9May2014 Optician

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate A visit to the US Priceless

Off to the Opticians I have ‘significant deterioration’ so I have a field test tomorrow

Scrabbletoday, I win, by three points perhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


Charles Marowitz – obituary

Charles Marowitz was a provocative director of British avant-garde theatre of the 1960s who played fast and loose with Shakespeare

Charles Marowitz

Charles Marowitz Photo: PA PHOTOS/TOPFOTO

6:54PM BST 08 May 2014

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Charles Marowitz, the American-born theatre director and playwright who has died aged 80, was a key figure, with Kenneth Tynan and Peter Brook, in the renaissance of British theatre in the 1960s – and one of the most provocative and controversial.

A self-appointed scourge of cultural “philistines” and unadventurous mainstream theatre, Marowitz was co-director, with Peter Brook, of the Royal Shakespeare Experimental Group in the early 1960s and went on to co-found the experimental Open Space Theatre with Thelma Holt, serving as its artistic director until its closure in 1980.

During his years in London, Marowitz directed several West End premieres, among them Joe Orton’s Loot, Sam Shepard’s Tooth of Crime, John Herbert’s Fortune and Men’s Eyes and Eugene Ionesco’s Makbett. His collaborations with Brook on RSC productions of King Lear, Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade and Jean Genet’s The Screens led, in 1964, to a “Theatre of Cruelty” season at the Lamda Theatre Club. This was inspired by the ideas of the French theorist, Antonin Artaud, a great hero of Marowitz, who had proposed that theatre should assault the senses of the audience to reveal, as Marowitz put it, “the existential horror behind all social and psychological facades”. The season made a star of a young Glenda Jackson, a Marowitz protegee, who became the first serious actress to appear nude on the British stage, in a play in which she took the role of Christine Keeler – “stripped, bathed and ritually clothed as a convict to the recitation of the Keeler court case”, according to a report at the time.

Marowitz employed a panoply of cinematic techniques, such as jump cuts, dream sequences, harsh lighting and other tricks to heighten the visual experience for his audiences. However, it was his fast-and-loose “free adaptations” of the classics that brought him greatest notoriety. Always out for the attention-grabbing theatrical coup, he staged a “black power” Othello; a feminist Taming of the Shrew; a “Freudian” Hedda Gabler (in which Hedda rides her father around the stage, thrashing him with a whip), and a Doctor Faustus with the title character based on the atomic scientist Robert Oppenheimer.

He had no compunction about revising the works of Shakespeare, observing that the Bard was “capable of some horrifically bad writing”. The sex in Marowitz’s versions was nearly always explicit. Thus, in his Measure for Measure (to which Marowitz added several new scenes and characters, while stripping out the comic interludes) Isabella and Angelo have sex while Isabella is transformed from virginal victim to worldly cynic. Meanwhile, so visceral was Marowitz’s dislike of the gloomy Dane, his version of the play had Hamlet raping Ophelia. “I despise Hamlet,” he explained. “Like the parlour liberal or paralysed intellectual, he can describe every facet of a problem yet never pull his finger out … You may think he’s a sensitive, well-spoken and erudite fellow but, frankly, he gives me a pain in the ass.”

Natasha Pyne as Ophelia, Nikolas Simmonds as Hamlet and Thelma Holt as Gertrude, in Charles Marowitz’s Hamlet (EVENING STANDARD/GETTY IMAGES)

The sentiment was typical Marowitz, who was notoriously blunt-spoken and quarrelsome, and during his career made as many enemies as friends. In Burnt Bridges, an aptly titled memoir of his time in London, he settled scores with, among others, Tom Stoppard, Peter Brook and Joe Orton’s biographer John Lahr. Elsewhere he savaged artists from Sam Shepard (“quirky and unconvincing”) to Vanessa Redgrave (“those large, mooselike and mindless eyes are two of the most appalling souvenirs I have of the Sixties”).

“I have to admit to a certain surge of misanthropy in my nature,” Marowitz wrote, though in an interview in 1994 he mused that “To be merely a provocateur [is], in the end, not such a bad epitaph.”

The youngest of three children, Charles Marowitz was born in New York City on January 26 1934 to Polish Jewish immigrant parents who worked in the clothing industry. He attended Seward Park High School and staged his first theatre production (of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus) at the age of 14 at New York’s Labor Temple. By the age of 17 he had formed his own acting company and was writing theatre reviews for Village Voice.

Drafted into the US Army during the Korean War, Marowitz ended up serving in France. He then moved to London, enrolling at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

His first London production was of Gogol’s Marriage for the Unity Theatre, King’s Cross, in 1958. After working with Peter Brook on the RSC’s revival of King Lear (1962) he worked as an assistant director with the RSC from 1963 to 1965.

In 1968 he turned a basement in the Tottenham Court Road into the Open Space Theatre (later transferred to premises on the Euston Road), which, over the next 12 years, he and Thelma Holt turned into a rival to the Royal Court as London’s most intellectually fashionable playhouse. Designed so that the stage and seating were as flexible and adjustable as possible, the Open Space became a pioneer of “environmental staging” in which the audience is immersed in the performance and boundaries between reality and illusion are blurred.

For his opening show, Fortune and Men’s Eyes, Marowitz achieved a publicity coup by turning the theatre into a “prison” where the audience was “frisked” on arrival by prison guards. Audiences attending Pablo Picasso’s Four Little Girls (1972) had to squeeze their way through a tiny doorway into an “Alice in Wonderland” fantasy setting. Marowitz once spent the equivalent of his theatre’s annual Arts Council grant on rearranging the furniture for a single production. In 1970 the theatre was busted by police for screening Andy Warhol’s Flesh.

Many of Marowitz’s Open Space productions transferred to other theatres, including Sherlock’s Last Case, which Marowitz himself wrote under the pseudonym Matthew Lang. The play, in which a downtrodden Dr Watson takes a gruesome revenge for his years of mistreatment by the vain detective, opened on Broadway in 1987 to mixed reviews, the New York Times critic complaining that the writer had “so completely diminished Victorian England’s most beloved detective that one leaves the play wishing its title were a promise rather than merely an idle threat”.

In 1980, as arts subsidy cuts began to bite, the Open Space Theatre closed its doors. By this time Marowitz had made so many enemies he despaired of continuing to work on this side of the Atlantic, and in 1981 he returned to the United States.

There he founded a new Open Space Theatre in Los Angeles and became assistant director of the Los Angeles Theatre Center, which he left abruptly in 1989 after a series of rows. He founded the Malibu Stage Company in 1990 and was its artistic director for 12 years, until he was fired in 2002 after a unanimous vote by its board of directors.

In addition to plays and reviews, Marowitz wrote some two dozen books on theatre, including The Method as Means; Recycling Shakespeare; Directing the Action; and The Other Way: An Alternative Approach to Acting & Directing His memoir, Burnt Bridges, a “souvenir of the swinging ’60s and beyond” was published in 1990.

Marowitz’s first marriage was dissolved. He is survived by his second wife, the British-born actress Jane Windsor, and their son.

Charles Marowitz, born January 26 1934, died May 2 2014


On Friday we celebrate Europe Day, a day which 64 years ago marked the foundation of what is now the European Union. Not many people will notice. They also won’t notice the safeguards they enjoy at work which are down to the efforts of the EU, nor the holiday and rest entitlements they get from being members of the group. Those in hospital may not notice the care they are getting from professionals who are able to work in the UK because of the free movement of individuals across the 28-nation organisation, nor appreciate how millions of Britons are able to settle in other parts of Europe and enjoy all the health and social security benefits of other citizens in those countries because of this rule.

They possibly won’t see the benefits for the environment that come from our membership of the EU, nor the wealth that has accrued in our country because of our membership of the world’s largest trading bloc. Just over half a century ago, our continent was torn by strife with hundreds of thousands of young British men losing their lives on the battlefields of Europe. In contrast today our continent is a beacon of hope for those around the world in terms of promoting peace and protecting human rights.

I would urge all your readers not to forget these things and to recognise the positive benefits membership of the European Union has delivered. Europe Day provides an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of Europe’s citizens in creating the European Union, forged in part by the ideas of great British patriots such as Winston Churchill, and crucially to remember these benefits when they cast their vote in the European parliamentary elections on 22 May.
Derek Hammersley
Chairman, European Movement in Scotland

• Martin Kettle berates the British people for the “insularity” of our attitude to the European elections (Comment, 8 May). Many people despise the European parliament as a democratic veneer on an anti-democratic structure. Kettle describes Christine Lagarde and Pascal Lamy as “heavyweight reformers” who might be suitable as president of the European commission. A few years ago Lamy represented the EU at the world trade negotiations, where his European selfishness prompted several governments, including the British, to repudiate his position and send their own representatives. Lagarde’s policies at the IMF place her in the same camp as Lamy. If either becomes president it will confirm that the EU is the enemy of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
John Wilson

old person in hospital

‘The very elderly come in to hospital commonly as a result of a fall, or becoming suddenly confused or less mobile.’ Photograph: Garry Weaser

I am unsurprised that the Cabinet Office review (Whitehall calls halt on £3.8bn NHS reforms, 7 May) found that plans to integrate health and social care services showed little prospect of producing savings. It is not the separation of these two services which is the underlying cause of overuse of hospital care by the frail elderly; it is the more fundamental issue of care being free in the NHS but means-tested for social services. This can lead directly to an extended length of stay in hospital while detailed assessments are carried out to decide who will be responsible for paying for the care needed on discharge.

