Blood Transfusion

21 February 2014 Blood Transfusion

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge has to find a slogan to encourage recruitment to the Royal Navy. Priceless

Mary blood transfusion, sweep drive and seven books sold

Scrabbletoday Mary wins but gets under 500, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.




Alison Jolly, the primatologist, who has died aged 76, was an authority on the ring-tailed lemur, and the first to describe the unique social dynamics of Madagascar’s prosimian population at large, disproving the long-held scientific belief that the males are dominant in every primate species.

With an evolutionary history stretching back over 65 million years, the prosimians are the most primitive of all the primates. While other members of the family worldwide — such as bushbabies and tarsiers — were displaced by the arrival of the monkey and the ape, lemurs on the island of Madagascar enjoyed complete isolation from such threats, with the result that around 100 species and subspecies now occupy the same 227, 000 square miles.

It was in this remarkable part of the world, in 1962, that Alison Jolly — one of the first in her field to observe the primates in their natural habitat — began her research at the semi-arid southern reserve of Berenty. Combining a scientific eye for detail with a storyteller’s turn of phrase, she wrote vividly of the human and animal societies she found there.

There were the ring-tailed lemurs with their “racoonlike face masks” and tails like “swaying upraised question marks”; the Tandroy, a native tribespeople with names like He-Who-Cannot-Be-Thrown-to-Earth and The Never-Suckled; and the aristocratic de Heaulme family, French founders of the Berenty estate, who had first set aside the forest reserves.

Most significant for primatologists, however, were her observations on lemur social relationships. In Lemur Behaviour: A Madagascar Field Study (1966), and later in her landmark 1972 textbook The Evolution of Primate Behavior, she established the arguments for what would become known as the “social intelligence hypothesis”. Alison Jolly observed that, while lemurs cannot learn to manipulate objects, as monkeys do, their social skills are just as well-developed. This suggested that social integration was the driving force in the evolution of intelligence, creating what she described as “an ever-increasing spiral”.

A second, equally surprising, discovery arose in tandem with this hypothesis, and concerned male-female lemur interaction. Alison Jolly found that female lemurs were fed ahead of the males, and exerted dominance in other social contexts — a practice that ensured the best physical health and highest possible birth rate in a species whose females were capable of bearing only one infant a year.

In the years following her initial visit to Madagascar, Alison Jolly published more than 100 scientific papers and popular articles, as well as half a dozen books. She was a scientific consultant for the BBC documentary Lemur Island (2007), and a lifelong advocate for the preservation of Madagascan biological diversity and social customs — even as the two seemed to collide, with the destruction of the rainforests and its inhabitants by native Malagasy tribes.

Writing in a 1988 edition of National Geographic, Alison Jolly highlighted this conflict most vividly and movingly in the case of the “aye-aye”, a rare breed of lemur remarkable for its long third and fourth fingers. “In much of the country tradition decrees that [the aye-aye] be slain on sight,” the piece ran, “lest it uncrook its skeleton finger to point out a victim for death.”

Yet she remained optimistic for the future of such species and of the country as a whole, uniting the two concerns in her role on an independent Biodiversity Committee set up to ensure a positive environmental and social outcome from the construction of a large titanium mine on the country’s southern coast. For all its biodiversity, Alison Jolly knew that Madagascar was “no tropical paradise” to its human inhabitants: “They need development,” she insisted.

An only child, she was born Alison Bishop on May 9 1937 in Ithaca, New York, where her mother was an accomplished local artist and her father an author and professor of Romance Languages at Cornell University. She graduated with a BA from Cornell in 1958, then took a PhD in Zoology from Yale.

From 1963 to 1965 she was research assistant to the New York Zoological Society. Upon marriage she moved to England, beginning writing in earnest as a research associate at Cambridge, and later with the University of Sussex from 1971 to 1981. However, the demands of a young family prevented further visits to Madagascar until 1990, after which she made frequent trips to coincide with the lemurs’ “birth period”.

Alison Jolly’s other books on social intelligence, based on her work in Madagascar, included A World Like Our Own: Man and Nature in Madagascar (1980) and Lucy’s Legacy: Sex and Intelligence in Human Evolution (1999), which explored the evolutionary basis of, among other things, bisexuality, the menstrual cycle and the female orgasm.

From 1992 to 1996 Alison Jolly was president of the International Primatological Society, which acknowledged her contribution to the field with its lifetime achievement award in 2010. She was also appointed an officer in the National Order of Madagascar. The tribute that most pleased her, however, came in 2006, with the naming in her honour of a newly-discovered mouse lemur species, the tiny reddish-brown Microcebus jollyae.

Alison Jolly is survived by her husband, the development economist Sir Richard Jolly, and by their four children.

Alison Jolly, born May 9 1937, died February 6 2014




Martin Kettle (Comment, 20 February) derides what he perceives as Alex Salmond’s failure properly to respond to George Osborne‘s insistence that there will be no currency deal and to José Manuel Barroso’s assertion that it would be very difficult for Scotland to remain in the EU. And he supposes the first minister may have concluded that “the game is up”. Yet since Osborne spoke in Edinburgh the polls have shifted markedly towards a yes vote. The latest shows yes up 6% and no down 5%. It’s difficult to portray a consistent upward shift in the yes vote as an indication that the game is up. On Europe, other high-placed commission sources have voiced fears that extricating Scotland from all the European agreements to which it is already a party – from fishing to Schengen to human rights (already embedded in Scots law) – would occasion quite unnecessary chaos.

Finally Mr Kettle should remember those inclined to vote yes in September are a broad church encompassing members of all parties and none. There is a strong Labour and trade union component in the yes camp, and, whisper it, a number of prominent Conservatives currently shuffling uneasily in the closet. Remember too that this is not a Scottish general election: the political nature of the government of an independent Scotland would be decided in such a poll in the spring of 2016.
Ruth Wishart
Kilcreggan, Argyll and Bute

• I fail to see the point of your factually inaccurate piece (Dear Scotland, we’re sorry, G2, 20 February). Was it an example of the English humour we hear so much about, one aspect of which seems to be the belief that all foreigners are funny?
JMY Simpson

Lord Justice Laws and judges Ouseley and Openshaw will long be remembered for a shameful failure of the rule of law embodied in their decision in the case of David Miranda (Report, 20 February). The authorities relied on schedule 7 and section 40(1)(b) of the Terrorism Act 2000, which together entitle them to detain and question persons whom may possibly be “concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”. It is not a blanket authorisation for just any concern about national security. But the actual reason for stopping Miranda had nothing to do with his possible involvement with terrorism; it was only to do with his possible possession of materials from Edward Snowden. The judges held that the authorities didn’t have to believe that Miranda was involved in terrorism: they were entitled to detain him to ascertain whether he was. On that reasoning they could detain anyone against whom they had an independent grudge. In his great dissent in the wartime case of Liversidge v. Anderson (1942), Lord Reid wrote: “I view with apprehension the attitude of judges who … when face to face with claims involving the liberty of the subject, show themselves more executive-minded than the executive.” We need him now.
Professor Jeremy Waldron
Chichele professor of social and political theory, All Souls College, Oxford



George Monbiot seems determined to blame farmers for all the current flooding problems (How we ended up paying farmers to flood our homes, 18 February). It is simply not true to claim that farmers need do nothing to protect their soil and still be eligible for CAP payments. Every farmer receiving payment must complete an annual soil protection review. This requires farmers to identify problems – such as erosion and compaction – and set out actions on how to address them. Despite Mr Monbiot’s opinion, farmers have an inherent interest in maintaining their soil in good condition as their livelihood depends on fertile and productive soils. Farmers are also working to make continued improvements in soil management. For example, in the south-west, farmers are participating in schemes such as catchment sensitive farming and soils for profit, which provide advice and training events.

