comprehensive school. So we find with the current Prime Minister that he is a mostly plausible public performer, but anyone looking to him for deep thinking about the problems facing our society is likely to be disappointed.

Keith Flett

London N17


Cash injection needed to boost NHS treatments

DOCTORS often take the attitude that any illness has a simple explanation as a first principle (“Revealed: how NHS betrays cancer patients” and “How did they miss our son’s tumour?”, News, last week). So patients go through a process of elimination before full diagnostic action is taken. This wastes time but saves money in the short term. Britain has some painful decisions to make but we cannot take proper care of people without paying for good treatment.
Hazel Richards, Manchester

Under pressure
While I fully support the Sunday Times cancer campaign, I was disappointed you did not mention that the UK has fewer doctors per head and spends less on health than comparable countries. The pressure on primary care is immense: consultations are up from 300m to 340m in three years, with no increase in full-time-equivalent GP numbers. Only 8% of the NHS budget is spent on primary care, compared with 10% five years ago. A colleague recently said of the NHS: “Quality. Cheap. Access. Pick two out of three.” How true.
Stewart McMenemin, Glasgow

Nothing but praise
Thank you for publishing Dr Tom Goodfellow’s explanation of why people are kept waiting past the six-week deadline for scans (“Scan delays fail to reveal true picture”, Letters, last week). Suffering from advanced prostate cancer myself, I have signed up for your campaign and have nothing but praise for the NHS. I will not survive but I have, through marvellous treatment developments, enjoyed an extension.
Rodney Hooker, Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire

Pancreatic cancer watch
Although not mentioned in your reports, pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of the 21 most common cancers: five-year survival is less than 4% across the UK, a figure virtually unchanged for 40 years.

We are particularly supportive of the first two aims of your campaign: earlier diagnosis and faster access to treatment. At the moment 50% of pancreatic cancer diagnoses are made through emergency admissions. We also know 40% of pancreatic cancer patients visit their GP three times or more before being referred — a higher figure than for many other cancer patients.
Alex Ford, Chief Executive, Pancreatic Cancer UK

Camilla ready
Camilla Cavendish (“Dr Skype is waiting to save your life”, News, last week) is correct when she says that the NHS is “a world away” from being joined-up. So far only one hospital in north Staffordshire has committed to video technology; the rest of us have to go through a process invented in Victorian times.
Tony Kane, Cheadle, Greater Manchester

Support care law reforms
In 2011 the government assigned the Law Commission the task of undertaking a fundamental review of the laws governing the regulation of healthcare professionals in the UK. Ministers recognised that we were hamstrung by laws that were outdated, complex, highly prescriptive and difficult to change. Too often we knew what was wrong, but legal structures designed for a different era made it impossible for us to put things right quickly and efficiently.

The Law Commission was given the task of creating a single, streamlined legal structure covering all nine regulators that would enable us to provide better protection for patients, to be more responsive, to reduce the burden of regulation and to drive down costs. We remain committed to these aims.

The recommendations of Robert Francis QC after events at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust highlighted
the importance of regulation focused on promoting safe, compassionate care rather than intervening only after patients have suffered harm.

That is why we are calling on the government and all political parties to support the publication and urgent parliamentary consideration of the bill proposed by the Law Commission, which is due to be published on April 2, 2014. This will be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring about long-awaited reform.
Mark Addison, Chairman, Nursing and Midwifery Council, Professor Sir Peter Rubin, Chairman, General Medical Council

Sending out a message in fight against slavery

THERE is a simple answer to the question Cosmo Landesman poses about 12 Years a Slave’s failure to stir us to fight modern- day slavery (“Not a single leg iron smashed by 12 Years a Slave”, Comment, last week). The film, while having hugely important lessons for today, is, as Landesman says, anchored in history.

If we are going to hold out hope for the 29.8m people in slavery in the world today, then we need a contemporary message that engages individuals, governments, civil society organisations and companies to fight contemporary slavery in all its forms, and particularly in company supply chains. While slavery operates in many forms across this country, most of it is “offshored” in the supply chains of imported products.

The one person who has worldwide appeal is the Pope. His recently announced Global Freedom Network initiative, through which the Catholic Church will work with the Church of England, Islamic leaders and the Walk Free Foundation, aims to deliver co-ordinated worldwide action to ensure that ours is the last generation that has to fight the trade in human lives.
Frank Field MP, Chairman, Joint Select Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill, House of Commons

Charity case
Landesman comments that the film has not generated the expected upsurge in support for anti-slavery organisations. No one has asked me to donate to such a charity, although there are people asking for money for other good causes every week.
David Harris, London SW13

Long shot hits the target

HAVING just read Camilla Long’s review of Jonathan Glazer’s ghastly Under the Skin (“Much ado about nothing”, Culture, March 16), we write to thank her profusely for being the only critic who has not been taken in by “the emperor’s new lingerie” (brilliantly pithy of Long) starring Scarlett Johansson. Despite Joss Ackland’s criticism of Long’s past reviews (“Film reviewer flunks her screen test”, Letters, last week), we agreed with every word she wrote and are perplexed that other, usually perceptive critics have been so bamboozled. That some have compared this very poor movie to the work of geniuses such as Stanley Kubrick and Nicolas Roeg is worrying. It would be interesting to know what Michel Faber thinks about this adaptation of his book.
Michael Walker and Genevieve Allenbury, London W4

PC brigade wrong on sharia wills

YOUR article on sharia-compliant wills (“Law body’s guide to sharia ‘backs discrimination’”, News, last week) included a hysterical overreaction by the Lawyers’ Secular Society to Law Society guidance on their drafting.

English law permits people to draft wills according to their own desires. If they want to give less to daughters than sons, they are allowed to do so. If they want to bequeath money to only persons of a specific religion, whether Muslim, Mormon or Methodist, they are entitled to do so, in the same way as they have the right to cut a child out of the will for any reason they wish.

Many relatives disagree with a will, but that is the decision of the person making the will. The job of a lawyer is to draft a will that reflects the client’s wishes. It is not their job to draft a will that “shows respect for diversity”: the Equality Act does not extend to the dead — yet.
Neil Addison, Barrister, New Bailey Chambers, Corn Exchange, Liverpool

Wrong call

I have just read the article “Jihadists urged to attack Queen at sports events” (News, last week). Then just a few pages later there was the story “School’s ‘£70,000 for prayer hailers’”, which alleges that Park View School in Birmingham has installed loudhailers in the playground to call pupils to Islamic prayer. The grovelling to the politically correct is truly at epidemic proportions.
Brian Watson, Purley, London


Forced disclosure
It is telling and frightening that the Department of Health issued a ban on burning aborted and miscarried babies (“Thousands of foetuses burnt as ward waste”, News, last week) as clinical waste — and in some cases in furnaces used to generate energy for powering hospitals — only after a media investigation was about to reveal this evil practice to the public.
John Reid, Sunningdale, Berkshire

Need for speed
In his correspondence “Hitting the buffers” (Letters, last week) Gordon Vinell suggested that the UK is not large enough to justify having a high-speed railway line. Countries smaller than ours and with a greater density of population, such as Belgium and Holland, have established high-speed train services. In Taiwan such a line links the capital, Taipei, with the second city, Kaohsiung, a distance of 214 miles — about the same as London to Preston. The line carries more than 100,000 passengers a day. Here the main routes will soon reach full capacity, and rebuilding existing lines while they are fully operational is not feasible. Also there are regeneration benefits that a new railway line will bring to the regions.
John Chapman, Hythe, Kent

Opening doors
With reference to the reported state school antipathy to Oxford and Cambridge (“Anti-Oxbridge teachers hold state pupils back”, Letters, last week), there is nothing new under the sun. In the 1950s a headmaster at a north of England grammar school told a pupil, “If Leeds was good enough for me, it’s good enough for you.” That situation was dealt with by letters to various Cambridge colleges, one of which accepted the pupil.

My own route to Cambridge was orthodox, but with only two women’s colleges it was a steep hill to climb. The pupil and I met and married, but our youngest child faced her own hurdles before becoming the first woman to go to sea in a Royal Navy vessel. Her route involved saying “Why not?” several times. Things can, and do, change. Some doors need a firm hand to push them open.
Ann Franklin, Rugby, Warwickshire

Marriage counselling
Tanya Gold (“Cor blimey, Mary Poppins, you make William and Kate look radical”, last week) suggested that Norland nannies were “married to the job”, and that “there is always something suspect about an unmarried woman, something needing to be explained”. Being one of these unclaimed treasures myself, I am shocked Gold thought that this remark was worthy of a good journalist.
Angela Fowlis, St Andrews, Fife

Wish they were here
I was interested in the snapshot of Nottingham given in the Best Places to Live in Britain supplement (last week). You referred to “the big, open Old Market Square, lined with cafes and restaurants . . .” There is not a single cafe or restaurant in the square, nor has there been in many years. There are two large pubs and a coffee chain outlet in a corner. There is certainly nowhere that could even remotely be classed as suitable to go for an evening meal.
Cliff Billington, Nottingham

Bang out of order
Regarding how the universe was born (“The biggest bang”, News Review, last week), will this knowledge stop wars, house the homeless, feed the hungry or teach the illiterate to read? Thought not.
Terry Slater, Harlow, Essex

Corrections and clarifications

Newport Girls’ High School was listed as being located in Newport, Gwent, in our Best Places to Live in Britain supplement (last week). It is actually in Newport, Shropshire. We apologise for the error.

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


Warren Beatty, actor, 77; Eric Clapton, guitarist, 69; Robbie Coltrane, actor, 66; Celine Dion, singer, 46; Astrud Gilberto, singer, 74; MC Hammer, rapper, 52; Norah Jones, singer, 35; Eddie Jordan, former F1 team boss, 66; Ingvar Kamprad, founder of Ikea, 88; Lord (Mervyn) King, former governor of the Bank of England, 66


1842 ether used as an anaesthetic for the first time, by US surgeon Crawford Long; 1856 Treaty of Paris is signed, ending the Crimean War; 1979 Tory MP Airey Neave is killed by an INLA car bomb; 1981 President Ronald Reagan is shot by John Hinckley Jr; 2002 death of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother at the age of 101


Time: Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Prisoners Exercising’, 1890, after an engraving by Gustave Doré Photo: Bridgeman Art Library

6:58AM GMT 29 Mar 2014

Comments81 Comments

SIR – As the mother of a prisoner who has a long sentence, I am aware that most people feel that a person is in prison for punishment and shouldn’t be allowed books or other “luxuries”. What most do not understand is that the lack of freedom is, in itself, a huge punishment.

Since Chris Grayling has been Justice Secretary, my son’s prison does not allow books, has closed the art and music rooms, and allows prisoners outside for half an hour only at meal times so they must choose either to eat or to go outside.

At weekends, the outside time is only at breakfast which, in the winter, is when it is dark. Education courses are only allowed for prisoners who will shortly be released and not for long-term inmates. My son is bored and says that he would be happier breaking up stones with a pickaxe every day – at least then he would get some exercise and fresh air.

What are we trying to achieve with those in custody?

Gay Crampton
Kingsbridge, Devon

SIR – I would like to know on what basis the Prime Minister claims that voters “were happy to wait for a say on Britain’s place in the EU until after the general election”.

Over the last few years, opinion polls have consistently shown that the majority of the electorate wants a referendum now, in order to settle the question once and for all. A growing number are in favour of leaving the EU.

David Cameron’s statement underlines how out-of-touch our politicians are when it comes to the views of the public.

David Samuel-Camps
Eastleigh, Hampshire

SIR – For many years I have represented small food businesses in Britain in consultations about new food regulations with the European Commission and European Parliament.

In every case, I have been listened to, and changes have been made to proposals in response to rational argument. In every case, too, I have been the only person from Britain at these meetings.

We have had some notable achievements when impractical proposals have either been dropped or successfully modified.

Sadly, I cannot afford to continue as no one contributes to my expenses.

It is wrong to think that the Commission and the Parliament ignore our views. If we do not express them rationally at the right time, we get what we deserve.

Bob Salmon
Food Solutions
Greetham, Rutland

SIR – In the vote for independence in Scotland, 51 per cent will carry the day.

In the event of a referendum on Europe, will a similar percentage count? Or will we be told that we need a higher percentage to trigger a decision to leave the EU?

Peter Thompson
Sutton, Surrey

Unequal partners

SIR – Alice Arnold writes: “From today same-sex couples will be able to get married, not civilly partnered, but married. We will

have exactly the same rights as everybody else.”

That is misleading. Same-sex couples may choose between marriage and civil partnership, but heterosexual couples are excluded from the provisions of the Civil Partnership Act.

Tim Clarke
Calbourne, Isle of Wight

Four pairs bad

SIR – Researchers at Toronto University need not be concerned that children “attribute human behaviours and emotions to animals”; they have always had a realistic view and we should not patronise them.

As an occasional assistant librarian, I used to ask children if they had enjoyed the book they were returning. One day, I was solemnly informed by a little girl that it was a “silly book”. She went on to explain that “spiders don’t wear shoes”.

Edward Cartner
Plymstock, Devon

SIR – Do concerns about giving animals human attributes extend to George Orwell’s Animal Farm?

Bruce Cochrane
Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire

SIR – I was brought up on Winnie the Pooh and Rupert Bear. It hasn’t done me any harm. I have discussed this with my dog, and he agrees with me.

Chrissy Catchpole
Forest Row, East Sussex

Plumb apprenticeships

SIR – The continuing fall in unemployment is welcome news: the latest figures show 63,000 fewer jobless people in the last quarter. But too many young people are still out of work and risk becoming trapped on benefits. We need to get young people off the dole and set up for life.

One way to do this would be to divert Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) cash – about £3,000 per year, per person – to small businesses to pay for apprenticeships. If a suitable apprenticeship were offered to a young JSA claimant, but he or she turned down or quit the position, he or she would lose the unemployment benefits.

It makes no sense to have young people going nowhere on benefits when they could be learning a trade that would give them purpose and a career for life.

If we could get half of Britain’s 314,430 young JSA claimants off benefits and into apprenticeships, it would free up millions of pounds to fund these opportunities.

Andrew Boff
Member, London Assembly (Con)
Charlie Mullins
CEO, Pimlico Plumbers
London SE1

Breaking Saudi ties

SIR – Saudi Arabia’s Sunni regime is destabilising the Middle East by playing the sectarian card against “apostate” Shias. It would have the West go to war with Iran. It promotes the export of Wahhabism, which has spawned jihadists behind al-Qaeda.

It’s time the West distanced itself from the Saudi ruling family. The arms lobbies will complain about export losses, but they should be ignored. The so-called Saudi oil weapon is bluff: the regime needs oil revenues to placate its subjects.

Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

Time on your hands

SIR – It is possible to own too much. A person with one watch knows what time it is. A person with two is never quite sure.

Sue Owen
Colwyn Bay, Clwyd

This little piggy

SIR – My mantra for socks and sandals is “knees and toes”. Either both or neither visible at any time.

Peter Humphreys
Bebington, Wirral

Museum workers solve First World War mystery

SIR – Petersfield has a small museum, which has put on a special display of artefacts from the First World War. My husband lost two uncles during the war and has loaned the museum some interesting items relating to these two brave men for display.

One uncle was a pilot in 204 Squadron of the RAF and died on October 27 1918. After the war, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) confirmed on three occasions in writing that neither had a known grave.

However, two young museum workers organising the exhibition did some research and found that, in fact, the original information held by the CWGC was incorrect, and that Lt Philip Frederick Cormack did, indeed, have a grave, in a French cemetery in Belgium.

An English researcher visited the cemetery in 2009, found a grave with the name Cormack on a cross, and realised that the name was English and he should not have been there. The French confirmed that they had no record of a Cormack being killed. It seems that, shortly after being shot down in 1918, he was found by the Belgians, who mistook him for a Frenchman, and he was buried in the Machelen cemetery 25 miles from Ghent.

The mistake was rectified 95 years later, when the CWGC replaced the French cross with a British headstone last December.

Patricia Cormack
Petersfield, Hampshire

SIR – Those in charge of the nation’s health want us all to be obliged to ingest fluoride with our drinking water, ostensibly to protect our teeth.

What if we have no teeth? My mouth is full of dentures. Why, simply because parents can’t be bothered to stop their children eating too many sweets, should I be made to swallow unnecessary chemicals ?

If folk wish to use fluoride to protect their teeth, they can use fluoridated toothpaste. In fact it is difficult to find a toothpaste that isn’t fluoridated.

To use drinking water to introduce medication is a dangerous precedent – what next, slimming drugs to counteract obesity and contraceptives to keep down the population?

John H D Gibson
Malvern, Worcestershire

SIR – Philip Johnston (Comment, March 26) correctly identifies water fluoridation as a controversial issue, but it is one that politicians must grasp. Dentists still treat far too many children suffering from severe tooth decay which, it should be remembered, remains an entirely preventable condition. In Britain it is probably the earliest and clearest indicator of health inequalities. Water fluoridation probably represents the single most cost-effective way to reduce tooth decay in large parts of the population.

