13 May2014 Clinic

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate A trip to the USA to sell Black Puddings Priceless

Off to the clinic Peter Rice, Mr Kel, Sharland, busy day

Scrabbletoday, Mary wins just by five pointsperhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


Sir James Holt – obituary

Sir James Holt was a medieval historian who argued that the Magna Carta was, in its time, neither unique nor successful

Sir James Holt


6:45PM BST 12 May 2014


Sir James Holt, who has died aged 91, was the third Master of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and a medieval historian, known in particular for his studies of the Magna Carta.

This was also the title of his best-known work, published in 1965 as part of the celebrations of the 750th anniversary of the meeting between the feudal barons and King John at Runnymede on June 15 1215.

The most famous single document ever produced by an English government, the Magna Carta has generally been seen as a guarantee of human rights in the English-speaking world, the first in a long and progressive series that includes the English Bill of Rights of 1689 and the American Bill of Rights of 1791. Magna Carta, in this sense, has become overlaid with centuries of Whiggish myth, during which the original document has been extracted from its original context and made to serve purposes that its original authors never had in mind.

Holt set out to strip away all such accretions and set the events of 1215 and the charter itself in the context of the law, politics and administration of England and Europe of the time, to provide an analysis of the immediate political context and contemporary meaning of the document.

Among other things, he highlighted the fact that many of the broad concepts, such as judgment by peers and protection against arbitrary disseisin (seizure of property) were hot topics all over Europe in the 13th century. Similar charters were issued in Germany, Sicily and France in the 13th and early 14th centuries. Only one thing set England’s Magna Carta apart from the rest: its survival.

The Magna Carta (REUTERS)

In its own terms the document was a failure. Part of an agreement of peace between rebellious barons and a king who had provoked them into rebellion, it tried to settle issues outstanding between the two parties, and attempted to set standards for the behaviour of the king’s government towards his free subjects (ie the barons). But not only did hostilities resume within a year, the Magna Carta also failed to assure constitutional government, even for the minority to whom it applied. Once John’s son, Henry III, grew up, government by royal will was revived, and 13th century England would endure another civil war.

On the eve of celebrations for the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which will take place next year, Holt’s study, reissued in a fully revised form in 1992, remains one of the most authoritative texts within its field.

The younger of two children, James Clarke Holt was born in Yorkshire on April 26 1922, to parents who had moved from Lancashire after the First World War. His fascination with history, which started with the Waverley History of the English-Speaking Peoples which he read as a boy, was nurtured at Bradford Grammar School, from where he won a scholarship to read the subject at Queen’s College, Oxford; there he was greatly influenced by John Prestwich and Vivian Galbraith, both respected scholars of the medieval period.

His studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, during which he served in the Royal Artillery. After graduating with a First in 1947, he remained at Oxford, transferring to Merton College as a Harmsworth Senior Scholar, to take a PhD, which he later adapted for publication as The Northerners: A Study in the Reign of King John (1961).

Holt’s first academic post was as an assistant lecturer at Nottingham University, where he was appointed to a chair in Medieval History in 1962. In 1965 he was invited to go to Reading as Professor of History. It was while he was there that, at Vivian Galbraith’s suggestion, he was invited to write his major study of the Magna Carta.

In 1978 he was appointed Professor of Medieval History at Cambridge, and a fellow of Emmanuel College.

Holt’s election in 1981 to the Mastership of Fitzwilliam marked a decisive stage in the college’s development. Only granted its Royal Charter in 1966, the college had limited residential accommodation, the expansion of which Holt saw as a priority. He launched an appeal (under the chairmanship of his friend Edmund Dell) and New Court, designed by Sir Richard MacCormac, was opened in 1988, the year he retired from the mastership.

Meanwhile Holt’s own uncompromising academic standards helped to propel Fitzwilliam to the top half of the inter-college league tables, a feat he largely achieved by appointing younger fellows to senior positions, according to his belief that young people should be “given their head”.

Holt had an unbreakable habit of not coming into college on Mondays so he could get on with his research, and when asked what he would be doing during university vacations, even during his retirement his reply was always “Work!”. This was not entirely accurate however as, being a Yorkshireman, he had a passion for cricket (he had a complete set of Wisdens) and was a keen and serious climber.

He did not have much sympathy with slackers or student rebels, partly because he was so dedicated and hardworking himself. On the other hand, he was an inspiring teacher who could be notably sympathetic to undergraduates who struggled to do their best.

Geoff Mead, a former Cambridge History student, has recalled on his website being summoned to see Holt after sitting his finals, which he was convinced he had failed due to his illegible handwriting.

“At the appointed time,” he wrote, “I knocked on the door of the Professor’s study and waited. Professor James Holt was a blunt Yorkshireman who spoke with a slight lisp… notorious for not tolerating fools – gladly or otherwise… ‘Geoffwey,’ he said. ‘We seem to have a pwoblem… Some of your scwipts are unweadable. If we cannot wead them, we cannot mark them. And if we cannot mark them we cannot award you a degwee… Fortunately for you… I’m interwested in whether you can think, and not whether you can wite. Take the scwipts to my secwetawy and dictate what you have witten. We’ll get them typed and see what you had to say, shall we?’

“I couldn’t believe my luck. The papers got typed. I got my degree.”

Much later Mead wrote Holt a letter telling him what a difference his generosity had made to his life: “He never replied. He probably couldn’t read my handwriting.”

Holt’s publications spanned some 50 years, from the early 1950s to his last article published in 2007. His books included What’s in a name? Family nomenclature and the Norman Conquest (1982); Robin Hood (1982), in which he suggested that the legend of the outlaw of Sherwood Forest had originated with the yeomen and hangers-on of the households of noblemen and gentry in the 13th century; Magna Carta and Medieval Government (1985); and Colonial England, 1066-1215 (1997).

Holt’s work was recognised by his appointment to leading positions at both the British Academy and the Royal Historical Society. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1978 and was its vice-president from 1987 to 1989. He served as president of the Royal Historical Society from 1981 to 1985.

He was knighted in 1990.

In 1950 James Holt married Alice Suley (who predeceased him in 1998), with whom he had a son.

Sir James Holt, born April 26 1922, died April 9 2014


• Having lived in Yorkshire since 1972, I am only eight years short of honorary citizenship. I endorse just about everything Simon Jenkins has to say about my adoptive homeland (Why mighty Yorkshire is another country in waiting, 9 May) except his all too common misapprehension that Yorkshire speakers “hate the definite article”.

As the proud possessor of a Leeds MA in linguistics, I can assure him that the definite article is almost always present in Yorkshire speech, but its precise articulation varies according to its phonetic environment. Generally speaking, it takes the form of a glottal stop, or more usually a glottally reinforced alveolar plosive where apical consonants are concerned, but is sometimes “softened” to a devoiced bilabial as a result of homorganic nasality. Only in Holderness, that oddly detached fragment of the Netherlands between Bridlington and Spurn Point, is it omitted entirely, as sometimes happens in the West Country for – I suspect – entirely different reasons.
Jeremy Muldowney

•  The only omission from Simon Jenkins’ catalogue of excellence is the county cricket club, which still represents the three ridings in their entirety – and is currently supplying four players to the England squad.

