Hospital again

6May2014 Hospital Again

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate Mr Lamb feels Dynamic Priceless

Go and visit Mary sell two books tidy up

Scrabbletoday, I win not by much even though perhaps I’ll win tomorrow.

Obituary:

  1. s

Howard Nicholson – obituary

Dr Howard Nicholson was an expert on tuberculosis who brought an old-school dedication to his patients to the new world of the NHS

Howard Nicholson

5:38PM BST 05 May 2014

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Dr Howard Nicholson, , who has died aged 102, was an expert on chest diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia; his medical career began in the 1930s and spanned the introduction of the National Health Service and the antibiotic revolution.

A superb physician, Nicholson combined an old-style dedication to his patients with a willingness to adapt to the new world of the NHS after its introduction in 1948. He always kept up to date with the medical literature and expected his junior staff to do the same. He continued to read the British Medical Journal every week when he was over 100 years old.

Nicholson qualified as a doctor in 1935, a time when tuberculosis was extremely common and often lethal. Until the introduction of combination anti-bacterial medication in 1952, advances had been made through the development of surgical procedures that were as terrifying for the patient as they were heroic for the professionals involved.

For example, it had long been noted that some patients with tuberculosis went into remission if they suffered a collapsed lung (spontaneous pneumothorax). From the 1930s, as anaesthetic techniques improved, surgeons developed a variety of “collapse therapies” involving the artificial deflation of the lung — a procedure endured most famously by the writer George Orwell in 1947, when he was writing Nineteen Eighty-Four.

“[The] treatment they are giving me is to put the left lung out of action, apparently for about six months, which is supposed to give it a better chance to heal,” Orwell wrote, matter-of-factly. “They first crushed the phrenic nerve, which I gather is what makes the lung expand and contract, and then pumped air into (actually under) the diaphragm, which I understand is to push the lung into a different position.” Some critics believe that the therapy so stoically endured by Orwell may have influenced the depiction of the tortures of Winston Smith in the Ministry of Love.

Such procedures worked best when physicians collaborated closely with their surgical counterparts. At University College Hospital, London, where he was appointed consultant chest physician in 1948 and where, among other duties, he supervised an Artificial Pneumothorax clinic, Nicholson was one of the pioneers of what has come to be known as the “multidisciplinary” approach, involving regular meetings with surgeons, nurses and other health professionals to draw up “management plans” for each patient. The “multidisciplinary” approach to health care is now promoted as the gold standard for NHS hospital care. In this as in other things, Nicholson was well in advance of his time.

In 1949, when Orwell suffered a relapse of his tuberculosis under the strain of revising and completing Nineteen Eighty-Four, he was admitted to UCH under the care of Andrew Morland, Nicholson’s senior consultant, who had once attended to DH Lawrence. Morland professed vague optimism, although Nicholson later recalled: “When I first saw [Orwell], I had no serious doubt that he was dying.” Early on the morning of January 21 1950, an artery burst in Orwell’s lungs, killing him at the age of 46.

Nicholson wrote numerous papers on pneumonia and tuberculosis and, with his colleague Clifford Hoyle, published one of the first papers on combination anti-bacterial therapy for tuberculosis at a time when the Medical Research Council was undertaking its long-term controlled trials.

But he lived long enough to witness the treatment of tuberculosis threatening to come full circle as the global emergence and spread of multidrug-resistant strains of the disease has led at least some specialists to re-examine surgical solutions.

An only child, Howard Nicholson was born in Newcastle on February 1 1912. His father was killed in the First World War when Howard was four years old, and he was brought up by his mother (a schoolteacher) and his grandmother.

Howard was educated almost entirely on scholarships and at the age of 17 won a place at University College London to read Medicine. He qualified as a doctor in 1935 and held junior training posts there and at King Edward VII hospital, Midhurst.

During the Second World War he served in the RAMC, mostly in the Middle East, as physician to a chest surgical team headed by his lifelong friend and colleague Andrew Logan, whose multidisciplinary approach would inspire Nicholson’s own commitment. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and, after demob, was appointed registrar and then chief assistant at the Brompton Hospital.

Nicholson moved to a consultant’s post at UCH in 1948 to which, four years later, he added another at the Royal Brompton, where he continued his close collaboration with his surgical counterparts through weekly meetings with Sir Clement Price Thomas.

Nicholson was much sought after to write chapters on chest diseases in general textbooks; Dame Margaret Turner-Warwick, who worked as his registrar, has recalled that “he simply started at the left hand top corner and wrote fluently until he reached the bottom right”. No re-editing was required.

Nicholson was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1949 and was invited to give the Goulstonian Lecture (awarded to one of the youngest four fellows each year) the following year.

A brilliant teacher, Nicholson took great care of his junior staff, and his registrars were often invited to join him on his regular visits to patients who had been discharged from hospital to sanatoria in order to learn the importance of continuity of patient care.

In 1941 Nicolson married Winsome Piercy, who died in 2001. There were no children.

Dr Howard Nicholson, born February 1 1912, died February 11 2014

Guardian:

Guardian style, and indeed the modern way, is to use gender-neutral nouns where previously we would not have done, and so, for example, to refer to people we would once have called actresses as actors. So should you still use a gender-specific term to describe a recently bereaved spouse, as in “Peaches Geldof’s widower ‘not suspected of involvement in death'” (Report, 2 May)? And what will happen when one half of a gay or lesbian married couple dies?
Simon Coward
Dudley, West Midlands

• You mention that Baroness Trumpington (Digested read, G2, 5 May) was once mayor of Cambridge. While a junior agriculture minister under Margaret Thatcher she was taken on an official visit to a stud farm where her party encountered a stallion in a state of obvious and advanced excitement. She calmed her blushing officials by remarking: “Don’t worry – it obviously remembers that I used to be a mayor.”
Alex Kirby
Lewes, East Sussex

• I sympathise with Maddy Paxman and her son (Letters, 3 May). I too lost a parent as a teenager. But my O-level English studies included graphic depictions of murder, betrayal and anti-semitism (Shakespeare), brutal racism (To Kill a Mockingbird) and the horrors of chemical warfare (Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est). At the time, I found them deeply disturbing, but I’m thankful that I was exposed to them.
Dr David Harper
Cambridge

Paul Brazier (Letters, 3 May) may like to know that stage productions from London – including those by ENO – are shown live in cinemas around the country, in towns including Wotton-under-Edge. The experience may be different to seeing the events on stage, but it does mean the days of their being confined to the capital are over.
Gareth Negus
Electric Picture House Cinema, Wotton-under-Edge, Wiltshire

• My Uncle Bertie, who could neither play the bagpipes nor jump out of his hip bath to relieve himself (Letters, 3 May), said to be born a gentleman is an accident but to die a gentleman is an achievement.
John Fairclough Brown
Coalville, Leicestershire

• Y, oh Y, has no one yet mentioned Y, in Picardy (Letters, 5 May)?
Terence Hall
Manchester 

David Blunkett (Our plan for better schools, 30 April) is to be warmly congratulated on his policy suggestions for Labour to adopt. He is clearly right to propose that all schools should enjoy the “freedoms” associated with the academy programme and also that ways, now missing, must be put in place for sorting out problems that arise at all schools performing poorly.

Many other important issues are considered in his report. The first is that the academy programme is being financially mismanaged. Schools are being expensively built where there is no shortage of school places rather than where places are needed, and large sums of taxpayers’ money are routinely being paid to finance pupils who do not actually exist.

A second and crucial point is that, as David Wolfe QC brilliantly analyses in appendix III, academies are now at the end of thousands of differently framed contracts, entered into at different times for different purposes. The complexities would be impossible to manage efficiently even by more competent government ministers than the present ones.

