Charles and Marj

6 February 2014 Charles and Marj
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to organize a party   Priceless.
Pick up old books, Charles and Marj come for coffee, thermabloc arrives
Scrabble today Mary wins, just.  and get under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.

Sir Cyril Townsend who has died aged 75, was a liberal Conservative who represented Bexleyheath for 23 years, surviving an attempt to deselect him after he helped bring about Margaret Thatcher’s downfall in 1990 by campaigning for Michael Heseltine.
To many the ultimate Tory “wet”, Townsend was a protégé of Edward Heath, inheriting part of his constituency when he entered Parliament at the February 1974 election which saw his mentor ousted from power. His support for Mrs Thatcher’s government was fitful, and he harboured animosity towards Norman Tebbit for his views on Europe, immigration and the BBC.
Exuding what Andrew Alexander saw as “an air of weary reasonableness”, he was strongly pro-European, supported the Palestinians and the Greek Cypriots and pressed after the Falklands conflict for reconciliation with Argentina.
Townsend opposed Mrs Thatcher’s “Fortress Falklands” policy, saying Britain could not indefinitely support a “tiny village-colony 8,000 miles away”. He was one of the first MPs – with Labour’s George Foulkes – to re-engage with politicians in Buenos Aires, being pelted with eggs for his pains.
Coming from a family with Irish roots (and with a cousin in the Republic’s foreign ministry), Townsend combined a personal unionism with increasing dismay at the deteriorating relationship with Dublin under Mrs Thatcher. His opposition to the broadcast ban on Sinn Fein leaders did not stop the IRA including him on their death list.
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Townsend opposed cuts and freezes in benefits and fought the abolition of the Greater London Council, saying a slimmed down version could house “the last and least in our society”. Denouncing Sir Geoffrey Howe’s deflationary Budget of 1981, he said: “I did not come into politics to be a member of the Kamikaze Pilots’ Association.”
Yet Townsend joined a Right-wing revolt against what he considered an over-friendly deal by Tom King with the TUC. Nor was he among the dozen Tories reckoned by the whips to be at risk of defecting to the SDP. He did, though, eventually break with the Conservative party, joining the Liberal Democrats in 2005.
A former regular Army officer, Townsend pressed for a robust stance against the Soviet Union. He joined Mrs Thatcher in calling for a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics after the invasion of Afghanistan, warned as late as 1988 that the Red Army still had “an aggressive posture and capability”, and cautioned John Major against excessive defence cuts. Backbench Tories eight times elected him vice-chairman of their defence committee.
Cyril David Townsend was born in Woking on December 21 1937, the son of Lt-Col Cyril Townsend, severely wounded at Dunkirk when his son was three, and the former Lois Henderson. Educated at Bradfield (where he appeared in a play with the future Labour Foreign Secretary and SDP leader David Owen) and Sandhurst, he was commissioned into the Durham Light Infantry.
He saw active service in Cyprus during the Emergency and in Borneo during the confrontation with Indonesia, and in Berlin guarded Rudolf Hess (Townsend later chaired the all-party committee for Hess’s release). After two years as ADC to the governor and commander-in-chief in Hong Kong, and two more as adjutant to 1st Bn DLI, he left the Army in 1968.
Townsend joined the Conservatives in Totnes, and in short order was picked by Heath as one of his personal assistants. When Heath led the Tories back to power in 1970 Townsend crossed the river to become political secretary to Sir Desmond Plummer, leader of the GLC, doubling as home affairs desk officer at the Conservative Research Department.
Boundary changes led Heath to leave Bexley for the safer new seat of Sidcup, and Townsend was adopted in 1972 for what was now Bexleyheath. The seat was reckoned marginal, but despite the Tory defeat in the snap “who governs Britain?” election, mistimed badly by Heath, Townsend took it by 3,686 votes. By his final campaign in 1992, he had built his majority to 14,086.
In a “hung” House, Townsend was the only Tory to vote for a Labour rate settlement that benefited his constituents. He was appointed to the Select Committee on Violence in the Family, and in 1977 promoted a Bill to curb child pornographers which reached the statute book as the Protection of Children Act, 1978. When Labour Left-wingers blocked it over an unrelated argument, Michael Foot, Leader of the House, promised to make sure it went through.
When Mrs Thatcher came to power in 1979 Townsend had no hope of a ministerial post, given his ties to Heath. He did become PPS to Reg Prentice, Minister of State for Social Services, but resigned after six months over tougher immigration rules for Asian fiances.
After heavy losses in the 1989 Euro-elections, Townsend blamed Mrs Thatcher’s Eurosceptic Bruges speech, saying the Conservatives had to re-establish themselves as the “party of Europe”.
The Prime Minister was heading the other way, however, and after her “No, No, No” to closer union which triggered Sir Geoffrey Howe’s resignation, Townsend urged Heseltine to challenge her. During the subsequent contest he worked for Heseltine, despite activists in Bexleyheath having opted 4-1 for Mrs Thatcher. When Major emerged victorious, Townsend pledged his support. Weeks later, he survived a move to deselect him by 168 votes to 113.
He spent his final term on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and chairing the UN parliamentary group. He left the House in 1997 with a knighthood after failing to secure the Conservative nomination for the redrawn seat of Bexleyheath and Crayford.
Townsend represented the Commons at skiing and tennis. He chaired the British-Cyprus Parliamentary Group, the Conservative Middle East Council and the South Atlantic Group, which he co-founded. From 1995 to 2002 he was director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, and contributed to Arabic newspapers.
Cyril Townsend married Anita Walshe in 1976. They had two sons.
Cyril Townsend, born December 21 1937, died November 20 2013


