3 March 2014 Jill

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to deliver an ambassador, can they find the right country?Priceless

Cold slightly better but muddle through Jill comes to call.

Scrabbletoday Iwin but get under400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.




Alain Resnais, the film director, who has died aged 91, was one of the most important, original, controversial and fashionable of the post-war generation of French film-makers known collectively as the New Wave.

Elliptical, elusive, literary and occasionally unintelligible, his films defied conventional forms of cinema storytelling in favour of complicated editing that sometimes took little account of plot or characterisation but created instead a compelling air of mystery and depth.

His two most famous works, Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961), made him the most intellectually difficult film director of his time. Above all he was an “auteur”, a director who stamped his personal style on every film he made, even though he might, as Resnais did with distinction, engage eminent authors, like Marguerite Duras or Alain Robbe-Grillet, to write his screenplays.

Time and memory, illusion and reality, were Resnais’s favourite themes, and his stock characters were a sort of displaced person. Later in his career he found a rich vein of material to explore in the plays of Alan Ayckbourn.

But while he was accused of obscurity and pretentiousness, and of academic coldness in expressing emotion, his films extended, if only for a while, the frontiers of 20th-century cinema. The editing of image and sound, sometimes overlapping, sometimes clashing, often merging, always amazing, challenged the imagination and stirred the critical faculties.

And no fact of Alain Resnais’s life seemed to strike a stranger note than his assertion that the films which first inspired his ambition to become a film director were those in which Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced. Or was it Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler? He could never be sure. “I wondered if I could find the equivalent of that exhilaration,” he recalled.

If he never did it was perhaps because of his highly cultivated attitude to serious cinema. His character and temperament were more attuned to the theory of film and a kind of intellectual square dance which was far harder to bring to the screen with “exhilaration” than the art of Astaire and Rogers.

Alan Resnais was born at Vannes, Brittany, on June 3 1922, where his father was a pharmacist. A sickly child, he had a severe Jesuit education and was a voracious reader, consuming everything he could get his hands on from serious literature to thrillers and comics. As a schoolboy he made 8mm and 16mm amateur films.

His fascination with Thirties Hollywood dance films determined the nature of his career. “They had a kind of sensuality of movement which really took hold of me,” he reflected. “I decided then and there that I was going to try to make films which would have the same effect on people.”

He moved to Paris and flirted with an acting career before studying film editing and directing at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques; after a year he left, to his later regret, without completing the course. In place of such formal training he drew instead on his appreciation of comic books. “What I know about cinema is learned as much from comics as from films,” he admitted. “The rules of how to cut, how to frame, are the same.”

During a year’s military service in 1945 he served entertaining Allied troops in Germany and Austria and after the Second World War made 16mm shorts and medium lengths films, beginning his career in professional film as an editor and cameraman.

Although two of his short early films were fiction – one featuring his neighbour, the actor Gérard Philipe – mostly they were documentary studies of modern painters, which he made in order to meet the artists concerned and to learn about their work.

Some were shown on French television, but it was his first commissioned documentary – on Van Gogh in 1948 – that launched his career as a director. Similar shorts on Gauguin, and on Picasso’s Guernica, which he co-directed with Robert Hessens and for which Paul Eluard wrote the script, also brought him credit, though none of them hinted at the distinctive, somewhat surrealistic style which was to make him famous.

He collaborated with Chris Marker on an anti-colonial short about the decline of African art (Les Statues Meurent Aussi), but it was Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog, 1955), a study of Nazi concentration camps, which he made with Jean Cayrol, that struck the deepest chord with connoisseurs. It explored what were to become some of his favourite themes – the way in which the cinema could juggle time and memory, past, and present and future, as well as place and space. Powerful yet understated, the film showed Resnais’s ability to handle the rawest of emotions with subtlety and grace, and remains one of his most admired pieces of work.

His distinct visual style emerged more fully in Toute la Mémoire du Monde (1957), which dealt with France’s national library and its miles of corridors and bookshelves. Long, tracking shots conveyed Proustian preoccupations with remembrance of things past and contributed to an elevated, if oblique, view of the archives.

Two other documentaries, Le Mystère de l’Atelier Quinze (1957), which was about industrial illness, and Le Chant du Styrène (1958), about the production of polystyrene (with a witty commentary by the fashionable avant-garde writer Raymond Queneau) completed a series of finely imaginative and inventive short films which some of his critics still consider to be among his most accomplished pieces. Already his reputation was such that fellow New Wave icon Jean-Luc Godard was moved to describe Resnais as the “second greatest director in the world after [Sergei] Eisenstein”.

With his first full-length feature, Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), Resnais created something of a sensation. Collaborating again with a distinguished avant-garde writer (this time Marguerite Duras), he applied his elaborate editing technique to a stylised evocation of an affair in Hiroshima between a French film star and her Japanese lover, while also portraying her remembered love for a German soldier whom she had met in France earlier in the Second World War.

“I wanted to compose a sort of poem in which the images would work only as a counterpoint to the text,” Resnais noted. His treatment of this story of sudden physical passion was neither sensuous nor sensual but highly intelligent, like all his work; criticism was principally about its emotional coldness, and if Resnais cared more for places and landscapes rather than people and character.

In his second and most resolutely surrealist feature film, L’Année Dernière A Marienbad (1961), scripted by the nouveau romancier Alain Robbe-Grillet, Resnais seemed to wallow in ambiguities. Mystery surrounded the film’s three principal characters, and after its release Resnais and Robbe-Grillet only added to the confusion by suggesting conflicting explanations for the plot.

Are the couple who meet so mysteriously in the elegant setting of a grand European spa-hotel former lovers or prospective lovers? Their dialogue and relationship remains as puzzling as their situation, which can be taken as a profoundly arresting exploration of time and memory, reality and imagination, or dismissed as beautifully photographed bunk.

Perhaps most significantly for Resnais, however, it got everybody talking about the art of the cinema and what the director would do with it next.

Muriel (1963) divided opinions sharply between those who admiringly and unquestioningly sat back and let the narrative, however foggy, float by, and those who found themselves running out of patience with the on-screen swirl of undefined relationships. Events were, it was true, somewhat less baffling than before. Based on a story by Jean Cayrol, they concerned a widow in Boulogne (Delphine Seyrig), who invites a former lover to dinner with her and her stepson; he accepts, arriving with his so-called niece. Again the editing – with its flashbacks and juxtapositions – filled the screen with implications and rumination.

For some these uncertainties hinted at fracture and fragility in France’s national identity as the colonial war in Algeria reached a decisive moment; for many spectators, however, it again proved a tale of passion that was strangely and disappointingly passionless, and in which the presence of Delphine Seyrig proved the main consolation.

La Guerre Est Finie (The War Is Over, 1966) was Resnais’s most romantic film and featured Yves Montand reliving in his mind the Spanish Civil War. With a script by the political writer Jorge Semprun, a Spaniard, and with Ingrid Thulin as Montand’s mistress, it enjoyed modest success. Je t’Aime, Je t’Aime (1968), by contrast, was an all-out flop. Working with the Belgian writer, Jacques Sternberg, Resnais approached his favourite theme through science fiction, postulating a hero injected with a serum to see if he can relive a moment of his life. To audiences the result appeared more or less random, and no one knew whom to blame for the failure – the scriptwriter, the actors or Resnais himself.

Half a decade would pass before Resnais’s work again made it to the screen. Thankfully Stavinsky (1974), the story of a swindler who brings down the French government in the Thirties, was a hit. Paying homage to the era of Art Deco and to the style of film-making before the Second World War, Resnais evoked a vanished epoch without much fog or too much fanciful editing. A cast including Jean-Paul Belmondo and Charles Boyer pointed up the theme of gambling as a way of exorcising fear of death, but also underlined the film’s commercial flavour.