One immediate and relatively straightforward step towards devolution for Yorkshire would be to reinstate the metropolitan county councils that were abolished by Margaret Thatcher in 1986. They had their faults but they brought together in a single authority many services that are no longer democratically accountable and which certainly benefit from being run holistically.

The legislation for reinstatement exists and would not require much tweaking. It would thereafter be possible to bring West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire metropolitan bodies together with the North Yorkshire county into a Yorkshire region with devolved powers similar to Wales.
Michael Meadowcroft

•  Simon Jenkins calls Opera North “the most exciting opera company outside London”. First, Opera North is an excellent company and can compete with any of the London-based opera companies. Second, what about Scottish National Opera? Its ambition of staging a new production of the entire Ring cycle in a single season is the equal of anything I’ve come across in London in the past couple of decades.
Martin Gillies

•  It was heartwarming, even to a Lancastrian in exile, to read Simon Jenkins’ praise of the “mighty province of York”. He might have mentioned that some of those ancient cathedrals and parish churches now sit in the new diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, created on Easter Day by a Church of England intent on best serving the people of this region. After our church communities have welcomed visitors from across the world, coming for the Tour de France, we will continue the less glamorous work of showing the love and justice of God in those communities “blighted by a poverty to which no one had the remotest answer”. Our mission to the folk living in God’s county is to serve all people, whatever their faith or race background, so that Jerusalem might indeed be built amongst our satanic mills’ in this green and pleasant land. But for decent soccer you still need to travel west of the Pennines.
Rev Adrian Alker
Director of mission resourcing, Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales

I was happily reading the Guardian on a train journey from Durham to Birmingham on Saturday till I got to your five-page article on the north-east of England (Tory cuts have left the north-east teetering on the brink. Can it avoid becoming Britain’s Detroit?, Weekend, 10 May). This article left me heartbroken that the beautiful, proud and dynamic area I live in could be represented in such an unfair manner. I fail to see how the photographs depicted of run-down shops and graffiti in any way reflect the true north-east.

As I work in healthcare and my husband is assistant head in an inner-city secondary school, we are very well aware of the deprivation and inequalities in some parts of the north-east, but in no way can these areas simply be written off. There is plenty of hope.

Living in the north-east allows for an excellent quality of life, where we are not burdened with the huge house prices and mortgages of other parts of the country. Your article refers to Harry Pearson writing that the “north-east is at the far corner of the country”, but on a map of Britain, the north-east is firmly in the centre, where it is as easy to access both Scotland (Edinburgh is only two hours away) and London (in less than three hours).

How can you not mention the Nissan factory in Sunderland, which must be one of Europe’s biggest success stories? And what about the Hitachi Rail plant being developed in County Durham?

When I finished university in Nottingham, I could have picked any part of the country to live in, but I chose to return to the north-east as in my opinion it has so much to offer. I have not regretted this decision for a moment.
Sonia Filmer
Lanchester, County Durham

•  I moved to the north-east at the age of 19 to train as a teacher and have never moved away. I taught for 34 years in a mining town on the north-east coast of Durham. I have seen what can befall a community when it is cast adrift. I agree with much of what was written in your article. We need support, we need fair treatment.

However, we also need a balanced portrait of the area. I see a still vibrant Newcastle bristling with new building. I see Nissan in Sunderland going from strength to strength. I see throughout the area some of the most spectacular scenery to be found. I see a rare depth of history and culture that is treasured by much of the population.

We can expect no help from the coalition – they have no power base here and no interest. We are largely irrelevant. It is unfortunate therefore that your article painted a picture that reinforces the bleak image of the area without pointing out the positives. Such a view can only work to the detriment of the area and preserve the image of a population and region both separate and failing. If I had read your article at the age of 19 I would never have considered making it my home of the last 40 years.
Geoff Rigden
Beamish, County Durham

•  I am proud to lead a city which has not only a strong industrial heritage, but is modern, vibrant and confident in outlook. Like many others, I found your portrait of the north-east so far removed from reality as to be unrecognisable. The reference to Detroit was particularly offensive. There is no denying that the north-east has challenges, and many of these are being exacerbated by the aggressive austerity cuts being imposed by this government. But we also have world-class universities, an internationally significant cluster of marine and offshore engineering, a burgeoning digital and ICT sector, thriving retail and leisure, some of the fastest housing growth outside London, and a manufacturing base that makes us the only region with a balance of trade surplus. We also have an enviable quality of life, strong cohesive communities, and a fierce sense of pride – reflected with typical north-east bluntness in the angry responses to the article. It’s a shame that the Guardian, with strong northern roots of its own, chose to buy into a narrative of decline rather than reflecting what those of us who live here know – our better days are ahead of us rather than behind us.
Cllr Nick Forbes
Leader of Newcastle city council

•  Your article was as interesting for its omissions as it was for the information it included. The north-east has significant energy and water reserves, and the quality of our air and lack of congestion were other omissions – maybe that is because our “car parks full of mid-range vehicles” don’t cause the sort of pollution levels London “enjoys”.

Economic growth in the North East Local Enterprise Partnership area outstripped the rest of the country in recent years, and we have the biggest process industry cluster in the UK. We have world-leading research facilities such as the Centre for Process Innovation and the National New and Renewable Energy Centre, and labour productivity in the north-east is growing faster than anywhere else.

Gross-value-added-per-head growth in our region is ahead of the UK average, which may be down to the fact we’ve never had more people in work in the north-east than we have right now.

R&D expenditure per business is better than in many areas, including London, which is good because we have highly qualified young people carrying new ideas into our businesses.

Nowhere else in the country gets a better percentage of students achieving five A to C grades than the north-east, and we’ve topped that table since 2008.
James Ramsbotham
Chief executive, North East Chamber of Commerce

•  Your otherwise excellent article on the north-east of England, says of Darlington station that “trains rattle through without stopping”. Trains from London and Penzance, Manchester and Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen all stop at Darlington. Residents will tell you that if we wish to travel to Newcastle or York, there is no need to consult a timetable. We just turn up at the station, confident that a train will be along in the next 20 minutes or so. Darlington is very well connected and perfectly placed.
Dorothy Long

•  In a year when the Guardian can boast a Pulitzer prize, the shoddy, unfair treatment of the north-east in Weekend magazine is shocking. I can only trust in a paper I love to ensure that some balance is achieved by future editions. The north-east has much to boast about and is owed an apology, in words and pictures.
Lesley Oldfield
Newcastle upon Tyne

Nick Clegg, in his advocacy of a less punitively oriented criminal justice system, deserves widespread support (This knife law won’t work, 8 May). He speaks of Lib Dem opposition to the recent proposal to introduce a six-month mandatory sentence for anyone convicted for the second time for possessing a knife which, he says, “would undermine the government’s progress in establishing a rehabilitation revolution”.