The story of modern Russia is the story of dramatic, almost seismic change. Russian voices, both literary and journalistic, have always striven to make themselves heard above the clamour of their nation’s unfolding story – commenting on it, shaping it and, in doing so, contributing to the political and intellectual shape of the world far beyond their country’s borders. But during the last 18 months, Russian lawmakers have passed a number of laws that place a chokehold on the right to express oneself freely in Russia. As writers and artists, we cannot stand quietly by as we watch our fellow writers and journalists pressed into silence or risking prosecution and often drastic punishment for the mere act of communicating their thoughts.
Three of these laws specifically put writers at risk: the so-called gay “propaganda” and “blasphemy” laws, prohibiting the “promotion” of homosexuality and “religious insult” respectively, and the recriminalisation of defamation. A healthy democracy must hear the independent voices of all its citizens; the global community needs to hear, and be enriched by, the diversity of Russian opinion. We therefore urge the Russian authorities to repeal these laws that strangle free speech, to recognise Russia’s obligations under the international covenant on civil and political rights to respect freedom of opinion, expression and belief – including the right not to believe – and to commit itself to creating an environment in which all citizens can experience the benefit of the free exchange of opinion.
Aki Kaurismäki, Abdizhamil Nurpeisov, Alejandro Sánchez-Aizcorbe, Alek Popov, Aleksandar Hemon, Alexander Gorodnitskiy, Alexey Simonov, Ali Smith, Alix Ohlin, Anders Heger, Anders Jerichow, Andrea Reiter, Andrei Nekrasov, Andrej Nikolaidis, Angel Cuadra, Annabel Lyon, Anthony Appiah, Antonio Della Rocca, Ariel Dorfman, Arnon Grunberg, Bei Dao, Bei Ling, Bigeldy Gabdullin, Carl Morten Iversen, Carme Arenas, Carol Ann Duffy, Cary Fagan, Charles Foran, Charlotte Gray, Chen Maiping, Ching-His Perng, Christine McKenzie, Christoph Hein, Clayton Ruby, Daniel Cil Brecher, Daniel Leuwers, Daša Drndic, David Bezmozgis, David Malouf, David Van Reybrouck, DBC Pierre, Debbie Ohi, EL Doctorow, Edward Albee, Eeva Park, Elfriede Jelinek, Elif Shafak, Ellen Seligman, Emile Martel, Entela Kasi, Eric Lax, Erwin Mortier, Eugene Benson, Eugene Schoulgin, Evelyn Juers, Francine Prose, Francois Thisdale, Françoise Coulmin, Fred Viebahn, Freya Klier, Gabrielle Alioth, Gao Yu, George Melnyk, Gert Heidenreich, Gioconda Belli, Gloria Guardia, Günter Grass, Günter Kunert, Guy Stern, Haroon Siddiqui, Helaine Becker, Helen Garner, Herkus Kuncius, Hori Takeaki, Ian McEwan, Igor Irteniev, Ilija Trojanow, Indrek Koff, Ingo Schulze, Irina Surat, Jane Urquhart, Janice Williamson, Janne Teller, Jarkko Tontti, Jean-Luc Despax, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jennifer Clement, Jennifer Egan, Jennifer Lanthier, Jo Glanville, Jo Hermann, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, John Ashbery, John Massey, John Ralston Saul, Joke van Leeuwen, Jon Lee Anderson, Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Lethem, Josef Haslinger, Jostein Gaarder, Jukka Koskelainen, Jukka Laajarinne, Julian Barnes, Karen Connelly, Katherine Govier, Kätlin Kaldmaa, Kirsty Gunn, Kjell Westö, Klaus Staeck, Kyo Maclear, Larry Siems, Laurel Croza, Laurence Paton, Lauri Otonkoski, Lawrence Hill, Leena Parkkinen, Linwood Barclay, LIU Di, Lorna Crozier, Louise Dennys, Lucina Kathmann, Ludmila Ulitskaya, Ma Jian, Ma Thida, Magda Carneci, Margaret Atwood, Margie Orford, Marian Botsford Fraser, Mark Harris, Markéta Hejkalová, Markus Nummi, Marsha Skrypuch, Masha Gessen, Max Alhau, Michael Guggenheimer, Michael Krueger, Michael MacLennan, Michael Ondaatje, Michelle de Kretser, Miriam Cosic, Myrna Kostash, Nadezda Cacinovic, Neetha Barclay, Neil Bissoondath, Neil Gaiman, Nelofer Pazira, Niels Barfoed, Nino Ricci, Ola Larsmo, Oleg Khlebnikov, Olga Kuchkina, Orhan Pamuk, Patricia Storms, Patrick Lane, Paul Auster, Per Wästberg, Peter Godwin, Peter Normann Waage, Peter Schneider, Peter Stamm, Peter von Bagh, Philip Slayton, Philippe Pujas, QI Jiazhen, Raficq Abdulla, Ralph Giordano, Raymond Louw, Rein Raud, René Appel, Riikka Pelo, Robert Chang, Rohinton Mistry, Ron Deibert, Russell Banks, Salman Rushdie, Sarah Slean, Sergey Gandlevskiy, Sheila Heti, Sheree Fitch, Simon Racioppa, Siri Hustvedt, Sirpa Kähkönen, Sjón, Smagul Yelubay, Sofi Oksanen, Sreko Horvat, Steven Galloway, Susan Coyne, Susin Nielsen, Suzanne Nossel, Sylvestre Clancier, Tanis Rideout, Terry Fallis, Thomas Keneally, Tienchi Martin-Liao, Tomica Bajsic, Tone Peršak, Tony Cohan, Tony Kushner, Ulrich Beck, Uwe Timm, Valery Nikolayev, Veronika Dolina, Vida Ognjenovic, Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen, Vincent Lam, Vladislav Bajac, William Nygaard, William Schwalbe, Wole Soyinka, Yang Lian, Yann Martel, Yuri Ryashentsev, Zhang Yu, Zhao Shiying, Ching-Hsi Perng

I am deeply concerned by the response of Fakhraddin Gurbanov, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the UK (Letter, 30 January), to Anastasia Taylor-Lind’s interview and photograph (My best shot, 24 January) showing a wedding in the historically Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. I’ve visited Nagorno-Karabakh 80 times, many during the bitter war from 1991 to 1994, and I witnessed Azerbaijan’s attempted ethnic cleansing of Armenians, including firing 400 GRAD missiles a day on the civilians in the capital city of Stepanakert, and numerous atrocities, including the slaughter of civilians in the village of Maragha in 1992. I saw the homes still smoldering, decapitated corpses, charred human remains, and survivors in shock. In a nearby hospital I met the chief nurse who had lost 14 members of her extended family including her son, whose head had been sawn off. As Mr Gurbanov suggested Ms Taylor-Lind should widen her perspective by speaking to displaced peoples within Azerbaijan, so I suggest he speak to the survivors of Maragha. Azerbaijan’s aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh has turned into a policy of attempted attrition through economic and military intimidation, with aggressive propaganda threatening further military offensives. This policy prolongs the suffering of civilians displaced by the conflict – both Azeris and Armenians, leaving many in limbo and in poverty.
If Azerbaijan’s government removes the threat of renewed military action, supports the shaky ceasefire and pursues confidence-building measures, then perhaps opportunities for peace-building could develop, including provision for displaced peoples to return to their homes – a matter about which the ambassador claims to feel so strongly.
Caroline Cox
House of Lords
• The ambassador of Azerbaijan says that Taylor-Lind should visit Azerbaijan to see the plight of displaced people there. It is not that easy. Even a short visit to Azerbaijan requires a visa, photos, a letter of invitation, a confirmed hotel booking and an eye-watering minimum visa fee of £100. It is also disingenuous to says that anyone wishing to visit NK should do so through Azerbaijani authorities. You can only visit NK from Armenia and if you have a NK visa in your passport you will be barred from visiting Azerbaijan.
Joseph Cocker
Leominster, Herefordshire