None the less, the British Dental Association remains clear that, however effective water fluoridation may be, it is no substitute for an integrated oral health strategy that includes improved oral hygiene and reduced sugar consumption.

The review of water fluoridation by Public Health England may help extend water fluoridation to those communities that would benefit most from it. If that potential is not realised, too many young children will continue to have teeth extracted in hospital. That’s a tragedy that can be avoided by grasping the political nettle. So the BDA supports the introduction of water fluoridation as one part of an integrated oral health strategy.

Graham Stokes
British Dental Association
London W1

SIR – In Lancet Neurology this month, the paediatrician Philip J Landrigan and Professor Philippe Grandjean of Harvard School of Public Health write that, after looking at 27 studies, they now classify fluoride as a “developmental neurotoxin”, which can harm children’s brains.

The biggest falls in tooth decay are in Sweden, Holland, Finland and Denmark, which don’t fluoridate their water.

Ann Wills
Ruislip, Middlesex

SIR – Since 97 per cent of mains water is used for other purposes than drinking, dosing the community with fluoride in this way is the least effective action imaginable.

Tony Jones
London SW7

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Madam – In last week’s Sunday Independent Allison Pearson in an article entitled “You can’t help but think, ‘what a waste'” speculates on why L’Wren Scott, Mick Jagger‘s girlfriend, took her own life. As she states, “suicide is always a chilling mystery, a desolating act, and often an accusation”.

Also in this section

Think the unthinkable

Separating religion and education

In the interests of justice, Shatter must resign

Suicide is always a tragedy and can leave surviving friends/relatives with many questions. This is especially true when the person who does this act is young and from an outside perspective appears to have so much to live for.

It is not so much a desire to end their lives but a desire to end whatever pain the person is enduring that is paramount in the person’s mind. Human emotions are powerful entities. They have the ability to give us profound periods of ecstasy such as the love we may feel for someone, but equally they can bring us to the edge and beyond in despair. Each of us is different and reacts to various situations in a variety of ways. This has to do with personality as well as previous traumas experienced. Unless the feelings associated with what life throws at us are expressed at the time, they build up and manifest in different ways. If you don’t speak them out you will act them out.

Young people need to be educated on the importance of expressing their feelings and having them validated. It is never too early to start this. In this way they gain confidence in themselves and their abilities to deal with life’s stresses in adulthood are much greater and have a more solid foundation.

It is not so much the hand of cards you are dealt with in life, but what you do with them that is more important. Greater openness and acceptance in the fact that we are emotional beings will lead to a greater chance of people having the confidence to express their feelings and not act them out in destructive ways such as suicide.

Hopefully we won’t have the need to speculate after the event what emotional triggers brought the person to commit the ultimate act of self destruction. The person will be attuned to their own emotional well-being and have the confidence to seek help and hopefully resolve whatever turmoil they are in.

Thomas Roddy,



Madam – It was with deep regret that I learned of the resignation of my former colleague, Martin Callinan, a decent and brave man who sacrificed his career to satisfy the howling mob, yet rightly did not fully accede to all their demands.

Martin was always a decent and honourable man who believed in doing right. When the mob have finished with Alan Shatter, where will they turn their eyes next – the CRC, the HSE, the church, the legal profession? And are we now to forget about the kind of discretion that might have been exercised by a humane garda in the past? Maybe some of those who are loudest in the mob today, might some day have need of that discretion.

John Barry,

Malahide, Co Dublin


Madam – Garda chief Martin Callinan resigns. It is time that the entire Irish media and many politicians in Dail Eireann, who for the most part do not have a creative solution to the problems facing this nation, apologise to Mr Callinan and the Irish public for creating an environment that not only brought discredit on Mr Callinan, and by extension 13,000 members of the Garda Siochana, but also caused the resignation of an outstanding leader.

No citizen should be pressured into resigning nor should consideration be given to firing such an individual for the use of a single word. Surely the Irish citizen is sufficiently educated to live with and accept or reject a single word used by a man in a position of power and influence and accept or reject his explanation without concluding that the punishment for such an expression of opinion is resignation or firing? This whole affair indicates we have a very immature republic/ democracy.

Vincent J Lavery,

Irish Free Speech Movement,

Dalkey, Co Dublin


Madam – Maurice O’Connell’s letter (Sunday Independent, March 23, 2014) made interesting and novel reading. Ireland needs and deserves a ‘new politics’ for the very obvious reason that the old ones have been a catastrophic failure, at least for the majority of the ‘plain’ people. It is perfectly understandable that he “‘can see no coherent and potentially politically effective group in Leinster House’, likely to effect the necessary change”.

After all, why should they surrender their hard-won privileges? Patriotism, like everything else, has its limits. In any case it would mean admitting to a colossal lie perpetrated on the people for almost a century, and they in turn would have to admit to being duped to such an extent. There’s the rub, as Shakespeare put it.

Your noble endeavours deserve every success on ‘the long, hard road to such a new politics’.

William Barrett,

Surrey, UK


Madam – A Leavy (Sunday Independent, March 23, 2014), appears to be under the illusion that only a ‘token’ percentage of women are allowed stand for election to Dail Eireann; as if they need permission to raise their numbers.

He struggles with the notion that there must be some sinister reason why many more women do not put themselves forward for election. Quite simply, if they aren’t in, they can’t win. The daft idea of there being a 50 per cent quota of female TDs elected, is a farcical scenario to attempt.

What is the answer if strictly half of those going forward are women but only 10-20 per cent win?

Should a hefty portion of the successful male candidates be forced to give up their seats?

Why not scrap elections for women altogether and just proceed with a selection of Dail female TDs who are acceptable in political circles and stick them into Leinster House seats, while the men can fight it out among themselves in the current fashion? This would be much easier than “forcing” us to vote for women, especially if they are not our choice of candidate.

Robert Sullivan,

Bantry, Co Cork


Madam – Further to Sheila O’Flanagan’s and A Leavy’s letters (Sunday Independent, March 23, 2014), Ms O’Flanagan may appear to make a persuasive case for all-female quotas but things are not as simple and one-sided as she and A Leavy imply.

Ms O’Flanagan asks: “How many male politicians have achieved office because they are part of a political dynasty rather than because they have done anything noteworthy?”

It’s a valid question but the same could be asked in relation to some female politicians.

She also asks: “How many businessmen found themselves moving up the ladder because of the school they went to?”

Again, it’s a valid question but it’s not just women who are adversely affected: throughout history, men of superior ability have been, and, we can be sure, continue to be, passed over in favour of lesser men for appointment to office because they have not belonged to the right cliques or been in favour with relevant powers-that-be.

Hugh Gibney,

Athboy, Co Meath


Madam – In response to Jim Cusack’s article (Sunday Independent, March 23, 2014) on the recent burial service of a known criminal; as a practising Catholic it galls me to witness the Catholic Church allowing this practice to continue when the person or persons are known criminals. The celebrant who officiated at the service stated that “gangs had lost any sense of mercy”. Should a protector of known extortionists, money launderers and drug dealers be afforded a Christian burial? What mercy have these criminals shown to the young vulnerable people who have had their lives destroyed? Pope Francis referenced the Mafia – he warned them “that they will go to hell” for their criminal activities.

Haven’t we our own Mafia here? The words of scripture come to mind, “All who draw the sword will die by the sword” – Matthew 26. I rest my case.

Journalists have risked their lives in an effort to expose and shame these criminals – why not the churches?

Name and address with Editor


Madam – Eoghan Harris asks: “Can any classic field game such as hurling or rugby be completely safe?”

The answer is no. The HSE informs us that every taxpayer in Ireland is paying €3,313 every year because of alcohol abuse.

How much are sports injuries costing us?

Mattie Lennon,

Blessington, Co Wicklow


Madam – I refer to the news (Sunday Independent, March 23, 2014), that Margaretta D’Arcy had been released from prison. At the risk of being unkind to an elderly, unwell lady, I must protest at her promise to continue her protest at Shannon Airport. Does she not take into account what a great friend to Ireland the US has been – both commercially and in helping to attain a peace in the North? Has America no right to defend itself against terrorism? At best her behaviour is laughable and at worst it takes up valuable garda time. My advice to “The Margaretta” is “go home m’dear, put up your feet and relax”.

Dan O’Connell,

Cork city


Madam – John McClung (Letters, March 23, 2014) tells us he is sick of Northern Ireland being referred to as ‘the North’. In return could he ask the people there to respect Ireland by calling it Ireland. Not ‘the South’, ‘the Republic’ or ‘the Republic of Ireland’. Ireland is the official name. The Republic of Ireland is its descriptive name. Perhaps he would like to contact the media there and ask them to exercise their right to ‘edit where necessary’ also?

John Brady,

Phibsborough, Dublin 7


Madam – As well as wholly agreeing with Mary Farrell’s point that “We can’t trust shambolic HSE to run disability sector” (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014), I think it is sadly conspicuous that the State has no means to audit the effectiveness or value of the mixed-performing disability service contractors to which the HSE has “passed the buck” (in all senses, of course).

In the brain injury sector – with adult services being non-existent in Co Meath, she says, (as in many elsewheres too) – the level of HSE contracting-out, buck-passing, is far greater in Ireland than in any other European country, I believe.

However, we share a similar prevalence of brain injuries: two per cent of all our populations, that’s one in 50 among us, have a daily-living disability from brain injuries, resulting from head injuries, strokes and also tumours, aneurysms and other causes.

That’s practically 100,000 people in Ireland. A multiple of that number are closely concerned, with families and friends.

Being so important, individually and in public health numbers, anybody with their wits about them among our health “leaders” would prioritise this challenge, not just pass the buck for even more of eternity.

By the way, those who have had brain injuries would be very much better re-enabled to take part and contribute to all our lives (maybe rather well) if there were adequate rehab and disability care systems.

That would be a boost for everybody.

There are also fantastic savings available from smaller ongoing health care costs (by saving people from worse health), let alone lightening (emotional and financial) burdens on carers.

Roll on better, independent, insightful analysis and advocacy in this area.

Paul Barrett,

Nenagh, Co Tipperary


Madam – No murder in the history of the Troubles can evoke more emotion than the murder of Jean McConville in 1972. That her body was also given special treatment and ‘disappeared’ in order that her family suffer more is even more sickening.

That 10 children were left without a mother didn’t seem to matter. Their father had already died, and so they became orphans.

Her surviving 10 children got no dispensation from the IRA, only the occasional threat to keep quiet – even though Gerry Adams, the republican leader in Belfast at that time, came from a family of 10 surviving children himself.

There was no empathy in their hearts, no honesty in their deliberations, no thought of what might happen to her children.

They lied about her keeping an army radio, passing on information and even coming to the aid of a dying soldier – as if she should be afraid to do this.

They tell us how Bloody Sunday, also in 1972, showed us what the British are really like. The murder of Jean McConville reveals a lot about egomaniacal cowards consumed with a perceived power over those who had no guns. Such are the origins of evil.

John O‘Connell,



Madam – I read today in the (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014) that Jim Culloty’s home had been ‘burglarised’ when he was at Cheltenham.

No it wasn’t, it was burgled. Since when did your newspaper become American?

I have also read articles by Irish reporters saying that they have ‘gotten’ something.

Is this the influence of some of your staff having spent their ‘gap year’ in America?

Carole Molloy,

Foxrock, Dublin 18

Sunday Independent


March 29, 2014

29 March 2014 Liz

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have an inspection by the admiral. Priceless

Cold slightly better Mary very under the weather visit her take Liz

No Scrabbletoday Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Bruce Robertson , who has died aged 79, was managing director of the book design and artwork partnership Diagram and founder of the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title, an award presented annually by The Bookseller magazine.

Robertson and his business partner Trevor Bounford dreamed up the award in 1978 to avoid boredom at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair. The first award went to Proceedings Of The Second International Workshop On Nude Mice. Other winners over the years have included How to Avoid Huge Ships; Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop; and Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way.

The Diagram Prize (which earns the winner a passable bottle of claret and — possibly — a boost in sales) is unique in that spotters and judges do not actually have to read the books in question. Indeed, they are actively discouraged from doing so, in case a close knowledge of the subject leads them to conclude that the titles are less odd than they first appear.

The prize grabbed the imagination of the Press and, indeed, became so high-profile that in 2004 the organisers complained that some publishers were self-consciously choosing titles with a view to winning it, “presumably in a bid to emulate the 2003 champion, Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories”. There have also been moments of nail-biting controversy. In 1999, for example, Male Genitalia of Butterflies of the Balkan Peninsula, with a Checklist, was a favourite to win — until it was rejected for being deliberately boring.

The competition was initially decided by a panel of judges, but since 2000 the winner has been chosen by a public vote on The Bookseller’s website — a development that has led to complaints of dumbing down and vulgarity (as seen in the controversial winner of the 2007 award, If You Want Closure In Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs). However, it should perhaps be noted that the 2011 winner, Cooking with Poo, is, in fact, a manual about how to create Thai dishes with crab.

With his shaggy beard, Union flag ties and black beret, Robertson cut a colourful figure on the book fair scene. His company, which specialises in book packaging and graphics, had little opportunity to enter the competition in its own right. However, Robertson was particularly proud to have been involved in the publication of a Japanese edition of Woman’s Body: An Owner’s Manual — in Braille complete with charts, “thus enabling blind Japanese women to know what goes on in their bodies”, as he put it.

Bruce Robertson was born in Sunderland, then part of Co Durham (now Tyne and Wear) on December 8 1934. His father, Fred, was the manager of a Co-Op store and his mother, Ivy, a cook in a local school.

After Hylton Road School and Sunderland Technical College for Boys, Bruce took up an apprenticeship at a local architectural practice. He proved so skilled at drawing that the owner of the practice suggested to his parents that he attend art school. Eventually, after two years’ National Service in the Army, he took up a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London.

Having graduated, Robertson worked for several publishing houses, including Penguin and Aldus Books, doing graphic and book jacket design. He then held a teaching post at Chelsea School of Art and in 1960, with Bob Chapman, founded Diagram. Over the next 50 years the company grew to be a successful book packager, providing graphic and other material for some 270 publishers around the world.

The most recent Diagram Prize, the 36th, was, by coincidence, presented on the day of Robertson’s death. Continuing to mine a well-worn scatological seam, the prize went to How to Poo on a Date, by Mats and Enzo, a manual for dealing with calls of nature during romantic nights out.

Bruce Robertson is survived by his wife, Patricia, whom he married in 1959, and by their two sons and two daughters,

Bruce Robertson, born December 8 1934, died March 21 2014


In 1968 I was a young journalist on Business Management. For an article about management practices I interviewed Tony Benn, then minister of technology, on the “brain drain”. I was given the prize possession of our office – the tape-recorder. Apart from the on/off switch, I had no idea how it worked, but it was a better bet than my unreadable shorthand. I waited nervously on the 11th floor of Millbank Tower. He greeted me warmly, holding his trademark pint-sized mug of tea, and patiently answered my questions. Half-way through, the tape-recorder whirred and stopped. I sat helplessly. Benn smiled and asked politely if he could help. We spent 20 minutes sitting on the floor while he repaired it. The article appeared with a great picture of him. I remember his kindness to a young female journalist, whose career could have come to an abrupt end, with huge gratitude.
Lesley Bernstein

• Following the laying to rest of Tony Benn, it would be a fitting tribute for the Labour party to organise an annual memorial lecture, both in his honour and to keep radical alternative socialist views alive within the party. Perhaps Ken Loach could deliver the first one (Labour is part of the problem, not the solution, 28 March). If ever we need an echo of the principled, values-driven vision characterised by Benn within the Labour party it is now.
Gary Nethercott
Woodbridge, Suffolk

•  Suzanne Moore makes two misleading claims (I’m all for ‘weird’ Ed Miliband if it means a genuine alternative, G2, 27 March). First, she states that my selection as the prospective parliamentary candidate for Aberavon was the result of me somehow being “shunted” into the selection process by the party. Nothing could be further from the truth. Labour parliamentary selections are contested on the basis of one member one vote. Like all the other candidates in the Aberavon selection, I spent months meeting and speaking with hundreds of our members across the constituency, knocking on doors, making phone calls and engaging in debate about local, national and global issues. Ms Moore is welcome to her conspiracy theories about “patronage”, but the fact is that the Aberavon parliamentary selection was proof of Labour’s commitment to localism and democracy.

Second, Ms Moore claims that my domestic arrangements will prevent me from spending time in the constituency. As I made clear throughout the selection process, I am fully committed to being an active local campaigning candidate and MP. As such I will be establishing my home and a fully staffed office in the constituency and look forward to working hard in, and for, the community.
Stephen Kinnock

Having retired from teaching in recent years, I am so appreciative of our public services and now have time to write and sing their praises. Everything I’ve encountered today, as I write, was thanks to our fantastic, publicly funded amenities, so often unfairly criticised by politicians. This morning I benefited from a local authority-subsidised adult education class, meeting other keen and sociable learners. This centre is buzzing and a lifeline for older students who cannot get out much. Later I called in at one of Bristol’s local libraries, where staff really go out of their way to find the books I want, or reserve them – and all for free. They had just organised a public talk and signing by the acclaimed local writer and recent Costa award winner, Nathan Filer.

