26 March 2014 Astrid

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to go on an initiative exercise. . Priceless

Cold slightly better Mary very under the weather take Astrid to visit her in hospital

No Scrabbletoday Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Peter Oakley,, who has died aged 86, defied the perceived restrictions of old age to become an internet sensation through his wistful, heartfelt and honest video diary on YouTube.

As “geriatric1927” — his “handle” for 435 video postings that he collectively titled “Telling it all” — Oakley set viewers straight on how the world looked from a pensioner’s perspective. For seven years, his views as an octogenarian vlogger (video blogger) were to be a tonic to a youth-saturated online audience.

He regaled viewers with tales of growing up during the war, his love of motorcycles, the topography of his hometown of Bakewell, Derbyshire, and the various small ignominies, frustrations, and joys of being of old in Britain during the Noughties. “I would find it difficult to tell you what I do here,” he stated on his profile page, “as it doesn’t fit into any one genre. As an 86 year-old I reminisce about my life today and stories of times past. I might cook a meal or read you a story or tell you what has been happening during the week in which I upload the video. It is kind of like ‘shooting the breeze’.”

Oakley made his online debut on August 5 2006 with a two-minute video titled “first try”. A delightfully incongruous blues song plays him in as he sits, wearing a beige v-neck jumper, looking slightly off camera. “I, um, got addicted to YouTube,” he begins, “a fascinating place to go to see all the wonderful videos that you young people have produced so I thought I’d have a go at doing one myself.”

Thereafter he used his video blog as a platform to “bitch and grumble about life in general from the perspective of an old person who’s been there and done that and hopefully you will respond”.

Respond they did — his first post has, to date, received nearly three million views and more than 10,000 comments. Subsequent films — lasting between five and 10 minutes — touched on personal reminiscence from his military service, working life or marriage, or on broader topics such as education and ageing. The combination appealed to young and old alike. “Biographies are generally boring sort of things unless there’s some anecdotes in them,” he said. For seven years he related anecdote upon anecdote with impeccable manners, an eiderdown-soft delivery, self-deprecation, and shot-from-the-hip candour. His imperative, as EM Forster termed it, was: “only connect”.

Peter Oakley was born on August 20 1927 and grew up during the war in Norwich, where he witnessed the devastation inflicted on the city by German bombers. “My father was a butcher and I loved him,” he recalled of his early family life. “He taught me the trade and how to drive a motor car when I was 10 years old. That wouldn’t happen today.” On leaving school at 16 he got a job with the local authority’s public health department (he later trained as a health inspector).

He was conscripted into the Navy at 18 and became a radar technician (a period he chronicled at length in his video logs). After being demobbed he studied at university in Leicester where he was to pursue his two lifelong loves — an art student named Patricia, who would become his wife, and motorcycles. He eventually gave up the “proper job” to become a garage mechanic, turning a bakery into a workshop, and finding his true calling.

It was in the wake of his wife’s death in the late Nineties that Oakley began looking online for pen friends. After the hugely positive response to his initial YouTube posting he began his “Telling it all” series with the admission that he was “absolutely overwhelmed and don’t quite know what to say. If I should break down during this video then I’ll click the button and I will come back to you as soon as possible. I just need to say thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Oakley began each film with a jaunty “Hello Youtubers” before continuing with whatever had caught his attention since his last entry. This could be a memory, an observation or a helpful tip. In his opus on “Making an English Cup of Tea” he explained the importance of warming the teapot (his aunt, “who thought she was very posh”, would yell at him that she expected “boiling water not boiled water”). A walk into Bakewell along the river path inspired another video, a visual “poem on some thoughts when looking at an old gnarled tree” (“I know exactly how you feel,” was his starting point).

Inevitably his YouTube popularity drew the gaze of the world’s media. He initially refused requests for interviews, which he considered “pointless and dangerous”. In his seventh video he addressed this intrusion and made a statement declaring that several “geriatric1927” websites had been created by others. “I leave you to make up your own mind about their motives,” he said wearily. His aim in making the films was, he reiterated, to reduce his loneliness and isolation, not to nurture any ambitions to become a celebrity. He later relented and gave a BBC interview. “They were so lovely,” he said. “I can’t think how many TV companies have been since. I don’t regret it.”

Oakley believed that YouTube “reflects the whole of society”. But he was aware that the internet had its more unpleasant corners. “Whilst I’ve not been taking part in chat rooms I have seen what goes on and, well, pretty disgusted by it really,” he said in 2007, “because people could hide behind any sort of identity.” The transparency of his video log, however, allowed him to develop friendships and, he acknowledged, become “a grandad kind of figure” to a global audience.

In 2006 he said his YouTube adventure had been “one of the major changes and breakthroughs in my life and given me a whole new world to experience”. In his last post on February 12 this year — in which he appears gaunt from the effects of cancer and is bundled up in a dressing gown — he completed his series of Navy service tales before a typically humble sign-off: “That’s it really. And sort of in conclusion I will say possibly my final goodbye. So goodbye.”

He is survived by a son and daughter.

Peter Oakley was born August 20 1927, died March 23 2014


Larry Elliott asks if the innovations made by Formula One manufacturers cannot be used in the fight against climate change (When nudge comes to shove, 24 March). I agree. We sit on 400 years’ worth of coal, we’re surrounded by sea and wind. Surely the country that gave the world television, the jet engine, antibiotics and the world wide web, among other innovations, can lead the way to develop clean coal technology and use wind, tidal and solar power to give the UK both energy supply and security?

If Ed Miliband wants to set a bold radical manifesto, what could be bolder than to set Britain on a course of clean energy self-sufficiency? We own the banks to provide cheap long-term finance, so use the best brains and universities combined with our engineering genius to lead the green energy revolution providing skilled, well-paid jobs, factories and apprenticeships and leading to prosperity for our country.
Alan Quinn

• While in some respects agreeing with Larry Elliott on behavioural economics, I take issue with his assertion that governments need to “be prepared to shove as well as nudge”. He cites improvements to fuel and power efficiency made to Formula One cars as a result of stipulations made by its authorities. Extending this to car makers generally would impose costs on them in the event of recalls involving tens if not hundreds of thousands of models if they go wrong – nowhere near as draconian for the typical F1 team, which might have four or five models.

Furthermore, many breakthroughs, such as the discovery of penicillin and the technology behind microwave ovens, come about via fluke rather than intention. While there probably is a case for governments to fund R&D spending, setting rigid parameters and targets instead of allowing researchers to pursue their own proclivities might stymie this as a source of discoveries.
Paul Negrotti
Winchester, Hampshire

On Wednesday MPs will vote on legislation that could have a huge impact on thousands of the country’s most vulnerable people – yet many who are most likely to be affected will not know about it, let alone get the chance to have their say on it. The legislation is the charter for budget responsibility, which includes the setting of a welfare cap, and the people who are likely to remain unaware are people with learning disabilities.

Our research shows that just 11% of the people we support find it easy to understand what politicians say, due to the complex and jargon-heavy language many MPs use. Yet disabled people are often profoundly affected by political decisions, as they are disproportionately likely to be unemployed or poor. That’s why charities such as United Response have urged politicians to communicate in a clearer and more accessible way so that everyone can understand their policies and act accordingly, including the many who struggle with reading. Last week’s budget, with its complicated welfare and pension plans, was a perfect example of inaccessibility. The government should be doing more to recognise that it represents all its citizens and, as a minimum, should translate its major announcements into accessible formats. With an election looming, this duty becomes ever more urgent.
Su Sayer
Chief executive, United Response


While “members of the progressive community” write to this page (Letters, 24 March) mapping out the principles on which Labour should build a new offer to the electorate, Cameron carries on marking out the Tories’ territory. Plans to reform pensions – devolving decisions from insurance companies to pensioners in thinktank parlance – and now hints of a substantial rise in the inheritance tax threshold – hang on to more of your family’s assets because there is no collective good to which they could be usefully deployed (Report, 25 March) – could each be pivotal influences on public opinion and the outcome of the election.

