Joan in hospital

13 June 2013 Joan in hospital

Off around the park listening to the Navy Lark, oh dear oh dear.
There is a French frigate parks in Troutbridge’s usual bearth and they are ordered to tie up in the middle of the harbour. Pertwee is desperate to get ashore. There is a hidden barrel of rum involved/ Priceless.
Another quiet day Joan’s feet still bad she goes into hospital and we see the Lawyer about Mary’s living will.
We watch The Pallaisers Bye bye Mr Finn MP the Duke is ill and some hussy appears with diamonds
Mary wins at scrabble but she gets under 400 perhaps I can have my revenge tomorrow.


Serena Allott
Serena Allott, who has died aged 56, was a Daily Telegraph journalist who in recent years expanded her life to include founding the Isle of Wight Literary Festival and, with her husband Robin Courage, setting up Made on the Isle of Wight, a business marketing and selling a vast range of products grown or made on the island.

Serena Allott Photo: CAMERA PRESS
5:43PM BST 12 Jun 2013
She had an unusual start to her career in journalism. In the early 1980s she worked as a Girl Friday for TE (Peter) Utley, the leader writer and columnist who, although totally blind, managed to choose a series of beautiful women to make his office life possible. Her job would start when Utley’s wife deposited him at the Telegraph, which was then in Fleet Street, and finish at the end of the day when she came to collect him.
Her duties included reading the newspapers out loud to him; taking him to leader conferences; organising and sometimes attending lunch engagements — always in the Strand — discussing the leader that he was going to write and then typing it out as he dictated it, ready to take to the editor.
From there she moved to Vogue, where among other things she wrote what in those days was a revered column called Shop Hound. This required considerable skill, given that she hated shopping. She moved on to be travel editor of Working Woman, a magazine aimed at the women in the title, but the magazine was short-lived.
She rejoined the Telegraph in 1986 as a commissioning editor and feature writer or, as she jokingly called it, “the gloom correspondent” on the Magazine. She was far too dismissive of her own writing skills, for she was actually something of a rarity in those days: a “posh” girl doing serious journalism — a soldier’s daughter with an arty bent.
Perhaps it was her own sympathetic nature that gave her the knack of encouraging the people she interviewed to open up to her in a way which made her articles, both in the Magazine and the paper, stand out. She could also conduct difficult interviews with people who had suffered great grief and loss without ever making people think that she was prying.
Although she became an assistant editor, after the birth of her second son she decided to become a freelance writer for the Magazine and the newspaper, where among other things she wrote the weekly column My Mufti.
In 2001 Serena Allott had a life-changing heart attack which she only just survived thanks to the extraordinary care she received at St Thomas’ Hospital. She wrote an article about her survival and in it she remembered that on about day six of her stay one of the doctors had told her it was still impossible to tell whether her quality of life would be “reasonable or very poor”. Her immediate reaction was “Bugger very poor” and indeed she went on to enjoy a remarkable quality of life. Two years after her recovery the family moved out of London to the Isle of Wight. There she continued to write for the Telegraph and was a regular contributor to Saga magazine and the Mail on Sunday, as well as ghosting two books.
In 2010 she and her husband, Robin Courage, acquired a nursery near Seaview where they built their new home while launching a successful shop — Made on the Isle of Wight — beside it. She emailed a colleague about the experience as opening day drew near: “Who would have thought that in my Fifties I would be doing an Advanced Food Hygiene course … It is all so scary. How do you decide how many packets of biscuits to buy? Which sort of sausages will our customers prefer? And what is a reasonable commission to take from our artists?”
Last year she got the first Isle of Wight Literary Festival off the ground, injecting much needed life into 19th century Northwood House in Cowes where the festival was held. Before her death she had already lined up an impressive series of speakers for this year’s festival including two former editors of the Telegraph, Sir Max Hastings and Charles Moore.
Serena Elizabeth Allott was born on October 4 1956 in Munster, Westphalia, where her father, Brigadier David Allott, was serving in the 17th/21st Lancers. She had two siblings, her older brother Nick, who is managing director of Cameron Mackintosh Ltd, and her younger sister Lulu. They lived the peripatetic life of an army family until her father was appointed Commandant of the Army Centre at Bovington Camp in Dorset. However in 1969, when she was 12, her father was killed in a tragic accident when two army helicopters collided — both pilots were also killed.
She went to Whispers School in West Dean, Sussex, followed by Eastbourne College where she was head girl, and she then went on to read English at Exeter University.
She is survived by her husband Robin, whom she married in 1990; their two sons, Kit and Caspar, two step-children, Marcus and Camilla, and five step-grandchildren.
Serena Allott, born October 4 1956, died May 24 2013


Simon Jenkins has certainly changed his tune about the effectiveness of popular protest (From Trafalgar to Taksim, the politics of the square puts the wind up power, 12 June). After the large TUC-led march in London in March 2011 he contemptuously argued that demonstrations “are mostly boosts to group morale, childish festivals, obsessions with the media and desperate to cause a genteel nuisance without breaching the law”. Fast forward two years and Jenkins now says: “If the ballot fails and the bullet is lacking, the way to reach a stubborn or corrupt leader remains where it has since Coriolanus – through the language of the street.” On the 1832 Great Reform Act, in 2011 Jenkins was clear “it was in parliament that the great debates of 1831-32 took place”. Two years later he tells us “parliament … still worries, as it did in 1832, over what happens outside”. Will Jenkins will now take heed of freed slave Frederick Douglass’s wise words from 1857: “Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never did and it never will”?
Ian Sinclair
Author, The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003

I doubt that David Omand (How to make surveillance both ethical and effective, 12 June) will convince many of the benign intent of the NSA (or GCHQ) in trawling vast amounts of internet traffic from ordinary citizens in the hope that occasionally they will uncover genuine miscreants, including “arms proliferators”. This is rich, since the US is by far the biggest arms proliferator of all. Not only the “official” arms trade, but, for example, in the CIA’s arming of the mujahideen in Afghanistan, from which we are still suffering the blowback. A world where no illegal wars were fomenting hatred, where justice rather than might is right prevailed, would have no need for such intrusions into people’s everyday lives.
Frank Jackson
Harlow, Essex
• One thing I don’t understand about Prism’s supposed secret access to Facebook and Twitter: aren’t these open to all anyway? Couldn’t the spooks just go online and become everybody’s friends, saving them a lot of trouble and expense?
Professor Philip Steadman
University College London

