Mary in hospital

27 March 2014 Mary still in hospital

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to go move a barge. Priceless

Cold slightly better Mary very under the weather visit her

No Scrabbletoday Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Colonel Tresham Gregg – obituary

Colonel Tresham Gregg was a serial escaper who posed as a member of the Hitler Youth and led a brigade of Italian partisans

Colonel Tresham Gregg

Colonel Tresham Gregg

5:56PM GMT 26 Mar 2014

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Colonel Tresham Gregg, who has died aged 94, had an adventurous Army career as a leader of wartime Italian partisans, having already acquired a reputation as a serial escaper from PoW camps.

Born in Dublin on April 7 1919, Tresham Dames Gregg was educated at Bishop’s Diocesan College, Cape Town, South Africa, and at Bedford School. During a cosmopolitan childhood he made friends in Cologne, whom he continued to visit until the outbreak of the Second World War. He became fluent in German, attended several Nazi rallies and heard Hitler and Goebbels speak from only a few yards away.

In May 1940, in the defence of Calais, he commanded a troop of light tanks of 3 Royal Tank Regiment (3 RTR) in support of 60th Rifles. Badly wounded by mortar-fire, he was evacuated by Motor Torpedo Boat and subsequently mentioned in despatches.

Tresham Gregg (third from right) with some of his Italian partisans

During the fighting withdrawal from Greece the following year, Gregg was standing on the rear deck of his tank at Thermopylae when a German bomb landed immediately beside it. The vehicle, weighing 14 tons, was thrown wholesale into the air.

Gregg landed on a drystone wall. In great pain, he was ferried south to the Peloponnese. At the Corinth Canal, he saw German parachutists being dropped and capturing the bridge which he had just crossed. Evacuated from Nauplion by destroyer to Crete, he was put aboard an ageing tramp steamer bound for Alexandria. Despite being unable to walk, he took charge of 21 German prisoners for the voyage.

He soon recovered (though it was not until 50 years later that he learned that he had fractured his pelvis). In November 1941, having rejoined his regiment, he took part in Operation Crusader, a series of attritional battles in the desert around Tobruk and the airfield at Sidi Rezegh.

Tresham Gregg (wearing the scarf) with fellow partisans

The following month Gregg was surprised by a German patrol near Derna, Libya, and taken prisoner. In an attempt to escape, he tried to sabotage the Germans’ reserve petrol supply with sugar but he was handed over to the Italians too quickly for the ploy to be effective.

As he was marched to the port in Benghazi, Gregg dived out of the column of PoWs and hid in a shop. After two hours he was spotted by two Italian soldiers who were looting the place. They refused to believe his story that he was a German soldier “taking a leak”.

In Italy, he was sent to Camp PG66 at Capua. After trying to walk out of the camp with a working party, he was detected. His persistent efforts to escape had earned him the label pericoloso, and the irate commandant sentenced him to a month’s “solitary” in an unheated tin shack. But for the arrival of a representative of the Red Cross, he might have perished of cold and hunger.

In March 1942 Gregg was transferred to Camp PG35 at Padula. A failed attempt to tunnel his way out earned him another month in solitary confinement. As an additional punishment, he was then sent to Camp PG29 at Veano, a converted seminary near Piacenza – its commandant claimed that it was escape-proof.

Calculating that the last place that the Italians would expect a tunnel to start would be in the middle of an open exercise yard, Gregg and a group composed mostly of RTR officers sank a 16ft shaft into the vegetable plots at the centre of this open space, concealing their excavations with lines of washing.

There ensued six months of work in claustrophobic conditions. Hair oil provided fuel for a single lamp. Gregg dug with an iron rod wrapped in rope to give a firm grip. One night in July 1943, they reached a slit-trench outside the perimeter fence.

Four of the six tunnellers broke out, and three were quickly captured. Gregg emerged three yards from a sentry and was shot in the head — but still succeeded in getting away. Disguised as a member of the Dutch Hitler Youth (his cover story being that he was on his way to a conference in Rome), he took a bus to Parma railway station, and seated himself in a carriage full of German soldiers.

He even borrowed copies of their magazines to add to his camouflage. He hoped to reach the Vatican and use his Irish passport to get him a free passage home, but the Carabinieri were searching for him and picked him up while the train was still in the suburbs of Rome.

Back in PG29 he was serving a third month in solitary confinement when, in September 1943, the Armistice was announced and he was released. He had relations in Switzerland and could have headed north; but he chose to stay with his closest friend, Captain “Donny” Mackenzie of the Cameron Highlanders, who was suffering from malaria.

The two men sheltered with a local family but, as winter set in, moved south-west into the mountains and settled in the Val Nure with a group of charcoal burners. They lived off an almost unrelieved diet of chestnuts.

In spring 1944 they were contacted by the partisans. Gregg and Mackenzie led a successful raid on a police station at Ferriere, then ambushed two truckloads of troops sent to flush them out.

As they moved down the Val Nure towards Piacenza, their force picked up recruits. They liberated Bettola and cleared the valley almost as far as Veano. Gregg (known as “Capitano Ganna” to the Italians) and Mackenzie commanded the fighting elements of what became known as the Stella Rossa artisan brigade.

Contacts were established with MI9 (the intelligence agency which assisted resistance fighters in enemy-occupied territory) and with an SOE mission code-named “Blundell Violet”. The Prefect of Piacenza put a price on their heads; but they were in a natural stronghold, and when a Fascist Alpini battalion attacked over the mountains, Gregg not only forced its commander to give them all his heavy weapons as the price for freeing him, but also recruited many of his men.

During September 1944 more than 100 downed Allied airmen passed through their hands towards safety in the south. They built an airstrip for supplies and raided German supply lines. In October they liberated Ponte dell’Olio, the northernmost town in the Val Nure. When Gregg’s partisans took the airfield, they were delighted to find 4,000 bottles of rum and brandy bricked up in a storeroom.

