28 February 2014 Cold
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to sort out an unmanned lightship which has become adrift nPriceless
Cold slightly worse but muddle through the day
Scrabble today  I win but gets under 400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.


Valery Kubasov, who has died aged 79, was a Russian cosmonaut and the first man to perform a vacuum-welding operation while in orbit; later he accompanied Alexei Leonov on the first joint Soviet-American flight – the so-called “handshake in space”.
By the end of the 1960s, Soviet mission planners were already looking ahead to the era of the space station, and plans were under way to test the rendezvous system of the Soyuz craft by having two capsules dock in orbit. The pressure on both Soviet government officials and cosmonauts was heightened by the recent success of the American Apollo 8 mission, which had sent a team around the Moon over Christmas 1968.
To top the achievement, the programme’s manager (and later minister of Defence) Dmitry Ustinov envisioned a simultaneous operation (or troika mission) between three craft – the first ever attempted. Soyuz 6 would carry engineer Kubasov and his colleague Georgy Shonin into orbit, where they would try to weld different materials in weightless conditions; Soyuz 7 and Soyuz 8 would follow over two days, and the pair would dock together as Shonin captured the moment on film. “Man must build himself a house wherever he goes,” commented the Soviet magazine Nedelya: “in the mountains, on the bottom of the ocean and now in space.”

On October 11 1969, Soyuz 6 lifted off amid cold rain and strong winds, beginning the busiest week in the history of the Soviet space programme thus far. Five days later Kubasov took the controls of the “Vulkan furnace”, a squat green cylinder inside the unpressurised orbital craft which he operated remotely from Soyuz 6’s descent module . Via an electron gun, Kubasov tried out three different welding devices.
His success with all three was heralded in the Soviet press as the dawn of a new era for zero-gravity operations, in part to distract from disappointments elsewhere; Soyuz 7 and Soyuz 8 had failed to dock correctly. The press did not report that when he re-entered the orbital module of Soyuz 6 to recover the samples of welded metal, Kubasov found that the furnace’s low-pressure compressed arc had almost burned a hole through the module’s hull .
None the less, the operation placed Kubasov among the USSR’s top-ranking cosmonauts, and two years later he was selected for the Soyuz 11 crew, to spend more than a month at the world’s first space station, Salyut 1, with his commander, Alexei Leonov (the first man to perform a “spacewalk”), and research engineer Pyotr Kolodin.
However, fate intervened at the last moment, when Kubasov developed a lung infection hours prior to launch . Though he protested that he was perfectly fit to fly , by the time the problem had been identified as a simple allergic reaction, the crew had been grounded and the backup team had taken over. Leonov and Kolodin were furious, but as it turned out all three had a lucky escape. When Soyuz 11 touched back down in Kazakhstan, the entire backup astronaut crew was found dead, the cabin having depressurised on re-entry.
The tragedy was a cause for public mourning across much of the world, and for a time it looked as if the Soviet Union might not recover its position in the space race. In 1975, however, Leonov and Kubasov came together again, for the culminating moment in Cold War Soviet-American relations; the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP).
Plans for a “handshake in space” had begun under President Nixon three years earlier, as part of his détente strategy. While the Soviets sought recognition as America’s equal, it was Nixon’s hope that the mission would open doors to further cooperative efforts.
On July 15 1975, after 18 months of joint training, the American and Soviet crews launched within seven-and-a-half hours of each other, meeting in orbit two days later and 120 miles above the Earth. Leonov and Kubasov’s American counterparts were Apollo commander Brigadier General Tom Stafford, with civilians Deke Slayton and Vance Brand, and it fell to Leonov and Stafford to perform the weightless handshake, followed by an awkward bear hug.
By all accounts the mission was a resounding success and a major propaganda coup for both nations . Over the next few days Kubasov worked alongside Brand in the cramped Soyuz, which the Russian nicknamed the “Soviet-American TV centre in space”. There, Kubasov broadcast a live travelogue , and wondered aloud which of the two halves of the Earth was the more beautiful, before concluding diplomatically that “there is nothing more beautiful than our blue planet”. Later, at a space-to-ground conference attended by both crews, he expressed his hope as an engineer that their work would pave the way for a time “when space will have whole plants, factories, for the production of new materials ”. Kubasov and Leonov returned to Earth on July 21, their landing televised across the world . In recognition of their achievement, both cosmonauts received the Order of Lenin, and a “Gold Star” medal – Kubasov’s second, after his historic welding mission six years earlier.
Valery Nikolayevich Kubasov was born on January 7 1935 in Vyazniki, Vladimir Oblast, some 300km northeast of Moscow. His father was a mechanic, and Kubasov later remarked that he grew up in “the world of nuts, bolts and wheels”. He graduated from the Moscow Aviation Institute in 1958 and went to work at the OK-B1 design bureau headed by Chief Designer Sergei Korolev, the USSR’s leading rocket engineer and the man who had put Sputnik 1 in orbit.
There, Kubasov was one of just a handful of civilians who passed the medical screening for consideration as potential candidates in a spacewalk mission from Soyuz 2; but the mission was cancelled after another cosmonaut, Vladimir Komorov, was killed when Soyuz 1’s parachutes failed to open on re-entry. The Soyuz 6 launch two years later was to be Kubasov’s first experience of space flight.
Kubasov commanded his third and final mission in May 1980, when he joined the first Hungarian astronaut, Bertalan Farkas, on the expedition to the USSR’s Salyut 6 space station in Soyuz 36. He retired from the cosmonaut team in March 1993, and became deputy director of RKK Energia, the prime contractor for the Russian space programme and the company behind the construction of Soyuz spacecraft.
Valery Kubasov is survived by his wife, Lyudmila, and by their two children.
Valery Kubasov, born January 7 1935, died February 19 2014


The main reason for the decline in bookshops (Report, 22 February) is the end of the net book agreement about 20 years ago, since when any book can be sold at any price. France has not made the same mistake. As a result Paris now has more bookshops in four arrondissements alone than in all of the UK. When the net book agreement ended, parliament promised to revisit the decision if it saw “harm resulting”. If the absence of almost any bookshops, let alone independent bookshops, throughout most of this land is not harmful to our culture and civilisation, we would like to know what is.
Professor Peter and Eleanor Davies
Linghams Booksellers, Heswall, Wirral
• Simon Jenkins says (Comment, 26 February) “crowds rarely display judgment – and rarely turn on the light of democracy”. Really? Barely eight months after the poll tax riots, the three times elected Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was toppled. I think we can reserve judgment on Ukraine’s future for at least a similar period.
Paul Morrison
• The hubris of Co-op Bank threatened the whole movement (Report, 27 February). There are other banks sympathetic to the Co-op Bank’s philosophy, so would it not be better to sell off the bank rather than the farms and pharmacies? How many big landowners or megapharmas share Co-op principles?
Fr Julian Dunn
Great Haseley, Oxfordshire
• The Workers’ party (That’s us, say Tories, 25 February)? Don’t they mean the Hardworkers’ party?
David Evans
Ashton under Lyne, Manchester
• Cameron and Osborne appear in hard hats and hi-vis jackets (Letters, 25 February), but which cabinet members are wearing the police uniform, bike leathers and Native American headdress?
Jenny Keaveney
Canterbury, Kent
• The Brits and the Folk awards on the same evening (Letters, 27 February)? Why, Oh Why, Oh Why?
Adrian Brodkin
• First Brimstone butterfly of the year.
Richard Cureton