Shortening the length of stay is where the main savings for hospitals can be made. Improved community services have only a limited role to play in reducing admissions in the first place, as nearly all admissions are the direct result of either new or worsened medical conditions. The very elderly come in to hospital commonly as a result of a fall, or becoming suddenly confused or less mobile. Although the first of these sounds amenable to better social and community care, in practice this prevents relatively few falls as most are due to medical problems. These need diagnosis and treatment, and the elderly must not be discriminated against by being denied this just because they are elderly. The underlying diagnoses are many and various, and often require the facilities of an acute hospital.

While the funding systems for health and social services remain so disparate, those who wish to find savings in the hospital sector would do better to focus on speeding patients across the boundary between the two, rather than integrating them.
Dr David Maisey
Retired consultant geriatrician, Norwich

• Contrary to your reports, far from halting the Better Care programme, we have made great progress on a project that heralds a historic merger between health and social care commissioning.

The schemes in each area start from April 2015, but we asked for early drafts to be prepared a year early so we had time to make sure they offer the real benefits for patients envisaged when the scheme was set up. That is what is happening, and the result is an exciting collaboration which has seen local government and local NHS commissioners working together in a way that has never happened before.

As your editorial states, the Better Care Fund is “essential to the long-term viability of the NHS”. Combined with the announcement by Simon Stevens last week that clinical commissioning groups will be invited to commission primary care jointly with NHS England, we have for the first time the prospect of a single organisation leading the commissioning for all out-of-hospital care, a major step forward in the integration of care that has often been talked about but never actually delivered. No doubt the road to getting there will be bumpy, but it is a vital step in the revolution in out-of-hospital care we need if the NHS is to continue to meet the growing aspirations of an ageing population.
Jeremy Hunt MP
Secretary of state for health
Eric Pickles MP
Secretary of state for communities and
local government

• Your article appeared to suggest that the fund was unravelling. Clearly, attempting to draw two very different services together – the NHS and local government – to integrate in a way that ends an institutional obsession with acute provision in hospitals as a means to provide care, the BCF is not the only way of fixing the system, but it is the best way to ensure all areas benefit from integration between the NHS and Local Government.

In Staffordshire, we have already established a partnership trust with our local NHS to bring together services from both the county council and acute sector into one vehicle that breaks down silos, avoids duplication and provides a vehicle to deliver a better service locally. We did this without a Better Care Fund.

The reality is that in Staffordshire, and in many other local areas we are already integrated, but only as far as current resources allow. The BCF is the next stage, a means of investing in prevention and community care to stop the horrendous unsustainable burden placed on acute services within the health service. Integration, the BCF and closer working with the NHS are essential simply because of the long shadow cast by the Francis report. Better integration is part of the lesson we all have to learn from the Francis report in Mid-Staffordshire.
Philip Atkins
Leader, Staffordshire county council

• The push-back on the Better Care Fund by Numbers 10 and 11 is yet another example of short-term political consideration blocking a serious attempt at rebalancing health and social care. Anyone with any grasp of health planning knows there has to be front-loading to get new community services working before any savings will be delivered at the hospital end (the transitional funding stressed by David Nicholson). It didn’t happen with the closure of the mental hospitals in the 1970s and 80s or with the Community Care Act in the 1990s. When New Labour had the money and the local structures in place to do it (coterminous and potentially co-operative primary care trusts and local authorities) political fixation with hospital targets squandered the opportunity.

Lansley’s reforms were always going to make the collaboration more difficult. Pre-election panic over hospital balance sheets yet again scuppers sensible strategy. How differently things might have gone if Norman Lamb had got Lansley’s post in 2010. Kate Barker’s interim report for the King’s Fund demonstrates very clearly that the Better Care Fund was heading in the right direction but that the politicians are never going to deliver if they can’t be honest about the cost. Her group is consulting on funding but also on how best to harmonise commissioning at national and local level. One can only hope that the next government takes better note than Gordon Brown did of her recommendations on house-building.
Colin Godber
Winchester, Hampshire

 • Lambeth (and no doubt other authorities) have put in place advanced plans for the demolition and sell-off of perfectly good and well-loved (if ill-maintained) sheltered housing schemes, built in the halcyon days of the reknowned Ted Hollamby. This has become a means for local authorities to shuffle off responsibility for their elderly tenants, bringing in “private providers” and medicalising old age.

Hundreds of the frail and elderly, whose tenancies are exempt from right-to-buy, are being subjected to anxiety and uncertainty with the threat that they will be moved to unknown destinations, away from friends and family members and their little support networks broken up. An example of the “big society” in action.

Will the Cabinet Office advice to government that the claims of the Better Care Fund do not stack up put a stop to this excoriating cruelty being visited on the elderly?

Let us hope so.
Kate Macintosh
Winchester, Hampshire

Daisy Ashford (1881-1972) in 1890, the year she wrote The Young Visiters. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Praising Daisy Ashford’s precocious and wonderful novel (Long forgotten reads, G2, 6 May), John Sutherland says that her father copied out his little daughter’s work. But Daisy originally wrote The Young Visiters in her own small red notebook; I turned its pages myself when, as a very young journalist, I had the enormous pleasure of interviewing the author in old age at her daughter’s Norfolk home. She kept it in a kitchen drawer. Where is that notebook now that she has gone? I do hope it has been preserved – but where?
Kirsten Cubitt Thorley

• Paul Myners accused Co-op board members of such financial ignorance that they did not know the difference between debits and credits (Report, 7 May). When I was an articled clerk with a firm of chartered accountants, we were always informed that the debits were on the side nearest the windows.
Gunter Lawson

• The Swiss believe Scotland already has its own currency (Letters, 8 May) which is worth less than the “English” pound. On a recent visit to Switzerland, a bank in Neuchatel was buying 1GBP from Angleterre (with a St George’s cross flag) for 1.3825 Swiss francs, and 1SCP from Écosse (with a St Andrew’s saltire flag) for 1.3325 Swiss francs. Do these wily Swiss bankers know something we don’t?
Nic Madge
St Albans, Hertfordshire

• With a Salmond and a Sturgeon, surely any new currency should be the roe?
Keith Hayton

• The Scots would be well advised to avoid calling any currency of theirs a “connery”. The French would view this as vulgar stupidity.
Barrie King
Taunton, Somerset

• We spent four pleasant days last October in the charming but modest Wiltshire town of Mere (Letters, 7 May). As we passed signs for Mere library, Mere post office, Mere pharmacy, Mere primary school etc, we couldn’t help feeling that they were overdoing the self-effacing thing a bit.
Alan Monger

Prime minister David Cameron visits Frimley Park hospital in 2011. ‘[The government] only has one more year to deliver on its promise to its friends in private healthcare that the NHS will exist no more,’ writes Jeanne Warren. Photograph: Getty

Simon Jenkins demonstrates the success of the campaign to undermine the NHS and make it ready for privatisation (Small is beautiful. The NHS now needs to be broken up, 7 May). This began with the introduction of the purchaser-provider split under John Major, not for clinical reasons but as the first step towards the introduction of private providers, paid for by our taxes but able to take some profit. All the subsequent steps – fundholders, hospital trusts, and so on – were designed to the same end. Administration costs rose from 3% to the present 15%, as more and more pseudo-market processes were introduced and had to be accounted for (See The Plot Against the NHS by Colin Leys and Stewart Player.)

The final steps – a sustained negative campaign by politicians and the press and a huge, unnecessary reorganisation, together with the biggest funding squeeze ever experienced by the NHS – have been taken by this government. They only have one more year to deliver on their promise to their friends in private healthcare that the NHS will exist no more, and they already have Simon Jenkins on board as a cheerleader. Has he never read the positive reports from the likes of the World Health Organisation, saying how good the NHS is in international comparisons, and how cost-effective? Does he know how many heart patients in the US “died because of poor care”? Does anybody? Yet he quotes a UK figure without any attempt at a context. Unhappily, many more people will fall for the government’s propaganda, and instead of sensible improvements to the NHS we may well lose it altogether.
Jeanne Warren

• Size isn’t the issue. It’s about funding: UK health spending as a share of GDP (9.2%) is less than France (11.6%), Germany (11.3%) or Canada (11.2%). Many of us close to the health service believe bad press is deliberately orchestrated by the government to undermine the NHS’s credibility as part of the plan to outsource and sell it off to the private sector for profit, ie denationalisation. It’s depressing that Jenkins now joins the bad press brigade, offering a further barrage of negative publicity, without a glance at Tory ideology, and blaming frontline staff rather than the understaffing and target culture.
Mike Campbell
Protect Our NHS, Bristol

• Simon Jenkins is right to suggest that bad structural choices were made in 1948. It used to be argued that the pre-NHS mixed system of health provision was financially moribund and profoundly unequal. Yet recent research has suggested that voluntary hospitals, accessed by most families through a weekly contribution of 2d or 3d per week, were for the most part financially stable and expanding, and that an increasingly vibrant local authority system was finally shaking off its Poor Law inheritance.

Certainly there were problems. The quality of care for the elderly, the chronic sick and mentally ill remained patchy, and geographic inequality was also evident. Looking around today, we find similar concerns. What was present then was a local connection: hospitals managed jointly by doctors, contributors, patient representatives and local politicians. This “community” link was broken in 1948. What’s also been conveniently airbrushed out of our history is that, according to polling and survey data from the period, a majority favoured retaining this system of local governance and were largely satisfied with the hospital service they had, and to which they directly contributed.
Dr Nick Hayes
Nottingham Trent University

• Simon Jenkins’s idea of denationalising the NHS has its merits (apart from resulting in the most catastrophic of all its many reorganisations), but there is one aspect of healthcare he doesn’t mention – the need for the integration of patient information. Proper health provision for the lifetime of a citizen needs information on the needs of that person to be available to all the agencies involved in their care and treatment, and this can only work with an integrated information system with rigorously managed security. The NHS has never come near to achieving this because its government-appointed managers have never really taken advice from their own employees, preferring instead to refer to useless and very expensive “consultants”, usually large accountancy firms incapable of understanding anything except the “business model” for any organisation. One solution is used in France, where everyone has a “carte vitale“, a smart card which gives accredited agencies access to all the holder’s health information, including their contacts with the social services.

