Feeling Better

25 February 2014 Feeling Better

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to pick up the Admirals barge an not drop it.

Very tired tidied upstairs. Both of us a bit better garden tided

Scrabbletoday Mary wins but gets under400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.




Alice Herz-Sommer, who has died aged 110, was a pianist whose unending optimism came to symbolise the triumph of good over evil. She survived two years in Terezín, the “model” concentration camp used by the Nazis to convince the outside world that they were treating Jewish prisoners well, and at the time of her death was the oldest known Holocaust survivor.

Having achieved success in Prague as a child pianist in the 1920s, Alice Herz-Sommer was a finalist in the Vienna International Piano Competition in 1933 before playing for Artur Schnabel in Berlin. The critics at her early performances were enthusiastic. In 1923 the Czech newspaper Bohemia noted how when she performed Beethoven’s Sonata in A flat major Op 110, “her interpretation measured up to that of [Wilhelm Bakhaus] her famous rival”.

When Czechoslovakia was annexed by the Germans in 1939 she sought solace by learning Chopin’s 24 Études. Her husband Leopold was required by the SS to work for the Jewish Community Organisation, drawing up lists for “transport”. Eventually, in July 1943, he too was required to make the journey to Terezín (or Theresienstadt) with his wife and their infant son.

Alice Herz-Sommer’s first recital in Terezín was organised by Otto Zucker, a leading member of the Autonomous Jewish Administration in the camp. Meanwhile her son took part in Brundibar, an opera written by Hans Kraza for the camp’s children. She also took part in performances of Verdi’s Requiem directed by the conductor Rafael Schaechter. However her mother, husband and other family members all died, while she and her son lived in a barrack room in appalling conditions.

After the war Alice Herz-Sommer returned to Prague. But finding that anti-Semitism had taken hold in her homeland she eventually made her way to the new nation of Israel, where she taught at the Jerusalem Conservatory and often appeared in concert.

She settled finally in North London in the 1980s, where she became the doyenne of the Jewish musical community, living an independent life full of good humour and insisting that optimism was the key to her longevity. “Life is beautiful, extremely beautiful,” she told Alan Rusbridger in 2006. “And when you are old you appreciate it more.”

Alice Herz was born on November 26 1903 in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. She was the fourth child of Friedrich, the wealthy owner of a factory that made weighing scales, and his wife Sofie, and was quickly followed by a twin, Marianne (Mizzi). She had three elder siblings.

Sofie, who was from a musical Moravian family, had been a childhood friend of Gustav Mahler and took young Alice to the premiere of his Second Symphony. The family also socialised with Franz Kafka and his associates. The music in this secular Jewish family was dominated by Dvorák, who was still alive when Alice was born, while the Prague of her childhood was a cultural and intellectual melting pot of Germans, Czechs and Jews.

Irma, Alice’s elder sister, was her first piano teacher and she played duets with her violinist brother. She also had lessons with Václav Stepán, who had studied in Paris with Marguerite Long. Her diminutive height was of concern, and for a while Alice’s father paid for her to be stretched in an orthopaedic machine. It had little effect – other than to cause great pain – and she never grew taller than 5ft.

She recalled knitting socks for Habsburg soldiers during the First World War, despite the rampant inflation, poverty and hunger. The end of that conflict led to a rise in Czech nationalism – and with it anti-Semitism. Despite this, in 1920 she entered the German Academy of Music and Drama in Prague, which was headed by Alexander von Zemlinsky, a former pupil of Brahms. There she was taught by Conrad Ansorge, who had been in Liszt’s masterclasses in 1885 and 1886.

Her formal concert debut came in the spring of 1924 when she performed Chopin’s Concerto in E minor with the Czech Philharmonic to a sold-out hall, drawing rave reviews. She continued to perform regularly in Prague and also built up a solid collection of private students. Meanwhile Max Brod, Kafka’s publisher, was singing her praises among his intellectual acquaintances.

In 1933 Alice was invited to take part in the first Vienna International Piano Competition – but she forgot the date and had to take an overnight train and beg the organisers to allow her to be heard a day late. She made it to the final, but often wondered if better organisation on her part might have led to outright victory.

She was in Wenceslas Square on March 16 1939, cautiously observing the German invasion, when an open-topped vehicle came past carrying Adolf Hitler, his right arm lifted in a Nazi salute. Over the next three years her rights and freedoms were gradually whittled away. Like all Jews she was required to wear a yellow star on her coat and soon was barred from teaching non-Jewish piano students. “Everything was forbidden. We couldn’t buy groceries, take the tram or go to the park,” she recalled.

Her sickly 72-year-old mother was deported in 1942 carrying just a small rucksack, never to be seen again, and the following year Alice, her husband and their son were sent to Terezín. Even before they were out of the door their neighbours and former friends were taking their pictures, carpets and furniture.

While in captivity Alice Herz-Sommer gave more than a hundred concerts, often drawing strength from the Chopin Études that she had memorised. She recalled many years later how the Nazis had used Terezín — where hundreds of writers, artists and musicians were incarcerated — to present a false impression to the outside world. “We had to play because the Red Cross came three times a year,” she said, adding contemptuously: “It was propaganda.”

Yet some individuals did retain their humanity. On one occasion she was summoned by name by a Nazi officer. Fearing the worst she approached in trepidation, but he simply said: “I can hear your concert from the window. I come from a musical family and understand music. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

After their Russian liberators arrived in May 1945, Alice and her son — one of only 130 children to survive the camp from 15,000 who were sent there — returned to Prague. A midnight concert that she gave on Czech radio was picked up on short-wave in Jerusalem. It alerted her family, notably Mizzi, her twin, who in 1939 had left on the last train out of Prague to escape to Palestine, to the fact that she was alive.

In 1949, with postwar anti-Semitism still swirling around Prague and the Communists tightening their grip, Alice Herz-Sommer finally joined her family in Israel. She was appointed to the teaching staff at the Jerusalem Conservatory, learnt Hebrew and rebuilt her life. For almost 40 years she enjoyed “the best period in my life… I was happy”.

Although the war was little discussed in Israel, when Adolf Eichmann was captured in Argentina by the Israeli Secret Service she was invited by Gideon Hausner, the Attorney General who was a friend and also a pianist, to witness his trial in 1962. “I pitied him,” she later said of Hitler’s lieutenant.

By the 1980s Alice Herz-Sommer was once more feeling isolated. Many of those in her immediate family who had survived the Holocaust had died and the younger ones were working outside Israel.

In 1986 she moved to Belsize Park, in North London, to be near her son. There she studied with the University of the Third Age and enjoyed swimming up to 20 lengths a day until the age of 99. When she lost the use of two fingers she re-learnt much of the piano repertoire for eight fingers, continuing to play — alone or with friends, including the cellist Anita Wallfisch who had played in the Auschwitz orchestra — well into her second century and recommending a diet of fish, chicken soup and Bach to her many visitors.

Her story was told in A Garden of Eden in Hell, by Melissa Müller and Reinhard Piechocki, published in 2007; she was also the subject of two films by Christopher Nupen; Everything is Present, a tender portrait made in 2010, and his earlier We Want the Light. The Lady in Number 6, a short documentary about her life directed by Malcolm Clarke, has been nominated for a prize in this year’s Academy Awards .

