16May2014 Delivery

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate Mr Lamb’s guinea pig Priceless

Potter around Builder deliver at 7:30 tip, Sainsburys

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


Mary Stewart – obituary

Mary Stewart was an author of romantic thrillers who wrote for love not money, and had an intuitive feel for the past

Mary Stewart


6:56PM BST 15 May 2014

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Mary Stewart, who has died aged 97, was the author of superior romantic thrillers and historical novels.

Her brand of quality escapism was firmly of the old school, but one that concealed a writer of considerable skill. An ability to transport readers to places promising adventure was rewarded with popularity and consistently high sales.

Mary Stewart’s work was a cut above that of rivals such as Jean Plaidy. It was informed by the traditional requirements of a romantic read, featuring heroines blessed with girlish enthusiasm and resolute, outdoorsy common sense — qualities which reflected Mary Stewart’s own personality. But her intuitive feel for the past and its re-creation in vivid, poetic detail lifted the best of her writing into the class of Dorothy Dunnett, Rosemary Sutcliff, Mary Renault and John Buchan. She felt the influence of Renault so strongly that she confessed to keeping away from her books while working on her own.

Her finest and most original achievement was an Arthurian trilogy: The Crystal Cave (1970), The Hollow Hills (1973) and The Last Enchantment (1979). The first of these was turned into a children’s television series in 1991. Set against a convincingly turbulent background of Romano-Britain in the 5th century, the trilogy depicts Arthur as a warlord attempting to unite a fragmented society on the cusp of the Dark Ages. All three books were strongly touched by Mary Stewart’s own Celtic notions of magic and the primacy of nature, while her handling of place and landscape approached the immediacy of Stevenson and Buchan.

Unusually for a romantic novelist, Mary Stewart was not afraid of male heroes, and in the trilogy she retold the legend through the eyes of a Welsh Merlin, more prophet and engineer than magician. Nor was she afraid of critics, a few of whom scorned her use of the discredited historian Geoffrey of Monmouth as a source, although many praised her realisation of the story.

Despite her extensive research, Mary Stewart never claimed her books as works of serious scholarship. Instead she wrote that she was content to take her place among those historians Gibbon damned as embellishers of fragments and fables.

Mary Stewart at her home in Scotland (GEOFF WILKINSON/REX)

The daughter of a vicar in Co Durham, she was born Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow on September 17 1916 and brought up in the open spaces of the North Country. Sent to boarding school in Ripon, she excelled at swimming, tennis and, unusually, cricket.

Her father’s meagre resources would not allow her to take up either of the places she won at Oxford and Cambridge, so she went instead to university in her native Durham. There she took a First in English Literature in 1938 and was also president of the Women’s Union. She then taught at the university from 1941 until 1956.

In 1945 she married Frederick (later Sir Frederick) Stewart, who would become Regius Professor of Geology at Edinburgh University, and was prompted to begin writing novels in the mid-1950s by an ectopic pregnancy and consequent operation which meant that she could not have children. A private person, she consoled herself with her writing and a succession of cats.

Although she was soon producing a steady stream of novels, each was genuinely felt and written for love, not money. Indeed, on seeing her first effort, Madam, Will You Talk?, in proof form in 1954, she asked her publishers not to proceed. “It felt like walking naked down the street,” she said, “so much of oneself goes into a book.” But her publishers refused to pulp it.

Two of Mary Stewart’s novels

In the 20 years following its publication, Mary Stewart wrote a further 15 novels. Although not strictly formulaic, her thrillers were usually cut from similar cloth. Her heroines — she called them “my young ladies” — were genteel innocents of unusual moral certainty, meeting peril and love with the same resolve. Locations were often exotic. The Gabriel Hounds (1967) was set in Lebanon; The Moonspinners (1962) in the White Mountains of Crete; while Airs Above The Ground (1965) featured a villainous high-wire artist who skulks in Vienna.

Mary Stewart’s diligent research meant that the settings were often more memorable than the characters themselves, and her touch always seemed most deft when she was dealing with the past. There her eye for detail could be used to maximum effect — the texture of a cloak or the colour of a sky — with nature to the fore of the action. .

Her work usually involved several drafts and was never less than polished, the words chosen according to the strict principles imbued in her father’s vicarage. Her mother forbade all slang, while her young brother could not bring himself to read out the story of Jonah and the Whale because it contained the word “belly”. Mary Stewart’s dialogue was not quite so prim, although she always checked it by reading it out loud to ensure that it did not read as written speech.

Mary Stewart had a loyal readership, and her books regularly appeared in bestselling lists in the 1960s and early 1970s. Popular taste changed, however, in the 1980s with the emergence of escapist novels rooted in improbable glamour or humdrum domesticity — “Aga Sagas” — and her profile declined.

Her sophisticated approach to history proved particularly popular in the United States, where paperback editions of her novels regularly sold several million copies. Many requests for information arrived at her Edinburgh home from American students writing theses on her work.

Mary Stewart disliked talking about the wealth her royalties brought her, but the girl too poor to go to Cambridge enjoyed her success. She collected Chinese porcelain and enjoyed driving to Newnham College, Cambridge, of which she became an honorary fellow in 1986, in a Mk 10 Jaguar or a Rolls-Royce. She was also an early advocate of the deep-freeze, buying one for her husband so he could continue to enjoy her home-cooking when she was away.

After the publication of The Hollow Hills in 1976 she slowed her pace a little, with readers having to wait up to five years for a fresh dose of suspense. She also began to write children’s books, of which Ludo and the Star Horse won a Scottish Arts Council Award.

The completion of the Arthurian trilogy in 1979 did not exhaust her enthusiasm for the theme. She returned twice to the legend. The Wicked Day was intended as a sequel to the earlier books. A bold but unsuccessful reworking of the story of Mordred and Arthur’s last battle, it cast the former as a misunderstood hero.

For once she failed to carry her audience with her, and it did not meet with much acclaim. She explored the legend further in The Prince and the Pilgrim, which dealt with the Grail Quest and was published in 1995. The last of her 24 books, Rose Cottage, appeared two years later, when she was already in her early eighties.

Her husband, Frederick, who was knighted in 1974, died in 2001.

Lady Stewart, born September 17 1916, died May 9 2014


The Syrian regime’s regaining control of Homs is considered a sign of hope even by someone like me who has been anti-Assad since birth. The options which the Syrian people have now are either Assad or extreme Islamists (Journalists hospitalised after beatings in Syria, 15 May). Until the political environment changes, Syrians have no other alternatives. While we want a democratic and secular Syria without Assad, we have to be pragmatic at this stage and, to that end, Assad is the better of the two evils.
Name and address supplied

• According to Wikipedia, female genital mutilation “became associated with Islam because of that religion’s focus on female modesty and chastity, and is found only within or near Muslim communities. It is praised in several hadith … there is a widespread belief in several countries, particularly Eritrea, Egypt, Guinea, Mali and Mauritania, that FGM is a religious requirement”. Rather than blaming my letter (14 May), your correspondents (15 May) would be better advised to address Wikipedia and other such sources of – to them – inaccurate information. Incidentally, I find the sentiments “Jews mutilated my penis” and “Catholics forced me to have unwanted babies” unexceptionable. All religions favour barbaric practices.
W Stephen Gilbert
Corsham, Wiltshire

