Mary Home

2 April 2014 Mary home
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to search for a stolen yacht Priceless
Mary Home, Peter mr Sorenson we are both very tired
No Scrabble today, too tired Perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Sir Robin Dunn – obituary
Sir Robin Dunn was a Lord Justice of Appeal who was decorated in war then dealt with film stars and traitors in peace

Sir Robin Dunn
6:50PM BST 31 Mar 2014
Sir Robin Dunn, the former Lord Justice of Appeal, who has died aged 96, was among the more engaging and colourful members of the bench; he was also awarded an MC in the Second World War .
Dunn’s often lengthy divorce cases made him a fierce critic of their cost to the taxpayer. His bench also became a platform for outspoken social commentary, including, most notoriously, his 1974 remark about the differences between wives north and south of the border.
In the North, said Dunn, wives did not mind their husbands beating them but drew the line at adultery; in the South, the opposite was the case. He withdrew his observations the next day, and apologised to the angry women of the North.
But despite the odd maverick outburst, Dunn was widely liked and respected, and was being tipped as a likely candidate to take over as president of the Family Division shortly before his promotion to the Court of Appeal in 1980.
As a committee member of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, he was at the forefront of its legal battle with the League Against Cruel Sports in the mid-1980s, after the hunt fenced in the League’s so-called “sanctuaries” which it owned on Exmoor.
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Sir Robin Dunn at the Bristol Assizes in 1970
Dunn was also unusual in the ranks of the judiciary in having served as a regular Army officer for 10 years; in 1980 he was made Honorary Colonel Commandant, the highest honour that the Royal Artillery can bestow on a non-serving officer.
The son of a Royal Artillery brigadier, Robin Horace Walford Dunn was born on January 16 1918 and educated at Wellington and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, where he won the Sword of Honour. He joined the RA in 1938, and fought during the Second World War in France, Belgium and North Africa. He was thrice wounded, mentioned in despatches and awarded a Military Cross in 1944.
On July 8 of that year, Major Dunn, as he then was, was Battery Commander and Commanding Officer’s representative with 1st Battalion the Royal Norfolk Regiment during an attack on Lébisey wood, near Caen, accompanying the CO on foot with his signallers carrying the wireless sets.
During the whole period of the attack he was under heavy shell and mortar fire, but never failed to maintain communications with the regiment. In the later stages of the assault he organised a fresh fire plan to assist the infantry, who were being held down by an enemy post in the south-west corner of the wood.
The citation for his MC stated: “It was largely due to his efforts that the infantry were enabled to clear the wood with comparatively few casualties. Towards the end of the action Major Dunn was wounded in the head, but refused to go for treatment until ordered by the CO of the Norfolks. During the whole operation Major Dunn, under heavy fire, exhibited a calm and resolute bearing which was an example to both his own party and the infantry.”