Speaking to Haaretz in 2010, Alice Herz-Sommer declared that, despite everything, she did not hate the Germans. “[What they did] was a terrible thing, but was Alexander the Great any better?” she said. “Evil has always existed and always will. It is part of our life.”

She married Leopold Sommer, a businessman, in 1931. He was sent from Terezín to Auschwitz and then Dachau, where he died from typhus in 1944.

Their son Stephan adopted the name Raphael while growing up in Israel. He became a successful international cellist, but died suddenly from a heart attack while on a concert tour of Israel in 2001. “I am grateful that he did not suffer,” said Alice Herz-Sommer, who herself had suffered enough during her eleven decades.

Alice Herz-Sommer, born November 26 1903, died February 23 2014





Your leader (All change in 2015, 22 February) wrongly implies that voters may be removed from the registers ahead of the May 2015 election as a result of the change to individual electoral registration (IER).

The transition to IER will begin this summer (and from October in Scotland) by matching voters’ details in the registers against other official records. Any voters who can be matched in this way – which we expect to be up to 80% of them – will be automatically transferred to the new system. Any voter whose details can’t be confirmed through data matching will be contacted and invited to supply additional information in order to confirm their register entry on the new system. However, they will not be removed from the current register even if they fail to supply the information needed to transfer them to the new system and they will remain on the register for the 2015 general election.

There will be people who are not currently registered to vote at all and, while they will be targeted through awareness campaigns and encouraged to register, if they have not registered in time for the 2015 general election then they will not be able to vote. But this would also be the case under the current system.

It’s also worth noting that IER will make it possible for the first time to register to vote online, which should help encourage younger people to register.

The transition phase will be completed in December 2015 (later, if more work is needed to get people registered individually) and only at that point will any unconfirmed entries be removed from the registers.
Andrew Scallan
Director of electoral administration, Electoral Commission

Like Ian Jack (Eating out in Britain…, 22 February) I love eating out but hate having to shout over my food and strain to hear conversation on my own table. How can we possibly solve the world’s problems, exchange intimacies or enjoy a good joke or anecdote if we have to compete with constant high-decibel hilarity from other tables? We aren’t always in celebration mode when we join friends to eat. Could restaurants that establish quiet areas be awarded Good Mood rosettes? Pressure for smoke-free areas, child-friendly dining, wheelchair access and special dietary requests produced results. What couldn’t designers achieve with artfully handled soft furnishings, strategically positioned screens and acoustic panels.
Barbara Crowther

•  Ian Jack really doesn’t need to go as far as Antwerp to experience pleasant, un-shouty restaurants. He simply needs to get out of London. Oh, and to remember not to confuse “London” with “Britain”.
Katy Jennison
Whitney, Oxfordshire


Your report on a Syrian asylum-seeker (18 February) made for pretty grim reading. I cannot comment on Mr Chikho’s case. But I can tell you that the wrongful criminal prosecution of genuine refugees has been all too common in recent years. Attempting to enter this country using false identity documents or genuine documents belonging to someone else is – rightly – a criminal offence. But parliament created a statutory defence for refugees genuinely fleeing persecution section 31 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and section 2 of the Immigration and Asylum (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004. Someone fleeing for their life from a brutal dictatorship, a war-torn country or from a failed state will not be able to call into their local post office to obtain an up-to-date passport.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission has to date referred 21 cases of refugees fleeing persecution for appeal. Convictions have been quashed in all of these heard by the courts so far. We are reviewing or are about to review 60 or so other cases. There may be many hundreds more who have yet to come forward. It is absolutely right that we should safeguard our borders against anyone who seeks, improperly, to enter the country. But equally we should not add unnecessarily to the misery of the genuinely persecuted by wrongfully prosecuting them for an offence of which they are not guilty and for which charges should never have been brought.

There is also the cost. We expect publicly funded defence lawyers and prosecutors to understand the law and not advise clients to plead guilty inappropriately or to bring prosecutions unnecessarily or wrongly. There is the waste of public money on legal aid, on prosecution costs, on the original court case, on our costs in reviewing the case and of the courts and the lawyers (again) in reconsidering the conviction. To say nothing of the costs of imprisonment itself. There may also be subsequent claims for compensation and redress. And all this on top of the unnecessary suffering and distress being imposed on those who – surely – have already suffered more than enough. Like Mr Chikho, I hope Syrian refugees who arrive here have a better start than he did. I hope that anyone who arrives here genuinely escaping persecution will be treated properly, humanely and respectfully. British justice is still, rightly, regarded as gold standard. We must keep it that way.
Richard Foster
Chair, Criminal Cases Review Commission



To assume, as the signatories of your letter do (24 February) that opposition protesters in Venezuela are responsible for the violence, rather than largely the victims of it, flies in the face of the reported facts. The protesters are simply fed up with a government that, despite massive oil wealth, has delivered inflation at 56%, a murder rate that would shame any civilised country, empty shops and little hope for its young people. Elected or not, the shambolic stalinism of Chavismo is not working, and the government is getting increasingly and dangerously nervous.
Hugh Weldon

• My bank, HSBC, seems to think that it is reasonable to give bonuses worth more than I earned in my whole teaching career (Report, 24 February). Last week I received a letter telling me the bank is no longer giving interest on my account. Time to change bank, I think.
Jane Eades

• David Smith (Letters, 24 February) writes that if you don’t have access to a computer then you are excluded from the Co-op’s “Having your say”. I called the membership contact centre and was told a paper copy can be sent out, if requested. So to all excluded members who want to participate, call 0800 023 4708.
Rita Machin

• Interesting as early-flowering plants may be (Letters, 22 February), I am more fascinated by the plants that have never stopped flowering. I’ve still got penstemon and coreopsis flowering, the alstroemeria has never stopped growing and flowering and a wall basket of summer fuchsia and lobelia has only just started to fade.
Marie Blundell

• I think you missed one of the true heroes of the flood (Money, 22 February). Catherine Bell of Cockermouth Paper Shop never missed out on delivering the Guardian, even on the morning after, when her shop was in ruins. She was one of the first traders to reopen and helped get the town back on its feet.
Jim Samson
Cockermouth, Cumbria

• Like Gilbert O’Sullivan (Letters, 21 February), I cannot understand why the Brits and the Folk awards were scheduled the same evening, no matter how I try.
Sean King


Normally sage Martin Kettle seems to have lost his sense of reality over Scotland (Comment, 20 February). When George Osborne and his allies – lamentably including Ed Balls – proclaimed that an independent Scotland would be barred from the sterling zone, most European and American commentators recognised a political threat rather than a serious economic judgement. They wondered how much of the ban would survive a possible Yes vote for independence this September. As for Jose Manuel Barroso’s claim that Scotland might be barred from EU membership, which Martin Kettle calls “an important warning”, this clownish blurt seems to have no support from embarrassed European commission colleagues.

Kettle is right to say that the referendum contest has suddenly taken up heavier “political weaponry”. Currency is heavy. But it can be inflated. This is politics, not banking. Given the will and a bit of ingenuity, Osborne’s “impassable” obstacles to currency union can be messily or neatly circumvented. Osborne’s line, if followed through, would require customs barriers at the border – which nobody – English or Scottish or even a denizen of Littleminster-on-Thames – wants to see. Does Kettle really think Osborne would go through with that?

