Under the Weather

4 April2014 Under the Weather

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

Mary under the weather

Scrabbletoday, I win , Perhaps Marywill win tomorrow.


Richard Vaughan – obituary

Richard Vaughan was a medieval historian and ornithologist who studied bird life from Europe to the wilds of the Arctic

Richard Vaughan

Richard Vaughan

6:04PM BST 03 Apr 2014

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Richard Vaughan, who has died aged 86, had the distinction of being both a much-respected academic historian and an ornithologist of international repute.

As an expert on the Middle Ages and an accomplished linguist, he was a university professor in three different countries. As a man gripped by a lifelong passion for observing and photographing birds, he published hundreds of papers and articles in journals and magazines; these were widely respected – his writings on the birds of the Arctic were particularly admired in Russia.

Richard Vaughan

Richard Vaughan was born at Maidenhead on July 9 1927, the son of a Colonial Service lawyer who eventually became Chief Justice of Fiji. As a 15-year-old pupil at Eastbourne College during its wartime evacuation to Radley, his skill at catching in his hand food regurgitated by nesting swifts provided such valuable new evidence on their diet that he was acknowledged (as “a schoolboy near Oxford”) in David Lack’s classic Swifts in a Tower.

His precocious expertise soon led him to be invited on field trips by many other leading ornithologists of the day, including James Fisher, WB Alexander, HN Southern and BW Tucker. While still in his teens he contributed to Country Life the first of what would eventually be nearly 100 articles on birds, illustrated with his own photographs.

On National Service after the war, stationed on Salisbury Plain as an Education Corps librarian, his reading of all 400 books which were standard issue to Army libraries led him to aspire to become a professional historian. At Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, he was awarded a double First, and in 1953 became a college Fellow. Fluent in Italian (he would eventually become conversant with 13 languages), he spent one summer wandering around parts of the Abruzzi so remote that each valley still had its own distinct dialect.

In 1955, according to legend, he proposed to his future wife Margaret Morris only on condition that she could identify each species of duck in St James’s Park. In 1958 he published what became the standard work on the 13th-century chronicler Matthew Paris, who was also an artist (a talented painter himself, Vaughan created Christmas cards meticulously illuminated in medieval style).

Richard Vaughan observing bird life

Between 1962 and 1976 he completed his major work, a four-volume account of the pivotal part played in late-medieval Europe by the Duchy of Burgundy, having in 1965 become professor of history at Hull. As his family grew to include six children, he took them on camping holidays across Europe, where they could swim while he photographed birds — notably for his pioneering study of the rare Eleanora’s falcon, which nests in colonies on unoccupied Mediterranean islands, feeding its young on migrating birds.

Unaware of his reputation as an ornithologist, the Hull history department was bemused when three star-struck young birdwatchers turned up to ask whether its professor was “the Eleanora’s falcon Vaughan”.

So immersed was he in the Middle Ages that he was known to observe that “history stopped in 1492”. But in the late 1970s he leapt forward to the modern age, producing in 1978 a revealingly original account, based on key documents, of the origins of the European Community. In 1981 he became professor of medieval history at the Dutch university of Groningen, where he also became chairman of its Arctic Centre.

Vaughan’s interest in the Arctic had been sparked by a spell in Hull hospital, where a fellow-patient had been a retired whaler. The whaler’s stories led Vaughan to take an expert interest in both the history and birds of the Arctic. His many subsequent visits to the northern parts of Norway, Greenland, Russia and Canada inspired more books in addition to several he had already published on British seabirds. They included his monumental In Search of Arctic Birds (1992) and The Arctic: A History (1994)

After a year at the University of Central Michigan, he retired to a cottage on the North York Moors and then, in 1996, to Porlock in Somerset. Although this saw an end, after 50 years, to his inimitable contributions to Country Life, under such titles as “The Choughs of Grindelwald”, “Tragedy of the Ebro Delta” and “Amorous Lapwings”, his knowledge of bird life across Europe was so comprehensive that, when a friend asked him whether it was possible that birds of prey he had seen circling high above the Gorge du Tarn in southern France could have been Egyptian vultures, he immediately replied: “There were 21 of them, weren’t there? They were introduced there a few years ago.”

In 2005, with his daughter Nancy, an academic naturalist, he published the definitive monograph on the rare stone curlew, a bird he had loved since first observing it on Salisbury Plain 60 years earlier. In 2010 his last book, Rings and Wings, gave a delightful account of the four 19th-century pioneers of bird-ringing, at which Vaughan himself had become expert in his early teens, setting traps round the Devon garden where he spent his wartime holidays.

Richard Vaughan is survived by Margaret, who acted as his field assistant for five decades, and by their two sons and four daughters.

Richard Vaughan, born July 9 1927, died March 4 2014


• We agree with every word written by Robert Shore (Let’s hear it for the Midlands, G2, 26 March), especially the claim that the “Mercian supremacy” laid the foundations for a “unified” England. To remind the sceptical: Mercia was once so important in the continental context that London was perhaps seen as its sea port.

We have constructed a walking/ studying Mercia project to cross Mercia on foot, constructing a modern walkers’ Spaghetti Junction with the existing Mercian Trail in Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Our routes use towpaths (canals represent the Mercian contribution to the industrial revolution) to link Wessex from the Thames Path to the Pictish/Scottish kingdoms via the Pennine Way. Our “low speed 1” could be constructed at a fraction of the cost of HS2. Studying follows walking: exploring the evolution of the Mercian landscape, places and language. Mercian explorers are welcome to contact us by email at mercia.project@yahoo.co.uk.
Christopher Gowers, Malcolm Southan
Oxford (Outer Mercia)

The failed asylum claim by Yashika Bageerathi and her family and the deportation of the 19-year-old back to Mauritius exposes the inflexibility of our immigration and asylum system (Report, 3 April). Especially at a time of heightened rhetoric and the public demonisation of immigrants who come to the UK, there is little scope for discretion. The definition of a refugee is an artificial construct developed to deal with displaced persons in Europe after the second world war. It was also a cold war tool, elevating issues likely to advantage those fleeing political oppression, while ignoring equally valid but differing claims of economic harm. To come within the definition, you need to flee state persecution because of your “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion (the definition has been expanded to include your sex or sexual orientation). It does not take heed of those facing starvation nor, as in the case of Yashika, the threat of violence from a family member. Those claimants are destined to become “failed asylum seekers” or “economic migrants”.

Yashika’s case is not exceptional. The family would have been expected to have moved to another area, or to have looked for protection from the state. Far more difficult claims for asylum are refused on a regular basis. Her excellent school results and the potential for her to become an asset to the UK are not relevant to the decision. There are many unaccompanied minors who are similarly deported upon their 18th birthdays, regardless of the reception they will face upon return. Hopefully this difficult case and the outcry it has caused will start a debate about the system as a whole: about who should be allowed to stay and about whether there should be discretion in these cases.
Dana Carli

Polly Toynbee is over-generous to George Osborne (Comment, 1 April). VAT inspectors’ salaries are £35,000 only in London – in the rest of the UK the starting salary is £22,000 and, due to the chancellor’s policy of no annual increments for the civil service, this is where you stay. Also, she underestimates the benefit we achieve for the country; I have identified additional VAT 20 times my salary this year. She is, however, correct in her overall analysis of what seems to be the chancellor’s dogmatic ideology in cutting HMRC staff even if the result is failure to collect all the tax that is due.
Ian Arnott (VAT officer)
Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

• In his review of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (3 April), Michael Billington claims that it is actually based on a 1988 movie starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin. That particular film was a remake of a 1964 movie called Bedtime Story, starring Marlon Brando and David Niven.
Noel Hannon

• Re the famous Shrewsbury flower show (Letters, 29 March). It is so important that Shrewsbury Town’s opening fixture of the 1985-86 season against Crystal Palace was postponed to avoid a clash with the festival. I remember because I nearly set out from Manchester to watch the mighty Palace on the wrong day.
Michael Cunningham