John Pilger notes the catastrophic health effects of war in Iraq (Comment, 26 May), touching on what is a critical global health emergency. Iraq is poisoned by toxic war pollutants. Sterility, repeated miscarriages, stillbirths and severe birth defects are increasing. In March 2013, a high-ranking official at the Ministry of Health in Baghdad discussed an unreleased World Health Organisation report with the BBC. He said: “All studies done by the ministry of health prove with damning evidence that there has been a rise in birth defects and cancers.”
This report by the WHO and Iraqi health ministry was due to be published in November 2012, yet it still hasn’t been released. In response to this delay, 58 scientists, health professionals and human rights advocates recently wrote asking for the immediate release of their report. We requested that this report be released at once. We received no response. The letter was signed by Iraqi, Iranian, Lebanese, Japanese, European, Australian and North American academics and public figures. Why is this important report being held up?
Mozhgan Savabieasfahani
School of public health, University of Michigan
• Phil Shiner’s article about the UK courts’ exposure of abuses of civilians in the Iraq war (An end to brutality, 10 June) notes that “these terrible acts have occupied the attention of the courts for the last decade”. Persistent litigation by dedicated lawyers has cast light into some of the most shameful corners of state activity, such as the murder of Baha Mousa and others who died or were tortured in the custody of British forces. Under proposed “reforms” to legal aid, no such litigation would have been possible, because Baha Mousa and the others would fail the residence test (which will require recipients of legal aid to have been lawfully resident in the UK for a year). Those responsible for these abuses would never have been held accountable. Could these two facts by any chance be related?
Helen Mountfield QC
The sudden decision to close the Greek state television and radio company ERT and dismiss up to 3,000 journalists and technicians is the culmination of a series of attacks on free speech. This symbolic move, as the government put it in a non-paper, means that private interests have used the financial crisis as a pretext to destroy the main source of non-partisan information and cultural programming in Greece. Journalists and media professionals all over the world must resist this act of cultural vandalism.
Professor Costas Douzinas Birkbeck College, Professor Joanna Bourke Birkbeck College, Maria Margaronis The Nation, Dr Dimitris Papanikolaou Oxford University
• TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady (Comment, 3 June) advocates “using EU membership to rebuild and rebalance our economy, tackle the crisis in living standards and give our young people a future”. Well, good luck with that. The EU’s Eurostat agency reports average youth unemployment at a staggering 23.5% across the 27 EU member states (24% in the 17-member eurozone). All the signs, so familiar to British trade unionists since the 1980s, of a neoliberal economic experiment destroying good-quality jobs and slashing the social wage in a compulsive hunt for global competitiveness, are there. Far from turning their back on austerity policies, the leaders of the EU last week announced a modest extension of the timescale in which France’s Socialist government must cut public spending, coupled with a requirement for a wholesale scrapping of French legislation that protects workers from hire-and-fire policies.
The answer to chronic unemployment will not be found in the EU, which binds its members into low-wage and deflationary policies through successive treaties from Maastricht to Lisbon that British governments have signed up to without a referendum. Neither does a EU-US free trade agreement offer a break with these policies, but opens Europe’s public services up to US corporations seeking profits from taxpayer funding. The fight against low-wage employment and joblessness requires a fight against EU policies and structures, not collusion in a discredited “European project”.
Alex Gordon
Chair, No2EU – Yes to Democracy Trade Union Advisory Group

Aditya Chakrabortty is wrong when he says we were shown weeks ago the numbers in the TUC-backed report on rail, published last Friday (G2, 11 June). Despite requests to meet the TUC to discuss its figures, we were first given sight of the report a week last Monday when it was already printed and about to be circulated to journalists. If the TUC had given us more advance notice, we could have fed back that we believe its data is used selectively, resulting in a misleading analysis. Britain’s railway has been transformed in the last 15 years, thanks to the public and private sectors working successfully together to deliver for passengers and taxpayers.
Michael Roberts
Chief executive, the Association of Train Operating Companies
• According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies Britain is in “the longest and deepest slump in a century” (Report, 12 June). Are we now allowed at last to use the word “depression” instead of the innocuous “recession” (defined by the Chambers Dictionary as “a slight temporary decline in a country’s trade”)?
Andrew Green
• Happily, the Suffolk town of Aldeburgh does a better job of remembering Millicent Garrett Fawcett than does Cambridge (Letters, 10 June). The plaque on the wall of Uplands reads: “Leader of the women’s suffrage movement Millicent Fawcett 1847-1929 was born here”. And immediately above it, her sister Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (Britain’s first female mayor and the first woman to qualify as a physician) is also remembered.
Tony Green
Ipswich, Suffolk
• How many “last-remaining wildernesses” are there? I seem to keep reading about new ones (Letters, 12 June).
Joseph Cocker
Leominster, Herefordshire
• Hardly a days goes by when we don’t learn of yet another sportsperson “picking up” an injury. You would have  thought that after all this time they would have learnt to leave the damn things alone!
Joy Lamb