It is becoming increasingly urgent that Labour addresses the continuing confusion about what it actually stands for (Polly Toynbee, 25 March). Agreeing to accept Tory spending limits, going along with pension changes, welfare caps and sundry other passing policies stands in sharp contrast to the formidable record of facing down the press barons, opposing armed intervention in Syria, highlighting the skewed nature of the energy market and successfully raising concerns about everyday living costs with which I associate Ed Miliband. Perhaps he needs a clause IV moment at which time he could reassert an interest in “securing for workers – by hand or by brain – the full fruits of their labours and the equitable distribution thereof”? I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone in voting for that in preference to any other offer.
Les Bright

•  Your correspondents should be careful what they wish for. The challenges they identify all demand action from the state as well as from civil society. The financial system needs firm regulation; massive inequality demands labour market intervention and more progressive taxation; and stronger government action on climate change is increasingly sought by the business sector. It is not clear how firm state action in these areas, or indeed in collective social security, can be framed by arguing that “the days of politicians doing things ‘to people’ are over”. The challenge for Labour and other progressive forces is indeed to ensure that the state is transparent, accountable, responsive and efficient; but also, through reforms in these respects, to build political legitimacy for the areas where it must also remain strong and “coercive”.
David Griffiths

•  Many of us remain members of the Labour party because when really pushed this is the only party that will protect the disadvantaged of our society: underneath all the pretence our leaders know that inequality is caused by the imperfection of a market economy. But the letter from Neal Lawson and others ignores this entirely. Where is reference to old principles? The Labour leadership should speak out on the suffering experienced by people on or seeking benefits under a punitive regime instead of refusing to support those such as church leaders, the CAB and the food banks who have come to their defence.
Jenny Salaman Manson

•  To produce policies that chime with its principles, I have the greatest respect for Polly Toynbee and desperately wish to share her hope that we are on the threshold of Labour making a decisive radical move but the nub of the problem is revealed in the middle of her article “Miliband seems to do or say something clever but then fall silent.” Compare the reticence of leading opposition figures to the ritualistic chanting of the Tories in the past few years to the effect that the financial crash was the fault of Labour and public expenditure; at every opportunity from merest apparatchik and blogger up to the prime minister they have churned out these nonsensical mantras in the best Orwellian tradition. Labour responses such as “out of touch” and “one nation” simply have not been aggressive enough and have barely registered. Let’s hope that the policies that Polly yearns for do emerge and when they do they are broadcast and repeated loud enough and often enough that, the rightwing press notwithstanding, the public is left in no doubt about what they mean.
Ted Woodgate
Billericay, Essex

•  Your correspondents prioritise getting to the root of our social and mental heath problems and empowering active citizens, all to build the capacity and platforms for people to “do things for themselves, together”. They might like to check out the Street Associations initiative, which is doing all of that and more from the ground up. Whole streets are coming together, creating real (as opposed to imagined) community, with a core group organising fun events for all, spotting those with needs and creating an environment in which people belong, find friendship, have fun together and look out for one another.
Martin Graham

•  To produce policies that chime with its principles, Labour desperately needs to break out of the seminar rooms and into the public consciousness. One policy that would reverse its fortunes would be legislating to make public utilities such as energy, railway and water companies (which by their definition are natural monopolies) directly operated services. This would ensure real fairness for millions of consumers across the UK and stop the private profit over public interest that takes place currently. Indeed, a YouGov report in November 2013 found that public support for nationalisation of energy and railways at 68% and 66% respectively.
Callum Smith

• I have never received a penny in inheritance and, at 78, don’t suppose I ever will (Prime minister may revive pledge to cut inheritance tax, 25 March). So what. I don’t need it. Inheritance tax should be increased and used to promote social housing for those in desperate need. If Ed Miliband wants a radical policy this is one.
Bob Holman

•  Your correspondents urge a fresh approach for Labour, another letter deplores the gerontological bias of governments (Future generation to pay for pensions revolution, 25 March), while the Scots are urged to support an “all in this together” approach to the UK. What could be more radical and all encompassing than legislation to make voting compulsory for everyone over 18?
Simon Harris
Rossett, Wrexham

•  There is a simple solution available to the 19 thinktanks who have written to Ed Miliband with a policy wishlist. There is a party already delivering the policies they are asking for all. All they need do is vote for it next time in order to strengthen that party’s influence so that even more of them can be delivered. It’s the Liberal Democrats.
Mark Pack
Editor, Liberal Democrat Newswire

•  ”Co-production of public services by workers, users and citizens” and “giving away power … where possible, directly to the people” sound like the sort of things Tony Benn was advocating-and look where it got him and Labour.
Stan Labovitch

•  I struggled to see the purpose of the open letter from 19 Labour-leaning intellectuals to Ed Miliband, still less its reporting as front-page news. It’s always a strange affair to see tactical advice delivered in public, and Ed Miliband wouldn’t have learned anything new from the policy content. If it was the high number of signatories that made the letter news, the missing names were more noteworthy: I’d be interested to know the thoughts of the IPPR and the Resolution Foundation .
Richard Berry

It’s good to see John Clare referred to in parliament (Maths mist precedes a Clare day, 25 March) in the year of the 150th anniversary of his death (20 May 1864). It is even better he be recognised by Michael Gove as among the great literary figures. It’s a pity your writer refers to him as the “peasant poet”, though, a label he was anxious to escape and that undermines his stature as a poet. Moreover, although he is reported to have claimed Shakespeare’s compositions as his own, this was not the reason he was confined in Northampton Asylum.
Dr Valerie Pedlar

• The photograph of the Co-operative Group’s Manchester HQ said it all (Co-op’s former boss lost touch, says movement’s worldwide president, 24 March). Aided, no doubt, by a city council that sees regeneration only in demolition and new-build, the Co-op had ditched its stuffy old Edwardian buildings in order to look like other faceless corporate traders. It must have been a small step to believing it had to pay superstar salaries and bonuses, too.
Judith Martin
Winchester, Hants

• Martin Amis, who knows Foucault (Letters, 25 March), is famed for his epistemological refusal to distinguish between Arius and Albo. A lovely thinker. I have even suggested to the Senat von Berlin that Kantstrasse, round the corner from which I live, be renamed after him.
Brian Smith
Berlin, Germany

• “Arguably the most unprecedented live comeback in rock history” (The week ahead in arts, Kate Bush, 24 March). Does this mean it’s nearly unique?
Nick Clayton
Alderley Edge

• Wow wow wow wow wow; running up that hill again; unbelievable.
Sian Mile and Kelly Hayward

• My grandma, who lived in Devon, had no time for low-fat spreads (Should I go back to saturated fats?, 24 March). When serving afternoon tea, she’d say: “Don’t be afraid of the butter.” I realise now she meant it wasn’t the butter that killed – but the fear of it. She was 103 when she died.
Paul Vincent
Crediton, Devon

Chris Grayling‘s insistence that constraints should be placed on the amount of reading and access to family memorabilia that is available to prisoners is callously punitive (Authors unite in protest over ban on sending books to prisoners, 25 March). Can this be the same minister who is reportedly concerned about the ineffectiveness of so many attempts at rehabilitation?

I was in charge of arts in prisons work at Arts Council England in the 1990s and remember the then chief inspector of prisons, Stephen Tumim, lamenting the size of the box that inmates were allowed to take in to prisons. By the time they had put their childrens’ photographs and their teddy bear into it there was precious little room left for a book or two. That was why he was such an advocate of prison libraries. He felt there could never be enough reading done in a prison and that it was just about the only route a prisoner could take towards becoming a better member of society. He knew that many prisoners do not have a reading habit and that it would therefore be futile to make access to books an earned privilege. Mr Grayling could benefit from reading a bit more himself, perhaps starting with a few of Stephen Tumim’s speeches.
Alastair Niven

• My career as a probation officer taught me that the majority of prisoners, especially those repeat offenders who take up most resources, work and prison space, fall into one (or more) of three groups: those with a psychiatric disorder, those with drug and alcohol habits, and those whose minimal educational attainments have barred them from any meaningful chance of employment. The first two groups have suffered from the failure of successive governments to provide proper treatment programmes, and the third from the diminishing availability of prison-based education.