His words would be more convincing if the Lib Dem minister in the justice department, Simon Hughes, had accepted our invitation to speak at the recent public meeting to launch Prison Learning TV.

PLTV is a new project of our charity, the Prisons Video Trust, backed by a Big Lottery two-year grant and with encouragement from the National Offender Management Service. It supports the rehabilitation of prisoners and the tackling of recidivism through the production of video programmes that aim to transform personal development, learning opportunities and life skills for serving prisoners by delivering a multi-platform TV channel to prisoners across the country.

Nick Clegg thinks the key to reducing crime is to focus on practical solutions that stop people offending in the first place; what better way to achieve this than by espousal of PLTV’s revolutionary approach to rehabilitation?
Terry Waite Chair, Benedict Birnberg Deputy chair, Antonio Ferrara CEO
The Prisons Video Trust

•  If I want to build a bridge, I call in a firm of civil engineers who specialise in bridge-building. If I want a railway built, again I call in a team of specialist railway engineers. When it comes to human beings, however, why is it that politicians seem to believe that they are the experts on dealing with crime and punishment and not psychologists, psychiatrists, probation officers, etc, who spend their lives working and studying this particularly challenging aspect of human behaviour.
Rex Harpham
Tavistock, Devon

Shadow health minister Jamie Reed’s sarcasm is misplaced when he puts the medical use of leeches in the same category as the fringe treatment homeopathy (Hunt asked chief medical officer to set up homeopathy reviews, 9 May). Leeches are still used in modern medicine, with undoubted value in plastic and reconstructive surgery. They secrete a natural anticoagulant that prevents blood clots and restores blood flow to areas of inflammation. They cost about £6 each.
Karl Sabbagh
Co-author, Magic or Medicine?

• Your review of Czesław Miłosz’s Native Realm begins with the words “the Lithuanian poet” (Non-fiction, Review, 10 May). This is a misleading description of this Nobel-prize-winning Polish author who was born in Lithuania but wrote all his life in his native Polish. This is about as fair as to characterise Tom Stoppard as “the Czech playwright” who now lives in Britain.
George Gomori
Emeritus fellow, Darwin College, Cambridge

• The issues highlighted by the Post-Crash manifesto and by Aditya Chakrabortty (Economics lobotomised, 9 May) are not new. I chucked in economics at Cambridge after the first year in 1969 for precisely the same reasons and moved to the nascent social and political science course. I doubt much has changed there since then.
Andy Webb
Medmenham, Buckinghamshire

•  You attempt to clarify the Islamic rules regarding halal slaughter by stating that “Islamic rules require the animal to be slaughtered while alive and healthy” (The truth about halal Britain, G2, 8 May). Can I please ask you to clarify how, under Islamic or any other rules, you slaughter an animal that is not alive?
Tony Schröder
Penny Bridge, Cumbria

• It was the beard wot won it (A song for Europe, 12 May).
Denis Jackson

• If they vote yes, you know who is going to win Eurovision the year after? Even if they put up a Jimmy Shand tribute act. You read it here first.
Bill Cooke

The report on asthma treatment (One in four killed by asthma had inadequate care, say GPs, 6 May) mentions that some patients had not collected their prescriptions, but not a possible cause of this – prescription charges, currently £8.05 per item. Asthma is not one of the limited number of chronic conditions that are exempt from charges, and though some people on benefits and very low incomes may get free prescriptions, there is no help available for most people of working age. Prescription charges need to be looked at again, taking account of long-term conditions and treatments: no mental health conditions, for example, are exempt, and many people who may not want to take prescribed medication are further deterred by the cost. It is about 50 years since the system was last looked at, and since then the only change in England has been the annual price rise. The comprehensive GP report just published could help consideration of the costs and benefits of free prescriptions for all chronic conditions.
Marian Nyman
Whitstable, Kent


I read with concern Adrian Canale-Parola’s letter on reforming the GP system (10 May) which suggested replacing the GP as the first contact with nurse practitioners. While the latter perform a wonderful job in freeing valuable medical time and are worth their weight in medical gold, they do not have the extensive and time-consuming training that enables an experienced GP to spot the patient needing medical help at the right level. It is this that has made our health service a model for the world.

A long medical career – first in general practice and later as a consultant in hospital – has made me realise the importance of this. I have also seen the basic errors which can occur when a nurse practitioner has been put in a front-line position without the necessary knowledge base.

As a society we must decide whether we take care of our sick, or – as some have suggested – reduce the workload by charging to see the GP. Such a hurdle will always select the wrong people; those needing little or no help would be seen easily. The needy, usually poor, would not come.

John Atkins FRCOG, Swainby, North Yorkshire

May I ask, do the BMA/NHS recommendations propose to charge for visits to nurse practitioners and triage nurses who work in General Practice? If not, perhaps they are the ones who will have two-week waiting times.

If a charge is levied on seeing a nurse, then will it be proportionate to a nurse’s salary in relation to that of a GP? If it is, I wonder if it will be worth the administrative bother, for the amount is unlikely to prove a deterrent to most people.

We are seeing the  thin edge of the wedge in the dissolution of our weary NHS.

Catherine Ormerod, Wolsingham, Co Durham

I remember the furore when politicians legislated that dentists could run a private practice alongside working for the NHS. But what bliss; I can get an emergency appointment within a day, it is easy to book regular appointments and the day before, I get a reminder on my mobile phone.

This is in stark contrast to the service provided by the doctor. Jane Merrick’s (8 May) experience is commonplace. The doctor’s receptionists refuse to answer the phone as there are no appointments and the recorded message is clear; if you are ill take yourself off to A&E. Visit the surgery and you can book an appointment in three weeks’ time.

In short, the concept of being able to see a GP on the NHS is no longer fit for purpose. We need to employ more doctors and the only way to pay for this is to charge for each visit; a charge of £25 for a 15-minute consultation seems to me reasonable.

So going down the dentists’ route would mean a two-tier system, but everyone would benefit. Private patients would be able to see a doctor within two days and if NHS patients had to wait four days, that would certainly be better than the 21 days currently suffered. Also, private patients could finance technology that would reduce missed appointments.

Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey

Anti-frackers are not all tree-huggers

Your editorial in support of fracking (8 May) was jaw-dropping. Has it not occurred to you that there must be good reason why so many people are so against fracking? Christian Aid has an anti-fracking petition. The National Trust won’t allow fracking on its land. Petitions abound on the internet supported by the RSPB, the Women’s Institute, Salvation Army, Wildlife Trust, Greenpeace, Cafod, members of the Climate Coalition. So why are their views not put forward?

People worried about the rush to start fracking are portrayed as tree-hugging fanatics when those I know who are concerned about its dangers are ordinary middle-class people, and indeed mostly Tory voters.

