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8 May2014 Home Again

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Obituary:

Leslie Thomas was a comic novelist whose bestselling The Virgin Soldiers detailed privates on parade and in the jungle

Leslie Thomas

Leslie Thomas Photo: REX FEATURES

6:20PM BST 07 May 2014

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Leslie Thomas, who has died aged 83, was a former Barnardo’s boy who became one of Britain’s most popular writers; he was the author of more than 30 books, but it was his first, The Virgin Soldiers, a comic work inspired by his experiences of National Service, made him a household name.

Published in 1966, the novel turns on the adventures in Singapore during the Malayan Emergency of Private Brigg, a career soldier called Sgt Driscoll, and Phillipa Raskin, the daughter of the Regimental Sergeant Major and the object of both men’s desires. Brigg has to undergo the terror of combat as well as the tedium of garrison duty, and has his first sexual encounter with a local prostitute known as “Juicy Lucy” — a mirror of Thomas’s own National Service experience in the Far East.

The Virgin Soldiers has sold millions of copies and remains Thomas’s best-known book. In 1969 it was turned into a film directed by John Dexter and starring Hywel Bennett, Nigel Davenport and Lynn Redgrave.

Lynn Redgrave and Hywel Bennett in a scene from The Virgin Soldiers (MOVIETONE/REX)

Leslie John Thomas was born in a council house at Newport, South Wales, on March 22 1931, the elder son of David Thomas and his wife Dorothy — who had 23 brothers and sisters between them. At his elementary school in Newport, Leslie was an undistinguished pupil, although he did show some flair for English.

He hailed from a seafaring family — his grandfather had sailed round Cape Horn, but was said to have left the sea because he objected to his shipmates’ bad language. In 1943, when Leslie was 12, his father drowned after his ship was torpedoed by a U-boat, and six months later his mother died. Leslie and his nine-year-old brother, Roy, were installed in a Dr Barnardo’s home at Kingston upon Thames in Surrey. “We had cardboard on the windows where they’d been blown in,” he later recalled. “The flying bombs were dropping then.”

One of his many uncles attempted to retrieve the boys from the orphanage, but failed to convince the institution that he would be a suitable guardian: “ Any chances of us being allowed to live with him were dashed when he offered the Barnardo’s representative a gin and tonic.”

Leslie’s education continued at Kingston Technical School, where he trained to be a bricklayer, and then South-West Essex Technical College in Walthamstow, where he took a course in journalism. His first job, in 1948-49, was as a reporter on a local newspaper at Woodford in Essex. Then came National Service in the Army, from 1949 to 1951, during which (as he put it in Who’s Who) he “rose to Lance-Corporal”.

“I wanted to go into an infantry regiment and see the world,” he later said. “They sent me to Singapore, but put me in the Pay Corps as a clerk in an accounts office, the worst possible place for me. Even now I am not good at the administration of money matters… I was basically a desk-bound soldier, and Singapore was an exciting place to be, particularly for an 18 year-old like me. In my off-duty moments I was even a singer at the famous Raffles Hotel.”

Nigel Davenport as Sergeant Driscoll in The Virgin Soldiers (MOVIETONE/REX)

Thomas did, however, see action against communist terrorists, later recalling: “The jungle was pretty terrifying. I remember we were sent up country again, this time on trains. This was particularly dangerous as the terrorists had a habit of jumping on to the roofs of the moving trains and firing down on to the squaddies below.”

In 1950 Thomas and a few of his colleagues went to Penang on leave, with the aim of losing their virginity. Thomas succeeded, courtesy of an 18-year-old Chinese girl he met in a dance hall, and for a time they continued to see one another: “She had a Chinese name, but if Doris Day was on at the cinema she’d be called Doris, or if Rita Hayworth was on it would be Rita or even Hayworth.” The night before he returned to Britain he danced the tango with her in a nightclub, then “I took a last look at her and went out in tears. ”

On being demobbed Thomas returned to working for local papers in the London area, and from 1953 to 1955 he was a reporter for the Exchange Telegraph news agency. He then began a 10-year stint as a feature writer for the London Evening News (1955–66), where he earned a respectable £20 a week — sufficient in those days to allow him to marry and secure a mortgage. For the Evening News he covered the trial of Adolf Eichmann (“I even went back for his hanging”) and the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill.

In 1964 Thomas published This Time Next Week, a memoir about his life as a Barnardo’s boy (20 years later he would bring out a second volume of autobiography, In My Wildest Dreams). He then decided to try his hand at fiction. He received £3,000 for The Virgin Soldiers — enough to persuade him to leave journalism to concentrate on writing books full time. He was later paid £10,000 for the film rights (£3,000 of which he claimed to have blown on a family cruise to South America).

The cover of Leslie Thomas’s best-known book

Thomas published 30 novels, among them Orange Wednesday (1967); The Love Beach (1968); Onward Virgin Soldiers (1971); Arthur McCann and All His Women (1972); Tropic of Ruislip (1974); Stand up Virgin Soldiers (1975); Dangerous Davies (1976); The Magic Army (1981); Dangerous in Love (1987); Orders For New York (1989); The Loves and Journeys of Revolving Jones (1991); Dangerous by Moonlight (1993); Chloë’s Song (1997); Dangerous Davies and the Lonely Heart (1998); Dover Beach (2005); and Soldiers and Lovers (2007).

He was particularly fascinated by islands, and his non-fiction works included Some Lovely Islands (1968) and A World of Islands (1983) .

