17May2014 GP

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate the have to look after a parrot. Priceless

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Scrabbletoday, I winjust for once not 400 though mis it by by a few pointsperhaps I’ll win tomorrow.


Jean-Luc Dehaene – obituary

Jean-Luc Dehaene was Prime Minister of Belgium and fell foul of John Major and was forced out of office after a series of scandals

Jean-Luc Dehaene, the former Prime Minister of Belgium

Jean-Luc Dehaene, the former Prime Minister of Belgium Photo: PAUL GROVER

6:55PM BST 15 May 2014

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Jean-Luc Dehaene, who has died aged 73, was the Flemish Christian Democrat Prime Minister of Belgium whose hopes of succeeding Jacques Delors as president of the European Commission were shot down by John Major in 1994 because he was regarded as too much of a federalist.

Major’s triumph was short-lived, however, as the man who was eventually appointed, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jacques Santer, soon swept away any idea that he was any less federalist than Dehaene by calling for stronger social legislation and closer integration and criticising the British veto.

Although Major’s action boosted Dehaene’s standing in Belgium, he never fully forgave the British. A photograph which had pride of place in his office featured himself and Lady Thatcher at a ceremony to celebrate the Channel Tunnel, with Thatcher perched on the edge of her seat next to the rotund Flemish federalist, slumped beside her, fast asleep. As a consequence of Major’s veto he was left to serve another five years as head of government of an almost ungovernable state riven by bitter language divisions.

Known to his supporters as “the Plumber” and to his foes as “the Bulldozer”, Dehaene, who became Belgium’s Prime Minister in 1992 and was reelected in 1995, was an archetypal political operator with a remarkable skill for extracting compromise from the most unpromising situations.

In 1993 he won near-universal praise for the astute manner in which Belgium piloted the EU presidency through the Maastricht Treaty and Gatt world trade crises. On the domestic front, to everyone’s surprise, he constructed a coalition government from the bickering Flemish and Walloon politicians who had fought the 1991 election. But although he largely succeeded in keeping Belgium’s tribes from each other’s throats by a constitutional settlement that aimed to be fair to both sides, in the process he made decision-making virtually impossible. In the latter half of his time in office, Dehaene came under pressure for his handling of a series of scandals which eventually led to his being driven from office.

These began in 1996 when the discovery of child kidnapping and murder on an almost industrial scale by the Charleroi builder Marc Dutroux (who had already served time in jail for abducting and raping young girls) almost brought down the government. There was a wave of public outrage when it was revealed that even though Dutroux’s house had been under surveillance — and had been searched three times — two eight-year-old girls locked in a cell in his basement were not discovered in time and starved to death.

Jean-Luc Dehaene, Prime Minister of Belgium, with President Bill Clinton in 1999 (AP)

In October 1996, amid rumours that Dutroux had been, or was being, protected by members of the establishment, 300,000 Belgians marched in protest through Brussels. Public indignation flared up again in April 1998 when Dutroux briefly escaped from custody while being transferred to a courthouse without handcuffs, leading several ministers, and the country’s head of police, to resign as a consequence.

Dehaene survived — just — but faith in the Belgian political establishment was further eroded by corruption scandals involving former government ministers such as Willy Claes, who was convicted in 1998 of taking bribes for helicopter contracts while Nato secretary-general, and by the publication, in 1999, of a report by a think tank which exposed a culture of clientelism and corruption in high places. Among other things the report stated that the region of Wallonia was being run “like a banana republic” in which state employees were “the puppets of politicians and are hired in violation of the principle of equal rights”. In Brussels, it found that supposedly open public examinations had been rigged.

Jean-Luc Dehaene, Prime Minister of Belgium, in a Leopard tank with the Belgian armed forces (REUTERS)

Dahaene’s chances of returning to office were dealt a mortal blow when, shortly before the country went to the polls in June 1999, it was revealed that cancer-causing dioxins had been found in Belgian animal feed, leading the European Commission to issue a warning that Belgian eggs, poultry, pork, beef and dairy products might be contaminated. As countries all over the world imposed bans on imports of Belgian food, Dehaene’s Christian Democrat-Socialist coalition government was widely accused of trying to cover up the food scare until after the elections, while members of the 3.3 million-strong French-speaking Walloon community accused Dehaene of sacrificing the national interest to protect the profits of large Flemish farms to the north. Both the health minister and the agriculture minister, who had known about the contamination since April, resigned when the matter became public.