I don’t live anywhere near a proposed drilling site so I am not a nimby – just a concerned citizen who is capable of looking up some independent research on the topic.

The Government has neglected to devise an energy policy so it is now panicking but who will pay the price? The lifespan of each well is about three years requiring thousands to be drilled to make the industry viable. The lifespan of the agriculture and tourism industries is indefinite and will be destroyed by fracking. Remember Spanish cucumbers, as an example, and how one rumour of contamination devastated the whole industry; crops grown near fracking sites will go the same way.

The companies wishing to frack are foreign firms. The CEO of Cuadrilla has said that fracked British oil or gas won’t bring our prices down and the irony is that they will be selling it all to France and Germany, countries where there is a moratorium on fracking.

Is the pressure to rush and get drilling really worth the very real health risks – including neurological diseases and cancer –  that independent research says exist?

Fiona Watson, Mayfield, East Sussex

Several letters that were published in response to your recent shale-gas editorial (10 May) failed to take into account the most recent conclusions of the IPCC, generally recognised as the last word on climate-related issues. In the Summary for Policymakers of the latest assessment report (AR5), they state that in scenarios where CO2 is limited to 450ppm CO2eq by 2100, global natural gas consumption increases, before peaking, and only falls back below current levels after 2050, four decades from now.

When questioned on the role for shale gas during the press conference that accompanied the report’s release, co-chair Ottmar Edenhofer stated: “We have in the energy supply also the shale gas revolution, and we say that this can be very consistent with low carbon development, with decarbonisation. That’s quite clear.”

The IPCC has made its position clear, supporting the use of natural gas as a “bridging” fuel up to and beyond 2050. Whatever their reasons for opposing shale-gas development, your correspondents  should not use concerns over global climate  change as justification, unless they wish to deny the contents of the latest IPCC report.

Dr James Verdon, NERC Research Fellow, University of Bristol

So Europe is going to “cut itself off” from Russian gas and find new sources? (Oliver Wright, 9 May)  That certainly sounds like wishful thinking but, more importantly, it is definitely music to the ears of the fracking fraternity and those investing in that industry.

So the question remains as to whether the conflict in Ukraine is an (un)fortunate coincidence or whether the backroom-boys (of Nato, the US, the EU and the oil/gas industry) have used a little meddling in the Ukraine as a convenient stick with which to prod the sleeping bear (Russia) in order to create some turmoil and thereby get the European public on board the fracking bandwagon?

God help our groundwater and the future generations who might want to drink it.

Alan Mitcham, Cologne

Clarkson says what others daren’t Congratulations to Howard Jacobson (10 May) for bringing sanity to the furore over Jeremy Clarkson’s latest transgression. If Clarkson is to be held to account, let it be for the crime against civilisation that is Top Gear; not for some characteristically puerile utterance, no doubt calculated to bait his detractors and generate yet more publicity for his odious presence.

I suspect Mr Jacobson has almost put his finger on an uncomfortable truth: that Clarkson serves as a national treasure for the Daily Mail-reading, Ukip-leaning, suburban-dwelling, anti-intellectual classes who never, and painfully know they’ll never, have the courage to publicly voice the sort of twaddle that he gleefully perpetuates.

Trevor Carter

Bristol Russell brand vs William Shakespeare

I agree with John Walsh (8 May) that OCR’s plan to include Russell Brand and Dizzee Rascal in the new A-level English syllabus is probably a wind-up. On the other hand, it could be a good thing. After studying the vacuous vapourings of Brand and the pathetic prose of Rascal, discerning students will be better able to appreciate the soliloquies of Shakespeare and the beauty of Brontë.

Stan Labovitch, Windsor

Nothing German about these royals

Every so often, some bright spark will make the cheap joke that the Royal family or a member of it is actually German. For the information of David Bracey (letters, 9 May) George V was born at Marlborough House, London; his father, Edward VII, was born at Buckingham Palace.

John Dakin, Dunstable, Bedfordshire

A Eurovision to celebrate

You’ve got to love The Eurovision Song Contest, it’s the only competition where Wurst is best.

Mark Thomas, Histon, Cambridgeshire


Sir, It comes as no surprise that researchers now say that the average pensioner will end up spending £140,000 of their personal savings on a care home, well above the proposed cap of £72,000 (report, May 12).

Although the government cap seems to indicate that there is a political will to change a system that is currently incredibly complicated, if anything, the new proposals seem to recommend a system that will be even more incomprehensible. Relatives wishing to investigate the costs of a care home for a loved one will need expert guidance to explain how the funding will work.

The so-called cap is misleading on two levels. The higher costs result from the fact that the limit introduced by the government only applies to care costs set by the local council, and does not take into consideration the hidden “hotel costs” for bed and board — which are as much as £15,000 a year. In addition, there is a limit to how much you can count towards the cap each week, which is dictated by the rate the local authority would pay towards care.

For example, a care home costing £900 a week may be supported by the local authority by up to £500 a week per person. The cap would only apply to that rate set by the local authority, meaning that each resident would either need to pay the difference themselves or wait considerably longer to reach the “cap”.

Older people already have to go to extraordinary lengths to meet the financial burden of paying for their future care, and the current proposed gap is not only confusing but also only benefits a minority in practice. I find it hard to understand how the measures go far enough in alleviating the financial impact that the reforms will have on older people who have worked hard all their lives to ensure they are looked after when they may need care.

Leon Smith

Executive vice-president, Nightingale Hammerson, London SW12

Sir, Mary Conway (“Carpe diem”, letter, May 12) is understandably upset that this “grasping” government expects her father to pay for his care when admitted to a home; thus depriving her and her children of their anticipated windfall — for which they themselves have not worked.

The alternative is for this “grasping” government to add this cost to the tax bill of those who are working. Someone has to pay. Who?

AA Gibberd

Basingstoke, Hants

Sir, Mary Conway asks “what sort of nation are we to become if we’re too frightened to work hard and save, because the grasping government will snatch it back?”Perhaps a better question would be “what sort of person expects the rest of us to pick up the bill for their care so that they can blow their savings on jolly nice cars and expensive holidays?”

Andy Charlwood


Sir, Mary Conway’s father had better eat, drink and be merry in haste before HMRC empties her father’s bank account to defeat his aggressive tax avoidance.

Richard Tweed


As a group, they are some of the most principled, personable, noble and public-spirited people I have ever met

Sir, Your leader “In Praise of Whistleblowers” (May, 7) rightly urged support for both a review of some past cases, both to address past injustice and to send out a message of encouragement to whistleblowers of the future.

However, having represented a number of whistleblowers over the past 20 years, I was struck by the implication of your suggestion that they “can be difficult people and uncomfortable colleagues. They may act from a number of motives, not all of them noble.” Although those statements are self-evidently true, in literal terms, they do not fairly reflect the whistleblowers whom I have met and for whom I have acted, many of them in the health sector. As a group, they have been some of the most sensible, principled, personable, noble and public-spirited people whom I have ever met.