For many years he lived in a magnificent canonry — once the home of the artist Rex Whistler — in Salisbury Cathedral Close, with a garden backing on to the river Avon; and in 2010 he published Almost Heaven: Tales from a Cathedral. Among his neighbours in the Close was Sir Edward Heath, who lived in an exquisite house, Arundells. Thomas became his friend, and on one occasion a BBC crew making a film in Salisbury asked Thomas if the former Prime Minister was gay. “Gay?” the author replied. “He isn’t gay, he’s ——- miserable!” In his book, Leslie writes: “He [Heath] would take walks, accompanied by a minder, armed and unspeaking, and was often to be found in the inns and pubs around Salisbury, sitting silently in the corner. He had adopted a sort of round-the-city timetable, visiting pubs clockwise, over a period. On the evening of the day his knighthood was announced we met him sitting wordlessly with his security men in a pub.”

Thomas’s documentaries and television plays included Great British Isles (1989) and The Last Detective, a series starring Peter Davison adapted from his “Dangerous Davies” novels.

Leslie Thomas enjoyed travel, cricket, and collecting stamps, antiques and old maps of islands around Britain.

He served as vice-president of Barnardo’s from 1998, and was appointed OBE in 2005.

His first marriage, to Maureen Crane in 1956, was dissolved, and he married secondly, in 1970, Diana Miles, whom he met on the Metropolitan Line of the London Underground when he was on his way to watch a Test match at Lord’s. He is survived by his second wife, by two sons and a daughter of his first marriage, and by a son of his second.

Leslie Thomas, born March 22 1931, died May 6 2014

Guardian:

We express strong indignation at the misleading letter by members of PEN American Center (Letters, 28 April). The letter attempts to distort facts, exonerate suspected criminal activities and interfere with China‘s judicial sovereignty and independence.

As a country ruled by law, China protects the legitimate rights and interests of Uighur compatriots and people of all ethnic groups. Ilham Tohti’s case is being handled according to the Chinese law.

Investigation shows that Ilham Tohti used his identity as a lecturer at Minzu University of China and his website, Uighur Online, to incite “overthrowing the government”, preach “Xinjiang independence”, and openly call on Uighur people to carry out “violent struggle” “as in the fight against Japanese aggression”. He also formed a criminal group around him aimed at splitting the nation. These activities constitute the violation of the Chinese law and jeopardise state security and social stability.

As any other sovereign state, China is duty-bound to tackle illicit and criminal activities according to its law. China’s judicial sovereignty and independence brooks no interference by any organisation or individual.
Miao Deyu
Spokesman, Chinese embassy in the UK

Your article (World Bank loan to Honduran bank comes under scrutiny, 1 May) relies on a deeply flawed and over-simplified compliance adviser/ombudsman (CAO) report that is based solely on unfounded allegations about the land disputes in the Bajo Aguán region of Honduras. Overwhelming evidence presented to the International Finance Corporation IFC and the Honduran courts tells a different story. 

Externally funded armed groups, with no interest in farming, are using the conflicts in Honduras for wider political ends by encouraging the illegal seizure of private lands. Dinant has never committed human-rights violations against those who protest against our legal right to farm our land. It is rarely reported that 17 Dinant employees have been killed, almost 30 injured and five remain missing due to the conflicts. We have never engaged in forced evictions of farmers from our land; such evictions are undertaken exclusively by government security forces acting within the law and under instruction from the courts. Dinant is leading the way in Honduras by implementing the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, governing how we vet, recruit and train our security staff, and how they engage with local communities.

Dinant is not in conflict with genuine peasant associations; our African palm plantations support thousands of jobs in local communities. It is true that Honduras struggles with poverty, insecurity and a lack of economic opportunities. But my fellow countrymen would be better served if those NGOs that have never visited or who hold extreme and outdated political views did not seek to represent us.
Roger Pineda Pinel
Corporate relations director, Corporación Dinant

Independent:

The unease about the AstraZeneca sell-off to Pfizer is essentially a questioning of liberalisation. The Government and the City of London financial services industry want to avoid such questioning at all costs.

Since the Thatcher government, the UK has been the global model for liberalisation, taking for granted that all investment opportunities will be open to transnational and foreign investors so completely that it is never even mentioned. The results can be seen in both the private and public sectors.

In the private sector, we no longer own anything nationally. In the public sector the involvement of transnational and foreign corporations in privatisations of whichever kind (contracting, sell-offs, PFI) invokes international treaties that prevent any reversals of the underpinning privatisations – even when people want them reversed.

It is time to articulate what liberalisation means, that it has been a political choice and that there are alternatives. The 51 per cent domestic ownership that many other countries enforce would be one alternative.

Linda Kaucher

(Researcher, EU international trade policy)

London E1

Not content with clamping a new serfdom on Britain, the Cameron gang has the nerve to bray that Britain is “open for business”. Read: “Britain’s wide open for mass corporate shafting. Boys, fill your boots, and all under the sacred banner of shareholder power.

“Oh, and be sure to repay us with nice comfy jobs when we get kicked out next year.”

Richard Humble

“Could I make a suggestion,” asks Catherine Mahy of Sidcup, Kent, in one of the 1,000 reader emails containing proposals for improving i which are archived on my desk. “I don’t know if it is feasible, but would it be possible to have a page (weekly, or monthly) to review all the long-term, ongoing stories that we so  easily put in the back of our mind until they burst into the news again?”