On the eve of the polls, Dehaene assured voters that the crisis was over, calling for voters to “demonstrate chauvinism” and buy home-produced food as it was reintroduced into the shops. But the dioxin scandal, known as “Chickengate”, proved one crisis too many. Big gains by Greens, Liberals and far-right parties forced Dehaene’s departure. Despite the humiliation, Dehaene put on a brave face. “I was not born in politics and I will certainly not die in it,” he declared as he handed his resignation to King Albert II .“I always slept well, including last night, so don’t worry about me, I will have no problem.”

Jean-Luc Dehaene was born on August 7 1940 in Montpellier into a sophisticated and affluent family from the Flemish city of Bruges. At the time of his birth his parents were in the south of France fleeing the German invasion. His family expected him to become a doctor or a priest, as was the family tradition, and this expectation made for a less than happy childhood. Meal times revolved, he said, around discussions of “illness, death and the state of men’s souls”.

He was educated at a private Jesuit school — a period that triggered his rebellion against his background and launched an interest in politics (while at school he joined the Olivaint Conference, a French student society which aims to prepare its members for public life).

Jean-Luc Dehaene at the European Parliament in Brussels in 2010 (AP)

Belgian media often put Dehaene’s casual appearance and colourful language down to a rejection of his privileged upbringing. He was raised speaking both French and Flemish — commentators claimed that he spoke the former with a bad accent to appeal to his Flemish constituency.

He began his political life through the General Christian Workers’ Union (Algemeen Christelijk Werknemersverbond), a trade union linked to the Christian People’s Party (Christelijke Volkspartij). In 1981 he was made Minister of Social Affairs and Institutional Reform, a post he held until 1988 when he became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Communications and Institutional Reform. In 1992 he began his two terms as Prime Minister.

On his defeat in 1999, Guy Verhofstadt’s Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VLD) formed the first Belgian government without the Christian Democrats since 1958. Dehaene remained a senator until 2001 — and successfully won seats in the European Parliament in the 2004 and 2009 elections — after which he took on a series of roles in national and regional politics and within the business and sports sectors.

He became mayor of Vilvoorde, a city near Brussels, and joined the board of directors of Lernout & Hauspie, a speech-recognition technology company. The firm went bankrupt in 2001 due to a fraud engineered by the firm’s management. That year Dehaene became vice-president of the Convention on the Future of Europe.

He acted as mediator as a new government was being formed after the 2007 Belgian elections and his interest in football — he was often seen cheering enthusiastically at matches and enjoying post-game drinks — led to a role as chief enforcer of financial fair play at Uefa.

In October 2008 he became chairman of the Belgian-French Dexia Bank, with a brief to lead the company through its difficulties caused by the credit crunch.

Dehaene took a relaxed approach to sartorial matters. In July 2013 he was interrupted by a telephone call while enjoying a lunchtime barbecue at his home in Vilvoorde. He was meant to be at a television debate on the forthcoming abdication of King Albert II. Dehaene dashed to the studios and conducted the debate in a “salmon shirt, checked Bermuda shorts, sandals and a healthy glow”. One style guru conceded that at least he avoided socks with sandals.

At the time of his death he was vice-chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgets. He chose not to stand for the 2014 European elections, however. “I did two mandates here, that’s a good period,” he said in January. “I’ll be 74 in June so it’s a good time to stop.”

Dehaene married Celie Verbeke, with whom he published a personal selection of recipes, Cooking With Celie (2005). She survives him with their four children.

