5 June 2013 Sweeping

Off around the park oh dear oh dear The sealord whas an idea to bring out the ‘hidden talents’ in the Navy. So a competition is arranged. Everyone does their pary pieces. And Leslie Phillips wins he has a Paul Robson voice, but only when he has a cold Priceless.
Another quiet day sweep the leaves chop down a small tree sort the rose move the table in the conservatory
We watch The Pallaisers They are married, that was quick and off to Switzerland for the honeymoon, she does not like it.
Mary wins at scrabble but get under 400 perhaps I can have my revenge tomorrow.


Sir Patrick Nairne
Sir Patrick Nairne, who has died aged 91, won an MC with the Seaforth Highlanders; was an effective permanent secretary at the DHSS; served on the Franks Committee probing responsibility for Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands; and was for seven years Master of St Catherine’s College, Oxford.

Sir Patrick Nairne, from a portrait by Andrew Festing for Essex University Photo: ANDREW FESTING/ESSEX UNIVERSITY
6:31PM BST 04 Jun 2013
The appointment of Nairne to run the DHSS in 1975, after he had served 25 years in the Admiralty and the MoD, surprised many. But Harold Wilson chose him because of his experience of working in an unwieldy organisation bristling with special interest groups which needed careful handling. Nairne was the ideal counterweight to the Social Services Secretary, Barbara Castle, who had contrived to upset much of the medical profession in record time.
By the time he retired, in 1981, Nairne was facing a wave of unrest in the NHS over the policies of Margaret Thatcher’s government and their consequences for public sector jobs. But he was equipped for this, too: in 1948 he had helped work up “Operation Zebra” to put sailors into the London docks during an unofficial strike. And as head of the Cabinet Office’s Civil Contingencies Unit in 1973-74, he had kept essential services going during the fuel crisis and the three-day week.
Patrick Dalmahoy Nairne was born on August 15 1921, the son of Lt-Col CS Nairne. From Radley he won an exhibition to University College, Oxford, but interrupted his studies in 1941 to join the Seaforths, attaining the rank of captain.
The Seaforths fought their way across North Africa, and in 1943 took part in the invasion of Sicily. Nairne served as intelligence officer with the 5th Battalion, and had the dangerous habit of climbing trees to get a better view of the battle. In August he was awarded an MC after he had reconnoitred forward under heavy enemy fire to produce swift and reliable reports. A few months later the regiment landed at Anzio.
Returning to Oxford on demobilisation, Nairne took a First in Modern History, and in 1947 joined the Admiralty. He first came to public notice in 1958 as private secretary to the First Sea Lord, Lord Carrington. Arriving at Portsmouth dockyard, Nairne, dressed in yachting-style Admiralty “uniform”, went up the gangway of the minesweeper Sheraton — ahead of Carrington — and was mistakenly piped aboard.
In 1965 he became private secretary to the Defence Secretary, Denis Healey. Two years later he was appointed assistant secretary for logistics, and in 1970 deputy under-secretary. He moved to the Cabinet Office in 1973 as second permanent secretary, taking charge of the Civil Contingencies Unit. But instead of returning to the MoD after two years, he went to the DHSS, where he robustly defended its continuance as a single department rather than two.
In the fervid atmosphere of the times, Nairne became concerned at the impact on civil servants’ morale of attacks by the media. In 1977 he wrote to Douglas Allen, head of the Home Civil Service, suggesting steps to secure “true understanding” of their work.
Nairne’s fellow mandarins liked the idea, feeling that civil servants were being blamed for decisions taken by ministers. Allen set up a “working group on publicity” to ease the criticism — especially of the Inland Revenue, Customs & Excise and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre at Swansea — but the initiative ran into the ground.
The Thatcher government set Nairne new challenges. His secretary of state, Patrick Jenkin, instructed him to cut social security jobs and health quangos, but as the economy stalled they strove to limit the impact of recession on the welfare state.
Nairne appointed Mary Warnock to chair the ground-breaking committee of inquiry into human fertilisation and embryology. This led in 1991 to his chairing the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, considering questions raised by the genome programme.
In 1981 Nairne left Whitehall to become Master of St Catherine’s; he also became an honorary Fellow of University College, Oxford. He launched the 25th anniversary appeal at St Catherine’s, and supported Edward Heath’s unsuccessful campaign to be Chancellor of the university. He stood down in 1988 as some dons at St Catherine’s were mobilising to offer Mrs Thatcher a fellowship — a move from which he distanced the college.
His success at Oxford led Essex University to appoint Nairne its Chancellor, from 1983 to 1997. His first action was to bestow an honorary degree on Carrington, who had recently resigned over the Falklands.
Barely were those hostilities over than Nairne was appointed to Lord Franks’s committee, charged with ascertaining whether the invasion should have been anticipated. Many expected the government to be blamed, but the committee exonerated ministers and the Foreign Office of having failed to heed warning signals.
In 1984 Nairne called for a five-year bar on civil servants taking jobs with companies with which they had dealt during their careers. He told the Civil Service Select Committee: “I did not think it would be right for me to take a job in the pharmaceutical industry or the medical equipment industry, and certainly not in the tobacco industries, simply because I had had a good deal to do with that part of the private sector.”
In the same year he was appointed, with a local judge, to monitor reaction in Hong Kong to Sir Geoffrey Howe’s agreement to hand the colony over to China in 1997. They found overall acceptance, qualified by “concern and anxiety” about what the communists would do.
Nairne chaired the Institute of Medical Ethics’ working party on the implications of Aids for the NHS in 1987, and in 1996 a Commission on the Conduct of Referendums. From 1990 to 1992 he chaired the west regional board of Central Television.
With his wife, he was active in Church politics, and from 1993 to 1998 served as a Church Commissioner. Nairne was also, at various times, president of the Association of Civil Service Art Clubs, the Oxfordshire Craft Guild, Modern Art Oxford, the Radleian Society and the Seamen’s Hospital Society; vice-president of the Oxford Art Society; and chairman of the Irene Wellington Educational Trust and the Society For Italic Handwriting.
He was a trustee of the National Maritime Museum, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the National Aids Trust and Oxford School of Drama .
He was appointed CB in 1971, KCB in 1975 and GCB in 1981. He was sworn of the Privy Council in 1982.
Patrick Nairne married, in 1948, Penelope Chauncy Bridges, who survives him with their three sons and three daughters. One of their sons, Sandy Nairne, is Director of the National Portrait Gallery.
Sir Patrick Nairne, born August 15 1921, died June 4 2013


Larry Elliott’s apocalyptic reconstruction of what would have happened if Britain had joined the euro (3 June) is so fanciful and prejudicial that it merits a response. All his assumptions are questionable. It is quite possible that Britain could have negotiated an acceptably low entry rate for sterling as the price for UK membership, which most other member states wanted. As a eurozone member, Britain could have had a strong influence on monetary and fiscal policy, both in the eurozone ministerial group and at the ECB. As it was, Gordon Brown, to his frustration, was excluded from the former and the governor of the Bank of England was not a member of the inner ECB governing council.
Although interest rates and monetary policy would have been determined by the ECB, it is false to assume that it would have been exactly the same in the lead up to 2007, or that our domestic fiscal policy would not have taken a different and offsetting course. It is also absurd to claim that, deprived of the alleged safety net of devaluation, Britain would have landed in the same boat as Spain, Greece, Ireland and Portugal after the 2007-08 crash. Mr Elliott omits to point out that our precious safety valve of an unparallelled trade-weighted depreciation of well over 20% in sterling seems to have done little for our exports, manufacturing sector or economy more generally. This is not to claim that all would have been roses if we had joined the euro. But there is at least a sporting chance that, with our participation, the eurozone would have been better equipped to face the 2007-08 crisis, and Mr Elliott does no service to the current European debate by presenting such a one-sided analysis.
Brian Unwin
Dorking, Surrey

