Back in hospital again

5 April2014 Back in hospital

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to test a new navigational aidPriceless

Mary back in hospital

No Scrabbletoday, Perhaps Marywill win tomorrow.


Margo MacDonald – obituary

Margo MacDonald was the charismatic face of the SNP in the 1970s whose fervent socialism led to splits with her own party

Margo MacDonald

Margo MacDonald was a doughty fighter for independence and a political gadfly who championed a variety of causes Photo: CHRIS WATT

5:46PM BST 04 Apr 2014

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Margo MacDonald who has died aged 70, was the larger-than-life face of Scottish nationalism, the winner of a sensational by-election at Govan in 1973, an inaugural member of the Scottish Parliament and the political and marital partner of Jim Sillars, who quit Labour to found his own party before also winning Govan for the SNP.

Margo MacDonald was living proof of the party’s fractiousness. Convinced that nationalism was as much about personal liberty as freedom for the Scottish nation, she twice left the party — under duress in 1982 when its leaders lost patience with her Left-wing 79 Group; and again before the 2003 Holyrood elections, sitting for her final two terms as an Independent.

Margo MacDonald was uncomfortably far to the Left for a party establishment she branded “tartan Tories”, but the SNP found it hard to live without her charisma from the moment in November 1973 when she captured solidly Labour Govan with a majority of 571.

Her tabloid image as a glamorous 29-year-old publican’s wife (her first husband, Peter, was licensee of the Hoolet’s Nest at Blantyre) did her no harm against a lacklustre opponent. But while her fervour and good looks made her a natural for television, she was serious about her politics and resented being called a blonde bombshell.

The inadequacies of Labour’s Harry Selby, a hairdresser, could not alone explain the collapse of its vote. The novelty of a forceful woman candidate in a working-class Glasgow seat was a factor. So, too, was the widespread belief that, while Edward Heath’s government had been disastrous for Clydeside, a tired Labour Party had little to offer.

Yet the result also reflected a growing local militancy stemming from the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders’ work-in, and an upsurge of pressure for independence that caught Labour unawares. The publication in mid-campaign of the Kilbrandon Report recommending a Scottish Assembly, and Labour’s lukewarm response, was just the boost the SNP needed.

Margo MacDonald spent barely two months in the Commons before Heath called — and lost — a snap election. In that time she raised the standard of an independent Scotland drawing strength from North Sea oil revenues, capturing more headlines back home. The February 1974 election was bitter for her, but sweet for her party: boundary changes gave Selby his revenge by 543 votes, but the SNP gained six other seats, causing panic in both main parties.

Labour made a painful U-turn over devolution in time for a further election that October; Margo fought Govan again, but the margin widened. As the SNP’s senior vice-chairman, she urged the party Leftwards and, as Wilson and later James Callaghan saw even their modest devolution proposals hampered by lack of a clear Commons majority, she scorned their “hollow assembly” and upped the pressure for independence.

She tried once more to return to the Commons, in a by-election at Hamilton in June 1978. The omens were good: this was her home town, and the seat Winifred Ewing had captured in 1968 to launch the SNP as a serious force. But a hiding from Labour in the local elections got her campaign off on the wrong foot, the future defence secretary George Robertson proved a tough opponent, and despite her warning that if she lost there would never be a Scottish assembly, Labour doubled its majority. That August she became Scottish director of Shelter.

Labour got its devolution scheme on to the Statute Book, and a referendum was set for March 1979. Despite her reservations, Margo Macdonald campaigned energetically for a “Yes” vote. And when the campaign team was formed in 1978, she and Sillars — then leader of the two-MP Scottish Labour Party — were thrown together.

Margo MacDonald with Jim Sillars after their marriage in 1981 (CAPITAL PRESS)

She had separated from her husband two years before, and Sillars’s own marriage had broken down. Both wanted an independent, socialist Scotland, and their partnership was strengthened by the inconclusive result of the referendum and Sillars’s loss of his seat in the 1979 election (triggered by the passage of the SNP’s consequent no-confidence motion in Callaghan’s government).

Even before the referendum and the SNP’s heavy losses, she had founded the 79 Group within the party, aimed at securing a more socialist programme. This cost her the SNP vice-chairmanship at the 1979 conference, but gained a powerful recruit in Sillars, who joined the party and the Group. They married in 1981.

For a time, Sillars and MacDonald looked to their supporters a “dream ticket” who could lead the SNP Leftwards to victory. But the leadership had had enough; it cracked the whip again, and Margo resigned from the party, blaming Winifred Ewing. Sillars stayed in. He would himself win a by-election at Govan in 1988; his wife did not campaign for him despite her past triumph there, but was with him for the declaration of the result.

Margo MacDonald was back in the SNP by the time Tony Blair’s government delivered a Scottish Parliament. She stood for Edinburgh South in the first Holyrood elections in 1999, but became an MSP by virtue of topping the SNP’s list of candidates for the Lothians. She again enjoyed a bumpy relationship with the party, especially after John Swinney replaced Alex Salmond as its leader. Impatient with his moderation, she was expelled in January 2003.

Re-elected as an Independent that year — she backed the Scottish Socialist Party during the campaign — she joined a non-party group comprising health and senior citizens’ campaigners and defectors from Labour and the SNP. In the 2007 elections, only she among the Independents survived.

Her greatest contribution as an MSP was to leak in 2004 a report on the soaring cost of the new Parliament building. Discontent over the more than 10-fold increase in the original estimate of £40 million came to a head, and her action led to the First Minister, Jack McConnell, setting up an inquiry which pilloried a number of the officials responsible.

In 1996 Margo MacDonald was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Six years later she made her illness public, and demanded the legal right to end her own life. She launched a campaign for assisted dying to be legalised, and cooperated with a BBC documentary exploring both sides of the argument.