Here’s another valuable exposure by the Guardian of some shocking figures (Revealed: 10,000 people living at risk of domestic violence, 27 February). However, through its coy choice of words, this article pitches the story towards an acute awareness of women’s victimhood while shying away from an account of men’s criminality. The words “woman” and “women” occur 13 times in the article, which reports that 10,952 are deemed to be at “high risk of violent death in the home, or of suffering serious violence”. What category of person carries out these vicious attacks? The “perpetrators” are their “partners” (12 uses of these words). Lesbian women, perhaps? No, actually: men. (There is a hint: the word “men” slips into the story once; also one “husband” features.)
We make this point not to pick nits but to question policy choices. So long as the spotlight is on the female (and juvenile) victims of sexual and gender-based violence, while the masculinity of the attacker is veiled in gender-neutral words, the thrust of policy will continue to be toward protection. What about prevention? We need to face and question the fact that the most dangerous creatures on earth for women and children are not big cats or intrusive parasites but their husbands, fathers, male lovers and sons. Your article could have, but did not, prompt a useful Guardian editorial on the urgent need for conscious social policy to reshape masculinity – for men’s sake as well as women’s.
Professor Cynthia Cockburn University of Warwick, Professor Ann Oakley Institute of Education, London
• I read with weary horror and disbelief the catalogue of preventable errors the police made in “protecting” Cassie Hasanovic from her husband’s violence (Report, 27 February). Surely the time has come to remove responsibility for this vital work and that associated with rape from the police and establish an entirely new national force competent and committed to and capable of investigating and protecting women at risk of and being subjected to domestic violence and rape. To read that the PCC adjudged the officers had acted appropriately suggests that the PCC too has lost the plot.
Richard Stockford
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
• That domestic violence places 10,000 women and children at high risk of death or serious injury is a major concern. The number is indeed likely to be higher due to under-reporting. There are concerns that, in some instances, children may replicate the actions of a domestically abusive parent. Over a two-year period, of 83,469 contacts made to the charity, 27% of callers were seeking advice regarding their children’s aggressive behaviour. Of total calls relating to child behaviour, 88% of calls concerned a child’s aggressive behaviour within the home. While aggressive outbursts can be a normal part of a child’s development, many of the families we are in contact with are dealing with more serious and entrenched problems. Families who find themselves unable to manage their child’s physical or verbally aggressive behaviour need a range of advice and support. The stigma attached to abuse can prevent families from seeking help early, thereby preventing the problem from spiralling out of control.
We urge all parents and families facing serious behavioural challenges to seek support, for the sake of their children and their own wellbeing. We are concerned that there is a significant unmet need in terms of statutory support in this area. Children with, or at risk of developing, more serious problems such as conduct disorders, need the right intervention at the earliest available opportunity, otherwise the cost to the child and the family is a grave and tragic one, but it is one that is avoidable if the right support is made available.
Jeremy Todd
Chief executive, Family Lives

Patrick Collinson tells us that first-time buyers are the losers (Analysis, 27 February) from the 1980s dream of a property-owning democracy, but the greatest losers are low- to lower-middle-income tenants. The deregulation of lending, the abolition of rent controls and the free flow of money in and out of the UK in the 80s created an international free market in property in the UK. Through no fault of the tenants, the cost of housing benefit to the taxpayer rose to £23bn because landlords exploited a market in short supply by raising the rents the housing benefit pays for.
Both the Labour and coalition governments have tried to lower that £23bn by capping housing benefit, which increases the rent payable by tenants. The coalition has simultaneously cut the value of incomes. They have thrown thousands of families and individuals into rent arrears, forcing them to move away from their communities into temporary and overcrowded accommodation. Any breakdown of family and community in today’s Britain has much to do with the lack of secure, decent and affordable housing. Meanwhile, landowners and vendors, without lifting a finger, get richer and richer as a world market in British property increases the value of their first and second homes.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
• Bringing empty homes back in to use is a win-win situation for all involved (Scandal of Europe’s 11m empty homes, 24 February). Working with local councils in Yorkshire and the north-east, Centrepoint is using government grants to bring back into use 50 one- and two-bed homes for young people who would otherwise be homeless or trapped in temporary accommodation. Working with local training providers, Centrepoint supports young people to gain new construction skills, gain experience working on the building sites, and then offers a tenancy in the newly refurbished property.
Funding to bring empty homes back into use not only provides a place to live for a homeless young person but it also provides them with the skills to move away from benefits and into work. Projects like these also benefit local communities by breathing new life into streets which have often been neglected. The government has been right to focus on bringing empty homes back into use, but so far there has only been funding to bring hundreds rather than thousands back into use. The chancellor should use next month’s budget as an opportunity to increase capital funding to speed this process up, and get more young people into a home and a job.
Paul Noblet
• CPRE agrees with Sarah Wollaston (Comment, 23 February) that the proposed changes to development rights for agricultural buildings poses a huge threat to national parks. We would go further and argue that this alarming threat extends to the wider countryside. The lack of affordable homes in rural areas is already having a detrimental impact on life in some parts of the countryside. Allowing the conversion of agricultural buildings to large, unaffordable houses in unsustainable locations, with little or no constraint, will only however exacerbate this problem. More affordable housing is needed in rural areas, but the government should reconsider its proposals. Instead it should encourage affordable housing through a genuinely plan-led system, with proper weight given to local need and circumstances.
John Rowley
Campaign to Protect Rural England
• Sam Forbes’s moving account of his time in London’s “houseboat slums” and of how he was forced to live in a “tiny, mouldy room in a freezing barge on the Thames” is a reminder of just how out of control London’s housing market is (G2, 24 February). Boris Johnson is turning London into an enclave for rich investors by building properties only the super-rich can afford. It is driving more and more people into desperate housing arrangements like Mr Forbes found himself in. Ordinary Londoners are being priced out of a wild west property market which has driven average rents up to £1,468 a month – a huge proportion of average local take-home pay. It’s even harder to lay down permanent roots in London when house prices now average £441,000 – or 16 times the average local individual income.
The Green party will put Londoners before investors by building more affordable housing and introducing rent controls. Only such measures will stop more people slipping into dangerous housing.
Natalie Bennett
Leader, Green party of England and Wales

