6 November 2013 Sandy

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark
Our heroes are in trouble there is a trip to Greece to pick up a British spy, but doi they have the right one? Priceless.
Quiet day post books Sandy comes with crumble and duck
Scrabble today ipad collapses


Sir Paul Scoon – obituary
Sir Paul Scoon was the Governor-General of Grenada who kept his cool through a Marxist coup and subsequent US invasion

Sir Paul Scoon Photo: UPPA/PHOTOSHOT
6:27PM GMT 05 Nov 2013
Sir Paul Scoon, who has died aged 78, was Governor-General of Grenada when a Marxist prime minister, Maurice Bishop, was imposed by a coup in 1979. He was still there four years later, when Bishop was assassinated and the Americans invaded the Caribbean island.
Throughout this period Scoon was the sole representative of legitimate authority in the Queen’s name, fulfilling ceremonial duties with great dignity. When the coup was first launched he had been escorted by Kalashnikov-toting revolutionaries to a radio station — but when Bishop, leader of the New Jewel Movement, saw him there he immediately had Scoon driven back to his residence. Two days later Bishop phoned to say that, although Parliament would not sit and a new high court was to be established, the Queen’s man would remain in place.

US Marines in Grenada in 1983
Few Grenadians mourned the fate of the eccentric premier Sir Eric Gairy, who had been in New York to lecture the United Nations on UFOs when he was ousted. Bishop regularly visited the Governor-General to explain government policies; and they got on well enough to play tennis together. But Scoon was not invited to sign any of the new “people’s laws” .
His continuing presence was a reassuring symbol of stability . It also meant that Grenada would not have to leave the Commonwealth and reapply for readmission.
Tactfully suggesting that God Save the Queen no longer be played when he arrived at ceremonial occasions, Scoon attended parades of the People’s Revolutionary Army. But he also ensured that the Scouts, Guides and the Red Cross continued as before. State dinners still began with a prayer and ended with the royal toast; and to counter the atheism being introduced into schools, he regularly lectured children and staff on their duty to God, their family and the state – in that order.
Meanwhile, the local economy was collapsing, free speech was banned and some 300 prisoners were locked up without trial. Tensions within the cabinet grew. Bishop was arrested, but was freed by demonstrators; when he sought refuge in an old fort and tried to regain control of the government, he was machine-gunned along with three members of his cabinet.
Scoon phoned the Queen’s private secretary in London to explain that the People’s Revolutionary Army had ordered a 24-hour curfew and that he was safe, but he made no request for help.
The next day he met a diplomat who briefed him about the invasion being prepared by Caribbean leaders with the Americans. When asked if he would support military intervention, Scoon uneasily replied that he would make a verbal request pro tem, but this would need to be confirmed in writing later. As the planning continued, a late request for British assistance was made. Margaret Thatcher, however, was adamantly opposed — and later made a testy phone call to President Reagan.

President Reagan with Grenadian Prime Minister Herbert Blaize and Governor-General Sir Paul Scoon in 1986
When a team of American Marines from the 8,000-strong invasion force landed by helicopter at the Governor-General’s house to provide protection they found it under constant fire from Cuban troops. For 26 hours the household remained on the dining room floor without food or water until Scoon and his wife were smuggled out to the American carrier Guam. Returning to the island the next day, Scoon found a letter, drafted for him by the Americans two days earlier, requesting military help. He signed it — but he declined to authorise a press release written by one American diplomat and ignored a list of names for an interim government committee prepared by another.
Paul Godwin Scoon was born on July 4 1935, the son of a street trader, in the coastal town of Gouyave. After Grenada Boys’ Secondary School, he came to Britain to study at the Institute of Education at Leeds, then went to Toronto University. He returned home with a plummy English accent to teach Chaucer and Shakespeare at his old school.
On rising to the post of chief education officer, he married, in 1970, Esmai McNeilly, who brought him two stepsons and a stepdaughter. He went on to become cabinet secretary and then deputy director of the Commonwealth Foundation in London.

After being appointed Governor-General, Scoon quietly settled into his round of conventional royal duties, opening Parliament, visiting hospitals and giving reassuring speeches. He liked to see the Union flag at the British Resident’s office, which he once telephoned to point out that the flag was upside down. He was appointed GCMG in 1979, shortly before the coup.
By the time the revolution had been quelled he had grown in confidence and political knowledge. For six weeks he exercised executive power with the aid of an advisory committee which he chose himself. He called experienced officials out of retirement, reinstated head teachers who had been fired, and expelled the Russian and Libyan ambassadors . When Parliament was refurbished and the mace retrieved from its hiding place, he ordered an election, and asked the experienced Herbert Blaize to form a government.
Scoon then settled back into his role for another nine years . He was delighted when the Queen signalled her approval of Grenada’s return to comparative stability by visiting the island in 1985, when she promoted him to GCVO on board the Royal Yacht Britannia.
Sir Paul Scoon, born July 4 1935, died September 2 2013


Illustrating your article on the art stash in Munich (‘Don’t believe anyone who said they didn’t know’, 5 November) is a fascinating photograph of the 1938 Degenerate Art exhibition in Berlin. I note that the second line of the Nazi banner over the pictures reads “paid for with the taxes of the hard-working German people”. Such a simple catchphrase. A pity many of our politicians and journalists should want to repeat it, changing only the nation’s name.
Andrew Hornung
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
• Ian Jack (2 November) might also have mentioned the great storm of 1990, which was far more destructive than either the storm of 1987 or that of 1968 and caused many more fatalities (87, according to the Met Office). Few remember the 1990 storm, even though it occurred during the daytime. I remember it only because I was nearly hit by a rubbish bin as it bowled across the common.
Peter Bendall
•  Can you seriously win the UK Scrabble championship using “wog” (sic), “grrl” and “urping”, as seen in your photograph (Men of letters: Scrabble championship, 4 November)? Can anyone advise which dictionary I need to purchase for 21st-century Scrabble games?
Helen Finch
• It’s a mistake to refer to “growing a beard” as if it were a voluntary act (Growing healthier?, G2, 4 November). A beard is the natural state of a man’s chin. The question is whether it is worth spending time every day shaving it off in response to the dictates of fashion.
Roger Musson
• The plastic bags containing the Guardian’s Saturday supplements are reusable (Letters, 5 November): I wrap my sandwiches for work in them. But what they really need to be is biodegradable.
Karen Lane
Ilford, Essex
• Surely the question of how you pronounce “h” depends on your aspirations (Aitch or Haitch? The letter that divides opinion, G2, 5 November).
Anthony Tasgal

The lack of female engineers in Britain today (Economy hampered by lack of female engineers, says Cable, 4 November) is part of a wider problem to do with public perception of what the word engineer actually means. No other professional body allows its title of qualification to be so misused or misunderstood as engineering does. A doctor, dentist or lawyer cannot use such a title without the appropriate qualification, but the mere fact that the local garage mechanic can be described as a mechanical engineer, that the electrician down the road calls himself an electrical engineer or that a jobbing builder has civil or structural engineer on his truck is clear evidence that we are allowing professional, graduate engineers to be grossly devalued. We must recognise and respect engineering as a range of scientific disciplines employing highly qualified and skilled men and women. Part of that recognition gives them exclusive rights to the title of engineer.
Janet Brindley
Cheadle, Cheshire