Mackenzie was killed a few days later while on a patrol, and Gregg had to retrieve his body for burial at Bettola, several thousand people turning out for the funeral. Gregg was recalled to discuss future plans and ran a gauntlet of “friendly fire” on reaching the American lines near Serravezza on December 5. He was again mentioned in despatches for his attempts to escape.

Tresham Gregg helping to bear the coffin of his friend and comrade Capt ‘Donny’ Mackenzie

After the war he was posted to India and then Singapore as a staff officer. A posting to HQ Southern Command Poona, India, coincided with the turbulent period before the partition of India and Pakistan, and the British withdrawal.

In 1949 he returned to England to attend Staff College, and was then posted to HQ British Element Trieste Forces. He subsequently served as a squadron leader in 6 RTR in Germany and as a company commander at Sandhurst before commanding 1RTR in Hong Kong and Germany.

Tresham Gregg (centre, with his hands raised) and his brigade of Italian partisans

He was on the Directorate Royal Armoured Corps and Commandant of the Driving and Maintenance School at Bovington, Dorset, before a final posting as Colonel Recruiting Northern Command in York. On retirement, he remained there for a further 10 years as the Army Schools’ Liaison Officer.

Tresham Gregg married first, in 1946, in Poona, Elsie “Dusty” Miller, who, as a QA nurse, had landed in Normandy soon after D-Day with a field ambulance unit. She died in 1991, and their son and two daughters survive him. He married secondly, in 2000, Joan Wood, who survives him with a stepson.

Col Tresham Gregg, born April 7 1919, died March 17 2014


Labour should beware falling in too closely behind the people’s hero, Andrew Bridgen MP, in his brave campaign to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee (Labour will support Commons vote to decriminalise TV licence fee evaders, 24 March). This is the same Andrew Bridgen who regularly accuses the BBC of “endemic” leftwing bias, opposed plans to let a small number of Syrian refugees enter the UK, supported restrictions on immigration from Romania and Bulgaria and fully supports the government’s austerity programme.

Most disturbingly, his reaction to the Daily Mail’s attack on Ralph Miliband (as “the man who hated Britain”) was to call for an inquiry into the BBC’s political coverage, not into the behaviour of Paul Dacre and the Mail.

The funding and output of the BBC certainly does need major reform, but we don’t need to take lessons from Tory backbenchers, either about impartiality or about the integrity of our criminal justice system.
Des Freedman
Chair, Media Reform Coalition

• Arguments over the licence fee (BBC chief questions licence fee claims, 25 March) are easily resolved. As the government sets the fee, why not fund the BBC out of general taxation? That would be no greater risk to its independence than at present. It would generate no greater unfairness – indeed, less, if unfairness it be – for those taxpayers who resist television services than for those who do not use the NHS, state schooling or national museum visits.
Peter Cave

• Should people in prison for non payment of the TV licence fee be allowed to receive books?
Ian Brooker
Crawley, West Sussex

Orlando Crowcroft (Diaspora returns to build Iraqi Kurdistan into the ‘next Dubai’, 26 March) misses two important points. State employees were not paid for two months because the federal government in Baghdad blocked budget payments to Erbil. This is part of a dispute over the region’s oil and gas, developed from scratch recently, and exports to Turkey via a new pipeline. This flows from the second major omission: the Kurdistan region’s new and growing commercial relationship with Turkey, which was once on the verge of invading Kurdistan but is now its largest trading partner. Neither was imaginable in 2003 as the region began to recover from decades of genocide, isolation and poverty. Both enable better public services and increased living standards. The need for further political, economic and social reform is widely acknowledged. A fuller picture of a region in transition is detailed in our reports on fact-finding delegations there.
Nadhim Zahawi MP, Meg Munn MP
Co-chairs, All-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq

John Harris (View from the east, G2, 25 March) is quite right to identify the Ukip heartland as Lincolnshire and East Anglia, but based on last year’s local government election results, it also extends south and east to Kent (17 seats), Sussex (17) and Hampshire/Isle of Wight (12).

All these areas have several things in common: they contain major ports which have considerable traffic with EU cities, in a swath from Hamburg to Cherbourg; the agricultural sector is crucial to their local economies; and they contain few major cities or metropolitan conurbations. Local people are acutely aware of EU migration in general, and are particularly concerned about the negative impact of migrant labour (organised by gangmasters in concert with local employers) on their job opportunities and wages. As such, they are at the sharp end of the neoliberal economic policies pursued by both New Labour and the coalition, but also feel vulnerable and threatened, thanks to their relative proximity to Europe.

It is hardly surprising that they should support Ukip – aka the English National party – as they feel that the three major parties have abandoned them and do not understand or empathise with their concerns.
Professor Steve Giles
School of cultures, languages and area studies, University of Nottingham

• John Harris’s article on Ukip and the east coast made interesting and depressing reading. One Ukip candidate said: “It’s almost like we’re an island. We’ve got that tiny little road coming in.” That could describe the whole area. The irony is that, while it has always been isolated from the rest of England because of poor roads, this stretch of coastline was busy and wealthy from both the medieval woollen cloth trade and the herring trade. The business came not from England, however, but from Europe – indeed, King’s Lynn, now a centre for unemployment, was a rich Hanseatic town with plenty of foreign inhabitants.
Katie Hawks
Polegate, East Sussex

Your editorial (School’s out, 25 March), referring to “changes to the national curriculum, such as the exclusion of music“, struck entirely the wrong note. On the contrary, music remains compulsory between the ages of five and 14 in our new national curriculum – just as it was in the old. This government is completely committed to making sure that every child in the country has the opportunity to enjoy and play music. More than £300m is being spent on music and arts education over three years by the Department for Education.

