Book group

4 March  2014 Bookgroup
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to dpick up the Admirals after an exercise. Priceless
Cold slightly better but muddle through Mary goes to her bookgroup.
No Scrabble today

Obituary:

Henry Rollin, who has died aged 102, was an enlightened psychiatrist and champion of Britain’s asylums, which he helped transform from custodial institutions to therapeutic hospitals; during the war he served in the RAF and was required to distinguish between airmen suffering from mental illness and those suspected of cowardice.
At Horton Hospital in Surrey, where he was deputy superintendent from 1948, Rollin set out new therapies for his patients to replace the enforced idleness prevalent in turn-of-the-century care. Wards were redesigned on an open plan and railings removed. Intensely fond of music and theatre himself, Rollin instituted dance classes, inviting musicians and actors from outside to participate. He set up the hospital’s first outpatient clinic, and organised an active schedule of trips and sporting events for those who would otherwise have been confined. Under his leadership, Horton became the leading hospital in the country for music therapy.
Rollin was also a staunch critic of “care in the community”, as set out by Enoch Powell in 1961, frequently pointing out that the community “did not care”. While the then health minister painted a vividly gloomy picture of the era’s mental institutions, understaffed and run according to outdated ideals, Rollin saw a system in need of improvement and expansion, not widespread closure; the alternative facilities struck him as largely unworkable. By the end of the 1960s many of the beds at Horton had been lost, and Rollin left the NHS for a consultant forensic psychiatrist position with the Home Office in 1976.
Not that Rollin regarded the prevailing wisdom of the psychiatric community and its institutions as unassailable. He felt deep regret over many procedures that were accepted practice during his years at Horton, such as the prefrontal leucotomy – the severing of connections between the prefrontal cortex and the rest of the brain, which often caused a chronic lack of inhibition in patients. The first psychoactive drugs, such as chlorpromazine, had alarming side effects; and he regarded the emerging fashion for Freudian psychoanalysis with suspicion, identifying in some of its proponents a “religious reverence” at odds with his own highly theoretical and practical frame of mind.
Above all, however, he had no patience for the authorities who devoted scant attention and slender resources to the provision of mental health services, while attempts at reorganisation proved fraught. “Doctors and their patients, may I remind them, are not packets of soap-flakes that can be moved from one shelf to the next shelf or from one shop to the next shop with impunity,” he wrote, to the British Medical Journal . “Do I sound disenchanted, disillusioned, or even a trifle paranoid? I am. I bloody well am.”

Henry Rapoport Rollin was born in Glasgow on November 17 1911. His father, a cabinet-maker from Lithuania and trade union leader who spoke four languages, instilled in Henry a lifelong enthusiasm for books and reading. The boy spent his formative years in Leeds and, at the encouragement of his family, studied Medicine at Leeds University, qualifying for clinical work in 1935. It was not a happy experience, and things did not improve with his first position, as a house surgeon for Oldham Royal Infirmary . To escape he enlisted as a ship’s doctor, and in June 1938 sailed to Japan and back on board the MV Memnon.
Still lacking direction after his return, he applied to become an assistant medical officer to the LCC mental health service, where he discovered psychiatry. He wrote his MD thesis on Down’s syndrome, studied psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital and published his first paper in the Journal of Mental Science (precursor to the British Journal of Psychiatry) in 1941.
After acquiring his diploma in Psychological Medicine he joined the RAF as a squadron leader, later rising to wing commander. Before long he was recruited to the team headed by Air Commodore RD Gillespie, one of country’s most eminent neuropsychiatrists, and posted to a WAAF depot with the task of eliminating recruits likely to break down under the stress of training. Later he was transferred to RAF medical headquarters in London, where he had the “agonising” job of distinguishing between genuine mental illness and “lack of moral fibre” among the patients.

Upon his discharge from the RAF he was posted briefly to Cane Hill Hospital, Surrey, where he completed his MD, before taking up the deputy superintendent post at Horton. A 1953 Fulbright fellowship to study psychoanalysis in the United States provided him with invaluable insight into the patient-led model of care, but confirmed his scepticism of the psychoanalyst’s prominence in treatment at the time.
Following his retirement from the NHS, Rollin was swiftly approached by the Home Office to work as a consultant forensic psychiatrist, a position he held for the next 10 years. He also served on numerous mental health tribunals, becoming only the second member of the Parole Board to hold a psychiatric qualification after its establishment by Roy Jenkins under the 1967 Criminal Justice Act.
In the same period he was the sessional psychiatrist at Brixton prison, where he became an authority on mentally abnormal offenders, once fending off attack from a former boxing champion whom he had been trying to assess. Though a skilled boxer himself in his youth, Rollin was able to defuse the situation without recourse to violence. His interest in the field resulted in a Gwilym Gibbon research fellowship at Nuffield College, Oxford, with Professor Nigel Walker.
Rollin was elected a member of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1976 and a Fellow in 1983.
The author of three books and some 50 editorials in the British Medical Journal, he was also obituaries editor for the British Journal of Psychiatry until the year of his death. Throughout the 1970s he was a regular contributor to the now-defunct World Medicine, then one of the mostly widely read publications of its kind.
Rollin was a leading figure in the fundraising necessary to elevate the Royal Medico-Psychological Association to Royal College status and in the purchase of the college’s first home at 17 Belgrave Square. He built up the library there while serving on many committees and as Librarian for 10 years. Another of his roles was to lead study tours to Denmark, France, Italy and Mexico. A foundation Fellow, on his retirement he was elected to Honorary Fellowship, the College’s highest honour.
Shortly before his departure from the NHS, Rollin had, by his own account, “a late flowering” when he met Anna-Maria Tihanyi, a medical student who became a prominent consultant anaesthetist. They married in 1973 and had three children.
He continued to enjoy opera and theatre in London, followed by a salt beef sandwich, into his final year.
Henry Rollin, born November 17 1911, died February 6 2014

Guardian:

As the one responsible for the statistic that just 11 people have been killed by earthquakes in Britain, I should point out that it is not the case that these died “mainly from falling masonry” (Shelves shaken and cats stirred as south-west hit by earthquake, 21 February). Four did, including two doubtful cases. Two have been killed by falling rock in mines or quarries, two by falling down and three from heart failure. However, we have no figures for the numbers killed by medieval earthquakes, discounting some reports now known to be spurious. The most curious case is that of Mary Saunders, who was so depressed after the Colchester earthquake of 1884 that she drowned herself in the river Stour a few days later.
Roger Musson
Edinburgh
•  Great to know that Catherine Samba-Panza, the new interim leader of crisis-ridden Central African Republic, wears red nail varnish (The woman with just one year to address the woes of a failed state, 3 March). What brand of cologne does Robert Mugabe wear?
Alexandra Cosgrave
London
• All is revealed (Eyewitness: Luzón, Spain, 3 March)! The Devil does not wear Prada – he wears trainers.
Tony O’Sullivan
Canterbury
• The first brimstone butterfly of the year (Letters, 28 February)? I just saw the first fire ant. The weather is obviously going to hell in a handcart…
Barry Ramshaw
Bristol
•  I thought we might have exhausted the myriad unspeakable abuses of beetroot, but then your Cook section (1 March) not only offers me beetroot and blueberry pancakes but suggests I eat them for breakfast. As anyone from north of Newport Pagnell can tell you, beetroot belongs in vinegar, in a jar. All else is madness. Please could the nation’s chefs find a new hobbyhorse to ride and/or eat.
Root Cartwright
Radlett, Hertfordshire
•  My Poo kept falling out of bed (different teddy bear, different spelling). However, the joke began to pall, so as children we were instructed to go to the toilet to do big jobs. Now that could work: the Big Jobs party (Letters, 3 March).
Jacky Miles
Diss, Norfolk
I read with increasing queasiness the story of Mark Wood, an employment and support allowance (ESA) claimant with mental health problems, whose death by starvation was largely attributable to the Atos assessment of his being fit for work and the subsequent stopping of his sickness benefits (Vulnerable man starved to death after cut to benefits, 1 March).
Years after the Holocaust, ordinary German citizens were called upon by the younger generation to justify themselves: Surely you knew what was going on? Why didn’t you put a stop to it?
I hope I may crave an indulgence to use your paper to put on public record that I was one of those opposed to this government’s policy of abscission against the vulnerable. I submitted to the Harrington reviews on ESA and its assessment processes. I inveighed against the callous manipulation of public attitudes against claimants by the popular press that has driven many people to turn a blind eye to the real agenda. And it is in vain that I now look towards other political parties to protect the weak, when they so obviously realise that the propaganda battle has been lost.
The benefits system has failed those that have most needed help for decades, but it has not until now sought to eradicate them entirely.
Simon Wagener
Wallasey, Merseyside
•  Your article quotes a DWP spokesman stating: “A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough assessment and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist”. But the DWP does not itself request medical documentation, and it is up to the ESA claimants to produce it. Reasons for claimants not doing this include them assuming the DWP has requested medical records, claimants not realising the importance of such records, and disability such as depression or psychosis resulting in default.
Assessors rely on claimants to say what their medical illnesses are, but claimants sometimes give the wrong diagnoses and often don’t understand the complexity of their illnesses. Although Atos assessors fill in a “medical report form”, Atos nurses and physiotherapists far outnumber medical practitioners. Even when hospital records are obtained, the nurse/physiotherapist may not understand important details eg that an eGFR of 17 means that renal function is severely impaired. Without medical records, the Atos medical practitioner assessors also make decisions having woefully inadequate information. On appeal to first-tier tribunals, a significant proportion of sessions are adjourned to get medical evidence covering several years. A “thorough assessment” it is habitually not.
Morris Bernadt
London
•  Following the death of Mark Wood, who starved to death after his benefits were withdrawn, it is surely time for a citizen’s arrest campaign targeting Iain Duncan Smith. The death of Mr Wood, who was disabled, follows the call for a woman in a coma to attend job training, and cuts to benefits after letters were sent to a blind man that he could not read. The responsibility for these appalling infringements of basic human rights lies squarely with the minister who designed and implemented the system. Could legal experts please advise on the case for charging him with manslaughter? I would be happy to place a hand on his shoulder.
Nicola Grove
Horningsham, Wiltshire
•  Our twin 41-year-old sons, who have learning difficulties, epilepsy and other problems, have just been informed that they will have to reapply for their welfare benefits through a process conducted on behalf of the coalition government by the French-owned private company Atos.
Dr Giles Youngs, who wrote a letter to the Guardian (19 February) about his recent resignation as a medical assessor for Atos, in which he referred to “unrealistic criteria, set by the DWP, for a claimant being awarded employment and support allowance”, is absolutely right in expressing his concerns that people with disabilities are unlikely to be given even a job interview, never mind a job. Despite the Disability Discrimination Act, discrimination still continues, eg in February 1999 we arranged for one of our sons to meet the North Wales personnel manager of the Benefits Agency, requesting that he give our son work experience in its Wrexham office. At the interview the manager said that although they had given work experience to physically disabled people, they had never done so for a person with a learning disability. We heard no more from him.
What confidence, if any, should all disability welfare claimants now have of the work capability assessment in light of Dr Youngs’ revealing and damning indictment of both Atos and the DWP?
Ken and Mary Mack
(72-year-old unpaid carers), Wrexham
•  We are beginning to see the results of several years of campaigning against unjust welfare reforms that target disabled people. But Atos attempting to pull out of its contract (Report, 22 February) represents only a partial victory. Other private corporations are already lining up to take over. So long as the work capability assessment (WCA) regime continues, so will the misery it causes to disabled people and their families, and to the workers involved in implementing a system they don’t agree with.
The WCA should be replaced immediately with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to disabled people or those with chronic health issues or terminal illnesses. The UK government and opposition should follow the Scottish government’s pledge that private for-profit companies are removed entirely from having anything to do with the assessment of disabled people. This area of public policy belongs firmly within the NHS and the public sector.
The PIP contract must be removed from Atos with immediate effect: targets in its handling of the WCA have affected thousands of disabled people, leading to hastened deaths, waits of up to a year, and leaving people without income or food.
Linda Burnip Co-founder, Disabled People Against Cuts
Tracey Lazard CEO, Inclusion London
John McArdle Co-founder, Black Triangle
Mark Serwotka General secretary, PCS Union
Frances O’Grady General secretary, TUC
John McDonnell MP
Len McCluskey General secretary, Unite
Francesca Martinez WOW petition
Pat Onions Pat’s Petition
Rosemary O’Neill CarerWatch
Sean Vernell National secretary, Unite the Resistance
Eileen Short Chair, National Anti Bedroom Tax and Benefit Justice Federation
Rev Paul Nicolson Taxpayers Against Poverty
Claire Glasman WinVisible (women with visible & invisible disabilities)
Ariane Sacco WinVisible
Mark Harrison CEO, Equal Lives
Kevin Caulfield Chair, Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition Against Cuts
Rahel Geffen CEO, Disability Action in Islington
Lyla Adwan-Kamara Merton Centre for Independent Living
Shaun O’Regan Southwark Benefit Justice Campaign
Barry McDonald Chair, Bromley Experts by Experience
Ian Hodson National president, Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union
Ronnie Draper General secretary, Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union
Mick Carney National president, Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association
Manuel Cortes General secretary, Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association
Sean McGovern Unite executive councillor
Rob Murthwaite Equalities rep, UCU London region
Mike Cox Norfolk Disabled People Against Cuts
Dr Stephen Carty Medical adviser, Black Triangle Campaign
Debbie Jolly Co-founder, Disabled People Against Cuts
Andy Greene Islington Disabled People Against Cuts
Ellen Clifford Croydon Disabled People Against Cuts
Paula Peters Bromley Disabled People Against Cuts
Conan Doyle London Disabled People Against Cuts
Bob Ellard National steering committee, Disabled People Against Cuts
Anita Bellows National steering committee, Disabled People Against Cuts
Ciara Doyle National steering committee, Disabled People Against Cuts
Roger Lewis National steering committee, Disabled People Against Cuts
Jane Bence WOW petition
Rick Burgess WOW petition