• Not far from Holmfirth, in West Yorkshire, Upperthong and Netherthong are well worth popping into (Letters, passim).
Fr Alec Mitchell

• If your readers get a bit peckish seeking out these weirdly named places they can always call in at Chipshop in Cornwall.
Rob Parrish
Starcross, Devon

• I agree with the suspiciously aptly named Roger Plenty (Letters, 3 April). Overpopulation is a problem, but can be alleviated by tackling its root cause, unconscious coupling.
Marcus Weeks
Hastings, East Sussex

The death sentence handed down to 529 protesters by an Egyptian court (Report, 24 March) should have produced much more than mumbled regret from the British government. This was a political show trial in which less than half the defendants were present in court. Their defence lawyers were not in the court either. The trial has been condemned by Amnesty International. The protesters were not, as reports have routinely claimed, all supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and revulsion at the verdict stretches across the political spectrum to include all but the most determined supporters of Field Marshall El Sisi. All this takes place against the background of the outright banning of Egypt‘s largest opposition group, which followed the shooting by the Egyptian army of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters last year. The British government should call in the Egyptian ambassador and demand that this judgment is withdrawn with immediate effect.
Mark Serwotka General secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union
Steve Turner Assistant general secretary, Unite the Union
Ken Loach Film director
Helena Kennedy QC
Alaa Mohamed Chair, British Egyptians 4 Democracy
Basma Muhammad Co-ordinator, International Anti-Coup Pro-Democracy Alliance
Andrew Murray Chief of staff, Unite the Union
John Rees Co-founder, Stop the War Coalition
Mohammad Soudan UK representative, Freedom and Justice Party
Louise Christian Human rights lawyer
Bernard Regan Chair, Sertuc international committee
Caryl Churchill Playwright
Peter Oborne Chief political commentator, Daily Telegraph
Lindsey German Convenor, Stop the War Coalition
Carl Arrindell Head of current affairs, Islam Channel
Paul Mackney Former general secretary Natfhe/UCU
Chris Nineham National secretary, Counterfire
Steve Bell Treasurer, Stop the War Coalition
Kate Hudson
Cherry Sewell Officer, Greek Solidarity Campaign

Maryam al-Khawaja’s claim that having Formula One in Bahrain causes human-rights violations (Report, 28 March) is little more than attention-seeking from an unrepresentative voice. Not only is there no evidence whatsoever to back this claim up, why on earth would the overwhelming majority of people – including the main opposition parties, such as Al Wefaq – support the hosting of the race if that were to be the case?

The independent inquiry in 2011 – led by one of the world’s leading human rights experts, Cherif Bassiouni – resulted in a comprehensive report and a series of recommendations for extensive reform, which was fully accepted by the government. At no stage did this report find any links whatsoever between human rights violations and Formula One, with over 9,000 testimonies taken into account. Bahrain welcomes and celebrates in the joy of Formula One, with attendance at the race representing almost 10% of the total population of the kingdom. It benefits the whole country, irrespective of religion and political affiliation and our upcoming race will be a true testament to that.
Alice Samaan
Ambassador of Bahrain

• Once again we hear pronouncements from Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted (Report, 3 March), who reveals his lack of understanding of what constitutes high-quality early years education. The purpose is not to prepare children for school but rather to give them opportunities where they can learn about the world and those in it in through their explorations of what interests them. Supported by adults who pay close attention to what they are doing, they are encouraged to express and share their developing ideas and feelings and to feel confident about what they already know and can do rather than experience failure at the start of their journey as lifelong learners. All children, from all backgrounds, will learn when what and how they learn is respected.

Wilshaw should know that evidence from neuroscience shows that we continue to be learners throughout our lives – and this tells us that learning is not a race to predetermined goals but a continuing search for meaning. He could take some time to read what people like Vygotsky and Bruner, Malaguzzi and Trevarthen have said about early learning. Do we really want our young children to be introduced to formal learning before they have had opportunities to develop the skills they need for this through everyday exploration of situations that make human sense to them? Do we really want to have our two-year-olds learning, by rote, to count and chant the sounds of our non-phonetic language? Do we really want to prepare our thinking and competent young children to be able to do no more than meet a series of meaningless targets measuring little that matters?

By all means provide funding for all schools to set up nursery classes. But if this is a serious attempt to improve early childhood education in this country, look to the funding, the philosophy and the knowledge base.
Sandra Smidt
Early years consultant and author, London

• Quite how we got to the point where one person decides what is a good school beats me, but now Michael Wilshaw is deciding what is a good pre-school education.

Too many children lack basic language and counting skills when they start school, says the chief inspector, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The cure once again is to improve the quality of teaching, when all the research points to child poverty, poor diet, housing, healthcare, parenting and environment as the major factors associated with under-achievement. Improve those and you improve achievement.

However, Wilshaw is not one to refer to the evidence, let alone understand research findings. We know his grasp of statistics is shaky with his reference to “one in five children leaving primary schools not reaching average”. A good pre-school experience is well documented, but in the face of all the evidence Michael Wilshaw focuses on a weak vision of quality: teaching and learning as a sterile process by which pre-school children acquire skills.
Dr Robin Richmond
Bromyard, Herefordshire

• Can Michael Wilshaw, who called for childminders to teach toddlers to hold a pen, actually read? Childminders do exactly what it says on the tin
Malcolm Severn
Belper, Derbyshire

Nigel Farage‘s task was relatively easy (Clegg tactics fail as Farage romps home in EU debate, 3 April). Brusque, good-humoured bigotry supported by bluster will always seem to beat thoughtful well-informed analysis. And Nick Clegg did not seem able to think on his feet. There is a difference in kind between “law” and “regulation”. The EU has contributed to 7% of our laws but to over 50% of our regulations. These regulations, worked on by the small committees which Ukip MEPs spurn, have resulted in, for example: cleaner air, cleaner beaches and rivers, the banning of harmful food additives, smoke-free workplaces, improved child and animal welfare, cross border policing, some control over human trafficking, support for democracy and human rights – and much more. And most strikingly we have had peace in what for centuries had been a war-torn Europe. In spite of the “knock out” which Ukip supporters have claimed for Clegg, I shall be changing my allegiance from Labour to the Lib Dems.
John Saunders

• In 1975, I voted no in the referendum. Bear in mind the question was should we remain in the EU? Forty years on and we are part of a very different organisation. Whereas the EU In 1975 was without a doubt a free-trade organisation, the current EU is still free trade but now also supports a strong social policy aimed at ensuring that workers in one EU country cannot be exploited to take advantage of the free trade policy. Why didn’t Mr Clegg make this point during the debate? Could it be that he does not support strong rights for “hardworking people”?
Richard Bull
Woodbridge, Suffolk

• Ian Traynor (Report, 3 April) says that Nigel Farage’s military superpower is an EU that does not exist. Let me remind him of the billions being spent on the Eurofighter Typhoon – the world’s most advanced swing-role combat aircraft, offering agile performance, interoperability and unrivalled flexibility. A lot of money just for airshows.
John Daramy
Chesterfield, Derbyshire

• Watching the televised debate, I realised why Nick Clegg has difficulty with a 70-year-old like me who grew up in Hackney in the 1950s. There the local population lived contentedly enough in a monocultural society in a cockney setting reflected by Broadway market round the corner, cinemas in Mare Street and a straightforward English way of life.

Mr Clegg made great play of how he wants us to live in the present rather than the past. The problem is that the elements he cited in his wish were all foisted on us. We never asked for mass immigration. We never asked for multiculturalism. We never asked for diversity. We never asked for political union with 27 other countries of Europe. Mr Clegg therefore necessarily begins from the weakest psychological stance in expecting people to accept situations which were forced on them.