To give a bit back to the community, I spend an afternoon a week in a primary school listening to young children reading. I am so impressed and inspired by the commitment and hard work of the teachers and classroom assistants who take so much care and time to organise the education of 30-plus youngsters in their classes. And everywhere was reached by public transport, using my bus pass. When I arrived home, I had a phone call from my doctor following up a hospital visit, to pass on a prescription that I might need in the future. Of course there are also gyms, sport centres and university talks and concerts to take care of our physical and mental wellbeing.

Our public services have taken years to set up, develop and improve, and we are so fortunate in this country to benefit from such a variety of excellent facilities and their employees. So we must fight like hell to stop any government taking them away. I urge everyone not to let this government denigrate the NHS, our education service, our local libraries etc. Instead we must celebrate how much they enhance the quality of our lives and allow us to participate as active and independent members of our communities.
Ann Thomas

It is right that there is a clear distinction between giving medical care to someone previously subject to female genital mutilation, such as stitches after childbirth to control bleeding, and committing an offence (FGM charge hides the real issues, Letters, 28 March).

The law is clear that no offence of female genital mutilation is committed by an approved person who performs a surgical operation which is necessary for the patient’s physical or mental health, or for the purposes connected with the labour or birth. This was, of course, considered in this case.

The full facts of this case are yet to be heard in court and commentary which misunderstands the facts is unhelpful in this very important area of the law. It is also extremely important that nothing prejudices the upcoming trial.
Alison Saunders
Director of public prosecutions

With the first same-sex marriage taking place in Britain – in Brighton today (Report, 28 March) – is it not the time either to pass legislation permitting civil partnerships between heterosexual couples or to repeal the legislation recognising civil partnerships?
Peter Cave

• Contrast the “noiseless” 2014 Grand Prix racing engines (Sport, 26 March) with the glorious sounds of the V12, V8 and V16 power units of the past. Stirling Moss, John Surtees and Derek Warwick are right to complain. Grands Prix should be the pinnacle of motorsport, yet computers and modern technology have stripped it of all the drama, passion and emotion when Moss, Mike Hawthorn and others had to drive by the seat of their pants. That’s what made the crowds feel that these legends were gladiators and not robots.  Not for them, a boffin in the pits telling him to slow down and switch off his engine to save it for the next race.
Paul Foxall
Collingbourne Ducis, Wiltshire

• You remind us (Codebreaker who secretly read Hitler’s mail dies at 93, 27 March) that Raymond “Gerry” Roberts, one of the founding members of the Bletchley Park decipherers, helped to save millions of lives and shorten the second world war by an estimated two years. That more than 60 years later, in extreme old age, Roberts received a lowly MBE for his great  services to the UK and far beyond, offers another disquieting reminder that our honours system is far from honourable and lacks any set of true moral values.
Nicholas de Jongh

• Is this “control freak” Jeremy Hunt (Report, 28 March) the same minister who had no idea what his political aide Adam Smith was doing during the BSkyB take over bid?
Chris Kedge
Rainhill, Merseyside

• Your letter about mushy peas (25 March) reminds me of a lunch with friends at a pub in Northamptonshire. After we had selected our meals we were asked if we wanted northern or southern peas. Perhaps they couldn’t bring themselves to use the word mushy with its northern connotations.
Chris Jones
Bewdley, Worcestershire

• All these crazy place names (Letters, 28 March) are driving me to Witts End, Bedfordshire.
Brian Golby
Harlington, Bedfordshire

Robert Shore (Let’s hear it for the Midlands, G2, 27 March), writing about the contribution the Midlands have made to Britain’s culture and industry, curiously made no mention of Burton upon Trent, which in the late 19th century was the most important brewing town in the world. Due to the remarkable waters of the Trent Valley, which are rich in natural sulphates, brewers in Burton were able to perfect the first pale beers in the shape of pale ale and its strong export version, India pale ale (IPA).

Before Burton, beers – including lager beer from central Europe – were dark. The Burton brewers harnessed the new technologies of the industrial revolution to make pale rather than dark malt and added Trent Valley water that drew out the full flavours of malt and hops.

Burton pale ale transformed brewing on a world scale. Brewers from Austria and Germany hurried to the town in the East Midlands to see how pale ale was made and returned home to fashion the first golden lager beers.

As a result of corporate greed and stupidity, most of the famous names in Burton brewing, such as Bass and Ind Coope, have gone. But Marston’s, with its Pedigree pale ale, remains a major figure in British brewing and it’s been joined by a clutch of new craft brewers in the town. One of Burton’s great brewers of yesteryear, William Worthington, is commemorated in a small brewery named in his honour at the National Brewery Centre that celebrates Burton’s great contribution to brewing.
Roger Protz
St Albans, Hertfordshire

• Robert Shore rightly reminds us of the importance of Birmingham and mentions the cities of the East Midlands, but what about further west into Shropshire? The iconic Ironbridge, now a World Heritage site, is shown, but there should be mention of nearby Coalbrookdale as an important centre of industry. In the county town of Shrewsbury lived some of the pioneers of the use of wrought iron in the building industry, as can be seen in one of the earliest iron-framed buildings, the Flax Mill. This technique proved to be the inspiration for the building of skyscrapers.

Shrewsbury, not far from the ruins of Wroxeter, the fourth most important town in Roman Britain, has connections with many famous people: Charles 1 visited, Charles Darwin was born here, Charles Dickens stayed here, Disraeli was its MP in 1841, the war poet Wilfred Owen lived here, as did the writer, Mary Webb. The reference to “blue remembered hills” in AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad is an apt description of the land stretching into Wales.

Built above a loop in the River Severn, Shrewsbury has almost 600 listed buildings, narrow medieval streets, a castle, an abbey, of Brother Cadfael fame, many churches, a new theatre and a famous annual flower show.
Helen Wilson
Shrewsbury, Shropshire

• Devotees of heavy riffing and high volume will have noticed a glaring omission. No mention of the region’s status as the birthplace and spiritual homeland of heavy metal. Black Sabbath started it all, of course, but consider a lineage which includes Judas Priest, Napalm Death, Godflesh and Iron Monkey (among countless others). It’s no wonder that there was sufficient interest and material for Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to host an exhibition called Home of Metal in 2011. Surely a piece which found room for comedy singer Robbie Williams could have also given due credit to Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne and Bill Ward?
Olly Thomas
Brighton, East Sussex

• Why no mention of the greatest Midlander of all time, Robin Hood? He is in much need at the present time to ensure that the rich are robbed to give to the poor. Our contemporary sheriffs in Westminster seek to undermine this principle of social and economic justice, but Robin always had popular support.
Canon David Jennings
Market Bosworth, Leicestershire

• I was surprised that you failed to mention Charles Darwin. Shrewsbury, his birthplace, is nearer the centre of the region than the eastern outpost that is Grantham, home to Isaac Newton.
Paul Pascoe
Shrewsbury, Shropshire

• No wonder the Midlands are so often subsumed into the north. In the letter calling for HS2 to be speeded through parliament (28 March), the signatories describe themselves as leaders of eight major “northern” cities, yet the group includes Derby and Nottingham.
Dr Alex May


Where is this “real world” that Graham Hinitt (letter, 27 March) inhabited? It is entirely unclear why he believes that his role in financial services, which entailed, inter alia, long hours of record-keeping, was more real than that of teachers, or whether he believes that teachers should be doing more paperwork or should stop moaning about what they already do. 

Although my days as a teacher did involve increasing amounts of record-keeping and, obviously, teaching, they also required me to deal with the baggage that the pupils brought to school with them.

Over the years, this baggage included: acrimoniously divorcing parents who used the child as a stick to beat each other; eating disorders; abuse of drugs and/or alcohol; pupils with suicidal feelings; those who were being physically, sexually or emotionally abused at home; acute anxiety over academic performance; unwanted pregnancy; and those struggling with their sexuality.

I’m afraid Mr Hinitt is suffering from the delusion that because teachers are not engaged in wealth creation they are not living in the real world.

I can assure him that it was uncomfortably real to those pupils and often to the teachers who tried to support them.

Kathy Moyse, Cobham, Surrey

The trouble with some financial services managers, such as Graham Hinitt, is that even when they leave school they never actually work in the real world. They don’t understand how tough it is in the teaching profession, having only seen it from the point of view of the pupil.

Before my retirement I worked at one time in a secondary school – not as a teacher but in admin. Having previously worked in the “real world”, I gained a new respect for the teaching profession.

The hours were long  and much time was spent on record-keeping, as  well as actually in the classroom. Not possible to get a coffee whenever you feel the need – not with a class of pupils requiring your undivided attention the whole time.

Many teachers have worked in business before taking up teaching and they certainly would not consider it to be a soft option.

I suggest that Mr Hinitt spends some time volunteering in a school, I am sure his expertise would be much appreciated and he would gain useful knowledge.

Jill O’Kelly, Horringer, Suffolk

In the late 19th century, my grandmother taught classes of about 50 children and regularly fell asleep over a pile of marking in the evening – long hours and hard work. Yet she inspired generations of my family to follow her, because teaching is a joyous and rewarding experience.

The line of teachers has survived unbroken until now, but it is about to come to an end with the resignations of two members of my family,  one from the primary and one from the secondary sector, both consistently rated “outstanding” throughout their long careers.

It’s nothing to do with hard work and long hours; it’s because of frustration at not being able to do the job as it should be done.

Alison Sutherland (letter, 28 March) says it all: “daft organisational and curriculum ideas” imposed by people who have no idea of the implications. Teaching and learning are no longer a joyous experience for anyone.

My grandmother would be very sad indeed.

Christina Jones, Retford, Nottinghamshire

Why Crimea is so important to Putin

Mary Dejevsky (27 March) recommends bold action to negotiate and resolve our problems with Russia, but I don’t think she addresses the main reason why Russia wants to secure Crimea – which is the link Crimea provides with its naval base in Syria, preserving its ability to support its clients, mainly Assad, and its general ability to influence events in the Middle East.

This is also the reason why the West, pungently represented by the US’s Victoria Nuland, whose scorn for her European Union partners was so memorably recorded, gave so much power to the elbow of the anti-Russian streetfighters  in Kiev.

A secure pro-Western Ukrainian government intending to winkle the Russians out of Sevastopol would have been extremely helpful.

Russia is acting ruthlessly, but not from sheer weakness, as Barack Obama claims, rather from a determination to preserve, for good or ill, what power over the world’s most vital region remains to it.

The problem that needs to be resolved is not so much those that Mary Dejevsky explicitly mentions but the Israel/Palestine problem, which is spreading poison through all the world’s veins

Martin Hughes, Wokingham, Berkshire

Vladimir Putin’s colonialist occupation of Crimea offers Islamic jihadis a pool of potential recruits among the peninsula’s 300,000 Muslim Tatars, and a new Black Sea coastal forward base for terrorism only 200km from the EU’s eastern border.

The Crimean Tatars have no love for Russia which, in the 1940s, ethnically cleansed their grandparents from their ancestral homeland to Central Asia, from where they have been returning since the 1980s to a territory safely outside Russia since 1954.

Faced with new threats to their security and ethnic identity, the more embittered Tatars will be natural allies for Chechen separatists to the east of the Black Sea, battle-hardened by two wars with Russia and now fighting in Syria against Russia’s ally President Assad, and other regional activists.

A saner strategist than Putin might have considered that the last thing the world needs is any more disaffected Muslims – especially ones with a genuine grievance against the occupation of their country. We should not, therefore, be surprised when we see TV footage of Russians again reeling from Chechen-style bombing campaigns, orchestrated from a Black Sea arc with easy access to the whole Middle East.

The pity is that jihadis, once indoctrinated, don’t tend to feel geographically restricted from turning their wrath against other targets.

David Crawford, Bromley, Kent

Privatised power has run out of steam

When the largest gas supplier threatens us all with the lights going out, we surely know that the experiment with privatised power generation and supply has failed.

It is time for the public sector to re-establish control over our power supplies. We deserve a cheaper, sustainable, more reliable alternative. We would never put our national security at risk by selling our military defences to the private sector to be subsequently sold to foreign institutions, yet our energy supplies are essential to our daily security.

Lee Dalton

Weymouth, Dorset

With the CEO of Centrica threatening blackouts, has it occurred to anyone else that the privatisation of our national energy was the worst legislation in Parliamentary history? I know who I will  be burning in effigy on  5 November.

David Monkman

Ramsey St Mary’s, Cambridgeshire

end this sex discrimination

With the first same-sex marriage taking place in Britain today, is not the time ripe either to pass legislation permitting civil partnerships between heterosexual couples or to repeal the legislation recognising same-sex civil partnerships? Until such legislation is passed, is not unjustified discrimination being manifested?

Peter Cave

London W1

cow fodder  vs the gadfly

I am happy to enlighten Dave Keeley (letter, 28 March) on the origins of the word Farage. Obviously, it comes from the Latin farrago which my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary tells me meant “mixed fodder for cattle, hence fig, a medley, a confused group, a hotchpotch”.

As for the word Clegg, it seems to have Old Norse origins from “kleggi: a gadfly”, now meaning figuratively “one who torments and worries another” and “an irresistible impulse”. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Patrick Walsh


I have long believed that the world would be a jollier place if we were allowed to pronounce two names in British politics in a slightly different way.

Farage should surely rhyme with the south London garage of my youth, ie “farridge”, while Gove must, in all conscience, rhyme either with “move”  or “shove”. See? You’re smiling already.

Steve Clarke

Portree, Isle of Skye

Farage vs Clegg was like two donkeys going round Aintree.

Amanda Baker

Morpeth,  Northumberland

how many mothers  are you buying for?

Is there any special significance in one town-centre card shop offering “Mother’s Day cards: five for a pound!”?

Godfrey H Holmes


Sir, Neil Jones (letter, Mar 27) is entertainingly provocative about BBC radio audiences. The Radio Joint Audience Research figures for the three months to December 2013 show that Radio 4 was listened to by just over 11 million people, and Radio 3 by just below 2 million. Neither figure is insignificant, and both contradict his suggestions that few people listen to Radio 4 and “hardly anyone has ever listened to Radio 3”.

Richard Doubleday


Sir, In answer to the letter from Mr Jones, I expect you will be bombarded with letters from people like me, still well under 50, who regularly listen to Radio 4 and have done for many years.

Robert Duddridge

Woodford Green, Essex

Sir, Elitist is the one thing Radio 3 and Radio 4 are not. They are available to all, free of charge — no TV licence is required to listen. They enable anyone, including the poorest in society, to listen to the greatest thinkers, artists and intellectuals of our time.

Stephen Follows

London W14

Sir, On March 16 the sun was shining and vast numbers of people under 50 (and many under 50 in spirit) were enjoying themselves on the South Bank to the soundtrack of not Radio 1, but Radio 3 at the start of its residence at the Southbank Centre. There were no clamouring voices demanding the music be changed. This is but one small example of the enjoyment and fulfilment that Radio 3 and 4 provide to their listeners. They engage, educate, provoke and transform, and allow communal experience without demanding physical presence, which for many would be impossible. They offer a wealth of knowledge and debate otherwise out of reach of many, and permit exploration of the most pressing topics, the farthest lands, the most astounding music and human endeavours.

These all seem to be excellent purposes. Perhaps Mr Jones should close his eyes and listen with more open ears.

Joanna Williams (aged 29)

London SW19

Sir, Even if it were true that no one under 50 listens to Radio 4, that would still give a potential audience of some 20 million. Is there not a wider point behind the call to get rid of BBC Radio? If its informal role of guardian (and definer) of what it means to “educate, entertain and inform” must now be given to the market to decide then, logically, we must also disband all other institutions that help us distinguish quality from mere popularity.

Without the foundation stone of “this is better than that because . . .”, all that will remain of our cultural life will be the sciences (where “truth” is testable and provisional) and the marketing of popular entertainment. However much we may disagree with others about what is good in culture, life without the debate — and someone to insist that there is a debate to be had — would be very much shallower.

David Boorer

Llandovery, Carmarthenshire

Sir, No one listens to the radio? Does Mr Jones not know any painters, bricklayers, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, scaffolders and kitchen fitters?

John Smart

Taverham, Norfolk

More than 60 leading physicians and medical scientists call for an urgent response to climate change

Sir, On Monday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publishes its latest report on the current and projected impact of global warming and climate change. The report will add substantially to the existing evidence that climate change represents, as The Lancet put it, “the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century”.

Leaked drafts of the report describe how human health and social stability will suffer. Altered patterns of disease, extreme weather events, food and water scarcity, human migration and violent conflict will affect hundreds of millions of people within our lifetimes and those of our children. These impacts are already affecting populations worldwide.