Kira Cochrane (How to win your fights, suffragette style, 30 May) offers a spirited analysis of suffragette tactics that might be useful for feminists today. But she cites only women-friendly sources and ignores the male-dominated history profession that has marginalised the suffragette movement and presented it in sexist and demeaning ways. George Dangerfield, in his influential The Strange Death of Liberal England (1935), called the courageous Emily Wilding Davison “a very unbalanced girl”, a description that has echoes down to the present. Andrew Rosen in Rise Up Women (1974) even suggested Emily may have found “a quasi-sexual fulfilment in the contemplation of self-destruction”; while David Mitchell in his biography of Christabel Pankhurst (1977) sneered that Emily’s funeral was like “a mobster’s farewell”. It is this kind of sexism that feminist historians have to fight today, not only in the books that are written by many male historians, but also in their workplaces.
June Purvis
University of Portsmouth

I am disappointed at the government’s revised national planning rules, which could lead to a dramatic increase in betting shops and moneylenders on high streets across the country (High streets shrink in 10 out of 12 towns on Portas scheme, 30 May). In Hackney we have campaigned for a change in the law to allow us to control the number of betting shops in an area if residents object, or if there are already too many. Three times the local authority average of bookmakers already exists in our borough, and we are deeply concerned of the impact yet more will have on the most vulnerable members of society and on the wider community.
Contrary to the aims of the report, we believe it will damage the regrowth of our high streets. We will apply for stronger powers through the Sustainable Communities Act, which allows councils and communities to put forward new thinking on how best to improve their local areas.
Jules Pipe
Mayor of Hackney
• Worthy as many of the projects inspired by the Portas scheme are, these fail to address the fundamental challenges faced by town centres. In Bedford the local team has worked to raise the profile of the high street and provided support for businesses. But this work does not tackle the planning framework, lack of versatile retail space, high rents, or the ease of access to competitor shopping centres – let alone internet shopping. This has produced a reduced catchment area. What is needed is not only positive promotion, but more people living in town centres. Allied to this should be real powers for local government to bring about change. Unfortunately, this goes against the centralisation of the national government, where even schools have been taken over. Equally there can be no real improvement unless local residents have a disposable income to spend. This means an improvement in the national economy – which is unlikely under the current chancellor.
Ian Nicholls

Farmers are hopeful that a badger cull will save their animals (Humaneness of badger cull to be judged on noise of dying animals, 30 May) and the slaughter of cattle is a terrible waste, but the badger cull is an equally terrible, and cruel, waste. Farmers admit that the badgers have been infected by cattle. Equally importantly, some are saddened because healthy badgers are going to be destroyed as well as infected ones. But there will be no end to the illnesses and slaughter of dairy cows, and through them the infection of beef cattle, because dairy cows are now worked to exhaustion.
They are made to produce milk like machines so that after a few years they have dragging udders, lame feet and bodies like bags of bones. Dairy cows will continue to be vulnerable to disease after disease until the National Farmers’ Union and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stop trying to push the productivity of cows to cruel and unreasonable limits. The slaughter of badgers will not deal with the basic problem, which is in dairy farming itself.
Dr Jacqueline Sarsby
Uley, Gloucestershire
• Why do humans demand milk from cows? Two million of these poor milk machines are artificially inseminated yearly, their calves taken from them soon after birth so the dairy cows can spurt out a liquid humans wish to steal. These poor cows get a host of diseases because they are being pushed to their physiological limit.
Sara Starkey
Tonbridge, Kent
• If it is indeed the case that badger culls will involve untested killing methods, it is a very serious issue. As someone familiar with guns of all types and calibres for around 50 years, I do hope A&E departments in Somerset and Gloucestershire are up to the mark.
Not just badgers will be roaming in the night. If they are shot with small-bore firearms, it is unlikely they will be killed outright as they are extremely robust creatures. If larger calibre firearms are used, it may well be that serious wounds and deaths will not just be a feature of the badger population. Larger calibre firearms have an inherent risk of ricochet and in straight flight may go for miles. At night who can see what is where? Houses, children, nocturnal couples? What is being done defies any logic.
Andrew Gamble
• Some figures from Defra: 5,094 badgers are to be shot in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset; if this is “successful”, another 95,000 are to be killed in 40 other areas over four years; 28,000 cattle with TB were destroyed in England last year; the culls are expected to reduce the incidence of TB by 16%. If 16% of all TB in the country is eliminated that would be 3,800 cows. That is 26 dead badgers for each animal saved from TB. Is that a worthwhile result?
Harvey Cole
Winchester, Hampshire
• Canada controls the spread of rabies in their vast populations of skunks, raccoons and foxes by dropping vaccine baits both by hand and by air. If the Canadians can manage such a huge area by this method, it does make our shooting of badgers, whether they have TB or not, look rather primitive.
Lizzie Hill
Guildford, Surrey
The is the third time in 20 years the Met police have tried to promote positive discrimination (Report, 3 June). Each time they have been wrong. The real problem – and for other police services – is their ability to retain ethnic minority officers. It is the culture of policing, which makes generalised assumptions about some sections of society, that needs to change, not the colour of skin of the officers. And what about the need for 50% female officers, given the number of rapes and murders of women each month and year? All officers, at all ranks need to understand what equality looks like put it into practice with colleagues and more to the point, with the public.
Linda Bellos
Chair, Institute of Equality and Diversity Practitioners
• The standing ovation became de rigueur (Letters, 4 June) at the same time as “awesome” (pronounced “ahhsum”) became the standard American term of approbation; both seem to have crossed the pond (as we now call the Atlantic), leaving some of us sitting in our seats, unable to see anyone or thing on stage at curtain call, victims of our own stubborn unwillingness to join the herd.
Susan Loppert
•  So the progressive, cliche-free Guardian comes to Cork to investigate the multibillion-dollar Apple tax affair and still manages to work in a reference to an Irish Traveller child on a horse (Report, 30 May). What, were all the pubs shut?
Joseph Wood
Cork, Ireland
• You say that the Queen, in a new portrait, is accompanied by corgis and dorgis “snapping at her feet” (Report, 31 May). The cliche is especially amusing as the portrait directly contradicts this description. The three dogs facing the viewer have their jaws firmly closed and the one looking away from us hardly seems to be “snapping” at anything.
Steve Moss
Sutton Coldfield
• Three mentions of oral sex before breakfast on Monday (Oral sex caused throat cancer that nearly killed me, says Douglas, 3 June; Interview, G2, 3 June; The weekend’s TV, G2, 3 June)? Is this part of the five-a-day diet?
Margaret Dowdeswell
Riding Mill, Northumberland

What is Ed Miliband thinking? Yesterday his shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, said a future Labour government would means-test winter fuel payments (Report, 3 June 2013). Obviously this is the thin end of the wedge. When the Tories extend means-testing to healthcare, which they would clearly like to do, their rightwing supporters will coolly bat away criticism by citing Labour’s precedent.
Seventy years ago the architects of the welfare state recognised from the experience of the interwar years that social provision only for the poor became poor social provision, and that a universal system would be sustainable only if all contributors shared in the benefits. Does Mr Miliband somehow imagine that these principles no longer hold, when our government again promotes the distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor, embraces interwar monetary and fiscal policy, and sustains levels of inequality not seen since that period?
Robert Boyce
•  The communal claims for the advantages of universal benefits have long been outweighed by the disadvantages to those beneficiary groups living on low incomes – especially poor families and pensioners living in poverty. Indeed, it could be argued that universalism has done little to further income equality.
In this context, it is surprising that both your leader column (Labour’s cutting remarks, 4 June) and Polly Toynbee’s comment piece (No big idea. But Labour’s iron man could do the trick, 4th June) welcomed Mr Balls proposals for the abolition of the winter fuel allowance for higher rate tax payers, but ignored the findings of the Institute for Fiscal Studies study reported on the same day (Poorest will pay the price of austerity as top incomes rise, 4 June).
The question for Mr Balls is: where is Labour’s commitment to a far more progressive system of taxation to prevent the predicted rise in income inequality between 2011-12 and 2015-16 and beyond?
Professor Mike Stein
Social Policy Research Unit, University of York
•  I am sorry to see the Guardian joining Ed Balls’s attack on universal age-related benefits, especially as the cost of the winter fuel allowance amounts only to small change in the total of government expenditure. Young people started by getting landed with university tuition fees of about a thousand pounds. In a decade and a half the figure has multiplied by nine. Removal of age-related benefits may begin with people paying higher-rate tax. How long before it excludes anyone on more than basic state pension?
Alan Harrison
•  Polly Toynbee’s call for Ed Miliband to show some “vision” is likely to be met, but restricting it to policies for redressing the damage inflicted by this government on welfare, the NHS and the economy will not be enough to arouse much enthusiasm for Labour among a public that sees little difference between the parties.
Many people are angry that the privatisation of our service industries has resulted in poor service, high prices and loss of control. Now the coalition want to privatise our Royal Mail, which will have similar consequences.
A statement by Ed Miliband that, if this goes ahead, a Labour government would take Royal Mail back into public ownership, with compensation of no more that the original investment being paid over a period of say 10 years. Together with a commitment to place other privatised industries under close scrutiny, this would liven up election prospects and help to revitalise the party.
Bill Banning
•  Taxing benefits like winter fuel allowance would be a better way to address unfairness while maintaining universality. But Labour needs to fry some bigger fish. How about the £40bn a year spent on pension tax relief that mainly goes to the better off?
Stephen Burke
Director, United for All Ages
•  If the £200 per annum now paid as winter fuel allowance were simply added to the state pension, it would not be paid to any men under 65 (at present all people over the women’s retirement age can claim it) and would be taxed.
John Illingworth
Bradford, West Yorkshire