Our national plan for music education is designed to ensure that all young people between five and 18 can learn to play a musical instrument, sing in choirs and perform in ensembles. From 2016 onwards, our new league table measure will examine pupil progress across eight subjects, which can include three arts subjects, providing further incentives for young people to study arts subjects at key stage 4. This government strongly believes that every child deserves a rich, rounded education, with music at its heart. Our changes are making sure that every single young person has the opportunity to enjoy and play music – both in and beyond the school curriculum.
Elizabeth Truss MP
Under secretary of state for education

• Your generally informative editorial explaining the reasons for yesterday’s teachers’ strike was spoiled by your remarkable assertion that “Mr Gove is showing a welcome readiness to talk”. This is demonstrably untrue and is, in fact, one of the main reasons myself and thousands of my colleagues in schools forewent a day’s pay. In fact, Mr Gove has repeatedly refused to either sit in the same room as teaching unions or negotiate meaningfully on his “reforms”; instead, he sends unfortunate Whitehall minions to present them as a fait accompli and simply discuss “implementation”.

His arrogance is breathtaking, especially given the recent rejection by the previously supine School Teachers Review Body of every single one of his proposals to dismantle the national framework of conditions of service. Schools do not need yet another “education radical” whose main purpose is to further his career by macho posturing; we need a politician who is prepared to listen.
Austin McHale
Isleworth, Middlesex

• Well done, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector for schools. Earlier this year, you were “spitting blood with fury” at what you saw as unfair criticism of you and your organisation – especially criticism by those who appear to know little about education and have certainly never taught in a school in their lives. Thank heavens you were given the right of reply at the ASCL conference. Sadly, a human right that Ofsted itself denies to the teachers and the schools which it criticises (Letters, 18 March). Although my lesson was recently graded outstanding by Ofsted, I am only too well aware that had even a few things gone wrong – a small change in the teaching environment or even simple misfortune, for example, a computer or software glitch, a few late students on the same broken bus, etc – the result would have been very different for me and my career, and no excuses.
Peter Clarkson
Manfield, North Yorkshire

Anecdotal evidence aplenty for Duncan McLean’s contention that our northern islands cousins see themselves differently (Debatable islands, 26 March). I recall a TV concert by Fiddlers Bid, Shetland’s great wee fiddle band, and the band leader telling a Lerwick audience: “Last week we were up in Norway and next week we’re going down to Scotland.”
Alistair Richardson

• Massive profits for underselling shares in the Royal Mail, a national asset (Letters, 26 March), quickly followed by an announcement of redundancies. Capitalism at its worst.
Tim Yates
Twickenham, Middlesex

• The phenomenon of inanimate objects that describe themselves in the first person (Wackaging, 26 March) is already well advanced in the transport world, where buses commonly display a front sign reading “Sorry, I’m not in service”. This needless and childlike anthropomorphism makes me want to reach for the nearest rock and hurl it at the bus.
Nick Hanna
Beckley, East Sussex

• If 12-sided coins wouldn’t work in slot machines (Letters, 24 March), how come the payphones of the 1960s took threepenny bits?
Willie Montgomery Stack

• Call home at seven on a weeknight (So, how often do you call your mother?, G2, 25 March)? I’d be disinherited. Don’t these people listen to the Archers?
Catherine MacIntosh-Dixon
Burley in Wharfedale, West Yorkshire

• Some years ago I came across a sad monoglot Brit marooned in a bus station (Letters, 25 March). He wanted to go to Noia (Galicia) but was unable to ask for help. My Spanish was only slightly better than his but I suggested he approach someone and say: “Para Noia?” He didn’t find this anything like as amusing as I did.
Peter Roland
Bognor Regis, West Sussex

• Being unable to contribute anything of consequence, I’m off to console myself in Useless Loop, Western Australia.
John Prior
Karratha, Western Australia


Whether we agree with the teachers’ strike or not, we must pay attention to the effect that the current primary school system is having on our children and their education.

Primary teachers are expected to teach English, maths, science, history, art, geography and languages – plus perhaps music, PE and other subjects.

They teach a class of mixed-ability children, at times being the only adult in a class of up to 30 children. A good teacher needs to be able to impart knowledge in a way that can be understood, and be a skilled disciplinarian and comic, as well as kind and sensitive to the wide range of needs in the class. They also need to be able to identify the different range of learning needs of their students, putting in place and supporting the strategies that enable each child to fulfil their potential and retain the love of learning that most start school with.

Through my children’s years of primary school, I’ve never met a teacher who has delivered this – and I believe my children have had mostly good and often excellent teachers in a school that really tries and succeeds as much as  is possible.

Often, the problem is lack of experience, related to limited training (especially in the area of teaching strategies for children who don’t learn in the traditional way, eg mild learning difficulties/dyslexic spectrum conditions). But mostly, I believe it is the huge expectations we have of them.

I’m not a teacher but I’ve worked in 60-hours-a-week jobs for a few years, and for increasing pay that let me live a comfortable life outside work. Teachers don’t have this financial reward. I’ve also worked in a decently paid and rewarding job where it wasn’t physically possible to achieve everything needed, and this, after many years, was a major reason in my decision to leave.

We cannot expect our teachers to remain in the profession with the expectations laid upon them currently. The primary school system, with one teacher expected to achieve everything, and a lack of funding for specialist knowledge and focus on learning abilities, is failing children. They reach secondary school with difficulties not addressed and confidence smashed.

Rather than complaining about the teachers or the Government, the Department for Education and the unions should be looking at how to improve the whole system.

Pippa Jones, London W10

The trouble with some teachers is that they  never actually left school and worked in the real world. They don’t understand that it’s just as tough for professionals in other sectors.

Before I retired, I worked as a sales manager in financial services; the hours were very long and the majority of my time was spent on record-keeping to satisfy the regulators.

Michael Gove is doing the right thing, and some teachers need to realise that their package of benefits is what most ordinary workers dream of.

Graham Hinitt, South Anston,  South Yorkshire

Our GP services are just not coping

On two occasions in the past six months, I have needed to see a doctor.

On the first occasion, I was told there were no appointments for three to four weeks at any of the three surgeries. I went to a local walk-in centre where I was diagnosed with upper respiratory tract infection and given antibiotics.

Then, three weeks ago, I realised I might have shingles. I went to my local doctors and asked for an emergency appointment. I was told there was none and to go to the walk-in centre, which I did. I had shingles and was given antiviral medicine.