Now retired, I’ve worked for much of my life in the NHS as a clinical scientist and IT manager, had my life saved by early antibiotic treatment as a child, and seen the service reorganised again and again by ignorant politicians. But never have I known such a concentrated attack on it as the one apparently organised by the media and by all those who cannot bear the idea of a public service, integrated but not centralised.
John Hewson

• I read Simon Jenkins’s article with disbelief. I wonder if he has, like me, been a user of the NHS in all its parts on a regular basis over a long number of years (in my case, since 1948). My family and friends and myself have been in-patients, out-patients, GP patients and used many subsidiary parts of the NHS in Derbyshire, Yorkshire and other parts of the country. I know of no one who has had a serious complaint. My husband died in the care of the NHS almost two years ago and his care could not have been faulted. It is important to remember that the care homes, where particularly awful treatment has been identified, are privately owned and run.
Beryl Walkden
Matlock, Derbyshire

• Simon Jenkins says “there is no reason why Britain could not go the route of other European countries, with health cover being a national responsibility but with the service offered at the local, charitable or private level”. Many of us have been saying that for years. Every reorganisation of the last 20 or so years has added another layer of management, which has increased costs without adding value. My only disagreement is in his penultimate word. Services need to be public and/or non-profit making enterprises. Evidence shows that private healthcare creams off the profitable jobs, making it difficult to fund the more useful work.
Michael Peel

• Despite what Simon Jenkins has written in the past on taxation and banking, it seems from this piece that he would frown on such reforms as the Tobin tax and safeguards against corporations, banks and wealthy individuals taking their gains offshore instead of paying the fair level of tax – an income that could go a long way toward alleviating cuts in nursing and medical staff. He seems happy to blame hospitals such as Mid Staffs for financial failings when it is clear that PFIs instituted under Thatcher and gaining steam under Major and Blair were foisted on big infrastructure projects, especially hospitals, with deliberately blinkered attitudes toward the possible downsides to such arrangements. Maybe he should read NHS SOS by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis.

Of course an institution for public service is going to have excess capacity – it could not provide that service without it (see Richard Murphy’s The Courageous State, for example) and sure, the NHS needs reform – but the politicians’ struggles to which Jenkins refers were those to extract maximum profit at least cost: not quite the right approach towards a service essential for a healthy workforce on which the entire economy depends.

Under the present lobby-friendly regime, it’s the huge corporations such as Serco and Harmoni that are going to be awarded contracts against smaller, not-for-profits companies that do give the NHS a localism already – such as the out-of-hours service provider Devon Doctors. It is government policy Jenkins should be railing against, not the NHS itself. Some of the “scandal” frowning down on the dispatch box may be down to mismanagement but it’s a sure bet that far more of it is down to debilitating cuts and a government-generated culture of financial profit at any cost.
Rosemary Haworth-Booth
Green party, North Devon

• Simon Jenkins seems to have overlooked the fact that, for the best part of the last 30 years, the NHS has been gradually broken up into numerous, illogical, often competing elements. It began under Margaret Thatcher with the introduction of the internal market and hospital trusts. Under John Smith’s leadership, Labour briefly considered placing the NHS within local authorities, combining health and social care, but this was ditched as Tony Blair’s New Labour embraced a market ideology, with foundation trusts reinforcing hospital domination of the service. Rather than harking back to pre-NHS charitable and private care, as Jenkins suggests, renationalising the currently fragmented NHS is surely the answer, with local authorities empowered to bring hospitals, primary and community care together as a long-overdue coherent whole.
David Hinchliffe
Former Labour MP and past chair of health select committee

• At last! Your leader (More cash for better care, 7 May) makes reference to the financial problems faced by NHS trusts as a result of the government requirement to make annual “efficiency savings”. The media – including the Guardian – have frequently referred to the protected, ringfenced NHS budget, implying that trusts are not subject to budget cuts. The reality is that, on top of having to cover inflation costs from within existing budgets, trusts also have to find savings currently of around 5% annually. They are now facing a fourth year of this policy, with at least two more years to follow. No surprise then that your leader refers to a looming financial crisis. How about more investigation of this issue?
Dave Rigby

• While the EU election candidates are very quiet on the topic of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) and the current incumbents mystified or in denial, those concerned with preserving the NHS would like to know their stance on this highly secret deal that would “harmonise” US and EU regulations, lowering health and safety standards for one thing, but also permitting the already harmonised NHS to be sold to the highest US bidders.

We must ensure that workers’ rights and health professionals’ training and qualifications are kept at EU standards, and primarily that the NHS is exempted from all aspects of TTIP. We need to know that EU candidates will do this before voting for them or their respective parties.
Dr Mick Phythian

• While I have great respect for Simon Jenkins and his thought-provoking column, I have to disagree with his diagnosis and solution for the NHS. The NHS already has a mixed public/provider model of NHS service delivery embracing many small organisations. What we need is for the NHS to be “joined up rather than broken up”. Many of the failings and pressures being experienced by the NHS reflect the lack of joined up government action and partnership at local level. We can no longer afford for this to continue.

I have had the privilege of working in and with the NHS for some 40 years and travelled widely assessing other health models around the world. The NHS – for all its faults and problems – is still generally viewed with envy, if nothing else because of the underlying principles of universal equity and access that it affords. England has the benefit already of being relatively small and therefore has the opportunity to deliver an NHS based on these values cost-effectively. The NHS has been re-structured “to death” without addressing the fundamental issues – with a fast-ageing population and a failure to develop or deliver an effective national strategy for preventing ill health we are now faced with a tidal wave of preventable chronic disease overwhelming the existing infrastructure.

The NHS has now become solely a “treatment service”, which is creaking at the seams. This should not be a surprise as it was highlighted in 2002 by the Wanless report and subsequent health select committee reports and the opportunities for investing in longer-term sustainable solutions when we had substantial real growth in public services was not taken. Rather late in the day, we are now contemplating solutions to these problems including the Better Care Fund as highlighted in your front page report (Whitehall calls halt on £3.8bn NHS reforms, 7 May), and by the Royal Academy of Royal Colleges (of medicine), who recently drew attention to the unsustainable level of childhood obesity.

As ever, the “devil is in the detail” when devising and implementing such critical strategic solutions and clearly more time and resources are required to get this right – failure to do so is not worth contemplating. We now need to concentrate on sickness prevention by investing heavily in evidence-based programmes in our schools and in our communities to reduce the incidence of chronic disease in the longer term while also continuing to deal with the historic levels of preventable disease – that are a product of not having made such an investment in the past – with partnership delivery models across many government and other sector services. Breaking up the NHS is not the solution. Joining it up is.
David Whitney
Hathersage, Derbyshire

• Simon Jenkins has fallen for the government’s mantra that the NHS is sick and can only be cured by larger doses of the private sector. By listening only to the relentless tales of NHS failure he has completely misdiagnosed the current ills of the service. He then compounds the error by suggesting it be cured by applying the very actions that have caused the trouble, ie greater fragmentation with healthcare offered locally “at a charitable or private level”. Bevan said that private charity can never be a substitute for organised justice, and that still holds true for the NHS.

Jenkins has got hold of the wrong end of the stick is now using it to beat the service and its staff. Wrong diagnosis, wrong treatment, wrong headed.
Dr Jacky Davis
Co-chair, NHS Consultants’ Association

• I have had enough, I am going to stop buying the Guardian. There are multiple outlets for Tory propaganda yet you continue to provide a platform for Simon Jenkins, Melissa Kite and other fellow travellers. I am aware of the adage that I should keep my enemies closer (than friends) but if I want to know what my enemies believe and do I can read the Daily Mail. Our parting of the ways makes me sad but it was you who forsook me.
Dr Gerard Jones
Fleet, Hampshire

The Russian president’s council for human rights proposes that the UN and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe should do everything possible to promote international negotiations with the aim of ending the violence in Ukraine. Chancellor Merkel and President Putin have apparently also discussed a similar initiative by phone. It is in everyone’s interest – in the rest of Europe as well as in the US, and not least in both Russia and Ukraine – that all sides should drop their pugnacious rhetoric and urgently support this proposal. Ukraine is becoming a failed state and the result could be all-out civil war – which indeed is already starting.
Charles Grant Director, Centre for European Reform
Jonathan Haslam Professor of the history of international relations, University of Cambridge
Geoffrey Hosking Emeritus professor of Russian history, University College London
Dame Caroline Humphrey Professor emerita and director of research, University of Cambridge
Catriona Kelly Professor of Russian, University of Oxford
Anatol Lieven Professor of war studies, Kings College London
Dominic Lieven Senior research fellow, Trinity College Cambridge
Robert Service Emeritus professor of Russian history, University of Oxford
Lord (Robert) Skidelsky House of Lords
Stephen White James Bryce professor of politics, University of Glasgow

You are right to remind us of the inner-city problems of the late 20th century (Editorial, 5 May) and equally right to say we urgently need to reframe regeneration. But first we need to end the threat that caused the inner-city problem in the first place.

A significant, but airbrushed, element of Ebenezer Howard’s garden city dream was his advocacy of economic and physical destruction for existing cities. This, he believed, would be vital to make us all move to his dispersed, low-density settlements. Throughout the 20th century, therefore, we were encouraged to move to garden suburbs or new towns and let the older cities crumble.