The IPCC is not alone in its conclusions. The American Association for the Advancement of Science confirms that “the wellbeing of people of all nations [is] at risk” and that there is now a “real chance of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts” on people around the globe.

As medical professionals, we call for immediate preventative action through a drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and rapid transition to a zero-carbon world, at a pace far beyond that which is already planned. This will require transformative and radical change to energy policies, patterns of consumption, and transport systems, among other things. Such change may be considered disruptive and difficult, but such actions are necessary and can bring enormous benefits to human health and wellbeing both in the short term and in the years and decades to come.

Never before have we known so much and done so little. Failing to act decisively and quickly will inevitably cause great suffering and have potentially catastrophic consequences.

Sir Richard Thompson

Royal College of Physicians

Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran

British Medical Association

Professor Terence Stephenson

Nuffield Professor of Child Health

Professor Norman S Williams

Royal College of Surgeons of England

Dame Julie Moore

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust

Professor David Haslam


Professor Hugh Montgomery,

UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance

Dr Fiona Godlee

Editor, British Medical Journal

Dr David Pencheon

Sustainable Development Unit

Dr Robin Stott

Climate and Health Council

A reader recalls finding a souvenir of the Great War in his garden – was it lost or did someone throw it away?

Sir, Apropos Bob Smethurst, the former dustman who rescued Great War memorabilia from bins (report, Mar 17), it reminds me that many years ago when digging in my garden my fork struck a metal object. It was a bronze plaque, 4¾ inches in diameter, inscribed “He died for freedom and honour” around the circumference with the name Norman Alfred Lee next to Britannia and a lion. It turned out to be a next-of-kin memorial plaque (or “death penny”); over one million were issued to the next-of-kin of those who fell in the war. I always wonder if it was buried on purpose or thrown away during a house move.

Richard F. A. Strother


Responses to the proposal to concentrate NHS resources on the young because they are more valuable to society

Sir, Sir Andrew Dillon’s assertion that saving the lives of the elderly is less valuable to society than saving younger people (“Young must come before elderly, NHS adviser says”, Mar 27) is nonsense. A person’s value to society can vary from very positive to very negative. A much better and acceptable explanation of Sir Andrew’s proposal, which has merit, is that the benefit applies to the person and not to society.

Brian Parker


Sir, If we are to consider a patient’s contribution to society when allocating healthcare resources then surely we should prioritise those who have contributed more? The elderly have given a lifetime to society, and a healthcare system that recognises this and cares for our elderly and terminally ill is of much greater importance to society than Sir Andrew Dillon’s opinions.

Dr Ian Coyle-Gilchrist

Neurology Registrar, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge

Dr Lorraine Peck

Haematology Registrar, Royal Free Hospital, London

The nonsense about prisoners not being allowed books is not confined to a single inhumane prison

Sir, The ban on receiving books in prison (letter, Mar 27) already exists at HMP Albany on the Isle of Wight. I support a prisoner transferred from HMP Wandsworth — a tough regime where he could not receive books by post, directly or via Amazon, though I could bring them in personally for him. At HMP Albany I cannot even bring in or post anything at all for him. Can the prison regime get more inhumane than this?

Peter Flower

New Malden, Surrey


SIR – Each year, as we approach the fourth Sunday of Lent, we are bombarded with an increasing number of advertisements and inaccurate references to “Mother’s Day”, an American invention that seems to have eaten into our retail soul.

The correct name for Mother’s Day in Britain is Mothering Sunday, and its origins are very British. In Victorian times, it was a day when children, mainly daughters, who had gone to work as domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mothers and families. Although the sentiments are similar, Mother’s Day in America has distinctly different beginnings.

If we are to preserve any semblance of our national identity, perhaps some of our more prestigious institutions and trading outlets, such as the National Trust and Marks & Spencer, could lead by stemming the tide of this historical erosion.

Julian Stapleton
Ash, Somerset

SIR – It is not surprising that consumers do not switch suppliers all that often (“Millions paying too much for energy”).

The procedure is complicated. I am in the process of changing now. It is taking several weeks and it is still not done. At present, I am committed to two direct debits, which is stupid but unavoidable.

Keith Moore
Yoxford, Suffolk

SIR – Individual consumers do not need to know what part of the bill is down to green taxes, and the power companies should be allowed to keep their billing as simple as possible. If the Government feels the need to impose green taxes, it should do so exclusively on power company profits.

It’s no wonder power companies are reluctant to make long-term investments in new plant when politicians of all parties are playing Russian roulette with the energy markets.

Don Edwards
Manningtree, Essex

SIR – SSE has made its offer of freezing prices in the expectation, I suspect, of gas prices falling (most likely as America becomes more energy efficient).

This offer has been made in order to seek commercial advantage in the marketplace. Perversely, a Government-mandated price freeze could, in fact, result in locking consumers in to prices higher than necessary, as global energy prices fall, inflating the profits of energy companies.

Steve Willis
Olney, Buckinghamshire

Prisoners’ books

SIR – I work as a prison librarian. Our library is well stocked with books of every genre. It is well attended and appreciated by the prisoners who often claim that it is a lifeline for them. It gives me tremendous job satisfaction to be in a position to help the prisoners and encourage them to read.

However, some prisoners are incarcerated for sex offences, paedophilia and kidnap. These prisoners attempt to access material to satisfy their perversions in every way possible. If a prisoner requests a book that we do not stock, we apply for the book from an outside library. It is not always possible to assess the content until the book arrives. Occasionally, the books contain unsuitable material. It is due to this problem that restrictions have to be put in place.

Angela Lord
Exeter, Devon

Uphill work

SIR – In your report “Most workers fail to catch the cycling bug”, about which cities and towns are showing growth or decline in cycling, one important factor was missed.

A big advantage enjoyed by Cambridge (where 290 in every 1,000 cycle to work) is that it is one of the flattest cities in the country.

In Merthyr Tydfil, you report, three in 1,000 people cycle to work. I would guess that steep hills might be a disincentive for cyclists.

T H Brown
Bathgate, West Lothian

Valuable coins

SIR – Why not mint the new pound coin with four holes in it? This way, future generations could use them as buttons, which is soon all they will be worth.

Jane Cullinan
Padstow, Cornwall

Suicide for the disabled

SIR – Scope, the disability charity, strongly welcomes the Prime Minister’s oppositionto legalising assisted suicide. The law as it stands provides crucial protection to people who feel under pressure to end their life.

This issue tells us a lot about public attitudes towards disabled people. Why is it that when people who are not disabled want to commit suicide, we try to talk them out of it, but when a disabled person wants to commit suicide, we focus on how we can make that possible?

The ban on assisted suicide sends a powerful message countering the view that if you’re disabled it’s not worth being alive.

There are loud, well-organised and influential voices calling for the legalisation of assisted suicide for terminally ill adults.

But a lot of disabled people have been left feeling very concerned by suggestions that a change could be one step closer.

We hope, therefore, that politicians will follow David Cameron and decide against changing a law that works.

Richard Hawkes
Chief Executive, Scope
London N7

SIR – Your leading article reiterates the cry of many medical professionals that one of their most important principles is to “do no harm”.

But how does one define harm? Can anyone argue that a doctor who assists a terminally ill person to avoid fear, distress, pain and indignity by hastening death has “caused harm”? I believe the doctor is providing a welcome and humane service.

Arthur Bayley
Tyldesley, Lancashire

SIR – On legalising assisted suicide, you are right: it may add to the pressure for the aged or ill to see themselves as a “burden”. But it is ironic that in the following leading article – supporting a cap on the annual welfare budget – you fail to acknowledge the danger that this could reinforce negative public perceptions of benefit claimants. Demonising people as a “burden” or “scroungers” isn’t helpful.

Dr Alex May

Toeing the fashion line

SIR – I read in the fashion pages that socks should now be worn with sandals. This will come as a great relief, although perhaps not as a surprise, to the thousands of Englishmen at present planning their holiday wardrobes.

Liz Wheeldon
Seaton, Devon

iWatch: how to keep time in the modern world

SIR – No one has a watch any more. They all get the time from their mobiles.

Tallulah Johnson
London SW5

SIR – I noticed that Vladimir Putin was wearing his watch on his right wrist when signing, with his right hand, the paperwork for the annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

Did he do this to advertise a brand of Russian-made watch?

Richard Colley
Skipton, North Yorkshire

SIR – I never wear a watch and I am never late. There are clocks everywhere: town halls, churches, cars, shop windows, other people’s wrists. Failing those, one becomes adept at estimating the time accurately.

Geoff Brokenbrow
Okehampton, Devon

SIR – I wear my watch on my left wrist, and upside down – ie 12 o’clock is at the 6 o’clock position, and vice versa – in order to improve my lateral-thinking skills.

Jim Ryan

SIR – Nick Clegg’s statement that only about 7 per cent of British legislation is imposed by the European Union is typical of the deception with which defenders of membership of the EU present their case.

In 2010, the House of Commons library concluded that “it is possible to justify any measure between 15 per cent and 50 per cent or thereabouts”.

Sometimes a figure of 70 per cent is used; this is the percentage of laws that the politicians we elect to the European Parliament have as much say on as our national Parliament.

A figure of 85 per cent is based on an analysis provided by the German government in 2005.

Dr Max Gammon
London SE16

SIR – Considering the proportion of laws that come from the EU, perhaps the time has come for a “conscious uncoupling”.

Michael McGough
Loughton, Essex

SIR – You report that “Britain has 100 per cent failure rate when trying to block EU legislation”. It is also notable that Britain has been ready to vote in favour of almost 95 per cent of the total number of proposals in the Council of Ministers since 1996.

Only in 55 cases has it voted No. All of these proposals were unsuccessfully opposed.

The solution lies in the unanimous report of November 2013 by Parliament’s all-party European Scrutiny Committee. There we argued for two things: a veto on European legislation in the pipeline and the disapplication unilaterally by Westminster of existing European legislation, where Parliament regards that as being in the national interest.

Bill Cash MP (Con)
London, SW1

SIR – If the debate really was a victory for Ukip over the Liberal Democrats, surely those most “bubbly” outside London will be the SNP. What “Little England” (Nigel Farage’s ideal as described by Nick Clegg) represents is anathema to a Scot of any persuasion: see Mr Farage’s reception on his last visit north of the border.

The Salmond and the Sturgeon must feel that the tide is beginning to turn for them.

Philip Schofield
Zeals, Wiltshire

SIR – LBC is to be applauded for at last igniting the debate on our membership of the EU. It highlights the failure of the BBC to allow this 40-year-old sore point to be debated openly.

This raises serious questions over the morality of the licence fee.

Philip Wyness
Esher, Surrey

SIR – The best television I’ve seen for a long time: W1A followed by Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage.

Brian Hill

Irish Times:

Sir, – On Monday, all four of the Dublin’s local authorities will have voted on whether or not to hold a plebiscite, the wording of which they do not know and for which the heads of a Bill of the enabling legislation have not even been discussed.

The subject of that plebiscite is the establishment of the office of a “Democratically Elected Mayor (‘DEM’) for Dublin”. The manner in which this question is being put to the elected members of those four councils means that the critical link between deciding to hold a local referendum and the wording of that referendum is broken, an extraordinary situation.

That Minister Hogan and his advisers think that in a modern democracy this procedure is acceptable illustrates the extent to which, since the foundation of the State, successive national governments have deprived local government of any real decision-making powers.

I have been a public representative for 13 years, and a member of the Labour Party’s working group on local government reform, and know something of how this will play out. I was also a representative on the forum set up by the minister to examine this issue. I know from that experience what this minister is likely to do if given a blank cheque to draft the terms of the plebiscite himself – which is what voting Yes on Monday would give him.

One only has to look at his track record. There was virtually nothing about devolving central government powers to local government in the new Reform of Local Government Act. These powers are absolutely central if the role of a DEM is to mean anything. The plain fact is that this minister is not going to devolve those powers to a DEM.

I don’t buy the “suck it and see” approach. The consequence of this will be less local democracy not more, within those four local council areas, and a handicapped directly elected mayor for the metropolitan area. Proponents of a Yes vote on Monday are prepared to wait years or even decades for the evolution of those DEM powers, if such an office is created, but are nor prepared to wait until we get the legislative basis for the office right in the first place without damaging local democracy in the four existing councils in the interim.

If the people of Fingal re-elect me in May (that’s local democracy in action), I don’t intend to stop working when this minister leaves the stage for the EU (as seems likely) and I look forward to working with someone else who is serious about local government reform and giving councillors and voters real choices in a plebiscite.

Yours, etc,


Fingal County Council,


Co Dublin

Sir, – David Walsh (Letters, March 28th) seeks to debunk the “cliche” that oppressive gender roles are one reason why women seem to avoid politics. He rightly claims that many people view politics as an arena that involves unsocial hours, weekend working and a lack of a private life. What he fails to acknowledge is that both men and women are concerned with those unsocial hours and lack of private life yet it is disproportionately (and consistently so) women who are dissuaded by them. Perhaps he would say that “they” clearly have other priorities or more competing demands on their time than men. If that is so, David Beatty’s “oppressive gender roles” (Letters, March 26th) stand up to scrutiny.

And if the problem with gender quotas is indeed that they tend to generate demands for more I suppose we should be careful. Before we know it they’ll be looking for the vote, the right to stay in work, equal pay …

Yours, etc,



Co Kerry

Sir, – I disagree that a call by the National Women’s Council for a 40 per cent representation for women at Cabinet is arrogant (David Walsh, Letters March 28th) although I certainly think that it’s unrealistic. However his primary objection to the request seems to be that the NWC made no mention of merit or experience. It would be wonderful to think that every man in a Cabinet post is there due to merit or experience, but I’m sure that support for the party leader, as well as quotas to satisfy a coalition government trump merit or experience every time. Yours, etc,


Copeland Grove,


Dublin 3

Sir, — As a firm supporter of politically correct nonsense cooked up by self-interested ideologues, I demand to live in a society where my concerns as a voter are ignored by politicians of both genders on an equal basis. The next time I see the interests of my country being subordinated to the interests of international financiers, oil companies, tax-dodging corporations or other states, I want to at least have the comfort of knowing that Irish democracy was devalued in a gender-balanced manner. Yours, etc,


Barnwall Court,


Co Dublin

Sir, – It is inconceivable in a client service business that an urgent letter dated March 10th would be left undealt with until March 24th pending the return of the director responsible from a business trip. All senior client-facing people are now equipped with mobile devices and are available 24/7 to avoid such eventualities. This policy, inter alia, greatly reduces the risk of a client fast becoming an ex-client.

Is it credible that the Justice Department did not send a scanned copy of the Attorney General’s letter to Mr Shatter when was abroad? Is it conceivable that Mr Shatter was not in telephone or email contact with his officials for almost two weeks, or if he was in contact that this vital issue was not raised? Hardly!

Others can argue the politics of the situation better than I but on a practical level, if Government departments are managed in the manner suggested by Mr Shatter similar situations will recur in the future. Yours, etc,




Dublin 13

Sir, — I have difficulty with an assertion in Tom O’Malley’s article (“Nightmare scenario may render convictions unsafe”, Opinion & Analysis, March 27th).  He declares that “Many who have found themselves in [Garda custody] have later stated that they would have been willing to confess to anything just in order to regain their liberty”. To me, this smacks of sensationalism.  What relevance does it have to the general point of the constitutional right to privacy in communication with one’s solicitor? Yours, etc,


Lough Gur,

Co Limerick

Sir, – RTÉ is charged with reporting on national news in a fair and unbiased manner, thus allowing the listener/viewer to make up his or her mind. Since the now-retired Commissioner Callinan’s “disgusting” remarks in Leinster House, certain elements in the TV newsroom in particular have shown a distinct bias in their coverage that has been favourable to the “official” side and decidedly cool to the legitimate claims of the two Garda whistleblowers. Can this be because RTÉ TV news depends so much for its daily feed of news on the Garda Press Office? Thank goodness for newspapers. Yours, etc,



Co Clare.

A chara, – In Miriam Lord’s column (“Twin egos once joined at the hip threaten Coalition”, March 26th) she wrote: “The intervention of Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar (who was being quietly congratulated by the likes of Róisín Shortall and Peter Mathews ) escalated the situation.” Can you please explain what she is trying to convey by writing “the likes of …” in relation to individuals? What are we to understand? Is she suggesting that it wasn’t actually Róisín Shortall or Peter Matthews themselves who were having a chat but some equivalents, some entities of which they, Shortall and Matthews are but iterations? The Irish Times is far from alone in its enthusiastic adopting of this term, rending individuals into equivalencies. It’s just that when one reads the likes of Miriam Lord adopting it, one loses faith in a worthwhile publication, the likes of The Irish Times , for example. Is mise,




Co Cork

Sir, – Regarding the comprehensive profiling of movers and shakers in the implementation of the smoking ban compiled by Patrick Freyne (March 22nd), the omission of the one person without whom none of it would have been possible was regrettable.