Without the walk-in centre, I could have been seriously ill. The local clinical commissioning group has recommended that the walk-in hours be restricted to night times and weekends, and within the year it is expected to close. Our GPs simply are not coping with the numbers, and this recommendation will impact on people’s access to doctors – and on numbers attending A&E.

Pat Nimmo, Fleckney, Leicestershire

The Government keeps telling us how it is  improving the NHS and how much extra money it is pouring into it, but the NHS is slipping down the pan more and more every day. Before the Coalition took power, we could phone our local surgery any morning and get an appointment the same  day or at least the next morning.

Now, if you phone any morning at opening time, you are told: “Sorry, we have no appointments left, we can give you one next week or the week after.”

Do David Cameron or Nick Clegg get the same answer when they phone their surgery? Do they ever go to an NHS surgery?

If someone wants to see a doctor, it is because they need help now – not in a week or a fortnight.

Dave Croucher, Doncaster

London’s hospitals are under huge and increasing pressure, spawning sectoral Save Our Hospitals groups, such as ours in north-west London.

We oppose the closure of four out of nine existing Accident and Emergency departments (Charing Cross, Hammersmith, Ealing and Central Middlesex), leaving Hammersmith and Fulham with no A&E.

The closest A&Es will be in Chelsea, Paddington or Brentford. This is iniquitous: Hammersmith and Fulham’s population gets steadily older and larger. Yet Charing Cross will be downgraded to elective surgery and diagnostic tests only, with an “urgent care centre” manned by GPs and no emergency consultants.

“Shaping a Healthier Future”, the report proposing changes in February 2013, asserted that cardiac care, strokes and major trauma – including road traffic accidents – should go to specialised hospitals with “super” A&Es.

We agree. But the report ignored the need for continued prompt and local treatment for other emergencies, eg diabetes crises, kidney failure, aneurysms, cancer, septicemia, asthma attacks and others that are life-threatening.

Improved “social care” to the elderly and immobile was mentioned without plans or funding. The way in which it is proposed to trim health services in north-west London is not fair; specialised, well-funded parts of the hospital service are being favoured at the expense of “ordinary” A&Es.

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust proposes to sell “surplus” land, such as 40 per cent or more of Charing Cross, to fund redevelopment at remaining sites.

With Imperial College, it will pursue clinical research at the Academic Health Science Centre. International health companies will fund the new Imperial West research centre at White City.

The reputation of Charing Cross for emergency medicine is second to none – but for how long?

Una Hodgkins, Committee member, Save Our Hospitals, London W6

One spring doesn’t make a democracy

I agree there is considerable naivety in expecting a smooth and short transition from autocracy to democracy in Egypt (Editorial, 26 March) or elsewhere.

It took England more than 700 years to transition from Magna Carta to women (over 30) gaining suffrage. In between, there were many extended periods of bloody internal power struggles about who rules and how.

Yet we are expecting the  “Arab Spring” to short-circuit the process that took us several dozen generations.

David Bracey, Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

Dangerous jobs in danger

I am concerned on behalf of a number of professions that the Chancellor’s ill-timed abolition of annuities will send shock waves through the rank and  file of those in dangerous jobs.

The imminent release of newly redundant actuaries on to the employment market presents a real threat to the likes of lion tamers, jump jockeys, stuntmen, steeplejacks and Grand Prix motorcyclists, who will naturally feel threatened that these devil-may-care, foolhardy, risk-taking pen-pushers and danger addicts will steal their jobs.

Nicky Samengo-Turner, Hundon, Suffolk

Are you disrespecting the police?

If you continue to draw your readers’ attention to corruption and misbehaviour in the police (“Something rotten in the Metropolitan Police”, 26 March), there is the risk that, as with Andrew Mitchell in the “Plebgate” case, you will be accused by the Prime Minister of not showing them “the respect they deserve”.

Gyles Cooper, London N10

It’s no longer a boys’ club

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is proposing to end its ban on female members.

Over to you, Eton.

Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Surrey


Sir, I agree with Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) (“Skimping on GPs is a false economy”, Mar 24). There is a definite correlation between rapid access to a GP and a lowering of admissions to A&E departments.

When our surgery was taken over by Elgar Healthcare of Worcester, the number of GP appointments more than doubled and the surgery extended opening hours from four and a half days to five. This, and daily open-access surgeries in the mornings and doubling the number of GPs on duty at that time, has ensured that admissions to A&E units from its patient group remain the lowest in Worcestershire.

Any patient may attend morning surgery, without an appointment, and be guaranteed to see a GP. This is not the case in many surgeries in nearby towns.

Paul Skinner

Grey Gables Surgery,

Inkberrow, Worcs

Sir, As a GP I have enjoyed sending many letters to The Times regarding health matters over the years. At the moment I just do not have enough time to write.

Dr Mike Betterton

Skelton, Cumbria

Sir, I am a GP who took early retirement. Whenever I said that general practice could not survive as it currently runs, the official response was the usual ostrich’s backside. For decades governments have imagined that health is a product like any other, best made available following market principles. If so, this product can also disappear from the market.

Dr Trevor Griffiths

Ivybridge, Devon

Sir, The Royal College of General Practitioners claims that the lack of GPs is putting patients at risk.

It occurs to me that if GPs worked five days a week instead of four and a half, they would be able to see far more patients.

Karen Ansell

London NW4

Sir, The chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners has described the current crisis as being due to lack of investment and shortage of doctors. This is disingenuous. The cause can be traced back to the lavish contract with GPs which Patricia Hewitt, the then Secretary of State, agreed in 2004. Family doctors then went on to limited hours, nominally five days per week. For this they were richly, if not extravagantly, rewarded.

In addition, extra doctors were hired to do duty to cover out-of-hours requirements. Some of them were even flown in from the Continent at tremendous cost.

The president of the RCGP now calls for more money and more doctors. In fact what is required is that the present cohorts of GPs should provide extra duties.

I suggest that every general practitioner in the country should do one evening surgery of two hours each week and should work one Saturday or Sunday, in a rota every month, to provide emergency cover.