The urban renaissance policies of the late 20th and early 21st centuries achieved a great deal more than a bit of luxury housing in waterside settings. They cut across the destructive, high-carbon dream of dispersed, car-dependent garden suburbs bizarrely still being advocated by garden city enthusiasts, but were undermined by continuing out-of-town development in the south-east and then killed by government.

America now has a new name for policies to regenerate cities, attack car dependency and revive local economies: it’s called smart growth and it works. Robust regional policies and an end of the wealth drain to suburbs are key elements of the smart growth idea as it’s developing in the UK and will be a key element of any of solution to entrenched poverty.
Jon Reeds
Smart Growth UK

•  Your editorial rightly points out that the battle against poverty has not been solved by gentrifying the inner cities. But having worked in urban regeneration since before 1976, when I founded URBED, I believe we should recognise the achievements in changing the image of inner-city areas such as Hulme or Hackney that were in danger of being abandoned. The tides of private investment no longer only flow out.

The challenge now is to join up development with infrastructure so that British cities match their continental counterparts, and do not end up like American doughnuts – with holes in their centres. Smarter growth should become the new rallying cry as it is both fairer and less wasteful. This means getting control over land values and reintroducing strategic planning, rather than expecting a rising tide to lift all the boats.
Dr Nicholas Falk
Director, London Office, Urbed (Urbanism Environment Design)

Pupils study inside a Beijing classroom. Photograph: Alamy

The letter by Dr Heinz-Dieter Meyer and other academics (OECD and Pisa tests are damaging education worldwide – academics, theguardian.com, 6 May) makes a series of false claims regarding the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Pisa programme. There is nothing that suggests that Pisa, or other educational comparisons, have caused a “shift to short-term fixes” in education policy. On the contrary, by opening up a perspective to a wider range of policy options that arise from international comparisons, Pisa has provided many opportunities for more strategic policy design. It has also created important opportunities for policy-makers and other stakeholders to collaborate across borders. The annual International Summit of the Teaching Profession, where ministers meet with union leaders to discuss ways to raise the status of the teaching profession, is an example. Not least, while it is undoubtedly true that some reforms take time to bear fruit, a number of countries have in fact shown that rapid progress can be made in the short term, eg Poland, Germany and others making observable steady progress every three years.

Equally, there are no “public-private partnerships” or other “alliances” in Pisa of the type Dr Meyer implies. All work relating to the development, implementation and reporting of Pisa is carried out under the sole responsibility of the OECD, under the guidance of the Pisa governing board. The OECD does, of course, contract specific technical services out to individuals, institutions or companies. Where it does, these individuals, institutions or companies are appointed by the OECD following an open, transparent and public call for tender. This transparent and open process ensures that each task is carried out by those entities that demonstrate they are best-qualified and provide the best value for money. No individual academic, institution or company gains any advantage from this since the results of all Pisa-related work are placed in the public domain.

Furthermore, in the article by Peter Wilby (Pisa league tables killing ‘joy of learning’, 6 May) it is stated that Pearson is overseeing the Pisa 2015 assessment, which is not the case. Pearson was one of a number of contractors who have been appointed through a competitive tendering process to develop and implement Pisa 2015. Pearson’s contract to develop the assessment framework has been completed and has now come to an end.
Andreas Schleicher
Acting director of education, OECD

Your editorial (The Piketty phenomenon, 6 May) is right to salute the voluminous historical support that Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century provides for those campaigning against neoliberalism. But both your paper and Piketty himself undermine efforts to provide an alternative by characterising the chances of his proposed global wealth tax succeeding as “remote” or, as the author claims, “utopian”. His work provides the impressive groundwork for the development of a new economic context that could result in this and his other proposal of an 80% top tax rate on very high earners. However, he has undermined any effective solutions by making it clear he is a defender of the free market and that he wants to remodel society “into the process of globalisation” (Our manifesto for Europe, 3 May). This implied retention of the open borders system will dash hopes for effective regulation of financial capitalism, since it will be dismissed as threatening globalisation’s holy grail of international competitiveness.

Piketty needs to be far more radical. His book does make clear the potential centrality of Europe in bringing about the required changes. However, he fails to make the case that it will also mean returning to member states the ability to control their national borders and so allow for the diversification of more equal, local economies. This will involve substantial constraints on the free movement in goods, money flows and people.

The public is already clamouring for the latter and will doubtless deliver a drubbing to complacent established parties in the European elections for failing to do so. This must act as a wake-up call for fundamental EU treaty changes to allow the reintroduction of border controls to result in a localised economic model. This is the key to a more secure and civilised future for Europe, and as such could act as an example to the rest of the world.
Colin Hines
Author of Progressive Protectionism (to be published July 2014)

•  Thomas Piketty acknowledges that “the EU is experiencing an existential crisis” but nonetheless proposes “moving towards political union”. He acknowledges that many “people do not want greater European integration”, but he seems to think they want no change at all.

The logical solution would be for the EU to return to its beginnings as a free trade area. Piketty is an economic historian. He will remember the Hanseatic league, whose independent member cities managed to maintain a confederal free-trade area for four centuries.

These days, that model is being developed in South America and Asia – it is an alternative future for the EU too.
Jack Winkler
Former professor of nutrition policy at London Metropolitan University

•  Thank you for recognising in your editorial that behind Piketty’s impressive recent book lie years of statistical work on income inequality by many researchers in this and other countries. They in turn would like to acknowledge the financial support provided in the UK for this work by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, the Economic and Social Research Council, and the Programme for Economic Modelling at the Oxford Martin School. Without their support over the years for what was then an unfashionable area of economic research, and the encouragement it gave to promising young scholars, the current public debate would be less well informed.
Professor Tony Atkinson

As is pointed out in your article about e-cigarettes (What’s the new buzz?, G2, 6 May), “tobacco companies can advertise [them by] showing lots of pictures of people, basically, smoking”. And how grateful they must be to you for combining retro glamour with a frisson of sexy sinfulness in your cover image. Even the article about a smoker coughing his lungs up while trying to drag on a fag outdoors in horizontal rain (How smoking lost its cool, G2, 6 May) was illustrated with a picture of “The Thin White Duke, complete with cigarette”. How very elegant – and not at all likely to appeal to those teens who, you tell us, are likely to use e-cigarettes as a “gateway drug” leading to experimentation with traditional cigarettes.
Gayle Wade
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

• Two different stories, two different worlds. The first a positive story on efforts to increase the number of maths and physics PhDs into teaching careers within our state schools (£40k pay to lure maths postgrads into teaching, 5 May). The second a story of petulance from QCs and barristers because they are only paid between £60k-£100k for a couple of weeks’ work arguing the difference between “shall” and “will” as a point of law (Minister denies fraud lawyers are underpaid, 5 May). I know who most people would see as wastrels living off the public purse.
Chris Trude

• In October, after the game at Anfield, you were good enough to publish a letter from me about wanting a new-build Crystal Palace. Just to reassure your readers that I am happy now.
Michael Cunningham

• I see there’s a Guardian Masterclass “How to market your business on a zero budget”. It costs £229. Need I say more?
Pete Bibby

• Scottish banknotes have always been known in Lancashire as “funny money”, so maybe the new currency should be the Rab, Yin, Chic or even the Krankie (Letters, 7 May)?
Bob Hargreaves

• “N’est ce pas?“, “Nach eil?” (Letters, 7 May). Down here one says “innit?”
Gerry Bond
Earley, Berkshire

‘The Land Registry’s staff make impartial, quasi-judicial decisions on millions of transactions annually … This vital statutory function is not an activity that any responsible government can pass to the private sector.’ Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

Polly Toynbee bewails, as many of us do, the government’s determination to sell, as far as possible, all the public assets of the UK (There’s no evidence it works, but privatisation marches on, 6 May). She suggests that Cameron is motivated by a belief that things are better provided by the private sector.

But this is a naive perception; things are far worse than that. The objective is plainly to maximise party funding and support, through donations, providing offices and campaign support, and seconding staff to replace civil servants. And personal advantage is not overlooked, either. Ex-ministers and senior party members go on to lucrative jobs and directorships. Friends and supporters can also gain handsomely from rip-off sales of our assets.

It’s really not surprising that there is general disillusionment with politics and politicians, when we have this travesty of a democracy. As it is now said in the US, it’s not so much one person one vote, as one pound one vote.
Suzanne Keene

•  ”There is no evidence about how well contracting and privatising work,” says Polly Toynbee. Exactly. There is, however, a wealth of data about how the public views outsourcing companies. Our polling complements that of YouGov and the High Pay Centre, with new figures to be released this week showing support for a public option surging upwards from last year. They also show that the government’s decision to hastily forgive shamed bidders G4S and Serco was patently at odds with common sense. The headlong march towards further sell-offs will only be stopped by politicians acting boldly on this groundswell of public opinion. We’ll be outside Serco’s AGM this Thursday morning and pushing for manifesto commitments for a public service users bill. This would boost transparency and give the public a say over outsourcing and privatisation.
Cat Hobbs
Director, We Own It

•  The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has proposed that the Land Registry should cease to be a government department and be established as a “service delivery company” (Report, 6 May). Ominously its proposals “include options for moving assets to the private sector where there is no longer a strong policy reason for continued public ownership”.

The proposals are woefully misguided. Countries worldwide seeking stability and a functioning market economy recognise the need for an effective system of land transfer where land rights are guaranteed. The Land Registry, free from any conflicts of interest, has long provided such a successful and trusted system. It operates at no cost to the exchequer and has a 97% customer satisfaction rating based on the latest independent survey.