Seumas Milne, in his splendidly argued case for public ownership of basic utilities and services (The private grip on essential services has to be broken, 30 October), says that in spite of popular support “it’s taboo in the political mainstream”. We have to ask why.
Apart from the need to keep their corporate backers happy and the revolving doors open for when they retire from office, politicians cannot dream of supporting, protecting and developing public services. To do so would be to return to a bureaucratically run state economy. Death to innovation and enterprise. They clearly do believe that.
Mariana Mazzucato, in The Entrepreneurial State, Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths, documents how the state played a crucial role in some landmark innovations of our time and makes “an open call to change the way we talk about the state, its role in the economy, and the images and ideas we use to describe that role”. It would be hard, if not impossible, for David Cameron and George Osborne to read and learn, but Ed Miliband and Ed Balls could.
John Airs
•  Privatisation of utilities had a two-pronged purpose: primarily, to remove borrowing requirements from the national debt to adhere to EC rules; second, to provide piles of wonga for government coffers. It’s obvious that each was flogged off on the cheap: just look at current share prices. Why is it that several other European governments found innovative ways around this problem? The chief method was forming standalone companies able to borrow money in their own right. In the main, these companies are majority-owned government assets. The supreme irony is that they are able to take over UK utilities, repatriating profits, thus subsidising their domestic operations. So we, the British public, subsidise many of our continental cousins. Who was the brainbox who allowed this to happen?
Ian Lowery
Kensworth, Bedfordshire

Your front-page story about the UK’s challenge in protecting women and girls from female genital mutilation (UK must act to halt mutilation of girls, 4 November) omitted one crucial element: the need to provide refugee protection to those women who have sought safety in the UK. The courts have said that if a woman is at risk in one part of her country and it would not be reasonable for her to live in another area, the UK should allow her to live here as a refugee. However, the Home Office is regularly refusing women and girls protection on these grounds, claiming that they can live safely elsewhere in their own country. This is not true: in many of these countries a woman cannot simply leave her family to escape mutilation or protect her daughter from the practice. Single women cannot live safely without the protection of a male relative. Nor is it possible to live safely outside your tribe. Often, the extended family can find the girls very easily to perpetrate genital mutilation.
We applaud the home secretary when she said mutilation is “an abhorrent form of child abuse which this government are committed to eradicating”. We now ask her to follow her words through and give instructions to her staff that they must grant asylum to women and girls seeking protection.
Emma Williams
Chief executive, Student Action for Refugees (Star)
• The excellent document launched by health professionals on Monday outlines the main barriers to eradicating female genital mutilation in the UK and provides invaluable recommendations for safeguarding girls and young women. The report focuses on the responsibilities of professionals for identifying and intervening in cases where mutilation is suspected, as well as recording and communicating information when it has taken place.
However, an equally important point made in the report deals with specialist clinical and counselling services for survivors. The report states that these are important in helping women understand that the health problems they are experiencing are caused by mutilation, which in turn lessens their support for this practice. The Tackling FGM Special Initiative works throughout the UK to provide grassroots prevention work. A number of the projects we fund work in close partnership with specialist clinics to help women reframe their perception of mutilation as a practice with negative consequences. However, projects operating in areas where such services do not exist face significantly more barriers.
There are a very limited number of specialist clinics around the UK, most in London. As an example, one of our projects recently received a self-referral of an 18-year-old girl who had undergone mutilation before she arrived in the UK. She wanted to undergo de-infibulation but was concerned about the consequences if her family found out. The girl was unable to travel outside her home town for fear of being found out, yet there was no professional in her local hospital trained to perform a reversal. As a result, the project was unable to support her.
We hope that the appointment of Jane Ellison as health minister will see these recommendations leading to change in the way health providers record and communicate information for children at risk, as well as better services for survivors.
Hekate Papadaki
Rosa, the UK fund for women and girls

George Monbiot’s article about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (Comment, 5 November) makes one think that the multilateral agreement on investment (MAI) has emerged from its lair under a new name. When that agreement was negotiated among members of the OECD in the 1990s, the drafts were discussed at the OECD council, whose membership was restricted to the rich countries. The aim of the agreement was to draft universal investment laws guaranteeing corporations unconditional rights to conduct financial transactions unchallenged by national laws and citizens’ protests. If implemented, multinationals could sue governments when national health, labour or environment legislation threatened their interests. Fortunately, copies of the draft were leaked to a Canadian citizen group and the secret was out.
Confrontation began from the bottom up, with hundreds of grassroots organisations and activists protesting, often through the internet. France, one of the few governments that had woken up to what was going on with the MAI, acted decisively, standing alongside the people in their opposition. Activists in many other countries gave lessons on the agreement to elected members of parliament who had, for the most part, remained ignorant of the threat to their own limited powers. Opposition was such that the MAI beast was forced back to its lair to await a transmogrification which would allow it to emerge sometime in the future.
Jim Hynes
Mold, Flintshire
•  George Monbiot rightly highlights the serious implications for democracy and citizen action implied by the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership currently being negotiated by the EU and US. The issues it raises about arbitration procedures loaded in favour of investors and the erosion of the rights of governments to protect the welfare and environment of their citizens were raised some years ago by a group of concerned academics in a public statement on the international investment regime. Since that time it is clear the situation has got worse. We invite others to now sign this statement calling for some fundamental reforms of the investment rules (
Professor Peter Newell
University of Sussex
• Vince Cable quite rightly stresses the importance of the UK staying in the EU (Comment, 4 November). However, he goes on to welcome the prospect of the trade and investment agreement currently being negotiated under the radar. It is sad that through Cable and Clegg the Lib Dems are leading the negotiations with the coalition government in collaboration with US and EU partners. This agreement is a highly dangerous neoliberal piece of legislation. If it were passed into law, national governments and parliaments would have to comply with it. It would hand over all our public services to multinationals and large corporations. Legally, all services would be required to be open to this form of private provision.
Labour’s commitment to restore a publicly provided health service by repealing the Health and Social Care Act would be meaningless. The railways and the Royal Mail could not be renationalised. The dispute settlement mechanism within the draft agreement would ensure this. Food safety, the environment and intellectual property rights would also be at risk.
The British people need to understand the dangers we face. We need to get away from the “private good, public bad” approach. The public sector, the commons, needs to be protected for the good of the people.
John Lipetz
• It is inevitable that Derek Vaughan MEP (Letters, 5 November) should support Britain’s continued membership of the EU, as indeed I do, but surely as a member of the European parliament he should have been aware of the issues raised by George Monbiot in the same edition. It is clear why the CBI wants Britain to remain in the EU; with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in place, employers will be able to destroy workers’ rights, living wages and every regulation put in place to control the worst excesses of rampant capitalism. Is this actually the policy of the Labour party in Brussels? We should be told.
Les Summers
Kidlington, Oxfordshire