Robin Dunn with Field Marshal Montgomery
After the war, Dunn attended Staff College but left the Army as an honorary major in 1948, the same year that he was called to the Bar by Inner Temple. He soon established himself as an eloquent and persuasive advocate, frequently appearing for the rich and famous. While still a junior, he represented Vivien Leigh (in her successful divorce action against Laurence Olivier), and the publisher George Weidenfeld, who was granted a divorce after his wife’s adultery with the writer Cyril Connolly.
Another client was the Russian-born marathon walker Barbara Moore, who alleged she had been defamed by a series of advertisements for shoes, bananas and oranges which surrounded coverage in the Daily Mail of her walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End. She said the advertisements implied that she had undertaken the walk for financial gain rather than to prove the capabilities of a 55-year-old woman on a vegetarian diet.
“Some people may think she’s a crank,” said Dunn, “but most great causes have been started by single-minded people who some consider to be cranks.”
From 1959 to 1962, Dunn was Western Circuit junior counsel to the Registrar of Restrictive Trading Practices. In 1961 he represented the Attorney General at the election petition over whether Viscount Stansgate (Tony Benn) should be allowed to take his place in the Commons following his Bristol South-East by-election victory.
Dunn took Silk in 1962, and as a QC his clients included the former MP Patricia Fisher, injured when a bottle of jewellery cleaner she had bought at Harrods exploded in her hand; the racehorse trainer Florence Nagle, to whom the Jockey Club refused to issue a licence because she was a woman; and the “spoilt” wife of the Swiss film producer Robert Velaise, himself described by Dunn as “a debonair international playboy, expert skier and water-skier, the dashing Don Juan with women”.
One of the highlights of Dunn’s career was the Vassal Tribunal in 1968, at which he represented The Daily and Sunday Telegraph. The inquiry concerned the activities of the homosexual Admiralty spy in Moscow, John Vassal, but an important side issue was whether journalists should disclose their sources.
Dunn was appointed a Judge of the High Court, Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division (later Family Division) in 1969.
He was soon ordering the pop singer Gene Vincent to pay maintenance arrears to his former wife or go to prison; granting a divorce to a young wife who objected to her husband’s dressing up in drag; and refusing to believe a petitioner who claimed that his wife charged him half-a-crown for sex.
As presiding judge on the Western Circuit from 1974 to 1978, Dunn proved a tough sentencer. In 1977 he jailed stately home robber Denis Morley — who went in for fast cars, beautiful women and gambling — to 15 years. The trial was the longest in Exeter Crown Court’s history, involving 170 witnesses and more than 700 exhibits. He also gave mandatory life terms to several murderers .
Probably Dunn’s best-known judgment on appeal was in the Sidaway case in 1984. Mrs Sidaway was suing Bethlem Royal Hospital over damage to her spinal cord. She said she was not told of the possibility of such damage before she consented to an operation. But Dunn agreed with the then Master of the Rolls, Sir John Donaldson, that a doctor (or surgeon) fulfilled his duty to inform a patient if he acted in accordance with a practice rightly accepted as proper by a body of skilled and experienced medical men.
Because the surgeon had assessed the risk of damage to the spinal cord at only one to two per cent, he had considered it too remote a risk to form the basis of Mrs Sidaway’s decision on whether or not to consent to the operation. The judges held this to be reasonable after listening to other expert witnesses.
The decision — later upheld by the Law Lords — was welcomed by medics, but criticised by others as legitimising the idea of passive patients and authoritarian doctors. Some went so far as to claim a professional conspiracy, with lawyers closing ranks behind the doctors.
Dunn was among the judges who ruled that a wife’s once-a-week sex ration was fair, and who turned down the Moonies’ request for a retrial following their failed libel action against the Daily Mail.
He warned divorced parents not to try to take revenge on their former husbands or wives by refusing them access to their children. “These courts have said over and over again, that although you can dissolve marriages, you cannot dissolve parenthood,” Dunn observed. He also warned divorced mothers not to expect that custody of their children would automatically be granted to them.
Dunn retired from the Court of Appeal in 1984. He was, variously, treasurer of the Bar Council (1967-69); deputy chairman of Somerset Quarter Sessions (1965-71); and a member of the Lord Chancellor’s Committee on Legal Education (1968-69). He was knighted in 1969 and sworn of the Privy Council in 1980.
In 1994 he published Sword and Wig: The Memoirs of a Lord Justice. He later wrote a book about stag hunting on Exmoor, one of his passions. He was a fierce opponent of the National Trust’s decision to ban stag hunting on their land.
Robin Dunn married, in 1941, Judith Pilcher, who died in 1995; they had a son and two daughters, and one daughter survives him with his second wife, Joan (née Stafford-King-Harman), whom he married in 1997.
Sir Robin Dunn, born January 16 1918, died March 5 2014
When Kingsley Amis was a young man, he was one of many authors swindled by RA Caton, the unsavoury proprietor of the Fortune Press. He took his revenge by incuding in each of his novels an unpleasant, and often unlucky, minor character with Caton’s name. I suggest to the writers who have rallied to protest at the cruel ban on books for prisoners (‘It’s the most bonkers thing I’ve ever heard’, 29 March) that the name Christopher Grayling has a certain cracked ring to it. I can see him as an incompetent potboy getting a kicking from Thomas Cromwell, or a bumbling spy caught in a Le Carré double-cross; indeed, the possibilities are endless.
Peter Grant
• Ha! The solar panels on the roof in the artist’s impression of the proposed England-Scotland spiral interchange show this is the Guardian’s April Fool spoof (Scotland plans to move to right after independence, 1 April): a cost-benefit analysis would show that there is not enough sunshine in the frozen north of the UK to make it viable.
Lyn Summers
• Most aspects of the plan to revise the road infrastructure in Scotland are perfectly feasible and overdue. However, as a Scottish resident, I disapprove of the cost to the taxpayer of the spiral interchange at the Scottish-English border. Surely the best place to make the change would be when the motorist goes through immigration and visits duty-free, which will be unavoidable without the Schengen agreement.
Matthew Williamson
Isle of Bute
• Great April Fools’ Day story this year (England cap shambolic winter with humiliating defeat by the Netherlands, 1 April).
Geoff Dobson
• Anthropomorphic buses are but a later manifestation of what the Romans did for us (Letters, 1 April). A recently discovered fragment of a casket from Caistor is inscribed: “Cunobarrus fecit vivas (Cunobarrus made me, may you live happily).”
Jane Lawson
• When I lived in Bishop Auckland 60-odd years ago, there were two outlying so-called villages, Seldom Seen and Never Seen (Letters, 1 April). I went to the former, once. I never saw the latter.
John Abbott
The kite flown by a rightwing thinktank that everyone should have to pay for access to healthcare (£10 each can save the NHS, 31 March) marks a crucial turning point in switching towards a fully paid-for health service. This process has been long planned. First Blair encouraged and then pressured NHS hospitals into becoming independent foundation trusts, self-standing suppliers within a competitive market. Cameron took this much further by ruling that all NHS functions would be open to tender by any qualified provider. The Lansley health and social care bill, hatched in deepest secrecy before the 2010 election with not a word about it in the Tory manifesto so that it had no electoral mandate, opened the floodgates for full-scale privatisation of the NHS. But always the mantra was repeated that the NHS would remain “free at the point of service”. Now that assurance is being kicked away.
The thinktank authors decry the NHS as “an outdated, cosseted and unaffordable healthcare system”. They don’t mention that the Tory government has deliberately imposed a £20bn cut in NHS funding over the current five-year period to put it under intolerable strain and maybe breakdown in order to pave the way for a gradual switch to a fully paid-for private service, which has always been their secret aim, just like before 1948. Nor do they mention that the NHS, at a cost of 8% of GDP, is the most cost-efficient in the world, half the comparative cost of the private US healthcare system.
We now see why the Tories have been so keen to demean the NHS on every occasion over the past few months. Cue the need to junk the old, failing NHS and announce the dawn of a brand-new, burnished private healthcare system – and at a bargain price of £10 a month. But remember tuition fees: capped at £3,000, then trebled. If every UK adult paid £10 a month, this new tax would raise £5.4bn. Treble that, or more, and we’re talking serious money for the healthcare privateers.
Michael Meacher MP
Labour, Oldham West and Royton
• How dare Norman Warner and Jack O’Sullivan denigrate the NHS in such strident terms? I refer them to the carefully documented report in August 2013 by Dr Don Berwick, who was commissioned to investigate patient safety in the NHS. Berwick recognised that healthcare is political and that the current sustained denigration of the NHS is an ideological campaign which smears “a world-leading example of commitment to health and healthcare as a human right” that should be emulated, and that although the NHS does have patient safety problems, so “does every other healthcare system in the world”. Noting that big changes are needed, Berwick also says the achievements of the NHS are enormous and suggests that “drama, accusations and overstatement” are best avoided.
Reform, which published Warner and O’Sullivan’s report, believes that “by liberalising the public sector, breaking monopoly and extending choice”, high-quality services can be made available to everyone. Recent experiences with private providers to the NHS in Cornwall and Suffolk, for instance, indicate otherwise. Reform was set up by a Conservative MP and a Tory strategist. The membership of Reform’s advisory board shows that it is funded by private companies, with chief executives, chairmen and directors of major pharmaceutical companies, global investment banks, and accountancy firms constituting the majority of board members. Could there be an ideological or possibly even some other agenda here?
Gwen Parr
Pulborough, West Sussex
• It is extremely misleading to describe the thinktank Reform as “independent”. In 2012, its top six funders included Prudential Insurance, KMPG (consultants involved with the NHS), McKesson (a pharmaceutical distributor and healthcare information company), Baxter (a private healthcare company) and BMI (which runs 66 hospitals and treatment centres in the country). These organisations all have a vested interest in the tendering out and privatisation (“reform”) of the NHS and in reports that support the idea of charging for NHS services.
Sean de Podesta
• It would have been good if the Guardian had mentioned Norman Warner’s and Reform’s vested interest in criticising the NHS. Warner is an advisory board member of Synlab, a German firm involved in NHS privatisation, while Reform is funded by BMI Healthcare, Serco and Sodexo – organisations that have much to gain from the break-up of the heath service (hat-tip to @SolHughesWriter on Twitter for this information).
Ian Sinclair
• The suggestion of an NHS membership fee is the latest example of weird and unsocial reasoning. People apparently won’t put up with tax rises to help the NHS; so let’s complicate matters by charging fees. How does that help – unless the motive is to exclude those unable to pay the fee from NHS services? The denigration of tax leads to lower taxes, leading to reductions in public services, which leads to the wealthy paying for private medicine, private education and, one day no doubt, private street lighting and refuse collections, leaving the dispossessed with ever-dwindling services.
Peter Cave
• Alternatively, Warner and O’Sullivan could propose a 0.05% rise in income tax, to raise roughly the same amount, but with no extra collection charges, unlike their scheme, which, if it is anything like road tax, would lose over half the amount collected in administration.
Rod Parfitt
Cleeve, Somerset
• I read with interest your article on a potential £10 per month membership for the NHS. As a surgeon in the NHS, one of the major issues I face with planned and emergency surgery is obesity. Most obese patients are aware of the health consequences of their obesity; however, they don’t seem to know of the hazards they face for abdominal surgery. Simply moving them on and off an operating tables can be hazardous for the staff alone. The risks of surgery and post-operative complications can lead to a prolonged recovery with a risk of major disability. Perhaps there should be an increased membership fee in line with BMI?
Kathryn McCarthy
Consultant surgeon, Bristol
• Nice juxtaposition of headlines on page 2 on Monday: “Pay £10 a month to use the NHS” and “Poorest homes face £120 council tax rise as safety net goes”.
Jeanne Warren
Garsington, Oxfordshire
• The health sector regulator Monitor is committed to parity of esteem for physical and mental health services, and is not recommending that funding for mental health services should be cut by 20% more than for acute hospitals (Mental health services need targeted investment, not even more cuts, 26 March). Under the NHS payment system, national prices are not set for mental health services. Pricing decisions for mental health services are made at local level by commissioners and providers, who are expected to have regard to the national rules but can make their own price adjustments where there are good reasons to do so.
Professor Ric Marshall
Director of pricing, Monitor