This would take much pressure off A&E departments and would
deliver a better service to their patients.

Practice duties during public holidays could be allocated on a rotational basis. This is not going to be too arduous for the doctors but might save general practice — and it would deliver a better service to their patients.

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 – Champagne’s problems are the same as those of Bordeaux: consumers have discovered that much of the wine is not better than competitive products from other parts of the world.

The solution lies not with supermarkets but with the French producers’ representative organisations. If they wish their wines to command premium prices, then they must find a better way to control the wines that are allowed to carry their appellations and labels.

Philip Styles
Cheddar, Somerset

SIR – We are extremely concerned at new rules that ban family and friends sending books to prisoners. While we understand that prisons must be able to apply incentives to reward good behaviour by prisoners, we do not believe that education and reading should be part of that policy.

Books represent a lifeline behind bars, a way of nourishing the mind and filling the many hours that prisoners spend locked in their cells. In an environment with no internet access and only limited library facilities, books become all the more important.

We urge Chris Grayling, the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, to reconsider the Prison Service instruction that limits books and other essentials being sent to prisoners from family and friends.

Frances Crook

Chief Executive, Howard League for Penal Reform

Mark Haddon

Salman Rushdie

Julian Barnes

Ian McEwan

Carol Ann Duffy

Alan Bennett

Philip Pullman

Jeffrey Archer

Irvine Welsh

Joanne Harris

Hari Kunzru

Ian Rankin

Nick Hornby

Deborah Moggach

Ruth Padel

Mary Beard

Sir David Hare

Colin Thubron

Maggie Fergusson, Director, The Royal Society of Literature

Simon Stephens

Laura Wade

Samantha Ellis

David Edgar

Jack Thorne

John O’Farrell

Caitlin Moran

David Harsent

Linda Grant

Andrew O’Hagan

Iain Dale

David Eldridge

D C Moore

Caroline Moorehead

Stella Feehily

Alecky Blythe

Moira Buffini

Lucinda Coxon

Susannah Clapp

Kathryn Gray

April De Angelis

Elif Shafak

Vivienne Franzmann

Tim Gee

Colin Beveridge

Melanie McFadyean

Melanie McGrath

Shami Chakrabarti, Director, Liberty

Jenny Diski

Stella Duffy

Janice Galloway

Jackie Kay

Darian Leader

James Robertson

Niall Griffiths

Kamila Shamsie

Kathy Lette

Terence Blacker

Alice Rawsthorn

Jenni Fagan

Blake Morrison

Tiffany Murray

Rhian Jones

Rachel Holmes

Robin Tudge

Ahdaf Soueif

Nikesh Shukla

Sophie Mayer

Nikita Lalwani

Peter Hobbs

Maggie O’Farrell

Ian Dunt

Naomi Alderman

Lise Mayer

William Fiennes


Ali Smith

Helen Walsh

Taxing capital gains

SIR – While we are talking about tax and pensioners, could the Government please give back the allowance for inflation on capital gains calculations or, better still, do what most countries do and say that after 20 years there is no liability for tax on capital gains.

I invested taxed income in property over the years for my retirement and if I now sell something I have had for 20 or 30 years, I find that the capital gains tax is even greater than it was before the indexation for inflation was withdrawn.

Richard Finlinson
Pluckley, Kent

Not retiring

SIR – You reported on the 88-year-old who is the country’s oldest “paper girl”. Our parish priest at Holy Cross church in West Bromwich is 90 years old and is responsible for two churches. Is he the oldest serving priest in the country?

Dr Gerry Gomez
Walsall, Staffordshire

Time to remember

SIR – I have always worn my watchon my left wrist. If I absolutely have to remember something, I slip it on to my right wrist, as an irritating but constant reminder.

Philip Glascoe
Sturry, Kent

SIR – As a boy, I wore my watch on the inside of my left wrist, having been most impressed when my father explained that, as a Wellington navigator and bomb-aimer, he wore it like that to allow a time check without taking his hands off the controls.

Steve Dooley
South Pool, Devon

SIR – Have those people writing to you about wearing a watch on each wrist (Letters, March 25) got too much time on their hands?

David Constantine
Storrington, West Sussex

Volunteer lease of life

SIR – Lord O’Donnell is spot on in the recommendations he quotes from his review Wellbeing and Policy.

Community Service Volunteers’ highly successful Retired and Senior Volunteering Programme (RSVP) provides clear evidence of the benefits of volunteering for the pensioners who volunteer as well as those they help. Our 480 volunteer organisers are supported by around 18,000 volunteers across the country. Older volunteers support people of all ages, through knitting groups and GP driving schemes, healthy walks and cooking groups.

We know that the physical and mental health of older volunteers improves; they have a renewed lease of life and feel that they are giving something back to the community. Just as importantly, we also know that keeping older people healthy and active reduces their dependence on health and social care services and increases their independence. Volunteering is a two-way process: our volunteers often report that they receive more in happiness and satisfaction than they give.

Sir Jon Shortridge
Chairman, Community Service Volunteers
London N1

Flight MH370

SIR – In 1999 a Learjet carrying, among others, the golfer Payne Stewart crashed as a result of a decompression that incapacitated everyone on board. It continued on auto-pilot for four or five hours after losing radio contact until it crashed when it ran out of fuel.

Could this have been the fate of Flight MH370? And isn’t it time that flight recorder information was automatically transmitted to a ground station, thus obviating the search for the “black box”?

Malcolm Allen
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire


SIR – Carol Farrand asks for a definition of the Borisism tinkle-plinked.

It is, essentially, an onomatopoeic term for a sound like raindrops or piano keys being played. It is nicely exemplified in one of the poet Zev’s “Three Jazz Eulogies”, on the death of John Lewis, 2001:

hey, man”
(plink tinkle plink tinkle plunk).

Jeremy Price

It’s time to get rid of our useless copper coinage

SIR – Good news: a new £1 coin. But is it also time to revamp our coinage totally? The lowest denominations now appear to be obsolete.