It’s a pity Nick Harvey and his senior ex-army friends learnt so little about the nature of deterrence and the reality of operating nuclear submarines during their time in the MoD (The tide turns for Trident, 4 February). Had he listened more, he would not have led the Liberal Democrats to adopt such a ludicrous (a favourite word of Harvey’s!) policy for the UK’s nuclear deterrent capability. The party’s adoption of a part-time deterrent – sometimes you have one, sometimes you don’t – will deter no one and only cause dismay with our allies in the US, France and the rest of Nato. His sloppy solution is based on the false premise that operating Trident is a capability that can be switched on and off just like that. It cannot. It takes time and constant tuning of crew, submarine and equipment to ensure safe and effective operation of the Trident system.
Furthermore, when Harvey’s submarines are sitting in port rusting away waiting for a crisis, they are a target not a deterrent, hugely vulnerable to conventional attack. With one submarine at sea all the time, availability and certainty of a retaliatory capability is guaranteed; a fundamental return which the British taxpayer should expect from their investment. The UK has already climbed down several “rungs” of the nuclear ladder such that we now deploy a truly minimum deterrent, indeed the smallest of all the declared nuclear weapon states. To cut further would be folly.In short, a part-time deterrent just will not do.
Tim Hare
Commodore, Royal Navy (MoD director of nuclear policy 1999-2002)
• The main people speculating about a Labour “wobble” on renewing Britain’s deterrent submarines are Conservative ministers and a Lib Dem MP who desperately want our cutting-edge manufacturing programme to be scrapped (Lobby ship unions over Trident, Philip Hammond tells unions, 2 February). As part of a government that has faced both ways on the deterrent and kicked the decision into the long grass at considerable cost to taxpayers, they should concentrate on keeping their own house in order rather than inventing problems to make mischief for their opponents.
Talk of Labour reopening this debate is utter baloney, as the shadow defence secretary made abundantly clear in the Commons this week. Vernon Coaker said the party is as committed as it has ever been to the policy it set in government. That is right for the security of future generations in a world where we cannot tell what threats the UK will face in 30 or 40 years’ time, and vital to rebalance the economy towards the kind of advanced engineering and manufacturing jobs that submarine-building will sustain in every part of the UK.
John Woodcock MP
Labour/Co-op MP for Barrow & Furness
• The politicking to preserve the Trident replacement spend of £100bn contrasts with the shipbuilders in the rest of the EU – Finland, France, Germany, Poland and Italy. They are competing in world civil markets turning out hi-tech ships, including for the UK: cruise liners, ferries, tugs and offshore vessels. Meanwhile the UK continues to produce vastly expensive nuclear subs and aircraft carriers, wholly funded by the exchequer, arms that can’t be used and nobody wants, except politicians, others with vested interests, and those who prefer to live in a past when there was an empire to defend. Anti-EU rhetoric will lose more British manufacturing jobs to continental Europe and the far east, making the UK ever more dependent on arms sales.
Robert Straughton
Ulverston, Cumbria

On Tuesday, Qusai Zakarya, the Syrian activist and author of the Hunger Strike Under Siege blog , along with other opposition leaders and activists from Moadamiya, accepted the Syrian regime’s offer of a face-to-face meeting as part of a deal for them to be allowed to leave the besieged area. Qusai’s group were taken to a hotel in central Damascus for a meeting – thought to be with officials from the Ministry of Reconciliation and the Fourth Armored Division Headquarters. Opposition leaders have continued to call for breaking the siege. However, the government demanded that certain activists in Moadamiya leave as a condition of a truce and because of pressure from residents of Moadamiya, who have lived in conditions of starvation for months and want the food supplies being offered by the government, Qusai and other activists agreed to leave to meet government officials. The group’s safety was guaranteed by the regime as part of the deal. It is crucial for their safety that the Syrian government is aware that the eyes of the world are on this meeting.
Owen Beith

If what you want is to understand Michael Gove as a public figure in charge of the nation’s educational needs, there is little point in debating what he might call his “ideas” (Letters, 4 February). One needs rather to focus on three things. First, and notwithstanding the acquired, but now melting, patina of Oxford cleverness, his manifest stupidity, apparently incorrigible. Only an idiot could seriously maintain that a day will come, causally engineered by none other than Michael Gove himself, when it will be impossible to distinguish state schools from fee-paying schools – a deft account of the sheer idiocy of this view is provided by Peter Wilby (Comment, 4 February).
Second, his fantasy life, that of a man lost in translation between past and present, and more precisely the fantasy, bordering on obsession, of the arriviste, wannabe toff drooling over the lexicon of long ago while dreaming of the glory days of “prep” and “lines”. Third, the political ambition. Despite all the guff about linking educational “standards” and “social mobility”, everything that Gove does as secretary of state for education serves a very precise purpose. Gove wants to be the next leader of the Tory party and one day perhaps prime minister.
How do you use the education brief to best serve that end? By playing to the Tory right and making an educational offer to those sections of the electorate which, in the context of recession, no longer feel able to afford private education for their children. It is only a matter of time before the sharp-elbow classes swamp the academies and the free schools. Reintroducing the “common entrance” exam at 13 (another of the terms in the vocabulary of Gove’s regressive fantasy life; the common entrance, I ask you!) will seal the deal on that front. The rest is dross. Gove is not only the silliest member of the government; given that his compulsions and ambitions are currently shaping the future of millions of children, he is also the most dangerous. The priority has surely to be not debating him, but getting rid of him.
Professor Christopher Prendergast
King’s College, Cambridge
• Your article on Michael Gove’s visit to the London Academy of Excellence (The headteacher who gives Gove hope for free schools, 3 February) suggested that the LAE’s “success” offered hope to the government’s troubled “free” school programme. Perhaps. Such success however offers no hope to the majority of students in Newham. On the contrary, “success” for the LAE comes at the expense of the vast majority of students who work hard to gain places at colleges such as mine.
Shocking figures from the Sixth Form College Association show that, over three years, £100m has been cut from 93 sixth form colleges with 150,000 students. However, nine free schools, with a total of 1,557 students between them, had £62m poured into their coffers. Our college has 2,600 students. In reality, these elite, selective institutions pride themselves on who they don’t teach. They are premised on exclusion. This makes their comparative success look rather underwhelming. The LAE’s five A/A* GCSE entry requirement and selection procedure ensures only those judged as the most deserving of the “deserving poor” enter their doors – held ajar by those sponsoring bastions of privilege and inequality, Eton and Brighton College. They have descended on east London, casting a cloak of fake philanthropy over the system of educational privilege they are determined to defend.
My college faces further cuts. Students learn in classes of 22-24 rather than the 8-15 at the LAE and “free” schools. Yet we send 700-800 students to university – including to the top UK universities – many of whom the LAE would not deign to admit into their classrooms. Michael Gove used the LAE as a platform to criticise teachers, schools and colleges who offer life chances and opportunities to students of all abilities and buttress a privileged educational elite that values wealth and status above human potential.
Rob Ferguson
• Tristram Hunt must show revolutionary zeal by bringing down the “Berlin Wall” in education – in the opposite direction. Only 7% of young people are privately educated. Let them join the majority in the state system by tearing down the bastions of the privileged few, fee-paying schools – 93% of the nation’s young people wouldn’t even notice as it would be school as usual for them. Be bold Tristram, fight Gove’s fire by offering free high quality education for all!
Linda Karlsen
Whitstable, Kent


