6 January 2014

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Leslie can’t take yes for an answer from the new Wren so they other try and improve his dating technique. Priceless.

Website up and running perhaps I’ll get going someday

Scrabbletoday Mary wins and gets just over300, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.



Drever Watson, , who has died aged 89, was a naval nurse in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and cared for former prisoners of the Japanese who were too traumatised to return to normal life in Britain.

At the outbreak of war, Drever’s mother, Stewartina McDonald, was in charge of the Red Cross in Dartmouth, and at 16 Drever was recruited as a Red Cross volunteer. On her first day she was put on what were called “special duties” — sitting for hours with a mortally wounded young sailor until he died.

Only in 1944, when she was 20, was Drever allowed to join a Voluntary Aid Detachment (or VAD) and be sent overseas. She became a theatre nurse at the Royal Naval Hospital Bighi in Malta, but it was after the war that she saw the severest casualties. These included some wounded from Burma and PoWs of the Japanese who were landed in Malta to be treated for trauma.

One of these was a female RAF wireless operator who had been captured by the Japanese, and despite being rescued only two days later was catatonic and had to be kept on round-the-clock suicide watch. Drever also helped to treat the survivors of the Corfu Channel Incident of 1946, in which two British destroyers were damaged by Albanian mines.

Drever Belle McDonald was born on February 25 1924 in St Vincent, Cape Verde Islands, where her father was an oil bunker engineer. When the family settled at Dartmouth, she was educated at the progressive co-educational boarding school Dartington Hall, and, as an antidote, at Cheltenham Ladies College.

After her demobilisation in 1947, Drever McDonald read for a BSc and worked as a research assistant with Professors Bob Case and Richard (later Sir Richard) Doll at the Chester Beatty Cancer Research Institute in South Kensington .

In 1954 she married John Rogers, whom she had first met when he was an engineer in Malta in 1946 and needed hospital treatment after a motorcycle crash. After the war he worked in the oil industry, and the couple lived in Syria , near the border with Iraq.

She became fluent in Arabic and, when the 1956 Suez crisis erupted , led a convoy of “oil wives” and children (including her own eight-month-old twin daughters) across the desert to the Lebanese border — creeping past the Syrian army base at Palmyra. At the border she found that many of the other women had not brought the correct paperwork; but she refused to leave anyone behind, and kept the convoy together until all were given clearance to enter Lebanon. Evacuated to London via Cyprus a week later, her sole surviving possession — her husband’s prized reflex camera — was confiscated by Customs because she was unable to produce a receipt.

Returning to the Middle East, she lived for six years in Qatar, seeking occasional respite from the heat of the Persian Gulf in Lebanon, where she loved to ski off-piste. Her passion for skiing continued until she snapped a knee ligament on a Swiss ski slope at the age of 79.

In the 1960s she moved back to Britain. Her first marriage was dissolved, and in 1966 she married Cdr Denis Watson, who had been a midshipman on Electra when the destroyer picked up the only three survivors of the sinking of the battle cruiser Hood in the Denmark Strait .

Drever Watson trained as a teacher, taking posts at secondary schools in Great Yarmouth, London and, finally, at the Inverurie Academy in Aberdeenshire. She was a formidable but much-loved figure in the classroom, and her toughest teenage “bad boys”, as she affectionately called them, would greet her in the street with friendliness and respect. Even in her eighties, when she had retired to South Kensington, she could silence a group of unruly teenagers on a bus with a firm “Do you mind!”

With John Rogers she had twin daughters and a son. Her second husband died in 1978.

Drever Watson, born February 25 1924, died October 9 2013






If only Margaret Drabble’s wish (When it’s time to go, let me go, with a whisky and a pill, 2 January) could be realised, but not only for the old, although that is now my personal, selfish concern. My son was forced to starve himself to death two and a half years ago, a long, drawn-out process which took determination and courage and which was particularly harrowing for his family. He had suffered from a particularly aggressive form of MS for several years, a disease which is progressive and incurable. When he could no longer move himself from his bed to his wheelchair he decided that we had all had enough.

His doctor was sympathetic but could do nothing to help and it was too late to get Seamus to Switzerland had he not wanted, anyway, to die in his own bed. Margaret Drabble is right that we treat people with less humanity than we do our animals. I had been able to put a much-loved dog out of her suffering a few months before I had to watch my son end his own life. It would surely be a sign of an adult and civilised society to be able to do for our loved ones what we can do for our pets.
Primrose Kirkman
Warminster, Wiltshire

•  Margaret Drabble says that, when it comes to euthanasia, “the politicians won’t let us, the bishops won’t let us and the health professionals aren’t allowed to let us”. We cannot speak for politicians or bishops, but we can say that the majority of practising doctors have no wish to be licensed by law to kill their patients or to supply them with the means to kill themselves. That is not why we became doctors, and the suggestion that it is only the law that is preventing us from practising euthanasia is totally groundless.

Ms Drabble trundles out the well-worn argument that “you wouldn’t let a dog suffer”. She seems unaware that people sometimes take their pets to be put down for other reasons than suffering. Her idealised picture of dying with “a nice glass of whisky and a pleasing pill” may appeal to the well-heeled and self-possessed, but as doctors we have to care for a much wider range of people, many of them vulnerable. We have laws to protect us, especially those among us who are less able to speak up for themselves, not to oblige the strong-willed and self-confident.
Dr Idris Baker Consultant in palliative medicine, Prof Rob George Vice-president, Association for Palliative Medicine

• Margaret Drabble suggests that the medical profession will not be allowed to be involved in assisted dying even though the majority of the public would now like to see this available to those who are terminally ill. In fact the BMA (which represents all UK doctors) made binding policy against assisted dying at its recent AGM. Given the importance of the issue, the RCGP and RCN have already surveyed their wider membership, but the BMA has not. Why is this so on a topic of such vital importance? If the majority of doctors are indeed against the concept then the BMA’s position will be strengthened. If the majority are neutral or in favour of assisted dying then it is only fair that this fact is made known to the wider public.