The Land Registry’s staff make impartial, quasi-judicial decisions on millions of transactions annually – transactions involving citizens, businesses, lenders, institutions, local and central government and the crown – in any combination. This vital statutory function is not an activity that any responsible government can pass to the private sector.

I hope it will recognise, as others have before, that the Land Registry must remain as a commercially neutral department of government – as it has been for over 150 years.
John Manthorpe
Former chief land registrar

•  Polly Toynbee is undoubtedly right that there is no basis in fact for the government’s endless privatisations. In my area, the Probation Service, shameless misinformation has been the government’s stock-in-trade as it bulldozes through reforms to enrich the corporations. But the key issue is surely that rational or evidence-based disagreement is futile unless one recognises how far it would be a dispute about values, and how far the government’s obsession with privatisation is based not just on shady lobbying but also on a view of democratic freedom identified with narrow and exclusive self-interest. Where the interests of others are not my interest then it is my political right to refuse to pay for them. This value system underpins the political debate, and constrains Labour, so until governments can genuinely project values of sociality, equality of opportunity, social responsibility and empathy, this bleeding dry of public resources by the private corporations will continue unabated.
Joanna Hughes

•  By saying that privatisation does not work, Polly Toynbee is missing the point. Whatever reason or justification is given for the outsourcing or selling of public services, the object of policy is to find outlets for surplus capital and deliver a return to investors, and in that sense privatisation has been a bonanza for thousands of corporations around the world. Since the demise of the Soviet Union there has been little resistance to the hegemonic neoliberal mantra stating that all barriers to capital accumulation must be systematically removed and governments should not interfere in the market, a dogma that was directly responsible for the banking crash and subsequent recession.

Arguably the most dangerous manifestation of the neoliberal project is the attempt to force through free-trade agreements that effectively force nation states to allow transnational companies to run their economies for their benefit, regardless of the popular will. The Transnational Trade and Investment Partnership, between the EU and the US, and the Trade in Services Agreement, between the EU and 21 other states, are currently being negotiated in secret and, if allowed to succeed, will completely undermine the concept of national sovereignty and leave corporate profit as the sole driver of economic activity.
Bert Schouwenburg
International officer, GMB


“Frack we must” – editorial, 8 May. No we must not. Those opposed to fracking have been demonised by politicians and industry because they threaten the development of a lucrative industry with a limited life that will generate huge profits for a few.

We should learn the lessons of history and not repeat mistakes, as alternative energy sources to unconventional gas are available. In 17th-century England, when the advent of extensive coal-based industries were welcomed, there were few energy options available and no one knew what the long-term environmental and health costs would be.

That is no longer the position. The global public-health and adverse societal implications of continuing to use energy that generates greenhouse gases are well established, not fanciful.

Unconventional gas is not part of an energy solution; it is a major pollutant. It diverts cash, resources and expertise away from work on the more sustainable energy solutions that are now available.

We are running out of time on global warming if we do not develop sustainable energy sources now and reduce unconventional gas extraction, not increase it. That is the hard-headed strategy we need to formulate, rather than manufacturing scare  stories about ephemeral energy-supply crises in Eastern Europe.

The Lords committee reporting on fracking does not argue its case cogently. We are assured by MPs and peers that the UK has some of the strongest environmental regulations and careful management for fracking. We are then told by the Lords that we need changes in the law to fast-track fracking and that fracking applications are being blocked because of confusing and time-consuming regulations.

Something does not make sense with holding both these positions at the same time.

Professor Andrew Watterson, Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, University of Stirling

Your editorial on fracking contains several unstated value judgements. First you assume that a transition to a truly green energy system is unachievable (untrue), second that shale gas is less polluting than coal (not true in the US), and third that energy security trumps climate change as the major determinant of policy (unbelievably short-sighted).

The assumption that we might as well frack because it’s just another type of fossil fuel denies the reality of global warming. We are currently emitting 33 billion tonnes of CO2 annually, which means that we will exceed the 450ppm threshold in about 20 years. In the UK it will take 10 years to establish a fracking industry, at which point the technology will be locked-in for another 30 years and we will be well beyond the point of no return.

When future generations, or what is left of humanity, look back on the failure of mankind to tackle climate change in the early part of the 21st century, your editorial will stand out as a prime example of why it all went so horribly wrong.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

Peers on the Lords Economic Affairs committee seem to have overlooked key evidence in their desire to cheer-lead for a massive fracking frenzy across the country. The shale-gas revolution in America, which they admire, has peaked, and costs are rising rapidly to extract remaining reserves. On 27 February the authoritative Bloomberg business news service reported that independent shale gas producers  “will spend $1.50 drilling this year for every dollar they get back”.

Dr David Lowry, Stoneleigh, Surrey

Astrazeneca and antibiotics

There is grave concern at the rise in the incidence of antibiotic-resistant infections. New drugs to counter them are not being developed fast enough.  At least part of the reason for this is a lack of investment by multi-national drug companies which see little or no financial incentive to do so.

Our government is now apparently standing idly by while one major drug company attempts to take over another. It is implicit that there is an intention to maximise profits by further reducing competition and investment in research and development activity.

Public health would not be well served by such a takeover. It would result in a further reduction in the number of individual companies striving and investing to gain competitive advantage through the development  of new treatments.

Roger Blassberg, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Forty-two years ago I was the science and technology counsellor at the British Embassy in Washington. A visitor from the erstwhile National Research Development Corporation came to see me. He was in the US to negotiate a licence for a process for burning powdered coal, for which the Corporation held the intellectual property rights.

Something made me realise that my visitor should see Lord Cromer, the Ambassador. This was arranged through Charles (now Lord) Powell who was the Ambassador’s Private Secretary. The Ambassador listened to what my visitor had to say and then replied: “While I have not understood all the technicalities, please remember that these people are very good at skinning the rabbit.” My visitor took heed and the eventual outcome was that the American company was not granted a licence.

If Lord Cromer were alive today, I feel sure that his advice would be the same about Pfizer’s intentions.

James F Barnes, Ledbury, Herefordshire

Would Pfizer be so keen to acquire AstraZeneca if the UK’s corporation tax rate was not much lower than in the US? Politics is always involved in business – by commission or omission.

Geoffrey Payne, London W5

Shameful infant mortality rate

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (5 May) rightly draws attention to our shameful infant-mortality rate and our government’s broken promise to make the UK the safest country in the world for children. Unfortunately, she concludes by asking us whether we “still quiver with patriotism”. What a pity to belittle such an important issue by assigning to it an association with such an irrelevant emotion.

Beryl Wall, London W4

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes: “Pro-lifers want to save foetuses, but seem to have no interest in saving the very young”. This slur mars an otherwise trenchant article. The pro-life charity Life is one of the largest providers of accommodation for young pregnant women and unsupported mothers in the UK. Their comprehensive service prepares women for independent living with their children, something that social services frequently can’t or won’t do. Rather than demonise them, Alibhai-Brown should champion them as one of the many unsung organisations that work tirelessly to lower the infant mortality rate she is rightly appalled by.

Mary Gray, Croydon

Our policy is not to give policy advice

Oliver Wright correctly identifies the Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC) as the independent non-departmental body responsible for scrutinising the evidence base for every government regulation that potentially impacts on business or civil society organisations (“A sober look at costs led to the alcohol price U-turn”,  30 April).

However, Wright implies that the committee scrutinises government policy. That is not the case. We deal only with the impact assessments prepared by government departments of the costs and benefits to business of their policy proposals.

We do not scrutinise or provide advice on policy. Decisions on whether policies are taken forward reside, quite rightly, with ministers. Our role is to help ensure that, when making decisions, ministers have access to the best assessment of the likely effects of any proposal.

If the evidence presented in the impact assessment completed by the department sponsoring any new regulation, is judged to be poor or incomplete, we advise ministers of this. In these cases, ministers will decide whether to proceed with the policy or ask for further evidence.

Michael JS Gibbons, Chairman, Regulatory Policy Committee, London SW1

Britain’s colonial future? 

Cable says Britain’s future is “not a tax haven” (6 May). The way the country is being run, Britain’s future is as someone else’s colony.

Martin London, Denbighshire, North Wales

‘Enemy aliens’ among us

The most prominent German in Britain during the First World War, but overlooked by Simon Usborne (8 May), was George V, interned in a rather luxurious and costly “privilege camp” called Buckingham Palace.

David Bracey, Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire


Doctors and sufferers could all do with more training in the management of asthma

Sir, The Royal College of Physicians report on asthma deaths (May 6) is a wake-up call for health professionals and the families of sufferers. It should dispel complacency and lead to better management of asthma.

As a community pharmacist I often saw the problems of people with asthma. The most common difficulty was inadequate teaching by GPs and practice nurses of the way to use inhalers and a lack of follow-up to ensure that they were being used correctly.

The lack of understanding of the potential danger of asthma, one hopes, might be changed by the report and the publicity it has received. I have met many asthmatic patients and parents of children with asthma who do not appreciate that an attack can be life-threatening and that preventive medication must be taken regularly. In fact a few parents have asserted that they do not want their children taking “drugs” every day and have refused the inhalers until shown a few hard facts.

Margaret Murgatroyd


Sir, It is all very well for the experts to blame GPs for the excessive deaths from asthma but the real question is why this should be. The reasons are numerous but the same experts are in large part to blame.

They have created a situation which has led to the de-skilling of GP and hospital doctors in managing the two common chest diseases — asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is largely caused by smoking. As well as overcomplicating the process whereby patients are diagnosed and managed, care of these patients has been largely delegated to nurses who follow guidelines drawn up by the experts. Following guidelines is in keeping with the training of nurses but is antithetical to medical training and not surprisingly doctors have difficulty with them and are pleased to to be able to pass these patients to the nurses to look after.