Patrick Green, QC

London EC4

Step-dogs have more potential to hinder relationships than stepchildren ever will

Sir, It is not stepchildren that prospective partners should be wary of (report, May 9), but step-dogs. They have greater potential to hinder relationships than children ever will.

Richard Warnock

Melton, Suffolk

Others may carp, but this customer had a rather upmarket experience in Homebase in Kensington…

Sir, My experience in Homebase is more positive than that of Hilary Johnston (letter, May 10). When I asked an assistant there where to find the 10kg sacks of salt, he started to lead me towards the area I wanted. In order not to divert him from whatever else he was doing, I suggested he simply point to the appropriate section. “Oh! Sir,” came the reply, “we don’t point in Kensington.”

Julian Nokes

London W8

Roy Race of Melchester Rovers had an unfortunate habit of playing with his boots on the wrong feet

Sir, Giles Smith’s article (May 10) on Roy Race of Melchester Rovers was good, but neglected to mention his unfortunate habit of playing with his boots on the wrong feet, as illustrated. If only he could have remembered to check this before he went out I think his record would have been the equal of Dickie Ord’s, the Sunderland icon, who almost always remembered.

David Cousin

Abingdon, Oxon

Scots may yet rue the finality of the vote — and the lack of a chance to see the exact terms of the deal

Sir, With the referendum in Scotland barely four months away, and the polls showing a closer result than at one time seemed likely, there is one aspect of the process which has so far received almost no comment.

The referendum is very unusual in that the electorate is being asked to vote for or against independence with very few details of what a Yes vote will entail. This is the original “pig in a poke”. And if the Scots vote Yes, they will have given their politicians carte blanche to negotiate the best terms they can for the separation from the rest of the UK, but with no recourse and no ability to reject those terms if they turn out to be unfavourable. In a strange twist, if the Scottish electorate votes Yes, it is committed, and neither it nor its negotiators will subsequently have the power to say No if the terms of the separation are not acceptable.

This changes the negotiations after a Yes vote. With the Scots not able to walk away from the table and say, in effect, “If those are your final terms we reject them and choose not to exercise our right to leave the UK”, what incentive does Westminster have to concede anything it doesn’t want to?

Scots may yet rue the finality of the vote on September 18, and the lack of a chance to see the terms of the deal before they decide whether to accept them.

John Nugée

New Malden, Surrey


Cleaning a Panama hat requires a gentle touch

Real McCoy: a Panama hat producer and exporter from Cuenca, in the highlands of Ecuador

Real McCoy: a Panama hat producer and exporter from Cuenca, in the highlands of Ecuador  Photo: Jeremy Horner / Alamy

6:58AM BST 12 May 2014

Comments54 Comments

SIR – Alan Watson asks how to clean his Panama hat without dissolving it. I use the steam from a kettle and a soft brush to remove dust and light dirt. Marks are tricky, but I am told a soft nail brush with lightly soaped water works.

It must be dried quickly.

Peter Owen
Claygate, Surrey

SIR – My wife’s new Panama hat came with advice to “carefully roll from front to back in line with the band, but never top to bottom”, and to remove stubborn marks using a baby wipe, taking care not to rub too hard.

Philip Wright
London SW11

SIR – Does a Panama hat need to be cleaned? My husband bought his in 1955 and has worn it every year, most recently two months ago in South Africa; but it has finally been laid to rest on a cloakroom peg.

Rosemary Morton Jack
OddinSIR – While the decision to permit women to serve in combat roles currently denied to them might well be forced on our Armed Forces by European law, the Government should remember that the purpose of our forces is the protection and defence of Britain and its interests. It is not as a vehicle for the high-minded pursuit of gender equality.

Is there really a need for women to be employed in the SAS due to a dearth of volunteers? The fitness standards for those seeking to join the top end of close combat roles are very exacting, and justly so, when one considers the environment they have to operate in.

To require our special forces to accept unsuitable candidates who cannot achieve the required fitness standards, all in the misguided name of equality, would not enhance their operational effectiveness, but more likely diminish it.

Phil Mobbs
Wantage, Oxfordshire

SIR – Have MPs who advocate that women soldiers should be allowed to bear arms seen the size of the aggressive, balaclava-covered males in the pro-Russian gangs in the Ukraine?

Would our politically-correct leaders be happy to send female soldiers into that sort of situation?

Bevill Conder
Ruislip, Middlesex

Confused robins

SIR – Seeing as the AM radio signal has been in operation in this country for over 90 years, it’s ridiculous to blame Radio 5 Live or any other AM radio station for the disorientation of robins.

If electromagnetic radiation is indeed to blame, it is far more likely to be the fault of mobile phone masts and the massive increase in the installation of domestic

wi-fi hubs, especially in cities, leaking electrical noise into the atmosphere.

Blame the digital generation, not the analogue one.

Chris Rogers
Kingsbridge, Devon

SIR – While there are undoubtedly several species of small migratory birds that might be affected by Radio 5 Live transmissions, I doubt that the robin is one of them.

The robins who are living in my garden show no urge to travel – they sunbathe on the grass in summer, pose for Christmas card portraits in the snow, devour the contents of the bird feeders in spring, and are my constant companions in any gardening efforts.

Sally Gibbons
London SW19

Stuck with Eurovision

SIR – I am sorry to disappoint Mick Ferrie but not being a member of the EU is no bar to taking part in the Eurovision song contest. Look at Israel, Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine and others.

So if we do leave the EU, don’t expect to get out of Eurovision quite so easily.

Ian Prideaux
London SW4

Nagging doubts

SIR – While cold and wet, up a ladder in indifferent weather on Saturday morning, cleaning the roof of our conservatory, I looked down to see my wife enjoying a cup of coffee, and reading The Daily Telegraph.

I could just about make out the headline: “If men weren’t so lazy, we wouldn’t have to nag them”.

Roger W Payne
Over Peover, Cheshire

Out-of-hours GPs

SIR – An elderly relative was taken ill at the weekend, so I rang the NHS 111 service for advice. The person on the other end of the line used a rigid script, and asked a list of tick-box questions, which rendered her indistinguishable from an automated response machine. Ten minutes later, I was actually asked what the problem was.

At that point, I was told that a doctor would call me back. Forty-five minutes later I received the call, and the doctor decided to call out a paramedic, which I could have done in the first place. The paramedic was very good, but he then had to report to yet another layer of the bureaucracy that has been set up to replace an out-of-hours visit from a local GP. Thirty years ago, I would have rung my local surgery, and one of the 10 doctors would have come out on a visit.

The Government must make GPs revert to the old system of doing their own out-of-hours cover. The current system is wasting a huge amount of money, and is failing the population it purports to serve.