Your criticisms (Editorial, 12 June) of Michael Gove’s reactionary “reforms” of GCSEs are fair enough – although making the exam more dependent upon short-term recall will do nothing to address the problem of grade inflation – but you fail to consider the more pertinent question of why Britain persists in spending a small fortune on public examinations which have long outlived their purpose. Britain’s 16-plus examinations were designed for a time – long since gone – when most pupils left school at 16 and went into employment. With the majority of pupils now remaining in education, the GCSE is redundant.
Gove’s argument that his reforms are essential to make our system “world-class” is ludicrous. No system of education which is driven by the exigencies of high-stakes exams can ever be world-class. What characterises those systems that really can be described in this way is not a set of hopelessly outdated exams, but a highly educated and highly trained teaching force – something which Gove is extremely unlikely to create. Like the rest of his idiotic policies, these “reforms” will merely take us back to the 1950s, where, mentally at least, Gove appears to dwell.
Michael Pyke
Shenstone, Staffordshire
• Gove’s proposals (No coursework, more Shakespeare, 12 June) take me back to the heady 60s, when I was training to be a teacher. I read studies about the effect of streaming, of the failure to develop pupils’ creative talents and of their lack of interest in schoolwork.
One of the impulses behind the development of coursework, in CSE, then GCE and then in GCSE, was to find ways of giving pupils more control over their work, and more enthusiasm for it. Marking and moderation was always complex, but so too was the assessment of terminal exams. 
Politicians can argue about whether or not Gove will deliver the extra rigour he desires, and it’s far from certain that the examination system will provide consistent, reliable results. What is predictable, though, is the impact on styles of learning. More teacher dictation, less initiative; no room for groupwork, choices or innovation, and lots of time devoted to examination technique. For many pupils, this will amount to pointless repetition and certain failure. Maybe that’s the survival of the fittest and most rigorous, but it’s a pattern we’ve tried before, and it’s not one whose return we should welcome.
Paul Francis
Much Wenlock, Shropshire
•  Neuroscientific research clearly indicates a need to nurture a wide variety of individual learning styles in order to achieve the maximum potential of all young learners. As parent of three neuro-atypical young people, until recently described as “dyslexic”, I strongly oppose Gove’s shallow and hasty proposals for inflexible exam-based learning, which will deprive our country of significant intellectual contributions.
My oldest gained a first-class degree; the second, with an MA, is a national journalist; the youngest is progressing well on a history degree. None of them would have achieved their intellectual or performance potential without flexibility from empowered teachers, hard work and an exam systems that offer equal opportunities.
Name and address supplied
• What still underpins Gove’s thinking is the belief that education should be based on the “three Rs – reading, remembering and regurgitating”. However, for many educationalists, the three Rs stand for something quite different: “reading, reflecting and responding”. If we are to equip students “to win in the global race” what 21st-century society needs are independent critical thinkers, not parrots.
Dr Brian Lighthill
Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire
• Dumbing down our exam system by abolishing the rigour of modules and coursework will damage the life chances of our young people, undermine excellence and damage our economy.
Modularity brings out specialists, with a passion for a subject. This is essential to support UK research and development. Clearly, Gove has not consulted any universities, else he will have discovered that undergraduate courses are taught using a modular approach.
Coursework is rigorous, and requires students to deliver throughout their training and learning period. Simply regurgitating facts in a two-hour exam is insufficient to demonstrate true understanding of a topic, and the ability to apply that learning.
Eric Goodyer
Colsterworth, Lincolnshire
• Without coursework I would have failed all my GCSEs, and Gove’s plans will end up excluding students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties. They will end up with nothing, and will probably not even bother to go to college (if they get in with this new grading system). The government needs to look at the bigger picture, with 20% of children in UK leaving school unable to read properly, and 10% of children of all social groups having dyslexia. The government will end up alienating a lot of children.
Children and teenagers with learning difficulties such as dyslexia do better with coursework. I know first-hand how exams can ruin your grade more dramatically than coursework. If GCSEs were graded like this when I was in high school I wouldn’t be where I am today – finishing my first year at university studying hospitality management.
Hope Barnes
Blackburn, Lancashire
• A former Conservative secretary of state for education, Keith Joseph, was known in some quarters as “the mad monk”. And yet he built a broad consensus in support of a new exam system for 16-year-olds – the GCSE – to meet the needs both of individual students and of the economy. Has his successor, Michael Gove, learned nothing from history?
Richard Daugherty
• Diane Abbott effusively endorsing Michael Gove’s latest plans is presumably the same MP who sent her son to the City of London School in 2003, “because he wanted to go private”? 
Fr Alec Mitchell
• Our obsession with testing reminds me of Virginia Woolf, and the lecture she gave at Girton College, Cambridge in 1928, which grew into her famous essay, A Room of One’s Own. “I do not believe that gifts” she said, “whether of mind or character, can be weighted like sugar and butter”. Sadly, Gove’s proposals appear to show great faith in the ability of a final exam-based system to accurately take the measure of a person.
Jessica Kilburn