Your report (3 February) that the Education Secretary has cut £100m from the sixth-form colleges budget over the past three years, and has at the same time spent over £62m on just nine new free schools, makes disheartening reading.
Does not Michael Gove have any comprehension of the value of sixth-form colleges and the amount of work they put in with their 16- to 19-year-olds studying for their A-levels? The results can be remarkable. Just take Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge: it sends more of its pupils to Oxford and Cambridge than any other establishment in England. One wonders how many students from the free schools will reach such high attainments.
Since he has been in office, Mr Gove has, in my opinion, done more damage to the education system in England than any previous secretary of state that I can remember.
As an aside, Mr Gove never went to school in England, and yet he thinks he has a divine right to tell us how to educate our children.
Emeritus Professor Anthony Milton, Whaddon, Cambridgeshire
My concern is that the proposed admission of two-year-olds to schools might result in a lowering of standards; I think we must know whether these young people will be permitted to attend without proper uniforms. I’m sure we all hope not. It is not beyond the capability of responsible parents to obtain nappies in the appropriate school colours. Will these toddlers be excused the rigorous punishments suggested by our esteemed education leader? Again I am sure there is a consensus that this would be unacceptable.
My aspiration is that this would be a golden opportunity for these youngsters to become trilingual in English, Latin and Greek, which would surely make possible a classical renaissance in Britain. This longed-for achievement would doubtless be the envy of the whole world (with the possible exception of North Korea).
Lee Dalton, Weymouth, Dorset
Seeger, singing for freedom
Terence Blacker misses rather a lot of points in “We can no longer protest like Pete Seeger” (1 February).
In the 1950s and ’60s – certainly the decade from Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott, which brought Dr Martin Luther King to international prominence, to the passage by LBJ of the Civil Rights Act – music was what powered the movement.
Blacks sang in church, on marches, in jail, on buses, and they were joined on the “freedom rides” to desegregate the Greyhound buses by their white brothers, many of them students. They sang to keep their spirits up, to keep fear at bay – not because they were so naive as to think songs alone could change the world.
Seeger sang for many causes: the poor and oppressed everywhere, black and white; against Senator McCarthy, to whom he refused to name names; against Vietnam; against Iraq; and for environmentalism. During his McCarthy-enforced exile from the American mainstream, he retreated to summer camps, where he taught a generation of kids the sort of music that would inspire the nationwide folk revival that in turn inspired Bob Dylan.
He was a good man, never complacent, never cynical, unlike many carping journalists.
Liz Thomson, London N10
When world events seemed random and disjointed, I often found in Pete Seeger’s lyrics a clarity which cut to the core.
It even seemed to work in the week of his death, in the unlikely setting of sport, when Andy Flower resigned as coach from the England cricket team and Tim Flowers stood down as coach of my own team, Northampton Town.
Seán O’Donovan, London N18
Lead in petrol: it was a crime
Your article on falling crime rates ranges across a variety of possible explanations without recognising that the evidence linking lead in petrol with violent crime is compelling (“The mysterious case of why crime is falling in Britain”, 24 January).
Crime rates worldwide rose after the Second World War in line with the use of lead in petrol, which peaked at 400,000 tonnes per annum in the early 1970s. Reduction in violent crime has been observed in all developed countries studied since then, and correlates very closely with the removal of lead from petrol with a lag period of approximately 20 years.
Thus in the US lead was removed between 1976 and 1980, and crime reductions occurred during the 1990s. Mayor Giuliani in New York was given credit for this, but in fact violent crime was falling before he took office and continued afterwards. In the UK and other EU countries lead was removed between 1985 and 1995 and we are now seeing the benefits in our own crime statistics two decades later.
Lead is a neurotoxin that exerts its maximum effects in utero and leads to disinhibited behaviour in adolescents and young adults. It explains most of the variance in violent crime since the Second World War.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones  (Chair of the Campaign for Lead Free Air, 1984-89), Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire
View from the modern Catholic pew
What a bizarre article about Catholicism from John Walsh (4 February). He freely admits that he no longer believes in Catholicism and hasn’t practised for ages, but tries to tell us what will be found in the Catholic pews today. Maybe as a journalist he should ask believers why they are there, rather than guessing.
I go to church because I believe that God loves us and sent Jesus to save us. I am happy because Pope Francis’s appointment allows us to refocus on that eternal truth. Of course any human person or institution has many failings, but with friends and fellow travellers we can attempt to recognise where we are wrong, and move forward together in that love.
If Mr Walsh, as he is always welcome to do, came and visited our parish, I hope he would find a warm community ready to share joys, and to support in times of sorrow. Bells and smells are a matter of taste, rather than a central tenet of belief.
Dr Gemma Stockford, Hassocks, West sussex
HS2 costs the same, but looks better
Your report (5 February) states that the new chairman of HS2 intends to reduce costs by, among other things, “trimming the amount of money set aside for contingency costs”. However, this does not represent a real saving, rather it is a presentational change.
“Contingency costs” are simply a recognition that over the lifetime of this huge project (nearly 20 years to 2033) some unanticipated costs will arise. Reducing the provision for them will simply increase the eventual overspend – but it looks good now.
Keith Robinson, Beckington, Somerset
The winter floods have nearly drowned David Cameron and may have washed up the Conservatives’ prospects at the European elections. The weather disasters of recent weeks have also exposed the flaw in the theory of the “Big Society” on which the Tories launched their 2010 general election manifesto.
In testing times, there is no alternative to decisive centrally driven action by government, not agencies nor an army of part-time volunteers. Perhaps that is why the Prime Minister has finally woken up to the catastrophe engulfing the West Country and at last decided to chair a Cobra meeting? Leaving it to society plainly did not work for the people of South-west England.
Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Middlesex
Steve Richards, in his column of 4 February, finally realises that man-made climate change is real and that something should be done about it. Having had this revelation, he spoils it by suggesting that, instead of trying to do something about the fossil fuel usage which is driving the situation, we attempt to treat the symptoms by dealing with the consequences of extreme weather more effectively.
It won’t do, and if your columnist truly recognises the extent of our peril, he should be calling for far more action on fossil fuel usage. Rome is burning, yet he merely calls for a different song on the violin.
Helen Waldie, Brentwood Essex
Flood defence budgets slashed, roads to be abandoned because of a lack of funding to repair them, and deteriorating care for our elderly folk. Does this have to be the face of 21st-century Britain? I think not.
Although I only work part-time, if it would improve the lives of my fellow countrymen and women, even just a little bit, then I am prepared to pay a couple of pence more in the pound on income tax. Is anybody else?
What is needed urgently is real politics, mature leadership and a pragmatic debate on income tax.
John Leach, Halberton, Devo


Testing for 4-year-olds will serve to exacerbate England’s crisis in children’s mental health
Sir, The news that the government intends to introduce school tests for 4-year-olds (report, Feb 1) confirms the worst fears of educationists who, since 2007, have predicted that the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum would inevitably lead to the “schoolification” of early childhood.
England already has one of the earliest school starting ages in the world, with around nine in ten countries’ children starting school at 6 or 7. England also has a crisis in children’s mental health, which this change will only exacerbate; and it is ironic that our Far Eastern competitors are now rowing back from their own hot-housing systems, having discovered the damage they have wrought in children’s lives.
Wise educators know that anything resembling a “test” is one of the worst ways of finding out what a young child is able to do.
Dr Richard House
University of Winchester
Sue Palmer
Author, Toxic Childhood
Kim Simpson
The Montessori Studio, Kew
Sir, Where have the members of the government been for the past few years? For some considerable time before I retired from teaching five years ago, baseline assessments — or, to use the more emotive word, “tests” — have been carried out in both nursery and reception classes. Hardly a new idea, and, apart from taking up time and putting pressure on teachers, it is hardly a situation that stresses the children at all.
Contrary to what some may like to believe, teachers do actually have an interest in assisting and watching the progress of their pupils.
Ann Cross
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir, A recent project in primary schools in the Midlands, which compared children’s development in a range of basic physical skills (balance, posture and motor skills) with national curriculum results, revealed that children with immature neuromotor skills were performing in the lowest quartiles on educational measures and vice-versa. These findings follow earlier research which revealed a link between children’s physical skills and educational performance.
Until 30 years ago all children were assessed by a school medical officer at rising 5 years of age, who carried out simple tests of balance, fine motor skills, vision and hearing. These tests were phased out in the 1980s, with the result that children with immature neuromotor skills pass through school poorly “equipped” to realise their potential. Testing children’s cognitive skills without also examining physical development in relation to chronological age, runs the risk of misinterpreting underlying reasons for children’s performance.
Sally Goddard Blythe
The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology
Sir, Mr Gove should be listening to experienced teachers and long-time students of child development. These will concur that marked differences in physical, emotional, social and linguistic development are seen in infant school. It is known that there has been a decline in the general ability in the range of their vocabulary and ability to converse — more than likely due to many very young children being plonked in front of the television rather than being engaged with, being read to or being told stories daily.
Peter H. Reeve
Retired primary school teacher,
Sheringham, Norfolk