She explained on the programme: “The possibility of having the worst form of the disease at the end of life has made me think about unpleasant things. I feel strongly that, in the event of losing my dignity or being faced with the prospect of a painful or protracted death, I should have the right to choose to curtail my own, and my family’s, suffering.”

Margo Aitken was born on April 19 1943 . After attending Hamilton Academy, she trained as a PE teacher at Dunfermline College. Inspired by Winifred Ewing’s victory at Hamilton, she joined the SNP and in 1970 contested Paisley. In 1972, aged 29, she was elected a party vice-chairman; months later she was an MP.

After her break with the SNP she reinvented herself as an Edinburgh-based journalist. In 1985-86 she presented Radio 4’s Sunday Colour Supplement and the consumer programme Face the Facts, and she continued to broadcast frequently.

Margo MacDonald leaves two daughters from her marriage to Peter MacDonald, whom she married in 1965 and divorced in 1980. Jim Sillars also survives her.

Margo MacDonald, born April 19 1943, died April 4 2014


Michael Meacher claims (Letters, 2 April) that our proposals “kick away” free NHS care at the point of service. Quite the opposite: they reinforce this principle. As the Guardian reported on Monday, Solving the NHS Care and Cash Crisis proposes various hypothecated health taxes to tackle the £30bn black hole in the NHS budget. Introducing dedicated health taxes is not a madcap, rightwing idea – the move was actively considered by a previous Labour shadow cabinet. Our proposals would include a £10 a month payment from all non-exempted adults, collected with the council tax, to support individualised health MOTs and continuing personal support for healthy living. People may not like paying more taxes for an effective NHS, but we would argue that Britain has little choice, precisely so we can preserve the principle of free at the point of use and clinical need.
Norman Warner House of Lords
Jack O’Sullivan Oxford

• Every NHS doctor, every day, sees a disproportionate number of patients with illness caused by poverty and the associates of poverty – smoking, obesity, alcohol, drug use, domestic violence. The NHS should be predominantly paid for by those whose privilege is to need it least. Then it will be there for all of us when we need it. This is how tax works.
Dr Helen Holt
Consultant physician, Bournemouth

• Polly Toynbee illustrates this government’s aversion to progressive taxation, regardless of falling revenues and the resulting dereliction of public services. I believe the fairest way would be for pensioners, like me – the people who would benefit most – to pay national insurance. This could also be part of the answer to the problem of social care, which should be incorporated into the NHS.
Trevor Lashley

The prime minister refuses to sack Maria Miller over her claiming of £45,000 in accommodation allowances (Report, 4 April), while at the same time introducing a spare-room tax for the poor. Even worse, the so-called standards committee waters down an independent probe’s criticism of her expenses. The cross-party MPs overruled the key findings, demanding that she should hand back just £5,800 of taxpayers’ money.

The committee’s final report states that even if the commissioner was strictly right about the rules, it was “inappropriate” to apply them. Really? If a welfare benefit claimant had been found guilty of claiming benefits that they were not entitled to, they would be on their way to prison. In Westminster, Maria Miller’s “punishment” was being forced to apologise to the Commons. Not because she defrauded the taxpayer, but because she didn’t cooperate with the independent investigation.

We have been told by David Cameron that his welfare reforms are part of a moral mission. He wants to end the something-for-nothing culture. Hence the food banks, hence the sick and disabled dying when benefits have been withdrawn, hence the spare room tax for the poor; it’s for their own good. Yet he also says Maria Miller shouldn’t have to resign. Morality is always for the little people.
Julie Partridge

• Your report suggests the culture secretary did all she could to obstruct parliament’s investigation by “consistently responding with lengthy procedural challenges” and repeatedly failing “to provide information when asked for, or to respond adequately, to the commissioner’s questions”. The committee’s conclusion that Miller “did not pay as close attention to the rules of the house as she should” seems remarkably feeble. Surely a cabinet minister should be expected to set a better example. The lesson for any aspiring criminal seems to be first obstruct all police investigations by any available means and for as long as possible; and, second, if you are charged, get a group of your mates to sit on the jury.
Professor Robert Williams

• During the 2009 “expenses scandal”, David Cameron insisted that what was at issue was not the money itself: “How much needs to be paid back is not really a legal issue, it’s actually a moral and an ethical issue.” Does a 34-second apology deal with the latter point?
Professor Ralph Negrine
University of Sheffield

• So Denis MacShane loses his seat and gets sent down for 12 grand, while Miller apologises, repays six out of more than 40 grand and stays in the cabinet.
John Smith

Health warnings on air pollution should not be seen as isolated incidents (Editorial, 3 April). In recent years we have seen rates of major respiratory illnesses increase and in London alone an extra 4,000 premature deaths occur each year as a result of poor air quality. The European commission recently launched legal action against the UK for failing to meet mandatory air pollution targets. If we want to avoid dramatic government interventions like banning half of all cars on the road in major cities – which Paris has enacted – we need to adopt a much more proactive approach. Helping people to take simple, practical steps to rethink their travel plans can have a dramatic impact on air pollution.