This trend continued in Providence (1977), with which Resnais enjoyed a popular success. This he owed to two factors: first, the film was in English; and, secondly, it had a starry cast led by John Gielgud.

The celebrated actor played an ageing novelist sitting for most of the film on a garden lavatory, seeking a subject for his next book . The novelist’s family appear to him in various guises, and Resnais’s preoccupations report for duty once again: identity, time, place and whether what we are watching is real or imaginary. By this stage in his career few people were still trying to make literal sense of a Resnais film; it was a relief not to have to try.

Popular success continued with Mon Oncle d’Amerique (My American Uncle, 1980), a typically fragmented study of three French youths from different backgrounds observed by a professor of social behaviour. It won the Special Prize at Cannes, and earned considerable respect with audiences.

Despite his recurring themes, however, Resnais’s work did evolve. From the early Eighties, often working repeatedly with the same actors, he incorporated musical and theatrical tropes into his work. La Vie Est Un Roman (Life is a bed of Roses, 1983) alternated song and dialogue to tell three stories set in different eras; L’Amour a Mort (Love unto Death, 1984), was a four-hander in which Resnais conceived of music as a “fifth character”. Meanwhile Gershwin (1992), a documentary; On Connait La Chanson (Same Old Song, 1997), which was openly indebted to the work of Dennis Potter; and the filmed operetta Pas sur la Bouche (Not on the Lips, 2003), all signalled his interest in popular song and theatrical form.

The latter concern he had already made explicit in two films: Mélo (1986) an adaptation of a play from the Twenties, and Smoking/No Smoking (1993), from Alan Ayckbourn’s play Intimate Exchanges. Smoking/No Smoking saw all the female characters in the three distinct stories played by Sabine Azema, while another Resnais regular, Pierre Arditi, took on all male roles, as Resnais guided audiences through possible consequences of apparently trifling decisions.

Coeurs (Private Fears in Public Places, 2006) was another Ayckbourn adaptation, as was his last project Aimer, Boire et Chanter (The Life of Riley, 2013) which was well received at the Berlin film festival last month. Though unlikely to convert many Resnais detractors, the film proved that the director had become an extremely graceful and skilful orchestrator of themes, that were, by their nature, convoluted and hard to portray.

Alain Resnais married, first, in 1969, Florence Malraux, daughter of the novelist Andre Malreaux. He married, secondly, in 1998, Sabine Azema.

Alain Resnais, born June 3 1922, died March 1 2014





The heartbreaking picture in the Guardian of ashen-faced, starving refugees in Syria (Refugees emerge ‘like ghosts’ from Damascus ruins, 27 February) brought to mind accounts of a similar situation I read about as a schoolgirl in June 1948. These accounts were of a Berlin under siege from the Red Army, in its bid to take over the whole city. All road and rail land routes had been deliberately blocked so that supplies of food, medicines and other goods could not get through.

At a time when political leaders were bolder than now, President Truman, determined to avoid a direct military clash with his erstwhile Russian ally, mounted an air bridge that took food, clothing and other necessities to Berlin, and succeeded in feeding its population for over 300 days. At the height of the airlift, 8,000 tons of food and other supplies were delivered to Berlin every day. The siege was lifted and there was no war.

True, the western allies had access to an airport in Berlin, Tempelhof. But given modern technology, food drops now could be taken direct to refugee camps, maybe even by unmanned aircraft.

The proposal for such an air bridge to the starving people of Syria, many of whom are already dying, should be made to the United Nations high commissioner for refugees. The UNHCR could be invited to oversee the loading of cargo, to satisfy themselves that no arms or military supplies would be air-lifted to Syria. Russian inspectors could be asked to be part of these teams.

Western governments cannot be complicit in what is clearly becoming a Syrian holocaust.
Shirley Williams
House of Lords


It is pointless to argue with Iain Duncan Smith about his egregious and unscientific views about defining and combating poverty (Treasury blocks Duncan Smith plans for child poverty targets, 27 February). But it can’t be repeated often enough that any characteristic he and George Osborne claim causes poverty such as “worklessness, family breakdown, educational failure, addiction, or debt” and which fails to cause it to individuals and families such as those of the unhappy Duke and Duchess of York and the unfortunate Hans Kristian Rausing (the Tetra Pak heir) and a great many other people right across the income spectrum, cannot be taken seriously as social analysis. These “black swans” expose these politicians’ fixed beliefs as worth no more than beliefs about creationism or a flat Earth.

If these two Conservative politicians were serious that “This is such an important issue – it is vitally important that we take the time to get it right. We have seen how the wrong measures based on inadequate data and simplistic analysis drive misguided and ineffective policy”, then they would follow the recommendations of the Commons select committee on integrated child credit in 2001 to fund an expert committee to review the range of methods available and advise the government of the day. Politicians are not, as such, qualified to make such judgments, though it is a well-known but widely shared illusion that, in the absence of study and comprehension, great political power, like excess alcohol, brings scientific competence.
Professor John Veit-Wilson
Newcastle University


Samuel Johnson was more charitable towards the Scots than Neil MacGregor (Ian Jack’s column, 1 March) when he said that the English had nothing to fear from the union as they now had the Scots to do their thinking for them.
Dr Allan Dodds

• When I was young, we didn’t do a poo in our family, we went to the toilet to do our hardwork. Embarrassing as I got older, but I’d second that name for the Tories – the Hardworkers’ party (Letters, 28 February).
Bridget Gubbins
Morpeth, Northumberland

• I am 63 years old and have lived in Norfolk, South Yorkshire, Hampshire, South Gloucestershire, West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire. This is the first year for as long as I can remember that there has not been snow on the ground in December, January or February. I have missed it.
John Gaskin

• Three hearty hearty cheers for Giles Fraser (Loose canon, 1 March). His piece about choral evensong and its way of binding together the “petitions and inchoate yearnings” of “those gathered in the pews” really hit home. Thanks, Giles, and God bless you for every word.
Victoria Owens

• If we run short of Gilbert O’Sullivan quotes (Letters, passim), could one of your other well-known correspondents assist? Perhaps David Hockney would even make A Bigger Splash?
Andrew Palmer


‘A pernicious new turn took place in 2012 when London Metropolitan University lost its “highly trusted sponsor” status, to catastrophic effect for students in the middle of their courses,’ write Mette Berg, Nicola Pratt and 160 others. Photograph: Gavin Rodgers/Rex Features

British universities have been positioned as central culprits for failing to regulate their intake of foreign students, while rendered dependent on “overseas” student fees because of government funding cuts. A pernicious new turn took place in summer 2012 when London Metropolitan University lost its “highly trusted sponsor” status, to catastrophic effect for students in the middle of their courses. Since then, universities have been preoccupied with managing accountability demanded by UK Visas and Immigration (formerly the UK Border Agency), and, in effect, have become its proxy. Academics at a number of universities in the UK and beyond have now become concerned at this state of affairs, and at the methods used to establish bona fide student status.

We, the undersigned, oppose the acquiescence of Universities UK members in acting as an extension of UKVI, thereby undermining the autonomy and academic freedom of UK universities and trust between academics and their students. We object to the actions of universities which:

• Use mechanisms of pastoral care, such as monitoring of student attendance and meetings with tutors, as mechanisms for monitoring non-EU students, or so-called Tier 4 visa holders, on behalf of UKVI.

• Treat UK/EU and non-EU students differently with regard to determining their ongoing academic standing.

• Construct and deploy systems of monitoring and surveillance such as biometric scanning systems and electronic signing-in mechanisms to single out non-EU students.

• Agree to monitor behaviours that may be unrelated to academic endeavour, and allow this data to be used by UKVI in determining the supposed legitimacy of non-EU students.