The controversy over the recently published fifth edition of psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual produced a dubious analogy between classification and maps by Simon Wessely (Psychiatric disorders: all in the mind? 24 May). He went on to suggest that both are provisional and may be redrawn as circumstances change. Of course, historically, the great redrawers of maps have been the colonial powers. Pursuing the analogy, then, leads us to consider the results of the long-term consequences of drawing artificial boundaries where there have been none in the past. Eleanor Longden is simply a human example of just how difficult it is to get out of one of the DSM’s categories once put into it.
However, in honour of the spirit of the DSM’s colonialisation of all of human experience, I here propose a new category: pigeonhole compulsion – the pressing need to describe and sort into categories all of human behaviour. Such processes have a long and distinguished history from the simple introvert/extrovert dichotomy through the ninefold Enneagram, the 16 Personality Type Portraits to the DSM itself.
But finally, once allocated to one of their boxes, don’t you dare act in a nonconforming way – else they’ll have to do it all over again.
David C Blest
Dilston, Tasmania, Australia
• If a classification system is like a map, then social grounding is the compass required to orientate it. A purely biomedical approach severs the individual from the group and the medical from the relational, distancing the health professional from the humanity of psychology. This is of limited use in the landscape of mental health, where intimate knowledge of unique personality and struggle is paramount in navigating a way through the wilderness. Formalising a bio-psycho-social system of approach to psychiatric disorders is challenging because several valuable systems of thought are required to co-operate, but surely mental health is worthy of thinking as complex as the human mind it serves.
Edward Tikoft
Leeming, Western Australia
• Previous editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual have suffered important limitations and it seems likely that this will also be the case for DSM-5. Unfortunately, your examination of this latest edition missed the most substantive issues, focusing instead on a loose tangle of false dichotomies and non sequiturs. Most salient were the repeated stumbles into mind-body dualism, with the persistent message that mental disorders do not reflect biological processes.
Of course, evidence for demonic possession may be just around the corner, but few disagree that mental processes are produced by the physical brain. “Bereavement and loss, poverty and discrimination, trauma and abuse” – these can only influence mental life via neural events.
The apparent danger in conceding this trivially obvious point is the belief that biologically based problems require pharmacological solutions. This is simply not so. “Non-biological” treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and mindfulness training do not nurture the soul or charge our psychic batteries – they impact on processes in the brain. This is both a logical necessity and an empirically demonstrable fact. Confusion and ill-informed critique are unfortunately an ongoing challenge for psychiatry and clinical psychology – as this article aptly demonstrates.
Luke Smillie
Collingwood, Victoria, Australia
Mugabe is a pariah
Robert Mugabe is the pariah of Africa because he betrayed everything that he represented himself to be when Zimbabwe achieved independence in 1980 (The rehabilitation of Mugabe, 17 May). The promise of Mugabe the “schoolteacher, freedom fighter and political prisoner” was soon replaced by Mugabe the tyrant. Mugabe’s ostracism is not the product of some diabolical scheme by forces outside of Zimbabwe to disparage its leader. Rather, the reputation simply is a reflection of Zimbabwe’s current state under 30-plus years of Mugabe’s dictatorship.
The economic basket case that Zimbabwe has become in the wake of Mugabe’s land redistribution and other failed economic programmes speaks for itself. What once was the “breadbasket of Africa” is now simply another African post-colonial state with a failed economic infrastructure. Under the guise of being democratically elected, Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party has engaged in every conceivable type of voting irregularity with the sole purpose of maintaining Mugabe’s hold on power. Your article itself makes reference to censorship and civil rights abuses that have been constant features of Zimbabwean society since Mugabe assumed power.
The question that must be asked is the following: what is the motivation behind the current exercise in historical revisionism? Your article hints that the greater forces at work may be the UK and EU attempting to seize an economic advantage in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.
Eric J Smith
Bloomfield, Michigan, US
Consumers are irresponsible
I read Lucy Siegle’s piece on the Rana Plaza catastrophe (Fashion still doesn’t give a damn, 10 May) and broadly agree with her. But I do have my doubts about her hope that “consumers will be jolted into action”. As it is, there is a whole lot of injustice directly related to our retail habits from oil demand creating conflict to palm oil decimating rainforests, but so far we consumers don’t seem to be all that bothered. For example, at the Iraq demos we waved banners saying “no blood for oil” but a decade later we still aggressively demand both cheap petrol and cheap flights even though there is blood in that oil. This convinces me that it will be no different with clothing.
As for the theme of “exploitation”, I’d like to mention a 2007 £2 coin that I have that celebrates the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade (in 1807). Slavery was abolished in Britain but cotton mills in England were using slave-produced cotton right up until the end of the US civil war. Here I can’t see much difference between the sourcing of cotton for British mills in 1860 and the current trend for western retailers to outsource production to ultra-low-wage regions and then wash their hands of the suffering caused.
Things cannot be left to the discretion and the conscience of consumers –we are greedy and irresponsible. No, we need hard-and-fast rules that will put some humanity back into the system. My first suggestion would be a formula that displays the ratio between the price of an article offered in a western shop and the money paid to the workers who produced that item. That shouldn’t be too difficult to implement and then, progressively, we should crank down the ratio allowed.
Maybe your readers have further concrete measures that they could suggest.
Alan Mitcham
Cologne, Germany
The crimes of empire
David Cameron deserves at least some credit for expressing “regret” over the massacre of 379 Indians at Amritsar in 1919, but he stopped short of apology – whatever good that would have done. But as William Dalrymple writes (1 March), the Amritsar massacre was only the tip of the iceberg of British atrocities committed in India. That’s before we move on to Burma, China, Aden, Cyprus and just about everywhere else in the glorious British empire.
No doubt we can find similar, or even worse, in the Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch empires: but we were always ready to believe that the British empire was kind, and just, and benevolently administered. We assume that we are better than other nations, we have an awareness of justice, and that however ridiculed, we have a keen sense of decency and fair play.
I wonder how we can square that with the upcoming accusations of murder, torture, rape and mutilation committed by British soldiers in Kenya during the Mau Mau insurrection, and more recently in the Iraq war? Good heavens, we don’t do things like that!
But there is uncomfortable evidence of just such things happening, and they are not distant events in the past that can be comfortably brushed off with regrets and apologies. They are within our current or recent activities, and must be given account for.
Is it any wonder that the hatred that has been engendered against us by our past brutalities is now being made manifest in our very streets? Memories of atrocities don’t just die; they reverberate through generations.
We have to look behind our shock and horror at what happened in Woolwich to an innocent drummer (31 May), and realise that simply opening the wallet and paying off mutilated Kenyans and tortured Iraqis will not in any way discharge our guilt or keep our credibility intact.
David Bye
Kosd, Hungary
Animal rights champion
Carole Cadwalladr’s piece on Ingrid Newkirk exhibited some of the major faux pas of bad journalism (Peta’s leader can’t resist provocation, 17 May). Her article was highly subjective and emblematic of the primitive thinking postured by many: that it is acceptable to torture and eat whatever creatures we desire while simultaneously exempting others purely because we deem them cute or companionable.
Animal “processing” or slaughter is conveniently kept out of sight. Their flesh is neatly packaged. There is no accountability or unpleasantness incurred by the consumer.
Our animal shelters, even in the affluent locations such as Williamsburg, Virginia, where I have volunteered, receive so many animals, many of which are surrendered for the most trite reasons of inconvenience. Only a small proportion of these find new adoptive homes. There is simply no other option than painless euthanasia. Naive thinking indeed, to refer to it as an “idiosyncrasy”.
I applaud Newkirk and other individuals like her who are passionate, who have integrity and a sense of personal accountability.
Annie Thompson
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Authenticating existence
I loved Charlie Brooker’s musings on human communication (10 May). On the count of PLEASE AUTHENTICATE MY EXISTENCE, few would get away with the not-guilty verdict. The OED’s word of the day seems to capture the spirit of the article rather succinctly: “Captcha: Any of various authentication systems devised to enable a computer to distinguish human from computer input, typically in order to thwart spam or to prevent automated misuse of a website (…) Etymology: Acronym < the initial letters of completely automatic public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart, with punning allusion to capture, n."
I'm not being facetious but having one's existence authenticated is both an existential requirement and a pleasant pastime.
Cleo Cantone
Sale, Morocco
• Steven Moss (24 May) says that "with the exception of Tennyson, poetry saw a sorry falling-off after the glories of the 18th century".
Is he not familiar with Matthew Arnold or John Clare, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, James Thomson, or of Christina Rossetti, whose life almost exactly fills the reign of Queen Victoria? Are the works of Tennyson superior to those? I don't think so.
Harold Taskis
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia
• I certainly look forward to eating insects, but it depends a lot on what the insects have eaten before I eat them, and also it matters greatly as to what vintage the insects have drowned in (24 May).
William Emigh
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
• What an unhappy reflection on a cultural practice is the photograph of Pal brides in Bhopal (24 May) in which not one of the 40 or more brides is smiling and those in the front row appear to be holding handkerchiefs, presumably to dab the tears from their eyes. I cannot remember such a sad photo.
David Haines
Exeter, NSW, Australia
• "Methought I was enamoured of an ass", muses Titania on waking from her flower-power trip (10 May). Not "beloved".
Tut tut.
Elizabeth Silsbury
Tusmore, South Australia