Your editorial (29 March) argues that the Byles bill now before parliament, which, for the first time, allows peers to resign, could lead to aspirant politicians using the Lords as a springboard into Commons seats, thus diluting its independence. Though understandable, such fears turn out on examination to be insubstantial.
It is not likely that many people would get peerages under the existing arrangements, then resign and then move on to the Commons. This would clearly be an abuse of the system, which intends lords to remain in the house as working peers. It would not be appealing for a party leader to appoint someone so motivated, as they would be heavily criticised for doing so. The Lords appointments commission, which has to approve political appointments, would be unlikely to support many such people. Constituency parties would be unlikely to choose them as candidates, as their opponents would highlight their ruthlessly self-seeking behaviour.
If it did it happen on any scale, the law could be changed to prevent it; then any politician on the make who had sought to use this route might be left stranded in the Lords. Moreover, anyone going down this route would, under the terms of the bill, be barred for ever from Lords membership, from which so many ex-members of the Commons have obtained a valuable opportunity to serve in their later years.
If the bill was amended in the Lords to prevent ex-members standing for the Commons, however, that would be the end of the current bill. No more private members’ days remain in the Commons this session to consider Lords amendments. The government has made it clear that, so far as it is concerned, unless the bill clears the Lords intact, that will be the end of it. And if the Byles bill fails it will be a major negative for those who argue that piecemeal reform of the Lords rather than a big bang is the right way forward. If as limited and simple a measure as the Byles bill cannot get through, what prospect is there for further piecemeal change in the future?
David Lipsey
Labour, House of Lords
Last night Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage held their second debate (Voters give credit to Farage in head-to-head with Clegg, 27 March). In the first debate, Clegg clearly triumphed on facts and statistics. But the European issue is a complicated one, as much based on emotions, historical attitudes and nostalgia as on detailed knowledge. It may seem astonishing that we Britons debate a possible exit from the EU in the year of the centenary of the first world war.
There have been no new or deadly battles between any EU members since Britain decided to stay in the EEC in 1975. Almost all the countries that were once Soviet satellites have been EU members, bound to democracy and the rule of law by the Copenhagen principles, a far more successful soft-power strategy than all the west’s military interventions put together. It would be sheer lunacy to abandon a European future for a backward-looking, isolated and diminished role.
Shirley Williams
Liberal Democrat, House of Lords
In a conventional share flotation, the price shares will fetch is an important issue for the seller, which needs to balance the interests of existing owners in raising cash against the dilution of ownership involved in expanding the share base. Hence the need for expert advice, underwriting etc. In the Royal Mail case (Undervaluing Royal Mail cost taxpayer £750m in one day, 1 April), the institution was going to be sold/privatised no matter what and the appropriate objective was to raise as much cash as possible for the public purse. The obvious way to proceed would have been through an auction based on sealed bids. Shares could then simply have been allocated to willing buyers, in order of price bid. The full volume would have been allocated and revenue to the owners of the institution – the taxpayer – would have been maximised.
The shares would have ended up with those who valued them highest, just as now, but without the intermediary profit. This would also have saved us the cost of the advice of the experts who valued the shares so inaccurately.
Chris Perry
Instow, Devon
• Vince Cable believes what he did was right: “achieving the highest price … was never the aim of the sale”. That’s just the point, Mr Cable: the Tories’ aim was to flog it off regardless. A failed sale would not have been a disaster.
We are witnessing the disaster that all privatisations have engendered, with soaring energy prices, water bills, rail fares, bus fares and on and on, as the new companies, now mostly foreign-owned, try to keep their greedy managers and shareholders happy, while their services decline. And soon Royal Mail services will show the same trend. Perhaps it was just bad timing, but over the weekend I and most other people in north-west London received a flyer from Royal Mail’s operations director telling us that TNT Post UK may be delivering some of our mail, when they feel like it, so our Royal Mail postman “may no longer be wholly responsible for your postal service”. But it doesn’t tell us who to complain to when a letter fails to arrive.
David Reed
• Perhaps Vince Cable would care to visit Mid Devon to see some of the benefits he claims were the reason behind the dramatic undervaluing of the Royal Mail share offering. Within two months we received a letter informing us that due to implementing efficiency measures our post was to be rescheduled and may be later. It now arrives between 3pm and 4pm. Royal Mail said it was contractually entitled to deliver mail up to 4pm. The result? A long-established business renting office accommodation in our converted barn has given in its notice because, being mail-order driven, it is unable to cope with such a service.
Andrew Dale-Harris
Oakford, Devon
• There are few business people who manage to cost their organisation £750m with one decision and even fewer who do that and remain in their job. You itemise some of the ways this sum could have been spent, but I find it equally depressing that Vince Cable doesn’t even show any remorse. In the current austerity climate, it is surely vital that every available pound is both collected and spent on the correct priorities.
Pete Radcliffe
Warrington, Cheshire

