Hair

21 March 2014 Hair

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to stop take Mrs Murray around the harbour, the get lost!Priceless

Cold slightly better hair and library card

Scrabbletoday Marywins and gets under400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

 

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the former president of Sierra Leone who has died aged 82, invited British forces to rescue his capital from a brutal rebel army, paving the way for Tony Blair’s most successful foreign intervention.

A kindly and well-meaning man, temperamentally about as far from a war leader as could be imagined, Kabbah found himself confronting a singularly ruthless enemy when, in May 2000, rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) massed outside the capital, Freetown.

For almost a decade, RUF insurgents had ravaged Sierra Leone, specialising in hacking the arms and legs off their victims. Foday Sankoh, the RUF’s psychotic leader, had been trained in Libya by Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and sent back to West Africa to carry out a “people’s revolution”.

On January 6 1999 the RUF struck deep inside Freetown, carrying out a massacre which the city’s people still remember with horror. So when Sankoh and his men returned the following year Kabbah, who had already been overthrown once and restored once, faced the prospect of his capital again being sacked with trepidation.

Ensconced in a gloomy official residence on a windswept hill overlooking the Atlantic – with a tank permanently stationed outside – Kabbah knew that his own Army was incapable of stopping the RUF. He was also grimly aware that he could not rely on the world’s biggest United Nations peacekeeping force, which maintained 17,000 ineffective and often inert troops in Sierra Leone.

So Kabbah turned to Britain, the former colonial power.

At first, he received a lukewarm response. Britain dispatched 800 troops, consisting of 1 Bn the Parachute Regiment and supporting elements, under the command of Brigadier David Richards. But the official mission was simply to evacuate British and other eligible citizens from Freetown.

In the event, this evacuation took less than a week. Instead of packing up and leaving, however, Brig Richards then decided – largely on his own initiative – to stay in Freetown and prevent the RUF from capturing the city. Tony Blair gave retrospective backing to his commander on the ground.

Brig Richards was barred from going on the offensive, so he carefully deployed his troops in exposed forward positions and waited for the RUF to attack.

 

The rebels took the bait and attacked British paratroopers near Lungi airport on May 17. The ensuing firefight was, in hindsight, the turning point of Sierra Leone’s civil war. For the first time since its foundation in 1991, the RUF collided not with a ragtag African army, but an elite fighting force. The rebels duly came off worse. Just how badly they were mauled remains unclear: Britain maintains that 30 insurgents were killed; the true figure was almost certainly far higher.

On the same day, Foday Sankoh was captured by Sierra Leonean forces acting with the help of British intelligence. After suffering this almost simultaneous double blow, the RUF began to fall apart and the threat to Freetown evaporated. The rebels opened talks with Kabbah and the civil war formally ended in 2002.

Fewer than 800 British combat troops had changed the course of history in a country of five million people – without suffering a single loss (although one British soldier was killed four months later during a mission to rescue 11 hostages).

Brig Richards went on to become a general and Chief of the Defence Staff; Blair became a national hero in Sierra Leone, where babies were named in his honour. Kabbah never forgot his debt to Blair. In his last weeks in office in 2007, Blair paid a triumphant visit to Sierra Leone where Kabbah made him a “paramount chief” with the right to sit in the country’s version of the House of Lords.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was born on February 16 1932 in what was then the British Crown Colony of Sierra Leone. Although a devout Muslim, he attended St Edward’s Catholic secondary school in Freetown, before moving to Britain where he lived for more than 10 years.

Kabbah studied at Aberystwyth University and was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn in 1969. He then joined the United Nations Development Programme, working in Africa as its resident representative in Lesotho.

Kabbah returned to Sierra Leone in the late 1970s, where he became a senior civil servant and permanent secretary in several ministries. A bureaucrat rather than a politician, he nonetheless ran for president and won the election in 1996. He served for only a year before being overthrown in 1997 and then restored to office by a Nigerian military intervention the following year.

After the civil war, Kabbah won a sweeping victory in the 2002 election, running as the man who had brought peace. He served as president until 2007, but achieved little with his time in office.

Kabbah proved too weak to act against corrupt ministers. On his watch, Sierra Leone was penetrated by Latin American drug barons, who used the country as a staging post for running cocaine to Europe. When the opposition made (justified) complaints about his government’s corruption, Kabbah resorted to accusing them of a “lack of patriotism”. Few missed him when he retired from office.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s wife, Patricia, predeceased him. They had five children.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, born February 16 1932, died March 13 2014

 

Guardian:

 

 

I am old, much older, than Charlie Brooker (G2, 17 March), and he has problems understanding the generation you have let loose on G2. So pity me who, in my first job as a young engineer, relied on my trusty sliderule to earn a living (do they know what they were?). There were few telephones, no TVs, no computers. One of our children was still at home at 27, would they believe? However, I am still much interested in how the world changes, but at times despair that I am now irretrievably lost and stranded. I search for things and ideas I can recognise in all the frenetic cultural activity around me, things to latch on to that might drag me along with them.

What do all these trainee “digital” journalists editing G2 actually do? They obviously have the means to communicate with one another that I never possessed until later in life, and make money from them.

But what is it that they have to say? They can communicate with one another globally and instantly and, as far as I can see, aim at the shortest pithiest statements (fewer than 140 characters – oneliners, if possible) on major aspects of the human condition.

I do realise that I am probably already presenting the image of elderly ossification they dread, but I hope they appreciate that almost all aspects of their world today have arrived since I was their age, although we are all in this same world together now. I would like to be here to see how they will be coping another 50 years from now. How about a week of G2 driven by those born before 1930?
Frank Evans
Orpington, Kent

• OK, so your Generation Y team have demonstrated that young people today are as hard done by, misunderstood, arrogant and randy as they always are (been there, done that, got the mental scars), and also that they can produce as good a G2 as your usual gang. How about now giving them a crack at producing the Sport section?
Bob Heath-Whyte
Chalgrove, Oxfordshire

 

It came as no surprise to me that a lot of the upper decks of HMS Victory are not original (Report, 17 March). My grandfather, George Rogers, was bosun of the yard in Portsmouth when the ship underwent a major refit in the 1920s. At that time a lot of the original oak was removed and the decks remodelled. My grandfather and the master carpenter in charge of the refit were each allowed to take a cupboard door made of the original oak. Grandfather had a gate-legged table, a dressing-table set and a pair of candlesticks made from his door, all of which are still in my possession. In that same era, visitors to the ship were each given “a piece of Victory oak” as a souvenir as they left the ship. According to my mother (who was banned from joining the visiting tourist parties at the request of the sailors showing visitors round because she used to ask awkward questions), these souvenirs came from a local sawmill and were mostly anything but oak. Had they been authentic, there would by now be absolutely nothing left of the original timbers anywhere.
Val Harrison
Birmingham

 

 

In order to put the current crisis in Crimea in perspective, I would refer people to a very interesting book that I am sure John Kerry, William Hague and, no doubt, President Putin have read. It is The Grand Chessboard,written in 1998 by one of President Obama’s favourite foreign affairs theorists and President Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski. In it he argued that the US had to take control of a number of strategic countries, including Ukraine, arguing that that country is “a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country (means) Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire”. He warns against allowing Russia to regain control over the country because, by doing so, “Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia”.
Colin Burke
Manchester

• Instead of imposing sanctions on Russia for recognising Crimea‘s independence, perhaps we should welcome President Putin’s new-found enthusiasm for democracy and ask him when he plans to hold a similar referendum in Chechnya and allow the Chechens to declare their independence from Russia.
Sam Dastor
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

• Timothy Garton Ash (The focus is on Crimea, but next is the fight for Ukraine, 19 March) criticises the Crimea referendum for lacking “the consent of all parts of the existing state”, and for being held “without due constitutional process”. Why did he not similarly complain when the referendums which carved up Yugoslavia were being held – without the consent of all parts of the existing state, and without due constitutional process?
Marko Gasic
London

• David Cameron has rightly condemned the annexation of Crimea as illegitimate and illegal. He called at prime minister’s questions for “a rules-based system where countries obey the rules”. This would be an excellent and brave initiative. Consistency is key. For example, last week, in a speech to the Israeli Knesset, one has to ask why he did not call for Israel to cancel its illegal annexations of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, both of which were condemned by UN security council resolutions 24 years ago. It took less than 24 hours to pass sanctions on Russia. He did not even ask when Israel would be ending its 47-year-old military occupation. If Putin had been paying attention, he would have been happily reassured.
Chris Doyle
Director, Council for Arab-British Understanding

• Despite the illegitimate nature of the Crimea referendum, the fact that it was carried out within the space of two weeks must be a cause of a little embarrassment to Minurso, the UN body charged with organising a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara. That was back in 1991. Twenty-three years later, in the face of ongoing Moroccan obstruction and international indifference, Minurso has still not fulfilled its mandate and a population a quarter the size of Crimea’s is still awaiting a say on its future.
Stefan Simanowitz
London

It would be nice to see some mention of the contribution made by secondary-modern-educated men and women, the poor bloody infantry of the workforce, in the shipyards, factories, building sites, hospitals, offices and elsewhere in the UK, now that the last of them are coming up to retirement. In all this recent chatter about Etonians at the top and the clamour in some quarters for the return of grammar schools, the sec mod class of 64 and before that have remained, as usual, invisible.
Frank Conway
Newcastle upon Tyne

• So, is Tanya Gold’s insight (If fashion is how you express yourself, I pity you, 20 March) into the exploitative, misogynistic nature of the fashion industry going to stop the Guardian’s continued promotion of it on its front and main national and international news pages? The frequent photographs of young, gaunt, vacant, Barbie-doll women modelling the latest trends seems completely at odds with the paper’s ethos. Like art, fashion has become business and should therefore be on the business pages. What an opportunity the Guardian misses to provide an alternative aesthetic that expresses the paper’s wonderful, observant, human and humane journalism.
Judy Marsh
Nottingham

• Paradise in Norway gone (Letters, 15 March)? While away your time in Purgatorio, western Sicily.
Dr Mike Rushton
Tarporley, Cheshire

• I feel that the Treasury could be on very dodgy ground in suggesting that the new £1 coin (Report, 19 March) is the most secure coin in circulation in the world. Anyone, especially small boys of my generation who carried around their meagre savings in their trousers, could guarantee that within a few weeks any sharp sided “threepenny bits” among the pennies would wear a hole in your pocket and you lost the lot. What then the security of the new coin?
John Marjoram
Stroud, Gloucestershire

• But unlike threepenny bits, I can’t see 12-sided £1 coins ever becoming Cockney rhyming slang.
John Cranston
Norwich

 

 

There is not an ounce of humanity in a budget which puts a cap on overall benefit spending that includes housing benefit needed to pay rents in a property market which is out of control (Vote blue, go grey, 20 March). Any fat cat can swallow the cream of UK property and leave it empty. The coalition continues to allow the existing caps on the housing benefits of families and individuals to create unmanageable rent arrears and hunger. Tenants are forced into temporary, overcrowded and often sub-standard accommodation in the private, and increasingly overpriced, rented sector. Meanwhile, the dreaded diseases of poverty reappear. Will, or can, the Labour party produce any policies which will redeem their capitulation to the overall cap in voting for it?
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

• You emphasise (Editorial, 20 March) how George Osborne continues to see reducing the government’s debts as central to his economic strategy. Yet he regards the much larger debts of the banking sector as not worthy of his attention. It is estimated that government debt will peak at around 80% of GDP, while the debts of the banks remain stubbornly high at 500% of GDP. Britain shares with Japan the least envied title of being the most indebted of the G8 countries. When the next financial crisis comes, as it will, Britain may have to apply for what would be the largest loan in the history of the IMF. In return for that loan, the IMF will impose on Britain a savage austerity programme, similar to Greece’s. Is the government’s complacency due to its assumption that Britain, as with its over-indebted banks, is too large to be allowed to fail? More likely it is because the government has taken its eye off the ball as to what is the real cause of the crisis: rash speculation by over-indebted banks.
Derrick Joad
Leeds

• Most baby boomers are not rolling in it. In fact most can’t afford to retire. Final-salary pensions were closed down years ago, and women particularly find NI contributions only cover 18 years of child-bearing/raising, and those contributions are reduced. In addition, any money people are able to scratch together for retirement has made a loss for years.

If we could get hold of moneys from my husband’s work, for example, the future might look more manageable; and if he died first, I would have a little more to live on than a worrying half of not much. Osborne’s bribes make principled older people turkeys who must vote for their own Christmas in a society that teaches that we’re greedy, fattened-up people who have long had it easy and had it all. Where is the coherent narrative from other political parties to help counteract this divisive bribe? And while we’re at it, we’ve all paid NI contributions, ie a tax for public services such as the NHS. Successive governments have wasted all that money, which is not our fault. Remember, only a few swing votes in the UK count.
Olivia Byard
Witney, Oxfordshire

• While I wouldn’t want to argue against the chancellor’s assertion that responsible pensioners should be trusted to make the right financial decisions about what to do with their pension money, individual choices need to be understood within the contexts in which they are made. Unfortunately, that context is the British financial services industry, and one can have little confidence that the advice pensioners will be able to access will be given in their interests.