Aquaculture alone can’t solve Africa’s fishing crisis, just as growing cattle alone can’t solve the problem of the hunger and protein deficiency.
You still have to feed the fish something, and as of yet humanity has not progressed enough to understand how to build the infrastructure necessary to do it on an industrial scale, without being destructive.
Aquaculture does not have enough of established infrastructure to truly hold its own, when it logically should be able to.
Considering two-thirds of Earth is covered in water, what is keeping us from growing enough algae and seaweed to use as feed for fish? The fish feed currently used on an industrial scale is degraded and polluted, and contributes heavily to the environmental resource drain. Similarly, for the shale oil scheme more energy is spent extracting shale oil than the oil that is extracted has within it. More money is spent on feeding fish than the value of the fish themselves.
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We consider that the Government’s approach to the teaching of history, as outlined both in statements made by the Education Secretary and the Prime Minister, and in the draft history curriculum, runs contrary to the statutory duties set out in the Education Acts of 1996 and 2002.
The 1996 Act, Section 406 states: “The local education authority, governing body and head teacher shall forbid… the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school.” The Act of 2002 at Sections 78 and 79 requires the Secretary of State, local education authorities, governing bodies and head teachers to secure a “balanced and broadly based curriculum”.
In defiance of these legal obligations, the Government’s attitude to the teaching of history is underpinned by an unbalanced promotion of partisan political views. The Education Secretary has gone on record stating that the purpose of the changes which he proposes is to make history teaching “celebrate the distinguished role of these islands in the history of the world” and to portray Britain as “a beacon of liberty for others to emulate”. He spoke in Parliament of history lessons which focused on “British heroes and heroines”. The Prime Minister has referred to the teaching of “our island story in all its glory”.
The draft curriculum document reflects this unbalanced national triumphalism. This is evident in the emphasis which it places on “how Britain influenced the world” (to the exclusion of the reverse) and on the importance of “the concept of nation and of a nation’s history” – second in the list of concepts required to be imparted to five- to seven-year-old infants. It is also evident in more subtle ways such as its handling of slavery, which is not mentioned as part of “the development of a modern economy” and which is listed elsewhere as “the slave trade and the abolition of slavery”, implicitly giving equal weight to the two.
Given that the new history curriculum has been widely criticised for its Anglocentric focus, in its marginalising of the role of women and non-white ethnic groups, and its wholesale failure to reflect the views of those appointed originally to advise the Government, it falls well short of the requirement to be “balanced and broadly based”. The presence in the draft curriculum of the occasional individual such as Mary Seacole, herself a late addition to it, has rightly been described as a “garnishing of tokenism” by an original adviser to the Education Secretary on the history curriculum, Professor Simon Schama.
The Department for Education has not made a serious attempt to refute or to address the charge of political bias and the Education Secretary has given further evidence of his political partisanship by frequently branding his critics “Marxists” and “lefties”, a clear indication of his determination to exclude one end of the political spectrum.
We therefore consider that there are strong grounds for believing that this curriculum, should it be implemented, and any further changes to the teaching of history which seek to impose a political bias or flout the requirement for breadth and balance would be unlawful.
Robert Evans, Regius Professor of History Emeritus, University of Oxford
Jonathan Hart, Head of History, Dinnington Comprehensive School
Guy Halsall, Professor of History, University of York
Stephen Hodkinson, Professor of Ancient History, University of Nottingham
Matt Houlbrook, Tutorial Fellow and Lecturer in Modern British History, Magdalen College, Oxford
Angela Piccini, Dr/Senior Lecturer, University of Bristol
David Priestland, University Lecturer in Modern History, Fellow of St Edmund Hall, Oxford
Eric Rosenthal, Head of History,  Slough Grammar School
Professor Richard Toye, University of Exeter
Alex Woolf, Senior Lecturer in History, University of St Andrews
and more than 100 others
GM crops are not a silver bullet for agronomic woes
Tom Bawden notes that 61 per cent of UK farmers would like to grow GM crops (report, 12 June). This is hardly surprising, given the many promises made that GM crops will provide a silver bullet to solve all their agronomic woes. The reality, as borne out by around 10 years of growing in the US, is quite different.
Farmers are finding the use of the two GM crop traits (herbicide tolerance and insect resistance) overwhelmingly used are now causing huge problems in pest and disease resistance. In the meantime, they are locked into the GM system, partly through lack of availability and higher cost of non-GM seed because of the domination of the industry by just four corporations.
Other innovative breeding techniques are suffering from lack of funding as good money is thrown after bad for the promise of alleged GM advantages which have not been achieved. The UK should not look to pursue outdated and out-of-touch GM technology but should instead focus on agroecological systems which produce good yields of crops with far lower inputs of fossil-fuel-based and mined fertilisers, growing crops with 80 per cent lower greenhouse gas emissions, and producing food with higher animal welfare, lower pollution, and with more wildlife and jobs on farms.
Emma Hockridge, Head of Policy, Soil Association, Bristol
I am surprised at your leading article giving blanket support for GSM foods in Europe (12 June). The science is still far from complete. 
Capitalism is poor at assessing and pricing risk – greed creates optimism. There are indirect risks that sweeping changes in agriculture can bring, such as reliance on monoculture. I would far rather a blanket ban than gung-ho support.
Jon Hawksley, London EC1
A coach full of drunks: perfect
On top of the arguments that Josh Barrie sets out about the “motorway pub” (Report, 5 June) there is also the issue of “coach parties” which are a main intended customer group.
When I heard a Wetherspoon’s representative mention this (on BBC News), I immediately recalled the account of a coach-driving friend who told of how a drunken wedding party that he had picked up from north London started fighting among themselves, wrecked the coach and needed to be dragged off by the police. So, even if the coach driver is sober, having a horde of screaming drunks in your vehicle turns that vehicle into 20 tons of lethal, unpredictable weapon.
You have to wonder how the authorities arrive at these decisions, but the answer isn’t too difficult to guess: it all comes down to the lobby power of the “profit hunters”.
Alan Searle, London CR4
Of course Boots pays sales tax
I am delighted to hear that Alliance Boots pays its taxes (letter, 3 June). However, it is misleading to say they pay sales and other taxes.
I shopped at Boots today and paid for my goods, which included VAT. Boots merely collect it and then pass it on to HMRC. They can avoid paying employer’s National Insurance only by not employing staff. Alliance Boots is obliged to pay property tax or not register its leases.
So the only realistically avoidable tax is corporation tax. While I’m pleased they have paid £64m corporation tax, they should not be allowed to claim credit for paying other taxes which in reality are merely collected by them on behalf of HMRC.
Rod Findlay, Newcastle upon Tyne
What about the working fathers?
So a study has found that children’s academic performance is not harmed if their mothers work in their early years (report, 11 June). Would a “comprehensive” study not also investigate the link between children’s academic performance and fathers who go out to work? It seems that, just days after the Centre for Social Justice report highlighted the growth of fatherless families and “men deserts”, we still expect only mothers to care for children.
Peter McKenna, Liverpool
Shame on the middle-lane hogs
I have been astonished by the defences of middle-lane hogging (Letters, 12 June) which, incidentally, rarely happens in France and Germany. Although people have claimed that lane-changing increases risk, it makes motorway travel a lot less monotonous (there is always the danger of switching to auto-pilot) and reduces the likelihood of frustrated drivers “undertaking”.
Gill Learner, Reading
All you defenders of middle-lane hogging, when you join a motorway behind one vast haulier in the otherwise deserted inner lane, but can’t overtake it because of the middle-lane hoggers endlessly nose-to-tail – do you ever have second thoughts?
Yvonne Ruge, London N20
Often provoked by middle-lane hoggers those who overtake on the inside commit a worse offence. Can we see this illegal commonplace discouraged?
Tom Hickmore, Brighton
Syrian crisis
If our Prime Minister’s favoured option is for the UK to supply arms to either side in the Syrian War he is taking sides and joining the war.
If he really does want us all to join in this war, would he first please provide us with full and honest information justifying doing so on our behalf ? To date, he does not have the mandate to commit us to such an expensive and time-unlimited extreme action.
Andy Turney, Dorchester, Dorset
Spies spy shock
The stated mission of the US National Security Agency is to “collect (including through clandestine means), process, analyse, produce, and disseminate signals intelligence information and data”.
What a shock to discover that a government department is doing exactly what it is supposed to do.
Dr John Doherty, Stratford-upon-Avon
Female musicians
Thank goodness The Independent was able to furnish its story “So why do all female classical musicians have to be thin and sexy?? (11 June) with a photograph of, er, a thin and sexy female classical musician. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had a clue what all the fuss was about, would we?
Michael O’Hare, Northwood,  Middlese


Using Finland as a model; reforming the marking system; testing ability under pressure; and making more use of the IGCSE
Sir, Michael Gove (Opinion, June 11) often cites the success of Finland in international league tables as something we should seek to emulate. Finnish education is different from ours in many respects and one that Mr Gove must be aware of is that in Finnish schools there are no external tests until students are about to complete their upper secondary education and enter for the matriculation examination.
Instead of tinkering with GCSEs, Mr Gove should initiate discussions on how to abolish them and how to turn A levels into a leaving examination suited to the future needs of all young people who will soon be required to stay in some form of education until they are 18. He often says that we have the best generation of teachers ever: he should listen to them and trust them.
Michael Bassey
Emeritus Professor of Education
Nottingham Trent University
Sir, Why is no one reconsidering reforming the basis of the marking system by restoring relative grading?
This well-recognised aspect of the old O (and A) level system, where only a predetermined percentage of competing candidates received any particular grade, did what exams are intended to do — ranked students against their peers. Grade inflation could only exist in that system by design — by increasing the designated percentage of candidates who received each grade.
We can discuss the content and style of the course and exams till the cows come home. But if the present marking system is preserved, such that a huge and increasing proportion of students end up receiving top grades, then whatever the new exam that emerges from this debate, it will continue to mislead candidates and bemuse employers.
Peter Marcus
Sir, Terminal examinations do not only test a student’s ability to memorise and regurgitate facts. They also test a child’s ability to think and perform under pressure which is an important life skill. I think that it is useful for both the child and anyone to whom exam results are relevant to know whether they have that ability or not.
Sarah Haffner
Finchley, North London
Sir, Sir Keith Joseph introduced the GCSE because the old O-level system was patently failing: literally. Its aim was to pass 20 per cent of students in the country (and therefore fail the remainder). Mr Gove’s reforms will do nothing to help the poorest in our country: they will only increase the grade inflation of private schools.
All teachers want to improve the success of their students. This is not done by rubbishing their work.
Tom Barnes
London N19
Sir, Can it be that Michael Gove is unaware of the existence of the (international) IGCSE examination? Used since 1985 in many of the top schools in this country and worldwide, this rigorous alternative involves no coursework and closely resembles the O levels sat by my generation 30 years ago.
As the parent of a teenager currently sitting IGCSEs, I have been surprised and impressed by the depth and detail of my son’s studies. IGCSEs will leave him well-equipped to enter the sixth form.
Why reinvent the wheel when a durable, all-terrain version already exists?
Miriam Hutchinson
Crowthorne, Berks