That is why his views carried little weight with me on Wednesday. I make no bones about it. I do not want mass immigration. I do not want multiculturalism. I do not want diversity. I do not want political union with 27 other countries of Europe. Rather, I wish to be allowed to continue to live my life immersed in my own culture, with all its foibles and its faults as well as its joys, and not immersed in a melting pot of other people’s cultures, no matter how beneficial that is perceived to be for my own culture.
Edward Thomas

• Your coverage includes a brief expose on Nigel farage using a private company to avoid taxes. People use private companies for many reasons, sometimes for tax reasons, often because the contracting party will only deal with a company and not an individual. Farage is dangerous and his view offensive, but a petty and half-baked article about his tax affairs isn’t going to help people focus on the real reasons why we should be concerned about the rising profile of him and his party.
Tim Maynard
Castle Hedingham, Essex

• “Farage romps home in EU debate”. I expect it of the Mail or Express but does the Guardian need to present politics as a reality show. The ownly losers will be ordinary people and the poor if either of them “wins”.
Michael McLoughlin

• Top marks to Nick Clegg for taking on Farage. My revulsion for the Ukip leader went through the ceiling.
Bridget Wright
Malltraeth, Anglesey

• Ukip if you want to, I’m staying awake and aware.
Rev June Freshney
Grantham, Lincolnshire

Naomi Wayne writes: As a 17-year-old first-year law student at the LSE in 1968, I dropped in on a lunchtime meeting addressed by Tony Benn. Well to the left of the then centrist minister, I was at odds with his views, and said so. Ten minutes later, the meeting ended and when Benn emerged he made a beeline for me and launched into a passionate defence of his position. We spent several minutes disagreeing with each other. I was hugely impressed, not with his arguments but with his desire to engage on an equal footing with a young and obscure student and with his total lack of self-importance. Deference was dying in 1968 but for Benn it had never existed.

Hugh Kerr writes: When I was selected as the Labour candidate for the European parliamentary seat of Essex West and Hertfordshire East in 1994, the Labour party was a little doubtful, since I was a known leftwing socialist. However, since all seven Westminster seats that made up the constituency were Tory-held, the party didn’t believe I would win, so let me run. My brief was: “No money, staff or speakers, just keep the Tories busy!” I invited Tony Benn to head up my opening rally but, knowing his strong anti-EU views, not to speak about Europe. He gave a wonderful half-hour speech on socialism to 500 people, we raised £5,000, and I was elected three weeks later.

Barbara Hall writes: During the 1960s, I worked at the National Economic Development Office. One day I arrived back at Millbank Tower after lunch, before a council meeting was due to start. As I reached the door, a number of so-called captains of industry, newly arrived in their chauffeur-driven limousines, swept past me, allowing the door to slam in my face. Then came Tony Benn: he opened the door for me, stood aside to let me pass, walked to the lift with me and pressed the button for my floor, chatting amiably the while. His old-fashioned courtesy and respect for a complete stranger provided a stark contrast to the behaviour of those who had gone before.

Colin Thomas writes: Tony Benn was regarded with great affection in Bristol and, when he left the city to become the MP for Chesterfield in 1984, there was a farewell party for him at which I was asked to sing the Ballad of Joe Hill, but after the lines “Says Joe: ‘What they can never kill, Went on to organise'”, I forgot the words. Tony Benn saved me from embarrassment by joining in the last verse: “From San Diego up to Maine, In every mine and mill, Where workers strike and organise, It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill, It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.” And it’s there we’ll continue to find Tony Benn, too.


What is all this about winning or losing the debate between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg? Either you agreed with the one or the other. I doubt if many changed their minds: neither deployed any new arguments. Clegg used logic, Farage emotion.

The use of this debate was twofold. It exposed the arguments, and the “exit poll” gave an idea of how people would vote if there were a referendum today.

The good news for the “ins” like myself is that only about a sixth of the population needs to be convinced. The problem is how the ins are going to speak to the feelings of those who are not convinced by logic.

Venetia Caine, Glastonbury, Somerset

Save at the very end, nobody mentioned the word “war” in the Farage-Clegg debate on the EU. Both Farage and Clegg are too young to have experienced war in Europe.

For over 500 years nations in post-medieval Europe waged war against one another. In the last century two world wars shattered Europe. My mother had her eldest brother killed in the First World War (Ypres) and her youngest brother killed in the Second (Crete). I was born in 1938 and my father, having survived Dunkirk, was absent on active service from 1940 to 1945, so that I did not recognise him when he returned home.

My mother, sister and I slept in the cellar of our house in south-east London for the duration of the war. A good job too because the house opposite us was bombed flat in 1944 by a V2 rocket.

A united Europe (whatever its faults) is far preferable to antagonistic separate nations, and the Ukip isolation policy is simply a false dream based on outdated 19th-century notions.

David Ashton, Shipbourne, Kent

Listening to the televised debate on Wednesday evening, I realised why Nick Clegg has difficulty with a 70-year-old like me who grew up in Hackney in the 1950s. There the local population lived contentedly enough in a monocultural society in a London Cockney setting reflected by the Broadway Market round the corner, a series of cinemas in Mare Street and a straightforward English way of life.

Mr Clegg made great play of how he wants us to live in the present rather than the past. The problem is that the elements he cited were all foisted on us. We never asked for mass immigration. We never asked for multiculturalism. We never asked for diversity. We never asked for political union with 27 other countries of Europe. Mr Clegg necessarily begins from the weakest psychological stance in expecting people to accept situations which were forced on them. That is why his views carried little weight with me.

Edward Thomas, Eastbourne, East Sussex

Cinderella law: will social workers cope?

Frank Furedi (“The Cinderella law: emotional correctness gone mad”, 2 April) points out that every mother or father is  at risk of being labelled an abuser under the proposed “Cinderella law”.

The Government has proposed this new law just when the NSPCC reports that the threshold for intervening in a child’s life is actually being raised because of record reporting of child abuse. But a huge amount of this reporting is already needless. Department for Education figures for 2012-2013 show that, in England, there were 145,700 needless referrals to children’s social services in one year. Child protection is about a child “suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm”. When so many children are needlessly reported, this does indicate that people already overreact.

So why does the Government want to broaden the definition of child abuse even further, thus creating more cases for an overloaded system? Sixteen children known to Birmingham social services died in a five-year period. A report severely criticised Birmingham social services over the poor quality of referrals, leading to a surge in demand that could not be met.

Detecting child abuse in the community is akin to finding a needle in a haystack for overstretched social workers. So why make the haystack even bigger by creating more cases that will need assessment?

Tristram C Llewellyn Jones, Ramsey, Isle of Man

Consistent, loving care is critical in building the human brain, so it certainly is time that our child-protection laws reflect the long-term mental and physical damage caused by the emotional neglect and abuse of children. The announcement that the Government intends to make the emotional abuse of children a criminal offence is an important step.

Understanding the critical importance of the emotional well-being of children is vital to the well-being of society. There is a raft of evidence to show that when infants receive warm, responsive, consistent, attuned, loving care their brains develop well. They are then able to grow into adults with the capacity for empathy and the facility to become good, caring parents themselves.

Lydia Keyte, Chair, What About The Children? Newbold on Stour, Warwickshire

Frank Furedi claims our Sutton Trust report “Baby Bonds” is driven by “an authoritarian impulse whose main consequence is to diminish parental authority”. In fact, the report is driven by an egalitarian impulse, whose intended consequence is for public policy to better support parents, precisely in order to generate, as Furedi puts it, “more opportunities for children, and indeed parents, to realise their potential.”

Furedi offers no evidence to counter our empirical finding – from a review of over 100 academic studies – that a secure emotional relationship with a parent can have an important influence on children’s life chances, particularly for the most disadvantaged.