I doubt if one would get very long odds betting on the proposition that in 10 or 15 years’ time, we will be waking up to the great “pensions drawdown misadvice scandal” (no doubt the wise will shake their heads and remind us of the “pensions misselling scandal” of the Thatcher era). Nor will you get long odds betting that no one will be considered criminally liable for it. Under neoliberalism, it is only the less privileged who have to take responsibility for their choices.
Rob Raeburn
Brighton

• It will come as a great relief to any emergency service worker that if they are killed in action their estate will not be subject to inheritance tax. Of course, they already had the mere sum of £325,000 free of this tax, and if by chance they are married or in a civil partnership, the combined estate of a mere £650,000 would be exempt and would not be taxable if they are survived by their spouse or partner. Given the salaries of most emergency workers and their relative youth, they may not have had much time to build large and valuable estates, and happily only a small number die in active service. I suspect that this generous gift by the chancellor may not cost the country too much money. Would it be cynical of me to suggest that this was merely a piece of well-sounding PR?
David Lawson
Ilford, Essex

• Every pensioner able to put £10,000 into each issue of the new three-year “pensioner bond” will, if the interest rate is the expected 4%, have an income (net of tax at 20%) of £320. Poorer pensioners without that level of savings will get nothing. Another example of the government using state finance to give to those that have in order to attempt to buy their votes.
John Gaskin
York

• If the likelihood is that only a “small minority” of retirees will misuse their pension pot and fall back on the state is therefore of no consequence, why is the likelihood that only a “small minority” of EU immigrants will misuse the benefits system then outrageous and an indication that urgent action is required?
Gordon Milligan
Berlin

• We have been concerned for some time that the government’s proposed reforms for apprenticeships would have a negative effect on the number of small and medium enterprises taking on apprentices because of the additional costs and increased red tape. We hope that the budget announcement, in addition to the apprenticeship funding reform-consultation feedback, will result in sufficient steps being taken to support small businesses providing apprenticeships.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s recent work leading the government’s Electrotechnical Trailblazer was an opportunity for small businesses to have their voice heard in making sure that apprenticeship further-education courses are fit for purpose. The priority now will be to make sure that small businesses in the electrotechnical and other engineering disciplines are given a generous share of government grants. After all, given the huge shortfall of engineers, apprenticeships represent a valuable lifeline to the future of engineering in the UK.
Paul Davies
Institution of Engineering and Technology

 

 

 

 

 

Independent:

 

George Osborne may have calculated that giving money to the elderly in his Budget would persuade us, on the basis of unenlightened self-interest, to vote Tory in 2015. But he may not be aware that many of us have grandchildren, and we are appalled at the difficulties our youngsters are having to struggle with because of the policies of his government.  

With enormous fees if they are lucky enough to get to university, ever-increasing rents demanded by greedy landlords, unemployment or low-paid and insecure jobs, and ferocious and corrupt policing if they dare to demonstrate or protest, life is pretty tough for youngsters these days.

I and many others try to make up for Osborne’s harshness by giving our grandchildren some of our pension, and I, and I hope many others, will persuade the youngsters to use their votes but never to vote Tory. Osborne may live to regret his cynical “Help the Aged Only” budget.

Tony Cheney, Ipswich, Suffolk

George Osborne, whose high office probably precludes him regularly frequenting public houses, and whose drinks in the Commons watering holes are subsidised by us taxpayers, can be forgiven for not knowing the harsh realities of pub life for beer drinkers. But journalists, even those of the modern school who do not spend all afternoon at the bar before submitting their copy, surely have no excuse. Your paper’s headline on the Budget “A speech for . . . drinkers” (20 March) is as misleading as a politician’s spin.

A penny duty off a pint of beer does not result in a penny off a pint. Publicans never change prices by 1p, and never reduce prices, and increases nowadays are 10p minimum, more likely 20p. After last year’s “beer drinker’s budget” I was laughed out of the bar of my local after asking why I did not get a penny off, and two weeks later all drinks went up by 20p.

John E Orton, Bristol

Has the Chancellor factored in a large budget increase for the policing of organised crime, given his gangster’s gift of increasing tobacco duty in the Budget?

It is only a matter of time before violent gang “turf wars” break out in our inner cities, in parallel with the exponential increase in contraband cigarette sales. It is similarly just a matter of time before, because of this ugly phenomenon, Treasury revenue from tobacco starts to drop off.

Nicky Samengo-Turner, Hundon, Suffolk

The new 12-sided pound coin just confirms that the pound today is only worth 3d in old money. And why the long delay to its introduction? It is only a coin, not a hi-tech device.

Colin Stone, Oxford

UK useless in aircraft search

The search going on in the southern Indian Ocean for the Malaysia Airlines aircraft points up the UK’s stark lack of military capability. Such a search can only be done with sophisticated long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

The Australians, the New Zealanders, and, of course, the Americans have provided Orion aircraft, and even the very latest aircraft, the US Navy’s P-8A.

This should be an area where Britain might be able to help. But we couldn’t, even if we wanted to. We used to have one of the best maritime patrol aircraft in the world, the Nimrod. Since 2010, when we grounded our current Nimrods and decided not to carry on with a newer version, this country has had no maritime air patrol capability.

This is an extraordinary situation for a maritime nation such as the UK  – and our inability is sharply emphasised by the absence of equipment that could help in this very sad situation.

Sean Maffett, Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire

Am I the only person who is surprised to discover from the disappearance of a Malaysian aircraft that the means of transmission in aeroplanes can be so easily switched off by the pilot or others, or indeed switched off at all? I cannot see any legitimate benefit in planes having this “facility”, and a whole raft of dangerous disadvantages.

Ian Craine, London N15

HS2: most of us pay  but get nothing

Simon Calder, as usual, hits nails on the head (“Expensive and destructive, but also the only way to revitalise the railways”, 17 March). HS2 benefits too few and has a business case that is precarious at best. The environmental damage, especially to woodland, is completely unacceptable.

While it would be nice for Brits to enjoy the same high-speed inter-city rail service that most on the continent have known for decades, there is a far more urgent need.

This morning, I sat in a bus which arrived 13 minutes late and took 40 minutes to fight its way just six miles into town. For every long-distance commuter and business traveller, there are a hundred who face the consequences of road congestion and the failure to deliver rail for local service.

Now that we see the result of pretending that road transport alone suffices, we need to prioritise the reopening of stations and lines closed 50 years ago, and building new light electric rail systems within towns and out to their suburbs and satellites.

Blowing the budget on a single system for the wealthy few may deliver political kudos, but it will anger the rest of us who pay but get nothing.

Ian East, Chairman, Oxford-Bicester Rail Action Group, Islip, Oxfordshire

One of the biggest benefits of HS2 is the economic redevelopment opportunities. We’ve heard a lot about these opportunities for the major cities connected by the high-speed line, but little or nothing about the potential wins for cities beyond the immediate confines of the HS2 network.

There is great potential through the connections to the east- and west-coast main lines for cities other than Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds to benefit from HS2, but the challenges around realising these benefits need to be tackled now if these locations are not to fall behind.

In addition, many of these smaller cities could be reached by HS2 trains moving to the classic railway network to complete their journey. But this will require new or significantly enhanced stations.

We need an urgent dialogue between HS2, Network Rail, the train operating companies and local authorities to fully understand the challenges that the arrival of high-speed trains will bring to the classic railway network.

Jeremy Acklam, Institution of Engineering and Technology, London WC2

Two achievements of Tony Benn

Prue Bray asks what Tony Benn did apart form talking “a lot of left-wing stuff” (letter, 18 March). For full details she should obtain the several volumes of Mr Benn’s splendid diaries, covering 50 years of parliamentary life.

But let me mention two concrete things he did. As the drums of war against Iraq built up 11 years ago, Tony Benn, then and until his death president of the Stop the War Campaign, flew to Baghdad to interview Saddam Hussein. Benn asked Saddam directly if he had weapons of mass destruction. Saddam denied he did, saying, according to Benn’s diary: “I tell you, as I have said on many occasions before, that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction whatsoever.”

It turned out Benn was right. Benn also, when energy minister in the late 1970s, promoted the biggest ever taxpayer-sponsored energy-efficiency campaign. In so doing, he was years ahead.

Dr David Lowry, Stoneleigh, Surrey

Reasons for Turner’s strange vision

Turner’s eyesight has worried many for a long time (letter, 19 March).

Leigh Hunt in 1831 thought Turner’s “chromatic absurdities” might be the result of an ophthalmic condition. A “lens sclerosis” and secondary astigmatism were also blamed for the distortions of vision that caused Mark Twain to describe Turner’s work as “like a ginger cat having a fit in a bowl of tomatoes.”

The subject is discussed in the eye-surgeon Patrick Trevor-Roper’s The World through Blunted Sight  (1970) and by the undersigned in a biography of Turner. (Standing in the Sun, a life of JMW Turner, 1997).

Anthony Bailey, Mersea Island, Essex

Outsourcing the job of a parent

So the Government is to make £2,000 available to parents to help pay for childcare – just as long as the person providing the care is not the child’s own parent, but a paid surrogate. This will enable parents to fill all those job vacancies around the country, I suppose – perhaps in nurseries?

And yet we regularly hear that there is a “crisis of parenting” in this country. Just who is supposed to be doing this parenting, if parents are being given incentives to outsource it rather than doing the job themselves?

Marjorie Clarke, Totnes, Devon

 

 

Times:

 

 

Sir, Why anyone wants to be ruled by Vladimir Putin is a mystery, but Western leaders have not covered themselves with glory. The violent overthrow of an elected government in Ukraine was viewed with equanimity by Cameron, Obama et al. A peaceful referendum in Crimea has aroused howls of rage from the fiddlers, giving new meaning to the concept of hypocrisy.

John Bromley-Davenport, qc

Malpas, Cheshire

Sir, As a Hungarian of 1956, I never thought that the following would leave my lips, but Putin is right — Russia is taking back what is historically and popularly its own, ignoring the decision of the drunken Khrushchev in 1954.

Dr Andrew Zsigmond

Liverpool

Sir, The West’s self-serving lack of resolve over the invasion of Ukraine is worrying. Cannot the UK at least lead a group prepared to ban all sporting contacts with Russia while its troops remain on Ukrainian soil?

David Harris

London SW13

Sir, The Ukrainian Ambassador says the Crimea has been “heavily subsidised” (letter, Mar 20). This burden now passes to Moscow — in return for an assurance that Sevastopol cannot become a Nato military base. A win-win situation?

David Ashton

Sheringham, Norfolk

Sir, I thoroughly agree with Jenni Russell (Opinion, Mar20) that the West should take the blame over Crimea for its meddling in Ukraine. Did the EU actually consider the fact that Russia bases its Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol? If Ukraine joined the EU and eventually Nato, there is no chance that this situation would be allowed to continue with the possibility of Russian nuclear armed ships in an EU state.

Julian Nettlefold

Editor, Battlespace

Sir, If the West fails to exact a heavy price for Putin’s foreign adventurism, others, notably China, with domestic and economic problems of its own, may be encouraged to follow the same route. The interests of the City, of German exporters and of European gas consumers must take second place to the need to shore up international stability, otherwise the final bill in terms of increased military spending, and perhaps even war, could be far higher.

Adrian Cosker

Hitchin, Herts

Sir, Most Crimeans want to become part of Russia. The pragmatic approach is to let them get on with it. We have far more pressing problems much closer to home.

Stephen Knight

Rhoscolyn, Anglesey

Sir, Whether the West chooses to recognise the referendum or not, it had a 95 per cent turnout (something most Western democracies could only dream of) with an 89 per cent Yes vote — a vote which appears to be far more genuine than the 2004 US presidential election, for example.

The West should be helping to support a peaceful transfer of Crimea to Russia ensuring that the minorities in the region have protection.

The US and EU need to be very careful how they lecture the rest of the world on democracy.

ELizabeth Hastings-Clarke

 

Some of the measures announced by Mr Osborne sound attractive but now they must be implemented

Sir, Most people will support actions to reduce tax avoidance but allowing HMRC to demand disputed taxes before the taxpayer has had his case heard by a court gives unacceptable power to the taxman (“Revenue wins power to raid bank accounts in battle over tax avoidance”, Budget supplement, Mar 18).

In his Budget speech, the Chancellor reminded us of the signing of Magna Carta in 1215. That wonderful document set down that: “No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised (dispossessed) . . . but by lawful judgement of his peers”. That principle has protected the citizens of this country for 800 years. He was wrong to violate it.

Richard Tweed

Croydon

Sir, The Chancellor announced early on in his Budget Speech that emergencies personnel who die in the line of duty will be exempt from inheritance tax. How many people will actually benefit from that?

If the person is married their assets pass freely to their spouse — and if they are single how many would have assets in excess of the inheritance tax threshold?

A more meaningful gesture
would have been to repay soldiers who have had to buy their own life insurance while fighting during
recent wars.

Sara Blunt

Chislehurst, Kent

Sir, The latestBudget promised all sorts of goodies, especially for pensioners, but why should they believe it?

After all in October 2007 Mr Osborne and Mr Cameron promised all sorts of changes to inheritance tax, but once they were in office those promises were quietly forgotten with not a word of apology to those of us who believed them.

Rear Admiral Conrad Jenkin

West Meon, Hants

 

It is a tough decision whether to give up a career to look after small children, and women need help not hectoring

Sir, I am surprised that Lucy Powell, the Shadow Minister for Childcare and Children, considers it a “waste of talent” when mothers are not at a distant place of work, but actually at home looking after their own children (letter, Mar 18). Parents should be being encouraged to look after their children in the crucial early years of childhood and then helped back into work when their children are ready for that separation.

Instead of making those who chose this route feel guilty that they are “holding the economy back”, Ms Powell should be backing these parents’ tough decision and offering them a way back into work that values the time they spent managing their home and children.

Maria Smith

Exeter, Devon

 

 

Council tax bills vary wildly across the country as house prices are skewed by the London property boom

Sir, One anomaly created by the massive rise in London property prices compared with the rest of the country is seen in the council tax demands now being sent out.

The demand for my home (band F; value £475k) in a Dorset village is £2,489. The demand for my home in Islington (band G; value £1.5m) £2,101. The equivalent Band F would be £1,821, ie £650 less.

Mind you, I do get six buses a day, last bus 6pm. And what do Londoners get? Ah yes, the Tube and bus system. Will any politician be brave enough to sort this out?

Mike Nixon

Sutton Poyntz, Dorset

 

Slow-moving bureaucracy is threatening to turn young Catholics couples away from church marriage ceremonies

Sir, My daughter plans to marry a non-Catholic in a Catholic church in August. She now has to rely on the goodwill of an unpaid volunteer in each parish to find and post her the required original certificates for baptism and confirmation. This is a slow process because parishes are inundated with similar requests. The result is long delays and considerable anxiety.