Your coverage on the situation in Ukraine has dealt almost exclusively with Vladimir Putin and Russian intentions. This is unfortunate. While the events regarding Crimea are serious, focusing mainly on them misses the major problems facing Ukraine: poverty and corruption. These have stifled Ukrainian progress, causing severe economic hardships for the population. Thousands of Ukraine’s young and talented have left the country to work abroad. The diaspora continues.
Ukrainians need to look in the mirror. They have had full independence since 1991 and are ostensibly a democracy. Their “orange revolution” failed because of corruption and their new government under Viktor Yanukovych failed because of corruption and his government’s failure to address the real problems in the country.
Ukrainians need to stop blaming Russia, communism and Stalin and start enacting major reforms. The power to do this is in their hands. The Maidan demonstrators in Kiev represented a good start. There were progressive forces among the demonstrators that signalled the direction in which Ukraine should move. Ukrainians must hold the government accountable and ensure that meaningful reforms are enacted.
Robert Milan
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
• Your report of the US and EU reaction to the Crimean situation is depressing (21 March). The US will always do and say whatever it likes, and there’s no changing that. It is worrying that the EU has decided to take action, however limited, against Russia, as it has the potential to lead to an economic cold war directly affecting all EU citizens. But it is completely outrageous that the UK government should take such an active stance against Russia and Putin. As a British citizen, I am incensed that it should act in this way.
For many years successive British governments have refused to even talk to Argentina about a change of ownership of the Falklands, stating that the will of the inhabitants is paramount. Nobody can possibly be in any doubt as to the will of the vast majority of the Crimean inhabitants, even if there were legal or technical problems surrounding the recent referendum. So for the British government to condemn Russia and Putin and to threaten and take economic action against them for acceding to the will of the Crimean inhabitants is nothing short of 24-carat-gold-plated hypocrisy.
Alan Williams-Key
Madrid, Spain
• Many commentators have seen fit to draw an analogy between the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and the aggressive expansionism of the Nazi government of Germany that precipitated the second world war. But perhaps the more relevant analogy is the war that preceded it.
The leaders of the great European powers in 1914 did not plan to lead their nations into years of terrible destruction, but they did, through a combination of ambition, ignorance, miscalculation and pride. Let us hope that our leaders are not so foolish, because the potential consequences are not the destruction of a first world war or a second world war, but the nuclear destruction of a third world war.
Alex Gill
Ottawa, Canada
Seems it’s OK for the US and some of its allies, including Israel, to thumb their noses at “international law and order” by invading and occupying other people’s territories when they feel their national self-interest is threatened. When Russia does the same, however, these defenders of the “free world” pretend to be outraged. Double standard indeed!
Ron Date
Victoria, British Columbia,
Chasing the grey vote
I live in a benighted country that unlike most countries in the democratic world has compulsory voting at all levels of government and am often berated that such compulsion is an infringement of my democratic freedoms. However, I have always been conscious of the fact that with compulsory voting the elected politicians can never totally ignore some or even most sections of society and concentrate only on that part of society that votes. The article Osborne targets grey vote (28 March) reminds me of the strength of a compulsory voting system. When politicians “woo actual voters and sod the rest” democracy suffers and long term the society suffers as well.
The advantage of compulsory voting is that politicians must at least pay lip service to the whole of the society because everyone votes and this advantage far outweighs any infringement on my freedom.
Edwin Carter
Blackburn, Victoria, Australia
Property and generosity
Peter Johnston’s letter (Reply, 21 March) on the apparent discrepancy in the availability of homes in the UK overlooks the elephant in the housing complex: property as a long-term investment. Everywhere in the developed world the demand for the expansion of housing and the consequent erosion of irreplaceable agricultural, recreational and environmentally sensitive land is seemingly irresistible.
While greedy developers and those who depend on construction for their living are partly to blame, the underlying problem is multiple home ownership, accompanied by favourable taxation treatment and the publicly subsidised costs of development. It is in the interest of most investors in residential property to promote the myth of scarcity, as well as frequently maintaining vacancies, to enhance the capital appreciation on which they rely, rather than accepting a reasonable income from rental or leasing.
There is a strong parallel with food production and distribution. It is accepted that there is adequate food produced world-wide to feed the current population, though not at the excessive and wasteful level of first-world nations. Those who control the production and distribution of these essential resources look to the wealthier nations for their profits, rather than satisfying the needs of the wider population.
The injunctions of Pope Francis to the wealthy to “help, respect and promote the poor” will fall on deaf ears, as long as he and other spiritual leaders fail to address the underlying causes of inequality and rely instead on the trickle-down effect – and earning a place in heaven – to motivate them to be a bit more generous to the needy. The world has never worked that way and probably never will.
Noel Bird
Boreen Point, Queensland, Australia
Syria’s fight to the finish
It’s become clear that the Syrian struggle now is not Assad’s government against the rest – but rather Assad’s Alawites and the Shias and Christians and others against Sunni Islam (including al-Qaida) – ie minorities of all shades against the Sunni majority (Iran-controlled militia calls on Iraqis to shed blood for Assad, 21 March).
This is the struggle the Middle East is now engaged in. The Alawites face extinction or permanent subjugation by a Sunni majority that they have dominated for too long. That’s why, in fear of extinction, they will not compromise or admit defeat. The outlook is bleak – a fight to the finish.
Alaisdair Raynham
Truro, UK
• I was delighted to see Tim Entwisle’s commentary in support of taxonomists (21 March). Many people call us bean-counters, but they miss the point. Far from being an arcane branch of biology, taxonomy underlies the study of the world’s biodiversity, and its distribution and evolution.
Species have varied and often astounding strategies for making a living here on Earth. It takes time to develop expertise in a group of organisms, but we now live in an academic world that is too impatient to invest in that time, saying that we are somehow not “productive” enough.
Sandra L Brantley
Albuquerque, New Mexico, US
• The apparent demise of the ice-cream cone (Shortcuts, 21 March) reminds me that as a child we had wafers. These were either wrapped or, as was the case with my uncle in his small shop in Defynnog, prepared on demand. A rectangular wafer was placed in a hand held device which was filled with his own ice-cream another wafer placed on the top and the whole pushed up to be held gently and licked from the sides. Like the wafer the shop is long gone.
Steve Thomas
Yarralumla, ACT, Australia
• Re Oliver Burkeman’s columns, as I don’t necessarily want to change my life, would it be possible to offer an edition of the Guardian Weekly without this headline on one of its pages please?
Adrian Betham
London, UK