Sophie Moullin, Princeton University, Professor Jane Waldfogel, Columbia University, Dr Liz Washbrook, Bristol University

Nasty Party kicks out A-level student

What a PR disaster the removal of the 19-year-old student Yashika Bhageerathi has proved to be! It shows Theresa May in her true colours as a member of the “Nasty Party” who, having failed to meet her targets for immigration, attempts to keep her numbers up by picking on a young, vulnerable girl who came here to avoid abuse. The removal of her alone, without her mother, and a failed attempt to remove her on Mothering Sunday, only added to the disaster.

The Home Office showed a complete lack of common sense and compassion in this case. What difference would it have made if Yashika had been allowed a further six weeks here so she could take her A-levels and return home with a qualification? Instead Britain is once again portrayed as an uncaring nation instead of a just and caring society.

The only people who deserve credit in this sad situation are the head, staff and pupils of the Oasis Academy Hadley in Enfield – they may have failed but they are heroes in my book.

Ken Smith, Hinderclay, Suffolk

Why no auction for Royal Mail?

You conclude (editorial, 2 April) that “Mr Cable was still right to be cautious” over the privatisation of the Royal Mail, on the grounds that privatisations cannot be guaranteed to be successful, and that “the effects of hindsight and ‘froth’ are impossible to judge”.

Maybe so, but it is hard to understand why the Department for Business did not, apparently, even consider the use of a properly designed sealed-bid auction, instead of the conventional book-building exercise. Nor, apparently, did the National Audit Office consider this as  an option.

The Treasury uses such auctions to sell government bonds, Google was floated using one, so why not for the Post Office? At least then everyone would have had a chance at getting some shares, and the selling price would have been more likely to settle at the market clearing price, providing that the auction process was properly designed.

David Harvey, Tynemouth, Tyne & Wear

Abuse of women becomes fashion

Oh dear, here we go again. The editor of Italian Vogue, Franca Sozzani, thinks she is campaigning in some way against the abuse of women by actually showing nicely arranged “fashion” images of pretend victims (The Big Read, 3 April).

This happens again and again in film and media. You are not reflecting the horrors of society, you idiots, you are simply joining in and adding  to them.

Sue Nicholas, Cranleigh, Surrey

The battle of Richard’s bones

If there is doubt (“Car park bones disputed”, 28 March) as to whether the Leicester Greyfriars burial is indeed that of Richard III, or of a contemporary similarly slain in battle, perhaps they should be honourably interred as the Unknown Warrior of the Wars of the Roses.

Peter Forster, London N4


Sir, You report that the Commons Science and Technology Committee, chaired by Andrew Miller, wishes to censor those who question their position on climate change (“Crackdown ordered on climate-change sceptics”, Apr 2). No one can rationally argue that the climate does not change, it always has. What does require uninhibited debate is whether human activity significantly influences the global climate and, assuming that it does, the efficacy of measures proposed to reduce that influence and the manner in which such measures would be globally enforced.

Rob Harris

Farndon, Cheshire

Sir, Scientific theories can be corrected, often at no greater cost than wounded pride. Should our economic competitiveness and future living standards be ruined by unnecessary green policies, the damage will prove much more difficult to correct.

Mr Miller should welcome the critics for attempting to hold the science to account and for raising public interest in the subject, rather than trying to gag them. Where huge decisions are to be made, it is important that rigorous public debate takes place.

Mark Franklin

Bromyard, Herefordshire

Sir, Your report is a timely reminder that climate change is not wholly man-made and that this should be reflected in climate related policies.

Indeed, the IPCC has stated that up to half of the steep rise in global temperature that occurred in the second half of the last century was due to natural causes. Accordingly, it would seem sensible to reallocate some of the funds earmarked for carbon reduction such as subsidising renewable energy, to fund adaptation to the effects of climate change, especially as the UK emits only 1.5 per cent of global carbon. This rebalancing of expenditure would include upgrading of flood defences, including the Thames barrier. Such a change in climate related policy makes economic sense and would surely be welcomed by the majority of tax payers.

James Snook

Bowdon, Cheshire

Sir, I read with some concern the proposal that BBC editors should seek clearance to give air time to climate change sceptics. This subject is most difficult to understand, and we can only do so by the most rigorous application of the scientific method.

This must involve vigorous questioning of all research by those who may discern an alternative explanation. Indeed, such scrutiny can sometimes lead to new penetrating insights. While the sceptic camp does seem to contain its share of the loony Right, there are also honourable men and women who should not be censored.

H. J. Wyatt

Harrow, Middx

Sir, In seeking to gag climate change sceptics, the chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee is inviting ridicule.

Since when have arguments been won by stifling debate? To attack the BBC for airing Lord Lawson’s view is crass. The BBC is a routine proselytiser for the “warmists” and largely ignores those who question its orthodoxy. Perhaps Mr Miller has difficulty explaining why global temperatures have not shifted in the past 16 years while CO2 levels have rocketed, and why near-record levels of ice persist in the Antarctic.

Let’s have answers, not gags.

Peter Pallot

London, W6

Published at 12:01AM, April 4 2014

The decimation of the criminal bar will deprive us of an important layer of protection against corrupt police

Sir, We acted for the acquitted lead defendant in the Daniel Morgan murder trial, and the revelations from the Ellison Review (“Met will always have corrupt officers, says chief”, Mar 28) do not surprise us.

The trial process revealed that a “supergrass” had implicated a very senior policeman in corruption. Junior officers had reported this but no evidence of their report could be found in the files of the Metropolitan Police. No senior officer had any recollection of being told anything about it. The tape of the “supergrass” interview could not be found. That there was a tape was revealed only because the junior officers kept a copy of the tape for their own protection.

The point of this anecdote is that it was only thanks to the hard work of defence counsel and the integrity of prosecution counsel that this was revealed.

So, people would do well to reflect on the loss of combative lawyers who are prepared take on the state on their behalf, before it is too late. The cuts that Mr Grayling proposes to VHCC (Very High Cost) cases will decimate the criminal bar and neuter the defence in particular.

The Morgan murder occurred in 1987 and is unique in telling us how the fee income of barristers has been reduced in the intervening 25 years. The lead defendant was first charged in 1989 (the case was later dropped). In 1989 junior counsel would have been paid £100 per hour for a case of this type. In 2008, 19 years later, a QC would have been paid just £94.50 and a junior £61 per hour respectively. In 2014, after the latest cuts, a QC will be paid just £63.70 per hour and a junior just £42.70 per hour.

These are turnover figures and for the most difficult cases; there is no holiday pay, no pension entitlement and expenses of about one third of turnover need to be deducted from these figures.

The Bar only asks for a pay freeze and a pause to reflect on the potential destruction of a world class system. Sadly it is the juniors who will suffer most as it is the income of those at the top of the profession that helps support those at the bottom under the chambers system. No profession can survive this attrition.

Richard Christie, QC

Jonathan Lennon


Commercial bus fares are rising fast, and free passes are a growing drain on cash-strapped local authorities

Sir, The Labour Party may be right to pledge a freeze on rail fares (Apr 2), but there is an even more urgent need to freeze bus fares.

Outside London there are no controls on commercial bus fares. In many places fares are rising faster than inflation. The result is that, on many routes, seniors using their free passes outnumber fare-payers.

Worse still, the reimbursement to bus operators for carrying seniors is (usually) based on a percentage of the average fare charged. If fares go up, the bills to local authorities go up automatically. The expenditure on free bus travel is one over which cash-strapped authorities have no control. In a bid to save public expenditure Parliament should legislate an immediate freeze on bus fares.

Dr Roger Sexton


A former donor explains why she was compelled to refuse to allow her embryos to be used by another woman

Sir, As a former egg donor, I know that embryos are destroyed (“Three-parent baby law will lose votes, Cameron warned”, Mar 22). However, it is not because they are seen as a disposable commodity. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (Hefa) doesn’t give the full story.

I was approached about embryos from my donated eggs as the recipient had completed her family. I asked if one could be given to my younger sister (who had suffered an early menopause) as this would mean her child would be related by DNA. This was not permissible as she was not on the clinic’s waiting list.