It’s fair for the church to charge for this but not fair to rely on an unpaid, usually very nice volunteer to fulfil this church-regulated duty. The inefficiency and anxiety could turn faithful young people away from a church marriage — and so their children may not be brought up as Catholics.

Peter Hobday

Folkestone, Kent

 

You don’t expect a hospital to order a young mother not to nurse her baby in a maternity wing waiting room

Sir, How outrageous and contradictory that a new mother is stopped from breastfeeding her baby in a hospital waiting room by a health trust aiming to “Promote positive attitudes to breastfeeding” (“You can’t feed your child here, hospital told new mother”, Mar 19).

The maternity information also advises: “We think it is a good idea that your baby is with you at all times.”

How can this possibly happen if a child as young as six weeks is not brought along while her mother has time-consuming blood tests?

While David Eltringham, the chief operating officer of the hospital is worrying about “patient safety”, the rest of us should ask what dangers could possibly be posed to anyone. I have never heard of an accident being caused by breast feeding.

Janet Weston

Westerham, Kent

 

 

Telegraph:

 

SIR – The body of Tony Benn may rest overnight in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster next week, an honour previously awarded only to Margaret Thatcher. There has perhaps never been a better example of British absurdity.

On the one hand, we have a politician who led this country as prime minister through three terms and changed the country’s financial and international fortunes dramatically.

On the other hand, we have a politician who was never prime minister, making it as far as secretary of state for industry. He had dramatic and outdated hard-Left views and was left behind by his own party as it moved to the centre. He continued to be a great constituency MP, a champion of the powerless, a diarist of the highest order and a good father.

But Benn and Thatcher are in different leagues; it is like comparing Winston Churchill with Dick Crossman.

J R Nickell-Lean
Ryton, North Yorkshire

SIR – Tony Benn was a brilliant orator, but was nevertheless an egocentric maverick; it would be a travesty to extend to him the accolade that was granted to Margaret Thatcher. She was a political winner; he a political loser.

David Phipps
Freshford, Somerset

SIR – An “accident of birth” allows many to forgive Tony Benn for his silver-spoon background and public school education. Yet Old Etonians in Government are roundly criticised for being toffs. Why?

Michael Nicholson
Dunsfold, Surrey

Clear as a bell

SIR – I was dismayed to read yet another complaint about “noisy” bells, in this case bells that have chimed for 140 years in Knighton, Radnorshire.

Surely people who buy houses anywhere near bell towers, whether they be church or civic buildings, should check on the frequency of the ringing before they buy. Bravo to the town mayor and his campaign to keep them ringing.

Christine Lavender
Send, Surrey

Left out

SIR – Peter Luff MPhas said that left-handed children need more support in schools (March 18). Far from being psychologically scarred by my schooldays, I can use right-handed scissors and write legibly despite being left-handed.

Improving standards in the teaching of basic numeracy and literacy would be a more worthwhile cause to champion.

Kirsty Blunt
Sedgeford, Norfolk

SIR – My husband, myself and two of our three children are left-handed. The verse our daughter was taught on starting school wasn’t very helpful: “The hand you write with is your right, the one that’s left is left.”

Kay Blackwell
Maesygwartha, Monmouthshire

SIR – Like Rowan Pelling, I am a left-handed person living in a right-handed world. I have also battled with tin openers designed for the right-handed. One of the most useful tools I have acquired is a left-handed ruler. Before any right-handers scoff at this, try drawing a line against a ruler without being able to see the numbers clearly. My left-handed ruler has the numbers running from right to left.

Clifford Baxter
Wareham, Dorset

German cemeteries

SIR – Like M J Gibson, I try to visit German war cemeteries, like the one at Langemarck. I find the contrast between stark German cemeteries and serene British ones astonishing.

I always read the comment books at the Commonwealth memorials, and some of the most poignant remarks I have seen have been from German visitors. Perhaps quiet appreciation is preferable to flamboyant visual displays.

Ray Bather
Allendale, Northumberland

Natural deterrent

SIR – In my wooded garden we used to have a serious grey squirrel problem. They ate everything I tried to grow in the garden and they even raided the house.

But since a pair of buzzards returned to breed, the grey squirrel numbers have collapsed. Natural control obviously works.

Anthony Vickery
Poole, Dorset

Money talks

SIR – The introduction of £1 coins resembling the old threepenny bit will be a reminder to all in Britain how much successive governments have safeguarded the value of our money.

What used to cost 3p back in 1971, when the threepenny bit was rendered obsolete by decimalisation, now costs just over £1.

Mark Boyle
Johnstone, Renfrewshire

SIR – The reverse image on the original threepenny bit was of the flower thrift.

Surely no better image could be found in these challenging times?

Christopher Macy
Lincoln

MoD should not build on Stonehenge aerodrome

SIR – I am deeply saddened that the Ministry of Defence plans to build thousands of homes over the site of the historic Larkhill aerodrome, within sight of Stonehenge.

In February 1910, my great-grandfather Sir George White (1854-1916) founded what became the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

He chose Larkhill as a testing ground for his new Boxkite aeroplanes in part because there was little except Stonehenge for errant aircraft to hit, and in part because he hoped to attract interest from the nearby Army base. He acquired the flying rights over 2,000 acres there, building an iron hangar to house his aircraft and setting up a pioneering school. Others joined him, and Larkhill blossomed.

Two Boxkites flying from the original Bristol shed became the first aircraft to take part in British military manoeuvres. Arguably the first air-to-ground radio signals were received at Larkhill and the first government trials to select aircraft for the Forces took place there. A great number of the pilots available when the First World War broke out were trained at Larkhill. Many brave young men lost their lives at the aerodrome, but through their bravery and sacrifice, extraordinary strides in the development of British aviation took place. It is certainly the oldest hangar to survive in Britain, and is, perhaps, the oldest in Europe.

While this hugely significant building is under threat, in Australia, pioneering Bristol aircraft are being celebrated. On March 1, the flight of a specially built Boxkite replica was the centrepiece of the Royal Australian Air Force centenary celebrations. The purpose was to replicate the first Australian military flight, made on a Boxkite by Lieutenant Eric Harrison at 7.40am on March 1 1914. Harrison learnt to fly at the Bristol School at Larkhill.

Larkhill was a cradle of British and Commonwealth aviation. There must be many suitable sites for new homes. Historic Larkhill is not one of them.

Sir George White

Rudgeway, Gloucestershire

 

SIR – Richard Spencer is unfortunately right when he says the situation in Syria is actually much worse than one might think. Amnesty International has reported on how 250,000 people are now subjected to brutal medieval-style sieges, in which entire neighbourhoods have been sealed off from the outside world.

In the Yarmouk district of Damascus, for example, the Syrian army has maintained a deadly stranglehold since July, preventing people getting in or out and cutting off the food supply and electricity. Food is so scarce that many of the 20,000 malnourished residents have been reduced to eating cats and dogs or boiling dandelion leaves.

Meanwhile, Syrian army snipers callously shoot at those foraging for food. Over 200 people have died in Yarmouk’s barbaric siege, with at least 128 perishing through starvation.

Last month’s long overdue United Nations resolution on Syria called on all parties – government forces and armed opposition groups – to lift their sieges and allow in food and medical supplies. This has not happened and, unless it does, the grotesque suffering of the Syrian people is likely to descend to a level that most people will struggle to believe.

Kate Allen
Director, Amnesty International UK
London EC2

 

SIR – Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, says that living standards have dropped by £1,600 in the past four years, which I would have thought was an inevitable consequence of Labour’s policies up until 2010.

It would be interesting to know how that drop in living standards splits between the various sectors of society – what is the drop for the richest 10 per cent, the next 10 per cent, and so on. This would surely prove whether we were “all in it together” or not. It is curious that neither Labour nor the Conservatives seem willing to divulge this information.

Barry Smith
Loughborough, Leicestershire

SIR – The Chancellor’s announcement of additional help to cathedrals for renovations is extremely good news, not only to communities battling to keep their immense buildings windproof and watertight – a task made far more difficult through this winter of storms – but also to the heritage construction industry, which has been cruelly punished through the recession.

As a building conservation architect (and surveyor of the fabric at St George’s Chapel, Windsor), I know that the heritage sector has yet to show signs of recovery.

The loss of irreplaceable historic craft and trade skills critical to the sustainable maintenance and repair of these magnificent buildings is gravely concerning. It is vital that the Government provides greater support to skills training for conservation specialists.

Martin Ashley
Twickenham, Middlesex

SIR – I am blessed with two young children, parents who require support to keep them at home, and a husband who works long and variable hours. I also volunteer at my children’s school.

I did not make a choice not to work. Indeed, like thousands of others, I work long hours, unpaid, out of family necessity. Am I to presume that if I stopped helping my higher-rate-taxpayer husband, abandoned my parents to the NHS, sent my children to school ill, and took a minimum-wage job for a few hours a week I would be entitled to a pat on the back for contributing to the economy?

Josie Jennings
Moulton, Suffolk

SIR – I was initially delighted to hear Nick Clegg on the radio telling me I was going to get £2,000 per child for child care. With four children, that would be welcome. My joy was short-lived, however, as my wife reminded me that all our child-benefit payments had been taken away, amounting to many more thousands lost than we may gain. She then went on to ruin my breakfast by telling me that it wouldn’t apply to those who had only one income. My solution? Pay her to become a cleaner in our own home and vote Labour next time around.

Daniel Connolly
Lancing, West Sussex

 

 

Irish Times:

 

Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 01:10

First published: Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 01:10

Sir, – Are Vincent Browne’s sensibilities confined to rugby, where he finds it so “disturbing” for a participant to obtain a “thrill in legally inflicting pain on someone else” (“Rugby culture is boorishly patriarchal”, Opinion and Analysis, March 19th)? If this susceptibility extends more widely, perhaps he would ponder his own opinion pieces, where he has been inflicting pain for years. – Yours, etc,

GEOFF SCARGILL,

Loreto Grange,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Rugby could be viewed as part of the overall British package offered to this nation and gratefully accepted along with an accompanying ethos which many Irish schools have embraced and championed in our recent history. This British ethos (along with fagging and other abominations) had one aim and one aim only, namely to desensitise British youth and thus prepare them for the cold-hearted military and cultural domination of native peoples around the world. The “playing fields of Eton” is where most of their battles were fought and won. The British Empire is no more, but the fight continues as long as the will to compete and dominate is seen as a legitimate aspiration for sentient beings. – Yours, etc,

GABRIEL ROSENSTOCK,

Gleann na gCaorach,

Co Átha Cliath.

Sir, – It is such a pity that the venerable Vincent Browne did not play serious rugby at school, even though we know he did attend Castleknock College for five years. If he had it seems doubtful that he would find rugby culture “boorish and patriarchal”. Mr Browne obviously has never tackled an opposing player in full flight for the line, never had the satisfaction of bringing down an adversary physically and legally. He is extraordinarily good at it on television and in print – but on the physical field of play? No, nay, never! – Yours, etc,

ERIC C O’BRIEN,

Howth Lodge,

Howth, Dublin 13.

Sir, – Considering the risk of physical injury alone, anyone who encourages a child to play rugby is an eejit. – Yours, etc,

DENIS O’CONNOR,

Front Street East,

Toronto, Ontario.

Sir, – Does homophobia exist in rugby? Does misogyny exist in rugby? Does boorish behaviour? Yes. Rugby – like Gaelic football and hurling and soccer – is simply a sport played by people and since any community contains these things, it is silly to suggest that a sport or a club or an office or any large collective of people does not reflect elements of those attitudes. But they do not define it.

Is rugby a tough sport? Yes. Mr Browne suggests that the “manly” culture of rugby is dysfunctional. Is it dysfunctional to teach teamwork, hard work, taking the knocks life may send and getting back up again? Those are values many people would like to pass on to their children.

The culture of rugby that I know is one epitomised by Brian O’Driscoll and Donncha O’Callaghan and so many more of the icons of Irish rugby – fair play, hard work and respect (we still call the referee “Sir”, though that may be a product of the “posh private education” that seems to irk Mr Browne so much).

BARRY CUNNINGHAM,

Clonfert,

Maynooth,

 

Sir, – There are compelling reasons why the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) should introduce a standard to monitor the outcome (morbidity and mortality) for subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) patients who are denied access to emergency neurosurgical or endovascular treatment. Standards of performance are key drivers of patient safety. They measure not only performance but facilitate comparison with healthcare providers in Europe and elsewhere. This can inform best practice and use of scarce resources.

Untreated SAH patients face life-threatening risks. The cost of an intensive care bed (€1,800 per day) is the same whether a patient is being treated in the neurosurgical centre or is in an intensive care bed in the local hospital – and not being treated. The humanitarian and economic consequences of not securing a ruptured brain aneurysm are immense.

Providing additional neurosurgical intensive care beds addresses the unmet need of patients who require emergency neurosurgical treatment. It also removes the onus on admitting hospitals to provide intensive care beds for SAH patients who are being “managed” rather than treated. Early treatment significantly reduces the risk of a catastrophic rebleed, levels of morbidity and mortality and length of stay, when compared to patients who are not treated.

The refusal by HIQA to introduce a standard to monitor, and then publish the outcome for untreated SAH patients, invites questions regarding the competence of HIQA to assess patient safety risks. – Yours, etc,

JIM LAWLESS, MBA

Cypress Downs,

Templeogue,

Sir, – Rosita Boland’s article (Weekend Review, March 8th) referred to Ireland’s ratification of the Hague Convention and its impact on inter-country adoptions. Prior to ratification, Ireland operated a system of light-touch regulation – an indefensible position given our own history of forced adoptions.