That leads to a final point. It should surely now be evident to academy sponsors that a terminable contract with a government minister is an exceedingly dangerous thing for any institution to have to depend upon. Contracts are also unnecessary. Can anyone point to one important benefit enjoyed by an academy that can only be secured by a contract with a government minister?
Peter Newsam
Thornton Dale, North Yorkshire

•  It would help if David Blunkett would define what he means by “standards” that are to be “driven up” by “directors of school standards”, otherwise his report is just the usual waffle from politicians which has about as much meaning as the debates between the Big- and Little-Endians in Gulliver’s Travels. Are those standards to relate to outcomes – inquisitive, creative, critical school-leavers, for example? Or to the school environment – clean, dry, safe buildings? Or to exam passes – more GCSEs and A-levels at higher grades? Or to relationships in school – democratic, respectful, collegiate? Or to inputs – qualified teachers, playing fields, up-to-date labs? Or after-school clubs – theatre, chess, debates? It really would help if we knew what he (and most other politicians seeking to impress with their grip in education) was talking about.
Roy Boffy
Walsall

•  Blunkett’s proposals won’t rub out all of Gove’s reforms but will at least introduce a sensible element of sub-regional oversight into a fragmented “system” where lines of accountability are blurred, where inequities prevail and where planning is problematic (Report, 30 April. They represent a marked change from the highly centralised, professionally demoralising diktats that characterised Blunkett’s earlier tenure as secretary of state. Perhaps in education, as in the economy, Labour has learnt from some of its past mistakes? But the devil will be in the detail, especially in the way 40-80 local directors of school standards interpret their brief, including their possibly vexed relationships with local education authorities and academy chains. And with such a large number, perhaps some (a half?) might also be women – unlike the current tranche of all-male regional commissioners.
Professor Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria

• Simon Jenkins’ article (Schools are held hostage by politicians’ control-freakery, 2 May) was an excellent analysis of Michael Gove‘s ridiculous activities and what led up to them. However, it went too far in identifying what Labour did in power, and now proposes, with Gove’s policies. The motivation for Labour’s limited number of academies was noble – to provide good schools where it felt local authorities could not do so. Its analysis was wrong (in the main the LEAs were not to blame) and the solution was self-defeating (sidelining the LEA and bringing in wealthy sponsors and famous governors). This is very different from the ideologically driven creation of many hundreds of free-flying institutions that Whitehall cannot hope, at reasonable cost, to ensure provide efficient and effective education.

Further, Mr Jenkins failed to note the number of financial management scandals arising in the new free schools, academies and their chains. The Department for Education has insisted that these schools are subject to more rigorous controls than those maintained by local authorities. If so, why is there misuse of public money in them to such an extent? Why hasn’t Mr Gove strengthened controls on local authority schools? Could it be that Mr Gove’s policies are encouraging people into running schools whose motivation is more about the acquisition of wealth than the education of children?
Graham Dunn
Formerly director of education standards and inclusion, Lancashire county council

•  In April Ed Miliband gave much succour to Labour supporters when he proclaimed “a new deal for England, the biggest devolution to cities in 100 years, a radical decentralisation of control with decisions to be taken by strong local leaders” (Comment, 9 April). Less than a month later we read that Tristram Hunt and David Blunkett (yesterday’s man) want to replace the Gove academies and free schools controlled from Whitehall with “independent directors of school standards”, with no local representation. Is there any joined-up policy making inside the party?
Neil Holmes
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

•  Simon Jenkins is right, the Hunt/Blunkett plan is not good enough. It won’t halt, let alone reverse the fragmentation, centralisation and lack of democratic accountability that is so damaging our education system

Elected local authorities offer the common sense route to a fairer and less turbulent approach to planning places, distributing funds to schools and overseeing admissions. Labour should be saying how it will re-empower those councils and consulting about how to ensure that their relationship with individual schools has the right balance between uniformity and autonomy.

Alongside this, Ed Milliband should announce that the 650 primary academies will be immediately returned to the local “family” of schools and say how Labour will prevent, by the end of one parliament, local authorities like mine short-sightedly disadvantaging three-quarters of its young people at 11 by pernicious selection. Then, it would not “look suspiciously as if government and opposition have been in cahoots” – voters would have a choice!
Richard Stainton
Whitstable, Kent

• Well said, Simon Jenkins. You are absolutely correct in saying “Schools are held hostage by politicians’ control-freakery”.

Kenneth Baker in 1988 started it and his 11 successors in office have steadily increased Whitehall’s pressure on schools. As Jenkins says, why create new authoritarian structures to boost school standards across the country, when local education authorities already exist. But even in their heyday, local bodies played a minor role in “raising standards”: successes were achieved by the schools themselves, albeit often supported by local authority inspectors/advisers.

Politicians need to realise that good schools grow from the inside – by the combined efforts of teachers, pupils, parents and local community – not by bullying from the outside. Jenkins is right that it is the calibre of headteachers, hardly that of governing bodies, that boosts success. He might have added that it is also the professionalism, training and commitment of teachers. Last year Ofsted reported that 79% of schools were judged to be “good or outstanding”. School by school, this is the result of the adults and youngsters within each school working hard: neither Ofsted nor Michael Gove should claim the credit.
Professor Michael Bassey
Newark, Nottinghamshire

•  David Blunkett says “the commissioning of new schools [will be] rooted in the needs of the local community”. But the discussion does not take any account of the need for adult education, which, not long ago, provided a rich and important heritage of second-chance learning, now I suspect, largely lost. Will newly commissioned schools make provision for adults in the evening? Can school holidays provide opportunities for short courses for adults – as well as summer schools for young people? Can schools become centres for “community learning”? The UK’s past experience of adult education provides rich evidence to reject the significance of “critical periods” for acquiring skills, knowledge and understanding. Whatever happened to “lifelong learning”?
David Browning
Huddersfield

•  Simon Jenkins claims “Whitehall schools” are always more expensive than their council-run equivalents. Yet academies are funded on the same per pupil basis as their council-run equivalents and construction costs for free schools are on average less than council-run schools built under the previous government.

He is also wrong to state that free schools “admit anyone, teach anything and make money at public expense”. Only the best free school applications are approved, they must follow a broad and balanced curriculum, and they cannot make any profit. Free schools are also bound by the same admissions code as council-run schools.

And it is scaremongering to say free schools will lead to “sectarian and social divisiveness still experienced in Ulster”. I invite him to visit the London Academy of Excellence, which is helping pupils in one of London’s poorest boroughs into Oxbridge, or the Dixons Trinity academy where education is being transformed for minority communities in Bradford.

He goes on to laud the “tried and tested model” of school oversight provided by local authorities – yet this is the same model that has presided over so many failing schools for years and done nothing to raise standards. There are currently 40 council-run schools that have been in special measures for at least 18 months.

It is only thanks to our intervention through the sponsored academies programme that more than 800 schools that were failing under council control are now receiving the support they desperately need. And we are seeing sponsored academies improving at a faster rate than local authority schools.True localism puts power in the hands of teachers who know the children’s names – not electioneering politicians and bureaucracies, whether local or national.