The removal of access to books is pointless and counter-productive. (Yes, I know there are prison libraries – I’ve worked in one and its contents would have shamed any charity shop.) I suppose Grayling is now too busy dismantling the probation service against all sensible advice to think of his next destructive criminal justice policy. To assist him, could I suggest making prisons self-sufficient in power by reintroducing the treadmill?
Anne Cowper
Bishopston, Swansea

• As a volunteer in a prison library, one of my tasks was to help prisoners participate in the Storybook Dads scheme. This encourages a prisoner to record a story, which is sent to his child to listen to, and helps maintain family contact. In many cases I was able to help the prisoner choose a story from library stock, but in some cases the child would have a favourite book, which the family could bring in. If your report is accurate (Mark Haddon helps launch online petition against prisoner’s book ban, 24 March), this will no longer be possible. I wish more of your readers could see our dismal and poorly resourced prisons; they would have no doubt about the consequences of prisons, and prisoners, being used as a political football.
Harry Stannard

• When Thomas More, Grayling’s illustrious predecessor, was imprisoned in the Tower of London, Thomas Cromwell is alleged to have forbidden access to books. This is portrayed in Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons as a supreme act of meanness and vindictiveness. Grayling should beware of falling out of favour.
Bernard Naylor
Highfield, Southampton

Stupidity over Ukraine

I am distressed by the stupidity and hypocrisy of political leaders (14 March). In Ukraine, the new government should have known that no Russian leader could ever accept their major navy base on the Black Sea to be located in a country linked to Nato. If it wanted to join the west, Ukraine should have used the fact that the majority of the Crimean population wanted to join Russia and told Putin that a referendum would be held as soon as possible. Then Crimea could have been returned democratically to Russia.

Instead, ignoring the lessons of Georgia, Ukraine choose confrontation: a stupid approach not only because it would not work, but also because it has annoyed Putin – something that a country like Ukraine can ill afford. To add another blunder, the Ukrainian parliament voted to make Ukrainian the only official language: threatening Russian, the main language in Crimea.

Judging by their public pronouncements, most western leaders are not any better. They rush to recognise a new government installed by rioters and eager to implement drastic changes before consulting the electorate. At the same time, they refuse to recognise a separation that may be legally doubtful but was approved by a democratic vote. Their threats are also hollow because most western countries have far more investment in Russia than the reverse, and Europe needs Russian gas.

One can only hope, first, that western politicians have told their Ukrainian colleagues privately that their best approach is to be a neutral bridge between east and west like Finland and Austria were, and second, that Ukrainians will be more reasonable than their leaders when they vote again.
François P Jeanjean
Ottawa, Canada

We must reform the police

It is time for a root-and-branch reform of our police forces in the UK following the recent revelations of long-suspected potential corruption in the Metropolitan police (May orders public enquiry into role played by police spies, 14 March). Corrupt practices – such as spying and lying – have been associated with the police in the UK for many decades. The oft-cited refrain that “our police force is the envy of the world” has always been difficult to accept and rings particularly hollow today.

It simply will not do for Met commissioners to deny all knowledge of wrongdoing and to lay the blame for the outrageous anomalies at the feet of “a few rotten apples”. It is their job to know, and that is what we pay them for.

The culture of impunity appears to permeate the force, and a commissioner who professes ignorance should be replaced at the earliest opportunity. As Owen Jones suggests (14 March), it is all over for the Met and we should now get on with the job of cleaning out and restocking the barrel.
Brian Sims
Bedford, UK

Problems with fish farming

I read with interest your letter relating to farm fishing from Andrew Mallison, the director general of The Marine Ingredients Organisation in London (Reply, 7 March). Although I agree with his sentiments, there seem to be some significant omissions.

We in New Zealand initially fully supported the start of fish farms. But it has become apparent that the outcome, although producing significant amounts of fish protein, does not make any allowance for the random way in which the fish are fed, the source of their feed (often the minced waste of slaughtered animals) or the significant pollution that is produced when the combination of uneaten food and fish faeces falls to the seabed.

The surrounding marine landscape becomes progressively more polluted, with the inevitable loss of habitat for other fish. In addition, the fish’s flavour is seldom of the same calibre as when fish are caught from their natural environment.

Perhaps some thought can and will be given to such problems.
Brian Mahood
Waikato, New Zealand

Where are our priorities?

I was appalled to read the article on teff in your 7 March issue, as I consider it to be very misleading – depending, of course, on one’s priorities. Teff eragrostis is a grass seed and comparatively low-yielding when compared with maize, sorghum, rice or wheat.

If our aim is to bring a degree of food security to the ever-increasing world’s population, then teff is not a miracle grain. If, on the other hand, our aim is to supply a niche, boutique market and to put money into the hands of entrepreneurs, then teff may well prove to be a money-spinner.

Tobia teff flour sells in London at $11.50 per kg, but that is far beyond the reach of the starving millions. It may compare favourably with the cereal grains on a strictly nutritional basis, but the cereal grains with the aid of vegetable proteins will always feed far more people.

So surely we must ask ourselves just where should our priorities lie?
Michael Scarr
Old Bar, NSW, Australia

Plenty of Roma research

Sukhdev Sandhu, in his review of I met Lucky People (21 February), was wrong to say there has been “relatively little” Roma research”. There’s been lots – especially this last 30 years. And when he speculates that this “surprising” dearth is probably due to their “stories” being passed down orally, not textually, he misses the main point: namely, that centuries of persecution has taught Roma not to trust outsiders (gadje). Consequently, to know Romany stories you need to get accepted by the people and then hang out with them.

Internationally distinguished scholars include Thomas Acton, Donald Kenrick, Michael Stewart, David Mayall and Judith Okely in Britain, and Ian Hancock, David Nemeth and Matt Salo in the US. The list goes on and includes Roma authors. Nor should we forget the century-old Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, now the Journal of Romani Studies, and work done at the University of Leiden.
Christopher Griffin
Rakiraki, Fiji

A master of mindfulness

Regarding David Derbyshire’s article on mindfulness therapy (7 March): as one who wrestled with depression, anxiety etc in my late 20s and early 30s, I want to recommend the various collected speeches of Jiddu Krishnamurti to any of your readers who are in or tending towards the sort of therapy discussed in this article.

His observations made more sense to me than anything I had come upon before then, and helped me incalculably in my efforts to make sense of myself, life, the universe and everything, to borrow a smidge from Douglas Adams’s work. I’d say more, but Krishmamurti says it so much better.
Jonathan Vanderels
Shaftsbury, Vermont, US

• Thanks for the interesting article A meditation on the power of the mind. For further info on this fascinating subject, I would suggest readers should search Google/YouTube for a man called Eckhart Tolle. Born in Germany, this humorous and entertaining man suffered depression for most of his life until he underwent a sudden and life-changing transformation into a state of “living entirely in the present”, about which he lectures and entertains his countless followers across the world.
Kim van Hoorn
Tarn, France

The joys of translation

Translator in residence at the Free Word Centre, Lucy Greaves, chooses to translate Luis Sepúlveda’s una avutarda as “some great bird” rather than the directly translated “a great bustard” (Are some words untranslatable? 14 March).

As both an English/Spanish speaker and as an ornithologist, could I point out that the word “great” as used here appears to have been translated as an adjective, and not as the noun that is given to the largest species of the bustard bird family. In bird field guides, the species name normally begins with the upper case: a Great Bustard, is likely how Sepúlveda would have wanted it translated.