The badger cull is proving to be a highly contentious issue, not least within the veterinary profession in Britain, of which we are members.
Last month, in the lead-up to “open season” for the “pilot culls” in which more than 5,000 badgers could be shot in Gloucestershire and Somerset, both the president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the Government’s Chief Veterinary Officer came out in support of the Government’s plans. Their support comes in spite of the overwhelming scientific opinion that culling badgers will not help to reduce TB in cattle, and amidst grave concerns over the impact that culling will have on the welfare of badgers and the future of many populations.
In The Independent on 30 May the Chief Veterinary Officer made a startling assertion: that culling badgers will somehow protect human health, in spite of his department’s description of the risk to human health in the UK as being “negligible” in an article in the Financial Times on March 31. Such irresponsible scaremongering smacks of a CVO desperately clutching at straws to justify a policy that has no basis in science.
The British Veterinary Association reached its position of support for the Government’s pilot culls without consulting its full membership, and has ignored subsequent calls from veterinarians and one of its own member societies for it to reconsider. The public needs to understand that the BVA’s position is not necessarily representative of majority veterinary opinion, and that many vets oppose or have serious reservations about the policy.
Rather, it represents the position of an organisation that, in our view, has lost touch with its key purpose of providing leadership and guidance on animal welfare on this issue and whose judgment is being influenced by a close historic alignment with the farming industry. Their failure to respond to very serious concerns raised over the humaneness assessment is damning.
We are saddened that this episode brings shame upon the profession we studied so hard to join. That some vets in positions of influence appear to have abandoned precaution for the sake of what appears to be political and perceived economic expedience, casts a dark shadow over our profession. In our opinion these actions damage the credibility of the profession and bring it into disrepute.
We can only hope that its future leaders will adopt a more precautionary, independent, science-led and, most importantly, empathetic and welfare-led approach to the issues facing all of the animals with whom we share our world. Young vets have much to learn from this sorry episode and much to gain by aiming to do better than some of their predecessors.
Caroline Allen; Heather Bacon; Fiona Dalzell; Bronwen Eastwood; Richard Edwards; Mark Jones; Andrew Knight; J Lewis; Alastair MacMillan; Iain McGill; Andre Menache; Paul Torgerson
Humane Society International/UK, London N1
To prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis, the government in England is planning to cull badgers, based on science; while the government in Wales is planning to vaccinate badgers, based on science. Could someone explain why the science is so very different in two adjacent countries?
Rose Davies, Swansea
Lobby sleaze on Planet Westminster
Yet again, ordinary citizens can see that there is one range of rules for us and quite another for our elected “representatives” and senior bureaucrats. Westminster is no longer its own “village”; it is on another planet.
In spite of the Coalition’s commitment in 2010 (and again earlier this year) to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists and recall regulations, nothing has been done. So we now know that we still have MPs and peers who know they can continue raking in personal loot with little if any chance of being found out or accountable … until someone on our planet takes action.
Such people should immediately lose their seat or peerage and any publicly funded benefit they would otherwise be entitled to, just as any member of staff acting against their employer’s interests in a commercial company or not-for-profit organisation would face immediate dismissal.
Until our political system rejoins our planet, why should we comply with the set of rules imposed on us by those who can’t even stick to their own set?
Malcolm MacIntyre-Read, Much Wenlock, Shropshire
Well, the PM and his Cabinet have the answer to peers and MPs getting caught for cash for lobbying. Have a meeting, pass out the champagne, party hats, streamers and crackers and use the jokes from inside to play policy games.
What trade unions have to do with stings by reputable journalists on MPs and peers beggars belief.
Paul Raybould, Torquay
Another scandal, and the political classes distract the public with a proposed “lobbyists’ register”. If such a register is set up, politicians will be easily able to differentiate between lobbyists and investigators, so this is about protecting themselves, rather than the public.
Gavin Lewis, Manchester
Welby nonsense on gay marriage
I was appalled but not surprised by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on equal marriage in the Lords on Monday.
The arrogance of the church in attempting to restrict a civil ceremony is extraordinary, and for us gays to be blamed for “weakening” and “abolish[ing]” marriage and the family is just puerile nonsense. I am a member of the Bishop’s Council in this diocese and it makes me ashamed to call myself an Anglican.
The bill isn’t perfect; if the church really cares, it would constructively engage. It hasn’t. The Church of England deserves its irrelevant status and will lose more and more members the less it grapples with reality.
Telling me a civil partnership is “good enough” is tripe; it isn’t good enough. And the majority of the population of the UK agree with me.
Charlie Bell, Queens’ College, Cambridge
If anyone doesn’t agree with gay marriage then surely it should simply be a matter of them not getting married to a gay person?
Alan Gregory, Stockport
Give the Russians a chance in Syria
We all share Peter Popham’s despair at the disaster that has engulfed Syria (World View, 31 May). As he recognises, Western interventions in the Muslim World have not gone to plan. Why does he assume the Russians would do worse?
Britain has a diplomatic service and many experts in Middle East affairs. One of my worries is that local ambassadors seem to have not much influence on Foreign Secretaries. The urge of the Government each time is to listen to the US and to note the perception of the public. In the absence of a lead from President Obama “something must be done” takes over as the driver .
Popham recognises, I hope, that the opposition in Syria has been taken over by jihadists. He might also agree that the present government has ruled over a secular state. Might not the Russians want to return to that model?
Hugh Mackay, Edinburgh
Who are these ‘rich’ pensioners?
As a pensioner who has seen his small investment income decimated since 1997, and whose private pension has not received a discretionary increase in 13 years, can somebody please tell me who these “rich” pensioners are whom Labour say they are going to strip of their heating allowance, although they will have already paid for it in their taxes?
Despite my experience of the past 16 years, and I suspect that of many thousands of others in the same boat, we will be targeted once again. “Rich” is such a politically nasty, emotive, word these days, in the mouths of Labour politicians, who use it to describe, in the main, those people who all their lives have done the right thing.
Is flirting with Ukip worth it, if we get such destructive people back in government again?
Alan Carcas, Liversedge, West Yorkshire
Thank Ken for the Boris bike
I realise that it was only an aside from Simon Calder (“Changing trains à grande vitesse”. 1 June), but I feel a correction is important. The London bike scheme was not taken from Paris by Boris Johnson, it was taken by Ken Livingstone.
In 2004, when I was Deputy Mayor of London, Ken sent me over to see the Paris Vélib scheme, and subsequently put it into Transport for London planning. I urged Ken to install the scheme before the 2008 election, but the planning took too long a time, with the result that Boris got the (unearned) credit. Another example of the winners writing history as they want it seen.
Jenny Jones, Green Party Group, London Assembly
Magazines on the wrong shelf
You report on possible legal proceedings against shops that sell “lads’ mags” (27 May). I would like to point out that in most shops the men’s interest section contains the music and film magazines.
Why are they in there? Surely film and music transcend gender. When I would like to buy a copy of any of these magazines I am forced to stand next to a bloke looking at Nuts whilst the staff look on with bemused glances. How is it fair that women interested in film and music are forced to look at “lads’ mags” while searching for the magazines they want?
Paige Coates, Hull,  East Yorkshire
Following orders
Guy Keleny asks in his “Errors and Omissions” column (25 May) whether anything can be “most excellent”. In our honours system, the answer is yes: the OBE is, in full, the “Most Excellent Order of the British Empire”. Mr Keleny may wish to join those who campaign to have the honour renamed the “Order of British Excellence” on the pedantic grounds that the sun has set on the aforesaid empire.
Charlie Robertson, Royal Leamington Spa
Rape as theft
Perhaps Vaughan Thomas (letter, 4 June), trotting out the tired old “unlocked car” analogy for rape yet again, would care to supply a map of which areas of everyday life do not constitute “some dubious area of one of our inner cities” for women?
Stephie Coane, Harrow, Middlesex