We make no apologies for pushing ahead with reforms – like the academies programme – which are already delivering huge improvements, including a drop of a quarter of a million pupils taught in failing secondary schools since 2010.
Lord Nash
Schools minister

How can you defend your decision to publish Chris Huhne’s self-serving account (The crooked judge and I, 5 May) of how, in his view, Constance Briscoe and Vicky Price attempted to “destroy his political career”? It was bad enough when you gave the ex-jailbird a regular column to express his views on any political and economic issue he felt drawn to expound upon, but for you to stray into the tabloid territory of self-confessionals and character assassinations (deserved or not) is shameful and unforgiveable. You have allowed Huhne to launch a vindictive and self-righteous attack on two women who are already paying (or have paid) the price for their misdeeds. It shocked me to see this published in my favourite newspaper (and I am sure I am not alone in this). What fee did he receive for his labours?
Gillian Dalley
London

• Chris Huhne claims that “once the judge ruled that there was still a case to answer against me, I decided to plead guilty”. In fact, when Mr Justice Sweeney refused his application to dismiss the charge and to stay the indictment as an abuse of process on 27 January 2013, Huhne pleaded not guilty. He only changed his plea to guilty on re-arraignment a week later. Whatever reasons he had for changing his mind, it seems clear he contemplated a contested trial until the last moment. Nor is it credible to suggest he never had any intention of misleading the court. The judge observed in his sentencing remarks that Huhne had endeavoured to manipulate its process. Far from being a conspiracy of lawyers against the public, the legal system in these cases has brought three offenders to justice and vindicated the rule of law.
Richard Howell
Wadham College, Oxford

• Lawks-a-mercy! Chris Huhne using his column to blame others for his prison sentence, whilst admitting his guilt. Whatever next? Please find him a psychotherapist and Guardian readers a more emotionally mature ex-con.
Anna Ford
Brentford, Middlesex

Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren in The Duchess of Malfi at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre in 1981. Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

An indication of Bob Hoskins‘ humanity and confidence as a stage actor (Report, 30 April) was shown during a performance of The Duchess of Malfi I saw at the Roundhouse in London. A woman in the audience had an epileptic seizure, and Bob Hoskins calmly suggested the action of play be stopped while she was given medical assistance. When she had been removed, he returned in character straight back to the action of the stage, which had reached a very violent point in the play, as if nothing had happened. What an actor he was and he will be sorely missed.
Anita Gray
London

• RIP Bob Hoskins. Best remembered for the beautifully crafted BBC television series On the Move, with Donald Gee, in the late 70s. Fifty 10-minute episodes that focused, sympathetically and with subtle humour, on coping with aspects of illiteracy.
Harry Chalton
Birmingham

Independent: 

In considering the spectacular inability of this government to tackle the obscene housing/rental costs in this country, I wonder if David Cameron and his colleagues have considered what will happen in a few years’ time when the “rent generation” need to fund their own old-age care.

Since all of their money will have passed into the hands of their landlords and other “fat cats” and they will have had no chance to buy property or save because all their money has gone in extortionate rent payments, presumably they will have nothing left to contribute to their old-age care. Hence their whole care tab will have to be picked up by the taxpayer.

I wonder if this has been factored into the Government’s calculations when considering the burden on future generations. Do they know? Do they care?

Jeremy Blythe, Burrington, North Somerset

When will politicians stop proposing “rental controls” which do the opposite of what they intend by triggering reduced investment in property and encouraging people to take their properties off the rental market?

It’s about time someone either in opposition or in power actually stood up, faced the music, and admitted that the reason we’re in a housing crisis is that we have not built enough homes to cope with the increasing population. We must start going down the direct route to solve this – by actually building more affordable properties.

Dylan Carroll, London SW15

I am a 71-year-old whose private pension pot was decimated by the daylight robbery that Ed Miliband helped Gordon Brown to achieve.

Now Mr Miliband has a plan to pick the only pocket that some of us have left by way of income from rental investments on a small scale. Give me a break,  will you?

Anthony Barnes, Keston, Kent

Sex, power and Islamic extremism

A school in Birmingham, allegedly influenced by extreme Salafist or Wahhabi theology, is under investigation, reported to have taught that men are superior to women, that wives have a duty to “obey” husbands and that they may not refuse sex. At the same time, the Government calls on women living in households influenced by exactly this sort of extreme ideology to speak out if their men are thinking of travelling abroad to fight. It must realise they have little power to do so.

The potential for control of women’s labour, sexuality and fertility is probably one of the most potent recruitment tools for male Muslim extremists – as indeed it is in some fundamentalist Christian sects. The best way to counter such extremism is to empower and educate women and girls, advising them of their rights, providing the tools they need to control their own lives, and refuge and protection if they or their children need it.

A national helpline able to offer practical advice to women and children would be a good place to start.

Jean Calder, Brighton

In his book review “The visionary’s burden” (3 May), Marcus Tanner asks “why the Arab-Muslim world is so resistant to the argument for atheism”. It should surely be common knowledge that overt declarations of atheism are tantamount to apostasy and constitute a capital offence under shari’a law. Indeed, so serious is this potential threat to the continuance of the religion that the renowned Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi pronounced last year that Islam would be nothing without the law on apostasy.

Russell Webb, Ringwood Hampshire

Zero hours a boon to the disabled

The increasing call for ending zero-hours contracts is too simplistic. They are a form of employment that is callously misused by some commercial employers, and this certainly needs addressing, but it is also the way that enables thousands of individual disabled people to employ their own personal carers.

People in this position, especially if the employment is funded by severely restricted personal budgets, have to manage their care so that it’s available only when needed. Disability can’t be scheduled like a factory work-rota. Sometimes more help is needed, sometimes less. Sometimes the type of help and helper need to change, often at short notice. Disabled people on tight budgets get very good at managing their support to meet these fluctuating requirements, but they need the flexibility of zero-hours contracts to do it.

This often suits the workers too. In practice many of the helpers employed in these circumstances are not career carers seeking job security and fixed income, but people whose own lives mean they prefer doing caring shifts by mutual flexible arrangement.

So if zero-hours contracts are scrapped because of their misuse by profiteers, a new and different employment model will be needed to give the flexibility that is essential for individual disabled people and convenient for many of the helpers they employ.

Ray Chandler, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex

TB in a world with no antibiotics

The World Health Organisation’s stark warning about the risks of a post-antibiotic era comes as no surprise to people working in tuberculosis. We have long warned that we might soon need to reopen TB sanatoria and would have to pin our hopes on fresh air and relaxation as the only way to help people recover from the disease.

The way forward has to involve governments, scientists, prescribers and patients. Until recent years, investment in tuberculosis research and development all but stopped, as there was a mistaken belief that the disease was on the path to eradication in the pharmaceutical industry’s prime western markets. Hopefully new research now under way will bear fruit, and we will have a new and much more effective vaccine before BCG marks its 100th anniversary in the 2020s.

For prescribers, the issue goes way beyond GPs seeking to shepherd prescription-hungry patients out of the surgery in eight minutes. In India last week I saw a village “doctor”, with the most rudimentary training, prescribe five doses of antibiotics for a chest infection, telling his patient to buy just three from the pharmacist and only go back for the other two if she didn’t feel better. And patients need support when the treatment is especially challenging, as with the six-month course of drugs for TB.

Envisaging the risks facing us is easy. Just Google photos of sanatoria and see the way our grandparents were treated for TB, and how our grandchildren might be too if we do not take urgent global action.

Mike Mandelbaum, Chief Executive, TB Alert, Brighton

British death tolls in two world wars

In Guy Keleny’s excellent article on the First World War (5 May) I would take but one issue. The reason that the butcher’s bill for Britain was lower in the Second World War than in the First wasn’t because of the mechanisation solution. Rather it was, as John Terraine pointed out years ago, because Britain wasn’t facing the “main body of the enemy”. The Soviet Union certainly was, and suffered accordingly.

Mark Thomas, Histon, Cambridgeshire

The actress Joan Greenwood had a long and illustrious career, but this did not extend to devising and producing “Oh What A Lovely War!”, which she left to her semi-namesake Joan Littlewood.