In addition, had I let the embryos be used, I would have had to surrender my anonymity, potentially giving a stranger rights to my estate when I die. I hated refusing permission for re-use, but I also had to protect my own son’s future interests. I doubt I am the only former donor who feels this way.

Mrs J. Pilsworth

Willingham, Cambs

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools announces that a London school has found itself some premises

Sir, Your report “Homeless free schools cause chaos” (Mar 31) said Marylebone Boys School may not open due to problems finding a site. I can now confirm that the school has secured a permanent site for 2016 and will therefore open this September.

Lord Nash

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools


SIR – “The erosion of childhood” is becoming a theme of concern to citizens across the political spectrum.

The latest salvo in this “paradigm war” for the heart of childhood has been discharged by the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw. In a letter to all early-years inspectors, he instructs them to judge nurseries mainly in terms of preparation for school. They must “teach children the early stages of mathematics and reading”.

This utilitarian shift from experience to content betrays an abject (and even wilful) misunderstanding of the nature of early childhood experience. The determination to dragoon England’s young children into unconscionably early quasi-formal learning is catastrophic for their well-being, and is setting up many for failure at a very young age.

England’s early years education and care is safe in the hands neither of Sir Michael Wilshaw nor of the current incumbents at the Department for Education. We urge Sir Michael and the DfE to stop digging in their current “schoolifying” hole, and step back from this misguided drive to over-formalise England’s early-years sphere.

The alternative might be that these policy-makers end up precipitating the first wave of professional “principled non-compliance” with government policy that our education system has known in living memory. Any government that underestimates the strength of feeling on this issue, and the resolve to resist it, does so at its peril.

Dr Richard House
University of Winchester

Jess Edwards
Coordinator, Charter for Primary Education

Philip Pullman

Neil Leitch
CEO, Pre-School Learning Alliance

John Coe
National Association of Primary Education

Christine Blower
General Secretary, National Union of Teachers

Professor Penelope Leach
Birkbeck College, University of London

Michael Rosen

Christopher Clouder
Co-founder, Alliance for Childhood

Sue Gerhardt

Sue Cowley
Co-Chair, Stanton Drew and Pensford Preschool

Philipa Harvey
Senior Vice President Elect, NUT

Kevin Courtney
Deputy General Secretary, National Union of Teachers

Dr Dennis Atkinson
Professor Emeritus, Goldsmiths, University of London

Emeritus Professor Michael Bassey

Emeritus Professor Ron Best
University of Roehampton

Professor Joyce Canaan
Birmingham City University

Nancy Carlsson-Paige
Professor Emerita, Lesley University, Cambridge, MA

Michael Fielding
Emeritus Professor, Institute of Education, University of London

Emeritus Professor Philip Gammage

Tobin Hart
Professor of Psychology, University of West Georgia

Professor Dave Hill
Anglia Ruskin University

Barry J Hymer
Professor of Psychology in Education, University of Cumbria in Lancaster

Professor David Ingleby
University of Amsterdam

Professor Del Loewenthal
Director, Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, University of Roehampton

Professor Emerita Janet Moyles

Professor Jayne Osgood

Carl Parsons
Visiting Professor of Social Inclusion Studies, University of Greenwich

Professor Michael Patte
Co-Editor, The International Journal of Play

Professor Heather Piper

Professor Andrew Samuels

Brian Thorne
Emeritus Professor, University of East Anglia

Dr Terry Wrigley
Visiting Professor, Leeds Metropolitan University
Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Ballarat, Australia

Dr Jonathan Barnes
Senior Lecturer in Primary Education

Dr Teresa Belton
Visiting Fellow, School of Education and Lifelong Learning, University of East Anglia

Dr Jon Berry
Professional Doctorate (EdD) Programme Tutor, University of Hertfordshire

Simon Boxley
Programme Leader, Undergraduate Education Studies, University of Winchester

Diane Boyd

Shirley Brooks
Senior Lecturer, Early Years Care & Education, University of Winchester

Sue Callan

Dr Julia Cayne

Hatice Choli
Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Greenwich

Dr Alison Clark
Senior Lecturer in Childhood Studies, Open University

Sue Cox
Senior Lecturer, School of Education and Lifelong Learning, University of East Anglia

Dr Gail Edwards
Lecturer in Education, Newcastle University

Judith Flynn
Senior Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University

Dr Linda Hammersley-Fletcher
Reader in Educational Leadership and Management, Metropolitan University

Jill Harrison
University of Greenwich

Dr Gordon Ingram
Lecturer in Developmental Psychology, Bath Spa University

Christine Ivory
Early Years Programme Coordinator, Faculty of Education, Liverpool John Moores University

Sarah Jacques

Dr Paulette A Luff

Dr Gee Macrory
Principle lecturer in education, Manchester Metropolitan University

Alpesh Maisuria
Senior Lecturer, University of East London

Dr Jennifer Patterson
Senior Lecturer in Education, Greenwich University

Gillian Reid

Dr Kathy Ring
Senior Lecturer, York St John University

Dr Leena Robertson
Middlesex University, London

Jenny Rust

Dr Sebastian Suggate
University of Regensburg

Dr Judith Suissa
Reader in Philosophy of Education, Institute of Education, London