Sir, Your report (June 3) that Jonathan Stephens is being pushed out of his Permanent Secretary post on the say-so of the Culture Secretary Maria Miller is perhaps regrettable but hardly surprising.
It can be seen as the latest in a string of enforced departures of civil servants which started after the 1997 general election. In the two years after Tony Blair came to power some two dozen heads of information in the then Government Information Service (GIS) were either removed, bullied and badmouthed, bypassed or otherwise dispensed with.
In evidence to the Commons Public Administration Committee at the time, more than one of us voiced the suspicion that the “mainstream” of the Civil Service stayed silent and let this happen in the belief that ministers, having culled the GIS — and, in many cases, moved in their party placemen and women as replacements — would now call a halt.
They were wrong: while the pace of departures may have slowed, the appetite for what (in a letter to these pages in 1998) I called the “Washingtonisation” of the Civil Service is undiminished, witness — as you report — the success of Michael Gove and Philip Hammond in having their Permanent Secretaries removed. I would not object to any Secretary of State choosing his or her Permanent Secretary or similarly senior figure, provided always the choice was made from among qualified candidates who had passed through the Civil Service selection procedure.
Ministers are, in the main, short-term holders of departmental briefs; to allow them to extend their own “short termism” to the Civil Service by choosing the key post-holders in their departments seems to me to be a sure-fire recipe for confusion, loss of momentum and lack of direction every time there is a change of Minister.
Andy Wood
Director of Information, Northern Ireland Office 1987-97, Holywood, Northern Ireland
Sir, Having served in the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Central Office of Information, it is quite clear to me that the Government, having already destroyed the morale of the Civil Service, is now out to destroy its impartiality.
In the past, experienced senior civil servants have often been able to save ministers of all parties from their own stupidity. If we lose this essential body of knowledge this country will be on a dangerous downward slope.
Barry Richardson
Isham, Northants

‘A lack of equal opportunities is damaging for individuals. It also leaves the country’s economic potential unfulfilled’
Sir, The case for opening opportunities to all young people is not just a moral one. We can all agree on the principle that you should be able to achieve your ambitions no matter where you have come from, but it also makes good business sense.
If we don’t find the best talent to create a dynamic workforce that reflects our client base, we will lose business. A lack of equal opportunities is damaging for individuals. It also leaves the country’s economic potential unfulfilled.
Some of the UK’s biggest and best businesses are already doing great work. But we need to do much more to improve fair access. Today we are challenging other businesses to open up opportunities to a wider talent pool.
Closed minds close doors, which ultimately limits our success. By opening our doors to more talented youngsters through fair recruitment, we can create greater opportunities both for them and our organisations.
None of us can afford to waste talent. Today the Deputy Prime Minister is launching the Opening Doors campaign to celebrate the opportunities that have already been created for disadvantaged young people across the UK.
More than 150 companies have already joined the campaign to do more to raise aspirations and recruit fairly. We would like to take this opportunity to call on all businesses — SMEs and large corporates alike — to join the campaign to attract a wider range of talent.
We believe that talent is the best way for us to secure future success for our businesses and for Britain.
James Caan (Hamilton Bradshaw); Peter Searle (Adecco) chair and deputy chair, Opening Doors business awards; Ronan Dunne (Telefonica UK); Chris Bush (Tesco); Andy Clarke (Asda); Gail Rebuck (The Random House Group); Ashok Vaswani (Barclays Bank); Antonio Simoes (HSBC); Duncan Tait (Fujitsu); Richard Howson (Carillion); Ian Powell (PwC); Dalton Philips (Morrisons); Simon Collins (KPMG); Steve Varley (Ernst & Young); David Morley (Allen & Overy); Dick Tyler (CMS Cameron McKenna); David Bickerton (Clifford Chance); Dr Tony Cocker (E.ON); Chris Grigg (The British Land Company); Michel Van Der Bel (Microsoft); Roland Aurich (Siemens); Robin Southwell (EADS)

It is not necessary to have a degree in the relevant subject in order to teach; and at what level does one become an engineer?
Sir, I am surprised and disappointed that Professor Campbell (letter, June 1), emeritus professor of electromagnetism, suggests that a degree in a relevant subject is necessary to communicate knowledge, because that would automatically exclude from The Conversation the father of his field, that great communicator and experimentalist, Michael Faraday, who started out a mere bookbinder and was the antithesis of elitism in science.
Dr Nick Winstone-Cooper
Laleston, South Wales
Sir, At what point in Professor Mair’s world (letter, June 3) does one become an engineer? Completing an apprenticeship, achieving NVQs, ONC, OND, HNC, HND, first degree, masters, or doctorate? Or is it only becoming a chartered engineer or university professor that counts?
Professor Mair says, “To equate the maintenance staff to engineers is as bad as being told that an engineer will come to service one’s boiler. What message does this give to pupils, teachers and parents, etc?”
What message does his letter send to aspiring, young heating engineers, or even aspiring, young aircraft maintenance engineers or “staff”, their teachers and parents? Seemingly that they are not quite good enough.
Kenneth Camsey
Newton Aycliffe, Co Durham

The Rural Payments Agency needs to ensure that farmers are managing their soil sustainably, rather than dredging rivers and small streams
Sir, Brian Clarke (“Muddying the waters will not solve river problems”, June 3) made the case very well for a precautionary approach to dredging rivers. In most cases dredging makes flooding worse downstream and does untold damage to wildlife and fisheries. We don’t want to return to the bad old days of the 1960s and 1970s when many rivers were wrecked by misguided attempts to hurry precious freshwater out to sea.
I suggest that farmers with standing water in their fields examine their soil structure to see if it has become impermeable due to compaction from use of heavy machinery. Farmers who follow a soil management plan find that water soaks into the soil more readily, which also reduces pesticide and fertiliser run-off to nearby streams and keeps valuable, finite topsoil in the fields. Such plans are meant to be required for payment of subsidies, but compliance is rarely checked. If the Secretary of State for the Environment wishes to reduce the impact of flooding, he would do better to direct his Rural Payments Agency to ensure that farmers are managing their soil sustainably, rather than authorising unregulated dredging of our country’s precious rivers and small streams.
Mark Lloyd
Angling Trust & Fish Legal