Jean-Luc Dehaene, born August 7 1940, died May 15 2014


I agree with Marina Warner’s comments regarding Lucy Bailey’s Titus Andronicus at the Globe (Comment, 12 May), but I don’t believe the play aspires to new levels of savagery. As she rightly points out, animal-baiting was common “entertainment” on Bankside, often promoted by the same people who ran the theatres. Public executions were another popular blood-fest involving the removal of “privities” before the hapless victim’s demise. The playhouses did not flinch from reproducing such bloodbaths on stage as Philip Henslowe’s diary details. Interestingly, Michael Coveney (Shortcuts, 5 May) mentions “droppers” at Love’s Labour’s Lost, suggesting that this may be as much a groundling as a gore-related phenomenon. I have just bought a Yard ticket for Titus Andronicus but shall make sure to pack a sou’wester.
Austen Lynch
Garstang, Lancashire

• Marina Warner comments that productions of old tragedies are reaching new levels of savagery. But this does not only apply on the stage. I was struck by the level of detail in two recent TV programmes. In both The Plantagenets and Byzantium I was surprised at the level of detail devoted to how various unfortunates were killed. I particularly felt for the ruler in Byzantium who was killed by having his testicles crushed.
David Evans
Ashton under Lyne, Greater Manchester

• Kamila Shamsie’s praise of Paulina (Review, 10 May) as “the woman who towers over all her sisters in Shakespeare’s plays” might at least have mentioned Emilia, whose courage in exposing her husband and denouncing Othello as “ignorant as dirt”, leaving him no dignity to cling to, costs her her life.

This deadly arraignment is all the more heroic because of her lowly status as Iago’s downtrodden chattel, with none of Paulina’s ability to direct the course of events. And yet in this moment she becomes the most powerful voice in the play, demolishing the whole idealised fantasy of its central relationship.
Adrian Jackson
Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

• Contrasting yet similar realistic heroines, who strive for their families rather than themselves, can be found living “out of the earth” in very different communities in Emile Zola’s Germinal (1885), set in the mining village of Montsou, and Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth (1931), set among Chinese peasants. La Maheude begs and barters for food and money, and is forced to work in the mine after the loss of her husband. Meanwhile, O-Lan is Wang Lung’s resourceful, subservient and multi-tasking wife who bears him many children, takes care of the cooking and does the household repairs, works in the fields when required to helps with the harvest, and whose last words are to counsel her son and daughter to “look to the family”.
Dr Mark Stroud
Llantrisant, Glamorgan

So many words spent on explaining the five portions of fruit a day theory (You’re twisting my melon, G2, 15 May). If, like me, you hate shopping and can’t be bothered with all those sums, I suggest you become a vegetarian too. Not only will you feel better, but you escape some of the blame for the revolting lives and vile deaths of all those animals you are eating.
Lizzie Hill

• Thank you, Margaret Hunt (Letters, 14 May), for highlighting the decline in the British swift population. The British Trust for Ornithology estimates that we are losing our swifts at 3% per annum, and an important factor in this decline is the loss of nesting spaces in buildings. If you are one of the many who mourns the decline of these “wondrous, joyful creatures”, you may wish to put up a nest box. Visit for advice.
Helen Hodgson

• Having just read Peter Bradshaw’s hilariously scathing review of Grace of Monaco (15 May), I was amazed that he awarded it one star. How bad does a film have to be in order to merit no stars?
Mike Pender

• “Please miss, I’m datherin'” was the complaint made by many a west Cumbrian child as she shivered in a cold playground on a freezing January day (In praise of … neologisms, 14 May).
Janet Mansfield
Aspatria, Cumbria

• I flew in a DC3 (In praise of … the Dakota, 16 May) back and forth from Venezuela to Trinidad on my way to school in the late 50s/early 60s. Lovely planes, but a bit drafty with a good view of the Orinoco delta if you were seated near the passenger door at the rear.
Eric Barber

• Your article (You have to go a long way to get rid of snails, 16 May) reminds me of the story of the man who answers a knock at the door to find a snail on the doorstep, so he throws it into his neighbour’s garden. A year later he answers another knock on the door to find the snail back on the step complaining “What was all that about then?”
Helen Keating
Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries and Galloway

