13 November 2013 Files

I go all the way around the park round the park listening to the Navy Lark.
Our heroes are in trouble Troutbridge has to take the Admirals ashore after they have reviewed the fleet. In the most appalling weather Priceless.
Quiet day shop give away files and magazines, call roofer.
Scrabble today Mary wins thoug just over 300 Perhaps I’ll win tomorrow


Andro Linklater – Obituary
Andro Linklater was a writer of intellect and panache whose curiosity took him from headhunters to the Hebrides

Andro Linklater at work on Santorini, Greece 
6:17PM GMT 11 Nov 2013
Andro Linklater who has died aged 68, was a versatile and courageous journalist, never frightened to take up a challenge, while as an author he had the alchemist’s knack of transmuting whatsoever subject he tackled into literary — if rarely financial — gold.
Perhaps his most important book was Measuring America (2003). This told how, beginning in 1785, the United States was gradually divided into squares and rectangles, using the English chain, established by a 17th-century clergyman called Edward Gunter, as the basic unit of length. This work endured to the exclusion of the metric system advocated by Thomas Jefferson.

So far, so uninspiring, one might think. But Linklater elaborated the story in fascinating style to show how, once land had been properly defined and registered, it became a commodity which could be safely bought and sold, thus playing a key role in the development of American democracy and enterprise. The frontier spirit, traditionally attributed exclusively to rugged individualism, was equally made possible by federal-financed surveyors.
Linklater did not write merely with panache and sensibility; he was also one of those brilliant people who are as relaxed and articulate when addressing 500 strangers off the cuff as when talking to a single companion. In the United States he was especially effective in putting across his ideas in lectures and on television. Measuring America endures as a significant contribution to that country’s history.
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For his many friends, however, it was in private that Andro Linklater shone most brightly. A natural rhetorician, he could take up any subject at will, and instantly improvise an argument shot through with piquant humour.
He was not merely witty in himself: through his openness and generosity of spirit he became the stimulus of wit in others. Nobody was better able to set the table on a roar — and without ever resorting to the devil’s instruments of malice and spite. He treated the young — indeed he regarded them — as complete equals, enlisting himself in their cause against the entire adult conspiracy. One of his godchildren was delighted to find himself the beneficiary of a fund for Running Away From School.

Andro Ian Robert Linklater was born in Edinburgh on December 10 1944, the youngest of four children of the novelist Eric Linklater, then at the peak of his reputation. Andro’s mother, née Marjorie MacIntyre, while more affectionate, was also a formidable character; an actress of great beauty in her youth, she later became a campaigner for the arts and the environment.
Not long after Andro’s arrival, the family left Orkney for a house by the sea outside Tain, in the Highlands, where, to their great benefit, the children were largely left to their own devices. All of them would show notable independence of character.
Of Andro’s two elder sisters, Alison (known as Sally) became a painter, and Kristin a vocal coach and theatre director. His brother Magnus was editor of The Scotsman from 1988 to 1994. Magnus went to Eton; Andro to Winchester.
Going on to New College, Oxford, he read Modern History, but engaged more seriously in adventures during his long vacations. One summer, with a friend from Cambridge, he went down the Danube in a canoe, from upper Austria to Belgrade. The next year the same pair purchased a motorcycle in Calais, which they then rode, largely bereft of documentation or qualification, to northern Greece.
No doubt at the bottom of his mind Linklater had always hoped to be a writer; it took some years, however, to attain this goal. After a spell in France as tutor to the adopted family of the dancer and singer Josephine Baker, he lived at the end of the 1960s in San Francisco, where he worked in an art gallery.
So began his great love of America. Nevertheless, he returned to Britain, and after a spell working for the Liberal Party, trained as a teacher at Jordanhill College in Glasgow. Subsequently he taught for a while at a tough school in west London.
His life changed after the death of his father in 1974. Eric Linklater had been engaged on a history of the Black Watch regiment, and Andro earned much praise for his completion of this book. Subsequently, in the late 1970s he began working for the Telegraph Weekend Magazine.
Over the next decade and more, he covered a huge range of subjects for this publication, from classical music to powerboat racing, from wildlife to Tornado jets, from prisons to gardening, from cannibalism to computers. His intrepidity never faltered, while his writing was always stylish and entertaining. If there was an underdog, it was perfectly certain that Linklater would be on his or her side.
Rarely inclined to turn down a commission, he wrote for many papers and magazines. In 1989 he began to review books for The Spectator, a task which lasted for the rest of his life.
Meanwhile, in 1978 Linklater had published a children’s book, Amazing Maisie and the Cold Porridge Brigade, illustrated by Joanna Carey; it is still in demand.
This was followed in 1980 by a life of Charlotte Despard, an older sister of Field Marshal Sir John French, whom she enjoyed embarrassing with her campaigns as suffragette, socialist and Sinn Feiner. Her biographer adopted a scrupulous and deadly evenness of tone, extremely effective when recording Charlotte’s enthusiastic descriptions of the delightful lives led by prisoners in the Russian gulag.
Linklater liked to alternate periods of isolation and sociability. From the mid-1980s he was based for nearly five years on Isle Martin, off Ullapool on the west coast of Scotland. The island was almost uninhabited, and he rejoiced at the opportunity to work undisturbed on his biography of Compton Mackenzie, published in 1988.
He also appreciated paying no more than £7 for his provisions on his weekly visits to the mainland. Much as he loved his friends, he had a puritan streak which recoiled alike from the frills and thrills of society.
Compton Mackenzie was extremely well received. Yet Linklater’s next book, Wild People (1994), was as different as could be. This work had originated in a commission from Time-Life to write about the headhunters of Sarawak for a series envisaged as “Peoples of the Wild”.
With a photographer he duly took up residence in a longhouse of the Iban tribe, only to discover that the inhabitants had succumbed to American T-shirts, plastic buckets, and, worst of all, covered breasts. Even the headhunting had been abandoned, having proved rather less efficacious than the chainsaw in developing the rice fields.
In the event Time-Life cancelled the series. Wild People, however, was a delightfully comical and humane account of the whole episode.
Meanwhile, in 1987 Linklater had married Marie-Louise Avery, a photographer who shared with him some Swedish ancestry. They soon settled in Kent, where he became a pillar of the village church, whether running charitable ventures, singing in his impressive bass, or writing prayers that severely threatened congregational torpor.
He continued to travel, however, and worked harder than ever at his writing. When he had a book to finish, he was fiercely disciplined in cutting out all other activities. Before Measuring America, he published The Code of Love (2000), a moving, true account of how a failed marriage was rekindled in memory after the husband’s death by the deciphering of a code which he had used as a prisoner of war in Japan. The key to this code, his widow finally discovered, was based on their joint names.
The Fabric of America (2007) further developed the themes of Measuring America, with particular attention to the role of a largely forgotten surveyor called Andrew Ellicot, who defined the borders of 11 American states, as well as of the District of Columbia.
Linklater would certainly have enjoyed more worldly success if he had worshipped at the shrine of celebrity. Something in his nature, however, recoiled from human eminence .
An Artist in Treason: the extraordinary double of life of General James Wilkinson (2009) presented one of the great bounders of American history. A general at 20, during the War of Independence, Wilkinson later combined high command in the American army with spying for the Spanish.
Linklater next tackled a largely forgotten episode of English history in Why Spencer Perceval Had To Die (2012), presenting the fascinating (if unproven) suggestion that the Prime Minister’s assassin, John Bellingham, might have been a pawn, knowing or unknowing, of the slaving and trading interests which Perceval had affronted.