We note that UUK released a briefing document on 10 February regarding the House of Lords’ second reading of the immigration bill, in which UUK registers concern that landlords are required to check the immigration status of tenants. We urge UUK to go further and declare its rejection of the practices described above. We call on Universities UK, on behalf of member university vice-chancellors and principals, to oppose the discriminatory treatment of non-EU students in all forms and publicly affirm:

• That the quality of academic work should be the primary criterion for determining academic standing.

• That all students be treated equally regarding their attendance at classes, and that their right to privacy be respected, irrespective of their nationality.

• The right of universities to autonomy in making decisions on progression and retention of non-EU students.

Dr Maha Abdelrahman University of Cambridge
Dr Reem Abou-El-Fadl Durham University
Prof Gilbert Achcar SOAS, University of London
Dr Christine Achinger University of Warwick
Dr Sam Adelman University of Warwick
Prof Nadje Al-Ali SOAS, University of London
Dr Anne Alexander University of Cambridge
Dr Miranda Alison University of Warwick
Prof Louise Amoore Durham University
Dr Dibyesh Anand University of Westminster
Dr Rainer-Elk Anders Staffordshire University
Dr Walter Armbrust University of Oxford
Dr Andrew Asibong Birkbeck, University of London
Dr Sara Jane Bailes University of Sussex
Dr Oliver Bakewell University of Oxford
Dr Bahar Baser University of Warwick
Prof Les Back Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr Victoria Basham University of Exeter
Dr Alex Benchimol University of Glasgow
Dr Mette Louise Berg University of Oxford
Prof Gurminder Bhambra University of Warwick
Dr Claire Blencowe University of Warwick
Prof Elleke Boehmer University of Oxford
Dr Maud Bracke University of Glasgow
Dr Chris Browning University of Warwick
Dr Lorna Burns University of St Andrews
Prof Ray Bush University of Leeds
Dr Rosie Campbell Birbeck, University of London
Prof Bob S Carter University of Leicester
Prof Nickie Charles University of Warwick
Dr Chris Clarke University of Warwick
Dr Rachel Cohen City University of London
Prof Robin Cohen University of Oxford
Cole Collins University of Glasgow
Prof Christine Cooper University of Strathclyde
Prof Gordon Crawford University of Leeds
Dr Jonathan Davies University of Warwick
Dr Ipek Demir University of Leicester
Prof Thomas Docherty University of Warwick
Prof Toby Dodge LSE
Dr Renske Doorenspleet University of Warwick
Prof Costas Douzinas Birkbeck, University of London
Prof Elizabeth Dowler University of Warwick
Dr Franck Duvell University of Oxford
Jakub Eberle University of Kent
Dr Juanita Elias University of Warwick
Hannah El-Sisi University of Oxford
Safinaz El-Tarouty University of East Anglia
Prof David Epstein FRS University of Warwick
Dr Elizabeth Ewart University of Oxford
Ali Fathollah-Nejad SOAS, University of London
Dr Sara R Farris Goldsmiths, University of London
Prof Robert Fine University of Warwick
Tina Freyburg University of Warwick
Prof Bridget Fowler University of Glasgow
Prof Des Freedman Goldsmiths, University of London
Prof Matthew Fuller Goldsmiths, University of London
Dr Manuela Galetto University of Warwick
Paul Gilroy
Dr Jane Goldman University of Glasgow
Dr Priyamvada Gopal University of Cambridge
Dr Toni Haastrup University of Kent
Juliette Harkin University of East Anglia
Dr Sophie Harman Queen Mary, University of London
Dr Oz Hassan University of Warwick
Dr Charlotte Heath-Kelly University of Warwick
Prof John Holloway Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, Mexico
Prof John Holmwood University of Nottingham
Dr Michael Hrebeniak University of Cambridge
Dr Aggie Hurst City University of London
Marta Iñiguez de Heredia University of Cambridge
Prof Engin F Isin The Open University
Matt Jenkins University of Newcastle
Rev Dr Stuart B Jennings University of Warwick
Dr Hannah Jones University of Warwick
Dr Lee Jones Queen Mary, University of London
Salman Karim University of East Anglia
Prof Rebecca Kay University of Glasgow
Dženeta Karabegovic University of Warwick
Salman Karim University of East Anglia
Dr Sossie Kasbarian University of Lancaster
Dr Nitasha Kaul University of Westminster, London
Prof Rebecca Kay University of Glasgow
Dr Alexander Kazamias University of Coventry
Dr. John Keefe London Metropolitan University
Dr Dominic Kelly University of Warwick
Prof Laleh Khalili SOAS, University of London
Dr Paul Kirby University of Sussex
Dr Nicholas Kitchen LSE
Dr Maria Koinova University of Warwick
Dr Alexandra Kokoli Middlesex University
Dr Vassiliki Kolocotroni University of Glasgow
Dr Dennis Leech University of Warwick
Dr Samantha Lyle University of Oxford
Mr Paddy Lyons University of Glasgow
Dr William McEvoy University of Sussex
Dr Robert McLaughlan University of Newcastle
Prof Martin McQuillan Kingston University London
Dr Graeme MacDonald University of Warwick
Dr Alice Mah University of Warwick
Dr Maria do Mar Pereira University of Warwick
Prof Philip Marfleet University of East London
Dr Vicky Margree University of Brighton
Dr Robert Maslen University of Glasgow
Dr Lucy Mayblin University of Sheffield
Dr John Miller University of Sheffield
Dr David Mills University of Oxford
Dr Drew Milne University of Cambridge
Latoya Mistral Ferns University of Warwick and Durham University alumna
Sian Mitchell University of Warwick
Prof David Mond University of Warwick
Dr Liz Morrish Nottingham Trent University
Dr Pablo Mukherjee University of Warwick
Roberta Mulas University of Warwick
Dr Simon Murray University of Glasgow
Ghandy Najla University of East Anglia
Dr Michael Niblett University of Warwick
Dr Marijn Nieu University of Warwick
Dr Patrick O’Connor Nottingham Trent University
Prof Martin O’Shaughnessy Nottingham Trent University
Dr Goldie Osuri University of Warwick
Dr Ian Patterson Queens’ College, Cambridge
Prof Adam Piette University of Sheffield
Prof Alison Phipps University of Glasgow
Dr Loredana Polezzi University of Warwick
Dr Nicola Pratt University of Warwick
Dr Rupert Read University of East Anglia
Dr John Regan University of Cambridge
Dr James Riley Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Dr Stephen Ross University of Victoria, Canada
Dr Chris Rossdale City University of London
Prof Paul Routledge University of Leeds
Andrew Rubens University of Glasgow
Ali Saqer University of Warwick
Prof Derek Sayer Lancaster University
Prof Jan Aart Scholte University of Warwick
Dr Jason Scott-Warren University of Cambridge
Dr Robbie Shilliam Queen Mary University of London
Dr Nando Sigona University of Birmingham
Prof Melanie Simms University of Leicester
Dr Andrew Smith University of Glasgow
Dr Vicki Squire University of Warwick
Dr Samuel Solomon University of Sussex
Dr Nick Srnicek University College London
Maurice Stierl University of Warwick
Dr Mariz Tadros Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex
Dr Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor University of Leicester
Nick Taylor University of Warwick
Prof Olga Taxidou University of Edinburgh
Dr Andrea Teti University of Aberdeen
Lisa Tilley University of Warwick
Lauren Tooker University of Warwick
Prof Charles Tripp SOAS, University of London
Dr Mandy Turner University of Bradford/Kenyon Institute, Jerusalem
Dr Maria Villares Varela University of Oxford
Dr Vron Ware The Open University
Dr Dave Webber University of Warwick
Dr Polly Wilder University of Leeds
Dr Aaron Winter Abertay University
Dr Nicholas Wright University of East Anglia
Prof Patrick Wright King’s College London
Dr Yoke-Sum Wong Lancaster University

• As current students enrolled on a master’s in social work course, we feel strongly about some of the points in Martin Narey’s report Making the Education of Social Workers Consistently Effective (Society, 19 February). We believe that Narey seriously fails to appreciate the role of employers in social work training. Employers should have a statutory duty to provide placements and to facilitate an initial post-qualification year of continued assessment and support.