Given this situation where doctors are peripheral to a potentially fatal disease, it is not surprising that there are unnecessary deaths.

Rod Storring

Consultant chest physician

Saffron Walden, Essex

Sir, Two things seem to be misunderstood about asthma.

First, when you have an asthma attack you don’t wheeze and cough: you go still and silent because all your effort goes into trying to get a breath. As a child I remember sitting under the stairs at a party unable to move or call out during an attack.

If adults and other children realised this, then a child having an attack would be noticed.

Two, many people mistrust the word “steroid” when applied to preventative inhalers, linking it to anabolic steroids and bodybuilders, but corticosteroids are completely different and only a tiny dose is inhaled.

Even when persuaded to take them, people cease to do so once they feel normal again, so the risk returns. I had childhood asthma, and so did my elder daughter, who still takes medication as an adult.

Some GPs should realise their responsibilities when dealing with asthma, and share them with their patients. Our doctor would always give me a course of steroid tablets to give my daughter if she should have an attack away from home and help. They were swiftly effective and a source of great reassurance.

Diana Pollock

Cheltenham, Glos

Young people in trouble with the law are being publicly named – the law should be reformed and pronto

Sir, Too many children in trouble with the law are being publicly named and legislation on this is inconsistent, confusing and in need of reform.

A loophole allows under-18s to be named before they are charged. Children in the Crown, and higher, criminal courts have no automatic right to anonymity; children in the youth court do. Reports about the 15-year-old charged with the murder of the Leeds schoolteacher Ann Maguire throw the inadequacy of the law into sharp relief. Once a child is named, his or her story is online in perpetuity. Naming of children in trouble with the law stigmatises them and their family, threatens their chances of rehabilitation and of getting a job, and puts them and their family at risk of vigilante action. It also contravenes our human rights obligations.

We want the law changed so no child who has been in trouble with the law (or been a witness) can be publicly named. We also call on the media to be more responsible. If they did not ask to name children in the name of “open justice”, these children would not be identified.

Penelope Gibbs

Standing Committee for Youth Justice

John Drew

Youth Justice Board

Frances Crook

Countryside conservation bodies are not divided on fracking – and they all agree on the need for safeguards

Sir, We share grave concerns about the threats fracking poses to the countryside and climate, and about the government’s promotion of shale gas. On this we are agreed, so your headline “Green lobby splits in fight against fracking” (May 7) is misleading. Being aligned on issues does not mean that we do the same thing at the same time — we have different perspectives and areas of focus, as the article itself does explain.

We need a serious debate about safeguards before we consider drilling for shale gas.

Neil Sinden

Campaign to Protect Rural England

John Sauven

Greenpeace UK

Peter Nixon

National Trust

Martin Harper


The NHS treats millions of satisfied patients every week to very high professional standards

Sir, We must not be misled by the claim that patients are ready for privatised care (May 6). While the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust was rightly exposed by Robert Francis, QC, it does not follow that the rest of the NHS is the same. On the contrary, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that patients are queuing up for private healthcare firms, the so-called “any qualified providers” in the Health and Social Care Act 2012, to take over in the NHS or provide healthcare services.

The NHS treats millions of satisfied patients every week to very high professional standards. Private healthcare companies are only interested in their profits and do not have the excellent record of the NHS going back 66 years. The NHS does have huge problems, but they will not be solved by privatisation and fragmentation. Any government will understand that; if not, it will be putting itself in electoral peril.

Professor Robert Arnott

Cheltenham, Glos

The chairman of the General Dental Council calls for a freedom of choice which is, to say the least, hard to find

Sir, Bill Moyes, chairman of the General Dental Council, argues for dentistry to move to a “Lidl to Waitrose” model (May 6). The opportunity for this freedom of choice simply does not exist under the woeful present structure of NHS dentistry, nor will it under any of the systems being piloted.

However, it does of course exist in private dentistry, where patients have rather more freedom to choose the quality of dentistry they would wish for. If they don’t like it they go elsewhere, as Mr Moyes would deem desirable.

Interestingly, research shows many individuals find that private dental plans offer better value for money than NHS dental care.

Quentin Skinner

Tisbury, Wilts


SIR – I was pleased that Serena Davies criticised the over-abundance of crime dramas on television.

While one can understand the appeal of unravelling the intricate plot lines of something such as Line of Duty, it is the indulgence in gruesome detail and gratuitous nastiness that writers seem to delight in, or feel obliged to take to an extreme, that renders otherwise well-written programmes unwatchable for many.

It was very disappointing to find that Happy Valley fell so swiftly into this category. This does not mean that gritty subjects cannot be tackled; rather it points to a failure of imagination.

A M S Hutton-Wilson
Evercreech, Somerset

SIR – Yet again, religious slaughter is in the headlines. If two chickens reared in exactly the same conditions are both electrocuted until they are unconscious and then one goes into an enormous machine which scalds, feathers and decapitates it, while the other goes to a Muslim who happens to be reciting a prayer, why are critics quite content with the former but up in arms about the latter?

Consumers should be informed whether an animal has been mechanically stunned prior to slaughter and whether it has endured repeat stuns if the first attempt was ineffective.

They should also be told the method of slaughter: captive bolt shooting, gassing, electrocution, drowning, trapping, clubbing or any of the other approved methods.

Comprehensive labelling should be supported by faith communities and animal welfare groups alike. It would offer all consumers genuine choice, whether they are motivated by animal welfare, religious observance, or even intolerance of anyone who looks or worships differently to them.

Henry Grunwald
Chairman, Shechita UK
Dr Shuja Shafi
Deputy Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain

GCSE failure

SIR – Chris Skidmore MP, the Downing Street adviser, is right to argue that pupils at risk of failing their GCSEs should be spotted and given additional support at the age of 11.

For children who are struggling to keep up at primary school and often experiencing problems outside the classroom, the support they receive during the transition to the first years of secondary school can make the difference between success and failure. A new check at the age of 11 could be the trigger for intensive help for vulnerable young people, funded by the pupil premium, helping them and their families navigate the teenage years and succeed in school and beyond.

Anne Longfield
Chief executive, 4Children
London E14

Flexible GPs

SIR – I, like many people, would gladly pay £25 to see my GP but I’d want to be able to see them at a time of my choosing, including at the weekend.

Tim Bochenski
Bramhall, Cheshire

Will EU block Pfizer?

SIR – For once the EU may prove to be useful in defusing a growing political storm.

David Cameron is trapped between his free marketeers, who see no reason for government to intervene in the workings of global capitalism, and a phalanx of detractors who warn of endangering Britain’s science base, which is linked to universities and research funding bodies.

If the takeover goes ahead, Mr Cameron has as good as lost the 2015 election, as the electorate will see where his loyalties lie.

However, all is not lost. Any merged company would be so vast that it would be bound to offend the European competition authorities and immediately attract calls for its break-up, as happened with Lloyds Bank after it gamely tried to rescue HBOS.

Could the EU be called upon to ban the merger before it takes place?

Jane O’Nions
Sevenoaks, Kent

SIR – Investors invest because, in the long term, they expect to get more out of their investment than they put in. Successful foreign investors in Britain therefore have a negative effect on the balance of payments over the long term.

If we were a developing country, this would perhaps be something to welcome. It is certainly not something for our politicians to crow about. Furthermore, a takeover is not an investment, since all it does is replace one set of shareholders with another.

The Government should act in the long-term national interest, as other governments do, when it comes to approving takeovers of large British firms.

Michael A St Clair-George
Udimore, East Susssex

SIR – Why are politicians so exercised about Pfizer putting in a bid for AstraZeneca? How can this be so wrong when 14 years ago Vodafone bought Mannesman, a German company, for £112 billion, and this was seen as a great British success story? This is what businesses do. Politicians should stay well clear.

Steve Willis
Olney, Buckinghamshire

Skull Cracker security

SIR – If someone with 13 life sentences is serving his time in an open prison, who on earth is occupying the high-security prisons?

Nairn Lawson
Portbury, Somerset

Slugging it out

SIR – This week I have disposed of more than 600 large black slugs. Are these creatures averse to oil seed rape? Our garden backs onto a field full of it.

Dorothy Foreman
Burton-upon-Stather, North Lincolnshire

SIR – It is ironic that Chris Mitchell complains about the look of the dazzling yellow rape crop, often grown for the production of “green” fuel, from his view in a gas-guzzling aircraft.

David White
Great Wilbraham, Cambridgeshire

Where in the world?

SIR – I am currently on holiday in Bali. On Tuesday I had my HSBC bank debit card stopped and received an urgent voicemail asking me to ring the HSBC fraud office. I did this, and was informed: “You told us that you were going to Bali, so when a transaction was attempted in Indonesia, we suspected fraud and stopped the card.”

Professor R G Faulkner
Loughborough, Leicestershire

Emergency advice for 30th anniversary presents

SIR – George Brown wonders what to do for his 30th wedding anniversary when his wife says she doesn’t want anything special. He should know by now that women speak in tongues on such matters. What they really mean is, “Don’t even think about filling-station flowers or a boxed set of underwear; buy me something that sparkles and goes with anything.”

David Shaw
Codford, Wiltshire

SIR – I, too, did not want anything special for my 30th anniversary earlier this week. My husband surprised me with a beautiful bouquet and a PowerPoint presentation, with one photo from each year of our married life. Memories flooded back, and I was delighted.

Susan Coe

SIR – May I suggest a gift of a necklace with 30 pear-shaped diamonds? As I have been married for 29 years, I hope my husband is reading this. I also told him that “I don’t want anything special”.

