Back to normality

Normal 28th May 2013

I trot round the park today and listen to the Navy lark. I Oh dear, oh dear
Its families day on Troutbridge and all the relatives come to visit bringing sticky buns and Pertwee raffles the ships anchor. Wren Chastens plays female sister versions of all the crew. Priceless.
A quiet day off out to the bank and shopping very tired under the weather
We watch The Chiltren hundreds a wonderful old film as just as true today
I win at Scrabble today, just and gets just under 400, Mary might get her revenge tomorrow, I hope.

Obituary:

Murrey Marder
Murrey Marder, who has died aged 93, played a crucial if unsung role in the downfall of Senator Joe McCarthy and coined the term “credibility gap” to describe the growing public cynicism regarding President Lyndon B Johnson’s upbeat pronouncements about the war in Vietnam.

Murrey Marder 
7:01PM BST 28 May 2013
According to legend, it was Ed Murrow who “brought down” Joseph McCarthy, the Red-baiting demagogue, in an April 1954 episode of the CBS documentary See It Now, in which the senator from Wisconsin was exposed as a bully and a liar. In fact, CBS’s decision to broadcast the show came well after newspaper journalists had smelled a rat.
Prominent among these was Marder, a Washington Post correspondent who had long been suspicious of McCarthy’s headline-grabbing claims about communist infiltration. In autumn 1953 he decided to investigate after McCarthy, as chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, had held a series of hearings into an alleged spy ring at the Army Signal Corps laboratories at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. The hearings had led to the suspension without pay of 33 employees.
Marder spent a week at Fort Monmouth and discovered that the “evidence” on which McCarthy based his allegations consisted of minor cases which had been dismissed by the Army. He set out his findings in a series of articles in November 1953 and, at a subsequent press conference, succeeded in forcing the Army Secretary, Robert Stevens, to admit that the Army had known that the allegations were false all along.
Marder’s investigations laid the groundwork for Senate hearings into McCarthy which began in April 1954 and led to a vote of censure. But Marder regretted that so few members of his own profession had cared to hold McCarthy to account, preferring to join the general hue and cry against alleged “Reds”. McCarthy “had built the thing so highly that it was sort of waiting for someone to come along and look at it. And nobody wanted to bother”.
Murrey Marder was born on August 8 1919 in Philadelphia, where his father ran a grocery business. After leaving school he worked as a copy boy at The Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger. During the Second World War he served in the Marines as a combat correspondent in the South Pacific.
He joined the city staff of the Washington Post in 1946, later moving to its national staff. In 1957 he opened the newspaper’s first foreign bureau in London and became the Post’s chief diplomatic correspondent.
In the 1960s Marder became something of a thorn in the side of the Johnson administration. The phrase “credibility gap”, which he coined in 1965 to describe the gulf between the White House’s version of the war in Vietnam and the much bleaker picture being drawn by reporters on the ground, got under the skin of the administration . Johnson, who had been elected in a landslide in 1964, saw public confidence in his honesty erode to the point that he decided not to seek re-election in 1968.
Yet Marder saw his coverage of Vietnam as his greatest failure. On August 2 1964 he had been in the State Department press office when news came that North Vietnamese torpedo boats had carried out an apparently unprovoked attack on two US destroyers (the Gulf of Tonkin incident). “I looked at this and I thought, well, that’s strange. I have been on torpedo boats. And torpedo boats are not equipped to attack destroyers,” Marder recalled later. Yet instead of asking questions the Washington Post, along with other major newspapers, had taken the editorial decision to endorse the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, under which the Senate granted Johnson the authority to assist any South-East Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardised by “communist aggression” – a measure that served as his legal justification for the war in Vietnam.
It was not until the publication of the so-called Pentagon Papers in 1971 that the full facts came out: Johnson had exaggerated the gravity of the Gulf of Tonkin attack, which in any case had come as the US assisted the South Vietnamese in clandestine raids on North Vietnam. The experience weighed heavily on Marder’s conscience. If the press and Congress had been doing their jobs, he felt, America would never have gone to war.
In 1996, after retiring from the Washington Post, he spent much of his pension savings to start a public interest journalism programme affiliated with Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism.
Murrey Marder’s wife, Frances, predeceased him in 1996.
Murrey Marder, born August 8 1919, died March 11 2013

Guardian:

Our profession holds humanitarian values at the centre of our work, so we were heartened to hear President Obama’s pledge to close Guantánamo Bay. However, years later, detainees are still being held (Report, 24 May). The situation has become worse, with inmates on a hunger strike and reportedly being force-fed.
Any medical professional knows that patients with capacity to consent can refuse a treatment even if it is life-saving. Because of its invasive nature, the World Medical Association has repeatedly condemned force-feeding of competent prisoners. In its Malta declaration on hunger strikers, adopted in 1991 and revised in 2006, in large part because of developments at Guantánamo, the WMA states: “Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied by threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment.” The American Medical Association, a member of the WMA, has endorsed these unequivocal principles. AMA president Dr Jeremy Lazarus has said the force-feeding procedure at Guantánamo “violates core ethical values of the medical profession”. The UN has condemned force-feeding as both a form of torture and a breach of international law.
Medical professionals performing these procedures in Guantánamo are violating their professional code of conduct and the duties of a doctor, and so would be liable to scrutiny by their medical regulation body as a breach of their duties, and are breaking international law.
Dr Ihtesham Sabri
Dr D Nicholl
Dr F Haque
Dr M Khan
Dr A Farooq
Dr M Faraaz

Peter Wilby (They stole our school, 28 May) tells us that Summerhill is almost forgotten. Oh no, it’s not. Every year since 1993 there has been an International Democratic Education Network conference, held in a different country each year, attended by up to a thousand people from 30 or more countries. At these conferences, where many varieties of democratic education are represented, Summerhill is held in great respect. Moo Baan Dek in Thailand, a village for 300 abused, abandoned or orphaned children, describes itself as a Buddhist interpretation of Summerhill. Sudbury Valley in the US takes the Summerhill attitude to learning one step further and has no timetabled lessons at all: it is widely imitated, particularly in the Netherlands and Germany. In Tamil Nadu ABL (activity-based learning), based primarily on Montessori methods but which has much in common with Summerhill, has been introduced into 37,500 primary schools, with spectacular success, including an improvement of over 25% in results for Tamil, English and Maths in the first year after its introduction. Compared with such initiatives, Summerhill, with its 70 pupils, may seem insignificant, but its importance is out of all proportion to its size. It has survived over 80 years and remains an inspiration to many.
David Gribble
Co-ordinator, IDEN

The discussion of welfare by Ian Mulheirn (Comment, 27 May) and generally conflates two different payments. The first is illustrated by my state pension, which is based on 36 years of contributions (not on the 40 years I could have accumulated, had I not missed four years of national insurance payments). This and work pensions are all – with the exception of bankers’ contractually gold-plated handouts – based on contributions. You get out what you put in.
The second type of payment is insurance-based. These, like my car insurance, depend upon circumstance (need) and not on totals paid in. If I pile my car up in the first month of the insurance, I get the payout dependent upon circumstances, not on how many years I have held the insurance. If I get no “benefit” from my car insurance, I consider myself fortunate and have no feeling of envy for those who get paid for having their car written off.
It’s irrational to treat these two situations equally. If someone becomes unemployed, the support they need to find work again is the same no matter how long they have been in work. It is sad to see the Labour party allying itself with the “scroungers” litany.
David Horler
Bowness, Cumbria
• Now let’s get this straight (Aditya Chakrabortty, G2, 28 May): even in “prosperous” Sweden 25% of young Swedes are out of work, and 40%-plus in Spain and Portugal. Yet we apparently are faced with too many older people for the working population to support. Why is the top priority not to convert these millions of unemployed into earners who can support the ageing, rather than negatively reduce the living standards of both groups? Has nobody any constructive ideas? Anyone who has visited less-developed countries will have seen the crowds of unemployed young men who, probably out of resentment and boredom, are available for any kind of incitement to unrest.
Ralph Gordon
Romford, Essex