David Bebbington, Broadstairs, Kent

Pisa university’s shady garden

In your travel guide to Pisa (3 May), it is disappointing that you have made no mention of the Botanic Garden (Orto Botanico).

It is the oldest botanic garden in Europe, founded in 1543, and has a splendid collection of rare and exotic plants. It is part of the Department of Biological Sciences at Pisa University, engaging in research on biodiversity, among other topics.

It includes a collection of large, shady palm trees, which are very welcome in the heat of a Tuscan summer.

Dr Jane Susanna Ennis, London NW6

Yes, let’s take control – of the EU

Nigel Farage keeps on saying, “Let’s take back control of our country”.

I say, we are the third largest member country of the EU. If the headlines were, “British lead European Union”, everyone would be happy. So, let’s do it.

Richard Grant, Burley, Hampshire

Uninviting undergarments

Spanx undergarments not only have an inappropriate name, but are ugly and uncomfortable (because very tight) garments (“ ‘She had Spanx on’: why the CPS dropped rape case”, 2 May). How in heaven’s name could anyone think wearing them is in any way provocative?

Sara Neill, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Times:

Many voters feel that backing Ukip is the only guaranteed way of leaving the EU

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Last updated at 4:20PM, May 5 2014

Matthew Parris’s article about the Tories needing to stand up to Nigel Farage touched a raw nerve

Sir, Matthew Parris is right to discern Ukip’s “sly nastiness” (“Fight Ukip. Fight their lies. Fight them now”, May 3). It is a politics spreading across the Continent too.

He is wrong to suppose that the Conservative leadership has not been fighting Ukip for years, and the Referendum Party before. I served on every Conservative European election strategy committee since John Major until 2009. I sat on the Shadow Cabinet when EU matters were discussed while I was leader of the Conservative MEPs, 1997-2001. As a pro-European I tried to oppose the party’s moving to Euroscepticism — from being an internationalist party “at the heart of Europe” under Major, it now organises for exit.

The final straw for me came after the 2009 election: the true nature of the new European parliamentary group Cameron had formed. It was an alliance with, as Nick Clegg memorably described them, “a bunch of homophobes, antisemites and climate-change deniers” from East/Central Europe. I could not sit with them and joined the Liberal Democrats.

Matthew Parris might have recognised that Nick Clegg has challenged Nigel Farage. The problem is that so many in the Conservative Party do not agree with Nick: they agree with Nigel.

Edward McMillan-Scott, MEP

Vice-president, European Parliament

Sir, Matthew Parris claims that Ukip is just “an unpleasant mutiny within the Conservative Party.” David Cameron must wish it were that simple. This view is based on no contact with the electorate, and that’s the flaw. Parris should take his own advice to Conservative candidates and go out canvassing. He’d quickly find out that Ukip is a political party in its own right and one with considerable support. Ukip caught political commentators, the Conservatives and Labour strategists napping. Time will tell, but voters seem to be able to differentiate Ukip from the established parties, especially the Conservatives.

John Hesketh

Sheffield

Sir, Given that a number of us believe we must leave the EU and that we do not believe any politician currently in power has the will or the ability to achieve an exit, whatever “promises” they make about a referendum, what option do we have but to encourage and support Ukip?

Michael Plumbe

Hastings, E Sussex

Sir, Tim Montgomerie omits a major reason for voting for Ukip (“Ukip voters aren’t racist. They’re in despair”, May 1). Many are concerned that the EU is not a democratic organisation but rather a massively expensive bureaucracy that is fomenting a backlash of extremist views both here and in Europe. Voting for Ukip is the only way I can goad the next government of whatever colour into allowing me the right to vote to leave what I perceive as federalism by the back door. I strongly believe we would be better out of the EU and that our exit will encourage others to do the same.

The rise of the French National Front does not reflect a rise in the level of antisemitism in France but a wish to return to home rule. We are not alone in wanting out.

Marian Latchman

Romsey, Hants

Sir, Thanks to Matthew Parris as the voice of reason.

John Gribbin

Piddinghoe, E Sussex

Russia is looking at Ukraine today, but where tomorrow?

Sir, President Putin, a man with his finger on nuclear weapons, chose to confront the Ukrainian people with force; indirect and direct. However, it is not just the Ukraine that he is threatening but the European Union, Nato and much of the free world. Sadly his confrontations stem from his abysmal lack of understanding of the world outside Russia — a danger too often the problem of Russian leaders since Peter the Great. And, as with all who stay too long in leadership, he is becoming more dangerous, and more isolated, by the day.

This was evident at the Sochi Olympic ceremonies, where Putin’s face showed his fury and humiliation at the deliberate absence of many world leaders in protest at his failings on human rights within Russia. The dangerous solution he has created for himself — the creation of a personal power base, one which rules Russia — is not equipped to give him the sage advice he needs, however. His decreasing inner circle of confidantes now numbers only four; Ivanov, Patruchev, Bortnikov and Fradkov, three of whom are from St Petersburg, like Putin. None has political experience outside Russia other than of espionage, for which all have well-recorded histories. At the instant command of this quintet, though, is an impatient, modernised army with no foreign threats other than those contrived by Putin.

Ukraine today. Where tomorrow?

Sir Kenneth Warren

Cranbrook, Kent

A rather simplistic argument about the rise in house prices

Sir, Without disputing the need for more housebuilding, Julia Unwin’s analysis that it was the collapse of state housebuilding which caused the increase in house prices seems rather simplistic (“The state stopped building and prices soared”, May 2). The accompanying graph shows a large number of houses being built by local authorities at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, and yet prices — at least in London — tripled between 1970 and 1973.

Anthony Preiskel

London NW11

Are awkward parking fees simply intended to encourage us all to pay by card instead of coins?

Sir, Linda Zeff (letter, May 2) wonders if awkward parking fees are to encourage us to pay by card instead of coins. Last week in Wembley I tried to pay for my parking by phone. I inadvertently texted my location and duration to the wrong recipient and had a text confirmation stating that I had been charged $720.25. When I phoned up to query this, I was told I had paid for several weeks’ parking at an airport in Canada. Luckily, they promised me a refund.

Rachel Freedman

London NW3

Thanks to the fishmonger, I got an A in biology

Sir, Unlike Sir David Attenborough (“Cunning Attenborough cheated in biology exam”, May 3), I had no need to resort to subterfuge before my A-level biology exam in the 1970s. When I went to the fishmonger the day before to get a mackerel to practise on, I was told: “Sorry love, the school’s bought them all for an exam tomorrow.” So off I went to a fishmonger farther afield. I got an A.

Philippa Hutchinson

London NW6

President’s image may have been due to insidious onset of Alzheimer’s

Sir, President Reagan’s bumbling image may have been due to Alzheimer’s, which usually has an insidious onset (report, May 1). His reasoning skill might have been impaired when he commented on apartheid during Margaret Thatcher’s visit to the US in 1981. According to Charles Moore’s biography of Thatcher, after one remark by Reagan she pointed at her head and commented to Lord Carrington: “Peter, there’s nothing there”. It is difficult to reconcile such a persona with Reagan during his acting years, when he used to read tomes on economics by von Mises and Hayek during breaks from film shooting.

Sam Banik

London N10

Telegraph:

SIR – During the Care Quality Commission’s investigation of abortion services (“No doctor should be immune from the law,” Leading article, May 2) there was no suggestion that patients had come to harm.

However, it did become clear that there was a widespread practice whereby doctors pre-signed abortion forms. While this had become common, as clinical practice itself had changed since the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act, it was against the law and in our view was unacceptable.

The Crown Prosecution Service looked at two of these cases, but decided that a prosecution was not in the public interest. We do act where doctors are convicted – but in these cases there were no prosecutions, let alone convictions.