I suppose you could have a “great”, meaning “pretty good”, as in “Wow, that’s a really great bustard!” (individual, rather than species), but it wouldn’t do to have a “Not-Bad Bustard” or a “Flippin’-Awful Bustard” now, would it?
Martin Toland
Wellington, New Zealand


• Of the three Baltic states, Latvia is the one with the highest percentage of Russians in its population, so it is surprising that it did not feature in your survey of “Former Soviet Republics” (14 March). Latvia has been as vulnerable to Russian attempts to regain influence as any former member of the Soviet Union, so their reaction to events in the Ukraine are just as interesting as the reactions of the countries that were mentioned.
Ian Brown
Melbourne, Australia

• Your article Former Soviet republics watch from the wings (14 March) provides a map that ignores the existence of Turkmenistan. As for your story on India (Ruling party faces big losses in ‘milestone’ for democracy), it became independent from Britain in 1947, not 1952.
Alaisdair Raynham
Truro, UK

• So Bavarian pretzels have joined the EU’s protected origins list (Shortcuts, 7 March) along with champagne, Parma ham and Cornish pasties. Does this mean that soon we can expect a European commission edict to the effect that genuine HP Sauce must be manufactured within the walls of the Palace of Westminster?
Anthony Walter
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada


Defenders of the old system of obligatory annuities seem to be arguing that people are so little able to take good financial decisions that they should be forced to take bad ones – which is what buying an annuity has been for a long time (Letters, 21 March).

Now that they no longer have a captive market maybe annuity providers will be forced to make their products more attractive, the sort of thing sensible investors might buy of their own free will.

Duncan Howarth, Maidstone, Kent

In George Osborne’s decision to allow pensioners to do what they will with their pension pots, am I the only one to sniff the next massive financial-services mis-selling scandal?

Stanley Tyrer, Bury, Lancashire

The Government is attempting to target the grey vote, offering a series of goodies to pensioners, thinking they won’t be concerned about the “have-nots” of society: children in poverty, the young unemployed, the disabled/long-term sick, the homeless. They forget that pensioners have children and grandchildren, too, whose future is just as important to them, certainly more so than the marginal benefit offered by such blatant bribes.

John Andress, Lyn Hazel, Jean Heaven, Derys Maddox, Breda Thomas  & Colin Thomas, Dorstone, Herefordshire

No flag of St George for me, thank you

You report Jon Cruddas, one of Ed Miliband’s closest advisers, saying “the Liberal Left should stop feeling guilty about flying the flag of St George and have no qualms about celebrating Englishness” (17 March). As someone on the left, I loathe flags, national anthems and all patriotic things, so to hear talk of people like me claiming the Cross of St George flag makes me sick.

Leave this piece of cloth with a red cross on it for the right where it belongs, and leave thinking progressives to be the internationalists that we are.

Ray Love, Bath

Ofsted offers reasons to be cheerful

Many of us longstanding critics of Ofsted welcome what appears to be a major cultural shift developing within Ofsted itself and its relationship with the teaching profession (report, 21 March). For many years it has ignored criticism from teachers, academics and others, and resisted fundamental changes through a never-ending series of minor, piecemeal adjustments. But Ofsted finally appears to be moving from what has too often been a negative approach, focusing on what is wrong and requires improvement, to a more supportive developmental one focusing more on celebrating success and working with schools to make them even better.

That’s a profound mind-shift – which some inspectors will find difficult to make and which some school leaders will find hard to acknowledge after years of suspicion, anxiety and even hostility to Ofsted inspection teams. But it is welcome nonetheless.

Professor Colin Richards, Former HM Inspector, Spark Bridge, Cumbria

GM crops are not the answer to hunger

In your report on GM crops (14 March) it is stated that the push for GM is important because of the “scale of potential food shortages facing humanity in the coming decades”.

Huge amounts of evidence show that there is more than enough food to feed everyone in the world, yet people still starve. This is because of lack of access to food; lack of money to buy it, or means to produce it. The system is broken and GM crops will do nothing to fix it. In places where they are being grown, they are not feeding people, but animals or cars. GM crops are now causing huge problems to farmers, for example causing pesticide- resistant insects and “superweeds”.

We hear constant claims from the GM industry about what these crops might be able to do in the future, but no tangible results. In the meantime countless tried, tested and successful ways of tackling hunger and food insecurity are underused for lack of investment. It is madness to throw good money after bad on GM, and to open the floodgates to a torrent of risky and unneeded  GM crops.

Emma Hockridge, Head of Policy, The Soil Association, Bristol

Sporting triumph

Well done for the short report and picture of Laura Massaro’s brilliant victory in the World Squash Championships (24 March). Squash is a demanding game that requires supreme fitness and mental strength – Roger Federer stopped playing (for kicks), reportedly saying it was “too brutal”.

While it seems to be being ignored everywhere else, we need more coverage of this great game – which, unfathomably,  is still not included in  the Olympics.

Lalit Bhadresha, London SW4

Perplexed by pronuciation

Who at the BBC has decided that “homage” should be pronounced so that it rhymes with French cheese? It has Latin origins.

Ian Turnbull, Carlisle

No special favours for Scotland

Alex Salmond should factor in an additional hurdle for an independent Scotland to clear before being able to join the EU (report, 18 March). Eastern European MEPs are telling me that they will insist on transitional measures being applied to any new EU accession state, including Scotland. This is because they had to suffer harsh transitional measures when they joined and they are adamant that new member states can expect no  special favours.

When 10 Eastern European and other countries acceded to the EU in 2004, subsidies for farmers were phased in over 10 years. This was also the case for the Bulgarians and Romanians who joined in 2007.

The EU also allows for restrictions on the freedom of movement of workers, giving these Eastern European MEPs additional tools with which to make life difficult for Scotland.

An independent Scotland would require the approval of an absolute majority of MEPs before acceding. The cost of achieving this majority support would be the application of these severe restrictions and transitional measures.

This isn’t “Tory scaremongering”; it’s reality.

Struan Stevenson MEP, (Con, Scotland), The European Parliament, Brussels

Have you ever wondered why so many Scots are in favour of independence? Allow me – a voteless SNP member, happily resident among decent English people – to enlighten you.

First we shall shut the biggest nuclear-arms dump in Europe and invite its American owners to collect their property.

Second, we shall restore the welfare state to full principled public ownership. It will be an offence to call the unemployed who cannot find work “scroungers”. We shall stop the selling off of parts of the NHS to the likes of United Health.

Third, we shall immunise our education from creeping “Goveism”. Unlike England, Scotland does not see education as a consumer item like cars and holidays, as a well-known senior English academic recently defined it, but as an investment for the country’s future. Well, we do have four medieval universities. Two, is it, in England?

Fourth, after a Yes vote it will be how, not whether, our fiscal affairs are organised; and Osborne, Barroso etc will then be singing from a very different song-sheet.

W B McBride, Bristol

Alex Salmond claims that if the UK would not allow an independent Scotland to share sterling this would mean that Scotland would not be liable for its share of the national debt. No it would not. A “yes” vote in the referendum would authorise the Scottish government to negotiate terms for independence, but the terms would have to be agreed by both sides.

It may well be that no matter what currency Scotland might use the creditors of the UK would not be willing to have Scotland take on its share of the debt on the current terms enjoyed by the UK, because independent Scotland, as a new nation without an established credit rating, could not expect such good terms. Scotland might then be beholden to the UK to accept Scotland’s share of the debt, and Scotland would then be in debt to the UK for that amount.

If a newly independent Scotland cannot persuade international markets to give it the same credit rating as the UK, there is no reason why the UK should ignore the risk factor and grant favourable terms to Scotland. Scotland would then be servicing its debt on less favourable terms, at a greater cost to the Scottish taxpayer.

I find it interesting that Alex Salmond thinks it reasonable to suggest that Scotland can leave with the lion’s share of North Sea oil and leave the national debt behind. It is a bit like a party to a divorce keeping the house but leaving the mortgage.

The North Sea oilfields were developed by the UK and became assets belonging to all UK taxpayers, including English, Welsh and Northern Irish. If independence happens it would be reasonable to agree that assets and liabilities should be apportioned by population.

Donald MacCallum, Bletchley, Milton Keynes


Sir, “We have been meddling carelessly in a situation we did not grasp” (Jenni Russell, Mar 20). How right she is. Does no one in the US State Department or the Foreign Office understand how Russia sees the world? Russia has a (not irrational) fear of invasion from the West. In the past 400 years or so Poles, Swedes, French, French and British (1854), French and British again, Czechs (1919) and Germany have poured troops into Russia, mainly through its western frontier. Russia has no natural defences between Lithuania and the Black Sea in the shape of mountains or rivers. Its only protection is its buffer states. This was the principle behind the division of Europe agreed at Yalta.

