7 March  2014 Sharland
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Pertwee is having a row with Nunky Priceless
Cold slightly better Both of us very tired. Sharland comes to call
Scrabble today  I win but get under 400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.


Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman, who has died aged 90, crammed even more careers into her lifetime than her Oxford contemporary Margaret Thatcher, whom she supported with gusto from the back benches during 27 years as MP for Lancaster.
In her time a social worker, dairy farmer and barrister — as well as a mother of four voted “No 1 Country Housewife” — she also managed for nine years to serve in both the Westminster and European Parliaments.
She achieved all this in the face of setbacks that would have crushed others: the death of her first husband in a car crash in which she lost her memory, and five narrow election defeats, one by just 76 votes and two at the hands of Robert Maxwell.
Conservative on social issues and a committed Methodist, Elaine Kellett (she added the “Bowman” after marrying again in 1972) campaigned for a better deal for widows, tighter abortion laws and the return of the death penalty, and against moral laxity and Sunday trading.
In the Commons, she was at a disadvantage. Blessed with the speaking manner of a Valkyrie educated at St Trinian’s, the moment she rose to speak Labour members would break into a chorus of trilling that undermined whatever point she was trying to make.
She was at her most effective during Harold Wilson’s last government, when she repeatedly needled the Health Secretary Barbara Castle by repeating newspaper rumours that she had undergone private medical treatment. She caused a stir after the passage in 1975 of the Bill to quash penalties on the rebel Clay Cross councillors (who had refused to increase council house rents, as required under the Housing Finance Act of 1972), flinging 30 pieces of silver on to the clerks’ table. One coin hit a junior minister in the eye, and in the ensuing scuffle her handbag spilt open.
In 1983 she memorably joined Labour’s Clare Short in baiting the Tory employment minister Alan Clark, who was gabbling through his first ministerial speech, on equal pay for women, after an extremely good dinner.
Dame Elaine shared her European political career with her second husband, Edward, whom she met when they were aldermen on Camden council. They were elected to the European Parliament together in 1979, becoming the only husband-and-wife team there until she stood down in 1984.
Elaine Kellett-Bowman was born Mary Elaine Kay on July 8 1923, the daughter of Walter Kay, a company director, and the former Edith Leather. Brought up in Lancashire, she was educated at Queen Mary school, Lytham, and The Mount, York, before wartime service as a land girl.
After the war she took Modern Greats at St Anne’s College, Oxford, staying on to take a postgraduate welfare diploma with a distinction. She knew the then Margaret Roberts, “but as a Methodist. I had no idea she was interested in politics.”
She dated her own interest to meeting Anthony Eden at the age of five; her experiences as a social worker in Liverpool and the East End of London rekindled the flame. Her first husband was a farmer in North Wales, and in 1952 she became a Conservative councillor at Denbigh; later that year, aged 28 and already a mother of three children, was selected to fight Nelson and Colne. As one of the youngest candidates in a party led by the ageing Churchill, she attracted national attention and was chosen to open the transport debate at the 1954 party conference.
After the 1955 election — when she halved Sidney Silverman’s majority — she was selected for South-West Norfolk, which Labour had won by just 193 votes. Her husband took a local farm, and when the Labour member died Elaine Kellett campaigned vigorously despite being pregnant. She looked set to capture the seat, but in the March 1959 by-election Labour increased its majority to 1,354. Readopted for that October’s election in which the Tories won a landslide victory, she fell 76 votes short.
Two months later her husband was killed in a collision with a lorry. Despite suffering serious head injuries in the accident, she took over the running of the 149-acre farm while bringing up her children; her ability to cope brought her the accolade “No 1 Country Housewife of 1960” from the Women’s Institutes .
Having lost her memory, she gave up politics, but after her surgeon told her she must “stop her brain from rusting” she read for the Bar through a Middle Temple correspondence course. She not only passed her finals in 19 months while simultaneously running the farm, she also carried off the 1963 Chrystal Macmillan Prize as the Inn’s top woman candidate. She was called to the Bar the following year.
By then she was the candidate for Buckingham, facing a Labour opponent described by The Daily Telegraph as “tall, dark, flamboyant and wealthy” — this was Capt Robert Maxwell. The future newspaper proprietor reacted to her attacks on Labour by trying to have her removed from the Press Council, of which she was one of the first lay members. Maxwell won the seat, and in 1966 held off a further challenge from her with the slogan: “Let Harold [Wilson] and Bob finish the job.”
In 1968 she gave up the farm and moved to Hampstead to practise at the Bar, joining Camden council and chairing its welfare committee. She was selected for Lancaster, a 233-mile commute, and in 1970 took the seat from Labour by 1,741 votes to become one of a record 15 women on the Tory benches.
Within a month she had co-sponsored a motion expressing concern at the relaxation of the divorce laws, and urged the Lord Chancellor to end the “slave market” in which widows seeking damages for their husbands’ deaths had their prospects of remarriage taken into account. When the sex educator Dr Martin Cole showed his controversial film Growing Up to MPs, she walked out exclaiming: “I would shoot that man.”
Her independence of mind did not endear her to Edward Heath. She rebelled over efforts to impose central control over local government; and when price and pay controls were introduced in 1972, formed common cause with the Labour Left to try to have farm workers excluded.
Her involvement with the European Parliament began in 1975 after the referendum vote to stay in the EC. The Strasbourg assembly was then filled from national parliaments, and Elaine Kellett-Bowman was one of seven Tories chosen.
When the first direct elections were held in 1979, she was elected MEP for Cumbria, keeping her seat in the Commons with the blessing of her constituency association. By doing so, she gave up any chance of a ministerial job during the first five years of Mrs Thatcher’s premiership. She still made her presence felt at Westminster, notably as one of the rebels who pressed Jim Prior, the Employment Secretary, to take a more hawkish approach to the trade unions; but she decided that one term in two Parliaments would be enough.
Her commitments in Europe caused her no problems at Lancaster; in 1983 her majority there — previously tight — soared to 10,636, and she was never troubled again until her retirement in 1997.
She was appointed DBE in 1998.
Dame Elaine was a governor of Culford School for 40 years, and from 1999 to 2001 president of the National Association of Widows.
She married first, in 1945, Norman Kellett, with whom she had three sons and a daughter. In 1971 she married Edward Bowman, who changed his name to Kellett-Bowman beforehand; he survives her.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman, born July 8 1923, died March 4 2014


Your story (Hunting ban in danger of being undermined, say animal welfare groups, 3 March) omitted important facts. As you reported last October, the Federation of Welsh Farmers Packs, backed by many other rural organisations and a cross-party group of MPs, has called for one simple amendment to the law. Currently, farmers are limited to using two dogs to flush and shoot a fox that is killing lambs under the conditions of an exemption. In large areas of upland Britain, and especially in those areas of Wales where forestry predominates, the current limit on the number of dogs renders the exemption completely impractical. Research in Scotland, where the ban on hunting imposes no limit on the number of dogs that can be used to flush, shows that using more dogs is both more effective and arguably more humane as the period between a fox being found and shot is reduced. The proposal is therefore simply that the limit on the number of dogs that can be used in the exemption is removed to bring the law in England and Wales into line with that in Scotland. The pursuit of foxes with dogs and traditional hunting would continue to be illegal.
The RSPCA, in particular, is disingenuous in suggesting that this would constitute “wholesale amendment” or “drive a coach and horses through the ban”. It has met with our representatives and knows exactly how limited the proposed amendment is. Meanwhile it’s sister organisation the SSPCA has always been supportive of the legislation in Scotland which we seek to mirror.
David Thomas
Federation of Welsh Farmers Packs