Simon Jenkins is mistaken in suggesting that I am soliciting tabloid column inches in relation to the sentence handed to Lewis Gill and is wrong to say that I have announced I will be appealing against the sentence (Politics, not law, has become the master of British justice, 28 February).
I have made no such announcement, and am still considering whether the sentence should be referred to the court of appeal. While my office has received nearly 500 requests for me to consider whether Mr Gill’s sentence is unduly lenient, that has no bearing on my decision. Only one person needs to ask me to consider a sentence and if they do, it will receive the same close scrutiny as if 1,000 people had asked me. If I were to refer the case, it would then be considered by three senior judges, and it would be they who would decide if the sentence was unduly lenient or not.
Facts and the law are the masters in this process: that is the only way to ensure justice is properly served.
Dominic Grieve QC MP
Attorney general
We are extremely concerned by the response of the international community to the popular protests that have erupted against almost two decades of misrule in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Editorial, 17 February). Western media and politicians have argued that now is not the time for the western powers to disengage from Bosnia.
In fact, it is time to recognise that external rule in Bosnia has failed. The Dayton agreement in 1995 set up an undemocratic “protectorate”, giving the high representative of the western powers neocolonial authority over a political system that has institutionalised ethnic divisions, while neoliberal economic policies have impoverished ordinary Bosnians regardless of ethnicity.
Do the western powers have any answers to this crisis? The high representative, Valentin Inzko, can think only of threatening military intervention. Periodic threats by the US and the EU to revise the Dayton agreement by recentralising Bosnia have only made matters worse, raising the spectre of secession as Serbs and Croats look to Serbia and Croatia for support. And neither Brussels nor Washington will contemplate reversing the neoliberal economic policies that have impoverished so many.
It is therefore time to terminate the office of the high representative and end outside meddling in Bosnian affairs.
The popular protests have made clear that there is widespread rejection of ethnic divisions and neoliberal policies imposed from above. Free from external economic, political and military pressure, we are confident that the peoples of Bosnia will come together to establish a society based on social justice and national equality.
Samir Amin Economist, Senegal
Cédric Durand Economist, Paris 13 University, France
Emin Eminagić Activist, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Lindsey German Stop the War Coalition (p/c), United Kingdom
Grigoris Gerotziafas Associate professor of hematology-hemostasis, Université Pierre et Maris Curis (Paris VI), militant of Antarsya in France/Greece
Anna Grodzka Member of parliament of the Republic of Poland
Costas Isihos Member of the political secretariat and head of the foreign policy department of Syriza
Mariya Ivancheva Independent scholar and member of the editorial board of LeftEast, Bulgaria
Stathis Kouvelakis Reader in political theory, King’s College, London, and Syriza central committee, United Kingdom and Greece
Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski Researcher and editor, Poland
Aleksandra Lakić Researcher, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ken Loach Film director, United Kingdom
James Meadway Economist, United Kingdom
Matija Medenica Solidarnost editor, Serbia
China Miéville Author, United Kingdom
Tijana Morača Independent researcher, Serbia
Goran Musić Historian, Austria
Jelena Petrović Red Min(e)d, Slovenia
Dragan Plavšić Lawyer and author, United Kingdom
Florin Poenaru Anthropologist, Romania
Srećko Pulig Aktiv editor, Croatia
Marija Ratković The Culture of Memory, Serbia
James Robertson Graduate student, history, New York University, United States
Catherine Samary Economist, France
Richard Seymour Author and columnist, United Kingdom
GM Tamás Philosopher, CEU, Budapest, Hungary
Mary Taylor CUNY Graduate Center, USA
Vladimir Unkovski-Korica Historian, United Kingdom
Ana Vilenica Uz)bu))na))) editor, Serbia
Andreja Živković Author, United Kingdom

Having worked in Ukraine over some years, including one when inflation was 11,000%, when the west and international financial agencies imposed “shock therapy” after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the hypocrisy in the posturing of various outsiders today is chilling. Of course, we should all want non-intervention by Vladimir Putin. But we should recall interventions by those demanding that Russia now desist (Kiev on war footing as Putin’s grip tightens, 3 March).
One aspect of the unfolding tragedy may be minor in itself but signifies a malaise creeping through democratic discourse. It reflects the commodification of politics, led by the United States.
In Ukraine’s last presidential election, Viktor Yanukovych was languishing in the polls with 4% support. Then an oligarch put money together and hired the services of the US Republican party’s leading strategists. They descended on Kiev, repackaged the candidate, stopped him from revealing his character, incoherence and ignorance, and obliged him to adopt words they wanted him to use. Within weeks he was leading the polls.
Meanwhile, his principal rival, also with a murky past, hired Barack Obama’s electoral outfit, at vast cost. As it turned out, Bush’s men won the surrogate election.
Nobody could pretend they did not know Yanukovych was a twice-convicted gangster. But the Americans and others greeted his election as a triumph of democracy. Sadly, this newspaper endorsed that view in a leader.
David Cameron hires an Australian rottweiler to repackage the Tories for the next election. Ed Miliband responds by recruiting an American with a track record on the right. This is not in the same league as in Ukraine, but signifies a rottenness in mainstream politics. We need a countervailing strategy.
Professor Guy Standing
SOAS, University of London
• John Kerry accuses the Russians of acting “in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext”. This should end all debate on Americans’ understanding of irony.
Owain Dew-Hughes
Kirkby Lonsdale, Lancashire
• Thank you, Orlando Figes (If new Crimean war is to be avoided, Putin must show more restraint than his hero, 1 March), for giving us a potted history of Crimea. It makes the hand-wringing of David Cameron and William Hague all the more nauseating.
Mr Putin is defending the Russian majority, settled in Crimea centuries ago by Catherine the Great, who feel threatened by rightwing elements in Ukraine who have passed a law denigrating the use of the Russian language, and threatening their Orthodox religion.
Which country was it that settled Protestants in Ireland, to form an artificial majority in one specific area, then spent the best part of a century defending that “majority” against the perceived threat of Catholic domination? Black and Tans? RUC? Collusion with the UDF? Boots on the ground? Motes and beams come to mind.
Jane Ghosh
Bristol
• I think it is a terrific idea to commemorate the first world war by having it again without the horses.
Jane Coles
Twickenham, Middlesex

Independent:

I was born in Kiev, Ukraine and spend 22 years of my life there. As all my family and friends are Russian speakers, Ukrainian always felt rather like a foreign language that I knew well but hardly used in everyday life. But wherever I went, including the Ukrainian-speaking west, I never felt any pressure to switch to Ukrainian.
Around the country there are enough Russian schools, press and books, TV and radio channels available; many Ukrainian web pages come in two languages. Speeches by Russian politicians about discrimination against the Russian population in Ukraine leave me baffled.
Ukraine is not divided; it is being divided. The main issue that creates tensions between the regions is a massive information campaign aimed at the Russian-speaking regions.
Many people in the east and south rely on the Russian press. Without access to internet and geographically far from the capital, people don’t find it hard to believe the “news” about nationalists seizing power with the aim of killing or exiling all the Russian-speaking population. I tried to watch Russian news to get an alternative opinion but I lost my patience after a report showing “thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing Ukraine for Russia”. It showed a checkpoint near the border with Poland.
The real news is much more scary and absurd: Russian soldiers surrounding the Ukrainian military base in Crimea; Russian politicians handing new Russian passports to the Ukrainian militants from the special forces accused in fatal injuries of civilians during the demonstrations in February.
The world needs to act quickly.
Julia Fedorenko, London W1

Here we go again. Russia acts to protect its vital interests – and no one can be in doubt about the importance of Crimea to its security – and the West comes out with threats and bluster. The obvious way out is for the areas of Ukraine which appear to have a majority for closer relations with Russia to break away.
Czechoslovakia broke up into the Czech Republic and Slovakia without any of the dire consequences envisaged by the Western powers in the case of Ukraine. But then, the Czechs are perhaps the only sensible electorate in Eastern Europe.
In a few months’ time, Scotland is going to decide its future, again without earth-shattering consequences. So the Nato countries should tell Kiev to get on and let their local populations decide their own future. The Ukraine crisis is not worth starting another cold war which could so easily change into a hot war.
Lyn Brooks, Ongar, Essex

Within hours of the Winter Olympics ending, the host nation seemed to be willing to start an international crisis. So much for these games helping us to achieve peace and understanding among nations.
The $50bn that the Games cost should have gone toward some true humanitarian relief – because the medals and the hype aren’t getting it done.
Joseph Carducci, Pittsburgh,  Pennsylvania,  USA

The current threat to our gas supply should concentrate minds on the need for UK energy independence. Perhaps Ukip might lead the campaign for developing our native non-polluting energy resource, wind farms.
Francis Roads, London E18