In partnership with Barts NHS health trust, we are working to improve local air quality, through the development of cleaner air zones to benefit patients and incentives for suppliers and visiting vehicles to switch their engines off and operate cleaner vehicles. These sorts of initiatives are not just necessary for the environment, they will also help all of us to live longer, healthier lives.
Caroline Watson
Partner, Global Action Plan

• It’s easy to play the blame game when it comes to air pollution, but we are much less adept at coming up with answers. Air pollution is one of the most complex challenges we face – it doesn’t respect international or political boundaries. Much of it comes from the way we live our lives, but, above all, it’s usually invisible. So in some ways we should be grateful to the clouds of Saharan dust for reminding us of the importance of the air that we breathe, which most of us take for granted. The media coverage given to the smog is almost unprecedented, but what a tragedy it would be if this dispersed as soon as the dust stopped falling on our cars. I hope instead that it acts as a wake-up call for us all, especially our political leaders, and that healthy air is seen as essential a human right as clean drinking water and enough food for all.
Ruth Chambers

• The latest pollution crisis offers a compromise over the global warming debate: take all such measures to reduce CO2 ,N2O emissions that may affect long-term global warming as will also reduce immediate threats to health from pollution. It may be that action on the second will fulfil all the criteria for the first.
DBC Reed

• The reduction in pollution following the 1956 Clean Air Act failed to match the positive impact resulting from the switch from toxic “town gas” to North Sea Gas just over a decade later, when “at national level in England and Wales, infant mortality rates fell rapidly from the early 1970s and into the 1980s” (Health Stat Q 2008 Winter;(40):18-29). A similar reduction in infant death rates following a switch to natural gas occurred in Turkey, as reported in January 2013 by Resul Cesur, Erdal Tekin and Aydogan Ulker.
Michael Ryan

• The current risks to health identified with the addition of airborne dust to existing pollution levels illustrates only too well the unforeseen consequences of the interventions made by London councils to limit the speed of vehicles to below 30mph. Speed humps, alternating pinch points, chicanes, additional roundabouts and zigzag parking ensure that vehicles have to be driven in lower gear, with frequent stops and starts thus increasing harmful exhaust. Diesel particulates are particularly dangerous and a 30% increase in diesel vehicles over recent years has ensured a rise in pollution, even before the addition of cloud dust.

The supposed safety suggested by these measures are more than offset by the increased health risks for all the population and especially for young undeveloped lungs frequently blasted by exhaust fumes in their outward facing buggies.
Chloe Baveystock

• It’s not just Tories in Westminster who fail to understand the pollution crisis (Report, 4 April). Here in Uttlesford our local council is about to approve a development plan that guarantees traffic gridlock in our town. Air quality levels in Saffron Walden already breach EU limits. Perhaps we should all stay indoors for the foreseeable future?
Richard Gilyead
Saffron Walden, Essex

• Lovely photo of the Angel of the North in the smog (3 April). Shame that, as your map shows, we had very low levels of pollution that day. We have had lots of mist – commonly known up here as a sea fret.
Sally Watson
Newcastle upon Tyne

Like Edward Thomas (Letters, 4 April) I am approaching my 70th birthday. Unlike him I grew up in a provincial city in the 50s and 60s where few if any black faces were to be seen. I moved to London over 40 years ago and live in a neighbouring borough to Hackney, where I, my children and my grandchild live, work and play happily and harmoniously in a “melting pot of people of other cultures” and it is really all rather wonderful. And, Edward, I invite you to join me for a coffee, or a pint in Broadway Market, so that you can see for yourself the diversity and vibrancy which exists there 60 years from your recollection of it.
David Harrison

• Re your headline (4 April) “Average family £974 worse off in 2015 – Balls”. Please convince me that’s an attribution and not a comment.
John Emms
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

• After itemising Prince Charles’s many exemptions, privileges and prerogatives, including his right to the assets of anyone who dies intestate in Cornwall, Robert Booth writes (Peer proposes ending prince’s tax privileges, 31 March) that Lord Berkeley’s bill, to be put before the House of Lords and designed to put an end to those arcane anomalies, is “unlikely to become law”. Why not?
Victoria Glendinning
Bruton, Somerset

• I think you’ll find Tipp-Ex (G2, 3 April) was invented in Texas by Bette Nesmith, mum of Mike Nesmith, one-time Monkee.
Alan Fry

• If you’re driving around experiencing all these places (Letters, passim), you might want to avoid Carsick in Sheffield.
David Hamer

• I’ve driven through the Shropshire village of Knockin several times. I am still looking in vain for the shop.
Ian Gordon
Folkestone, Kent

• Aware that this posting risks bringing the thread to an end, can I mention that during a tour of rural Burgundy a year or two ago, we had a clear run through Anus, a small hamlet.
Les Farris
South Petherton, Somerset

It was great to read the review of Home (3 April), but Lyn Gardner’s assumption that foyers are so called because they are “just somewhere you pass through” couldn’t be further from the truth. In France, where the foyer movement started, the word has many meanings, including home and hearth, and was intended to signify a home from home for young migrants to the cities after the second world war. In the UK the word has never been understood. I remember, when running the Foyer Federation, being asked by a bemused person whether cinema foyers really needed a federation – and a puzzled conversation about the convention on “voyeurs” taking place in Liverpool. Fortunately the institution is better than its name and about to celebrate its 21st birthday, providing over 10,000 young people a year, like those in Home, with a springboard to develop their talents and rejoin the mainstream.
Carolyn Hayman


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


The Culture Secretary’s “apology” for overclaimed expenses has not defused the row

Sir, On Thursday Maria Miller made what must rank as one of the most disgraceful and contemptible speeches ever heard in the Chamber (“Fury grows as expense row minister clings to job”, Apr 4). That she was not howled down is almost as disgraceful and yet another blot on the collective reputation of our MPs.

Professor Sir Bryan Thwaites

Fishbourne, W Sussex

Sir, It is difficult to know which is more depressing: that a minister, heavily criticised by a Parliamentary committee for her obstructive attitude to its investigation which ordered her to repay overclaimed expenses, should have the gall not to offer her resignation; or that the Prime Minister does not require it.

Robert Rhodes, QC

London WC2

Sir, The Maria Miller scandal shows that party politics and allegiance will always trump truth and justice, and this extends to the highest levels. Is it any wonder that so many of our politicians are held in contempt? It is also a good reason why their ability to influence and control the free press should be strictly limited.