The search for justice for the families of the Hyde Park bombing has revealed that the price of peace for Northern Ireland is a “get out of jail free” card for murderers, handed to them by the political negotiators of the day (Editorial, 27 February). These negotiations resulted in a dividend for politicians of their place in history and a pretence at peace. It is a woefully unbalanced transaction – the price of this “peace” wasn’t paid by politicians, but by victims and their families. Our family hasn’t seen justice following the murder of our parents at La Mon, 36 years ago this month, along with 10 other people, despite alleged involvement of high-ranking Sinn Féin politicians (Hansard, February 13 2003). Now it’s clear that justice will continue to be denied to us, and to many more families, due to the negotiations of those very same politicians. If this were happening “abroad”, we would point out the corrupt nature of such practices, but I wonder if we have the insight or courage to remove the mote from our own eyes.
Dr Andrea Nelson
• Ian Cobain is surely right in suggesting that the political logic of the Labour government’s approach to the Good Friday agreement will see the collapse of the case against the man accused of the Hyde Park bomb as the correct outcome (Report, 26 February). Irrespective of the particular particular mistakes made in this case, surely the real political question lies in the whether those who have been lauded and secured lucrative careers for securing the “peace process” tilted their views and decisions in favour of Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA either out of political favouritism or out of naivety in dealing with superior negotiators.
Bob Osborne
Professor emeritus, University of Ulster
• You claim the Good Friday agreement “has now delivered nearly 15 years of peace”. The number of shooting and bombing incidents since the agreement exceeds 2,800. The official security threat level has been “severe” for the last seven years. You ask much of the word “peace”.
Steve O’Neill

As a matter of law, Tony Blair can never face war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court because the elements of crime for the crime of aggression have not been agreed (G2, 27 February). However, on 10 January 2014 my firm and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights lodged a formal complaint to the ICC about the systemic abuse of hundreds of Iraqis in the period 2003 to 2008 while being interrogated by UK interrogators. The defence secretaries at the material time knew (or ought to have known) that interrogators were being trained to use, and were using, coercive interrogation techniques that were in flagrant breach of international legal standards. But who insisted the UK had an interrogation capability in Iraq that allowed us to punch our weight with our co-illegal aggressors, the US, knowing that a lawful approach to interrogation did not permit the use of such techniques? The complaint to the ICC has been made to explore the potential of criminal accountability for such systemic issues at the very top of the military, civil service and potential chain of command.
Phil Shiner
Principal, Public Interest Lawyers

The unregulated trade in gold is fuelling wars and brutal human rights abuses in places such as eastern Congo and Sudan, which is why it is important this story came to light (Confidential papers raise fears over conflict gold, 26 February). The actions of Ernst & Young and the Dubai regulator, while perfectly legal, undermine trust in the industry at a critical time.
In our view, the Dubai metals regulator, the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), could not have secured a clean audit result for a major gold player without Ernst & Young’s willingness to turn a blind eye to the ethics involved. Auditors like Ernst & Young play a key role in assuring the public that companies are meeting important standards. If auditors can’t be relied upon to put ethical principles above business interests, progress in cleaning up the global mineral trade will be jeopardised. Public disclosure is a major incentive to improving business practice. This case points to the need for stricter guidelines for conflict minerals audits to ensure that all findings – especially critical ones – see the light of day. There may also be a need to consider new rules for auditors to reduce the tension between safeguarding the public interest and promoting client or commercial concerns.
Global Witness is calling on Kaloti Jewellery International to immediately release its unpublished audit report, and is urging the government of Dubai to investigate any breaches of conduct by the DMCC. The authorities should also address the inherent conflict of interest in the DMCC’s role both as a regulator and a promoter of trade.
Annie Dunnebacke
Deputy campaigns director, Global Witnes