• There was an omission in Jonathan Jones’s otherwise excellent piece about German artists denouncing war (G2, 14 May); Käthe Kollwitz, whose son Peter was killed early in the conflict. In particular her Saatfrüchte Sollen Nicht Vermahlen Werden (Seedcorn Should Not Be Ground, where an anguished mother struggles (one knows, in vain) to keep her small sons safe, is a deeply powerful work.
Leslie Wilson

• The letters (14 May) on life and death before the NHS resonated strongly with me. My elder brothers were born in 1946 and 1947 and both died in infancy. The NHS and I were both born in July 1948 and I – and my six siblings born after that date – flourished. Proof positive that the NHS was, and is, a lifesaver.
Steve Pound MP
Labour, Ealing North

• Why all the fuss about a Jimmy Shand or a Calum Kennedy tribute band representing Scotland at the Eurovision song contest (Letters, 13 and 15 May)? There is a precedent – a kilted Kenneth McKellar at the 1966 Eurovision contest.
Steve Elliot

I cannot see that the pledge by researchers and charities to be more open about animal experiments will lead to very much, as they only plan to release the information that they want to release (Report, 14 May). They should instead call for the cancellation of their current exemption from the Freedom of Information Act. It is worth noting that Animal Aid wrote to more than 200 medical research charities asking them about their policy on animal research and many did not even reply.

True openness would include the pre-publication of all planned uses of animals in research, together with an explanation of what the research is meant to achieve, and a description of what non-animal research methods were also considered and why they were rejected. Animal Aid believes that this would greatly reduce the number of animals used, and we give examples of experiments that would seem clearly unjustifiable at
Richard Mountford
Development manager, Animal Aid

Politicians have sought assurances from Pfizer that it will not cut research and development jobs in the UK on taking over AstraZeneca (Report, 15 May). These assurances have not been forthcoming and are unlikely to be worth much if given. Pfizer is a public company and is reported to be interested in this takeover for economic and tax reasons, primarily. It would be sorrowful if job cuts in the medical and pharmaceutical research and development in the private sector were to occur due to this takeover. However, it is disingenuous of the politicians to use this takeover to champion research and development presence in the pharmaceutical sector in the UK by shouting about jobs at AstraZeneca only.

Politicians can indeed strengthen the UK’s edge in pharmaceutical research and development, and create more jobs than Pfizer could ever cut (or not) due to this potential takeover, by making sensible long-term decisions about something they actually control: the research base of UK universities. It is the UK universities upon which a large amount of the pharmaceutical industry relies for intellectual property, fundamental research and highly skilled manpower, all absolutely essential ingredients for a profitable pharmaceutical industry.

Successive governments, unfortunately, have undermined the valuable national asset that is the university research base by chronic underfunding, continuous interference and over-burdening regulation.
Dr Aamir Ahmed

• Pfizer’s proposed takeover of AstraZeneca will affect the UK economy by compromising research innovation and reducing training capacity. Pfizer – like many US corporates – has a gut instinct to consolidate R&D in its home base, irrespective of quality elsewhere. More and more cutting-edge research is at an international level. Global companies collaborate with global universities. Locally, consumables and services flow but people cycle. That cycle of research competence – in and out of universities, between companies and even into government departments – is critical in a knowledge economy.

Pharmacia co-authored around 200 Swedish research papers each year through the 1990s. When Pfizer took over, its Swedish co-authorship rose to only 50 papers a year by 2005 and 80 more recently. Pfizer’s site at Sandwich in Kent had a strong track record in drug development and produced most of Pfizer’s highly cited research in the UK. Closure did not stop Pfizer collaborating but it halved links with UK universities and concentrated them on a few, leading institutions.

UK research quality was passing the US when Pfizer closed Sandwich, so excellence is not the deciding factor. Pfizer can make no absolute commitment on research; it can always cite economic “force majeure”. It can move its HQ to Cambridge, take UK tax breaks, and still shift its real activity into its home research base. This is a deal neither for UK research, UK researchers nor economic impact.
John Adams
Chief scientist, Digital Science, London

• I know nothing about how big drugs companies work. I do know that my GP colleagues and I are put under continual pressure to prescribe newer, more expensive drugs. This pressure comes directly from pharmaceutical reps, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence, indirectly from secondary care providers and, most insidiously, in ways that are so subtle we are not even aware of being influenced. What if, instead of a for-profit, privately owned drug industry, there were a for-health, publicly owned one? A National Therapeutics Service?

Instead of producing drugs which are similar to existing drugs but just different enough to justify a new patent, or promoting anxiety about non-diseases to create a market for their supposed treatments, research departments could focus on real, important causes of ill-health. They could liaise openly with universities, academics and hospitals. Treatments for important diseases affecting populations mainly living outside the UK such as malaria could also be undertaken, perhaps in partnership with the WHO. All data from trials assessing the safety and effectiveness of new treatments would, of course, be available for public scrutiny. Drugs developed in this way could be made available for NHS patients at no cost either to the NHS or to the patients.

They could be made available to the UK private health industry and to other health systems abroad at prices which reflect the ability of those systems to pay for them. The funding for the new service would come from the current NHS drugs bill and from overseas and private revenue. It could never work.
Dr Sarah Wookey GP
Banbury, Oxfordshire

#BringBackOurGirls has gone worldwide: a protest in Buenos Aires by the Women Like You group outside the Nigerian embassy. Photograph: Barcroft Media

Stories about militant Islamic groups are perennially in the news (Nigerian forces were warned over kidnap, says Amnesty, 10 May). The names of such groups are revealing, but only if you can understand languages such as Hausa or Arabic. Wouldn’t it help if the Guardian adopted a policy of adding a translation of a name on its first use in an article? So Boko Haram would be glossed as “western education is sinful”; Al-Shabaab as “the youth” or, more colloquially, “the lads”. These names tell us so much about the values of these groups, but their meaning is lost if they are not translated.
Jennifer Coates
Emeritus professor of English language and linguistics, University of Roehampton

• Of course Michelle Obama shouldn’t be faulted for involving herself directly in the campaign to recover and return to safety the Nigerian schoolgirls. She might, however, wish to ask her husband how many schoolgirls, and others, have been killed or maimed as a direct result of his drone operations throughout his time in the White House? And how many more yet to come in the presidential years left to him? Collateral damage? Collateral for whom?
Bruce Ross-Smith

• Foreign intervention in Nigeria undermines the independent status of Africa’s biggest nation and smacks of neocolonialism. It also serves as a convenient publicity stunt for nations with horrific human rights records.

The Boko Haram incident plays into the hands of nations that present themselves as champions of equal rights, but which are actually only filling the world up with more prejudice.

Meanwhile, our superheroes show little interest in the ethnic cleansing of Muslims from the Central African Republic and occupied Palestine. It is true that they were invited to assist in Nigeria. A fine publicity stunt, too, for a Christian leader embroiled in his own share of controversy. And did not the East Timorese, the Tutsi of Rwanda and those most unfortunate Palestinians, among countless others, not also call for international help?
Quentin Poulsen
Istanbul, Turkey

Deborah Orr (10 May) asks why the UK media took so long to pick up on the story of the mass abduction of girls on 14 April and has failed to report the story of Boko Haram, in any shape, up to now. Well, maybe not the entire UK media. The BBC World Service made the story of the kidnap a lead within 24 hours. We have been reporting Boko Haram, prominently, for years.