Children have been denied the right to grow up with their parents and families because of child trafficking, abduction and through the deception of birth parents. Given the sums of money involved, inter-country adoption can encourage malpractice and corruption, with children and prospective adoptive parents at risk of being exploited for financial gain. A 2009 International Social Service report found that “the number of ‘abandonments’ depends considerably on the extent to which there is a demand for the children concerned”.

The Hague Convention aims to protect children and their families against the risks of illegal, irregular, premature or ill-prepared adoptions abroad. Hague-compliant countries are required to build up their domestic child protection, care and adoption infrastructures, with inter-country adoption as a measure of last resort. Consequently the number of children placed for inter-country adoption is very low once Hague comes into force.

On the other hand, non-Hague compliant countries – many of which are developing countries, such as Ethiopia – often have large numbers of children for adoption but very weak child protection systems.

Ireland’s ratification of Hague has had a personal and profound impact on hundreds of prospective adoptive parents. Unfortunately, there is no magic solution. We must protect children from exploitation and abuse and ensure that every adoption is in the child’s best interests. It is for this reason that we urge extreme caution if Ireland moves to enter into a bilateral agreement with a non-Hague compliant country.

We urge the newly established Child and Family Agency to integrate its adoption and childcare systems. Adoptive parents currently undergo an intensive investigation process and then languish for years in the system with little prospect of ever becoming parents. At the same time, procedures prohibit adoption applicants from fostering, despite a chronic shortage of foster families. Reform is clearly needed. Each adoption applicant should be informed of the likely timeline and outcome of their application and of fostering opportunities open to them. A change in the law to allow for “open” adoptions is also long overdue and could benefit children growing up within the care system. – Yours, etc,

TANYA WARD,

Chief Executive,

Children’s Rights Alliance,

Molesworth Street,

Dublin 2.

 

Sir, – Further to recent letters on the future of Aldborough House in Dublin, your readers might be interested in the fate of Belcamp House, an important 18th-century structure within a few miles of Dublin Airport.

This house, designed by James Hoban (the architect of the White House) in the 1770s and containing an original oval office, a precursor to its famous namesake, was for a time the residence of Henry Grattan, as well as being rented for a time by Countess Markievicz as a centre for the Fianna movement. Run as a school by the Oblate Fathers as Belcamp College, which closed in 2004, the house and lands were sold to Gannon Homes and, like so many other development sites, ended up in Nama.

The house has been allowed to fall into complete neglect and, through vandalism and various arson attacks, little is left now but a ruin of a house that welcomed Jonathan Swift and other famous personages when it was one of the leading country houses in the Dublin area.

Even if funds were not available to preserve this historic building, surely it would not have cost much to protect it from the vandalism directed against it. Sadly Aldborough House seems to be going the same way. – Yours, etc,

ERNEST CROSSEN,

Ard Aoibhinn,

Chapelizod,

Dublin 20.

 

Sir, – I don’t know where Brendan Behan is nowadays, but if he gets hold of your editorial (“The Quare Fellow”, March 20th) in which he is described as a “cultural icon”, you can expect to hear from him.

“I’m not an effin’ Russian monstrance” will be the thrust of his message. – Yours, etc,

KIERAN FAGAN,

Seafield Court,

Killiney,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – My favourite quotation concerning Brendan Behan appears in John Montague’s memoir, Company: A Chosen Life . Neatly summarising his friend’s sexual proclivities and linguistic abilities, Montague says, “He was the only trilingual bisexual I ever met.” – Yours, etc,

PAUL LAUGHLIN,

Spruce Meadows,

Culmore,

 

 

Sir, – Regarding Fr Tony Flannery’s piece (“Pope pragmatic in prioritising structural reform”, Rite & Reason, March 11th), he seems to be arguing that Pope Francis is reorganising the internal governance of the church, (the curia, the synod of bishops, etc) in order that theological change will follow in the wake of such structural changes. Either that or that theological change cannot take place without prior structural change.

Fr Flannery ends his article by saying, “I am very hopeful” (of change). This hopefulness is somewhat at odds with the sense of the two preceding sentences where Fr Flannery cites the pope’s recent statement of defence and indeed praise of the church’s handling of the clerical sexual abuse scandals and the pope’s assertion of Pope Paul VI as a “genius”, for his encyclical Humanae Vitae . These two observations are hardly tokens of an intention towards change.

Father Tony’s theory that structural change is a necessary precursor for theological change, if that is what he is saying, seems to me to be a feeble thesis.

Surely Pope Francis could institute theological change in areas such as clerical celibacy, the ban on contraceptives and the place of women in the church if he had a mind to amend the governance of the church at the same time or even after such changes?

The necessity for proper structural changes to bring about doctrinal change is far from convincing on reading Fr Flannery’s article. – Yours, etc,

RICHARD HOLDEN,

Middleway,

Taunton,

Somerset,

 

Sir, – Seamus O’Callaghan (March 20th) asks if, in keeping with the social conscience that both Guinness and Heineken have displayed in regard to withdrawing sponsorship of the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York, if they, and the drinks industry, would pick up the tab for the A&E charges and other hospital treatments that their products necessitate each week?

This is yet another example of the “blame anyone but ourselves” attitude so deeply etched in our psyche.

To suggest that breweries and distilleries are responsible for the behaviour of individuals who voluntarily overindulge in alcoholic products is rendering individual responsibility for our own actions obsolete. Are we in this country ever going to mature to the point whereby we accept responsibility for our own behaviour and stop blaming others?

Such logic would place responsibility for the anti-social behaviour of car drivers on car manufacturers, sugary soft drinks producers and chocolate manufacturers for obese children and decay in teeth and fast food outlets for rising cholesterol and diabetes levels.

We do not need events like St Patrick’s Day parades to see our streets awash with drunkenness and anti-social behaviour, although such events do come in handy for blaming others for our own delinquency. – Yours, etc,

TOM COOPER,

Templeville Road,

Templeogue,

 

Sir, – Warren McKenzie (March 19th) takes issue with Taoiseach Enda Kenny preaching to the United States government about immigration reform, calling it a “gross interference” in American domestic affairs.

While the United States government is no stranger to taking an active role in the domestic affairs of foreign states, Mr McKenzie raises a valid argument – that our Taoiseach should tackle the very real problems at home. There are said to be up to 50,000 undocumented Irish migrants in the United States of America, a federal republic with a population of 313.9 million people. Back home in Ireland, a State with a population of 4.6 million people, there are said to be up to 30,000 undocumented migrants, the majority of whom have been here for many years.

I wonder if the Taoiseach devotes 40 times as much attention to the undocumented in Ireland as US president Barack Obama devotes to the undocumented Irish? – Yours, etc,

SEÁN Ó SIOCHRÚ

Glenbeigh,

Co Kerry.

 

Sir, – Daniel Griffin repeats (March 13th) the old charge that the Seanad is elitist. One only has to accept the legitimacy and value of the electoral college as an instrument of democracy to see that the charge is without merit.

At the same time as the electorate at large elects local authority councillors, it mandates them to form an electoral college to elect 43 Senators. This is a no less democratic process for being indirect.

Likewise, the voters elect TDs who in turn elect the Taoiseach, conferring on him by these two democratic steps, the mandate defined in the Constitution to nominate 11 Senators. By the same processes, he is empowered to nominate 15 Ministers, but nobody regards that power as undemocratic.

As for the remaining six Senators, they are elected by graduates who have invested effort and funds in increasing the value of what they can contribute to society. The State has also invested resources in their education. In return for these investments, the State gives them the right to elect representatives who, because they are not part of the party political system, are likely to add diversity to the Upper House.

The electorate showed last year that it does not want the Seanad to be abolished. The broadening of the graduates’ franchise is an appropriate reform. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL DRURY,

Avenue Louise,

Brussels,

A chara, – Dr Mary Scriven’s comments (March 19th) epitomise what the anti-smoking lobby has regrettably become. What began 50 years ago as a well-intentioned campaign to raise public awareness of the dangers of smoking is now little more than an alarmist witch-hunt whose raison d’être seems to be the harassment and control of those who choose to consume this legal product.

While Dr Scriven may find the public use of e-cigarettes “rude”, “unpleasant” and “regressive”, she tellingly fails to provide any health reasons for her objection. Of course, this is because no such reasons exist.

Smokers are no different from any other addicts in that they stand a better chance of conquering their dependence if treated with encouragement and understanding. – Is mise,

Dr GARETH P KEELEY,

Gneisenaustrasse,

Dusseldorf,

Germany.

Sir, – I think it is time to stamp out the debate around electronic cigarettes. No butts. – Yours, etc,

HUGH McDONNELL,

Strand Road,

Termonfeckin,

Co Louth.

 

 

 

Irish Independent:

 

* Another quango and another idiotic report. An alliance between the Health Minister and the rather Orwellian titled Minister for Children have come up with an exclusion fat-free takeaway zone for children.

Also in this section

St Patrick’s Day can be about social change

So when is the real democratic revolution?

Letters: Using and abusing the right to free speech

As if the humble chipper is the sole cause of waddling Jennie’s and Johnny’s life . . . were it so simple.

Where is the 1.5km zone to be placed in the supermarket when the parents buy the vast array of food laced with sugar and encrypted lettering masking god knows what?

Who will permit children to be allowed actually run, play ball in the school yard and tumble free from the omnipresent threat of suing somebody else for Paddy and Patricia growing up with its attendant tumbles and falls.

Will the newspaper shop have barbed wire around a 10ft-high soft drinks stand preventing the youngsters from buying sugared water or will the Government ban such sugar-loaded juice?

Perhaps we should let parents decide themselves what to do. I see many of them buying such food for their children in the takeaways. Is this because of the pace of life, or the lack of money to buy ‘real’ food due to government policy.

Lead by example, I say. Educate but don’t impose a nanny, Orwellian state.

Also, perhaps a few of those who seem disturbed by overweight children might lead by example and lose a few pounds themselves. The last few ministers for health carried some excess poundage themselves.

JOHN CUFFE

CO MEATH

THE POLITICS OF SCAM

* Alas! Elections are mere cosmetic exercises in musical chairs. You are simply replacing the faces, yet the music remains the same.

Now that all power is of the European, centralised version – which means decisions for this country are made in Europe – and passed on to the organ grinders who call themselves politicians.

They in turn carry out the wishes of their European masters. Elections have become nothing but scams. All manifesto-false promises should be treated as toilet paper.

Waiting for political messiahs to save us is futile. People need to look inward and forget politics and politicians.

ANTHONY WOODS

ENNIS, CO CLARE

TIP OF FINANCIAL ICEBERG

* I am writing to you, as I assume many others have, regarding the pitiful greed of Irish banks within our society.

This story will probably come of no surprise to you; however, as I am only 22 years of age with limited life experiences, I am still in shock.

My story is essentially about my parents who are both in their 50s and are struggling as hard as anybody I have met in order to keep a roof over our heads.

I am in my final year of college, my sisters are married and have their own families; however, we are finding it difficult to see the goodness in life when we watch our parents living off a few euro every week.

Simply put, they are close to negative equity but not close enough for the banks to decrease their mortgage repayments – repayments that are crippling them every month.

We have downgraded in every aspect possible, my parents’ quality of living is quite humiliating as they find themselves waiting in the evening in Tesco for the reduced products.

They spend their days at home as they cannot afford to eat out, meet friends or visit relatives.

A few weeks ago we thought that a blessing had come in surprise, a contract from the banks offering a reduced mortgage repayment for a set period of time. My parents got advice from other people, signed the contract and sent it back to the banks.

It was agreed that the new repayments would start in March. However, we were notified recently that the banks had made a ‘mistake’ and have decided to rescind the contract.

My parents are distraught and are now fearing that the house will be repossessed.

This is only the tip of our story. I know you may not be able to print this but, even knowing that there are others in our situation that are being kept silent by society, may provoke a reaction.

NAME AND ADDRESS

WITH EDITOR

BOD NOT OUR ONLY HERO

* Ireland’s spectacular Six Nations victory over France in Paris and the equally spectacular solo display by Brian O’Driscoll in his final international appearance will long be remembered in Irish and international sporting history.

The plaudits being showered on the country’s rugby team and on O’Driscoll, in particular, have been well earned.

However, we should not lose sight of the fact that these players are highly paid full-time professionals. This is their paid chosen profession.

On St Patrick’s Day in Croke Park, just two days after Ireland’s rugby victory over the French, four GAA teams contested the All-Ireland club hurling and football finals.

Despite the amateur status of both these codes, those in attendance at Croke Park and those watching on television were treated to spectacular displays of sporting skills.

For generations, the GAA in villages, towns and cities – both in Ireland and abroad – and exclusively on the premise of volunteer participation, turned the GAA into one of the world’s largest and most successful amateur sporting organisations.

These players, who, in their spare time, play for the love of the game with no monetary compensation epitomise the original ideals of sport. They are true sporting heroes.

TOM COOPER

TEMPLOGUE, DUBLIN 6W

BEWARE OF EXAM CHANGE

* I write as somebody who has been involved in education for more than 35 years. During that period I have had experience of state and independent, fee-paying schools.

The schools included both primary and secondary international schools in the Netherlands and Belgium and state schools in the UK – in London and in the industrial region of south Wales.

Most of the time I held posts of responsibility in the managing of subjects throughout the school.

I notice that Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is in danger of repeating the errors that led to the British educational system slipping down the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) international tables of educational achievement.

The emphasis on child-led education and social co-operation in learning can lead to a difficulty in discerning individual progress.

Covering ground by investigation and by reporting is time-consuming. In group work there is a danger of certain children doing the work while others ‘coast along’. . .

Replacing examinations with teacher assessments is also fraught with difficulty.

The temptation to make overgenerous assessments to enhance teacher achievement is ever present and there is no certain way of controlling one teacher’s assessment of a level with those of another.

The reduction of the central role of the teacher can lead to covert bullying and, since this is already a problem, it is likely to get worse.

It is to be hoped that Mr Quinn will consider the advice of the many experienced teachers who have seen the results of experiments – not dissimilar to his – and who know of the pitfalls.