Interestingly, a recent poll of GPs (Pulse, 20 November 2013) found that only 31% of respondents felt that their own Royal College should be opposed to legalisation of assisted dying.
Dr David Wrigley Carnforth, Lancashire, Dr Jacky Davis London

• Margaret Drabble obviously did not read Chris Huhne’s article (Someone needs to fight the selfish, short-sighted old, 23 December) that was heavily criticised (Letters, 27 December). How can a free decision concerning euthanasia be arrived at in the context of deep-seated age discrimination against older people, as exemplified by Huhne? While commentators such as him falsely accuse the older population of being a burden on the young, it is impossible to have a balanced discussion about the right to die. Contrary to Margaret Drabble’s no doubt sincere wish, legal euthanasia would not grant each person the power to choose, because that freedom would be subject to societal and possibly family pressures. Before we debate euthanasia, let’s abolish age discrimination.
Alan Walker
Professor of social policy and social gerontology, University of Sheffield

•  Dignity in dying, of course. But what about dignity in living? This issue affects not just the frail elderly, but anyone whose destiny is to become very old or chronically infirm, and of course their beleaguered families and amateur carers. Margaret Drabble is right that sections of the NHS fail hopelessly to understand the best interests of older people. It’s also true that the way in which support is delivered to elderly people in their own homes is a scandal, and that much of the tragedy of dementia is hidden, barely comprehended outside the walls of care homes. The whisky-and-pill option is of no service to most of those old and ailing, whatever the ethical rights and wrongs. The time is never right – until it is, and then it’s too late for informed consent.

But the peace of mind of knowing that when we require dignified care and support, it’s there, and proportionate, and affordable, and takes account of the specific needs of ageing people – now that would be an end worth campaigning for.
Dr Gill Cookson
Castleton, North Yorkshire

•  I agreed with everything Margaret Drabble said in her article. I am now 75, so old age is close up and personal. From the mid-1990s to 2005 I was nurse, carer and mourner for my father, my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law and my beloved husband. I saw (and felt) what dementia, cancer and heart problems do to otherwise strong and balanced people. Their final months were painful and undignified, and I had not the strength of mind or character to help them out of a life which had become a burden. I feel that there is a time to die, and if we are kept alive beyond that point we should be able to say when enough is enough. Vegetative breathing is not living.
Diana Lord
Cranfield, Bedfordshire

•  I was delighted to read Margaret Drabble’s polemic on physician assisted suicide in today’s Guardian. It is a welcome start to the year 2014.

I would not agree with every suggestion she makes, but she raises the problem that the present cruel and anachronistic law poses. A change in this law is supported by a great majority of the population but is consistently blocked by a religious minority, by fearful politicians and, most sadly, by many members of the so-called caring profession of medicine.

Most of the fears raised by the opponents of change have been shown to be unwarranted. In those jurisdictions where assisted suicide is legal, the numbers seeking the facility remain small. The major effect is the increased comfort and relief given to those with progressive disorders who would know that if palliative care did not remove unacceptable suffering (as is not uncommon), the final way out of the situation was available. The fact that the option was possible would probably delay proceeding with extreme decisions such as opting to go to Switzerland while it is still possible.

Given my own disability, a change in the law in 2014 would be the best present that I could be given, even though it is not needed yet.
Dr Clive Tonks

• At last, someone who speaks my language! Nearing 80 and with failing faculties, I wish rational suicide (see the website of the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide) could be acknowledged as a sensible step to avoid one’s own decline into helplessness and heartbreaking worry for one’s children. But the means of release are hard to come by.

One friend wrote: “Personally, I think that everyone at the age of 75 should be issued with a small velvet box with the necessary pill for them to be able to use when they wish.” What a wonderful idea!

Of course, giving everyone such a pill would offend some mightily, but I do think we should be issued with a prescription to be “cashed” without questions when we think the time is right. This would avoid the terrible heart-searching which doctors have to go through for each and every would-be suicide who asks for their help. My own GP objects strongly to being thought of as “doctor death” with the power to dispense such pills.
Marion Bolton

•  I agree wholeheartedly with Margaret Drabble that the individual’s wishes should be paramount when it comes to the process and timing of one’s death. But many people find that, when the moment of approaching death actually comes, something in them – be it their mind, their body, or their spirit – seems to urge them to hang on. The moment passes and they wander into some kind of limbo. Then a half-life drags on for months or years, with all its expense for the health and care services, not to mention family and friends.

What can we do to take our chance to die when it presents itself? I think there are several things we can do. Firstly, we can complete an advance directive (also known as advance decision), discuss it with our family and friends, have it countersigned by our GP, and lodge it with a solicitor. Secondly, we can bring this intention into general conversation, so that those around us get used to the fact that at some point we may refuse medical intervention, and may ask their support in doing so. Lastly, we can keep our intention in the forefront of our own minds, practise the words to be said at the crucial point, and prepare ourselves to be firm and clear when the time comes.
Alison Leonard

•  Margaret Drabble rightly raises the fraught issue of the impact of medicine on old age, and how it can lead to artificial prolongation of life when this may not be to the best (or even any) advantage for those concerned. In that light, it is difficult to understand why she wishes to replace one artificial procedure with another, the taking of one’s own life using an appropriate drug.

Both aspects of this debate would benefit from taking artificiality out of the equation entirely, and understanding better the natural end-of-life processes that our bodies go through. In doing so, we can learn to better define what is appropriate and valid medical intervention to assist with dealing with these, and also prepare people for their own death without the terrors that Ms Drabble highlights that result from artificial intervention. Medicine and politicians seem remarkably reluctant to give this the serious attention it deserves.