It’s a sad day when the newly appointed lord chief justice feels that we need to investigate the possibility of a cut-rate (and, it seems, third rate) criminal justice system because we can no longer afford to run the existing one (Report, 4 March). This echoes the nonsense spouted by Chris Grayling about the need to cut lawyers’ fees in the crown court.
The criminal justice system suffers from the most appalling and endemic inefficiency. In the last calendar year I was involved in cases of murder where a total of 24 working days were wasted. In no case was the conduct of counsel for either the defence or prosecution to blame. Judges go on courses and to meetings in court time; the arrangements for allocating judges to cases well in advance are farcical; the privatised organisations charged with bringing prisoners to court on time fail repeatedly to do so and are rarely, if ever, penalised; jurors arrive late or not at all; the CPS can barely cope with the service and disclosure of documents; there is a culture of unpunctuality. Grayling, who has repeatedly rejected offers to discuss all this with the Criminal Bar Association, thinks he can solve the problems besetting the system by cutting the pay of the only people still working flat out to keep it alive.
Now the lord chief justice talks about restricting jury trial in fraud cases and creating a new tier of criminal court to sit without a jury at all. None of this provides a remedy for the present mess. If we simply cut out the shocking levels of waste, we can run a proper justice system, with juries and within budget. Someone needs to get a grip, not tear down the whole edifice.
Nigel Rumfitt QC
• The scales of justice, according to ex-Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain, have “comfort letters” sent to ex-terrorists on one side (Comment, 27 February), balanced against an amnesty for all soldiers involved in the Bloody Sunday massacre on the other. Personally, I do not recognise that as justice on either side.
Neil Sinclair

We strongly agree with many of the points George Monbiot makes in response to the recent floods (The benefit dependency that the government loves, 4 March). George notes that the changes he wants to see will lead to a reduction in production. He is right that this could helpfully lead to less grain and protein being wastefully fed to farm animals, many of which spend their entire lives shut up indoors, and less grain being produced for biofuels on land which should be producing food for people. His argument is greatly strengthened by the overwhelming need to change our diets in the face of the rising tide of ill-health linked to over-consumption and obesity, costing the NHS over £5bn annually. UK farming could easily support healthy diets, with more fruit and vegetables, and less meat and dairy, and with a focus on grass-fed meat rather than industrial chicken and pork.
George argues against the almost unconditional payments made to farmers under pillar 1 of the common agricultural policy, which is why we and others have long argued that all payments to farmers should be made under pillar 2, where payments can be linked to genuine benefits which farmers deliver for society, like more wildlife and, in other EU countries, less greenhouse gas emissions and more jobs. George is right to castigate the damaging impacts that a crop like maize can have, but not all farming is the same, and we would argue that organic farming, using the sun’s energy rather than fossil fuels to provide fertility, with grass leys needed on all farms, and with deeper and denser rooted crops, ensures that soils can absorb and hold more water in times of heavy rain. By holding water, soils on organic farms also provide resilience against what will probably be the next climatic shock to hit the UK – another “exceptional, one in 100 years” drought like the one we suffered in 2011.
Peter Melchett
Policy director, Soil Association
• In his ongoing crusade to rewild the countryside at the expense of UK agriculture, George Monbiot again seems determined to ignore key facts. He continues to repeat the line about maize growers being entirely exempt from soil protection rules even though it isn’t true. He insists on portraying farmers as wanton destroyers of the soil when their livelihoods (and the country’s food production capabilities) rely on them maintaining fertile and productive soils.
As for his statements about pesticides, no product is certified for use without undergoing extensive trial evaluations of environmental risk and these registrations undergo regular review. Metaldehyde, which Mr Monbiot mentions, is critical to UK crop production and is the subject of ongoing registration review in the UK as well as a rigorous and targeted stewardship campaign supported by manufacturers, water companies, farmers and regulators to find smart solutions to ensure it doesn’t enter water. As the population grows we have to find ways to produce more food while impacting less on the environment. How we achieve this is the debate that attention should be focused on.
Dr Andrew Clark
Head of policy services, NFU
• The government spends £108.9bn a year on the NHS, yet only £3.2bn on agriculture. Disease is often a consequence of poor diet. Since 1970, the supermarkets have come to control farm incomes. Most farms are now dependent on subsidy. The exceptions are those who have paid off their mortgages, and can afford to farm more sensitively. Some post-mortgage farmers own huge estates, some own just a few acres. However, most independent farmers are above retiring age and their children, faced with dire economics and oppressive regulation, do not want to inherit. It’s likely that up to 60 % of UK farm land will be sold in the next decade and most will be bought by investment companies, whose shareholders will demand maximum profit until the ecosystem collapses.
Monbiot claims inspections happen “once every 100 years” but our experience was of three inspections a year. The advertised fines would have bankrupted us. But we are also monitored by satellite, and from aircraft. Monbiot’s agri-environment schemes are greenwashing. No official surveys are undertaken before the schemes start, the government ignores farm species lists, and imposes a standard management plan regardless of its affect on existing rarities. No ecological surveys are conducted during or after the scheme, but subcontractors are sent to ensure that rules are being obeyed, effectively ensuring the local extinction of rarities that the government had not considered worth enquiring about.
Huw Jones
St Clears, Carmarthenshire
• I congratulate George Monbiot on his attack on modern farming practices. We witness these in our valley, which spreads west towards Guildford from Dorking. In our village there is a stream which runs continuously throughout the year, even in times of drought. It’s catchment area is primarily Leith Hill and the water is generally clear, no matter how hard the rain is falling, until it meets the arable farming land in the base of the valley. At that point it is joined by water from the deep drainage ditches from the fields which is a yellowy brown sludgy mess due to the run off. As Monbiot has consistently pointed out, this practice of over-draining what are often bare fields not only leads to flooding but is in blatant disregard of the necessary conservation of the soil that farms rely on for their, and our, long-term future.
Mike Naylor
Westcott, Surrey
• Given the finding that diets rich in animal protein may be as harmful to health as smoking (Report, 5 March), the chancellor must give serious consideration to our suggestion of a tax on meat, eggs and dairy products. We can get all the nutrients that we need (without the saturated fat and cholesterol) from healthy vegan foods. The government can prolong the lives of millions of people, not to mention save those of animals.
Ben Williamson
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