When Yeltsin released its first ring of buffer states (Poland, East Germany, Czechosloavkia, Hungary, Romania), Russia was left with two buffer states, Belarus and Ukraine. It was crass stupidity of EU and US “diplomats” to try to detach Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence, and the outcome was clearly foreseeable.

I do not fear Russian intervention in the Baltic States, unless badly provoked by the West, even though for many years they were part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. Crimea is different, as Ben Macintyre explained (Mar 21).

Forget about sanctions. They are difficult to operate, difficult to bring to an end, and will have little influence on policy which has been central to Russian thinking for centuries. They will not bring Crimea back into Ukraine (where it never ought to have been). The best outcome of any negotiations will be a neutral Ukraine and removal of any fear of Russian intervention near Donetsk and Kharkov. That is the practical end at which we should aim.

Edward Nugee, QC

London WC2

Sir, Your report on Obama and crisis talks with European leaders (Mar 24) is alarming. You say rightly that China could have a helpful role. What is important is that bullying should not succeed. It is possible to change frontiers, but this should only be done by the agreement of all parties — as happened in the agreed separation of the Czech and Slovak republics, the Velvet Divorce.

I suggest that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe be asked to report on the situation of Russian speakers and nationals and other minorities, within the present boundaries of the Ukraine. The facts could then be calmly considered without threats or unnecessary troop movements.

Lord Hylton

House of Lords

Sir, There is no doubt that due to the lack of any real sanctions against Russian expansion, within the month Putin will move into Ukraine and on to part of Moldova. We are, in effect, having a re-run of Hitler’s expansion policy and the resultant appeasement that brought about the Second World War. The Baltic states with large Russian populations ought to be very afraid.

Nato and the West have no military will to oppose this and the proposed basing of 3,000 British troops in Germany is laughable, as are the economic sanctions which will impinge only on Russian people and not on the oligarchs.

We have a non-elected Ukrainian government formerly led by a corrupt leader and a people who have voted for Russia in the Crimea. The West’s response is weak and Putin knows it.

Bill Bradbury

Billinge, Lancs

Sir, These young igniferous politicians and generals advocating a show of military strength worry me. They have become detached from reality or have a grossly exaggerated idea of our capabilities.

John P. Hunter

Swindon, Wilts

Most people want a change in the law — is it not time for doctors to put the views of their patients centre stage?

Sir, Dr Hartropp (“Physicians are divided over assisted dying”, Mar 24) tells us that the Royal College of General Practitioners refuses to allow its members to have a ballot on assisted dying because the subject is “too contentious and difficult an issue”.

If correct, how craven is that? What is the point of a ballot if the subject is not contentious? And on what authority does the RCGP adopt a positive stance on the issue rather than one of neutrality?

The letters on the same page illustrate the need for more information by drawing conflicting conclusions from inadequate data. That from Dr Baker and others seems particularly contentious. No one is attempting “to foist assisted suicide” either on patients who do not want help or on doctors who are unwilling to give it.

It is generally accepted that a large majority of the population want a change in the law. At a time when the tide is towards treating mentally competent people as capable of making their own decisions, is it not time for doctors to give centre stage to the views of their patients and not to stand in the way of a compassionate end to life for those such as Diane Pretty and Tony Nicklinson.

Sir Gordon Downey

London SW1

Like many peaceful and popular villages Shrivenham is about to be bulldozed into oblivion by house builders

Sir, You omitted Shrivenham from your list of best places to live in Britain and from your list of villages under threat of massive green field development.

We don’t need lists to convince us that this village is the best place in which to live. What does concern us are the district council’s proposals to build 829 houses in Shrivenham. This would enlarge our village by 89 per cent. At the same time Swindon plans to build 8,000 houses two miles west of us, and Faringdon plans to build 1,000 to the east. There are few jobs in the village and the infrastructure is already at bursting point (including sewage seeping into houses).

Apart from the villagers, no one seems to care about the “fanciful housing numbers” designed to meet government-imposed quotas.

Richard Bartle (Lt Col ret’d)

Shrivenham, Oxon

The Great War poet’s works passed through several editions before the 1960s when he came to be more widely lionised

Sir, It is misleading to suggest (letters, Mar 25) that Owen’s collected poems were not widely accessible, and widely known, before 1963. A collection of his poems, edited with an introduction by Siegfried Sassoon, was first published in 1920 and reprinted in 1921. A new complete edition, edited with a memoir by Edmund Blunden, came out in 1931 and was reprinted several times.

Nigel Bawcutt


Leading science educationists call on Ofqual not to separate practical marks from the core subject grades

Sir, As a partnership of the leading scientific learned societies, Score has grave concerns that Ofqual will today decide to separate practical marks from the core A-level grades in biology, chemistry and physics.

At a time when the UK needs to be cultivating a scientifically skilled workforce, we are on the verge of depriving our children of a grounding in hands-on scientific experimentation.

We implore Ofqual to reconsider or delay this process in order to address unresolved questions surrounding the proposals.

Professor Julia Buckingham, Chair of Score; Professor Peter Main, Director, Education and Science, Institute of Physics; Charles Tracy, Head of Education, Pre-19

Institute of Physics; Professor Jim Iley, executive director, Science and Education, Royal Society of Chemistry; Professor Adrian Sutton FRS, Royal Society; Rachel Lambert-Forsyth, Director of Education and Training, Society of Biology; Gemma Garrett, Deputy Director of Education, Society of Biology; Richard Needham, Former Chair of the Association for Science Education; Marianne Cutler, Director Curriculum Innovation, Association for Science Education; Juliet Upton,

Project Leader, Vision for Science and Mathematics Education, The Royal Society


SIR – You report that “almost half of children fail to bond with their parents by the age of three”. Can this have anything to do with the almost ideological fervour with which successive governments have subsidised institutional childcare?

For politicians, this is a way of gaining votes and helping the economy. However, George Osborne’s pledge of £2,000 for childcare costs in the Budget, to be bestowed only on two-earner couples, was not properly costed. The signs are that this huge “investment” will “deliver” generations of socially disengaged adults.

Perhaps they will not want to work at all.

Ann Farmer
Woodford Green, Essex

SIR – The collapsed Al-Sweady Inquiry into allegations that British troops murdered Iraqi prisoners has already cost in excess of £22 million, all paid for by the British taxpayer.

Experience of the Saville Inquiry and others show that the final bill will be much higher; but the suffering for those falsely accused, and their families, cannot be calculated in monetary terms.

Perhaps, in future, when allegations turn out to be unfounded, all fees paid via legal aid to the lawyers should be recovered, and used to defend deserving cases in the United Kingdom.

Bill Duff

Sharia law wills

SIR – Any solicitor drafting a will based on Sharia law should advise the client that the will may be challenged and its provisions set aside under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

Under the Act, a claim may be made against a deceased’s person’s estate irrespective of the claimant’s religion. Potential claimants comprise the members of the deceased’s family, including a spouse or civil partner, or former spouse or civil partner, who has not remarried and any person who was being wholly or partly maintained by the deceased before the death.

Any solicitor not advising the client of this would be negligent.

Jane Barham Carter
Godalming, Surrey

Starting school young

SIR – My great-granddaughter was four last August, and started in reception class at her local state school last September. Some of her classmates are nearly a year older than her (Letters, March 22).

This has not held her back; in fact, it has inspired her to the extent that at her recent parents’ day, her teacher said she was in the top half-dozen of her year group. She has developed in every aspect: reads, writes, can do simple maths, and one can hold a near-adult conversation with her.

Ian Boylett
London N9

Watch what you wear

SIR – A diver’s only reliable timepiece used to be a bulky Rolex Submariner. This had a protruding, guarded button that dug deeply into your hand, so it was deemed sensible to wear the watch in reverse on the right wrist. The habit has stayed with me.