Salmond is probably wrong about Scotland’s automatic entry to the EU: there will indeed have to be a fresh application. But nobody is going to sever Scotland’s thick web of EU connections and programmes while negotiations go on. As for an assured veto … British diplomacy has failed to nudge the Spanish into that folly. Why should Madrid do London a favour in the middle of another Gibraltar wrangle? Finally, it’s sad to see this usually judicious columnist tell readers that Scottish interest in independence is about anti-Englishness and orchestrated by the SNP. He should get out of London more.
Neal Ascherson

Ruth Wishart (Letters, 21 February) must know different people to me in the Scottish Labour party if she believes that the Yes Campaign has considerable support. My own constituency party, one of the biggest and most active in Glasgow, has received no resolutions of support for independence and it’s extremely doubtful there will be any move in that direction at the Scottish Labour conference in March. This is strikingly different to the positions taken up – sometimes in open revolt against the leadership – in the devolution debates of the 1980s. What we have seen is a handful of Labour figures from 1990s coming out for Yes, and the brief emergence of Labour for Independence, which has now vanished. In contrast, every serving Labour MP and MSP in Scotland has backed the Better Together campaign and likewise no Labour councillor has indicated anything other their support for the UK.
Peter Russell

• While Larry Elliott is right that Scotland using the pound is not real freedom, the alternatives are worse. The sensible answer is to stay together. A lot of proud Scots are beginning to ask the question, could we keep our British citizenship if Scotland sleepwalked into independence rather than be ruled by an increasingly arrogant SNP?
NH Lamond
Rothesay, Isle of Bute

• A Scot living in England will become a foreigner. What type of foreigner depends on whether Scotland is in the EU or not. In the EU and they will be no different to a Romanian or Pole. Outside they will be like a Russian or Ukrainian living here. That means residence and work permits, unless legislation changes matters. All this and they do not have a vote in the referendum. Surely a breach of their human rights.
Gerard Cavalier


Watching the Ukrainian revolution unfolding, especially in Lviv, my mind goes back to 1960s Edinburgh and my elderly Polish landlady telling me about growing up in what was then Lemberg in Austro-Hungarian Galicia. When the Emperor Franz Josef died, her primary-school teacher put black crepe round his portrait on the classroom wall and she cried because he reminded her of her grandfather. After the first world war, she found herself a citizen of Lwów in the new republic of Poland, but it reverted to Lemberg in 1940 when the Nazis marched in. By the time the Russians arrived and turned it into Lvov, she was reunited with her soldier husband in Scotland. She didn’t live to see it become the Ukrainian city of Lviv.

Fairly puts the Scottish independence referendum into perspective, doesn’t it?
Harry Watson

• Whatever happens in the short term, I suggest that partition is the real answer to Ukraine‘s problems. Hope for “strong relationships with both east and west” (Editorial, 22 February) is hardly realistic: the division between the Russian-inclined and predominantly Russian-speaking east and the predominantly Ukrainian-speaking and anti-Russian west is irreconcilable. But it would be perfectly feasible for the eastern area to affiliate to Russia and the western area to be free to link to the European Union, even if a split might be less painless than between Slovakia and the Czech Republic. It is certainly difficult to see the easterners being content for the whole country to be taken into the arms of the west – and, more to the point, President Putin has shown he would use his economic throttle-hold to prevent any attempt to do so. But he might now accept the compromise of partition.
Edmund Gray
Iffley, Oxford

• Attempting to liberate Ukraine may be high-minded of the EU, but questions arise (Editorial, 24 February). Was it wise of the EU to think it could entice Ukrainians into abandoning their economic dependence on Russia without offering transitional aid? Now that we have a basket case on our hands, our “austerity” chancellor can’t wait to help rebuild Ukraine. Will Britain’s “hardworking” taxpayers consent to bailing out Ukraine?
Yugo Kovach
Houghton, Dorset

•  European Union officials have said, in advance of any vote, that an independent Scotland might find it impossible to join the EU. Now those officials apparently believe (Ukraine fallout shifts spotlight to Kremlin, 24 February) that Ukraine – with no legitimate government and huge political and cultural schisms – might be eligible. Is this the same EU that Chris Huhne refers to as conferring “a blanket of democratic stability … and the rule of law” (Comment, 24 February?
Martin Freedman

•  Is nobody concerned that at least one member of the new regime in Kiev says the trouble lies with an “international Jewish-Marxist conspiracy”?
Paul Baker

•  Does William Hague really think that President Putin takes kindly to the thinly veiled threat obvious in the words, “any external duress … would not be in the interests of Russia” (Ukraine fallout shifts spotlight to Kremlin, 24 February)? If Hague wants to encourage Russia from intervening militarily in the Ukraine, then he would do better than apply external duress on Moscow. It really is time that we had a foreign secretary who understood how international diplomacy works.
Les Summers
Kiddlington, Oxfordshire

• We’re being gulled into looking east at Putin when we should be looking west for the massed ranks of the Chicago Boys waiting to move into and exploit the vacuum and impose a neoliberal economy. Can we hear Naomi Klein’s take on all this?
Alan Marsden
Penrith, Cumbria

• As we note the extravagance of the Yanukovych mansion (President’s palace, 24 February), perhaps we should also review the several residences of our own head of state.
Jef Smith




Attempting to “liberate’ Ukraine may be high-minded of the EU, but questions arise.

Are there any geographical limits to an expanding EU? Include Armenia, Georgia and Turkey, and the EU would border Chechnya, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

Should Kiev’s young be encouraged to believe that the accord on the free movement of peoples will remain a bedrock principle of the EU? It has, after all, just been given the thumbs-down by the Swiss.

Is it wise of the EU to entice Ukrainians into abandoning their economic dependence on Russia without offering transitional aid? Do we want a basket-case on our hands? Will the EU’s taxpayers consent to bailing out Ukraine?

Since when has it been in the West’s interest to encourage the violent overthrow of a democratically elected government?

Yugo Kovach, Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

It was my great good fortune a few years ago to travel by boat down the Dnieper from Kiev to the Black Sea, and it was evident that Kiev was not representative of the rest of the country.

The current unrest in Kiev is at best a family squabble – egged on and encouraged by us (and for what?) We should stop making mischief and leave the family Rus to resolve their own problems.

Tom Palin, Southport, Merseyside

The media is now grudgingly admitting that the neo-Nazi Svoboda and Right Sector parties played a part in the recent uprising in Kiev. That’s all been downplayed because the rebels are after “greater European integration”. But Europe also contains the likes of the Front National, the Golden Dawn and Jobbik. Is that the “Europe” Ukraine wants to “integrate” with?

Revolutions are indeed the locomotive of history, but not all locomotives are going forward.

Sasha Simic, London N16

The east of the Ukraine, around Donetsk and Kharkiv (Kharkov), used to be the heavy-industrial heartland of the Soviet Union. I simply cannot see Moscow surrendering it to “the West”.