Enemies of free expression
Your commitment to freedom of expression is necessary and laudable (Letter from the Editor, 1 March). The examples of the threat to the life of Muhammad Asghar in Pakistan and of the withdrawing of a book on Hinduism by Penguin India, both on the grounds of blasphemy, are indeed harrowing.
But these are in countries in which freedom of expression is pretty much prohibited. It is important to realise that in this country freedom of expression is also under sustained attack by religious groups and their apologists, despite the fact that the law on blasphemy was repealed in 2008. Three recent examples illustrate the point: the removal of posters by South Bank University in which God is replaced by the “Flying Spaghetti Monster”; the attempt by a local authority in Belfast to ban a play which satirises the Bible; and the widespread censoring of the “Jesus and Mo” cartoons.
After the furore of the Danish cartoons, in June 2006, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe provided firm and principled guidance to the effect that ideas “that may shock, offend, or disturb the state or any sector of the population” are protected by the freedom of expression.” I would ask you to champion this marvellous resolution, not only within The Independent but in the media at large.
Dr Rumy Hasan, Senior Lecturer, Science & Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex, Brighton

Pupils put under pressure to excel
Matthew Reece’s concerns about his Year-10 pupils (letter, 27 February) are timely and I think widespread. At my daughters’ school, even already high achievers are told of the dangers of failure and that they must work ever harder to attain the grades which will enable them to compete in the workplace.
Our 15-year-old daughter has been working at a pace entirely inappropriate for her age and was exhibiting signs of anxiety, as Mr Reece described. She told us that many of her friends feel the same way. Only by persuading her to work less and ignore what she has been told by some of her teachers have we been able to reduce her anxiety.
The pressure comes top-down from government and is passed on, often without a thought, to the people least able to deal with it. Under Ofsted pressures a “good school” is no longer good enough. Only outstanding is acceptable, which makes a complete nonsense of the words they have chosen.
The welfare of the whole child is missing in Michael Gove’s reforms, but when the response of the Opposition is to come up with ideas aimed at putting more pressure into the system, then like Mr Reece I despair for the future mental health of our young citizens.
Peter Reece, Wigan

No way out of the great travel rip-off
Vicki Mangan (letter, 3 March), commenting on travel companies, writes that “we would not stand for any other service so brazenly increasing their prices” at times of high demand.
Whether this is right or wrong is irrelevant; we just have to accept it. Many businesses have to “make the most” of their revenue opportunities and this translates as “rip people off whenever you can”. Restaurants and hotels whack up prices when a big event is on in town. Prices are “massaged” in many other sectors. Peak-time trains should be cheaper, as they’re busier and you can never get a seat. But they’re not, for obvious reasons.
If you worked for a travel company you might have a different view.
Mark Hunt, Chichester, West Sussex

Vicki Mangan is mistaken in comparing the practices of tour operators, hotels and airlines, whom she accuses of “brazenly increasing their prices”, to supermarkets, which have an effectively endless supply of goods to sell on a 24/7 basis in a fiercely competitive market.
The travel and tourism industry is restricted by capacity in the form of seats on planes and trains, airport landing slots, hotel rooms and the readiness of tourist areas to cope reasonably with visitor numbers.
The industry also cross-subsidises off-peak periods with profits from peak-period trade, often keeping smaller operators in business when they would otherwise fail, and allowing some of us who are child-free to take a cheaper, if a little chillier, holiday when we might otherwise be unable to do so.
John Moore, Northampton

What Cameron wanted from Merkel
It can have come as no surprise to David Cameron that Angela Merkel offered him very little support in his desire to remodel the European Union. Why then did he invite her to spell out her views so publicly?
Could it be that he actually wants the Eurosceptics, inside his party and beyond, to see what this country will be risking if we persist with the reckless proposal to hold an “in or out” referendum on a predetermined date, whether or not satisfactory negotiations will by then have been concluded?
It seems we may have to decide, prematurely, for or against isolation in an increasingly uncertain world.
David Hindmarsh, Cambridge

A cycle of  violence
For the past 50 or so years I have concurred with Howard Jacobson’s opinion regarding the barbarity of punching someone in the face, and have agreed that such an act is wholly unacceptable (Voices, 1 March). However having read the first three paragraphs of his piece – which are nothing more than a prejudiced, intemperate anti-cyclist rant – I’ve changed my mind.
Philip Stephenson, Cambridge

Times:

Sir, Now is the hour for Britain’s once-renowned diplomatic skills to be brought to bear on Ukraine. Our diplomats must avoid the stringent language of the US and other G8 members, and recognise Russia’s stand. President Putin will not allow Ukraine to be ruled as a mainly European country, severing its economic links with the Russian Alliance, nor will he ignore the genuine concerns of the Russian ethnic majority in the Crimea.
For our part, surely the EU has enough lame ducks already, without encouraging another to join. It is in our interest to discourage Ukraine’s quest for EU membership, and to make this clear to Russia.
Gerald Gilbert
Weybridge, Surrey
Sir, Regrettably, the right response by Nato to the Russian intervention in Crimea is a military one. Otherwise, as recent (and not so recent) events in the Middle East and the Caucasus have shown, it is all too obvious what the sequence of rolling aggression will be.
There may be elements in the new regime in Kiev who are not of the nicest, but the importance of the Russian occupation and the West’s reaction lies in the effect on those who walk — freely at present — in Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius and even Warsaw.
Jeffrey Littman
London NW4
Sir, The occupation by Russia of parts of Ukraine is a clear violation of international law. The fact that there are people of Russian ethnic origin in Ukraine, and particularly in Crimea, does not give Russia the right to invade Ukraine. If Russia is concerned about the safety of ethnic Russians it should raise the matter at the Security Council. There is no evidence of any real or actual threats to the ethnic Russian population and if there were, the Ukrainian government must be given the chance to address them. The reality is that Russia is behaving as the Soviet Union used to do. There are limits to what realistically the international community can do about this but it must be made clear at every opportunity that Russia is acting as an aggressor state.
Irrespective of the response by other countries, the UK should be prepared to impose selective sanctions against Russia, including Russian interests in the UK.
Professor Ryszard Piotrowicz
Aberystwyth University
Sir, With Belarus now surrounded by progressive, increasingly affluent nations on three sides, it is probable that sooner or later it will ditch Putin and embrace Brussels.
The West must adopt the same approach over Ukraine as it did with Communist East Europe and allow Putin’s influence to corrode.
D. P. Rundle
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir, Would the EU allow Ukraine to join? It is almost bankrupt and politically unstable, and would require even more financial support than did Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal or Ireland. Unpalatable as it might be, returning at least temporarily to the Russian sphere, with its discounted fuel and other trade advantages, and the chance to elect a new corruption-free government, would surely improve Ukraine’s economic situation.
Who knows? The reforming zeal of west-leaning Ukrainians may gradually democratise the whole country.
Donald Murdoch
Waterlooville, Hants

Sir, I am concerned by your report (Feb 28) of Durham University’s plans to reduce the collegiate system which has served it so well. The colleges’ autonomy has been eroded by diminishing the roles of the master and the governing body as part of a centralisation starting in the 1990s. This year the final selection of applicants by the master has been removed. This strikes at the fundamental responsibility of determining the nature of the college and the university. I urge the Durham authorities to reconsider this change.
John Hollier
Winchester
Sir, The 2013 edition of Castellum, the magazine of the Durham Castle Society, points out that as early as 2012 the management of the university began,“albeit shrouded in secrecy”, a move towards a system of placing students in colleges according to blind automated allocation. In the past it has been regarded as essential that applicants first be interviewed in the department of their choice and then in their first-choice college, the principle presumably being that selection of course and college is a matter of desirable discrimination and of the commitment that results from personal preference.
The differences of corps attitude clearly distinguishable college to college have always been endemic to the character of Durham University. Surely, where plurality of identity and solidarity of common interest serve each other, strength of education can also be found. That is how I continue to see it some 60 years on from graduation as a student at University College.
David Day
Ackworth, W Yorks