The Journal of Soil Use and Management actually considers the impact that cropping and soil management can have on surface water flows at a field scale. It does not consider the impact of cropping and soil management on flooding. The lessons we should learn from this winter’s floods is all areas, both urban and rural, should be acting across entire catchments to find solutions.
Dr Andrew Clark
Head of policy services, NFU

• George Monbiot is correct that maize is a major problem and is expanding. Defra advice to maize farmers in 2005 was sensible but largely ignored, despite the fact that subsidies were dependant on compliance. Relaxation of these regulations probably will not make much difference. A Defra scheme for assessment of high-risk sites in terms of runoff and erosion is also neglected and academic support for such a scheme seems of minimal interest to the department. One wonders when the idea of joined-up thinking (science policy-land use practice) will infiltrate Defra?
Dr John Boardman
Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford


We are two solicitors currently trying to buy our first home in London or Cambridge (Housing has become the defining economic issue, 19 February). We have been beaten to the few properties we can afford by cash buyers purchasing as an investment and are watching our hard won 10% deposit become ever less effective against soaring house prices. We do not now think we can afford to purchase a property, and know that many others are in the same position.

More house building is essential, but it is not a quick fix, and where new houses would go in cramped London we do not know. In any event, new houses would still be more easily available to investors than first-time buyers. An alternative solution is to remove the incentives for people buying property as an investment, so as to allow more people to buy their first home.

Buy-to let-mortgages should be harder to obtain; additional taxes could be applied to purchasers who already own one or more property. Multiple property owners should be encouraged to sell property and release housing stock to the market. People with money to invest should be given incentives to invest in the stock market or other assets instead. The government should also give consideration to making it easier to negotiate amendments to shorthold tenancy agreements, to make renting more palatable for those unable to purchase.
Charlotte Wright and Chris Durham

Ed Miliband‘s declaration of war on housing shortages is another welcome move to win the young vote. Housing is arguably the biggest issue for today’s young. Quite simply there are not enough homes out there, particularly in urban areas and London in particular. As a result prices are too high, first-time mortgages impossible and rents unaffordable. Young people are feeling the fall in real wages far more than other demographics. If young people can’t get a foothold in the cities, growth is threatened. Miliband has identified an area where he can make a play for an electorate still very much up for grabs. Millennials are disenchanted with the entrenched political parties. The Conservatives continue to prioritise their 45-65-year-old sweet spot, while the Lib Dems have failed to recover from reversing their promises on tuition fees. Labour and Ed Miliband may just have stumbled across a new identity by standing for the interests of the young.
George Baggaley
Director, @NextGenParty

• The Demos study about today’s teenagers (Comment, 16 February) provides a refreshing alternative account. Our hope is that the claimed 15,000 people who in 2012 turned John Tapene’s Words for Teenagers into a viral sensation, will link this article to their Facebook page too. The advice outlined by Tapene apparently came from comments made by a US Judge in 1959! What is clear is that the current generation is not some aberration. Young people remain concerned about their communities, but have turned to alternative forms of democratic engagement. But we need to recognise the diversity of understandings of citizenship held by young people; they are neither all hoodies nor goodies. We are completing a study that seeks to understand how young people construct their own identities as citizens. It reveals that 10 major, distinct perspectives best encapsulate young people’s understandings of being a citizen, the most important of which seem to accord with the findings of Demos. An inclusive conception of citizenship demands that the viewpoints of young people themselves must be heard.
Patrick Hylton, Ben Kisby and Paul Goddard
University of Lincoln

When every effort is now being made to encourage a younger audience to get involved with folk music, what better way to seriously damage this cause than by having the Folk Awards on the same night as the Brits (Report, 20 February)! Is there a country anywhere in the world where two music awards ceremonies and I stress, music, are presented on the same night, in the same city, at different venues?
Gilbert O’Sullivan
St Peter, Jersey

• Some interesting ideas on where to the relocate the House of Lords (Letters, 18 February). Maybe the late Douglas Adams had the best solution – the B Ark?
Nigel Linford
Eastbourne, East Sussex

• Since the Blair government, it has been a legal requirement that a politician who is about to tell a lie is obliged to start the sentence with “the truth of the matter is” or, more simply, “the fact is” (Letters, 20 February). The greater the pomposity, the more outrageous the subsequent lie. I hope this is helpful.
Anthony Hayward
Dudley, West Midlands

• My current bullshit alert is “difficult decision”. This is usually uttered with apologetic gravity which, I suspect, turns to jubilant glee away from the camera.
John Prance

• Re the location of the centre of Britain (Letters, 18 February): surely these claims should be qualified as referring to the centre of mainland Britain? Factor in Shetland and you’ll find that the centre is considerably further north of both Lancaster and Haltwhistle.
Paul Burton

• While the “butter-fried cow’s udder” may not have made it on to London menus yet (Move over sushi, G2, 20 February), my mother-in-law was cooking it in Lancashire decades ago. “Elder”, as it was known, was cooked with tripe, but has been impossible to get hold of since the BSE crisis.
Sally Cheseldine

• My niece in Weymouth was making daisy chains yesterday.
Pearl Carter
Burgess Hill, West Sussex


It is good, as you say, that there is now a political consensus building around the need to offer some childcare from the age of two (Leader, 17 February). However, if this new early learning provision is to be “what is best for children themselves”, it is essential that qualified staff are in place or the evidence shows that these new places will do little to improve social mobility. Our recent Sound Foundations research report for the Sutton Trust found that much current provision for two-year-olds is not yet fit for purpose. Offering less than high-quality places to young children whose parents are not in work addresses neither the child development nor child poverty aims. We have therefore recommended the government delay its planned expansion of free places for two-year-olds and focus on improving the quality of provision for the 20% of two-year-olds already entitled to free places. Investing in relevant qualifications and training for childcare workers is central to ensuring the best outcomes for all children. In the longer term, we will never achieve the quality of care necessary for our younger children without addressing issues of pay and conditions as well as qualifications.
Naomi Eisenstadt, Professor Kathy Sylva, Sandra Mathers Department of Education, University of Oxford

• You sadly note that plans for childcare for pre-schoolers is about “labour market economics” and not “what is best for the children”. What a shameful society we are becoming. For at least the first three years of life, children need regular contact with an adult, obviously best if mother, father or grandparent, who constantly talks with them, plays with them, gives them love and attention. In many homes this is the case, but others are financially and culturally impoverished and in consequence neglect to give their children the early intellectual and emotional stimulus that later in life makes the difference between high achievers and the rest. These are often the children who will struggle with literacy and numeracy at school, and by 16 fail to achieve the five good GCSEs that government is so beholden to. It should be obvious that while a state pension for the elderly is right, likewise there should be state “pension” to protect the very young, so that family care can be universal.