John Whitehead, London EC2

What a contrast! In Ukraine we see citizen combatants, wearing European colours, going to fight and die for the chance to join the Community. In the UK we see purblind zealots and taproom wiseacres sparing no effort to compromise our future by trying to pull us out of the Community.

Steve Ford, Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

Bishops speak out on poverty

As an atheist, I was astonished at your attack on the churches for speaking out about the growing problems of poverty and destitution in this country (editorial, 22 February). They see it at first hand.

Our local church is the receiving depot for food donated to the food banks. Crisis at Christmas and Shelter are both church initiatives. The problem is growing at such a rate that you should be running your own campaign to highlight it, not colluding with this government to pretend it isn’t happening.

Susan Knight, Penarth, South Glamorgan

I would be surprised if bishops thought they had “a divine right to be heard” on the Government’s welfare policies. What I expect they do believe is that they have a duty to speak. Whether or not they are heard is largely a matter for you and your colleagues in the media,

Dr Robin Orton, London SE26

At a time when commentators and political leaders are bemoaning the apathy and lack of interest in British politics, the intervention of the bishops should be applauded. Is your editorial an example of otherwise liberal and rational minds turning feral when the critique comes from a quarter they do not like?

Canon Paul Denyer, Bristol

Whenever all the experts are in agreement on some controversial issue one can rest assured that whatever opinion or solution they proffer is almost certainly wrong.

The day a letter from the academic establishment was published claiming that Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies were ruining the country, the economy turned round.

No sooner had “every scientist in the world” agreed – some 15 years ago – that global warming was out of control than the warming stopped, and has yet to restart.

Now we have serried ranks of Christian bishops alleging that the Government’s welfare reforms have precipitated a “national crisis” of starvation and homelessness. Ian Duncan Smith should take heart because their dodgy “facts” are less troubling than their belief that leaving generations languishing on benefits is a moral policy.

Rev Dr John Cameron, St Andrews

My loyalty to The Independent was sorely tested by the editorial but is bolstered by Andreas Whittam Smith’s 20 February article supporting the right of priests to speak out about the plight of our poorest citizens.

It is the duty of all who see hardship and suffering to speak out and try to do what they can to help  – and the Church has as much right as anyone to shout loudly.

Jane Cowan, York

Your editorial fell into the trap of equating a plea for the poor with making a political case. If the Government can be shown to have caused extremes of distress and poverty by its new policies, then it is the duty of the church leaders to speak out. They would be in dereliction of their duty not to speak up for the poor.

If by doing so, they point the finger at a government policy then so be it, but they nowhere advocated a party policy as such.

Anthony D Wood, Liskeard, Cornwall

If church leaders feel compelled to enter the debate about benefits (a political issue) rather than poverty (a moral issue), I think they should broaden their shoulders and try to “own” the whole problem. For example, can we have their views on, how, as a society, we generate the wealth required to sustain 1.1 million households in which nobody works?

M R Battersby, Gosport, Hampshire

Bus services need to be paid for

The key role of London’s transport network is supporting the growth and development of the city it serves (“Public transport should be an asset, not a penalty, for developers” 21 February). The development of the Docklands, Stratford and our proposed extension of the Northern Line  to Battersea are testament  to that.

But supporting new housing schemes, like the 3,000-home development alluded to in your article, costs money. That development, in south-east London, has been made possible by the construction of a new London Overground station. But future residents will also need bus services. Every additional bus mile is a net cost, and every bus route needs staffing and support. Given the pressure on our funding we are simply unable to just put on more service without developer contributions.

With those contributions we can provide the services necessary to support their developments, they can prosper and their residents can access the type of successful transport services they expect.

Sir Peter Hendy, London’s Transport Commissioner, London SW1

NHS data-sharing: more facts, please

Those like me who oppose personal health data being made more widely available are accused of scare-mongering.

The principle here is that of informed consent. If I had been informed in a clear and open fashion about how my information could be used and what uses will not be permitted, perhaps I would be more likely to agree to sharing my data.

It is not as if research has been impossible without access to this data. Gathering data by individual surveys, which means that data subjects are fully aware of how the data will be used, is far preferable to open access to national data sets.

Pete Rowberry, Saxmundham, Suffolk

Wrong side of the Mersey

Sadly, I note that Birkenhead has crossed the Mersey into Lancashire (“Where have all my neighbours gone?”, 22 February). Birkenhead, on Wirral peninsula, my home town and the constituency of Frank Field, our most respected MP, was for hundreds of years in Cheshire. Then someone decided without consulting the 500,000 folk effected, to call Wirral, and of course Birkenhead, Merseyside. But never, ever, Lancashire.

T C Bell, Penrith, Cumbria

Who sanctioned this strange usage?

I’ve always thought that “sanctions” meant approval. That aside, it’s a word used when a country imposes financial, trade or political punishments on a recalcitrant, immoral or war-torn country far away. Why did someone in government choose the word “sanctions” to mean the withdrawal of benefit payments from British citizens?

Tim Cleal, Coventry





Sir, The “subsidy” of Scotland and the use by the UK of “Scotland’s” oil revenue are often raised as negative points in the context of the independence debate, but surely this is to view things entirely the wrong way round.

Pooling resources, together with a host of chance historical circumstances, has given the UK a global hub in the form of London. The sheer level of productivity in this centre of finance and trade undoubtedly creates its own problems, but a positive corollary is that the rest of the UK can enjoy higher levels of stability and public spending than it could otherwise afford — Scotland and Skegness as much as Cornwall and Cardiff.

People who talk of “subsidising” Scotland or taking “its” oil seem to be wanting a situation where we don’t cooperate, don’t earn as much, and don’t enjoy the enhanced fruits of a successful collective endeavour. We should be rejoicing that we all benefit from London’s productivity, and all benefit from North Sea oil.

John Shields

Avochie, Aberdeenshire

Sir, As a “born-beyond-the-border” British subject with significant Scottish ancestry, I believe Alex Salmond, in his proposed referendum, is excluding not only those expatriate Scots who could help his cause but also those whe could contribute to its lasting success. He seems to have forgotten that some of the most successful luminaries of recent centuries were Scots who did not always live in Scotland.

Quite apart from politics, literature and the arts, those luminaries include (among others): John Logie Baird, Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie, James Dewar, John Boyd Dunlop, Alexander Fleming, James Gregory, Douglas Haig, David Hume, David Livingstone, John McAdam, Robert McAlpine, Charles Macintosh, Adam Smith, Robert Thomson, Robert Watson-Watt, James Watt, and, finally, two personal choices of mine — my late boss, Sir William Slimmings, one of the “great and the good” of the accountancy profession, and a late relative of mine, Professor Ralston Paterson, a world authority on cancer treatment.

The last two both made major contributions to society of which Scotland should be rightly proud, but did not live there. Did their choice of residence make them any less Scottish? If they, and the others mentioned above, were alive today, I think they would care deeply enough about their spiritual homeland to feel very strongly about being denied a say in its future.

Don Porter


Sir, Jean Mathie (letter, Feb 21) says that graduates from Scotland would not be able to get employment south of the border if Scotland obtains independence.

This did not happen with Irish independence. Citizens from the Republic were still able to join all government departments in the UK, including the security services, the diplomatic service, etc. In short they were able to enjoy all the benefits accorded to UK citizens.