Owning the Earth, to be published shortly, examines how different forms of landholding have been crucial in determining the course of history.
Andro Linklater also had in mind a book on Scottish islands. It was while pursuing research for this work on Eigg, in the Inner Hebrides, that he suffered a heart attack. Difficulties with transport, made worse by bad weather, meant that it was 48 hours before he received proper treatment. He seemed, however, to be recovering, only to suffer a second, fatal, attack a week after the first.
Andro Linklater, born December 10 1944, died November 3 2013


In March 1968 I had an interview with John Cole to become a Guardian reporter. It turned out to be more of a social chat than an inquisition, not least since I had just returned to Britain after a year working on the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, owned at that time by the high-minded, liberal-minded Bingham family.
The Courier-Journal had entertained John royally when he had visited its offices while on a Churchill travelling fellowship a few years earlier, and we spent an hour recalling Louisville. John did, however, tell me that he felt a little miffed that in the division of labour at the Guardian, the Manchester office covered Northern Ireland, though added that nothing ever happened there. Later that day, he telephoned to offer me a job.
After I’d spent a year as a general reporter, he sent me to join the Guardian’s team in parliament. I sensed that he wished he could go there instead. In 1973, I handed him my resignation, saying that I was joining the BBC contingent in parliament. “Does that mean,” he asked, picking up a pen, pretending that it was a microphone, “that you will be saying: ‘I am standing outside the Houses of Parliament on a wet Friday afternoon waiting for …'”
He continued to parody a live-to-camera piece by a BBC television reporter with no news to impart. Perhaps this reaction to my resignation triggered thoughts of a new career for himself.

Samuel Cooper’s portraits of Oliver Cromwell (More than warts and all, from the painter who told it like it was, 9 November) are brilliantly executed, but it is less than clear whether or not the words “warts and all” were ever uttered by Cromwell. The first account of Cromwell’s instruction to Lely (not Cooper) does not use those actual words but rather “pimples, warts and everything”. This appears in Walpole’s Anecdotes of Painting in England published in 1764, well over a century after Cromwell’s death. The truth of Cromwell’s instructions will remain unknown, but the phrase “warts and all” is what many in the 19th century believed Cromwell might, or even ought, to have said.
John Goldsmith
Curator, Cromwell Museum
• Plans for the Royal Academy sound wonderful (Royal Academy gets £13m lottery cash for biggest revamp since Victorian age, 9 November). But will they keep the Victorian ladies’ loo? Marvellously panelled, spacious and comfortable, they were a favourite port of call from my childhood in the 40s and probably the best of their kind in London.
Jill Knight
Hovingham, North Yorkshire
• Your front-page article (Gas industry employee seconded to draft energy policy, 11 November) says it all in regards to where this government’s loyalties and interests lie. What next – al-Qaida drafting security policies?
Keith F Cox
Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire
• Andrew Pulver (Films that changed cinema, G2, 8 November) says that before Babe in 1995, talking animals “meant – basically – a cartoon. Or puppets.” What about Mister Ed?
Jeff Lewis
Whitefield, Greater Manchester
• So, who is “the stupidest MP in the present House of Commons” (Open door, 11 November)? You mustn’t make the mistake of not telling us.
Roy Kettle
Hitchin, Hertfordshire
• Guardian wrappers (Letters, 7 November)? Mine are used for veg from the allotment: some for friends, some for me.
Janet Mortimer
Lewes, Sussex

“Not me, guv; it’s my brain wot done it” is akin to proclaiming that I didn’t shoot the sheriff, but the bullets did (‘My brain made me do it …’ US defendants turn to science to try to explain crimes, 11 November).
Of course, the very possibility of moral responsibility may be questioned. All actions result from neurological changes which themselves result from chains of prior causes or even indeterminancies. Currently, we muddle through, placing some people in jail, others in straitjackets, yet with no clear justification for the differential treatment.
In West Side Story, the Jets excuse their criminal behaviour; it’s neurology resulting from genes and environment “that gets us out of hand”. When the judge sentences them to hard labour, he, of course, also lacks moral responsibility, his judgment being the result of his neurology, and nothing to do with him.
Wait until government ministers jump on the bandwagon: “It’s my legs that took me into the ‘aye’ lobby to reduce welfare benefits, privatise the NHS and support inequalities of wealth – so blame my legs, not me.”
Peter Cave

In a report on the leaks of intelligence data by Edward Snowden (Tory peer accuses UK media of ‘lackadaisical’ response to spying, 11 November), a spokesperson for Guardian News & Media is quoted as saying: “The loss of [this] classified data was not the responsibility of journalists but of the intelligence community itself. It is only the involvement of global newspapers that prevented this information from spilling out across the web and genuinely causing a catastrophic leak.”
Really? Are we now to believe that the Guardian’s decisions to give a wider audience to the product of Mr Snowden’s theft of data have been motivated entirely by a selfless concern to protect the security of the nation?
Does this Orwellian explanation not come into the same bracket as the criminal who blames the householder for the burglary he’s just committed?
Jack Straw MP
Labour, Blackburn

Your article (Revealed: Why bookies are safe bet for money launderers, 9 November) gives a misleading impression of the betting industry, a licensed, regulated and responsible industry that serves over 8 million people each year, employs over 40,000 people and generates £1bn in taxes for the exchequer.
Like many businesses operating in communities in the UK we can be targeted by criminals but by devoting significant resources (in Ladbrokes’ case over 100 full-time security staff), developing sophisticated systems and processes, training staff and working closely with police and organisations like Crimestoppers (with whom we are a corporate partner), we are helping to tackle crime, providing evidence to the police to prosecute criminals. The fact is we are part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Suspicious activity such as that described in the article is investigated and where appropriate will always be reported to police. The Guardian’s quoted drug dealer and any like-minded individuals who may follow the methods of money-laundering described in the article should be aware that they are on CCTV, our systems are regularly updated and improved so no method is beyond detection, and this can and will form the basis of evidence for the police.
Ciaran O’Brien
Corporate affairs director, Ladbrokes
•  The most common form of commercial outlet on Tottenham High Road is a bookmaker. The area has the highest unemployment in London, and the number of bookies is neither commercially justifiable or wanted by the community. I note that while planning minister Nick Boles has professed concern at such situations, he is actually making it easier for bookmakers to evade local authority efforts to control the situation (Planning changes ‘will help betting shops’, 11 November).
Keith Flett
Secretary, Haringey Trades Union Council

etty Images
Wherever there is unpopular urban development, there is community opposition (How a council bent over backwards to prevent Tottenham taking flight, 31 October). Thirty community groups have recently formed the Our Tottenham network to challenge the trend for top-down, profit-driven mega-development throughout the area and to speak out for the real needs of our hard-pressed local communities.
In July we held negotiations with the Spurs’ chief executive, calling on the club to contribute £100m for improvements to existing housing and community facilities in the neighbourhoods adjacent to the ground. Unfortunately the council has allowed the club to forgo the originally agreed “planning gain” obligations.
This sorry story is mirrored throughout London and around the UK, where property developers are riding roughshod over local needs. It doesn’t have to be this way, as there are some inspirational examples of community-led regeneration, not least in Tottenham, where residents have led the positive transformation of the Broadwater Farm estate and of the adjacent Lordship Rec. Many other local groups here have prepared alternative community plans for currently contested sites.
Throughout the UK, community activists will no doubt continue to demand that politicians, developers and the whole planning system be forced to commit to working with local people before any further development is authorised.
Dave Morris
Our Tottenham organising group
• Of course the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle is about new homes – including 1,650 affordable homes which are being delivered as part of this £3bn investment (Bailiffs will sound death knell for vast London estate, 5 November). But it is about more than that. These changes will create thousands of new jobs and homes. The environment will be transformed with the largest new park in London in 70 years, roads and transport will be improved, and there will be a new council-owned leisure centre for local people, not to mention the demolition of the shopping centre to provide new shops and more local jobs. Rebuilding the Walworth Town Hall and Cuming Museum, gutted by fire earlier this year, will also ensure Southwark retains a world-class civic and cultural presence in the heart of the area.
Councillor Fiona Colley
Cabinet member for regeneration, Southwark council