Dr Brian Bunday

Baildon, W Yorks

Sir, The real scandal is that an over-claiming MP can remain on the state’s payroll. In any other walk of life they would now be an

Roy Hamlin

Bridgnorth, Shropshire

Sir, The decision by the Conservative-dominated Commons Committee on Standards to overturn the ruling of the “independent” Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards regarding Maria Miller is akin to someone found guilty in court having the sentence referred to his or her family for the final resolution.

Douglas Kedge

Sonning Common, Oxon

Sir, It appears that the State has provided £90,000 towards Maria Miller’s £420,000 mortgage, just over 21 per cent of total repayments; her property, purchased for £234,000 in 1995, achieved a capital gain in excess of £1.2 million when sold this year for £1.47 million. Is it mischievous to suggest that this matter might satisfactorily be laid to rest if Mrs Miller considered a donation to good causes equivalent to 21 per cent of her profit — causes that she promotes as the Culture Secretary?

Nick Gandon

Hertford Heath, Herts

Sir, David Cameron even went so far as to claim that Miller “was cleared of the original allegation made against her”. Well, actually no she wasn’t; the independent investigation found her guilty. It was the Standards Committee which labelled the over-claimed expenses an “administrative error”. MPs seem to make the same administrative error over and over again. In other words, they judged her by their own rotten standards.

It is the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth – it is time to rename his birthday in his honour

Sir, Since this is the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, St George’s Day, April 23 — the assumed day of Shakespeare’s birth and the known day of his death — should be renamed as Shakespeare’s Day and declared a public holiday, replacing the May Day Bank Holiday.

We should emulate the Burns
Night tradition with Shakespeare Suppers, in celebration of the Bard and his works. Finally, his plays and poems should be brought into perpetual copyright for the benefit of the nation.The royalties should be used to establish a Shakespeare Fund to support young and emerging artists.

Anthony H. Ratcliffe

London W1

A diverse group of Jews explain their concern at the regulations preventing prisoners from reading books

Sir, We, a diverse group of British Jews, are concerned at regulations that prevent prisoners having books (

Jewish culture, in its many religious and secular incarnations, is united by a deep-rooted conviction in the power of the written word. As the “people of the book”, the life of the Jews has been sustained for millennia by studying Jewish texts and writing new ones. Books are the source of our solace and our redemption.

We are therefore sensitive to any attempt to restrict access to books, whether suffered by Jews or anyone else. In particular, when prisoners have limited access to books, we are concerned that they will be denied the possibilities of self-improvement and self-understanding that reading provides.

We do not dispute the principle that privileges should be earned in prison, but we do not see books as a privilege but as a resource through which prisoners can transform their lives.

Keith Kahn-Harris (editor, The Jewish Quarterly); Stephen Pollard (editor, The Jewish Chronicle); Devorah Baum, Marc Goldberg, David Paul, Marc Michaels, Deborah Kahn-Harris, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Rabbi Jeremy Gordon, Rabbi Danny Rich, Student Rabbi Robin Ashworth-Steen, Anthony Julius, Shauna Leven, Vicky Prais and Daniel Silverstone, Kevin Sefton, Lawrence Joffe, Edie Friedman

A reader is appalled by the speed with which personal computers become obsolete and have to be wastefully junked

Sir, We are replacing our computer next week because support for its operating system is being withdrawn. We must also replace a four-year-old printer as it is not compatible with the new machine’s operating system. What a waste of raw materials. It is as if the computer industry has not heard of global warming.

Audrey Pawsey

Harpenden, Herts

Maths for apprentices and craftsmen needs to be practical rather than burdened with academic proofs and principles

Sir, Sir John Armitt et al (letter, Apr 1) say maths and English education for apprenticeships must be contextual and practical rather than academic.

I failed the 11+ so my education was biased towards life as an apprentice. School, technical college and polytechnic studies were practical, easy to understand in the context of experience gained in the workplace, and I often put them into practice in day-to-day tasks.

After my apprenticeship and some years as a master craftsman I went to university to read mathematics with computer science. The change was startling: exercises and discussions were based not on practical problems but on first principles and academic proof of theory. This would have been of little use when I was an apprentice or a craftsman, but in my subsequent career as a chartered engineer the academic first principles were invaluable.

Armitt is quite right: educational requirements for an apprenticeship must be contextual and practical, and the current insistence on academic learning for all is misplaced.

John Martin

Swarthmoor, Cumbria

A long-serving teacher finds that students from a religious background have a grasp of basic moral principles

Sir, When I first taught, in the 1970s, I used to ask students to respond to scenarios involving ethical dilemmas. It was the moral reasoning that I was looking for rather than just a response.

When I repeated the exercise in my last year of teaching I was not surprised to find that many students simply could not understand why it might be considered wrong to steal money collected in school for a charity (provided you were smart enough not to get caught); or why it might be considered wrong to bully someone into providing sexual favours by threatening to spread gossip about them; or why on earth anyone would help an old person who had collapsed in the street.

What did give me pause for thought, however, was that students from religious backgrounds — Christian and Muslim, a significant proportion of whom being from ethnic minorities — met incredulity when they were brave enough to suggest that stealing, lying and bullying might be wrong.

When those who deem themselves to be morally and intellectually superior to “religious” people proclaim their superiority they should consider the feelings, values and culture of these lesser beings — who else will clean the Übermenschen’s houses, nanny their children and repair their plumbing?