Why should it be different for Scottish independence?

K. Evans

Sherford, Somerset

Sir, On your front page yesterday you reported Susan Rice, the US National Security Adviser, as saying: “It’s not in the interests of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or of the US to see a country split.”

And Scotland?

John Stafford

Weston-on-the-Green, Oxon



Many schools apply themselves to dismantling anxiety and creating the conditions for true flourishing by building resilience

Sir, I am delighted that The Times has had the courage to draw attention to the rise in stress-related illnesses among young people and especially young women (report and leader, Feb 22). This has been a concern among school leaders and parents for some time and is not confined to the UK: headteachers from New York to Beijing share the same concerns.

The causes of such illnesses are complex. The intense pressure created by the media to have an impossibly air-brushed appearance, together with the understandable anxiety of parents to see their children succeed in a Darwinian climate of shrinking employment opportunities, are only two factors.

Contrary to popular myth, many of the schools to which you refer apply themselves to dismantling this prevailing anxiety and creating the conditions for true flourishing by building resilience: the resilience that all young people will need. Next month, leading schools will gather for a conference to take this work forward at a greater pace. However, we cannot tackle this alone and all those with influence over the young — including the media — must play their part.

Clarissa Farr

High Mistress, St Paul’s Girls’ School, London W6

Sir, Your report illustrates an understandable lack of awareness about the role of the qualified school nurse. Specialist Community Public Health Nurses undertake a specialist degree after their nursing qualifications that equips them to be an ideal first port of call for young people. These nurses can provide an invaluable resource as they are trained in early identification and referral, as well as having listening skills. Unfortunately, there are fewer than 1,500 qualified school nurses in the UK, and numbers are dropping. Until the Government puts money behind the school health service we have little opportunity to support those like Grace — mentioned in your report — to navigate the path to wellbeing within their own school community.

Jessica Streeting

School nurse and practice lecturer

London SW1


Many of the improvements seen over the past decade were due to innovative approaches, but recent changes have put this progress under threat

Sir, We, a group of frontline clinicians and experts in cancer care, are today warning the Government and NHS not to neglect cancer services and thereby risk stalling the progress in cancer care of recent years.

Many of the improvements seen over the past decade were due to innovative approaches, mostly coming about because of the dedicated infrastructure to support them. Recent changes have put this progress under threat. The cancer networks infrastructure has been significantly reduced; the National Cancer Action Team (NCAT), set up to provide leadership in the implementation of cancer policy, has disappeared; and NHS Cancer Improvement, responsible for a huge range of developments in the quality of cancer services, has been merged into a generic improvement body with no remit to focus on cancer specifically.

In a report we are launching today on behalf of PACE UK (Patient Access to Cancer care Excellence), we outline how these changes have led to a reduction in expertise and make a series of recommendations to cancer policymakers and commissioners. These recommendations include supporting clinically-led specialist working groups to advise those working in the new structures to drive collaboration and the sharing of best practice, building cancer expertise within the new commissioning bodies, and clarifying the long-term pricing and reimbursement schemes for new medicines to ensure patients continue to benefit from innovative therapies.

We are now at a crossroads in cancer care and must do all we can to ensure patients receive the best care possible.

Dr Mick Peake, National Cancer Intelligence Network; Dr Greg Rubin, Durham University; Andy Mcmeeking, North & East London CSU; Andrew Wilson, Rarer Cancers Foundation; Dr Robert Glynne-Jones, Mount Vernon Cancer Centre; Dr Ian Watson, GP; Professor David Ferry, Wolverhampton Hospital; Jesme Fox, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

The House of Lords, including elevated clergy, cannot pass a law. It has the power only to advise, amend and sometimes, frustratingly, delay

Sir, Cardinal Nichols may not be obliged by his superiors to decline an elevation to the House of Lords, if offered, as he would not become a legislator (letter, Feb 24). The House of Commons is the legislature, elected by the people. The House of Lords, including elevated clergy, cannot pass a law. It has the power only to advise, amend and sometimes frustratingly delay Acts of Parliament.

The Lords should not therefore be denied the experience and wisdom of senior Roman Catholic clergy, or of any other religious persuasion.

John H. Rosier Wyre Piddle, Worcs



While many readers have written with details of particular school punishments, this tale directly involves The Times

Sir, A time-consuming punishment at my prep school in the 1950s was to be given a page of The Times and to be required to cross out all the vowels by the next day (letter, Feb 22). A tariff was in force, the more serious offenders always being given a copy of page 1, which in those broadsheet days was packed with personal announcements in small print.

D. R. Thorpe

Banbury, Oxon




SIR – Anthony Seldon wrote an excellent article regarding the loss of children in the First World War.

It should be remembered that on the solemn occasion of the burial of the Unknown Warrior in 1920, the guests of honour were a group of about 100 women who had lost their husbands and all their sons in the war. Their pain must have been immense.

James Sanders
Haywards Heath, West Sussex

SIR – Anthony Seldon mentioned the loss of Julian and Billy Grenfell, but among the children of their aunt and uncle, Pascoe and Sophia Grenfell, there were even greater losses.

Twins Francis (VC) and Riversdale, the youngest of their 13 children, were killed within months of each other in the first year of the Great War, but this followed the deaths in the service of their country of Pascoe, in the Matabele Rising of 1896, Robert, at Omdurman, and Reginald, who died of illness in India in 1889.

Serena Merton
Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire

SIR – George and Roland Boys Bradford were not the only brothers to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Charles John Stanley Gough and Hugh Henry Gough won the VC in 1857 and 1858 respectively. The former’s son, Johnnie Gough, also won the VC, in 1904.

Christopher Normand
Worthing, West Sussex


SIR – I receive contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance during treatment for cancer. This requires original GP medical certificates to ensure payment. My latest certificate has apparently been “lost”, so payment has stopped.

On ringing the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) call centre, I was told that at least half of the many phone calls received there relate to “lost” medical certificates.

It appears that certificates are sent via the Royal Mail to a DWP “mail opening-only centre”, which dispatches them to the correct benefits centre for processing.

So just who is “losing” all this mail? Is it Royal Mail or is it the DWP system? No one seems to know or care.

This mad situation is being replicated all over the country, taking up huge amounts of time and expense.

The final piece of advice from the call centre was never to post documents (despite the post-paid envelope provided by the DWP), but to queue up at the local Jobcentre, which would then photocopy them and confirm to the benefits centre that it had seen the originals. This is not very practical for someone currently on intensive chemotherapy.

Having lost my certificate, DWP will now telephone my GP to confirm that he signed it. But he may have to provide a letter as well which will have to go to… the mail opening centre! Heaven knows how I will ever recover the lost payment.

Lynne Carlisle
Dronfield, Derbyshire

Steep insurance
SIR – I am mystified as to what constitutes a “flood plain” in the minds of insurers.

When we lived in Dartmouth, Devon, our house was near the top of what was known locally as Cardiac Hill. We looked down on the town and the river.

Our car was insured by Esure, and I thought it might be a good idea to take out household insurance with the same company. It refused to cover the house, as its system showed it as being on a flood plain. I made the point that if we were flooded, most of the country would be in trouble. They wouldn’t be moved. It was a classic case of “computer says no”.