Students from state schools are more likely to achieve top-grade degrees than those from the independent sector (report, 28 March), and there is a call for leading universities to place more emphasis on applicants’ backgrounds when offering places to study. Great, so all graduates will be on a level playing field in the jobs market, right? Wrong!
Too many employers are unforgiving in the requirements for their graduate jobs. As well as a minimum of a 2:1, they also require 300 or more Ucas points (BBB or higher at A-level). For jobs in IT, to take an example, TARGETjobs lists employers requiring 300 Ucas points or more including: Accenture, CHP Consulting, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Ocado, PA Consulting, SunGuard, Tessella, and TPP.
Many employers have exceptions for those with illness or family circumstances, or for those who are exceptional in sporting or similar achievements, but the barrier still remains for many. Forget how brilliant you are in your chosen subject: what did you do when you were 18? This question might more accurately be framed as “Which school did you attend when you were 18?”, because three times as many private school pupils gain three A grades at A-level as those in state schools.
Leading employers visit universities’ careers fairs but, while almost all will attend Russell Group universities, the number of employers attending universities in the lower half of the “university league tables”  dwindles.
Some employers are coming round to the idea that recruiting graduates from Russell Group universities and with 300-plus Ucas points does not lead to a very diverse intake, and diversity is essential for success in the global markets. Some employers visit universities outside the Russell Group. Some are more open-minded about your past life: TARGETjobs lists AVEVA and Hewlett Packard as employers who do not have a minimum Ucas points cut-off for IT jobs. In accounting and finance, the professional services firm PwC has recently relaxed its graduate  intake requirements for audit and assurance so that if you obtain a first-class degree, the Ucas points requirements drop to 240 (CCC).
As well as universities levelling the applications playing field, employers also need to play their part. I am teaching some fantastic accounting and finance students. Are there any enlightened employers out there who would like to offer summer internships to the highest achieving students? Many do not have the academic requirements you stipulate and may not have the strongest CVs in terms of relevant work experience or volunteering but they are intelligent, diligent, sometimes brilliant.
Dr Maria Gee, Senior Lecturer in Accounting, University of Winchester
I was concerned by your editorial on tuition fees (1 April), which questioned the fairness of making those who do not go to university “stump up” for those  who do.
Applied more generally, this principle would remove the argument for collective, public provision of any service. Why should the healthy “stump up” for the sick to be treated, those without children for others’ education, or those with cars for public transport?
Taken to its logical conclusion, this argument would destroy the civilised basis of our national life and create the situation found in the USA where those who can pay for services will do so and those who can’t are excluded and marginalised.
Alan Brown, Bromborough, Wirral
Plainly, the right language matters
Your article on Plain English (28 March) reminded me of the start of my Probation Service career in Barnsley in the early 1960s, where to know the difference between a shovel and a spade was a matter of civic pride.
For a social worker to use the term “sibling” in court invited a broadside below a career water-line. When once asked by a chairman what the term meant, his clerk advised: “I think it’s something to do with chickens, sir.”
One day a “gentleman of the road” appeared, brought off the street for some minor matter which couldn’t be dealt with on the spot. As if speaking to a simpleton, the chairman slowly and deliberately explained to the defendant, to the accompaniment of a nodding clerk, “Your case is being adjourned sine die. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” came the reply.
It seems judgements on plain English can depend on who is dishing it out.
Roy Spilsbury, Penmaenmawr, Conwy
Simplicity and clarity can go too far, even in official communications. I was once told of a major group in dispute with the Revenue. Top accountants were involved, top solicitors engaged. The issue was referred to leading counsel. They drew up a long, closely-argued case.
The Revenue’s reply arrived by return of post: “Thank you for your letter. I do not agree.”
Robert Davies, London E3
Books for prisoners
The issue of prisoners receiving parcels containing books is not straightforward.
Having taught in prisons for many years, I need no convincing of the value of books in that environment. I came across many prisoners who, for the first time in their lives, were reading and enjoying a variety of books. However, I have some sympathy with prison governors whose perpetual security nightmare is maintaining some degree of control over contraband entering prison. Drugs are easily concealed and screening is neither cheap nor quick (most prisons have to buy in the service of sniffer dogs, for example).
I do wonder how many parcels sent to prisons contained books. Not as many as the literary establishment likes to think I imagine; items of clothing are likely to be higher on the list. Be that as it may, governors know their prisons and it should be left to their discretion to decide what is and isn’t manageable rather than politicians making rulings calculated to appeal to the “give them nothing” brigade.
Sue Turner, Lowdham, Nottinghamshire
April Fools at the wicket
At first glance it seemed obvious that Scottish/UN peacekeeping story was your April Fool spoof (“Peacekeeping plan drawn up by UN in event of a Scottish Yes vote”, 1 April) but then I reached the sports section to read some nonsense about Holland beating England at cricket. How ridiculous! Did you really think we’d fall for that?
Michael O’Hare, Northwood, Middlesex
Loved the item about the UN’s proposed post-independence referendum peacekeeping force; “Avril Prime” was a gem. I’ve already booked the last remaining room from which to watch the manoeuvres. BMW’s ad was a surprise, though.
John Crocker, Cheltenham
Hey, you had me going there!  That lead story on the front page (1 April) about the Royal Mail flotation. Apparently Vince Cable’s City chums agreed to buy RM shares and promised to hold on to them. But then it’s said they went and sold them straight away at a vast profit.
I mean, honestly, how believable is that? Wasn’t born yesterday y’know!
Ed Sharkey, Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire
Texting in the street
Apple’s pedestrian-avoidance plan for the terminally phone-struck (“Text-and-walk plan for those trying to do two things at once”, 31 March) is  one more blow in the drive to render normal human behaviour redundant.
The massive surge in numbers of those who “walk and talk” has become one of the most annoying features of the urban landscape. It’s bad enough coping with the ear-plug barkers shouting into thin air, but ten times worse with those who simply stare at their phones while veering randomly into fellow pedestrians.
The moment you step out of that door it is essential to have your mobile amulet to hand, ready to combat the hideous dangers of actually observing the world around you. Now, combine that, as some already do, with a bicycle …
Christopher Dawes, London W11
Financial community rumbled again
What arrant nonsense is this clamour for the head of Martin Wheatley, Chief Executive of the Financial Conduct Authority. The plunge in insurance company share prices was due to the financial community fearing that they had been rumbled, again, and with just cause. The pity is that the inquiry is not going to be as wide-ranging as at first suggested.
Peter English, Rhewl, Denbighshire
Is this contract really a job?
I am reassured that the Chancellor has signed up to a full employment pledge, or perhaps aspiration. However I am unclear if a zero-hours contract is a job, as it appears to involve a firm commitment neither to work nor to wages, or am I just an economic illiterate?
Lee Dalton BSc Econ, Weymouth, Dorset
Rising fees seem not to deter many students but interest on their debt is worse
Sir, Fees of £6,000 may end up as a credible position but it is deeply worrying that Labour sees this as its starting point rather than the result of calculations based on a well-designed student finance and university funding system (“Reducing fees would mean fewer students”, Mar 31).
Before you go near the headline- grabbing sticker price of fee levels, there are bigger questions around how students should be supported while they study, how universities should be funded, what the balance of contribution should be and what a well-designed graduate loan system looks like (not like the current one, that is for sure).
We hope to offer some clear thinking and simple steps to improve the loan design, bring down the massive subsidy on loans from the government and re-balance the contribution between the state and individual to higher education. This is less complicated than it sounds. You may end up with fees at £6,000 in some parts of the system, but it is strange to know the answer before you’ve done your sums.
Libby Hackett
University Alliance
Sir, The 45 per cent estimate (leader, Mar 31) means about 9 out of 20 graduates will not repay their loans. The other 11, who not only repay their loans but will continue paying in taxes a lot more than the 9 for the rest of their working lives, might be forgiven for wondering if they are all in this together.
Paul Murgatroyd
Sir, You argue that students should pay more for their education. You oppose transferring costs to taxpayers. When I had my hip replaced by the NHS, two of the junior doctors involved turned out to be former students of mine. They told me that my education benefited them. I clearly benefited from their education, as will all the patients they treat until they retire. Those patients will contribute benefit to the community.
It is arguable that each student benefits from their education more than any other single person does. However, if you aggregate all the benefits gained by all beneficiaries, the overwhelming share of the total benefit goes not to the individual student, but to society as a whole. That is why we support education from general taxation.
Philip Burgess
Inchcoonans, Perthshire
Sir, The latest figures show that applicants to university are at their highest level, so graduating with about £40,000 of student debt has not so far been a deterrent to those seeking to benefit from a degree.
However, I wonder how many are aware of the small print. Since 2012 the student loan debt book is finance lent at RPI plus 3 per cent: this is from date of payment not from graduation. But there is minimal information on this: a student logging into his student loan account on the SLC website will not be able to see this, and googling it produces a similar vacuum of data. My son’s loan, currently about £13k, appears to be accruing interest at over £800 per annum. Next year there will be interest on interest and so on until repayment.
Our young people deserve transparency as to the terms and conditions of their indenture. Only a minority will repay their loans, and their repayments will have to carry the write-offs of all the others.
Emma Mackinnon
Fareham, Hants

Don’t blame the witnessess, the solution must start with a co-ordinated community response
Sir, The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Sir Peter Fahy, is frustrated by the HMIC report about domestic violence (letter, Mar 31)?
A victim who spends years being physically and psychologically tortured in her own home (and it is usually a woman) is unlikely to be able to deal with the criminal justice system. The answer is the coordinated community response, practised in the UK since 1997.
My former employer, Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, can give him some guidance if he genuinely wants to find out how to respond effectively in partnership, to domestic violence. Specialist domestic violence courts were also set up to deal with this issue and were successful until government and community leaders lost interest.
Why does the State not take responsibility for prosecution rather than relying on the victim’s evidence? Why does a prosecution for a domestic murder rarely fail despite the lack of a live witness? Why is not more said about the perpetrator and the importance of holding them to account while supporting the victim? These are primary functions for police leadership. Sir Peter Fahy may be frustrated, but I am furious that he and others blame the victim for not being in a position to be a prime witness. The statutory sector must stop making excuses and work in a way that fundamentally changes the whole response and delivers justice.
Anthony Wills
Iver, Bucks

Alliance may be the last surviving British wartime sub, but there is a German U-boat too, now acting as a memorial museum
Sir, You report that HMS Alliance is “the only surviving submarine from the Second World War” (“Sailors tell tales of heroism, love and war”; Mar 31). While she may be the only surviving British submarine, the German U995 has stood as a museum in front of the Kriegsmarine memorial at Laboe (Kiel Fjord), since 1972. She was commissioned in 1944 and saw service off north Norway attacking allied convoys, sinking two merchantmen and two Soviet patrol craft. From the end of the war until 1965 she served in the Norwegian navy after which she was sold back to Germany and refitted ready for her current role.
Stephen J. Lockwood
Glan Conwy, Colwyn Bay


Superstition and religious faith do not necessarily go together, in fact researchers tend to find the opposite
Sir, Melanie Phillips (Opinion, Mar 31) asks why the large numbers who believe in telepathy, astrology and other paranormal phenomena do not believe in God. And she performs some interesting mental gymnastics to answer her own question — it’s because those who believe in the supernatural resent the moral constraints implicit in religion and prefer “morality-free magic”.
That would be an intriguing explanation, if there were anything in her premise, but paranormal “faith” and religious faith are not mutually exclusive. The One Poll survey that she quotes does not say that they are and nor does a half-century of empirical research. Social scientists have sometimes found a weak negative relationship between the two sets of beliefs, but most studies show either no relationship at all or a mild positive one. In other words, believers in the paranormal are just as likely to believe in God as anyone else.
Stephen Miller
Emeritus Professor of Social Research, City University London
The recent England T20 squad had no players from the winning T20 county sides – what is cricket coming to?
Sir, Those who follow county cricket are told regularly that its main aim is to provide players for England, who then attract large sums of money to be ploughed back into the domestic game. But if the purpose of county cricket is to hone skills and match-winning attitudes, why is it that not one player from the last four teams to win the domestic T20 was included in England’s recent T20 squad? Whatever the reason(s), the selections (including three replacements) were not exactly “spot on” were they?
dr dave allen
Hon Archivist, Hampshire Cricket




How Dylan and Caitlin pronounced their names
“Dullan” or “Dillan”, “Kaytlin” or “Kathleen”?