Access to justice and maintenance of the rule of law must be a top priority for the president of Colombia at this difficult time
Sir, While Colombia’s President Santos visited London last week, lawyers in his homeland continued to face bullets and bomb threats. Six lawyers were killed between January 24 and March 21 this year; 4,400 lawyers were threatened, attacked and killed between 2002 and 2012, according to a document prepared by the prosecution service and given to a delegation of British lawyers who visited Colombia in August 2012.
There are measures that can protect lawyers, such as bodyguards and bullet-proof cars or the presence of Peace Brigades International volunteers. Were the Colombian state to change its attitudes towards the legal profession, this would also help.
We appeal to President Santos to provide a lead. We implore him to speak out and praise the work of the legal profession in preserving access to justice, maintaining the rule of law and protecting human rights. Such a move would add momentum to the steps Colombia is taking to end conflict.
Lucy Scott Moncrieff, President of the Law Society of England and Wales; Professor Sara Chandler, Chair of the Law Society Human Rights Committee; Lord Gifford, QC; Sir Geoffrey Bindman; Sir Henry Brooke; Sir Peter Roth; Sir Stephen Sedley; Mark Durhan, MP; Sandra Osborne, MP; Michael Brindle, QC; Mark Cunningham, QC; Stephen Grosz, QC (Hon); Richard Hermer, QC; Stephen Hockman, QC; Rock Tansey, QC; Michael Smyth, CBE, Alliance for Lawyers at Risk; Dr Silvia Borelli, Alliance for Lawyers at Risk; Maya Lester, Alliance for Lawyers at Risk; Lionel Blackman, Chair Solicitors International Human Rights Group; Dr Andy Higginbottom, Colombia Solidarity Campaign; Richard Solly, Colombia Solidarity Campaign; Juliya Arbisman, Law Society Human Rights Committee; Courtenay Barklem, Law Society Human Rights Committee; Marjon Esfandiary, Law Society Human Rights Committee; Shanti Faiia, Law Society Human Rights Committee; Tony Fisher, Law Society Human Rights Committee; Malcolm Fowler, Law Society Human Rights Committee; Alastair Logan, OBE, Law Society Human Rights Committee; Glyn Maddocks, Law Society Human Rights Committee; Dr Amrita Mukherjee, Law Society Human Rights Committee; Anthony Robinson, Law Society Human Rights Committee; Roger Sahota, Law Society Human Rights Committee; Siobhan Lloyd, I Mitre Court Buildings; Gwawr Thomas, I Mitre Court Buildings; Tim Potter, Colombian Caravana 2008; Peter Burbidge, Director Colombian Caravana; Jeffrey Forrest, Director Colombian Caravana; Charlotte Gill, Director Colombian Caravana; Camilla Graham Wood, Director Colombian Caravana; Ole Hansen, Director Colombian Caravana; David Palmer, Director Colombian Caravana; Sue Willman, Director Colombian Caravana; Alexandra Zernova, Director Colombian Caravana; Mariela Kohon, Justice for Colombia; Peter Weiss, Alliance for Lawyers at Risk; Professor Bill Bowring, President, European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights

Rosalind Franklin showed that DNA could exist in two forms, one with a clearer helical structure than the other, and she concentrated on that
Sir, Your report of Dr James Watson’s talk at the Cheltenham Science Festival (times 2, June 10) includes such an extraordinary attack on my sister, Rosalind Franklin, that I feel I must reply.
Watson accepts the importance of the Franklin data, but accuses Rosalind of sitting on her data for eight months without understanding its significance. “I thought she shouldn’t get a prize for being wrong, stubborn and not getting the answer.”
First, the Nobel Prizes for the DNA work were awarded in 1962, four years after Rosalind’s death, so there was never a question of her inclusion.
Second, Rosalind had shown that, depending on the water content, DNA could exist in two forms — a drier and more crystalline form “A” that gave diffraction patterns of great clarity, but which did not obviously point to a helical structure, and a wetter “B” form that was less clear, but which did suggest a helical structure.
Because the “A” form gave clearer diffraction patterns she concentrated first on that form — with hindsight that was a mistaken decision. But a letter (discovered in 2010) written by Francis Crick to Maurice Wilkins in June 1953 suggests that, in Rosalind’s situation, Crick might have taken the same decision: “This is the first time I have had an opportunity for a detailed study of the picture of Structure A, and I must say I am glad I didn’t see it earlier, as it would have worried me considerably.”
Jenifer Glynn

If there is a suspicion that someone is a terrorist, isn’t it better to find out without their knowledge, rather than lock them up?
Sir, In the event of the intelligence services receiving information that I am a terrorist, they have two options:
They bring me in for questioning. After several hours (or days or weeks) they decide I am innocent and release me. The trauma affects me for the rest of my life and I am never certain that they believe I am innocent.
Or, they covertly read my e-mails and texts and monitor my telephone calls. After a period, they decide I am innocent. I am totally unaware that this has happened and carry on with my normal existence.
I know which option I would prefer.
Philip Lever
Welwyn Garden City, Herts

The sun setting in the east is not the only licence that Turner took — the Temeraire’s masts and spars would have already been stored
Sir, Ron Wood (letter, June 11) considers that Turner has painted a sunrise in his painting The Fighting Temeraire. As an artist, I can assure him that the colours are those of a sunset.
In fact Turner was forever adjusting a scene to create a better painting. In this case Turner wanted to depict the passing of sail and emphasised the fact by making the Temeraire the focus of his painting, not the tug. Because he wanted some vertical strength to his painting the ship is shown with all her masts and spars in place, but being very valuable items they would have already been warehoused at Sheerness along with her guns etc. In addition two tugs, not one, had pulled the hulk up the Thames.
The juxtaposition of the crescent Moon shown at top left with the Sun indicates a sunset. He wanted a setting Sun as an eloquent metaphor and backdrop to his magnificent depiction of the passing of sail. Turner records that he witnessed the event from Deptford, and thus he had to depict his Sun setting in the East. This was of no concern to him. He was above all creating a painting. It is called artistic licence.
David Diplock
Hove, E Sussex