After much public protest, the government agreed in 2007 to call for the return of the British residents from Guantánamo and thus recognised their right to live in the UK as long-term British residents. Five have returned – only Shaker Aamer remains, despite facing no charge or trial. He has been denied justice for over 12 years. He is not therefore a “former” British resident, as stated in Ian Cobain’s otherwise excellent piece (Report, 6 March). Even David Cameron has called for Shaker’s release and return to the UK as a matter of urgency. We need to believe he means it.
Joy Hurcombe
Worthing, West Sussex
• You report that Michael Gove’s daughter will go to Grey Coat school, a girls’ comprehensive school in central London (Report, 5 March). It is indeed a girls’ school, but Westminster in the past ran the local sixth forms as a consortium: my son, based at Pimlico School, did his A-level French at Grey Coat and was the first boy to win the school French prize!
Jennifer Coates
Emeritus professor of English language and linguistics, University of Roehampton
• A wallchart of countries invaded by Britain and the US on one side and those invaded by Russia on the other would be welcome, if somewhat lopsided (Letters, 6 March).
Ian Wright
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
• The Rowson cartoon (5 March) shows Putin about to checkmate the white queen with his king. Also there’s no white king on the board. Was the metaphor “impossible position”?
James Walsh
• I was very sorry to hear of Mike Parker’s death (One font to rule them all, G2, 5 March). Perhaps the Guardian could arrange to scatter his ashes on San Serriffe?
Dave Headey
Faringdon, Oxfordshire
• When I was a child we went to the lavatory to do our business (Letters, 6 March). I feel it is a useful term now for much of what goes on in the City.
Linda Weir
Kirby Muxloe, Leicestershire

Matthew Goodwin’s and Robert Ford’s insightful analysis of male working-class support for Nigel Farage (Comment, 6 March) left out two key considerations. First, the feeling of being left behind is now engulfing growing sections of the middle class and their children; and second, the need to consider what change of policy direction could tackle this sense of personal and community insecurity. Key to addressing these problems is not just to reject job-killing austerity. A sense of being left behind is also a factor in manufacturing and service jobs being relocated to countries with lower taxes and wages. House prices are being yanked out of people’s reach, partly by the uncontrolled flow of foreign capital into empty luxury properties or buy-to-let in the name of foreign investment. Finally, the way UK population growth, both recent and projected, will make it so much more difficult to deal with social, food and energy shortfalls must be faced.
What should change is the acceptance of open borders to the flow of goods, services and money. In Europe that also applies to open borders to the flow of people. All polls show most people in the UK want a reduction in population growth and present levels of immigration. A sensible desire given the incredible official projection that the numbers living in the UK will increase by 10 million over the next 25 years, and that around 60% of this is expected to come from immigration and the children of migrants. The only way to see off the extreme right here and in Europe is for the politically active to provide a programme to protect and rebuild domestic economies to provide a secure future for all, not just the very wealthy 1%.
Colin Hines
East Twickenham, Middlesex
• The established political parties have reasons to fear Ukip, but they are not those quoted by Goodwin and Ford. Despite winning a 22% share of the national vote at last year’s local elections, trumping the 17% achieved at the 2009 Euro election, these impressive results mask the fact that they were achieved on 35% turnouts, which is now customary at mid-term elections. Sections of the electorate have previously flirted briefly with non-mainstream parties such as the National Front, SDP, Greens and BNP, but the historical precedents are not encouraging for Ukip. Moreover, voters expect their elected representatives to be professional, moderate and competent.
Ukip is handicapped by its having no more than three or four spokespersons capable of conducting media interviews and by the constant flow of adverse publicity which suggests political values of intolerance and bigotry. The threat posed to the three main parties by Ukip is psychological, not electoral. Neither the Conservatives nor Labour have yet shown the slightest inclination to engage with the party. Ukip will implode when its philosophy is challenged, its arguments debunked and its leader given enough rope that his fag sets fire to it.
Philip Duly
Haslemere, Surrey
• While Goodwin and Ford are right to warn that Ukip could threaten Labour, it is a simplification to accuse the Blair government of not showing “much interest in left-behind voters”. Labour established the minimum wage, lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty, improved social housing, invested heavily in Sure Start, schools and the NHS and promoted concessionary travel for pensioners. If their record on these issues could be criticised, it was the failure to make enough of these achievements. Doing good by stealth is not a recipe for political success.
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords


I am not sure that Chris Blackhurst “gets” capitalism any more than Labour does (“Labour’s hysterical anti-big business stance”, 5 March).
Since acts against “forestalling, regrossing and engrating” in Elizabethan times, through anti-trust acts in early 20th century America, to modern competition laws, there has been a broad acceptance that free markets are not always benign. Labour’s pronouncements against market failure in energy falls squarely within this tradition.
As for Waitrose offering free coffee and newspapers, this may strike their strategists as a good competitive wheeze, but to those who make their living from selling those products, it smacks of predation. Given the broad cross-party support for the reinvigoration of the high street, I would have thought the promotion of free and fair competition was a laudable aim.
As for the banks, just speak to the many small businesses that have been refused loans and sold dodgy products and you will find broad support from this sturdy class of capitalists for the idea that “something ought to be done”.
Labour is simply reflecting the concerns of both producers and consumers, hardly a hysterical or opportunistic response to current failings of the capitalist system. And by the way, Chris, the next time you are in Costa’s, ask them if you can have your two-shot latte for nothing.
S R H Jones, Malvern, Worcestershire
Your spokesman for big business, Chris Blackhurst, is at it again. This time he’s criticising Labour. He says that Miliband is “rounding on the energy companies”, “lashing out at the banks” and “pledging to restore the 50p top rate tax”. What’s not to like about these policies?
Stuart Gregson, Alton, Hampshire
James Moore’s proposal (5 March) for a collective noun for bankers – “a whinge of bankers” – gives rise to a most vulgar but appropriate spoonerism.
D J Walker, Macclesfield, Cheshire
Climate change: it really is us
The Geological Society supports the Royal Society’s position on climate change (report, 27 February). The geological record of climate change shows that most of the warming of the 20th century was not natural.
The solar energy driving our climate varies through long-term periodic changes in the Earth’s orbit, and short-term changes in the Sun’s output. The amount of solar radiation from orbital changes declined steadily in the northern hemisphere through the past 10,000 years, and will decline further over the next 1000 years. In response, our climate cooled into the Little Ice Age between AD1400  and 1850.
A solar cycle of roughly 210 years is superimposed on that decline. It led to the temporary warming of the Medieval Warm Period, and to the warming between 1900 and 1950. We should now be cooling back towards the average of the Little Ice Age. We are not headed in that direction because the CO2 in the atmosphere has risen far enough to override the 210-year solar cycle, creating man-made global warming.
Geologists know that CO2 made temperature rise in the past, for example at the Palaeocene-Eocene boundary 55 million years ago. As CO2 then declined, the Earth gradually cooled into the Ice Age of the past 2.6 million years. Within the Ice Age, orbital changes periodically caused the oceans to warm and at the same time to emit CO2, which boosted the rise in temperature. It was once thought that temperature led CO2 in the Ice Age, but we now know that CO2  and temperature rose together then.
The positive link between CO2 and temperature in the geological record tells us that we should be wary about adding yet more CO2 to the atmosphere. For more information see
Dr Colin Summerhayes, (Vice President,  Geological Society of London,  2010-2013), Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge University
Careers teachers need business help
The furore around Vince Cable’s comments on teachers and careers advice has obscured a vital point – that teachers have been given the responsibility for careers guidance without the means to deliver (“Teachers ‘have zero knowledge about world of work’ ”, 6 March).
In our recent survey of teachers, over half said that previous experience of business is important to delivering careers advice – yet a majority have little or no experience of business and industry. Indeed, three quarters stated they would like more support from businesses.
The only way to tackle the current crisis in careers advice is for business to engage in their local communities and work with schools more directly, through placements and workshops, to provide the much-needed insight into the skills that young people need. Why should we expect teachers alone to handle this? Their expertise is the classroom, business people’s expertise is in business, and the two need to come together to help our young people find their way.
Roxanne Stockwell, Principal, Pearson College, London WC2
Vince Cable is right that teachers know little about the world of work. I have no idea how I advise a pupil to become a member of a minority political party which ends up in power, via Cambridge, a university lectureship and a stint as a corporate economist for big oil, as Cable did.
Is it possible to capture that essence of privilege and share it with the children in careers lessons, or would that remove the exclusivity of Oxbridge and the professional middle-class networking that leads to jobs in big companies and the lifestyle that allows you to make comfortable decisions such as plumping for a career in politics?
It’s time our MPs had some real-world work experience.
Ian McKenzie, Lincoln
Ukraine: security  is for everyone
Owen Jones’s attempt (6 March) to offer an anti-war argument over Ukraine comes unstuck when he becomes an advocate of Russia’s security needs, which he says are “informed by the fact that it has been repeatedly – and catastrophically – attacked from the West”.
This is special pleading for Russian to have an opt-out from international law. I wonder if Jones – and other anti-war campaigners – will raise “security needs” the next time that Israel takes military action.
John Strawson, Reader in Law, University of East London
Time to put a tax on meat
Given the finding that diets rich in animal protein may be as harmful to health as smoking, it’s time for the Chancellor to give serious consideration to PETA’s suggestion of a deficit-correcting tax on meat, eggs and dairy products in the Budget later this month.
At the very least, the Government should require cigarette-style labelling: “Warning: Consumption of this product can cause cancer, heart disease, strokes and other diseases that can lead to premature death”.
We can get all the nutrients that we need (without the saturated fat and cholesterol) from healthy vegan foods. The Government can prolong the lives of millions of people, not to mention save those of animals, by treating the animal-agriculture industry in the same way that it treats the tobacco industry – with suspicion and contempt.
Ben Williamson, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, London N1