One of the least well understood pieces of social behaviour is that governed by financial dealings between people and between nations. That measure of social behaviour in trading is called economics. The Nobel prize is regularly awarded for advancements in understanding economics and many of those awards go to the University of Chicago, which apparently has a great lobbying organisation, not for economic understanding so much as for Nobel prizes: 28 Nobels have been awarded in economics to the university in 41 years. In 2013, the Nobel prize was awarded to three individuals, two of whom are, of course, from the University of Chicago. Despite all this apparent advancement no one is any nearer to understanding how economic pressures work.
These gentlemen “laid the foundation for the current understanding of asset prices” (14 October). A longer official tribute said: “There is no way to predict the price of stocks and bonds over the next few days or weeks. But it is quite possible to foresee the broad course of these prices over longer periods, such as the next three to five years. These findings, which might seem both surprising and contradictory, were made and analysed by this year’s Laureates, Eugene Fama, Lars Peter Hansen and Robert Shiller.”
If that were true we would expect these three individuals to make a mint in the next three to five years. Unfortunately for them, that is not going to happen. Why? Because no one has the least idea of how economic principles work with any sort of surety. Furthermore, these gentlemen know that.
The Nobel prize in economics is a farce.
John Graham
Hoogstraten, Belgium
Malala deserved the prize
Malala Yousafzai as an education activist, campaigning for rights to education for women, and to ensure free compulsory education for every child, seems not to be good enough for the Nobel peace prize (‘I believe in peace. I believe in mercy’, 18 October). However, the prize went to President Barack Obama when he was in the midst of escalating the US war effort in Afghanistan, and who has now perfected targeted assassinations with his lethal drone policy. It would be interesting to find out the criteria followed by the selection committee for awarding the prize to “champions of peace”, as Alfred Nobel wanted.
Lucila Makin
Cambridge, UK
Munro has gone global
Margaret Atwood claims that Alice Munro’s Nobel “will draw international attention” (18 October). The truth is that Munro’s stories are already read and admired around the world. When I was in Buenos Aires in December 2011, a bookstore on Calle Florida was selling Las Lunas de Jupiter (Moons of Jupiter) and Amistad de Juventud (Friend of My Youth). Six of her books are translated into Farsi, and thus available at bookstores in Tehran. Runaway is translated into Chinese, and in Paris and Montreal, readers can buy, among others, Trop de Bonheur (Too Much Happiness).
Munro even transcends the high linguistic and cultural walls of Canada. Soon after her Nobel prize was announced, the respected Canadian novelist Yves Beauchemin expressed his admiration. “What is striking about her style,” he told La Presse Canadienne, “is the voice, at once tough and penetrating, yet always human and warm.”
Munro makes all Canadians proud.
R B Fleming
Argyle, Ontario, Canada
We have bigger problems
Yes, they built a tunnel under the Thames: so what. They sent a man to the moon: so what. They decoded the human genome: so what! And now an awful lot of money is going to build a model of the human brain (25 October), yet we already have 7bn human brains attached to real human beings, so why do we need another one?
The human brain is so sophisticated that we will probably never understand its basic functionality, let alone its incredible adaptability. I’m sorry about Henry Markram’s son, but I don’t think building a human brain will solve his autism. Could we please be a little more thoughtful about throwing €1bn at a project that is unlikely to solve any of the world’s pressing problems.
Bruce George
Candelo, NSW, Australia
We need the answers
So Gary Younge tells us that the Republican right was howling for the moon (25 October), Larry Elliott writes that the greening of the economy needs a commitment similar to that which put a man on the moon in the 1960s, and Timothy Garton Ash expects a friendly billionaire to subsidise a TV channel to tell Americans what they don’t want to know about their own country.
What better illustration could there be of the awful paucity of doable ideas and policies that would actually get us out of the mess we are in. It is now well-established that the American government is effectively dysfunctional. I wouldn’t bet that business and governments will adopt long-term policies to promote sustainability. And telling the Americans what the rest of the world thinks of them will only push them deeper into their laager.
Of course, all three commentators were right. But it left me even more pessimistic about securing a better life for future generations. We know the problems. When will somebody come up with realistic suggestions to change our trajectories? Or is this also calling for the moon?
John Burley
Divonne les Bains, France
Pilger is too simplistic
John Pilger’s article China’s role in Africa is Obama’s obsession (18 October) makes a simplistic and unwarranted assumption. “The shopping mall atrocity was a response to this [President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s effusive thanks to America for unwavering support] – just as the Twin Towers attack and the London bombings were explicit reactions to invasion and injustice”.
The motives for all three events were never so clear-cut: the perpetrators and the planners often had widely differing motivations and the messages broadcast by them show this clearly. Such writing is unbecoming of a journal known worldwide for its measured and unbiased treatment of global events.
Brian Turner
Adeje, Spain
Crazy party’s aftermath
Regarding your story, IPCC report: Human impact is unequivocal (27 September): I work in the New Zealand forest and am lucky enough to have little to do with mainstream society other than the Guardian Weekly, but two facets of the climate change debate never fail to dismay. First, the fact that people are even debating whether to use up all the available oil and coal resources. Surely that’s like someone arriving early at a party and debating if he or she should drink all the beer before everyone else arrives. Are we to be the generations that descendants refer to as the greedy bastards who didn’t leave any oil for them? Second, all this talk of “carbon budgets” and sustainable energy circumvents any reference to “people budgets”. If we reduced our population while we still have fossil fuels as a prop, carbon budgets would be a natural by-product of the process. Why should the right to bear children be any less questionable than the right to bear arms? From the outside looking in, global civilisation seems to me like a sex-crazed, binge-drinking party that some other poor bastards are going to have to clean up.
Chris Brausch
Katikati, New Zealand
We must protect small farms
Failure to nurture smallholder agricultural production – especially in developing countries – will have a negative impact on sustainable food production in the future (Colombians risk death in land fight; Coffee rust creates crisis in Guatemala’s fields, 25 October). Smallholders still produce 80% of food in developing countries and their contribution will be even more crucial as the population drift from rural to urban centres continues unchecked. Smallholder producers deserve to be protected from unscrupulous land grabbers whose aim is profit maximisation, which usually means producing industrial crops for export, rather than food for local consumption.
The inspiring example of the Guatemalan smallholders who are focussing on environmentally friendly food production is one to be supported. Protecting the environment while achieving food sovereignty is the key principle driving the UN’s global efforts to mainstream sustainable crop production intensification, which has the potential to feed the world and conserve our natural capital for future generations.
Brian Sims
Bedford, UK
Problem with nuclear power
Tub-thumping like a used-car salesman, David Cameron dusts off the nuclear boilerplate: “kick-starting again this industry [like an old Harley], providing thousands of jobs [Homer Simpson wannabes] and providing long-term, safe [D’oh!] and secure [with Tridents trolling alongshore?] supplies of electricity far into the future [with 245,000 years’ half-life]” (25 October). How, then, can he be such a confident man when EDF (backed by the French and British public) “will have to start depositing money into a special fund for such liabilities from the start of the project”?
R M Fransson
Denver, Colorado, US
• Compare and contrast: Fukushima’s shadow darkens and Cameron hails nuclear power plant deal as big day for the country (25 October).
Peggy Thomas
Hebden Bridge, UK
• David Shariatmadari laments the change to polymer money in the UK (20 September). All I can say is there is nothing like going for a surf with your wallet safely in your pocket!
Sean Mitchell
Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia
• It seems that Mao’s Little Red Book has become Mao’s little read book (4 October).
Peter Reynolds
Christchurch, New Zealand