If one is an honest person, and one assumes that Harriet Harman is that, one should be careful about the company one keeps.
If the possibility of a legal post appeared at the National Council for Civil Liberties, should not Harriet Harman, as a lawyer, have examined  the affiliations of the NCCL? Due diligence is the modern term.
Accepting a job from a pressure group that gives house room to an organisation like the Paedophile Information Exchange hardly seems to have been a good decision at the time and now returns as an unwelcome guest.
Anthony Eisinger, Buckland, Surrey
As Christian Wolmar writes (“The great British paedophile infiltration campaign”, 27 February). the word “paedophiles” translates literally from the Greek as child-lovers. But there is more than one Greek word for love. The root phil- is non-sexual; a philogynist is an admirer of women, the opposite of misogynist.
The name of Eros, the Greek god of sexual love, gives us the unambiguous term “paederasts”. If the Paedophile Information Exchange had called itself the Paederasty Information Exchange, the libertarian left might have been less easily infiltrated,
David Crawford, Bickley, Kent
Best way to challenge Uganda gay ban
Dr Michael B Johnson (letter, 26 February) is mistaken to argue that our financial support through the Department for International Development to Uganda be stopped until Uganda lifts its ban on gays.
I have for many years helped to raise funds for youth projects in Uganda and realise that cutting financial support will hurt ordinary people in Uganda and do nothing to end this ban. It will be far more effective if British charities that give to Uganda stress that they support gay rights. Ugandan politicians who then accept the money in their country will be seen to be hypocrites.
Kartar Uppal, West Bromwich, West Midlands
Limits to religious tolerance in Israel
Murray Fink is being a bit disingenuous in his encomium on religious tolerance in Israel (letter, 26 February), as many Israelis have discovered when they attempted to marry a non-Jew, or someone not recognised as Jewish by the Orthodox rabbinate. As an ethnocracy with democratic institutions Israel is a compendium of social and racial paradox that can only vaunt its supposed equality when this is set against the failings and fanaticism of its less than perfect neighbours.
Civil marriage does exist under the Civil Union Law of 2010, but only for those registered as belonging to no religious group at all, while inter-faith marriage is impossible. The confusion and obsession surrounding race, religion and nationality, and the anachronistic historiography of the Israeli establishment ensures that religious freedom remains unequal and inconsistent for many in Israel.
Christopher Dawes, London W11
Allow parents to let a child die
Sympathy and applause are due to Peter John Sipthorp for his letter (27 February) about the life of his son.
Those of us who agree with his views on prolonging life, but who have never been in his unfortunate position, may hesitate to express our opinion because of accusations that we would see it differently if it were our child. It was his child, and he has come out and said that extending John’s life was wrong, not only because of the prolongation of suffering but also because of the cost.
If treatment gives a good experience to the patient whose life is extended, cost should not be a significant consideration. But when parents and professionals are in agreement that it would be humane for a child’s life to be ended, is it reasonable to impose the double whammy of increased suffering to the patient and family and huge expense to society because some people who do not have to deal with the problem believe their views should be pre-eminent?
Susan Alexander, Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire
Ukraine: Russia has a right to be heard
If we are to plot a way forward as regards Russia and the Ukraine, we do not need to return to the stale old cold-war Russophobia that Harold Elletson purveys (Comment, 26 February). Sure, there are some deeply dislikeable aspects to Moscow’s posture today, but to cast it as near-Satanic does no one any good.
Russia has a right to be heard on the matters of eastern Ukraine and the Crimea. The enthusiasm shown for western Ukraine, by US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and others (for no better reason than that the people there are “less foreign” than the easterners), shows a narrow and defensive mentality, when the aim should be to seek out and promote good governance wherever it can be found in the world.
There may be more that is good in western than eastern Ukraine; but there are Russian people in the east, and in the west, despite its aspirational boutique lifestyle, there are fascist remnants of the wartime pro-Hitler regime of Stepan Bandera. To endorse the west and dismiss the east would be crazy. Maybe John Kerry, along with David Cameron and William Hague, have, in their careful wording, got things approximately right.
Christopher Walker, London W14
Here come the green Tories – again
Your second editorial on Wednesday provoked me to check the calendar: no, it’s not 1 April. Just before the last election, the Tories announced “the greenest government ever” and duly forgot all about it when (nearly) elected.
Just before the next election, they make some greenish noises and your leader writer falls over in admiration. Astonishing.
David Gould, Andover, Hampshire
Beware of talking down to the Scots
The Government evidently thinks it has a killer strategy against a Yes vote in Scotland. They are coming at them from several different angles with a carefully planned sequence of ministerial statements on a variety of issues.
It is all designed to counteract Alex Salmond’s effortless if facile confidence in the workability of independence. But as the Tory presence in Scotland is now so weak, there appears to be no one left to point out to Cameron why this could prove highly counter-productive, and why the wily Salmond (who has charisma and political skills unmatched south of the Border) will be looking even more smug than usual.
Those English among us who have lived for any time in Scotland know that if there is one thing really guaranteed to get up Scottish noses it is the English talking down to them; and in this respect I have some sympathy with the Scots. I personally think independence would be a mistake for Scotland, although it would help the Tories’ parliamentary arithmetic at Westminster. But if Cameron wants to drive more people into the Yes lobby, he is going the right way about it.
The UK Government should have kept well out of the debate, letting the Scots make their own judgement about Salmond’s plausibility; they are not children who have to have adult truths laboriously pointed out to them by paternalistic Englishmen.
Gavin Turner, Gunton, Norfolk
Looking at the map you published on 25 February, which located the oil and gas fields in the North Sea, spawned a wicked thought.
We currently live in a sovereign nation recognised by the United Nations as “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”, which comprises four regions, all of which have historically been nations in their own right. Scotland became incorporated over 400 years ago in 1603. The Scottish National Party chooses to ignore this current status, draw the map of international waters as if Scotland were already an independent sovereign state, and assign the mineral wealth within these boundaries as “Scottish oil”. If September’s referendum favours independence, I suggest that the following action be taken by the Shetland Isles Council.
The islands, having been incorporated into Scotland in the late 15th century, largely retain their original Nordic culture and could, quite as legitimately as Scotland, claim a unilateral right to political independence through a plebiscite of their 23,000 inhabitants. (The precedent will have been established).
They too could draw a map of territorial waters according to accepted international principles and claim the mineral rights therein as “Shetland oil”. (The principle will have been established). A favourable vote (the remainder of the Scottish people having been excluded – the principle will have been established) would result in the reassignment of about a third of the “Scottish oil” to the Shetland Islanders, who, with wise exploitation and investment of this asset, should enjoy a work- and stress-free life in perpetuity.
John Harvey, Bromyard, Herefordshire


Sir, Further to your article “Ministers in dispute over BBC in Scotland” (, Feb 27), if Scotland becomes independent, then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK-GBNI) will cease to exist, because “Great Britain” will be broken. So two new countries will come into existence: (1) Scotland and (2) the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (UK-EWNI). The fact that UK-EWNI has the words “United Kingdom” in its title doesn’t mean it is the same United Kingdom as before.
So by what right will UK-EWNI have access to the British Broadcasting Corporation? Indeed, what right will UK-EWNI have to anything that is “British”, given that Britain is broken? Will UK-EWNI even be a member of the EU or the UN Security Council, given that it will be a different country from the one that held those memberships before Scottish independence?
I ask these questions only because I dislike English bullying.
Jeremy Waldron
Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory, All Souls College, Oxford
Sir, With reference to your article “Out of the blue, a new Union Jack” (Feb 26), the Acts of Union united the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. Ireland is no longer a kingdom nor is it united with England; neither Northern Ireland nor Wales has ever been a kingdom, the latter being for administrative purposes part of England.
Should Scotland secede from the Union, there will be no United Kingdom. What will be left is the kingdom of England and the province of Ulster. While constitutional lawyers will probably wish to argue as to the exact legal description of that entity, it is hard to see that it constitutes a united kingdom in the sense of the Acts of Union. The need for a union flag is unclear. The remaining kingdom already has one.
Carlton Christensen
London EC4
Sir, Should Scotland decide to leave the UK, and take the St Andrew’s cross with it, it will give the opportunity to have Wales’s flag of St David included in the Union Jack. Of the four possible new flags suggested by the Flag Institute, that shown at top left in your report is the most apt. Alas it only goes halfway in showing only the yellow cross of St David and omitting its black background. This can be corrected by simply replacing the eight blue triangles by black ones.
Reg Gale
Lighthorne, Warks
Sir, Don Porter (letter, Feb 25) gives a list of Scotsmen who lived in England who benefited the UK. He omitted to mention various Scotsmen who assisted with the downturn in the economy in 2008. These include the then Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and some Cabinet ministers. The two banks heavily involved were the Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS). This does not give us much confidence in Scotland’s ability to run its own economy if the “Yes” vote prevails.
Stuart Mccann
Parkgate, Cheshire

‘We are turning out a profession whose members take it for granted that teaching is just a matter of following the set curriculum’
Sir, It is not surprising that the teaching of facts and learning by rote have led to a generation over-reliant on Google (News, Feb 27). What education has lost over the years of increasing interference from education ministers is the desire to motivate and inspire pupils, not by trying to instil useless facts but to teach them to question, research and reflect.
This also applies to the teachers themselves. With increasing numbers of student teachers being trained in schools by staff who frequently have neither the time nor the energy to devote to this demanding task, we are turning out a profession whose members take it for granted that teaching is just a matter of following the set curriculum. They do not understand the need to reflect deeply on their own practice in order to understand not only how to teach but how their pupils will learn in a way best suited to the individual.
We must not lose sight of what Confucius said: I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.
Lynne C. Potter
Retired headteacher, adviser and inspector, Hexham, Northumberland