The reasoning given by Ms Drabble for wishing a change in the law seem also to highlight one of the main reasons why it should not be changed. The way in which she experiences and observes negative reactions to elderly people suggests to her that she and others be given a legal way of dealing with this by being able to choose to die. This is a terrible damning of how society views its elderly members. Changing the law to allow people to take their own lives will only make this worse, and Ms Drabble’s view seems to reinforce the case that any such law could drive people to make a decision that is itself artificial.
Christopher Awre

•  On my 81st birthday, I read with heartfelt recognition Margaret Drabble’s article. For some, a long life, irrespective of the quality of that life, may be acceptable, even welcomed. For others it may well be a nightmare of helpless indignity. With Drabble, I feel the choice should be mine and mine alone. If I knew with certainty that I could step out of life when I wished, I might view the years ahead with pleasure rather than apprehension.
BJ Cairns

•  The New Year’s gift from which an ageing population would most benefit is not “the right to die” as Margaret Drabble suggests, but an end to the damaging ageism that unfortunately her article promotes.
Tricia Cusack

•  Margaret Drabble quite rightly reminds us of the importance of choice when it comes to dying, but perhaps misses the opportunity to highlight the importance of choice when it comes to the act of living for older people. Increasing amounts of loneliness, poverty, alcohol and prescription abuse, and a sense of purposelessness, are increasingly the experience of many older people, and would indicate a stark absence of choice. It could be suggested that a decent quality of life, and a sense of wellbeing, during an older person’s “last decade”, as Margaret Drabble puts it, should be a fundamental right, and our concern should focus on why this is not appropriately present right up to the point of dying. Perhaps our attention will be jolted by the large increase in the numbers of us soon to be arriving at old age.
Jon Bowra
Assistant director, Living Well Dying Well

•  I enjoyed Margaret Drabble’s article, and I agree about the widespread fear of not being allowed to die in peace. I would like to make a small correction about “their archaic Hippocratic oath”. This was read out to us when we qualified in medicine in 1957, clearly stating that “thou shalt not kill, but need’st not strive officiously to keep alive”. In those days death was often eased by the gradual, gentle readjustment of the dosage of drugs with the agreement of the family. This is now almost impossible with the very real threat of misunderstanding and litigation. What we aimed for was to cure sometimes, to relieve often and to comfort always.
Patricia Tomlinson
Retired GP, Alton, Hampshire

Of course censorship is worrying, as is its possible outsourcing to private companies. However, Laurie Penny’s hermetic view of “freedom of speech” (Comment, 3 January) ignores the “creep” of pornography which, through its casual, ubiquitous proliferation on the internet, acts to normalise it to such an extent that images of bondage, battery and rape are hardly seen for the horror they are. For the hypothetical young person hoping to find information on the web about sexual issues, Ms Penny just got it wrong. Informative, responsible and reliable information on the web? Worse than no information is biased, corrupt or exploitative information published on a web unmonitored and unfiltered and posted by any pervert with a computer. Libraries, however, are run by informed and responsible decision-making people trained to provide information that is not only reliable but unbiased, critically constructed and intelligently presented. Her comment about libraries having “no social or moral framework” is irresponsible as well as disheartening.
Lucie Payne
Sutton, Surrey

• Laurie Penny does not help us to know how to deal with the immediate problem of bringing up children in a world full of images. Surely the debate is now over concerning TV advertising and it is accepted that behaviour can be altered. Similarly, porn does alter our behaviour. As adults we should be capable of resisting TV advertising and using porn responsibly, but can we say the same of our children? I would be happy to have a “porn” filter, providing I control when it is on and when it is off. Just when I hand the key to the filter on to my children would be when I judge they are ready, much as I would judge they are ready to go out alone or stay out all night.
Richard Bull
Woodbridge, Suffolk

Unlike Michael Miller (Letters, 4 January), I find the insertion of “hardworking” into MPs’ statements very helpful, as it is a clear indication that the statement has been preceded by little if any rational thought and can therefore safely be ignored. The same applies to references to “the mess the last government left” – as in the old days it did to references to “17 years of Tory misrule”.
John Emms
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

• Don Quinn laments the absence of carol singers and penny for the guy-ers this year (Letters, 4 January) and their replacement with pagan hordes of trick-or-treaters, suggesting a shift to US culture being to blame. While this may well be true – and deserving of lament – the answer is more prosaic: in the case of the former activities, one has to learn carols or build a guy; in the latter, one simply dresses up in a bunch of plastic tat available from corner shops to supermarkets.
Martin J Schwarz

• I appear to have been transformed from a “babyboomer” to a “geriboomer” (Soaring costs of long term healthcare threatens to overwhelm NHS, 4 January). But am I still being blamed for the financial crisis?
Moira Sykes

• Re Kevin McGrath’s request for suggestions for his proposed dishonours list (Letters, 2 January): “Ordure of the British Empire” seems obvious. Choose as many names as you wish, plenty of scope.
Andy Budge
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire




In the early 1960s, I produced a BBC radio feature, Never to Be Born, in which eight women were sensitively interviewed by Leslie Smith, without editorial comment, telling the story of their then still illegal abortions. It was harrowing and deeply moving, neither pro- nor anti-abortion. Top management had to give the go-ahead. Of necessity the speakers were anonymous, though one knew that her voice would be immediately recognisable to many listeners: it was that of Elizabeth Jane Howard. That took great courage, and indeed may well have contributed to the shift in public opinion that in turn led to the subsequent change in the law.









Unless flexibility is introduced, a small number of householders will continue to be hammered by lawyers and costs

Sir, The few landowners who claim to be inconvenienced by rights of way across their land should not be allowed to privatise public rights of way that belong to all.

The 12 residents who have formed the Alternative Stakeholders Group are talking about the rights of passage for walkers, horse riders and motorcyclists. Their claimed plight (report, Jan 2) merely underlines the importance of competent land searches before purchasing a property. Most people tolerate roads passing by their front doors or front gates. Why not them?

We are not talking about those affected by projects like the High Speed Rail line, which is relatively new and might not have been foreseen when they purchased their homes, but about individuals who have knowingly bought property or built on or near ancient rights of way. The same attitude is shown by those who buy houses nextdoor to pubs or churches and campaign for noise abatement orders. They certainly should not have been allowed to dictate policy.

Mike Irving

Trail Riders Fellowship

Sir, Your article will, I hope, draw attention to the injustices inflicted on property owners by over-zealous rights campaigners, in particular the aggressive and frequently baseless attempts to upgrade walking routes to bridleways or ways open to trail bikes etc. Often tribunals proceed against owners in contravention of law and procedure, with little remedy for victims unless they are very rich. The politically toxic nature of the word “landowner” — used deliberately to create a “Saxon against Norman” scenario — seems to prevent even liberal politicians from taking a position on this.