L M Averill
Biddulph, Staffordshire

Long-haul animals

SIR – As well as information as to how an animal has been slaughtered, the public should also know whether it was subjected to the inhumane and unacceptable practice of long journeys across Europe, sometimes of more than 1,000 miles. Why is such transportation of live animals even necessary?

Roslyn Pine
London N4

Pesky children

SIR – Congratulations to Amanda Craig when she dares to ask the question: “Why should we accept the hell of other people’s children?”

My wife and I have noticed that as soon as parents limit their children’s “screen time”, the situation seems to descend into “scream time”.

We have given up frequenting public places during school holidays and at the weekends.

Neil Webster
Preston, Lancashire

SIR – Yes, other people’s children are hell. That is why, when I want a seaside holiday abroad, I go to Croatia with its beautiful rocky shoreline.

Not a bucket and spade in sight.

James Logan
Portstewart, Co Londonderry

How to make road crossings more efficient

SIR – As well as timing pedestrian lights so that elderly people can cross the road in some comfort, we should adopt the widespread Continental practice of installing countdown timers on traffic lights.

These inform drivers and pedestrians alike of the time left before the lights change. This takes the guesswork out of crossing the road, and the frustration out of waiting to drive on.

Stuart Robertson
Aboyne, Aberdeenshire

SIR – Robert Goodwill, a transport minister, said that more traffic light systems would include sensors to ensure that they remained on red if someone was making their way across the street. Will the sensors also detect when nobody is there, and turn the light to green sooner?

This would avoid motorists having to sit at a red light with no one there, thus wasting valuable fuel and time.

Paul Master
Reading, Berkshire

SIR – Instead of letting the red lights stay on longer on pedestrian crossings in order to enable older people to cross the road, we should revert to the use of the flashing amber light that was introduced precisely for this purpose.

Prof R Hanka
Wolfson College, Cambridge

SIR – I was pleased to read that we will be allowed more time to cross the road.

There is a crossing in Stratford-upon-Avon known in our family as the Roger Bannister crossing.

Anne Black
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

gton, Gloucestershire

SIR – The proposal to allow HM Revenue and Customs to raid someone’s bank account without a court order in the belief that the individual or company has evaded taxation, is against the very principles of the rule of law that originated in this country.

We live in a country that is protected from the overbearing powers of the executive and legislature by having a judiciary that protects our individual freedom and liberty. This proposal is an attack on this principle.

James A Paton
Billericay, Essex

SIR – It is extremely easy to “owe” HMRC money, because all they have to do is write and say that you do. This is what happened to me after HMRC acknowledged that they had got the tax wrong for six million people in 2011. When they were meant to be putting things right, they sent me a highly inaccurate claim for a supposedly underpaid amount of tax. It took weeks of effort to unravel.

As the law stands, there is very little incentive for HMRC to be fair or accurate; if it is allowed to raid bank accounts directly all restraints will go. The so-called safeguards are derisory, and HMRC could quickly ride roughshod over them. Thousands of people may find that money has been effectively stolen from them, with the full consent of the Treasury.

The only hope is that this measure will prove a massive vote-loser in the run-up to the general election, and will, therefore, be suspended.

Sally Wainman
Ipswich, Suffolk

SIR – I am disappointed that MPs have not refused Government plans to raid personal and business bank accounts as a matter of principle. Will reciprocal rights be offered for small businesses to collect debts from slow-paying large enterprises?

The HMRC scheme appears flawed from the outset: what good is a 14-day period for resolution, when HMRC has a seven-week backlog of unattended post.

Andrew Smith
Epping, Essex

SIR – The Government is already effectively depleting savers’ bank accounts without the need for HMRC to raid them, by imposing a derisory rate of interest at way below inflation, and also by printing money. The HMRC proposal is further encouragement to those who have savings to remove their money and spend it.

Robert Sunderland
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

SIR – Is the proposal that the HMRC can seize what it says people owe in tax a prelude to all income going straight to the taxman? They will then release what they calculate you deserve.

Given their inability to add two and two, we will not get much returned.

D M Watkins
Plaxtol, Kent

Irish Times:

Sir, – I concur with Prof Diarmaid Ferriter’s view regarding the apparent unease of Government at commemorating our revolutionary past (“Ordinary lives best define our revolutionary decade”, Opinion & Analysis, May 9th).

I believe the Government decision to invite British royalty to the centenary commemoration of the 1916 Rising is a deliberate attempt to use the glamour and cult of celebrity monarchy to distract public attention away from the ideology and ideals of the women and men of 1916. Instead of a sovereign people, we have sovereign debt. Instead of a spiritual nation, we have a spiritual wasteland. Instead of talking about an agenda of sovereignty, equality and decolonisation, we will be talking about who shook whose hand and what people were wearing.

The current political elite wants to avoid comparisons between its shabby and bankrupt political ideology and the ideals of the leaders of 1916.

What has Enda Kenny in common with Patrick Pearse other than they were both school teachers and both owned houses in Mayo? How does Eamonn Gilmore’s ideology measure up to that of James Connolly?

Our current political leaders don’t want comparisons drawn between themselves and the 1916 leaders, they don’t want to talk about their ideology and beliefs and they don’t want to talk about why the noble objectives of the Proclamation have not been attained in 100 years of independence. – Yours, etc,


Templeville Road,


Dublin 6W.

Sir, – In debating the pros and cons of a royal presence at the commemoration of the Easter Rising in 2016, don’t we need to consider extending an invitation to a representative of the House of Hohenzollern in view of the reference in the 1916 Proclamation to “our gallant allies in Europe”? – Yours, etc,


Vale View Lawn,


Dublin 18.

Sir, – Diarmuid Ferriter’s opinion piece of May 9th was a welcome relief from the latest attempt to rewrite history.

Whatever our present relationship with England, the fact is that we had hundreds of years of wars and oppression by a foreign power. Thankfully, the Rising of 1916 proved a successful forerunner to the fight for the return of Irish autonomy.

It is inconceivable to me that we should commemorate this Rising and the subsequent deaths that resulted from it and the conflicts that followed as if rule by the British Empire had been a benign agreement between two nations.

Given this, it is no surprise that the downgrading of history in schools should now be on the cards. – Yours, etc,


Crumlin Road,

Dublin 12.

Sir, – We seem to be acting out a strange echo of life in Ireland 100 years ago. We have had the royal visit, and a mild reawakening of pro-British sentiment. We have an understanding and empathy for those who decided then to rush to the British army recruiting stations. Constitutional nationalism dominates the political agenda, but is showing signs of ideological exhaustion. A Sinn Fein-led opposition is growing in strength. – Yours, etc,


Foster Place,

North Ballybough,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – Dominic Carroll (May 10th) wonders “what possessed” the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) to issue a statement regretting the resignation of the former minister for justice.

The ICCL’s statement, available on its website, regrets that it became “necessary” for the former minister to resign, clearly acknowledging the necessity of his resignation. Nonetheless, the council frankly acknowledges Mr Shatter’s significant legislative legacy, especially in the area of equality law reform. Mr Carroll may have noticed that a similar degree of magnanimity has characterised the responses to Alan Shatter’s resignation by Mick Wallace TD and Garda whistleblower John Wilson.