Sky News welcomes any media organisation who wishes to help amplify the importance of leaders’ debates (Report, 16 May). We would willingly work alongside the Telegraph, the Guardian and YouTube to ensure as wide an audience as possible has the opportunity to see party leaders respond to questions from the public who vote for them. Your idea for an online debate, however, between the party leaders in the runup to the general election, is not a new one. You argue (Editorial, 16 May) that politicians need to look beyond television and say they are slow to recognise the importance of digital platforms and social media in the political sphere. In fact this is precisely what Sky News did in our leaders’ debate coverage in 2010.
The Sky News, ITN and BBC hosted debates were streamed live on and the other broadcasters’ websites in parallel with public webchats. Members of the public had the opportunity to rate the leaders on their performance during the debate and had the opportunity to comment in real time via the Sky News leaders’ debate Facebook fan page. The digital sphere has moved on significantly over the last four years and I envisage the next set of debates will reach millions more via digital and social media platforms. We have ambitious plans in place and, although the traditional television experience will play a large part, it will sit alongside an ever-growing and sophisticated interactive digital experience.
You’re right to say the debates did much to shape the campaign and to engage voters with the political process – but wrong to say they didn’t fully embrace the digital world. It is vital the next series of debates happen, offering a transparent and undiluted opportunity for the public to witness what party leaders have to say about the future of the UK and what it means for the people who live here.
Andrew Hawken
Digital director, Sky News

• Your paean of praise for Alan Moses (Here comes the judge – the maverick aiming to tame Britain’s raucous press, 16 May) makes some surprising omissions. Nowhere, for example, does it mention that Ipso, the press “self-regulator” cooked up by the Mail and Murdoch papers and their friends, and of which Moses is now chair, is by design a rejection of the Leveson report and of the royal charter on press self-regulation that was endorsed by every party in parliament. Nor does it find room to point out that no matter how “independent” Moses may appear as an individual, he will be working within fixed Ipso rules designed to ensure real power remains with the big national newspaper groups – meaning that ordinary citizens cannot achieve fair treatment.

Nor does it note, even in passing, that the Media Standards Trust has established that Ipso meets only 12 of the 38 specific Leveson criteria for independent, effective press self-regulation – a finding no one in the industry has been able to rebut. Nor does it refer to the abundant poll evidence showing overwhelming public support – especially high among Guardian readers – for a Leveson-based, royal charter-based solution to the long-term problem of low ethical journalistic standards at many national newspapers.

Nor does it mention the hundreds of leading figures in the world of free expression – prominent playwrights, authors, comedians, film and theatre directors, barristers, journalists and academics – who signed the declaration in support of the royal charter. Nor does it mention that Ipso is the same company as the discredited Press Complaints Commission it is supposed to replace – in the same building, with substantially the same staff, operating substantially the same totally unsatisfactory complaints system. Nor, curiously, does it refer to the formal rejection of the Ipso model by the Guardian Media Group last year, on the grounds that it lacked independence and effectiveness.

Ipso is a shameless attempt by the perpetrators of continuing abuses against the public to pretend that the entire Leveson process never happened and to ensure they continue to mark their own homework. The new chair, maverick or not, will be unable to change that, first because the Ipso rules are not his to alter and second because the Sun, the Mail, the Telegraph, the Express, the Mirror and the Times have gone to great lengths to ensure that Ipso is under their collective thumb. I earnestly hope your article is not a hint that the Guardian, which did so much to expose wrongdoing by these powerful corporations, is weakening in its resolve to resist a system that so flagrantly cheats the public.
Brian Cathcart
Executive director, Hacked Off

• An interesting article on Alan Moses. Pity that there was no mention of his salary and who pays it.
Wyn Francis
Goxhill, Lincolnshire

There is much comment on the negativity of the Scottish referendum campaign, but I don’t believe the fault can be laid entirely at the feet of the unionists (Report, 16 May). As the SNP has lost the financial and economic debate, it has turned to bluster, accusing even neutral specialists of bullying. But the real negativity is the lack of coherence in the SNP definition of what it means to be Scottish – beyond not being English. After so many centuries and so much intermarriage, our language, literature, ideology, philosophy, rituals and traditions are pretty much identical. Married to a Londoner for almost half a century I (and many others) have far more in common with my cosmopolitan southern brothers-in-law than Little Scotlanders. British culture was largely defined by the giants of the Scottish Enlightenment and we are being asked to knock down a house we ourselves have built.
Dr John Cameron
St Andrews, Fife

We are senior professionals with many years of practice, management, education and research experience in child protection nationally and internationally. We are very concerned that the government consultation, launched with a very short period of only six weeks, intends that all children‘s social work services in England, including child protection, be opened up to the market and without regulation. The only exception is adoption services.