The 30mm machinegun in the Warthog anti-tank aircraft’s nose was not ‘the largest and most powerful cannon ever put on an aircraft’
Sir, In your report on the Pentagon’s proposed cancellation of the Fairchild Republic A10 Warthog anti-tank aircraft (Feb 26), it is stated that the 30mm machinegun in the aircraft’s nose was “the largest and most powerful cannon ever put on an aircraft”. Not so. In 1944 the Luftwaffe fitted a 75mm BK 7,5 cannon to some two dozen Henschel HS 129B-3 anti-tank aircraft for use on the Russian front.
Edward Thorpe
London N6

By the standards of Chinese teachers, anything less than 100 per cent in a maths test counts as a failure
Sir, It’s not only in China that the Chinese are leading the way in how maths should be taught (“Maths teachers told to copy the Chinese”,Feb 26). In Auckland, New Zealand, last week, our 14-year-old grandson was told by his Chinese teacher after a maths test that anything less than 100 per cent would be regarded as a fail. Presumably with the support of his headmaster, the teacher then pre-empted any parental indignation by saying that this was the standard he had expected throughout his teaching career and would continue to do so.
Fortunately, our grandson passed.
Judy Lee
Rotherham, S Yorks

There may be genuine concerns about the ability of a large organisation to keep its data private, despite reassurances
Sir, Dr Seely (letter, Feb 25) is correct to be concerned regarding privacy and the NHS computer system.
A couple of years ago the NHS Trust in which I worked underwent a “data cleansing” process. Personal data held on each employee was sent out for them to confirm. We received each other’s.
Dr John Herbert
Scarisbrick, Lancs


SIR – Encouraging the return of beavers should not be entered into lightly. Their image appeared for a period on Canadian postage stamps in the Sixties when I was living in a heavily forested area of Northern Ontario.
They felled many trees and created extensive swamp-like areas where blackfly bred and swarmed in June, biting every uncovered area of the body – my husband bore the scars for the rest of his life. The government removed their image from the stamps due to the nuisance they caused.
Kate Heaton
Warminster, Wiltshire
SIR – Beavers’ dams would make a useful contribution towards flood control. Wales and England should follow Scotland’s example and bring back the beaver.
Janet Elson
Shaftesbury, Dorset

SIR – On the failure to bring a prosecution against a suspect alleged to have been involved with the Hyde Park bombing in 1982, the QC defending John Downey says that if the prosecution went ahead it would “bring the administration of criminal justice into disrepute”. On the contrary, it is the failure to prosecute in this case that has caused enormous disrepute to our justice system.
It shows that a technicality is regarded by the system as being more important than a true search for justice.
David Whitaker
Alton, Hampshire
SIR – If the Crown Prosecution Service is unable to prosecute John Downey for the alleged killing of four soldiers in Hyde Park in 1982 due to an administrative error, surely the RSPCA can bring a prosecution for killing seven horses in the same incident. They are very good at such things.
Simon Watson
Romsey, Hampshire
Barn conversions
SIR – The wellbeing of the rural economy in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) is being undermined by the extraordinary U-turn by the Coalition.
It is hard to grasp the Government’s logic. Last year, it introduced regulations to allow the change of use of farm buildings to commercial purposes. Now, it blocks the same sort of regulations in National Parks and AONBs for the conversion of derelict barns into much-needed homes.
If we stifle change, our landscapes will no longer be economically and socially viable and the environment will suffer. This apparent U-turn will do no good for the rural economy.
Henry Robinson
President, CLA
London SW1
French ski instructors
SIR – Like Boris Johnson, I, too, have been lucky enough to have enjoyed a wonderful week’s skiing in the French Alps.
But not only is it impossible for British nationals to work as ski instructors, the French have also contrived to make it impossible for chalet hosts to take their guests around the mountains acting purely as guides, under threat of an enormous fine, in the mistaken belief that this service takes trade away from French instructors.
British ski companies, furious at their inability to provide this valuable service, which they have been able to do for many years, are advising their guests to have nothing to do with Ecole du Ski Français. So everybody is a loser.
This is one more example of the ability of the French to ignore their own rules.
John Bennet
Totland Bay, Isle of Wight
Artistic delights
SIR – Dea Birkett, director of Kids in Museums, writes that for many connoisseurs “there’s no squeal of delight” when they encounter a Tintoretto, just a murmur of “Mmm”.
One might imagine that the intensely serious Ruskin was such a one. In fact though, when he saw Tintoretto in the Scuola di San Rocco, Venice, he was so surprised and overjoyed that all he could do was “lie on a bench and laugh”.
Bernard Richards
Brasenose College, Oxford
Armed Forces Union
SIR – While the campaign to ensure that Scotland does not leave the United Kingdom is gathering momentum, I have seen little comment on the fact that the Armed Forces of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales are all closely integrated.
I served in the war in the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division, which was comprised of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, the 1 Highland Light Infantry and the 1 Royal Welch Fusiliers. We all fought together until the end of the war, and had a great respect for each other.
I, and I’m sure many others, would be happy to act as recruiting agents to enlist as many ex-servicemen as possible under the banner “we are one”.
Sir James Spicer
Beaminster, Dorset
SIR – The prospect of Scotland adopting “sterlingisation”, or keeping the pound without a formal currency union with the United Kingdom, is likened to Panama’s relationship with the US dollar.
This is interesting, given Panama’s proximity to Darien, the destination of the failed Scottish expedition of 1698 that took with it more than a third of the wealth of Scotland and led directly to the Act of Union.
Mark Horne
Odiham, Hampshire
Fit to curl
SIR – Matthew Sample is clearly unaware of the fitness levels of competitors in high-level sporting events. Even in events that require no apparent physical exertions, to perform at an Olympic peak, one must be totally fit to last the pace and endure the competition.
That is why curlers go for cross-country runs and why they are called athletes.
Chris Harding
Parkstone, Dorset
Doing lunch
SIR – While living in Yangon, Burma, 10 years ago, I used to buy my chicken from the market next door to our apartment building, because I knew it was fresh, rather than from the local supermarket, where the electricity supply was intermittent. I knew it was fresh because the chicken man would choose one for me from the coop, club it over the head, and then clean it for me while I waited.
Valerie O’Neill
Worth, West Sussex
Bridge can help the brain keep active in old age
SIR – The failure of the tribunal to uphold the arguments of the English Bridge Union concerning the payment of VAT on entry fees puts it at odds with other countries both inside and outside the European Union and with the Charity Commission’s view of bridge.
To restrict VAT relief to those activities that require a physical element rather than a mental one does a disservice to bridge and other mind sports.
As your article pointed out, there is strong evidence that being involved in a competitive and mentally stimulating activity keeps the brain going and helps ward off the onset of dementia.
Jeremy Dhondy
Chairman, English Bridge Union
Shillingstone, Dorset
SIR – The English Bridge Union cited croquet as a sport where physical skill plays second fiddle to mental skill. My pedometer recorded a distance of three miles during a croquet match. There is no such physical component to bridge.
Roger Gentry
Sutton at Hone, Kent