But beyond that culturally impoverished families need support. I would like to see primary education redefined as from age 0 to 11 with schools employing community teachers working in conjunction with Sure Start centres and focusing on the stimulus that adults can give their new-born children – talking, playing, teaching them songs, reading aloud to them. In the long run it would be a much better investment by the state than expecting both parents to work to earn sufficient to pay for child minders. Education is more important than economics!
Professor Michael Bassey
Newark, Nottinghamshire

• Of maintained nursery schools, 91% were judged good or outstanding by Ofsted in 2012/13, and should be seen as a central part of the solution to high-quality childcare provision, yet they are under threat. As local authorities put their children’s services out to tender and their maintained primary and infant schools become academies, maintained nursery schools have nowhere to go. Current legislation does not provide for the conversion of maintained nursery schools into academies. This causes a fundamental structural problem for a children’s centre which is integrated with a maintained nursery school.

If legislation was adapted to provide for “nursery academies”, economies of scale and reach could also be exploited by the creation of “multi academy nursery trusts”. The particular expertise of the maintained nursery school is distinct from that of the primary school with a nursery class, and offers a crucial resource in supporting disadvantaged children. Such schools should be permitted to take their place amongst the current array of providers and not disappear because of lack of available succession routes such as academisation.
Mary Groom
Partner, Bates Wells Braithwaite

• When government pressure bites, the temptation to take the biggest financial chunk out of early years services seems impossible to resist. When even Labour-led local authorities, once the proud instigators of Sure Start, follow central guidance and leave the provision of early years education and childcare to “market forces”, they can hardly be surprised when the places aren’t there. The poorer the area, the less available the childcare: it won’t make a profit and private childcare providers won’t entertain it.
Gwyn Fields











Helen Croydon’s assertion that too much is expected from a modern marriage is correct – falling in love is one thing, getting married for life is another (“Not the marrying kind”, 19 February). But her solution takes the usual modern path of assuming that if it doesn’t work straight away, or fairly easily, it is not going to work.

Sadly, this demand for instant reward that we have allowed to creep into virtually every aspect of life does indeed make it less likely that modern marriages are going to last, but the solution is the highly unfashionable idea in personal matters that we have to work at it. If modern people worked as hard at marriage as at their jobs, I think we would see a vast improvement in the longevity of married relationships.

Finding the soulmate for life is what you work at in your early adult life, until you find someone who your head and heart tell you is a suitable partner for life, who will be a good person to bring up children with you in your home, and will still be fun to be with even when you are old and less athletic.

I would also assert that the sexual frisson that Helen Croydon suggests disappears in any relationship after a while is there to be galvanised in a deeper and special way in later married life. It may change, but it is no less exciting and satisfying, and the knowledge that you have shared so much together makes the bond much stronger.

Tim Venvell, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire


Helen Croydon invites us to “start with the history” and goes on: “The idea that our Mr or Mrs Right will fulfill us emotionally, sexually, spiritually or everything else is new – 200 years new”.

Helen Croydon’s view of “history” does not include Shakespeare, whose romantic heroes and heroines fall in love and get married; and Hymen, the goddess of marriage, actually appears in person at the end of As You Like It, to bless the unions of the principals.

John Dakin, Toddington, Bedfordshire


Forget the deniers, just stop fracking

I fear Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (17 February) might be over-optimistic in thinking that “the floods may have finally shocked right-wingers into taking climate change more seriously”.

Like creationists, they seem impervious, no matter how many stacks of robust evidence you present them with.

If Cameron’s government is to show any hint of embracing reality, it must – never mind a moratorium – stop all fracking now. Trying to wring every last drop of fossil fuel from the planet’s crust to convert into yet more climate-changing greenhouse gases is bad enough. Given concerns about groundwater contamination from this process in standard conditions, how much more threatening to the environment might this be with the saturation below ground level and floodwater above it that we are experiencing now and probably henceforth?

Mark Burrows, Weymouth, Dorset

Your correspondents (letters, 18 February) assume that it is important to quell global-warming deniers.

That, like the deniers, is of no great importance. Ignore their bleats for attention. What matters is to get on with acting in case it is going to happen.

There can be no doubt, even in the most befogged head, that a reasonable case has been made.  Safety-first in such an instance, is not just sensible; it is urgent.  Unless we get moving fast we may find  that water in the bilges is not the small leak they believe in, but an iceberg tearing the length of the ship. You cannot mend that at sea.

Let the funny people believe their stories. What matters is to get things done. Now.

Kenneth J Moss, Norwich


Will the Government’s largesse toward households affected by flooding include those with surplus bedrooms?

Stephen Chorley

Dalgety Bay, Fife


Driven to distraction by Google glass?

Your report on the etiquette guide issued by Google on the use of Google Glass (20 February) does not mention whether it includes guidance for the use of the device while driving.

The use of hand-held mobile phones while driving was banned because it was shown to distract drivers from the important matter of concentrating on the road ahead. It seems to me that such considerations would also apply to Google Glass, with the addition also of a restricted view ahead.

As a driver I appreciate that there are already enough distractions in modern vehicles, with all their gadgets, gizmos and toys, without another layer being added.

As a cyclist I am very aware of drivers who continue to use mobile phones, as I wonder whether or not I have been seen. The detection rate of such offences is ludicrously small, but at least it is possible to show if a mobile phone was in use at the time of an accident from its records.

Research into such use of Google Glass must be done, and independently of Google. The use of mobile phones was banned reactively following numerous accidents in which their use was implicated. It may be necessary to ban the use of Google Glass by drivers proactively.

Bob Stephens, Bovey Tracey, Devon


Rates delay helps  local business

It is inaccurate to suggest Bond Street shops are being “subsidised” by deprived high streets through a postponement of a 2015 business rates revaluation (report, 6 January). In fact a revaluation next year would have meant tax cuts for bankers and posh offices in London, and punishing tax rises on independent shops, local pubs, food retail and petrol stations.

Our decision to postpone the revaluation was based on the most comprehensive research available, compiled by the independent Valuation Office Agency using professional judgements and rental market evidence. They estimate that over 800,000 premises would have lost out. Tax stability is vital to businesses looking to grow and help improve the economy. In London, offices would have seen their rates bill fall in 2015 by £440m per year.

Postponement will ensure tax stability by avoiding sharp changes and unexpected hikes in business rate bills over the next five years, vital to businesses looking to grow and help improve the economy.

Brandon Lewis,  High Streets Minister, Department for Communities and Local Government, London SW1


Olympic stars and their babies

I watched the GB women’s curling semi-final on BBC2. The presenters, Steve Cram and Jackie Lockhart, had an interesting discussion about two of the team who had recently had babies and whether it had improved their game, and Cram differentiated between one woman who was married and the other woman who had a partner and was “not married”.

When I watched the GB men’s curling semi-final in the afternoon, there was no explanation of whether they were fathers or married, or had partners. I am so disappointed that the BBC still judges women athletes by their marital status and whether they have given birth. What on earth has this got to do with anything?