England has one of the most successful child protection systems in the world. This is based on strong accountability, stability, continuity, good local partnership working across professionals and agencies, and with experienced and committed professionals and leadership. The intention that private sector organisations such as G4S, Serco, Atos and others should be able to run child protection services causes considerable concern.

Their track record elsewhere has hardly been unblemished in providing Olympics security, over-claiming payments for tagging offenders, misreporting on GP out-of hours contracts, and delaying and denying disability benefits (Reformers renew call for G4S and Serco ban, 13 May). Child protection is much too important to be exposed to their fickleness and failings.
Professor Ray Jones Kingston University and St George’s, University of London
Emeritus professor June Thoburn University of East Anglia
Professor Sue White University of Birmingham
Professor Harry Ferguson University of Nottingham
Professor Nick Frost Leeds Metropolitan University
Professor Nigel Parton University of Huddersfield
Professor Helen Cosis Brown University of Bedfordshire
Professor Marian Brandon University of East Anglia
Professor Jan Horwath University of Sheffield
Professor Eric Blyth University of Huddersfield
Professor Viv Cree Edinburgh University
Professor Stephen Webb Glasgow Caledonian University
Professor Gillian Ruch University of Sussex
Emeritus professor Jane Tunstill Royal Holloway, University of London
Professor Brigid Daniel University of Stirling
Professor Brian Littlechild University of Hertfordshire
Professor Nigel Thomas University of Central Lancashire
Professor Nick Gould University of Bath
Professor Brigid Featherstone Open University
Professor Keith Popple London South Bank University
Emeritus professor Ann Davis University of Birmingham
Professor Andy Bilson University of Central Lancashire
Professor Jonathan Parker Bournemouth University
Professor Aiden Worsley University of Central Lancashire
Professor Steven Shardlow Keele University
Professor Shula Ramon Anglia University
Lynn Sheridan Glasgow Caledonian University
Professor Iain Ferguson University of West of Scotland
Professor Sonia Jackson Institute of Education, University of London
Monica Dowling Formerly professor of social work, Open University
Professor Kate Wilson University of Nottingham
Professor Suzy Braye University of Sussex
Professor Hugh McLaughlin Manchester Metropolitan University
Professor Timothy Kelly University of Dundee
James Blewett Kings College, London
Professor Adele Jones University of Huddersfield
Professor Nicky Stanley University of Central Lancashire


Why has it become so normal for the media to identify individual criminals, offenders or negative incidents by their religion when he or she happens to be a Muslim – for example the sex-abuser described in The Big Read (12 May)? This merely encourages Islamaphobia. It is very rare that the media refer to the Tamil Tigers as being a militant Hindu group or the IRA being Catholic terrorists, but Boko Haram is referred to as an Islamist militant group rather than a Nigerian militant group.

I have yet to see a newspaper refer to Max Clifford’s religious beliefs.

No wonder Muslims feel they are being systematically targeted by the media.

Yasmin Qureshi, Stanmore, Middlesex

Thank you for publishing this amazing true story. I makes me proud to see Muslim women fighting for their rights and speaking out; it sheds a positive light on Muslims, and on women too. The piece was powerfully written and potent; heart-wrenchingly sad, but also a joyous and triumphant read.

Hats off to the writer for her bravery and courage, and most importantly for sharing this story. Well done for publishing this amazing article and showing us Muslim women in a positive, strong light.

Shanara Ali-Gazi, London E11

A triumph for democracy in India

The world’s largest democracy has just concluded a massive election. A population of 1.2bn with a massive diversity of faiths, languages, ideologies and cultures in a country the size of a sub-continent successfully concluded this amazing feat. There was hardly any violence or vote-rigging and some places recorded a turnout of over 80 per cent. The Indian intellectuals in this country who expressed their reservations in the letters column (23 April) about the opposition party winning the election will surely acknowledge the voice of the people?