Helping creative genius along a bit
Robert Duncan Martin (letter, 6 March) seeks to decry creative writing courses by pointing out that great writers such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen succeeded by sheer force of genius.
By the same token, one could say that Brunel had no engineering degree and David Garrick did not go to drama school, and question the need for any higher education at all. But we are not all natural, intuitive geniuses. Who knows how many “mute inglorious Miltons” might have blossomed into great writers if a helping hand had been available?
John Smurthwaite, Leeds
Holidays in term-time
Vicki Mangan got her cheap(er) holiday (letter, 3 March) because travel operators and the airlines and hotels they use have to balance year-round income and expenditure. If we had staggered school holidays and a five-term school year – which I wholeheartedly support – peak costs would probably come down, but off-peak costs would almost certainly rise accordingly. What was that about a free lunch?
Stephen Mullin, London EC1
Climactic moment?
Your article on developments in the female condom (6 March) is headlined on the front page as a “breakthrough moment”. I’m no expert but I would have thought that a breakthrough in a barrier contraceptive was the last thing one would want.
Mark Thomas, Histon, Cambridgeshire

Sir, John Blackwell, president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, says that animals killed to produce kosher and halal meat “bleed to death” (“Stop Ritual slaughter of animals . . .” Mar 6).
All animals killed in the slaughter house bleed to death! The question is whether they are stunned before their throats are cut. Blackwell fails to record the considerable failure rate of pre-stunning, especially of chickens, which are electrocuted before their throats are cut.
I hope to read of Blackwell’s campaign to ban factory farming or inhumane transport of live animals, which inflicts more trauma on animals than any of the current acceptable methods of slaughter.
Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein
Northwood, Greater London
Sir, If we must accept “humane” as describing the method that causes the least suffering in an animal in its last moments of life (Mar 6), then John Blackwell’s argument, that “slitting animals’ throats and allowing them to bleed to death causes unnecessary suffering”, if true, would indeed be a justification to ban it. It is, however, an argument seriously flawed and based on a misconception.
Shechita, the Jewish method of slaughter, conforms to the UK legal definition of “stunning”, that is to “render an animal unconscious until death”. Far from excluding stunning, it actually both stuns and slaughters in one action, making it the most immediate and efficient method.
Blackwell tells only half the story. Conventional pre-stunning methods often fail to induce unconsciousness. Indeed pre-stunning is designed in the interests of abattoir operators and inflicts momentary pain and distress on millions of animals.
Jack Lynes
Pinner, Middx
Sir, The bleeding of an animal in ancient times related to the concept (Leviticus) that the blood was the “life” and this belonged to the god who gave it, the basis of all sacrifice, even in Christian theology. Both Jews and Muslims are a small minority in a land which demands prior stunning of animals for food as a rule of law. Mr Blackwell’s informed professional opinion should not be brushed aside for ancient taboos in foreign lands which knew nothing of science. Meanwhile, your leader is entirely correct about the horrors we inflict on food animals in intensive rearing.
Roger Payne
London NW3
Sir, Not that I eat crab or lobster, but I understand that to cook them they are placed in boiling water while still alive. Methinks that double standards seem to prevail.
Peter Spill
Redbridge, Essex
Sir, There is no case for halal slaughter without previous stunning. This is a recoverable state, ie, although unconscious, the animal is still alive, so can have done to it whatever these religions feel necessary without the terror and pain involved to a sentient animal.
This country has evolved many laws over hundreds of years to ban what it considers barbaric practices, regardless of faith, and we should not allow these laws to be broken in the name of religion.
Ann Rignall
Kenilworth, Warks

It is high time UK consumers started to worry about soaring gas prices as a consequence of the crisis in Ukraine
Sir, Russia is the biggest supplier of gas to Europe so it is inevitable that the crisis in Ukraine will affect prices here. Already the markets are spooked, with UK wholesale gas prices up by around 10 per cent. This would equate to a gas price rise of 5-6 per cent for homes if the costs were passed through to customers. If the crisis deepens, wholesale prices are expected to rise further. The longer the crisis goes on the more likely it is that there will be an impact on UK energy prices, for example, a 20 per cent hike in wholesale prices normally equates to price rises of more than 10 per cent to households.
Energy prices have risen in each of the past four years; let’s hope that this crisis is solved quickly so that more price rises are not on their way soon.
Mark Todd

The Army should not be allowed to act any longer as judge, jury and prosecutor in courts martial
Sir, You are right in your editorial (Mar 4) that the Army should not be prosecutor, judge and juror during investigations into alleged offences. The RAF had the same system when I was serving as a personnel officer in the 1980s. An airman could be charged with an offence by his superior officer, have his charge heard by that officer, be remanded for a court martial which would be tried by RAF officers and then have the trial reviewed by RAF Command Headquarters. That airman might well be defended at court martial by the officer who heard the original charge. This would never happen in civilian life.
Until the Services develop a completely separate system of justice, it will be hard to prove objectivity.
Hannah Walker
(Squadron Leader, Ret’d)
Cattistock, Dorset