Reader John Bestley, meanwhile, proposes a section entitled “Old News”, explaining: “Fresh exciting news can dominate the headlines,  letters and editorials for days – then just sink. What has happened following the hurricane in the Philippines? To the Liberal peer who was accused of inappropriate sexual behaviour?”

We in the media can be culpable of moving on quickly; the news agenda is by its nature a tangle of loose ends. One quarterly publication is dedicated to challenging this: Delayed Gratification describes itself as “the world’s first Slow Journalism magazine, proud to be Last to Breaking News”.

Today, we have a cheerful what-happened-next tale for you. Oliver Cameron, the kidney transplant patient whose sister was refused a UK visa to become his donor, is about to undergo the life-changing operation, following the Home Office’s change of heart. And he would like to thank i readers for your role in the reversal – and generosity in offering to pay for his sister’s travel when he could not afford the fare.

“The response was simply overwhelming,” he told our chief reporter Cahal Milmo, after we forwarded on  your many messages of support and of financial assistance. “It filled me with such gratitude and faith  that there are plenty of people out there who care, are decent and want to  help.” All the best to Mr Cameron and to his sister, Keisha Rushton, who is now in the UK and is preparing for the op. We’ll let you know how they get on.

i@independent.co.uk

Times:

Sir, Cancer drugs that harness our immune system may transform patient’s lives. Much of the science for this class of drug was developed in UK universities such as UCL, Imperial and Cambridge. Taking these therapies from basics to the clinic takes decades of painstaking work. Spirogen, which we sold to AstraZeneca last October, had collaborations with many global pharma companies. We were spoilt for choice of acquirer and chose AstraZeneca largely because of its focus on bringing new cancer therapies to market rapidly and efficiently, and because of its creative collaboration with ADC Therapeutics, a Spirogen spin-out. Believe it or not, this was unusual among our suitors. A company like AstraZeneca that engages with university scientists, early stage start-up and growth stage companies and which provides finance through imaginative licensing and partnering deals is vital to attracting world-class scientists and management to work in the UK. If we are serious about Britain’s scientific leadership we should support AstraZeneca’s standalone strategy of bringing drugs to market.

Chris Martin

Spirogen, London E1

Sir, I spent 14 stimulating, rewarding years (1991-2004) as a bioanalytical scientist, manager and senior director with Pfizer at Sandwich, Kent. These were the best years of my scientific life, having come to the industry late from academia. The training, support, science and camaraderie were superb.

Senior management always told us that Pfizer would only grow by discovering and developing new medicines, never by buying companies. It reneged on those promises in 1999 when it bought Warner-Lambert. The inevitable happened: productivity dropped as scientists worried more about their security rather than research. As Pfizer then bought more companies, more damage ensued at its research sites. Finally, in 2011, it closed the site in Sandwich with the loss of thousands of jobs in the company and in the surrounding economy.

What possible benefit can it be to the UK to open our doors again to a company which so callously plays with the lives of thousands in order to lessen its tax-bill? Who could possibly believe any assurances as to job security with Pfizer’s track record?

The Rev Dr Richard Venn

Lenham, Kent

Sir, David Barnes, a former AstraZeneca chief executive, said that Pfizer would act like a “praying mantis” and “suck the lifeblood” out of the British company if the takeover bid was successful (“Cameron’s strategist was hired by Pfizer”, May 7). The praying mantis is not a blood sucker, rather it dismembers and eats its partner following union.

Bruce Summers

Cheswell, Shropshire

Sir, The AstraZeneca debate finds politicians paying their usual lip service to long-term investment, yet seemingly content with a capital gains tax policy which hardly encourages this by applying a flat rate of tax irrespective of the time a share or other asset has been held. Surely a return to previous policies of a differential between short and long-term gains, or some form of taper relief would be more equitable and commercially sensible?

Lord Lee of Trafford

House of Lords

Renationalising the railways might not quite usher in a new utopia of train travel

Sir, Labour’s plan to renationalise the railways may attract many voters but — leaving aside the fact that the track and signalling are all state-owned and nearly all the train companies are run by state industries (Dutch, German and so on) — I fear nostalgia is rose-tinting our view of British Rail.

I travelled on almost all the system in recent years. I have seen busy stations where every train was new, and huge destination boards at places like Leeds with every single departure listed as on time. This would never have been true under BR, but what you would have seen plenty of were strikes (run, it must be remembered, by the same unions that finance Labour).

There are less obvious benefits from privatisation. More people are travelling by train than ever before in peacetime, and the taxpayers’ share of the cost is coming down. Where cash-strapped BR largely managed decline, look at the investment now — today’s railway is opening new connecting curves and flyovers at Hitchin, Ipswich, Manchester, and Reading, to name a few of the dozens of bottlenecks that are being removed.

The crazy track singling that took place under BR in many part of the country to save a few thousand pounds a year in maintenance is being reversed (at a cost of hundreds of millions). Hundreds of small stations have been reopened and big ones such as King’s Cross and St Pancras superbly rebuilt. All this without the massive crashes that sometimes marred BR’s time. Neither system has proved perfect, but don’t let a populist politician sell a new generation a total myth.

Benedict Le Vay

(Author of Britain From The Rails: A Window-Gazer’s Guide)

London SW19

Doctors need to remember that asthma patients are looking after themselves for 99 per cent of the time

Sir, Part of the solution to the better management of asthma is recognising that people have to manage their own long-term conditions for an average of 8,000 hours a year. Professional interaction accounts for only 3-4 hours a year yet gets 99 per cent of managerial and clinical energy.