The main issue for us, therefore, was how to bring this unlawful and unacceptable practice to an end. We demanded and obtained assurances from all the doctors identified in the inspections that they would no longer pre-sign these forms. We also made it clear that there would be severe consequences if doctors ignored our guidance.

Since that investigation, inspections by the Care Quality Commission have found that the practice has now stopped.

It is important not to confuse the pre-signing of abortion forms with separate cases where it is alleged that abortions were sanctioned on the basis of the gender of the foetus. We are investigating two such cases and have barred these doctors from any involvement with abortion while our inquiries are continuing.

This is a controversial aspect of medical practice and much has changed since the current law was passed. Dealing with that must be for Parliament and society.

We are working with the Department of Health on further guidance on doctors’ responsibilities under the Abortion Act – we hope this will provide doctors and patients with information about what constitutes good practice in this area.

Niall Dickson
Chief Executive, General Medical Council
London NW1

Promises, promises

SIR – In deciding whether or not to allow the takeover of AstraZeneca by Pfizer, let us not forget the promises made by Kraft (about Cadbury’s future).

Robert Ford
Retford, Nottinghamshire

Cost of coffee

SIR – I spent my entire working life as a coffee merchant. I can aver that there is little that passes as real quality in any of the coffee shops that abound in our high streets, but I think most coffee chains would take offence at the suggestion that they only sell robusta. With quality arabica coffees costing around £1.75 a kilo raw, and yield as high as 200 cups per kilo, it is difficult to make a cup of coffee cost more than 2.5p.

Duncan Rayner
Sunningdale, Berkshire

Hard to swallow

SIR – Julian Todd’s letter(May 1) on the instruction label warning against eating cricket trousers reminded me of a pair of cowboy boots I bought recently, in Texas, which carried the health warning: “This produce contains chemicals that are known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm”.

Do some people (in California) eat their boots?

Felicity Griffiths
Cobham, Surrey

Badly cut role

SIR – The report of people fainting at Titus Andronicus (April 30) brought back memories of the RSC production in 1973.

I was working in my first medical job at University College Hospital, looking after some patients with leukaemia, at a time when treatments were dangerous and often ineffective. To cheer me up, my best friend from school suggested an evening at the theatre. “It’s Titus Andronicus, one of Shakespeare’s less frequently performed plays,” he announced brightly. “And it stars Judy Geeson.” That caught my attention.

Unfortunately, the beautiful Judy Geeson, as Lavinia, had her tongue and arms cut off. After watching her crawling around gurgling for the rest of the night, I returned to work next day knowing that however great my patients’ suffering, it couldn’t be as bad as the previous evening’s.

Dr Andrew A McLeod
Bournemouth, Dorset

Peaceful Chelsea street now a builders’ hell

SIR – I could not agree more with Brian May, who complains of selfish neighbours in Kensington carrying out endless noisy building work (report, May 1).

I live in a small, pretty cul-de-sac in Chelsea which, when we first moved here many years ago, was a peaceful, happy street. In the past seven years it has become a noisy, litter-strewn builders’ car park.

Kensington & Chelsea planning department and the people who carry out extensive work on their properties appear to have no sympathy for those of us trying to go about our daily lives around them.

The vast majority of people who carry out these works rent alternative accommodation to live in while the building takes place, so they have no real idea what a noisy and inconvenient nightmare it is for their neighbours.

The borough council stated in your report that it is proposing new policies to reduce the scale of subterranean developments. I live in hope that they will consider every application submitted in the borough with much more attention, not just those that are applying to carry out work underground or extend their already large houses. I may be not far behind Mr May with a removal van if they do not.

Michala Maughan
London SW10

SIR – The Government’s plans to change apprenticeship funding “risk wrecking the training system”, reports Alan Tovey, your Jobs Editor. As business leaders, entrepreneurs and their representatives we know that improving apprenticeships is in all our interests.

Apprenticeships build the country’s skills base, support industries and create opportunities for young people leading to well-paid jobs. The proposed reforms are a welcome step towards a skills system with the needs of employers at its heart.

Placing employers in control of the design, delivery and funding of apprenticeships is essential. Through the current reform programme, employers have demonstrated leadership, creating a set of rigorous standards for a wide variety of highly skilled occupations.

Control over funding would give us the opportunity to work directly with training providers and build relationships which allow us to design apprenticeships which are more relevant to the needs of the British economy.

A simple, proportionate government contribution to each apprenticeship is a welcome step forward, as the current arrangements have more than 100 possible funding rates, and lack transparency to the employer and apprentice.

The Government has been consulting on the detail of how these changes will be delivered. It is vital they get this right, especially for smaller businesses.

We encourage all businesses to stay involved in this process to ensure that we can realise the goal of world-class apprenticeships designed and led by employers themselves.

Sir Charlie Mayfield
Chairman, John Lewis Partnership and Chairman, UK Commission for Employment and Skills

Katja Hall
Chief Policy Director, Confederation of British Industry

Mike Cherry
National Policy Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses

Terry Scuoler
Chief Executive, EEF the manufacturers’ organisation

Peter Cheese
Chief Executive, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

Tim Hames
Director General, British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association

Dr Adam Marshall
Executive Director of Policy and External Affairs, British Chambers of Commerce

Phil Orford
Chief Executive, Forum of Private Business

Simon Walker
Director General, Institute of Directors

Jeremy Hempstead
Chief Executive, The London Apprenticeship Company
Acting Chair of the Confederation of Apprenticeship Training Agencies

Jason Holt
CEO, Holts Group

Steve Holliday
Chief Executive, National Grid

Toby Peyton-Jones
Director of HR, Siemens UK and North West Europe

Paul Cadman
HR Director, Walter Smith Fine Foods

Fiona Kendrick
CEO and Chairman, Nestlé UK and Ireland

Kevin Beales
Managing Director, The Test Factory

Julie Kenny
Managing Director, Pyronix Ltd

Jenny Close
Training and Competence Director, Openwork

Scott Johnson
Chief Executive, Chas Smith Group Ltd

Sean Taggart
Chief Executive, The Albatross Group

Lee Travis
CEO, New Model Business Academy, Simply Biz Group

Will Butler-Adams
Managing Director, Brompton Bicycle

Anthony Impey
Founder and Managing Partner, Optimity

Mark Hancock
Chairman, Amerdale

Mike Davies
Group Chief Executive Officer, Principle Health Care

Andrew Weatherhead
Managing Director, H Weatherhead

Michael Bannister
Chairman, The Coniston Hotel

Nigel Whitehead
Group Managing Director Programmes & Support, BAE Systems

Sean Farbrother
Group Chief Executive, CliniMed Holdings

Jim Bedford
Chairman, Wath Group

Stephen O’Hara
Partner, Nick Tart Estate Agents

Dr Thomas Dolan
Discovery Park Site Leader, Pfizer

Valerie Todd
Talent & Resources Director, Crossrail

Andrew Churchill
Managing Director, JJ Churchill

Paul Curran
Sales Director, Northern Paper Board Ltd

SIR – The margins of the British railway system have always struggled financially, being, as it were, “at the end of the line”, with limited traffic potential. However useful they might be to the locality, their traffic remained thin and lacking in goods, which really made the money.

Routes in west and north Wales and west and north Scotland (not to mention Cornwall) have hardly ever, even when they had a monopoly of transport, been able to function in their own right without significant financial losses. These were generally covered as a result of being part of a UK-wide network that received significant subsidies from English railway companies looking for strategic advantage or lucrative long-distance traffic. Even the prosperous North British Railway, Scotland’s largest, could not afford to bridge the Forth without it being paid for by the massively wealthy English Midland, North Eastern and Great Northern Railways, which jointly owned the bridge.