One hundred years after the start of World War One, great acts of personal distinction still go unacknowledged
Sir, The centenary of the start of the Great War is a good time to recall great acts of personal distinction, some still unacknowledged.
During that war my family lived in London. In his autobiography my relation, your distinguished correspondent Louis Heren, described “growing up poor in London”. His grandfather (my great-great-grandfather) Anton Friederich August Heren was born in Speyer, Germany, in 1843. Louis’ uncle Anton Robert Heren died in September 1914 on his return from the Battle of Mons and was given a military burial in Brighton.
Another uncle, “Blind Uncle Lou”, is believed to have been blinded in a gas attack in Flanders and invalided home.
Edgar Speyer was a German banker who took British citizenship in 1892. A friend of Asquith and Churchill, he was made a baronet and Privy Councillor. It was Speyer who saved the Proms from bankruptcy in 1902 and continued to fund the Proms until 1915, when he left for the US amid an onslaught of accusations of treachery and spying. He returned in 1921 to face a controversial judicial inquiry, after which he and his family were stripped of their citizenship.
Speyer’s case cries out. Apart from saving the Proms, he was also a founding father of the London Underground and of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge — he was instrumental in funding both of Scott’s expeditions.
In this centenary year one thing we may get right is our commemoration of individuals whose lives were irreversibly altered by the war. It is high time to recognise Sir Edgar Speyer’s part in our cultural and social history and to reinstate his name in the places where it is due, as representative of the many Germans who contributed to our national life and did not betray their adopted country.
Louise Heren
Reybridge, Wilts

It’s not only golf balls that crows are prone to drop on their travels, irritating though that is — they like all sorts of treasures
Sir, The rules of golf are clear (letter, Feb 4): if a crow picks up your ball and drops it, you play the ball (not the crow) where it was left by the crow.
I know, as almost every ball I hit is picked up by a crow and taken into nearby woods, where I hack away until I realise what a silly game golf is.
Len Horridge
Sir, Our dilemma may have now been solved.There seemed no explanation as to how a set of false teeth appeared overnight on the lawn in our walled garden. It is either foxes or crows. There is, of course, the remaining puzzle: whose teeth are they?
Patricia Sandham

It turns out that there are many and varied reasons for carrying a stethoscope, the very least of which seems to be for medical purposes
Sir, Avoiding parking fines in London by leaving a stethoscope on the dashboard so traffic wardens think the driver is a doctor (letter, Feb 4)? It must have happened a long time ago. The vultures that operate there now would give a ticket to a corpse.
Tony Phillips
Chalfont St Giles, Bucks
Sir, My father was a GP in a small town in Scotland. Speeding to a medical emergency, he was caught by a police car. He waved his stethoscope hopefully out of the car window; the police overtook him, waving a pair of handcuffs as they passed.
Dr Liz Sowler
Musselburgh, E Lothian

The Francis report did not, in fact, say that ‘hundreds of patients died unnecessarily’
Sir, You repeat the claim that the Francis report judged that “hundreds of patients died unnecessarily” (“Thousand more nurses recruited after Stafford hospital death scandal”, Feb 5). In fact the report said: “It would be unsafe to infer from the figures that there was any particular number or range of numbers of avoidable or unnecessary deaths at the Trust.”
Dr Bob Bury

Self-service checkouts prove that it does not always make sense to replace people with machines
Sir, A recent report found that shops with scan-it-yourself self-service checkouts are losing almost £1.7 billion a year through shoplifting. I am not surprised. I hate these self-service checkouts, not least because they may have cost someone their job.
Another way to speed things up would be for stores to adopt the system of pricing then packing immediately by till staff, who have the bags ready in front of them. They have had this system for years in other countries.
I hope this loss to companies will prove to them that it does not always make good financial sense and increase profits to replace people
with machines.
Zerine Tata
Wembley, Middx


SIR – Last week, an inquest jury examining the death in 2011 of 17-year-old Ryan Clark in HMYOI Wetherby criticised a string of failures by the authorities to safeguard the life of a vulnerable, emotionally damaged boy who had been in care since he was 16 months old.
Since Ryan died, 45 more children and young people aged 24 and under have also lost their lives in penal custody. There have been 282 deaths of children and young people since 2000. The same failings are being raised time and time again.
Inquests into individual deaths are held in isolation from each other and do not address wider systemic failures in state care both within and outside prisons. The Government’s response has been fragmented and piecemeal, with little recognition of the wider public health and welfare implications, as well as criminal justice issues, raised by these deaths.
As organisations concerned about the welfare of children and young people within the criminal justice system, we are calling on the Government to establish, as a matter of urgency, an independent review with effective involvement from bereaved families in order to safeguard lives in future. How many more children and young people will die in penal custody before the Government acts?
Deborah Coles
Co-Director, INQUEST
Juliet Lyon
Director, the Prison Reform Trust
Frances Crook
Chief Executive, The Howard League for Penal Reform
Paola Uccellari
Director, Children’s Rights Alliance for England
Penelope Gibbs
Chair, Standing Committee for Youth Justice
Pam Hibbert
Chair of Trustees, National Association for Youth Justice
Hilary Emery
Chief Executive, National Children’s Bureau
Shauneen Lambe
Executive Director, Just for Kids Law
Dominic Williamson
Chief Executive at Revolving Doors Agency
Sarah Salmon
Interim Director, Criminal Justice Alliance
Puja Darbari
UK Director of Strategy, Barnardo’s
Joyce Moseley
Chair, Transition to Adulthood Alliance
Sara Llewellin
Chief Executive, Barrow Cadbury Trust
Andrea Coomber
Director, JUSTICE
Darren Coyne
Projects & Development Manager, The Care Leavers’ Association
Richard Garside
Director, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies
Susanne Rauprich
CEO, National Council for Voluntary Youth Services
Shami Chakrabarti
Director, Liberty

SIR – I enjoyed the picture of the shoe heel from c.1785 and the accompanying letter on getting rid of high heels and pointless ties. May we now be shown how late 18th-century men kept their necks looking smart and tidy?

I am saddened by the fact that the hand-painted silk ties I have presented to my husband are no longer worn.
Jean Mitchell
Bexleyheath, Kent
SIR – A tie is uncomfortable only if the collar size is wrong. And as for pointless: choosing a tie to reflect one’s mood can brighten the morning and smooth the path to the office. Wear a tie at home to reduce heating bills: it increases body temperature by around 3 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mik Shaw
Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex
SIR – Sir Harold Walker asks for designers to come up with a warm, comfortable and colourful alternative for a tie. Surely a cravat fulfils those requirements?
David Shirra
Longden, Shropshire