The reality is that in most cases it is a small-holder or struggling farmer who finds himself up against the might of well-funded ramblers’ and trailbikers’ associations, often aided by well-meaning but mistaken council officers using public money. Real injustices are being inflicted here.

Charles Pugh, FCA

London SW10

Sir, Your report took me back to the original Hobhouse Report, chaired by my grandfather and published in 1947. The report was the beginning of both the National Parks and the rights-of-way system. Sadly, the 1949 Labour Government did not implement the full Hobhouse report. This has led to a legalistic system without the flexibility stressed in the report. The inability to temporarily move rights of way to allow farmers to maximise production and ensure the safety of the public has led to the deaths of 18 people, and 481 injured, between 2001 and 2009 — the most common factors in these incidents are cows with calves and walkers with dogs. Unless flexibility is introduced, and accepted by the rights-of-way industry, a small number of householders will continue to be hammered by lawyers and costs, and the carnage will also continue.

Councillor Henry Hobhouse

North Cadbury, Somerset

Sir, It is time to develop a network for the 21st century, relocating paths to routes better suited to modern use, in other words, a footpath network that fits today’s use not the usage of a bygone age. A modern network of footpaths should be affordable, socially acceptable and environmentally sensitive (not disturbing wildlife and farming).

Colin Ray

Stratford upon Avon, Warks



The engineering community must develop a single, articulate and compelling case for its thrilling, diverse and satisfying careers

Sir, Now is the time to market the dream of modern engineering to young people.

Everyone agrees that we need urgently to improve recruitment into engineering, but there is a bewildering plethora of well-intentioned, often costly schemes that leave too many 8 to 14-year-olds uninterested in the exciting world of modern engineering.

There is a pressing need for more engineering apprentices and graduates each year to meet the growing needs of UK industry and the public sector. Our economic success and security depend upon us inspiring more young people to consider careers which use the STEM disciplines — science, engineering, technology and mathematics.

More must also be done to help teachers and parents understand the exciting career opportunities — from communications to computer games, medicine to motorsport, software and cyber-security, tunnels to skyscrapers, aerospace to railways and much more besides. This requires a co-ordinated and professional approach to marketing the opportunities in the UK’s world-class engineering companies.

When young people come to make their GCSE and A level choices, more must be determined to fulfil their dreams by choosing STEM subjects, especially maths and physics.

As the review of engineering skills from BIS Chief Scientist, Professor John Perkins, recommended in November, a disciplined, coherent, coordinated approach is needed. The engineering community must develop a single, articulate and compelling case for the brand ‘UK Engineering’ which communicates the fun, thrill, diversity and satisfaction offered by a career in engineering.

We are asking British engineering to rise urgently to this exceptional challenge. Although this will involve many organisations, particularly Engineering UK, the engineering companies and professional institutions, the Royal Academy of Engineering is best placed to ensure this happens.

Allan E. Cook

WS Atkins

Steve Holliday

National Grid

Bob Joyce

Jaguar Land Rover

Robin Southwell

Airbus Group UK

Mike Turner

GKN and Babcock International

Nigel Whitehead

BAE Systems

Sir Peter Luff, MP

House of Commons

Each year there are more than 23,000 blood donation sessions at more than 4,500 venues; unfortunately, sometimes there are problems

Sir, We would like to apologise to your readers (letters Jan 3) regarding their experiences of giving blood. Each year we run more than 23,000 blood donation sessions at more than 4,500 venues. We plan our sessions carefully and regularly review them to ensure we are able to meet the need for blood. We work hard to offer a good balance between walk-in slots and appointments so every donor who wants to donate can do so at a time that is convenient for them. We value every donor and we do our best not to turn anyone away and to keep waiting times as short as possible.

However, we acknowledge that we do not always get things right and we are sorry when we do not provide the level of service that donors rightly expect from us. We have recently improved our website so that donors can see appointment availability and book appointments online up to the day of a session. Despite this, there is still more to be done to improve the service to our donors. We will continue to work hard to ensure that donation is a very positive experience.

Lynda Hamlyn

NHS Blood and Transplant


Appointments to the Order of the Thistle and the Order of Merit are honours in the Queen’s personal gift, normally announced separately

Sir, The New Year Honours List differed from those of the last 50 odd years in a way unremarked by the media. It included appointments to the Order of the Thistle and the Order of Merit, honours in the Queen’s personal gift. For over half a century they have been announced separately, to emphasise that, unlike most other honours, they are not made on the advice of ministers.

The three new OMs deserve comments. Sir Simon Rattle is the first conductor appointed purely as such. Yehudi Menuhin (1987) was also distinguished as a violinist and Henry Wood, although considered shortly before his death in 1944, was made a CH and not an OM.

Dr Martin West is the first classicist appointed since Ronald Syme (1976) and the first Greek scholar since Gilbert Murray (1941).

Sir Magdi Yacoub is only the third surgeon appointed, after Joseph Lister, the founder of antiseptic surgery (1902) and Wilder Penfield, the Canadian neurosurgeon (1953, the first OM of the Queen’s reign).

Stanley Martin

London SE22



Appointments to the Order of the Thistle and the Order of Merit are honours in the Queen’s personal gift, normally announced separately

Sir, The New Year Honours List differed from those of the last 50 odd years in a way unremarked by the media. It included appointments to the Order of the Thistle and the Order of Merit, honours in the Queen’s personal gift. For over half a century they have been announced separately, to emphasise that, unlike most other honours, they are not made on the advice of ministers.

The three new OMs deserve comments. Sir Simon Rattle is the first conductor appointed purely as such. Yehudi Menuhin (1987) was also distinguished as a violinist and Henry Wood, although considered shortly before his death in 1944, was made a CH and not an OM.

Dr Martin West is the first classicist appointed since Ronald Syme (1976) and the first Greek scholar since Gilbert Murray (1941).

Sir Magdi Yacoub is only the third surgeon appointed, after Joseph Lister, the founder of antiseptic surgery (1902) and Wilder Penfield, the Canadian neurosurgeon (1953, the first OM of the Queen’s reign).