WILLIAM SHEPHERD

MONKSTOWN, CO DUBLIN

Irish Independent

 

 

21 March 2014 Hair

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to stop take Mrs Murray around the harbour, the get lost!Priceless

Cold slightly better hair and library card

Scrabbletoday Marywins and gets under400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the former president of Sierra Leone who has died aged 82, invited British forces to rescue his capital from a brutal rebel army, paving the way for Tony Blair’s most successful foreign intervention.

A kindly and well-meaning man, temperamentally about as far from a war leader as could be imagined, Kabbah found himself confronting a singularly ruthless enemy when, in May 2000, rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) massed outside the capital, Freetown.

For almost a decade, RUF insurgents had ravaged Sierra Leone, specialising in hacking the arms and legs off their victims. Foday Sankoh, the RUF’s psychotic leader, had been trained in Libya by Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and sent back to West Africa to carry out a “people’s revolution”.

On January 6 1999 the RUF struck deep inside Freetown, carrying out a massacre which the city’s people still remember with horror. So when Sankoh and his men returned the following year Kabbah, who had already been overthrown once and restored once, faced the prospect of his capital again being sacked with trepidation.

Ensconced in a gloomy official residence on a windswept hill overlooking the Atlantic – with a tank permanently stationed outside – Kabbah knew that his own Army was incapable of stopping the RUF. He was also grimly aware that he could not rely on the world’s biggest United Nations peacekeeping force, which maintained 17,000 ineffective and often inert troops in Sierra Leone.

So Kabbah turned to Britain, the former colonial power.

At first, he received a lukewarm response. Britain dispatched 800 troops, consisting of 1 Bn the Parachute Regiment and supporting elements, under the command of Brigadier David Richards. But the official mission was simply to evacuate British and other eligible citizens from Freetown.

In the event, this evacuation took less than a week. Instead of packing up and leaving, however, Brig Richards then decided – largely on his own initiative – to stay in Freetown and prevent the RUF from capturing the city. Tony Blair gave retrospective backing to his commander on the ground.

Brig Richards was barred from going on the offensive, so he carefully deployed his troops in exposed forward positions and waited for the RUF to attack.

The rebels took the bait and attacked British paratroopers near Lungi airport on May 17. The ensuing firefight was, in hindsight, the turning point of Sierra Leone’s civil war. For the first time since its foundation in 1991, the RUF collided not with a ragtag African army, but an elite fighting force. The rebels duly came off worse. Just how badly they were mauled remains unclear: Britain maintains that 30 insurgents were killed; the true figure was almost certainly far higher.

On the same day, Foday Sankoh was captured by Sierra Leonean forces acting with the help of British intelligence. After suffering this almost simultaneous double blow, the RUF began to fall apart and the threat to Freetown evaporated. The rebels opened talks with Kabbah and the civil war formally ended in 2002.

Fewer than 800 British combat troops had changed the course of history in a country of five million people – without suffering a single loss (although one British soldier was killed four months later during a mission to rescue 11 hostages).

Brig Richards went on to become a general and Chief of the Defence Staff; Blair became a national hero in Sierra Leone, where babies were named in his honour. Kabbah never forgot his debt to Blair. In his last weeks in office in 2007, Blair paid a triumphant visit to Sierra Leone where Kabbah made him a “paramount chief” with the right to sit in the country’s version of the House of Lords.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was born on February 16 1932 in what was then the British Crown Colony of Sierra Leone. Although a devout Muslim, he attended St Edward’s Catholic secondary school in Freetown, before moving to Britain where he lived for more than 10 years.

Kabbah studied at Aberystwyth University and was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn in 1969. He then joined the United Nations Development Programme, working in Africa as its resident representative in Lesotho.

Kabbah returned to Sierra Leone in the late 1970s, where he became a senior civil servant and permanent secretary in several ministries. A bureaucrat rather than a politician, he nonetheless ran for president and won the election in 1996. He served for only a year before being overthrown in 1997 and then restored to office by a Nigerian military intervention the following year.

After the civil war, Kabbah won a sweeping victory in the 2002 election, running as the man who had brought peace. He served as president until 2007, but achieved little with his time in office.

Kabbah proved too weak to act against corrupt ministers. On his watch, Sierra Leone was penetrated by Latin American drug barons, who used the country as a staging post for running cocaine to Europe. When the opposition made (justified) complaints about his government’s corruption, Kabbah resorted to accusing them of a “lack of patriotism”. Few missed him when he retired from office.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s wife, Patricia, predeceased him. They had five children.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, born February 16 1932, died March 13 2014

Guardian:

I am old, much older, than Charlie Brooker (G2, 17 March), and he has problems understanding the generation you have let loose on G2. So pity me who, in my first job as a young engineer, relied on my trusty sliderule to earn a living (do they know what they were?). There were few telephones, no TVs, no computers. One of our children was still at home at 27, would they believe? However, I am still much interested in how the world changes, but at times despair that I am now irretrievably lost and stranded. I search for things and ideas I can recognise in all the frenetic cultural activity around me, things to latch on to that might drag me along with them.

What do all these trainee “digital” journalists editing G2 actually do? They obviously have the means to communicate with one another that I never possessed until later in life, and make money from them.

But what is it that they have to say? They can communicate with one another globally and instantly and, as far as I can see, aim at the shortest pithiest statements (fewer than 140 characters – oneliners, if possible) on major aspects of the human condition.

I do realise that I am probably already presenting the image of elderly ossification they dread, but I hope they appreciate that almost all aspects of their world today have arrived since I was their age, although we are all in this same world together now. I would like to be here to see how they will be coping another 50 years from now. How about a week of G2 driven by those born before 1930?
Frank Evans
Orpington, Kent

• OK, so your Generation Y team have demonstrated that young people today are as hard done by, misunderstood, arrogant and randy as they always are (been there, done that, got the mental scars), and also that they can produce as good a G2 as your usual gang. How about now giving them a crack at producing the Sport section?
Bob Heath-Whyte
Chalgrove, Oxfordshire

It came as no surprise to me that a lot of the upper decks of HMS Victory are not original (Report, 17 March). My grandfather, George Rogers, was bosun of the yard in Portsmouth when the ship underwent a major refit in the 1920s. At that time a lot of the original oak was removed and the decks remodelled. My grandfather and the master carpenter in charge of the refit were each allowed to take a cupboard door made of the original oak. Grandfather had a gate-legged table, a dressing-table set and a pair of candlesticks made from his door, all of which are still in my possession. In that same era, visitors to the ship were each given “a piece of Victory oak” as a souvenir as they left the ship. According to my mother (who was banned from joining the visiting tourist parties at the request of the sailors showing visitors round because she used to ask awkward questions), these souvenirs came from a local sawmill and were mostly anything but oak. Had they been authentic, there would by now be absolutely nothing left of the original timbers anywhere.
Val Harrison
Birmingham

In order to put the current crisis in Crimea in perspective, I would refer people to a very interesting book that I am sure John Kerry, William Hague and, no doubt, President Putin have read. It is The Grand Chessboard,written in 1998 by one of President Obama’s favourite foreign affairs theorists and President Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski. In it he argued that the US had to take control of a number of strategic countries, including Ukraine, arguing that that country is “a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country (means) Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire”. He warns against allowing Russia to regain control over the country because, by doing so, “Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia”.
Colin Burke
Manchester

• Instead of imposing sanctions on Russia for recognising Crimea‘s independence, perhaps we should welcome President Putin’s new-found enthusiasm for democracy and ask him when he plans to hold a similar referendum in Chechnya and allow the Chechens to declare their independence from Russia.
Sam Dastor
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

• Timothy Garton Ash (The focus is on Crimea, but next is the fight for Ukraine, 19 March) criticises the Crimea referendum for lacking “the consent of all parts of the existing state”, and for being held “without due constitutional process”. Why did he not similarly complain when the referendums which carved up Yugoslavia were being held – without the consent of all parts of the existing state, and without due constitutional process?
Marko Gasic
London

• David Cameron has rightly condemned the annexation of Crimea as illegitimate and illegal. He called at prime minister’s questions for “a rules-based system where countries obey the rules”. This would be an excellent and brave initiative. Consistency is key. For example, last week, in a speech to the Israeli Knesset, one has to ask why he did not call for Israel to cancel its illegal annexations of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, both of which were condemned by UN security council resolutions 24 years ago. It took less than 24 hours to pass sanctions on Russia. He did not even ask when Israel would be ending its 47-year-old military occupation. If Putin had been paying attention, he would have been happily reassured.
Chris Doyle
Director, Council for Arab-British Understanding

• Despite the illegitimate nature of the Crimea referendum, the fact that it was carried out within the space of two weeks must be a cause of a little embarrassment to Minurso, the UN body charged with organising a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara. That was back in 1991. Twenty-three years later, in the face of ongoing Moroccan obstruction and international indifference, Minurso has still not fulfilled its mandate and a population a quarter the size of Crimea’s is still awaiting a say on its future.
Stefan Simanowitz
London

It would be nice to see some mention of the contribution made by secondary-modern-educated men and women, the poor bloody infantry of the workforce, in the shipyards, factories, building sites, hospitals, offices and elsewhere in the UK, now that the last of them are coming up to retirement. In all this recent chatter about Etonians at the top and the clamour in some quarters for the return of grammar schools, the sec mod class of 64 and before that have remained, as usual, invisible.
Frank Conway
Newcastle upon Tyne

• So, is Tanya Gold’s insight (If fashion is how you express yourself, I pity you, 20 March) into the exploitative, misogynistic nature of the fashion industry going to stop the Guardian’s continued promotion of it on its front and main national and international news pages? The frequent photographs of young, gaunt, vacant, Barbie-doll women modelling the latest trends seems completely at odds with the paper’s ethos. Like art, fashion has become business and should therefore be on the business pages. What an opportunity the Guardian misses to provide an alternative aesthetic that expresses the paper’s wonderful, observant, human and humane journalism.
Judy Marsh
Nottingham

• Paradise in Norway gone (Letters, 15 March)? While away your time in Purgatorio, western Sicily.
Dr Mike Rushton
Tarporley, Cheshire

• I feel that the Treasury could be on very dodgy ground in suggesting that the new £1 coin (Report, 19 March) is the most secure coin in circulation in the world. Anyone, especially small boys of my generation who carried around their meagre savings in their trousers, could guarantee that within a few weeks any sharp sided “threepenny bits” among the pennies would wear a hole in your pocket and you lost the lot. What then the security of the new coin?
John Marjoram
Stroud, Gloucestershire

• But unlike threepenny bits, I can’t see 12-sided £1 coins ever becoming Cockney rhyming slang.
John Cranston
Norwich

There is not an ounce of humanity in a budget which puts a cap on overall benefit spending that includes housing benefit needed to pay rents in a property market which is out of control (Vote blue, go grey, 20 March). Any fat cat can swallow the cream of UK property and leave it empty. The coalition continues to allow the existing caps on the housing benefits of families and individuals to create unmanageable rent arrears and hunger. Tenants are forced into temporary, overcrowded and often sub-standard accommodation in the private, and increasingly overpriced, rented sector. Meanwhile, the dreaded diseases of poverty reappear. Will, or can, the Labour party produce any policies which will redeem their capitulation to the overall cap in voting for it?
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

• You emphasise (Editorial, 20 March) how George Osborne continues to see reducing the government’s debts as central to his economic strategy. Yet he regards the much larger debts of the banking sector as not worthy of his attention. It is estimated that government debt will peak at around 80% of GDP, while the debts of the banks remain stubbornly high at 500% of GDP. Britain shares with Japan the least envied title of being the most indebted of the G8 countries. When the next financial crisis comes, as it will, Britain may have to apply for what would be the largest loan in the history of the IMF. In return for that loan, the IMF will impose on Britain a savage austerity programme, similar to Greece’s. Is the government’s complacency due to its assumption that Britain, as with its over-indebted banks, is too large to be allowed to fail? More likely it is because the government has taken its eye off the ball as to what is the real cause of the crisis: rash speculation by over-indebted banks.
Derrick Joad
Leeds

• Most baby boomers are not rolling in it. In fact most can’t afford to retire. Final-salary pensions were closed down years ago, and women particularly find NI contributions only cover 18 years of child-bearing/raising, and those contributions are reduced. In addition, any money people are able to scratch together for retirement has made a loss for years.

If we could get hold of moneys from my husband’s work, for example, the future might look more manageable; and if he died first, I would have a little more to live on than a worrying half of not much. Osborne’s bribes make principled older people turkeys who must vote for their own Christmas in a society that teaches that we’re greedy, fattened-up people who have long had it easy and had it all. Where is the coherent narrative from other political parties to help counteract this divisive bribe? And while we’re at it, we’ve all paid NI contributions, ie a tax for public services such as the NHS. Successive governments have wasted all that money, which is not our fault. Remember, only a few swing votes in the UK count.
Olivia Byard
Witney, Oxfordshire

• While I wouldn’t want to argue against the chancellor’s assertion that responsible pensioners should be trusted to make the right financial decisions about what to do with their pension money, individual choices need to be understood within the contexts in which they are made. Unfortunately, that context is the British financial services industry, and one can have little confidence that the advice pensioners will be able to access will be given in their interests.