I still recall when I first heard their name: listening to the radio in Jerusalem, back in 2008, when our peerless presenter Owen Bennett-Jones said – with amazement in his voice – that there was a militant Islamist outfit whose name means “western education is forbidden”.

Consistently, over the years, we have filled in the picture of militant brutality, official incompetence and corruption, and regional tension. We draw on a network of brave and experienced reporters on the ground. We also have the name which means that leading figures in the country are willing to come on air and answer tough questions. For us, foreign news doesn’t exist.
Tim Franks
BBC World Service

A British Soldier patrols a Gas Plant south of Basra.

A British soldier patrols a gas and oil separation plant south of Basra. Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian

Reports that the international criminal court might take over the cases of British soldiers accused of war crimes in Iraq or Afghanistan begs two questions (Report, 14 May). Why doesn’t the ICC address one of the most serious war crimes – launching an aggressive war, allegedly committed by more senior figures including politicians? And what about war crimes in the US, including the use of torture (waterboarding for example) apparently authorised at the very highest level?

The answer to both questions seems to lie in the small print of the ICC. Launching an aggressive war was excluded from the jurisdiction of the ICC when it was established. If the court’s jurisdiction is ever extended it will not be with retrospective effect. Secondly, America has not signed up to the court at all, although as a member of the security council it’s been willing to authorise action by it in connection with alleged war crimes committed by other nationalities. It seems therefore that these crimes can only be dealt with nationally. But both in the UK and the US, although Conservatives have replaced Labour and Democrats have replaced Republicans in government since these alleged crimes, there’s no interest at the top political level in seeing justice done.
Oliver Miles

• The tragedy of Baha Mousa, revelations about Abu Ghraib prison, what was done during the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya and the allegations of complicity in torture in acts of extraordinary rendition to Libya and other countries under the last government show that Britain has been tainted by the widespread global use of torture. Where the UK can now set an example is by holding full and transparent inquiries into any such allegations in which the victims can challenge the evidence of those whom they claim were involved in their torture.

Freedom from Torture uses our clinical evidence of the documentation of torture in accordance with international standards to hold torturing states to account for what they have done. They must be responsible for not only punishing those involved and eliminating torture in the future but also providing proper rehabilitation to the victims in accordance with their obligations under the convention against torture.
Keith Best
Chief executive, Freedom from Torture

John Harris highlights much that is wrong with the private rented sector (Ain’t nothing going on but the rent, 10 May). However, one particular point needs highlighting. He reports one of his interviewees saying that the environmental health officers who visited his house agreed there were big issues but the landlord would only agree to fix things once his family moved out. This is scandalous and wrong in law. Local authorities need to be clear whose health they should be protecting.

They have substantial powers to make landlords carry out works to address risks to health and safety – the agreement of the landlord is not required. One of the great problems with the private rented sector is that too many local authorities do not make sufficient use of their powers to protect tenants from bad landlords. If a landlord fails to comply with an improvement notice, it is a criminal offence; the authority can also carry out the work in default. The notice runs with the property, so even if the house is sold, the notice has to be complied with.

Getting the tenant out does not avoid the need for compliance. With more effective enforcement, landlords would realise retaliatory eviction costs them more money. Environmental health is one local authority service that, in another example of shortsightedness, has borne more than its fair share of cuts, but that makes it more important to use the law more effectively.
Dr Stephen Battersby
Environmental health & housing consultant
Past president, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health

• John Harris, addressing the poor quality of housing and lack of security of tenure faced by too many private renters, helps to shine a light on this much neglected area of housing policy. For too long now politicians have hidden behind the argument that intervention on rent levels and security will jeopardise much needed supply, but this is just not good enough when so many people now depend on the private rented sector.

We need a framework that incentivises the provision of decent affordable private rentals as a long term investment and squeezes out unscrupulous landlords seeking easy money. While it is good to see the Labour party bring forward proposals to improve security of tenure for private tenants, it is disappointing that current Labour policy appears to have overlooked parts of the good work done by the Rugg review towards the end of the last Labour administration and the then emerging plans for a register of landlords, licensing of letting agencies and a stronger focus on improving standards.

Unless our politicians can come up with sufficiently radical and fast-acting policies to make home ownership genuinely affordable for first-time buyers (which must surely involve more progressive property or land taxation), comprehensive action to improve the quality and security of private renting is urgently needed. Yes, more investment in social housing is necessary too, but so is an acknowledgement that private renting will remain the only choice available to many households for the foreseeable future.
Sarah Rowe

• John Harris’s excellent summary of the problems of private rentals missed one vital piece of history: it was the Thatcherite abolition of secure tenancies and effective rent controls in the 80s that made buy-to-let so attractive to individual purchasers looking for a reliable return on their investment. In the days when you couldn’t evict a tenant without good reason, having to sell your property with incumbent sitting tenants considerably reduced its value and saleability.

Ironically therefore, these abolitions fuelled the buy-to-let boom that pushed house prices up so high that Generation Rent now have little hope of a mortgage and therefore few other options than to rent privately, with all the hazards and insecurities that now involves, in our post-Thatcherite world.
Sylvia Rose
Totnes, Devon

One in three babies born today will reach 100 years old. Yet, as the Early Action Task Force’s report Looking Forward to Later Life published today shows, the approach of successive governments to our ageing population has mirrored the approach of many individuals: disjointed, head-in-the-sand, afraid to look too far ahead. As they grow up and grow older, many of these children will use our services: between us we work on behalf of thousands of children, young people and adults of all ages throughout the UK.

To thrive in old age, they will need a supportive childhood, a great education, a well-paid career, opportunities to contribute to their communities, secure savings, a healthy lifestyle throughout life, access to good support and social networks. And all of this before they reach old age, at which point it might be too late: it is not easy to prepare for later life when we are already old, we can just manage the consequences of what has come before.

We urge government to join us in creating a bold, ambitious, long-term vision for our ageing society. It would take in pensions and social care, but also education and housing, mental and physical health, work and volunteering. As individuals, and as a society, we must learn to look forward to later life. As the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing has said: it should be an age of opportunity.
Lynne Berry Chair, Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing, Matthew Downie Head of campaigns and public affairs, Action for Children, Stuart Etherington Chief executive, NCVO, Rosie Ferguson Chief executive, London Youth, Sally Greengross Chief executive, ILC-UK, Javed Khan Chief executive, Barnardo’s, Anne Longfield Chief executive, 4Children, Janet Morrison Chief executive, Independent Age, David Robinson Chair, Early Action Task Force, Debbie Stedman-Scott Chief executive, Tomorrow’s People, Jane Ashcroft Chief executive, Anchor, Geraldine Blake Chief executive, Community Links, Stephen Burke Director, United for All Ages, Anna Coote Head of social policy, Nef, Hilary Cottam Principle partner, Participle, Liz Emerson Co-founder, Intergenerational Foundation, Sara Llewellin Chief executive, Barrow Cadbury Trust, Professor Paul Palmer Cass Business School, City University London, Professor Anne Power LSE, Caroline Slocock Director, Civil Exchange


Andreas Whittam Smith (15 May) gives as a reason for abstaining in the European elections the possibility that populist parties could win up to 31 per cent of  the vote.