Stanley Martin

London SE22





SIR – There is an alternative to Matthew d’Ancona’s argument (“Cameron must stop the sleepwalk to a Labour win”) that David Cameron must pander to the Right-ish Labour-inclined vote.

Yes, the Conservatives must do their best to convert the positive economic statistics into a “feelgood factor” and to associate the Government with this. But this must not be done by merging Conservative policies with those of Labour; this is especially true if the Conservatives are to argue – as they must – that the continued growth of the British economy will be threatened if Labour came to power.

Conservative policies should favour low taxation, competition (particularly in the energy sector), support for large-scale private investment projects (such as a third runway for Heathrow) and the free flow of capital unrestricted and undistorted by the European Union – different priorities from those which I suspect Mr d’Ancona has in mind.

The “target” is not the 6 per cent of Labour voters who might vote Conservative, but the entire electorate.

Lord Spicer
London SW1

Supreme court

SIR – Where was the legal authority for our politicians to surrender our sovereignty or to replace our House of Lords with a “supreme” court from which appeals can be made to courts in a foreign land?

Why did our judges allow this to happen in the first place? As Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Judge should have ruled against it all years ago.

Joe Emery
Standlake, Oxfordshire

SIR – With MPs expected to vote overwhelmingly to retain the ban on prisoner voting, Dean Spielmann, the president of the European Court of Human Rights, states that, following such a vote, it “might be very difficult [for Britain] to stay in the European Union” .

There we are, then. I’m sure he knows best.

Roger Hopkins
Eastbourne, East Sussex

Keeping the Union

SIR – In what could be a momentous year for the UK, I hope we are going to hear the very positive case from our politicians and opinion-formers as to why we English value our Union with Scotland and want it to endure.

The marriage is not perfect but it works: divorce would be protracted, messy, expensive and acrimonious. The case for the Union must not go by default.

Malcolm Williams
Southsea, Hampshire

Liberal Islam

SIR – I worked for several years in Saudi Arabia and had the opportunity to discuss Islam with several Muslim elders, many with liberal views. They advised that the consumption of pork and alcohol was banned, but not necessarily its handling.

In Britain we have allowed many radical teachers to promote their interpretations to the young and it is time we saw some more learned explanation from more liberal Islamic scholars, particularly on these contentious issues.

Keith Taylor
Peterchurch, Herefordshire

Smacking ban

SIR – I can remember as a young teenager when I received a well-deserved smack for trying out a cigarette, and another for trying to deny it.

I loved my mother dearly and it’s frightening to think that, by today’s attitudes, she might have been prosecuted or had her children taken into care.

The Children’s Commissioner for England uses the word “violence”, but I’m sure that all adults know when physical chastisement is taken to extremes.

The existing laws surely suffice and parents should be able to bring up their children to know what discipline means without the fear of a knock on their door.

R H Wilshire
Ton Pentre, Glamorgan

Unqualified surgeons

SIR – While it is illegal for anyone other than a veterinary surgeon or a holder of a Home Office licence to operate on a dog, anybody, with or without qualifications, can call themselves a surgeon, and operate on a human (“Action to tackle the cowboy cosmetic surgeons after breast implant scandal”, report, December 29).

Gullible and insecure individuals submit themselves to cosmetic surgery, naively assuming that the operator is surgically trained and appropriately qualified.

The public would be best protected from cowboys if the use of the title “surgeon” was restricted to members of the Royal Colleges.

David Nunn FRCS
Port Isaac, Cornwall

Egyptian Christians

SIR – Alexandra Wakid (Letters, December 29) is being economical with the truth. Has she forgotten the terror with which Christians imposed themselves on Egypt?

The worst example was the murder of Hypatia, an innocent philosopher.

Dr Michael Ford
Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Lot-et-Garonne, France

Roads versus rail

SIR – Ruth Epstein (Letters, December 29) also seems to miss the point about HS2. Transport history shows that railways have been far less damaging to the countryside than roads.

Lest we forget, more than 3,000 miles of motorway and trunk road construction since the Sixties amounts to about 30 times the land-take of the

350-mile HS2 twin-track railway.

Simon Hope

Radio 3 changes

SIR – Roger Wright, the controller of BBC Radio 3, advocates a move towards the broadcasting of shorter works and an increase in film and television soundtracks on his network: both long-established hallmarks of Classic FM.

Without a penny of public money, Classic FM reaches an audience of around 5.5 million people every week, over two and a half times more than its subsidised competitor, Radio 3. Meanwhile, Radio 3 and the BBC orchestras are handed £83.5 million of public licence-fee funding each year.

Mr  Wright’s recent editorial changes move Radio 3 even further away from its previous distinctive position, making it harder than ever for Radio 3 to justify its privileged public funding. The BBC appears intent on moving its network into the space occupied by a commercial radio competitor in a market of only two stations.

At a time when thoughts turn to the BBC’s charter renewal, surely it is now right to ask whether this reduction in listener choice in the classical space represents appropriate behaviour and responsible use of £83.5m of public money. Radio 3 must remain distinctive as a publicly funded BBC service.

Darren Henley
Managing Director, Classic FM
London WC2

SIR – Roger Wright’s attempt to defend his destruction of Radio 3 will strike no chords with the many once-loyal listeners who are abandoning the channel.

A fine example of the “intelligent, educational and enjoyable” output we can look forward to under his new regime was the introduction to a Wagner Ring Cycle broadcast before Christmas.

First we were told that this was “the greatest operatic story ever told” (even Wagner lovers have difficulty following the appallingly complex plot) and then that it would begin with “the most epic musical prelude ever”.

Presumably Mr Wright sees such silly generalisations as being “key” to attracting a new generation of music lovers.

Tony Newbery
Llanbedr, Caernarfonshire

Early Easter egg hunt

SIR – Duncan Rayner (Letters, December 29) hasn’t looked very hard for early Easter eggs.

A display could be seen on December 27 at Membury Services on the M4 in Berkshire.

Charles Dobson
Burton-in-Kendal, Westmorland

SIR – I saw hot cross buns in Lidl on Christmas Eve.

Wendy Hodgson
Morecambe, Lancashire


SIR – British officialdom cannot see how to stem the flow of heavily pregnant foreign women to Britain to have their babies using NHS resources and at the British taxpayer’s expense. Even when detected at our borders, airlines can refuse to fly them home, leaving Britain to pick up the cost.