R. Howgate

Great Kimble, Bucks


Withy farmers need flood control in Somerset

The recent floods prevented the withy harvest this year

Flexible working: Somerset withies being woven into a willow coffin at Stoke St Gregory  Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

6:58AM BST 04 Apr 2014

Comments11 Comments

SIR – I am with Germaine Greer in supporting Somerset’s withy industry, but that is no excuse not to dredge the River Parrett.

Withies must be cut while the plant is dormant – once they shoot, it’s too late – which means January and February. A flood such as the withy farmers have suffered this year is a disaster, as they simply couldn’t get on to the withy beds to harvest their crops.

I worked as clerk to five of the internal drainage boards that cover much of the affected area. Even then (I retired 14 years ago) my boards were agitating against the deliberate neglect of the River Parrett.

For more than 100 years our forefathers had developed a regime that maintained high water levels in summer and emptied the watercourses in the winter to provide flood storage. That system created the area’s undoubted wildlife interest in the first place. The 2014 floods have done major damage to wildlife habitats.

No amount of dredging would have prevented flooding, but a properly dredged river wouldn’t have taken two months to clear the water.

Alone of the principal Somerset rivers, the Parrett has no tidal sluice. This means that tidal silting is a major problem.

A tidal sluice would be expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as the millions spent on “fashionable” bird reserves – and nowhere near as expensive as clearing up after this winter’s floods.

John Hunt
Curry Rivel, Somerset

SIR – Mary Riddell is right: British justice is indeed under threat.

There are 773 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences who were given minimum sentences of less than two years. So they are not the most serious of offenders. They were sentenced before 2008. Yet they are still in prison more than six years later.

When indeterminate sentences were abolished in 2012, Parliament gave Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, the power to secure the early release of these prisoners. But he has declined to exercise that power. Quite apart from the sense of injustice, their release would save the taxpayer £30 million a year. When may we expect him to act?

Lord Lloyd of Berwick
London SW1

Get knotted

SIR – Japanese knotweed is not a frightening weed, and is easier to kill than horsetail.

First remove and burn the dry stalks from last year’s growth. As soon as the new red shoots appear, cut them down. Do not put them in the compost bin. Continue to cut the new shoots every week until the autumn, when they will stop reappearing.

Continue the treatment the following year when there will be far fewer shoots. It could take three years before it is all gone. If the shoots are in tarmac or cracked concrete, it might be easier to use a weedkiller, but you will need to reapply it each time the shoots appear.

S Beswick
Whitehaven, Cumberland

Electronic cigarettes

SIR – I am a 70-year-old retired consultant surgeon who smoked for 50 years until March 14 2013. On that day I smoked 30 cigarettes. The next day I gave up smoking and purchased an electronic cigarette kit online. I have not touched a cigarette since.

I use the lowest nicotine dose of 6mg. I now hardly ever use the device. I have not put on weight and I have saved £5,180 out of taxable pensions.

If only electronic cigarettes had been available years ago.

John Storrs
Canterbury, Kent

Dylan in the South

SIR – In North Wales, Dylan would be pronounced “Dullan”, in South Wales “Dillan”. Since Dylan Thomas lived in South Wales, he would probably have said “Dillan”.

Mike Maloney
Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire

Second thoughts

SIR – Britons suffered a severe jolt last Sunday morning when, by Parliamentary decree, they were obliged to rise an hour early in order to arrive at church on time.

A similar jolt is expected in a few months when we will be forced to wait an extra hour before we can enjoy our morning cups of tea.

All this could be avoided if British software engineers and Swiss watchmakers lengthened the second ever so slightly in the summer months and shortened it in the winter months. There would be no noticeable daily effect.

“Summer seconds” and “winter seconds” would be used for all purposes except for those of a scientific or sporting nature, where “standard” seconds would remain in use.

Jack R Richards
Codicote, Hertfordshire

It’s an ill wind…

SIR – It is unbelievable that on the day that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced that climate change is one of the greatest threats to our planet, David Cameron, who once claimed he was going to have “the greenest government ever”, declared that he wanted to stop all onshore wind-farm development.

He may think this move will win votes, but survey after survey, the last as recent as December, show that 64 per cent of people approve of wind farms.

Peter Edwards
Delabole, Cornwall

Buying silence

SIR – Hilda Gaddum asks if any authority has powers to stop annoying cold calls from overseas that fall outside the control of the Telephone Preference Service. I can answer: Yes!

We too were driven to distraction by such calls. The solution was a telephone from BT that blocks all “number withheld” calls, as well as all overseas calls that I have not registered in my “favourites” memory.

It was the best £45 I have ever spent.

Terry Lloyd
Darley Abbey, Derbyshire

Pillar to post

SIR – A photograph (April 2) showed “Britain’s oldest postbox”, from 1855, at Holwell, Dorset. In Guernsey last summer, I saw a pillar-box installed in 1853 on the site designated by Anthony Trollope when he was a postal surveyor.

John Piffe-Phelps
Oswestry, Shropshire

Medieval pest

SIR – Roger Gentry wonders whether dormant Black Death viruses are being unearthed by the Crossrail excavations disturbing burials under Charterhouse Square in London.

I was a medical student at Barts, living in Charterhouse Square in the Fifties. I remember being taught that the Black Death was caused, not by a virus, but by a bacillus Pasteurella pestis, an anaerobic bacterium. I understand this was renamed Yersinia pestis in 1967 after Alexandre Yersin who discovered it in 1894 as the causative agent of bubonic plague.

However, the huge size of rats seen in Birmingham recently (report, April 2) will not encourage complacency.

Dr Wendy Roles
Sunningdale, Berkshire

How to reply when the waiter says Enjoy!

SIR – His Honour Judge Patrickwonders how to reply to a waiter’s annoying injunction: “Enjoy!”

My usual response is simply: “What?” This obviously does sometimes lead to a lengthy discussion, but the point is made and hopefully remembered.