SIR – The MPs’ debate and the bizarre online petition about the high cost of holidays outside school term time shows a worrying disconnect between people and reality.
Why should MPs be involved in the cost of holidays? Government interference in our lives is so endemic that people don’t recognise a free market when they see one. School is compulsory and should be taken seriously. Holidays, though desirable, are optional, and as such should be budgeted to fit in with our other discretionary costs.
The cost of holidays reflects the price people are prepared to pay. If you don’t like the price, don’t go. When people stop buying them, holiday prices will fall.
Keith Macpherson
Houston, Renfrewshire
SIR – It is technically possible for schools to set holiday dates for times outside of the traditional periods. However, we must bear in mind the constraints laid upon schools by the dates fixed for external examinations. These run from May (Key Stage 2 SATs) until the completion of the GCSE and A-level examinations in June.
Since the preparation period for the examinations is at its peak in March and April, schools are left only with the start of July to utilise as off-peak holiday time. Since this July window is used for end-of-year events such as sports days and prize-givings, there is little time left for an earlier start to the holidays.
Lynn Murthwaite
Crosby, Lancashire
SIR – Varying holiday dates from county to county will not solve the problem of high costs, it will just extend the period during which the highest prices are charged.
B P Reynolds
Chandlers Ford, Hampshire
SIR – In Lancashire, whole towns used to shut down for two weeks, beginning in June and occuring until August. These were called “wakes weeks”. With the demise of the cotton industry, and the advent of external exams, this practice was forced to end. School holidays in August affect teachers and their families as well as pupils, and an end to the automatic price rise would be most welcome.
Patricia Conroy
Ludlow, Shropshire
SIR – At the school I went to, on the Herefordshire-Worcestershire borders, we had the four or five weeks from early September to early October as our “hop-picking holiday”. I think it was the Education Act 1944 that put a stop to that useful source of income for me.
E M Griffin
Colyton, Devon
SIR – If you have one child in a primary school and one in a secondary school with different holiday dates, which child do you leave behind when you go away?
Michael Lyons
Barnet, Hertfordshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – I wish to disagree strongly with the opinion piece by Dr Jacky Jones (Health+ Family, February 25th). GPs are working flat out. There is little or no extra capacity in the GP system at present.
Attempting to treat childhood obesity by repeated visits to GPs has no evidence base in fact. Childhood obesity is multifactorial in origin and there is no evidence that GPs working on their own have any effect on children’s weight or lifestyle behaviours which are at the core of the issue. There is also a much more serious side to this.
Because of the lack of extra capacity in the GP system, such consultations can only be carried out by neglecting patients who are in need of our services. These include children and adults with acute illness who need to be seen on the same day. They also include those patients with chronic illness such as high blood pressure and diabetes, many of whom get the bulk of their care in general practice. There is not room for both. – Yours, etc,
Cregan Avenue,
Kileely, Limerick.
Sir, – Dr Jacky Jones (Health + Family, February 25th) attempts to celebrate the under-sixes medical card with a lovely scenario of a GP and a practice nurse spending 25 minutes explaining to a mother that chips and soft drinks are indeed bad for her overweight child.
Under the new contract, GPs will be obliged to measure and record the height and weight of each child three times a year.
Dr Jones appears to be removed from the realities of general practice in Ireland. I give examples of a number of typical calls.
Caller A: I have central chest pain – can I see the doctor? Or Caller B: My blood sugars are running very high – I need to see the doctor. Or Caller C: I have just found a breast lump – I need to see the doctor.
Receptionist: Sorry the doctor is fully booked for the next 10 days measuring children and discussing their weights and recording their parents’ smoking status for the HSE.
All callers: Why didn’t the HSE simply employ a panel of dieticians who could visit schools and identify at risk children and liaise with their parents and let the doctors get on with doing their job?
Receptionist: Because the HSE did not once seek the advice of doctors before introducing this morally and medically flawed concept to the public, hiding behind the competition authority as a reason for non-engagement.
All callers: What will I do?
Receptionist: I’m afraid you’ll have to go to A &E where the waiting times are down to 45 hours if you hurry! – Yours, etc,
The Clinic,
The Old Quarter,
Ballincollig, Cork.

Sir, – I live part of the year in Wales, where you can hear more Welsh in five minutes than Irish in a year in nearly every part of Ireland (this is no exaggeration).
The unwelcome truth is that very few of us have any intention of ever speaking Irish. Instead we have long ago opted for cuplafocalarism, This consists of putting road signs, notices, documents and all the rest of it into Irish (even better if it can be done at European level) regardless of whether it is used or not.
Meanwhile, we blithely continue to speak our real native language, English. It shouldn’t fool a 10-year-old. But we are quite content with this nonsense and woe betide anyone who questions the emperor’s attire. – Yours, etc,
Meadow Grove, Dublin 16.
Sir, – In the course of my work, over many years, I travelled the entire island of Ireland. I know very little Irish, but that was never a problem. No one I ever met had any difficulty in speaking to me in English.
In fact, everyone I met or did business with spoke English. This also applied to shops, theatres and pubs. The only other languages to be heard, mostly in the high season, were, Spanish, French, German and some East European languages.
So I would like to challenge any one of the letter writers who accept the accuracy of the 2011 Census (which states 1.77 million speak Gaeilge on a daily basis), to stand with me on the main street of any large town or city in Ireland (apart from Galway) to hold a short conversation with passers by, as Gaeilge. Any takers? – Yours, etc,
The Demesne,
Killester, Dublin 5.
A chara, – I agree with Revd Patrick G Burke (Letters, February 25th) that “the so-called financial experts” destroyed the Irish economy. And they were ably aided and abetted by a lot of our politicians and developers. In fact its arguable whether we own our country any more. We own the Irish language, but it seems a lot of our people do not value it very highly. Maybe our new immigrants – the Poles, the Lithuanians, the Nigerians – might succeed where we have failed. “Níl tír gan teanga”. – Is mise,
Cúirt an Choláiste,
Dún Dealgan, Co Lú.

Sir, – Now more than ever people should be encouraged to engage with the political process and with existing and aspiring public representatives, as we set about building the foundations of post-crisis Ireland. This includes free and open public discourse, which inevitably involves public meetings, electioneering and often-derided campaign posters.
Dr Vincent Kenny (February 25th) correctly points out that the rules governing the correct erection, control and removal of publicly displayed election posters are outlined clearly in legislation (see for example, the Electoral (Amendment) (No 2) Act 2009). If anyone observes incorrectly displayed or inappropriate posters, I would strongly encourage them to make a report to their local authority or litter warden.
Meanwhile, rather than bemoaning the use of posters as a feature of our democratic system, I would ask Dr Kenny to spare a thought for the billions of people around the world who do not live in a democracy, and who do not enjoy the freedoms of expression and association and the full democratic franchise we have in Ireland. In any event, there is an easy solution to the problem: avoid looking at election posters. – Yours, etc,
Pembroke College,
University of Cambridge,
Sir, – Michael Drury’s rather dry analysis (February 26th) of why Spain won’t object to an independent Scotland’s entry into the EU is needlessly legalistic. Spain won’t object because, having fished its own waters to extinction, the only place left for its fleets to trawl are off the Scottish coast, and that can’t happen if Scotland is not part of the EU’s “Beggar Your Neighbour Club” – Yours, etc,
Harmonstown Road,
Artane, Dublin 5.
Sir, – James Moran (February 22nd) suggests that a “citizens advice bureau should be set up in each town to advise people of their rights”. In fact, there is a nationwide network of Citizens Information Services already in existence. The service is funded and supported by the Citizens Information Board and a full list of all centre locations is at – Yours, etc,
PR/Promotions Executive,
Citizens Information Board,
Townsend Street, Dublin 2.