John Dawson
Blandford Forum, Dorset

SIR – I remember people wearing a watch on each wrist during military exercises in Germany. One was used for “exercise time”, and the other for “wives’ time”.

Colonel J A Baker
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Behind the Borisisms

SIR – May I request a short dictionary of Borisisms? His article contained the gorgeous verb “tinkle-plinked”.

I would like to know its exact meaning so that I may incorporate this word, at suitable moments, into my vocabulary.

Carol Farrand
Modbury, Devon

British sea power

SIR – Lord Dannatt’s remarks on the importance of continuing to maintain a British Army garrison in Germany are to be expected. The Army establishment continues to seek a raison d’être for a large force, and somewhere foreign to put it.

Those days should be over. The transfer of American forces from Europe to Asia will leave a big naval gap in the Mediterranean. American carriers will be a rare sight. Our resources would be better spent forward-basing major surface units at Gibraltar to complement the four American navy destroyers based at Rota, near Cadiz.

The more we spend on sea power, the less we will need to spend on troops on the ground. Britain has not had a prime minister who has valued sea power since James Callaghan. Do not expect another one until there has been a sea change in British politics.

Mark Harland
Scarborough, North Yorkshire

Babies of the House

SIR – In his blog, Peter Oborne praised the extraordinary life of Roy Jenkins and cited age as a major reason for the “dullness of the modern generation”.

Yet Roy Jenkins first stood for Parliament aged 24 and became the youngest MP in the House at the age of 27, following his victory in the 1948 Southwark by-election. This is hardly exceptional – many of our great statesmen and characters went into politics at an early age.

William Gladstone entered Parliament aged 22, the third Marquess of Salisbury was elected at 23, while Winston Churchill, Arthur Balfour and Tony Benn were only 25 when they first sat in the Commons.

It would appear that fault for the alleged dullness of modern politics lies in the character, rather than the age, of those who stand for Parliament.

James Heale
Kew, Surrey

Modern multi-tasking

SIR – Yesterday morning, a lady in her mid-thirties jogged past my house.

In her left hand was a small dog on a lead, trotting along with her. She was listening to music on her headphones, and she appeared to be texting someone using only her right hand.

Bob Farey
Kettering, Northamptonshire

How two ships destroyed each other in wartime

SIR – Michael Montgomery is wrong to say that the loss of the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney on November 19 1941 is still unexplained. David Mearns, the undersea search expert, found her wreck in 2008, ending 60 years of mystery and conspiracy theory.

In fact, the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran was well equipped to take on warships like Sydney. She was heavily armed with 6in (15 cm) guns, as well as anti-tank and heavy machine guns, and torpedoes. Her success in sinking Sydney is also down to the element of surprise.

Her captain lured the light cruiser into near-point blank range (900 yards) by getting his chief signalman to return recognition signals by flag, and slowly. Captain Detmers reinforced the element of surprise by opening the action with salvoes aimed directly at Sydney’s bridge – his standard tactic (Kormoran’s concealed guns could be brought into action almost instantly.) This tactic meant that tragically, within 20 seconds of the start of the battle, Sydney’s command team were probably all lost, and it wasn’t long before her forward A and B turrets – and gunnery control – were out of action too. Sydney did return independent fire with her aft X and Y turrets, fatally wounding Kormoran by starting an uncontrollable fire; and though she was grievously hurt, her surviving crew fought on with great courage for nearly an hour, before she drifted away ablaze, and sank. Sadly there were no survivors. Kormoran’s remaining crew abandoned her shortly before she blew up.

David Mearns was awarded the Order of Australia for his outstanding achievement. His account of his discovery can be read in his book The Search for the Sydney.

Rob White
London N3 SIR – Pensions are not funded by taxed income. That is true of Isas, but not of contributions to the pension pot, which the Chancellor says pensioners can now spend as they wish rather than buying an annuity.

Few politicians understand that pension contributions are tax-free to avoid the injustice of paying tax twice – first on the amount that is saved, and second when the pension is eventually spent.

From this point of view, the present rules are much too restrictive. People should be allowed to save as much as they like free of tax (within reason). It was wrong of the Government to reduce the tax-free pension pot from £1.5m to £1.25m from April 6. After all, pensioners will pay the full tax rate on their sports cars or world cruises.

And they will pay income tax on any part of their pension that is withdrawn from their fund and re-invested, say in buy-to-let housing. Tax pensioners, but only once.

Max Wilkinson
Dedham, Essex

SIR – I believe that the new rules will allow a pension fund to be transferred to a family member without paying tax. This can be achieved by making annual withdrawals, on which tax would be paid.

These funds could then be gifted to a family member who could make contributions to their self-invested personal pension. Family members would be granted tax relief on this investment, which would compensate for the tax paid when money is withdrawn from the pension fund at the beginning.

This would result in the total pension being transferred over a number of years with no cost to the family.

G A Hinitt
Sheffield, South Yorkshire

SIR – The Government has chosen to implement dramatic changes to pension rules with no reference to the experts.

Through advising people, I know that annuities are, and will remain, the best option for people looking for secure lifetime income. Annuity providers should be supported, not undermined.

Experience shows that those with the smallest pension pots are most likely to access them as soon as possible and blow the money on cars and holidays.

Mark Osland
Croydon, Surrey

SIR – The pension changes announced by George Osborne are welcome, but not only did he renege on his promises for inheritance tax, he also hasn’t reversed Gordon Brown’s tax raid on pensions.

John Henesy
Maidenhead, Berkshire

SIR – Charles Moore bemoans the erosion of trust in pensions. Banks, governments and insurance companies have turned trust and customer goodwill into cold, hard cash. They have sold our tomorrows for their own profit.

K J Phair
Felixstowe, Suffolk

Irish Times:

Sir, – As a former member of An Garda Síochána I am glad that Mr Callinan has decided to resign as commissioner, both for his own sake and for that of his family.

It is sad to see any commissioner being backed into such a position, but it may allow the spotlight to shine more clearly on a Minister for Justice who has used the commissioner for too long as a shelter from criticism.

Mr Shatter has decimated the Garda since he came into office. He has denuded the force of stations, manpower and transport, leaving us with a skeleton force. When opposition is expressed to his decisions, he will say that the commissioner runs the force. The truth is that the commissioner was not allowed to run the force.

When I joined An Garda Síochána, I found it to be a force subservient to politicians and that has changed very little since. I vividly recall a case in Boyle, Co Roscommon, where a sergeant who raided a licensed premises after hours and found a high-ranking member of government there, quickly found himself transferred. He was only saved by his representative association (the AGSI), who took up his case and had the decision reversed. This was far from being an isolated situation.

While we now have calls from politicians on all sides for an independent police authority, I would remind them that the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants & Inspectors were calling for such a body more than 30 years ago. One former minister for justice at the time opposed the suggestion, saying “It would be giving excessive control to a police authority”. At that time, and through the intervening years, there was no political party in favour of a police authority and members of An Garda Síochána of all ranks are well aware of why that is the case. Yours, etc,


Bellefield Road,


Co Wexford

Sir, – The Garda Commissioner should not have had the option to resign. He should have been dismissed because the moment he let the word “disgusting”pass his lips, he revealed that his attitude toward accountability comes from a different era and is unacceptable in a modern police force.

His departure raises the question of the process that will be put in place to choose his successor. Not only must this process be transparent and open to external candidates, but the remuneration agreement reached with Mr Callinan before he resigned must also be made public.