Linda Dickins, Wimborne, Dorset


Exploited greats  of football

What Stephen Westacott (letters, 19 February) and those who hark back to the good old days of football forget is that Sir Tom Finney and other legends like him were effectively enslaved and, due to a long-since-abolished maximum wage, paid a pittance of their real value to the club they played for.

Had Finney, Matthews or Wright been offered the equivalent of £300,000 per week, I’m sure they would have happily accepted it. Sadly for them they were destined to remain in servitude to the cabal of greedy football club owners whose coffers and social standing were boosted by their association with these exploited greats of the game.

John Moore, Northampton


Street of  the sober

The wrong print has been used to support Owen Jones’s article on the dangers of alcohol (20 February).

Beer Street shows a scene of contented beer-drinkers, where the only loser is the pawnbroker. The matching print, Gin Lane, would have been more appropriate, with its drunken mother dropping her baby down a stairwell and a man pawning the tools of his trade to pay for his addiction.

Terry Lloyd, Chorleywood,  Hertfordshire


Keeping  the pound

In the event of a “yes” vote in the Scottish independence referendum, may I suggest Poundland as the obvious new name for the remaining parts of the United Kingdom?

Kim Thonger






Sir, I doubt that a balanced discussion on the pros and cons of Scottish independence will ever be possible. Alex Salmond, as leader of the Yes campaign but also leader of the SNP, can campaign on short-term, party political issues (benefits, taxation, tuition fees) while staying coy about the long-term issues (the pound, Europe, Nato). The No campaign, with representatives from across the political spectrum, does not have a unified voice with which to campaign on short-term issues and can only address the long-term consequences of independence.

Recent announcements from Westminster and Brussels suggest that an independent Scotland is unlikely to be able to share the pound or to join Europe. Instead of accepting these statements, Mr Salmond remains confident that he can renegotiate these positions after securing a Yes vote. So Scots are expected to vote first and then find out what they have voted for.

All of us, Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish, deserve better than this.

Dr Susan Laing

Dulnain Bridge, Grantown-on-Spey

Sir, Alex Salmond is playing poker, gambling that George Osborne is bluffing in saying London would not strike a deal with Edinburgh on a currency union. George Osborne is playing bridge — explaining to all parties what cards are in his hand and trying to make it clear the contract he is prepared to make.

Surely it is better for the electorate to know the position on a currency union before they vote? Otherwise they will be going to the casino rather than the polling station.

John Belton

Marlow, Bucks

Sir, Alex Salmond is at his most wily with his stance over the pound sterling. Deep down, he undoubtedly realises that the campaign for independence is a lost cause. But now he has his get out excuse.

He can blame the English, the Welsh and the Northern Irish who have stated that an independent Scotland would not be allowed to keep the pound. He can blame the EU for not guaranteeing membership. He will be able to hold his head high and say that he has done his best for the people of Scotland but factors outside the country leave voters with little choice but to reject independence; a face-saving trick.

Jack Harrison

Tobermory, Isle of Mull

Sir, In all the pros and cons of Scottish independence being discussed, I am amazed that the issue of graduate employment has not been mentioned. One only has to consider the numbers of one’s friends and family who, over the years, have had to move south due to lack of sufficient good graduate opportunities in Scotland, to realise that independence could seriously damage the prospects for countless future graduates.

Jean Mathie

(retired careers adviser)

Larbert, Stirlingshire

Sir, Your correspondents (Feb 19) have an almost wholly negative view on the merits of Scottish independence.

May I suggest that not everyone in Scotland is deterred or flustered by the disinformation emanating from all three Westminster parties?

There is a sensible, and historic, democratic debate to be had. Let’s have it.

Tom Burton



We helped to create the European Union and the European Convention of Human Rights was largely drafted by British lawyers

Sir, The Bishop of Coventry in his fine letter (Feb 14) asks your readers to remember the carnage caused by the raids on Dresden and Coventry, and points out that “Europe twice descended into Hell in the last century”. You also quote the President of the Supreme Court as saying “Britons have an aversion to Europe, and find the idea that foreign courts can overrule decisions of Parliament little short of offensive” (report, Feb 14) He follows this somewhat arrogant assertion with the customary vindication that the UK has not been successfully invaded since 1066 and as a whole “was peculiarly averse to, and particularly suspicious of, being told what they can and cannot do by Pan-European bodies.”

Like many of my generation, I gave up seven years of my youth in the hope of preventing a third descent into hell in Europe in this century. We helped to create the European Union, convinced by Churchill’s cry that ”jaw jaw was preferable to war war”.

The European Convention of Human Rights was largely drafted by British lawyers, leading, as Lord Neuberger points out, to the creation of “institutions involving the trading of a degree of national sovereignty on self-determination, in return for chosen mutual co-operation”. He goes on to assert that when the UK was a world power, the idea that it was one of several equal European states would have been greeted with contempt by most British people.

I regret that I have lived to hear the head of my great profession using the language of the last century, that will lead inevitably to violence and war and against which we fought with such conviction. I assure his Lordship with some confidence that he does not speak for the majority of that profession who would, I am sure, agree with the bishop that “friendship is better that enmity”.

Lord Hutchinson, QC

House of Lords


It would be in the national and long-term electoral interest of both coalition partners to maximise the extensive common ground between them

Sir, The two Lib Dem internal groups demanding the abandonment of the leadership’s intention to produce a politically equidistant manifesto represent the far-left spectrum of the party’s membership (letter, Feb 19). Right-of-centre Lib Dems, including the manifesto’s author, David Laws, understand that their electoral appeal in 2015 must be as a responsible party of government with a creditable record of achievement in coalition with the Conservatives.

In the event of another hung parliament, it would be in the national interest and long-term electoral interest of both coalition partners to maximise the extensive common ground between them for a further five years and prevent the calamity of an anti-enterprise Labour government. This outcome offers the realistic medium-term prospect of a realignment of Britain’s centre right with defections from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives offset by defections of recalcitrant Tories to Ukip.

Philip Duly

Haslemere, Surrey


In some parts of the country spring appears to have sprung already, with fruit trees flowering and ladybirds galore

Sir, I am not the only being to have enjoyed a sunny afternoon in my garden; my fruit trees and bushes are alive with ladybirds. A sign of how mild our winter has been.

Ralph Bates

Aller, Somerset.



‘A comprehensive distance-based lorry charging system would incentivise logistics operators to get better efficiency out of their HGVs’

Sir, Reducing the number of empty trucks on our roads would also have huge road safety benefits, given that HGVs are four and half times more likely to be involved in fatal collisions than cars (“Filling empty lorries could save £160m a year in fuel”, Feb 19).

So, it is surprising that the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight did not mention a comprehensive distance-based lorry charging system, which would incentivise logistics operators to get better efficiency out of their HGVs and result in safer, cleaner and less congested roads.

In just four years Germany’s charging system reduced the number of empty trucks by 11 per cent and increased loaded runs by over 2 per cent because of the financial penalties for running partially or totally empty.

It is disappointing that the UK is introducing an inferior charging system in April which will not make HGVs pay for the safety, pollution and congestion impacts they impose on society.