It is a nonsense for the unions to claim that nationalisation would make things any different. These extremities have always relied one way or another on the wealth of England and they always will. It is yet another reason why the Scots would need their collective heads testing if they voted Yes to independence.

David Pearson
Haworth, West Yorkshire

SIR – The Russian ambassador to the United Nations has likened the activities of the interim Kiev government to those of the Nazis in the Second World War.

He should remember what happened in the Sudetenland in 1938. Some in that part of Czechoslovakia claimed that they were being persecuted for being of German origin. They asked Germany to intervene, which she did. This brought about the Second World War.

During the takeover of Crimea, President Vladimir Putin of Russia denied that the masked, green-uniformed men there were Russian troops. They were, he insisted, local defence militia. Later, when the occupation of Crimea had become a fait accompli, Mr Putin admitted that they had indeed been Russian troops.

Keith Walters
Sawtry, Huntingdonshire

SIR – All the foolish chickens sent out by the European Union and the United States have come home to roost. The result: Ukraine was and is a Slav domestic problem. For us to encourage the Ukrainians in absolutely false and stupid hopes is to encourage Ukrainian suicide.

There was opportunity for peace and negotiation at the beginning, and it had been better left to Moscow and Kiev to sort out, with British statesmen in a supporting role.

All the grandstanding, sabre-rattling and name-calling by EU, US and British politicians have done nothing but inflame the situation. Of course Mr Putin is not going to climb down. It is as though all the lessons of the cold war and diplomacy with the Societ Union have been forgotten in less than two decades.

Philip Congdon
La Bastide d’Engras, Gard, France

SIR – Ukraine is on full combat alert, while nearing bankruptcy as a consequence of Russian aggression. The EU gave the Ukrainians every encouragement to apply for membership, yet negligible practical support has been forthcoming. Milk prices have fallen to 10 euro cents per litre, as farmers cannot sell it. Why does the EU not open its markets?

The EU was created to promote peace and prosperity in Europe. Turning its back on Ukraine would represent a complete failure, with consequences even more serious than the Yugoslav conflict.

Bryony Bethell
Old Marston, Oxfordshire

SIR – Where is the evidence that Russia is considering aggression towards the Baltic states and Estonia in particular?

I am totally opposed to the dangerous plan to send a force of our troops and planes to Estonia. There is a civil war going on in Ukraine, and no intervention by the West will do anything to help the situation.

No matter how ghastly the situation may be, please may we keep out of it and not become regarded by Russia as an enemy?

John Driver
Esher, Surrey

Irish Times:

A chara, – So Gerry Adams has been released after four days of questioning, to which he submitted himself voluntarily. According to your news report (Front Page, May 5th), the PSNI said he was “released pending a report” to Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service.

This is remarkable policework indeed, since it doesn’t appear that Mr Adams has made any admissions, there surely is no forensic evidence, and that statements that may refer to his supposed involvement were made under a promise of anonymity, not under oath, by people who admitted their own roles but who are now dead.

This development has been praised by the governments on both sides of the Irish Sea, and by the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland.

Universally it has been said that the 40-year time lapse, Mr Adams’s status as the leader of a political party and elected TD, and indeed his pivotal role in the peace process, should not be taken into consideration when making decisions about the case.

Would it now be too much to hope that senior British figures who could shed some light on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings might travel to Dublin and surrender themselves? Perhaps the anonymity granted to the soldiers who testified to the very costly Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday might also be waived to facilitate prosecutions? Maybe Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers might now reconsider her decision not to allow an inquiry into the Ballymurphy killings. – Is mise,

DÁIRE Mag CUILL,

Páirc na Cabraí,

Baile Átha Cliath 7.

Sir, – Last autumn, the attorney general in Northern Ireland suggested that a line be drawn beyond which people who were involved in the crimes associated with the period we term “The Troubles” would not face prosecution. Sinn Féin rejected this suggestion, presumably because it would grant an amnesty to members of the security forces. Does it now regret its position? – Yours, etc,

MARGARET LEE,

Ahane,

Newport,

Co Tipperary.

Sir, – The circumstances that see Sinn Féin retain its popularity in defiance of virtually any revelation about its membership have arisen, at least partially, from the persistent failure of mainstream politics in Ireland. – Yours, etc,

CHRISTIAN MORRIS,

Claremont Road,

Howth,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – I share Ruth Lawlor’s concern (May 3rd) about the damage done to the academic record of history by the legal profession within the US legal system.

Happily the legal system provides the solution. In future, academics need only bring along a lawyer, or they could gain a legal qualification. The person giving the historical information hires the academic or the accompanying lawyer and so the information is covered by attorney-client privilege, and no court would overturn that. – Yours, etc,

DAVID DOYLE,

Birchfield Park,

Goatstown, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Everybody knows the Aesop fable. The British scorpion was given a lift by the Adams frog. It’s in their nature, you know! – Yours, etc,

KEITH NOLAN,

Caldragh,

Carrick-on-Shannon,

Co Leitrim.

Sir, – The mural in Belfast of Gerry Adams shown in Saturday’s paper is a very professional piece of work. Is it perhaps a Northern Banksy? – Yours, etc,

GER DORGAN,

Ardbeg Park,

Artane,

Dublin 5.

A chara, – One clear aspect of our ongoing housing crisis in the capital is that we have young families stuck in apartments unable to find family homes and empty-nesters in family homes who might like to downsize but are perhaps waiting for prices to rise before selling.

The two interests are not necessarily consistent as the hard-pressed young family needs to be able to buy at a reasonable price.

Rather than bemoaning the seemingly irresolvable problem, could we not start looking for solutions within the existing framework?

One idea might be to incentivise the selling side by, for instance, temporarily suspending capital gains tax (CGT) on the sales of family homes for a period.

The effect of a suspension of CGT collections would be significant for those who bought some time ago and for whom current price levels are still far beyond their initial investment. This taxation measure would give the seller the increased proceeds of sale that they may be seeking and at the same time stabilise rising prices. The loss to the exchequer could be made up for by the increased economic activity. – Is mise,

DARA McNULTY,

Loreto Abbey,

Rathfarnham,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – We in the Irish Maritime Forum wish Neil Jordan every success in organising a roll call of writers and artists who will refuse to have ships named after them (May 3rd). If enough of those worthies who are alive and kicking, together with the descendants of those who have departed, decline this honour then we can revert to the much-loved and uncontentious tradition of naming our naval ships after women and men in Celtic mythology. – Yours, etc,

Capt JAMES ROBINSON,

Boulaling,

Riverstick,

Co Cork.

Sir, – I fear the matelots in Haulbowline may be secretly relieved that Neil Jordan doesn’t want his name given to any of the Naval Service’s patrol ships. After all, LÉ Neil doesn’t have quite the right ring to it as a ship’s moniker. While some might prefer LÉ Jordan, that astute businesswoman with the same name, aka Katie Price, would probably need to give her blessing first. For the benefit of landlubbers let me explain that each Naval Service ship carries the designation LÉ (the abbreviation for Long Éireannach) followed by its assigned name. Two replacement ships are to be named after the writers James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Mr Jordan would appear to be worried that a similar fate could befall himself and other writers and is organising a “down with that sort of thing” campaign to prevent such a calamity occurring after his demise.

Happily I have no such qualms and would be honoured if LÉ Karl were painted on the bow of any Naval Service ship. Although not yet a member of Aosdána, I have high hopes of joining soon as my book (Irish Army Vehicles) and booklet (Irish Army Armoured Cars) were in their day highly acclaimed.