From the outset of the current spate of Garda-related controversies, the ICCL has called for those responsible to be held to account. It will continue to do so, but by playing the ball, not the woman or the man. – Yours, etc,



Irish Council

for Civil Liberties,

Blackhall Place,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – Readers should appreciate one aspect of Alan Shatter’s legacy – as minister for justice he ordered a review of the trial and death by hanging of Harry Gleeson for the murder of Mary McCarthy in November 1940. Harry Gleeson’s conviction has remained controversial for decades – many individuals and organisations have consistently proclaimed his innocence – and it was only because Mr Shatter reviewed the brief presented by the Innocence Project that new hope exists for a posthumous pardon for Mr Gleeson. Credit where it is due. – Yours, etc,


Redesdale Road,

Mount Merrion,

Co Dublin.

A chara, – With the resignation of Alan Shatter, the Irish people have lost the one minister for justice with the intelligence and strength of will to fix the systemic problem. Instead, the lack of accountability will probably persist under a friendlier face. – Is mise,


Charles Street East,



Sir, – I read with interest the report that the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has recently entered “talks about talks” with the Government over the proposed contract to introduce free GP care for children under six (“More talks on free GP care to take place,” Home News, May 10th).

It is truly incredible that any organisation representing doctors would even consider discussing a document that contains a “gagging clause” preventing its own members from criticising the HSE. I find it appalling to think that my constitutional right to free expression could somehow be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations between a union and the State.

Furthermore, it is my view that the IMO currently has little credibility with many members of the medical profession. This is as a result of the astonishing pension arrangements afforded to a former chief executive of that organisation and the ongoing failure to hold a promised independent inquiry into these matters.

Regrettably, in recent years the IMO also failed to support reforms that gave young, fully qualified GPs the same entitlement to treat medical card holders as their established peers.

Finally, it should be pointed out that an alternative representative organisation, the National Association of General Practitioners , has been deliberately excluded from any talks process, despite having over 1,000 GP members and no history of multimillion euro pension arrangements for its staff. Neither the Government nor the IMO appear concerned by this. I wonder why? – Yours, etc,


Bush Road,


Navan, Co Meath.

Sir, – Debra James (May 12th) informs us that one night spent in the hotel at London’s Shard building (£14,000) is the equivalent to the amount of money that half of the world’s population live on for 26 years .

I am not sure what conclusion we are expected to draw from these facts.

I am reminded somewhat of the loathing that existed for the owners of big houses who nevertheless provided employment the length and breadth of the country.

When they were successfully expelled, the call went out for factories to be provided for the unemployed in the distressed areas.

Such factories, had they been built to any extent, would probably have offered conditions that were worse than those in the big houses. Of course, the Irish solution to the problem was emigration.

A night at the Shard results in money trickling down to caterers, cleaning staff, manufacturers, food suppliers, etc, and helps to create employment in all these sectors.

On the basis that a fool and his money are soon parted, I can only encourage more visitors to avail of these bargain Shard rates whilst they are still available. – Yours, etc,


Ballyraine Park


Co Donegal.

Sir, – Paul Cullen rightly highlights concerns at the prescription charge of €2.50 for medical card holders (“GPs call for review of prescription charges”, Home News, May 6th).

However the charge for those of us who pay €144 per month under the drugs payment scheme should also be highlighted.

Currently one of the major pharmacy chains charges us a fee of €7 per item of prescription per month and another charges €5 per item.

Both say they cannot supply more than one month’s prescription at a time, thereby preventing customers from saving on the monthly prescription fee.

The lesson for all customers is to ask for details of the underlying charge per item, both product and prescription fee, even though the total is capped at €144 per month.

By doing so, customers may be able to reduce the cost of their drugs to less than €144 per month, especially if they switch to doctor-approved generics. – Yours, etc,


Waltham Terrace,


Sir, – Paddy Cosgrave, founder of the Dublin Web Summit, only wants to hire top honours graduates to fill upcoming positions (“Tech entrepreneur hits a nerve”, Education, May 9th). He is overlooking a big opportunity. The founders of the top three technology firms in the world all have one thing in common. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs all dropped out of college to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities. A more inclusive hiring process might capture more potential greats. – Yours, etc,


School of Marketing,

Faculty of Business,

Dublin Institute

of Technology,

Aungier Street,

Sir, – John Lee (May 10th) equates the reduction in numbers of smaller birds, or songbirds, to the increase in magpie numbers. If only the loss of so many songbirds could be so easily explained. Many long-term studies have proven that magpie numbers do not have a detrimental effect on songbird numbers. Indeed there is evidence to the contrary.

Because the predation by magpies at this stage of the breeding season is so easily observed, it is often misconstrued by the casual observer as being overly destructive when it is merely the normal cut-and-thrust of nature.

Rather than call for the reduction of magpie numbers, we would be better employed in looking at the real causes of a decline in songbirds and in particular the high mortality rate among newly fledged birds. Then we might do something about the loss of habitat, the use of pesticides, the free roaming of cats, the overuse of slug pellets and all the other factors that actually have an impact. – Yours, etc,




Co Louth.

Sir, – I agree that it is distressing to see and hear magpies attack nesting birds and their eggs and chicks but they are not the cause of the apparent decline in songbirds in our cities. What makes life more difficult for small birds is having nowhere to build nests safely.

Our suburban gardens are getting smaller and tidier, with fewer shrubs, trees or damaged roofs for small birds to nest safely in. On top of this, birds have fewer places to forage for food in the nesting season as we increasingly keep our gardens plant-free.

As if this were not bad enough, cats probably kill more small birds than magpies and they seem to be increasing in number, while magpie numbers have been steady for about 20 or 30 years. If you want to help birds, here are some tips: put a bell on your cat and keep it in at night; provide nest boxes and maintain or plant hedges and shrubs. Further excellent information is also available on the advice section of the Birdwatch Ireland website. – Yours, etc,


Castle Park,



Sir, – What is it with the spate of former government ministers coming out of the woodwork in an attempt to revise history?

Eamon Ryan (May 10th) did not favour privatisation of State assets, even though he signed up to the troika “review” of those assets, and Michael McDowell (May 7th) was not in favour of “light-touch regulation”, even though this was a central tenet of his former party’s philosophy.

Is it any wonder people are so cynical when it comes to politics? – Yours, etc,


Howth Road,


Dublin 5.

Sir, – I am beginning to wonder if Danske Bank really wants to leave the personal banking market in Ireland.

After 20 years of banking with Danske, my husband and I are in the switching process but Danske will just not let go. In the process (over three months now) we have had utility bills misdirected, life assurance suspended and multiple mortgages payments deducted from our account. I think this administrative blundering is really just a delaying tactic.