Philippa Edmunds

Freight on Rail Manager, Campaign for Better Transport, London N1




SIR – I received my notification about the NHS database a fortnight ago. It was not addressed to me but came with other junk mail that Royal Mail relentlessly pushes through my door. By chance my wife spotted the NHS logo.

As the leaflet suggested, I consulted my GP surgery – which asked me to forward it, as they had not seen a copy. Is this what the NHS calls informing the public?

Peter East
Reading, Berkshire

SIR – Rightly, people are concerned about how their personal medical records will be used under the new “” scheme.

As leading patient organisations, we believe that use of information contained in patients’ records will be overwhelmingly beneficial: people with serious diseases will be diagnosed earlier and have a better quality of life. It would be unethical, and even dangerous, to deprive patients of this.

Hospital data have in the past 25 years led to real benefits. Yet 90 per cent of patient care takes place outside of hospital.

Patients need to be enabled to make an informed decision about whether they are willing for their information to be used. The NHS must take the time to listen to the concerns raised and ensure that the clear benefits of this new system aren’t put at risk because of poor communication.

Caroline Abrahams
Charity Director, Age UK
Kay Boycott
Chief Executive, Asthma UK
Chris Askew
Chief Executive, Breakthrough Breast Cancer
Simon Gillespie
Chief Executive, British Heart Foundation
Dr Penny Woods
Chief Executive, British Lung Foundation
Barbara Young
Chief Executive, Diabetes UK
Ciarán Devane
Chief Executive, Macmillan Cancer Support
Arlene Wilkie
Chief Executive, Neurological Alliance
Paul Jenkins
Chief Executive, Rethink Mental Illness
Jon Barrick
Chief Executive, The Stroke Association

PM v Archbishop

SIR – Well done to David Cameron for his response to Archbishop Vincent Nichols . Figures in the Church in Britain have moved to the liberal Left, sermonising on the responsibilities of the state and the rights of the individual, rather than the other way round.

There is an increasing acceptance of the situation where it pays more not to work, as though this were part of the natural order rather than an offence against the Gospel. Taxes are seen as a form of income redistribution – enforced charity – rather than a means of providing the state with the resources to function effectively.

It is not the state’s responsibility to provide charity (which it does badly): it is our personal responsibility. It is also our personal responsibility to work if we can, to support ourselves and our dependants.

Ian Johnson
Cirencester, Gloucestershire

SIR – Archbishop Nichols clearly accepted the need for welfare reforms. What he attacked was that vulnerable people could be punished for a mistake in completing a form by being left without benefit for 10 days or more, with no means of support.

Mr Cameron needs to explain why the Government – which, he claims, acts with a social conscience – allows this to happen.

Tony Charnock
Parbold, Lancashire

Upstairs, downstairs loo

SIR – Coloured lavatory paper is one thing. But what happened to interleaved flat-pack paper?

My mother maintained that toilet rolls were for upstairs, but downstairs, where guests might go, flat packs were de rigueur.

I remember once we visited an aunt who lived in a large bungalow and Mother was horrified to find that the lavatory had a roll. Her rule remained inviolable even though there was no “upstairs”.

Arthur W J G Ord-Hume
Guildford, Surrey


SIR – One striking fact about the coming referendum: Scotland is in danger of being (politely) ignored.

Even if Alex Salmond loses the referendum, it is likely that he will gain more than 40 per cent of the vote. (This is more than the winning party in a Westminster election.) He will then be First Minister in the Scottish Parliament, remain in the currency union he wants, and will surely be in a strong position to argue for much great autonomy for Scotland.

How will Anglo-centric politicians at Westminster respond?

Kenneth Jones
Groby, Leicestershire

SIR – No one concerned for the Union should rest content with Alex Salmond’s present discomfort, with polls suggesting Scotland will stay in the United Kingdom.

First, he has bounced back before, and polls breed complacency.

Secondly, despite holding the referendum at a time and with an electorate of its choosing, if the SNP loses narrowly, it will want to put the question again until it gets the “right” answer. The bigger its defeat, the less reasonable that will seem.

Thirdly, the United Kingdom’s achievements since 1707 are such that the outside world views as perverse the possible repudiation of constitutional arrangements that have served so well.

September 18 is of immense importance for all of us and, between now and then, “Team GB” members in and out of Scotland would do well to assert their belief in the Union.

Professor Sir Roger Williams
Reading, Berkshire

Bird’s-eye view: patient quest for the goldfinch

SIR – Just over three years ago we moved to our new house and were disappointed at the paucity of wild birds. We established a feeding station with the usual seeds and fat sticks, plus a special niger feeder. It wasn’t long before sparrows, starlings and coal tits started to appear, along with unwelcome magpies, but no goldfinches.

A friend who knows about birds said that it could be a couple of years before goldfinches found our food. Sure enough, after three years, goldfinches have become regular visitors. Be patient: goldfinches will eventually find you.

Eric Page
Alloa, Clackmannanshire

SIR – Bird feeding where we live is competitive. Our birds demand not only what they like, but the best possible quality. Otherwise, they’re off down the street.

Sunflower seeds – the favourite of all of the finches – have to be dehusked, for instance. Our goldfinches will take niger, but only occasionally. Peanuts are the favourite of almost all of our tits, but not from wire nut-feeders; they far prefer to take whole nuts from seed feeders. They fly to a branch, clamp the nut under a claw, and chip away merrily. Long-tailed tits prefer fat slabs. Blackcaps and starlings favour those with added insects.

A real winter treat for goldfinches are the seeds from Verbena bonariensis, which must never be cut down at the end of summer. There are many good reasons for growing this plant, but the chance of seeing winter-feeding goldfinches is the best one.

Arthur Sotheran

Permission to flood

SIR – Angus McPherson is wrong to blame local authorities for granting planning permission for developments on land liable to flood.

Councillors, with knowledge of the area they represent, will usually refuse planning permission. The developer will appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, which has no local knowledge. It may consult the Environment Agency, which also has limited local knowledge. If it indicates an area hasn’t flooded recently, the local decision will be overruled.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, needs to look at the Planning Inspectorate and the Environment Agency, neither of which, in my experience, is fit for purpose, or, indeed, promotes localism.

Councillor Geoff Austin (Con)
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

SIR – In my time at the helm of the largest private crematorium company in Britain, Chichester Crematorium was flooded by the Lavant , and vandals burnt down Randalls Park Crematorium, Leatherhead. We had both running again within days.

Simon Field
Arundel, West Sussex

Bus blather

SIR – The new London buses are rather nice, but come with constant, unnecessary noisy announcements. Need we be reminded at every stop how to use our payment cards? As for the warning, every two minutes, to “watch out for traffic when leaving the bus”, I had never thought of throwing myself in front of the nearest lorry, but if this intrusive cacophony is not abandoned, I may have to reconsider.

Who imposed this unwelcome racket? The bounder must be named and shamed.

Timothy St Ather
London SW13


SIR – You report that Chinese children of all classes perform far better in mathematics than even the best British students. But if you examined history teaching in China, you would find results that would make Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, blanch.

Here is what elite Chinese students who make it into the LSE and Oxbridge have been taught:

Chinese history over 2,000 years is a record of unbroken ethnic Chinese rule. (In fact, almost half was non-Chinese.)