Why do the Coronation ceremonies and services continue to use the archaic ‘thee, thou and why’ instead of the modern alternatives?
Sir, With regard to Professor Humberston’s father being awarded two Coronation Medals (letter, June 3), my late friend and colleague, Oliver Whiting, Bandmaster of the South Wales Borderers, 1955 to 1969, was not only awarded the two medals but actually took part in both events — in 1937, as a boy chorister of St Paul’s Cathedral, he sang at the Service; in 1953, he was in the participating Band of the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, while a student bandmaster there.
John Curtis
Chelmsford, Essex
Sir, The Westminster Abbey service was, as ever, a magnificent spectacle. Why oh why, though, must the clergy persist in its use of the obsolete thee, thou and thy?
Even the Prime Minister was obliged to use ye instead of you, when the New English Bible is available.
Use of the modern vernacular takes nothing away from the beauty of prayer. We are in the reign of Elizabeth the Second, not the First.
Barry Hyman
Bushey Heath, Herts


SIR – It is not often realised that the increase in badgers has led to a vast decrease in the hedgehog population (report, June 1). Badgers and vehicles are the hedgehog's only predators. Hedgehogs use their ability to curl up and use their prickles as defence against predators, but badgers can open the prickly ball and help themselves to the contents.
Only by reducing the number of badgers may we be able to save a much-loved species from extinction.
Richard Lucy
Ledbury, Herefordshire

SIR – Since corporate bodies do not have a vote, though they do pay taxes, lobbying is the only way in which they can make their voices heard. There is nothing wrong with lobbying, provided it is transparent.
A register of lobbyists should be maintained in which it is obligatory for individual lobbyists to register; failure to do so becomes a criminal offence. MPs should also be obliged to register whom they are talking to, and whom they act for; failure to register such interests would result in the MP being banned from Parliament until the next election.
Peter Ruck
Dorking, Surrey
SIR – As the next scandal hits Parliament, one ponders on the fact that there are only 650 MPs in this august body.
How many more scandals can such a small number absorb before they, and their office, are all irretrievably tainted?
Related Articles
The badger cull will help to save the hedgehog
04 Jun 2013
Charles Holden
Lymington, Hampshire
SIR – The Daily Telegraph did an amazing job uncovering the MPs’ expenses scandal, but the latest scandal shows that the system is still being abused. MPs and members of the Lords, if found to be involved in corrupt practices, are not adequately penalised. What has happened to the old-fashioned honour and justice, where one paid for one’s misdemeanours?
Peter Lewis
Rayleigh, Essex
SIR – There are two aspects of the recent revelations that are particularly worrying.
First, we are governed by politicians who repeatedly fall for journalists who trick them by working on their greed and willingness to circumvent rules.
But the biggest concern is that the Leveson Inquiry could eventually lead to parliamentary involvement in the freedom of the press. The rules of conduct, for members of both Houses, seem to be easily bypassed. I bet rules to control the press, which emanated from those who do not want to be exposed, would not be open to such loose interpretation.
Clive Cowen
Ramsden, Oxfordshire
SIR – If Patrick Mercer is forced to resign as an MP, a sensational by-election will be triggered. Mr Mercer enjoyed a comfortable majority in Newark, but until 2001, the seat had been held for four years by Labour.
Since Eastleigh, a strong swing away from the Conservatives is likely. Should Labour regain the seat or Ukip make gains, the crisis tearing the Tories apart could spiral.
Anthony Rodriguez
Staines-upon-Thames, Middlesex
SIR – Well done for exposing corruption in the lobbying process at Westminster.
Will you now move on to MEPs and the European Commission? It is possible that corrupt practices are present in lobbying the EU, where the rewards are greater.
Frank Tomlin
Billericay, Essex
Winter fuel allowance
SIR – For the first time in my life I find myself agreeing with Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor (“Labour: we would axe winter fuel payments for 'richer’ pensioners”, report, June 3). The winter fuel allowance should be abolished, along with Christmas bonus payments.
The amounts saved, together with the savings on administrative costs, should be added to the state pension. The tax-free limit would be adjusted to ensure non-taxpayers are not penalised and the rest of us would pay tax at the appropriate rates.
This would avoid the stigma of means-testing and eliminate yet another layer of bureaucracy to administer such.
Colin A Comery
Harpenden, Hertfordshire
SIR – Why not start paying the winter fuel allowance only when people reach the official retirement age?
Despite being beneficiaries of the current scheme, many of my friends and I have never been able to understand why somebody in full employment, with another five years of earnings to be had, should receive this payment. Starting the allowance at the same time as state pensions would save an awful lot of money.
Derek Faulkner
Sheppey, Kent
SIR – Ed Balls assures us that the next Labour government will finish the job of mending the economy where this Government has failed. Since Mr Balls was instrumental in creating the inherited economic mess which has so burdened the Coalition, one would hope he has more imaginative cards up his sleeve than axing winter fuel payments.
All that is needed with regard to winter fuel payments is for governments to make it easy for recipients to gift the money to charity, or return it to the Treasury.
B E A Pegnall
Falmouth, Cornwall
Prosecutions for porn
SIR – The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has called for “effective measures” to curb the ease with which extreme pornography and indecent images of children can be accessed (report, May 31).
When these images are found by the police on people’s computers, are any efforts made to trace who has put them on the internet? Are they ever prosecuted?
Diana Smurthwaite
Newton Abbot, Devon
Dying bookshops
SIR – If any of your readers are wondering why so many bookshops are closing, then the new book by Dan Brown, Inferno, is a clear illustration. With a cover price of £20, it is available at Waterstones at half price, on Amazon at £9 and at my local Sainsbury’s for £6 (when you spend £30).
As a bookseller, I would get 35-40 per cent profit if ordering from the publisher. What chance does the independent bookseller have when the large companies cream off the fast-selling titles, leaving independents to survive on the obscure ones?
Chris Barmby
Tonbridge, Kent
SIR – Like Henry Winter (report, June 1), I, too, was impressed during a visit to Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Boys were playing volleyball solely with their feet.
And we thought that to play snooker well was a sign of a misspent youth.
Michael Gorman
Guildford, Surrey
Bishops and marriage
SIR – Who are the senior officials of the Church of England who have warned bishops to stay away from the House of Lords vote (report, June 3)? Aren’t the bishops the senior officials of the Church?
Viscount Astor (Comment, June 3) also warns off opponents of the Bill, making the point that it threatens the constitutional relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. But if the House of Lords acquiesces on this, what is the point of having a second chamber? Why is there so much pressure to steamroller all opposition to a Bill which will not only wreck the age-old institution of marriage, but also threaten our national structures?
Some people are determined to force it through without any mandate and without any regard for the reasoned arguments against it. Opposition should be firm.
Phil Paterson
SIR – Liberal thinkers are dominating the Church of England if it is possible for intense internal pressure to be put on bishops not to block gay marriage.
To imply that blocking gay marriage may reopen questions about the right of bishops to sit in the House of Lords is an empty threat about something that may or may not happen anyway. There is little point in sitting in the House of Lords if one cannot vote according to one’s conscience.
Geoff Milburn
Glossop, Derbyshire
Meeting mountaineers
SIR – Like Nancy Hand (Letters, May 31), I also met all of the Everest team not long after the ascent when they held a reunion in north Wales.
My now wife and I had spent a weekend climbing on Tryfan, but on our last day there we went down to Pen-y-Gwryd. Colonel John Hunt came into the room where we were sitting, followed at intervals, to our surprise and delight, by the other Everest mountaineers. Needless to say, we were too overawed to speak to them.
Geoffrey Geere
Abingdon, Oxfordshire
SIR – Paul Corser’s excellent ideas for streamlining Everest’s tourism offer (Letters, May 30) can be improved on.
Why not build a summit helipad to enable time-pressed thrill-seekers the opportunity to tick off another experience from their lists?
Gareth Pryce
Hayling Island, Hampshire
Working long shifts is detrimental to surgeons
SIR – As an occupational health and safety practitioner, I am a little puzzled by Richard Collins’s letter (June 1) stating that the compromising of surgical outcomes at weekends is in some way down to the European Working Time Regulations.
These rules were the result of a number of studies on working patterns, examining the effects of long shifts on people’s long-term health and wellbeing, and the increase in errors committed by those who had worked them.
Some studies have shown a direct correlation between premature death and the working of long shift patterns, much like those that Mr Collins argues should be allowed for his medical colleagues.
More worryingly, the studies identified significant increases in cases of human error within groups of tired workers. Many of these mistakes were further compounded by the fact that colleagues who were supposed to be part of the “checking process” were themselves so tired that they failed to spot obvious errors.
Perhaps rather than blaming a set of regulations, Mr Collins could follow the clinical evidence and offer a solution that doesn’t place both his colleagues and their “customers” at unnecessary risk.
Michael Collins
Stalybridge, Cheshire
SIR – Last week, you reported the poor outcome for patients undergoing surgery on Fridays. On Saturday, there was a report (June 1) on the high incidence of dementia in patients over 65 receiving general anaesthesia.
On Friday, I had my gall bladder removed under general anaesthetic; I’m 70. The excellent surgical and nursing care at West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance gives me hope that all is not lost.
Angela Hamilton
Canterbury, Kent