MEPs are proposing radical redesigns of lorry cabs to give more protection to cyclists and pedestrians
Sir, The Department for Transport wrongly asserts that amendments supported by MEPs to EU lorry design rules would not benefit UK road users (“Bereaved relatives call for bigger and safer lorry cabs”, Mar 3).
Numerous road safety campaigns across the UK have stressed the urgent need for safer lorry designs to help to protect vulnerable road users. The current brick shape design is not fit for purpose. It has too many blind spots, and a front that can push pedestrians and cyclists underneath the wheels. Failing to act now would almost be an act of negligence.
Existing design is dictated by the need for the cab to occupy the shortest possible length, hence the flat-fronted vehicles on our roads, which are poorly designed for aerodynamic and safety performance. We have proposed to make the safety requirements mandatory so that even urban trucks would be safer.
Under these proposals, drivers’ direct vision would be improved by reducing the blind spots under the front windscreen and the side of the cab. And the new designs would also fit an energy absorbing crash management system to reduce the damage in a collision, and pedestrians would be protected by adjusting the frontal design to minimise the risk of someone being run over.
As Liberal Democrats, we are supporting these proposed changes, as we want to see safer lorry designs to protect cyclists and pedestrians from harm.
Phil Bennion, MEP
Baroness Ludford, MEP
Fiona Hall, MEP

Monster potholes after the winter’s rains are shocking but no match for 11,000 new holes in Philadelphia
Sir, Your photo of the M2 pothole in Kent that was 15ft deep sent a shiver down my spine. I’ve seen my share of potholes this snowy year on the East Coast of the United States, but I’ve haven’t found anything to compare to that monster.
Does that North Kent pothole set a UK record? A world record?
Philadelphia, where I work, will set a pothole record this year. We don’t have anything that deep, but as of March 4, we’ve hit a new high in holes: 11,000.
John Loftus
Hatboro, Pennsylvania

It is all very well wondering where our hourglass figures and waistlines have gone – we just eat more these days, much more
Sir, Portion size has a lot to do with our increased waistlines (“How Britain’s waistline expanded”, times2, Mar 6). A recipe for a quiche in my 1974 edition of The Times Cookery Book by the late Katie Stewart, requires a 20cm (8in) flan tin and suggests a serving for 4-6 portions. Wine glasses have also become oversized. Our children are horrified by the size of claret glasses we had as wedding presents more than 40 years ago. No room to swirl and sniff, let alone quaff.
Heather Newman
Yarcombe, Devon


SIR – You report that a high-protein diet is as bad for health as smoking. The American study on which this claim is based does not qualify what sort of proteins were being eaten; it simply looks at how certain animal proteins can be inflammatory and increase factors that stimulate tumour cell growth.
I am a nutritionist and have seen many studies that draw links between animal protein and cancer. However, when it is a typical American diet that is being studied, the meats are often processed, cured, full of additives and preservatives, intensively reared and generally of poor quality. I have yet to see a study that finds such a link with high-quality, natural animal produce.
Ben Pratt
SIR – The medical and scientific communities appear to be hell-bent on extending human life, whether through diet or medication or genetic manipulation. The world suffers from over-population. We need a more considered and rational allocation of resources.
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John Kellie
Pyrford, Surrey
SIR – Should we stop eating altogether? No harmful fats, no sugar, now no high-protein foods. I, for one, am totally confused.
For years, we have been advised to eat a minimum of five fruits and vegetables per day. Sugar antagonists now say fruit is high in sugar, especially melon, grapes and bananas, which have beneficial nutrients.
Everything in moderation is the key.
Stella Bowman
Prestwich, Lancashire
SIR – Not having been a lifelong non-smoking teetotal vegan, how many years have I lost?
Michael Brotherton
Chippenham, Wiltshire
Smiley’s people
SIR – John le Carré’s portrayal of John Bingham as George Smiley perhaps reflects le Carré’s own career in the Secret Services. He failed to impress those best placed to know on each side in the Cold War: Dick White (arguably the best director in the history of the Secret Services) was critical of him; and Yuri Modin (Philby’s KGB case officer) wrote that there were “truer, more subtle portraits of the profession” than le Carré’s.
Michael Esther
Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire
SIR – Lord Lexden makes a most uncharacteristic mistake in his letter regarding the late John Bingham, Lord Clanmorris. He writes that the peerage was “an Ulster title without property”. In fact, the full title was Clanmorris of Newbrook – Newbrook being in Mayo, a county in Connaught, not Ulster. The property may have gone by the time John Bingham inherited the barony but, according to The Complete Peerage, the family held 18,111 acres in Mayo and Galway, valued at £8,263 a year in 1883.
C D C Armstrong
Voice in the wilderness
SIR – Apparently the Government’s wildlife advisers have told farmers to call “shoo” before they shoot pests that they discover attacking their crops. Presumably they come upon these animals in fields that could be many hundreds of acres in size.
I have a garden of a quarter acre. Calling “shoo” to magpies usually has little effect.
What sort of voices are farmers expected to have?
P F Fairclough
Tattenhall, Cheshire
SIR – The starting rate of tax is 20 per cent on incomes above £10,000 per year, but those on a minimum wage are paying 32 per cent on part of their income, since we must include the employee’s National Insurance contribution of 12 per cent, which is simply a form of income tax by another name. It is not earmarked for the National Health Service or pensions; this tax should be abolished.
If the better-off were to agree to give up most of their tax reliefs, excluding their personal allowance, then significantly more than £40 billion a year would be generated. This could be used to convert the three rates of tax currently at 32 per cent, 42 per cent and 47 per cent to just two rates of tax: 20 per cent and 35 per cent.
Lord Jacobs
London SW1
SIR – Instead of raising the personal allowance, we should have a much more progressive tax system, starting with a 10p or even 5p rate for the lowest paid. We should also sharply increase the minimum wage, reduce employers’ National Insurance contributions to compensate, and stop paying benefits to those in work. This would encourage people to work, and do away with a whole raft of bureaucracy. The Government should carry out a cost/benefit analysis on this.
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Paul Beasley
Lower Stondon, Bedfordshire
SIR – I think that business rates should be called enterprise tax.
When you rent a commercial property, such as a shop, you pay 40 per cent of your rent to the council, but that does not include rubbish removal. For that, you have to pay an additional charge from £1 to £3 per bag. At least I get my bins emptied for my domestic rates.
Penny Cole
Watlington, Oxfordshire
Academic visa fees
SIR – A young Turkish scholar, studying in America, was coming to Oxford to give a paper on the important excavations of the Byzantine harbour in Istanbul. Happy to pay her own air fare, she then realised she would be charged an extra $470 for a visa.
She could not afford this, and so she didn’t come. The episode is shameful. What does charging visitors sums like this do, apart from promote Britain’s decline as a centre of academic excellence? Short-term academic visitors should not be charged.
Mark Whittow
University Lecturer in Byzantine Studies
Corpus Christi College, Oxford
Profitable gifts
SIR – Lady Sainsbury was not only a benefactor of the arts. In the Nineties, private practice in NHS hospitals was no longer discouraged. St Mark’s Hospital, where I was clinical director at the time, embraced the change.
Lady Sainsbury and her husband, Sir Robert, felt strongly that profits from private health care should be ploughed back into the NHS, especially for the support of teaching and research. To this end, they funded a 17-bed private ward with incorporated outpatient facilities for St Mark’s after its move to Northwick Park, Middlesex. It still flourishes 20 years later.
James P S Thomson FRCS
London N1
Zero gravity
SIR – What is all the fuss about Gravity? Apart from the scenery created by clever technology, the story is implausible, the acting by the principal performers less than memorable, and the ending laughable.
Eric Marsh
Hathersage, Derbyshire
Put away the wellies, and start wearing shorts
SIR – For me, a sign of spring is to be able to wear my short wellington boots instead of my tall, knee-length ones to wade through the paths flooded by the River Meon in our village.
Josie Dyson
Droxford, Hampshire
SIR – My central heating boiler broke down on Monday and my wife and I were frozen. Spring has not arrived here.
Rob Dowlman
SIR – Spring must be here. I’ve just seen my first Spitfire flying over: a beautiful sight and sound.
Christopher P Hill
SIR – For us, the most obvious sign of spring is when our post lady starts wearing shorts again.
Ian Whitmore
Lower Froyle, Hampshire
SIR – I know that spring has sprung when I hear the buzz of my neighbour’s electric sander on his beautiful old wooden yacht.
David Morris
Helensburgh, Argyle and Bute
SIR – Frogspawn is forming, lambs are leaping, pheasants are foraging, buds are bursting, and Year 6 pupils are practising alliteration for their SAT examinations in the spring.
Heather Gosling
Taunton, Somerset