John Harris (Grammar schools and the delusion of social mobility, 11 November) is correct in describing the relatively high proportion of “privileged” pupils in existing grammar schools, but he is wrong in drawing from that any conclusions about the grammar school model of education. The present situation makes grammar schools a scarce resource, and whenever there is a scarce resource it is the more privileged who will gain the greatest access to it. I contend that if the education system were restored to its form in the 50s with grammar schools almost everywhere, then his reported bias would diminish to insignificance. It is the present system that seems tailored to ensure that those in privileged positions are provided with a plethora of opportunities to select a privileged education for their children, while “the rest” are forced to put up with second (or third or fourth) best.
Ian King
Westbury on Severn, Gloucestershire
•  Surely if there are social conditions that people need to move from, we should change those social conditions rather than contriving an escape route for a few. The perceived need for social and educational mobility presumes a hierarchy that is principally the result of the age-old English elitism and presumption of the superiority of academia over practical or vocational pursuits. The current national curriculum reflects a disregard for practical engineering and manufacturing skills that the Germans have valued over the past 30 years. In the UK we still believe that “pure” education, unsullied by practical skills, is superior and that “social mobility” is needed to enable the practically gifted to neglect their own skills and join us academics. As an academic, I am in awe of those I see with practical gifts that were neglected in my grammar school education.
Derek White
Wimborne, Dorset
• John Major has added his voice to those calling for the return of grammar schools as a means of breaking the stranglehold of the privately educated on top jobs (Report, 11 November). While I have every sympathy with the desire to increase social mobility, the argument for selection would be stronger if there were to be a similar outpouring of support from those who went to secondary modern schools. So far there has been nothing but silence from that quarter. There might be a reason for that.
Lynne Copley
Longwood, Huddersfield
•  John Major is probably right about New Labour’s presiding over increased social inequality but his cited reason “of ending grammar schools” probably has less to do with it. Having experienced sufficient racism at school to make serious study difficult, I made it into higher education because of the old Labour provision of evening classes, the mandatory student grant and unconditional subsistence welfare as required. Blair and Brown sacrificed the resourcing of these policies in order to maintain Thatcherite tax rates. I never would have made it under a regime that “market forces” the poor into some of the worst employment in western Europe.
Dr Gavin Lewis
• The inequality in educational provision that John Harris cites was also highlighted by Fiona Millar in her piece on the “social apartheid” (8 October) engendered by fee-charging schools. I benefited from a good education at private schools but our two sons achieved far better at our local comprehensive. Significantly, both have become champions of equality in their respective fields; one is head of maths at an excellent comprehensive. My contemporaries and I owe much to our privileged education. Many of them reached positions of influence but few seem to question such endemic injustice or to advocate for reform – a tragic example of today’s blinkered leadership failing the citizens of tomorrow.
Terence Finley
Longbenton, Newcastle
• Scotland has retained the comprehensive system and is not returning to grammar schools. Something to be said for independence?
Bob Holman
•  John Harris should be an adviser for the shadow secretary for education, whose policies lack understanding of the need to be radical. It baffles me that the parents of the 7% of children that are privately educated represent such a powerful lobby. Ed Miliband should pledge to rid the education system not only of selective schools but fee-paying ones too.
Linda Karlsen
Whitstable, Kent
•  A fellow pupil at my primary school who failed his 11-plus said his father had suggested we swap secondary school places “as I live in a private house and you live in a council house”. I naturally refused, but the incident certainly raised my political awareness.
Dr Alan Bullion
Tunbridge Wells, Kent
•  ”It is a cruel deception to tell pupils from poor backgrounds that a GCSE in drama will help them get into Oxbridge,” writes Daniel Johnson (Letters, 8 November 2013). I wonder what he thinks stops them being thus successful – the poor background or the drama GCSE? I teach at an independent school where students could in no way be described as poor – would he say that those who have made it to Oxbridge did so in spite of their GCSE (or even their A-level) in drama? I venture to suggest that a GCSE in drama – a qualification appreciated by anyone who values the importance of creativity, imagination and resourcefulness – may, in fact, be a stepping stone in developing the confidence and self-assuredness that will help students from more deprived areas of the social spectrum succeed in their aspirations.
Kate Nash
Head of drama & theatre studies, Kingswood School, Bath


Nigel Farage is right (11 November). The lack of debate about which EU policing and criminal-justice measures the United Kingdom will participate in after 2014 is shocking. The Committees of both Houses of Parliament have criticised the Government about the lack of information provided to them about its current strategy.
That said, it is not clear how open a debate Ukip wants. The House of Lords noted mistakes in the Ukip evidence provided for their 2012 Report. There are a number of significant omissions in this piece. I will note just three.
On human rights, Section 21 of the Extradition Act 2003 makes clear that individuals are not to be surrendered if this violates their rights under the Human Rights Act. Following the Assange judgment of the Supreme Court, this prevails over EU law. Mr Farage’s examples could not occur if British courts do their job.
On the Symeou case, the European Supervision Order is designed to avoid a repetition of these problems. It involves the state of residence committing to supervise a suspect within its territory pending trial in the other state. This allows British citizens wanted in other states not to be detained there because they are a flight risk.
On the issue of the arrest warrant and criminal fugitives, the most significant offence for which other states requested people from British territory in 2011/12 was drug trafficking (1,252). There were also 430 requests for murder, 120 for child sex offences, and 201 for rape. What policy does Mr Farage suggest for ensuring that these people face justice and are not a danger on British streets?
Damian Chalmers
Professor of EU Law
London School of Economics and Political Science
The tragic emasculation of the navy 
Your evocative photographs of the appalling conditions experienced by those who took part in the Arctic convoys had a certain aptness when set against Dave Brown’s political cartoon, The Fighting Portsmouth, based on Turner’s iconic painting of HMS Temeraire being towed to the breaker’s yard (9 November).
The satirical depiction of the Government’s intention to cease shipbuilding at the historic Hampshire dockyard highlighted another nail driven into the coffin of the Royal Navy.
Yet at a time when Mr Cameron is overseeing its emasculation, he is happy to be photographed shaking the frail hands of veterans awarded medals for their service when this country still had a Navy. Whether or not including such images in close proximity was intentional, it could hardly have been more sad.
Commander Roger Paine RN
Hellingly, East Sussex
Portsmouth stops building ships; The Independent stops publishing the tide timetable. Whither an island nation? And how will I know when to go for my daily swim?
Philip Hoare
Shortfall in neonatal nurses
Babies born in England are not just put at risk because of a lack of midwives. (“Maternity care crisis: health service spends one fifth of its budget on insurance against negligence claims”, 8 November.) For the 70,000 smallest and sickest babies born each year needing expert neonatal care, they face the further hurdle of a shortfall of over 1,000 specialist neonatal nurses.
Our doctors and nurses providing neonatal care are among the best in the world. Without enough of them there is no way that each baby can receive the care they so desperately need and deserve.
Andy Cole
Chief Executive,
Bliss, National Charity for the Newborn, London SE1
The politics of polonium
Speculation that Yasser Arafat was poisoned by Polonium-210 (report, 8 November) is a reminder that the radioactive element was so named as a political act. Its discoverer, Marie Curie (born Maria Skłodowska), called it after her native Poland, at that time under Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian control.
She hoped that the publicity would help her homeland regain its sovereignty.
Dr John Doherty
Vienna, Austria
Cheap migrant labour is not the answer
Terry Pugh states that “we” need migrant labour to reduce industrial costs (Letter, 8 November). Any payroll reduction will “reduce costs”, but how low does he want to go? Wages may be considerably lower in Bulgaria than in the UK, but they are much lower again in China. And in China they import labour for a quarter of the price from Vietnam. A race to the bottom will stop only just short of slavery – but it will be increasingly “good for the economy”.
Mr Pugh also cites the NHS as a particular example of the benefits of pillaging other countries, but does not make clear how “we” manage to reduce our costs (given that there is no wage reduction). Costs are reduced because instead of paying to train health professionals we can get a sub-Saharan country with a desperate need for medical staff to pay for it instead.
We need to move beyond insular perspectives and recognise that this is about global capitalism and neo-colonialism, not feeling good about the people who are now shunted around the world at the behest of big business.
Peter McKenna
Beware the law of unintended consequences. Labour’s “living wage” wheeze would attract even more unskilled migrants from an ever-expanding EU.
There is an unwillingness across the political spectrum to acknowledge that a living wage and mass immigration are mutually exclusive. Either curtail immigration, in which case the market will automatically raise unskilled wages, or let business decide how many to let in.
An end to importing cheap labour from within as well as without the EU has a “democratic” cost. There will be a transfer of purchasing power from the majority haves to the minority have-nots as menial jobs that cannot be outsourced abroad become more costly.
Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