Sarah Allen
Bridgwater, Somerset

SIR – My response is: “Really?” It has the desired effect. The puzzled expression adds something to proceedings especially if the course is not interesting in itself.

Rev Dr Gareth Jones
Chaplain, Cardiff University

SIR – I consider “Enjoy” to be the English equivalent of “Bon appetit”, which I have always found charming, though it doesn’t translate well. The only response I can offer is a polite “Thank you.”

David Barnett
Thetford, Norfolk

SIR – Being ordered to “enjoy” reminds me of the time in a California store in 1983 when I overheard a customer being told by a sales lady to “have a nice day”. His reply was: “No thank you, I have made other arrangements.”

Valerie Harbidge
Cowling, North Yorkshire

SIR – Now Nick Clegg has made it clear that there is no justification for Britain to remain part of this corrupt, anti-democratic organisation, perhaps David Cameron could get on with the referendum before the country consigns him to history.

David Rammell
Everton, Hampshire

SIR – One question put by a member of the audience to Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg during their debate on Wednesday was: “What will the EU be like in 10 years’ time?”

According to the EU’s own statistics, its share of world GDP has already shrunk from 30.9 per cent in 1980 to 18.3 per cent in 2014. By comparison, the share of world GDP in other advanced countries over the same period has declined by only 7.6 per cent, while that of the rest of the world has increased by 20.1 per cent.

This pattern is projected to continue to 2050. By then, the EU’s share of world GDP is forecast to fall by a further 8.4 per cent, that of advanced countries by another 4.6 per cent, but that of the rest of the world to rise by a further 13 per cent.

Thanks to EU restrictions on negotiating our own trade agreements, we have already lost out in world markets. But we could gain a larger share of world GDP in future if we left the club.

Richard Shaw
Dunstable, Bedfordshire

SIR – Do we take it that Ukip and the Lib Dems are the only parties interested in the forthcoming European elections?

Peter Amey
Hoveton, Norfolk

SIR – You can’t help thinking how much better two former Liberal Party leaders, Lord Steel and Lord Ashdown, would have dealt with the inconsistencies and unexpurgated bias spouted by Nigel Farage in his two debates with Nick Clegg.

Despite the audience’s apparent willingness to be swayed by his bellicose and unrealistic views, Mr Farage once again had no original thoughts to offer, and could only try to win support by denigrating all those with whom he disagreed.

Dr Robin J Harman
Farnham, Surrey

SIR – Whatever else Nick Clegg said during his televised debate with Nigel Farage, at least he got one thing correct; his use of the term “human disaster”. A “humanitarian disaster” is a complete contradiction. It is a corruption imported from the American media by lazy and impressionable British journalists during the late Eighties.

Michael R Gordon
Bewdley, Worcestershire

SIR – During the EU debate, Nick Clegg accused Nigel Farage of wanting to turn back the clock and see W G Grace opening the batting for England.

I’m voting Ukip.

Bernard Anghelides
Paddock Wood, Kent

Irish Times:

Sir, – The Government will shortly publish a strategy designed to reactivate the construction sector through easing perceived obstacles to development. Such a move is welcome; there is significant capacity to boost construction to a sustainable level and in the process create jobs and build much needed infrastructure, in particular homes. According to the latest Housing Agency report, we need 80,000 new homes by the end of 2018, half in Dublin.

Many aspects of the construction strategy have been well flagged, including provisions to relax density requirements in urban areas to enable developers to build fewer, larger houses on sites instead of apartments, in order, we are told, to meet demand for family homes.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in referring to the construction strategy in the 2014 Programme for Government, says that the plan “will be based on enterprise and high standards, not speculation – we are never going back to the culture that nearly destroyed our country”. One aspect of our culture which has indeed damaged our country is urban sprawl. According to Dublin City Council’s study with DIT and UCD on Demographic Trends in Dublin 2012, “we have an American-type urban and regional settlement pattern, based on low density housing and high car dependency. The 2011 Census confirms that a pattern of population dispersal has continued even during the recession. This presents challenges with regard to provision of infrastructure; provision of social services; complex commuting patterns and accessibility; energy costs.” I am concerned that in the context of the need for new housing development, many voices are clamouring for us to make precisely the mistakes we made in the past through continuing to promote urban sprawl.

The topic is emotive, as evidenced by the reaction to recent comments by the head of the Department of Finance. A broad-ranging talk on construction and property issues – from the need to provide public housing to people who can no longer afford mortgage payments to the professionalisation of apartment block management was reduced in media reports to a reference to three-bedroom semi-detached houses.

It is possible to develop attractive family homes without resorting to the popular but unfortunately unsustainable two-storey house. The problem is that we have failed to convince people of the benefits of higher densities or the positive aspects of apartment living. To do this we need to broaden the discussion to include qualitative issues – not only in relation to the design, construction, management and maintenance of the apartments themselves but to consideration of the neighbourhood as a whole.

Developing homes and neighbourhoods in a sustainable way will pay dividends on many levels, including fairness (more people able to live closer to jobs, amenities and services) and health: the design of buildings and public spaces in cities and towns can lead to positive changes in our lifestyle and ultimately to greater levels of physical activity, which combat the root causes of obesity.

A Government strategy to re-energise the construction sector is welcome – but only if it doesn’t inadvertently perpetuate urban sprawl. Yours, etc,


Dublin City Architect,

Civic Offices,

Wood Quay,

Dublin 8

Sir, – The Housing Agency’s report projecting housing need over the next five years presents a significant opportunity to break with the mistakes of the past and ensure a considered, evidence-based approach to planning. However it also provokes pressure for a return to laissez faire, developer-led planning that must be resisted.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the modern Irish planning system, which sought “to make provision, in the interests of the common good, for the proper planning and development of cities, towns and other areas”. The National Planning Conference in Limerick this month marks this anniversary and will ask if 50 years on we have learned to avoid a knee-jerk reaction in the face of the need for new homes.