How can insurers judge what cover to offer, if this level of geographic ignorance prevails?

Sue Bright
Twickenham, Middlesex

Plundered parsonages

SIR – Hurrah for the director of Save Our Parsonages (Letters, February 22) and boo to middle-ranking clergy and their accomplices.

The next parish to ours has just had its vicarage declared unsuitable for clergy accommodation, and therefore liable for sale when next vacant. Yet it is remarkably similar to the property just bought back to house our bishop, the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

No wonder that, while we still have faith in God, we have little in those who purport to manage his estate here on Earth.

Robin Bryer
Yeovil, Somerset

Stretching a point

SIR – Nike, we are told, is going to make self-tying shoelaces (Letters, February 21). My son has had them for years.

I lace his school shoes with black elastic tied in a bow. There’s no need to undo them, and it saves precious minutes in the morning.

Peta Braddock
Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire

Who will be Scottish?

SIR – We know who can vote in the Scottish referendum – broadly those on the electoral register in Scotland.

But if the vote is yes, who will become Scottish citizens? Will it be those who live in Scotland, those born in Scotland, those who now have a British passport issued in Scotland, or (democratically) those who want to be, irrespective of domicile?

Jon Pierce
Winchester, Hampshire

SIR – It would be interesting to know the charge, after independence, for sending a letter from, say, Carlisle to Gretna Green.

Terry Warburton
Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire

Criminal checks

SIR – Employers are legally responsible for ensuring any application for a Disclosure and Barring Service certificate is eligible under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975, and the Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records).

We require agreement to a code of practice by all registered bodies that make DBS applications for criminal checks. We publish eligibility criteria on our website, so that employers and individuals can, themselves, understand what can be asked.

We can suspend the registration of any body if we deem that it is abusing the system (Letters, February 18). However, we are aware how challenging a complex policy landscape can be for small voluntary organisations.

Adriènne Kelbie
CEO Disclosure and Barring Service

Royal flush

SIR – Hospitals were patriotic in the Sixties when “On Her Majesty’s Service” was printed on every sheet of (tough) loo paper. Ablutions became less regal on the change to “Government property” in the Seventies.

Professor Sir Malcolm Green
London SW8

SIR – Our host on a holiday in Norway mentioned that he had rented his mountain cabin to Queen Sonja, a keen hiker.

“Did you have to do much cleaning up?”

“No, all we did was to remove pictures of the royal family from the toilet.”

It seems that when only newspaper was available, it was deemed polite not to use any with a picture of the royal family. These were torn out and pinned to the wall.

Professor Sir Alan and Lady Craft
Embleton, Northumberland


SIR – The Princess Royal is right that villages should play their part in allowing new houses to be built. However, how many must we take?

We have a new estate of 17 houses and another of 28 going up in the centre of the village, plus a few odd houses in between.

Of these, only 10 are “affordable”. The others have three, four and even five bedrooms. This is not what villages need. Most will go to outsiders, who will commute, and not to local people.

There is now a new application for 10 more houses. We are always being told how many houses we must have, but however many are built, that number never comes down. We were only a small village and we will soon end up as a town. As usual, we have no say in the matter.

Irene Courtenay
Braughing, Hertfordshire

SIR – My fear is that the Princess Royal won’t be taken seriously because of who she is. I believe that she is right. I have always favoured dispersed development rather than the concentrated development that we continue to witness here in Cambridgeshire.

Many smaller villages could take up to 20 new homes, whose occupants would improve the viability of village schools, shops, churches and pubs.

Geoffrey Woollard
Soham, Cambridgeshire

SIR – Censuses indicate that the populations of many villages in the second half of the 19th century were larger than they are now.

Michael Heaton
Warminster, Wiltshire

SIR – The Princess Royal is naive in imagining that developers might be content to settle for “small schemes of between six and 12 homes” appended to villages. Developers are already identifying villages as desirable locations where the houses they build will be readily saleable at profitable prices. However, their plans call for developments of scores of homes at a time, not just handfuls.

Completed and pending developments in our village would add well over 200 new homes, an increase of almost 50 per cent overall, with consequent strain on the existing infrastructure which is not geared up to accept development on this scale.

That is not in tune with the Princess’s theory of protecting the countryside from “large scale” development.

Jeffrey Elder
Shrivenham, Oxfordshire

SIR – Why further desecrate the country when town centres are dying before our eyes? Build residential property in towns, most of which have existing infrastructure of transport and utilities. Revitalising existing centres would stem urban decay.

Every town I see, North or South, seems to offer no lack of opportunity to do this.

Ian Royston
Uppermill, Lancashire


SIR – Woodbridge Tide Mill became the second working example in the country in 2012, having been first rescued in 1971. Tides on the river Deben in Suffolk aren’t as generous as they are at Eling (Features, February 22) and we can’t work for 24 hours a week, but we can produce between three and five tons of authentic stoneground wholemeal flour in a year, using power only from the tide.

As a private charity run by volunteers, we are dedicated to preserving the tide mill for the community.

The Cake Shop Bakery in Woodbridge, winners of ITV’s Britain’s Best Bakery series, used wholemeal flour ground at our mill in some of its winning recipes.

The mill is open to visitors every day in the summer from April 5, when we will be milling.

Nigel Barratt
Woodbridge, Suffolk




Irish Times:



Sir, – How can we have a rational debate on moving to a new healthcare system when we have no idea how the current system works? Like many others, I have contributed to healthcare costs over many years through PRSI, health levy, universal social charge (USC) and taxation.

If I surrender myself exclusively to the public system then, I can understand the value of my benefits very easily – simply the sum of all costs of my treatment and accommodation.

But if I enter the system via a health insurance policy there is no way of knowing which quantum of the cost of my care is coming from the public fund, to which I have contributed, and which quantum is being met by my insurance provider.

It looks like the general direction is to discount my tax and social contributions over the years and force the insurer to foot the entire cost, leading to catastrophic increases in insurance premiums. Ultimately then, we’ll end up paying for the same services twice?

A starting point in deciding how to react to proposed changes would be to know who pays for what in the current system. Why can’t we see a statement, after any interaction with the healthcare system, which shows how much of the cost was met by the State and how much by the insurer? And also see these same numbers on a national annual basis? Someone must know these numbers – otherwise how could the State negotiate with the insurers? Or am I being naive?

With this information we might be able to understand universal health insurance proposals and assess and debate the issue rationally. Or would that be political madness? – Yours, etc,




Co Meath.

A chara, – I have experience as a patient and as a professional of healthcare delivery systems in Ireland, the UK and the US.

There will inevitably be over-testing and over-diagnosis if the “competition-based model” envisaged for Ireland is implemented. There is no evidence from such systems elsewhere that universal health insurance (UHI) leads to efficiency and equity – rather the opposite!

The costs of administration and assessment are likely to be very high. The model of the NHS system, of medical services at all levels being free at the point of need and use, funded by progressive taxation, would best fit Ireland given its size and demographics.

Wide and honest debate is needed based on the social and economic evidence provided by health-care delivery systems elsewhere. – Is mise,


Broad Street,


Iowa, US.