While the Naval Service is greatly respected internationally for its professionalism and expertise, it is hardly a threat to world peace. After all, just one of the Royal Swedish Navy’s tiny 650-tonne Visby-class corvettes could sink its entire fleet before it even left Cork Harbour. Perhaps Mr Jordan should watch out for the Visbys rather than the Paddys. – Yours, etc,

KARL MARTIN

Bayside Walk,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – Further to Neil Jordan’s disappointment at the Naval Service naming its newest ships after famous Irish writers, I presume that the LÉ James Joyce will patrol the snotgreen sea. – Yours, etc,

NIALL McARDLE,

Wellington Street,

Eganville,

Ontario, Canada.

Sir, – Neil Jordan is organising a roll call of writers and artists who will refuse to have “weaponised naval systems” named after them. I wish to register publicly my wholehearted support for this initiative. Anyone who is so self-important that they feel they ought to be on this list most certainly should not have their name emblazoned on the hull of one of our nation’s naval vessels. – Yours, etc,

GAVIN LACY,

Earlsfort Rise,

Lucan,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Breda O’Brien notes the case of a child who was fostered very successfully, until the foster parents had a child of their own (“Will courts be understanding when disadvantaged children are in trouble with the law?”, Opinion & Analysis, May 3rd).

“As the baby grew the older child became more and more insecure and resentful, until eventually the foster placement broke down, as did subsequent placements. At the age of 12 this child is now in secure care in a place with much older and hardened children. If, God forbid, this child ends up drifting into crime, will the judge take into account the loss of not one but two families, as well as inadequate State intervention?”

If ever a case were made for same-sex couples coming to the rescue of children in the need of parenting, this must surely be it.

Not doubting the successful fostering by many a heterosexual couple who went on to have a child or children of their own, it only makes sense that same-sex couples would make excellent parents to children in need of fostering.

The fact that they are far less likely to have children of their own dramatically reduces the possibility of a fostered child experiencing insecurity or resentment, whether through its own imaginings or otherwise.

The judge Ms O’Brien envisages as presiding over this young man’s case in the event of his falling into a life of crime might ask questions that Ms O’Brien never envisaged.

The judge might ask why same-sex married couples were not available as a possible option to any board in charge of fostering? The judge might also ask a jury to consider in its deliberations that while the State might not be without culpability for inadequate intervention on behalf of the child, the jury must also consider the influences which led to alternative family arrangements not being made available for children in need of fostering?

The judge might remind the jury of the constant interference of the Catholic Church in State affairs, and in particular family affairs, and of the fact that this organisation is lobbying to prevent same-sex civil marriage in this State, thus trying to ensure that no same-sex married couples will ever be in a position to foster a child since it is their hope that such couples quite simply will never exist. – Yours, etc,

DECLAN KELLY,

Whitechurch Road,

Rathfarnham,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – Brian O’Connor is critical of cyclists riding “abreast” on rural roads in Ireland (“Reeling in political breakaway on cycling issue a worthy exercise”, May 5th) and attributes this behaviour to “peloton fantasies”. I would like to invite him to reflect on the basic arithmetic of road positioning for cyclists.

Riding in compact groups and leaving gaps between groups for overtaking drivers to slot into is not inconsiderate – it’s good cycling etiquette and should be encouraged. On many Irish rural roads, it is only safe to overtake a single cyclist safely (ie with 1.5m passing distance at 30 km/h, or 4m at 80 km/h) if the overtaking motorist crosses the centre line.

Whether cyclists are two-abreast or in single file makes no difference at all to the fact that drivers will have to wait a few seconds (or, in extremis, perhaps a few minutes) until they reach a point where it is safe to cross the centre line and drive on the wrong side of the road.

The advantage of two-abreast riding is that it minimises the time motorists then spend on the wrong side of the road; it is much easier for a motorist to get back to their own side of the road quickly after overtaking a group of cyclists if the group is not strung out.

Overtaking compact groups of cyclists is like overtaking trucks or tractors – tedious, perhaps, but essentially very straightforward for a competent driver. Overtaking stretched-out lines of single-file cyclists is much more complex and fraught and more likely to result in mayhem and carnage.

So it often makes sense for cyclists to ride in compact formations rather than in single file; by doing so, they make safe overtaking easier and dangerous overtaking more difficult. Solo cyclists make it easier for motorists to spot them in good time on twisty rural roads by adopting roughly the position the outer cyclist in a two-abreast group would maintain.

Setting down clearly defined minimum passing distances in law (and integrating them into the driving test in much the same way as stopping distances feature) would make all this much clearer.

We need to talk less about the attitudes of road users and more about the basic maths involved in sharing road space. – Yours, etc,

SARAH SWIFT,

Badstrasse,

Bamberg, Germany.

Tue, May 6, 2014, 01:06

First published: Tue, May 6, 2014, 01:06

Sir, – Any article justifying the need for water charges usually begins with a phrase like “water is a precious resource and we need to conserve it”. The fact is that Ireland is not short of water. The problem we face is the inefficiency of the water processing system.

It is difficult to understand how the setting up of a “profit-making” company paying large salaries and with the legal right to raise prices, if necessary, will improve the position. Instead of paying out more money, which will tend to encourage a continuation of the inefficiencies, we should be reducing the financial input in order to force a streamlining of the system. In other words, it is our civic duty to reject water charges. – Yours, etc,

DAVE ROBBIE,

Seafield Crescent,

Booterstown,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – The issue of rights for walkers is back in focus, with landowners and ramblers arguing the toss over whose rights should be uppermost.

People walking dogs through fields or trekking across country to appreciate the scenery or to keep fit are deemed to pose a threat to landowners.

Why is it that the worst trespassers of all in rural Ireland are so often overlooked in this controversy?

I refer to the foxhunts that operate in the countryside in the winter months.

If somebody enjoying aerobic exercise or taking Fido for a walk can do harm, then how much more menacing to the rights of landowners is the prospect of horses and hounds encroaching on their property, in the process knocking down fences and stone walls, scattering livestock in all directions, and ripping up whole fields of crops?

It says something about the power of the hunting lobby (which includes prominent legal eagles, bankers, property developers and super-wealthy socialites) that the mayhem wrought by these relics of a bygone age – foxhunts – is airbrushed out of the whole access to the countryside debate. – Yours, etc,

JOHN FITZGERALD,

Lower Coyne Street,

Callan,

Sir, – Further to your recent report “New €36.6m Dún Laoghaire library criticised as monstrosity’” (Home News, May 1 st), I wish to say that the library is, in my opinion, a striking example of contemporary architecture. It is a world-class library, cultural venue and auditorium.

I am very familiar with the architecture of Dún Laoghaire, and in particular the vernacular streetscape and the form and detail of the seafront. I regard the choice of form of the library, and the modelling of its facade, as skilful, appropriate, representative of its cultural use and location, and an excellent use of space.

I regard last Thursday’s meeting, and the comments regarding the new library by public representatives, as nothing other than vote-catching rhetoric. The suggestion that the library should be demolished is regrettable and repugnant in the extreme. – Yours, etc,

PETER PEARSON EVANS,

Ballymacahara,

Ashford,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Over the weekend we had the very good fortune to have a walk around Kilmacurragh Gardens, Co Wicklow, the outstation of our National Botanic Gardens. It is stunningly beautiful, with many-hued rhododendrons and so on rising 20 metres and covered in glorious blooms. As is the case with Glasnevin, the gardens can be visited for free. Great credit is due to the director, curator and staff for having the place in such great shape. – Yours, etc,

JOHN and MARY

MARKHAM,

Church Lane,

Greystones,

Co Wicklow.