Nitin Mehta, Croydon

Dorothy Hodgkin remembered

It’s nice to see the celebrations of my mother Dorothy Hodgkin on what would have been her 104th birthday. But your report (12 May) claims that she was a member of the Communist Party until 1956.

In fact, she was never to my knowledge a member of the Party, although often sympathetic to its position. She was refused a US visa not as a Party member, but as a member of Science for Peace, which was deemed to be a fellow-travelling organisation; and visited the USSR instead. My father Thomas was a Party member, but left before 1956.

Dorothy was, of course, a committed socialist, worked tirelessly in the cause of peace, and was appalled at the class policies of her ex-student Margaret Thatcher. But that’s another story.

Luke Hodgkin, London N19

Pity the poor football manager

With reference to the sacking of Tim Sherwood by Spurs and given the number of managers hired and sacked by Daniel Levy is it not time for Levy himself to go? Why is it that it is always the managers who get the chop and not the directors who appoint them?

Stephen Lawson, Exeter

Ukip may have to change its name 

What will Ukip call itself when the UK is no more? Ewip maybe?

Marilyn Mason, Kingston upon Thames,

Birthplace of the royal family

Are the royal family German (Letters, 13 May)? Being born in Britain is surely irrelevant. As Daniel O’Connell said of the Duke of Wellington (who was born in Ireland but was certainly not Irish); being born in a stable does not make a man a horse.

Eamon Hamilton, Sutton Coldfield

Look here, what’s wrong with so?

The irritating habit of starting a sentence with “So” (report, 15 May) is only matched by the condescending way in which politicians begin theirs with “Look” – especially when trying to justify a hopeless argument.

Mike Smith, Worcester

So, linguistics experts are concerned that “so” is increasingly being used to preface sentences. So what?

Keith O’Neill, Shrewsbury

Tax avoidance

Chris Blackhurst (14 May), writing about tax avoidance, is of course right in his criticisms of the incompetence of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), but the real cause is the horrendous complexity and unfairness of our corrosive system. Tolley’s Guides to the tax system are now 16,220 pages long and increasing year on year. Tax avoidance, “aggressive” or otherwise, is an inevitable consequence of such complexity.

We used in Britain to pride ourselves on the rule of law. In matters of taxation it is more the rule of lawyers than the rule of law. This has created a paradise for billionaires and something akin to a tax prison for the poor. Often the super-rich can outspend HMRC in legal costs forcing HMRC into over-lenient and over-generous settlements, in contrast to the punishment meted out for small infringements. There is one tax law for the super-rich and another tax law for the rest of us.

We do need a much more aggressive pursuit of tax avoidance but I am afraid that will only have a marginal benefit. We will not make substantial progress until the tax system is drastically simplified and reformed.

Peter Moyes, Brightlingsea, Essex

I am sorry that you think that “Not very much has been heard recently from the current Office of Tax Simplification” (Editorial, 10 May). Those involved with employee benefits and expenses, partnerships, share schemes and various other areas might argue otherwise.

Nobody would dispute that the UK’s tax system is complex. Partly that is inevitable: we live in a complex world. But we do need to try to simplify our tax system and that is why the OTS was set up. We are a small unit, mixing public and private sector people but with a complement of less than six full-time equivalent staff.

Our brief is to study areas of the tax system and report with recommendations for simplification. It is up to ministers and Parliament to take things forward. And that is what is happening – to give one example, in the recent Budget the Chancellor credited our work with his moves to streamline National Insurance for the self-employed.

The current Finance Bill contains a range of measure to simplify share schemes and the 10 per cent savings rate of income tax; and there is a raft of changes to employee benefits taxation about to be consulted on. All of these stem from our reports.

Our current project is to look at how to improve the competitiveness of the UK tax administration, particularly for small- and medium-sized businesses. Anyone wanting to comment should write to

John Whiting , Tax Director,  Office of Tax Simplification, London SW1

Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen are just the latest examples of the super-rich doing everything they can to ever increase the millions of pounds in their bank accounts. Why do multi-millionaires and billionaires feel the need to hoard these vast fortunes which are of no benefit to them, and which could relieve so much misery around the world? If I was sitting on millions or billions, knowing how much suffering I personally could stop without even noticing the effect on my finances – and did nothing – I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. How can they?