I have heard of the long goodbye but this is ridiculous. – Yours, etc,



Cliff Road,


Co Waterford.

Sir, – James O’Keeffe (May 10th) suggests slugs are deterred by eggshells and coffee grounds. Do slugs instinctively understand coffee is a stimulant, which would result in them being less sluggish? – Yours, etc,


Roebuck Castle,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – There are more humane ways of getting rid of slugs and snails other than killing them. You can always try to reason with them or send them a solicitor’s letter, but if that does not work you may well have to line your allotment with election posters. – Yours, etc,


Monalea Park,

Firhouse, Dublin 24.

Sir, – Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher is far too hard on himself in defending his €843,000 salary (“Bank of Ireland chief defends hard line on debt forgiveness”, Front Page, May 9th). “There will be some people . . . who if I got paid sixpence would say it’s too much”, he says. I should think that many people would be of the view that sixpence is just about right. – Yours, etc,



Oxford Road,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – Further to Mary Mulvihill’s article on William Rowan Hamilton (“Where’s the bridge for our greatest scientists?”, (Science, May 8th), in which she writes that there is not a building named after the great man, in fact there is one – a splendid sheltered housing complex in Cabra, in which I have lived for the past nine years. Not a bad memorial, I think. – Yours, etc,


Rowan Hamilton Court,

Dunmanus Road,


Dublin 7.

Irish Independent:

Let’s give humanity a chance – divinity can look after itself


An open bible with grass and a man walking towards a cross

Published 13 May 2014 02:30 AM

In response to a spate of recent over-confident letters, I should like to suggest that we cannot prove the existence of a God; we can give reasons why our convictions take us in one direction or the other.

Also in this section

Let’s hope moral ground in Garda Siochana rediscovered

Letters to the Editor

Let’s make sure we know how to vote, not just for whom

Those who appeal to the methods of science have got their science badly wrong. Other than in mathematics, we do not talk about proof but of varying levels of probability.

The notion that nothing can be said to be true unless it can be verified in experience now resides in the museum of bad ideas, as such an assertion is self-defeating. The belief that only what is verifiable in experience can be claimed to be true is not itself amenable to such verification.

Our rational lives are constituted by the exchange of ideas where we are ready to give reasons, not proofs, for what we hold to be the case. On the basis of the same considerations, some will take a deistic position, others an atheistic or agnostic one.

For years, the archpriest of the defence of atheism was Professor Anthony Flew. He is unique in also being the writer of a wholehearted defence of theism in his more recent change of mind.

We find straw arguments coming from all directions. Who needs persuading that a God who stands by and watches a child murdered or who sends offenders to a torture chamber for eternity is a monster?

In the midst of my doubts, what has never left me is the reality of a good man, Christ, who walked this Earth and revealed not what it was like to be divine but what it was like to be human.

The challenging simplicity of his life has so often been lost in a haze of convoluted discussions about whether he was God, man or both.

Let’s give humanity a chance; divinity will look after itself.

Our humanity is not constituted by being on our knees relating to God but by being on our feet relating to one another.


Higher casualties than 820

I was most interested to read Part One of ‘Ireland at War’ (Irish Independent, May 10). Diarmaid Ferriter is certainly correct when he states that the reasons why Irishmen enlisted in the British armed forces during the World War I are multi-faceted.

He is also correct that there would possibly not have been any 1916 rebellion except for the war. However, I would contend that it was the 1916 rebellion that made partition more likely and actually copperfastened it.

I would take issue with the number of casualties given for Limerick as being 820. The reason for this is that the war memorial erected in Pery Square, Limerick City, on November 10, 1929, and blown up during the month of August 1957, had as part of its inscription, ‘To the Glory of God and to the 3,000 Officers, NCOs and Men from Limerick City and County who died in the Great War 1914-18’.

There is also another version to that enunciated by Ronan Abayawickrema regarding the conscription issue. Most assuredly the British authorities had placed conscription on the Military Service Act 1918 for Ireland, this, it could be argued, was done to assuage British public opinion.

Irishmen, after all, had taken the jobs vacated by British workers who were fighting in the war, and this incensed them. There was, therefore, no attempt to introduce conscription in Ireland in April 1918.

There is also the fact that an order would have had to be issued by the government to implement this clause. This would have had to wait for a resumption of Parliament after the summer recess and, by the time this happened, peace feelers were being made that would lead to the Armistice of November 11, 1918.


No ambassador for 17 months

What has Ireland done to offend the sensitivities of US diplomacy? It is 17 months since the last US ambassador to Ireland left office and a successor has not even been nominated at this stage. Ireland ranks alongside Bolivia, Venezuela, Sudan, Syria and Eritrea in the length of time it is taking US President Barack Obama to nominate his ambassador, despite the President’s proclamation on St Patrick’s Day that, “there is a little bit of green behind the red, white and blue”.

One of the functions of an ambassador is to foster trade. It is noteworthy that during the past 17 months, imports of American goods into Ireland have fallen by 25pc.

Perhaps the strategic interest of the US in Ireland does not really extend beyond the convenience of the facilities at Shannon Airport and the warmth of our gracious hospitality.

But how can much-vaunted high-level official visits from Ireland to the United States deliver a desired outcome, or even credible progress, if the mere appointment of an ambassador to Ireland proves to be such an intractable quagmire for the Obama administration?


Archbishop’s refreshing answer

It was refreshing to hear Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, when asked by Sean O’Rourke on the radio recently, “Do you believe in hell?”, answering with great honesty and courage that he only believed in the possibility of hell. All that hell and damnation nonsense is what destroyed this country for years.


Forget about chasing phantoms

I read with interest the many letters on this page in recent weeks arguing for the existence of God and it strikes me that a thread of wishful thinking runs through them all.

A prime example of this is the argument that the beauty and magnificence of the universe is enough to prove that God exists. The very best that this argument can do is to suggest that there is some kind of intelligence behind the formation of the universe. To put a name on this intelligence and claim to know its nature and intention is a huge leap of the imagination that does not hold up to any scrutiny.

Life is meaningless without God, another letter states. I find this the saddest of arguments. Our lives are full of meaning that does not compel us to look to the stars – our families, our relationships, our children, our work, our interests, our achievements and our hopes.

It would be more accurate to say that death is meaningless without God, a thought that should spur us on to appreciate what we have and not spend our short lives chasing phantoms.

Western civilisation is at a stage now where it can be compared to a child who is on the cusp of realising that Santa Claus is not real.

He/she knows that something doesn’t make any sense here but is reluctant to let go of the magic and is afraid that the gifts might not be quite as good.

He/she soon realises, though, that December still comes around every year, Santa Claus or no Santa Claus.


Grateful for whistleblowers

It is an age of information… and disinformation. It is an age of deceit. And Ireland, being divided loosely into cliques of inscrutable loyalties, makes it an age of insider privilege, influence, and naked menace. Thank goodness for whistleblowers.


Irish Independent

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