SIR – How sad to read that Greene King is removing historic pub signs in favour of what they’ve called “Flame Grill” and “Meet and Eat” designs (“Brewing giant sparks fury as it scraps 200 historic pub signs”, report, June 8).
The pictorial pub sign was the number one “icon of England” in a Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) survey a couple of years ago. Pub signs were championed in our poll by Sebastian Faulks, who described them as looking “like cards from a wooden tarot pack – optical extravagances, creakily offering delight, escape and risk”.
Greene King may want to run anywhere pubs in anywhere places, but I doubt their new signs will feature in any future survey of the country’s icons.
Shaun Spiers
Chief Executive, CPRE
London SE1

SIR – Surely an expensive visit to Washington by British MPs to try to discover if American spies have been snooping on Britons’ emails (report, June 8) is a waste of money and time? All advanced countries are almost certainly spying on the communications traffic of any country they wish to target. Our MPs would be better employed in working with our intelligence agencies to prevent such tactics being used against us by any country, organisation or individual.
There have been numerous reports recently that Chinese industrial espionage agents have been hacking into the computer systems of British companies and Government departments. Who can doubt that they have not also been having a peep at the personal and sensitive data of our nation’s leaders? British MPs could make a start by looking at the Far Eastern threats rather than quizzing our “special relationship” partner.
Ron Kirby
Dorchester, Dorset
SIR – The stated mission of the US National Security Agency is to “Collect (including through clandestine means), process, analyse, produce and disseminate signals intelligence information and data”.
What a shock to discover that a government department is doing exactly what it is supposed to do.
Related Articles
The pictorial pub sign is an English delight
12 Jun 2013
Dr John Doherty
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire
SIR – Edward Snowden’s disturbing revelations should concern us all. Our right to privacy is a democratic principle.
However, I trust David Cameron to protect that right and the balance between necessary surveillance of suspected terrorist activity and our basic freedoms. What I don’t want to see are the likes of Julian Assange exploiting the issue.
Dominic Shelmerdine
London W8
SIR – During the Sixties, when my job involved working in Soviet bloc countries, whenever I asked officials why they insisted on so much surveillance, their answer was: “If they are doing nothing wrong, they have nothing to fear”. Now in this country I hear a Tory Foreign Secretary, William Hague, saying the same thing.
Brian Christley
Abergele. Denbighshire
SIR – William Hague’s comments do not fill me with confidence. Parliament is sovereign in this country; it can criminalise things that were formerly lawful and make lawful things that were formerly criminal.
I might be “law-abiding” just now, but who can tell what Parliament and Brussels might do in the future?
M J Tuck
Nantyderry, Monmouthshire
SIR – Why all this fuss over privacy? Surely it’s better to surrender some, to prevent trains or planes being blown up?
Brian Foster
Shrivenham, Oxfordshire
Troops to teachers
SIR – Phil Willcock’s letter on re-training troops to become teachers (June 10) asks how the Government could propose to allow our children to be taught by former servicemen who didn’t meet its own training and academic requirements.
I should remind him that some 85 per cent of officers have a first degree, that nearly all middle-ranking officers acquire master’s degrees while in service, that many of the more junior ranks have bachelor degrees and that the Government’s proposal includes one year’s training for graduates, which is exactly the same as a full-time postgraduate certificate in education. Moreover, all servicemen or women have undergone a great deal of professional development throughout their careers, in many cases far in excess of that available to the mainstream teaching profession.
Philip Barry
Dover, Kent
SIR – Organisational talent, which is second nature to servicemen, is a valuable asset in the school environment, as is credibility among the student contingent (“Wow, have you been to war, Sir?”). In a profession that traditionally resists outsiders, however, the challenge to the
ex-serviceman will come not from the classroom, but from the staffroom.
Jeremy I Burnan
Farnborough, Hampshire
Cancer screening
SIR – As a postgraduate medical student in 1988, I remember writing that if the Forrest Report was read correctly, there was not sufficient evidence to support a mass screening programme for breast cancer, although there was for a bowel and prostate cancer screening programme.
This was unpopular as a view because breast cancer is such an emotive issue. But it was readily justifiable in scientific terms. Had we used science instead of emotions to decide upon this programme, thousands more lives would have been saved.
Richard Scott-Watson FRCS(Ed)
Stanford in the Vale, Oxfordshire
Waiting to donate
SIR – I have been donating blood for decades, and have 46 donations to my name. It was with some sadness, therefore, that a few months ago I wrote to the NHS Blood and Transplant Service to tell them to remove my name from their list (“Blood plea as donors drop”, report, June 10).
The service introduced appointments some while back, which were trumpeted as making their system more user-friendly. The result was no improvement in waiting times, which continued to lengthen. I wrote a couple of letters to complain and received the usual formulaic responses. After waiting for over half an hour on the last occasion, I finally lost patience.
Donors come with purely altruistic motives, and they deserve better treatment.
Simon Rutter
Addlestone, Surrey
Schools of rock
SIR – In his review of David Kynaston’s latest book on post-war history (Comment, June 10), Charles Moore says that “the grammar school was not the only passport to success”, pointing out that David Jones (later David Bowie) opted to remain at Bromley Technical College rather than going to his local grammar.
Mick Jagger, on the other hand, did the opposite, transferring from his local technical college to Dartford Grammar School – and he didn’t have to change his name to achieve international success.
Bob Clough-Parker
Poetry of war
SIR – The war poets’ view of the First World War as a futile disaster (“How should we remember?”, Comment, June 10) is based on the very selective interpretation of soldier-poets’ work that began to be promulgated by Siegfried Sassoon between the wars. As The Daily Telegraph pointed out in 1917, writing poetry was common during the war: “Guardsmen wrote sonnets, privates composed odes.” Many of these poems celebrate comradeship, patriotism and heroism, giving a far wider range of views of the war and life in the trenches. There are even some wonderful humorous verses.
A valuable contribution to the First World War commemoration might be the re-publication of some of these poems to give a more balanced view of the war.
Gordon Le Pard
Dorchester, Dorset
SIR – Our local branch of the Royal British Legion is leaving the controversies to the historians and concentrating on the stories of the local men – from farm workers to professional soldiers – who fought and died in the conflict. We have set up a website and gathered information and photographs of the fallen from Chipping Norton Museum and other sources.
Steve Kingsford
Lower Tadmarton, Oxfordshire
SIR – The First World War was the result of economic and colonial rivalry, of inflated militarism and the lack of any international arbitration system.
Our country, like others, treated with private derision Tsar Nicholas’s call for a peace and a reduction of armaments conference. Even after the war had started, those who called for a truce, such as Pope Benedict XV, were insulted.
If half the money to be spent on trips to France for schoolchildren were spent on a proper programme of peace education we would get more value for money.
Bruce Kent
London N4
Truth or Dare?
SIR – I have long been a fan of Dan Dare, pilot of the future, who blazed his way into my young mind in the Fifties, courtesy of the Eagle comic. I have tried to live up to his ideals and rather fancied that I looked a bit like him.
Imagine my horror upon looking in a mirror the other day to see that I had turned into Digby, his faithful but jowly batman.
John Charles Thomas
North Cheam, Surrey
Good composing is more than a tuneful melody
SIR – Peter Daggett (Letters, June 10) makes a mistake common among the listening public: that of equating “I don’t like this person’s music” with “He is a lousy composer/performer”.
To dismiss Britten’s music as a “cacophony” is a grotesque judgment. Britten was the composer who single-handedly put English opera back on the map after the war with Peter Grimes. He set a standard of both composition and performance that has brought British artists to the international front rank.
Britten was not a composer who dwelt in some ivory tower of elitism; he regarded it as the duty of an artist to serve the community with purpose-written commissions, which he created on many occasions. It should be remembered that a composer’s talent does not necessarily lie in a gift for melody. Real compositional ability goes a lot deeper.
Robert Tapsfield
Kingsdown, Kent
SIR – I sing in a choir in Exeter and I dread it when Britten’s music is included in a concert. All of Mozart, Handel, Bach and Beethoven’s music is glorious – but only some of Britten’s is good.
Nick Toyne
Exeter, Devon
SIR – Peter Daggett should try listening to Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, one of the most gloriously “tuneful” works of the 20th century. Whenever I hear it, I don’t just whistle the tunes afterwards; they won’t leave my mind for days.
Geoffrey Nobes
Locks Heath, Hampshire
SIR – I read somewhere that Britten described Brahms as “bad”. I am a devotee of Brahms. Does that make me or Britten a philistine?
Felicity Ogilvy
Bruton, Somerset