Our report One Person, One Team, One System highlights the need for mechanisms where, by default, every patient is given the knowledge to co-manage their conditions to the best of their ability during that 8,000 hours and has a plan to work to. The evidence on better outcomes and reduced emergencies is stark.

Sir John Oldham

Independent Commission on Whole Person Care

The wobbly four-legged table can be defeated by advanced physics — and a bridge-school Polo mint

Sir, Michael McElroy need not endure wobbly four-legged café tables (letter, May 5). In 2005 André Martin, a physicist at Cern in Geneva, proved mathematically that it is always possible to rotate such a table so that it will stand steady.

Dr John Burscough

Hibaldstow, N Lincs

Sir, A wobbly, four-legged, café table is an infrequent experience, unlike our bridge club tables where three legs would not work. A Polo mint placed under one leg does the trick.

Christina Padbury

Duxford, Cambs

Perhaps families should pay for board and lodging, councils can pay for care and nursing – it’s an idea

Sir, Perhaps care home fee fraud would be better controlled if meals, laundry and heating were paid for by the family, or the person, irrespective of income — after all, in their time of health all these items were a regular expense for the patient or family. Councils, meanwhile, would be responsible for all care and nursing. If this were adopted, families could begin to prepare for the prospective costs early in their working lives.

Janie Day

Ousden, Suffolk

Telegraph:

SIR – In his article about the recorder, Ivan Hewett was almost certainly referring to chipped descant recorders, rather than treble recorders, which have a more mellow tone. The average child is unlikely to have large enough hands for a treble recorder.

Descant recorders are cheap (under £10) and portable compared with most other instruments. Not every family can afford the expense of other instruments and tuition, once the initial free teaching period is over (in some cases, just one term).

No one should write off the recorder – it is a beautiful instrument when played well. Listen to Sophie Westbrooke (who has just won the woodwind section of the BBC Young Musician 2014 competition) and you may be surprised by what you hear.

Tessa Rolph
Chairman, Society of Recorder Players
Laxton, Nottinghamshire

SIR – The national review into asthma deaths shows a truly worrying problem. Although I accept that some of these deaths may result from sufferers underestimating their disease, I fear a significant number may be attributed to a reluctance to admit people to hospital.

There are risks associated with the NHS policies that offer incentives to GPs to reduce acute hospital admissions, and that encourages hospitals to reduce the number of beds available. It is sadly inevitable that putting pressure on doctors to think twice about admissions will lead to disaster.

This is especially a risk with a disease such as asthma, where deterioration can be unpredictable and rapid.

Dr Robert Walker
Workington, Cumbria

Juvenile knife crime

SIR – Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, is ready to support a Tory plan for an automatic prison sentence for children who commit knife crime for a second time.

This proposal is unlikely to reduce knife crime and is certain to harm the life chances of thousands of children. It is wrong that so many teenagers carry knives, but equally wrong to think imprisonment is the answer to all but the most serious crimes. There is no evidence that imprisonment acts as a deterrent, and lots of evidence that imprisoning children and teenagers is counterproductive – 69 per cent of children released from prison are re-convicted within a year of release.

The answer to knife crime is prevention programmes and effective community sentences – not mandatory prison terms.

Penelope Gibbs
Chairman, Standing Committee for Youth Justice
London EC1

No laughing matter

SIR – John Lloyd, the man who brought us Blackadder, says that television comedy is a “thoroughgoing disaster” that could sink the BBC.

The same could be said of BBC Radio 4’s 6.30pm slot during the week. Apart from periodic runs of The Unbelievable Truth, The Now Show and The News Quiz, there is little that is even faintly amusing – despite the hysterical laughter from the studio audience.

John Ley-Morgan
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

Time of your life

SIR – The best time of my life was before I was two. No worries, nobody minded if I was sick, or something similar, over them. All I had to do was eat, sleep or play.

The only problem is that I have no memories of it.

John G Prescott
Coulsdon, Surrey

SIR – My late mother used to say: “There are benefits in every stage of your life. Enjoy each day and don’t waste time looking back.”

I have followed this advice and it has stood me in good stead.

Ros Fitton
Solihull, Warwickshire

Hidden message

SIR – It is my wife’s 30th wedding anniversary on Monday. Mine, too. My wife says she does not want anything special – it is just another day. What should I do?

George Brown
Manchester

Patient data in peril

SIR – Today, the Care Bill, which proposes reform to the law relating to care and support for adults, returns to the Lords.

Care.data is part of NHS England plans to link England-wide aggregated patient data collected from GP practices with hospital admissions. In February, the Government paused the roll-out of Care.data, following revelations that patient data are being sold to commercial companies. It is anticipated that amendments will be tabled today to restore public trust in NHS oversight of patient data.

Patient data, in the right hands, are vital in finding new ways to protect people’s health and treat infectious diseases, cancers and many other conditions. My concern is that the net effect of the proposed new law, as well as recent changes, is too vague. It could allow a commercial healthcare provider to be given NHS funding to treat patients, and use their data for commercial insurance and marketing, and targeting patients.

The amendments tabled today would put Dame Fiona Caldicott’s Independent Oversight Panel on a statutory footing with functions to oversee the new system. They will prevent the commercial sale and exploitation of patient data for general purposes, including insurance, marketing and advertising, if patients do not consent.