Sir, – Minister for Health James Reilly’s latest wheeze is to lobby for a “minimum mandatory health insurance policy”.

It may come as a surprise to the Minister, but, the population already has a minimum mandatory health insurance policy in place. It’s called “the health service”, and is paid for from general taxation. That includes his salary. I’m not sure I want to pay his any more.

Within that system people on low incomes are subsidised by a system called “the medical card”. People who need more than is provided for by the current minimum health insurance policy pay for private health insurance if they can afford it. The rest of us make do.

The real problems with the failures in the health service lie in its organisation, not with the wheeze that an extra mandatory health insurance policy (otherwise known as tax) will solve those organisational problems.

Mr Reilly would be better engaged in sorting out the organisational problems and outdated work-practices which appear to be rife within the health service before deciding to foist even more expense on the residents of Ireland.

If the Minister is not prepared to do that, he should resign.

Fianna Fáil tried to plaster over the problems of the health service with large wads of cash. It didn’t work then. Why would it work now? – Yours, etc,


Royal Oak Road,


Co Carlow.



Sir, – I share the sentiments expressed by Prof Eugene O’Brien (February 21st). Since 2008 student numbers taking civil engineering have dropped by approximately 75 per cent. A certain “rearview mirror” perspective has resulted in low numbers enrolling in civil engineering with the result that within the next two years the number of graduates nationally looks set to fall below 100.

Against this, there is a definite upward demand for graduate civil engineers particularly on the home market. The employment rate of graduates of the programme at UL has been very positive. For example, 90 per cent of the class of 2013 was in employment by graduation day. Moreover, last autumn we were unable to provide two large Irish employers with the names of graduates still seeking employment.

Today, in addition to its traditional skills in physical infrastructure development and water treatment, the profession has diversified its expertise to embrace growth areas such as energy conservation and supply. Furthermore, successful indigenous companies have radically internationalised their business model and are now successfully operating on an international stage – a change necessitated by the painful drop in national construction expenditure from a peak of €39 billion in 2006 to approximately €7.5 billion in 2012. Students now entering the profession stand to benefit from the silver lining associated with these changes. – Yours, etc,


Department of Civil

Engineering & Materials



Sir, – The Minister for Health and Oireachtas Health Committee deserve recognition for a cohesive approach to the deployment of “soft opt-out” legislation for organ donation (Home News, February 22nd).

The provision of €2.9 million in the 2014 HSE service plan provides an infrastructure to support the prospective legislation. Each year, 80 courageous families save the lives of 200 Irish families by participating in organ donation, with the support and help of intensive care doctors and nurses. This will be secured and enhanced by the political leadership shown. – Yours, etc,



National Organ Donation

and Transplantation Office,

Parnell Street,


Sir, – I do not often find myself agreeing with Joan Burton; however I do agree with her decision to boycott this year’s New York St Patrick’s Day parade because the organisers have banned members from the gay community from marching with banners.

New York is one of the biggest cities in the world, with one of the most cosmopolitan populations, and yet the organisers are very blinkered to the changing attitudes all around the world. – Yours, etc,


Glenageary Woods,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – I am disappointed to see Gearóid Ó Loinsigh’s letter (February 22nd) criticising the decision to allow the long-term unemployed to work in the Dublin local authorities.

Not only will the local authorities benefit from this venture, but the public served by the local authorities will also benefit from the enhanced quality of the service. In addition, the participants themselves will have the satisfaction of providing a service to the public, the opportunity to raise their self-esteem, and maybe even the opportunity to impress someone enough to be offered employment. – Yours, etc,


Crossabeg, Co Wexford.

Sir, – I fully support the Revenue Commissioners’ reluctance to communicate with Brian Mac a’ Bhaird (February 21st) “as Gaeilge”. Translating government documents into Irish is a complete waste of time and money. Government spending on teaching Irish is estimated to cost about €1 billion per annum.

While gaeilgeorí may hate to hear it, the Irish language is functionally useless in the modern economy, and as such the money spent is an extremely poor investment. It is also widely detested by students, who are force-fed second-rate poetry and literature out of some absurd sense of national pride. While the argument is often made that Irish is an integral part of our culture, culture can survive quite well without unwanted and unnecessary state coercion (see the GAA, Irish dancing and traditional Irish music as some examples).

According to the 2011 census, Irish now lags behind Polish in numbers of speakers who use the language daily outside of school. The fact Irish is not even the second most widely used language despite decades of State policy and funding towards propping it up should prove that the Irish language experiment has been an utter failure.

This pandering to gaeilgeoirí has gone on for far too long. The Irish language is never going to become a widely used language in Ireland and the sooner this is accepted the better. – Yours, etc,


Fossa, Killarney, Co Kerry.


Sir, – It’s important to recognise that there are thousands of excellent gardaí like Maurice McCabe and John Wilson in our (ie the people’s) Garda force. So far too few of them have taken the courageous actions that Mr McCabe and Mr Wilson have undertaken, because they fear the abuse that they and their families may be subjected to. In the interests of justice they need to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Genuine mistakes are inevitable in every human organisation. Such mistakes are usually easily resolved if quickly acknowledged and corrected. It is only when a culture of cover-up and false loyalty takes root, that such mistakes lead to disasters in which serious crimes are committed which should have been prevented by proper Garda crime prevention.

In the early decades of its history the Garda force and its members were noted for their dedication, unarmed bravery, and loyalty to the state and to the people. These recent difficulties therefore can and must be overcome.

These difficulties and failures include a culture of denial and complicity with US misuse of Shannon airport, including complicity with the CIA extraordinary rendition programme that led to hundreds of prisoners being tortured in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and elsewhere. Crime prevention must be re-established as the primary role of An Garda Síochána. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – I read with great interest Prof James Stuart’s (TCD) findings that, based on his academic research, the corporation tax paid by US multinational companies based in Ireland is at about 2.2 per cent of their profits (Business, February 11th).

I also note Minister for Finance Michael Noonan’s rejection of these calculations, claiming the rate is actually close to the standard tax rate of 12.5 per cent, which I would guess is also backed up by academic research.

What figure would the hundreds of academically highly trained and qualified academics on the State’s payroll working in business faculties in third-level institutions all over the country come up with? Something in-between perhaps?

If such a fundamental issue of national economics cannot be adequately resolved by the disciplines that make up business studies one wonders, are these sciences at all? It reminds me of a colleague who famously remarked: “business studies is an oxymoron”. – Yours, etc,





Sir, – I wish to commend the use of the photograph (David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters) of the main square in Kiev (Front page, February 22nd). It is an amazing piece in itself and conveys so much without words. Truly a piece of fantastic photojournalism.

All too often it is difficult for us to engage in what happens far away, but the faces of those people are our faces and we can see and share their hopes and disappointments even if they are not ours. – Yours, etc,


Rosscarbery, Co Cork.


Sir, – The local and European elections are three months away and yet there has been an insidious poster campaign underway for several months now throughout Dublin city and county, by not only political parties and their candidates but also unknown aspiring independents.

These posters are election-size ones (complete with the face and name of an Independent or a person in a political party) and fastened to our poles throughout the city and suburbs. The usual pretext is to announce a local meeting under some generalised catch-all slogan, but the motive is clearly to promote themselves.