SIR – Following the Government’s abandonment of the judge-led Gibson Inquiry, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), the prime minister-appointed watchdog of MPs and peers, has now been given the crucial role of investigating allegations of Britain’s involvement in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme.
The ISC will struggle to command public confidence on this, not least because it has already investigated rendition and erroneously concluded that Britain was not involved, only to be flatly contradicted by a court ruling the following year. The public needs to have confidence that the ISC can get to the bottom of what happened. To do that, the ISC must be, and be seen to be, more independent of the Prime Minister. At the very least, the Government should implement the recommendation of the 2009 Wright Committee on parliamentary reform that the chairman of the ISC be elected by secret ballot of all MPs, subject to a prime ministerial override of nominations.
In time, the wider membership should probably also be elected by MPs, likewise subject to a prime-ministerial override of nominations. These measures would be a step in the right direction towards strengthening public confidence in the adequacy of parliamentary oversight of our intelligence agencies.
Andrew Tyrie MP (Con)
Dominic Raab MP (Con)
London SW1
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Solar power failure
SIR – With immaculate timing, Greg Barker, the energy minister, implores us to put our pension savings into solar panels just a few days after we are told that it was the wettest, and seemingly dullest, January on record.
During the entire month, my solar- powered garden lights came on twice. They have not been a good investment so far.
Philip Moger
East Preston, West Sussex
SIR – People should be wary of Mr Barker’s advice to invest in solar panels because they would deliver a better financial return than a pension.
Solar panels do not last much longer than 20 years, so the prudent householder will need to set aside some of the income to pay for replacements, which, with modest inflation, will be over £13,000.
And future governments could easily reduce the incentives.
Terry Weston
Freezer envy
SIR – How I envy Vanessa Travers with her freezer full of fruit and garden produce. Mine resembles a mausoleum for game birds with rows of grouse and grey-legged partridges.
My only hope of avoiding this is to persuade my husband to become a vegetarian, but there is little hope of that.
Rita Greer
Liss, Hampshire
SIR – My small freezer holds a large frozen trout, to be used to whack over the head of anyone who breaks in.
Jo Marchington
Ashtead, Surrey
Kiss me quick
SIR – Yesterday, in my local Waitrose, there was a lovely Valentine’s display, along with a range of Valentine cakes – they were best before February 13.
Paul Coley
Eastbourne, East Sussex
Keeping the peace
SIR – You report on the German foreign minister’s suggestion that groups such as Ukip threaten the peace of Europe.
If he is so concerned about the possibility of a large Ukip vote at the European elections, he and other leaders should show more understanding of David Cameron’s plea for some repatriation of powers to national governments.
Alec Ellis
His n’ hers
SIR – Twenty-four years ago, my husband and I went on our skiing honeymoon wearing matching Cossack hats.
For easy identification, I sewed Cash’s nametapes into each hat. the hats, complete with their nametapes, are still worn to this day.
Sally Hayes
Bookham, Surrey
Smart meters are being rushed out untested
SIR – The Department for Energy and Climate Change (Letters, February 4) is presiding over the most complicated roll-out of smart meters in the world, and in an impossibly short period of time.
The computer system to control the meters is untested and the meters themselves have yet to be trialled in pre-payment or “pay as you go” mode.
It is the consumer who is taking all the risks as they will pay for this white elephant through their energy bills.

Barry Cook
Rufford, Lancashire
SIR – My smart meter has indeed saved me money. However, universal installation is not aimed at conserving electricity but at varying charges during the day, levying premium rates as we go to work and come home to cook dinner. Hence the electricity companies will boost their profits at our expense. The DECC’s own tender documents demand that all smart meters have variable billing capability.
William Mills
Coolham, West Sussex
SIR – Saving energy is not difficult. I read my meters every two weeks and keep a record. My wife and I turn appliances off when not in use. To provide me with an expensive new meter is a waste of money.
Peter McPherson
Merriott, Somerset
SIR – We in the countryside would welcome smart meters. We would also welcome the reliable and fast digital connections necessary for them to work.
Pamela Wheeler
Kenley, Shropshire

SIR – Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, says state schools should test children using private-school exams. But Common Entrance assesses the ability of private school pupils, aged 13, prior to transferring to a new senior school. State school pupils traditionally move to senior schools at 11. So what would another major set of exams at age 13 achieve, apart from more stress for pupils and more work for teachers?
If Mr Gove wants to make state schools more like private schools he should concentrate on what really matters –investing in high-quality teaching and facilities, and promoting a culture in which pupils’ achievements are recognised.
Kate Pitcher
SIR – We moved our son from the local public school to the local comprehensive, where the academic rigour was much greater, the bullying less and the pastoral care outstanding.
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The only facilities the state school lacked were the “extras” that were available in the private system. Music, sporting facilities, arts and debating societies all build confidence and enthusiasm, but cost a lot in staff time and resources.
If Michael Gove is serious about equal opportunities, he must provide those extras for all children, regardless of the ability of parents to pay.
Madeleine Harding
Wells, Somerset
SIR – Choice of schools in the independent sector is the most effective way of pushing up standards. Parents should also be able to choose any state school that is able to offer a place to their child.
Schools should be able to decide their own curricula and methods of discipline and select pupils. Good schools would probably expand and poor schools might close, but at least they would have to try to improve.
G E Hester
Bolton, Lancashire
SIR – As a teacher with more than 40 years’ experience, top of my list to help state schools match the private sector is smaller class sizes. Mr Gove hasn’t mentioned that.
Diana Holl
Clevedon, Somerset
SIR – If you visit a school in England, there is no mistaking a comprehensive for an independent school. The comprehensive is required to address the educational needs of children of all abilities. There will never be a level playing field while most independent schools and grammar schools are able to select on ability.
Marilyn Mullen
Gosport, Hampshire
SIR – I am delighted that Mr Gove intends to make state schools as good as private schools, but I wish he would hurry up.
I am paying for my four children to go to independent schools, and it’s not cheap.
Mark Solon
London N1

Irish Times:

Sir, – The lack of hospital consultant applications should not come as a complete surprise (Editorial, February 4th). The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has been very vocal about this subject for the past number of years. The fact that the HSE and Government choose to ignore the facts and warnings from the professional representative bodies is less of a surprise.
The recognition of the seriousness of the issue by HSE chief executive Tony O’Brien is a welcome development, but until significant improvements are made to consultant terms and conditions, there will be no resolution of the recruitment deficits.
Recent OECD Indicators confirm Ireland is now the lowest paid country for doctors in the English-speaking world, which is where we compete for doctors. This includes consultants and GPs. We have fewer specialists per capita than most OECD countries. Working conditions compare very unfavourably with most modern countries.
Is it any wonder that we cannot recruit? Is it any wonder our trainee doctors are emigrating in such large numbers? It is indeed a “brain drain”, and a huge resource drain. The impact on morale on those remaining in our system and on those in training, as well as on all others struggling to provide care for our patients cannot be estimated.
Irish doctors have always been a highly trained and valuable and mobile resource. Our system is currently designed to force them to leave and never return.
The short-term gain in the salary reductions and the changed terms and conditions for our doctors is resulting in significant detrimental effects on the health service and most importantly on the delivery of care to our patients. The damage will take years to undo and will prove far more costly than any of the savings generated.
It is time, in the interest of our patients and of our health system to look to significantly improve the terms and conditions offered to our doctors in order to facilitate the development of a system that we can be proud of as we move forward into the next 100 years of our State. – Yours, etc,
Hospital Consultant.
South Tipperary General
Co Tipperary.

Sir, – There has been considerable debate on whether exposure to electromagnetic fields is associated with the development of cancer. The European Commission’s report (World News, February 4th) is a very detailed analysis by a group of EU experts of a large literature surrounding electromagnetic field radiation and a variety of human diseases.
The report is both detailed and comprehensive, concluding that there is little association between electromagnetic magnetic fields and cancer. In other words the risk of developing cancer from exposure to high levels of such radiation is very low or non-existent.
The report does appear to highlight childhood leukaemia as an exception. It states “that meta-analysis of studies published between 2000-2009 confirms the robustness of an approximately two-fold increased risk at magnetic fields above a level of 0.3/0.4µT”. People living close to high voltage overhead lines can be exposed to levels significantly higher than this. The report goes on to state that the epidemiological, studies carried out to date support the idea that exposure to electromagnetic fields is a possible carcinogen based on the demonstrated association with childhood leukaemia risk.
The puzzle is that there is no known biological explanation of how electromagnetic fields could induce leukaemia. Without such an explanation there are always going to be doubts about the link between electromagnetic radiation and leukaemia, but the epidemiological studies at the moment look interesting! – Yours, etc,
Prof of Biochemistry,
University College Cork.