The UK should follow the Swedish policy and encourage e-cigarettes, to help break the smoking habit
Sir, I am at a loss to explain the attitudes of the EU and the BMA in ignoring the evidence of success in Sweden in delivering small doses of nicotine by mouth and the consequent hostility towards
e-cigarettes as a socially acceptable way of delivering small doses of nicotine without tar (“Smoking (and European regulation) kills”, Mar 3).
Lung cancer remains the main cause of premature death from cancer in the UK, and it kills more people than breast and bowel cancers combined. Lung cancer and the very unpleasant related cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, bladder, etc, are caused by the carcinogens in the tar in cigarette smoke. Nicotine is not a carcinogen.
R. C. F. Leonard
Medical oncologist
Imperial College, London

Amid the talk of the North-South divide it is easy to forget how difficult it is to cross the UK from side to side
Sir, A lot is talked about the North-South divide in England, but there is another division which has an important impact on the country economically and socially. This is the East-West divide.
There are no motorways between the east and west of England until you get to the M62 in the North. Anyone trying to cross the Midlands is faced with having to negotiate an endless succession of roundabouts, villages and small towns.
This is partly for historical reasons, the Romans having built roads radially, and partly for geological ones, for example a series of Edges in the Cotswolds. But the net result impedes trade and travel and needs addressing. The proposed HS2 railway will only exacerbate the situation.
Dr Richard J. Bird
Middleton Cheney, Oxon

What would happen to savings in bank accounts in Scotland if the country was to vote for independence?
Sir, The facts are plain to all who read newspapers or watch television.
Scots still hold the anchors to world-wide engineering, are the best at providing newspaper reporters, superior in international technology, ahead of the rest in the UK in providing oil and gas exploration, tops in providing doctors and surgeons and, most of all, they are away ahead of the world of education and schools.
So why stay with the faded English-based systems encouraged by Cameron and Gove?
terry Duncan
Bridlington, E Yorks
Sir, As a UK resident living in Scotland I — like, I am sure, many others — am very concerned about what might happen to the money in our bank accounts and investments if Scotland were to be independent.
Will our money remain, as we hope, within the sterling zone or would it convert to some undesirably new and possibly uncertain currency?
Some companies are drawing up contingency plans to relocate, should Scotland become independent, but I have been unable to get any advice from banks or building societies, which appear not to have drawn up any plans or guarantees for their depositors and investors.
Perhaps switching one’s main account to an English branch — while still being able to access one’s accounts via a Scottish sub-branch — would be a safe option.
Simon Walton
Kelso, Scottish Borders

“I am getting increasingly annoyed by articles about teenagers, and the adults who keep trying to explain our behaviour”
Sir, I am getting increasingly annoyed at the barrage of articles about teenagers, and the adults who keep trying to explain our behaviour (“Moods and meltdowns: what’s inside the teenage brain?”, Mar 1).
I am 16 and a straight-A student, like most of my friends. We are not as irrational and immature as adults seem to think. We’ve grown up with financial crises and accept that most of us will be unemployed. We no longer flinch at bloody images of war because we’ve grown up seeing the chaos in the Middle East and elsewhere. Most of us are cynical and pessimistic because of the environment we’ve grown up in — which should be explanation enough for our apparent insolence and disrespect, without “experts” having to write articles about it.
Has no one ever seen that we are angry at the world we live in? Angry that we will have to clean up your mess, while you hold us in contempt, analysing our responses as though we were another species?
I would like adults to treat us not as strange creatures from another world but as human beings with intelligent thought — a little different from yours, perhaps, but intelligent thought nonetheless.
Stop teaching adults how to behave around us, and instead teach them to respect us.
Jenni Herd
Kilmarnock, E Ayrshire

Telegraph:

60 Comments
SIR – Two letters published on February 27, one telling of term-time hop picking and the other about the freshness of chicken, reminded me of when I was a member of my school’s Young Farmers’ Club half a century ago.
Each term was just long enough to rear 250 day-old chicks to 7lb capons for sale at the end of each term, many of which were sold to staff and parents.
From tucking a live bird under your arm to having it oven-ready with the giblets cleanly drawn and errant feathers duly singed took the more bloodthirsty among us just a few minutes and was so much more enjoyable than end-of-term revision.
Robert Warner
West Woodhay, Berkshire

SIR – I am the vicar of eight rural churches, each of which has a small but faithful congregation striving to keep its church part of the life of the countryside. The services of dedicated organists who play for a tiny stipend each week are a vital part of this quest.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has invested enormous resources to find ways to forbid organists from treating their meagre stipends as part of the earnings of self-employed musicians. Instead, our tiny churches are required to treat our 15 or so organists as employees, for the hour a month that they play, and to construct PAYE procedures for each of them.
The administrative costs to the parish of this whimsical and inappropriate innovation by HMRC are out of all proportion to the amounts involved. The refusal of many organists to be subjected to this bureaucracy will damage the life of our churches. It will also deny HMRC the revenue it would otherwise receive from treating our organists sensibly as self-employed.
Large, multinational companies have rightly been castigated for investing vast resources in innovative methods of avoiding tax. The iniquity of their actions lies not in the criminal pursuit of evading taxes, but in the disproportionate effort spent in avoiding contributing to the common good of society. The same rationale applies to HMRC.
Revd Dr John Strain
Compton, West Sussex
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Spring awakening
SIR – There seems to be some confusion over the date of the start of spring. As my birthday is on the vernal equinox (regarded by my parents as the first day of spring), I have had a lifelong interest in the subject.
If the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, is Midsummer’s Day, and the shortest, the winter solstice, is midwinter, then the vernal equinox, exactly between the two, must be “midspring” day. This makes the first day of spring six weeks earlier, at the end of the first week in February.
Prof David Allison
New Malden, Surrey
SIR – On Wednesday this week we had a wasp in our kitchen and a red admiral butterfly in the garden. It made me feel as though I should be sitting out on the patio with a glass of cold beer.
John Henesy
Maidenhead, Berkshire
Immunity for soldiers
SIR – Colonel Tim Collins is absolutely correct in asserting that where government directly grants or otherwise facilitates retrospective immunity from prosecution for incidents arising from conflict situations, such as in Northern Ireland, equivalent treatment needs to be accorded to both sides in the conflict.
It cannot be right that the British Government discriminates against its own service personnel, and such discriminatory actions as have been alleged should, by any moral standard, be considered wholly wrong and immediately corrected. A simple letter would suffice and should not take long for a minister to write.
Peter Doyle
Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire
Opting out of Europe
SIR – One sentence in your leader said it all: “Sources in Berlin claim that Mrs Merkel is willing to grant ‘limited opt-outs’ to Britain as well as more flexibility in the implementation of regulations.”
If Mrs Merkel wants to link the success of the EU to two world wars, she should remember that our forefathers and mothers died to protect this country from German tyranny. As a country we need to decide whether we are now prepared to submit to what Germany “is willing to grant us”.
Above all else, an EU referendum would be about the recovery of our precious democratic right of self-determination.
Roger Kendrick
Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire
SIR – I sympathise with George Meldrum, who feels “browbeaten and threatened by all the bad things that will happen to Scotland if it votes for independence”.
I feel the same way when I hear the dire warnings about leaving the EU.
A J Cozens
Sittingbourne, Kent
London on the map
SIR – Tony Parrack should have no fear. London has its own “flag” already. The London Underground map must be one of the best known images worldwide.
The branding opportunities sought by Mr Parrack are well in place.
Oliver Smith Boyes
Worthing, West Sussex
Doctors recognise dyslexia when they see it
SIR – I suggest the reason that Prof Julian Elliott says that there is no such thing as dyslexia is because he is a teacher, not a neurologist. Doctors are used to making a neurological diagnosis on the basis of a familiar pattern of difficulties with either no physical abnormalities on examination (for example, migraine), or very few (autism). Doctors are also used to seeing acquired dyslexia following strokes, head injury or brain resection for tumours.
I have been involved with “word-blind” children and adults for 50 years. One middle-aged man had been humiliated at school because he could not memorise his spellings, but had gone on to found a multi-million-pound joinery business despite his illiteracy. When I tested him, he rapidly completed a non-verbal reasoning test with a perfect score. Five years later, with the help of a private teacher who did believe in dyslexia, he could read a newspaper.
Dr Christopher Wales
Burley in Wharfedale, West Yorkshire
SIR – Prof Elliott and others acknowledge that dyslexia is a meaningless term and doesn’t exist as a condition. At last.
As a special-needs co-ordinator, I agree that those with literacy problems have “no unifying identifying characteristics, prognosis or response to interventions”. Going down the route of meaningless testing invariably serves only to confirm what people already know. Of course Dr John Rack from Dyslexia Action and others from the British Dyslexia Association claim that tests are valid. Although such formal assessments typically cost parents and carers between £250 and £400 they add nothing to the support that is offered by schools.
My own practice shows that a rapidly increasing number of parents and carers are grateful for the move away from meaningless labels, and towards more structured, measured, needs-driven literacy support for their child.
Garry Freeman
Farsley, West Yorkshire