One solution would be to charge the airlines a performance bond at least equal to the cost of providing maternity care for each non-British pregnant passenger arriving in Britain. This could be done at immigration control and added to the airline’s bills for fuel and other services.

If the passenger was honest and returned home still pregnant, the bond would be returned. If the passenger had to use the NHS’s resources for a birth, then the bond would be forfeit and the airline would claim against the passenger.

An increase in forfeited bonds would quickly cause the airlines to take more responsibility and lobby for, or provide, better screening procedures in foreign departure lounges and reduce the flow of these unwelcome health tourists.

Mike Watts
Maenporth, Cornwall

SIR – Your leader (December 29) identified the “something for nothing” view of Britain’s public services and immigration.

The Government’s half-baked proposal for restricting benefits will, however, go against EU rules.

The solution is to use National Insurance (NI) contributions, not as another stealth tax, as they are currently, but as a requirement in order to be eligible for receipt of welfare and other benefits. A five-year contribution to National Insurance before receipt of benefits would do much to ensure that the welfare system was no longer an alternative lifestyle for many.

If access to the NHS also required a history of NI contributions, it would put a stop to the “Lagos shuttle” as medical treatment would require either a valid record on NI contributions or the use of a credit card for payment. The NHS might then start looking at us all as customers rather than an inconvenient nuisance. David Brinkman Poole, Dorset

SIR – Surely if a medic carried out a fundal height tape test to ascertain how close a passenger was to giving birth before allowing her on the flight, we would avoid most of the deceit.

When I had an orthopaedic accident in France some years ago, they laughed at my E111 and called for my credit card.

The NHS is not the International Health Service, and should not be treated as such.

Jacqueline Curzon
Edgware, Middlesex

SIR – From now on, anyone arriving at a hospital for antenatal treatment should either show their National Health number, with a countersigned authorisation from their own GP, or pay up front.

Jean Adams
Charlbury, Oxfordshire

SIR – When having my oldest son in 1984, I was the only British national in an NHS ward of five. The other four mothers made no secret of the fact that they had flown in to have their babies delivered on the NHS because it was safer for them, as well as being free. Has the Government only just discovered this problem? People are not opposed to immigrants per se, but to the stress put on services which are free at the point of delivery. Our taxes are supporting far more people and services than they should be.

Deborah Unsdorfer
London NW11

SIR – There is a simple solution.

The medical treatment for these “health tourists” should be classified as “overseas aid” and the NHS should be reimbursed by the Department for International Development.

These amounts could then be deducted from the aid given to the relevant countries sending these “tourists” to us.

David Neeson
Chagford, Devon

SIR – Mary MacLeod, the Tory MP, uses the expression “equality of opportunity” to defend proposed changes to the inheritance of hereditary titles.

But the logical consequence of applying “equality of opportunity” to hereditary titles is their abolition. I write as a conservative who agrees with the 2nd Viscount Falkland: “When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.”

There may be a case for changing the rules of inheritance where the title would otherwise die out, and a case for changing the law for new creations so that the title can pass to the eldest child (though a younger child may wonder whether this would represent “equality of opportunity”). However, in general, where there is a male heir, changing the law is simply removing the rights of person A and giving them to person B.

J Alan Smith
Epping, Essex




Irish Times:


Sir, – The words of Pádraig Ó hUiginn (Letter, December 12th) should be noted by planners of services for people who are homeless.

We in Trust knew well the couple who froze to death, and others too who died in that area. We knew the site where people slept rough before the Defence Forces were called in by Albert Reynolds to set up a shelter. When it was set up we visited regularly to support the staff in their efforts to give care to those who stayed there. It was very well run by the members of the Defence Forces. It was clean, warm, safe and nourishing food was provided. It was subsequently taken over by the Salvation Army and we continued to provide support there.

To suggest setting up such a basic well-run shelter now is considered old-fashioned, as I only too well know. This is happening at a time when sleeping bags can be clearly seen throughout the city. Those in a position to do something cannot accept the fact that there is a real need for basic emergency accommodation and if they cannot accept this fact they need to be asked why.

It is my experience of working in the field of homelessness now for 40 years that if something doesn’t cost a lot of money it is considered to be ineffective. – Yours, etc,


Director & Co-Founder,


Bride Road, Dublin 8.


Sir, – GPs around the country will echo the sentiments expressed by Dr Brendan Crowley (December 27th) about the undue stress and hardship imposed on patients by the HSE in its efforts to cull medical cards. I and my GP colleagues see the problems every day in our surgeries when patients who are entitled to medical cards have had their cards revoked in the so-called “cull”.

Even the HSE itself expressed serious concern at the practice and the potential savings, following which we saw a much-welcomed U-turn by the Minister, upon the announcement of the HSE Service Plan (whereby the savings to be achieved in the cull were significantly reduced).

The mantra of Government is that everyone who is entitled to a medical card will receive one; if only that were true. The bureaucratic nonsense that is the current system is causing distress to already vulnerable patients.

As GPs we have engaged with the Primary Care Reimbursement Service to ensure the medical card database is accurate, however, at the end of the day it is the responsibility of the HSE, as the recorder of births and deaths to maintain an accurate database. It is neither practical nor desirable that this be the responsibility of GPs. However, more needs to be done by the HSE to ensure that the system is manageable and transparent.

This debacle over the medical cards is another example of the lack of IT development in the health services generally. This must be urgently addressed if we are to seriously tackle inefficiencies in the system. – Yours, etc,


Chairman, GP Committee,

Irish Medical Organisation,

Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin 2.


Sir, – John Waters constructs a world media conspiracy which portrayed Pope Benedict as “unsympathetic and conservative” and which now depicts Pope Francis as “a caring and people’s Pope” (Opinion, January 3rd).

While these media constructed descriptions are not fully adequate they do describe in broad sweeps the personalities of both men. The only radical action Pope Benedict ever did was to resign, thus allowing a new pope to assume this office.