Surely this is precisely a reason for not abstaining? These parties are mostly the rather nasty xenophobic ones such as the Front National in France, Geert Wilders’ party in the Netherlands, the BNP and (in the view of many of us) Ukip.

All the more reason to vote, so as to minimise the influence of such people.

Alan Pavelin, Chislehurst, Kent

 I was disappointed to read that Andreas Whittam Smith had decided not to exercise his right to vote in the European elections, even after taking the trouble to see what candidates were on offer.

Here in Putney we did one better. We organised a hustings and invited five of these candidates, one each from the major parties, to come and debate the issues in front of an audience of south-west London residents.

Dr Charles Tannock, lauded by Mr Whittam Smith, was one of those attending to represent his party. All five candidates were interesting and informative, and I hope I was not the only one to come away feeling better informed about the workings of the European Parliament and, more importantly, what those we might vote for will do when they get there.

Of course there is a massive case for reform of Brussels, but engagement with the process is the only way any reform can be achieved.

And as Dr Tannock pointed out, the Parliament is gaining greater powers, including significant influence over who succeeds Jose Manuel Barroso, as President of the European Commission. I will be voting next week.

Jonathan Callaway, Deputy Chairman, Putney Society, London SW15

On 9 May we celebrated Europe Day, a day which 64 years ago marked the foundation of what is now the European Union. Not many people noticed.

Unfortunately, they also didn’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 able to work in the UK because of 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. In contrast, our continent today 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 to recognise the positive benefits membership of the EU has delivered and to remember these benefits when they cast their vote in the European elections.

Derek Hammersley, Chairman, European Movement in Scotland, Edinburgh

Where has Ian Richards been these past few years that he can write that “the EU stands as a shining beacon of secular, liberal democracy” (letter, 8 May)?

Auditors refuse to pass the EU’s accounts; countries (eg Ireland) that vote in referendums against the latest treaty are made to vote again until they give the answer that their EU masters want; countries (eg Switzerland) that vote to break the bonds that tie them to the EU are threatened with sanctions; other countries (eg Greece and Spain) are brought to their knees and have to suffer mass unemployment, again under threat of sanction; and mass migration and other  policies have been imposed on member countries whether those countries like it or not.

The EU is a club from which no country can be allowed to resign without, it seems, the most dire consequences.

D Stewart, London N

How do you serve under a Tory boss and yet convince your grassroots supporters you haven’t sold out your progressive principles?

At the same time how do you demonstrate that a coalition administration remains capable of running a competent government? And how do your tactics change as you prepare for the pre-election parting of the ways?

The conflicting pressures of the Coalition’s final year in office – described by one party source as “pragmatism vs principles” – are being agonised over at a senior level in the Liberal Democrats.

Such dilemmas constantly confront Lib Dem ministers Norman Baker at the Home Office and Simon Hughes at the Ministry of Justice (both on the left of their party) as they work alongside Tories Theresa May and Chris Grayling (both on the right of their party).

The pair were dispatched by Nick Clegg with the instruction to make the liberal voice heard more clearly in sensitive areas, from sentencing and immigration to human rights and civil liberties.

The appointments were a signal to Lib Dem activists that their values would be defended in office and that they would have a distinctive product to sell to voters appalled at the tie-up with Tories.

For Mr Baker it means trying to assert himself with a Secretary of State famed for her work ethic, attention to detail – and occasional reluctance to delegate. He has amassed a wide-ranging brief that brings in crime reduction, tackling violence against women, reducing animal experiments and gun licensing.

After an initial wariness, the pair have built a mutual respect and Mr Baker has achieved a higher profile than his predecessor, Jeremy Browne, who found himself isolated.

Mr Hughes has only been at the MoJ less than five months and has spoken of  his determination to boost diversity in the legal profession and cut the number of women in prison.

The outside observer might imagine there is precious little meeting of minds with Chris Grayling. But the Tory Secretary of State’s hawkish language belies a strong commitment to rehabilitation shared with his Lib Dem minister.

In both departments, however, the Lib Dems are planning moves to get over the message of differentiation from the Conservatives more clearly.

Mr Baker is preparing to recommend a new approach to tackling drug abuse following a 15-month study of legislation around the world. It is certain to receive an immediate thumbs-down from Ms May – and its conclusions will head into next year’s Lib Dem manifesto.

The Lib Dems will also trumpet their success in knocking off the rough edges from Tory plans on immigration and their veto on moves to give the security services access to everyone’s online and email history.

At the MoJ, Mr Hughes is ready to react with horror to Mr Grayling’s proposals – due to become a Tory manifesto promise – to tear up the Human Rights Act.

The Lib Dem minister also has concerns about the potential impact of cuts to legal aid on access to justice. It would be no great surprise if his party campaigns next year on diluting the policy.

Messrs Baker and Hughes are likely to find themselves in different voting lobbies from Tory ministers next month when a Conservative MP’s call for automatic jail sentences for people twice caught carrying a knife is put to the Commons.

It will be a sign of things to come  as the Coalition’s marriage of convenience comes to its inevitably scratchy divorce.


Front page of The Times yesterday

Published at 12:01AM, May 16 2014

A selection of posts from readers reacting to the ordeal suffered by two of our journalists

This kind of courage is hard to evaluate (“Times journalist shot in Syria by kidnap gang”, May 15). Sitting in our comfortable lounge chairs reading the reports gives little indication of the reality these reporters have to face every day.

With bombing, snipers, sickness and the stench of death all around, they can now add the threat of those they help by reporting their plight to the West, turning their guns on them. We owe Anthony Loyd and all the others like him, a huge debt.

Marie Colvin, of The Sunday Times , died in February 2012 having spent just days in Syria reporting both to her newspaper and Channel 4 News. She had already lost an eye (in Sri Lanka), being too close to the action, yet persisted with her passion to get the news out to the world.

I would also mention another brave journalist, Richard Dimbleby. He flew with the RAF on many bombing raids so he could report first hand via radio the bombing of Germany, including Berlin, to his listeners back home. I vaguely remember one broadcast from what I took to be sheer terror in his voice as his aircraft was damaged. Longevity was word rarely used in Bomber Command — where life expectancy was a mere six weeks.

Yes indeed: our war reporters then and today, and those around the world, are a brave breed (well over 100 have died in Syria so far). They deserve our admiration, but mostly our highest respect.

Edward O’Brien

Coaley, Glos

We take for granted sometimes the danger involved in getting what we spend our morning cuppa with.

Craig Petterson

I have read every one of Anthony Loyd’s reports with bated breath and tears. Words almost fail me in my gratitude to the Islamic Front for rescuing him, Jack Hill and the “fixer”. Please God Mr Loyd will work closer to home for a while.

Julia Pomeroy

Brave guys and great relief they are safe. They’re doing an invaluable job for us all.

Spare a thought too for Camille Lepage, just 26, the French photojournalist killed this week in Central African Republic.


How many of his nine lives does Loyd have left?

Joseph Shelper

Borehamwood, Herts

And well done, the Islamic Front! It’s good to be reminded that there are a lot of decent Muslims, when so much of what we get to hear about them is just the terrorist extremists.

Angela Brown

Extraordinarily courageous men, whose work is often undervalued and taken for granted. We would know little of what goes on in these dark places were it not for their dedication and personal courage.

Twenty odd years of reading reports by Loyd, and I wish him all the best for a fast recovery and every respect from me to him and his colleague. Marie Colvin was one too many journalist hero to be killed in Syria.