Peter Tallant

Chris Watkins
Reader in Education, University of London Institute of Education

Vanessa Young
Principal Lecturer Education, Canterbury Christ Church University

Pat Adams

Oona Alexander

Anna Alston

Helen Ard

Catherine Armstrong

Richard Brinton

Jodie Brooke Aujla

Kevin Avison

D. Babouris

Peter Barlow

Jane Barnard

Susan Barnicoat

Catherine Beaumont

Victoria Benson-Coakes

Kerri Bishop

Safa Bowskill

Dr Gail Bradbrook

Jenny Brain

Caroline Brooks

Laura Brown

Sarah Bryant

Tabitha Burgess

Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin

Emma Callow

Elizabeth Carlson

Paula Champion

Bridget Chapman

Marie Charlton

Regine Charriere

Anna Chesner

Ruth Cohen-Rose

Anna Colgan

Lucy Cox

Amy Crane

Gill Crawshaw

Louise Crook

Nancy Crookes

Kirsty Curtis

Amy Dadachanji

Hazel Danson

Lynne Davies

Margaret Dobbs

Polly Donnison

Louise Doublet

Susan Dovbenko

Ellie Dowthwaite

Mary Jane Drummond

Robin Duckett

Jon Duveen

Dr Andrew Evans

Andy Evans

Rachel Ford Blanchard

Irène François

Ian Gilbert

Dr Melanie Gill

Lavinia Gomez

Nick Grant

Debra Greatorex

Sam Greshoff

Fleur Griffiths

Jane Hallman

Philippe Harari

Martin Hardiman

Gemma Hawkins

Jutta Hepworth

Felicity Higginson

Isla Hill

Julie Hill

Grethe Hooper Hansen

Ann Hedley

Rosemary Hope

Saira Horner

Peter Humphreys

Nina Hurst

Kate Irvine

Lesley Jackson

Ruth James

Kate Jangra

Agnes Javor

Alice Jenkinson

Marianne Johansen

Katie Jordan

Amerjit Kambo

Beverly Keenan

Tracy King

Rupert Kingfisher

Keith Kinsella

Janet Klaar

Sarka Kubschova

Martin Larger

Trisha Lee

Mary M Leue

Kai Yee Low

Sophie McCook

Kevin McQuaid

Dorothy Marlen

Richard Masters

Alys Mendus

Christine Merrick

Gabriel Millar

Eleanor Milligan

Philippa Mitchell

Doug Morgan

Ben Morris

Winny Mossman

Julie Mountain

Dr Ursula Nerre

Vincent Nolan

Kathryn Norgrove

Daniel North

Nicola Nugent

Simon O’Hara

Kate O’Keefe

Marjorie Ouvry

Sara Paiola

Sandra Palmer

Justelene Papacosma

Emily Pardoe-Williams

Matthew Pardoe-Williams

Lynn Parker

Marie Peacock

Linda Pound

Matt Purkis

Carolyn Purser

Patty Ramirez

Natasha Ramm

Dr Bronwen Rees

Jane Roberts

Stefan Richter

Karen Ripper

Jill Robinson

Joyce Lillie Robinson

Maria Rodrigues

Louise Rogers

Anthea Rose

Victoria Sadler

David Seagrave

Dorothy Shirley

Simon Small

Ralf Smits

Susie Steel

Vicki Stinchcombe

Rosemary Stocks

Rebecca Stubbs

Dr Terry Sullivan

Elizabeth L. Swann

Jonathan W. Swann

Inbar Tamari

Laura Taylor

Pippa Taylors

Helen Thomas

Julie Thomson

Sara Tomlinson

Sarah-Jane Tucker

Anna Tuhey

Kiri Tunk

Rev Dr Chris Walton

Rachel Ward

Theresa Waterhouse

Penny Webb

Graham White

Jan White

Rosanne White

Vicki Wilcox

Francine Williams

Mervyn Wilson

Ros Wilson

Julia Wilton

Courtney Winstone

Charlotte Wright

SIR – In convicting a gambling addict for stealing some £13,000 worth of luggage from trains in the Devon area (report, March 29), the judge commented that the layout of luggage storage may have facilitated the crimes.

These crimes were almost certainly committed on trains operated by First Great Western (FGW) and Crosscountry, both of which have made life easier for such criminals. This is in spite of the constant exhortations on platforms and trains to keep a good eye on luggage.

When FGW rebuilt its High Speed Trains, in order to increase passenger capacity, it removed almost all the tables from standard class. Previously it had been possible to store a case between two back-to-back seats. All that is left is the inadequate space at the end of the carriage.

Crosscountry inherited a fleet of Voyager and Super Voyager trains that were always poorly served for luggage space, with atrocious overhead racks. In refitting their trains, it removed mid-carriage luggage racks and converted the refreshment area into a luggage storage space, making it impossible for passengers to follow the instruction to watch their luggage.

David Muir
Stoke Gifford, Gloucestershire

Stay-at-home mothers

SIR – This country has completely lost the plot. A Cinderella law is being proposed to stop emotional child abuse. But this abuse begins when mothers go to work while their children are young. There are babies of three months old in crèches, and many others with child minders, all of which costs a lot of money.

Would it not be better for women to nurture their own children at least until school age? Benefits for child care should instead go to mothers to look after their children. Poor parenting is the root of the huge problems we have with the youth of this country.

Lady Bull
Arkesden, Essex

Brighter name

SIR – There is no doubt that the correct pronunciation of Dylan Thomas’s name is “Dullan” as the y in Welsh is invariably pronounced this way. However, my understanding is that his mother insisted on his being called “Dillan” in order to avoid the possible nickname “Dull One” being used.

Howard Thomas
Newent, Gloucestershire

Knot our problem

SIR – Japanese knotweed is indeed a scourge. Our city council has issued information leaflets about the issue.

However, despite reporting to the council several outbreaks of the stuff near our home, we are just told that nothing can be done about it, because the plant is growing on private property.

Michele Platman

Boiling on the blower

SIR – I have been receiving endless nuisance calls in the form of a recorded message telling me that I am entitled to a government-funded new boiler. As they come from overseas, the Telephone Preference Service will not take any action.

It is amounting to harassment. Does no authority in this country have powers to stop such annoying cold calls?

Hilda Gaddum
Macclesfield, Cheshire

Order with your order

SIR – Among many other signs of reaching middle age is increasing irritation in restaurants at being ordered to “Enjoy!” Is there an appropriate response?

His Honour Judge Patrick
Wood Green Crown Court
London N22

Virtues of the Mainwaring type of bank manager

SIR – My father was a Mainwaring-type bank manager and I have the notes he made prior to speaking to his local Rotary club in the Fifties. The notes are on 18 sheets of small pink notepaper, obviously obtained from my mother – not for him the crime of using bank notepaper for private correspondence.

“I have been variously described by my friends as the man who will always lend you an umbrella when the sun is shining, or lend you money provided that you can prove that you don’t need it.” Then, a little further on, “To the customer, the manager is an amalgam of accountant, solicitor, tax expert, financial adviser and a sort of financial father confessor.”

“He carries a further responsibility, that of example to the younger generation whom, he hopes, will earn his pension.”

Shirley Browning
Kingston, Dorset

SIR – Forty years ago, I would ring my local branch and fix an appointment with the manager. In his office, an assistant would produce the relevant ledgers, while his secretary provided coffee and custard creams. The manager would peruse my accounts, and ask what I wanted the loan for. When I told him a sports car, he replied, “Silly bugger – but you are only young once, and we are well insured.”

Patrick Tracey
Carlisle, Cumberland

Japanese whaling ban is an international victory

The efficacy of the International Court of Justice

Getting its own back: smashing a whalers’ boat in a 19th-century French oil painting  Photo: BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY

6:58AM BST 03 Apr 2014

Comments48 Comments

SIR – The International Court of Justice’s judgment ordering a temporary halt to Japan’s cull of whales in the Southern Ocean is a victory for international law, diplomacy and international relations.

That two modern states can bring to court a dispute over the fate of whales is a mark of man’s sophistication and the state of development of the international legal order. The decision wisely leaves room for Japan to revamp its whaling programme to meet the international whaling treaty’s requirements for scientific whaling.

The ICJ has lived up to its reputation as the world’s court by demonstrating its willingness to resolve all forms of international disputes that may be brought to its attention by UN member states.

Dr Gbenga Oduntan
Kent Law School
Canterbury, Kent

SIR – Evan Davis’s Mind the Gap series suggests to me, a retired architect, that Britain needs a North East-West City.

The NEWC would not be some half-baked Liverchester or Manpool, but a linear city of the North, pulling together the hubs of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull.

Our Victorian forefathers had the vision to create the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the Manchester Ship Canal. Along their banks planning restrictions should be relaxed to let market forces develop them.

There is already the M62 corridor, which could be widened to an eight-lane super highway. The proposed HS2 would only need to go to Manchester to link up with a rapid East-West network.

After all, London is only a city made up of conjoined towns and villages. Why should Liverpool not become the West End, Manchester the Square Mile, Leeds the Oxford Street and Hull the Felixstowe of the North? National Park areas between would equate to Hampstead Heath and the Royal Parks.

Let us all be bold. If the BBC can see the economic sense in coming up North to Media City, Salford, then this could and should happen for others.

Coulton Booth
Garstang, Lancashire

SIR – Jenny Roach, a Liberal councillor, says that councillors fight destructive planning applications on behalf of their constituents. But what if a councillor approves of a scheme?

Here in Oxford, councillors frequently ignore public opinion and approve projects that are destructive to the historic character of the city. Institutional interests (the University) often seem to trump environmental concerns.

An independent planning champion, as suggested by Sir Terry Farrell would have advantages. But an architect should not be appointed to this role. I recall the former architects’ panels in historic cities. It was impossible to find any architect who would criticise the work of another architect. Professional solidarity proved an insurmountable barrier.

Paul Hornby

SIR – Sir Simon Jenkins is right about government planning policies threatening the countryside, but they have already damaged towns and cities. Councils allow unsuitable developments knowing refusal will only lead to another successful appeal by a developer to a compliant minister.

Labour has put forward no vision of what a planning system should do. Its Town and Country Planning Act 1947 had protected the countryside but allowed appropriate housing and industrial development. Conservatives largely adopted this policy. It did not limit growth in the following two decades, which saw an unparalleled boom.

I do not know if this issue will cost the Conservatives votes, but it deserves to wreck their chances.

Roger Backhouse
Ilford, Essex

Irish Times:

Sir, – The Government’s white paper on Universal Health Insurance (UHI), published this week is fundamentally flawed.