Britain introduced opium to China. (In fact, it was already widely grown and used.)

Tibet has always been part of China. (In fact, it was usually independent.)

June 4 1989 in Tiananmen Square was a “riot” in which many soldiers and police were killed. (In fact, hundreds of unarmed protesters were murdered by the Chinese army and police.)

Jonathan Mirsky
London W11

SIR – Last year I taught A-level maths and physics at a private school in Chengdu, where students studied for 12 hours every weekday. It seemed at times that A-level maths was insufficiently challenging for my students: half the group scored 100 per cent in the first module and all 23 students got an “A” when they took the exam a year earlier than their British counterparts, and in a foreign language.

The key to China’s success is persistent hard work, a very strong emphasis on rote learning, rigorous discipline and the burning desire of every student to be “number one” – a salutary lesson, perhaps, for students in Britain.

Robert Nield
Hartford, Cheshire

SIR – It would be interesting to know the class sizes which achieve these results in China.

In the late Nineties, I was in India talking to children who seemed to me to be very bright compared with children of the same age in Britain. When I asked them how many were in their class, I was told that there were about 80 – far more than the 30 or so considered too many by British teachers.

The school worked two shifts, with different children in the mornings and in the afternoons, and the children paid a few rupees for their education each week.

The other factor was that, when the children arrived home from school, the television was off and covered with a cloth (even when India was playing cricket) and the parents discussed with the children what they had learnt at school that day.

Brian Tordoff
Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire


SIR – As landscape architects, architects, engineers, hydrologists, ecologists and other specialists with the experience necessary to tackle flooding, we would like the Government to be aware that the expertise of our professions is available and, we believe, urgently required.

While we are pleased to hear that the Prime Minister will provide leadership and funding, it is essential that government actions are based on best practice developed over many years.

Water management techniques could have helped prevent the effect of flooding on villages, towns and over surrounding land seen recently. Emergency measures are in order for the immediate crisis. But in the long term, the management of water requires a clear strategy.

We need to look at how forestry, land management and soft-engineered flood alleviation schemes can hold back water in the upper reaches of rivers, and how dredging may assist in the lower reaches.

We need to fit sustainable drainage systems comprehensively for existing buildings and all new buildings. Buildings and land that cannot be properly protected should be made resilient to withstand flooding. All new housing on flood plains must be resilient when built.

Co-operation is needed between the professions, the water companies, internal drainage boards, local authorities, the Environment Agency, and Natural Resources Wales. They must all work with landowners and residents to be effective.

In the Environment Agency are people experienced in addressing these problems, as there are among the members of all our organisations. We need to mobilise that joint expertise.

We are asking David Cameron to convene without delay a cross-departmental conference, including the professions, with the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Communities, the Environment Agency and National Resources Wales, similar to the one convened to address the problem of ash dieback.

S E Illman
President, Landscape Institute

George Adams
President, Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers

Heather Barrett-Mold
Chair, Institution of Environmental Sciences

Martin Baxter
Executive director – policy, Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment

Shireen Chambers
Chief executive, Institute of Chartered Foresters

Adam Donnan
Chief executive officer, Institution of Environmental Science

Michael Doran
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

John Gregory
Institute of Fisheries Management

Sally Hayns
Chief executive officer, Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management

Louise Kingham
Chief executive, Energy Institute

Steve Lee
Chief executive officer, Chartered Institution of Wastes Management

Karen Martin
Chief executive, Arboricultural Association

Dr Peter Spillett
President, Institute of Fisheries Management

Alastair Taylor
Chief Executive, Institution of Agricultural Engineers

Professor William Pope
Chairman, Environmental Policy Forum

Mike Summersgill
President, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management

Jim Whelan
Council Member, Institution of Environmental Science

Print off, drop in, opt out

SIR – I too received no information about opting out of the new NHS database (Letters, February 19). But at a website called one can print off an opt-out letter, sign it and drop it in to one’s GP. That is what I did.

Cynthia Denby
Edgware, Middlesex

Pointed observation

SIR – Nul points in your letter heading (February 19) is not French, whatever fans of the Eurovision Song Contest may think. So I must pedantically award you nul point.

Professor Emeritus Peter Lack
London N10

To knot or not

SIR – You report that the sportswear giant Nike expects to release self-tying shoe laces by 2015.

If the technology could be applied to black bow-ties, I would be seriously interested.

Philip Brennan
Oxhill, Warwickshire



Irish Times:


Sir, – The response of the Department of Social Protection (February 19th) to welfare payments to homeless people comes straight from the manual, but bears little resemblance to what is actually happening on the ground.

I know many homeless people who have been, and continue to be, denied welfare payments for weeks, even months, on end. Homeless people are routinely told that welfare payments can only be paid if they have an address, and to provide proof of their address, they must furnish receipts for several nights’ hostel accommodation. They are also expected to pay for their several nights’ hostel accommodation, even though they have not yet received any welfare payments!

Dublin City Council will no doubt reply that homeless people are not refused accommodation if they have no money. Again this is straight from the manual, but in practice, a homeless person who contacts the homeless helpline at 2pm (when beds are available) will be asked if they have money to pay for their night in the hostel and if they say “No”, they will be told to ring back at 10.30pm, at which time all the beds will have been filled.

Many homeless people, when they seek accommodation, are offered sleeping bags to sleep rough because there are not sufficient beds available. They, therefore, have no receipts and will not be paid. Others choose to sleep rough because much of the emergency accommodation available is full of drugs, their belongings are robbed, their dignity is destroyed. They feel safer sleeping on the streets. They, too, have no receipts and will not be paid.

There is a growing crisis of homelessness which is being ignored. More people will be unable to access a bed when the “cold weather” beds, which were provided several weeks ago, are closed down at the end of March. It is difficult enough being homeless without being penniless as well. To survive, they have no choice but to beg, borrow or steal. – Yours, etc,


Jesuit Centre for Faith and


Upper Sherrard Street,

Dublin 1.


A chara, – I am a frontline healthcare professional in a large acute Dublin hospital. My patients, their family members and my colleagues struggle daily with limited (and ever reducing) resources to provide high quality healthcare. So you can imagine my frustration with the ongoing GSOC bugging saga. How many hours have been wasted debating this topic in the Dáil? How many column inches have been wasted writing about this allegation? How much money will be wasted in having a retired judge write a report (just what Ireland needs!) rather than helping my patients.

May I respectfully suggest that our politicians, journalists, the Garda Síochána and GSOC learn a little common sense. I feel they have an overinflated view of themselves. Sure who would want to infiltrate GSOC? This isn’t Edward Snowden and the CIA! – Is mise,


Priory Grove,

Stillorgan, Co Dublin.


A  chara, – As I watched the news on Tuesday I couldn’t help wondering what kind of Europe we’ve been left with. In Kiev, “protesters”, with their faces covered by balaclavas, draped in the EU flag and armed with bricks, Molotov cocktails and other weapons, were attempting to overthrow a democratically elected government.

In the same news package it was reported that the EU – which supports these “protesters” – is to consider sanctions against the Ukrainian government. José Manuel Barroso said “there are no circumstances that can legitimise or justify such scenes”.