Irish Times:

Sir, – Many additional study hours have been put into the Project Maths Leaving Cert honours course over the past two years by our daughter.
A vast amount of additional supports have been put in by us her parents and her dedicated teachers. “Double check all your answers, accuracy is key in maths” – a few last-minute words of simple advice given on Monday as she went on her way. Such a pity that the Department of Education didn’t double check the questions, a simple formula surely. It doesn’t add up I’m afraid! – Yours, etc,
Co Limerick.
Sir, – Another year, another kerfuffle involving leaving certificate mathematics. It is not a problem with the syllabus content or the teachers, or something intrinsic to Project Maths. Rather the problem is that the State Examinations Commission seems to be unwilling or unaware of the particular difficulties involved in writing mathematics examinations. How could this be? Haven’t they been setting maths exams for decades? True enough, but one of consequences of the new style of questions, that are typically more verbose than in previous years, is that the scope for error is greater. This is especially true when the questions are no longer essentially the same from year to year, and therefore no longer “write themselves”, so to speak. Both of these stylistic changes are to be applauded, in my opinion. However, because of the particular nature of mathematics, these new “Project Maths style” questions necessitate an extremely rigourous quality assurance process for the written materials supporting the syllabus changes.
The examination papers are only the most publicly visible part of the problem.
Having perused the official syllabus descriptions, it is clear that the rigour and precision necessary in any published mathematical document are, with a few notable exceptions, absent in the syllabus descriptions as well. I believe one reason we have come to this sorry state is that to a large extent, third-level mathematicians are not properly and accountably involved in the process of writing and checking these documents.
To be sure some university academics have been involved, but by and large the process is secretive and there is lack of public accountability for the content of syllabi and examinations.
On any university examination in mathematics (or indeed any other subject), there will be a list of examiners at the top of the examination paper who are subject matter experts and who must stand over the content of the examination paper and are held accountable for any errors therein. These examiners are typically professional mathematicians who have a lot of experience with the process and requirements of publishing a mathematical document. These same people should be publicly involved in the publication of both syllabi and examination papers for Irish second-level mathematics. If that were the case then errors such as the ones we have seen this week would be less frequent and students and teachers would benefit from higher quality literature to support their efforts. – Yours, etc,
School of Mathematics,

Sir, – Central Bank Governor, Patrick Honohan (Business, May 24th) stated among other things that “repossession is an available option for the lender. It would be unwise to imagine otherwise”.
Prof Honohan is of course correct, but it seems to have been forgotten that the level of (Irish) arrears is a direct consequence of the outlandish lending policies of the banks in the boom period and the lax regulation policies of the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator, including the non-intervention of the (then) government. Not one of the bankers, regulators or politicians who brought about this dreadful situation have been brought to the courts to account for their misdeeds by the current Government. Indeed, it would appear that they are unlikely to have to do so any time in the future. The banks, in comparison, have been rescued by the taxpayer to the tune of many billions, and the individuals who caused this debacle have been allowed to go unpunished into a very comfortable retirement while thousands of Irish citizens are either without employment or have emigrated to foreign lands.
What a disgraceful and shameful situation. Are the current members of the Dáil going to allow this to continue . . . until, they too, embrace a comfortable retirement? – Yours, etc,
Professor Emeritus,

Sir, – Recent adverse publicity about the role of Irish universities in training students from countries with questionable human rights records has surprised me.
Surely the only way we will ever bring about a world that respects human rights is to educate people from those countries, and hopefully, in time, education will result in greater respect by all people for all people.
Educated people, above all, should know this, and are the last people who should advocate cutting off a high quality Irish education for the young people of those countries.
I wish to applaud the NUI and the RCSI for their continuing commitment to education both at home and internationally, and I hope that in the long term their efforts will result in greater human rights for everybody. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole, a columnist I have always admired, should know better than anyone what prejudice and stereotyping are– the application to an entire group of people of a set of pre-conceived ideas about their presumed attitudes, behaviour or values.
His angry, bigoted rant about cyclists (Opinion, June 11th) tars us all with the same brush. He would be the last person to generalise about Travellers, or white Irish people, or immigrants. Why is it alright to do it, and in such intemperate terms, against cyclists?
I am a life-long cyclist, who does not cycle on pavements. I take personal exception to the hurtful, unreasonable and prejudicial terms of this article and to the assumption that “we are all the same”. There are bad cyclists, bad drivers, even bad pedestrians. As it happens only motorists are in possession of a lethal machine (and I drive myself), but I would not dream of describing all motorists in the kind of terms used here.
It is not acceptable to write like this about any group in society. When one considers the statistics for the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured every year on Irish roads, many through no fault of their own, such language comes dangerously close to fostering a climate of indifference or even intolerance. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – The Question 8 in Paper II (Leaving Cert higher level maths) was unanswerable, and hence all students will be given full marks. This guarantees all those who sat the paper an extra five points which, with the bonus marks now available for an honour in higher level, could even correspond to a gain of 30 points for some students. However, despite this seemingly good news for students, there are two points I would like to raise.
First, students were supposed to spend approximately 15 minutes on this question. How many spent significantly longer, in an attempt to solve a problem with no solution, and were left unable to finish the rest of the paper due to this time was ted? Second, seeing such a question, and trying to decipher it could certainly cause students to panic, and unsettle them enough to affect their performance in the rest of the paper.
It seems inconceivable such a mistake could be made, as surely countless checks and rechecks of the paper are carried out before it is issued. It seems a horrendous oversight by the Department of Education, and one which is completely unacceptable.
We can only hope that only a minority of students suffered from their problems raised above, but I fear that that may not be the case. – Yours, etc,