It will place an immediate financial burden on families, and the only consultation process open to the public is restricted to deliberating on what this “competing insurers” model will look like. Meanwhile, there is no consultation of any kind taking place on any other options, such as those recommended in Dr Jane Pillinger’s 2012 report The Future of Healthcare in Ireland .

That report recommended that the competing insurers model, as proposed by the Minister, should not be adopted before all the options have been evaluated in terms of quality, equity, access to services and medium and long term value for money. The report was ignored by the Minister.

Families will be required by law to have health insurance, but there is a real risk that this will be an impossible financial burden from the very start, particularly for the growing number of people without health insurance who don’t qualify for a medical card.

This group will be required to purchase health insurance for every member of their family. While the Dutch insurance model provided the Minister with his initial inspiration for this UHI scheme, it should be noted that children are actually insured for free under the Dutch model.

The question of cost remains, but it appears that no evaluation of any other funding model has been undertaken. We have been trying to get the message across to the Minister that other options need to be considered, such as the “single-payer” social insurance model used in France, Germany and Nordic countries.

Apart from a cursory late briefing on the day of publication, where questions were not invited from trade unions or patient groups, there has been no engagement with the Minister on these issues.

The experience in other jurisdictions which have similar models of competing insurers, has been a continuing rise in the price of compulsory insurance, coupled with increasing restrictions on the health services covered. They have also experienced rising readmission rates as more people experience complications after they’ve been discharged. This can be attributed to the financial incentives to discharge patients early.

The Minister’s estimate of €900 per individual seems almost optimistic, but if this model is established, the costs are likely to continue to rise. The Minister has also boasted that the scheme will ensure no additional cost burden to the State, which will mean that the only means of raising extra revenue will be through individual insurance premiums.

Finally, if we really want to get the measure of where this scheme is going, it is telling that the €100 charge for emergency departments will remain in place. Yours, etc,


National secretary,

Health & Welfare division


Nerney’s Court,

Dublin 1

Sir, – At present everyone in the State is entitled to free treatment in a public hospital paid for by our taxes.

Under the new proposal, it seems, everyone will be entitled to free treatment in a public hospital but we must pay for private health insurance as well as paying our taxes to fund it. The difference will be that there will be no option for some to go to private hospitals as happens at present, so the whole population will use the public system, which is unable to cope with the numbers currently using it. Sounds like a lose-lose situation to me. Yours, etc,


Priory Grove,


Co Dublin

Sir, – Brian McDevitt (Letters, April 2nd) is using out of date and inaccurate figures in his comments on GP incomes. As a general practitioner, I get on average €85.80 per year for a medical card patient under the age of 70.

For this sum, I provide medical cover to my patients for 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. This is before tax, and before paying staff, premises, equipment and computer costs and what is required to ensure out of hours cover etc.

For years my private patients have been subsidising my medical card practice and sustaining the standard of practice that we are trying to provide. This situation has been exacerbated by the 35 per cent cut in medical card fees unilaterally imposed by the Government in the last three years.

The recently appointed professor of general practice in UCC, who has come from the United Kingdom, has been quoted as describing the GP service in this country as “gold dust”. Under current Government proposals it may well become just dust. Yours, etc,


Crescent Medical Centre,

The Crescent,


Sir, – Brian McDevitt’s letter reflects the success of the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health in convincing the general public that global payments to a GP practice reflect the remuneration of the doctors involved.

By this logic, the situation is indeed even worse than Mr McDevitt imagines it to be since I can reveal that a certain Dr J Reilly received €13 billion in payments last year, which does seem excessive.

In Dr Reilly’s defence it should be said that this money is used to fund the health service. On a micro level the payments are the global payments to practices which fund nurses, secretaries, heat, light and medical supplies among other things. As these fees have been cut successively in recent years, the private fees that Mr McDevitt refers to are increasingly used to support the provision of services to medical card patients. Although the State has the responsibility to provide services to this group, it does not appear to be willing to adequately fund it. Yours, etc,


Family Doctor,

Baile Átha Luimnigh,

An Uaimh,

Co Na Mhí

Sir, – Your Irish language columnist Caoimhe Ní Laighin misleadingly states in her article(“Cinniúint na Catalóine”, April 2nd) that there are “77,000 cainteoir ag an nGaeilge”. This is not correct. The number of Irish speakers who claim to use Irish daily “outside the educational system only” should not be equated with the total number of Irish speakers, as your columnist has done. Many Irish speakers living outside Irish-speaking communities do not easily get opportunities on a daily basis to use Irish but they are still Irish-speakers.

In my opinion a better measure of the number of active Irish-speakers is the number of people who claim in census returns to use the language at least weekly outside education. This figure, according to the 2011 census is 188,000 for the 26 counties.

The 2011 census taken in Northern Ireland showed that there were 64,847 people who claimed to be able to understand, read, write and speak Irish. Unfortunately we don’t have figures for daily and weekly users but I would suggest a figure of approximately 16,000 would not be an exaggeration, giving a figure of a little more than 200,000 for the number of people who use Irish on a regular basis within the island of Ireland.





Co na Gaillimhe

Sir, – In response to Brenda Morgan’s argument (Letters, April 1st) about computers and their negative effects on the learning process, it has to be stated that digital literacy is an integral part of the Irish curriculum, supporting children’s learning in a positive way.

Piaget’s constructivist theory would indicate that computers support children’s learning in design and construction of projects and contribute to the cognitive development of the child. The teacher facilitates this through the correct use of such ICT tools such as laptops, iPads and interactive whiteboards.

Such technology supports inclusion, from the less able to the more able child, thus ensuring that every student actively participates in the learning process. As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure children have the skills and knowledge necessary to be at the cutting edge of the digital economy we live in.

Young learners are fast becoming fluent in computer coding as they are educated in becoming the innovators of tomorrow. As an educator, I strongly believe that a balanced approach counteracts overdependence on screens. Oral expression and writing remain a vital part of this well of rich learning experiences that are nurtured within the curriculum. — Yours, etc,




Co Cork

Sir, – Recently cosmologists have detected ripples that they claim were triggered by the expansion of the universe after the Big Bang, which occurred approximately 13.7 billion years ago. (Actually the Big Bang was a soundless phenomenon. It was more silent than the keys tapping this computer.) Most scientists agree that 13.7 billion years ago space-time was created and that prior to that there was a void.

In contradiction to the “beginning” theory, I hold that the multiverse, which contains countless universes, has always existed. Most cosmologists claim that in it new, similar and dissimilar universes to ours are constantly evolving and disintegrating.

Void is indestructible and unchangeable. Despite the claim by the religious that “God is all powerful”, he would be incapable of destroying void. (God is habitually referred to as he and hardly ever as she, they or it.) The religious also assert that “the creator of all things” is eternal and that there was only “null and void” before he created the universe, in effect before he created the Big Bang. If he is eternal and the universe had a beginning, the question presents itself: before creation how did he occupy himself? Since he was existing in a void he could not do anything, because there was nothing to do. He could not think, because there was nothing to think about. He could not see, because there was nothing to see. He could not hear as there was no medium for transmitting sound. The religious will dismiss this with a “mysteries which we cannot understand” response.

Of course the real mystery, which it seems we are destined never to find answers to, is the mystery of life. There appears to be a mental block preventing us from resolving it. Yet while we cannot make sense of life, if there was no life it would not make sense either. Yours, etc,


Carriglea Drive,


Sir, – It was with increasing frustration that I read the contribution of President Higgins (“Time for citizens to forge a better future for our country”, April 2nd).

In vain I looked for a reference to the farmers, fishermen and foresters who harness our natural resources. Where was mention of the doctors, nurses and educators who nurture our human resources? I saw no recognition either of the scientists, the engineers and the entrepreneurs who discover and develop the resources we will use tomorrow.