Cheer up – our politicians could be worse
Andy McSmith’s comment, that anyone who has the Trots and Nick Clegg lined up against him must have done something right, represents the kind of cynicism about politicians and politics that I find so depressing at the moment (Diary, 7 November). Are our politicians really that bad? As bad as Vladimir Putin or Silvio Berlusconi?
In my view we should be sceptical about the claims of politicians, but not cynical; a good political interviewer like Jeremy Paxman approaches each interview in a sceptical spirit; but sometimes he can appear cynical, and that is very regrettable. I prefer the attitude of Owen Jones, who criticises the system, but engages with it constructively.
John Dakin
Dunstable, Bedfordshire
While I agree strongly with most of what Katie Ghose says about electoral reform (Letters, 11 November), I do not believe that you encourage voting by handing it on a plate to juveniles too young and immature to appreciate either the issues at stake or the importance of a vote in a democracy.
Instead, we should be denying it until the age of 25 – the age at which the law no longer finds youth a mitigating factor in criminal behaviour.
Most of my peers left school at 15 and went to work; we were not allowed to marry until 16, drive a car before 17 or vote until 21. Unlike then, relatively few of today’s under-21s  will have had to work to support themselves.
Roger Chapman
Keighley, West Yorkshire
Much has been made of Russell Brand’s call on people not to vote, and his claims that voting doesn’t change anything. It’s easy for a rich and famous person to live in this way. His life isn’t affected in the same way as an ordinary person.
But if I chose not to vote I’d be guilty of letting powerful people such as Cameron, Osborne and Duncan Smith ruin further the lives of people who are far worse off than I am. 
I vote at every election because it is my right and because, if I don’t, I am giving permission for those I don’t trust, don’t believe in and don’t respect to do as they wish to the society  I live in.
Jo Rust
King’s Lynn, Norfolk
Max Gauna (Letters, 7 November) forgets that Britain is – ostensibly at least – a free country when he says that those who refuse to vote in elections to Parliament should incur a “hefty fine”. To be forced to participate in somebody else’s idea of what constitutes democracy is surely more iniquitous than the right of all free-born people to not give a flying fig.
Michael O’Hare
Northwood, Middlesex
Matthew Norman bemoans voter apathy in general elections (6 November) but nowhere does he address the most obvious reason for it. What is the point of voting for MPs at Westminster when vast tracts of our legislation are passed in Brussels and merely rubber-stamped by Parliament?
Until MPs regain full powers to respond directly to their constituents’ wishes, we can expect more and more voter apathy in the future, and frankly  I wouldn’t blame anyone  for not voting in the  2015 election.
D Stewart
London N2


Sir, Medical litigation costs in the NHS are on the brink of destroying entire services. The situation in obstetrics (report, Nov 8) is by no means unique. This and other high-risk services will soon become impossible to indemnify. In my own speciality, neurosurgery, one of the three major organisations offering negligence cover has withdrawn from insuring consultant practice. At present most work in the NHS is covered by trust-provided indemnity, but with a quarter of NHS expenditure being diverted to negligence litigation this contingency is unsustainable.
In the US an analogous process led to certain specialities being unavailable in some states, obstetric care being one of them. Unless urgent reform is undertaken a similar situation could occur here on a national basis.
The needs of many patients suffering suboptimal outcomes would be better served by a system of no-fault compensation. Hospitals would benefit from this, too. Legal bodies, however, have consistently resisted this change, which would, of course, divert a greater proportion of settlements towards patient care rather than law firms.
Michael Carter
Consultant paediatric neurosurgeon
Bristol Sir, Self-insurance would reduce NHS costs since it would not then be paying for the administrative costs and profits of insurance companies as well as for the cost of successful claims. Even if it created an internal insurance company and paid premiums into it, at least the profits would remain in the NHS and eventually reduce its overall costs.
John Dover
Sir, There are several ways of tackling the problems in A&E departments (“Doctors deserting A&E”, Nov 11). First, “accidents and emergencies” should be properly defined. Triage should then take place as each patient enters the department, not when they reach the front of the queue. Those who do not come within the definition of an accident or emergency should be turned away and told to go to their GP or another open-access centre if one exists locally.
All GP surgeries should then become open-access centres from, say, 8am to 8pm. Practice nurses should see all of them first and either treat them or triage them for referral to a GP. Such patients may well have to wait their turn to be slotted in between or after patients with appointments.
Finally, there should be an out-of-hours open-access centre (8pm to 8am and weekends) co-located with every A&E department staffed on a rota basis by local GPs to whom non-accident and emergency patients can be referred.
John S. Walker
Lincoln Sir, One wonders how many newspaper articles, investigations, parliamentary debates, statements by ministers and additional finance it is going to take to convince people that the existing healthcare system will never function properly. What is required is a sensible insurance system such as operates in France and Holland and allows the marginal customers to vote with their feet, thus driving out incompetent doctors and hospitals and allocating adequate resources to those who are capable of rendering a proper service. The market, not politicians, will achieve this.
John P. Scott
London W1