Patients look to doctors and nurses to send a strong signal that their data cannot be exploited for commercial purposes. We urge the Government to do likewise.

Professor John R Ashton
President, UK Faculty of Public Health
London NW1

Moveable school terms

SIR – Staggering term dates to ease holiday price increases is a good idea. With my four children at different schools, they would be unlikely to coincide, so holidays would become a thing of the past and prices would fall. Of course, it would make my working impossible, so we would be unable to afford holidays anyway.

Susan Hair
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

Un-mellow yellow

SIR – William Blake’s vision of a “green and pleasant land” is becoming entirely different at this time of the year with rape fields almost ubiquitous and quite dazzlingly yellow from an aircraft.

Is there no other crop that is even nearly as profitable?

Chris Mitchell
Houghton on the Hill, Leicestershire

Not all birds will be lured into reality television

SIR – Many congratulations to readers who have had success with their bird-box cameras. We have placed ours in many different places over the past three years, but so far not a dicky-bird has set up home. This year the blue tits went so far as to investigate one of our older, dilapidated, boxes while studiously ignoring the special one.

Jane Davidson
Balderton, Nottinghamshire

SIR – My husband and I watched a pair of robins making their nest and busily flying in and out with their beaks laden with worms for their young.

A neighbour’s cat then came along and ate the lot.

Exactly the same happened last year, despite our efforts to protect them. It is very depressing.

Louise Steidl
London SW18

SIR – I live in one of the pleasant villages that surround Guildford.Guildford borough council proposes to increase the size of our village from approximately 1,200 homes to 2,000. The council does not propose to improve the roads or the parking at the station, or to build a new primary or secondary school.

We have agreed that there should be about 20 new houses per year in our village to accommodate young people and those who wish to downsize, but not 800.

Nick Boles, the planning minister, tells two stories. On the one hand, he talks about sustainability and affordable housing, with a goal to build as much as possible. On the other hand, he claims the Government is protecting the countryside and that green-belt land will not be built on other than in exceptional circumstances.

As a result of Mr Boles’s statements, the council has offered up 16 of the 24 villages around Guildford on the sacrificial altar. The council argues that if it does not grant planning permission, developers will apply to build over vast swathes of the countryside, and it will not be able to stop them. But the council still has the capability to refuse applications as long as the Government, on the developers’ appeals, does not grant permission for unsuitable housing estates.

Valerie Thompson
West Horsley, Surrey

SIR – There may be some hope for Neil Carmichael and other Conservative MPs fearing for their seats due to a backlash over Government planning policies. The backlash will initially occur at this month’s local elections. When the party has lost seats, then it may start to listen to voters and pause housing developments until local plans are in place.

This may save some of the MPs.

David Lawrence
Hook, Hampshire

SIR – Brownfield land should certainly be used before the green belt. On the edge of the Medway towns in Kent a new village is being built on the site of a redundant quarry and cement works.

It is beautifully landscaped with lovely homes of all types, including affordable housing. It will also have a convenience store, surgery and a pub with a restaurant.

There are many thousands of acres of such land begging to be developed. Surely these developments are the ones that should be given priority, not those that deprive us of farmland.

Ted Shorter
Tonbridge, Kent

SIR – Second-home owners rarely pay reduced council tax. Most councils have abolished any reductions.

We pay the full council tax on our property in Cornwall, even though the property is not allowed to be a main residence. We accept this as we are fortunate to have a second property.

Tuppence Hale
Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Irish Times:

Sir, – By no stretch of the imagination (or legislation) is it one of the official functions of a Minister for Justice to pass on to the public any political tittle-tattle he may have heard from a Garda Commissioner.

Accordingly, can we assume that the legal bills that Mr Shatter, who has now returned to the back benches, is running up in challenging the Data Protection Commissioner’s decision will be met from his own pocket and not from the public purse? – Yours, etc,

ROGER BLACKBURN,

Abbey Hill,

Naul,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – In light of the findings of the Data Protection Commissioner against Mr Shatter, it is worth casting our minds back to February 18th, 2010, when he had some damning remarks to make on the Dáil record on then minister for defence Willie O’Dea: “he admitted confidential information furnished to him as Minister for Defence . . . by members of the Garda Síochána had been improperly used for his own electoral gain . . . That is outrageous and unacceptable and he should no longer be a member of Cabinet”.

Even had Mr Shatter not already been so beleaguered by scandal, he had breached the standard to which he hoped to hold government while he was in opposition.

His resignation is appropriate, justified and overdue. – Yours, etc,

STEPHEN FITZPATRICK,

Kerrymount Rise,

Foxrock,

Sir, – As a consequence of the arrival of water charges, will the cursory hurried ablution hitherto called “a cat’s lick” be known in future as “a phil hogan”? – Yours, etc,

ÉANNA BROPHY

Bettyglen,

Dublin 5

Sir, – Is it fair that single people should have to pay as much for water as married people, who have the advantage of no longer needing to wash themselves? – Yours, etc,

EUGENE TANNAM,

Monalea Park,

Firhouse,

Dublin 24.

Sir, – Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan feels that his water allowances are generous. In the immediate aftermath of an earthquake, most international agencies have a target of supplying 20 litres per day to each person. The medium-term objective is to bring that up to 51 litres a day within six months, a figure which many agencies calculate is the minimum required to satisfy all basic needs. This works out at 18,615 litres.