Practice is ever more dynamic and university staff cannot be expected to carry all of the responsibility for the end product. Partnership working should mean the best of both worlds – theoretical and ethical underpinning of effective, challenging practice. Several of us have extensive life experience and have spent some years at the frontline as social work assistants. We strongly disagree that raising Ucas points is the way to achieve consistency and effectiveness in newly qualified social workers. Investing in home-grown people such as ourselves who are committed to our localities and their services is a better path to take. Academically, we also challenge a report which relies so heavily on the anecdotal rather than the factual.
Karen Hodgson, Laurence Shonhiwa, Lauren Morgan and Jen Crooks
University of Worcester

• It is great to see the YouGov research commissioned by the Guardian into the value of higher education (Report, 26 February). Almost 60% of parents believe degrees are poor value for money, yet two-thirds of parents still think that the traditional full-time university model will benefit them in entering their chosen career path. We are regularly made aware of the high unemployment figure for graduates, so why do so many parents want their children to go down a path that will leave them in debt and with no guarantee of a job at the end of it? Puzzling, isn’t it? While it is encouraging to see that almost half of the parents surveyed said they were positive about apprenticeships, there is a still long way to go to promote the alternatives to university to parents, students and society. The National Apprenticeship Service has 17,000 apprenticeship roles available at any given time and they have found that up to 85% of apprentices stay in employment. It is for each individual to decide what career path they take but as a society we need to channel ambition and educate young people about all the ways in which they can reach their full potential.
Hattie Wrixon
Co-founder of unisnotforme.com 










Before the Bolshevik revolution my grandparents owned an estate in Ukraine, not far from Kiev. Everyone there spoke Russian and thought of themselves as Russians.

Like so many Russians, they often spent holidays in Crimea, where the only significant number of non-Russians were the indigenous Tartars and small populations of ethnic Greeks, Bulgarians, Germans and Romani. In the most recent census 77 per cent said Russian was their first language, 11 per cent Tartar and 10 per cent Ukrainian.

The only reason Crimea is currently part of Ukraine is that in 1954 Khrushchev transferred it for administrative convenience to the Ukraine region of the Soviet Union.

 The only fair and realistic solution to the present crisis is to hold a referendum and let the people of Crimea decide the future for themselves.  There’s not much doubt what the outcome would be.

John Landell Mills, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

While the politicians run around like headless chickens over the Ukraine-Russia-EU situation, they should take a look at a little piece of land sandwiched between Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea.

Like eastern Ukraine, it has a large Russian naval fleet, it has a predominantly Russian population, and its language is Russian. It is an exclave of Russia called Kaliningrad Oblast. Its railway system relies on co-operation with Polish Railways, and in particular with Lithuanian Railways, over whose tracks Kaliningrad’s trains have to pass to reach Russia. It works without threats of war.

If the people of eastern Ukraine want to be Russian, and the people of western Ukraine want to be allied to the EU and Nato, then let both halves of the country have what they want. Why force a war when 23 years of cohabitation in the Baltic States shows that it is possible for Russia and EU and Nato countries (all formerly under the control of the USSR) to live together?

Tony Olsson, Ilfracombe, North Devon

Before the British media start pontificating about sinister “masked men” seizing government buildings and darkening the utopian “new dawn” of the Kiev coup (“Masked men of the Crimea overshadow the country’s new dawn”, 28 February), they should recall that only a few days ago they cheered on the seizing of government buildings and the overthrow of an elected head of state – and managed to overlook the fact that some of those taking part in the revolution were armed, masked, and affiliated to neo–fascist groups.

Before our politicians start pontificating about restraint and international law, they should also recall the example they repeatedly set with brutal and illegal aggression against so many distant countries, from Iraq to Libya. It is western chickens, not Putin’s, that appear to be swooping in to roost in Ukraine and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

Peter McKenna, Liverpool

The price of a roof over your head

Concerning the rise in private rents (report, 27 February), I calculated some figures this week.

I started teaching in 1990. My gross pay was £15,000. My council rent was £9 a week, or something over £400 per year. A new colleague joined us this academic year. His gross pay is £27,000. His private rent is £200 per week, or £10,000 per year. Furthermore, my council rent stays in the local area, whereas my friend’s private rent ends up 6,000 miles away, in a now richer city.

Frank Jacobs, London E3

How to dry out the Somerset Levels

When looking for a cure for the Somerset Levels every winter, I think the so-called experts and politicians are mistaken to concentrate on dredging the Rivers Parrett and Tone.

These are half-empty for about half of each day and overfull for the other half. This is of course because they are tidal; in earlier centuries Langport was a busy seaport. They can dredge the waterways as much as they like but the rivers will continue to be full at high tides.

Therefore the “Thames Barrage Solution” is clearly the correct one. At its mouth the Parrett is about 600 metres wide, but there is also a new tidal bird sanctuary there and it might therefore make best sense to construct a barrage about three kilometres inland, where the river narrows to less than 200 metres.

Once the barrage is up, the Somerset Levels can drain into a river about five or more metres lower than at present. A single powerful pumping station at the dam can the lower the river even more if desired, and of course farther dredging would also be helpful. In summer the river could be kept full and this would aid groundwater levels during droughts (remember them?).

Professor R N Thompson, Blackford, Wedmore, Somerset

My medical history is not for sale

I am a retired geriatrician. I applaud the idea of my truly anonymised clinical data being used for medical and public health research.

Count me out, however, if the data is to be made available (for which read “sold”) to commercial organisations including private healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. If as seems likely the supposedly anonymised information can be back-referenced to me, who legally holds that information and is responsible for its use or misuse? My GP? The Department of Health?  NHS England? A big pharma company? A chain of private healthcare providers (perhaps when I hit 80 they’ll try to entice me into one of their lovely retirement homes)?

All in all, I think I’ll keep myself to myself.

Shame about the probable benefits to society of knowing about my anonymous frailties (broken down by age and sex of course) – but my medical history is not for sale. The NHS should already have the information but it is so incompetent it can’t set up a national IT system or a call centre that works. So what hope for Care.data?

Dr D J Walker FRCP, Henbury, Cheshire

Brazen greed in the school holidays

Many may share my recent experience in booking my family’s summer holiday. Because my daughter’s school is expanding its buildings she will be starting her summer holidays two weeks before all the other schools, and returning a week later. Thankfully, we had not done what we usually have to do and book our summer holiday a year in advance. This has enabled us to take our holiday one week later, saving us a staggering £995.

Everything is the same: airports, flight times and apartment. The only difference is the date we travel. We would not stand for any retailer hiking their prices at a time of high demand; your local supermarket does not increase its prices on a Saturday because that is a peak shopping period.

Mr Gove’s plan for schools to determine their own term schedules will just encourage tour operators to extend their peak periods.

I do not know what the answer is, but I know that we would not stand for any other service so brazenly increasing their prices.

Vicki Mangan, Liverpool

Rational discussion on paederasty

David Crawford (Letter, 28 February) reminds us of the Ancient Greek distinction between paedophilia (good) and paederasty (bad). But Socrates was happy to describe himself as a paederast, even though he probably never had sex with boys. The Athenians were much more capable of discussing such matters calmly and rationally than the British popular press.