The Russians took entire collections of books, manuscripts and paintings from museums in Poland and many were not returned
Sir, Germany is not the only country still suffering from Russian historical theft ( Ben Macintyre, Nov 8).
Tsarist Russia invaded Poland numerous times, and, in 1793 the Russians took the entire collection of 420,000 books and manuscripts, including 24 paintings of Warsaw by Canaletto, as well as 18,000 gold and silver coins from the Zaluski Library in Warsaw and created the St Petersburg Imperial Public Library based on the stolen books from Warsaw.
After the Polish uprising in 1832, the universities of Warsaw and Vilnius were closed down by the Russians and their libraries were also taken away and sent to the Hermitage Museum. In addition, the main Polish Science Library of Plock was closed in 1898 and all 13,000 science books were taken away by the Russians.
The Soviets agreed to return some 47,000 books and 14,000 manuscripts between 1921 and 1934, but only books written in Polish. The Hermitage Museum Library (today the National Library of Russia) still refuses to return the remaining books and manuscripts (approximately 350,000, many in Latin and French) stolen more than 200 years ago.
Christopher Marek Rencki
Director, Polish Heritage Society (UK)

‘The post-1945 era has been a long history of failed policies and complete bungles, by politicians, civil servants, and business leaders’
Sir, Sir John Major’s criticism (report, Nov 11) of the dominance of the privately educated elite and the affluent middle class in public life could have gone much further.
The post-1945 era has been a long history of failed policies and complete bungles, by politicians, civil servants, and business leaders. The great majority of those primarily responsible were privately educated, and although clever enough to succeed in the “British system”, lacked the skills, knowledge, and understanding needed for decision-making in the modern world.
Just look at the key problems facing the country; such as HS2, future energy supply, defence, the NHS, our place in Europe, etc. Can we be confident that we have the right people in place to make sound decisions? In Europe, it is interesting to compare France (similarly afflicted with our disease) and Germany, with a more egalitarian society. It is obvious which has better prospects.
Charles W. Turner, FREeng
Emeritus Professor, King’s College London

If voting is going to be made compulsory then at least there should be a ‘none of the above’ option. The results might be surprising.
Sir, Anthony Ratcliffe’s letter on compulsory voting (letter, Nov 9) has my full endorsement subject to one caveat. Ballot forms used post-enactment should include an extra box for “none of the above”, and all votes cast there would self-evidently constitute full compliance with the law. The effects of that on our political classes, especially in any wards where it came first in the poll, might well prove salutary.
Kevin Carleton-Reeves

Technology may bring many advantages, but the one thing it can never replace is accurate anticipation of customer needs
Sir, Technology does not confer competitive advantage in business (letter, Nov 8). If you can buy technology at your corner store, so can all your competitors. Advantages come from accurately and rapidly fulfilling customer needs and anticipating their future needs.
Professor Paul M. Braiden, FREng

SIR – The news that Venice is to ban giant cruise liners from visiting will be welcomed by those who love the world’s most magical city.
While there last week, I was shocked to see two of these giant ships moored in the port. They dwarfed the skyline and were out of keeping with their surroundings; they must also have an effect on the fragile Venetian environment.
Nigel Jones
Lewes, East Sussex
SIR – It’s not only Venice that needs to ban giant cruise liners, but the Venice of the North as well – St Petersburg.