Most of the parties mentioned came in at a time when a glimmer of reputation or career enhancement was becoming possible through supporting the change. In contrast, the prime mover, Brian Timmons, had to fight much opposition and ridicule. He was probably risking his reputation and career when he devised, and acted on, the original idea, based on effects on his own health and additional research about damage from smoking in general.

As a civil servant in lower management in 1991/1992, he got the crucial igniting motion to introduce a voluntary code of non-smoking in civil service offices, passed through his union, the PSEU (Public Service Executive Union). This was the first step of the journey described. Only after that point did the idea catch on elsewhere.

Where completion of the public record in respect of this topic is concerned, it would be a pity for the heroic pivotal contribution of Brian Timmons to the roll-out of the smoking ban to go unacknowledged. Yours etc,


Ashfield Rise,


Co Dublin

Sir, – May I assure Clíona Saidléar that it is not accent that upsets native speakers. What is grating to their ears is the disregard by many foghlaimeoirí for three basic elements necessary for the correct speaking of any language, namely syntax, grammar and pronunciation (gutturals, broad and slender consonants, etc). There are many different accents in every country and also within the Gaeltachts and they are readily and mutually accepted. I am speaking from my personal experience of living among speakers of English, French and Spanish. Yours, etc,


Caisleán Ghriaire

Co Chiarraí

Sir, – I was almost reaching for my calendar to check for the beginning of April when I read of the rebranding of the “University of Dublin, Trinity College” to “Trinity College, the University of Dublin”. While this is not the first name change for my august alma mater it is most certainly Pythonesque, bringing to mind the People’s Front of Judea versus the Judean People’s Front! Yours, etc,


Sitric Place,


Dublin 7

Sir, – Students, taxpayers, society, the economy … would all be better served if the authorities in Ireland’s education establishments focused more of their attention on achieving high academic standards and less on the names of the institutions. Yours, etc,


(former lecturer at


The Avenue,



Sir, – Paddy Wordworth (Opinion & Analysis, March 27th) is right when he states that our bogs contribute much more than turf to the Irish nation.

From his list of those undoubted benefits he omits however the traditional use that some members of the community have found for bogholes as cheap and convenient repositories for old TVs, refrigerators, couches and general household waste.

Yours, etc,


Lindsay Road,


Dublin 9

Sir, – Dick Ahlstrom’s article on “smart cities” (Mar 27th) rightly points out that it is giant technology companies who are mainly pushing this agenda; a case in point is Dublin City Council, which on the one hand wishes to install Wi-Fi in our public parks, while on the other it has removed all our badly needed public toilets. How smart is that? Of greater concern is that the computer giants are keen to push their products into schools – even primary schools.

Experienced teachers are despairing at the drop in our educational standards, a drop that is mainly due to pupils shortened attention spans, shortened by an over-reliance on technology.

Regrettably research skills have been dumbed down to “cut and paste” while, more worryingly, students have sub-contracted their learning, creativity and memory to their iPads and phones.

The majority of research studies have found that deep learning and creative thinking are achieved via a combination of good teachers, books and pupil interaction – not through computer screens. Unfortunately, unproven electronic gadgetry is being pushed (sometimes for free) on schools where they act only as a distraction and hindrance to learning in the classroom.

It is ironic that in Silicon Valley, home of this “technological wizardry’, the top primary schools have banned computers from the learning process. They know, as every experienced teacher knows, the best way young children learn is via a teacher, chalk, books and pupil interaction. Yours, etc.


Erne Terrace,

Dublin 2

Irish Independent:

* When I was of age, my class and I were each given a communion book that was given a designated amount of time each day as we neared communion day.

Also in this section

In the interests of justice, Shatter must resign

Perfect opportunity for real garda reform

Shatter has decimated An Garda Siochana

I never questioned it because I was seven years of age and didn’t have the capacity. I looked up and every other boy and girl had a book, and we would all write down our feelings toward making our communion. My mind couldn’t comprehend that Mary or Joe’s families might not share the same beliefs as one another.

I can’t remember any of my classmates not partaking in this communion crash course, but I suspect numbers might have been diminished in different circumstances.

There should be a separation between religion generally and education in this country. There is nothing wrong with teaching children about respect and common moral values, but intertwining that with the staples of a religion is wrong and unnecessary.

If Mary’s parents want her to grow up within the Catholic Church, they can make that decision themselves, and take her to Mass and lead her into her communion, confirmation, etc.

If they don’t want to do that, they can just refrain from doing so without having to contact a principal for them to say Mary will have to sit out when the communion is mentioned.

So, if the making of communion was wholly a private decision and action taken within a family, how many of a class of 30 would there be receiving the sacrament on the day? There would be fewer frills and pink Hummers, let’s just put it that way.




* Wonderful news about Intel‘s $5bn (€3.6bn) spend in Ireland. But there is a profound sting in the “tale” we must get to grips with. Not very long ago, $5bn investment would have meant tens of thousands of additional long-term jobs. Not any more!

We’ll be lucky if the $5bn retains present employment levels. Multinationals like Intel must automate to stay in business.

Automation means more product with less work. We have achieved technological genius of making everything we need or want without working so hard any more. The big difficulty is figuring out a way of maintaining employment.

The impediment is in the ideology; we need 21st-Century thinking on work and jobs; a strategy of creating a lot more jobs from a lot less work.

An easy answer might be moving towards shorter hours, longer holidays and earlier retirement; more people working less.

We have been doing it for 100 years but need to accelerate the process. Automation can pay for it; it creates more wealth without work than all the work in the world could.

But we are still locked into old thinking of “earn your bread by the sweat of your brow”.

It does not cut mustard anymore; automation ensures there simply is not enough work to keep everyone working hard.

It’s the biggest problem facing economics and society but nobody will talk about it; nobody will even mention it.

It is what newspaper editorials should be writing about.




* The first item on the agenda of the incoming Garda Commissioner should be the promotion of officers John Wilson and Maurice McCabe.

However, as the former has retired, may I suggest that they join either Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or Labour. Only then will we be assured of two honourable politicians in the Dail.




* At a time when Russian forces have invaded Crimea, 239 people are still missing from a “disappeared” flight and an incurable Eboli killer disease has hit Guinea, we Irish have our own serious disaster: use of the word ‘disgusting’.

The whole sorry saga is actually disgusting.

The Garda Commissioner has now resigned/pushed because he would not apologise for using this ‘disgusting’ word, even though he claimed he wished to say sorry.

We are all totally confused as to who said/meant what.

I am reminded of the witty words of the satirist Samuel Butler, who died over 110 years ago: “I believe that he was really sorry, that people would not believe he was sorry, that he was not more sorry.”

As relevant today as it was back then!




* Congratulations to a wonderful student Elayna Keller from Our Lady’s College Drogheda (Irish Independent, March 28), who won top prize at the NNI Press Awards. She wrote a piece entitled ‘Kids can be cruel’ after her own experience of being bullied when she was younger.

In your article were the following few honest and wise comments from one so young: “My social skills were really stunted afterwards. I had no idea how to talk to people . . . writing is my way of getting my feelings out.”

I can relate so much to these comments after my dreadful experiences of school life in the 1960s, of which I have written about many times.

I have no doubt we will see more of Elayna’s writing abilities in the years to come.




* Your online edition (Irish Independent, March 28) carried a video showing the extraordinary emotions of a lady who, having been deaf since birth, was enabled to hear for the very first time by using modern technology. She was so overwhelmed with emotion that she uncontrollably burst into tears on several occasions as a nurse called out the days of the week to her.

It was impossible not to be affected by her emotions as I contemplated all the things that we take for granted yet show little appreciation for.




* Having been recently released from jail, I would like to thank all those who really overwhelmed the prison with their support.

The shock and disgust of the supporters was evident, at the “laissez faire” attitude, denial and ultimate complicity of the Government; allowing Shannon civilian airport to be abused by the US military.

For three months, the continuous vigils, pickets, the collection of signatures, press statements, and radio and television coverage was a tsunami of support from all over the world.

This cannot be ignored as it is a collective act of solidarity.


Mary hospital

March 28, 2014

28March 2014 Mary still in hospital

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have a row over Heather. Priceless

Cold slightly better Mary very under the weather visit her

Scrabbletoday Mary winds gets just under 400Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Jerry Roberts – obituary

Jerry Roberts was a Bletchley Park codebreaker who cracked Hitler’s secret messages and warned of an attack on Kursk

Captain Jerry Roberts

Captain Jerry Roberts  Photo: Bletchley Park Trust/PA Wire

7:01PM GMT 27 Mar 2014

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Jerry Roberts, who has died aged 93, was one of a small group of Bletchley Park codebreakers who read Hitler’s messages to his generals, providing unprecedented details of the German preparations for the D-Day landings.

The German High Command’s teleprinter messages, which were broken in part with the help of Colossus, the world’s first large-scale electronic digital computer, also provided the German plans for the Battle of Kursk, now seen as the turning point of the war.

“I can remember myself breaking messages about Kursk,” Roberts recalled. “We were able to warn the Russians that the attack was going to be launched and the fact that it was going to be a pincer movement. We had to wrap it all up and say it was from spies, that we had wonderful teams of spies, and other sources of information. We were able to warn them what army groups were going to be used, and most important, what tank units were going to be used.”

Provided with the information by the British, the Red Army was able to rebuff the German attack, before launching an all-out assault that destroyed the German forces aligned against them in what led to a Soviet advance that did not stop until it reached Berlin.

Raymond Clarke Roberts (always known as Jerry) was born in Wembley on November 18 1920. His father was a pharmacist, his mother the organist in the local chapel. He was educated at Latymer Upper School, Hammersmith, before studying German and French at University College, London.

His ambition was to join the Foreign Office, but his German professor, Leonard Willoughby, who had been a leading member of the Admiralty’s First World War code-breaking unit Room 40, put him forward for “work of a secret kind” which could not be discussed in advance.

Roberts found himself facing an enigmatic recruitment process at a War Office building just off Trafalgar Square during which he was asked by an anonymous major if he played chess. When he responded in the affirmative, the major asked if he could also “tackle crosswords”.

Another nod of the head was sufficient to see him sent to the codebreakers’ “War Station” at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, where John Tiltman, the chief cryptographer, recruited him into his research section, warning him that “absolute silence must be preserved” about what happened there.

Queen Elizabeth II speaks with code breaker Captain Jerry Roberts during a visit to Bletchley Park in 2011

Roberts was initially put to work breaking the Double Playfair hand cipher used by German police troops operating on the Eastern Front. The deciphered messages revealed the early stages of what would become known as the Holocaust, with German generals seemingly vying with each other to tell Berlin about the tens of thousands of Jews their men were killing.

Churchill requested a special series of reports on the atrocities and, despite the danger that it might lead to improved German cipher security and hinder Bletchley’s successes, publicly denounced the killings as “a crime without a name”.

The team working on the police messages was headed by Ralph Tester; and in July 1942 Tester and his team were put to work on a new problem — the enciphered teleprinter messages being sent between Hitler and his generals. German teleprinter messages had first been intercepted in the second half of 1940, but little had been done with them until it became clear, in late 1941, that they were being used more frequently. The messages were enciphered with the Lorenz SZ40 system, which had two sets of five cipher wheels, making it even more complex than the most difficult of the Enigma ciphers, which had one set of four.

Tiltman looked at the early messages, trying to find a way into them, initially without success. In August 1941, however, a German operator sent the same message twice on the same settings, shortening some of the text in the second message to save time.

This allowed Tiltman a way in; and in an extraordinary piece of code breaking he worked out the texts of the messages, giving a stream of 4,000 plain text letters and their cipher equivalents which might help to reconstruct the operation of the Lorenz machine. For two months the research section tried without success to use Tiltman’s decrypt to break the enciphered teleprinter messages, which were code-named Fish by the codebreakers. Then, in October, it was given to the young chemistry graduate Bill Tutte.

Jerry Roberts in later life

“He used to sit staring into the middle distance, twirling a pencil about in his fingers,” Roberts recalled. “I used to wonder whether he was getting anything done. My goodness, he was.”

In a stroke of genius, Tutte managed to find a way in, allowing the research section to reconstruct the Lorenz machine. The combined efforts of Tiltman and Tutte were described in an internal GCHQ history as “one of the outstanding successes of the war”, not least because of the high standard of intelligence the Fish messages produced.

The teleprinter links ran between all the major German front line headquarters and Hitler’s command posts in Berlin or at the Wolf’s Lair, his forward command post for the Eastern Front at Rastenburg in East Prussia.

Tester and his team, including Roberts, by now commissioned into the Intelligence Corps, were put to work on breaking the Fish messages on a regular basis in July 1942. “The people the messages were going to and coming from would be given at the beginning of the message,” Roberts recalled. “So you would have General so-and-so sending to Army HQ in Berlin.”

The Testery, as it was known, began with Roberts and five others actually breaking the messages, but grew to be 118-strong, including among its numbers Peter Benenson, who later founded Amnesty International, and Roy Jenkins, who went on as a Labour politician to become Chancellor of the Exchequer and was subsequently Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

Jerry Roberts receiving his MBE from the Queen in 2013

One of its early members was Max Newman, who had been Turing’s tutor at Cambridge. Newman realised that one part of the code-breaking process for the Fish ciphers could be done by the kind of machine Turing had described in their discussions.

That belief led to the creation, by the GPO telecommunications engineer Tommy Flowers, of Colossus, which greatly speeded up the breaking of the Fish ciphers ahead of the D-Day landings, when the codebreakers were able to read details of Hitler’s conversations with Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the German commander in France.

“Some were signed by Hitler,” Roberts said. “I can remember myself deciphering at least one message − he called himself: ‘Adolf Hitler, Führer’. I suppose I should have been unhappy that I wasn’t fighting the true fight. But this never bothered me. One knew that this was immensely more important than any other single contribution that you could make as a soldier, or as an officer.”

After the war Roberts spent two years in Germany with the War Crimes Investigation Unit before being demobilised in 1947 and beginning a career in market research which would take him all over the world.

In 1970 he set up his own companies, working for a number of high-profile clients including British Gas, Reebok, DuPont, American Airlines, Chrysler and Holiday Inn. Roberts sold his companies in 1993 and retired. Two years later, he married Mei Li, an artist and book illustrator.

He spent his later years campaigning for greater recognition for Flowers and Tutte, which led to a BBC documentary on the latter’s work breaking the Fish ciphers, and for the preservation of Bletchley Park.

He was appointed MBE in the 2013 New Years Honours “for services to the work of Bletchley Park and to code breaking”.

He is survived by Mei and their daughter, and by a son and two daughters of two previous marriages.

Jerry Roberts, born November 18 1920, died March 25 2014


Robert Shore (Let’s hear it for the Midlands, G2, 27 March) is right. The Midlands are brilliant and blissful. Roy Fisher, one of the UK’s greatest living poets, and one of its most modest, once wrote “Birmingham’s what I think with”. Perhaps that should be added to the signposts of all roads leading to the West Midlands from north and south alike.
Jenny Swann

• Shame on Robert Shore from Mansfield for preferring the fictional character Mr Darcy to represent Midland aristocracy when Lord Byron from nearby Newstead Abbey would have been a far more interesting “Midland sex symbol”. No mention either for DH Lawrence who, like Byron, was a great poet and, moreover, a prolific author whose work was also turned into a Ken Russell masterpiece.
David Selby
Winchester, Hampshire

• There is an alternative to garden fences (There’s a great fence shortage? That’s awkward, G2, 26 March): natural hedging (but please, avoid leylandii). A well-maintained beech hedge will look good, diffuse rather than resist the gales, present an impenetrable barrier to next-door’s dog and, best of all, offer shelter for a wide variety of wildlife. Oh, and you can also eat the new, springtime green leaves.
Tim Feest
Godalming, Surrey

• Reading of Veronese’s appearance before the Inquisition (which nobody ever expects) reminded me of the Monty Python sketch of Michelangelo explaining to the pope why he had included 28 apostles, three Christs and a kangaroo in his painting of the same scene (Review, 22 March). He, too, claimed artistic licence: “You don’t want an artist, mate, you want a bloody photographer.” It’s on YouTube – enjoy.
Julian Taylor
Cuffley, Hertfordshire

• Pentre Cythraul in Flintshire is the Devil’s Village (Letters, 27 March).
Huw Roberts

• Valhalla, Chaos and Useless Loop sound interesting, but there’s no place like No Place, County Durham.
Alan Pearson

Philip Pullman is right to use the word “barbaric” in commenting on Chris Grayling‘s ban on families and friends sending books to prisoners (Report, 25 March). Grayling’s title as “justice minister” is surely ironic. I am reminded how the apartheid “minister of justice” John Vorster (later South Africa’s prime minister) denied all reading matter to “90-days” detainees, except for the Bible. I was grateful when a friend tested the system by sending me a Bible with line drawings, including little route maps and with a foreword describing it as “a great travel book”. In my solitary cell in 1964, I knew she had specially chosen it for me. That mattered.

Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom contains a photograph captioned “The books I kept in my cell”. Political prisoners struggled for the right to books, supported by the indefatigable opposition MP Helen Suzman. Books connected them to “outside” – to the world of ideas, relationships and human emotions beyond the brutalising reality of prison. In the 1980s, the security police hated the concessions on books made by their superiors under pressure from the campaigning Detainee Parents’ Support Committee. Neil Aggett, the idealist doctor-cum-unpaid trade unionist who died in detention in Johannesburg in 1982, effectively ran a small lending library among detainees with books sent in by family and friends. The security police confiscated books as punishment.

Grayling’s notion of books as Brownie points for good behaviour is ludicrous. He should go down in history as the book snatcher, alongside his heroine the milk snatcher. The quality of decision-making in the country that gave me a home in exile in the late 1960s – and to which I hope I have contributed – is increasingly impoverished. It’s frightening.
Beverley Naidoo

• As Thomas Cromwell’s current reputation manager, I should gently caution Bernard Naylor (Letters, 26 March) that there are more precise sources of information than A Man for All Seasons. Thomas More was sent to the Tower in April 1534. His papers were taken away in June 1535, after he was discovered to be writing to his fellow prisoner Bishop Fisher. His books went too, and no doubt this move was designed to put psychological pressure on him; it may have been nasty but it wasn’t pointless. Thomas More was a great burner: of books, of writers, of readers. If we need a patron of free access to the written word, his name is not the name to invoke. Mr Grayling’s common sense should tell him to allow prisoners good access to books. He should need no instructions from history.
Hilary Mantel
Budleigh Salterton, Devon

• I would very much like to thank Guardian readers for their overwhelming response to my son Jake (Letters, 21 January), asking people to send cards, letters of support and books. Having recently been released from jail (I was a prisoner of conscience) in the Republic of Ireland, I was shocked to read that the UK minister for justice is banning friends and families from bringing books into jail. So now not only are they locking up the body, they are locking up the mind also. Is this a new form of torture?
Margaretta D’Arcy
Woodquay, Galway

• We are crime writers. At the end of our novels the prison door closes on the perpetrator of the crime. But it is only in fiction that this is a satisfactory ending. Which is why we are writing to the lord chancellor and the secretary of state for justice to voice our deep concern at the exclusion of books from prison parcels. The spartan regime in prisons that Chris Grayling claims the public wants should, surely, allow for rehabilitation too, and books are essential in that process. In the face of a declining library service and ill-stocked prison shops, parcels from relatives are often the only way that prisoners can have access to reading and study materials. The figures on reoffending, and on substance abuse in prisons, speak volumes about the importance for prisoners of being able to imagine a life beyond crime. We call on Mr Grayling to address the reality of prison life rather than a fictional version.
Alison Joseph
Chair, Crime Writers’ Association

• Not long after the Good Friday agreement, I was visiting a barracks near Armagh at a friend’s invitation. Among other guests was a member of the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. He told me he’d transferred from the prison service, having served at, among other prisons, Long Kesh. I asked what he’d experienced there and he said that the main difference he noticed was that, while the majority of loyalist inmates spent their time in the gym, the nationalists were in the library, “educating themselves and getting degrees”. He predicted that this difference would probably come to the fore in future. Chris Grayling, please note.
Dan Tanzey
Thornton Cleveleys, Lancashire

• Great to see the literati wading in to highlight yet another faux pas from Chris Grayling. But where were they when Grayling was seeking to dismantle the probation service – a somewhat more significant factor in the rehabilitation of offenders? Napo – the probation officers’ trade union is still at the forefront of the campaign to save probation. On 1 April, from 7.30am there will be pickets outside each probation office as Napo is on strike as part of that campaign. Perhaps authors, wordsmiths, poets, lyricists and readers would like to attend their local Napo picket line to show support. Losing the probation service and access to books. Whatever next? Custody in the community!

Mick Gough

Retired senior probation officer, Stoke on Trent

Paul Brown is correct when he writes that “This should be a bumper year for the common frog” (Specieswatch, Common frog, 24 March) because of the mild wet winter.

Unfortunately, however, in some areas the longlasting and freezing conditions of the previous winter had a disastrous effect on frog numbers. Our four garden ponds were frozen until the end of March 2013, and in April a maximum of 20 frogs gathered, with little spawn laid. In previous years, I had got used to peak numbers exceeding 100. This year, the maximum has again been a meagre 20 frogs, although with a lot of spawn, giving hope for long-term recovery.

It should be noted that neither of the last two winters has been typical. Amphibian populations in many parts of the world are in crisis, with rapid climate change thought to be a significant factor. One more extremely hard winter could certainly wipe out my garden frog population.
Denis O’Connor
Otley, West Yorkshire

We, as leaders of eight major northern cities that are crucial to the economic prosperity of the north, call on the leaders of the main political parties to commit to support the high-speed rail link through to completion (Fast-track plan for HS2 wins George Osborne’s support, 18 March). HS2 is a once-in-a-century chance for our cities to realise their enormous potential and to make an ever greater contribution to the wider prosperity of the UK. As such, we ask the main party leaders to show their commitment to high-speed rail by ensuring the parliamentary process for HS2 is expedited.

Within our own cities we have already started to detail how we will use HS2 to drive growth, create jobs, generate prosperity and deliver a step change in productivity for the UK economy. We must reap these benefits at the earliest opportunity if our country is to remain a global leader.

We now seek a strong and active partnership across all the political parties and between national and local government in order to focus on the delivery of HS2. Working together we can secure a thriving north and Midlands as a strong contributor to a fully diverse and resilient national economy.

We therefore urge all party leaders to not only back, but vocally champion HS2 so that this essential scheme is delivered at the earliest opportunity for the benefit of our great cities and our country as a whole.
Cllr James Alexander Leader, York city council, Joe Anderson Mayor of Liverpool, Cllr Paul Bayliss Leader, Derby, Cllr Jon Collins Leader, Nottingham, Cllr Julie Dore Leader, Sheffield, Cllr Nick Forbes Leader, Newcastle, Richard Leese Leader, Manchester, Cllr Keith Wakefield Leader, Leeds

• I trust that failure to buy a railway ticket will also cease to be a criminal offence and that private railway companies will be placed in the same position as the BBC over the licence fee.
Roch Garrard
South Warnborough, Hampshire

We are all consultant obstetricians and gynaecologists who look after, or have looked after, women who have suffered female genital mutilation. We wish to express our serious anxiety about the decision to prosecute a doctor for alleged mutilation after a delivery (Medical experts criticise prosecutions over FGM, 26 March). In this case, it is clear that the woman had undergone the practice before her pregnancy.  

Female genital mutilation is a horrendous practice; the most severe form involves cutting off a girl’s clitoris and labia and suturing the remaining tissue together, leaving a small hole for the passage of urine and menstrual blood. The practice is carried out in many countries, and probably affects more than a 100 million women.

When women who have suffered FGM are pregnant, they may need to have the vaginal opening widened to allow the baby out. If this is not done before labour, it will need to be done at the time of delivery. This may leave a bleeding area that needs to be repaired.

There is the world of difference between FGM and repairing cuts that are necessary to allow a baby’s delivery. Prosecuting professionals for so-called FGM under these circumstances distracts us from the real issues – namely, ensuring that girls are not sent abroad for FGM, that such operations are not performed in the UK, and that we help people in countries where this is endemic to change cultural attitudes.
Naaila Aslam, Chris Barnick, Mark Broadbent, Melanie Davies, Edgar Dorman, James Drife, Katrina Erskine, Abha Govind, Matt Hogg, Penelope Law, Nick Nicholas, Louise Page, Maryam Parisaei, Avanti Patel, Catharine Roberts, Audrey Ryan, Ali Sajjad, Robert Sawdy, Amit Shah, Anthony Silverstone, Geeta Suri
Consultant obstetricians and gynaecologists, London and Leeds

We are writers from around the world who love, live and breathe words. We are united in our belief that freedom of expression is a universal and fundamental human right. We are gravely concerned about “the freedom of words” in Turkey. We connect both within and across borders through words, written and spoken. A free exchange of ideas is essential for democracy, as well as for creativity, empathy and tolerance. As revealed in a Pen report on last year’s protests,Turkey has many freedom of expression issues, from criminal defamation to self-censorship within the mainstream media, to police violence against journalists and a narrowing of freedom of expression on the internet.

Turkey ranks 154th among 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index. Translators, editors, publishers, poets and writers face criminal proceedings and even imprisonment for legitimate expression, under a variety of legal fetters, including the country’s draconian anti-terror law, the law on meetings and demonstrations and the Turkish penal code’s articles on defamation (article 125), religious defamation (article 216), obscenity (article 226), insulting the Turkish people, state or its organs, and promoting conscientious objection to military service (article 318).

The blanket ban on Twitter and YouTube (Report, 27 March) comes in the aftermath of a regressive new internet law and is an unacceptable violation of the right to freedom of speech. With over 36 million internet users, Turkey should be proud to be home to Europe’s youngest internet audience, placing it among the most globally connected countries in the Muslim world. By connecting people from a range of backgrounds and making it possible for them to express their thoughts, the internet is a valuable network that supports and strengthens democracy. Twitter and YouTube are vehicles of expression that give a voice to each and every user, regardless of class, religion, ethnicity or political stature. There are more than 12 million Twitter users in Turkey, which shows the vibrancy of civil society. Turkey is a state party to the European convention on human rights and the international covenant on civil and political rights, both of which protect the right to legitimate freedom of expression.

We welcome the administrative court in Ankara’s decision to suspend the ban ahead of a full judgment and urge the telecommunications authority to restore access to Twitter immediately.

We are writers from Turkey and across the world. We care about one another’s problems and we know that we are all interconnected. Turkey is a country where western democratic values, secularism and Islamic culture come together. It is not surrounded by enemies. It is not an isolated or inward-looking country. It is part of an international community. Our plea to Turkey’s leaders is not to retreat from democracy and its keystone, freedom of speech; but rather to recognise their obligations under international treaties and to lift the block on Twitter and YouTube with immediate effect. We urge them to remember that this beautiful country will be stronger and happier when, and if, it appreciates pluralism, diversity and the freedom of words.
Héctor Abad Faciolince
Boris Akunin
Svetlana Alexievich
Hanan al-Shaykh
Ahmet Altan
Mehmet Altan
Jirō Asada
Margaret Atwood
Oya Baydar
Marian Botsford Fraser Pen International’s writers in prison committee
Martín Caparrós
Fethiye Çetin
Can Dündar
Kerstin Ekman
Peter Englund Permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy
Álvaro Enrigue
Moris Farhi
Maureen Freely President of English Pen
Maggie Gee
Kaya Genç
Graeme Gibson
Francisco Goldman
Günter Grass Nobel laureate
Tarık Günersel President of Turkish Pen
Josef Haslinger President of German Pen
Eva Hoffman
Elfriede Jelinek Nobel laureate
AL Kennedy
Abbas Khider
Karl Ove Knausgård
Hari Kunzru
Valeria Luiselli
Perihan Mağden
Alberto Manguel
Bejan Matur
Blake Morrison
Neel Mukherjee
Sofi Oksanen
Michael Ondaatje
Orhan Pamuk Nobel laureate
John Ralston Saul President of Pen International
Sergio Ramírez
Salman Rushdie
Elif Shafak
Kamila Shamsie
Mikhail Shishkin
Sjón President, Icelandic Pen
Zadie Smith
Ahdaf Soueif
Hori Takeaki International secretary, Pen International
Janne Teller
Ece Temelkuran
Olga Tokarczuk
Tatyana Tolstaya
Jarkko Tontti International treasurer, Pen International
Dubravka Ugresic
Lyudmila Ulitskaya
Günter Wallraff
Per Wästberg President of the Nobel committee for literature
Sarah Waters
Hyam Yared President of Pen Lebanon
Samar Yazbek
Adam Zagajewski

There is considerable frustration within the police service regarding the inspectorate report on the police handling of domestic abuse (27 March). The College of Policing, which represents all professionals in policing, asked for this to be a multi-agency inspection with a far wider remit, but this was ignored.

Our experience is that cases of domestic abuse invariably include a far wider range of social issues, shown by the fact that only about 30% of cases result in a recorded crime. It is understandable that many victims refuse to make a complaint against their abuser, or later withdraw the allegation, because they don’t see that the criminal justice system can actually make their lives better.

There is a significant overlap between domestic abuse and complex dependency issues, and with those involved in gangs and organised crime. Even if police can remove an abuser from a victim’s life, victims may well live in a community where they will face pressure from their families or criminal networks.

We can only truly serve the needs of victims by approaching this in an integrated, multi-agency way, which links up all the issues of complex dependency, as we are doing in Greater Manchester. We cannot have a system that relies so much on the victim in an abusive relationship having the courage to go to court when it is in the very nature of an abusive relationship that their self-confidence is destroyed. My officers deal with an average 170 domestic abuse incidents every day and become weary that the wider system is not dealing with the underlying issues or that society is not taking this more seriously.

To that end, I would like to see the creation of full-item specialist magistrates able to impose a range of conditions for the protection of victims and the control of offenders, where the police could take all high-risk cases within 24 hours, whether or not the victim wishes to make a complaint. This would create the space for the full range of agencies to put in a comprehensive solution.

The police can always do better and comply more closely with the processes, but it has to be acknowledged that there are fundamental flaws in the way the wider system safeguards very vulnerable victims, which is why so many are reluctant to come forward.
Sir Peter Fahy
Chief constable, Greater Manchester police


The Government has announced an investigation into the energy supply industry, with the promise of increasing competitiveness to drive down prices. Is this a real fix for the energy industry or just a big election fix?

It sounds wonderful to have lower prices, until you look at the real business economics in such a move.

If you forcibly drive down prices by diktat, will energy companies really cut their profits or will they cut their costs? As Britain suffers a lack of new power-generating capacity, will this increase in competitiveness cause more or less investment in new capacity?

When you cut prices, you reduce income. That usually means a big business will slash its long-term investment first, not the short-term profits to shareholders. It also means a large company is far more tempted to engage in vicious, competitive sales practices verging on the criminal.

Deception and mis-selling can be expected as sales forces are driven to increase the number of customers, while the suppliers’ customer service and maintenance departments are slashed due to falling income. This is made worse if that sales force is on aggressive commission schemes, taking more money from the limited income.

Neither a competition inquiry nor the diktats to be expected from the Government to reshape the market for ideological purposes will solve the quality of service. Nor will they solve the quality and quantity of investment. But this inquiry is perfectly timed for local elections in a few weeks and the general election next year.

We need real power for the people, not another round of competitiveness ruining the economy, people’s lives and our environment. We need investment in new, efficient power generation that is owned locally, not by greedy remote overseas corporations. Breaking up the existing suppliers, as suggested, will not create new innovative businesses; they will be smaller, weaker, under constant demand to reduce prices – thus income, thus costs and services to the customer.

Michael Bond, Stockport, Cheshire

The announcement by Siemens that 1,000 wind farm production jobs are to be created in the North of England (“Wind of change”, 26 March) shows businesses are leading the charge to develop the green jobs of the future.

The number of green jobs is predicted to increase from 1m today to 1.4m by 2020. Leading businesses argue that these jobs will not be confined to the green-energy sector, and many roles, even in service industries, will feature a green component.

However, a greater understanding of the skills needed for these jobs is urgently needed, with clear direction and guidance to teachers. Recent YouGov polling of teachers, commissioned by Global Action Plan, shows that 63 per cent think their school is not doing anything to develop green skills.

The Government needs to improve this situation by helping to improve careers advice to ensure that students are adequately prepared for the future.

Trewin Restorick, Senior Partner, Global Action Plan, London WC2

I congratulate fellow Nuclear Free Local Authorities member Hull City Council and Siemens for deciding to develop a major green energy hub in the city. My own city of Manchester has strong connections with Siemens and I am sure this will be a fantastic economic, sustainable and energy-rich part of the solution to the UK’s future energy needs.

However, SSE has decided to ditch several offshore wind projects, our Prime Minister advocates a shale gas revolution and a new nuclear revolution, and the Met Office tells us that cold, wet winters and blisteringly hot summers could be the norm in 20 years’ time.

I urge the Government to stop messing about with shale and new nuclear and embrace a renewable local energy revolution that councils across the UK and Ireland are keen to play a full part in.

Councillor Mark Hackett, Chair of UK and  Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities, Manchester

The curse of Kardashian

Is Grace Dent the Julie Burchill de nos jours? Her veneration of Kim Kardashian (25 March) misses an important point about the danger of this type of celebrity culture.

Her “footballer’s girlfriend” comment disregards the worrying trend in manufactured super-ordinariness that is so prevalent in much media-constructed celebrity. Kim Kardashian is no rags-to-riches heroine, and I suspect that even her sex tape was a sophisticated marketing tool.

I know that it must be hard for clever readers of The Independent to understand this, but the young, ethnically diverse, mainly working-class girls, whom I used to teach in an East London further education college, really believe that they can become Kim or Katie Price or any other of these women who appear to have little actual skill yet are able to attain wealth and popularity.