Perhaps there is another reason for the failure of the main political parties to capture the popular imagination, as witnessed by a depressing low voter turnout at elections (Comment, 28 May). Could it not be that our over-centralised political parties have lost the means to engage with the electorate? In the 90s it became the accepted wisdom that the problem for political parties was the local party activists, be it today’s “swivel-eyed loons” in the Tory party, or leftwing extremists (Militant) or now members of the Unite union in the Labour party, all of whom would pull the party in the direction of unpopular, voter-unfriendly policies.
Policies were imposed on the Labour party to minimise the influence of activists, including imposing candidates on local branches, suspending recalcitrant local branches that chose the “wrong candidate” and the rigging of party conferences to deny party activists a voice. An attitude best summed up in the words of a former Conservative leader, Andrew Bonar Law, who remarked that he would sooner take advice from his valet than the Conservative party conference. Both parties having actively discouraged party membership (activists) are left with a unrepresentative rump membership, of whom the party leaderships are still fearful.
Consequently policy is decided within the Westminster bunker, which can only produce “safe” policies designed to preserve as many members’ seats as possible, and so must appeal to the mythical middle group and not threaten the interests of any group. While electoral reform is necessary, what is more urgently required is a reform of the internal party structures that will once again make them representative popular parties. It is no coincidence that our undemocratic parties have failed to produce policies that would engage popular interest. Most voters would like action to tackle the obscene bankers’ bonuses, but our undemocratic parties don’t seem to regard it as a matter for serious action.
Derrick Joad
Leeds
• John Kampfner’s call for a more plural, multi-party, proportionate parliamentary system would enable a more passionate, issue-based politics to replace our moribund and discredited system. However, he appears incapable of thinking outside the box to create a genuine revolution in our politics. The problem with his solution is that it leads to shabby and fluid coalition politics such as we see in Israel. The duplicity and immorality of our Lib Dems supporting what are by historical comparisons the extreme rightwing policies enacted by the government, while contemplating the cognitive dissonance of sharing power with Labour after 2015, supporting a centre-left programme, is precisely what has alienated former Lib Dem supporters like myself.
There is a better alternative. We could have a modern model of separated powers (not the sclerotic US version), whereby the nation separately elects a premier with a programme for government, and a unicameral multi-party parliament (let’s get rid of the Lords) by proportional voting, adopting the sensible 5% minimum voting threshold to keep out extremist parties. This would deliver Kampfner’s issue-based passion, but avoid messy coalition-based executive cabinets. More importantly, it would generate the kind of engagement and public excitement that we often witness in presidential election campaigns.
Philip Wood
Kidlington, Oxfordshire

I profoundly disagree with Jonathan Freedland (When killers strike, should we listen to what they say?, May 25). As a leftwinger I think we should listen to what everyone has to say, including Muslim extremists and Anders Breivik. Extremism is just that: an extreme version of what a group of people think. One of the results of not listening to people’s fears around immigration is rightwing extremism of Breivik’s kind; one of the results of not listening to people’s disgust at invasions of Muslim countries is Muslim extremism. How can we end either kind of extremism if we won’t acknowledge its causes?
Clare Bainbridge
Crediton, Devon
• Today, 29 May, is the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest (Report, 28 May) and my 60th birthday. I will be enjoying climbing Ben Nevis for free with my family. Those 700 who climb Everest for £50K each this season reveal the mountain’s current status as the ultimate tick-in-the-box packaged adventure commodity. Real adventurers must now seek true challenges elsewhere. I seek mine on Ben Nevis today as I did on Scafell on my 50th and Snowdon on my 40th.
David S Thompson
Shenstone, Staffordshire
• If your readers would like to “categorise” Man Booker International prize winner Lydia Davis’s short-short stories (Report, 23 May), they could use the now widely recognised term “flash fiction”.
Drs Peter Blair and Ashley Chantler
Editors, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine
• Are there any non-bustling market towns (Letters, 27 May)? I suggest you try Market Weighton, Yorkshire, on a Sunday. Even the Saxon church was locked when we tried to visit on 26 May.
Alison Morley
Roundhay, Leeds
•  In recipes, parsley is always “flat-leaved”, pepper is usually “black”, and you always “add sea salt”. I find that dropping the adjectives rarely affects the final flavour.
Eva Lawrence
St Albans, Hertfordshire
• Why do sacked executives always “walk away” with large pensions?
Ann Lynch
Skipton, North Yorkshire

Apparently William Hague and the French have got their way, after all, and can now supply advanced weapons to the “moderately mad mullahs”, as your cartoonist Steve Bell aptly describes the likely recipients of the UK and France’s military largesse. You report (UK forces EU to lift arms embargo on Syrian rebels, 28 May) that 25 EU governments were opposed to, and only the UK and France were in favour of, supplying weapons to the “moderates”. Nevertheless, in the interests of “unity” the 25 conceded to the two. What does this say about European democracy? It will surely reinforce the view of those cynics who claim that, in the last analysis, EU governments will always be subservient to the interests of the US, whatever EU citizens may wish.
According to UN reports, the “truly mad mullahs” – that is, the al-Nusra brigades – are doing at least 75% of the fighting, so the advanced weapons will not for long remain in the hands of the so-called moderates. So we have the extraordinary situation that the UK government will supply weapons that will inevitably fall into the hands of people inspired by the same fanatical jihadist Islam as those responsible for the Woolwich atrocity.
Is there any chance that our parliament can reverse this decision to further stoke the fires of conflict in the Middle East? Here is a chance for those who oppose the EU on the grounds that it undermines British democracy, namely the anti-EU Tories and Ukip, to demand a vote on whether it is in the UK’s best interests for Syria to further descend into a sectarian hell, as has happened in Libya.
Dr David Hookes
Liverpool

•  It is nearly a century since Britain and France decided, in the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, how to carve up the Arab areas of the Ottoman empire between them. For much of that century there have been wars in the region: British suppression of revolts in Iraq, repeated Israeli-Arab wars resulting from the disastrous division of Palestine, the Lebanese civil war, the two Gulf wars and now a civil war in Syria. Whether due to malevolence or incompetence, the actions of Britain and France have led to continual bloodshed, and they ought to have learned their lesson by now that they are incapable of doing any good. Instead they claim to be entitled to send arms to selected rebels in Syria now that the EU arms embargo on Syria has not been renewed. That was of course the same policy as the US adopted in Afghanistan, where the result of 30 years of internecine warfare is a weak and corrupt government which may soon be swept away.
Anthony Matthew
Leicester
•  A soldier is hacked to death on the streets of London by jihadists. Days later, William Hague persuades the EU to end Syria’s arms embargo so we can provide weapons which will certainly fall into the hands of jihadists – who will, in turn, pose an even greater threat to democracy and human rights than Assad. It would be interesting to know which government, interest group or weapons supplier is jerking the Foreign Office’s chain.
Jean Calder
Brighton
• It is not without irony that while the ink is still drying on the recently brokered arms trade treaty, the UK and France have pressured other EU member states to lift the arms embargo on Syria. It is quite unclear how the foreign secretary believes flooding the war-ravaged region with more ammunition will help broker peace, and even less clear how he intends to ensure that the weapons stay in the “right” hands. Notably, however, the UK and France are the only member states so assured that arming the rebels is the way forward for Syria. Is it simply a coincidence that they are also the largest two arms manufacturing countries in the EU?
David Martin MEP
Labour, Scotland
•  In these days of unprecedented domestic austerity, it must be relevant to ask how much it will cost the taxpayer to arm the Syrian rebels – contrary to UN and EU policy – and indeed how many Syrians we might now expect to kill for the money?
Des McConaghy
Liverpool
• There seems to be a civil war in Iraq, Mr Hague. Should we send in weapons?
Peter Needham
Ulverston, Cumbria