The usual argument for keeping our copper coinage is that increasing the value of the lowest denomination coin (LDC) will be inflationary, as all prices must rise by at least the value of the LDC.

This argument needs to take inflation into account. The pound is worth less than a tenth of its 1973 value (report, March 19).

Removing smaller denominations would mean savings for businesses, such as in bank charges for supplying and receiving change.

I would envisage the 10p becoming the LDC. Had this been implemented a few years ago, the Royal Mint would have had a large value of returned coins, and a supply of suitable metal. It might then not have been necessary to debase the 10p, leaving us with two versions, one thicker than the previous coin (and magnetic), which has caused problems with vending machines.

Nigel Parsons

SIR – While on holiday near Newquay in 1969, I lost my car keys on the beach. This was not the nightmare it would be today. My car was a 1964 Mini and I knew that if I leaned hard on the (locked) door handle, the door would open. A threepenny bit, because it had flat sides and was the correct size, would fit between the contacts on the fuse box and give ignition. I was thus able to start the car and drive into Newquay, where I purchased a new set of keys. Perhaps the new pound coin will be popular with the classic car fraternity.

Derry Gibb
Epping, Essex

SIR – Some coins last longer than others. In the Seventies, a local antique dealer showed me a small disc he had received as change. It was one of those fourth century pieces known from their metal and size as AE3. His comment: “Must be the last Roman coin in circulation, we should write to the papers.” Rather tardily, I do so.

Robert Stephenson
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

SIR – Lord Dannatt, the former Chief of the General Staff, is right to call for recent defence cuts to be reversed.

The Prime Minister has on several occasions asserted that national security is the Government’s “first duty”, but one only needs to examine the Armed Forces’ declining share of the national budget to see that this duty is not being fulfilled.

According to the Treasury’s latest figures, defence of the realm now accounts for barely 5.2 per cent of total government expenditure. At a time of growing instability in the world, and massively increased threats to national and international security, for the British Government to be spending such a derisory proportion of its annual budget on defence is sheer folly.

Most government spending these days goes on social welfare in one form or another, but surely the long-term safety and security of the nation, its borders, trade routes and energy supplies, should take precedence over the insatiable demands of the welfare state.

Andy Smith
Director, UK National Defence Association
Portsmouth, Hampshire

SIR – A number of delusions held by our governing politicians have led to involvement of our troops (lions led by donkeys, as ever) in humiliating defeats in Basra and Helmand in recent times.

The duty of the Government is certainly the defence of the realm – but Britain has not been threatened in any direct way since the Falklands nearly a third of a century ago.

Since then, the Ministry of Defence has transformed itself into the Ministry of Offence in choosing to invade and make war on Muslim nations such as Iraq and Afghanistan. This is at the behest of hubris-infected politicians.

As for Crimea, it is inconceivable that anyone in their right mind might send our troops to face up to Russia. Our only concern should be to lend a helpful negotiating voice.

Our fine troops should now be used for humanitarian purposes, such as setting up camps and facilities in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon to care for Syrian refugees. They could also be used to great effect to reinforce the unfit-for-purpose Border Force in controlling who goes in and out of Britain.

Isn’t it time our governing classes gave up the idea that we are capable of being global policemen trying to impose democracy on nations that neither want it nor are ready for it?

Dr Peter Grey
Hurley, Berkshire

SIR – Lord Dannatt’s advice, namely to re-deploy troops to Germany by cancelling cuts to regular forces, is an infinitely better formula in an uncertain world than sanctions against Russian oligarchs, which can only harm our economy.

John Barstow
Fittleworth, West Sussex

Irish Times:

Sir, – Just over three years ago Enda Kenny hailed the start of a new era in Irish politics that promised to sweep away the cronyism and hubris of the previous administration. The cynics among us took it as just more hot air from a generation of politicians steeped in a culture of secrecy and selfishness.

The events of the past days encapsulate a serious malaise at the heart of Irish society and demonstrate that nothing has changed. The Garda commissioner resigns for “family reasons” on the very day that the revelations of recorded calls to stations are made public. Amid the furore, Mr Shatter appears in the Dáil, but only to answer questions on defence. Earlier in the week Mr Kenny issued veiled threats to his cabinet on talking out of turn regarding the commissioner’s comments on whistle blowers.

Three years ago the Irish public was told it had participated in a “democratic revolution”. The lack of substantial reform in large areas of society and the debacle of the past few days show just how deluded Mr Kenny was when making that statement. Yours, etc,


Linden Avenue,



Sir, – Am I missing something? From your extensive coverage of revelations in relation to An Garda Síochána, it is clear that many high-powered brains in the fields of law, politics, administration and journalism will be occupied for a prolonged period with analysis and investigation.

To the ordinary citizen, it is regrettable that these resources are being diverted from economic and social challenges requiring attention. Why does this situation have to be so complex? Surely the central issue is that management did not do the job it was paid to do, or did it incorrectly.

Presumably every garda recruit is taught the implications of taping a conversation without the agreement of the parties involved. Even if he/she is not, listening to any customer service helpline might make them curious about the practice.

These recruit gardaí advanced through the ranks and were paid to take on managerial responsibility and ensure proper operation of their stations or districts.

In most other organisations, if a manager does not do what he/she is paid to do they take the consequences individually. Real accountability, application of systems already in place in a disciplined force, and removal of those who have not complied with standards would seem a more effective use of taxpayers’ money than setting up yet more investigations and engaging in endless debate. Or am I missing something? Yours, etc,


Northbrook Avenue,


Dublin 6

Sir, – The unfolding saga of the mismanagement by senior gardaí of the whistleblowers’ accusations of abuse of the penalty points system arguably highlights the requirement that those in senior positions have the required management training so as ensure real leadership in developing the right culture throughout the organisation, of transparency, accountability and a commitment to continuous improvement based on best international practices.