SIR – The trend in recent foreign policy by the major Western democracies has been to encourage revolution. The Arab Spring has produced nothing but discord and mayhem on an international scale, while events in Ukraine promise ever more dangerous prospects.
Vladimir Putin can afford to smirk when he looks at those who oppose him: a weak American president, a powerless EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, a divided British Government, a French president who lacks credibility and a German chancellor who poses no military threat.
The division of Ukraine should be accepted. Western leaders should stop posturing and turn their attentions to correcting the many problems that face them at home, while at the same time strengthening their economic and military defences to meet future threats.
Mick Richards
Llanfair Waterdine, Shropshire
SIR – We chose to depend on gas from Russia and oil from the Middle East. It would have been better to have developed nuclear energy, which can power everything. Ships run on it. Why not cars?
Ian Macleod
Whitchurch, Shropshire
SIR – I share President Putin’s view of events in Ukraine, not those of William Hague, who supports the US and EU (German) expansionist policies. The Russians have had to remove genocidal killers from their land and that of Ukraine. They have a greater right to protect the interests of people in that region than Western human rights activists.
Gordon Black
Stockport, Cheshire
SIR – Lt Gen Sir Richard Vickers tells us that we made no response to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The reason we did not intervene is that we had learnt our lesson in Hungary in 1956. We encouraged the Hungarians to rise up against Russian tyranny and then did nothing to help them. We accepted that Hungary (and Czechoslovakia) were part of the Soviet sphere of influence, just as we thought that Suez was in ours. Rollback was dead and America accepted that it would not risk a third world war in order to liberate Russian vassal states.
Paul Jones
Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire
SIR – There never has been an option to place aircraft carriers in the Black Sea (Letters, March 4). The Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits prohibits the passage of large naval vessels through the Bosporus. Non-Black Sea states, in particular, are limited to naval vessels being no larger than 15,000 tons on entering the Straits.
This disqualified our old Invincible class carriers (22,000 tons), all American carriers (105,000 tons) and the current French carrier (40,000 tons).
The Harriers would have been limited to operating from the northern Aegean – a non-starter, I’m afraid, because of range issues. The new Queen Elizabeth class carriers will fare no better, as they fast approach 70,000 tons.
Captain Michael Booth RN (retd)
Portsmouth, Hampshire

Irish Times:

A chara, – It was somewhat ironic that the reception hosted by President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin in honour of Seán Ó Cuirreáin (“Lack of services in Irish dismays Higgins”, Home News, March 6th) took place at exactly the same time as Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley was being questioned at an Oireachtas subcommittee on the issues raised by Mr Ó Cuirreáin’s decision to retire early from his post as the State’s first coimisinéir teanga.
Speaking “as President of Ireland”, Mr Higgins stated that he was “greatly concerned at the apparent low level of ability to fulfil the rights of citizens who wish to interact through Irish with the State and its agencies”.
Reporting on the big march that took place in Dublin a few weeks ago, your Irish language editor Pól Ó Muirí (Bileog, February 19th) remarked on the gulf which exists between the Irish-speaking community and the general English-speaking public, saying they hardly inhabited the same planet, let alone the same country! As one of the thousands of people who marched down O’Connell Street that day on our way to the Dáil, I have to admit you could not help noticing the puzzled look on the faces of Saturday shoppers as they waited patiently for the buses which were backed up behind us.
A lot of these onlookers, I’d say, were thinking to themselves, have that crowd nothing better to protest about? Haven’t they got recognition for Irish as a core school subject, haven’t they got their own radio and TV stations funded by the Government, haven’t they got the constitutional right to use Irish in their dealings with the state? We Gaeilgeoirí have to acknowledge that the general public would be quite correct on the first two of these propositions – Irish does still hold a central place in our education system, and Raidió na Gaeltachta and TG4 are both excellent stations which punch far above their weight.
Where the general public’s perception falls down is on the third proposition – that we Irish speakers have the right to use Irish in our dealings with the State. In theory and under the Constitution this may be the case, but in practice it is usually impossible or else extremely difficult to use Irish for official purposes. This has long been the weakness in the State’s overall policy on the Irish language. As Mr Ó Cuirreáin put it, the State imposes a duty on students to learn the language and then frequently puts obstacles in their way of using it for official purposes.
I know a section of the public will still say, so what? But the point is that it does not make sense for any of us if one arm of the State is contradicting what another arm of it is trying to facilitate. If, as a country, we want Irish to survive even as a small minority language, the State will have to take the practical steps necessary to provide for the right of Irish speakers to use the language in the public sphere. As a former civil servant myself, I’m convinced that this is above all a question of political and administrative will and does not have to involve any extra resources.
No language can survive if its use is confined to just private and domestic contexts. A lot of us now feel we can only practice the language with other consenting adults behind closed doors. No wonder people look at us as if we had two heads the odd time we muster the courage to march down the main street of our capital city. – Is mise,
Hollywood, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – There is a great opportunity to utilise the assets at the disposal of Nama to allocate permanent homes for various voluntary bodies that operate from shared or rented premises. Many of the premises being disposed of by Nama are being sold for prices that are not even giving proper value to the taxpayer. The benefit or profit is going to a new breed of speculator, many of whom are from outside the country. It was speculation and speculators who got us into this predicament in the first place.
The largest part of the capital cost of any building is the site, the building structure and the building envelope (exterior covering). Fitting out of premises to suit the needs of any particular group is a minor cost in relative terms.
Organisations such as Jigsaw, working to better support young people’s mental health and wellbeing, would benefit greatly from having permanent bases in the community. Removing the worry of rents or leases from the management of such groups would free them to apply their time and skills where they are more appropriately utilised.
Consider the sports and social clubs that do not have permanent bases, such as boxing clubs, martial arts clubs, drama societies and many others, that depend on the generosity of others and the availability of already oversubscribed community halls to provide incredibly important social outlets.
We already have much of the human infrastructure in place in the form of organisations such as Foróige, the Scouts, Autism Ireland, active retirement groups, Care for the Aged, Mental Health Ireland, Aware and “men’s shed” groups, to name but a few, that could operate the premises and take the responsibility for the upkeep and security of the buildings.
The appointment of one person at a national level and the assignment of liaison responsibility to a person within Nama, to investigate community needs and match needs with the physical resources available, could achieve long-term benefits.– Yours, etc,
Co Galway.