So, the odious Robert Mugabe is now featured as a rehabilitated garlanded figure on the front page of Guardian Weekly (The rehabilitation of Mugabe, 17 May). In prose more suited to Hello magazine, your correspondent describes this internationally vilified figure as one who is now winning “sympathetic audiences”, enjoying “cordial meetings” and “coming back in from the cold”. The article barely refers to the past brutalities that Mugabe and his henchmen have inflicted on his nation’s citizens, devoting most of the remainder to the shortcomings of his political opponents.
Since taking office Mugabe has systematically devastated Zimbabwe, transforming what was once the breadbasket of southern Africa into an international basket case. Graft, corruption, intimidation, brutality, assassinations and murders on a grand scale have all been part of his modus operandi. Small wonder that this corrupt culture has seeped into all corners of government and society – including his opposition.
Mugabe began his reign of terror in 1983 by using the North Korean 5th Brigade to slaughter 20,000 Ndebele tribespeople (his “opposition”). Since then, apart from the feeble imposition of sanctions, the world has shrugged its shoulders and looked away as the horrors have continued for several decades.
How delighted Mugabe must now be! Will he be held accountable for his crimes? Will the voices of those crying for justice be heeded? Apparently not. Instead, this tyrant has been given a front-page endorsement from an internationally respected newspaper that prides itself on objective journalism.
Garlands all round, comrades!
John Reynolds
Auckland, New Zealand
• The question about Robert Mugabe is who rehabilitated whom? Zimbabwe’s history offers an answer. After more than a century of white rule, Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980 under majority black rule following the British-organised Lancaster House Conference (LHC). At the time that Zimbabwe gained independence, 6,000 white farmers owned 80% of the arable land. The blacks had no equity in the nation’s wealth, nor voting or human rights. The blacks had been forced into tribal areas with no hope of a better life elsewhere.
One of the basic tenets of Mugabe’s call for independence was land reform. At the LHC, the UK agreed to compensate Zimbabwe to enable a buyout of “white” farms so as to distribute land to the blacks. The UK subsequently reneged. Mugabe then moved to compulsorily acquire “white” farms, to divide the land into small blocks and distribute it to poor landless blacks.
Zimbabwe’s economic downturn started with this move. The blacks had no skills in land management, and no money to buy equipment. The west placed trade sanctions on Zimbabwe. This led to food shortages and a section of the population rose against Mugabe.
Morgan Tsvangarai, the opposition leader, claimed that he could bring peace if power was transferred to him. But the only thing Tsvangarai could have done was to drive out black landowners. This would have led to a bloodbath.
After several years of hardship, the blacks have learned farming skills. In 2011, the GDP of Zimbabwe increased by 9%, one of the highest in the world, showing that Mugabe’s land reform is working. The west is now prepared to lift sanctions.
Mugabe’s courage, political skill and determination have led his people to victory. And the answer to the question is that Mugabe rehabilitated the west.
Bill Mathew
Melbourne, Australia
• Robert Mugabe presided over the massacre of tens of thousands in the Matabele region of Zimbabwe in his earlier days, and later orchestrated the murder of thousands of others, including white farmers many of whom were British citizens and war veterans. While all this was going on there was scarcely a murmur of dissent from the international community and only the weakest of sanctions imposed, but rarely enforced.
Obviously some tyrants earn the ire of the human rights groups, international courts etc, and others don’t. It would be nice to know what the criteria are.
John Smuts
Brisbane, Australia
Money: scourge of the rich
What a powerful article George Monbiot has written (Money just makes the rich suffer, 17 May). Somewhere deep down, of course, we all know it. But Monbiot has spelt it out clearly in quotable manifesto language. A sample: “it [capitalism] has given us wealth beyond measure, but has taken away the chief benefit of wealth: the consciousness of having enough”.
I can’t help but think that if more articles like this were written and read by the right people, recessions and credit crunches would not occur so often or with the intensity of the present one. This article or similar articles should be obligatory reading for politicians, managers, bankers, university students, and if they have the guts to face facts, the rich themselves.
Kevin O’Byrne
Duisburg, Germany
Try to understand abortion
Oscar Wilde’s quote, “There is no sin except stupidity”, comes easily to mind when reading the mindless activities of the anti-abortionists in the US in the article Anti-abortionists triumphing across the US (17 May). Women got the right to vote in the 20th century, we got recognised as legal human beings in the 1920s and we fought to be in charge of our bodies in the 1970s. This battle was fought and won; it can’t be undone.
It is sickening when women today are vilified for taking control of their bodies and the women and doctors are attacked. It is disgusting how this “pro-life” types are only interested in the baby before it’s born, but after they cease to care.
Do these people in their fanaticism even attempt to find assistance for these girls and women that have to abort? Not hand-patting counselling, but to help get these girls and women a job?
No. Women and girls who choose to abort don’t do it just because it’s just something to do. They do it because they are under stress, financially, socially, emotionally, mentally, and there is no other way out.
If the “pro-life” camp wants to bring about a peaceful end to the need for abortions, then they should take an interest in the women and their lives and take an interest in the baby once it’s born. Find out why these things have to happen.
But in the meantime, every body of the female sex belongs to one person and one person only. What she does or doesn’t do with it is her choice. Everyone else should back off.
Yasmin Wooldridge
Edenwold, Saskatchewan, Canada
• Both your headline and, to a lesser extent, the attendant article, grossly misrepresent the state of women’s rights in the United States. They lead the reader to believe that the recent abortion legislation in five atypical states represents a national trend (“sweeping through many parts of America”), thus wholly ignoring the remaining 45 United States. And where are the states in which this phenomenon has been identified? Four of them were members of the old slave-owning Southern Confederacy, where today not only is abortion challenged, but so too are evolution, climate change and the first amendment prohibition against an established religion. The fifth state, and the dateline of the article, is North Dakota, in which reside no more than 0.02% of the national population. It is hardly surprising that Mississippi (which only three months ago finally ratified the 13th constitutional amendment abolishing slavery), or Texas (which has pressured commercial publishers to include creationism in public school textbooks) are hostile to any liberalisation of abortion law.
Andrew Horn
Cambridge, Massachusetts, US
Navigating the moral maze
Peter Beaumont’s article, Syria and the moral maze of intervention (10 May), forms a sensible political critique of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine’s international perception. However, the argument that there is a disincentive to negotiate is questionable.
R2P is an extrapolation of the Hobbesian state system. People surrender their means of violence to the sovereign, who maintains a monopoly on violence for the purpose of human security.
Given that in the 20th century, people were more than seven times more likely to be killed by their own state, the R2P doctrine has formed from the state’s failure to provide human security. R2P gives the international community responsibility for human security.
Sean Nicolson
Brisbane, Australia
Vote with your money
It’s an unfortunate truth, Fashion still doesn’t give a damn (10 May). But sadly neither does the average consumer. Rather than idly watching the evening news, deploring the ethics of the clothing giants, vote with your dollar. It’s really quite simple: the nature of supply and demand gives consumers the power to remove the demand and thus encourage business to better their supply. If we sit on our hands and wait for big business to give a damn, things will never change. Let’s start our own collective action and make buying sweat-shop-free products desirable – let’s “be the change we want to see in the world”. The time is now.
Candace Davis
Roma, Queensland, Australia
Briefly
• So Chris Huhne is released after only a quarter of his sentence has been served in prison (17 May). Aren’t the authorities in the least bit worried that he might persuade his current partner to wear his electronic tag for him?
Alan Williams-Key
Madrid, Spain
• “I’ve got to get a pair of cat handcuffs and I’ve got to get them now!” – Steve Martin.
Was it chutzpah or temerity that spurred Gareth Morgan to take on the old babas and their moggies on Steward Island (17 May)? Doesn’t he know of Rome’s 300,000 feral cats and their tenacious guardians?
But no need to terminate with extreme prejudice: bell her and top up her kibble, then there’ll be no more wee presents on the stoop. To tell the truth, my cairn terrier is much more bloodthirsty for anything that moves, or recently did.
R M Fransson
Denver, Colorado, US
• Stem-cell cloning breakthrough (17 May): could we now manufacture ivory? And then flood the market with cheap, “real” ivory, which should drop its value enough to protect elephants from poachers.
Richard Blackburn
Coogee, NSW, Australia