Dylan Thomas (1914-53) with his wife Caitlin (1913-94), whom he married in 1937  Photo: BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY
6:58AM BST 01 Apr 2014
SIR – As we approach the 100th anniversary of his birth, can we have some definitive rulings on how to pronounce the Dylan in Dylan Thomas? And for that matter, the Caitlin in Caitlin Thomas?
I know the Welsh say “Dullan”, but I have heard that the poet preferred, and used, “Dillan”. I gather his friends called him something entirely otherwise and much more coprological.
Similarly, Augustus John always insisted that Caitlin was “Kathleen”, not “Kaytlin”.
Any discussion of the poet and his wife has now become a self-conscious matter of style between those who parade their knowledge of Welsh and those who claim artistic kinship with Bohemian London by insisting on different pronunciations of the first names. Does anyone know how they called each other?
Nigel Thomas
Elham, Kent
SIR – After conducting my first wedding as an Anglican priest, on Saturday, I sat down to read that day’s Daily Telegraph.
Two contributions relating to marriage struck me. One was a report on a course of action urged by the bishop in charge of the area in which I lived as a lay person. He is a man for whom I have immense respect and someone whom I regard as a friend.
The second was an opinion piece by a self-confessed homosexual art critic, whom I have never met, but whose comments in his specialist field I have always enjoyed.
I might have expected to find myself in agreement with the bishop and at variance with the art critic. To my great surprise, it was the other way round.
Rt Rev Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, and seven unnamed retired bishops, had apparently urged homosexual clergy to follow their conscience and defy the Church of England’s restrictions on same-sex marriage. The comment article was by Brian Sewell: “Why I’m no convert to gay marriage”.
Related Articles
How Dylan and Caitlin pronounced their names
01 Apr 2014
Local champions opposing ugly developments fight with their hands tied
01 Apr 2014
Mr Sewell wrote: “Civil partnerships seemed the final necessary reform, giving homosexuals the right to inherit each other’s property, just as may a man and his wife, and if they want a family, there is now no barrier to them adopting children.”
I had hoped that Church of England liturgy would come to include provisions for church blessing of civil partnerships. I fear that the precipitate and profoundly undemocratic way in which the Marriage Bill was hustled into law has set obstacles in the way of persuasive change. The Church of England will now have extreme difficulty in relating to the law on marriage.
Rev John M Overton
Buxton, Derbyshire
SIR – Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, says that Tories against gay marriage must move on. I have. I no longer vote Tory.
Oliver Pickstone
Going up in the air
SIR – New Royal Mail prices contain large hidden rises, especially for airmail. The 10g, 40g and 80g rates are abolished, so one must pay the 20g, 60g and 100g rates instead. What used to cost 88p, £1.88 and £3.08 now cost £1.28, £2.15 and £3.48.
Dr Bernard Lamb
London SW14
BSTeething trouble
SIR – I hear people complaining of being over-tired due to the loss of an hour’s sleep. I know the arguments about British Summer Time reducing accidents. But does research show peaks in the accident rate immediately following the change?
Nigel Parsons
Migrant moths
SIR – My wife and I were astonished to see a hummingbird hawk moth on a daffodil on Saturday. Do they succeed in over-wintering here or have south-easterly winds brought them from the Continent?
John Rieley
Lindfield, West Sussex
Black Death awoken
SIR – Earlier this year scientists assured us that an ancient virus dormant in the permafrost posed no threat to humans as it only ever affected single-celled organisms.
How dormant is the Black Death virus disturbed in the Crossrail excavations?
Roger Gentry
Sutton at Hone, Kent
Cinderella law
SIR – Robert Buckland MP is helpfully working towards legislation to make the emotional abuse of children a criminal act. He was asked yesterday morning how emotional abuse would be identified, and he said that expert witnesses could assist.
Expert mental health clinicians have reported to the Family Courts for several years on emotional abuse. This abuse is easy to obscure and difficult to identify. The work requires highly experienced clinicians who are allowed sufficient time to interview children and parents.
This Government has cut the number of expert reports. They argue that social workers can identify mental health problems and also that judges will make decisions based on “common sense”.
But social workers are not trained in mental health. And establishing the presence of emotional abuse will not be reached by the exercise of common sense alone. The Government has driven many senior expert witnesses away from the work by severe financial cuts. Those who remain are no longer allowed sufficient time to interview troubled families.
We hope that Mr Buckland will include in the legislation provision for sufficient funding of expert mental health clinicians to do the work that is required.
Dr Judith Freedman
Convenor of the Consortium of Expert Witnesses to the Family Court
London NW3
Kilt conundrum
SIR – Peter Humphreys says of knees and toes that either both or neither should be visible at any time.
As a habitual kilt-wearer, whose wife has forbidden him from wearing sandals when wearing a kilt, what should I do?
James Willis
Prince in peril
SIR – While Prince George looks very nice with Lupo, you should never put a child’s face that close to a dog.
Leslie Watson
Swansea, Glamorgan
SIR – My mother-in-law advised me not to have my children’s names visible on their clothes as a stranger could address them and make them think he knows them.
Prince George is supervised all the time but other children could be in danger.
Anne Weber
Thorpe End, Norfolk
Where have all the Captain Mainwarings gone?
SIR – You report that George Osborne, the Chancellor, wants the return of the “Captain Mainwaring” type of bank manager. Sadly, this particular individual disappeared some time ago, with most of his staff. Apart from counter services, branch matters nowadays appear to be dealt with by call centres.
For several weeks now, I have been trying to contact a branch of my bank without success. In my day, I would have rung the manager concerned and sorted everything out within five minutes.
Now, letters addressed to “The Manager, X Bank, Y Branch” go straight to a call centre and even when addressed to a manager by name, they are often redirected. A bank manager used to have many years of experience, with knowledge of his patch and his customers.
Now one must deal with young “relationship managers” or “lending managers”. Targets seem to be the order of the day, despite having cost the banks millions in reparation payments after customers were sold the wrong services because of them.
Alan Hayhurst
Timperley, Cheshire
SIR – I wonder what Captain Mainwaring would have thought of quantitative easing.
William Rusbridge
Tregony, Cornwall