When will the British establishment bite the bullet and ban the burka? The distressing report that a terror suspect has escaped surveillance by changing into a burka (5 November) comes hard on the heels of Ken Clarke’s non-PC remarks that women covered in “a kind of bag” should not be permitted to give evidence in court. This and other recent incidents should convince pusillanimous politicians to follow the lead of France and Belgium and proscribe this preposterous costume that has nothing to do with Islam.
For too long a misinformed British public has been swayed by moderate as well as militant Muslim apologists – including Baroness Warsi – that female face-masking is a religious requirement, a free personal choice, or a woman’s prerogative to maintain public anonymity. None of these spurious assertions pass critical scrutiny.
Face-masking is a patriarchal invention that originated in ancient Persia over a thousand years before Islam. Now it is championed by backward Wahhabi, Deobandi, Salafi, Tablighi and other puritan clerics, and exported worldwide under the pretext of Islamic religion and culture. But British Muslims must reject this archaic tribal garb as empty emblems and superficial symbols of their faith. Nowhere in the Qur’an is there any obligation for Muslim women to conceal  their hair, let alone their faces. Since there is no compelling theological basis for this obsolete dress, and as face-masking poses grave security, legal, health and social implications for society, the time has come to outlaw this odious outfit that only serves to deform and defame Islam.
Parliament, do what is right: ban the burka and free women from male chauvinism.
Dr T Hargey, Director, Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford
Child protection measure  could backfire
Kier Starmer is calling for mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. We are writing to challenge this proposal, as a team who have undertaken child protection research in many countries including the UK and Australia.
We are driven by the same concerns to protect children as Kier Starmer. We therefore want to send a vital cautionary note. There is no evidence that mandatory reporting is the best way to protect children. In fact there is strong international evidence that mandatory reporting at best fails to improve the safety and well-being of children in those countries that have introduced it. At worst it has contributed to deterioration in the child protection system through overload and “loss of faith” both in child protection and the wider child welfare system. The result of mandatory reporting is to increase the number of children reported, without any increase in the number of children found to be maltreated.
Our research, published in the British Journal of Social Work last week, shows that in Australia, where all states have systems of mandatory reporting, between one in four and one in eight of all children are reported to child protection services during their lifetime. The vast majority of these reports find nothing, but their effect on children and families is often devastating. The impact of mandatory reporting is to increase the levels of surveillance and suspicion of poor and excluded families, without effectively doing anything to protect or improve the lives of those reported or at risk.
The Government is resisting pressures to introduce mandatory reporting. We support them in this because we fear that public pressures to do something that sounds to be a solution may have the reverse effect.
Andy Bilson, Professor of Social Work, University of Central Lancashire
Rosemary Cant, Research Fellow, Centre for Vulnerable Children, University of Western Australia
Maria Harries, Adjunct Professor, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia
David H Thorpe, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of Lancaster
Even without mandatory reporting there is over-referral of child abuse. Department for Education statistics show that for 2011-12 there were 42,900 children subject to a child protection plan in England – but that 166,900 children and families were falsely referred to children’s social care services.
It’s not just that actual child abuse cases become harder to diagnose and treat with excessive reporting. A referral of just one child also embroils parents, siblings and the extended family. That is a public health issue because the fear of false reporting spreads via community grapevines, and that  may lead to some families  avoiding initial contact with public authorities except out of sheer necessity.
England has a culture of policing, not helping, families. The unintended consequence of “mandatory reporting” could well be that many child abuse cases never even get near the net in the first place – never mind slip through it.
Tristram C Llewellyn Jones, Ramsey, Isle of Man
Jeering at ‘paedos’
One evening last summer, my husband and I came across a group of lads, 12 or 13 years old, heaving a supermarket trolley into our pretty canal. I remonstrated with them, saying I would report them.
“Go on then – nothing will happen,” the ringleader jeered, accompanied by some obscenities. As my husband took a photo on his mobile, there were cries of “Paedos!”
Like Margaret Brown (letter, 5 November), we are not disabled foreigners and we do have contacts. We gave the photo to our local policeman, and he was able to identify the boy, and, to the boy’s surprise, action was indeed taken. Luckily we know the policeman and anyway he has common sense.
I wonder now, in the light of recent events, whether I would do this again. As a white, middle-class woman, secure in her home environment, I probably would. Away from home, I might think twice. And that’s what is so disturbing: people will be unwilling to report or photograph incidents, because an accusation like this can have such repercussions – from the confiscation of a camera, as in Margaret Brown’s case, to death, as in the tragedy of Bijan Ebrahimi.
Christina Jones, Retford, Nottinghamshire
Long wait at outpatients
Martin Richards’ letter (4 December) regarding his four-and-a-quarter hour wait to see the doctor in an outpatient clinic made me feel I was fortunate in only having to wait an hour and a half for a recent appointment. 
As I don’t drive, and my husband has recently given up driving, I was very grateful to friends who drove me to the hospital and waited with me all that time. When we left I discovered that the hospital, having kept us waiting, then added the time to the parking fee. I know our hospitals need money, but this, surely, is most unfair.
Jean Elliott, Upminster, Essex
Hospitals are not measured on their waiting times for out-patients. They are measured for waits in accident and emergency departments, but not out-patients.
Regrettably the story you reproduce is perpetuated by ignorance, not just of the public, but of many doctors, who are unaware of the real pressures in hospitals. Waiting for consultants is nothing to do with government targets, but simply poorly organised clinics.
Dr Tim Coker, South Warwickshire CCG board member, Napton, Warwickshire
Russell Brand’s tedious antics
The “disenfranchised generation” that Stefan Wickham refers to (Letters, 3 November) have already revolted, in August 2011. In Clapham Junction, where I live, they saw fit to burn and pillage local businesses and make off with a lot of goods, most memorably large quantities of electronic equipment and trainers – and, as Howard Jacobson noted at the time, left only the local bookshop (Waterstone’s) intact with its stock. 
Whatever the inequities in our democracy – and there are many, I don’t deny, though I do deny that all politicians are the same – it’s a shame that Mr Wickham is so blinded by his lust for revolution that he can’t appreciate the sublime brilliance of Howard Jacobson’s intelligence and imagination (2 November) in comparing Russell Brand’s tedious antics on Newsnight with those of Shakespeare’s clowns.
Carmen Rodriguez, London SW11
An illusion of recovery
Such economic recovery as we have is based on three key elements: first, currency devaluation; second persistent erosion of employment rights; and finally a measure of inflation, CPI, which is utterly corrupted. Every one of these is massively regressive and has a worrying air of accomplished dishonesty.
R Goodall, Bewdley, Worcestershire
Hamish McRae tells us (“Confidence is returning”, 31 October) that the Bank of England now holds one third of the National Debt. Surely if this is the case they should go ahead and cancel it. The UK’s credit rating would soar. George Osborne should rejoice!
Frank Donald, Edinburgh
Ethical poppies
In two recent letters readers have mentioned being telephoned by their banks when they make online purchases of white poppies from the Stop the War Coalition. I had no such difficulty, but then I bank with the Co-operative. Perhaps this shows that they do still understand the ethical point of view in spite of their current travails.
Gyles Cooper, London N10
Fashion for boys
I was disappointed to read your description of the “Seedling the Fashion Designer kit” in the Ten Best Eco Toys feature (5 November). Why is the toy only suitable for “girls aged eight and over”? Are boys not allowed to be creative in fashion too? The huge presence of men in the fashion world would suggest otherwise.
Marc Harbourne-Bessant, Birmingham
Train to nowhere
We are told that there will be a growth in economic prosperity in excess of the huge development cost of HS2. Doncaster currently has an excellent high-speed rail link. There are up to four trains per hour to London, taking as little as 1 hour 30 minutes. Where is the economic prosperity in the area?
Brian Day, Doncaster
Perilous calls
After receiving an average of four nuisance phone calls a day lately, I wonder if anyone has ever made a claim for injury compensation after breaking a limb in their haste to answer a phone call from one of these offending companies?
Judi Martin, Maryculter, Aberdeenshire