Independent:

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Thanks to William Hague, the EU embargo on sending weapons to the Syrian rebels has collapsed. His reasons for putting an end to the embargo are that some Syrians need weapons for self-defence, arming the “moderate” rebels will reduce the violence in Syria, and the threat of providing arms will improve the chances of Assad attending peace talks. None of these is credible.
There is no way to ensure that weapons will go to those who will use them for self-defence rather than to wage war on the Syrian government. There is no ground for claiming that arming any rebels will do anything other than add to the bloodshed in Syria. It is likely that threats will tend to make Assad more intransigent rather than anything else.
It is hard for decent people to watch the suffering in Syria. Clearly all possibilities to bring about a peaceful end to this catastrophe must be exhausted before resorting to proxy war (which even then may not be justified).
The US government should urgently engage in talks with Russia, Iran and its own regional allies aimed at bringing about a complete end to the flow of weapons into Syria. The full weight of the British government should be thrown into ensuring that the planned peace conference in Geneva takes place and is a success. If it does not succeed the next step should be to aggressively step up diplomatic efforts to end the crisis, rather than abandon them.
Brendan O’Brien, London N21
Lee Rigby is hacked to death on the streets of London by jihadists. Days later, William Hague persuades the EU to end the Syria arms embargo so we can legally provide weapons which will certainly fall into the hands of jihadists – who will pose an even greater threat to democracy and human rights than Assad.
It would be interesting to know which government, interest group or weapons supplier is jerking the Foreign Office’s chain.
Jean Calder, Brighton
Is William Hague becoming another Blair? Can he not see what will happen if he sends arms to these Syrian rebels? Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf states are already supplying arms. This is a war between Arabs and he must not interfere.
M Finn, Hednesford, Staffordshire
War heroes: rhetoric and reality
Most readers will have been disgusted by your report (28 May), that two veteran soldiers, who were disabled serving their country in Afghanistan, were subject to humiliating assessments resulting in denial of support and benefits. It is important that ordinary people focus on those responsible for inflicting this disgrace on honourable men.
True, Atos Healthcare, which won the £200m government contract and carries out these assessments, is regularly reported in the media as responsible for such horrendous treatment, but the company is the servant of the Work and Pensions Department, headed by Iain Duncan Smith, who is responsible to the Cabinet.
The Cabinet’s collective leader is the Prime Minister, David Cameron. Politicians create smoke and mirrors, hoping to deflect blame, and Cameron, who regularly spouts supportive rhetoric about our war heroes, knows full well the crisis they face.
Derek Marks, Dundee
The Friday afternoon GP
Dr Grahame Randall’s letter (27 May) struck a chord with me. A few months ago my 90-year-old aunt became ill enough for us to call her doctor. One of the practice partners obligingly came, late on a Friday afternoon, and pronounced her ill but gave the opinion that she would be better cared for at home rather than in hospital. 
He then departed, without having ascertained what “care at home” might mean. He therefore failed to establish that my aunt depended on a devoted but over-stretched carer who was paid for 10 hours per week, supplemented by quick visits from me (living nearby but aged 74 and responsible for a severely disabled husband).
The resulting weekend was a nightmare of phone calls to find and then contact the rapid response team via social services, during which, as I raced between our houses, both my husband and my aunt fell, necessitating visits from the ambulance service to lift them.
By Monday we had established a care package and we all relaxed. My aunt died on Tuesday.
Her GP, summoning what one might call the Macbeth defence option, said she might have died in hospital anyway. He may well have been right, but if he had taken five minutes to understand her needs and to give us a minimum of information as to supplementary home care, her last few days could at least have been calm and peaceful.
Perhaps Dr Grahame Randall would have dealt differently with such a case.
name and address supplied
GPs seem to be blamed for many of the ills of the NHS at present (letters, 27 May) and most of this criticism is remarkably uninformed. The most popular clamours are for GPs to organise and take part in out-of-hours services again and for GPs to be more available in the daytime. 
It is not difficult to see that these are mutually incompatible unless I go back to my old habits of working all night and working the next day. I fail to see a solution unless we have a huge increase in GP numbers. 
The other factor is that we do not stop working when the surgery doors close at 6pm. The Government has given us so many extra and quite unnecessary targets to achieve that I am regularly doing paperwork until 9pm several evenings every week.  
People are probably unaware that considerably less than  50 per cent of my work is  face-to-face with patients. I am approaching retirement and the present climate is not encouraging me to continue to work increasing hours at an increased pace. 
Along with thousands more GPs in my situation, early retirement seems an attractive option. Oh, how I would love Jeremy Hunt to spend a day with me to find out what really happens in general practice.
Dr Charles Fletcher, Ripon, North Yorkshire
Happy cows on big dairy farms
Simon Pope (letter, 22 May) maintains that planning approval for a 1,000-cow dairy farm in Powys will set a precedent. He fails to acknowledge the dozens of dairy farms with more than 1,000 cows already operating quietly and successfully in Britain.
The RSPCA has just published an opinion that size of dairy farm is not the key issue in relation to welfare; conditions, stockmanship and overall husbandry are the factors which contribute to the welfare status of the animals. It is whether the farming operation, regardless of size, can meet the welfare needs of each individual animal that really matters.
For decades, our dairy farmers have been leaving the industry. New entrants and expansion of existing herds can no longer keep pace with this decline, and we ended last year 14 per cent below our target.
A vibrant industry will include all shapes and sizes of business, but without larger farms we will be in an even worse position, importing more from countries with lower welfare and quality standards.
Amy Jackson, Freeland, Oxfordshire
An odd kind  of ‘betrayal’
However many times I hear variations on the theme of the letter from Julian Self (17 May) – essentially, that Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems betrayed their voters by going into coalition – I have never been able to understand the logic.
By going into coalition with the Conservatives, the Lib Dems have been able to deliver much of the party’s 2010 manifesto, for example: guaranteed big pension rises every year; more money for schools with the most disadvantaged pupils; and lifting millions of the lowest-paid people out of paying income tax.
Surely betrayal would have occurred if the party had had the opportunity to enter into government and implement some of its platform, but had run away and therefore implemented none of it. The party was never going to be able to deliver it all, given that it won just 57 of 650 seats.
Stuart Bonar, Plymouth
Cameron’s PR coup misfires
Last Thursday, following the tragic events at Woolwich, Downing Street briefed, and the BBC repeated throughout the day, that “David Cameron would today chair an emergency meeting of the Cobra committee”. This appeared to be an opportunistic attempt to demonstrate our PM’s indispensability and authority following his recent troubles over Europe and gay marriage.
A few days later we are treated to our regular posed picture of the Camerons on holiday abroad, and Dominic Lawson (28 May) is bemused by the tabloid reaction to the PM’s absence. Perhaps a case of the PR machine being too successful?
Brian Rogan, West Wickham,  Kent
Bordering on the absurd
T C Bell writes (letter, 27 May) that the “business elite who wish to stay in the EU fail to answer how Britain can protect its borders”. Have they been asked that question? If not, they have nothing to answer.
I am far from being a member of that elevated group, but I ask T C Bell why he thinks that business should concern itself with border protection. Border control is a national concern whose strategy is driven by government policy. Is he proposing that border control should be privatised? 
Jon Summers, Petton, Devon
Till the fat  person sings
While I am in accord with Celia Jordan on the degendering of female occupations (letter, 27 May), there is no need for her to moot the idea that “singesses” might have been the word for female singers. In the past the word “songstress” was acceptable – fortunately seldom (if at all) used nowadays.
John P Sheldon, Holbrook,  Derbyshire
And “duchesses” and “princesses”?
Ephrem Lash, London N7
Blast-off
Will Nigel Farage be angry or proud that the UK has paid the European Space Agency £16m to send the British astronaut, Major Tim Peake, into space?
Ian McKenzie, Lincoln

Times:

Is it the right way forward to erode the personal liberties of everyone in order to catch potential terrorists?
Sir, You report that the Home Secretary is attempting to revive the Communications Data Bill which would enable the police and intelligence agencies to monitor who speaks to whom on the internet (“May sparks row with call to save ‘snooper’s charter’ ”, May 27). The Liberal Democrats oppose the Bill on grounds of civil liberties and have blocked its progress.
I ask myself wherein lies the greater danger: the remote possibility that the authorities might find my emails of any interest, or the more likely possibility that some of my fellow citizens might be killed or injured by terrorists because the authorities cannot access their electronic communications. In current circumstances where terrorism is a real threat, the protection of civil liberties must necessarily involve subordinating the rights of individuals to the right of the public at large not to be murdered on the streets.
Michael Patterson
Swineshead, Lincs
Sir, The Home Secretary’s attempt to revive the “snoopers’ charter” reminds me of Hayek’s quote in The Road to Serfdom: “ ‘Emergencies’ have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have eroded.”
If we give up a little bit of liberty towards the government, it will be slowly eroded away over time. This has been evident since the declaration of the “War on Terror” in 2001, in which Parliament granted the government tremendous powers to fight terrorism.
We should take advice from Benjamin Franklin: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
We cannot allow the Home Secretary to revive the snooper’s charter that will give government huge powers that will undermine our rights, liberties and privacy.
James A. Paton
Billericay, Essex
Sir, Jamie Bartlett’s article on the Islamist killing of a British soldier (Opinion, May 27) calls into question his and Demos’s science and objectivity. Far from there being a decline in acts of terrorism, official police figures show that in 2011-12 they increased by 40 per cent over the previous year. His suggestion that the virulent speeches of Anjem Choudary have little if any impact is as foolish as his claim that support for the ideas of al-Qaeda is simply “anti-establishment chic”. Choudary and others like him give heart to those who demand beheadings: why are we suprised when this happens? Neither Bartlett nor anyone else outside our security community has any accurate idea of whether the numbers of terrorists are on the increase or not.
It is tasteless that Demos should be making its self-serving “softly-softly” case less than a week since Drummer Rigby’s murder. When Bartlett adds that “there is a case for … reviving the Communications Data Bill”, he is right. But at the time the matter was being debated he found himself, to put it mildly, in a very different place.
First, it is high time MI5 treated us like adults and produced a spokesman who could give us a proper estimate of the threat we face. Second, since MI5 tragically failed to prevent the killing in Woolwich last week, the Government should at once provide the Service with the resources it clearly requires to ensure that those coming across its radar are properly dealt with.
Anthony Glees
Woodstock, Oxon

Somewhat embarrassed memories of meeting the Everest mountaineer George Lowe, in the company of Edmund Hillary at Rome airport
Sir, I read your obituary of the Everest mountaineer George Lowe with great interest (March 23). I was lucky enough to meet him. It was during the school summer holidays in 1953 when I was 13. My mother was taking my younger brother and myself to visit our father in Calcutta. In those days non-stop flights were still in the future. We shared a breakfast table at Rome airport with Edmund Hillary and Mr Lowe. This was shortly after Hillary and Tenzing’s glorious ascent of Everest. My brother and I were in awe of the great hero Hillary, and he gave us his autograph. We had never heard of George Lowe, so all our attention was focused on Hillary. My mother, out of politeness, said, “Mr Lowe, do you climb as well?” to which he replied, “Yes, I do a bit.” We finished our meal and said goodbye.
Years later my mother read The Ascent of Everest by John Hunt, the expedition leader. She told me that when she came across the name of George Lowe, and learnt that he did rather more than “climb a bit”, but had been chosen to make an attempt on the summit of Everest ahead of Hillary, she was mortified with embarrassment. If the weather had been more co-operative, it would have been Sir George Lowe who became the household name.
Alan Bonner
Beckenham, Kent

Several wild fish and invertebrate species are at dangerously low levels because of the ecological status of our rivers
Sir, The State of Nature report (“Wild Britain on a wing and a prayer”, May 22) focuses on the alarming collapse of terrestrial species and marine animals. Britain’s freshwater environment is in just as parlous a state, despite regular Environment Agency statements implying that our waterways are healthier than at any time for decades. In fact, fewer than a third of our rivers achieve good ecological status under EU designation, and several wild fish and invertebrate species are at dangerously low levels. Atlantic salmon fail to reach their conservation targets on most of their English and Welsh rivers; the blue-winged olive, which once swarmed in vast numbers, is missing from many streams.
This association believes that unless we have more political commitment in the UK to protecting and restoring wildlife, terrestrial and aquatic — with appropriate management policies and resources — more species will face local and national extinction, and our own lives will be the poorer for it.
Paul Knight
Salmon & Trout Association
Fordingbridge, Hants

Despite a recent poll about the use of controlled drugs by students, the figures should be taken with a pinch of salt
Sir, Your report that all but a few students use controlled drugs (May 22) acknowledged the survey should be taken with “a pinch of salt”. However, no amount of sceptical seasoning can disguise the fishiness of these figures. The following call was made to invite participation in the poll; “Drugs! Everyone does them, but which ones do you do?” This guarantees that few drug abstainers would respond.
The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs believes that objective evidence on drug consumption is needed to inform policy choices, and also personal choices. We are strongly influenced by our beliefs about what other people are getting up to. Research shows that students overestimate the quantities of sex and drugs that their friends are enjoying, so inflated figures for drug use could be self-fulfilling.
Professor David Nutt
Chair, Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies
London SW8

The man responsible for Bank Holiday Monday intended the time to be filled usefully, with reading and exercise
Sir, John Lubbock (“The man who made your Bank Holiday Monday”, May 27) did not expect the day of leisure to be passed in idle merriment. Londoners in particular had no excuse for failing to take brisk exercise. As a champion of open spaces in the 1870s, Lubbock helped to stop greedy private developers seizing Blackheath, Hampstead Heath and other public parks. For the more cerebral he published a list of the 100 best books which included Aristotle, Spinoza and Descartes. He was encouraged by the success of his own authoritative work on ants, bees and wasps which went through five editions in a year. He was convinced that dogs as well as humans could profit from his scholarship, and spent long hours trying to make canines literate.
Lord Lexden
London SW1