So they underachieve chronically in their studies because – in their minds – the dream will come true. It does not. Role models such as Kim Kardashian are responsible for more female teenagers’ lack of aspiration than all the supposedly poor teachers in our schools and colleges put together. These kids then have to live the rest of their lives with disappointment and poor prospects of gainful employment.

Chris Hugo

London E10

Teachers should revolt – not strike

From my own assorted work experiences, I found that, compared with other professions, teaching in state schools was comparatively easy to move into at any age.

But it entailed putting up with far more day-to-day hassle than I was used to, a great deal of which was the direct result of endless streams of daft organisational and curriculum ideas emanating from distant academics and politicians who couldn’t organise the proverbial activity in a brewery – and who generally approved of our Great British educational apartheid and made quite sure that their own offspring went to a nice private school.

But what really finished me off was the docile acceptance of all this rubbish by the classroom teachers. And that still seems to be the case (forget about all those in the myriad peculiar promoted posts who would sell their grannies for yet another move further way from the dangerously demanding electronic chalkface).

A meek little strike without upsetting the parents is no good at all. What should have been done years ago, and cries out to be done now, is point-blank refusal by the front-line troops to have anything at all to do with any more new organisational or  curricular wheezes.

Alison Sutherland, Kirkwall, Orkney

As a teacher, I feel supported by colleagues in my secondary school. However, I went on strike in protest at the unsustainable average working week of 55 hours for secondary teachers and 60 for primary. The amount of bureaucracy required by Government and Ofsted not only reduces time to design challenging activities, but leaves us physically shattered and unable to give the energy required to facilitate the best educational experience for students.

Teachers went on strike to work to create a better learning environment, and not over petty details, as the Government and some media seem to make out.

Dr Isabelle Humphries, Cambridge

My schoolteacher wife supported the national NUT strike. This allowed her to spend the day on lesson preparation and pupil attainment records – roughly doubling her weekly quota of  unpaid work.

David Mitchell, Cromford, Derbyshire

Coupling and uncoupling

In The Dream of Gerontius, where the death of Gerontius and the soul’s ascent to heaven is related, Edward Elgar sets the words of Cardinal Newman. When Gerontius meets the Angel who has accompanied him thither, he addresses her: “I wish to hold with thee conscious communion.” So “conscious uncoupling” seems an appropriate way to part from an angel.

Anthony Bramley-Harker, Watford

Foreign antecedents?

Ian Turnbull (letter, 26 March) informs us that “homage” has Latin origins and doesn’t rhyme with French cheese. Perhaps he could enlighten us on the origin of Farage – French  or Latin?

Dave Keeley, Hornchurch

Just one wrong word

According to your report (“Revealed: secret second police corruption probe”, 27 March), information on police corruption was “inexplicably shredded”. The only thing wrong with that phrase is the word “inexplicably”.

Pete Barrett, Colchester


Sir, You suggest (leader, Mar 24) that a core purpose of the green belt — to restrict urban sprawl — is no longer a priority given the great need for new housing. There is no doubt we need to build many more homes than have been built in recent years — and there will be appropriate locations in the countryside to do so — but the maintenance of strict green belt controls is essential.

Strong, long-term boundaries are essential to enable a focus on reusing suitable previously developed land and buildings — which could accommodate more than 1.5m new homes — so that we can improve the quality of life of urban communities and provide decent housing where people want to live and work.

Green belts have an important role to play to help use land wisely, including for food production and flood management. Just because the policy is more than 60 years old doesn’t mean it is no longer relevant.

Peter Waine

Campaign to Protect Rural England

Sir, In a world of increasing food insecurity it is important to retain as much agricultural land as possible.

The UK’s population is projected to rise by almost 10 million over the next 25 years. At present the UK can only feed around 60 per cent of its present population, let alone another 10 million. Yet in your discussion of the loss of green belt land to housing you did not ask whether in future our country will be able to afford or even gain access to the imported food it is so dependent on.

Pressures on the UK’s food security are here to stay. Increasing global population and changing consumption patterns are increasing demand for foodstuffs and contributing to rising prices.

However, the threat to UK food security could be more serious if increased global demand were to be combined with other potential problems such as climate change. The government’s official climate change advisers recently warned that droughts could devastate food production in the England by the 2020s.

Colin Hines

East Twickenham, Middx

Sir, At least 48,000 hectares of brownfield England is derelict, vacant or in use but with potential for redevelopment. I propose that we create a national database of potential brownfield housing sites. The database would allow councils, housing associations, developers, agents, architects, consultants and builders to identify opportunities to unlock the potential of these sites. Where this differs from other databases is that it is based on landowner participation and their early engagement is crucial to putting spades in the ground.

Whether or not sites are suitable for housing would still be determined by the planning system, the aim of the database would be to stimulate discussion and act as a catalyst for housing delivery.

There is no doubt we need to build more new homes, but we need to be sure they are in the right place. This database, for the first time, will help to identify more brownfield sites in private ownership across the country and encourage parties in the development process to bring them forward for housing delivery. Only once this brownfield supply has been exhausted should we focus on garden cities.

Andrew Taylor

London SW6

Dylan Thomas came to regret that his parents had not passed on to him their own first language, Welsh

Sir, The view of the Welsh language expressed by Roger Lewis (letter, Mar 27) may be a reflection of his own opinion but is far from the truth as far as Dylan Thomas is concerned.

Along with so many others of his generation Dylan came to regret his parents’ decision not to pass on their own first language to their son — which, to borrow a phrase, could be described as a “conscious uncoupling” from his own heritage. He was prone to change his opinion on any subject in line with his audience, but his poems, prose works and letters reveal a man who was inspired by the Welsh language, not scornful towards it.

Kate Crockett


The proposal to construct a racetrack on moorland in South Wales will be a blow to biodiversity

Sir, National planning guidance policy is not influenced by particular cases of local planners weighing up the demands of communities with a need to protect biodiversity as set out within their adopted plan (Simon Barnes, Wild Notebook, Mar 22)

The urge to continue building on Olympic successes may not be directly felt here in South Wales but a large swathe of moorland, adjacent to the Brecon Beacons National Park, has been earmarked for a motor racetrack as part of the economic regeneration of nearby severely deprived Merthyr Tydfil (News, Mar 22).

The area has plenty of skylarks singing on it and perhaps now is the time to be braver in exploring how biodiversity offsetting might enable progress of much needed development without trashing
wildlife habitat.

Rob Yorke

Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

Opponents of a change in the law argue that the majority does not favour assisted dying on request

Sir, I contradict the claim that it is generally accepted that a large majority of the population want a change in the law with regard to assisted dying (Sir Gordon Downey, letter, Mar 26).

In my 38 years as an MP the number who have written in that cause is below 38. Fewer than ten have raised it in conversation.

In my public and private life more often than most I meet people with bad conditions, people who are dying slowly and I listen to their carers. If many wanted a change in the law they would have told me.

Additionally, I have known people who assured me in advance that they would in certain circumstances deliberately bring their life to its conclusion. Up to now not one has.

Turn to what I describe as death on request. Rare cases only? See the figures in the Netherlands and compare them with the totals for suicides. Consider also the move to death decisions taken for those judged not mentally competent.

There is little reason to be frightened of our deaths or to be put off discussing them. There is every reason to reject sloppy argument and unjustified assertions. Let us limit the law to its present state which to me and to an unknown proportion of the population seems to cover most situations.

Sir Peter Bottomley, MP

House of Commons

Sir, A recent ComRes opinion survey helped to undermine the myth that people with disabilities are eager for premature death (letters, Mar 24). In Britain they are more likely than the general public to support a change in the law to prevent doctors from allowing patients to die through dehydration, if they had asked in advance to be kept alive (61 per cent).

At present, people may only refuse sustenance by an advance directive. This may explain why the Liverpool Care Pathway lasted so long.

Elspeth Chowdharay-Best

London SW3

A general election is meant to be about electing a party to form a government, not a single telegenic individual

Sir, Contrary to your leading article “Clegg v Farage” (Mar 26), it would be a mistake to repeat televised leaders’ debates in 2015.

They convey the impression that a general election is about electing a single person not a party to form a government, and that performing well in such a debate is a good indicator of the qualities needed by a prime minister. They distort campaigning, as the media focus on the debates, and diminish attention to the team likely to compose the next Cabinet.

Conservative and Labour leaders should not be bullied by the media into agreeing to participate but should be thinking of how to present to the electorate their parties’ programmes and their leading colleagues, and not just themselves.

George Jones

(Emeritus Professor of Government, LSE), London N19


Modernise churches to attract new visitors

Churches must be welcoming if their communities are to grow

‘My Second Sermon’ (1864) by Sir John Everett Millais  Photo: Bridgeman Art Library

6:58AM GMT 27 Mar 2014

Comments55 Comments

SIR – Over the past decade, funding by the National Churches Trust, an independent charity that receives no financial support from the Government, has enabled more than 2,000 churches, chapels and meeting houses to repair roofs and stonework and to install modern facilities, such as cafes, lavatories and heating.

Making churches attractive and welcoming enables them to attract new visitors, some of whom may go on to become part of the church community.

The National Churches Trust welcomes the announcement of £20 million in funding for cathedrals in the Budget. However, many of Britain’s 47,000 Christian places of worship are also in need of significant support to pay for repairs and modernisation.

Clare Walker
Chief Executive, National Churches Trust
London EC1

SIR – Sadikur Rahman expresses concern at the Law Society’s choice to issue a practice note to solicitors for drawing up “sharia-compliant” wills that conform to Islamic law. If we are serious about having the same law for all, then parallel legal systems must be prohibited, including all religious courts and tribunals.

Sharia laws are inherently discriminatory. This was recognised by Britain’s highest court in 2008, when the government attempted to remove a woman and child to Lebanon. In a 5—0 ruling, the Law Lords argued that there was no place in sharia for the equal treatment of the sexes and it would be a “flagrant breach” of the European Convention on Human Rights for the government to remove a woman to Lebanon, where she would lose custody of her son because of sharia-inspired family law.

Unfortunately, in the same year, Lord Chief Justice Phillips, who later became President of the British Supreme Court, mistakenly argued the opposite during a speech, “Equality before the law”, at the East London Muslim Centre: “There is no reason why principles of sharia law, or any other religious code, should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution.” This doubtless encouraged advocates of sharia-compliant laws and the Law Society.

The Law Society must withdraw its discriminatory and divisive guidance.

Dr Rumy Hasan
Senior lecturer, University of Sussex

Recycling medicine

SIR – The Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the NHS campaign Medicine Waste urged GPs to minimise over-prescribing to reduce an estimated £300 million wastage. With inflation and ever-expanding Nice-approved pharmaceuticals, that must be an underestimate. Many prescriptions are for chronic conditions. Recovery, remission, or death invariably render quantities of costly medicines or other items still intact, unopened and uncontaminated, but they are none the less destroyed.

In the interests of financial sustainability, might it not be prudent to update the research into this hidden cost and consider a risk assessment of less wasteful disposal, including perhaps some means of recycling, rather than destruction?

I was dismayed to discover that NHS trusts decline to take back walking aids, including crutches, on the grounds of hygiene. My Freedom of Information request to the Department of Health for an estimated annual cost of such items yielded no data, and a reply that policy is determined by local trusts. Surely such items are easily sterilised?

Paul A Newman
Winchester, Hampshire

Mature regular

SIR – A 90-year-old priest? Next month the owners of the Red Lion, in Wendover, will throw a 100th birthday party for a loyal member of staff. She still does three shifts a week.

Jennifer Ballantine
Wendover, Buckinghamshire

Language of love lost

SIR – In this era of jargon, I was not terribly surprised to hear that the unfortunate act of separation may now be referred to as “conscious uncoupling”.

We can only hope that this phrase doesn’t catch on, going forward.

Charles Foster
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire

Morning-after pills

SIR – In the effort to reduce teenage pregnancy, it is madness to encourage teenage sexual intercourse by providing such easy access to all methods of contraception, including the morning-after pill.

Were the directors of Nice never teenagers themselves, and subject to peer pressure to appear “cool”? Of course young girls and boys are going to experiment if contraception is so readily available. Their future happiness in satisfied sexual relations will be damaged by this attitude that everything is fine as long as you use contraception.

Anne F Bloor
Burton Overy, Leicestershire

Proper multi-tasking

SIR – Regarding the lady who was apparently multi-tasking, texting was the only task needing any application; jogging, having a dog on a lead and listening to music do not.

When I was learning to fly an aircraft, the instructor would pull the throttle back and announce “Engine failure!” I had to run checks, see if it would be possible to restart the engine, look for a suitable field to land in and then begin a landing pattern, all the while calling mayday and explaining what was happening and where I was likely to land. Now that was multi-tasking.

Huw Beynon
Penybanc, Carmarthenshire

Tea time

SIR – For more than 50 years I have worn my watch with the face on the inside of my wrist. This was based upon the advice of my grandfather, who said that if I had a cup in my hand and somebody asked the time, I would spill it over them, and not myself. I remain dry to this day.

Kevin Cottrell
Buckland, Oxfordshire

Get your priorities right

SIR – Andy Smith notes that the Prime Minister has repeatedly asserted that the Government’s “first duty” is national security. But Mr Cameron recently said that the economy was his top priority. I have little doubt that on other occasions he has variously stated health, education, welfare, Europe and immigration to be his main concern. Does he have a problem with priorities?

R P Gullett
Bledlow Ridge, Buckinghamshire

The monarch should play a role in law-making

SIR – The monarch should not be removed from the law-making procedure. The monarchy, together with the military and judiciary, is the only protection society has from a renegade parliament.

Terry Bryant
Weaverham, Cheshire

SIR – The Commons’ political and reform committee tell us that Royal Consent is arcane and complex. Although Royal Consent does exist, it applies only to Bills affecting the monarch directly. What the committee has to say on the matter suggests that it is talking about Royal Assent, which is arcane only if the legal foundation of the government of the country in 1689 can be called arcane.

Royal Assent says that the monarch shall agree to a Bill becoming law only if it is just, merciful and constitutional. It is part of a necessarily complex system to prevent Parliament making law for its own benefit.

In 1911, Herbert Asquith persuaded the king that Royal Assent no longer need be anything other than an automatic agreement. The fact that it had not been denied since the reign of Queen Anne did not indicate that it was of no use, but that Parliament had been careful to create only Bills that would pass the monarch’s veto.

Since 1911 we have had unconstitutional legislation passed, which the proper use of Royal Assent would have blocked.

Kenneth Hynes
London N7

SIR – Is our “speculation fuelled” by the suggestion that “the monarchy has an undue influence in law-making”? No. Our speculation is fuelled by the agenda to dismantle our constitution and Church, manipulate our culture, compromise the Fourth Estate and bring on the federalisation of Europe.

David J Addington
March, Cambridgeshire

SIR – The NHS should be extremely grateful to the large number of women who work as GPs. However, many women doctors – with good reason – work part-time. As the number of women GPs increases, so, too, does the risk of the end of the traditional family doctor – a familiar and trusted face.

Philip Moger
East Preston, West Sussex

SIR – There is a danger among my colleagues that, if propaganda is repeated often enough, it is believed. I have the greatest respect for Dr Maureen Baker, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners. But before we leap to conclusions about the workload of GPs, we need to look at hidden problems that have led to this feeling of being under siege.

I have just retired as a GP appraiser. My conversations with GPs have revealed how many of the aspects of the 2003 GP contract have put pressure on the system.

First, there has been a significant change in what is now deemed to be a “full-time” GP. Peruse the advertisements in the British Medical Journal and you will find that nearly all practice vacancies define a full-time commitment as eight sessions (four-hour time blocks) a week.

Secondly, many GPs spend at least one of these sessions glued to a computer screen. GPs are also being increasingly sucked into managing the NHS, commissioning group meetings, referral reviews and prescribing meetings.

Thirdly, this generation of GPs-in-training is increasingly looking for “portfolio careers”, and intends to spend only part of its time in practice. A recent report from Health Care Information Systems confirms an increasing part-time work force.

As well as removing the obligation to provide out-of-hours cover, the 2003 contract also removed a requirement for GPs to provide a minimum number of hours a week in face-to-face contact with patients. Before we rush to clamour for more money, there needs to be a radical review of the whole organisation and management of general practice.

Perhaps the model of the independent contractor is now not fit for purpose.

Dr Robert Walker
Great Clifton, Cumberland

SIR – Prof Clare Gerada, former chairman of the Royal College of GPs, neglects to point out that part-time doctors are more expensive to train. Part-time work may be the prerogative of all people but, at the moment, patients cannot access their surgery easily and, in many cases, have to wait days for an appointment.

In the “good old days”, same-day appointments were possible even when GPs were working alone. I realise that times have changed and that medicine is now more technical, but it is a shame to move away from that ideal.

Raith Smith
Sherborne St John, Hampshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Brendan Cafferty (Letters, March 27th) purports to speak with authority in relation to the current situation regarding Garda resources and personnel numbers. He argues that in his day (the 1970s, it seems) there was only one car per district, similar numbers of serving members, and fewer women who could take maternity leave. Is this for real? He only stopped short of saying he had to walk around in his bare feet and carry a lump of coal for the station fire.