‘It is dispiriting to see how the NHS’s main purpose — to make things better — fails to translate into its approach to complaints handling’
Sir, The highest quality organisations see complaints, no matter how undesirable, as being opportunities to improve, to prevent recurrence, to cut costs. They focus on getting to the bottom of problems and making sure they don’t happen again. In such cultures, the notion of blame avoidance is anathema and contradictory to their goals. Objectivity and a desire to make things better is king — tough, perhaps, for Philip Horsfield’s “deeply hurt” doctors (letter, Nov 4 ).
By contrast, it is dispiriting to see how the NHS’s main purpose — to make things better — fails to translate into its approach to complaints handling.
The best way the NHS could show leadership is to have an effective, open and robust process for handling complaints with organisational improvement as its goal. Sharing of solutions and prevention of recurrence should be a significant part of performance measurement at all levels. A robust process would be respected and would deal as effectively with malicious and trivial complaints as it would the opportunities presented.
As long as the NHS resorts to defence as the reflexive response to complaints, nothing will change. To prolong such a waste of opportunity is scandal in itself.
John Abson
Langford, Beds
Sir, David Prior has clearly never tried to rail against bad practice in the NHS (report, Nov 5), or he would know that even the most outspoken doctors find themselves threatened, as I was when I made a comment to the press about the formation of a London healthcare trust and my fear of problems (most of which came to pass). I was threatened with disciplinary action if I uttered any further public comment that contradicted Trust policy. Furthermore, my attempts to prevent managerial interference with my clinical practice were ignored. Despite having been president of a specialist society and a council member of the Royal College of Physicians, I found myself sufficiently intimidated to refrain from further comment. Several colleagues junior to me had found themselves in a similar position, and being much younger were unwilling to risk their careers. I am sure my experience is not unique.
Dr Andrew Bamji
President, British Society for Rheumatology, 2006-08

Properly organised adventure training for soldiers helps to maintain high levels of fitness and also develops leaders at all levels
Sir, General Houghton is out of touch when he says that he doesn’t want soldiers to waste time “going on adventure training or playing sport” (report, Nov 4).
I served for 34 years, playing and organising a wide variety of sports, and undertaking some challenging adventurous training. The quality of our young serviceman now is higher than when I served. T here is no “sitting around waiting for the next crisis” as far as our junior soldiers are concerned and many regard sport and adventure training as an important factor which encourages them to continue to serve. Also, of course, training for many sports is often undertaken in free time, and helps to achieve high levels of fitness. Properly organised adventure training also develops leaders at all levels.
On the likely success of recruiting a large number of reservists, I fear that unless significant payments are paid to firms to release their employees for training on a regular basis, and unless there is a clear career path for reservists, it will not be possible to attract sufficient volunteers.
Brigadier Philip Winchcombe (ret’d)
St Mary Bourne, Hants

Under the new proposals, many of the Bedouin will have electricity, water, healthcare and employment opportunities for the first time
Sir, The description of Israel’s proposals regarding the Bedouin of the Negev region (letter, Nov 4) gives a very misleading picture of a far-reaching initiative designed to provide modern services and opportunities to a traditionally nomadic population.
Of the 210,000 Bedouin living in the Negev, some 120,000 already live in established towns and villages. Under the new proposals, an additional 60,000 will have their current encampments recognised so that they too can be provided with electricity, water, health services and employment opportunities. To gain access to these services, the remaining 30,000 will have to move a distance of a few hundred metres to several kilometres, to locations where they will be offered agricultural, suburban or urban living options. This group includes those Bedouin who have encamped within the danger zone of the Ramat Hovav toxic waste facility.
These proposals, which are the result of extensive consultations with hundreds of Bedouin and dozens of Bedouin organisations, also include the provision of compensation for Bedouin land claims, even where no legal documentation of ownership is available, and a budget of more than $2 billion (over five years) to advance economic and social development while preserving Bedouin culture and heritage.
His Excellency Daniel taub
Ambassador of Israel

This reader firmly agrees that the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of children should be made compulsory
Sir, A s a circuit judge (now retired) and as a priest I have witnessed many lives which have been destroyed by sexual abuse and, like the former Director of Prosecutions, I too am convinced that the time has come to make the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of children compulsory (report, Nov 4). Such reporting should be not only to superiors but to social services and the police, both of which ought to be particularly aware of any similar allegations against the person concerned. Such compulsion should apply not only to teachers, social workers and doctors, but also to ministers of all faiths or denominations and whether the seal of the confessional applies.
The Rev Rupert Bursell, QC
Thornborough, Bucks

‘Workers earning a Living Wage are likely to be better motivated and more productive than those earning less’
Sir, John McTernan (“It’s a nice idea but the Living Wage would destroy jobs”, Nov 4) claims modelling by the Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Public Policy Research shows implementing the Living Wage across Britain would lead to 300,000 young people losing their jobs. This is not the case.
The report states clearly that the modelling is not a prediction of the direct employment effects of such a move. It is an estimate of how much demand for young people’s labour might fall in the extreme case of the Living Wage being implemented across the whole economy, with nothing else changing.
This is highly improbable. The Living Wage is voluntary; it is not an alternative minimum wage. Its implementation will remain partial and unevenly distributed across the economy, even if there is a tax break for firms that pay it. Furthermore, the modelling does not take into account the likely responses of employees and employers. Workers earning a Living Wage are likely to be better motivated and more productive than those earning less. This enables employers to pay them more.
The UK has so many people earning less than a Living Wage because it has many more people with low or no skills than most of our competitors. The real challenge is to equip these people with the skills they need to be more productive.
Tony Dolphin
Chief Economist, Institute for Public Policy Research

We now live in a society where it is cheaper and quicker to replace a gadget rather than to attempt to repair it
Sir, One of the reasons that our youngsters are not interested in training in engineering lies in the very nature of the industrial process we have developed. In my childhood I lived in a society which repaired every mechanical device, because they were so expensive, and they were constructed in a way that repair was possible. As a child I helped my dad to repair many household products: electric kettles, irons, fires, garden implements, brushes, wheelbarrows — you name it, we did it.
For children living in this throwaway and built-in obsolescence age, where can they begin?
D. R. H. Thomas
Rugeley, Staffs


SIR – The legend of the ravens of the Tower of London is one of many in a long tradition. After St Vincent of Zaragoza was martyred in Valencia early in the fourth century, ravens protected his body from being devoured by animals until his followers could recover it. They then guarded the shrine erected over his grave.
In the late 12th century, his body was exhumed and brought by ship to Lisbon, escorted by a pair of ravens, which accompanied it to its final resting place in a monastery. St Vincent was declared patron of Lisbon, and the coat of arms still bears an image of the ship and the two ravens.
Richard Symington
London SW17
SIR – In the early Fifties, my uncle supplied the Tower of London with at least one bird when the raven population was running low. He had an amazing affinity with birds. Two ravens would feign death in his hand, when told to. He would then throw one of them in the air and as it fell it would open its wings and land on his head or shoulder.
Edward Harding-Newman
Kelso, Roxburghshire