SIR – Christopher Hope reports that an independent review by Sir Terry Farrell recommends that every community should have a “champion” to fight unsightly development. Communities already have such champions; they are called district councillors.
I am a district councillor and I continually fight battles on behalf of my constituents in relation to proposed inappropriate developments. The problem is not the lack of people willing to fight and raise issues.
The problem is that the Government has introduced policies, in particular the National Planning Policy Framework, that have as a starting point a “presumption” in favour of development.
Factor in to this situation the government inspectors who decide appeals, then add the threat of costs being awarded against an authority, and it is easy to see how poor development is being allowed.
Why create another layer of involvement in the planning process? Let those of us who were elected to represent the people have a stronger voice in order to make a stand against poor design and bad planning decisions.
Cllr Jenny Roach (Liberal)
Exeter, Devon
SIR – The articles by Rupert Christiansen on the proposed new architectural horror in Edinburgh, and Jonathan Glancey on homes fit for people, both point to what has done so much to wreck our towns and cities.
Since the Fifties and Sixties, an ever more tired and soulless late modernism has become a dogma amongst architects and planners. There are steel, glass – always vast areas of glass – and concrete, with nowhere any suggestion of a human scale and character, no decoration, just soulless engineering triumphs. London has suffered especially badly.
When someone such as the Prince of Wales speaks out against this blight of soulless dullness, he is mocked. Town planners and local authorities seem all too ready to give assent to dreariness that brings in money.
One can only hope that some day soon the tide will begin to turn, so we can have new buildings of dignity and character, which do not turn their backs on human scale.
Roger Payne
London NW3
SIR – Why should local authorities not be made legally liable for damage to property arising from their having given planning permission for development on land known to be liable to flooding?
This might cause them to take a more responsible attitude to granting such permissions and make them less susceptible to greedy developers’ often dubious means of persuasion.
Sir Charles Wolseley Bt
Irish Times:
Sir, – Phil Hogan, through the offices of a handful of councillors in Fingal, has given Dubliners a massive April Fool’s this year. Whereas 84 per cent of all Dublin’s councillors and 78 per cent of all Dubliners have indicated a will to have a democratically elected mayor, Swords County Hall has set the process back, probably for years.
The Fingal councillors in question should remember that most of their constituents are in Blanchardstown, part of the built-up west of Dublin, and see themselves as Dubliners. Blanchardstown is within the area defined by the CSO as “Dublin city and suburbs” and should remain so.
Swords County Hall has held Dublin transport back for years, calling for an underground metro to serve an outlying town, when a very good bus service will do. Now this self-centred vote brings into question Fingal councillors’ understanding of the concept of being part of a city.
Mr Hogan should now redraw the boundaries so that Swords and Fingal can continue to do the very good job they do of running a mainly rural part of Co Dublin.
That would leave the city of Dublin, including Blanchardstown and the airport, to get on with being the great European capital city its people deserve. Yours, etc,
Dublin Institute
of Technology,
Bolton Street,
Social, Economic and Planning Consultant,
Willow Park Grove,
Dublin 11,
Sir, – When I first came to live in Santry, over 40 years ago, the city/county boundary ran between the sitting room and the hallway of my very modest house. Since then the boundary has been moved a number of times, with very little regard for the social consequences of the changes. The result has been the completely chaotic state of the northern fringe area of Dublin city. Every morning the radio informs us of the traffic build-up on the Drumcondra road between Whitehall Church and the city.
Do Fingal councillors never listen to the radio and if they do, do they wonder where all those commuters are coming from? Are they not aware of how they and their constituents are dependent on the services provided by the city? Have they got their own hospitals, third level colleges or cultural institutions?
Can they not accept that some overall authority will have to be agreed to resolve the problems that are unique to the greater Dublin area? Yours, etc,
Lorcan Drive,
Dublin 9
Sir, – I hope that the good councillors of Fingal have the decency to include their voting record in their decision to prevent Dublin having a directly elected mayor on their posters and flyers for the upcoming local elections. In that way the people can decide if Dublin and democracy have been served by their decision. Yours, etc,
Co Louth
Sir, Could it be that the Fine Gael councillors on Fingal County Council were influenced by a bigger animal up the food chain, to quote a phrase from the TV series House of Cards , in their No vote against a directly elected mayor for Dublin? Yours, etc,
Meadow Copse,
Dublin 15.
Sir, – I got up early and ate a healthy breakfast to ensure I would be fully awake before picking up today’s edition of The Irish Times . Opening it with some trepidation, I was determined that I would not be caught out by any prank stories celebrating April Fool’s Day. This year your front page seems to have taken this tradition just a bit too far. The top “story” informs us that the Garda has been keeping thousands of possibly illegally made secret telephone recordings for years. Your next “story” describes how a mere 16 councillors from Fingal appear to have perverted the course of democracy in Dublin by denying its ordinary citizens of the right to vote for our mayor.
But really, your last “story” was just too much! “Politicians win respect of randomly chosen citizens”. Seriously? Just how gullible do you think we all are? Really, you are going to have to try harder on this next year. Yours, etc,
Old Bawn Road,
Dublin 24
Sir, – Acres of newsprint have been devoted to the conflict in Ukraine and the Russian takeover of the Crimean peninsula, with Russia being portrayed as the arch-villain of the piece. It is only now that we find a rare voice pointing out that the proposed eastward expansionism of the EU and with it Nato is a well-grounded cause of concern for Russia. Derek Scally, writing from Berlin (March 29th), quotes former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt describing Russia’s annexation of Crimea as “completely understandable”. (One is not claiming his approval thereof.)
There is widespread ignorance in the West of the history of Crimea vis a vis Russia. How many people for example, know that it is only 23 years since Crimea became part of Ukraine? Under Catherine the Great in the early 18th century the Crimean peninsula was absorbed into the Russian empire. It was strategically significant for Russia to have a naval base on the Black Sea, and the Russian navy has been in the Crimea for almost 200 years. (Incidentally, Gibraltar was “acquired” by the British empire later in the same century, also for strategic reasons. Thus did big powers protect their own interests.) Crimea then remained an independent region of the Russian Federation. Its population, language and culture were predominantly Russian.
In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev, then head of the Soviet Union, himself a Ukrainian and former leader of the Communist Party there, did an extraordinary thing (of which he could not have foreseen the political consequences). With a stroke of the pen he assigned Crimea to the Ukraine “to further brotherly love between Russians and Ukrainians”.
One wonders how he had the power to do this. However, since the Crimea and Ukraine were still part of the Soviet Union, the political change had no effect on people’s lives. It was in 1991, only 23 years ago, on the collapse of the Soviet Union, that Crimea, with its majority Russian population, found itself overnight part of a new Ukraine, a different country. Colloquially, Crimeans said they had been handed over “like a sack of potatoes”.
According as Ukraine’s new nationalism expressed itself ever more forcefully, Crimeans resented restrictions they felt demeaned them, for example the downgrading of the Russian language. They wanted Russian to remain (with Ukrainian) an official language. Given their loyalty to Russia,the result of the recent referendum was a foregone conclusion. The result was derided by Western governments and media. Crimeans however who, strange as it may seem to Western observers, do not want to join the EU, are grateful to Putin who enabled them, after a 23-year “exile” to return to the Russian motherland. Yours, etc,