SIR – With respect to Ukraine, the critical thing for the West now is that it should not be seen to be in full retreat; otherwise dangerous signals will be sent to countries such as Iran and North Korea.
This means that the West must have a plan that is both realistic and positive. If those living in Ukraine want to split the country in two, we should let them do so. It has worked for the former Czechoslovakia and it may have to work in our own country if Scotland (misguidedly) were to vote Yes.
Lord Spicer
London SW1
SIR – In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, America, Russia and Britain reaffirmed their commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine and its existing borders.
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They also agreed to refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine and agreed that none of their weapons would ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence. Now that one of the guarantors has broken the first two of these commitments, and appears to be ready to breach the third, are not the other two honour-bound to support Ukraine with diplomatic and military assistance?
Hugh Riley
Towersey, Oxfordshire
SIR – Although Britain is a signatory to Ukraine’s defence, there is nothing we can do beyond firing nuclear weapons from submarines. Nato is about as useful as a pot of ice cream in an inferno. That leaves America, which, given Iraq and Afghanistan, has no appetite for war.
Vladimir Putin will get his way, thanks to Western weakness and politicians who have completely misjudged world politics.
Philip Congdon
La Bastide d’Engras, Gard, France
SIR – Understanding among major powers does depend on some tacit recognition of “spheres of influence”. Ukraine has been part of Russia’s sphere since the time of the Tsars. And Russia’s Black Sea fleet is in the Crimea. On that basis, the Western powers are better advised to recognise Ukraine as primarily a Russian issue – just as in 1914, Russia would have been better advised to recognise Serbia as primarily an Austro-Hungarian issue.
John Barstow
Fittleworth, West Sussex
SIR – It is meddling by the EU that lies at the bottom of the crisis in Ukraine.
A democratically elected government has been overturned by groups containing far-Right anti-Semites and the legitimate interests of Russia have been put at risk. President Putin is doing no more than any patriotic leader would do.
Colin Bullen
Tonbridge, Kent
SIR – Russia has striven for access to warm waters since the days of Peter the Great, and will not give up control of her Black Sea ports.
If the West could recognise this and give a guarantee to Russia’s rights in this matter instead of its bellicose posturing, both Russia and the West could work jointly to improve the lot of the Ukrainian people.
Harvey Griffiths
Fareham, Hampshire
SIR – It is odd that when the mainly Albanian-speaking Kosovo region wanted to separate from Serbia, we recognised it immediately as an independent country, but when mainly Russian-speaking Crimea wants to separate from Ukraine, we are most anxious to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity. There seems to be no consistency in our attitude.
Andrew J Rixon
Hertford
SIR – President Putin knows that he could inflict catastrophic damage on the economy of Britain and other EU nations by simply turning off the gas taps.
It is time to build more gas storage facilities, start fracking and become independent of volatile foreign suppliers.
Clark Cross
Linlithgow, West Lothian

Irish Times:
Sir, – There can be little doubt that Angela Kerins, Martin Callinan and Alan Shatter are very talented and able individuals. It is a great pity that they also seem to share another, less admirable, characteristic. They behave as though they believe that any indication of personal humility is a sign of weakness.
History shows us that some of the world’s greatest individuals were noted for their humility. Mandela, Ghandi and John XXIII are prime examples. Pope Francis has shown in a very short time how a little humility can transform people’s perception of a worldwide institution. – Yours, etc,
OLIVER McEVOY,
Skerries,
Co Dublin.

Sir, – I read and digested your report on complaints about food reported to Food Safety Authority of Ireland: “Human tooth, chicken’s head and dirty fingernail among items found in food” (News Home, February 17th). Would there have been complaints if hen’s teeth and clean fingernails had been found? And there’s always chicken head soup to consider. – Yours, etc,
PATRICK O’BYRNE,
Shandon Crescent,
Phibsborough,
Dublin 7.

A chara, – Those of us with missing or broken bin lids have been paying water charges for years. – Is mise,
KEVIN McCARTHY,
Rockfield Park,
Rahoon,
Galway.
Sir, – It was with a certain sense of national pride that I read of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s particular suitability for a “key EU position” (Inside Politics, March 1st, 2014).
I wish Mr Kenny every success in this important position and humbly suggest that Stephen Collins might devote his energy to sourcing similar international, but remote, positions for the entire Cabinet, sooner rather than later. – Yours, etc,
CORMAC MEEHAN,
Bundoran,
Co Donegal.

Sir, – And the real winner of the 2014 Oscars is . . . your film critic, Donald Clarke! On Saturday (Weekend, March 1st) he correctly predicted the 10 winners in each of 10 major award categories.
Give that man a gong! – Yours, etc,
PÁDRAIC HARVEY,
Taobh na Gréine,
Bóthar an Chillín,
An Cheathrú Rua,
Co na Gaillimhe.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole’s entertaining column (“A columnist’s job confers some privileges, and obligations”, Opinion, February 11th) refers to his “privileges and obligations” as a columnist, recalling his alleged ownership of a series 5 BMW; he successfully disabused the Sunday Times perpetrators of such vile notions and duly received a written apology the following Sunday. So far, so ecological.
But then, alas, he drops the ball: “I don’t own a car,” he states, “because, to my shame, I can’t drive.”
To his shame? He should be proud of the fact that throughout his life he has (unwittingly, as it happens) contributed positively to a sustainable future for his grandchildren.
Although unlike Mr O’Toole and his colleagues, I don’t occupy “a position of enormous privilege”, I hope I can be allowed this opportunity to remind your esteemed columnist of the virtually irreversible destruction of our planet caused by cars and their attendant industries.
An SUV can weigh up to three tonnes. It takes 99 per cent of all the energy used to propel the vehicle itself; just 1 per cent is used to move the person inside it.
A small leap of imagination conjuring up a world in which people use sophisticated public transport systems and routes that respect nature and the environment puts into perspective the recklessness of vast networks of ever-expanding roads swarmed with billions of angry, lethal vehicles, killing, maiming and destroying in the name of an illusory sense of freedom and independence.
The truth is that people are enslaved by their cars and a traffic code that enhances even more the mass hypnosis of their social conditioning.
Cars are not only lethal, causing countless deaths and injuries worldwide every day, they are alienating, anti-social and divisive; they have depleted our natural resources, destroyed our cities and our atmosphere and blighted our countryside.
Is there a columnist in the country who will finally have the courage to address this century-old horror story?
Does owning a car – or even being able to drive – preclude these columnists from daring to raise the subject? – Yours, etc,
GREGORY ROSENSTOCK,
Seapoint Road,
Bray,