I have felt Anthony managed to get to the heart of any war situations he was reporting on and that his command of description and first hand knowledge were awesome, so I hope he and Jack Hill feel they want to continue their work.

Bridget Furst

London SE21

I had not realised Anthony Loyd was still at it. I know him from his extraordinary book My War Gone By, I Miss It So about the Yugoslav conflict in the 1990s. An incredible writer and from what I could infer from the book quite an incredible guy. I am glad he’s still at it and very happy that he survived this last scrap.

Mark Crandall


I salute them. Is it time for an award to recognise the courage of reporting in such circumstances?

Professor Angus Skinner

Nethy Bridge, Highland

l Some of these comments were posted on

A medical oncologist asks whether the advice about sunshine and vitamin D is too cautious for our own good

Sir, There is very poor evidence that vitamin D supplements reduce the harm from having a low blood level of vitamin D (“Sunbathing, sunscreen and vitamin D”, May 10). This raises the question whether there are other benefits from sun exposure that aren’t detected from the vitamin D blood test. Dermatologists from Edinburgh showed that one reason why vitamin D supplements did not reduce blood pressure but sunshine did was that the skin exposed to UV also produced nitric oxide, a substance that is well known to reduce blood pressure. There could of course be other unknown benefits of sunshine.

Cancer Research UK is too cautious in recommending a few minutes a day without sun protection — white skin needs from 30 to 45 minutes before maximum vitamin D production is achieved and then turned off. It also forgets about DNA repair enzymes (the chief reason why even the worst known human carcinogen, ie, tobacco smoke, takes 40-50 years to cause cancer). Most of us, despite living all our life exposed to a multitude of carcinogens, don’t get cancer.

For more than 30 years radiotherapists have known that 90 per cent of DNA damage caused by a single dose of radiation is repaired within two hours. This is the basis of how they safely fractionate treatment to cure cancer and not cause more harm than good. I do not believe CRUK has the evidence to say it is not the same for UV and as a result I think it has probably been doing more harm than good for the past 20 years.

Tim Oliver

Professor Emeritus in Medical Oncology, QMUL

‘Zero hours’ contracts are likely to leave employees without rights in the case of unfair dismissal

Sir, In the current debate about zero hours contracts one point is often overlooked. In law such a relationship is unlikely to be treated by the courts as employment at all because it will fail the essential test that to qualify as employment there must be “mutuality of obligation” (and of course the employer has no obligation to provide work and the worker may or may not have an obligation to attend for any work offered). So the worker will have no rights which relate to the status of being an “employee” whatsoever.

I am aware of an unfair dismissal case which was summarily thrown out by the Southampton Employment Tribunal for precisely that reason.

David Richards

Uckfield, E Sussex

Charitable giving seems to be more charitable when it is done by the poor, even if they give less than the wealthy

Sir, Before we are too impressed by the generosity of the wealthy (“Philanthropists give millions to charity but not the Revenue”, May 13), let us remember the millions, struggling to make ends meet, who also give to charity. The charitable giving by the wealthy has little impact on their life style; the poor often give when they cannot really afford to.

Peter Cave

London W1

Northumbria has more in common with Scotland than the south of the UK – but don’t mention Panama

Sir, Splitting from a Tory-dominated south is a main motive for Scots to vote for independence in September’s referendum, but they are not the only ones to feel like that. The north of England shares a similar allergy to the right-wing south — among cricket fans this is reinforced by the decision of the cricket establishment (“not many Labour votes there” as my dad used to say) to strip the north of any Test match venue in the 2015 Ashes series. So no Old Trafford, no Headingley, no Chester-le-Street.

We should draw the line where it was in Anglo-Saxon times and join Northumbria to Scotland. In addition to the boon of never again having to live under a Tory government this would mean that the addition of Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Durham CCC’s would give Scotland-cum- Northumbria some kind of parity with Little England (Great Britain no longer being an appropriate title).

Tony Robinson


Sir, George Osborne was cunning to raise the spectre of Panama in the context of Scottish independence. It was partly due to the failed Scottish attempt to found a colony in Panama (or Darien) in 1694 that the almost bankrupt Scots were forced into the act of union in 1707. Would history repeat itself if the Scots chose to adopt the pound post independence without a formal monetary union?

Perhaps Alex Salmond should stop bamboozling people about Bannockburn 1314, get real and think Panama 1694 for a change.

Hugh Schollick

Southport, Merseyside

Parking on a double yellow bang in the centre of lunchtime London is just a matter of nerve and calculating the odds

Sir, A strange coincidence shortly after I had read Daniel Finkelstein on parking and the Nobel prize (May 14).

I was given lunch in a smart, new brasserie on Sloane Square. To my astonishment as we left, my host got into his car, which he had left parked right outside the door on a yellow line throughout lunch. He claimed he had not read your article, but explained how, on arrival, he had deducted the low risk of a fine from the high utility to being parked right outside. The result being a high and positive number he had simply locked up and strolled inside.

The slightly irritating thing, to a non-car user in London, was that 90 minutes later he had got away with it.

Christopher Jonas

London SW1


Propaganda icon: Kaiser Wilhelm is dishonoured by the killing of Cavell, by Paul Iribe, 1916  Photo:

6:58AM BST 15 May 2014

Comments21 Comments

SIR – In the final episode of The Crimson Field, a parallel is drawn between one of the main characters and Edith Cavell, the First World War nurse. However, while the hospital sister faces execution by the British for refusing to disclose the whereabouts of her German fiancé, Edith Cavell was tried and executed for helping 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. The two “offences” sit worlds apart.

It is a pity that the courageous, caring exploits of Cavell were overlooked by the producers; she seems to have been included just to enable another character to remark that there is nothing like an executed nurse to get everyone behind the war effort.

It was the public outcry following Cavell’s death that led to the Cavell Nurses’ Trust being set up in her memory. Today, it continues to support nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants in need.

If a second series of The Crimson Field is commissioned, I hope that the producers reflect the sense of duty and self-sacrifice shown by nurses such as Edith Cavell.

Kate Tompkins
Chief Executive, Cavell Nurses’ Trust
Redditch, Worcestershire

SIR – Dan Hodges suggests that Michelle Obama, wife of supposedly the most powerful man in the world, and our Prime Minister are advertising the West’s impotence in the face of Boko Haram’s kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls.

His analysis could also be applied to the reaction to President Putin’s recent conduct and the threat it poses to Nato members. Mr Hodges calls for “big rough men with very big guns”, but fails to carry his argument to a logical conclusion: namely, that Britain must stop disinvesting in its Armed Forces.

At a minimum, we need a proper Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015, not like that in 2010, and a halt to further cuts now.

Vice Admiral John McAnally
National President, The Royal Naval Association
Portsmouth, Hampshire

Airport expansion

SIR – Could someone please explain why we aren’t allowing both Gatwick and Heathrow to build more capacity?

The 2008 Competition Commission inquiry found that common ownership was undesirable, so both should be allowed to build the capacity that they wish, to the benefit of the economy, tax base and job markets, never mind the passengers.

Meyrick Cox
London SW1

SIR – The new Heathrow expansion proposals will be unacceptable to local people for a number of reasons. First, they involve an amazing “land grab” for large parts of Stanwell and Stanwell Moor (which lie immediately to the south-west of the existing airport).