It is also essential that the two whistleblowers, whose bravery in standing up for ethics and integrity in the face of what we now know was massive pressure from vested interests who preferred the ways of the past, are given adequate recompense. Yours, etc,


Canary Wharf ,


Sir, –   Since the Watergate scandal it has frequently been the case that people in public life in various countries have insisted on learning the hard way that the cover-up can do them more harm than the scandal it is supposed to hide. In Ireland the variation is that the cover-up is an effect rather than an intent. The Garda whistleblowers are heroes who should have been welcomed with open arms (to say the least. The fact that Alan Shatter and Commissioner Callinan treated them in precisely the  opposite way was a cover-up in effect (regardless of intent) and that was a bigger scandal than how any penalty points system “works”. At least let us hope that those in Irish public life will have learned this lesson for future scandals. Yours, etc,


Evergreen Road,


Sir, – “If he (Martin Callinan) stays in office, the message goes out that it is still normal, in official Ireland, to be nauseated by troublesome truths,” writes Fintan O’Toole (March 25th). I could not agree more. I have the highest regard for the whistleblowers who had the courage to speak out. In a democracy, lack of accountability and lack of transparency should worry us all. My late father grew up in the Ukraine and Poland, under a totalitarian regime. In those days, people were thrown into prison for expressing the “wrong” ideas. Need I say more? Yours, etc,


Eglinton Road,


Dublin 4

Sir, – No doubt PAC member Mary Lou McDonald will be crowing with delight at the resignation of Martin Callinan. I do believe that the Commissioner’s “disgusting” remarks were inappropriate and intemperate (and should have been unreservedly withdrawn) but I would sooner embrace his morality than that of his inquisitor. Yours, etc,


Loreto Grange,


Co Wicklow

A chara, – Minister Shatter is an intelligent man, but seems incapable of seeing the simple truth. He is supposed to be the representative of the citizens and to look out for our interests. In months of endless scandals however, he has not been on our side. He has defended the establishment against the interests of the people, and neglected their legitimate concerns. The people no longer have confidence in him as their representative at Justice. In the light of the growing list of scandals and with the security establishment he sought to protect having buckled under much-needed scrutiny, how can the politician trusted with this portfolio remain above question? How can his position be tenable? Is mise,


Schoolhouse Lane,

Dublin 2

Sir, — I have personally felt that Mr Shatter has been unfit for the office of minister for justice ever since he used confidential Garda information to smear an opponent in a political debate. His ongoing difficulties are only teaching us how much his colleagues are willing to tolerate before they feel the need to withdraw their support for him. Yours, etc,


Fisherman’s Grove,

Dunmore East,

Co Waterford

Sir, – The Taoiseach and Alan Shatter backed the wrong person, Martin Callinan. Martin Callinan didn’t back the right persons, whistleblowers McCabe and Wilson. Disgusting! Even though Callinan didn’t apologise, he did have the courage to do the right thing by resigning.


Mill Street,


Co Mayo

Sir, – Martin Callinan must get his Irish Times early (“Disgust means Callinan must go”, March 25th). Yours, etc,


Somerton Road


A Chara – I was delighted to see that Una Mullally is not surprised that Fianna Fáil is failing in its attempts to fill a third of its candidate lists for this year’s local elections with women candidates. For too long, its safe-seated senior women politicians rubbished calls to introduce gender quotas.

After the 1987 general election returned no Labour woman candidate to the Dáil or Seanad, I was involved with the Labour Women’s Council in analysing our difficulties in attracting and electing women candidates. Academic research was examined; our sister socialist parties were consulted, while the leadership of the Irish Labour Party was charged with solving the problems of retaining the integrity of the PR ballot paper once we were convinced that quotas were necessary.

Soon, 25 years later, we are to witness changes in the candidate selection process which will deliver gender choice to the electorate. After much soul-searching, all parties, including FF, have committed themselves to supporting the Government’s proposals to agree to field at least 30 per cent women candidates at the next general election – or suffer the financial consequences.

Fianna Fáil has some catching up to do. Pleasant Mary O’Rourke’s protestations against the need for gender quotas are already sounding positively archaic.

Women constitute 50 per cent of the population. We dominate educational league tables. Our experience and education must be harnessed so that we can all contribute to the national efforts of resolving our present economic crisis. Together we should be able to shape a better Ireland. – Is mise le meas,


Anglesea Avenue,


Co Dublin

Sir, — Has Paul Williams (Letters, March 25th) considered the possibility that the reason there are fewer women than men interested in going into politics is because of larger societal factors rather than their inherent dispositions? Men who want a career in primary teaching may indeed be discriminated against by social forces which view this as “women’s work”. This is an example of how oppressive gender roles shape people’s lives, and in effect steer men from caring, nurturing roles, and women from careers involving science or leadership.

As Ms Mullally states in the piece Mr Williams criticises (March 24th), men need only be asked to run for office, while women need “confidence-building, encouragement, solidarity and support” – precisely because of the extra barriers they face. Their absence in this field is particularly damaging as women’s interests are ignored, thereby preserving a male-dominated status quo. Quotas may at least somewhat redress this imbalance in the short term, but more importantly they help change attitudes about who can and cannot lead. Mr Williams’s sneering reference to “quotaistas” suggests that he, like many anti-feminists, will not even listen to those they argue against. Yours etc,


Coolamber Park,


Dublin 16

Sir, – Col Dorcha Lee’s article (“Steady Decline of Defence Forces must be halted”, March 24th) is timely, coming as it does between Green and White Papers on defence.

The Irish Maritime Forum (TIMF) shares Col Lee’s concern at the low percentage of GDP allocated to defence. In the context of the vastly increased sea area claimed by Ireland, the forum advocates an increase in the allocation to maritime security.

The area of operations to be covered by the Navy has more than doubled since the publication of the last defence White Paper. To patrol the area encompassed by the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (410,000 sq km), the White Paper on defence 2000 recommended eight ships and 1,144 personnel. The defence and security of our hugely expanded maritime domain (now 1,000,000 sq km) is surely worthy of an increase to a more realistic number of ships and personnel.

We are an island nation and we now claim the largest maritime domain to landmass of any northwestern European state. In fact 92 per cent of Ireland is under water. This domain contains natural resources with a potential value of several trillion euro, including mineral deposits, fossil fuels, marine life, fisheries and wind and wave energy. Effective policing of our maritime domain is an important indicator of our determination to exploit our marine resources effectively and sustainably. Yours, etc,


On behalf of the IMF



Co Cork.

Sir, – On the subject of the Irish language, which has been featuring in these columns over the last few days, I feel I must express some pent-up feelings that have been with me for decades.

Going to school in Dublin 4 during the 1950s, at all times during Irish class I was reminded that I was not a “fíor gaeilgeoir”. Terms like “seonín” were used liberally and frequently. I was good at Irish and got more than 90 per cent in my Leaving Cert and I have retained a strong affection for the language. But that did not matter during class time.

The school did not have a GAA team – neither did it have a soccer team. It had a rugby team, and I was its captain at several age levels. No opportunity was ever missed to remind me of “garrison towns”.

Some of my classmates were from rural Ireland. The favouritism shown to them by the teacher was little short of sectarian.

Needless to say, most of the rest in the class were completely demotivated from ever having any interest in speaking or having a strong feeling for the retention of the language.

How wonderful now to have TG4 showing Rugbaí Beo . I don’t care if Jerry Flannery’s Irish isn’t perfect (his rugby was very nearly). Can we get on with preserving the language by making it living and not an academic exercise? Yours, etc,


Glasnevin Hill,

Dublin i9

Sir, – The only meaningful way to ensure the continuity of the Irish language in Ireland is if we mandate a high percentage of all broadcasting to be made in Irish. This would allow people the ability to think of the language outside of school. A similar policy has worked wonders for Catalan. So why not in Ireland? Yours, etc,


Annagh lodge,


Co Sligo

A Chara,- Tá go leor scríofa, agas cainte déanta, faoi “Ceist na Gaeilge”. Is trua gur i mBéarla a bhíonn sé! Tá sé in am dúinn anois ár dteanga Ghaeilge a úsáid, a bheag nó a mhór de atá againn. Mar a deir an seanfhocal, “Beatha teanga í a úsáid”. Use it or loose it! Is Mise,


Gleann na Smól,

An Charraig Dhubh,

Átha Cliath

Sir, – My stomach turned listening to RTE’s Primetime interview with Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney on the subject of horse welfare. But it wasn’t just the thought of all those abandoned horses that sickened me, heartrending though their plight is: untold numbers have starved to death, been ill-treated or been rescued in a pitiful, emaciated condition.