A chara — Many an Irish “pathriot” will be indebted to Desmond Fennell’s latest linguistic lessons (An Irishman’s Diary, February 28th).  Adding a touch of Gaoth Dobhair to those barbaric English consonants D, T, R will gain a man instant entrée to the Élysée, the Wiener Staatsoper or a Milanese cafe. Yet a phrase such as “I’m an OTR” is better avoided in any language, even with the Donegal consonantal touch. And as for practising Fennell’s substitution of the Gaeltacht “ch” for that French or Spanish R, at Gatwick “I’m on dhe chun” will just land you in trouble. Safer to honour tradition with that mellifluous idiom “I’m on my keeping” – ar mo choimheád – and spare any sensitive foreign wincing, shudders or English alarms. – Is mise,
EDDIE FINNEGAN,
Wightman Road,

Tue, Mar 4, 2014, 01:05

Sir, – Paddy Clancy (“Bus company illegally disguised the time drivers spent at wheel”, Home News, February 27th) reports on a bus company that allowed a driver to be “at the wheel” for 11 hours, which is two hours more than European legislation allows. Compare this with junior doctors in our hospitals, where shifts of 18 to 24 hours are commonplace.
The judge said a driver’s “concentration could not be at full capacity” after driving for more than 11 hours. Where does that leave the patient attending our hospitals and, more to the point, where does it leave the question of liability should any errors occur? – Yours, etc,
LIAM CLARKE,
Wood Park,
Ballinteer,
Dublin 16.

Sir, – The global day of action on February 27th for press freedom, which saw protesters gather in over 30 cities around the world, was about much more than the release of four Al Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt on charges of conspiring with a terrorist organisation to tarnish Egypt’s reputation. It was also a demonstration against the disturbing global trend which has seen terrorism and national security laws increasingly used to silence journalists and bloggers.
New terrorism statutes have provided a convenient tool for governments around the world to gag critics and curb free speech.
Indeed, figures from the Committee to Project Journalists show that more journalists were imprisoned in 2012 and 2013 than any previous year. Unless concerted action is taken, 2014 looks likely to be another record–breaking year for jailed journalists and a new low-point for freedom of the press. – Yours, etc,
STEFAN SIMANOWITZ,
Willow Road,

Sir, – Thirty years ago I was covering a High Court case for this newspaper. At the end of the case there was a technical part of the judgment I did not understand. After unbelievably lengthy negotiations, it was agreed that I could have a brief audience with the judge. He clarified the point that was worrying me. I was walking out the door when he called me back. He said, “Why don’t you chaps ever write about how badly paid judges are? Maybe you might think of writing it yourself?”
I was astounded, but refrained from mentioning the meagre rations I was on in The Irish Times . His Lordship is now in the great courthouse in the sky, but it is now clear to me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. – Yours, etc,
FRANK KILFEATHER,
Delgany,
Co Wicklow.
Sir, – Jo O’Donovan (March 1st) misses the point when he says the argument by the Chief Justice and the president of the High Court to the effect that the reduction in remuneration and expenses will produce a “second best” judiciary is a gratuitous insult to the thousands of health workers, gardaí, teachers, etc, who have endured pay cuts without any hope of redress.
With all due respect to our health workers, gardaí and teachers, I doubt many of them left much more lucrative professions to pursue a career in the public service. I can say with some confidence that the vast majority, if not all, judges of the High and Supreme Court voluntarily took substantial pay cuts upon leaving private practice for appointment to the bench. If cuts keep coming then the best barristers will stay at the bar and our judges will indeed be “second best”. It would be a grave danger for our legal system if in court the advocates were nearly always better lawyers than the judge. To highlight this issue is not an insult to members of the public service, but rather a statement made in their interest. A member of An Garda Síochána would not for example like to see defence counsel in a trial have a vastly greater knowledge of the criminal law than the presiding judge.
Also, Mr O’ Donovan takes umbrage with the title of “My Lord”, calling it proof of the existence of a stratum in our society whose self-assessed worth places them on a different plane to anyone else. By virtue of statutory instrument 196 of 2006, the proper mode of addressing a judge is to call them “judge”. Who made this rule? A committee consisting of three current Supreme Court judges. In fact I have seen former Chief Justice Murray correct barristers who call him or his fellow judges “My Lord” and ask that they be addressed simply as “judge”. – Yours, etc,
IBAR McCARTHY, BL
Law Library,
Four Courts,
Dublin 7.
Sir, – Olivia O’Leary (“Government needs to call senior judges’ bluff on pay”, Opinion & Analysis, February 28th) writes that “maybe those who lead more modest lives would have a better understanding of what life is like for many citizens who come before their courts”. I always thought that the essential attribute of a judge was that he or she had an extensive knowledge of the law which would be applied in resolving disputes between citizens, rather than knowing, for example, what type of supermarket the citizen frequented. By way of analogy, would Olivia prefer to attend a doctor who could deal effectively with her complaint without appearing to know how difficult life was for many persons, or attend one who was useless but engaged in a long conversation about inequalities in our society? – Yours, etc,
GERARD CLARKE,
Castlebrook,
Dundrum,
Dublin 16.

Sir, – If John B Reid (February 28th) is a genuine rugby fan, he really should realize that the Irish rugby team is a beacon of sense and realism in a sea of darkness and ignorance. If he cannot see the sense in the current arrangement, where a world-class team uses a neutral anthem to enable all traditions to claim ownership, then he should move his support to the other traditions where the Tricolour or union flag are flown. Of course he would have to content himself with the choice of either being beaten off the field or playing a mongrel code when it comes to international matches. – Yours, etc,
JOHN ROGERS,
Ballydorey,
Rathowen,
Co Westmeath.
Sir, – John B Reid seems to be labouring under the mistaken impression that the Irish rugby team is the national team of the Republic of Ireland. If this were the case, then it would be only proper for Amhrán na bFiann to be played at all matches, irrespective of location. But it is not.
As with many other sports, rugby is organised on an all-Ireland basis and the Irish team is not just the team of the Republic, nor even of Irish nationalists, but of the island of Ireland as a whole. Ambiguity between the island and the State is a constant cause of controversy, but the IRFU has correctly recognised that Irish rugby draws support from all traditions on the island.
The current policy that Ireland’s Call be played at away matches is entirely proper, as it reflects the cross-jurisdictional nature of the sport and does not favour one jurisdiction over another. To play the anthem of the Republic in addition at away games would reintroduce politics into a sport that has made a virtue of remaining above the constitutional question.
Amhrán na bFiann is played at home games in the Republic in honour of the State. The only inconsistency in this policy is that no State anthem is played in Belfast, which implies that games in Ravenhill are not “home” games. The honourable solution to this inequity is to play Danny Boy at Ravenhill in the same capacity that Amhrán na bFiann is played in Lansdowne Road’s Aviva Stadium.
Whether or not one finds Ireland’s Call sufficiently rousing, it performs a vital function in keeping divisive politics out of Irish sport. – Yours, etc,
ANDREW GALLAGHER,
Trimbleston,
Dublin 14.
Sir, – Whether or not the playing and singing of the IRFU’s compromise anthem Ireland’s Call at international rugby matches stimulates players and spectators alike should be irrelevant. Like our national flag, our anthem should not, under any circumstances, be compromised.
It is also my view that those players honoured by being selected to represent this nation in any sport and who feel unable to respect our anthem and flag should do the honourable thing and refuse to play.
Furthermore, the Government should make it unambiguously clear to the IRFU that the national anthem of Ireland is Amhrán na bhFiann not Ireland’s Call . – Yours, etc,
TOM COOPER,
Templeville Road,
Dublin 6w.