From the adoption of the name Francis to his blueprint for a new church as outlined in his recent letter “The Joy of the Gospel” this new Pope is a breath of fresh air. His calls for the “conversion of the papacy’ and a de-clericalised church are radical and needed reforms which have come from Pope Francis himself and are not media constructs.

The fact that Francis’s attempted limited reforms are already meeting with resistance, both within the Vatican and outside it, shows that he is seen as a radical shift within the Catholic Church and beyond. – Yours, etc,


The Moorings,



Sir, – Perhaps the answer to David Walsh’s concerns (January 3rd) is that trade unions and other such organisations should never get involved with issues outside their area of competence and interest and should not take a stand on issues such as this on the simple basis that their members will be as divided as the general population and taking a position can only represent a portion of the membership.

Prostitution it seems has “always” been part of human activity and I guess always will be, but that does not diminish in any way the abhorrence with which the vast majority of people view it, people who recognise how demeaning it is for both parties but particularly for the women concerned and the brutality and cruelty involved in forced prostitution which only expands when the legal brakes are removed. Witness the recent experience of Germany where organised crime has found it a very lucrative trade.

It is easy and convenient to dress up a reluctance to legislate to reduce prostitution as a matter of freedom and choice, but freedom and choice are relevant to very few; what is involved here is an effort to protect the majority from coercion. The sex trade in all its forms is full of victims. – Yours, etc,


Dublin Road,


Sir, – I was surprised to read Alan Barrett of the ESRI (“Emigration to fall as the economy improves”, Home News, December 25th, 26th & 27th) perpetrate a causal (indeed, maybe casual) relationship between a dubious improvement in the economy and a fall in emigration. The fall in emigration is more to do with the fact that the people who have emigrated up to now are our best skilled, motivated and responsible citizens, with fewer of these left to emigrate. –Yours , etc,


The Rise,


Dublin 9.



Sir, – The Ha’penny Bridge is looking pretty shabby these days with the proliferation of padlocks affectionately reffered to as “Love Locks” by the culprits.

Let’s hope Dublin City Council’s New Year resolution will be to devise an effective plan to combat this intolerable vandalism. – Yours, etc,


Cypress Springs,

Mill Lane,




Sir, –The Abbey Theatre’s imminent first major revival of Sive in more than 20 years is greatly awaited. The handout for the production states that this – John B Keane’s first play (1959) – was “famously” rejected by the Abbey Theatre. Akin to the institution’s pedantic spurning of Peter O’Toole in 1952, should the promo not read “notoriously”? – Yours, etc,


Marley Avenue,

Sir, – James Heron Connolly (January 3rd) and the Save 16 Moore Street campaign may mean well, but one struggles to understand what they think they are saving. The buildings whose future has been the source of so much hand-wringing have been nothing but shells for many years, prevented from total collapse only by steel supports.

Even in their original state the Moore Street building were very ordinary shops and houses, devoid of any features of architectural interest. There is no purpose in preserving them in their present, unsafe and derelict condition, and very little benefit to be imagined in restoring them to their original state. Moore Street and its environs are already entirely different to the way they were in 1916, a state that cannot be restored by retaining a few redbrick ruins.

Arguments for preservation are based on the fact that the buildings sheltered some remnants of the rebel leadership for a few hours at the end of the 1916 Rising. However, the rebels are associated equally with many other locations. Conway’s pub on Parnell Street, now closed, is where the leaders met to plan the Rising and draft the famous proclamation. Their headquarters at the GPO was the scene of the longest occupation and heaviest fighting for the men who surrendered finally in Moore Street. The rebels also held Dublin Castle, St Stephen’s Green, Boland’s Mills and occupied any number of other sites at various times. Should the entire city be forever encased in aspic to placate 1916 nostalgics?

The best tribute to the rebels would be to see their vision of a just and prosperous Ireland come to pass. A real “freedom trail” would navigate a city of full employment, equal opportunity, good health and social harmony.

Instead, a few misplaced idealists are striving to prevent the renewal of what has long been one of the most deprived areas in the country. The retention of the Moore Street buildings argues for a return to the past, at a time when the whole country is crying out for a new future. – Yours, etc,


Shamrock Street,

Phibsboro, Dublin 7


Sir, – Whether Danny Morrison (December 31st) is right or not that other northern parties were more guilty of personation than Sinn Féin, I cannot say.

We can, however, look back in history to the early 1870s when some by-election successes by Fenian candidates were dismissed by the landlord faction as merely the result of intimidation by a tiny band of ruffian Fenians. The British took them at their word and finally granted the secret ballot throughout the UK. The unintended consequence of the landlords’ successful propaganda was the end of their own electoral influence, not that of the Fenians. In the first election under the new rules in 1874, Joseph Biggar and four other Fenians were elected, proving that fear of the wealthy had a far greater impact on previous elections than had the supposed fear of gunmen. Within a few years, on the back of the secret ballot, Parnell built a party that ended landlordism forever.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if Morrison is correct, if the tight rules brought in the North to stop supposed Sinn Féin personation, actually benefited Sinn Féin? History shows the great and the good can sometimes can get it very wrong, shooting themselves in the foot, as it were. – Yours, etc,


Ferndale Road,


Sir, – Your “Underperforming teachers to face censure” headline (Home News, January 3rd) belies the fact that various mechanisms for censuring teachers – including disciplinary procedures and Department of Education inspectors’ reports – have existed for decades.

Insofar as these mechanisms may have been ineffective, that is not the fault of teachers.

Interestingly, I have seen no clamour for sanctioning school principals whose schools have underperformed by reference to the Irish Times “school league tables”.

All of this smacks yet again of one law for the little people and no law for their “superiors”. – Yours, etc,


Russell Court,


Sir, – In my 50 years as a practising pension consultant I have not read as clear and concise an article on this subject as that written by Niall O’Callaghan (Business, January 2nd). I sincerely hope that ministers Burton and Noonan take on board the three very clear recommendations set out in the article. – Yours, etc,



College Grove,



Sir, – The incomprehensible decision to grant permission for the scale of expansion of the Irish Jewish Museum raises many questions (Home News, December 30th).

The first ones must be why did the Taoiseach give it his backing before it had gone through the planning process, was it appropriate to do so and, in light of that endorsement, did the residents stand any chance at all? – Yours, etc,


Cluny Park,


Co Dublin.