Secondly, it is barely credible that the new 16-lane superhighway to be built between junctions 14 and 15 on the M25 could be created without enormous disruption to traffic.

“A better rather than a bigger Heathrow” is still the rallying cry for many of us who live here. Time and again we hear how disappointed travellers are with their experience at the airport. That, surely, is what needs to be changed.

Andrew McLuskey
Stanwell, Surrey

Kind slaughter

SIR – Satjit Singh says that everyone has the right to choose what they wish to eat.

True, but in this country no one has the right to inflict cruelty on animals.

Gary Spring

Help wanted

SIR – Just as scandalous as the huge expenses claims by some NHS chiefs is the multitude of politically correct non-jobs within the service.

A recent vacancy I saw for an “Equalities and Diversity Manager” was offering more than £70,000 per annum. Part of the job description went thus: “In this newly created role, you will help to build and develop the required culture by influencing decision-making and increasing organisational and individual awareness of the value of diversity through the introduction, development and maintenance of leading-edge organisational development interventions”.

How that’s going to improve the nation’s health is anybody’s guess.

Martin Horsfall
Newick, East Sussex

Up and down graves

SIR – MPs are warning that there is a critical shortage of grave space. The solution is simple: instead of going down, let us go up – with a wall of graves, as in Italy. It would then be possible to “bury” four coffins in the space of one.

An added benefit is that these graves require little maintenance. The state of many cemeteries is lamentable, with headstones hidden by knee-high grass and pathways difficult to negotiate.

Polly Read
Holbury, Hampshire

SIR – A remedy to the grave crisis is to bore a hole of 200mm diameter, three metres deep, with a lockable cap. This could accommodate the ashes of family members, providing a resting place for generations.

Lewis Birt
Shefford, Bedfordshire

Deer departed

SIR – Before Sunday’s episode of Vera on ITV, viewers were warned: “Contains scenes throughout which depict the graphic aftermath of deer-hunting”. We were not warned that we would see a man’s rotting corpse in the street with a gunshot wound to his head being pecked at by birds. Nor were we warned that it contained drama of a pedestrian nature.

Sam Glen
Colchester, Essex

American tea party

SIR – When I went to America, I made my own tea (Letters, May 13). Luckily, I had the foresight to take a teapot and teabags with me – just as well, as my hostess had neither a teapot nor a kettle. I had to boil the water in a jug in the microwave.

Carla Stainke
Alness, Ross-shire

SIR – In the town of Normal, Illinois, my wife asked for hot tea. The waitress was surprised: “Hot tea! That’s a new one! I’ve got iced tea, and it’s freshly brewed, but hot tea, I don’t know.” We had coffee (hot).

H R Mann
London W8

It is children who pose health risks on beaches

SIR – Peter Froggatt wants dogs banned from parks and beaches because of irresponsible owners. This is a preposterous suggestion.

One could easily take it a step further and ban children from, well, everywhere, because of the minority of irresponsible parents who allow, or don’t care about, the appalling behaviour of their offspring. Perhaps we should live and let live.

On taking my dog for a walk along a beach this week, I collected four used nappies. I disposed of them, as I didn’t want to expose my dog to any health risk.

Jayne McGivern
Edale, Derbyshire

SIR – Banning dogs from beaches would make no difference – irresponsible dog owners will carry on as they do at present, while the responsible ones will still be blamed for others’ anti-social behaviour.

We have a far greater problem with the human visitors who pollute our local beaches with their tons of rubbish, especially in the sand dunes.

Richard Cole
Bleadon, Somerset

SIR – At a small community park in Attleborough, Norfolk, a five-metre-wide section has for many years been set aside as a “dogs’ exercise area”. It is fenced in, disposal units are at either end, and a clear path runs through the middle.

Other councils should introduce such areas – the benefits to the community are obvious.

Mark Allen
East Grinstead, West Sussex

SIR – (Or should I say Mr?) As a teacher who is both a married woman and a doctor of philosophy, I think the suggestion that it is sexist to call teachers “Miss” is founded on a misunderstanding of how language works. As Jacques Derrida, the French philosopher, explained, language always expresses “more, less, or something other than what [we] mean”. Hence, all words have a symbolic value and we understand the meaning intended despite the lack of precision.

“Miss” communicates respect and deference irrespective of the teacher’s marital status, rather like “green energy” means sustainable and renewable regardless of the colour of its apparatus.

Josephine Gabelman
Eastbourne College, East Sussex

SIR – At my grammar school in the late Forties and early Fifties, male teachers were addressed as “Sir”, while female teachers, regardless of marital status, were called “Ma’am”, even though the majority of the ladies were single. Neither staff nor pupils took exception. “Sexism” was an unknown term in those happy days.

Derek W Johns
Bookham, Surrey

SIR – Jennifer Coates, emeritus professor of English language, says that “Sir” indicates a knight and that “Miss” is a socially inferior mode of address.

There is, of course, an exact equivalent of knighthood in our current social hierarchy: “Dame”. It would be good to see Dame introduced as the mode of address by a student to a female teacher, perhaps along with the teacher’s first name.

Nicholas Sibley
La Colle-sur-Loup, Alpes-Maritimes, France

SIR – How do you pronounce “Ms”? No matter how hard I try, it comes out as a clenched-teeth version of “Miss”.

Denise Taylor
Glossop, Derbyshire

SIR – When I entered Bradford Grammar School in 1957, Mrs Baker, the only woman out of 50 teachers, was known as my “form master”, which I thought odd, but she was always addressed as “Madam”.

Rev Roger Holmes

SIR – As a young female classics teacher at an all-boys prep school in the Seventies, I was regularly addressed by the pupils as “Sir”, not just in class, but outside the school as well, to the puzzlement of any members of the general public who happened to be in earshot. It made a change from the occasional “Mummy”.

Ann Higham
Wimborne, Dorset

SIR – The 20-something waitress at the pub last week addressed me as “My Love”, and then turned to my husband and addressed him as “Sir”. I blame the teachers.

Daphne Chappell
Westhead, Lancashire

Irish Times:

A chara, – If the Government is serious about stimulating the construction industry without creating a property bubble, then it will need to keep a tight rein on the banks’ lending practices (“Coalition dismisses claims of property bubble risk”, Front Page, May 15th, 2014). One of the ways lenders helped fuel the boom was by taking into account bonuses, overtime, the possibility of renting a room, etc, when they were calculating the size of a mortgage, instead of basing it on a low multiple of the borrower’s basic pay. Conservative policies strictly enforced now will help prevent the misery caused by the flahulach practices of the past happening again. – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – We bought a house in Dublin in 2004, paid a sizeable chunk of stamp duty, and remortgaged to update our house so we could raise a family. In 2012 we took the decision to sell our lovely home as our mortgage was becoming too much, and we did not want to get to a position of default. Hands up, yes, we may have overstretched ourselves, but with the best of intentions to create a safe home for our children. A raft of government-imposed levies didn’t help the situation. We are left with arrears from the sale which we are paying off over the next six years with our mortgage provider, so nobody got burned but us.

We are now in the unstable situation of renting, with a major lack of suitable properties and rising rents, and with little wiggle room as we need to be close to our children’s school. It would make sense for us to buy a modest house with a modest mortgage and we could get approval. But raising a deposit for wildly increasing house prices due to lack of supply is impossible. And we must factor in the impending water charges.