The recruitment for the next Garda commissioner is a potential opportunity to begin this process. Yours, etc,


Ballyroan Park,


Dublin 16

Sir, – Tony Fagan, a former serving garda, (Letters, March 26th) argues that the force has been denuded of manpower, transport and other resources. As a former member too I can say that this is not the case. The numbers in the Garda Síochána now are as high or higher than they were in the 1970s when large numbers of gardaí were concentrated on the Border and every city, town and rural station had a good compliment of officers.

Patrol cars were then very rare – there was one in every district to serve on average about seven stations. Now practically every station has a patrol car. What has happened is that gardaí themselves have removed themselves from the public, often living a long way away from their base. There are also too many specialist units in the force, too many career breaks, too much service abroad, and with a large influx of females into the force many such members will of course be on maternity leave at any given time.

The force may have leadership issues from time to time, but let us not forget that those same 1970s saw the Garda save our democracy from many who would have subverted it. Mr Callinan would be one of them, but as Mrs Thatcher said on leaving office, it’s a strange old world! Yours, etc,



Co Mayo

Sir, – What nonsense it has been to pretend that the problem in the Garda affair has been that, of the scores of available adjectives, the Commissioner had the misfortune of hitting on the word “disgusting” – described as “infelicitous” by the beLaboured bit of the Government.

The real point was the explicitness of his portrayal of two members of An Garda as having made false accusations against fellow officers with utter indifference to the good name of 14,000 gardaí. It has become very clear whose accusations were false. The prudent assumption that the public interest requires is that the Garda inquiry into that matter was established and conducted for the purpose not of discovering the truth, but concealing it, that it was aimed at sacrificing the whistleblowers, not looking objectively at the concerns they had raised.

Can the public interest then be served without a comprehensive clearout of all those involved in that inquiry, not omitting those at departmental, ministerial and, perhaps, prime-ministerial levels whose political convenience it was to expound on its findings and represent it as more worthy of trust than the lonesome pair of whistleblowers?

What is operating against the public interest is that so much of a commentariat that would otherwise be in full cry baying for blood is relying on a “reforming” Minister as the champion not, in all truth, of justice, but of certain “liberal” causes so dear to their politically correct little hearts. Yours, etc,


Lakelands Close,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Would I be pushed out to sea in a leaky boat at Banna Strand if I expressed a measure of disgust at certain items on Fintan O Toole’s list (Opinion & Analysis, March 25th)?

I feel sorry for people who were left in financial dffculties when the economy “imploded”. A certain percentage – far too small certainly – were discreetly helped by family and friends, without any ulterior motive. Who invented, from out a nasty mind, the term “dig-out” for such decency and Christian charity? (I am not suggesting that Fintan invented it.)

I resent this stone being thrown repeatedly at certain people in public office, who obviously have the same rights as everybody else to be treated with decency and charity. Fintan did not claim that the Law Society and the medical profession had “imploded”, even though they have had their share of scandals in recent years. They now seem to have tightened up their safeguards and got on with things.

Human nature being what it is there will doubtless be an occasional scandal in the future. Yet Fintan tells us that the Catholic Church has “imploded”. Perhaps implosion, unlike explosion, doesn’t make a big bang, because I haven’t heard any strange noises in my native town. Mind you, the roof did blow off a local hotel on the day of the big wind. Yours, etc,




Co Kerry

Sir, – The same people responsible for finding out what happened to flight MH370 would appear to be also working for Enda’s Kenny Cabinet. All the evidence seems to be available to reach certain conclusions but no one is capable is putting it all together. Or maybe they are doing their level best not to. Yours, etc,


Angel’s Court,

Triq Il-Karmnu,

San Pawl Il-Bahar,


Sir, – So Commissioner Callinan fell on Minister Shatter’s sword. How many more will do so before the Minister actually realises that he must take responsibility? Yours, etc,


Rockenham Court,



Sir, – Might I query a curious omission from the titles listed in the newly published volume Books That Define Ireland , namely, the Garda Station Telephone Log Book? Yours, etc,


Edendale Lodge,

Kilbride Church,


A chara, – Is it time for Fintan O’Toole to tell David Moyes to go? Is mise,


Ellensborough Drive,

Kiltipper Road,

Dublin 24

Sir, – David Beatty (March 27th), in replying to my letter, manages to undermine both his own argument and that of Una Mullally. He cites “larger societal factors” as being a problem with regard to women’s participation in politics. He might well be right, but quotas won’t change this.

Our parish pump political system is built on gladhanding and backslapping and rewards politicians who are good at same. Many women, and many men, feel this sort of politics to be offputting. The answer is to change the system. With gender quotas all we will get is more female parish-pumpers and a parish pump politician in a skirt is still a parish pump politician.

Mr Beatty’s “gender role” talk is typical cappuccino liberal waffle. Even in Scandinavia the majority of engineers are men and most teachers are women. In a documentary made for Norwegian television it was found that despite 30 years of social engineering the percentages of women in engineering (a minority) and nursing (a majority) had not changed.

Finally, Mr Beatty talks of women’s interests. What are these interests? How are they different from men’s? I am willing to venture that when women enter the polling booth they think of their jobs, their families, their communities and maybe their country, and they vote for the candidate that will best represent them. Whether that candidate is male or female is irrelevant. Yours, etc,

Yours sincerely


Circular Road,


Co Clare

Sir, – The historical gaelteachtóir bias in Irish language policy has meant that other gaeilgeoirí such as myself, a third generation Dublin Irish speaker, are formally – and ridiculously – deemed not to have a native accent. I and my many peers’ existence is seen as an inconvenience, the cure for which is a prescribed trip to a Gaeltacht to learn to mimic an accent not native to us. Is mise mar dhea,


Ballymoneen Road,



A Chara, – I was interested to read Heber Rowan’s comments (March 26th) comparing the continuity of the Catalan language with Irish. However I should point out that Catalan always remained the vernacular language of the region, despite the efforts of the Franco regime to suppress its use, whereas this unfortunately cannot be said for Irish, which was evidently suppressed more successfully. I myself very much regret that, growing up in Co Down and attending state schools in the 1960s, we were totally oblivious of our national language. Is mise,





Sir, – Heber Rowan (March 26th) suggested that the best way to promote the use of Irish would be to dramatically increase the production of Irish language broadcasts. This letter was then followed by another from a Mr O’Cuinn which I could not read because it was in Irish. If Mr Rowan’s suggestion were to be transposed to print media and then enacted, I would have to stop reading your newspaper. Yours, etc,


Upper Leeson Street,

Dublin 4

Sir, – Mention of the Cork Dry Gin bottle by John Fleming (Michael Talbot, An Appreciation, March 24th) jogged my memory. As a young trainee in the restaurant business starting out in 1951, I recall the interest in this new product in its different, stylish bottle.