I doubt if one would get very long odds betting on the proposition that in 10 or 15 years’ time, we will be waking up to the great “pensions drawdown misadvice scandal” (no doubt the wise will shake their heads and remind us of the “pensions misselling scandal” of the Thatcher era). Nor will you get long odds betting that no one will be considered criminally liable for it. Under neoliberalism, it is only the less privileged who have to take responsibility for their choices.
Rob Raeburn
Brighton

• It will come as a great relief to any emergency service worker that if they are killed in action their estate will not be subject to inheritance tax. Of course, they already had the mere sum of £325,000 free of this tax, and if by chance they are married or in a civil partnership, the combined estate of a mere £650,000 would be exempt and would not be taxable if they are survived by their spouse or partner. Given the salaries of most emergency workers and their relative youth, they may not have had much time to build large and valuable estates, and happily only a small number die in active service. I suspect that this generous gift by the chancellor may not cost the country too much money. Would it be cynical of me to suggest that this was merely a piece of well-sounding PR?
David Lawson
Ilford, Essex

• Every pensioner able to put £10,000 into each issue of the new three-year “pensioner bond” will, if the interest rate is the expected 4%, have an income (net of tax at 20%) of £320. Poorer pensioners without that level of savings will get nothing. Another example of the government using state finance to give to those that have in order to attempt to buy their votes.
John Gaskin
York

• If the likelihood is that only a “small minority” of retirees will misuse their pension pot and fall back on the state is therefore of no consequence, why is the likelihood that only a “small minority” of EU immigrants will misuse the benefits system then outrageous and an indication that urgent action is required?
Gordon Milligan
Berlin

• We have been concerned for some time that the government’s proposed reforms for apprenticeships would have a negative effect on the number of small and medium enterprises taking on apprentices because of the additional costs and increased red tape. We hope that the budget announcement, in addition to the apprenticeship funding reform-consultation feedback, will result in sufficient steps being taken to support small businesses providing apprenticeships.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s recent work leading the government’s Electrotechnical Trailblazer was an opportunity for small businesses to have their voice heard in making sure that apprenticeship further-education courses are fit for purpose. The priority now will be to make sure that small businesses in the electrotechnical and other engineering disciplines are given a generous share of government grants. After all, given the huge shortfall of engineers, apprenticeships represent a valuable lifeline to the future of engineering in the UK.
Paul Davies
Institution of Engineering and Technology

Independent:

George Osborne may have calculated that giving money to the elderly in his Budget would persuade us, on the basis of unenlightened self-interest, to vote Tory in 2015. But he may not be aware that many of us have grandchildren, and we are appalled at the difficulties our youngsters are having to struggle with because of the policies of his government.  

With enormous fees if they are lucky enough to get to university, ever-increasing rents demanded by greedy landlords, unemployment or low-paid and insecure jobs, and ferocious and corrupt policing if they dare to demonstrate or protest, life is pretty tough for youngsters these days.

I and many others try to make up for Osborne’s harshness by giving our grandchildren some of our pension, and I, and I hope many others, will persuade the youngsters to use their votes but never to vote Tory. Osborne may live to regret his cynical “Help the Aged Only” budget.

Tony Cheney, Ipswich, Suffolk

George Osborne, whose high office probably precludes him regularly frequenting public houses, and whose drinks in the Commons watering holes are subsidised by us taxpayers, can be forgiven for not knowing the harsh realities of pub life for beer drinkers. But journalists, even those of the modern school who do not spend all afternoon at the bar before submitting their copy, surely have no excuse. Your paper’s headline on the Budget “A speech for . . . drinkers” (20 March) is as misleading as a politician’s spin.

A penny duty off a pint of beer does not result in a penny off a pint. Publicans never change prices by 1p, and never reduce prices, and increases nowadays are 10p minimum, more likely 20p. After last year’s “beer drinker’s budget” I was laughed out of the bar of my local after asking why I did not get a penny off, and two weeks later all drinks went up by 20p.

John E Orton, Bristol

Has the Chancellor factored in a large budget increase for the policing of organised crime, given his gangster’s gift of increasing tobacco duty in the Budget?

It is only a matter of time before violent gang “turf wars” break out in our inner cities, in parallel with the exponential increase in contraband cigarette sales. It is similarly just a matter of time before, because of this ugly phenomenon, Treasury revenue from tobacco starts to drop off.

Nicky Samengo-Turner, Hundon, Suffolk

The new 12-sided pound coin just confirms that the pound today is only worth 3d in old money. And why the long delay to its introduction? It is only a coin, not a hi-tech device.

Colin Stone, Oxford

UK useless in aircraft search

The search going on in the southern Indian Ocean for the Malaysia Airlines aircraft points up the UK’s stark lack of military capability. Such a search can only be done with sophisticated long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

The Australians, the New Zealanders, and, of course, the Americans have provided Orion aircraft, and even the very latest aircraft, the US Navy’s P-8A.

This should be an area where Britain might be able to help. But we couldn’t, even if we wanted to. We used to have one of the best maritime patrol aircraft in the world, the Nimrod. Since 2010, when we grounded our current Nimrods and decided not to carry on with a newer version, this country has had no maritime air patrol capability.

This is an extraordinary situation for a maritime nation such as the UK  – and our inability is sharply emphasised by the absence of equipment that could help in this very sad situation.

Sean Maffett, Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire

Am I the only person who is surprised to discover from the disappearance of a Malaysian aircraft that the means of transmission in aeroplanes can be so easily switched off by the pilot or others, or indeed switched off at all? I cannot see any legitimate benefit in planes having this “facility”, and a whole raft of dangerous disadvantages.

Ian Craine, London N15

HS2: most of us pay  but get nothing

Simon Calder, as usual, hits nails on the head (“Expensive and destructive, but also the only way to revitalise the railways”, 17 March). HS2 benefits too few and has a business case that is precarious at best. The environmental damage, especially to woodland, is completely unacceptable.

While it would be nice for Brits to enjoy the same high-speed inter-city rail service that most on the continent have known for decades, there is a far more urgent need.

This morning, I sat in a bus which arrived 13 minutes late and took 40 minutes to fight its way just six miles into town. For every long-distance commuter and business traveller, there are a hundred who face the consequences of road congestion and the failure to deliver rail for local service.

Now that we see the result of pretending that road transport alone suffices, we need to prioritise the reopening of stations and lines closed 50 years ago, and building new light electric rail systems within towns and out to their suburbs and satellites.

Blowing the budget on a single system for the wealthy few may deliver political kudos, but it will anger the rest of us who pay but get nothing.

Ian East, Chairman, Oxford-Bicester Rail Action Group, Islip, Oxfordshire

One of the biggest benefits of HS2 is the economic redevelopment opportunities. We’ve heard a lot about these opportunities for the major cities connected by the high-speed line, but little or nothing about the potential wins for cities beyond the immediate confines of the HS2 network.

There is great potential through the connections to the east- and west-coast main lines for cities other than Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds to benefit from HS2, but the challenges around realising these benefits need to be tackled now if these locations are not to fall behind.

In addition, many of these smaller cities could be reached by HS2 trains moving to the classic railway network to complete their journey. But this will require new or significantly enhanced stations.

We need an urgent dialogue between HS2, Network Rail, the train operating companies and local authorities to fully understand the challenges that the arrival of high-speed trains will bring to the classic railway network.

Jeremy Acklam, Institution of Engineering and Technology, London WC2

Two achievements of Tony Benn

Prue Bray asks what Tony Benn did apart form talking “a lot of left-wing stuff” (letter, 18 March). For full details she should obtain the several volumes of Mr Benn’s splendid diaries, covering 50 years of parliamentary life.

But let me mention two concrete things he did. As the drums of war against Iraq built up 11 years ago, Tony Benn, then and until his death president of the Stop the War Campaign, flew to Baghdad to interview Saddam Hussein. Benn asked Saddam directly if he had weapons of mass destruction. Saddam denied he did, saying, according to Benn’s diary: “I tell you, as I have said on many occasions before, that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction whatsoever.”

It turned out Benn was right. Benn also, when energy minister in the late 1970s, promoted the biggest ever taxpayer-sponsored energy-efficiency campaign. In so doing, he was years ahead.

Dr David Lowry, Stoneleigh, Surrey

Reasons for Turner’s strange vision

Turner’s eyesight has worried many for a long time (letter, 19 March).

Leigh Hunt in 1831 thought Turner’s “chromatic absurdities” might be the result of an ophthalmic condition. A “lens sclerosis” and secondary astigmatism were also blamed for the distortions of vision that caused Mark Twain to describe Turner’s work as “like a ginger cat having a fit in a bowl of tomatoes.”

The subject is discussed in the eye-surgeon Patrick Trevor-Roper’s The World through Blunted Sight  (1970) and by the undersigned in a biography of Turner. (Standing in the Sun, a life of JMW Turner, 1997).

Anthony Bailey, Mersea Island, Essex

Outsourcing the job of a parent

So the Government is to make £2,000 available to parents to help pay for childcare – just as long as the person providing the care is not the child’s own parent, but a paid surrogate. This will enable parents to fill all those job vacancies around the country, I suppose – perhaps in nurseries?

And yet we regularly hear that there is a “crisis of parenting” in this country. Just who is supposed to be doing this parenting, if parents are being given incentives to outsource it rather than doing the job themselves?

Marjorie Clarke, Totnes, Devon

Times:

Sir, Why anyone wants to be ruled by Vladimir Putin is a mystery, but Western leaders have not covered themselves with glory. The violent overthrow of an elected government in Ukraine was viewed with equanimity by Cameron, Obama et al. A peaceful referendum in Crimea has aroused howls of rage from the fiddlers, giving new meaning to the concept of hypocrisy.

John Bromley-Davenport, qc

Malpas, Cheshire

Sir, As a Hungarian of 1956, I never thought that the following would leave my lips, but Putin is right — Russia is taking back what is historically and popularly its own, ignoring the decision of the drunken Khrushchev in 1954.

Dr Andrew Zsigmond

Liverpool

Sir, The West’s self-serving lack of resolve over the invasion of Ukraine is worrying. Cannot the UK at least lead a group prepared to ban all sporting contacts with Russia while its troops remain on Ukrainian soil?

David Harris

London SW13

Sir, The Ukrainian Ambassador says the Crimea has been “heavily subsidised” (letter, Mar 20). This burden now passes to Moscow — in return for an assurance that Sevastopol cannot become a Nato military base. A win-win situation?

David Ashton

Sheringham, Norfolk

Sir, I thoroughly agree with Jenni Russell (Opinion, Mar20) that the West should take the blame over Crimea for its meddling in Ukraine. Did the EU actually consider the fact that Russia bases its Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol? If Ukraine joined the EU and eventually Nato, there is no chance that this situation would be allowed to continue with the possibility of Russian nuclear armed ships in an EU state.

Julian Nettlefold

Editor, Battlespace

Sir, If the West fails to exact a heavy price for Putin’s foreign adventurism, others, notably China, with domestic and economic problems of its own, may be encouraged to follow the same route. The interests of the City, of German exporters and of European gas consumers must take second place to the need to shore up international stability, otherwise the final bill in terms of increased military spending, and perhaps even war, could be far higher.

Adrian Cosker

Hitchin, Herts

Sir, Most Crimeans want to become part of Russia. The pragmatic approach is to let them get on with it. We have far more pressing problems much closer to home.

Stephen Knight

Rhoscolyn, Anglesey

Sir, Whether the West chooses to recognise the referendum or not, it had a 95 per cent turnout (something most Western democracies could only dream of) with an 89 per cent Yes vote — a vote which appears to be far more genuine than the 2004 US presidential election, for example.

The West should be helping to support a peaceful transfer of Crimea to Russia ensuring that the minorities in the region have protection.

The US and EU need to be very careful how they lecture the rest of the world on democracy.

ELizabeth Hastings-Clarke

Some of the measures announced by Mr Osborne sound attractive but now they must be implemented

Sir, Most people will support actions to reduce tax avoidance but allowing HMRC to demand disputed taxes before the taxpayer has had his case heard by a court gives unacceptable power to the taxman (“Revenue wins power to raid bank accounts in battle over tax avoidance”, Budget supplement, Mar 18).

In his Budget speech, the Chancellor reminded us of the signing of Magna Carta in 1215. That wonderful document set down that: “No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised (dispossessed) . . . but by lawful judgement of his peers”. That principle has protected the citizens of this country for 800 years. He was wrong to violate it.

Richard Tweed

Croydon

Sir, The Chancellor announced early on in his Budget Speech that emergencies personnel who die in the line of duty will be exempt from inheritance tax. How many people will actually benefit from that?

If the person is married their assets pass freely to their spouse — and if they are single how many would have assets in excess of the inheritance tax threshold?

A more meaningful gesture
would have been to repay soldiers who have had to buy their own life insurance while fighting during
recent wars.

Sara Blunt

Chislehurst, Kent

Sir, The latestBudget promised all sorts of goodies, especially for pensioners, but why should they believe it?

After all in October 2007 Mr Osborne and Mr Cameron promised all sorts of changes to inheritance tax, but once they were in office those promises were quietly forgotten with not a word of apology to those of us who believed them.

Rear Admiral Conrad Jenkin

West Meon, Hants

It is a tough decision whether to give up a career to look after small children, and women need help not hectoring

Sir, I am surprised that Lucy Powell, the Shadow Minister for Childcare and Children, considers it a “waste of talent” when mothers are not at a distant place of work, but actually at home looking after their own children (letter, Mar 18). Parents should be being encouraged to look after their children in the crucial early years of childhood and then helped back into work when their children are ready for that separation.

Instead of making those who chose this route feel guilty that they are “holding the economy back”, Ms Powell should be backing these parents’ tough decision and offering them a way back into work that values the time they spent managing their home and children.

Maria Smith

Exeter, Devon

Council tax bills vary wildly across the country as house prices are skewed by the London property boom

Sir, One anomaly created by the massive rise in London property prices compared with the rest of the country is seen in the council tax demands now being sent out.

The demand for my home (band F; value £475k) in a Dorset village is £2,489. The demand for my home in Islington (band G; value £1.5m) £2,101. The equivalent Band F would be £1,821, ie £650 less.

Mind you, I do get six buses a day, last bus 6pm. And what do Londoners get? Ah yes, the Tube and bus system. Will any politician be brave enough to sort this out?

Mike Nixon

Sutton Poyntz, Dorset

Slow-moving bureaucracy is threatening to turn young Catholics couples away from church marriage ceremonies

Sir, My daughter plans to marry a non-Catholic in a Catholic church in August. She now has to rely on the goodwill of an unpaid volunteer in each parish to find and post her the required original certificates for baptism and confirmation. This is a slow process because parishes are inundated with similar requests. The result is long delays and considerable anxiety.