While I commend the President’s call to rethink the ethics and philosophy of tomorrow’s Ireland I am disappointed that he has failed to recognise what is being achieved by these citizens today. Without physics, chemistry and biology, along with the technology to make the sciences concrete, the President would be left discussing and philosophising in the dark shadows of Plato’s cave. Yours, etc,




Co Waterford

Sir, – The President’s article in yesterday’s Irish Times prompts a question: why are the views of philosophers, theologians and sociologists on our society not given the same prominence as those of economists? Yours, etc,




Co Meath

Sir, – Munster coach Rob Penney’s rant against refereeing standards was an indication of the problems faced by professional rugby in this area but not, I suggest, in the way he meant it.

Yes, I think referees are inconsistent and, in some cases, even sub-standard. However one of the reasons that this state of affairs is allowed to continue is the partisan nature of rugby. Mr Penney was not complaining about poor decisions made by the referee but only about those which adversely affected his team.

In this respect he is the same as all participants in rugby, whether players, management or supporters. Consequently, every decision made by a referee in a rugby match, whether correct or incorrect, will have the support of half the people and anger the other half.

Mr Penney and his counterparts are in the best position to influence any attempts to improve refereeing standards, but until they start looking at this area of the game impartially they will, correctly, be seen merely as moaning because they lost the game. Yours, etc,


Seafield Crescent,


Sir, – In rebranding itself, Trinity College Dublin has announced that it will update what it calls its “logo”. But the logo is actually a grant of arms, recognised in 1901 by the Ulster Kings of Arms (now the Chief Herald).

Has anyone at the college actually contacted the Chief Herald’s Office (attached to the National Library) to seek permission to change the coat of arms? Seems a bit of an oversight if not! Yours, etc,



Sydenham Terrace,


Dublin 6

Sir, – Your correspondent Denis Duff from Greystones (April 1st) suggests that Ireland needs a nuclear power station at Moneypoint.

But with the prevailing Atlantic winds, the west coast is the worst option for such an installation. It would surely make much more sense to put it on the east coast to disperse the whatever radiation might be leaked after the almost inevitable accident or leak or attack or “minor incident”.

Somewhere around Greystones perhaps, with the sea in front and reasonably empty mountains behind would be ideal, with the waste stored nearby. Yours, etc,


Tullow Road,


Sir, – A propos Sylvia Thompson’s piece on the pursuit of happiness (Life Science, April 3rd), might I suggest that there is much we can learn from philosophers on that topic.

Having reached something of a crisis in his own life, John Stuart Mill tells us in his Autobiography that the key to finding happiness is to realise that it is a mistake to seek it directly.

To achieve happiness we should rather immerse ourselves in a life that is packed with a diverse range of activities from which we derive satisfaction.

Reflecting on such a life will reveal to us that it is a happy one.

Yours etc


Maynooth Park,


Co Kildare

Sir, – Will the GAA be celebrating its bicentennial with hurling having become a major international sport? Yours, etc,




Co Westmeath

Irish Independent:

* The elation of the Irish electorate in March 2011 quickly turned to deflation and angst.

Also in this section

Sky deal is a slap in the face for GAA fans

Coming back from the mother of all mistakes

Taxpayers left to foot the bill yet again

Three years on, the words of Pat Rabbitte ring in their ears about pledges to get elected; the electorate feels totally “shattered”, no doubt leading innumerable people to think, either, “I will never vote again” or “I will spoil my vote at the local and EU elections”.

The latter is a wasted vote; not even looked at by candidates.

The ancient Chinese proverb “Revenge is a dish best served cold” provides every dissatisfied elector with the best tool to teach the Tweedledum and Tweedledee a lesson they will never forget.

Bertie’s “oul pencil” used properly on the ballot paper at the May elections will empower you.

The number of candidates on the ballot paper in your constituency is the number of votes you have; grasp this golden opportunity to number every box on the ballot paper, and reserve, with relish, the last four numbers in the order of your choice for the four main parties.

If even 10pc of a constituency did this it would send alarm bells off.

Recall, in the Meath East by-election, how Fine Gael crowed it had a massive win; when in fact more than 50pc of the electorate did not vote.

Put lead in your pencil in May and do your duty by casting your vote. Be what Kenny and Gilmore and their nodding acolytes are not: “The indomitable Irishry” invoked by W B Yeats!




* Coming soon to a cinema near you. A sort of Irish ‘Da Vinci Code’ spine-chiller. Based on the best-selling novel by Dan Murphy: ‘Da Irish Whistleblower Code.’

It all begins on a busy street near Government Buildings, and a strange, mad monk with long, blond hair is seen rushing into a clandestine meeting beneath the bowels of the building.

Intrigued, Professor Shatterproof follows this mysterious intruder, and discovers a terrible secret, as he observes a coven of hooded men at a strange filling cabinet on top of an altar.

Waiting till they had left, after they had finished whistling a strange chant, he discovers a thrown-away piece of paper on the floor, with encoded names and a map of a maze of underground tunnels.

And so begins a race against time to save the Government from collapse.

Shatterproof has to find the meanings behind the symbols that are dotted around the city. Twists and turns are everywhere. Denial, subterfuge, obfuscation. It’s an epic tale of cover-up.

Who is the whistleblower? What information does that person have? What happens to the whistleblowers, and keepers of the strange secret? All will be revealed in due time.




* So, Stoke City footballer Stephen Ireland is being considered for a return to the Irish International soccer team. Reports suggest assistant Ireland team manager Roy Keane has expressed his approval at a possible return.

On the basis of talent, ability and form, Stephen Ireland would be a most welcome addition to most international football teams, but on the basis of loyalty, honour, moral integrity and values becoming of one who is chosen to represent their national football team, he falls short.

I do not expect Roy Keane to share this view.




* When things are said to you,

No matter what time of day it is,

No matter how old you are,

No matter where you are,

No matter how long ago it was,

No matter how drunk someone is,

No matter if you know the person or not – it hurts.

And it sticks.

By Elayna Keller, from her first-hand account of being a target of bullies.

We need say no more, only read her wonderful words.

Elayna, of course, won the NNI Press Pass Competition.




* I am an award II Gaelic Coach and have been training under-age groups for 14 years.

I recently had a preseason session for the coaches and had a question-and-answer session with some of the kids.

I asked were they watching the Dublin-Kerry match a few weeks ago and then realised that it was only on Setanta, now Sky sport.

I cannot believe how out of touch the GAA hierarchy is with the grassroots.

Let them do what they want with Sky but ensure all games are shared between RTE, TV3 and TG4.




* It is good to see Dr Reilly has outlined his new system.

It is to be hoped that the system will be introduced within five years as foreseen and that time will not be wasted in searching for the perfect system.

Better to start and adapt as necessary rather than procrastinate and delay.

But one initial word of warning. Dr Reilly has estimated that the 40pc who hold medical cards will not be liable to pay any premium and that a further 30pc will have their payments heavily subsidised.

The remaining 30pc can hardly be recognised as universal.




* Arthritis is a debilitating disability, which affects around 915,000 people.

It is widely believed arthritis is an illness that accompanies old age but in Ireland alone around 1,100 children suffer from arthritis.

People’s perception of arthritis is often associated with pain; while this may be true, it fails to represent an accurate depiction of the daily struggle suffers endure.

Pain is merely a component, which contributes to a larger picture. Unless one suffers with arthritis, they cannot truly comprehend the disability accurately.

Arthritis Ireland organises various events for teenagers who have arthritis. The JA road-trip is a prime example.

The road-trip allows teenagers to discuss their illness and discover different pain-management techniques.

Arthritis Ireland also organises a number of activates and this gives teenagers an opportunity to try things they thought they never could do as a result of arthritis.

Arthritis Ireland runs frequent workshops to demonstrate new ways of dealing with pain.

It also helps people to cope with the problems they may encounter as a result of having arthritis.

Thank you for the time it took to read my piece.




* “Walking (minus) the line”?

Is the threat of a cut to train services a case of ‘fright at the end of the tunnel’?




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