Irish Times:

Sir, – It was with a sense of resigned déjà vu that I read the article (Front Page, June 4th) on the slow progress in regulating home help.
More than two years ago your paper had extensive coverage of the RTÉ Primetime programme on the lack of regulation in the home care sector. At that time, political parties, without exception, were rushing to the media with their thoughts on lack of regulation in the home care sector. The then Minister of State with responsibility for older people gave the usual knee-jerk response that the government was “examining the options”. Two years later it is extremely disappointing to note that the current Minister of State with responsibility for older people has not moved on the issue.
Firms providing home care under the home care package scheme have a high level of care standards imposed under the public procurement conditions. One quick fix for the Government to bring home care standards to all would be to merge the home help scheme and the home care package scheme together and impose the same procurement conditions on all home care providers. A very quick, effective and simple solution, not requiring legislation. Will we see this happen?
Very unlikely with a Government that never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity in home care. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Gary Douch was murdered in a foul and barbaric way while in the custody of the State. That was seven years ago. The then Minister for Justice promised an immediate enquiry.
So far there has been little real progress,to the obvious and understandable distress of Gary’s mother and family.
This is not the fault of Grainne McMorrow SC who conducted the enquiry and it is to accept inevitable delays due to the trial of the killer. But what is unacceptable are the reported long delays by the State in furnishing documents and other material to Ms McMorrow (Home News, June 3rd )
We have seen more than enough in recent years of public bodies acting slowly and not always openly when investigations are launched into their own past responsibilities. At this point it is important that the Minister for Justice confirm if there have been such delays and if so why and by whom. And to give some idea as to when a report may be expected.
The family of Gary Douch has suffered grievously. Alan Shatter owes it to them and to the public to be fully open about the process to date and by so doing that reassure his family that his life did indeed mean something. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – It appears that the debate about standards in some creches has become an opportunity to castigate parents. Surely the point is the inadequacy of proper child care facilities in Ireland, not decisions that parents make for the care of their children?
I question the assertion that children are best cared for by their parents in their own home. There are many less than perfect homes. Have we not been appalled to hear of children living in damp and cold rooms, sometimes in one- room bedsits? Parents are far from perfect. They may be ill, tired, dispirited, hassled. They may even have to work to keep the family afloat. Children enjoy the company of other children and are stimulated by the play opportunities in a creche. They are exposed to experiences that many parents might have difficulty providing (such as painting, playing with water or in a sandpit).
One of the best initiatives in recent times has been the free preschool year and the pity is that it cannot be extended. It helps to remove inequalities in our society. Most creches operated to the highest possible standards. The focus now should be on providing purpose-built premises with well-trained, well-paid staff; not on parent-bashing. Those parents who prefer to care for their children in the home should also be supported.
Yes, this will cost money but children are our future. Investment now will yield rich results. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – I read the article (“Ireland has 50% more nurses than OECD average”, Health + Family, June 4th) with some scepticism. Sure enough, on further investigation of the actual OECD publication (www.oecd.org/ireland), the following reference was added:
“It is important to note however that the comparability of data on nurses is more limited due to the inclusion of different categories of nurses and midwives in the data reported by different countries.”
In other words, different countries may count registered nurses, midwives, auxiliary nurses, etc, as separate entities.
It can only be in the public’s interest to further investigate and then relate the true statistics, or the cynical part of me will have to view this as a further example of disseminating untruths about nursing and by extension the health service as a whole. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – With regard to recent letters about violence in the city centre, I have witnessed terrible incidents. I think it is unproductive to just focus on the drug addicts’ behaviour as separate from the rest of society.
In my view they are showing us that there is a moral vacuum at present in our society. This moral vacuum has mainly come from the delusional belief in the political sphere that the market can solve all issues in politics. This has resulted in management by data and an abdication of the responsibility of leadership.
What is the difference between politicians looking to the market to solve all their problems and the drug addicts looking for drugs to solve all their problems? – Yours, etc,
A chara, – In our rush to privatise and erode our public services, has any one given thought to the unintended consequences of the opening of the waste collection market? Apart from the obvious nuisance of having speeding bin lorries rousing us every morning, Monday to Saturday, has the council noted the damage such heavy traffic is having on the roads and driveways of our housing estates? Perhaps a use has been found for our property taxes? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Tomás Ó Murchú (June 1st) writes that a majority of his final year Irish language students in NUI Galway informed him during course evaluation that he should have spent more time on Peig Sayers’s works, as they enjoyed her. That is great. However, he also states that my feature on the cultural heritage of the Blasket Islands (Life, May 20th) includes comments that are “disparaging towards Peig Sayers”, which is not the case.
I wrote that my own generation of secondary schoolchildren hated reading Peig, a work which was presented to us uncontextualised in terms of the social background from which it emerged, and in a form which failed to represent the earthy humour that was a feature of Blasket island life. For many of us, resentful of the requirement to achieve a pass in Irish in order to pass the Leaving Cert, Peig Sayers’s name represented insult added to injury.
Far from disparaging either the woman or her cultural legacy, I reiterated a point made in my memoir – that the decision to foist Peig’s edited reminiscences on a generation of schoolchildren who, in most cases, had no sense of the struggling communities she described, was an act of folly that deprived them of something of value. No one, therefore, could be happier than I am to know of NUI Galway’s students’ admiration for Peig. Indeed, it was at university that I fell in love with her world and its worldview myself.
I wish, though, that her written legacy retained more sense of the shrewdness and humour which were part of her oral inheritance, still flourishing here in Corca Dhuibhne. – Yourse, etc,