SIR – The strongest argument for HS2 is, as the Transport Secretary has said, not speed, but freeing up capacity on the existing, hugely over-tasked network.
If we are to build new lines to help with that, it makes sense to make them high-speed, which will bring the additional benefits of spreading economic growth from the South East to the North while helping to move passengers from Scotland and the North away from air travel.
Paul C Martin
Director General, The Railway Forum, 2006-2009
Alcester, Warwickshire
SIR – Pondering the HS2 controversy, I looked for the lessons of history in my work diaries from the Sixties during the development of Concorde.
It seems that one big mistake then was to have involved 17 interested airlines in redesigning the prototype to fall in with their often cranky ideas about aircraft production, causing long delays.
Related Articles
The myths and legends associated with ravens
05 Nov 2013
The new head of the HS2 organisation will have to have steely resolve to ignore similarly eccentric ideas, like rerouting HS2, with all their potential for delays.
It is axiomatic that delays mean rising costs, especially when hard-to-dislodge professionals are now paid so much compared with the disposable navigators of the past.
Christopher May
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset
SIR – I presume that the people who say that there is no need for faster rail links always drive their cars on old roads rather than motorways to reach distant destinations?
By the same token, doubtless many of those HS2 objectors who reside in the Chilterns only bought their properties because of the ease of access provided by nearby motorways, which brought disruption to others when they were built.
John Weeks
Bridgwater, Somerset
SIR – On the very day David Cameron tells the CBI that opponents to HS2 lack vision, his Government announces the doubling in cost of taxpayer-funded aircraft carriers.
Robert Warner
West Woodhay, Berkshire
SIR – If it cost the French £9 million per mile to build their high-speed lines, the Spanish £36 million per mile for theirs, why is it costing us £129 million per mile?
John Bray
Purley, Surrey
SIR – I keep asking, but I get no answer: what are the fares likely to be on HS2? Will we be able to afford to travel on it?
Charles Efford
London E14
SIR – The HS2 debate has exposed the inability of some media presenters to pronounce the eighth letter of the alphabet.
Geoff Fleming
London SE13
Energy overpayment
SIR – One aspect of energy costs, relating to direct debits, is hidden from view.
In January, I agreed to pay by monthly direct debit at a rate set by my supplier based on historical usage. Five months later, I was informed that “to avoid building up a debt” the rate would increase by nearly 20 per cent. Now, another five months later, my meters have been read pursuant to the price increases and I am over £1,000 in credit. My monthly rate has been reduced by 13 per cent.
However, there is no suggestion of a return of my overpayment, which is the equivalent of five months’ consumption, so I will now have the credit used up but against the increased rates. Surely, in a contractual sense, I have created a £1,000 hedge fund by pre-purchasing energy. Why should I now pay at post-October rates until the fund is depleted in March 2014?
Philip Horton
Orpington, Kent
Using paper bags
SIR – I too was once an advocate of the American-style paper bag until I tried carrying one in the rain.
The bag dissolved into mush, depositing my shopping in a puddle.
Professor Trevor Harley
Dundee, Angus
SIR – Some years ago, when plastic bags became environmentally incorrect, Marks & Spencer sold cheap and cheerful coloured string bags at its check-outs. I still have mine, washed dozens of times, and it slips into my handbag.
Linda Bos
Midhurst, West Sussex
Live theatre screening
SIR – The “live relay” to cinemas and theatres across Britain of top-class performances from Covent Garden, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Met are a splendid opportunity for many who cannot get to, or afford, the live performance. But they are essentially films.
What will be the effect on original productions in regional theatres if they rely on live relays for their incomes? They will be mere screening facilities, with perhaps a few live musicals or pantos at Christmas.
Sue Spence
Lingen, Herefordshire
Memorable birthday
SIR – My favourite recollection of a Queen’s birthday party is of the event in 1983 in Nuku’alofa, in the Kingdom of Tonga. It had been raining beforehand and the lawn of the British High Commissioner’s residence was soggy.
Ladies wearing high heels were inclining after a couple of hours, and yet, heroically, they all carried on accepting drinks from the splendid staff while the Tonga Police Force silver band played delightful music.
The High Commissioner’s occasional interruptions to announce the British general election results merely enhanced this superb afternoon’s proceedings.
Richard Elsy
Carlisle, Cumberland
A smooth operator
SIR – I had an almost identical experience to Belinda Brocklehurst when trying to contact Scottish Power customer services with a query about my account. In desperation, I pretended to be a new customer when selecting options from their automated menu. The telephone was answered by a person on the first ring.
Tony Ash
Ashbourne, Derbyshire
European flushing
SIR – It is reported that the EU, after three years of work, is seeking to standardise the flush on lavatories across Europe. Even if the objective of water-saving is valid, surely there are more urgent and vital matters to address when the economies of many European countries are in crisis, unemployment and debt are exploding and the very future of the eurozone is in peril.
The European Commission is totally disconnected from reality. This bureaucratic and bloated beast must be tamed rapidly before it consumes our poor, abused continent. Who will perform this critical task?
Roger Carrington
Parekklisia, Limassol, Cyprus
SIR – I recently had to replace my lavatory and was told that the existing nine-litre capacity tank had to be replaced by a
six-litre one. This was to conserve water as directed by EU regulations. I now often have to flush twice, thus using 12 litres. This, to me, sums up the EU.
David Wilson
Cottingham, East Yorkshire
SIR – As a car-free family, the irony of the phrase “school run” is not lost on us as we walk past many cars, which are often stuck in a traffic jam.
Sally Jaspars
SIR – London Road in Guildford is jammed every school day by Chelsea tractors turning right into Guildford High School. The road is wide enough for a saloon not to block the road, but the giant vehicles necessary to navigate the jungles of Surrey and keep the little darlings safely cocooned in three tons of steel will not allow even my Smart car to get past.
Richard Duncan
Guildford, Surrey
In a nutshell
SIR – While consuming some wet walnuts the other day, I came across a very strange conical one. On cracking it open I found inside a single round kernel about the size of a small hazelnut, with none of the “two-brain” structure normally found.
A brave colleague who consumed the mutant kernel said it tasted distinctly “walnutty”. Have any other readers come across this phenomenon?
Stuart Hobday
Colchester, Essex
A Swedish sweetener to keep the streets clean
SIR – In Sweden, the children go round the parks and streets in the early morning collecting recyclable rubbish that was discarded the previous evening. They take it to special machines in supermarkets, and get a barcoded credit slip that they use to buy their sweets. Such a system in Britain would save councils a fortune by reducing the number of bins required for recycling.
As usual, Britain is behind the times.
Rob Parkes
Steyning, West Sussex
SIR – The individual and the community have a part to play in keeping our city clean. Our Capital Clean-up campaign aims to foster this community spirit by giving Londoners grants, advice and materials to tidy up, such as litter pickers and black sacks. Last spring, 1,560 volunteers collected 1,138 bags of rubbish and disposed of 55 tons of fly tipping.
Matthew Pencharz
The Mayor of London’s senior adviser environment and energy
London SE1

Irish Times:

Sir, – Am I missing something here or is there a large population of home owners who want to pay their property tax early?
Surely, in this day and age, the vast majority have bank accounts. Therefore, the only sensible option is to pay by direct debit on a monthly basis or have the payments deducted from salary on a monthly basis. Why would anyone choose to pay by debit or credit card? – Yours, etc,
New Ross,
Co Wexford.
A chara, – You report (Home News, November 5th) that “Revenue has said it must take payment immediately because it cannot retain card details on account of data protection laws”. This is untrue. My business is Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant and registered. We store details of hundreds of cards, but safely and digitally encrypted for future membership transactions online. No problem in the smart economy? – Is mise,
Yoga Dublin Studios,
Rockfield Central,
Dublin 16.
Sir, – Further to Peter McNamara’s letter (October 26th): why can’t the Revenue accept post-dated cheques? If it insists on payment by credit/debit card four months, ie a third of the year, in advance, surely it is not unreasonable for taxpayers to expect a hefty discount for the financial hardship caused by such a demand?
In addition, as a taxpayer, I would like the Revenue to procure from the relevant local authority a detailed breakdown of how my LPT was dispersed and to in turn furnish me with same when presenting me with an invoice for next year’s LPT – as is normal practice in England. – Yours, etc,
Canal Walk,
Co Kildare.
Sir, – Page seven of The Irish Times (November 5th) displays an advertisement from Revenue.
The ad is misleading, to say the least. It reads, “Credit/debit card will be debited when the transaction is made online – this is how credit cards work”.
Perhaps Revenue has not heard of the book club, to which I belong, which allows me to spread a payment to it by debiting my credit card with nine or 10 equal monthly instalments. It works like a direct debit – except to the credit card, not the bank account. What works for nine or 10 months could surely work for 12.
As to security implications, Revenue already allows monthly debits to a bank account, which is, in essence, a series of numbers. A credit card account is also a series of numbers. Spot the difference. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Endless calls for “the truth” about what British soldiers did on Bloody Sunday finally brought resolution to long-suffering families and to all Irish people last year. The roles of maverick soldiers were revealed.
It is time for “the truth” about the Disappeared.
We watched years of detailed media coverage of the injustices perpetrated on Bloody Sunday as families and bystanders told their stories.
By contrast, little truth was written about the injustices perpetrated on the Disappeared” and their families. Bystanders feared to speak, while cynical IRA rumours of sightings, kept these IRA atrocities off our front pages. Injustice and further torment was heaped on innocent families.
Who ordered these people to be disappeared? Who ordered 10 innocent children, who had already tragically lost their father to cancer, to be orphaned?
We need an inquiry, which lets former IRA activists testify in anonymity, as Soldier A or Soldier B did in the Saville Inquiry.
No less than the Bloody Sunday families, the families of the Disappeared deserve the truth now. They have waited and suffered long enough. – Yours, etc,
St Enda’s Park,