Irish Independent:
* What do the phrases “promises are made to be broken”, “bursting the bubble” and “raining cats and dogs” have in common?
Also in this section
Another great idea from Leinster House
Seanad bill poses a threat to our democracy
Labour lapdog to Fine Gael whims
While the nation’s cultural love-in this week will focus on Sunday, June 16, where the scatological and the vegetable (sh**e and onions) will compete with palates that appreciate the “tang of faintly scented urine”, as the intelligentsia gaze across the “snot green sea”, spare a thought (and a chuckle or two) for the originator of the above well-worn phrases, who on Sunday, June 13, 1713, ascended to the Deanery of St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Jonathan Swift coined the phrase ‘bubble’ in relation to stock that far exceeded its economic value when he penned ‘The Bubble: a Poem’ (December 1720) in response to the notorious South Sea Company scandal, where many who had invested their livelihoods in shares lost the lot when the “bubble burst”.
The following year, Swift wrote ‘The Wonderful Wonder of Wonders’, a piercing satire on the formation of the National Bank in Ireland.
When we Irish are not talking about the state of the economy or berating our politicians, we return to our other favourite topic, the weather. In 1710, Swift wrote ‘Description of a City Shower’. His paean to an impending deluge started thus: “Careful observers may foretell the hour/(By sure prognostics) when to dread a shower.” And then he reveals the identity of his weather forecaster: “While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o’er her frolics, and pursues her tail no more.”
He memorably characterised the offending harbinger of ill weather as “a sable cloud . . . that swilled more liquor than it could contain/ And like a drunkard gives it up again” and finishes up in his own macabre style with a veritable lashing of the populace below by “drown’d puppies” and “dead cats”.
So let’s give him his day tomorrow, in many ways he’s more deserving of our attention than one James Augustus Aloysius Joyce!
Mark Lawler
Liberties Heritage Association, Dublin 8
* I knew absolutely nothing about the Muslim religion when I arrived to work in Saudi Arabia in 1997. I soon started learning about it. Using my time in the Kingdom, I met with many different people of different nationalities – a lot of these people had one thing in common, they were Muslim.
Almost all of these people had different versions of what the definition of being a Muslim was, some had liberal thoughts; some had extreme thoughts. Diversity is fine by me, all people should respect the beliefs that people have about their religion.
Where it gets to me is when people start using Islam for political gains, and they decide that they can kill and destroy anything they want because it is all for the good of Islam. This is when I get upset that these people are using a beautiful religion for their own greed and power.
Something of a first happened in Turkey last week. The people demonstrating were trying to explain that Islam is a religion and not a political movement. These people are wonderfully brave, and I hope that they will be successful, but I fear that they might not be this time. But I do hope that this is the start of Islam becoming a religion again.
David Hennessy
Rathnew, Co Wicklow
* Recent opinion polls would have us believe that Fianna Fail has been forgiven for its sins and is waiting in the wings for a return to power.
Recent revelations highlight John McGuinness’s part in the spending that became ubiquitous during the Celtic Tiger years at taxpayers’ expense. Despite this, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has publicly defended his man.
This is surely proof that Fianna Fail has not learnt from its mistakes or changed its ways at all. Defending their man in this way shows that the old Fianna Fail is still alive and well.
Dermot Murphy
Coole, Co Westmeath
* An October referendum has been set for the people to decide on the Fine Gael/Labour Government’s proposal to abolish the Seanad. They propose to replace the Seanad with a committee of experts to examine bills and suggest improvements, before being passed into law by the Dail. The debate for the next four months is whether this would be a good move.
There are 60 senators to 166 TDs. The Seanad’s primary role is to represent a wide range of views and minority views in Irish society. Over many decades it has become more a place of rescue to save the careers of TDs who lost their seats or first timers who have ambitions to win a Dail seat.
University graduates, trade unions and city and county councillors vote for Seanad candidates and the Taoiseach chooses 11 – usually, but not always, former TDs who lost their seats.
The Seanad helped raise the profile of young human rights lawyer Mary Robinson, who was in the Seanad from 1969 to 1989 before being elected President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997. Another example is Senator David Norris who was a presidential candidate in 2011.
It is politically favourable in our five-year-old economic recession for a political party to say why not abolish the Seanad, as it is expensive. Whether this is a good idea in the long term for democratic checks and balances I don’t know. There have been many reports on Seanad reform – each one set aside.
I think that President Michael D Higgins is providing checks and balances in a way previous Presidents of Ireland have not needed to – and more strongly than the Seanad ever could. He has an electoral mandate with about a million people having voted for him in 2011.
He has spoken out in recent months on the austerity measures in the EU affecting democracy in member countries and warned those countries not to lose sight that the EU is a “human” union and not a technocratic one.
The role of the President in offering a check or balance to the Government is stronger than the Seanad. She or he can consult the Council of State and if the consensus is uncertainty about whether a proposed government law is constitutional, the President can refer the bill to the Supreme Court.
The one bill that can’t be referred is a financial bill, as it has to be signed into law by a President.
It could even be said that we don’t need the Seanad, we have the office of President.
M Sullivan
College Road, Cork
* The Seanad: Self-serving Elitist Anachronistic Nice-work-if-you-can get-it Anti-democratic Dodos.
So why do I think in a democracy we still unfortunately need them?
Ivor Shorts
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
* A current storyline on the political front reminds me of the fella who always kissed his wife goodbye each morning. The alternative, he said, would mean having to bring her with him!
Tom Gilsenan
Beaumont, Dublin 9
Irish Independent


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