Telegraph:
SIR – If the security forces have made specific mistakes that contributed to the terrorist attack in Woolwich then these errors need to be identified, and steps taken to reduce the risk of them being made again (Comment, May 27).
It would be naive to think that while Islamist extremists are engaged in a “war” with Britain, that every act of terrorism, particular acts of sheer barbarity as opposed to the complex plots, can be prevented. As the IRA infamously pointed out, to kill, terrorists only have to get lucky once; we have to get lucky every time.
Christopher Drummond
Whitehaven, Cumbria
SIR – It is not surprising that we have witnessed the atrocity in Woolwich so close to home. The hundreds and thousands of innocent civilian deaths in Iraq, and to a lesser extent Afghanistan, will provoke the kind of hatred we have recently witnessed.
A full tally has been kept of all British and American military deaths, but there is no record of the far greater number of innocent civilian deaths caused by British and American military action in a war, in the case of Iraq, of questionable legality with no clear end strategy.
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Peter Hatvany
Salisbury, Wiltshire
SIR – As security services struggle to protect us at home, the Foreign Secretary argues for arming more secular factions of Syria’s rebel movement (report, May 27).
Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan and Libya have shown how difficult it can be to identify friend and foe, or to forecast outcomes in regions riddled with tribal and sectarian hostilities. A Damascus mother summed it up: “I don’t like this government, but does the West really think that this opposition would be any better?”
Robert Stephenson
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire
SIR – David Cameron has been criticised for not returning from his holiday to participate in the fall-out from the Woolwich murder. He needs quality time for the sake of his family, his health and his well-being. We all need to get away; the Prime Minister is no different.
Paul Caruana
Truro, Cornwall
SIR – Margaret Thatcher said that publicity was the oxygen of terrorism. No doubt, she would have supported the reporting of the facts about the atrocity in Woolwich, as we all do. However the behaviour of the BBC in granting a Newsnight interview to Anjem Choudary, the radical cleric, is surely reprehensible.
Graham Dawber
Wilmslow, Cheshire
SIR – When Mrs Thatcher tried to deny terrorists (at that time, the IRA) the “oxygen of publicity”, the BBC broadcast their statements read by actors.
Will the BBC now broadcast the sermons of radical Islamist preachers read out by actors?
W G Sellwood
Stafford
Interpol’s databases
SIR – The case involving William Browder, head of the Hermitage Capital Investment Foundation, shows how Interpol’s handling of personal data helps to keep the world safer, while protecting both the rights of individuals and the national sovereignty of Interpol’s 190 member countries.
Earlier this month, the Russian Federation sought the location of Mr Browder via Interpol. Interpol’s rules allow an individual to challenge the sending of personal data through Interpol channels; and this is what William Browder did.
On May 24, the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files ruled that the Russian Federation’s request was political, and therefore prohibited. It recommended that all data relating to this request, and to Mr Browder be deleted – a decision Interpol immediately implemented.
Some commentators on this case wrongly stated that the Russian Federation and other countries should not be able to use Interpol’s communication channels as “punishment” if they are found to have broken Interpol’s rules. Imagine if the Russian Federation wanted to share information on a suspected terrorist – as it did on Boston marathon bombing suspect – but could not use Interpol’s network.
Interpol’s network allows countries to share information about people both under investigation or sought for arrest. But that information does not legally bind any member country to take any action. Even the most controversial of cases involving Interpol demonstrates that the public needs to be better informed about Interpol, not that Interpol needs to be reformed.
Ronald K Noble
Secretary General, Interpol
Lyon, Rhône, France
Ferrying dogs
SIR – As a regular traveller with my dog across the Channel by ferry, I have an up-to-date dog passport, signed and stamped by my vet.
On my last visit, the dog was not allowed to travel because the relevant page on its passport was full. The following page had been used three times, but I was told that this should not have been allowed.
I missed my boat and ended up having to buy a new French passport for my dog in order to board the ferry. Now, I have to pay 30 euros every time I travel.
Maxine Morjan
Barneveld, Holland
Weight loss wonder
SIR – I write in support of the new 5:2 diet, where you eat what you want for five days and are only allowed 600 calories a day for men, 500 for women for the other two days.
I am 70 and have been overweight all my life, until now. My wife and I started the 5:2 last October, and kept it up for six months. We have now returned to a more normal regime with an occasional 600 calorie day if we have overindulged. Our joint weight loss was over 3 stone.
Having dieted most of my life, I feel that finally my weight is under control.
James McLean
Edinburgh
Spread out holidays
SIR – I was looking in my diary to ascertain the date of Easter 2014 and realised that it will be very late, with Easter Monday falling on April 21. The May Day bank holiday will be on May 5 and the spring bank holiday on May 26. There is just five weeks between these dates.
Therefore, I propose that the May Day holiday is scrapped, and a suitable date is selected for a true national celebration.
Sally A Williams
Dinas Cross, Pembrokeshire
BBC technology decline
SIR – The recent BBC technology disaster is no surprise, considering how little of its engineering structure remains (“Scrapped, BBC’s £100m IT project”, report May 27).
I worked with, not for, the BBC for many years, both in industry and government. Then engineering and technology in the BBC had a number of complementary strands with a high degree of independence. This ensured that any technological proposal was stringently reviewed, in terms of practicality and economy. There was the research division at Kingswood Warren, design offices at Western House, equipment department in Chiswick and a studio planning and installation department.
Communication with the world at large was through the engineering information department. These various sections reported to the director of engineering. He was so significant that on his retirement he always received a knighthood.
This structure and the people in it had the respect of industry and governments world-wide. The BBC and Independent Broadcasting Authority used to lead the world in broadcasting technology.
Bernadette Rogers
Daventry, Northamptonshire
Absent swallows
SIR – I am pleased that Judy Potter (Letters, May 20) has seen the swallows return above her house; I have not been so lucky.
Twenty years ago, I had 30 to 40 swallows that regularly returned at the start of May. Last year, I saw only six in the field behind my house, but this year I haven’t seen one.
It is very upsetting that the numbers have decreased so dramatically.
Janet Parker
Solihull, West Midlands
Must have mobile
SIR – I am no luddite; however, I am not particularly enthusiastic about telephones, especially mobiles. I far prefer the internet.
But I have noticed a new trend: increasingly, online traders require a prospective purchaser to supply a mobile telephone number, and will not allow the transaction to be completed without one. I always ask for confirmation by email, never by telephone, but, no mobile number, no deal. Is this going to be the norm?
I do have a mobile but it is hardly ever switched on. I always give my wife’s number, but nobody calls her.
E S Eilley
Reigate, Surrey
How to tax foreign-based multinational firms
SIR – The public are becoming exasperated at the tiny amounts of tax that foreign-based multinational companies pay. It
is unbelievable that Google paid only £6 million in corporation tax (Business, May 27).
Rather than find new ways of countering their tax-avoiding methodology on profits, it would be far easier to introduce an agreed additional flat-rate tax on sales within all individual countries. A 2 per cent tax on Google’s £3.2 billion sales in Britain would ensure a more equitable £64 million contribution to Britain’s coffers. A tax based on sales figures would circumvent the industrial-scale tax avoidance that large multinational companies indulge in.
B J Colby
Bristol
SIR – The problem we have with companies such as Google paying their “fair share” of tax arises because all governments have fostered low-tax jurisdictions for political and economic expediency. Why else do the Isle of Man and Channel Islands enjoy lower rates of corporation tax than the rest of Britain?
All companies like Google are doing is playing the game as devised by politicians.
Dr David Cottam
Lingfield, Surrey

SIR – The Government says that a fair justice system with “fair outcomes” is essential in our democratic society, and that legal aid is the “hallmark of a fair, open justice system”. In our justice system, judicial review is the means by which the courts restrain public bodies when they act unlawfully. Access to judicial review is therefore essential to the rule of law.
We are senior counsel who specialise in judicial review. We act for and against public bodies. We are gravely concerned that practical access to judicial review is now under threat. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 already severely limits legal aid for judicial review. The Government acknowledges that the scope for further savings is very small. Nevertheless, only eight days after LASPO came into force, the Ministry of Justice published proposals which would further remove legal aid for judicial review. These include refusing any legal aid to those who do not meet a residence test; refusing to pay lawyers in some cases for work reasonably and necessarily carried out; removing legal aid for complaints of mistreatment in prison; preventing small specialist public law firms from offering prison law advice; removing funding for test cases (whose prospects are by definition uncertain); and cutting rates for legal advice and representation still further.
The cumulative effect of these proposals will seriously undermine the rule of law, and Britain’s global reputation for justice. They are likely to drive conscientious and dedicated specialist public law practitioners and firms out of business. They will leave many of society’s most vulnerable people without access to any specialist legal advice and representation. In practice, these changes will immunise Government and other public authorities from effective legal challenge.
Abuses by UK agents and officials overseas that hitherto have been subject to the scrutiny of British courts will now, in practice attract impunity. People whose lives are affected by the unlawful action of public bodies will have no option but to try to represent themselves. Effective representation will be one-sided: the Government will continue to pay for, and be represented by specialist lawyers.
At the same time, the Ministry of Justice is proposing changes to criminal legal aid which will deny choice and effective representation to those accused of crimes, leading to a rapid and probably irreversible fall in standards of representation. We urge the Government to withdraw these unjust proposals.
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Andrew Arden QC
Alex Bailin QC
Kieron Beal QC
Michael Beloff QC
Cherie Booth QC
Paul Bowen QC
Stanley Brodie QC
Paul Brown QC
Monica Carss-Frisk QC
John Cavanagh QC
Richard Clayton QC
Jason Coppel QC
Philip Coppel QC
Charles Cory-Wright QC
Stephen Cragg QC
Tom de la Mare QC
Marie Demetriou QC
Richard Drabble QC
Michael Fordham QC
Alison Foster QC
Danny Friedman QC
Neil Garnham QC
Nigel Giffin QC
Jonathan Glasson QC
Lord (Peter) Goldsmith QC
James Goudie QC
Richard Gordon QC
Eleanor Grey QC
Sam Grodzinski QC
Stephen Grosz QC
Philip Havers QC
Javan Herberg QC
Richard Hermer QC
Mark Hoskins QC
Raza Husain QC
Jeremy Johnson QC
Sean Jones QC
Philippa Kaufmann QC
Hugo Keith QC
Baroness (Helena) Kennedy QC
Tim Kerr QC
Julian B Knowles QC
James Laddie QC
Elisabeth Laing QC
Lord (Anthony) Lester QC
Natalie Lieven QC
Thomas Linden QC
Angus McCullough QC
Lord (Ken) MacDonald QC
Kate Markus (former Chair, Public Law Project)
James Maurici QC
Karon Monaghan QC
Clare Montgomery QC
Fenella Morris QC
Philip Moser QC
Tim Mould QC
Helen Mountfield QC
Gordon Nardell QC
Stephen Nathan QC
Aidan O’Neill QC
Tim Otty QC
Tim Owen QC
Lord (David) Pannick QC
Timothy Pitt-Payne QC
Tony Peto QC
Nigel Pleming QC
Jenni Richards QC
Aidan Robertson QC
Dinah Rose QC
Matthew Ryder QC
Pushpinder Saini QC
Professor Philippe Sands QC
Mark Shaw QC
Clive Sheldon QC
Jessica Simor QC
Kassie Smith QC
Hugh Southey QC
Daniel Stilitz QC
James Strachan QC
Timothy Straker QC
Jemima Stratford QC
Rhodri Thompson QC
Hugh Tomlinson QC
Stephen Tromans QC
Jon Turner QC
David Vaughan QC
Martin Westgate QC
Sean Wilken QC
Ian Wise QC
David Wolfe QC