Sir, – The world is surely ill-divided. While people rant on RTÉ about those in Dublin who have to survive for a few nights without water, 92 people die in the Sahara Desert from thirst. We need to get certain things into perspective. – Yours, etc,
Rail Park,
Maynooth, Co Kildare.
Sir, – I’m sure Austin Hyland (November 5th) is aware of another solution that Myles na gCopaleen had for “shortages”; every person in the country stay in bed for one day every week. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – For the sake of clarity: the name of the island is Ireland. The name of the state is Ireland too, but that doesn’t include Northern Ireland, which is a separate part of Ireland. There is a south of Ireland but there is no Southern Ireland. The west of Ireland is the real Ireland. The real name for Ireland is “Éire”, but if you’re English don’t say that word as it may cause offence.
The Republic of Ireland is a football team; but it doesn’t include Stephen Ireland, who comes from the People’s Republic of Cork, which is the real capital of Ireland.
It’s all a bit Irish. – Yours, etc,
Cork Street, Dublin 8.

Sir, – It is with particular regret that I read of the imminent departure of the troika from our country, no doubt however to the delight of the indigenous political class who can get back to the ruinous unsupervised gombeenism that has masqueraded as leadership and democracy in the past. It has been a tough, but productive three-year period. – Yours, etc,
New Ross, Co Wexford.
Sir, – Colm Keena (Business, October 30th) is absolutely correct to point out that given the EU economic governance laws that have already been democratically voted for by our MEPs and Ministers, talk of “restoring our economic sovereignty” is simply “bogus faux-nationalistic nonsense”.
The EU has always been about sharing sovereignty for mutual benefit. – Yours, etc,
Avenue de Armee,
Brussels, Belgium.

Sir, – As the nephew of two, sadly deceased, Sisters of the Presentation Order, I read with interest your report (Patsy McGarry, World News, November 1st), about the history of Venerable Nano Nagle founder of the Presentation Sisters. I hope it will provide an opportunity not merely to review her life but also to end the current obsession in Irish media and public life of sneering at the Catholic religious orders and their contribution to Ireland.
Presentation nuns, along with other religious orders including the much-maligned Christian Brothers were the first to provide Irish people with the opportunity for an education when no government or other public body was able or willing to do so. Thousands dedicated their life to this and provided a first-rate education to generations of pupils who were thereby given the opportunity to better themselves and their country. Today Catholic religious orders continue to provide education often the only education available in some of the poorest and most unstable parts of the world.
Nano Nagle, along with others in the church, as far back as the mid-18th century, provided education for girls – something that is still not available to millions of girls in the 21st century and that contribution to the empowerment of women deserves to be acknowledged.– Yours, etc,
Sir, – It was when trying to explain the term “Polyester Protestant” to a New Zealand archbishop that I finally realised what it meant. It refers to all those people who wear their jackets inside-out, or in other words are turncoats. How polite and nonsensical! – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It was striking that Elon Musk, the superstar of last week’s web summit, suggested, in his “fireside chat” with the Taoiseach, that fee-free third level engineering courses would be a crucial step in turning Ireland into a (technological) “start-up hub”; and, moreover, “that these free courses should be open to students from anywhere with the trade-off that they stay in Ireland” (Cantillon, November 2nd).
Might I suggest that a similar strategy could revive the frontline of the health service in its present parlous plight, wherein lines of trolley-bound patients, chronic bed deficits and epic public health challenges now combine with a frightening shortage of doctors to choke our emergency departments (EDs)?
How about, say, free (or partially discounted) medical education in return for a six-month, reasonably-paid, European Working Time Directive-compliant stint in an ED allied to a medical school, with regular tuition and good prospects?
And, afterwards, the world would remain the doctors’ oyster. It’s a simplistic prescription, I know. A bit like oxygen, adrenaline or defibrillation. But at this stage, surely, just as desperately needed. – Yours, etc,
Consultant in Emergency
Cork University Hospital,
Wilton, Cork

Sir, – Given Dr James Reilly’s promise to abolish the 50 cent prescription charge on taking office, before increasing it to €1.50 and in last month’s budget further increasing it to €2.50, coupled with his apparent “problem” in dealing with figures in general (as instanced by his utter inability to offer even an approximation of his department’s budget overrun/supplementary budget requirements), does he actually mean there will be free GP care for all by 2026? Or maybe 2116? Oh look, a flying pig! – Yours, etc,
Ringfort Place,

Sir, – Anne Matthews (November 2nd) refers to medical cards awarded on a discretionary basis and states that the decision to award such a card is made by “civil servants on our behalf”. In fact the decision to award such a card is made by a medical officer following a detailed examination of a person’s individual circumstances. If a case is complex, the medical officer will engage in a case-conference with other medical officers and is likely to seek the professional opinion of the applicant’s GP or consultant.
Ms Matthews also comments on the information campaign currently underway in relation to medical cards. The purpose of this campaign is to let people know where to get easily-accessible information in relation to the eligibility criteria, the application process, the status of an application and the appeals process. Such information can be accessed on or by calling the lo-call number 1890 252 919 which is open from Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm.
The guidelines for eligibility are being applied consistently, objectively and equitably. Anybody who qualifies, as per the current guidelines, will receive or continue to hold a medical card. Discretion will continue to be applied fairly and compassionately for those people whose incomes exceed the prescribed thresholds. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – “While it is nice to be optimistic, one first and foremost needs to be realistic. Why does Iran need nuclear power when it is sitting on one of the largest oil fields in the world . . .?” (Boaz Modai, ambassador to Israel, November 5th). I think the answer is in the question; as a deterrent, lest one of its belligerent nuclear neighbours have a beady eye on such a desirable property. And that’s without mentioning fossil fuel finitude and the urgent need for carbon emission reduction.
An at least equally relevant, and less tendentious, question might be why does Israel need an arsenal of nuclear warheads with a range greater than Tehran when it has the most powerful conventional army in the region and the unflinching support of the most bloated military empire hominid martial psychopathology has ever assembled?
Perhaps the ambassador would venture a response. It is a debate we need to have. While we still can. The nuclear clock ticks. Iran seems to be one of the few nations trying to raise the issue of multilateral decommissioning of these infernal technologies of instantaneous mass incineration.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the man who resisted his hawkish generals’ eagerness to unleash just this diabolical idiocy perhaps our somnolent government might consider honouring him in more than lip-service; by returning to a once honourable record on the issue. It will not occur of its own accord. Anyone semi-literate in history knows what tends to happen when things are left in the lap of deities: Mars tends to celebrate. – Yours, etc,
Castleview Estate,