Sir, – I refer to the reproduction of Paul Henry’s painting, The Potato Diggers (Fine Art & Antiques, June 1st), the original of which has since been sold at auction for a substantial sum.
It occurs to me that the artist’s depiction of his subjects contains an anomaly. He shows them digging on a slope while facing down, and apparently moving backwards up it. As anyone who has handled a spade will know, to dig facing down a slope can be back-breaking work. By contrast, to dig facing up it minimises stooping and with it the digger’s travail. By facing up the slope, starting at the top and moving backwards down it, the diggers in this instance could have saved themselves an amount of back-ache. I doubt if the people of Achill Island in 1910 were so dim as not to appreciate this.
Being no authority on Paul Henry, I hesitate to suggest that he did not know his potatoes. Perhaps there is some symbolism in the stooped posture of the diggers? I feel sure, in any case, that authorities on Henry’s work have long ago spotted the anomaly to which I refer. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – With no end in sight to curiosity about the remains of King Richard III (Small Prints, May 30th), it may be appropriate to recall a piece of diplomacy involving Richard (1483-1485) and the Earl of Desmond.
The attainder and hasty decapitation of the previous Earl of Desmond in February 1468, during the reign of Richard’s predecessor (and brother) Edward IV, was one of the crimes of the century in England and Ireland. Recognising the injustice of the earl’s execution, Richard sent the Bishop of Annaghdown (Thomas Barrett) to the dead earl’s son and successor, Earl James, with an offer of pardon. Conditions were attached: the violence generated by the execution was to end, and Earl James was to marry an English bride provided by Richard.
The bishop’s embassy was not a success; turmoil continued and the earl married an Irish bride (a daughter of O’Brien of Thomond); finally, at the end of 1487, the earl was murdered by some of his Desmond relatives.
Earl James would have done well to heed Richard’s warnings. The Tudors, shortly to succeed Richard after his defeat and death at the Battle of Bosworth, had none of the sympathy with the Desmonds that distinguished Richard and his predecessors, sympathy founded to some extent on the fact that the Desmonds and the Plantagenets were cousins, and both belonged to a church with the pope at its head.
A memento of the bishop’s embassy to the earl survived: a gift to the earl of a gold collar with Richard’s emblem, a white boar, pendant. It is likely that the boar emblem of the Desmonds dates from the occasion. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Ciarán Flynn, general secretary, Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (May 30th), states that I gave an “unbalanced” view of community and comprehensive schools (Rite & Reason, April 30th) . The only fact on which he corrects me is that Roman Catholic chaplains in VEC community colleges are paid by the State. This confirms my argument that parents who do not wish their children to be exposed to religion in taxpayer-funded schools do not have an option of a truly secular education available to them. The payment of such chaplains, who must be committed Roman Catholics in order to be appointed, indicates the denominational nature of the schools
Mr Flynn states that I do not give evidence that parents’ representatives on boards of management have little influence on decisions. As there are only two parents’ representatives on a board of 11 members, how can parents exercise influence on key decisions? I was a parents’ representative on a community school board of management for four years and on all important issues that came before the board, the wishes of the trustees prevailed.
Mr Flynn claims I was “dismissive” of former members of religious orders who were appointed as principals or teachers in schools where those religious orders were trustees. I did not comment of the competence of those principals or teachers but suggested the religious trustees consolidated their influence in the schools through such appointments.
Mr Flynn mentions the “respectful” multidenominational nature of religious education in community and comprehensive schools and states that non-believing pupils may opt out of religion classes. If such pupils cannot be supervised, opting out is not practicable and even when it is, pupils who opt out may feel uncomfortable.
Mr Flynn states that his association is reviewing the deed of trust governing the community schools. It is to be hoped that the taxpayers who wholly fund these schools will have some say in the formulation of the new deed and that the negotiations will not be conducted in secret as the original negotiations were. At present the religious trustees of many community schools have full legal control of the schools .
If Mr Flynn considers that Catholic religious orders are not the dominant force in the schools which he represents, he should look at the list of past presidents of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools. Of the 12 past presidents, five have been members of religious orders and a sixth is a former member of a religious order. – Yours, etc,

Irish Independent:
* The South Tipperary Coroner recently highlighted the undeniable link between a sharp increase in suicide in Ireland and the financial pressures many people are under due to debts they owe to financial institutions.
Also in this section
The enemy within
'Cowardly' label unfair
Adios, Matthew
* The South Tipperary Coroner recently highlighted the undeniable link between a sharp increase in suicide in Ireland and the financial pressures many people are under due to debts they owe to financial institutions.
The coroner was critical of the harassment meted out to people who find themselves in this unfortunate situation.
During the economic downturn, there has been considerable evidence that many Irish people have become suicidal because they have found themselves in severe debt either to a financial institution or perhaps to the State itself. Sadly, many have gone on to take their own lives because they were unable to cope with the pressure.
The coroner and others have pleaded with the State and with financial institutions to bring in measures to ease the burden on those in severe debt. However, I have never heard anybody put forward the argument that if someone is suicidal because of a financial debt, then that debt should somehow be eliminated in order to save the person's life.
The legislation now being presented by the Government proposes that when there is a risk to a pregnant woman's life because she is suicidal, action should be taken to remove that which led to her becoming suicidal.
The action to be taken will result not in the elimination of a sum of money but rather another innocent human life. Will this legislation create a legal precedent allowing a case to be made for removing whatever leads someone to be suicidal?
Martin Delaney, PP
Rathdowney, Co Laois
* I read with interest the article by David Coleman on June 1 in relation to the cost of childcare. As a married man with no children, I agree with his conclusion that the tax system is anti-family.
However, he failed to point out a positive unintended consequence. In a time of high unemployment, a lot of families would elect to have one parent stay at home to mind their children. Which would free up a lot of employment opportunities for those on the dole to fill. So not only would a lot of children be given better care at home but it would also have a big impact on the long-term unemployment numbers.
I imagine it costs more to have people on the dole than it does to end tax individualisation. A big win for families, society and the economy.
Caimin Murphy
Address with editor
* As a young graduate I was shocked by an article in 'Weekend Review' called "the Jilted Generation". I felt it should more aptly have been called "the Forgotten Generation". It did not touch on the issues affecting my friends here in Ireland who can't afford to travel abroad for work.
This group merely goes unnoticed, experiencing social isolation and a lack of attachment to any sense of community. We are extremely vulnerable individuals with feelings of despair and lack of choice due to the Government glossing over the problem with schemes like Job Bridge.
Whether you are a qualified graduate or an early school leaver, there are few options for those who cannot afford to emigrate and this must change. In fact, whether "jilted" or "forgotten", the scars for my generation will be irreparable.
W Flanagan Tobin
Dublin 3
* Micheal Martin's decision to allow a free vote on the abortion issue proves a number of things.
He is still the same ditherer who ran the Department of Health by seeking yet another report on every single issue. His Fianna Fail genes render him incapable of making any decision that would be unpopular anywhere in the country.
The abortion issue is simply not important enough to risk splitting the party, unlike, for instance, the "National Question" so beloved of Fianna Fail.
Anthony O'Leary
Portmarnock, Co Dublin
* In reference to the council boundary changes and the number of councillors allocated on a ratio of one councillor per almost 5,000 people – permit me to say I am confused and disgusted with these figures.
The numbers are bloated beyond explanation. The numbers read as follows: 949 councillors will be elected in 137 electoral areas for 31 local authorities. Space does not permit me to point out how the nation could be run effectively by having 26 electoral areas for three local authorities with a maximum of 60 councillors.
Study the state of California, with 34 million people; it has the equivalent of one local authority, 54 electoral areas, with an equivalent ratio of one "councillor" to almost 500,000 people. California is run efficiently with these numbers.
Vincent J Lavery
Dalkey, Co Dublin
* While travelling through Dublin Airport recently, I noticed that all the TVs on display were tuned to Sky News. As the Dublin Airport Authority is a state-run public body and thus funded by the Irish taxpayer, I believe they should be seen to be supporting a fellow state body, ie RTE, which broadcasts its own dedicated news channel.
As we all know, first impressions are very important, and as the airport contributes greatly to first impressions of this country, it is disappointing that they are immediately subjected to a foreign news channel, or more appropriately, a Rupert Murdoch-owned news channel.
Patrick Slavin
Lucan, Co Dublin
* While teachers around the country ponder their next move in the pay and conditions dispute, spare a thought for the thousands of young people who will leave school this summer with nothing to show for it.
I wonder are there statistics on poor results from schools? Results that require a cohort of students to repeat year after year. Schools that rarely achieve big numbers for third-level entry. If so, are questions ever asked of those schools or teachers?
I myself went back to school as an adult and saw first hand teachers who could teach and motivate and teachers who could not.
Harry Mulhern
Millbrook Road, Dublin
* I was pleased to see the article in the Irish Independent recently explaining the unprecedented cold weather in plain language.
Frequently, media outlets are in denial about the reality of the climate change that is already seriously impacting on our economy, both in terms of the very poor yields for farmers as well as the increased damage to householders caused by floods.
We need to wake up to the fact that climate change is happening and that we face increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather in the future.
John Sharry
Clontarf, Dublin
* I agree with Jack Downey when he says that he "wants to assure the Government that the amount of property tax he would like to pay is €0" (Letters, May 28).
While I empathise with him, I'm afraid he is years too late. The time for all of us to have made our feelings known was during the Celtic Tiger period when a small number of powerful citizens made decisions that bankrupted the country.
A Leavy
Sutton, Dublin 13

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