Sir, – I slightly disagree with Fintan O’Toole (Opinion, February 25th) when he says that Ireland is an autocracy. We are not (yet) an autocracy but if we want real democracy then it’s time to abandon systems of governance that have repeatedly failed our State, and its citizens.
Since independence three parties have carved up all the top public posts and made themselves as untouchable and unaccountable as possible. This – in the 21st century – is a surefire recipe for repeated failure and lurching from crisis to crisis. Top-down centralised and male-dominated governance has been a disaster for the biggest church in the State, and for the State itself.
Any successful business, club, community group or family farm knows that openness, accountability, meritocracy and best practice are the keys to long-term survival and success. Staying in touch with the grass roots rather than pandering to vested interests also helps, as does thinking long rather than short term. The foundations of a successful state are hardly rocket science, but real change will only come when the people demand better standards from their public representatives. None of us are here forever so it is up to all of us to leave behind the legacy of a better Ireland to the generations to come. Otherwise how will we answer our grandchildren when they ask what we did to make Ireland a better place? – Yours, etc,
Orwell Gardens, Dublin 6.

Sir, – On March 2nd, we mark the third anniversary of the first “Ballyhea Says No” protest march. Every week since March 6th, 2011 we have marched in Ballyhea and Charleville, all with one purpose – right the wrong that was done with the imposition of €70 billion of private bank debt on the shoulders of the Irish people.
We have been told that people’s protest is pointless, achieves nothing. However, we point to so many momentous changes throughout the ages, from Kiev and North Africa in recent years, to the civil rights marches in the North, in the US, and other examples of achievement through public demonstration.
We’ve been told that it’s all too late, that the bank money is all paid. We point to the €25 billion in sovereign bonds (issued in payment of the promissory note), now sitting in the Central Bank, awaiting sale; we point to the €3.1 billion bond (issued in payment of the 2012 promissory note), likewise held by the Central Bank. We point to the euro-zone leaders’ statement of June 2012: “We affirm that it is imperative to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns”, the inherent recognition that what was done to Ireland was wrong. We point to the fact that on foot of this statement, Ireland is owed the €20 billion taken from our Pension Reserve Fund to fund the bank bailout, and should not have to pay the remaining €20 billion or so now owed to the various EU emergency funds.
We’re told this was our own fault – Irish bankers, Irish regulators, Irish politicians, Irish electorate; we say this was all due to the launch of a fatally flawed currency, with neither foresight nor oversight as hundreds of cheap billions poured from the core of Europe to the periphery, swamped several economies, all on the watch of the ECB.
We’re asked how long we’ll continue to march – as long as it takes. Our campaign isn’t founded on the shifting sands of hope or optimism, foundations all too easily undermined; our campaign is founded on determination. Three years ago we determined that what was being done to us was wrong, with no consultation with the people as successive weak governments were bullied, browbeaten and blackmailed into accepting a debt that isn’t ours. We are now determined that this wrong will be exposed for the world to see, and that this wrong will be righted.
For this one day, we ask your readers to come and march with us in Ballyhea, 10.30am, March 2nd. This is about your family, this is about your future. – Yours, etc,
Co Cork.

Sir,– It will not be the first time Brendan Behan will appear on a postcard (Tony Wool, February 25th). In 1952, my late father Tom Nisbet, RHA, painted a portrait of Brendan which was used on an Irish postcard and I believe it was very popular, especially with tourists. It portrays Brendan sitting in the snug of McDaids pub in Harry Street (next door to my father’s Grafton Gallery), holding a pint of plain.
Every time I look at a framed copy of the postcard it reminds me of a rather bedraggled man walking down Pembroke Street in a light brown suit and putting a two-and-sixpenny coin into my hand. – Yours, etc,
Co Wexford.

Sir, – The Irish national rugby team is perennially put at a disadvantage during “away” fixtures as a result of the Irish Rugby Football Union failing to continue the tradition of having our national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann , performed alongside the national anthem of the opposing “home” team. This was demonstrated most painfully last Saturday when the national anthem of England, God Save the Queen , was performed with gusto and admirable pride by the English rugby supporters at Twickenham. Irish rugby supporters had to endure the unflattering contrast of a glorified pub song, Ireland’s Call , being played in lieu of Ireland’s national anthem.
The “cringe-factor” that this unnecessary situation elicits will be further accentuated when the Ireland rugby team travels to Paris next month, and has to endure Ireland’s Call being matched-up to La Marseillaise . The comparison from an Irish point of view can be summed-up in two words: national embarrassment.
In addition, if our President or our Taoiseach were to be in attendance for an away match, they would have to (as I’m sure they have done so previously) suffer the ignominy of our national anthem not being played despite our head of state or head of government’s presence in the stadium.
There is a reasonable solution to this increasingly unacceptable situation at “away” fixtures. If, for the sake of a small number of rugby players from the unionist tradition in Northern Ireland, Ireland’s Call is to be retained by the IRFU, then the IRFU should allow Amhrán na bhFiann to be performed before Ireland’s Call at “away” matches, just as both of these songs are officially performed for the Ireland rugby team at “home” fixtures in Dublin (a practice which has never been objected to by opposing national teams).
Having two songs performed at away matches would not be unreasonable (and would be excusable on the basis that there exists a border which divides our nation), as this is what is essentially practised by several other rugby nations such as New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa and Fiji; each of whom perform effectively a second anthem, in the form of a war dance, after their sung anthem. It is time for the IRFU to restore our national anthem at “away” matches and end the disgrace of its absence. – Yours, etc,
Knapton Road,
Co Dublin.