Sir, – Russia’s autocratic ruler Vladimir Putin has reacted brutally to the ousting of Victor Yanukovich, who was responsible for violent assaults against the people of Ukraine. It is now well to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson that people are endowed “with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that to secure these rights governments are instituted . . . whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government”.
For all those who value such rights in their own nation it is time to stand with the people of Ukraine. If the response to Mr Putin’s aggression is nothing more than rhetorical red lines, who can say he will stop at Ukraine while there are Russian-speaking populations across eastern Europe?
It is indeed time to stand together or hang separately. – Yours, etc,
DAN DONOVAN
Shandon Street,
Dungarvan,
Co Waterford.
Sir, – “Any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be ‘deeply destabilising’, the US president said” (Obama warns Putin against intervention in Ukraine, World News, March 1st). As opposed to our “stablising” interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Iran . . . and our machinations in Ukraine and other Russian border regions?
As Roger Cole implies (March 1st), unless some hard truths are spoken to the deaf ears of rampant power, another dark age will inevitably descend.
It is way past time for the pillars of our society to cease preening on being allowed to sit at the Nato table with the big boys and to engage both brain and a trace of spinal cord. – Yours, etc,
DAMIEN FLINTER,
Castleview Estate,
Headford,
Co Galway.
Sir, – I have no sympathy whatsoever with the current Russian actions in the Crimea. Indeed, as an Irishman, I am only too aware of the historical constant: that major powers are ever in the position to bully and invade weaker countries and justify this in terms of their own strategic interests or so-called humanitarian concerns. But I do wish the same powers would spare us the arrant hypocrisy of tut-tut-ing each other. – Yours, etc,
AODH Ó DOMHNAILL,
Green Road,
Blackrock,
Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:
* The issue of gay marriage surfaces on a regular basis, stirring up the predictable array of prejudice and gratuitous assertion.
Also in this section
Get us deal, Enda – and you’ll get second term
Letters: Reality is in rag order
Letters: It is in all of our interests to work for peace
Invoking what is referred to as “the teaching of the church” is particularly unhelpful, even for Catholics. Moral life is not a matter of following a set of prescribed rules or teachings, cultivating docile recipients of doctrine rather than encouraging free, rational discussion between equals. Acting morally requires thoughtful reflection on the demands of life and the imposition of these demands upon oneself.
Appealing to the teaching of the church cannot release us from personal responsibility for our actions. Acting morally is not an expression of obedience but the exercise of intelligence.
Moral discussion must earn its living by supporting the search for rationally motivated consensus.
It seems to me that what was most obvious in the life of Christ was his determination to sidestep religion and its attendant systems of unbending certainty.
The notion of what is natural or unnatural has dogged moral debate for centuries. A flimsy moral edifice was built on the concept of natural law, equating what is deemed natural with what is right.
Appeals to what is natural or unnatural exemplify our tendency to explain the obscure by the even more obscure, serving little logical, theological or moral purpose in determining a life that best befits us as humans.
Our job is not to worship nature; we ought to be its masters, not its slaves.
Reason lifts us above the chance events of the natural world. To describe any act as unnatural unfortunately gives us a licence to intensify our disapproval.
Whatever view we hold of human sexuality, it must be intelligible.
If two people, of whatever gender, experience a sincere love for one another, I can think of no good reason for denying them the right to the public ritual expression of that love. As my mother would say: “Mhuise, what harm are they doing?”
PHILIP O’NEILL
EDITH ROAD, OXFORD
NO HOPE FOR HEALTHCARE
* Even though in his speech to the Fine Gael Ard Fheis last weekend Enda Kenny was quite certain that there is no alternative to Universal Health Care, he might like to be informed about a recent milestone passed by his Government and his Health Minister in particular.
Anuerin Bevan became minister for health in the new Labour government that took power in the UK following the end of World War II.
Despite bitter opposition from the vested interests of the British Medical Organisation, he still managed to set up the British National Health Service, which is funded from a specific National Insurance tax without any of the administrative burden, duplication and waste of the Universal Health Care system.
At the same time, that Labour government was also trying to rebuild a country – and they did it.
The Fine Gael/Labour Government has been in office since March 9, 2011, or 1,089 days, but it can’t even manage to build a children’s hospital that has been in the making for over 20 years. So what hope is there of it creating a functioning new national health system, no matter how many terms it has?
DESMOND FITZGERALD
CANARY WHARF, LONDON
SOLIDARITY WITH UKRAINE
* Russia’s autocratic ruler, Vladimir Putin, has reacted brutally to the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych. It is now well to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson, that people are endowed “with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that to secure these rights governments are instituted . . . whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government”.
For all those who value such rights in their own nation, it is time to stand with the people of Ukraine.
DAN DONOVAN
DUNGARVAN, CO WATERFORD
NEW FLIGHT OF THE EARLS
* I would be grateful if you would allow me via your Letters page to inform the citizens of The (Christian Democratic) Republic of Ireland of the umpteenth re-enactment “Flight of the Earls Festival”.
For centuries, the bards recalled the September 1607 Flight of the Earls in oral history. Circa 1922, it became part of the school curriculum of the independent Irish Free State.
In recent years, the Soldiers of Destiny started a re-enactment. They erroneously thought the original flight occurred in March, hence the reason an elite group of actors and their managers participate in the “Annual Flight of the Earls Festival” held each year in the month of March.
Whereas the original flights went to European nations, the modern-day Earls fly first class all over the world where they initiate the locals into the arts of Irish dancing, eating bacon and cabbage and downing pints of plain while holding out a bowl for donations . . . of jobs and more jobs for Mother Ireland.
The lead actor gets to visit the most powerful man in the world. The powerful man is given a bowl of shamrock (this is not a faux rock, but a plant) in a crystal bowl.
So be proud of the team of globetrotting elites acting as Irish Earls abroad on Ireland’s National Day as they “trip the light fantastic” in their fantasy land where all is well . . . with themselves alone!
DECLAN FOLEY
BERWICK, AUSTRALIA
HUFFING AND PUFFING
* Obama, Cameron, et al to Putin: We’ll huff and we’ll puff, but we’ll only close some bank accounts.
KILLIAN FOLEY-WALSH
KILKENNY CITY
MONUMENTAL FAILINGS
* Regarding ‘The castle that stood 800 years’ (Irish Independent, March 1), about the demolition of Coolbanagher Castle, Co Laois – this is shameful! And a serious failing by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. A monument of national significance allowed to be razed to the ground in the space of less than two weeks without a proper statics or conservation study.
Did the engineers not consider protecting both the public and the monument by provisionally fencing off the area, and by the buttressing or bracing of unstable parts?
Valuable lessons must be learned from the heritage management and care of monuments in Greece and many other earthquake-affected countries. Too late for this monument, unfortunately!
CHRISTINA HAYWOOD, PHD, FSA
DIRECTOR, IRISH INSTITUTE OF HELLENIC STUDIES AT ATHENS (IIHSA), ATHENS, GREECE
SAVE OUR POST OFFICES
* If, as a result of losing the contract to pay out pensions and other social welfare allowances, post offices fall to perceived “progress”, the effect would be devastating.
Many older people are averse to the use of electronic fund transfers. But the loss of one’s local post office would represent more than a mere inconvenience or challenge to one’s electronic or computer proficiency. Many towns and villages have already lost their garda stations, local shops or pubs; or all of these.
Adding the post office to the list would be the final blow to the people of those districts. What is the point of having so many picture-postcard towns and villages if they have no shops, pubs or post offices for visitors as well as locals to call to?
JOHN FITZGERALD
CALLAN, CO KILKENNY

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