Sir, – Your report (February 22nd) on the forthcoming auction of a photograph of Kevin Barry will have diverted many a downcast rugby fan. The photograph “depicts” Barry (in Belvedere jersey) sprinting for the Blackrock try-line during the Leinster Schools’ Junior Cup final in 1917. (The try was converted and Belvedere won 5-3). Though in the Junior squad that season, Barry did not play in the final. From the bench, as first substitute, he presumably had a good view of the real try-scorer, H Kelly, whose brio completed a fine move initiated by Ross Barnett and N Redmond. Barry switched to hurling in 1918 before taking up rugby again in his last year at Belvedere. This time he was picked for the Senior Cup but a semi-final defeat by Blackrock in 1919 meant that he never did get to have that rugby moment at Lansdowne Road. – Yours, etc,
St Jude’s Avenue,

Sir, – The new building regulations require builders and “assigned certifiers” to sign-off to local authorities for new building works.
Private contracts for new homes, extensions and other buildings are private. They are arranged between the clients and their chosen main contractors and/or their subcontractors. Developers and home builders decide what they want in a building. Designers help to achieve the required result. Most building work is carried out in accordance with building regulations.
A small number of projects received planning permission but were not inspected nor monitored by fire regulators or other local authority supervisors. To whom will the new regulation bring peace of mind?
It is surprising that any professional institute would be prepared to back this regulation. The law in this country does not imply a warranty that a professional will achieve a desired result, eg a surgeon cannot guarantee that their patient will be cured by the treatment given to them and a solicitor cannot guarantee that their client’s case will be won in the courts. But designers are now expected to guarantee that a building they designed will be fit for the purpose for which it was designed and that it was carried out to the design, specification and building regulations by signing a document certifying those works, which must then be submitted to the planning authorities.
Will the planning authority take direct legal responsibility if the assigned certifier or the registered builder has gone out of business before any building defects become apparent because this regulation is now legally required? The appointment of a full-time “clerk-of-works” individual for the duration of the contract, plus an “assigned certifier” who will have to be available to alter drawings and specifications in accordance with the contract, will be a minimum requirement.
Those costs will certainly eliminate self-building and a considerable amount of small to medium building works throughout the country.
The registered builders will need to be on constant alert to all design details and variations, which will have to be recorded under the registration certificate and changed under the terms of building contract. Separate contracts may be required for assigned certifiers. Building contract conditions will be used more than ever in order to shift responsibility between the designers and the builders.
A greater likelihood of litigation will arise as the contracts for certification compliance are not time limited. Insurance is renewable annually.
The additional building costs to the developer and home builder are going to be considerable. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – While Fintan O’Toole (“EU proves EU disciples of austerity wrong”, Opinion & Analysis, March 4th) is undoubtedly right that the “benefits” of austerity have been oversold, he is profoundly wrong to hold up the United States as an examplar of good economics.
What he has missed is trade. The US current account deficit was $361 billion last year. Meanwhile Germany, China, and Japan enjoyed surpluses of $257 billion, $176 billion, and $57 billion respectively.
Anyone with a credit card can throw a good party but the trick is to pay the bill.
Because of a pattern of huge trade deficits that has now persisted for more than three decades, the United States is not only completely hollowed out but has become more heavily beholden to foreign creditors than any great power since the last days of the Ottoman empire a century ago. – Yours, etc,
Elm House,
Sussex Road,

Sir, – Gregory Rosenstock (March 4th) has offered an entertaining, if slightly overwrought, description of the social and environmental costs of widespread car ownership. It is, however, worth mentioning the overwhelming benefits derived from the proliferation of the motor car.
The society described by Mr Rosenstock is fundamentally not one which is obsessed by cars, but one obsessed with mobility. When compared to the static, highly localised nature of life prior to the emergence of the car as a tool of personal mobility, we can appreciate the true value of our car-derived freedom which he dismisses as illusory.
Indeed, the very fact that people do expend such colossal effort in terms of money and resources to build, buy and run cars is proof of the value which cars offer to modern society.
The fact that Mr Rosenstock might disapprove of such priorities is rather beside the point. – Yours, etc,
Armstrong’s Barn,
Co Wicklow.

Sir, – In response to my letter about Ukraine, Roland Evans (March 6th) states that “Nato has changed its functions and is not aimed at encircling Russia”. However, I read on your front page (“Nato and EU pledge to intensify pressure on Moscow”, March 6th) that “the Pentagon was stepping up flight training with the Polish airforce and the US role in Nato air patrols over the ex-Soviet Baltic states”. They haven’t gone away, you know. I am not an apologist for Russian imperialism. I’m just one of the hundred thousand who marched in Dublin, and the million more who marched in London, against the invasion of Iraq.
Military “intervention” in other people’s countries is a savage and outdated method of managing international relations, and demonising foreign governments is one of the bad habits which encourages this aberrant behaviour. Mr Putin is not a good man but neither is he a stupid one. The way to deal with him is to do a deal. The most urgent question is how to stop Ukraine falling apart in a catastrophic civil war. They will need all their neighbours to help, with negotiations not armaments, if the cataclysm is to be avoided. – Yours, etc,
Rock Road,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – For a brief moment, reading your “Kerry condemns Russian aggression” headline (March 5th), I thought the Skibbereen Eagle had been revived. – Yours, etc,
Haddington Park,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – I doubt it is a coincidence that Ireland’s lambing season coincided with the killing of an Irish-bred white-tailed eagle, which was found riddled with gunshot pellets (Home News, March 5th). These magnificent birds are principally scavengers and usually feed on carrion, birds, fish and small mammals – rarely, if ever, are they known to prey on lambs. If I am wrong in my assumption about this coincidence, then this action amounts to a wanton act.
It is a dastardly deed which has deprived our island of one of only a handful of these majestic creatures that once soared in numbers along our shorelines and lakes. – Yours, etc,
Co Louth.