Sightseeing in this wonderful city is ruined by the thousands of passengers that are transported in their coachloads from these enormous vessels. The coaches then crawl through the congested streets, preventing other tourists having a chance to admire what they have come to see.
Tony Devereux
Theydon Bois, Essex
SIR – I am pleased that the Government has acknowledged a need to push builders into fulfilling their obligations to construct homes on land where planning permission has been granted.
Developers hold on to land until the price has increased sufficiently for them to re-sell at a substantial profit, or they increase the price of the properties they build.
However, I do not think that the change in regulations put forward by Nick Boles, the planning minister, goes far enough.
Legislative action must be taken to force developers to honour the agreements with local authorities that were made at the outset. This will ensure that affordable housing starts at a certain point, and that developers do not renege on the commitment to build affordable social housing by going into voluntary liquidation or seeking to renegotiate the terms with the objective of delaying building these houses.
Ian Battersby
Related Articles
Big cruise ships are unsuited to Venice’s lagoon
11 Nov 2013
SIR – Nick Boles’s stance on house building underlines the commercial naivety of the Coalition. He gives no consideration to the need for building to meet prevailing market sales or rental demand.
If Mr Boles wants to see more housing, he should get the smaller builders back to work by simplifying the planning process and stopping local authorities preventing brownfield sites being used with egregious taxation in the name of affordable housing.
Jamie Flatman
Slough, Berkshire
SIR – Jeremy Warner addresses the issue of inflation. House prices in the North of England have not risen to anything like the extent they have in London and the South East; they have yet to return to their pre-2008 levels. This directly relates to the local economy, which has been heavily dependent upon public-sector jobs, many of which have been lost and not replaced. Therefore one solution to address the issue of inflation will not fit all.
Mr Warner’s parting shot is, however, particularly pertinent. The planning policies applied to rural areas have condemned country communities to a slow decline. For too many years now, almost all development has been resisted; if this is not reversed, our countryside will end up becoming an exclusive residential estate for affluent retired people.
Sue Bolam
Harbottle, Northumberland
SIR – Many areas of London have been turned into building sites as a direct result of the increase in stamp duty. Instead of selling, houses are now being over-extended, and the increase in basement building is blighting many areas.
Ordinary London terrace houses are now worth £2 million, and therefore will come under the Liberal Democrats’ or Labour’s mansion tax. We will have George Osborne to thank for that.
Jane Salt
London SW6
Anti-social behaviour
SIR – We are concerned about the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, and the effect that it could have on local authorities’ ability to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.
While anti-social behaviour comes in numerous forms, many of us are all too familiar with aggressive begging. At the moment, anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) are a key weapon in tackling the persistent social and economic impact it has on local communities and businesses. If people breach their Asbo, they can be arrested: a simple, efficient response.
However, if the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill is passed unaltered, the Asbo will be abolished and replaced by an Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (Ipna). The problem with Ipnas is that breaching them will not automatically be an arrestable offence. They will be less of a deterrent, harder to enforce and will make it easier to get away with anti-social behaviour.
This legal loophole presented by the Bill could be closed with one amendment: automatic power of arrest should be attached to an Ipna when anti-social behaviour is intentional, deliberate and persistent. If we don’t get this legislation right, it could tie the hands of local authorities, with serious repercussions for communities across the country.
Cllr Nickie Aiken
Westminster City Council
Cllr Sir Albert Bore
Birmingham City Council
Cllr Jon Collins
Nottingham City Council
Cllr Simon Letts
Southampton City Council
Cllr Robert Anderson
Slough Borough Council
Bob Jones
West Midlands Police & Crime Commissioner
Ruth Duston
Victoria & Northbank Business Improvement Districts
Daniel Van Gelder
Westminster Property Association
Nick Johnson
Hyde Park Estate Association
Sarah Porter
Heart of London Business Alliance
Richard Dickinson
New West End Company
Mark Roth
Paddington Business Improvement District
Bill Moore
Portman Estate
Nigel Hughes
Grosvenor Estate
Martin Ramskill
Edgware Road Partnership
Surface mail deadline
SIR – Royal Mail is advising that the last posting date for surface mail to get to Australia and New Zealand in time for Christmas was September 30. By the 1840s, the start of the modern Royal Mail service, the sea voyage between Liverpool and Melbourne had been reduced to 64 days. Now, of course, it is even quicker.
Is our postman having to take our surface mail to Australia by bike as a result of privatisation?
Bill Scott
Mawnan Smith, Cornwall
SIR – Now that Singapore has invested money in the Royal Mail, perhaps the company could encourage a reduction in the cost of sending a postcard abroad, currently 88p. I was in Singapore recently, and the cost of sending a postcard to Britain was 25p.
James E Tilmouth
Marine conviction
SIR – While not condoning what Marine A did, I do have sympathy for him. The constant strain he was operating under, the sights he must have seen and the deaths of his colleagues must have put him under enormous pressure. The human mind can only tolerate so much stress before it snaps. Our professional soldiers who behave “normally” when faced with such situations on a regular basis have to be admired. This incident should not be a blot on our brave forces, who offer their lives on a daily basis so that we can live in safety.
Paul Caruana
Truro, Cornwall
SIR – Marine A’s moments of madness lost him his beret and membership of “his family” of fellow soldiers. Punishment enough. Imprisonment is unacceptable – a 10-year deferred sentence would adequately show that justice has been done.
David Prichard
Sherborne, Dorset
SIR – How outrageous to convict a Royal Marine of murdering an Afghan terrorist.
Our troops have been the targets of vicious improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan, and have had a hard battle dealing with the Taliban extremists. The Taliban should be dealt with according to their own rules of engagement.
Dominic Shelmerdine
London W8
SIR – Why is the murder of a defenceless Taliban fighter, by Marine A, so different from the murder of the defenceless Taliban leader in Pakistan, by a drone controller?
Richard Dean
Wymondham, Norfolk
Offensive badger tweets
SIR – Simon Hart MP was right to complain about Chris Packham’s tweets about the badger cull after the AutumnWatch presenter called the professionals contracted for the job “brutalist thugs, liars and frauds”.
Presenters must refrain from expressing their personal views on air to maintain informed impartiality, so why may they undermine this by tweeting the opposite? Where are the voices of the presenters who “have mud on their boots” gone? David Bellamy and Robin Page used to tell the story of wildlife as it really was.
My father-in-law made Country Close-up in the Sixties for the BBC. It was filmed on a farm, by a farmer, to show country life throughout the seasons, just as it happened. Do let’s go back to getting the right people for the job.
Henry Humphreys
Usk, Monmouthshire
Poppy knitting
SIR – A group of us from All Saints Church, Leighton Buzzard, have been busy knitting poppies. Our time and materials were freely given and, by yesterday, we had received donations of £900. All this money is being donated to the British Legion.
Judith Cundell
Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire
Adventurous snails
SIR – What gets into snails? Our metal garden table has a trail showing that an intrepid snail has scaled its fretworked heights, circumnavigating the top before descending again.
We also have a snail trail across our upstairs bedroom window. What are these little explorers searching for?
Hugh Bebb
Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex
How to entice fussy felines to eat their food
SIR – Like Carolyn McLellan, we used to throw away a lot of uneaten cat food until a vet suggested that our pet was a little overweight. He has since been on a two-sachet-a-day regimen. He eats every scrap, whatever the flavour.
Keith Macpherson
Houston, Renfrewshire
SIR – I find that my previously fussy feline will eat almost anything if I place a couple of low-calorie cat treats on top.
Alison Guirey
Ruislip, Middlesex
SIR – Our cat will eat only the jelly, and leaves the meat. Is it possible to purchase tins of nutritious jelly?
Christine Kelly
Sheffield, South Yorkshire
SIR – What our cat really loves is catching her own food, which is in plentiful supply outside. Could manufacturers introduce rodent flavours to their ranges?
Jane Watson
Welford, Berkshire
SIR – My cat refuses to eat a flavour that she has devoured with relish the day before. My solution is a cat food swap with a work colleague who has two cats that like to play the same feline game.
I also donate unused rejected pouches to my local Cats Protection League.
Sally Cullen
Thorpe Bay, Essex
SIR – Carolyn McLellan should get a dog. There is no food wasted in our house.
Douglas Sparks
Monreith, Wigtownshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Having read the excellent analysis by Stephen Collins (Opinion, November 9th), I was saddened when I moved on to read Brian Hanley’s article (Opinion, November 9th) on the wearing of the poppy.
I am a retired British serviceman, married to an Irish national for the last 35 years. My grandfather was a major, posted to the Dublin Castle garrison, light duties, to recover from injuries received in the trenches, in January 1916. I wear my poppy with pride on Armistice Day to honour all who died in wars not of their making and to remind our current leaders that war is never the right answer.
To try to associate the charitable activities of the British Legion, helping injured servicemen and their dependants, including Irish men and women who have served in the British forces, with some obsolete notion of British (by which Mr Hanley means English) imperialism suggests an inability to recognise that the world has moved on. We should be using this annual period of reflection to consider how we can work together to make tomorrow better. – Yours, etc,
The Folly,
Bristol, England.
Sir, – The point of the poppy is “lest we remember” rather than “lest we forget”.
Shortly after I arrived in London in the 1970s I asked an aged poppy seller if my understanding of their mission statement was correct. If very elderly army veterans of say, the 1919-21 troubles in Ireland needed accommodation, care and/or treatment, the proceeds of the sales would help to fund this. Would this include those who had committed atrocities against Irish civilians of which there were many instances? Bloody Sunday, at that stage a recent event, could have been mentioned, but he had now deduced that this was going to be a difficult sale and his response became both inarticulate and hostile, so we had to break off the interaction with no empathy.
The first World War was a Europe-wide catastrophe and an individual tragedy for 10 million families, but there is no hint of the wider picture in British Legion media content. Unquestioning support for whatever wars they are or were involved in is the order of the day, with frequent use of the words “heroes”, “victory” and “our nation”.
Insofar as Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane are concerned, whatever their level of geopolitical understanding, this apparently takes second place to their perception of their own interest in being constantly present on TV or the internet as managers or football pundits. This brand value would not really have been affected by a lack of poppy display, but they lacked the courage to take that chance. – Yours, etc,
Further Green Road,
London, England.
Sir, – I find myself in accord with Brian Hanley (Opinion, November 9th). I was born in England to English parents just 11 years after the end of the second World War.
Throughout my childhood, I am sure that the poppy was worn only on one day of the year: the Sunday nearest to November 11th; or at the very most, from November 11th to the Sunday designated as Remembrance Day.

Like Mr Hanley, I have seen the poppy being worn much earlier in recent years: on October 23rd this year the panel on BBC’s Match of the Day were all wearing poppies.
In my early 20s I joined the British army (albeit briefly) to prove to my father that I could be a man (though I wasn’t that self-aware then). My father was in the army because of national service and his father was in the army to escape excruciating poverty. Three generations and none of us joined so that celebrities could wallow in the sacrifice of others.
Had my dad been born in Northern Ireland and not northern England I might well have joined an altogether different army to prove my manhood to him; who knows. But, like Mr Hanley, I agree that “embracing the fuzzy nostalgia of the poppy” only encourages those who want to justify war. When the poppy is once again separated from a current political ideology, I may go back to wearing it, or simply continue in my own quiet way to remember “all” those who have died in war. – Yours, etc,
Oakton Park,
Ballybrack, Co Dublin.
Sir, – I have to agree with Patrick O’Byrne (November 9th) and Brian Hanley (Opinion, November 9th) regarding the wearing of the poppy on UK TV. It seems ironic that a beautiful little flower, meant to be worn to commemorate the war dead in the fight against fascism, has now become the victim of a new form of fascism practised by the poppy policemen in UK television stations.
Apart from Roy Keane and Martin O’Neill wearing poppies, even the dancers on Strictly Come Dancing have been “persuaded” to sport huge in-your-face versions of what was once my favourite flower.
I notice that one or two individuals have managed to get their hands on miniature versions of the poppy that don’t entirely dominate our screens for three weeks. I only hope that their contracts are safe. – Yours, etc,
Harbour View, Wicklow.
Sir, – The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) is the oldest secular pacifist organisation in Britain.
The PPU began widely distributing white peace poppies in 1934, not as an insult to those who died in the first World War, but as a challenge to the continuing drive to war. This is not liberal PC claptrap (Ciarán Connolly, November 11th).
Red poppies used to have “Haig Fund” printed in the centre, a charity that uses the proceeds from sales to support veterans from conflicts and military actions involving the British armed forces. In 1994 the wording was changed to “Poppy Appeal” (possible liberal PC claptrap?).
For the record, I am a peace poppy wearer.
It is a human(e) thing. – Yours, etc,
Banks Road,
West Kirby,