Irish Times:

Sir, – We believe fatal foetal abnormalities should be included in the proposed Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013. Ireland argued in D v Ireland at the European Court of Human Rights in 2006 that fatal foetal abnormalities could be argued to be covered by Article 40.3.3. There is a moral responsibility on the Government to vindicate that position.
Dr Ruth Fletcher, of Keele University, in her submission to the Joint Committee on Health and Children, recommended that the unborn should be defined not to mean those foetuses which have lethal abnormalities and will not have a future independent life.
Every year, women with fatal foetal anomaly pregnancies face inhuman treatment by being forced to make the harrowing journey to the Foetal Medicine Unit in Liverpool; without compassion from the Irish State. They travel at significant personal, financial and emotional cost, often in isolation, abandoned by the Irish health services. Such women require non-judgmental care in a familiar supportive environment, yet must face the tragic bureaucracy of having to arrange the return of their child’s remains to Ireland, if they choose.
The stigma of travelling abroad may be heightened by the current wording of the Heads of Bill. This is because such Irish women will receive a medical treatment which is deemed a criminal offence if performed in the Republic, with up to 14 years imprisonment.
The Irish College of General Practitioners supported a motion at its AGM calling on the Government to include within the proposed legislation the provision that women who are pregnant with non-viable foetal anomalies have access to the choice of legal abortion in the Republic.
We request that the Joint Committee on Health and Children invite representatives of Terminations For Medical Reasons and Deirdre Conroy (D v Ireland) to make a presentation to the committee as soon as is possible.
Such women should not be forced to travel outside Ireland for a termination. Women’s voices and experiences are entirely absent from the current abortion debate. We hope that the joint committee will redress this imbalance as a matter of urgency. – Yours, etc,
Dr MARY FAVIER,
Dr MARK MURPHY &
Dr PEADAR O’GRADY Doctors for Choice Ireland; CLAIRE FOGARTY, Nurses and Midwives for Choice Ireland; AMELIA REID & ROBERT OBARA, Medical Students for Choice Ireland; JANE FISHER, Director, Ante-natal Results and Choices London; Dr CLARE GERADA, Chairman, Royal College of General Practitioners; Dr WENDY CHAVKIN, Global Doctors For Choice, New York; MARGE BERER, Editor, Reproductive Health Matters London; Prof VERONICA O’KEANE, Trinity College Dublin; Prof WENDY SAVAGE, Doctors for a Woman’s Choice on Abortion, London; JOYCE ARTHUR, Executive Director, Abortion Rights Coalition Canada; CASEY BURCHELL, Committee Member, Reproductive Choice Australia; LESLIE CANNOLD, President, ProChoice Victoria; JENNY EJLAK, President, ProChoice Tasmania; CAIT CALCUTT & KATE MARSH, Children by Choice, Australia; Dr MORGAN HEALY & ALISON McCULLOCH, Abortion Law Reform Association New Zealand,
C/o Parnell Square East, Dublin 1.
Sir, – There is grave concern among doctors across the specialties about the proposed legislation for termination of pregnancy in the case of threatened suicide on the part of the mother.
Many of us have practised in jurisdictions where such legislation was the first step towards what has become abortion on demand. Attempts to revisit legislation and reduce the number of abortions by restricting the grounds on which termination of pregnancy may be performed, such as gestational age, have been fraught and largely fruitless. Those who think there will be a second chance, whether by so-called sunset clause or otherwise, are naive.

Sir, – Luke Cahill (May 28th) asks if we will be “apologising to the Syrian people in 100 years’ time” for not supporting further “militarising the conflict”. If Mr Cahill was keeping up with the “collateral” consequences of our support for such militarist enterprises on the imploding Iraq and Afghanistan, he might be less monocular in his martial enthusiasms (“Dozens dead in Baghdad bombings”, World News, May 27th). – Yours, etc,
DAMIEN FLINTER,
Castleview Estate,

Sir, – Joe Humphreys (Stories from the Revolution 1912-1923, supplement, May 22nd) has done your readers a disservice by misrepresenting the historical record regarding the redemption of Republican bonds and the assignment of some of these bonds to my grandfather for investment in the Irish Press. The facts are as follows.
The eventual redemption of these bonds had been accepted by Cumann na nGaedheal when in government. In 1933 when the redemption came before the Dáil, Desmond Fitzgerald TD moved an amendment aimed at denying assignees the benefit of redemption. In the course of the debate he quoted from a circular dated February 1930 from Frank P Walsh on behalf of the Irish Press fund- raising committee: “Whilst these funds are being solicited by way of donations, Mr de Valera will, of course, not derive personally any monetary profit from them. He intends to make the necessary and proper arrangements to ensure that if any profits accrue from the enterprise, or, if there should be any distribution of assets, such profits and the amount of any such distribution will be made available for the donors, according to their respective donations.” In reply my grandfather confirmed that appropriate arrangements had been made.
On January 14th, 1959, Noel Browne TD made certain unfounded allegations regarding Irish Press shares when he closed a debate on his motion of censure arising from the fact that my grandfather continued as controlling director of Irish Press Limited while holding the office of taoiseach. He had not made these allegations earlier in the debate, thereby ensuring that my grandfather would have no opportunity to reply in the debate. That night my grandfather wrote to the morning newspapers as follows:
“Sir – At a late hour tonight, when there was no opportunity of replying in the Dáil, Dr Browne made a series of personal charges against me which time permits me to deal with only in brief. I have not and never had any beneficial interest in shares in Irish Press Ltd, other than a few hundred personal shares. The block of ninety odd thousand shares to which Dr Browne has referred is held by me and my son, Vivion de Valera, on behalf of the persons who subscribed the money and to whom any dividends or other profits on these shares must be paid. Financial benefit or profit, either as to capital or dividend, has not accrued and cannot possibly at any time accrue to me or any of my family in respect of those shares. They are held, as I have publicly stated, to ensure that the purposes for which the money was subscribed will not be departed from. We hold no other block of shares as Dr Browne suggests. Dr Browne’s allegation that we have been engaged in a process of acquiring shares at reduced rates or that we have so built up a large holding of shares is completely untrue. Yours faithfully, Eamon de Valera.”
Contrary to what Joe Humphreys states, my grandfather did not “keep his huge family shareholding secret” as there was no shareholding to keep secret about!
All the above is part of the public record, as is my grandfather’s shareholding in Irish Press Ltd. I can confirm that Dr Browne’s allegations regarding Irish Press Ltd shares were untrue and an invention on his part. Dr Browne had inspected the Irish Press register of members but there is nothing in the register to support his allegations. I can also add that the “ninety odd thousand shares” referred to by my grandfather represents the entire fundraising in America and including the proceeds from the assigned bonds. – Yours, etc,
EAMON de VALERA,