Apart from the fact that these posters can be a dangerous nuisance, particularly in stormy weather, they are in direct contravention of the law in relation to such obvious political electioneering.

Why do the local authorities not act to prevent this obvious breech of the law by aspiring public representatives, whom one would have thought would be the first to uphold it? – Yours, etc,


Glenvara Park,



Sir, – After reading Fintan O’Toole’s hatchet job on John Patrick Shanley’s new broadway drama (Culture Shock, February 22nd), I am reminded of that old joke: “. . . apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” – Yours, etc,


Sans Souci Wood,


Co Wicklow.

Sir, – As a Westmeath man reading Fintan OToole’s review, all I can hope for is that the play’s location outside Mullingar gets the Ryanair treatment; well outside Mullingar. – Yours, etc,



Mullingar, Co Westmeath.



Sir, – Gay being homonymous with happy and carefree, who could not but wish for a gay marriage? Were such marriages the norm and not the exception, those indisposed to the felicitous harmony of two individuals could do us all a favour and lighten up. – Yours, etc,


Longford Terrace,


Co Dublin.



Sir, – Brendan Behan was once asked on the BBC what he thought of Ireland. He said that it was a great place to get a postcard from. Now with his picture on it. – Yours, etc,



Ballincollig, Co Cork.



Irish Independent:


* Billy Keane (Irish Independent, February 24) is to be lauded for his courageous stance regarding the inalienable human rights of homosexuals. Amartya Sen, a Nobel prize laureate, has long been an advocate for the inextricable link between human rights and capabilities. This idea has had a magnetic appeal for hundreds of thousands of people throughout centuries from rebelling against communism to resisting the yoke of slavery, occupation and inhumane conditions.

Also in this section

Back in the shadow of the ‘nearly men’

Ireland’s blind nationalism

AIB rugby fat cats

In the midst of diverse interpretations and conflicting opinions, homosexuals have been used by tyrannies as a smokescreen to mask the ethnic and social chasm in their societies.

It is dispiriting that homosexuality is still a taboo across the five continents. Lesbians are raped as a corrective measure, being treated as women who suffer from sexual starvation. Gays are often beaten, dragged, detained, murdered, doused with urine, pelted with eggs and, in many cases, admitted to hospitals, all to treat them from their homosexuality disorder.

I am not a homosexual but it is abhorrent that the church is still discriminating against homosexuals. There is a pioneering idea, which has been used with some success in Latin America, to promote the human rights of the marginalised and disenfranchised in society, spark national conversation and spur social change on a mass scale.

Puntos, a feminist and non-governmental organisation in Nicaragua, used soap operas, radios and local newspapers to disseminate educational and health knowledge, democratise the debate and encompass cacophonous individual voices.

Research by Middlesex University showed that strategy to be effective in breaking stereotypes and fostering the appreciation of diversity. Most importantly, it emphasised the moral appeal of human right.




* We in TRUST are neither surprised nor shocked to hear of the man sleeping in a bin and miraculously saved (Irish Independent, February 22). We provide on a daily basis a most basic service in a tiny premises for up to 40 men and women. These men and women sleep rough in squats, tents, cars, parks, bins, flimsy sleeping bags in shop doorways – all unimaginable spaces in our capital city and beyond.

The majority are penniless and a few get a bed from time to time. Their physical and psychological conditions and personal stories are horrendous. All carry their possessions on their person and the pain of living is clearly deeply etched on their faces.

In a given month we meet people from 18 to 26 different countries – like many of our own Irish who moved to cities here or abroad a generation ago to work and send money back home. Many of those we meet had a dream of a better future; the dream never materialised and they now are ashamed to go home, some too proud to tell their story, their privacy all they have.

The situation is worse in my experience of working in the field for over 40 years and this for many reasons. This too at a time when a lot of money was made available to address the problem. We have for years been raising our concerns about the lack of good, basic emergency shelter, a first step at least. There has been and continues to be reluctance to accept this fact at all levels.

The time of talking shops is long over and it is time to accept that there is a crisis – “a time of intense difficulty or danger” from my Oxford Dictionary – when is a crisis not a crisis?

The quick-thinking young man who heard the cry for help and pressed the red button and saved a life deserves all our gratitude.





* Sometimes the remedy to a problem may be so simple that we fail to see it. I think it’s fair to say that most, if not all, of our prisons are badly overcrowded. Building more prisons would be very expensive, especially as our little country is broke – so say our politicians. So in order to prevent any more criminals going to jail, here is a very simple solution.

Instead of them receiving a jail sentence, lock them in a small room alone for an eight-hour period and continuously play the recordings of ‘The Voice’ from the Helix.

They should be strapped in a chair and made not only to watch but to listen to every word spoken from the presenter, to the judges, to those on stage. I know for certain if any of the offenders were threatened that if they ever committed another crime they would be forced to listen again to this programme, they would immediately change their ways.

Having watched last week’s attempt and listening to the judges, I am finding it hard to recover myself.

Mr Shatter, here is your chance to do something that the whole country would applaud you for – bring in the law to have criminals punished in this way. This is your chance, don’t lose it, do it for Ireland and its innocent people. No one should be made suffer this torture every Sunday evening.




* The recent media-driven campaign for so-called free speech just doesn’t ring true. Where was all this outrage and concern for free speech a few months ago when several politicians lost their jobs and were subject to vilification on the abortion question?

It seems to me that the bandying about of the “homophobic” mantra is the result of a real fear that the case for same-sex marriage is not standing up to rational examination.

A number of recent debates in particular involving David Quinn and Paddy Manning (a homosexual man who opposes same-sex marriage) have exposed the serious flaws in the proposal.

Despite his excellent debating skills, it is easy for the usual suspects to denigrate Mr Quinn’s Catholicism, etc; this is not so easy in the case of the excellent Mr Manning.

The latter speaks eloquently and wittily for the many homosexuals who themselves oppose same-sex marriage. It can just as easily be argued that those who denigrate Mr Manning’s views on the subject are themselves guilty of “homophobia”!

So let’s keep the debate clean and don’t assume that the moral high ground belongs to one side only.




* The launch of a free-call connect number by the National Office for Suicide Prevention in conjunction with the Samaritans (Irish Independent, February 20) is to be welcomed. Your editorial on the same day says “suicide is such a serious issue that it cannot be left to well-meaning amateurs”.

However, we should not fool ourselves that just because a counsellor is fully vetted and trained, that everything is hunky dory. Part of the problem is the various schools of psychotherapy, each practitioner claiming their method of treatment is the bee’s knees. For instance, the thinking behind and delivery of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Psychodynamic Therapy couldn’t be more different but each therapist could say their particular therapy could help someone with depression.

While I have undergone years of one-to-one counselling, what really helped me get to the source of my problems was holotropic breathwork, a treatment many professional therapists would pour scorn on.

The mind is a complex entity and what may work for one person may be totally unsuitable for someone else. The sad reality is that even in a totally regulated arena, it’s still very much a case of “buyer beware” when someone goes looking for a suitable therapy. As Gerry Ranelagh of the Office of Suicide Prevention says: “People should go to trusted sources and have a healthy scepticism.”






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