Sir, – Eimear Burke (November 8th) vows to deprive herself of the sacraments of the church as a protest against the latter’s teaching on same-sex marriage.
From a faith perspective, this metaphorical act of throwing her toys out of the pram is surely a classic case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. When I was a child I learned the hard way that a petulant sulk in order to bully for more sweets invariably backfired and resulted in even more tears.
What is of note so far in this debate is the surprised reaction of those in the Yes camp to Bishop Nulty for having the temerity to state his church’s timeless teaching on this subject. Bishop Nulty stated his position with great clarity combined with compassion. In fact, he is constrained to do so by virtue of the church’s teaching on this subject, as set out in para. 2358 of the catechism of the Catholic Church, where compassion, respect and sensitivity are emphasised. One only wishes that those who disagree with the bishop could do so in like manner. – Yours, etc,
Balreask Village,
Navan, Co Meath.
Sir, – While Dr Rachel Cave (November 7th) is bemused by the position of the Catholic Church on the planned referendum on gay marriage, I am astounded at the remark in her letter that “the church does not rail against the bringing up of children by widowed men, hence the gender of the caring parents is clearly not an issue in its view” by which she seems to be trying to justify the right of a same-sex couple to adopt someone else’s orphaned child by comparing it to the right of a widowed father to bring up his children.
As someone whose first wife died and left our young daughter to me to raise, such an attitude makes me very very angry. The two situations are radically different. First, denying the right of the child to be brought up by her father would mean a double blow to the child who having lost her mother would then suffer the loss of her father. Second, the father would lose his child in whose existence both he and his wife had rejoiced, at whose birth he was present, whom he loved, to whom he read bedtime stories, whom he tucked into bed at night, whose nappies he changed and generally helped care for. To even seem to equate the position of that father vis-a-vis his child to the position of a same-sex couple who wish to adopt a child is a total distortion of reality. Dr Cave should have more sense. It is possible to make a case for same-sex marriage but not with nonsense like this.
Dr Cave might note that her statement of the Catholic Church’s position above is not quite accurate and should be more accurately stated as “the church does not rail against the bringing up of children by their widowed fathers”. The Catholic Church has been stupid at times but not, I think, that stupid. – Yours, etc,
Professor Emeritus,
NUI Galway,
Dangan, Lower Galway.

Sir, – Chairwoman of the Revenue Commissioners Josephine Feehily and the politicians, must think we are all idiots.
People aren’t confused by the choice of payment options for the property tax. In fact, that is one of few things that is admirable in the whole process. What people are not happy about is being forced to pay 18 months’ tax in the one year, or being forced to pay a 2014 tax in 2013.
Only a tax officer would compare paying tax in advance to buying concert or holiday tickets. As the retailers are pointing out, it’s going to reduce the amount of money flowing around the national economy. The letters didn’t help either. They managed to print the amount due to be paid in small typeface, on the fold of the letter.
I spent over an hour on the phone to the Revenue Commissioners the other day, trying to sort out the payment arrangements for my elderly parents and my wife’s elderly aunt and uncle. Oh well, at least all those rich Fine Gael supporters, buying those lovely houses advertised in the property supplement, won’t have to pay any property tax for the next three years. – Yours, etc,
Brian Avenue,
Dublin 3.
Sir, – Our highly paid legislators have made a “drop off” in the local property tax legislation, but, we are told, there will be “no material impact” on the overall tax take for 2014. Apparently, the mistake means that all owner-occupier property buyers in 2013 – and not just first time buyers – are entitled to an exemption from the property tax for the next three years, and around €3 million is expected to be refunded to thousands of households.
Does this mean that if my tax assessment for 2013 is less than €3 million – below the threshold for “material impact” – I can expect a letter from the Revenue Commissioners advising me that I may “qualify for an exemption”? I can hardly wait!
Needless to say, I am sure that the mistake will have no “material impact” on those responsible. – Yours, etc,
Truce Road,
Ballymore Eustace,
Co Kildare.

Sir, – It is hard to believe the cynicism contained in Gerry Adams’s letter (November 9th) about the Disappeared. As he laments the harsh treatment he feels he has received from journalists about his role in these barbaric events, he is attempting to deflect attention away from both the horror of what happened and the suffering endured by the families involved.
Rather than spilling tears over the harsh treatment meted out to Mr Adams by journalists, the people we should be remembering are the families who simply long to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones.
I wonder if Mr Adams believes that is too much to ask for? It’s an opportune time at this season of remembrance to reiterate the call issued earlier this week by Jean McConville’s son Michael that any loyalists involved in the murder and disappearing of Lisa Dorrian should also come forward with any information about her whereabouts so that she too might be returned to her family. – Yours, etc,
(Canon), Upper Knockbreda
A chara, – “It’s time for Gerry Adams to bow out and take his fictional counterpart with him” writes Fintan O’Toole (Opinion, November 5th). This follows on from Harry McGee’s article “Doherty and McDonald out in front as SF seeks Adams successor” (Home News, November 2nd). And so our objective media’s obsession with Gerry Adams continues. In fact it is more than an obsession, it is a concerted pursuit of Adams.
This laboured struggling pursuit of Adams continues using a number of avenues: television programmes where interviewees who were vitriolic opponents of Adams, Sinn Féin and the Belfast Agreement in life are given an unquestioning factual truthfulness in death; through Adams’s niece’s tragic abuse case which was simply jumped on by some sections of the media as a vehicle to pursue and smear Adams.
In June of this year, despite the ongoing constant negativity concerning Gerry Adams in our media, the Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll indicated that Gerry Adams, not for the first time, was the most popular party leader here. But why? How? Can journalists and our media be so distant from reality?
I have no doubt that the pursuit of Gerry Adams will continue until he decides to retire from Irish politics. No doubt when that day arrives we will have the same journalists writing the same authoritative opinion pieces portraying Adams’s political life in a less than favourable light. And no doubt at that stage Adams will be unperturbed as he gracefully leaves Government Buildings for the last time. – Is mise,