Sir, – Can we be sure that electronic cigarettes do not cause harmful side-effects to bystanders who are exposed to them? Apparently the laws on smoking, advertising and promotion do not apply, or are not enforced, in the case of so-called electronic and vapour cigarettes. Pop-up stalls and vendors sell them without obvious restrictions. I have seen smokers “light up” their e-devices in restaurants and shopping malls with no obvious concern for their own or anyone else’s health or the sensitivities of those around them. Can we be sure that the sale and use of these devices should remain unregulated? – Yours, etc,
Moyclare Close,
Baldoyle, Dublin 13.
Sir, – Paddy Agnew’s Rome Letter (“Imagery of Italy clashes with reality of ruins”, March 5th) contrasts the haunting beauty of the Rome depicted in the Oscar-winning film La Grande Bellezza with the crumbling reality of the near-bankrupt Eternal City. However, the most sardonic feature of the Fellini-esque take on latter-day Roman decadence is that it was funded by Silvio Berlusconi, whose family newspaper, Il Giornale , dubbed the award “Berlusconi’s Oscar”. – Yours, etc,

Sir, – Further to Clare Quinn’s letter (March 5th) about the Simplex crossword on Monday last, the Chambers Dictionary (2011), which all serious cruciverbalists have to hand, lists five possible spellings: piranha, piraña, piraya, perai and pirai. Anyone unfortunate enough to be savaged by one or many might of course call them something else. Yours, etc,
Charleville Road,

Sir, – How can Alan Davies be the eponymous star of the TV series Jonathan Creek (“Born on this Date”, March 6th)? This must be a very curious translation of the Greek that you are using here! – Yours, etc,
Strand Road,
Sandymount, Dublin 4.

Sir, – What a wonderful photograph by Aaron Pierce of the mighty wave in Sligo (Front Page, March 6th). However I am intrigued that it was “first surfed in 2010”. How is this possible? To paraphrase Heraclitus, “you can’t step twice into the same wave” ! – Yours, etc,
Dale Road,
Co Dublin.

Sir, – Dermod O’Byrne (March 6th) is absolutely correct. I was just saying to my friends the farmerette and her sister the soldierette how perplexing that story was about the French president and the actor. Maybe the sub-editoress should be taken to task. – Yours, etc,
Threadneedle Road,

Irish Independent:

* “Twenty-thirteen was a good year for Ireland,” proclaimed Jose Barroso in UCC where, in granting the European Commission president an honorary doctorate, one of Ireland’s oldest and most respected institutes of learning reverted to the old Irish practice of forelock-tugging to our masters.
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“A successful exit from the economic assistance programme,” continued Mr Barroso, without a touch of irony; and then, in the final blow, “And you had precious solidarity and financial support from the European Union and its member states.”
When you’re already one of the smallest and weakest in a group, a friend doesn’t take advantage of your weakness, doesn’t force you to accept the debts of others as a condition for coming to your aid. Yet, that was the kind of ‘solidarity’ we received from the EU, the European Commission and the ECB.
“Financial support”? Mr Barroso said: “I personally made the case to other European leaders for lower interest rates and longer maturities on Ireland’s loans.” Ah yes, extend and pretend – how much debt write-off have we had? Not a cent. Rather, we have had the entire losses of the institutional investors/gamblers in the then private Irish banks imposed on us, including the ‘coupons’, the interest on every one of those failed bonds of those failed banks.
He went on to point out how much we’ve taken from Europe in the last seven years – “nearly €14bn in European Union budget support for agriculture but also for social and infrastructure investment as well as research”.
What, Mr Barroso, no mention of what Europe has gained from Ireland, the value of the fish taken from Irish waters, for instance?
“Ireland has returned to ‘normal’ in EU terms,” he says, “The European Commission has always been on the side of Ireland, one could even say one of your best friends.”
Is a national debt of €210bn normal? Or double-digit unemployment figures, which, if truth were fully told, are nearer to 20pc than 10pc?
If Mr Barroso and his commission have been one of our best friends then God help us.
* I would like to commend Martina Devlin for her article this week regarding pensioners.
I am 50 and had to retire early as I received a diagnosis of MS four years ago. I was vice principal of a large Gaelscoil but am still actively involved at the school in my areas of expertise. Fortunately I can manage my illness very well. I am a musician and last year organised a trad music festival in my village to commemorate a successful recording artist from early 1900s who went to America from our village and am also involved in local community games.
The objective of this letter is not to put my efforts on a pedestal or elect myself as person of the year; I write merely to applaud your proposal that perhaps an organisation similar to the one in Sweden be initiated at political level.
While I would not fit into the category of Good Public Pension, I still feel that there are many bright, innovative and interested retired citizens not on the gold-plated pensions, who would be of immense benefit to our country in their areas of expertise.
My personal thoughts on the Senate discussion/referendum last year was that people who work in voluntary areas in their communities would be given periods to express opinions, ideas, etc, in the Senate because they were the ones involved with the public in a real and everyday way. Elected representatives on long-term placement can often forget the difficulties and challenges encountered by the families of our country once they enter the halls of power. There are thousands of excellent people giving their energies, expertise, etc, to help the community on a daily basis. I am happy for you to use my letter but would prefer if my name weren’t used.
* Zoe Lawlor (Letters, Irish Independent, March 5), of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, draws attention to Amnesty International’s latest one-sided report attacking Israel. Amnesty is an NGO that means well and often works for good purposes. However, it is questionable what business Amnesty has compiling reports on defence and security matters. On February 10, Amnesty’s secretary-general Salil Shetty admitted in an interview with Al Jazeera: “We are not experts on military matters. So, we don’t want to, kind of, pontificate on issues we don’t really understand.” This begs the question of why, then, Amnesty compiled such a report on military and security-related issues in the first place.
Amnesty’s latest attack on Israel reads like a publicity stunt rather than a serious report. The 87-page document consists of randomly selected, unverifiable and sometimes even contradictory accounts, often from people with a political agenda against Israel.
As long as Amnesty continues to ritualistically condemn Israel for defending its civilians and soldiers and treats the Palestinians like children, it is pushing a possible peace between the two parties further away.
* While I agree with the sentiment expressed in Sean McElgunn’s letter “Mystery of Life” (March 6), this kind of kumbaya belief isn’t the reality. If only it were.
If only people would believe what they want to believe and that was it. However, the problems arise when organisations and institutions co-opt that belief for their own agenda.
The power of faith lies in its coercive ability – it is, unfortunately, rife for misuse. And where dissenting arguments arise, they are met with deaf ears, because, “it’s my faith, it’s what I believe”. That level of certainty can’t be touched by reason.
Why I strongly disagree with Mr McElgunn is twofold. Firstly, for many, faith is not a free gift. It’s not even a choice, it’s a label given to them upon (or before) birth.
Secondly, in stating “the fact that there is something demands a cause”, Mr McElgunn applies a distinctly anthropocentric perspective to something that is not bound by such laws, namely, the universe.
* I was called for the first time for jury service last week. I joined a large crowd of people filing into a courtroom. The names of 449 people were read out and the names of those present, well over 400, were put in a box.
The 400 people and the box then moved to another courtroom and imagine my surprise when I found out that the 449 people had been called for just one jury panel for one day.
Then we were all given details of the case and 20 names were taken at random from the box. Some of those called were given exemptions and that left two women and 10 men. The remaining 380 of us were told we could go. We had been an hour in the courthouse.
Does this happen every day in our courts? Is it necessary or usual to call this number of people in order to find 12 for one jury?
As I am retired it was easy for me to attend but many of the others there would have had to change work times, make other arrangements for pre-school children and elderly in their care, etc.
Jury members get no expenses, only a free lunch each day. I realise, of course, that if only retired people served on juries they wouldn’t be representative of society but calling these big numbers puzzles me.
Irish Independent


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