A look at population statistics would have shown him that there are well over a million more people in the county than there were in 1979, requiring a proportionate increase in garda numbers. Cars are vastly more prevalent, requiring more Garda cars to respond to the very mobile modern criminal. This is also part of the reason for specialist units. Gone are the days when drugs were to be found only in Dublin, there were only a handful of largely domestic murders per year to investigate and computer crime etc wasn’t even a consideration.

With regard to his attitude to female gardaí and career breaks it is clear that he sees both as an unnecessary luxury, which is baffling in a time of supposed understanding of family and personal needs. He also suggests that it’s a problem that gardaí don’t live in their areas of work anymore. Did he consider that the reason for this might be because most could not afford to buy in these areas? They didn’t buy houses miles from their workplace because they enjoy driving huge distances daily to work.

The gardaí of the 1970s did great service fighting threats to the State, but I think nostalgia may have clouded Mr Cafferty’s capacity for rational thought. The modern garda has just as much reason – and more – to be fearful when he goes to work given the proliferation of drug-related gun crime and violence. Perhaps Mr Cafferty should spend less time dancing at the crossroads and more time reading crime and demographic statistics. Yours, etc,


Temple Court,


Dublin 9

Sir, – I am very much amused by the many people who deny knowledge of phone tapping in Garda stations. If you consider the practicalities of the initiative, someone had to assess the various bugging products available, choose one, buy it, install it, run it and then change the tapes almost daily back in the 1980s when cassette tapes were used. As technology changed, newer equipment had to be bought, invoices approved, rubber-stamped by officials and paid out. Over the decades there must have been hundreds of gardaí involved all around the country running the system. It is not remotely conceivable that at least some gardaí at every rank in every station did not know exactly what was happening. Yours, etc,


Caragh Green,


Co Kildare

Sir, – Given that the taping of Garda phones started in Border-area stations in the 1980s in order to combat IRA threats (Arthur Beesley, March 27th), could these tapes be examined for Dundalk station for the days around the murder of the two RUC officers to check for Garda informants’ calls? Some good could possibly result from this sorry situation. Yours, etc,


Oakglen View,


Co Wicklow

Sir, – One of the assumptions surrounding the penalty points controversy seems to be that gardaí can lawfully exercise discretion to cancel penalty points at different levels of the force. But a review of case law and the Constitution suggests this could be queried. In the case of the issuance of gun licences the courts held that a higher-ranked garda could not interfere (by imposing an additional condition) in the statutorily appointed garda’s exercise of discretion. This suggests that only the original issuing garda (in the case of a fixed penalty notice) possesses discretion, after which only the courts should set aside notices. The “courts only” system seems to work in Britain without any of the purported problems that some claim are inevitable. Yours, etc,



Co Galway

Sir, – The current Dáil inter-party bluster and fury on matters relating to Garda whistleblower/penalty point issues is about as relevant to the general public as a dispute in a local golf club. Its very irrelevance, however, makes it an ideal subject for debate in the Seanad. Yours, etc,




Sir, – Minister Brendan Howlin’s statement to the effect that “Alan Shatter has the full confidence of every member of the Government” is very worrying indeed. Only a matter of a few days ago how many members of that same Government, including the Taoiseach. were expressing their confidence in the Garda commissioner?

Enough said. Yours, etc,


Crosthwaite Park South,

Dún Laoghaire

Sir, – Question: When is an apology not an apology? Answer: “I believe it is appropriate that I apologise to both (the House and the whistleblowers).” Question: When is an apology an apology? Answer: I apologise to Sgt Maurice McCabe and former garda Wilson. I apologise to members of this House. Yours, etc,


Smithfield Market,

Dublin 7

Sir, – The recent debacle concerning the Garda and Minister Alan Shatter could well be summed by quoting Samuel Johnson, who observed that “the Irish are a very fair-minded people; they never speak well of one another.” Yours, etc,


Harcourt Terrace,

Dublin 2

Sir, – “He’s never been afraid to deal with what’s been lying under a lot of carpets for many years” (the Taoiseach to Deputy Donnelly). Has Bertie been coaching Enda? Yours, etc,


The Demesne,


Dublin 5

Sir, – Reports of a possible name change at Trinity College Dublin are alarming, and reminiscent of the absurd and half-baked recent attempts at similar rebranding at University College Dublin. Rebranding shouldn’t add to the list of confusing Irish university names (University College Dublin, Dublin anyone?), but should simplify them.

While the UCD moniker is forever destined for confusion internationally, and should long since have become a unique and simple “Joyce University”, the powers that be at TCD can surely figure out a way to distill the name to a simple “Trinity”. And if such purity cannot be achieved, a plain old “Hamilton” would do. Yours, etc,


Center for Neural Science,

New York University,

Washington Place,

New York

A Chara, — Why should Ireland have “much to fear” (Editorial, March 26th) from the OECD’s laudable proposals to introduce more equitable corporate taxation on a global scale?

Given that the organisation’s aim is to thwart the spurious (that is, borderline-legal) tax avoidance tactics of multinational companies, how can any country fear the call for corporations to pay their fair share of taxes, which in any case serve to secure the conditions of the possibility of engaging in economic action in the first place?

The worldwide sovereign debt crisis had many and varied roots, but not the least was the fact that corporations’ contributions to tax revenue have fallen dramatically in absolute and relative terms over the last three decades.

Ireland’s ranking as the second-highest exporter of information and communications technology is an unashamed deception, perpetrated by its corporate tax legislation. The Government is evidently living a lie in the hope of winning the favour of tax-dodging multinationals through its parasitic trickery, doing so at the expense of the public coffers of fellow EU member-states as well as of US, Australian, and other market economies. Ireland, that is, is effectively hindering jurisdictions across the world from earning tax revenue, revenue which is absolutely essential to them if they wish to operate as stable democratic nation-states and efficient open market economies.

Thanks to the sly trick of tax-dumping, Ireland is cooking the books; but it is not pulling the wool over its citizens’ eyes, those who are bearing the burden of dysfunctional tax structures and misguided austerity policies.

Earning a pittance (with dubious job creation benefits) at the expense of the world’s economies and remaining nonetheless in a condition of economic subservience and thus underdevelopment will not secure sustainable growth.

Is mise,


Im Nardholz,



Sir, – I am writing in response to the article by Frank McDonald (March 24th) concerning the proposed Central Access Scheme for Kilkenny City. At a time when virtually every city in Europe is devising schemes to remove traffic from city centres through enhanced public transport, Kilkenny is proposing to bring more traffic through its medieval centre. Cities in France and Germany have implemented imaginative, sustainable city centre road schemes which satisfied pedestrians, motorists and traders in an environmentally friendly way. In contrast Kilkenny is proposing to follow the destructive approach of the Celtic Tiger era when development proceeded without consideration for people or the environment.

The construction of a grotesquely ugly bridge to facilitate the Central Access Scheme will create an appalling vista which will alter the essential character of Kilkenny forever and split its medieval core in two. The additional traffic flow will make the city unattractive for living or leisure.

The protest in the city last Saturday demonstrated the high level of opposition to the scheme and how out of touch the local councillors are with the people they claim to represent.

Yours, etc.


Michael Street,


Sir, – Paul Kelly (March 27th) wonders whether women’s political interests differ from those of men. The world of paid employment has been designed by men for men. It is based on the assumption that someone else will take on the role of unpaid carer for paid workers, children and the infirm. Indeed, the entire economic model of this country is built on this same assumption.

In the main, women are prevented from playing a full part in this world of paid employment because of their care duties. So, yes, women in general have a different set of interests from men. Further, in countries where women have a real ability to influence the legislative process it is clear that legislative priorities have changed to reflect their concerns. This has only happened when a critical mass of women public representatives has been achieved through the use of gender quotas. Yours, etc,


St Aidan’s Drive,


Dublin 14

Sir, – David Beatty (Letters, March 26th) mentions “oppressive gender roles” as one reason why women seem to avoid politics. Frankly this is a cliche. One reason many people, men as well as women, avoid politics is because of the unsocial hours and weekend working that it entails and the apparent lack of a private life. Parliaments everywhere sit into the night when legislation is being debated or when urgent issues require debate. Quotas alone are not likely to ensure that otherwise suitable persons, unhappy with these demands, may be induced to stand. One problem with quotas indeed is that they tend to generate demands for more. A good example of this was the call made a few weeks ago by the National Women’s Council for a 40 per cent representation for women at Cabinet. No mention of merit or experience. This arrogant demand apparently went unremarked by journalists. Yours, etc,




Co Kildare

Sir , – A language lives by being spoken. There was a time when Latin was a common school and university subject. In its study, grammar and literature were emphasised, but at the end of the process few, if indeed any, could communicate in a functional way in the language. Too much of this method was transferred to the learning of Irish, and it produced similar results.

In my mid-50s,while working in Vienna, I attended German language courses for a mere two hours a week over a four-year period. German literature was not touched on and from the start, with students of various linguistic backgrounds, German was the only language spoken in class. Tests included comprehension questions on oral recorded passages, usually spoken in strong local accents. At the end of this short period of study I was functional in communicating in normal situations such as shopping, in restaurants, and staying in B&Bs throughout Austria and Germany where, in many cases, the owners spoke no English.

Incidentally I was also able to read with pleasure several German novels and English-language novels in translation. Illiterates can and have throughout the centuries kept languages alive. Study of literature is important but if we are to use Irish as a spoken language the ability to communicate comfortably has to take precedence. Yours, etc,


Bishopscourt Road,


A Chara, – While it is apparent that there are diverse opinions on the Irish language, it is clear that Irish-speakers are demanding parity of esteem, and what is wrong with that? What is striking is the negative attitude of some letter-writers towards the language. Daniel Stanford (March 27th) proclaims to all and sundry that he could not read a letter by another reader because “it was in Irish” and that if this practice became widespread he would have to stop reading The Irish Times .

Why would someone bother to take the time to write to a newspaper to announce his ignorance of another language? It would also seem unlikely that The Irish Times has any plans to launch as an Irish language newspaper. I think Mr Stanford and any other anxious readers can rest assured that their preferred monolingual world of journalism is unlikely to be disturbed. Is mise le meas,




Dublin 18

Sir, – I laughed heartily reading Michael Harding’s description of the conversation that took place in a car as a couple in their 60s gave him a lift to the train ( March 25th). The man is a tonic to read and makes a Tuesday copy of The Irish Times a must. Yours, etc,


Parkmore Drive,


Dublin 6W

Sir, — Could Vladimir Putin’s arrogance in the face of accusations by Western powers of illegal annexation of territory and flagrant violations of international law be at least partially explained by the absolute impunity with which Israel has been treated by said Western powers in the light of its contempt for international law? Yours, etc,





Co Kildare

Sir, — Christopher Sands (Letters, March 27th) provides some interesting additional information about the late Michael Talbot’s design of the Cork Dry Gin square bottle. Doesn’t it just prove the old adage about squaring the circle? Even Myles na Gopaleen would have known that the sticking-out corners of the square bottle would contain that extra measure or half glass of gin. Or perhaps it had to do with the dispersal of the alcohol molecules round the glass. Perhaps Science Editor Dick Ahlstrom might care to comment? — Yours, etc,


Rochestown Avenue,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin

Sir, – Jason Clarke’s photograph of the four ladies chatting happily above the heading “A welcome change – bathers enjoy new unisex shelter in Sandycove” (March 27th) helped brighten up a grey day. But where were the male bathers? Being party-poopers round the corner at the Forty Foot? Plus ca change, plus c’est la même chose (The more things change, the more they remain the same.) Yours, etc,


Albert Park,


Co Dublin

Irish Independent:

Published 28 March 2014 02:30 AM

* Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan was the wrong man to resign this week; it should have been Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

Also in this section

Perfect opportunity for real garda reform

Shatter has decimated An Garda Siochana

Different faces of the Catholic Church

Mr Callinan, as commissioner of An Garda Siochana, was a decent public servant who came down hard on dissident (self-described) republicans and organised criminals.

Mr Callinan, throughout the current controversy, stuck by a principle and was made a fall guy for Mr Shatter as a result.

Mr Callinan, as commissioner, was well-respected by rank-and-file gardai. It is a great shame that Irish law enforcement has lost a good man this week in the form of the former commissioner.

For justice (for all concerned) to be done, Mr Shatter, of whom there are now serious questions as to his competency in overseeing the administration of justice in Ireland, must be made to resign.




* It has taken three years for some to realise this “controlled and cohesive Government” is anything but.

A debt of gratitude is owed to Transport Minister Leo Varadkar for his timely, very important public outrage about the arrogant manner of former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

An insult not alone to the whistleblowers, but the Public Accounts Committee and, by extension, the citizens.

What I find disgusting is the absolute, ridiculous subservience by Fine Gael TDs to their colleague, Justice Minister Alan Shatter, because of his ability to write and introduce bills.

Each and every TD is a representative of the people in the Dail, therefore each one of them has the right to introduce a bill to the House. That some have not the ability is of no consequence in a democratic Republic, whereas subservience to “eminent people” is fraught with danger for any democracy as we have witnessed.

Mr Shatter would do well to employ a ministerial adviser akin to the slaves Roman senators had, to tell him throughout each day, “Remember man you are mortal”. I fear this would go over the heads of some of his cabinet colleagues.

If Taoiseach Enda Kenny had nous, he would be chastened by these events and bring the major changes he promised prior to the election to fruition.

Alas, winning seats for Fine Gael at the forthcoming local and EU elections takes priority over the goodwill of the citizens of Ireland.




* I wish to nominate Maurice McCabe for the vacant post of Garda Commissioner and John Wilson for Deputy Commissioner.

If courage, integrity, endurance in the face of adversity and competence are requirements for the job, there are not two finer candidates.




* May I refer to Eilish O’Regan’s article “Study links birth defects to austerity” (Irish Independent, March 19). May I suggest that austerity is only part of the problem.

Today, home cooking of fresh food is being replaced by quick foods, processed foods and pre-cooked meals.

Most processed foods are super-heated to kill off all bacteria (a must) but in doing so it kills the natural vitamins, enzymes and renders amino acids unavailable to the body.

The result? – an unbalanced diet creating the natural bodily reaction to eat more (looking for missing nutrients).

This only increases the carbohydrates and mineral intake (what is left after over-heating) leading to deficiencies and obesity.

The lack of folic acid (the brain food) is the result of not eating fresh vegetables, whole grain, lentils, meat, milk and cheese that has not been over-heated.

Folic acid is most important in regulating embryonic and foetal nerve-cell formation for normal development and in hardening of the arteries. It should be taken before conception and is more efficient with vitamins B12 and C.

If we as a nation wish to improve our heath, we must revert to consuming fresh, basic foods that are home-cooked.

This should be encouraged by the HSE, Government and supermarkets. After all, Ireland produces the best food in the world and we should live on it.




* I just finished reading about Deirdre Roche Doherty’s story (Irish Independent, March 27). An amazing young woman, who, against all odds, is alive and living a normal life, as normal can be, after what she has been through.

A victim of Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and a triple transplant recipient (heart, lung and kidney), she became the first ever woman who has undergone a triple transplant to have a child, let alone two.

I think the least we can do, in her honour, is sign an Organ Donor Card as soon as possible so more people like Deirdre can live.

You can actually help someone, you may never meet, with the ultimate act of kindness. Just imagine that after you’re gone, your donated organs will help keep others alive. It is at no cost to you and you can save a life or two. It’s a real no-brainer.




* Writing in this newspaper yesterday, Paul McNeive criticised An Taisce for seeking greater levels of public transport, cycling and walking in commuting to work at the former Dell plant in Limerick.

The plant is due to be refurbished and enhanced by Regeneron, a US bio-pharmaceutical company.

After Regeneron applied for planning permission, An Taisce wrote to Limerick County Council asking the council to request Regeneron to develop a mobility plan to guide the company, over time, to achieve higher levels of public transport, walking and cycling for travel to work.

The benefits of having such a plan include reduced congestion, better air quality, improved employee health and, as recent studies have shown, improved employee well-being and retention.

However, Limerick County Council granted planning permission without requesting any definite plan to boost public transport, cycling and walking.

To say this jars with Limerick as Ireland’s Smarter Travel Demonstration city is an understatement. Limerick has been granted €9.3m of public funds to increase public transport, cycling and walking.

An Taisce then appealed the transport condition of the permission to An Bord Pleanala. Only the transport condition was appealed, something very clear from the document itself.

Regrettably, a local election candidate issued a press release that neglected to make this clear, and a small number of news outlets covered the release without checking the story – or without making any contact with An Taisce for balance and fairness.

Mr McNeive was unfortunately wrong-footed by the misreporting described above.

Also, the story has moved on. An Taisce and Regeneron have since worked together on a revised mobility plan and the appeal on the transport condition is no longer before An Bord Pleanala. Regeneron and An Taisce followed this up with a joint press release.




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