Serviced urban land remains a scarce resource that needs effective management. To construct places where people want to live, work and build communities, we must think long-term. Large volumes of low-density housing development produced at minimal cost to developers and maximum price to the consumer contributed to the problems of the property boom and often made “places” unsustainable as provision of services to low-density, remote developments became financially impracticable. This legacy must never be repeated.

As Ministers Hogan and O’Sullivan’s foreword to Local Area Plans – Guidelines for Planning Authorities (June 2013) states, we must focus on “settlements and place, rather than just development …We need to plan for communities, not for profit”.

The Housing Agency report lays down a challenge, not just for professional planners, but for all disciplines engaged in place-making. How do we ensure that good quality, affordable, efficient, well-designed houses are built where they should be and that real place-making remains at the forefront of the planning and housing agenda?

The Department has produced a range of guidelines designed to inform planning authorities, An Bord Pleanála, developers and the general public. Today we have a more comprehensive suite of guidance than ever before which demonstrates the aspiration at national level to deliver quality places. Rather than complaining about densities and the planning system we simply must implement these and get on with building high-quality, sustainable places. The days of parachute planning and place-making must be at an end. Yours, etc,



Irish Planning Institute,

Great Strand Street,

Dublin 1

Sir, – I refer to recent statements by Leo Varadkar in relation to the funding of Irish Rail. Mr Varadkar justifies his assertion that rail is inefficient on the basis of the relative numbers carried, compared to Dublin Bus or Luas. This is a shortsighted and simplistic analysis, which ignores the fact that the average rail journey is many multiples of the average Dublin Bus or Luas journey and is thus of more social and economic import.

The economic worth of the railway shouldn’t be casually dismissed – ask the people of Donegal how that region has fared since the destruction of rail infrastructure in the North West. Nor would I be particularly confident that bus-based solutions have the ability to address the transport needs of the Dublin area given that the usage of Dublin Bus services has declined sharply, from 149 million journeys in 2003/4 to 115 million in 2012. Indeed Dublin Bus carries substantially fewer passengers than in the much smaller Dublin of the 1960s while rail usage (excluding Luas) has increased by a factor of four. Indeed significant sections of the rail system are heavily congested, resulting in serious service degradation, particularly along the Dublin/Belfast corridor. Yours, etc,


Wheaton Hall,


Co Louth

Sir, – Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar is warning of possible closures on our railway network. However, on the European election campaign, his party colleague Jim Higgins MEP is still supporting the notion that the Western Rail Corridor (WRC) should be extended further. Mr Higgins is well aware that European TEN-T transport policy has made the Western Rail Corridor a non runner for European funding and there is going to be no Dublin money for this scheme.

Mairead McGuinness MEP is backing growing support in the West for the WRC to be converted to a greenway to protect the route until such time as a railway might become possible. Lorraine Higgins, Labour Party MEP candidate, and Luke Ming Flanagan, independent MEP candidate, also support the idea of a greenway.

Galway, Mayo and Sligo county councils, all with Fine Gael majorities, are against this policy, which would provide a huge boost to tourism for relatively little capital outlay. The councils seem to share the view of the three sitting Western MEPs, Jim Higgins, Marian Harkin and Pat the Cope Gallagher, that we apparently still have the money to open old rural railway lines in the West of Ireland and run them at a huge loss. It’s irresponsible politics.

Were the Minister to make it clear to our MEPs and councils that not only are some of our existing rail lines under threat but that there is no chance of more loss-making lines being reopened then perhaps they might throw their support behind a project that has a realistic chance of happening and which would bring jobs to the West. Yours, etc,


Sligo Mayo

Greenway Campaign,


Co Sligo

Sir, – Why are the views of philosophers, theologians and sociologists on our society mostly ignored, David Nelson asks (Letters, April 4th). Silly question, easy answer: there is no money in philosophy, theology or sociology. And if there is no money in philosophy, theology or sociology, they’re not worth anything, are they? That’s what kids in Ireland mostly learn, isn’t it? Ignore this message: it was written by a philosopher. In the context of the free market economy, it’s worthless. Yours, etc,






Sir, – Amid the events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of Cumann na mBan and its role in the struggle for independence, it should not be forgotten that members of that organisation were subsequently committed to the overthrow of the independent Irish state. One of its core activities in the first decade of the Irish Free State was the attempted undermining of the criminal justice system through persistent and co-ordinated jury intimidation.

Many examples of the menacing circulars sent to jurors’ homes and posted in public places survive in the National Archives, National Library and the Dublin Diocesan Archives. This campaign supplemented the activities of those who were willing to attack jurors, such as the men who shot John White in Terenure in 1929. He had been foreman of the jury which had convicted the Republican Con Healy of shooting at members of An Garda Síochána. Indeed, Cumann na mBan referred to the fate of Mr White in one of its leaflets as a warning to other jurors. Yours, etc,


Durham Law School,

Stockton Road,


United Kingdom

Sir, – Edward Collins (Letters, April 3rd) is under a misapprehension. I did not write in to moan, or to look for sympathy, but to draw attention to the simple fact that up to half of the State’s voters are being ignored by the political system and by the media.

Mr Collins portrays us as diehard conservatives, impotently angry at the loss of our former power and glory. In fact, Mary Stewart has been campaigning tirelessly for years against the death penalty, as well as against abortion, and I was a lifelong supporter of the Labour Party until it adopted pro-abortion policies.

Personally, if it were not for the issue of abortion, I would not bother to write these letters at all. Does anyone seriously think that a Catholic like me would write to The Irish Times expecting “sympathy” for my position?