Sir, – Is it not somewhat ironic that the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on justice is complaining that the former Garda commissioner was apparently sacrificed in order to protect the Minister for Justice when, in 2005, a former secretary-general of the Department of Health and Children was sacrificed in a blatant attempt to protect the political standing of the now Fianna Fáil leader, Mr Martin.
Indeed, in relation to Fianna Fáil’s call for the resignation of Mr Shatter – before the various inquiries and the commission of investigation into the penalty points and phone recording issues are completed and reported upon – it is worthwhile to recall that back in 2005 in relation to the Travers report on nursing home charges, RTÉ reported Mr Martin as saying that the opposition’s attacks on him on this matter had no credibility, because they called for his resignation before the report was published. As the seanfhocail goes, “what’s sauce for the goose …” Yours, etc,
Downside Park,
Co Dublin
Sir, – There is a lot of noise being made about appointing a new commissioner. Surely the establishment of the Garda Reserve included a reserve commissioner — can we not just have that one? Yours, etc,
Co Kildare
Sir, – Anyone following media coverage of the Garda commissioner’s retirement could be forgiven for thinking that he cannot have had any operational responsibility for illegal phone taping. Paradoxically, many of those media commentators now bemoaning his apparent martyrdom are the very ones who had previously been most vociferous in calling for his head. Yours, etc,
Haddington Park,
Co Dublin
Sir, – Sources close to me are fed up listening to sources close to the former Garda commissioner. Yours, etc,
Castleknock Meadows,
Dublin 15
Sir, – According to Frances Ruane and Emer Smyth, the ESRI Post Primary Longitudinal Study demonstrates that “the current Junior Cycle is not providing an engaging and challenging experience for young people”. The reason promulgated for its inadequacies is the fact that a considerable amount of the current teaching cycle is devoted to “preparing for the Junior Certificate examination, spending extra time on study and grinds, and increased class time on ‘practising’ exam questions”.
This being so, the central issue is surely the nature of the methods used to assess the learning rather than the quality of that learning or the teaching behind it. It is worrying therefore that the new Junior Cycle that will be taught from September is currently without an agreed or even suggested framework of how exactly it will be assessed.
As a teacher of English who has undergone all the currently available in-service training – a one day seminar – I have major concerns about the way in which the Department of Education has gone about its reform of the Junior Cycle. While I welcome many aspects of the new curriculum, I suspect that those behind it have not fully considered the rationale behind much of it. We have been informed that the new methods of assessment are still being determined while Ruairí Quinn is simultaneously asserting that the ship has sailed. Is it not foolhardy to set sail without knowing one’s destination, or that the new destination is going to be an improvement on the old? Yours, etc,
Clogher Road,
Dublin 12
Sir, – Tom Arnold, chairperson of the Constitutional Convention, and indeed of the Irish Times Trust, wrote (April 1st ) of the apparent success and inclusiveness of the convention.
Perhaps it was a success. Perhaps too, next time, it might include some representation from the just under 1,000 elected local government politicians who have an equal – but different – mandate from TDs and a greater mandate in this Republic than the appointed Senators and Northern Ireland representatives who were so included. The involvement of other citizens was a welcome development. Given the specific recognition of local government in the Constitution that exclusion was not. This point was made to the convention while it was sitting — we still await a reply. Yours, etc,
66 Beech Hill Drive,
Dublin 4

Sir, – With regard to Chris Goodey’s comment (Letters, April 1st) that the Minister for Health’s statement that GPs in Ireland are among the highest- earning doctors in Europe is “obtusely untrue”, I remember reading a survey many years ago that medical card patients were worth, on average, around €90,000 a year to a GP practice. So many years later, €250,000 a year seems to me to be probably just about right. Considering that patients without medical cards, a big percentage now, pay on average €50 for a visit, I think the dogs in the street know that most of the doctors in general practice in this country are very highly paid. Yours, etc,
Co Donegal

Sir,  – I was pleasantly surprised that you published the letter from Jim Stack regarding the lack of media coverage of the views of “50 per cent of those who actually vote”.   I cannot understand how it is acceptable that these views are consistently ignored in our national media.   While grateful for this first step in acknowledging this imbalance, may I look forward to it being redressed in the future by The Irish Times ?
Yours, etc,
Donegal Town

Sir, – I couldn’t agree more with Frank Byrne (Letters, April 1st) regarding women applying make-up on the bus. I had the misfortune recently to be seated beside a young lady who had the audacity to embellish her eyelashes with mascara while I was eating a box of chips and chicken nuggets. Mascara doesn’t go too well with salt and vinegar, or indeed sweet and sour sauce! There was a time when such behaviour wouldn’t have been tolerated. Yours, etc,
Beacon Hill,
Co Dublin

Irish Independent:
Also in this section
Coming back from the mother of all mistakes
Pylons will mutilate our beautiful countryside
Think the unthinkable
The Lord Mayor and the burghers in Cork City Hall have decided in their expansive wisdom and generosity that President Michael D Higgins should shortly be given the Freedom of the City.
No great harm in that, you might say – the only problem is that we, the ordinary people of Cork, will, as usual, end up footing the rather expensive bill through our rates, property and other taxes.
Conversely, there is no money for those citizens who are crippled with negative equity and unsustainable and crucifying debts, no money for the many children daily going hungry to school, no money for the homeless, the aged and the disabled or the thousands who are jobless and in despair.
No money to bring home the thousands of our young and not so young who have been forced to emigrate. No money for our struggling small businesses or to fix our potholed and broken roads.
Miraculously, however, we have plenty of money for a meaningless shindig in the present economic climate and in the throes of a raging recession.
It is, of course, in microcosm, another measure of the disdain and disconnect that those in positions of power and influence have for the lives and travails of ordinary citizens who have been force fed on debilitating austerity for the last six years.
No doubt the people of Cork and elsewhere will express their feelings on this and other matters next May.
* Reading the Irish Independent on March 24, a beautiful photograph on page 14 caught my attention; surgeon Pat Kiely and formerly conjoined twins Hussein and Hassan Benhaffaf from Cork.
Speaking as a co-founder of charity Straight Ahead (which I confess I was unaware of), Dr Kiely referred to problems caused by delays in carrying out spinal surgery on children at Crumlin and Tallaght hospitals.
Dr Kiely and his fellow surgeons have already given up their free time to operate on 26 children at no cost to the parents.
The twins’ mother, Angie, was quoted as saying “their generosity moves me . . . what they do is life changing”.
It was heartening to hear of such dedication and generosity at a time when we have been bombarded with stories of the obscenely high executive salaries/pensions in organisations like CRC, Rehab, etc – some even having the nerve to tell us they should be earning more and are entitled to bonuses but have (generously) not taken them for four years!
Do these people realise or care about the enormous damage being done to the whole charity sector?
Well done to Dr Kiely and fellow surgeons for the wonderful work you do.
* I write regarding Sinead Moriarty’s comment piece entitled ‘We’re too busy being paranoid to help a child in distress’ (Irish Independent, March 28).
About three years ago, I noticed two small children playing on a narrow path outside a newsagent’s beside a very busy roundabout in south Co Dublin. I advised the older one, a five-year-old boy, to please be very careful as it was just at dusk and traffic was heavy.
They were still there when I came out and I asked if their mother was in the shop. They said, ‘No, she’s gone to work’. It transpired that the five-year-old was ‘looking after’ his three-year-old sister. I took them to the far side of the road where the path was much wider and safer, and decided I should wait with them until a parent arrived to collect them.
Around 20 minutes later, I asked the boy if he knew where his house was and he pointed to the far side of the roundabout. It seems he had navigated this roundabout safely earlier!
We began to walk, me hoping we were going the right way, and the children chatting away happily. We reached their house about 10 minutes later to find people running around frantically looking for them, including their father who had just fallen asleep in the chair and was horrified to know they had gone so far from home.
I was very glad that I was the person who found them, but the thing is it never crossed my mind to call the police or that my motives might be suspect to anyone. I just wanted to know that they got safely home.
As a mother of four adult children, I would always be very aware of a child with apparently no adult accompanying them.
* The so-called selfie in our brave new world serves as the ultimate distraction. One’s self.
This, if I may say so, to use a word of some disputation currently, is little short of being “disgusting”.
Great hardship is being endured by men, women and children in this country and in countries across the world, and to propagate the concept that the self or narcissistic preoccupation should prevail is to veer dangerously close to fascism.
It is a time not for the selfie but for the antithesis of the selfie.
The unselfie.
* There is need for far fresher ideas than those implemented by Government (Editorial, Irish Independent, March 31) to overcome the unemployment problems that are accumulating in an entirely unprecedented work situation.
Work is being eliminated on a truly massive scale by rampant automation and much more than stopgap programmes for a few is needed.
There is need on a world basis, or at least a large trading bloc such as the EU or US, to move to much shorter hours, longer holidays and earlier retirement for all.
The maths are simple; more people working less or fewer people working more.
There is also need for Government to generate much more public service employment. Private enterprise will require fewer people even working shorter hours as technology advances.
Employment change is the most urgent crisis we face; greater even than climate change. If employment escalates out of control, as it will without drastic action, and society breaks down, climate change will matter only to the birds.
We need 21st-century thinking for 21st-century employment. There seems little sign of any yet.
Irish Independent



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