In most households there will be at least two adults, which means that his generous allowance is less than what his Government would be called upon to supply to the people of Ireland in the event of a major catastrophe. – Yours, etc,

GEARÓID Ó LOINGSIGH,

Calle D,

Bogotá,

Colombia.

Sir, – As one of two working parents with two children in primary school, we are faced yet again with another school closure to cater for voting in the local and European elections on May 23rd, a Friday.

The result of this is that one of us will need to take annual leave, or pay for additional childcare or work from home to cover the school closure. I am sure there are many other parents similarly affected. Why cannot alternative venues be found for elections if they cannot be held at the weekend? Are there not sufficient empty buildings around the country or community halls available for such purpose? My heart sinks every time a referendum or byelection is called as it means yet again the schools are closed. Will nobody think of the parents? – Yours, etc,

MARK BYRNE,

Prospect Manor,

Rathfarnham,

Dublin 16.

Sir, – Eamon Ryan believes the last government, of which he was a member, only agreed to the potential sale of State assets as part of the agreement with the troika because they felt that Labour would soon replace them in Government and renege on this pledge (“Greens believed Labour would not go ahead with privatisation”, Home News, May 7th). This is an absolutely extraordinary admission.

If Mr Ryan expects us to believe this, then it suggests that the last government entered into the memorandum of understanding with the troika on bad faith, since they had no intention of living up to one of the key commitments contained in it. Effectively, they were telling porkies to the only institutions that were willing to lend to Ireland at a time of imminent financial collapse.

It also suggests that the members of the last government were conspiring to make their own lives easier by agreeing to whatever the troika wanted and, in the process, make life for their successors more difficult by adding to the mess that they would have to clean up.

Does Mr Ryan really think that he is fit to serve in public office again, despite admitting to this act of gross irresponsibility? – Yours, etc,

THOMAS RYAN, BL

Mount Tallant Avenue,

Harolds Cross,

Sir, – The Department of Defence states (Home News, May 5th) that naming our new naval vessels after “world-renowned literary figures” will “facilitate greater recognition” for the Naval Service “in the international maritime domain”. This excellent objective would be facilitated to a much greater degree by accepting the frequent invitations to contribute naval assets to EU-led anti-piracy operations, which up to now have invariably been refused. After all, if countries such as Estonia, Finland and Romania feel it appropriate to participate in such operations, surely Ireland, with its frequently stated objective of being a maritime nation, should do so also. – Yours, etc,

FERGUS CAHILL,

Cúil Ghlas,

Dunboyne,

Co Meath.

Sir, – I have an open mind on whether the Department of Defence and the Government should name the two new Naval Service patrol ships after Nobel prize-winning Irish writers or after mythical female figures (Home News, May 5th).

The recently built and delivered LÉ Samuel Beckett falls into the category of being named after the Nobel prize-winning Irish writer. However, the second ship to be built and called the LÉ James Joyce honours neither a Nobel prize winner nor a mythical female figure. Joyce, although one of Ireland’s most famous literary sons, was never nominated for the Nobel prize. – Yours, etc,

TOM COOPER,

Templeville Road,

Templeogue,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – It seems to me that the decision to name the two naval ships after Joyce and Beckett wasn’t quite thought out; both writers left Ireland and finally never came back, hardly a favourable augury. Patrick O’Brian wasn’t Irish – but neither are the vessels – but liked to let on he was, and he did write what are regarded as some of the best sea-faring novels. He would have been a more obvious choice, but whoever named the ships had probably never read either writer. I can hear my late father-in-law, a merchant seaman, quietly laughing at the pretentiousness of it all. – Yours, etc,

EOIN DILLON,

Ceannt Fort,

Mount Brown,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – Before Tom Fuller (May 3rd) questions the legitimacy of Israel’s right to return, perhaps he should address the fundamental question of why it was implemented in the first place.

The answer would quickly emerge after an afternoon in the National Archives where document after document shows that the Irish State, alongside the other liberal democracies, almost universally rejected the many hundreds of applications for asylum from Germany’s persecuted Jews.

This historical truth is there for any rational person to see, and is exemplified by the almost universally negative government response to Robert Briscoe’s 1930s immigration initiative.

The rejection was so overt that Briscoe, the most assimilated of Irish Jews, was compelled to engage with the New Zionist Organisation in one last desperate attempt to save even a remnant of his European co-religionists.

The realisation by the new state of Israel in 1948 that the West had ignored the plight of Jews only a decade previously propelled it to introduce the right to return as a guarantee that another Holocaust could never occur if Jews had a safe haven.

When the historical imperative is understood, what fair-minded person can question it? – Yours, etc,

Dr KEVIN McCARTHY,

School of History,

University College Cork.

Sir, – Your article examining the recent wave of violence in Venezuela failed to address its most significant causes (“Latest protests underscore Maduro’s disappointing year as Venezuelan president”, World News, April 26th). 

It made no mention of the explicit political aims of the current violent protests carried out by minority sectors within Venezuela’s opposition. They are demanding the explicit overthrow of the elected and constitutional government of Venezuela.

This call for “the ousting” is led by politicians whose democratic credentials are tarnished by their links to a military coup in Venezuela in 2002.

The current wave of violence directly followed the call to bring down the government by taking the streets. Tragically it has left 41 dead. The government has condemned the small minority of the deaths, four of the 41, resulting from opposition supporters clashing with security forces.

It has taken tough action, including sacking the head of the military police and ensuring the arrest of officers involved.