A chara, – The new year dawns. The troika has left town. Yet my health insurance annual premium (for spouse and self) has gone up by €807, a jump of 24 per cent. The Government is directly responsible for the greater part of this – its budget decision to reduce tax relief on premiums accounts for 55.3 per cent of the total increase.

These staggering rises come at a time when we’ve been hearing about big top-ups for high-earners in the health sector, but perish the thought that there could be any correlation.

No doubt all will be solved when the Government’s universal health insurance policy is finally implemented. I, for one, can’t wait. – Is mise,







Irish Independent:

Once, a long time ago, I bought a shotgun. I had gotten into my head to go hunting and thought this might be fun.

Also in this section

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As soon as this gun was in my possession, it felt good, powerful, and as I fingered the beautiful French engraving on the steel and Oakwood butt right down to the trigger finger, that feeling of power grew.

The next day I found myself in Connemara on the hunt for a rabbit or anything else that was legal to shoot. I did not have to wait long. In fact, I hardly had to get out of my car for there he was, my prey, my rabbit, right in front of me — less than 10 metres away.

Surely he will at least make a run for it, give himself a sporting chance, though he may not have shared my point of view.

As I reached for the gun clumsily and noisily, took precious agonising seconds to load it, this rabbit did not move; when I slowly took aim at him, he did not move even then.

I was now looking at him with his heart still beating, eyes bright and wide, standing on his hind legs erect and pausing with a living, breathing curiosity, when time seemed to stand still as I pressed down on the trigger.

The gun kicked back, seeming to recoil at its own violence as thunder crashed into my ear.

The rabbit was dead.

I walked up to him, or it, for I did not know if it was a male or a female and could not tell, and surely it did not matter now to the rabbit.

The following week, I sold the gun at a loss, sure in the knowledge that I could never go killing for fun any more or ever kill again unless I needed to.

Barry Clifford

Oughterard, Co Galway



An international electricity grid, as called for by Ed Davey, makes a lot of sense.

It is quite possible with high voltage direct current to transmit electricity for thousands of miles as efficiently as we now do so over dozens of miles.

The establishment of our national grid allowed a much more efficient production of power and, since there is a virtually 1:1 correlation between growth in electricity use and national income, it also helped us out of the Depression.

An international grid could not only do the same for the world but, because peak demand varies across timezones, the effect of making power produced in China at midnight instantly available to us and vice versa, would be of huge use.

Many industry experts have long called for such a programme but, as usual, the problems have been political. This is why almost all projects undertaken have been with large countries rather than between them.

However, Mr Davey has failed by limiting the idea to just the EU. It has, for ideological reasons, the world’s most expensive electricity. Competition to reduce costs is not going to work if the only competitors allowed are the most expensive ones.

By comparison, Iceland, Russia and Canada have most of the world’s cheapest power — and all reachable. We could have done this long ago but if we wish to give our economy a chance — or even wish simply to keep the lights on — we should build it now.

Neil Craig

Woodlands Road, Glasgow



The new year dawns. The troika has left town. Yet my health insurance annual premium (for spouse and self) has gone up by €807 — a jump of 24pc.

The Government is directly responsible for the greater part of this — the Budget decision to reduce tax relief on premiums accounts for 55.3pc of the total increase.

These staggering rises come at a time when we’ve been hearing about big top-ups for high earners in the health sector — but perish the thought that there could be any correlation.

No doubt all will be solved when the universal health insurance policy is implemented. I for one can’t wait.

John Glennon

Co Wicklow



From real experience I fully support the suggestion (Irish Independent, January 3) that schools be given greater control over budgets and testify that it makes infinite sense.

More than 20 years ago as an English school principal — along with my board of management — we took on complete financial accountability and management of our school.

Our almost 100 staff were all subject to annual performance reviews during which clear and measurable targets were set and our salary progression determined accordingly.

Amazingly, your anonymous INTO spokesperson labels local financial management as a UK Conservative Party policy and expresses surprise that an Irish Labour minister would propose such a policy.

Local management has enjoyed the wholehearted support of all British political parties and especially local communities, parents and learners.

My hope is that the National Parents’ Council will wholeheartedly support initiatives that would bring greater decision making and accountability at school level.

Alan Whelan

Beaufort, Co Kerry



I have come to the conclusion that Ireland should leave the EU or at least the eurozone while we still can.

Europe has brought us nothing but trouble from the word go and has us in the mess we now find ourselves in.

We have seen politicians coming back with promises on a weekly basis that all would be sorted, when instead we are being hauled in like a fish on a line into a deeper relationship with Europe, steadily being taken over by a resurgent Germany.

Our Government needs to listen to your columnist, David McWilliams, who has hit the nail on the head a number of times with his warnings about where this will lead us.

One of these mornings we will wake up and find our bank accounts raided by Angela & Co.

S O’Rourke

Co Galway



* It appears A Leavy (Irish Independent, January 4) has misunderstood the points I was making (Irish Independent, January 2). At no point did I make a case for defaulting on our bank debts and incurring the consequences to which Mr Leavy alludes.

Similarly, I did not blame the “big bad foreigner” for what happened to this country. It is simply a fact that large European banks and investment funds were among those to be paid in full by Irish citizens on their failed investments in private Irish banks.

Finally, I certainly did not say that our “financial decision makers were so innocent”, in fact, I said the very opposite.

Simon O’Connor

Crumlin, Dublin 12



* A number of contributors (Irish Independent, January 4) commented on how the festive season has grown from Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day to — the sky’s the limit. In my lifetime, it used to be only December 25.

A friend tells me that when the big day falls on a Wednesday, some employers have difficulties with staff resuming work two days later, while others opt to take an extra day. Most bosses would prefer a cleaner break.

So, on the first occasion in the 1970s when Christmas fell on a Wednesday, a certain employer gave the Friday as an extra day — a one-off.

The following Christmas, the company concerned had to concede that it had established an extra day’s holiday at Christmas and that stands to this day. For some reason the extra day is known as a ‘clear day’.

But all that is a long way behind our beloved TDs.

RJ Hanly

Screen, Co Wexford

Irish Independent




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