George MacDonald Ross, Leeds

Ulster ‘get out  of jail’ letters

A large part of the start of the Irish troubles stemmed from the inequities in the way Catholics were disadvantaged as against Protestants.

It seems from the way the amnesties were only given out to republicans that neither Sinn Fein nor the British Government saw a problem in creating a secret deal to undermine equality of treatment under the law by only offering such “get out of jail free” letters to republicans.

That the deal was enacted by that slippery ferret Blair is probably less of a surprise.

Clive Tiney, York

Graeco-Scottish independence deal

The recent involvement of George Clooney, Boris Johnson and others in the debate regarding the true home of the Parthenon Marbles made me realise that this will all be resolved when Scotland votes for independence and the marbles can finally be moved to Elgin.

Ron Bird, Pinner, Middlesex

Scientists! What do they know?

I have read in much of the media recently that “The brains of older people only appear to slow down because they have so much information to compute, much like a full-up hard drive, scientists believe”. It certainly makes me feel better, as my brain has certainly slowed down, but it is reassuring to know that is because I know so much. Who am I kidding?

Barbara MacArthur (87), Cardiff







It is wrong to suppose that a “Yes” vote in the referendum would result in the dissolution of the United Kingdom

Sir, Professor Jeremy Waldron (letter, Feb 28) is wrong to suppose that a “Yes” vote in the independence referendum would result in the dissolution of the United Kingdom. All the legal opinion that I have read is clear that the secession of Scotland would leave the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland intact, albeit somewhat diminished in size and population. The continuing UK would be bound by all its current international treaties and obligations and could carry on using its current official name unless and until it decided otherwise — following the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 it was some years before Parliament formally replaced “Ireland” with “Northern Ireland” in the UK’s name.

The old Kingdom of Scotland ceased to be in 1707. Although Scotland exists for many purposes in UK domestic law, at present it has no legal personality in international law. If Scotland were to become independent in 2016 that would change, but the Scotland that emerged at that point would in legal terms be a wholly new entity, not a restoration of the pre-Act of Union state. This would no more affect the continued legal existence of the United Kingdom than would the secession of Yorkshire or Cornwall.

There appears to be no reason why the UK should not carry on using the Union Flag if it wanted, or why it should change the name of the BBC. The latter would still be the UK’s national public service broadcaster, although of course Scotland would expect to receive a fair share of its assets. Professor Waldron may be assured that none of this has anything to do with the “English bullying” he professes to dislike. It would simply be the natural consequence of the secession of just one part of an existing state for the purposes of forming a new state.

Ian Stevens
Leamington Spa, Warks

Sir, Why a need to change either our name or our flag if the Scots decide to secede? After all, names are names and not descriptions. As a wit once observed, the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Besides, England was itself once formed from the union of kingdoms, Mercia, Wessex, etc. And why change a jolly good and very familiar flag, the Union Jack? Flags serve decorative and, for the most part, vacuously symbolic purposes. If references are required, these may be purely historical. The civil and state ensigns of Mauritius display the dodo, a long defunct entity, and I see from the shirts of the Russian ice hockey players that Russia has now revived the Tsarist two-headed imperial eagle on its coat of arms, a design whose splendour was obviously considered to outweigh its current relevance.

David Houghton

Sir, To equate Northern Ireland with Ulster, as Carlton Christensen appears to do (letter, Feb 28), is not — notwithstanding common usage — strictly correct. The six counties of Northern Ireland are only part of the ancient province of Ulster. Its other three counties are in the Republic of Ireland. The split is the result of the partitioning of Ireland that occurred after the last, and only previous, secession from the Union in 1922, when the southern part of Ireland, as the Irish Free State, now the Republic, left it.

Tony Phillips
Chalfont St Giles, Bucks



The fall in the numbers of teen pregnancies is welcome – but it isn’t just due to the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy

Sir, The significant fall in the teenage pregnancy rate since 2008 is very welcome but Philip Collins’s suggestion (Opinion, Feb 26) that it can be attributed to the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy is difficult to reconcile with the evidence. The Strategy started in 1999, and despite hundreds of millions of pounds being spent for the first eight years of operation, there was very little noticeable effect on unwanted pregnancies. Indeed, by 2008, the under-16 abortion rate was higher than at the start of the Strategy.

The recent dramatic fall in underage pregnancy only started in 2008. It seems unlikely that measures such as access to emergency birth control (the morning-after pill) suddenly started being successful from that point. Indeed it is notable that the decrease, if anything, accelerated after the Strategy finished in 2010. Further, a wide range of research has established beyond reasonable doubt that easier access to emergency birth control has no effect in reducing teenage pregnancy or abortion rates.

Even more worryingly, recent research from the US and the UK suggests that the promotion of emergency birth control is associated with increases in rates of sexually transmitted infections.

The true reasons behind the recent decrease in teenage pregnancy rates are not well established but there are several possible candidates. These include increased use of long-acting reversible contraception (which has much lower failure rates than condoms or the pill), demographic change and fewer young people leaving school with no qualifications.

Even more intriguingly, over the same period we have also seen significant decreases in alcohol and drug use among young people, factors which are known to be associated with early sexual activity and pregnancy. Hopefully future research will shed light on the importance or otherwise of each of these factors.

Professor David Paton
Nottingham University Business School

It is right to remember the three Church of England clergymen who were awarded the VC during the First World War

Sir, The Rev Frank Parkinson is right to remind readers of three Church of England clergymen who were awarded the VC during the First World War (letter, Feb 28). However, it is worth pointing out that they received the awards for their heroism in performing their duties as chaplains, typically by making (sometimes repeated) forays to rescue wounded soldiers and to minister to them under heavy fire. In the hell of the battlefield they tried to save life, not to take it.

The Rev Dr Paul Hamlet
Ipswich, Suffolk


The project codenamed Window did deployed ‘chaff’ from aircraft to give the enemy a radar image of ‘false bombers’

Sir, The project codenamed Window did indeed successfully deploy “chaff” — aluminium-coated strips of paper — from aircraft to give the enemy a radar image of “false bombers”, as Ben Macintyre correctly states (Opinion, Feb 28). And 617 (“Dambuster”) squadron used it as a feint in this way in at least some of its raids. On the eve of D-Day, however, 617 was deployed in relays over the Channel to drop waves of chaff over a period of eight hours, timed to give the effect of a slow-moving convoy, several rows of ships deep, moving at seven knots, towards the Pas de Calais. Apparently it worked so well that for a while it confirmed Hitler’s obsession with the Pas as the most likely invasion site, and delayed vital deployments towards the Normandy beachhead.

The Rev Stephen Wilson
Faversham, Kent

Sir, Ben McIntyre’s mention of “chaff” reminded me that my mother, a primary school teacher, somehow acquired a whole box of rolls of “chaff” and used it to make Christmas decorations for the school hall for at least 20 years after the Second World War. The decorations had to be above head height because the edges of the tape were sharp enough to cut small fingers — as I found out to my cost when “helping” her in my early years.

Roger Bloxham
Crowborough, E Sussex


Norman Baker is to be applauded for his political courage as the present drugs anarchy causes squalor, crime and death

Sir, Norman Baker is to be applauded for his political courage (“Sell danger drugs on the high street, says minister”, Feb 28). The present drugs anarchy causes squalor, crime, damage to health, and death. It hits poor people the hardest. The social and economic costs of organised drug crime in England and Wales are estimated at £10.7 billion annually. New psychoactive substances, easily synthesised and cheaply produced, peddled on the internet, have added a new dimension of danger. Prohibition will never create a drugs-free world, and drug usage continues to increase and mutate. The safer course is legalisation of production and sale of selected drugs combined with strict regulation of quality and availability, decriminalisation of personal use of all drugs, taxation to discourage use, honest information and education to support people to make responsible choices, and appropriate treatment and support for problem drug users.