Sir, – The tragic deaths of young people in Ireland and elsewhere as a result of the internet drinking game is giving rise to a media flurry of shock headlines and other reporting. No doubt, this will die down in a week or two but the families and friends of these unfortunate youngsters will bear the pain of loss for a long time to come.
While the media’s reaction to such a spectacular form of alcohol abuse is to be expected, it in many ways ignores the extent and seriousness of alcohol abuse in general in our society.
The current “shock-horror” response to the neknomination is a distraction from the widespread alcohol abuse that lies at the root of so much domestic and street violence, road accidents, sexual aggression towards young women, family breakdown and physical and mental illness. Furthermore, it is a real distraction from the power that vested interests can exercise to ensure they continue to make vast profits from the sale of alcohol. – Yours, etc,
Main Street,
Co Mayo.

A chara, – Unfortunately Ronan Quinlan (February 4th) has missed the point. Legislation allowing local authorities to vary property tax is an important step towards decentralising Ireland’s political structure. The Labour Party’s advocacy of such legislation is consistent with its long-standing desire for a truly democratic republic. Its local election promise to cut property tax applies only to high-priced houses in urban areas. It is not a populist measure but rather further evidence of Labour’s commitment to a fair and progressive property tax system.
Yes, Labour is already in Government. And it’s delivering! – Is mise,
Nás na Ríogh, Co Chill Dara.
Sir, – So, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore is promising voters in large urban areas a 15 per cent cut in property tax as part of its local and European election manifestos (Home News, February 3rd). According to Mr Gilmore, this reduction will apply in those local authorities where the Labour Party is the leading party. This attempt to buy votes with voters’ own money yet again exposes the squalid behaviour of Ireland’s self-proclaimed party of ethics and brings further shame and disgrace on our legislature.
Having been driven onto the rocks and well and truly holed below the waterline, it is immoral and unpatriotic for some of those elected to steer us through the economic maelstrom to be otherwise engaged in self-serving electioneering. We have tolerated for far too long in this country politics without principles, conscience or morality. – Yours, etc,
Templeville Road,
Dublin 6w.

Sir, – I believe Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter has made a serious mistake in allowing press reporting of family law cases.
This is a small country. With social media, our friendship networks are expanding all the time. It is quite clear that everybody knows everybody else. It is heartbreaking to read the reports of family law court cases. Parents with family problems should not have their problems highlighted in the press. The judges are wasting valuable time deciding whether or not the press should be excluded. The children’s rights and privacy are paramount. They are the innocent parties in such cases and I am convinced that many can be identified from the family court reports.
No family court case should be reported upon in the press. Mr Shatter should rethink his decision to allow press reporting of family law cases. He should respect parents and especially children. – Yours, etc,
King Edward Lawn,
Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Your Editorial “The cost of corruption” (February 5th) refers to the European Commission’s findings that four out of five Irish people believe that Ireland is a corrupt country. I assume the remaining one in five consists of those who are too young to know. – Yours, etc,
Ballyraine Park,

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole offers an insight from the history of “structural discrimination” in which “motives and intentions” have not made the “slightest difference to the questions of justice, equality and universal human dignity” (Opinion, February 4th). Thus, in his view, the opponents of his own liberalising movement are wasting their time because the freedom of the oppressed always comes anyway – it’s largely a question of time.
But what he overlooks is that his side too has its “motives and intentions” and to attribute to the same-sex marriage movement an inevitable future success similar to the hard-won abolition of slavery in the 19th century is an ill-matched analogy.
William Wilberforce’s long campaign in the British parliament eventually led to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which targeted the British West Indies and similar places, and which later exerted moral pressure on the US-based practice, where there was much obstinate resistance to abolition just as in the UK.
But Wilberforce was motivated by his strong Christian convictions of “universal human dignity”, an expression he would doubtless not have applied to O’Toole’s “motives and intentions” in favour of same-sex marriage. – Yours, etc,
Hazelwood, Gorey,

Sir, – Paul Vallely, in his excellent Rite and Reason article (February 4th), suggests that Pope Francis’s adherence to the principle of collegiality explains why he “is content to allow Cardinal Mueller to speak so vehemently against admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion while Cardinal Maradiaga, to whom he is far closer, says the opposite”.
However, if this is Pope Francis’s strategy to allow his cardinals to “fight it out “ among themselves while he stays in the background, it is but a strategic move on his part as he kicks for time.
Ultimately as Bishop of Rome, as the leader among equals, he will have to personally decide on this issue himself and follow his pastoral conviction for a more inclusive church. – Yours, etc,
The Moorings ,
Malahide, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Contrary to Mary O’ Mahony’s assertion (February 1st), I don’t think Ruairí Quinn mentioned anything about reducing moral education.
Religion and morality are totally separate things: one is to do with bowing to some power and belief system in the hope of attaining eternal personal “happiness”; the latter concerns justice and the constant search for ways to improve this life experience on Earth for all, here and now and for future generations. – Yours, etc,
Chapel Road,
Monivea, Athenry,
Co Galway.

Sir, – Dr Ruth-Blandina Quinn (February 5th) is correct when she states, “many of these [adoption] records were misfiled, incomplete or fabricated”. We know the 1952 Adoption Act was used and abused by those in charge with “the end justifies the means” attitude. They were answerable to no-one and could do what they wanted. More adopted adults are now coming forward with proof their adoptions were illegal and this is only coming to the fore because they searched to find their birth mothers themselves. In fact, the majority of adoptions in Ireland were forced, whereby the mother was given no alternative but to hand over her child and sign adoption papers.
However, Dr Quinn goes on to state, “Far too often, adoption is perceived from the child’s perspective, not the birth mother’s”. Not in Ireland. Here the birth mother’s right is absolute and has been since 1952. The child was the last person to be thought about in adoption in Ireland in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Dr Quinn mistakes privacy and openness with privacy and secrecy. We can know who we are related to, know our identity, know our family, our history and yet respect our mother’s right to privacy. But, in Ireland, still, it remains privacy with secrecy.
It is not the fault of the adopted person that (in Dr Quinn’s words) “ladies now in their 70s and 80s . . . fear that knock on the door”. We didn’t ask to be someone else’s shame, someone else’s secret. That was their decision, not ours, and adopted adults refuse to carry this so-called burden on their shoulders. You cannot erase someone’s identity simply because it might make someone else uncomfortable.
My own birth mother was one of those ladies who Dr Quinn mentioned “fearing the knock on the door”. That knock came in 2011, from me, her daughter, following a year of letters and a neutral third party talking with her. I spoke to her for an hour and was then asked to leave. She admitted it benefited her and that now she can “move on” as she has nothing to fear any more. She said she always knew that one day I would come. I have respected her right to privacy. She knows how to contact me should she wish. She would be made very welcome into my life if she changes her mind.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I have answers to some of my questions – not all, but I know how lucky I am compared to others and I will do everything in my power to see the day that this lovely country of mine recognises my right as a citizen to know my identity and give me access to my file. I know my mother, I’ve met her and yet I’m told I cannot have access to my file to “protect the identity of my mother”. – Yours, etc,
Marlton Demesne,