It soon became clear to service staff that Cork gin contained an extra measure or half-glass more than other bottles. Whether this was intentional or not, it encouraged bar staff to push its sales over other products, since it gave them a measure in excess, to sell or consume. Unfortunately, it soon became obvious that the bottle had a serious fault. It was fragile and broke more easily than others. That was at a time when “empties”, empty bottles, had to returned or paid for. What had first been seen as an advantage soon became a liability and the sales push ceased. I believe that fault was rectified later, but the early enthusiasm was gone. Yours, etc,



Dublin 9

Sir, – Regarding the opening of a Starbucks branch in the former Anglo Irish Bank headquarters on St Stephen’s Green, Dublin (March 26th), one must hope that the enterprise will have competent bean counters to look after its financial affairs – unlike the egregiously mismanaged institution that previously occupied the building. Yours, etc,


Beacon Hill,


Co Dublin

Irish Independent:

* If ever the time was right for an independent examination into the Garda Siochana it is now, following the ongoing speeding ticket and whistleblower controversies, which reached a new low with the resignation of the Garda Commissioner, literally minutes before a new controversy over phone recordings broke.

Also in this section

Shatter has decimated An Garda Siochana

Different faces of the Catholic Church

Whistleblower row descends into ‘pantomime’

Some years ago, the Patton report into the RUC resulted in a complete overhaul and re-naming of the force as the PSNI, which now has the support of all law-abiding people in Northern Ireland.

One of the main factors in this renewal of the police force was the appointment of a chief constable from outside that jurisdiction.

Hugh Orde arrived without any baggage or allegiance to those already there and proved to be hugely successful in leading the PSNI in this new beginning.

Now is the perfect time for the Government to follow suit, have a root-and-branch examination of the force (the first since 1971) a part of which would be to appoint a Commissioner from outside the force.

Let us not forget that the pangs of “sympathy” being felt by the opposition parties in their show of support for the garda whistleblowers are nothing more than an opportunity for them to attack the Government.

The sad part is that the serious problems that exist in An Garda Siochana are at senior management level but those who will feel the contempt of the public are the ordinary men and women on the ground striving to carry out their duties without adequate guidance or leadership.

Let us not waste this opportunity.



* In the event that the Chief of Staff of the Army ever advises the Defence Minister of an impending invasion by the Russians, how long will it take for Mr Shatter to open the letter?




* Watching ‘Prime Time’ and the ghostly face of a floundering Michael Noonan, my mind went back to 1982 when another garda crisis was dragged centre stage by Mr Noonan.

Then he wasn’t so benevolent or patronising towards the government. That this man is relevant in Irish politics 32 years later shows the sludge pace of cutting-edge politics.

Essentially a man high on rhetoric and dramatical postures, Enda Kenny now presides over a dam that is holding back a torrent of scandal and chaos. That Mr Noonan is sent out to bat like an old Soviet war horse shows how stale this Coalition is.

The greatest contribution this Coalition can make to democracy today is this: go, in the name of God, before the people find a real leader that will take us on to the streets to hose the stench of corruption out of Irish life.




* Progress has been described as “the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance” and it is a perennial process, often vividly illustrated in our emergency departments. This week, for instance, we saw a second case of accidental ingestion by a child of liquid nicotine, the “fuel” for electronic or “e-cigarettes” and “vaping”.

These were our first examples of yet another novel type of poisoning produced by “alternative” medicine, but the number of such cases of “e-liquid” poisoning in the USA reached over 1,300 in 2013, a 300pc increase from 2012, according to the American National Poison Data System.

Some of us in emergency healthcare would take issue with Professor John Britton of the Royal College of Physicians in the UK who was quoted recently as saying that “nicotine in itself is not a particularly hazardous drug”.

Some American toxicologists in fact describe it as “one of the most potent naturally occurring toxins”, at the very least likely to provoke acute illness and vomiting in the young children who are most at risk of sampling fruit-flavoured e-liquids lying around in vapers’ houses.

So while accepting that the “jury is out” in strictly scientific terms in relation to e-cigarettes, and conceding that smokers may very well benefit from a reduction in “real” smoking, I would remind people of the alleged attractions of methadone, mephedrone and zopiclone, all of which have been recently championed as “healthier” substitutes for legal and illegal drugs of addiction, with often tragic consequences.

At this early stage in the (potential) evolution of e-cigarettes as a substitute for tobacco, HL Mencken’s priceless contribution to public health debate comes to mind: “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem – neat, plausible and wrong.”





* In his two short meetings with the Queen of England, Cork fish merchant Pat O’Connell has done more for Ireland than has Gerry Adams in his whole lifetime.




* The recent article regarding UL students’ rejection of a Life Society was incomplete. There were, in fact, several objections and legitimate questions, several of which were not answered adequately.

In particular, the founders of the Life Society had wanted to vet potential members in a way that is not in keeping with clubs and societies’ policy of inclusion. Even the campus political groups and LGBTQ society are not permitted to restrict their membership to those who agree with their positions.

Furthermore, it is legitimate that the organisations whose funding and reputation will be affected by a new society should have final say on its creation rather than decisions being imposed from the top down.

UL societies aim to enhance the students’ experience, not to serve as platforms for political hobby horses.





* A Starbucks sign has appeared on the front of the former Anglo Irish Bank building on St Stephen’s Green. Is it time to change that immortal phrase from “Let them eat cake” to “Let them drink lattes”?




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