Where were the sanctions for the governments of Spain and Greece when they deployed their respective police forces against relatively peaceful workers that had the audacity to march against the financial upheaval being foisted upon them by EU crisis management policies. Where was the “shock and utter dismay” from the EU? Yet in Kiev there are people wearing balaclavas and throwing petrol bombs – people who in other circumstances would be classed by some as terrorists – and they to be appear enjoying the support of the EU. Perhaps the EU sees them as a means to an end, to bring Ukraine into the European fold. – Is mise,


Lismore Road,

Crumlin, Dublin 12.



Sir, – Could I suggest that, for his next birthday, someone should give Minister for Justice Alan Shatter a box set of Yes Minister DVDs?

There he will find several examples of how to act quickly to prevent an incident turning into a full-blown crisis.

A worried minister for administrative affairs pleads with Sir Humphrey to find him a way out of the latest leak/scandal/crisis.

“Not to worry, Minister,” replies Sir Humphrey. “We will set up a top-level inquiry, hear expert evidence from everybody involved, and issue a definitive report in six months, which will conclude that the leak/scandal/crisis never happened, and will make a detailed set of recommendations, which, if implemented, will ensure that the crisis, which never happened, will never happen again!”

Where are all our experienced Sir Humphreys when our country needs them? I expect they have taken the package, and will not, and cannot, be replaced. – Yours, etc,


Broadway, Co Wexford.

Sir, – The Seanad unanimously agreed a motion inviting Pope Francis to address the upper house (Home News, February 20th). While this is a positive good, there is an injustice to be rectified before such a visit. At least five Irish priests have been silenced under an unjust process which is still in existence and whose administrator, Archbishop Müller, will be promoted tomorrow to the rank of a cardinal, the highest ranking position in the Catholic Church after the Pope.

While each man has had to continue to live under their unjust sentences, one of these elderly priests who has suffered gravely over the years is now very poorly. Unless there is a redress of these injustices either by the Vatican or the religious orders concerned, these men will have to carry these heavy unjust burdens to their graves. – Yours, etc,


The Moorings,

Malahide, Co Dublin.



Sir, – Perhaps it might help Fifa reconsider the location of the 2022 World Cup if each game started with a minute’s silence for each person who died in the construction phase.

Currently Qatar would have over six hours of silence before each game. – Yours, etc,


Westbury Drive,

Lucan, Co Dublin.


A chara, – As a Gaeilgeoir I prefer to communicate with government departments and State agencies as Gaeilge, but am coming to the conclusion there is an unofficial policy at Government level to discourage this. The following examples illustrate the point.

In the first year of the Local Property Tax, I wrote to the Revenue Commissioners requesting that all correspondence between them and me in that regard be done as Gaeilge, including explanatory booklet and bill. The request was ignored and I had no choice but to invoke the assistance of An Coimisinéir Teanga (the Language Commissioner). I estimate that more than a dozen letters were written before that simple matter was successfully concluded – by me, by An Coimisinéir Teanga and by the Revenue Commissioners. Stout resistance was encountered from the last of those.

Recently I again had to invoke the assistance of An Coimisinéir Teanga to obtain the Irish language version of Form DD1 which applies to exemption from VAT and VRT for those with adaptations to their vehicles to suit a driver or passenger with a physical disability. Twice I wrote to Revenue for the form to be provided as Gaeilge but my request was ignored in favour of the English language version. The requested one finally arrived, as Gaeilge.

It is interesting to note that the Revenue Commissioners have an impressive website that pretends there is a choice of either official language but, on closer examination, it transpires that there are serious discrepancies.

By contrast, those in charge of collecting the household charge had no difficulty in doing the entire matter as Gaeilge and without fuss.

Many of my friends are Gaeilgeoirí but, sadly, several of them have abandoned their efforts to deal with the State as Gaeilge. They cite numerous examples of obstacles being placed in their paths.

Is it any wonder that Seán Ó Cuirreáin has resigned as An Coimisinéir Teanga?

Saturday’s march in Dublin shows there are many in this country who believe in the value of our uniqueness of language and richness of identity and also that most of those whom we have elected to lead us are not remotely interested. – Is mise,


Carraig Mhachaire Rois,

Co Mhuineacháin.



A chara, – It is true that dental health in Ireland has improved since the introduction of a fluoridated water supply in the 1960s (FR Baigel, February 20th). However, it is equally true that access to cheap fluoridated toothpaste and better education occurred over a similar period, and has achieved very positive outcomes.

Fluoride is a very effective topical treatment in the prevention of gum disease and cavities, but adding fluoride to the water supply is unnecessary in a modern economy and only serves to overexpose us to it.

Given the recent concerns over fluoride, surely the precautionary principle should apply and water fluoridation be discontinued? – Is mise,


Herbert Avenue,




Sir, – Olivia O’Leary (Opinion, February 14th) is quite correct in the following statement, “So what should TDs be doing? They should not be competing with their constituency colleagues to do county councillors’ jobs, they should be engaging with politics at a national level and with the wider public debate. Too often the researchers they are now allowed to employ are diverted to constituency work.”

But we are about to elect a whole bunch of county councillors from which our national parties will select their candidates for the Dáil.

Why are we surprised if they continue to conduct council business?

It is not so long since they could legally hold down the both “jobs”. – Yours, etc,


Shamrock Drive,

Muskerry Estate,



Sir, – I refer to the article ‘Tobacco firms to argue against plain packaging for cigarettes’ (Home News, February 13th) in which it is stated “Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Murphy told The Irish Times the views contained in it [the Law Society submission] represented those of the Law Society as a whole, and its 10,000 members, and had been endorsed by the Society as a whole, rather than the Committee.”

In fact, in my conversation with Harry McGee, I pointed out that the society is the representative body for 10,000 solicitors. However, I never stated that the views expressed by the society were endorsed and held by its 10,000 members.

It would be completely unrealistic to expect all 10,000 members to endorse and hold every view expressed by the Law Society. Solicitors are perfectly free to disagree on various issues and often do.

The society regularly participates in consultations on a wide range of issues that affect the public and the profession. Some 20 formal submissions were made by the society in the last two years alone. We believe the formulation of public policy benefits from this contribution of the profession’s expertise and experience. This belief is shared, it seems, by the great many Government departments, agencies and Oireachtas committees that repeatedly request the society’s input.

While submissions are usually drafted by expert committees, the whole process operates under the governance of the society’s elected council. All submissions are seen by the council and made on behalf of the society rather than by a particular committee.

Hundreds of submissions have been made by the society over the years. Controversy has been very rare.

When the president of the Law Society, John P Shaw, and I appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on February 13th, 2014, we made clear that the society was not in any way whatsoever defending the tobacco industry. We stated clearly that tobacco has a disastrous impact on public health and we support the policy objective of reducing smoking to the greatest extent possible.

We were and remain concerned, nevertheless, with the Irish and international legal implications of the concept of plain packaging as such. Trademarks are key assets of most international investors in Ireland. Great care should be taken in interfering with them.

The Law Society’s concern would be the same if the underlying product was a food, drink, medicine or any other product that benefits from trademark protection. – Yours, etc,


Director General,

Law Society of Ireland,

Blackhall Place,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – The ESRI has identified the small number of houses under construction as likely to result in a future housing shortage (Business, February 18th).