There are signs that public opinion is now more ready to accept reform, and the UN Secretary-General has called for an “open debate that considers all options” in advance of the UN Special Session on drugs in 2016. Other countries have been developing rational and humane policies. The prospect of reducing harm in Britain through such a strategy depends on the political parties agreeing to a concordat and refraining from exploiting the drugs issue for electoral purposes.

Lord Howarth of Newport
House of Lords





SIR – My favourite punning shop name was a hairdresser in Plymouth called Herr Kutz.

David Norsworthy
Saltash, Cornwall

SIR – Wright Hassall, a solicitors’ in Leamington Spa, Lock keepers, a canalside hairdresser in Stone and Bodgett and Scarper, builders in Nottingham.

Chris Myatt
Stone, Staffordshire

SIR – Dolittle and Dally is an estate agent’s in Kidderminster.

Dr A V Parke
Berrynarbor, Devon

SIR – While walking down a street in l’Opera district of Paris, I was tickled to see a small bakery called Au Plaisir du Pain.

Keith Macpherson
Houston, Renfrewshire

SIR – Often parked near here is a painter’s van which bears the legend: “Patel and Co., painters and decorators – You’ve tried the cowboys, now try the Indians.”

Dr G P Cubbin
Bolton, Lancashire

SIR – In Germany, I noticed a florist called Blumen Eck.

Albert Edward Short
Blackpool, Lancashire

SIR – Over 60 years ago a butcher in the east of Glasgow had a window-sign which read: “Always pleased to meet you – always meat to please you.’

Allan MacIntyre
East Kilbride, Lanarkshire

SIR – I have seen several ladies’ hairdressers called “Curl up and Dye”.

Bill Wilson

SIR – Auckland, New Zealand has a Chinese Restaurant called Luv-a-Duck.

Jan Rae
Witney, Oxfordshire


SIR – Michael Gove, the education secretary, can’t be criticised for trying to raise standards in all schools.

However the Coalition is failing to tackle the far greater problem of children coming into the education system with poor language and social skills as a result of negligent parenting.

Nick Alford
Ruislip, Middlesex

SIR – You rightly highlight the important work Michael Gove is carrying out at the Department for Education and how low the standard of education in this country sank under Labour.

But rather than stopping at opening more academies and free schools, one way really to make state schools indistinguishable from private schools would be to privatise them all. Parents would be allowed a voucher for each child equivalent to the amount the state is spending and would then be free to shop around, topping the voucher up if they wished their children to attend a more expensive school. Competition would drive swift improvement and restore our country to its position in world rankings.

Tim Coles
Carlton, Bedfordshire

SIR – I fail to see how more academies, entrance lotteries, highly paid managers or even improved Ofsted ratings can help. It is more important to improve the quality of learning in the classroom.

David Cooper
Rossendale, Lancashire

Ukraine crisis

SIR – American interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine has played a large part in bringing it to the verge of civil war.

But the EU has spent 20 years trying to prise Ukraine away from Moscow’s orbit, and the net result is political catastrophe. Russian hard cash will probably be the only solution to paying Ukraine’s debts, accompanied by sanctimonious wailing from EU politicians. This will be a major political defeat for EU apologists, including the Prime Minister.

Timothy Stroud
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – Of course we all dislike repressive governments and would rather they quietly expired. But if the cost of getting rid of them is to plunge their societies into prolonged violence, economic collapse and political chaos, it is clearly too high.

Ukraine is embarked on an uncertain path but if it unravels it will not be forgotten that it was on the back of a quick-fix deal thrust on the government and the liberal opposition by EU enforcers. Ukraine, God help us, is now an EU problem. Vladimir Putin understands that reality trumps moral imperialism.

Brian Pottinger
Launceston, Cornwall

Solicitors’ fees

SIR – The comparison between the fee paid to a locum doctor and the hourly rate charged by a solicitor is misleading. The doctor’s fee is akin to a salary in that the recipient does not have to meet administrative expenses out of it, as those costs have already been borne by the NHS. In contrast, the solicitor has to account for those costs as a self-employed business, including insurance, secretarial support and materials, office space, professional fees and training.

In the last year, approximately 1,000 solicitors’ practices have been forced to close due to financial pressures, whilst the criminal Bar is in crisis through lack of legal-aid funding.

Tim Wallis
Newbury, Berkshire

Clever King Charleses

SIR – Jasper Copping’s remarks about the intelligence of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are rather unfair. He has clearly never owned one.

I have a 16-month-old who is extremely responsive to training, good at agility and behaviour classes and who doesn’t miss a trick at home. In 50 years of dog ownership, he is the most intelligent dog I have owned.

Kate Robinson
Dornoch, Sutherland

Pirates ahoy!

SIR – I was disappointed to read that the film Captain Phillips faces claims that it exaggerated the heroism of the eponymous captain (report, February 23). I was also once the captain of a container ship and the victim of a pirate attack. Every action portrayed by Tom Hanks was nothing less than would have been expected of any British or American sea captain faced with a similar situation.

A captain is expected to put his ship, his crew and (perversely) the pirates before his own safety, and that is what Captain Phillips did in the film.

Capt Peter J Newton
Chellaston, Derbyshire

Advertising is central to British business

SIR – The Advertising Association is indebted to Helen Goodman MP just as we are to Ed Vaizey MP, Sir Nick Harvey MP and everyone else who spoke at our recent summit.

We are also grateful to Sir Martin Sorrell for pointing out in these pages (Business, February 16) that advertising works for people, for business and boosts UK competitiveness. Ms Goodman also noted the sector’s economic contribution of £10 billion gross value added and £2 billion exports together with safeguards to the public via the Advertising Standards Authority.

Ms Goodman is right to suggest that advertising leaders must stay in touch with the world and its politics to protect their regulatory stability and freedom to compete. Sir Martin is also right that the default position for policy-makers should be to support the advertising sector and to preserve its independent self-regulation.

Tim Lefroy
Chief Executive
Advertising Association
London SW1

Slavery compensation

SIR – It is unseemly for someone to require compensation on behalf of the suffering of people who died long before the claimant was born.

Those white people who feel the need to link themselves in chains and apologise for the sins of their fathers regarding slavery, are more than likely descendants of people who never employed a slave but found themselves up chimneys or down coal mines at an age when they would now be attending primary school. We should acknowledge past wrongs, keep calm and carry on.

Mervyn Jackson
Belper, Derbyshire

Mustard moustache

SIR – Chris Harding says that kissing a man without a beard is like eating an egg without salt.

My mother’s expression (having been married to a mustachioed military gent for many a year) was “kissing a man without a moustache is like eating ham without mustard”.

Penny White

SIR – I have often wondered if the weekly and fortnightly shavers, with their so-called designer stubble, also bathe with the same lack of frequency.

Ted Shorter
Hildenborough, Kent

SIR – Russia’s Peter the Great had the best view on beards: he put a tax on them.

Christopher Egerton-Thomas
Hove, East Sussex



SIR – As a campaigner who has spent the last 13 years raising awareness about the risks of flooding, I have written to the Prime Minister to ask him what lessons have been learned from the recent floods. These were not a “one off” – the last decade has seen several big floods and each one seems to have been worse.

Despite the economic climate, the Government must invest more in flood risk management. Not just in hard engineered defences, but in natural methods such as reforestation – the opposite of cutting down vast swathes of historic forest in favour of housing developments, as promoted by the Environment Secretary in December.