Although it is admirable for Minister for Finance Michael Noonan to support first-time buyers, when is he going to help the thousands of struggling families who do not fall into the first-time buyers bracket, and who are either stuck in boom-time apartments with small children or throwing money down a black hole renting a family home? – Yours, etc,


Ardmeen Park,

Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Daisy Christodoulou’s observations, as reported by Gráinne Faller (“Maybe rote learning is not such a bad thing”, Education, May 13th) on the importance of rote learning and of the fostering of memory, are borne out by studies showing a clear correlation between working memory capacity and fluid intelligence. Aristotle considered that even virtue was developed through habit rather than through reasoning and understanding.

My colleague Prof Orison Carlile and I have written about the dangers of fashionable student-centric approaches to education. These include a lack of emphasis on disciplinary knowledge, and an over-emphasis on learning styles and multiple intelligences theories.

Teachers of the English national schools curriculum were told to dampen their enthusiasm for the categorisation of learners into “visual”, “auditory” or “kinetic” types because of a tendency of pupils to label themselves – “I’m a visual learner – I can’t do numbers”. The different disciplines should dictate the styles and ways in which they are learned.

The value of learning multiplication tables by rote far surpasses the tedium of doing so.

People talk of “deep learning” being superior to “surface learning”. However, in order to go deeper, you first need to go through the surface.


Waterford Institute

of Technology,

Waterford City.

Sir, – Jacky Jones (Second Opinion, “Moyes attracted more headlines than a treaty protecting women”, Health, May 13th) suggests that if men and the media devoted half the time they spent on sport to solving the problem of violence against women, there would no longer be a problem. However, Dr Jones made no reference to gender-neutral studies, such as Men and Domestic Violence, What Research Tells Us, by McKeown and Kidd (2002), and commissioned by the Department of Health and Children, which stated “studies also show that men and women are about equally likely to initiate domestic violence and seem to give broadly similar reasons for doing so. However it needs to be emphasised that the outcomes of domestic violence in terms of physical and psychological injuries tend to be considerably more negative for women victims than for men victims. In addition, the studies show that sexual violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women”.

While men have a lot to reflect on, fair play demands that women and groups such as the National Women’s Council refer to the reality and stigma of intimate-partner violence against men. – Yours, etc,


Ballyroan Park,


Dublin 16.

Sir, – In my school days, I mercifully avoided compulsory casting for the roles of flannelled fool and muddied oaf. However, I’ve maintained a lifelong spectator interest. I was therefore intrigued to read (“Sports injuries”, Sports, May 14th) that rugby players and American footballers are at risk of brain shrinkage and “compromised white matter integrity ” (a marvellous phrase, to be kept in mind for future insults ).

But have the researchers sufficiently investigated whether those who take up such sports are congenitally disposed to these risks? – Yours, etc,



Douglas Road, Cork.

Sir, – Jeremiah P Walsh (May 14th) repeats the hoary old chestnut that Irish membership of the Commonwealth would be a self-confident choice by a “mature independent people and nation”.

As I recall we declared ourselves to be a Republic in 1948. Is that not a worthy statement of a mature, independent people and nation? – Yours, etc,


Conquer HillRoad,

Clontarf, Dublin 3.

Sir, – I feel it is time that the United States should consider joining the Commonwealth. This would surely be seen as a self-confident choice. – Yours, etc,


Knockchree Road,


Co Down.

A chara, – The Commonwealth’s secretariat is based in Britain and its head is the British monarch. There is no provision for rotation of the position or, God forbid, elections for the job. It doesn’t say much for an international organisation that it would lose its entire raison d’être if one member, Britain, left. As a proud, independent and mature post-colonial society, we should keep well away from this neo-colonial relic. – Is mise,


Thormanby Road,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Anthony Leavy (May 15th) informs us that there is no alternative to austerity. He may be right, although many economists and politicians disagree, but surely the problem is how austerity is unfairly implemented, hitting as it does the “easy targets”, the elderly, the sick and the poor. Ruth Coppinger (“Turn elections into referendum on unfair taxes and austerity”, Opinion & Analysis, May 14th) draws attention to the unfair double taxation of property and the spending of hundreds of millions of euro installing meters to tax our water. I have been badly hit by the levy on my already underfunded pension. So, yes, let us campaign, not so much for “taking less in taxation”, but for a fairer system in which those that can afford it pay their fair share. If that involves “turning elections into referendums on unfair taxes”, as Ms Coppinger suggests, then so be it. – Yours, etc,


Gaybrook Lawns,

Malahide, Co Dublin.

Sir , – Why can’t Enda Kenny, Alan Shatter, Martin Callinan, Brian Purcell and any other person appointed to or holding public office appear before a Dáil committee to answer in public reasonable questions put by the people’s elected representatives on matters of public interest in connection with how they discharged their duties?

It is ludicrous for Enda Kenny to refuse to answer a question where he has a specific and definite involvement because he has appointed a judge to ask him that question at some time in the future. – Yours, etc,


Newtown Road,

Celbridge ,

Co Kildare.

Sir, – It seems to me that the debate (May 12th) about principles-based versus rules-based regulation is rather missing the point.

Our financial systems failed because of a failure to conform with reasonable expectations. Expressing those expectation as principles rather than rules wasn’t the problem – it was the fact that they were ignored. A similar collapse could have resulted from behaviour which was not technically breaching any rules but was blatantly breaching the principles upon which the rules were based.

Similarly illogical thinking led to a gradual tightening of the drink-driving laws. The law said “you may not drive while drunk”. People ignored that law so it was changed to say “you may not drive while even a little tipsy”. A more logical response would surely have been to catch and punish those who ignored the law. Fear of detection is a much stronger deterrent than a higher penalty. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – In response to Tony McCoy O’Grady’s letter (May 15th), I would like to point out an alternative political poster system that is used in other countries.

In areas of high volumes of pedestrian traffic or at major crossroads, there are boards erected by local authorities that allow a designated space for each candidate. These boards devote equal size and space to all candidates and the posters are made of paper.

This system works in Japan, Italy and Spain, among other countries, in an effort to lower the cost of a campaign for all candidates and decrease the influence of money on politics.

Meeting the electorate face to face has been proven time and again to be the most effective method of winning votes.

While posters may offer a new angle of publicity to new candidates, the system outlined above lowers the playing field and should be implemented in the future.

I hope a strong dose of non-partisanship could see this through. – Yours, etc,


Annagh Lodge,


Sir, – Why is it that people have to sound off from the east about Shannon (May 14th)? Some of the more creative ideas have originated from Shannon. They might not always have been considered “edifying” or politically correct by the mid -Irish Sea brigade.

I remember well the negative comments floating about in the 1960s when Brendan O’Regan was trying out the Bunratty model, which eventually was adopted by castles around the world.

Donald Trump will always recall the unusual greeting he received on his arrival. That’s marketing. – Yours, etc,


Ard Coillte,

Killaloe, Co Tipperary.

Sir, – It is only right that we roll out the red carpet, as it were, on the inaugural visit of a major international investor to our shores like Donald Trump, not least, lest we forget, when he is planning to invest a further €45 million into the fabulous Doonbeg facility and has given clear indications that he will be looking for further opportunities here.