But a more serious problem is the shortage of students studying civil engineering and other courses in construction.

The numbers taking civil engineering at UCD has fallen from about 70 per annum five years ago to just 14 today – and this trend is typical of numbers in other colleges.

There is already a shortage of engineers and this will become much more acute as the recovery in construction gathers pace. The knee-jerk reaction in student choice five years ago is now coming home to roost! – Yours, etc,


School of Civil,

Structural & Environmental


University College Dublin,



Sir, – There is a view, dating at least from the 1996 Report of the Constitutional Review Group, that a new Article should be inserted in the Constitution to confirm the establishment of the office of the Ombudsman, to provide for the independent exercise of its investigations and other functions in relation to administrative actions, as determined by law, and making provisions similar to those applying to the Comptroller and Auditor General (at Art 33).

Perhaps there should be a discussion in relation to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission having a constitutional status, and for the same reasons?

Interestingly, An Garda Síochána is not mentioned in current editions of Bunreacht Na hÉireann . However, there is a fleeting and transitional reference to “the Police Forces of the State” (“an Póilíos“) in the 1937 text at Art 61, and this article (and others) were to be omitted from any official text of the Constitution published after the entry of the first President into office (Art 52.1). Nevertheless, Art 61 (and others) were to continue to have the force of law (Art 52.2).

Art 61 was to ensure the continuance of the Defence Forces and the Police Forces of Saorstát Éireann subsequent to the coming into operation of the 1937 Constitution. Does Art 61 exist? Does it definitively exist? – Yours, etc,






Sir, – Paul Regan (February 19th) proposes The Irish Times be rebranded “The Rugby Times”. Given the inordinate column space devoted to Leinster rugby this season, may I suggest “The Leinster Rugby Times”. – Yours, etc,




Co Clare.


Irish Independent:

* As I sat watching the news yesterday evening, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of Europe we have been left with.

Also in this section

Letters: From women’s liberation to conservatism…

Letters: Patrick’s Day purse better spent elsewhere

A sincere and heartfelt thank you to the ESB

In Kiev, ‘protesters’, with their faces covered by balaclavas, draped in the EU flag and armed with bricks, Molotov cocktails and other weapons, were attempting to overthrow a democratically elected government.

In the same news package it was reported that the EU – which supports these ‘protesters’ – is to consider sanctions against the Ukrainian government. Jose Manuel Barroso said: “There are no circumstances that can legitimise or justify such scenes.”

Where, I wonder, were the sanctions for the governments of Spain and Greece when they deployed their respective police forces against relatively peaceful workers that had the audacity to march against the financial upheaval being foisted upon them by EU crisis-management policies? Where was the “shock and utter dismay” from the EU?

Yet in Kiev, there are people wearing balaclavas and throwing petrol bombs – people that in other circumstances would be classed by some as terrorists – and they appear to be enjoying the support of the EU. Perhaps the EU sees them as a means to an end – of bringing Ukraine into the European fold.




* I read with interest the article in Wednesday’s Irish Independent about the decline in the consumption of potatoes and how people are eating more rice and pasta.

Faced with the poor quality and price of potatoes currently, is it any wonder that busy families are opting for faster, cheaper-quality carbos?

In the past couple of years, the quality of potatoes has dropped and the price has increased. Which would you like to do – open a bag of pasta and pop it on the stove or wade through a bag of potatoes to find enough good ones for a meal, then peel them and cut out the bad bits?

And I am talking about the washed product here. If you buy unwashed, be it on your own head, with muck and stones included.

If the IFA, Bord Bia and Teagasc are serious about promoting potatoes, they need to look at what is being produced and put on sale, rather than scratching their heads wondering why consumers are switching.

And price is an important factor. The price of potatoes is high and one would expect a correspondingly high quality of product.

So let’s look at the real issue here.




* To my knowledge, the early Christians facing the daily threat of persecution and death wasted precious little time complaining or criticising the pagans. God knows they had every right to. They were positive in their undying faith.

It is discouraging nowadays to find the Catholic media constantly harping on about those who disagree with us. For example, why waste time and space complaining about the United Nations? Would it not be better to show the world an example of Christian magnanimity; take the good part of the UN statement for what it’s worth and use it to help us tidy up our own house?

Accentuate the positive; forgive, show good example, like Christ on the cross.




* Once again we have the usual furore relating to the supposed ban (as it is portrayed in some quarters) on gay persons participating in the New York St Patrick’s Day parade.

It needs to be emphasised that there is absolutely no ban on anyone taking part in the parade because of their sexual orientation per se. The ban is on carrying banners, which is a different matter altogether.

Given that there are other occasions, such as Gay Pride parades, when gay organisations can proclaim their sexual orientation and carry banners to that effect, why do they insist on wanting to use another event for a purpose for which it’s not intended, ie as a sort of sexual orientation identity parade?

Would it not be deemed utterly ridiculous if heterosexuals in the NY parade were to carry banners proclaiming their sexual orientation?

Besides, America being America, if the organisers of the NY parade were to concede to one group in this matter (carrying banners proclaiming their orientation or whatever), how many other groups would demand similar rights?

Lastly, if the mayor of New York (or Boston or anywhere else) decides to boycott the parade, that’s his choice.




* Patrick Neary (Letters, February 20) believes that “work is dead” thanks to modern technology. There may be some merit in his argument but since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the same assertion has been put forward, yet the sky hasn’t fallen in.

Back then people quickly moved from an agrarian society to an industrial one. Increased mechanisation did not result in a reduction in employment but due to labour laws being weighted in favour of industrialists, those driven to seek employment in manufacturing were often forced to live as paupers.

Thankfully, in most western countries that is not the case today. It has been over 200 years since the industrial revolution, yet humans through their ingenuity and imagination keep finding ways to create employment through new enterprises.

The cyclical nature of modern economies means we will encounter low points such as the one we are currently enduring. That too will be overcome by dint of hard work and the human will to succeed.




* At the present time, elderly men can be seen on television breaking rocks and elderly women filling glass bottles with petrol in the city of Kiev, to be thrown at their own sons – the police – all in the name of democracy.

This conduct appears to be lauded by the leading political heads in the West!




* With regards to Colette Browne’s article (Irish Independent, February 19) concerning the so-called inability of Irish youth to consider any reining in of their sexual liaisons, it may be useful to paraphrase the wisdom of the late, great GK Chesterton: “Abstinence has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried!”




* I have noticed the term ‘begrudger’ being bandied around quite frequently when describing the typical Irish person, especially in the context of the payment of massive salaries. I think it is an unfair and lazy insult mainly used by those (and there are many) of the ‘I’m alright Jack’ brigade.

Many of the so-called begrudgers are decent, hard-working (or unemployed through no fault of their own) ordinary people, who are smart enough to see that a huge amount of the high achievers and elite in this country have got to where they are through nepotism, political connections, corruption and cute hoorism. Are we supposed to applaud these people and accept gracefully that they are worth so much more than the rest of us mere plebs?

I have only respect for decent people who have done well for themselves through sheer endeavour and honesty and I firmly believe the vast majority of people feel the same.



Irish Independent






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