We must stop building on flood plains. If we have to build on them, we must insist that developers build houses that are resilient to flooding, making use of sustainable urban drainage, green roofs and grey water recycling. Urban flooding is on the increase because we’ve concreted over too much of the country. We should insist that local authorities, developers and individual householders use permeable paving. We must work with nature, not against it.

Mary Dhonau

SIR – Christopher Booker’s comments (“How the flooding of Somerset was deliberately engineered”, Opinion, February 23) were misleading.

Southlake Moor is flooded annually by the Internal Drainage Board as part of a locally agreed flood management plan, regardless of the long-term weather forecast. The landowners are in agreement and receive a payment from Natural England.

Dredging will soon take place on five miles of river channel where the Tone and Parrett meet at Burrowbridge. This is a key stretch of the river that has been specifically identified as suitable for dredging. I

In addition, we are currently carrying out the single largest pumping operation ever in Somerset. Our pumps are working 24 hours a day to drain an estimated 90 million tons of floodwater.

Since the start of December 2013 England has seen extreme weather, the wettest winter since records began and exceptionally high groundwater and river levels. In Somerset, around 100 properties have flooded but our defences have protected more than 3,500. Nationally 1.4 million properties have been protected.

Richard Cresswell
South West Director, Environment Agency
London SW1

SIR –Tom Chivers asks “whether a wider consensus on the reality of man-made climate change will translate to any changes in policy”, following the flooding.

Even if climate change is “man-made”, nothing that Britain does to reduce carbon emissions will make a jot of difference. Thus, there is no justification for any of the green taxes which Labour imposed and which the present administration has maintained so steadfastly.

John Waine
Nuneaton, Warwickshire

SIR – Research conducted by McCright and Dunlap in 2011 suggests that climate sceptics are likely to be older, male and politically conservative. This dovetails with recent research from Yale University, which links risk perception with political allegiance. It is a mistake to make a direct link between global warming and the short-term floods in Britain, the polar vortex in America, or the extreme heat in Melbourne. But there is a longer-term trend, and it is supported by data. There is a very strong consensus among scientists about climate change.

Adrian Baskerville
Soberton, Hampshire

SIR – Some people are demanding that the Government should be sued for flood compensation. Surely it should be the individuals responsible: members of the last government, of the Environment Agency, civil service or the RSPB, WWF and others who promoted the abandonment of areas to flooding. In other professions, personal indemnity insurance is required – why not in this case?

Prof Michael Jefferson
Melchbourne, Bedfordshire


Irish Times:



Sir, – Fionnuala Walsh’s suggestion (February 27th) that colour coding the cable ties used to affix political posters to utility poles might lead to naming and shaming candidates into removing them post election is an excellent idea. However, it relies on the unproven assumption that all political candidates have the capacity to feel shame and respond to moral pressure.

On the other hand, there is overwhelming proof they are responsive in the matter of “recovering” expenses. I suggest all cable ties be candidate coded and supplied by the local authority; that they be sold to candidates for one euro each; that this be refunded, less a product and handling fee, when they are taken down and returned.

The candidates’ accounts would be charged €10 for any cable tie – or poster – not removed within four weeks. Any remaining expenses incurred by the local authority could be recovered by a direct deduction from taxpayers’ subventions to the party leader’s allowance – we have positive proof that candidates respond to the power of the whip and that party leaders have little hesitation in using them when they feel the pinch. – Yours, etc,


Moyclare Close,

Baldoyle, Dublin 13.

Sir, – Barry Colfer (February 28th) suggests I report those in breach of poster legislation to the local authority or litter warden. I had to laugh. The upcoming election is for the local authority and what litter warden would cross those likely to be his bosses? He then suggest the easy solution of looking away – I had to laugh even more. Sure any time there’s an election here as soon as you turn around there’s another poster glaring at you (or if you’re really unlucky the candidates themselves!). – Yours, etc,


Harrisons Place,


Sir, – With the impending waiting lists likely if the Minister for Health’s GP proposals are to be believed, I wonder what use will be free GP care when there is no GP appointments?

The only performing part of the health sector (interestingly also, the only part outside HSE control) is about to drown. – Yours, etc,



Co Limerick.

Sir, – The best workplaces supplement in The Irish Times (February 27th) made for wonderful and positive reading. Its shows the way forward to industry, the direction that companies need to go to become great employers. I was delighted to see the way employers are valuing their employees through trust, respect, fairness and consultation. This in turn feeds back from employees into the company, making them great places to work.

I was surprised however, to note that there was little reference to mediation in the workplace. Companies are like families; and like any family, disputes are bound to break out. Having a disputes resolution system in place would be high on the list of priorities of any manager or HR department, I would have thought.

Perhaps if the Mediation Bill were published, it would make alternative dispute resolution more mainstream in Irish business. Please, Minister? – Yours, etc,


Coomhola, Bantry,

Co Cork.




Sir, – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin must be congratulated for his release of the findings of the recent survey on the family (Home News, February 28th).

Earlier in the month a spokesperson for the Irish bishops stated, “Any release of the Synod findings would undermine the integrity of the information collecting process if there was to be a comment from the Irish bishops.”

The bishops of England and Wales also refused to release their findings stating “according to the wishes of the Holy See the summary of the findings is confidential”.

We now have a record to be proud of. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is the only bishop in Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland who had the courage to ignore “the wishes of the Holy See” and to publish the results and maybe be damned for it.

However, with Pope Francis advocating more openness in the Catholic Church, Archbishop Martin is more in tune with the thinking of this Pope than the rest of his bishop colleagues who, hiding behind the highly-spun fig leaf of “Holy See wishes” refuse to exercise their Episcopal autonomy. – Yours, etc,


The Moorings,


Sir, – There appears to be a fundamental inaccuracy with respect to the legal analysis in Cadhla Ní Frithile’s letter (“Homeless crisis as temperature drops”, February 14th) in which Ms Ní Frithile laments the plight of a homeless man who finds himself on the streets of Dublin “caught in a trap of injustice”.

The injustice stems from the fact that the homeless man must produce two nights’ hostel accommodation receipts in order to receive welfare payments. I have no doubt what Ms Ní Frithile says is correct, and unjust.

But Ms Ní Frithile then argues Bunreacht na hÉireann states, quoting Article 45, that “justice and charity shall inform all institutions of the national life” and that the Minister for Social Protection would be “in clear breach of the Constitution” were she not to remedy the aforementioned injustice.

What is omitted, however, is the preceding qualifying statement to Article 45, which reads as follows: “The principles of social policy set forth in this Article are intended for the general guidance of the Oireachtas. The application of those principles in the making of laws shall be the care of the Oireachtas exclusively, and shall not be cognisable by any Court under any of the provisions of this Constitution.”

As such, it is clear that one cannot be in breach of Article 45, as it is simply not possible: neither Ms Ní Frithile, nor the unfortunate homeless man, could successfully mount a claim arguing the Minister transgressed Article 45.

For better or worse, it is for our elected representatives to decide what “justice and charity” entails, whenever the distribution of resources is concerned; it is for the courts to determine the citizens’ respective rights and liabilities. Such is the nature of our constitutional scaffolding. – Yours, etc,


Crosthwaite Park East,

Dún Laoghaire,



Sir, – So Dublin City Council is banning the use of power tools – jackhammers and concrete saws – by construction and utility maintenance workers in historic parts of Dublin city (Olivia Kelly, Home News, February 25th). A commendable idea. Any chance they might send a spare copy of the rules down to their country cousins in Kildare County Council? – Yours etc,


Dublin Road,

Leixlip, Co Kildare.


Sir, – The outstanding moment of the recent documentary on Irish aviation (RTÉ1) was when a contributor described how the late Brendan O’Regan, on being commissioned to run an operation in Shannon, was so embarrassed at the size of his salary that he gave some of it back! God rest Brendan. Those were the days! – Yours, etc,


Stradbally North,

Clarinbridge, Co Galway.