Sir, – I would like to put Donald Clarke’s mind to rest (“Why would anyone think blacking up is a suitable way to mark Christmas?”, Opinion, November 2nd) by informing him that the Zwarte Pieten (they usually come in a gaggle) have nothing to do with Christmas. They are the little helpers of St Nicholas, patron saint of children, whose birthday falls on December 5th.
The Dutch do not believe in Santa Claus. The Dutch Christmas period runs from about December 15th to 27th. Short. Such bliss!
From an ex-Zwarte Piet. – Yours, etc,
Glasthule Buildings,

 Sir, – At least with the appointment of Roy Keane to the managerial team the players will be ensured an appropriate level of hotel accommodation when they travel abroad. – Yours, etc,
Hampton Park,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – “Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me”. Having read Niall Quinn’s article (SportsTuesday, November 5th) with interest, if he is fooled by Roy Keane for a third time, where will the shame go? – Yours, etc,
Ashington Grove,

Sir, – In Culture Shock (October 26th) Fintan O’Toole refers to Frank McGuinness’s The Hanging Gardens, saying, “The house itself is called (somewhat improbably for Buncrana) Babylon”. Well, a quick perusal of the local phonebook yielded up one Shangrila and a couple of Mount Carmels. Near the town itself there is a hilly area called Gollan Heights, just next to the Tank Road. Not only that, back in the 1970s we nearly had a park named after Ho Chi Minh! Improbable indeed. – Yours, etc,
Maginn Crescent,

Sir, – Motor tax – “Dublin motor tax offices close for a week”. Water tax – “Restrictions on water supply in Dublin region”. Property tax – “Confusion over payment options”. Taxing times indeed! – Yours, etc,
Abbey Park,

Irish Independent:
* Teachers must feel like celebrities this week. Parents will queue patiently at schools to hear how their child is performing.
Also in this section
The positive side of secularism
Bright minds can help bring a dose of reality
Sinn Fein hypocrisy
I think, however, that parent-teacher meetings are an utter waste of time. Most parents will get, if lucky, a maximum of five minutes per teacher. Five meagre minutes is not enough time to find out how their child is performing, where they’re excelling and what they’re finding difficult.
But it’s not really five minutes. After polite conversation, this five minutes becomes three; the parents need to keep the teacher happy with their child, so they can’t rush him or her.
Then, the teacher has to excavate through his or her notes to find the student’s results and records; another minute gone. Meanwhile, the queue is getting bigger and more anxious by the second so the teacher will have to summarise it all in two minutes.
But the parents need to say goodbye and remark on how busy it is in the school tonight (remember, have to keep the teacher happy), so that’s another 30 seconds gone. Neither teacher nor parent nor student benefit from this organised rush.
How we approach parent-teacher meetings ought to change. There are three persons involved in a pupil’s education: the teacher, the student and the parent. And yet the parent and the teacher only meet once a year, for five meagre minutes. As a teacher, I find it absurd that parent-teacher meetings take place only once during an academic year; it’s something that needs to happen once every two months.
Why, I hear you ask. Well, circumstances can fluctuate at home and even the slightest change, illness in the family, for example, can have a huge impact on a pupil’s performance in class.
Chris Callaghan
Ramelton, Donegal
* I come from a much drier city than Dublin (Barcelona), but in my city, people – including tourists – can take a shower without problems. During my stay in Dublin this was impossible for me and my family.
It’s difficult to understand how is it possible to have so huge a problem with water in so green a country where rain is something usual. I hope that next time I visit Ireland I won’t have the same problem.
Marti Gassiot
* James Downey (Irish Independent, November 2) suggested that reinvention would bring order to a shambolic party political system – but he didn’t signpost the road forward.
Names like Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Sinn Fein detract from the parties’ true purpose – to choose representatives on personal abilities, qualifications and experience. These names are well past their shelf life.
Under fresh identities all parties could move forward with their portfolios and policies.
James Gleeson
Thurles, Co Tipperary
* I was interested, nay amazed, to see and read news that India has launched a mission to Mars with the intention of checking out the likelihood of life on the red planet.
Perhaps India would be better off checking out whether the teeming life on the streets of its filthy cities could be supported in some form of comfort and freedom from hunger and disease.
Tom Mangan
Ennis, Co Clare
* I was unsettled this week to hear the coverage of the murder of a young Dublin man whose body was found in Meath. Not only is this a new low in Irish crime, but the coverage of the story by some of the media sources is (in my view) a symptom of the disregard that currently exists in Ireland for some people in society.
All of the radio reports that I heard identified the victim as a convicted drug dealer, before they even gave his name. I felt saddened by that.
Perhaps I am being a little naive but whatever this guy did in life, he has paid the ultimate price and I feel strongly that the media in a ‘Christian’ society have an obligation to have a little more compassion and afford him some dignity in death!
John Byrne
Lecturer in Social Care Practice
WIT, Waterford
* The Battle of the Bridge boxing match that took place in St Michael’s clubhouse on Saturday night proved to be an entertaining night for all.
This was a fundraiser for two community-based clubs that are suffering because of austerity and emigration. It was an amalgamation of skills between Dunfanaghy boxing club and St Michael’s footballers, both of whom are good at footwork and hand skills. And not alone did you have that mix, but there was young and “old” in the ring as well.
I’s good for the heart when you see an oul fella (not mentioning any names) or two doing the Ali shuffle without tripping over their shoe laces.
Eddie Harkin was the referee on the night, which was unusual for a man who spends all of his time in the corner urging his proteges onwards.
The corner work was in good hands anyway, with Joe Harkin managing the blue corner and Patrick Durning in control of the red.
Micheal McDermott, one of the judges, was ducking and diving in unison with the boxers that much I don’t know how he had time to mark the cards.
The second judge, Rose Gillen, was feeling the pressure, she was nearly making holes in the floor with her high heels.
The third and final judge was Peter (the milkman) Sweeny, a very knowledgeable man on what ring craft should be about and was making sure all decision making was correct.
Three signed Donegal Jerseys went at auction and reached a combined total of €7075, that is quare money in these recessionary times.
It was an event that had all the right ingredients, a bit of seriousness, a bit of silliness and a good bit of craic, all for a good cause and it would not happen without the boys who put their “lives” on the line (and not a big payday in sight) by climbing into the ring.
J Woods
Gort an Choirce, Dun na nGall
* For many years, one of the greatest ways to relax was a visit to the cinema. As we used to ask when I lived in Dublin in the 60s and 70s: “Are you’s going into town to the pictures?”
With all the stress and depression in today’s world, a few hours at a good film is one way of trying to cope with life.
The only problem is that most of the films are aimed at a younger audience, very hi-tech, 3D and so on.
So, to my surprise, last week I visited the cinema twice to see two excellent movies.
The first, ‘Captain Phillips’, with Tom Hanks, wwas just superb.
The second was ‘Philomena’, with the wonderful Judi Dench. It had some great humour, along with the very sad reality that reminds us of some of our shameful history that is the Magdalene Laundries.
So film-makers take note and make some more movies like these, so we can once again “go into town to the pictures” and relax for a few hours.
Brian McDevitt
77 Ardconnaill, Glenties, Co Donegal
* The Government seems to expect some people to pay their property tax for 2014 out of as yet unearned income.
Would the members of the Dail in turn be prepared to wait until 2015 to receive their salaries for 2014?.
Brendan Horisk
Irish Independent

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