But the principal cause of the deaths has been violence from extremists in the opposition. Nine police officers have been killed and even more innocent civilians have been shot dead while trying to clear opposition street barricades or killed in fatal clashes across these deliberately dangerous barricades. The uniquely negative impression given in your analysis fails to explain how parties aligned to President Maduro won December’s mayoral elections with a 10 per cent margin or why Mr Maduro’s approval ratings are considerably higher than those of opposition leaders.

The impression given certainly reflects the perspective of a section of Venezuelan society. However, it does not represent the opinion of the long-excluded majority who have consistently elected parties and candidates aligned with Hugo Chávez in 18 elections over recent years. – Yours, etc,

ALVARO SANCHEZ,

Chargé d’affaires,

Embassy of Venezuela

to the UK and Ireland,

Cromwell Road,

Sir, – I was relieved to read about the appointment of former taoiseach Brian Cowen to the board of Topaz (“Brian Cowen and former AIB chief appointed to board of Topaz”, Business, May 3rd). It’s good to know that while so many aspects of life are going through change, the rationale for choosing non-executive directors to boards in this country remains the same. The expertise he brought to fuelling an already growing property bubble as minister for finance and then overseeing the worst financial crisis this State has faced will serve him and the board well as they manage the business of extracting money from Irish motorists. I hope those who have been adversely affected by the economic collapse will join me in making sure they never darken the forecourts of Topaz again. – Yours, etc,

JULIE BOND,

Sea Road,

Newcastle,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Most citizens of this country will be aware that the last government, of which Mary Hanafin was a member, failed in the task of running this country and led us off a financial cliff.

It now appears that Fianna Fáil cannot even run its own affairs in Blackrock, Co Dublin. – Yours, etc,

STEPHEN BATHE,

Cherryfield Avenue Lower,

Ranelagh,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – As Minister for Education in Bertie Ahern’s cabinet, Mary Hanafin was most vociferous on the airwaves defending his “dig-outs”.

I hope the people of Blackrock let her know that we have said farewell to the politics that prevailed during her time in government. – Yours, etc,

PATRICK BURKE,

Clontarf Road,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments expressed by Peter Pearson Evans regarding the architectural merit of the new Dún Laoghaire library building (May 6th). It really is a sight to behold; an edifice of genuine ascetic beauty and design.

Of course, at a cost of some €36 million, it would want to be! – Yours, etc,

PAUL DELANEY,

Beacon Hill,

Dalkey,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – The new library building on the Dún Laoghaire seafront, with its redbrick facade with recessed brown aluminium windows, stands in horrible contrast to the beautiful Victorian terraced seafront and looks like a 1980s correctional institute. Its positioning is completely unsympathetic to Dun Laoghaire’s other landmark buildings, such as the Royal Marine Hotel and the Mariners’ Church.

As a building, it would work better in an industrial estate or university campus with large grounds.

I’m just waiting for it to win an architectural award to prove this is a case of the emperor’s new clothes in stone! – Yours, etc,

ERICA DEVINE,

Dundela Haven,

Sandycove,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Transition-year students will be able to take classes in horse care, hunting, breeding and grooming as part of a new equine studies module from this September. At Friends of the Elderly we have been campaigning for years to get a “Care of the Older Person” module introduced to the transition-year curriculum. This five-day, Further Education and Training Awards Council-recognised course has been successfully taken by thousands of people, giving them the skills to care for the elderly in their communities. Are we putting the cart before the horse or is it a case of horses for courses? – Yours, etc,

DERMOT KIRWAN,

Friends of the

Elderly Ireland,

Bolton Street,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – Further to Eamon McCann’s article (“Why did so few mention irrationality at heart of papal canonisations?”, Opinion & Analysis, May 1st), his theory that the alleged cure attributed to the intercession of John Paul II was due an initial misdiagnosis is worrying. Given that there are thousands of canonised saints in the church’s calendar and that each has two miraculous cures attributed to them, this would mean there are either a great deal of dubious sainthoods or a great many incompetent doctors. – Yours, etc,

JAMES HOGAN,

Ballycurrane,

Thurles,

Co Tipperary.

Sir, – While delighted to note the appointment of a woman ambassador (Home News, May 6th), I am at a loss to understand why an embassy to the Holy See that was closed due to the stated reason that “it yielded no economic return” should now be reopened. Is it perhaps in the hope that it will yield some electoral return? –

Fr PHILIP CURRAN,

Kilnamanagh,

Castleview,

Dublin 24.

Sir, – Further to Kieran Fagan’s letter (May 5th), it was not only food that we once found lacking when holidaying in Spain. I knew of a family who packed their portable radio because they didn’t want to miss the Gay Byrne Show in the mornings. – Yours, etc,

BERNARD FARRELL,

Redford Park,

Greystones,

Co Wicklow.

Irish Independent:

Published 08 May 2014 02:30 AM

* In the animal world, the definition of democracy is the penguin. This is so because when the harsh winds blow, the penguins all huddle together to benefit from each other’s shelter. The penguins then take turns at the outside of the group so that the group as a whole survives. It is simple enough and mutually beneficial to all even though it was thought up by birdbrains.

Also in this section

Politicians turning a blind eye to people’s suffering

What we really want is a joyous Lord – who can also dance

A quiet revolution is occurring in healthcare issues

In the human world, the law is meant to perform this process. Indeed, anyone who has gone to the bother of reading the Irish Constitution will see the many rights and theories therein, which try to move us to this practical Utopia. It is why we have referenda, for example – each vote being our chance to have a “turn” in the decision-making processes.