It’s fair for the church to charge for this but not fair to rely on an unpaid, usually very nice volunteer to fulfil this church-regulated duty. The inefficiency and anxiety could turn faithful young people away from a church marriage — and so their children may not be brought up as Catholics.

Peter Hobday

Folkestone, Kent

You don’t expect a hospital to order a young mother not to nurse her baby in a maternity wing waiting room

Sir, How outrageous and contradictory that a new mother is stopped from breastfeeding her baby in a hospital waiting room by a health trust aiming to “Promote positive attitudes to breastfeeding” (“You can’t feed your child here, hospital told new mother”, Mar 19).

The maternity information also advises: “We think it is a good idea that your baby is with you at all times.”

How can this possibly happen if a child as young as six weeks is not brought along while her mother has time-consuming blood tests?

While David Eltringham, the chief operating officer of the hospital is worrying about “patient safety”, the rest of us should ask what dangers could possibly be posed to anyone. I have never heard of an accident being caused by breast feeding.

Janet Weston

Westerham, Kent

Telegraph:

SIR – The body of Tony Benn may rest overnight in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster next week, an honour previously awarded only to Margaret Thatcher. There has perhaps never been a better example of British absurdity.

On the one hand, we have a politician who led this country as prime minister through three terms and changed the country’s financial and international fortunes dramatically.

On the other hand, we have a politician who was never prime minister, making it as far as secretary of state for industry. He had dramatic and outdated hard-Left views and was left behind by his own party as it moved to the centre. He continued to be a great constituency MP, a champion of the powerless, a diarist of the highest order and a good father.

But Benn and Thatcher are in different leagues; it is like comparing Winston Churchill with Dick Crossman.

J R Nickell-Lean
Ryton, North Yorkshire

SIR – Tony Benn was a brilliant orator, but was nevertheless an egocentric maverick; it would be a travesty to extend to him the accolade that was granted to Margaret Thatcher. She was a political winner; he a political loser.

David Phipps
Freshford, Somerset

SIR – An “accident of birth” allows many to forgive Tony Benn for his silver-spoon background and public school education. Yet Old Etonians in Government are roundly criticised for being toffs. Why?

Michael Nicholson
Dunsfold, Surrey

Clear as a bell

SIR – I was dismayed to read yet another complaint about “noisy” bells, in this case bells that have chimed for 140 years in Knighton, Radnorshire.

Surely people who buy houses anywhere near bell towers, whether they be church or civic buildings, should check on the frequency of the ringing before they buy. Bravo to the town mayor and his campaign to keep them ringing.

Christine Lavender
Send, Surrey

Left out

SIR – Peter Luff MPhas said that left-handed children need more support in schools (March 18). Far from being psychologically scarred by my schooldays, I can use right-handed scissors and write legibly despite being left-handed.

Improving standards in the teaching of basic numeracy and literacy would be a more worthwhile cause to champion.

Kirsty Blunt
Sedgeford, Norfolk

SIR – My husband, myself and two of our three children are left-handed. The verse our daughter was taught on starting school wasn’t very helpful: “The hand you write with is your right, the one that’s left is left.”

Kay Blackwell
Maesygwartha, Monmouthshire

SIR – Like Rowan Pelling, I am a left-handed person living in a right-handed world. I have also battled with tin openers designed for the right-handed. One of the most useful tools I have acquired is a left-handed ruler. Before any right-handers scoff at this, try drawing a line against a ruler without being able to see the numbers clearly. My left-handed ruler has the numbers running from right to left.

Clifford Baxter
Wareham, Dorset

German cemeteries

SIR – Like M J Gibson, I try to visit German war cemeteries, like the one at Langemarck. I find the contrast between stark German cemeteries and serene British ones astonishing.

I always read the comment books at the Commonwealth memorials, and some of the most poignant remarks I have seen have been from German visitors. Perhaps quiet appreciation is preferable to flamboyant visual displays.

Ray Bather
Allendale, Northumberland

Natural deterrent

SIR – In my wooded garden we used to have a serious grey squirrel problem. They ate everything I tried to grow in the garden and they even raided the house.

But since a pair of buzzards returned to breed, the grey squirrel numbers have collapsed. Natural control obviously works.

Anthony Vickery
Poole, Dorset

Money talks

SIR – The introduction of £1 coins resembling the old threepenny bit will be a reminder to all in Britain how much successive governments have safeguarded the value of our money.

What used to cost 3p back in 1971, when the threepenny bit was rendered obsolete by decimalisation, now costs just over £1.

Mark Boyle
Johnstone, Renfrewshire

SIR – The reverse image on the original threepenny bit was of the flower thrift.

Surely no better image could be found in these challenging times?

Christopher Macy
Lincoln

MoD should not build on Stonehenge aerodrome

SIR – I am deeply saddened that the Ministry of Defence plans to build thousands of homes over the site of the historic Larkhill aerodrome, within sight of Stonehenge.

In February 1910, my great-grandfather Sir George White (1854-1916) founded what became the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

He chose Larkhill as a testing ground for his new Boxkite aeroplanes in part because there was little except Stonehenge for errant aircraft to hit, and in part because he hoped to attract interest from the nearby Army base. He acquired the flying rights over 2,000 acres there, building an iron hangar to house his aircraft and setting up a pioneering school. Others joined him, and Larkhill blossomed.

Two Boxkites flying from the original Bristol shed became the first aircraft to take part in British military manoeuvres. Arguably the first air-to-ground radio signals were received at Larkhill and the first government trials to select aircraft for the Forces took place there. A great number of the pilots available when the First World War broke out were trained at Larkhill. Many brave young men lost their lives at the aerodrome, but through their bravery and sacrifice, extraordinary strides in the development of British aviation took place. It is certainly the oldest hangar to survive in Britain, and is, perhaps, the oldest in Europe.

While this hugely significant building is under threat, in Australia, pioneering Bristol aircraft are being celebrated. On March 1, the flight of a specially built Boxkite replica was the centrepiece of the Royal Australian Air Force centenary celebrations. The purpose was to replicate the first Australian military flight, made on a Boxkite by Lieutenant Eric Harrison at 7.40am on March 1 1914. Harrison learnt to fly at the Bristol School at Larkhill.

Larkhill was a cradle of British and Commonwealth aviation. There must be many suitable sites for new homes. Historic Larkhill is not one of them.

Sir George White

Rudgeway, Gloucestershire

SIR – Richard Spencer is unfortunately right when he says the situation in Syria is actually much worse than one might think. Amnesty International has reported on how 250,000 people are now subjected to brutal medieval-style sieges, in which entire neighbourhoods have been sealed off from the outside world.

In the Yarmouk district of Damascus, for example, the Syrian army has maintained a deadly stranglehold since July, preventing people getting in or out and cutting off the food supply and electricity. Food is so scarce that many of the 20,000 malnourished residents have been reduced to eating cats and dogs or boiling dandelion leaves.

Meanwhile, Syrian army snipers callously shoot at those foraging for food. Over 200 people have died in Yarmouk’s barbaric siege, with at least 128 perishing through starvation.

Last month’s long overdue United Nations resolution on Syria called on all parties – government forces and armed opposition groups – to lift their sieges and allow in food and medical supplies. This has not happened and, unless it does, the grotesque suffering of the Syrian people is likely to descend to a level that most people will struggle to believe.

Kate Allen
Director, Amnesty International UK
London EC2

SIR – Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, says that living standards have dropped by £1,600 in the past four years, which I would have thought was an inevitable consequence of Labour’s policies up until 2010.

It would be interesting to know how that drop in living standards splits between the various sectors of society – what is the drop for the richest 10 per cent, the next 10 per cent, and so on. This would surely prove whether we were “all in it together” or not. It is curious that neither Labour nor the Conservatives seem willing to divulge this information.

Barry Smith
Loughborough, Leicestershire

SIR – The Chancellor’s announcement of additional help to cathedrals for renovations is extremely good news, not only to communities battling to keep their immense buildings windproof and watertight – a task made far more difficult through this winter of storms – but also to the heritage construction industry, which has been cruelly punished through the recession.

As a building conservation architect (and surveyor of the fabric at St George’s Chapel, Windsor), I know that the heritage sector has yet to show signs of recovery.

The loss of irreplaceable historic craft and trade skills critical to the sustainable maintenance and repair of these magnificent buildings is gravely concerning. It is vital that the Government provides greater support to skills training for conservation specialists.

Martin Ashley
Twickenham, Middlesex

SIR – I am blessed with two young children, parents who require support to keep them at home, and a husband who works long and variable hours. I also volunteer at my children’s school.

I did not make a choice not to work. Indeed, like thousands of others, I work long hours, unpaid, out of family necessity. Am I to presume that if I stopped helping my higher-rate-taxpayer husband, abandoned my parents to the NHS, sent my children to school ill, and took a minimum-wage job for a few hours a week I would be entitled to a pat on the back for contributing to the economy?

Josie Jennings
Moulton, Suffolk

SIR – I was initially delighted to hear Nick Clegg on the radio telling me I was going to get £2,000 per child for child care. With four children, that would be welcome. My joy was short-lived, however, as my wife reminded me that all our child-benefit payments had been taken away, amounting to many more thousands lost than we may gain. She then went on to ruin my breakfast by telling me that it wouldn’t apply to those who had only one income. My solution? Pay her to become a cleaner in our own home and vote Labour next time around.

Daniel Connolly
Lancing, West Sussex

Irish Times:

Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 01:10

First published: Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 01:10

Sir, – Are Vincent Browne’s sensibilities confined to rugby, where he finds it so “disturbing” for a participant to obtain a “thrill in legally inflicting pain on someone else” (“Rugby culture is boorishly patriarchal”, Opinion and Analysis, March 19th)? If this susceptibility extends more widely, perhaps he would ponder his own opinion pieces, where he has been inflicting pain for years. – Yours, etc,

GEOFF SCARGILL,

Loreto Grange,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Rugby could be viewed as part of the overall British package offered to this nation and gratefully accepted along with an accompanying ethos which many Irish schools have embraced and championed in our recent history. This British ethos (along with fagging and other abominations) had one aim and one aim only, namely to desensitise British youth and thus prepare them for the cold-hearted military and cultural domination of native peoples around the world. The “playing fields of Eton” is where most of their battles were fought and won. The British Empire is no more, but the fight continues as long as the will to compete and dominate is seen as a legitimate aspiration for sentient beings. – Yours, etc,

GABRIEL ROSENSTOCK,

Gleann na gCaorach,

Co Átha Cliath.

Sir, – It is such a pity that the venerable Vincent Browne did not play serious rugby at school, even though we know he did attend Castleknock College for five years. If he had it seems doubtful that he would find rugby culture “boorish and patriarchal”. Mr Browne obviously has never tackled an opposing player in full flight for the line, never had the satisfaction of bringing down an adversary physically and legally. He is extraordinarily good at it on television and in print – but on the physical field of play? No, nay, never! – Yours, etc,

ERIC C O’BRIEN,

Howth Lodge,

Howth, Dublin 13.

Sir, – Considering the risk of physical injury alone, anyone who encourages a child to play rugby is an eejit. – Yours, etc,

DENIS O’CONNOR,

Front Street East,

Toronto, Ontario.

Sir, – Does homophobia exist in rugby? Does misogyny exist in rugby? Does boorish behaviour? Yes. Rugby – like Gaelic football and hurling and soccer – is simply a sport played by people and since any community contains these things, it is silly to suggest that a sport or a club or an office or any large collective of people does not reflect elements of those attitudes. But they do not define it.

Is rugby a tough sport? Yes. Mr Browne suggests that the “manly” culture of rugby is dysfunctional. Is it dysfunctional to teach teamwork, hard work, taking the knocks life may send and getting back up again? Those are values many people would like to pass on to their children.

The culture of rugby that I know is one epitomised by Brian O’Driscoll and Donncha O’Callaghan and so many more of the icons of Irish rugby – fair play, hard work and respect (we still call the referee “Sir”, though that may be a product of the “posh private education” that seems to irk Mr Browne so much).

BARRY CUNNINGHAM,

Clonfert,

Maynooth,

Sir, – There are compelling reasons why the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) should introduce a standard to monitor the outcome (morbidity and mortality) for subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) patients who are denied access to emergency neurosurgical or endovascular treatment. Standards of performance are key drivers of patient safety. They measure not only performance but facilitate comparison with healthcare providers in Europe and elsewhere. This can inform best practice and use of scarce resources.

Untreated SAH patients face life-threatening risks. The cost of an intensive care bed (€1,800 per day) is the same whether a patient is being treated in the neurosurgical centre or is in an intensive care bed in the local hospital – and not being treated. The humanitarian and economic consequences of not securing a ruptured brain aneurysm are immense.

Providing additional neurosurgical intensive care beds addresses the unmet need of patients who require emergency neurosurgical treatment. It also removes the onus on admitting hospitals to provide intensive care beds for SAH patients who are being “managed” rather than treated. Early treatment significantly reduces the risk of a catastrophic rebleed, levels of morbidity and mortality and length of stay, when compared to patients who are not treated.

The refusal by HIQA to introduce a standard to monitor, and then publish the outcome for untreated SAH patients, invites questions regarding the competence of HIQA to assess patient safety risks. – Yours, etc,

JIM LAWLESS, MBA

Cypress Downs,

Templeogue,

Sir, – Rosita Boland’s article (Weekend Review, March 8th) referred to Ireland’s ratification of the Hague Convention and its impact on inter-country adoptions. Prior to ratification, Ireland operated a system of light-touch regulation – an indefensible position given our own history of forced adoptions.