A chara, – In the quiet rural village of Crossakiel in north Meath last Sunday, a group of Anglo-Irish trade unionists met to celebrate the life and times of Jim Connell, who was born in nearby Kilskyre in 1852, and who went on to pen The Red Flag, the anthem of the international labour movement.

It was an almost surreal backdrop in which to listen to a trade union leader representative of Durham miners speak of the great anomaly of our times, the high levels of unemployment and underemployment present among the most highly educated generation of school-leavers to date. Though the village setting was local, the message was universal and global – the pervasive inequalities of our times. – Is mise,

COLIN QUIGLEY,

Steeple Manor,

Trim, Co Meath.

Sir, – Perhaps Tom Fuller (May 3rd), who, like many Irish people these days, seems to take umbrage at Jews claiming an attachment to Israel on the basis of Bible stories, should remember that they have been the victims of a 2,000- year-old persecution, also based on Bible stories. – Yours, etc,

MELVYN WILCOX,

Dundanion Road,

Ballintemple,

Sir, – Since Stephen Lane (May 5th) is sure of the existence of hell, perhaps he would be kind enough to give us a rough idea of the population thereof and the names of some of the inhabitants. – Yours, etc,
MATTIE LENNON,
Kylebeg,
Lacken,
Blessington,
Co Wicklow.

Irish Independent:

Published 06 May 2014 02:30 AM

* The philosopher Nietzsche declared that God was dead and that we had killed him.

Also in this section

A quiet revolution is occurring in healthcare issues

We must face the music

Time to muzzle the dogs of war

We are well rid of the God that Nietzsche ditched and would embrace willingly the God that he would have found credible – one who could dance. I am convinced that Nietzsche would have been on the side of priests such as Father Ray Kelly who break into song whilst conducting a wedding service, as he believed that without music life would be a mistake.

He was responding to the rather dour, pessimistic religion of his day where God seemed to have all the marks of a malign dictator, commanding his creation with a rod of iron, sending miscreants to an unimaginable cruel torture chamber for all eternity.

Nietzsche’s God continues to haunt believers and unbelievers alike. God is seen as some kind of supreme DIY enthusiast who tends to leave his creations unfinished, messes things up and blames us.

There are many scenes depicted in the Gospels where we can imagine Christ having a good laugh at the folly of some of the machinations, beliefs and practices of the people he encountered. Theological and philosophical discussions of the Christian life often fail to distinguish between intellectual rigour and rigor mortis.

Seriousness so often and so easily can degenerate into deathly seriousness. I sometimes think that Father Ted did more for religious belief than some earnest sermons. As Gilbert Chesterton noted: “Some things in life are too important to be taken seriously.”

I find my children are eminently effective at deflating even the slightest drift towards self-importance and humourless intensity. Once, when frustrated by the illogicality of certain statements about religious belief, I was reminded by one of my colleagues that some positions cannot be handled logically, they are best dealt with through laughter; hence the importance of comedy and satire in our lives.

Sadly, satire in Ireland seems to be tamed by hypersensitive defamation laws; the only merriment they engender is the laughter of lawyers on the way to the bank. May the Lord of the Dance be with you all.

PHILIP O’NEILL

EDITH ROAD, OXFORD

SOLDIERS PAY THE PRICE OF WAR

* The price for what we accept as the “normality” of peace is more easily forgotten in a world of privilege. Despite what we call a recession, these are the best days of our lives in the free world. The only thing that ever stood in the way of that since time began is war.

War is the ultimate result of when the buck stops at the doorstep of two people who cannot articulate any more or any better since the first primitive grunt from our ancestors wielding a club made out of animal bone. Often war starts over the most trivial of things: principle, honour, jealousy or rage.

It is the soldier of war who has the most to lose in all of it – starting with his life. He is the testing ground, the prober, and ultimately the pawn. The politics and morality after the battle are left for the victors to decide, and to their political masters, the spoils of war to divide. But for the soldier, if he survives, it can be very different, and much worse for his family if he does not. If he is left able-bodied it is a blessing; if not, it is surely a curse.

This is the 100th year since the beginning of the Great War that was supposed to end all wars. Less than 21 years after its conclusion we had the beginning of World War II. Many smaller wars followed. The next major mistake made from the politics for the avoidance of war will be our last. But the argument to start war must be seen first with due respect of the soldier and to his care; and the honest, moral and just reasons why we need to go to war. To them, the soldiers, both men and women, it is their living that must matter most and not their dying.

Soldiers and their families deserve not the fickle tests of our remembrance, but real supports set in the bedrock of law that provide for them, and from that of which we take for granted: freedom in a free world.

BARRY CLIFFORD

OUGHTERARD, CO GALWAY

RESPECT AND TOLERANCE NEEDED

* In response to Sean Smith, who has taken offence on Paddy O’Brien’s behalf to my “disrespectful” letter (Letters, May 5). For Mr Smith’s benefit, the point of my letter was twofold: that merely claiming God doesn’t exist does not mean that God doesn’t exist; and that consistency in nature surely points to an underlying, governing, and arguably omnipotent intelligence that we might call God.

The point of Mr O’Brien’s letter was that God doesn’t exist because Paddy says so, and that religious people, “Amazingly live in total ignorance”.

In consideration of these synopses, I would ask Mr Smith to please refrain from lecturing me or anybody on tolerance and respect, when his cited paragon of those values labelled me and billions of others as totally ignorant not five days previously.

KILLIAN FOLEY-WALSH

KILKENNY CITY

A FAIR DEAL FOR GPS IS POSSIBLE

* GPs have had to resort to Twitter @resourceGP #cardwatch to highlight the plight of their patients as letters, emails and meetings were having no effect. It is clear that the Health Minister must now rapidly implement a three-step plan.

1. Restore discretionary medical cards to people that need them; 2. Resource GPs properly so that free medical care can be extended to those at the margins financially and with chronic illness; and 3. Research, debate and plan towards universal healthcare. That would be fair; what is happening is not.

DR ELUNED LAWLOR

LOUGHBOY MEDICAL CENTRE, KILKENNY

LABOUR HELPING INDEPENDENTS

* Following the recent unrest in Labour due to MEP Phil Prendergast’s criticism of Eamon Gilmore, a common thread that explains the rise of Independents has been highlighted.

Recent opinion polls suggest surges in support for Sinn Fein and Independents at the expense of Fine Gael and Labour in particular. I suspect the opinion poll gains for Sinn Fein are soft and will not actually materialise into marked vote increases in future general elections, but there is on-the-ground support for Independents.

Labour, in particular, has shipped many defectors. Colm Keaveney left on principle after voting against the Government on a cut to the respite care grant, but others hold their tongue against their better judgment so as to retain the party whip. This type of behaviour has turned the public against many party politicians.

While many Labour candidates offer an abundance of local promise to upcoming local election voters, the fear that they will eventually have to fall into line with Enda and Co will be telling at the ballot box.

While Independents find it harder to influence the Government, at least they don’t appear to be gagged and can speak passionately from the back benches.

JUSTIN KELLY

EDENDERRY, CO OFFALY

INEQUALITY HASN’T GONE AWAY

* In the quiet village of Crossakiel in north Meath last Sunday, a group of Anglo-Irish trade unionists met to celebrate the life and times of Jim Connell, who was born in nearby Kilskyre in 1852, and who went on to pen ‘The Red Flag’, the anthem of the international labour movement.

It was surreal to listen to a trade union leader speak of the great anomaly of our times, the high level of unemployment amongst the most highly educated-to-date generation of school leavers. Though the village setting was local, the message was universal and global. The pervasive inequalities of our times.

COLIN QUIGLEY

STEEPLE MANOR, TRIM

Irish Independent

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