Sara Noe
London NW11

SIR – A thoughtful present, preferably one that rekindles a memory and raises a smile, is unlikely to go down badly.

Dr Anahita Kirkpatrick
London NW3

SIR – Buy pearls, or you may need to write a similar letter next year.

Geraldine Logan
Ormskirk, Lancashire

SIR – Mr Brown should ignore his wife’s request, and pull out all the stops.

J C Craig
Bodmin, Cornwall

SIR – George Brown is wise to seek advice. For our crystal anniversary I presented a box of Epsom salts. Almost 40 years later I am still paying the price.

Christopher J Bolton
Glossop, Derbyshire

SIR – You report that only 14 per cent of white people in the UK describe themselves as British, while 64 per cent describe themselves as English.

The main reason for this, as in my case, is a gentle protest. We were all British until the government, while trying to lump us all into being European, decided to split the UK into its constituent parts.

Now we have Scotland with its own parliament, Wales with its own assembly and Northern Ireland with its own assembly while the remainder of us British must endure everyone, including Europe, meddling in our affairs.

Ask a Scot or a Welshman or a Northern Irishman if he sees himself only as British, and you know what the answer will be.

I am English, and then British.

Jeff Gowers
Moretonhampstead, Devon

SIR – In your leading article (“A nation so many are proud to call their own”, May 6), you put forward the view that “Britain is a nation”. However, you also state that Britain “includes separate nations in a single state”.

If a group of people wish to call themselves a nation, then they are one.

The question, therefore, is: do the majority of people in Britain consider themselves to be British rather than English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish or other? I think not.

Christopher Rodgers
Martlesham Heath, Suffolk

SIR – I recognise the need for optimism, but I wonder whether your leading article was a little overly optimistic.

Your statement that “among British Indians and Pakistanis, more than 60 per cent consider themselves to be British” was presented as a positive story.

Considering the first adjective in the phrase, I would hope that the percentage would be much greater.

John Haiste
Bibury, Gloucestershire

SIR – When my husband was granted British citizenship, we were given to understand that “British” applied to foreigners getting the British nationality. We were told that only people whose parents come from England can call themselves “English”. We were also told that children of British parents would be British rather than English.

Our daughter married an Englishman. Are her children English?

Elisabeth Szalay
Beckenham, Kent

SIR – The people of Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and England manifest their nationalities by naming them on forms, rather than using the word “British” – which, far from being a unifying term, has been hijacked by those who appear not to respect our laws, customs or culture and are doing all they can to change Great Britain.

Hannah Fisher
London N2

Irish Times:

Fri, May 9, 2014, 01:10

First published: Fri, May 9, 2014, 01:10

Sir, – In his time as minster for justice, Alan Shatter managed to upset politicians, solicitors, lawyers and the Garda Síochána. Will we ever see such a reforming minster again? – Yours, etc,


Skreen Road,

Dublin 7.

A chara, – The Tánaiste describes Alan Shatter’s resignation as “inevitable”. Yet the Minister had his public support, and that of the Taoiseach and the Cabinet, up to the day of his resignation. Should we take it that a few more resignations are inevitable? Or does collective responsibility only serve as cover for unpopular policy decisions and sharing the glory when things go well? – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny.

A chara, – Your front-page headline on Wednesday said “Kelly and Gilmore rally behind Shatter after data ruling”. That afternoon Mr Shatter resigned.

Why is it that politicians always circle the wagons to defend the indefensible in their colleagues? Misplaced loyalty or simply a lack of moral courage to stand up for the truth? – Is mise,


Kill Abbey,


Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The most exalted positions in law and justice in this country are now occupied by women. Have careers in the world of jurisprudence and law enforcement become “highly feminised” professions? Perhaps Ruairí­ Quinn might care to comment? – Yours, etc,


Beacon Hill,

Dalkey, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The Taoiseach deserves credit for separating the portfolios of Justice and Defence in his Cabinet appointments. It was a mistake to combine these sensitive roles and during the recent series of scandals, the Taoiseach and his Cabinet colleagues no doubt encountered the inevitable practical problems it caused. It is good that this experiment is over.

The Taoiseach’s assignment of Defence to his own department temporarily while he looks to reorganise the portfolio is prudent and accomplishes the main goal of having two security ministers at Cabinet, rather than one.

If the Taoiseach continues to feel strongly that Defence does not merit a full-time minister he could look at combining the role with that of Minister for Foreign Affairs. Our Defence Forces’ peacekeeping activities dovetail with many roles of the Department of Foreign Affairs and as our Minister for Foreign Affairs is always a senior figure, it would ensure two senior people at Cabinet would have separate security briefings, and would be listened to, fostering debate and oversight on security matters. At EU level, many external action topics involve both ministries. More trivially, many ceremonial events involve both our Defence Forces and the diplomatic corps.

The occupant of Iveagh House has a lot of additional responsibilities as Tánaiste and party leader, but if, as widely expected, he moves to a domestic ministry in the reshuffle later this year then it might be an opportune time to combine the two roles of Defence and Foreign Affairs. – Yours, etc,


Schoolhouse Lane,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – The Taoiseach’s decoupling of Defence from Justice and Law reform is welcome. Defence and Justice should not be together. To say the least, it is highly unusual in a democracy to have one person politically in charge of all the security forces of the State. – Yours, etc,

Col DORCHA LEE (retired),

Beaufort Place,

Navan, Co Meath.

Sir, – It was with deep regret that I heard of the resignation of Alan Shatter. I don’t think that any other minister could have stood up to the judiciary, An Garda Síochána, the Army, the prison warders, and so on. It is nauseating to hear TDs now saying they have nothing personal against him. They wanted him out and he is gone. I hope the next incumbent has half his determination to see through all the changes needed in the Department of Justice. – Yours, etc,


Foxhill Park,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – You report that water is soon likely to cost us 0.02 cent per litre (“Bath set to cost 16 cent while a shower will set you back 25 cent”, Home News, May 8th).

Here’s what it costs now. One major supermarket chain is today offering water for sale at prices which range from €1.80 per litre (for a branded multipack of small bottles, costing a whopping 9,000 times as much as Irish Water will charge) to 2 cent per litre (for an own brand multipack of 2l bottles, costing 10 times more).

Children’s multipacks range from 29 cent (own brand) to 58 cent (branded) per bottle.

It is also easily possible to buy a single half-litre bottle for €2 (20,000 times as much as the estimated charge).

Food for thought, perhaps. – Yours, etc,


Home Farm Park,


Dublin 9.

Sir, – Apartment dwellers, who are typically younger and less wealthy (and frequently in negative equity), will yet again subsidise the wealthy retired with their defined-benefit pensions and valuable homes.

My apartment block requires only one meter for over 100 apartments, meaning vastly less expense for Irish Water than for an equivalent suburban estate with its leaky pipes and multiple meters, yet we will individually pay much more. I have paid for water in other countries where I’ve lived, but never suffered such cynical machinations from desperate politicians. – Yours, etc,


Long Meadows Apartments,

Conyngham Road,

Dublin 8.

A chara, – If Conor Pope (“Turning on the tap”, May 7th) really needs 10 litres of water to flush his WC and two litres of water to make himself a cup of tea, perhaps he should use his two-litre teacup to flush his toilet. – Is mise,




Co Waterford.

Sir, – During the controversy over the arrest of Gerry Adams, one thing I noticed in particular was the way in which some media outlets covered the events. Notwithstanding the unease in general about the individual involved, I think that the braying for the prosecution of Mr Adams ignores the context of the history of Northern Ireland.

According to some media outlets, in any “normal” European country it would be unacceptable to tolerate any prominent figure with a past such as that of Mr Adams retaining a prominent role in that country’s political life. However, as the saying goes, the past is often a different country, and that country was anything but “normal”. Like many in my generation, my knowledge of that dark past comes from history books – and sometimes from the viewpoint of parents and family who lived through it.

The reality is that virtually no part of western Europe, save perhaps Spain’s Basque region, has quite the modern history of Northern Ireland, and even today, as was demonstrated by the “flag protests” not too long ago, the tensions across the Border still smoulder. However, that is still a lot better than the inferno of violence that took place for nearly 30 years. And whether some like it or not, Mr Adams played a key role – along with others – in dousing that searing conflict.

Undoubtedly, many were hurt by conflict, and have a perfectly reasonable expectation of trying to see justice done for their loved ones. But in the greater scheme of things, it may be best to let the flames die out, rather than inadvertently stir the regressive forces that threaten the peace process. – Yours, etc,



Ballinamore, Co Leitrim.

Sir, – Perhaps it is time for Gerry Adams to consider taking a leaf out of Pope Benedict’s book, who, perhaps appreciating his limitations in dealing with the past scandals in the Catholic Church, resigned because he believed there would be someone else more able to lead the church into the future. Sinn Féin may benefit too from having faith in others within their party who are free from the burdens of the past. – Yours, etc,


Ballyroan Park,


Dublin 16.

Sir, – I note some correspondence (April 15th) regarding the wind generating system at Cape Clear Island referred to my book, Inside RTÉ, A Memoir.

I was first alerted to the problem as some islanders saw it by island residents who were willing to go on camera in 1991. A contact of mine in the ESB confirmed that Charles Haughey was so impressed with the system on Cape Clear that he requested such a system for Inishvickillane, and this was provided. A Jesuit writer on island issues, Fr Diarmuid Ó Peicin, also wrote to The Irish Times expressing concern about the proposed removal of the generator at the time. Some island residents were certainly under the impression that their system had been replaced and the original sent to Inishvickillane, and they were anxious to be interviewed to argue their case for its restoration. The “sporadic” nature of the service was stated to me by one islander, who wished to be interviewed, and is contained in the research notes. So too is the view of the managing director of SMA Regelsystem Gmbh, who, having provided a tender, was surprised to hear he was no longer required to be involved, as the ESB had supplied the generator for Inishvickillane. He was willing to be interviewed on camera to say this.