Children have been denied the right to grow up with their parents and families because of child trafficking, abduction and through the deception of birth parents. Given the sums of money involved, inter-country adoption can encourage malpractice and corruption, with children and prospective adoptive parents at risk of being exploited for financial gain. A 2009 International Social Service report found that “the number of ‘abandonments’ depends considerably on the extent to which there is a demand for the children concerned”.

The Hague Convention aims to protect children and their families against the risks of illegal, irregular, premature or ill-prepared adoptions abroad. Hague-compliant countries are required to build up their domestic child protection, care and adoption infrastructures, with inter-country adoption as a measure of last resort. Consequently the number of children placed for inter-country adoption is very low once Hague comes into force.

On the other hand, non-Hague compliant countries – many of which are developing countries, such as Ethiopia – often have large numbers of children for adoption but very weak child protection systems.

Ireland’s ratification of Hague has had a personal and profound impact on hundreds of prospective adoptive parents. Unfortunately, there is no magic solution. We must protect children from exploitation and abuse and ensure that every adoption is in the child’s best interests. It is for this reason that we urge extreme caution if Ireland moves to enter into a bilateral agreement with a non-Hague compliant country.

We urge the newly established Child and Family Agency to integrate its adoption and childcare systems. Adoptive parents currently undergo an intensive investigation process and then languish for years in the system with little prospect of ever becoming parents. At the same time, procedures prohibit adoption applicants from fostering, despite a chronic shortage of foster families. Reform is clearly needed. Each adoption applicant should be informed of the likely timeline and outcome of their application and of fostering opportunities open to them. A change in the law to allow for “open” adoptions is also long overdue and could benefit children growing up within the care system. – Yours, etc,

TANYA WARD,

Chief Executive,

Children’s Rights Alliance,

Molesworth Street,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Further to recent letters on the future of Aldborough House in Dublin, your readers might be interested in the fate of Belcamp House, an important 18th-century structure within a few miles of Dublin Airport.

This house, designed by James Hoban (the architect of the White House) in the 1770s and containing an original oval office, a precursor to its famous namesake, was for a time the residence of Henry Grattan, as well as being rented for a time by Countess Markievicz as a centre for the Fianna movement. Run as a school by the Oblate Fathers as Belcamp College, which closed in 2004, the house and lands were sold to Gannon Homes and, like so many other development sites, ended up in Nama.

The house has been allowed to fall into complete neglect and, through vandalism and various arson attacks, little is left now but a ruin of a house that welcomed Jonathan Swift and other famous personages when it was one of the leading country houses in the Dublin area.

Even if funds were not available to preserve this historic building, surely it would not have cost much to protect it from the vandalism directed against it. Sadly Aldborough House seems to be going the same way. – Yours, etc,

ERNEST CROSSEN,

Ard Aoibhinn,

Chapelizod,

Dublin 20.

Sir, – I don’t know where Brendan Behan is nowadays, but if he gets hold of your editorial (“The Quare Fellow”, March 20th) in which he is described as a “cultural icon”, you can expect to hear from him.

“I’m not an effin’ Russian monstrance” will be the thrust of his message. – Yours, etc,

KIERAN FAGAN,

Seafield Court,

Killiney,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – My favourite quotation concerning Brendan Behan appears in John Montague’s memoir, Company: A Chosen Life . Neatly summarising his friend’s sexual proclivities and linguistic abilities, Montague says, “He was the only trilingual bisexual I ever met.” – Yours, etc,

PAUL LAUGHLIN,

Spruce Meadows,

Culmore,

Sir, – Regarding Fr Tony Flannery’s piece (“Pope pragmatic in prioritising structural reform”, Rite & Reason, March 11th), he seems to be arguing that Pope Francis is reorganising the internal governance of the church, (the curia, the synod of bishops, etc) in order that theological change will follow in the wake of such structural changes. Either that or that theological change cannot take place without prior structural change.

Fr Flannery ends his article by saying, “I am very hopeful” (of change). This hopefulness is somewhat at odds with the sense of the two preceding sentences where Fr Flannery cites the pope’s recent statement of defence and indeed praise of the church’s handling of the clerical sexual abuse scandals and the pope’s assertion of Pope Paul VI as a “genius”, for his encyclical Humanae Vitae . These two observations are hardly tokens of an intention towards change.

Father Tony’s theory that structural change is a necessary precursor for theological change, if that is what he is saying, seems to me to be a feeble thesis.

Surely Pope Francis could institute theological change in areas such as clerical celibacy, the ban on contraceptives and the place of women in the church if he had a mind to amend the governance of the church at the same time or even after such changes?

The necessity for proper structural changes to bring about doctrinal change is far from convincing on reading Fr Flannery’s article. – Yours, etc,

RICHARD HOLDEN,

Middleway,

Taunton,

Somerset,

Sir, – Seamus O’Callaghan (March 20th) asks if, in keeping with the social conscience that both Guinness and Heineken have displayed in regard to withdrawing sponsorship of the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York, if they, and the drinks industry, would pick up the tab for the A&E charges and other hospital treatments that their products necessitate each week?

This is yet another example of the “blame anyone but ourselves” attitude so deeply etched in our psyche.

To suggest that breweries and distilleries are responsible for the behaviour of individuals who voluntarily overindulge in alcoholic products is rendering individual responsibility for our own actions obsolete. Are we in this country ever going to mature to the point whereby we accept responsibility for our own behaviour and stop blaming others?

Such logic would place responsibility for the anti-social behaviour of car drivers on car manufacturers, sugary soft drinks producers and chocolate manufacturers for obese children and decay in teeth and fast food outlets for rising cholesterol and diabetes levels.

We do not need events like St Patrick’s Day parades to see our streets awash with drunkenness and anti-social behaviour, although such events do come in handy for blaming others for our own delinquency. – Yours, etc,

TOM COOPER,

Templeville Road,

Templeogue,

Sir, – Warren McKenzie (March 19th) takes issue with Taoiseach Enda Kenny preaching to the United States government about immigration reform, calling it a “gross interference” in American domestic affairs.

While the United States government is no stranger to taking an active role in the domestic affairs of foreign states, Mr McKenzie raises a valid argument – that our Taoiseach should tackle the very real problems at home. There are said to be up to 50,000 undocumented Irish migrants in the United States of America, a federal republic with a population of 313.9 million people. Back home in Ireland, a State with a population of 4.6 million people, there are said to be up to 30,000 undocumented migrants, the majority of whom have been here for many years.

I wonder if the Taoiseach devotes 40 times as much attention to the undocumented in Ireland as US president Barack Obama devotes to the undocumented Irish? – Yours, etc,

SEÁN Ó SIOCHRÚ

Glenbeigh,

Co Kerry.

Sir, – Daniel Griffin repeats (March 13th) the old charge that the Seanad is elitist. One only has to accept the legitimacy and value of the electoral college as an instrument of democracy to see that the charge is without merit.

At the same time as the electorate at large elects local authority councillors, it mandates them to form an electoral college to elect 43 Senators. This is a no less democratic process for being indirect.

Likewise, the voters elect TDs who in turn elect the Taoiseach, conferring on him by these two democratic steps, the mandate defined in the Constitution to nominate 11 Senators. By the same processes, he is empowered to nominate 15 Ministers, but nobody regards that power as undemocratic.

As for the remaining six Senators, they are elected by graduates who have invested effort and funds in increasing the value of what they can contribute to society. The State has also invested resources in their education. In return for these investments, the State gives them the right to elect representatives who, because they are not part of the party political system, are likely to add diversity to the Upper House.

The electorate showed last year that it does not want the Seanad to be abolished. The broadening of the graduates’ franchise is an appropriate reform. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL DRURY,

Avenue Louise,

Brussels,

A chara, – Dr Mary Scriven’s comments (March 19th) epitomise what the anti-smoking lobby has regrettably become. What began 50 years ago as a well-intentioned campaign to raise public awareness of the dangers of smoking is now little more than an alarmist witch-hunt whose raison d’être seems to be the harassment and control of those who choose to consume this legal product.

While Dr Scriven may find the public use of e-cigarettes “rude”, “unpleasant” and “regressive”, she tellingly fails to provide any health reasons for her objection. Of course, this is because no such reasons exist.

Smokers are no different from any other addicts in that they stand a better chance of conquering their dependence if treated with encouragement and understanding. – Is mise,

Dr GARETH P KEELEY,

Gneisenaustrasse,

Dusseldorf,

Germany.

Sir, – I think it is time to stamp out the debate around electronic cigarettes. No butts. – Yours, etc,

HUGH McDONNELL,

Strand Road,

Termonfeckin,

Co Louth.

Irish Independent:

* Another quango and another idiotic report. An alliance between the Health Minister and the rather Orwellian titled Minister for Children have come up with an exclusion fat-free takeaway zone for children.

Also in this section

St Patrick’s Day can be about social change

So when is the real democratic revolution?

Letters: Using and abusing the right to free speech

As if the humble chipper is the sole cause of waddling Jennie’s and Johnny’s life . . . were it so simple.

Where is the 1.5km zone to be placed in the supermarket when the parents buy the vast array of food laced with sugar and encrypted lettering masking god knows what?

Who will permit children to be allowed actually run, play ball in the school yard and tumble free from the omnipresent threat of suing somebody else for Paddy and Patricia growing up with its attendant tumbles and falls.

Will the newspaper shop have barbed wire around a 10ft-high soft drinks stand preventing the youngsters from buying sugared water or will the Government ban such sugar-loaded juice?

Perhaps we should let parents decide themselves what to do. I see many of them buying such food for their children in the takeaways. Is this because of the pace of life, or the lack of money to buy ‘real’ food due to government policy.

Lead by example, I say. Educate but don’t impose a nanny, Orwellian state.

Also, perhaps a few of those who seem disturbed by overweight children might lead by example and lose a few pounds themselves. The last few ministers for health carried some excess poundage themselves.

JOHN CUFFE

CO MEATH

THE POLITICS OF SCAM

* Alas! Elections are mere cosmetic exercises in musical chairs. You are simply replacing the faces, yet the music remains the same.

Now that all power is of the European, centralised version – which means decisions for this country are made in Europe – and passed on to the organ grinders who call themselves politicians.

They in turn carry out the wishes of their European masters. Elections have become nothing but scams. All manifesto-false promises should be treated as toilet paper.

Waiting for political messiahs to save us is futile. People need to look inward and forget politics and politicians.

ANTHONY WOODS

ENNIS, CO CLARE

TIP OF FINANCIAL ICEBERG

* I am writing to you, as I assume many others have, regarding the pitiful greed of Irish banks within our society.

This story will probably come of no surprise to you; however, as I am only 22 years of age with limited life experiences, I am still in shock.

My story is essentially about my parents who are both in their 50s and are struggling as hard as anybody I have met in order to keep a roof over our heads.

I am in my final year of college, my sisters are married and have their own families; however, we are finding it difficult to see the goodness in life when we watch our parents living off a few euro every week.

Simply put, they are close to negative equity but not close enough for the banks to decrease their mortgage repayments – repayments that are crippling them every month.

We have downgraded in every aspect possible, my parents’ quality of living is quite humiliating as they find themselves waiting in the evening in Tesco for the reduced products.

They spend their days at home as they cannot afford to eat out, meet friends or visit relatives.

A few weeks ago we thought that a blessing had come in surprise, a contract from the banks offering a reduced mortgage repayment for a set period of time. My parents got advice from other people, signed the contract and sent it back to the banks.

It was agreed that the new repayments would start in March. However, we were notified recently that the banks had made a ‘mistake’ and have decided to rescind the contract.

My parents are distraught and are now fearing that the house will be repossessed.

This is only the tip of our story. I know you may not be able to print this but, even knowing that there are others in our situation that are being kept silent by society, may provoke a reaction.

NAME AND ADDRESS

WITH EDITOR

BOD NOT OUR ONLY HERO

* Ireland’s spectacular Six Nations victory over France in Paris and the equally spectacular solo display by Brian O’Driscoll in his final international appearance will long be remembered in Irish and international sporting history.

The plaudits being showered on the country’s rugby team and on O’Driscoll, in particular, have been well earned.

However, we should not lose sight of the fact that these players are highly paid full-time professionals. This is their paid chosen profession.

On St Patrick’s Day in Croke Park, just two days after Ireland’s rugby victory over the French, four GAA teams contested the All-Ireland club hurling and football finals.

Despite the amateur status of both these codes, those in attendance at Croke Park and those watching on television were treated to spectacular displays of sporting skills.

For generations, the GAA in villages, towns and cities – both in Ireland and abroad – and exclusively on the premise of volunteer participation, turned the GAA into one of the world’s largest and most successful amateur sporting organisations.

These players, who, in their spare time, play for the love of the game with no monetary compensation epitomise the original ideals of sport. They are true sporting heroes.

TOM COOPER

TEMPLOGUE, DUBLIN 6W

BEWARE OF EXAM CHANGE

* I write as somebody who has been involved in education for more than 35 years. During that period I have had experience of state and independent, fee-paying schools.

The schools included both primary and secondary international schools in the Netherlands and Belgium and state schools in the UK – in London and in the industrial region of south Wales.

Most of the time I held posts of responsibility in the managing of subjects throughout the school.

I notice that Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is in danger of repeating the errors that led to the British educational system slipping down the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) international tables of educational achievement.

The emphasis on child-led education and social co-operation in learning can lead to a difficulty in discerning individual progress.

Covering ground by investigation and by reporting is time-consuming. In group work there is a danger of certain children doing the work while others ‘coast along’. . .

Replacing examinations with teacher assessments is also fraught with difficulty.

The temptation to make overgenerous assessments to enhance teacher achievement is ever present and there is no certain way of controlling one teacher’s assessment of a level with those of another.

The reduction of the central role of the teacher can lead to covert bullying and, since this is already a problem, it is likely to get worse.

It is to be hoped that Mr Quinn will consider the advice of the many experienced teachers who have seen the results of experiments – not dissimilar to his – and who know of the pitfalls.

WILLIAM SHEPHERD

MONKSTOWN, CO DUBLIN

Irish Independent

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