Aside from the investment and the employment that will come with it, there are few, if any, people in the world of business that can generate international attention on investing in our country like Donald Trump does. His clear message at the press conference at Shannon Airport that the Irish economy is making a comeback is exactly what we want and need conveyed internationally.

As a former vice-president and managing director of a US multinational in the midwest, I can assure you that the global captains of industry do appreciate being made feel welcome. – Yours, etc,



Ennis Road,

Sir, – With the exception of milk, could any of the other “top branded food products” identified in Ireland by Kantar Worldpanel be described as healthy (Business, May 15th)? White bread, sausages, biscuits, packet soup, bacon, with Coca-Cola the top-ranked brand. Could Ireland’s obesity problem be a “top branded” product? – Yours, etc,


Lyons Cross,

Ballydubh Upper,

Co Waterford.

Sir, – Surely both Jacqueline Kennedy and Fr Joseph Leonard assumed absolute confidentially. The publication of the extracts and their proposed sale are signs of some of our generation’s scant respect for confidentially. Perhaps All Hallows should even at this late stage consider gifting the letters to the Kennedy or Leonard families or just allow them to rest in peace. – Yours, etc,



Sixmilebridge, Co Clare.

Sir, – Was there not one woman capable of being appointed by Government to the banking inquiry panel from the financial sector? I’m astonished at this lack of representation in such an important area. – Yours, etc,



Co Longford.

Sir, – More than 42,000 people crowded into a Dublin stadium wearing the colours of “their” team, in fact the team of an English provincial city, to cheer them on against a local football club. In what other country of the world could this happen? Do we laugh or cry? – Yours, etc,


The Alders,

Monkstown Valley,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – A Spanish man would rather his past financial affairs were forgotten (“EU privacy blow to US internet companies”, May 14th). So he takes a landmark court case. Ensuring the memory will long survive.

The Spanish word for irony, anyone? – Yours, etc,


Vernon Avenue,

Clontarf, Dublin 3.

Sir, – Just wondering would now be a good time to produce a “fit for purpose” league table for government departments? – Yours, etc,


Westbury Drive,


Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

Losing faith in a justice system that is seen to be unfair


Judge Martin Nolan:"It would be incredibly unjust to impose custodial sentences."

Letters to the Editor – Published 16 May 2014 02:30 AM

* Bad laws are a cheap form of tyranny. If we are to believe Abraham Lincoln, the best way to get bad laws repealed is to enforce them strictly.

Also in this section

Letters: There is actually more comfort in things that are provable

Letters: Families on breadline are pawns paying for errors of others

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

Some of our Irish laws are not just bad but ridiculous.

Our legal system is full of anomalies.

Recently, we saw two top bankers avoid spending time in jail.

After a six-year investigation and a 48-day trial, both men were found guilty.

Obviously, there was also evidence of general inefficiency as well as faulty advice from the former financial regulator, who is now on a €114,000 pension, that led trial Judge Martin Nolan to comment: “It would be incredibly unjust to impose custodial sentences.”

It’s not nice to advocate a jail sentence for anybody, but it is vital that justice is administered in some form, evenly and fairly for all.

We only heard late last year that over 400 people who hadn’t paid their TV licence were jailed, vividly illustrating the strange face of our value system.

Again, this could very well add to the perception that ‘might is right’ and that somehow this has become acceptable in our society.

Here were ordinary people being branded as ‘jailbirds’ because they had run into temporary financial difficulties.

‘Man’s inhumanity to man’, Irish style!




* I am always curious as to how people know for certain what is in store for them after they die. How can these folks, such as Colm O’Torna (‘The continuing search for God, Letters, May 14), be so sure that they, simply through the act of belief, are guaranteed a place in an unknowable, unprovable, perfectly happy (whatever that is) paradise.

Why, as an unbeliever, can I not know what will happen to me after I die? Where is this information kept, and why is it unavailable to me?

It would seem that paradise is a very exclusive place. The kind of place where, in order to get in, you need to believe; but to believe, you need to be guaranteed to get it.

This is why I think that the atheistic view, although it may not be comforting, is a more open and intellectually honest position.

After all, Socrates knew this. “I know only one thing: that I know nothing.”

In all of this, although it seems odd to me personally, there isn’t any real problem. If someone wants to believe something, they’re free to. Where one has to object is in this unfounded anthropocentrism.

Whether the belief that we have a creator has been embraced or not and what we call it, is just that, a belief – just like the belief of some that mankind didn’t land on the moon or that 9/11 was an inside job. It’s not instructive, it’s doesn’t answer any questions simply to assert that “I believe” this or that.

What we do know is that we evolved from a more primitive state. What we also know is that humans are most certainly not the end product of evolution.

As Martin J Rees, Astronomer Royal, said: “Many tend to think that humans are somehow the culmination. Our sun, however, is less than halfway through its lifespan. It will not be humans who watch the sun’s demise six billion years from now. Any creatures that then exist will be as different from us as we are from bacteria or amoebae.”

More objectionable still is to suggest that a non-believer will be bereft of this warm, fuzzy, perfect happiness by simply asking a question and waiting for an answer, rather than presuming to know the answer before the question is even asked.

Also, to suggest that non-belief offers nothing in the face of existential questions is just wrong. It makes one question the meaning of one’s life and tasks people with creating their own meaning by giving them everything to live for but nothing to die for.

Also, of course, Camus was an agnostic, as a reading of his ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ will show.




* In regard to the God debate taking place in the letters page this past while, although I am not a believer in gods, I must confess that I have a strong faith in spirits, especially if they come from a bottle and are at least 40pc proof.




* Regarding your motoring correspondent Eddie Cunningham’s article on the high percentage of cars being sold with clocked mileage, there is a simple solution to all this.

1. Garages stamp a ‘mileage book’ on servicing the car up to the time when the NCT is required.

2. The NCT centre would note the mileage on the disc, as well as the cert.

3. For imports, encourage the UK to implement legislation on the above for MOTs. Failing that, cars imported must have their mileage checked through Motorcheck or something similar.




* On a basic plain of thought, traditional European socialism entails the public paying higher taxes, with the State providing services in health, benefits, and so on, paid for by those taxes.

Traditional American capitalism, on the other hand, involves the public paying lower taxes, but with the State spending minimally, in favour of the people looking after themselves with the money they don’t hand over.

With those two extremely basic policy summaries in mind, the tax situation in Ireland is rendered laughable.

Specifically, the public reaction to those taxes is laughable

Irish socialists, you see, protest against and reject any and all taxes any government introduces.

Take the water charge, for instance, where the State is attempting to raise the money it has committed to the construction and improvement of water services in every area in the country – to the tune of €27m in Kilkenny, for instance.

Normal socialists would get behind this as a measure designed to fix the water system that functions on average at 60pc capacity, with tax revenue used to pay for the treatment of our water.

Neither of these services comes cheap.

Irish socialists, though, in the guise of the Anti-Austerity Alliance, Sinn Fein, People Before Profit, the Socialist Party, the Workers Party and any number of other splinter, often dissident organisations, oppose the charge for what can only be described as political giggles.

They seem to expect these services to be delivered without anybody paying for them and to be allowed to marshal the public into acts of civil disobedience, knowing that a tax – no matter its purpose – will always be an exploitable point of public disorder.

Looking at things this way, we see that by and large, Irish socialists aren’t socialists at all, and that the AAA has left one A out of its name – that which represents anarchy.



Irish Independent


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