It was also the Minister’s professed concern for the welfare of animals generally and his boast that the new Animal Health and Welfare Act has greatly advanced the fight against animal cruelty. He spoke of his determination to alleviate the suffering of animals that are “welfare-compromised”. Yet this is the same Minister who specifically exempted hare-coursing and fox-hunting from prohibition under the Act.

Instead of protecting the fox and the hare from cruelty, the legislation fully permits the live baiting of these animals for “sport”.

Can the Minister not see, or accept, that a wild dog being hounded until its lungs give out and exhaustion delivers it to a pack of hounds to be eviscerated is “welfare-compromised”? And could this euphemism not also be applied to a hare that is terrorised, mauled and tossed about by dogs like a paper toy for the amusement of a crowd of gamblers and sightseers?

The welfare of a fox or fox cub that is dragged from its underground refuge with the aid of spades, terriers, and poles wrapped with barbed wire is certainly compromised, whatever about claims that the hunt “dig-out” is part of a proud rural tradition.

Instead of a horse cull, I suggest a (non-lethal) culling of politicians who claim to love animals while refusing to legislate against some of the worst animal cruelty practices on the planet. Yours, etc,


Campaign for the Abolition

Of Cruel Sports,

Lower Coyne Street,


Sir, – The Society of Irish Foresters has added its voice to warnings from the Woodland League on the loss of trees from our parkland, roadsides and hedgerows (Pacelli Breathnach, Letters, March 24th).

Wherever a tree is planted it graciously provides oxygen, flood soakage and shade to the population, while also offering shelter and a habitat to the natural world.

It is to be hoped that our local authorities will fell trees only after an inspection by a qualified arborologist has recommended this course, and then on grounds of safety alone.

It has been pointed out in this newspaper that only one-fifth of one per cent of our tree cover consists of ancient oak, and we cannot afford to lose any more of this species.

At a time when so many people are unemployed it seems incredible that the Government has not seized upon the economic advantages of a massive programme of afforestation. We have 11 per cent tree cover in Ireland.

If we actually wanted to provide jobs and the real wealth of natural resources, greater numbers of different varieties of trees would be planted. On maturity and when ready for harvesting these could produce a paper industry, construction materials and renewable fuel. Yours, etc,


Redesdale Road,

Mount Merrion,

Sir, – I am a local historian engaged in research on the Cumann na mBan in Co Louth. The cumann was the women’s auxiliary corps to the Irish Volunteers and by extension the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence and Civil War periods. It was founded on April 2nd, 1914, in Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin. I wish to contact anyone who may have had a relative, a friend or a neighbour involved in Cumann na mBan activity in Louth and who would like to contribute to my research. I can be contacted at Yours, etc,


Leinster Road,


Dublin 6

Irish Independent:

* As a former member of An Garda Siochana I am glad that Martin Callinan has decided to resign as commissioner – both for his own sake and for that of his family.

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It is sad to see any garda chief being backed into such a position but it may allow the spotlight to shine more clearly on a Minister for Justice who has used the commissioner for too long as a shelter from criticism.

Alan Shatter has decimated An Garda Siochana since he has come into office. He has denuded the force of stations, manpower and transport, leaving the country with a skeleton police force.

When public opposition to his decisions is expressed, he says the commissioner runs the force. The truth of the situation is that Mr Callinan was not allowed to run the organisation.

When I joined An Garda Siochana, I found it to be a force subservient to politicians and that has changed very little in the interim.

While we now have calls from politicians on all sides for an independent police authority, I would remind them to recall how the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors were calling for such a body to be put in place more than 30 years ago.

Indeed, one former minister opposed the suggestion, alleging “it would be giving excessive control to a police authority”.

At that time, and through the intervening years, there was no political party in favour of a police authority and members of An Garda Siochana of all ranks are well aware of why that is the case.




* Yes! Callinan is gone; let’s march on Leinster House and remove the Minister for Justice. Yes, Alan Shatter with his reformist views and bustling intellect, not to mention his in-depth knowledge of our legal system. Why? Sure we don’t like him. He’s not popular. He challenges us and we definitely don’t like that. He’d never be voted in down the country.

Who will replace him? Surely there is a career politician and former teacher ready to fill the highest legal position in the land.

And who should lead this charge to maintain the moral high ground? How about an elected representative who has openly and brazenly avoided paying all his taxes? Perfect. Because we love the rogue who chances his arm and gets away with it. Just like your brother or sister or uncle who was caught speeding but got the points removed after a call to their cousin’s partner’s brother-in-law who happens to be a guard. Ah now, nobody in Ireland would do such a thing!

I have come to admire politicians who are uncomfortable with the parish pump political model and who genuinely seem to have the greater good of the country in mind.

Let us be patient and allow Mr Shatter time and space to defend himself and his record in office. Let us try to park our party loyalties and do what is in everybody’s interests. If this means resigning, so be it, but let it be an informed decision.




* I see Health Minister James Reilly is proposing a smoking ban in cars. I agree that it is wrong for adults to expose children to second-hand smoke while driving, but in what universe does he think this is enforceable?

Even if our already overworked gardai were able to pull somebody over for it, how could they ever hope to get a successful prosecution?

An offender would have plenty of time to stub out the ciggie and pull out an e-cigarette before the garda could even get out of the squad car. How is anybody to prove which item was in use at the moment the blue lights started flashing?

Parents are inflicting far more damage on their children by smoking in the home. Can we expect a ban there too? This problem is better solved through education.

If they refuse to learn, then huffing and puffing and threats of the cuffs will achieve nothing.




* It is really amazing how two-faced Ireland has become. We have the positive, vibrant, happy, booming, open-for-business Ireland as portrayed by Enda Kenny and his illustrious team of ministers as they travel the length and breadth of the globe for St Patrick’s weekend.

Then we have the other side as experienced by the public on a day-to-day basis: the shootings, stabbings, muggings, suicides, poverty, depression, robberies, fear, repossessions, bankruptcies, homelessness and bullying.

Which face are you seeing today?




* My stomach turned listening to RTE’s ‘Prime Time’ interview with Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney on the subject of horse welfare.

But it wasn’t just the thought of all those abandoned horses that sickened me. It was also Mr Coveney’s professed concern for the welfare of animals generally and his boast that the new Animal Health and Welfare Act has greatly advanced the fight against animal cruelty. He spoke of his determination to alleviate the suffering of animals that are “welfare compromised”.

Yet this is the same minister who specifically exempted hare coursing and fox hunting from prohibition under the act. Instead of protecting the fox and the hare from cruelty, the legislation fully permits the live baiting of these animals for ‘sport’.

Can he not see, or accept, that a wild fox being chased until its lungs give out and exhaustion delivers it to a pack of hounds to be eviscerated is “welfare compromised”? And could this euphemism not also be applied to a hare that is terrorised, mauled and tossed about by dogs like a paper toy for the amusement of a crowd of gamblers and sightseers?

The welfare of a fox or fox cub that is dragged from its underground refuge with the aid of spades, terriers and poles wrapped with barbed wire is certainly compromised, whatever about claims that the hunt ‘dig-out’ is part of a proud rural tradition.

Instead of a horse cull, I suggest a (non-lethal) culling of politicians who claim to love animals while refusing to legislate against some of the worst animal cruelty practices in the world.





* The most recent Fianna Fail ard fheis brings to mind author Milan Kundera‘s observation that “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”.

With the local and European elections looming it is important voters’ memories are not so dulled by the struggles of the past six years that they forget: that the previous FF government is responsible for the fact that they don’t have a job; or that if they are lucky enough to be working that it is a form of servitude where they are working to pay a big mortgage and a host of bills, with little incentive to make money as it would only go to the banks.

Families who have members with disabilities and who are victims of lost services will not forget (they are reminded on a daily basis) and, of course, there are the thousands of people who have had to emigrate.

Finally, while this cognitive faculty is important, let us also recognise that though the Coalition’s inheritance was a poor one, it has not done enough for those mentioned above and, indeed, as the recent conduct of the Minister for Justice has shown, that the struggle of man against power is about many other things as well as memory – not least of which is moral fibre.




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