Sir, – I wish to respond to the letter from EirGrid on the controversy over pylon project (November 11th).
The least constrained corridor is not a corridor at all. Put the cable underground, preserve our public health and retain our beautiful Irish countryside. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I almost choked on my porridge as I read William F Doyle’s (November 11th) suggestion that €2,500 be given to Irish emigrants to “help them get a good start abroad”.
Have we really come to this, where for all intents and purposes we would “bribe” our young people to leave our shores? If WB Yeats were around today, perhaps he would pen “No country for young men (or women)”. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Your obituary of Manfred Rommel (Obituaries, November 9th), the-long serving mayor of Stuttgart, brought back memories of Ireland’s historic 1988 win over England in Stuttgart.
Working in our embassy in Bonn, I was assigned to assist some of the many Irish government ministers who found reasons – some more plausible than others – for being in Germany at the time of the match. The official representative was the late Brian Lenihan (senior), tánaiste and minister for foreign affairs at the time. He had more reason than anyone for being in Stuttgart, as his support for the FAI dated back long before it was fashionable.
Manfred Rommel hosted a lunch for the visitors and he and Brian Lenihan got on famously. The mayor insisted on taking the tánaiste, then gravely ill, in his own car to the match.
Certainly, as your article indicates, Manfred Rommel’s life is an example of the capacity to overcome a tragic past and go on to serve as a distinguished and admired public representative. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Leo Varadkar and the Department of Transport are to be commended for acting on research for a proposed policy change (Breaking News, November 8th). The introduction of signs which address both the limitations in readability of current signs and give the proper prominence to the original versions of our placenames (the overwhelming majority of which are Irish) is welcome. Más mall, is mithid.
That it is based on research and best practice is excellent. That there will be no additional cost, since the signs will be trialled and then, if adopted, used to replace signs which must be replaced in any case, is prudent.
I have noticed larger signs sprouting up already in the old design – apparently an attempt to tackle the problem of halation identified in the research. – Yours, etc,
Páirc na Seilbhe,
Baile an Chinnéidigh,
Sir, – I note the 30km/h speed limit in Dublin “has failed to reduce traffic speeds, Dublin City Council has concluded”. Naturally, the same council now “plans to expand the area covered by this limit” (Olivia Kelly, Home News, November 9th)). Does the taxpayer need any further illustration of the way their money is wasted by what passes for public administration in this country? – Yours, etc,
Cowper Drive,
Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

Irish Independent:
Paddy Early’s letter on suicide in Ireland (Irish Independent, November 7) was a timely reminder about the loss of hope so many young people are experiencing.
Also in this section
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Adams, apologise to West Belfast
Poor effort from Enda
Like Mr Early, I too have fond memories of the many inspiring priests and lay people who helped to shape my life. They tempered serious intent with a lightness of touch. My memories are of a range of characters with an imaginative grasp about the quirkiness of life who helped us not to take ourselves too seriously. However, the prospects for employment were good.
School for many young people has become an obstacle course with their future hanging on the results of final examinations.
Examinations manufacture failure in order to highlight success. The pressure to succeed is unbearable for many.
Ireland is seething with talent with nowhere to go. The prospects of moving from education to employment are becoming increasingly slim.
I am not convinced, as Mr Early suggests, that God would have any wish to fill the yawning gap between expectation and achievement that so many experience – that is the task of our leaders.
Schools can never compensate for what is beyond their control, namely, the failures of political arrangements that, by their nature, create an underclass
The modicum of self-worth that many children bring to school ebbs away if they find they are not going to make it. The teachers, too, feel the burden of expectations; they experience themselves as led by systems of judgmental power and control and not by insight and imagination.
A further debilitating feature of the world of our young people is the lure of a new form of religious worship – the worship of celebrity and of those who acquire this status. Young hopefuls see salvation in being famous but are habitually frustrated in attempts to rise above their real-life circumstances.
Philip O’Neill
Edith Road, Oxford
* So the Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s big news item at the All-Ireland talks was about a soccer match for charity. Is there anywhere else in the globe where this nonsense would be allowed?
Just look at the health service. Parents have to wait two years to get a child’s eyesight inspected or up to three years for other medical conditions. There are huge delays in hospital A&E waiting rooms and nurses are leaving their profession because they fear they will be blamed for medical negligence due to the severe cutbacks.
Paul Doran
Clondalkin, Dublin 22
* Paddy Early makes a good point in his letter (Irish Independent, November 7) when he says “we are still eternal spiritual beings and when we exclude God from our lives a huge vacuum is created, which simply cannot be filled by material possessions.”
Talking about life when he was a child, back in the 1950s and 1960s, he paints such an idyllic picture I was expecting to read about the comely maidens dancing at the crossroads.
The Catholic Church dominated Irish life and, on the surface, everything appeared fine. Yet it was a rotten society in lots of ways.
People were being locked away in mental institutions, often because they were unwanted by their families. We had the highest rate in the world of committing people to such places.
Sexual abuse was rife in institutions run by religious orders. The transgressions committed by many children who ended up in such places were often trivial. Sexual abuse was also occurring in families. We had the scandal of the Magdalene Laundries where many young women were sent simply because there were pregnant. Homosexuality was illegal.
Thank God we have moved on so much from those days. Yes, we are a more materialistic society but there is a greater openness and we have faced up to a lot of our secrets. They say the truth shall set you free and, while there is still much work to do, we are a much more free and mature society.
Thomas Roddy
Salthill, Co Galway
* What is it about the Irish language that touches such a raw nerve for so many Irish people? Your report (Irish Independent, November 8) on Transport Minister Leo Varadkar’s support for parity of esteem for Irish on any new road signs opened the sluice gates for the usual torrent of venom on social media sites.
Any other country would rejoice to be in our position. We have two languages – English, the global leader, and Irish, our national language. Tourists are always intrigued by this and wonder why so many Irish people know so little about the language. I say well done to Leo agus go n-eiri an bothar leat.
John Glennon
Co Wicklow
* I was disappointed and angered to read about Transport Minister Leo Varadkar’s pandering to the Gaelic League lobby in relation to changing road and motorway signs.
The continuing waste of money on the Gaelic language is completely at odds with the glaring need to provide money for essential services.
We seem to be able to find no end of money for the Gaelic language lobby who insist on 52 Gaelic translators in Brussels; support the waste of vast sums on dual advertising and road signs; send us unwanted forms in Gaelic; force us to pay for TG4 and Raidio na Gaeltachta; and support compulsory Gaelic in our schools.
Gaelic is fine for those that want it and let those that want it pay for it.
The Gaelic lobby would have you believe that you are less ‘Irish’ because you speak English. Well I, for one, am glad that we use and speak English. Try telling an American, Canadian, or Australian that they are less so because they speak English.
Bren Kirby
Ballygall, Dublin 11
* According to recent reports we are about to exit the bailout. But I, for one, am questioning if this is so.
Some years ago, Pope Francis, as the then archbishop of Buenos Aires, stated: “The economic and social crisis, and the consequent increase in poverty, has its causes in policies inspired by those forms of neoliberalism that consider profits and the laws of the market as absolute parameters, to the detriment of the dignity of people and nations.”
Unfortunately, this kind of analysis has not been mentioned in Ireland. Let us not be deceived by the illusion that everything will be okay when it is business as usual.
Padre Liam Hayes
Obera, Misiones, Argentina
* There is an obvious alternative to contaminated water, costly treatment plants, water restrictions and water rates. That is harvested rain water.
It is a measure that has some history as it was quite common in the past to collect rainwater from roof buildings in rural areas for a variety of uses other than drinking it.
Water can now be diverted from gutters into tanks fitted under the eaves on most houses, then filtered and piped inside.
Pie in the sky? No, I already have such a system fitted to a small roof in Malin Head, Donegal, which was designed and fitted by a local man. He has had the prototype of the product at his own home tested by the HSE and, in its minimalist language, they deemed it as ‘fit for human consumption’. See
Dr Kevin McGinley
Grantham Place, Dublin 8
Irish Independent


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