Sir, – “Past its sell-by date”. Editor, take note. – Yours, etc,
Rehins, Ballina, Co Mayo.
Sir, – “As if” can’t take the place of “Fat chance” and “Put a cork in it” doesn’t beat a good old-fashioned “Shut up!” No pun intended to the folks in Co Cork. – Yours, etc,
Carriage Club Drive,
North Carolina, US.
Sir, – “Thanks for having me” and “Sorry to cut across you”, beloved of TV interviewers/interviewees everywhere. – Yours, etc,
Camp, Tralee, Co Kerry.
Sir, – Various different . . . –
Yours, etc,
Sandymount Avenue,
Dublin 4.
Sir, – To “reach a crescendo”. – Yours, etc,
Strangford Avenue,
Sir, – Surely worthy of inclusion in this wonderful category must be the phrase reported by the Department of Justice audit (Front page, February 4th), in describing a heading for some of Rehab’s spending from public funds in 2010 as: “Hospitality associated with advocacy and lobbying”! – Yours, etc,
Portlaoise, Co Laois.
Sir, – The matter must be put to rest immediately. Let’s have an independent inquiry. – Yours, etc,
Monastery Walk,
Clondalkin, Dublin 22.
Sir, – “Unexpected item in bagging area.” – Yours, etc,
Tritonville Lane,
Sandymount, Dublin 4.
Sir, – I refer to John Doherty’s sardonic letter (February 4th) regarding Scotland’s defeat by Ireland. Let us not forget that we did not distinguish ourselves last  year in Murrayfield. While Ireland is  playing good rugby at the moment , we should not get carried away. Let’s  hope that on our visit  to Murrayfield next year,  the Scots won’t send us homewards to think again! – Yours, etc,
Beggars Bush Court,
Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.

Sir, – I note that Dublin City Council has had to repair leaks at almost one in 50 homes where water meters have been installed by contractors working for Irish Water (Front Page, February 5th). Could this be called a stopcock-up? – Yours, etc,
Shandon Crescent,
Phibsborough, Dublin 7.

Irish Independent:
* AIB is starting to face reality and write off unsustainable debts.
Also in this section
Letters: Instead of reforming HSE we get stealth tax
Letters: Stop and think before joining drinking craze
Letters: Living in fear, cut off from the outside world
But no one seems interested in asking why this has taken so long, because didn’t AIB (and other banks) come up with these figures years ago when they applied to the Irish taxpayer for bailout funds?
My understanding is that this was on the basis that the billions they asked for were to write off loans that the banks indicated could never be repaid by customers and for which the original lender (the big bad German and French banks) wanted their money back.
Why is it in a small country like Ireland, every single person with a debt, no matter what their financial position, hasn’t been required to undergo a full and frank detailed financial review, carried out by an impartial organisation, that provides an official document at the end that verifies once and for all who has sustainable debts and who does not. For example, if your mortgage is more than 50pc of your net take-home pay is that sustainable? And if all of your fixed utility and living costs amount to more than 30pc, is that sustainable? From the remaining 20pc of net income can a person live properly, afford a holiday or afford to save. If not, what has to give?
It doesn’t take a genius to come up with a customer-centric format for such a financial review. It’s pretty simple, you borrow for a mortgage from AIB, AIB borrows the mortgage from a German or French bank, you repay AIB each month, AIB repays the bank it borrowed from each month, AIB takes a slice of the interest as profit, the German or French bank takes a slice and the rest goes to pay back the capital amount.
The markets crash and the German or French bank panics and wants all its loan back in one go, and gets the ECB to bully the Irish Government, who of course cave immediately. AIB goes to the Government and says the lender it borrowed from, for X list of loans, wants its money back, so can we have X billion. Given our government had already caved, that bank debt is cleared but the person who borrowed that money didn’t get a write-off of the linked debt and is still paying it back each month.
So, why hasn’t Finance Minister Michael Noonan asked AIB and the other banks what exactly they did with the billions of euro that were handed over because when AIB paid back the German and French banks, there was no debt outstanding.
It was no different to if a person took out a mortgage, but a few months later was able to go into the bank with a lump sum and clear the mortgage but AIB still charged them the monthly loan amount, even though they’d paid off the debt.
What part of debt write-off have I missed?
* I don’t like work. If I could arrange for a panelist on a TV show to describe me as suffering from Ergophobia would I be entitled to compensation?
* When Irish Water comes on stream will the meters for the unfortunate people of Cork be waterproof?
And can the bills for the water charges come in plastic envelopes so that they won’t get wet in the flood-hit regions .
One can’t be too careful, and we would hate to see the fees go down the drain because the bills were as soaked as the Irish taxpayer.
* Ireland is a relatively flat island with only 5pc of the land rising above 300m in height. It is “saucer-shaped”, so that the inland part is relatively flat and low lying,while most of the mountain ranges are located near the coast.
In the central plain the bedrock consists of carboniferous limestone. The coastal uplands, in contrast, consist mainly of older rocks. In most islands a central backbone, more or less pronounced, causes the rivers to flow radially towards the coast, from near the centre margin.
In Ireland, due to the peripheral position of most of the high ground, the streams that rise on the seaward side of the mountain masses have short and mostly steep courses. Those with sources lying on the inland side, on the other hand, travel far before they reach an outlet and in some instances, have extensive floodplains.
The poor drainage is further aggravated by the pattern of deposition of glacial drift. Eskers and moraines, consisting mainly of gravels and sands, are a prominent feature of the lowlands that extends from Dublin to Galway. Within this area lie most of the raised bogs, as well as a number of large existing lakes.
What to do? It’s not rocket science and it’s self-explanatory,
Wetlands such as bogs, marshland, and floodplains if modified by anthropogenic development such as NRA motorways (even the culverts and bridges contribute to the problem) and ghost estates, will be directly negatively impacted in its ability to absorb and filter water and causing impoundment in the wetlands and elsewhere.
If successive governments had an awareness policy on flooding, (and coastal erosion) and not have destroyed the wetlands with the Land Reclamation Act, we would not be pressurising the already overwhelmed taxpayer to fork out more money on flood abatement.
The recent decommissioning of a group of p(NHA) bogs in the midlands is a retrograde step in the wrong direction and the minister responsible is incurring more hardship on future generations and their already endangered natural heritage.
* Ruairi Quinn’s new adaptation for primary schools to teach the children about other religions other then old Roman Catholic general conditioning is surely for this Jewish Londoner a major breakthrough in opening up a pupil’s knowledge to the outside world.
The general mono-religiosity of the past has totally coloured the views of all the various aspects of the media.
I came to Ireland in the 1970s and none of my workmates had the slightest clue about Judaism, the root religion of Christianity. There was only one groupthink in this country and if you didn’t think their way it was no way.
I was even interviewed about this subject by Pat Kenny 15 years ago on RTE radio.
I then argued that the media should open up and discuss other religions rather than constantly focus on its one dimensional outlook, as if there was not any other world outside of this island.
Maybe at last the likes of Mr Quinn is attempting to open up the long dormant past that was conditioned by past education authorities.
And a new dawn is ascending.
We non-Christians might also get to understand the total mystery of how folks who follow the diktats of the New Testament are divided into Catholics and Protestants and then allude to themselves as different religions.
* May I confidently predict that at the Sochi Winter Olympics, Austria will improve on its medal haul at the London Olympics (Gold 0; Silver 0; Bronze 0).

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