A chara, – I must agree with most of what John B Reid writes. He refers to the “cringe factor” of playing only Ireland’s Call at Ireland’s away matches.

However, his suggestion that both this and Amhrán na bhFiann should be played simply does not go far enough. The national anthem of Ireland is Amhrán na bhFiann and not any other little ditty.

Our national rugby team is in danger of losing its proud identity completely. The historic name of Lansdowne Road has been replaced by the name of an insurance company and our national flag appears to have morphed into a mobile phone advertisement. – Is mise,


Mc Dowell Avenue,


Dublin 8.

Sir, – John B Reid (February 28th) highlights the political difficulty of agreeing a suitable anthem for the Irish rugby team.  This was compounded in their last encounter by the English persisting in the use of the British national anthem, the words of which are possibly more familiar to some 20 per cent of the Irish supporters than the words of the anthem of the Republic.  I cannot understand this English persistence.  We have a wealth of great national music on this side of the Irish Sea (by Elgar, Holst and Parry to name but a few), and it really is time to remind our opponents that the Devil has all the best tunes!  – Yours, etc,


Merton Road,



Oxon, England.



A chara, – Irish has been described as a functionally useless language (Eanna Coffey, February 25th). This may come as a surprise to the 200 Irish speakers of An Ghaeltacht-sur-Seine here in Paris.

The Irish are remarkable among “English speakers” on mainland Europe in their appreciation for and willingness to learn other functionally challenged local languages such as French, German and Spanish. A great many from other English-speaking countries are notorious for keeping to English-speaking circles and expecting the locals to speak English.

Not so the Irish, and particularly those who can speak some Irish. They have great respect for other people’s languages, plus a willingness and ability to learn them. This comes from first having respect for their own language.

This is not only useful, it also creates enormous goodwill towards the Irish and Ireland, and dare I say it, could perhaps be considered functional! – Is mise,



An Ghaeltacht-sur-Seine

(Conradh na Gaeilge, Paris


Rue Gaston Paymal,




Irish Independent:

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is as earnest and committed an individual as whoever has put their back into shovelling us out of the debt doo-doo with which we have been swamped.

Also in this section

Letters: Reality is in rag order

Letters: It is in all of our interests to work for peace

Rural post offices are community’s lifeblood

I like Enda, how could you not like him: he is a stand-up guy, he bit off more than a herd of hungry elephants could chew when he first got his teeth into the task of being Taoiseach at a time when the country was banjaxed by a combination of the FFers, and the ‘kill the patient if necessary to pay for the cure’ tactics adopted by the troika.

Well, they said it couldn’t be done. They said we’d be swallowed up in a tsunami of toxic debt and the vultures and vampires of Wall Street and Frankfurt would feast on our collective carcass.

Enda, Michael Noonan, Leo and Richard and the rest of the Fine Gael frontbench, to their credit, have held this diabolical assault at bay for the moment.

Of course, the sacrifices of the ordinary man or woman who has borne the real whiplash of austerity, who is now almost senseless after seven years of cuts and flailing, do not feature in the script. The toll taken on Joe Public does not show on the record.

As I said, I like Enda – yesterday I heard him tell Aine Lawlor he would be flattered but nonetheless adamant that he would decline the job of EU president.

Sound man. He said he would not turn his back on the Irish people. Steady on, Enda, I cautioned. You see, he is going all-out for a second term to finish the gig.

Well my point to Enda is this: the people who voted for you have given everything they have. What they now require of you is to go to Europe, not as EU president accepting a token trophy for saving Europe’s banks, but as the leader of a people who will not be cowed.

Brussels promised retrospective action on the bank debt. Enda, you must now go and make good on that deal.

When you return triumphantly with such a prize, I guarantee you will get your second term.

You will become that rare thing in Irish politics: a man who has delivered.




* At the weekend, the general viewing public were treated to a vision of the economic future of Ireland by none other than Michael Noonan, Minister for Finance. There was good and welcome news with NAMA managing to sell a large section of state assets at what some property experts believe is the bottom of our property crash, but we need to get moolah in so some credit is probably due to that somewhat secretive organisation.

One very worrying aspect of Mr Noonan’s speech, however, was that he expressed a personal desire to see a third bank in the Irish economy to promote competition. The promotion of competition is an unarguable point and Mr Noonan deserves credit for this hypothesis. One glaring misnomer, however, is that the last time I was in one of my local towns I happened to see the following names over buildings that had holes in their walls for ATMs – Allied Irish Banks, Ulster Bank, Bank of Ireland and PTSB.

Although a degree in finance or economics from Trinity, or any other third degree institution, escaped my errant youth, I did happen to go to an excellent local and rural national school. There I learnt a little bit of counting and the relationship between numbers, or mathematics as it is called, was bestowed upon my then childish intellect.

Now, maybe my teacher was wrong but it seems to me that there are currently four main banks in Ireland. And again I may be wrong but I was taught that two is not four. Then again I learnt the repetitive nature of history as well, so can one surmise that we will be treated to another late-night session of Dail Eireann to “save” two of the four banks and will the mortgage books then be offered en masse to vulture funds?




* Regarding buildings constructed with defects during the boom, there is not as yet any mechanism to prevent further Priory Hall debacles.

The practice in Ireland of granting Fire Safety Certificates in response to plans, supporting paperwork and a fee being supplied to a building control authority means that the certificate is granted before any construction has even begun, and quite without any verification during the build that the plans are implemented partially or fully.

Surely logic and safety demand that the Fire Safety Certification should only be issued following careful checks of the completed construction?

To allow such a dangerous loophole to unscrupulous developers and builders is to lead some into temptation to the endangerment of others.

Surely our legislators can block this loophole?




* No man had more influence in shaping our civilisation than Socrates. He was a stonemason who lived nearly five centuries before Christ. He fought as a foot soldier in two wars.

In the 5th Century BC, he believed in the One God, and he died for that belief. Because of his technique of questioning all the things that the Athenian society of the time took for granted, he was likened to a gadfly stinging a horse.

It got to the point where the ruling party could stand him no longer, and hauled him into court on trumped-up charges of blasphemy, denying and insulting the gods. Socrates was condemned to death by poisoning. He chose to take the cup of hemlock from his jailer and drank it.

Socrates obviously had faith. Was his faith essentially the same as mine? If not, why not? There is only one heaven. As knowledge advances, understanding deepens, and one’s faith grows accordingly. Moral teaching has to have the capacity to deal with the moral problems of today, without being hidebound by former precedent. Remember the Lord’s parable, warning against putting new wine in old wineskins.




* Recent events have demonstrated to the world potential dangers and ramifications of weakness in domestic politics and international relations. The simple fact of the matter is that sometimes nice guys really do finish last and, when you are dealing with issues of security and stability, they usually do more harm than good.

Weakness can damage immensely a state’s ability to do anything on the international stage, too. One need only look at the situation with regard to Britain and Syria. The vote in the Westminster Parliament against military intervention left Britain with no real leverage to deal with a man like Assad.

The current crisis in Ukraine will be the ultimate test for the West. If it chooses the non-violent route or indeed reneges on its defence commitments to Ukraine as outlined in a 1994 treaty, not only would it be a massive coup for the Russians, but it could also fundamentally undermine Western nations militarily, since if they won’t fight then why spend money on the military, and also diplomatically, as reneging would destroy the credibility needed to forge any agreements of any nature. We would be left with toothless lions and clawless eagles to defend us.

The sad fact is that, sometimes, we needed to forgo speaking softly and instead wield the big stick. Playing hardball is, from time to time, the only way to do things.



Irish Independent




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