My essential point was not to denigrate either the ESB or the wind generation project that was such a success on Cape Clear. The issue was otherwise. We had a story which was prevented by Mr Haughey at an early stage of filming. We would have sought a reply to the island residents from both the ESB and Mr Haughey had the report been allowed to proceed. – Yours, etc,


Lower Hollybank


Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

Sir, – The local and European elections are now just a fortnight away and there will be wall-to-wall coverage of the candidates and likely winners and losers. What won’t be covered is the electoral system itself, because apparently the body politic assumes that voters know how to vote despite nobody telling them. Ireland is almost unique in having the single transferable vote system of proportional representation, but when was the last time you saw an information advert or received a booklet in the letterbox explaining it? We have public relations campaigns on road safety, smoking, mental health, and so on, but no PR about PR (excuse the pun).

How many readers know how to calculate the quota, or for that matter what is a quota? Why are there multiple counts? Are transfers important, and are transfers from eliminated candidates better than those from elected candidates? Why are some candidates elected without exceeding the quota?

Since we don’t have an electoral commission to educate the public, perhaps the media could explain how our voting system works. – Yours, etc,



Swords, Co Dublin.

A chara, – On attending the Arbour Hill 1916 commemoration yesterday, I wondered if I had mistakenly arrived at the wrong venue. The whole point of this ceremony is to honour the 14 men executed for leading the Rising and who are also buried in the Arbour Hill plot. Their names were barely mentioned at yesterday’s commemoration.

Through the poetry of Francis Ledwidge, we were reminded of those who died in the first World War. There appeared to be more emphasis on the British army than those who gave their lives for Irish freedom. These leaders fought against the British army and sought to rid Ireland of British rule. Where is the connection?

In this time of the centenary of commemorations we are in danger of diluting what we are actually commemorating to such an extent that it will be virtually meaningless. If we commemorate everybody, we commemorate nobody. – Is mise,


McDowell Avenue,

Ceannt Fort, Dublin 8.

Sir, – I have read Michael Dervan’s piece about Aosdána with great interest and I think some benefit (“Aosdána is not perfect, but does anybody have a better idea?”, May 7th). But why drag in the old book-shredding business, quoting Ruairí Quinn at some length?

The facts are as follows. I had no conversations with the director of the Arts Council about the book in question [Dreams and Responsibilities, The State and the Arts in Independent Ireland] prior to the shredding, let alone, to use Mr Quinn’s curious phrase, “transactions of conversations”. The only action I took in relation to the book was to review it for The Irish Times at the request of the then literary editor, John Banville. My review was on the whole favourable, if, as was my wont about everything in those days, occasionally humorous. I did towards the end point to a certain inadequacy in the book’s author as a researcher. Why had he not interviewed me when he had spoken to so many others?

During the controversy which followed the shredding nobody apparently bothered to read my review though they copied each other in calling it an “attack”. After the event of the shredding I did speak to the director of the Arts Council, who told me that 200 unsold copies had been shredded because they were “blocking the stairs”. Mr Quinn’s statement was made under cover of Dáil privilege. Even if he were to repeat it now without that cover I’m not sure I would take legal proceedings. Time in a sense other than that in which it precludes actions for libel is against me. My 22nd book (my 13th of poetry) Body and Soul will be out this autumn. But I have much more to write and, common sense tells me, sadly not a superfluity of time to do it in.

A couple of last points about Mr Dervan’s piece. All bodies of limited numbers are in some sense “elitist”. Surely experience of other aspects of Irish life would make peer-election by fellow artists preferable to appointment? Though I tend to agree with him about the number of members, surely to have a lesser number would make it more elitist, not less? – Yours, etc,


Oakley Road,

Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

Sir, – I think that some of your correspondents on the subject of naming our naval vessels are missing two important matters. The work of the Naval Service is well illustrated by the following examples. It patrols our waters under a common fisheries policy to protect our fishing industry and prevent fishing stocks from being depleted by illegal fishing. It patrols our coasts to prevent consignments of drugs from being landed on our shores. Two noble tasks, you must agree.

The naming of our naval vessels should not be limited to writers and artists, but should include our scientists, statesmen and inventors. Unfortunately we don’t have a fleet large enough to bear an array of such distinguished names.  – Yours, etc,


Beggars Bush Court,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – Olan McGowan (May 7th) writes: “Theological debates can get so absurdly complicated that people can’t accept that there is this beautiful, fabulously simple approach to accepting what we know and don’t know. It’s called atheism.”

Imagine if someone had instead written: “Scientific debates can get so absurdly complicated that people can’t accept that there is this beautiful, fabulously simple approach to accepting how things happened. It’s called religion.”

Perhaps atheism is to metaphysics what creationism is to science? – Yours, etc,



Woodford Drive,


Sir, – Dr Kevin McCarthy (May 8th) admonishes us to be fair-minded and to understand the historical imperative. What historical imperative is there that allows European governments, with US support, to redeem their past failures by giving the land of Palestine to the Jewish people of the world? Have Palestinians – who were not involved in European persecution of Jews – no rights in their own land? – Yours, etc,


Collins Avenue,

Whitehall, Dublin 9.

Irish Independent:

Published 09 May 2014 02:30 AM

* The dictum that is often attributed to the former Labour prime minister of Britain, Harold Wilson, that “a week is a long time in politics”, was borne out when former Justice Minister Alan Shatter quit.

Also in this section

Lessons on society you can pick up from a penguin

Politicians turning a blind eye to people’s suffering

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

This Government had an unparalleled opportunity – in recent Irish political history – to create a revolution in democratic government when it was elected. It had a majority in the Dail and the country was eager for change.

Alas, arrogance soon took over and everything was the fault of the previous administration.

Then it was the troika who forced them to debilitate the nation as young, educated Irish people were exported to the four corners of the globe.

With the troika gone, Fine Gael and Labour rapidly reverted to the bad old ways.

With the local and European elections soon approaching, yet again it was not their fault – the polls were against them!

Can someone please tell me what is it about the ambience of Dail Eireann that makes TDs so dense after they are appointed to a ministerial role? If this Government does not face reality soon and adopt some common sense, it will not last the next two years – let alone see Fine Gael win a second term in office. Can someone whisper to Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore, Pat Rabbitte, Phil Hogan and James Reilly the words of Oliver Cromwell?

“Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!” And go now!





* The resignation of Alan Shatter as justice minister should lead others in Government to question their own judgment.

Hours before Mr Shatter stood down, Leo Varadkar expressed full confidence in the then minister even though the Data Protection Commissioner had found that he had broken the law. Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore had also similarly defended Mr Shatter.

Surely all those that have endorsed his actions in these matters should be taken to task.





* Alan Shatter, very intelligent but not too perspicacious.





* Alan Shatter, hoisted by his own canard!





* None of our national institutions is perfect. Even seminarians learn that the church itself is always in need of reform (semper ecclesia reformanda).

The great majority of our gardai serve us well and are highly respected. A tiny minority of members in our national bodies that serve the public, including sport, have been found wanting. Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe was very brave indeed to have exposed elements of dishonourable activity among the few who let down such very fine comrades. Honest whistleblowers deserve our support and help in such a delicate activity of informing the nation that all is not well.





* Mary Hanafin was probably one of the more credible FF cabinet ministers. That said, she was a key member of the government that brought this country to its knees.

The sight of her, Willie O Dea and the hapless Micheal Martin in last night’s news made my blood boil. Move aside Mary, enjoy your “dolally” pension and give Kate Feeney a go. She’s young, starting out on a career.







The Government has also stated that it is restricted in the amount of state investment available for water infrastructure.

So how will the shortage be made up other than with some form of public-private finance arrangement?

In other words, the door will be opened for private corporations to take millions in profits, while the people pick up the tab.

Further, once water becomes marketable, it will fall under the competition rules of the EU.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore says that water charges will be “fair and reasonable”. Isn’t this most considerate of the leader of the Labour Party as he burdens the already over-burdened Irish taxpayers with another tax.

Water is a human right for families not a rain tax.





* I wish to comment on an article by Darragh McManus (‘I’m backing this minnow despite odds’, Irish Independent, May 8). UTV is not owned by ITV but is totally independent of ITV and is based on the island of Ireland. TV3, on the other hand, is owned in the majority by multi-national investment firm Doughty Hanson. Maybe Darragh should rewrite the article correctly.





* Should a certain election poster display the message: ‘There’s something about Mary.’





* On attending the Arbour Hill 1916 Commemoration (May 7), I wondered if I had mistakenly arrived at the wrong venue. The whole point of this ceremony is to honour the 14 men executed for leading the Rising but their names were barely mentioned.

There appeared to be more emphasis on the British army than those who gave their lives for Irish freedom. In this time of the centenary of commemorations we are in danger of diluting what we are actually commemorating to such an extent that it will be virtually meaningless.

If we commemorate everybody, we commemorate nobody.





* A thousand journalists killed in the last two decades, many more imprisoned, with China, Turkey, North Korea, Egypt and some Arab states being the worst offenders. Only 14pc of the world receives ‘free reporting’ but in the West even that is compromised by the treatment of whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

The first casualty of war is the truth and this is recently illustrated by the slanted coverage of Ukraine and the Odessa massacre.

We should never accept a one-sided argument. Journalists should be a protected species – not an endangered one, the first casualties of corrupt regimes. The UN could ostracise countries that violate basic rights. Why haven’t our elected representatives spoken out more against this travesty of injustice?



Irish Independent


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