Sir, – Thank you for publishing the timely and wise column by Sir Ivor Roberts (“We should remember the lessons of how we stumbled into war in 1914”, Opinion, February 25th).
I have watched – with sad fascination – as both Europe and the US have responded to the Great Recession of recent years with ill-chosen austerity measures. Although I am saddened, I am not surprised by the consequent widespread discontent expressed towards centre and left-centre governments by citizens throughout Europe, and the accompanying rise of growing nationalist sentiments. The Balkans continue to fester even as the powder keg of the Ukraine and the dense stumbles of Japan toward her neighbours pose obvious flashpoints of conflict.
Just as various militaries tend to concentrate on how to better fight the last war, so also does it seem that foreign policy elites often draw misleading conclusions about what behaviour to shun if we are to avoid the next war. I think the Russian-European situation has become unnecessarily more tense by the unwise expansion of Nato eastward. I hope the European Union’s efforts to achieve stability in the Ukraine bear fruit, but this cannot happen without respecting Russia’s legitimate interests. – Yours, etc,
NE 134th Place,
Portland, Oregon, US.

Sir, – So, Fáilte Ireland is planning to erect 4,000 road signs along our 2,500km western coastline, in an attempt to attract tourism. That’s one sign every 625 metres. Has Fáilte Ireland completely lost its sense of direction? – Yours, etc,
Northumberland Avenue,
Dún Laoghaire,
Co Dublin.

Sir, – For many years the top-rated programme on RTÉ Radio1 was The Gay Byrne Hour which ran from 9.10am to 11am. This year we have “Seachtain na Gaeilge” running from March 1st to 17th. I hope they are not a foretaste of our upcoming 1916 centenary celebrations. – Yours, etc,
The Rower, Co Kilkenny.
Sir, – The “Jailbreak” fundraising activity (Sorcha Pollak, Home News, February 24th), in which third-level students attempted to get as far away as possible from Ireland within 36 hours, with no money, was very successful.
That model would be most beneficial for the Government to follow on the annual Patrick’s Day exodus. Give Ministers €100 each, give them time off from the Dáil, and see how far they get within a given time frame. This would prove attractive in the current financial time in reducing costs, and test the skills of each Minister. – Yours, etc,
Carins Road, Sligo.

Irish Independent:

Updated 28 February 2014 02:47 AM
As a disabled person I’m living in a rural community whose post office is among those potentially targeted for closure by Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte.
Also in this section
Letters: Give the children room to embrace GAA
Ballyhea still says ‘No’ to this gross injustice
Keane’s courageous stance on human rights
And like many of my fellow citizens throughout the country, our local post office is of the greatest importance for me personally on many fronts. And I would safely say that rural post offices are the lifeblood for small villages and the businesses therein.
But owing to the chasm between the powerful decision-makers and the common people and an inability to see the impact of decisions on us all, some seat-polisher hidden away at great expense to Joe public is advising the closure of these post offices without knowing how much their presence is valued and needed within small communities.
Then again, it is obvious that city-dwellers like Mr Rabbitte need not be overly worried about the consequences of such actions. Our shakers and movers are sheltered from the enormity of the unnecessary stress and inconvenience these closures will bring upon elderly people and the disabled, along with everybody else in remote communities.
Post offices offer excellent services for social welfare recipients and old age pensioners as they allow them to collect entitlements in a safe environment and also to pay all types of utility bills. The post office is a meeting place for many elderly citizens who know their financial transactions can be done in privacy but also in very safe and secure surroundings.
Over the last number of years this Government has declared, when challenged, that it was the troika that deemed it necessary to close a number of garda stations in rural areas to save money. Then many of the same areas lost their bus servers and now their post office is under threat of closure. What next, Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore? Might that be our local schools?
* The banks could make one small effort to thwart the types of scams perpetrated on Bank of Ireland customers in Kilkenny and Carlow as reported yesterday. Banks could deny foreign withdrawals of cash unless the customer has pre-notified them of dates they would be in such and such a country.
With credit cards, I was advised many years ago to pre-notify the issuer of travel dates abroad, otherwise their software flags up an oddity about a transaction and it may be refused. It doesn’t take rocket science to apply the same logic to bank cards.
* Congratulations to the ‘Ballyhea Says No’ protest marchers who want “to right the wrong that was done with the imposition of €70bn of private bank debt onto the shoulders of the Irish people” (Diarmuid O’Flynn, Letters, February 26).
The problem arises as to who we should be protesting against, and who should pay to right the wrong.
First of all, given the risks, which were highlighted at the time, our democratically elected government did not have to join the new currency.
Secondly, hundreds of cheap billions did not, as alleged by Diarmuid O’Flynn, “pour from the core of Europe” to this peripheral country.
The decisions to borrow were made by some of this country’s most influential citizens, in charge of its most powerful institutions.
The equivalent decision-makers in most of the other countries which were members of the same “fatally flawed currency” did not borrow to the same extent as Ireland’s decision-makers did. Their countries, therefore, did not go broke. Ireland did.
Thirdly, when Diarmuid O’Flynn says that “Ireland is owed the €20bn taken from our Pension Reserve Fund to fund the bank bailout”, he implies that the citizens of countries who managed their membership of the euro better than we did should pay.
I imagine they have different ideas.
All of us should, however, wish the ‘Ballyhea Says No’ protest marchers every success in their determination to right the wrongs of the past and to remind us not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
* Minister Quinn seems intent on pushing through changes to the Junior Cert which I believe are very flawed. Basically, I believe that the model of teachers assessing their own students is fundamentally flawed. What grieves me is the removal of an independent adjudication and awarding body, ie the State Examinations Commission. Instead schools will be free to design their own courses.
The majority of teachers would love some Junior Cert reform. For certain subjects, they have been working off of the same stale curriculum for almost two decades. However, to replace it with a wishy-washy, watered-down, teacher-assessed local certification, whose validity will depend on the school a child comes from, is a big mistake.
* I must commend Limerick City Council on its inspired choice of names for Merchants Quay and Shannon Bridge (February 26). These Limerick landmarks have been renamed Brian Boru Square and John F Kennedy Bridge respectively.
These choices are much more impressive than the name which Dublin City Council eventually chose for the new Marlborough Street bridge in Dublin City. After all of the publicity, Marlborough Street bridge was eventually named after a trade unionist, Rosie Hackett, whom very few Dubliners had heard of.
* Rehab receives €83m in taxpayers’ money by way of state funding, yet we had Chief Executive Angela Kerins saying, “We are not a state-run organisation, nor are any of our staff public servants.”
That may be so, but it’s a jaded mantra that is used to avoid providing details of senior executive salaries: salaries Ms Kerins claims are below the market average.
That taxpayers’ money is not used directly to pay these salaries is irrelevant.
The salient question remains to be answered: could Rehab continue to operate as a business without state funding and still maintain its current salary levels?
* Eric Conway claims (February 25) that many homosexuals are against gay marriage and that this can speak eloquently against it.
But on the other hand, are there not many heterosexuals who are opposed to heterosexual marriage?
To give one historic example, early feminist Sylvia Pankhurst refused to marry the father of her child because she did not want marriage to subjugate her to a husband.
If this is the case – that there is a sizable number of heterosexuals opposed to heterosexual marriage – would this also make a good case against heterosexual marriage?
Maybe, because of all these people on both sides who are opposed to matrimony, there should be no marriages at all.
Irish Independent


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