In the modern western world, the birth of the legal system is said to go back to the Magna Carta. It was the birth of the end of the notion that some men were more equal than others.

It was signed by the elite out of fear – no other reason. They were outnumbered, plain and simple, but they still had the traditional and ignorant strength of tradition, which allowed for only a few concessions to be made.

The law has been seen as a protector of individual rights since in this part of the modern world. Therefore, the law must be fair and practical. It must respect the person regardless of any pomp or privilege they may or may not enjoy in society.

In Ireland, we have a democracy that in theory dispels the notion of kingship, that dispels the notion of an elite huddling in the middle while others take the brunt.

Yet we have an increasing burgeoning of wealth at the centre. The penguins have their own way of insuring the hardship is meted out fairly. One can only assume that, in Ireland, those we seem to elect to Government are intellectually below that of a penguin. Seeing as they seem to support vulture funds over those who stood bravely against the harsh wind of large property taxes.

DERMOT RYAN

ATHENRY, GALWAY

THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

* On the subject of the existence or not of God, the French Nobel Prize-winning author Albert Camus once wrote: “I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn’t, than to live my life as if there isn’t and die to find out there is.” Me too.

M REILLY

DROGHEDA, CO LOUTH

ATHEISTS AND DEITIES

* Killian Foley-Walsh (Letters, May 6) seems to think that an atheist should not write a letter to this newspaper stating his belief that God does not exist. I should remind Killian that he is just one god away from being an atheist himself, presuming he does not believe in any of the other thousands of deities that are worshipped around the world.

He is absolutely right when he says that claiming that God does not exist does not mean that God does not exist. It is simply my belief, based on the lack of meaningful evidence to the contrary, and I do not understand why this belief seems to be so threatening to Killian’s sensibilities.

SEAN SMITH

KILLUA, CLONMELLON, NAVAN, CO MEATH

PERCEPTIVE BELIEFS

* I found Dermot Ryan’s beliefs (Letters, May 7) about ‘what makes man unique is a concept of time’ and that ‘nobody has answered the big questions – where did we come from and why are we here?’ extremely perceptive.

Also James Gleeson’s letter (May 7) about the Bible being the word of God and how he is able to use that greatest gift of discernment to understand his place in creation is something that I would encourage more Irish people to consider.

Ultimately we, as members of God’s creation, will answer to Jesus sooner or later. Many Irish people really seem to have lost their belief in God, which is such a shame.

On a related note and accepting of the jovial nature of her comments, I see Mary Lou McDonald on Fenian Street thinks nothing of jokes comparing Jesus Christ to Gerry Adams. One was the saviour and prince of peace and the other was the antithesis of peace.

ALASTAIR DONALDSON

CROSSMAGLEN, NEWRY

A TANGLED WEB

* Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we learn to deceive, said Sir Walter Scott, and wasn’t he right?

That said, what is the difference between breaking the law and committing an offence?

The average person on the street would think they are one and the same – so does that mean that the guy in Mountjoy for not having a TV licence has not only broken the law, but has committed an offence as well?

RJ HANLY

SCREEN, CO WEXFORD

PRAISE FOR HOSPITAL STAFF

* On Good Friday 2014, I unfortunately found myself in a position where my 12-year-old son needed medical attention. Rushing to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, we experienced first-class treatment from the moment we entered the building.

All staff conducted themselves in the most professional, yet friendly, manner. Necessary tests were carried out and my son was seen regularly by a specific nurse and doctor. Thankfully everything was fine. I must wholeheartedly thank the staff.

ROCHELLE CONEFREY

CHORLEY, LANCASHIRE

CONDEMNED TO AUSTERITY

* M O’Brien regrets the fact that we barely hear ‘the din created by those who feel they have been short-changed by austerity’ (Letters, May 7).

The letter also quotes Edmund Burke‘s famous saying that for injustice or evil to thrive, it is sufficient that good men do nothing.

The present austerity was caused by the country being bankrupted by decisions of a small number of the most powerful during the boom.

When all of that was happening, there was no din at all about what was going on. Many of those who turned a blind eye then are complaining now about the short-changing of the most vulnerable.

They should have created much more of a din during the boom when everyone was short-changed by having the country bankrupted and condemned to austerity.

A LEAVY

SHIELMARTIN DRIVE, SUTTON, DUBLIN 13

SAFETY ON OUR ROADS

* Garda and Road Safety Authority statistics show that 82pc of accidents occur on two-way roads with 80 and 100km/h speed limits.

In 2013, 4,410 drivers received speeding penalty points in Northern Ireland, compared with 205,719 in the Republic of Ireland. On this and other bank holiday weekends, the garda speed detection unit enforced rigidly the 80 km/h speed limit on one major dual carriageway.

Insurance companies agree with the enforcement of these speed limits as they benefit to the tune of 30pc for each penalty point issued for the following three years.

When speed limits are correctly set, enforcement should take place on every kilometre of road in Ireland.

Recent road fatalities show that setting and enforcing incorrect speed limits appears to be a financial and not a road safety issue.

FRANK CULLINANE

GLASNEVIN PARK, DUBLIN 11

RESCUED FROM THE RAT

* Labour TD Kevin Humphreys came to the rescue of his fellow TDs on Friday when a rat was discovered in Leinster House.

Well done Kevin, that was a good start.

GG FINN

CO KERRY

Irish Independent

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