Sir, – I refer to Catriona Crowe’s identification of the Representation of People Act 1918 as a significant step on the way to full enfranchisement for women albeit conditioned by head of household status and being over 30 years of age (Opinion, May 25th). The first step on this road had been taken a generation earlier when the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 had extended voting rights to women – an outcome prompted by the lobbying of the indefatigable Anna Haslam and other suffragists, female and male. The ensuing local government elections of 1899 represented the first occasion on which women were entitled to participation in an island-wide democratic franchise, almost 20 years before voting rights for parliamentary elections were granted. – Yours, etc,
LIAM KENNY,
Broadfield,

Sir, – President Obama has defended his country’s drone attacks as a “legal, effective and a necessary tool in an evolving US counterterrorism policy” (World News, May 24th).
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, President Obama approved 300 drone strikes in Pakistan alone between 2009 and 2012 that killed 2,152, including 290 civilians, 64 of whom were children. This is a higher death toll than the Bush administration in the period 2004 to 2009 which launched 52 strikes, killing 438, including 182 civilians, 112 of whom were children.
This comparison bears close scrutiny for those – including the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm and those who flocked to greet the President in College Green, Dublin in May 2011 – who feel that Obama represents a turn to a more enlightened page in US history.
Is it too much to expect of a celebrated Nobel Peace Laureate, that he abandon the heinous use of drones for whom innocent civilians are paying such a heavy price? – Yours, etc,
STEPHEN MCCLOSKEY,

Irish Independent:

* Over the past week, we have been treated to various dissertations on the use of discretion by gardai on the penalty points issue. As the original chief superintendent responsible for the Garda National Traffic Policy Bureau, I feel much of the commentary has been misleading and inaccurate.
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Pope’s message gives hope for us all
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TD resign? You must be joking
* Over the past week, we have been treated to various dissertations on the use of discretion by gardai on the penalty points issue. As the original chief superintendent responsible for the Garda National Traffic Policy Bureau, I feel much of the commentary has been misleading and inaccurate.
To digress for a moment, the road safety actions of An Garda Siochana have been an overwhelming success evidenced by a progressive decrease in road deaths and injuries over the past decade.
This success is predicated on a systems approach to enforcement which is characterised by robust enforcement of speeding, drink driving and seat-belt wearing. The speeding detection system is largely an automatic process with detections being electronically made by GATSO or the civilian contractor.
This approach is the Australian model that I researched and recommended in 1997. It is based on a simple premise, which is that we will alter our driving behaviour only when the sanctions are immediate, relevant and fair.
It is supported by a strong IT system with seamless connection to the courts and the Road Safety Authority (RSA).
I carried out an examination of this system for the Garda Ombudsman in 2008 and many of the current issues were highlighted in that report but remained shelved. Specifically, issues of discretion were examined.
The idea that 13,000 gardai can somehow operate individual discretion is not tenable. An Garda Siochana has formulated a prescriptive policy. It is contained in the Fixed Charge Processing System (FCPS) manual. It should be updated and stress-tested to meet current fairness requirements.
There is a long history of the notion of the exercise of discretion by individual garda officers, but increasingly this facility is incorporated into policy directives and defined prosecution strategies.
Ultimately, garda officers must know that policing is something they do for people, not to people – it is a noble service.
The current political debate is disturbing and there is danger that public confidence will be shaken in the garda enforcement policy. This should not be permitted to happen as much has been achieved in preserving life.
In conclusion, though, let’s dispense with the current fig-leaf of “discretion” in the context of the penalty points debate.
John O’Brien
Balbriggan, Co Dublin
A PROPER PRIVILEGE
* I was disturbed to read Transport Minister Leo Varadkar’s words over the weekend to the effect that the constitutional protection for TDs and senators travelling to and from Leinster House is “outdated and redundant”.
It is my view that too many in the current generation of governing politicians have no appreciation for history, or the wider reasons why such allegedly “outdated” practices are in place.
The “privilege” (although it shouldn’t really be described as such, as it is more of a safety mechanism for democracy) which Mr Varadkar seeks to attack is in place so that, for example, no Taoiseach or Justice Minister could order the gardai to prevent a member of the Oireachtas (an opposition member, for example) from attending a vote in the Oireachtas.
If it were possible for the Government to act in such a way, we would be on a short road to an autocratic state.
This is why the travelling privilege is in place, so that no TD or senator can be prevented from casting their vote in the Oireachtas by an arm of the State.
John B Reid
Monkstown, Co Dublin
NOT A PRO-LIFE BILL
* As one involved in campaigning on right-to-life issues for more than 30 years, I am appalled at the stance of many parties and individuals in Leinster House on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. Some even go so far as to call it a pro-life bill.
If they understand the significance of the bill and are honest in expressing their opinions, they would certainly not say that. There is a good reason why all governments since 1992 decided not to legislate for suicidality in the flawed X Case judgment, because if enacted into law it can, in time, lead to wide-ranging abortion.
This bill allows a perfectly healthy baby, in the womb of a physically healthy mother, to be aborted in circumstances where there is no reliable scientific or moral justification for so doing. Pro-abortion elements in Leinster House are delighted, seeing such a law as capable of further development along the lines they wish.
The people in 1983 voted overwhelmingly for an equal right to life of mother and unborn baby. The politicians are subverting this and even hope to get it passed without a vote! Is there any sense of democratic accountability left?
Des Hanafin
Honorary president, Pro-life Campaign
Dublin Road, Thurles, Co Tipperary
DON’T IMPOSE BELIEFS
* There is some truth in the narrative that you cannot have separation of church and state without separating your personal religious opinion from your duties as an Irish citizen.
We continually reprimand the Muslim world for confusing politics with religion, bringing often corrupted versions of Sharia law to bear on residents of their countries.
You have a right to be a conscientious objector, to not participate in something you do not believe in. You do not have the right to impose your belief system on another human being.
The debate on abortion and the future difficult debates on end-of-life care should be about what we as a society feel is best for our citizens, rather than some personal fear of hell.
There is a place for both the Catholic religion and a modern state in Ireland. It is a line many of our citizens walk easily each day.
Pauline Bleach
Wolli Creek, NSW, Australia
CLIMATE CHANGE
* After reading the article about the current cold snap (May 25), I think many people could be forgiven for being a bit confused about the nature of global warming.
In particular, Prof John Sweeney is quoted in an article in the Irish Independent from November 2, 2010 claiming that we can all look forward to a 2C rise in temperatures and a boost in cereal yields due to all the extra carbon dioxide floating about. And yet here we are scarcely three years later, looking at an average 2C drop in temperatures, with farmers struggling to grow anything.
I think we all would have more respect for climate scientists if they would just come out and admit that blaming everything on a harmless trace gas like CO2 was actually a huge mistake.
Just give us our carbon taxes back and we’ll say no more about it.
Dr Alan Rogers
Castleknock, Dublin 15
TAXING TIMES
* I paid the residential property tax online this morning and was amazed to see the way Revenue frames its bill: it calls the tax “the amount you would like to pay”.
I want to assure the Government that the amount of property tax I would like to pay is €0 and I will be making my feelings clear on the matter come the next election.
Jack Downey
Old Cratloe Road, Limerick
Irish Independent

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