I was merely pointing out to your readers, and hopefully to politicians, that while there may be consensus in the media about various issues, large numbers of us have different views, and will vote accordingly. I feel that I need to do this because the media, for the most part, are not doing it for me.

Yours, etc,



Co Waterford

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


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

Irish Independent:

Published 05 April 2014 02:30 AM

* Leaving my local supermarket some days ago I stopped to put some change on the table for the Kidney Association, a fantastic organisation that has done some great work over the years.

Also in this section

Put lead in your pencil and use your vote

Sky deal is a slap in the face for GAA fans

Coming back from the mother of all mistakes

I never pass its table as, many years ago, a friend of mine who was on the waiting list finally got his new kidney and I saw first-hand what a difference it made to his life.

Unfortunately he has since passed, but it left a lasting impression on my life. I now always carry my organ donor card in my wallet. But, as we all know, we often leave our wallet and driver’s licence behind, which delays any decision regarding organ donation or discussions with next-of-kin.

Investigating the matter further, I discovered that carrying an organ donor card merely indicates your intention to be an donor but does not give permission. Your next-of-kin still need to be contacted first which, understandably for the hospital, can be a very difficult conversation considering the trauma the family is experiencing.

With this in mind, I contacted my local hospital to ask if they had a list of donors which I could add my name too, “unfortunately not” was the reply – no such list exists.

Would it not make more sense to have a list of donors, where you could sign up and complete all the necessary legal forms with the consent of your next-of-kin?

Your name and medical details could be stored on computer, to be accessed only in the event of death, which removes the need to contact grief-stricken families.

Given the power of computers and with time-critical decisions required, it would also mean that your details could be immediately matched to somebody on the waiting list. If there were no suitable matches in Ireland your medical details could be instantly matched to somebody in Europe.

None of this is rocket science and, in this age of computers, carrying a small card that is easily lost or misplaced is obsolete.

I’m sure a properly constructed list, which could run in tandem with donor cards, would lead to more organs becoming available, dealt with in the fastest possible time and with a lot less stress on the donor’s family.




* President Michael D Higgins has launched a national debate about values.

Perhaps President Higgins could lead from the front on issues he refers to, such as justice and equality, by reducing his salary to a reasonable level.

Real leadership would be for the President to publicly declare what he accepts as a reasonable salary and pension.




* With regard to Brian McDevitt’s letter (Irish Independent, April 4), on NNI Press Pass winner Elayna Keller’s work on bullying, here are some great words of inspiration from Stan Rogers‘s ‘The Mary Ellen Carter’.

“And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow. With smiling b****rds lying to you everywhere you go. Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain. And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.”

The great Liam Clancy‘s version is a source of great solace to those who listen to it. Try it.




* I don’t feel particularly sorry for TDs involved in scandals. But as we leave all decency behind, the Irish world becomes less and less like the ideal we aimed for in our founding values. Partially, it is the politicians’ greed and indifference that has created this “me fein” attitude.

It was bizarre for me to find anti-Semitism in Australia and the unfounded nature of it, hatred for no reason. Hatred passed on.

Now, there is a certain amount of crying wolf in depicting criticism of Israel’s actions as anti-Semitic. Israel is often regarded as doing the wrong thing. But, as many Israelis acknowledge, they are now protesting with the Palestinians for peace in their mutual homes.

But who are we to be sending Nazi imagery to any Irish person? Is this the country we want? Where we make light of genocide? Us, who survived a famine brought upon us by the notion that we too were “unwanted” and, therefore, also disposable.

You may not like Justice Minister Alan Shatter. You may think he does a bad job. But this? Come on people, we are better than this.




* Now that it has been established that recordings of conversations took place in several garda stations and the prison service – most of them illegally – it begs the question as to how many others were also surreptitiously eavesdropped on?

In true GUBU-esque fashion, it would appear, in hindsight, the shenanigans of Sean Doherty and his cronies were boy scout-esque in comparison.




* The HSE is currently reviewing the medical card entitlements of thousands of over-70s following Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s appalling changes to the income thresholds in Budget 2014 and, in particular, the income thresholds that apply to couples.

The following statistics will demonstrate the unequal and scandalous treatment of couples in this age bracket.

* The single threshold was reduced by €5,200 per annum.

* The threshold for couples was reduced by a staggering €15,600 per annum – that’s €7,800 each.

* The new annual threshold for a single person is €26,000.

* The new annual threshold for a couple is €46,800 – this works out at €23,400 each.

It is extraordinary that no threshold applies to the new GP Visit Card for children under six. So millionaires with children under six will be entitled to it. What a joke.




* I refer to recent statements by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar in relation to the funding of Irish Rail.

Mr Varadkar justifies his assertion that rail is inefficient on the basis of the relative numbers carried compared to Dublin Bus or Luas.

This is a very blinkered, short-sighted and simplistic analysis. It ignores the fact that the average rail journey is many multiples of the average Dublin Bus or Luas journey and is thus of more social and economic importance.

The economic worth of the railway to places like Galway, Killarney or Westport shouldn’t be casually dismissed – ask the people of Donegal how that region has fared since the destruction of rail infrastructure in the north-west.

While Irish Rail may well need to make further savings, it also needs to grow the business and aggressively exploit the substantial improvements in railway infrastructure.

I wouldn’t be particularly confident that bus-based solutions have the ability to address the transport needs of the Dublin area given that the usage of Dublin Bus services has declined sharply from 149 million journeys in 2003/4 to 115 million in 2012.

Indeed, significant sections of the rail system are heavily congested, especially in the Dublin area, resulting in serious service degradation, particularly along the Dublin/Belfast corridor.



Irish Independent


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