Stanley Knill, London N15

I am in complete agreement with your editorial “Keep your hands out of our bank accounts” (9 May). My wife and I are and have been since 1989 the sole owners and occupiers of a self-contained office building, from which we run a professional practice. About eight years ago we started to receive from HMRC’s office at Cumbernauld letters all specifying our address (albeit mis-spelt) to a great multiplicity of individuals and firms none of which has or had any connection whatsoever with us. We dutifully annotated these letters “Not known at this address – return to sender” and posted them back. But they kept on coming, often in batches of up to a dozen at a time.

After a complaint to a government minister we received a solemn apology from HMRC assuring us that “steps had been taken to prevent such errors in the future” and indeed the letters ceased, but only for a few months. They still arrive. Over the past three years several hundred mis-directed letters to at least 30 different entities have been received.

For all we know these letters may well have been ever more menacing tax demands to which, plainly, HMRC can have received no reply from the intended recipients. On this evidence, should HMRC have the power to confiscate funds from any bank account?

Andrew Horton, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire


A private school teacher says state schools fail to teach moral to their pupils . . .

Sir, Richard Walden, of the Independent Schools Association, maligns state schools, teachers and pupils (“State school pupils don’t know right from wrong, says top teacher”, May 15).

Every state school is acutely aware of its responsibility to give students a well-rounded education and to encourage them to have a sense of right and wrong at all times. Look at Stephen Sutton (“Teenager who raised £3m loses cancer battle”, May 15), who raised a fortune for charity during his illness, and the wonderful young people at his school, Chase Terrace Technology College, who supported his efforts. State schools do not get the credit they deserve.

Shay Daly

Hale, Altrincham

Sir, The irony will not be lost on your readers that you report the views of Richard Walden, “ top teacher” of an independent school while also running a report, “The Dark World of School Abuse” (May 15) by teachers of a top independent school. Although Mr Walden’s view smacks of the usual patronising arrogance of the private sector towards state schools, to claim that his pupils have superior emotional intelligence beggars belief.

Adrian Hilton

Hove, Sussex

Sir, Good teachers in any school try hard to establish a secure, moral framework through effective teaching and example, often when pupils have little or no guidance at home because of poor parenting. However, the government puts many demands on the time and resources of the state school teachers. Boarding schools have the children on a 24/7 basis and obviously have more time to enrich their pupils’ learning, even when the home background, although financially advantaged, may be inadequate.

Perhaps Mr Walden could persuade Michael Gove to leave the state school teachers alone to do what they do extremely effectively — when not deprived of energy and enthusiasm by time-consuming and target-driven government edicts.

Sue Vincent

Padbury, Bucks

Sir, I have just retired from teaching; my last school was a state school in East London. What Mr Walden does not realise is that before we begin to teach some youngsters, we have to address their emotional, behavioural and mental health problems. Yes, private schools devote much time to extra-curricular activities — so do state schools, organised and led by teachers who are prepared to give up their free time because they care. The “focus on league tables and attainment levels” is imposed by people who send their children to private schools, but it certainly does not detract from our determination to give our pupils a sense of discipline and self-worth as well as a moral conscience.

Luisa Pinnell

London E10

Sir, It is wrong to suggest that state schools in general are creating amoral children. Many state schools, despite generally having less time and money per child than private schools, do an outstanding job in this area of teaching.

What is needed urgently is for government and Ofsted to prioritise the development of character to a far higher degree.

Time spent on this will only enhance exam results and the quality of education.

Dr Anthony Seldon

Master, Wellington College

The RSPB’s determination to safeguard birds at all costs can have negative knock-on effects on other species

Sir, You report that the RSPB does not oppose culling Canada geese to protect other species (“Thriving alien geese may have to be culled”, May 14). All very laudable and quite likely justified, but hypocritical when compared to the society’s insistence on protecting cormorants. Twenty years ago there were effectively no inland cormorants; now there are 40,000-60,000 inland birds, and they have devastated many inland fisheries. Cormorants eat up to 1kg of fish a day and so are partly responsible for 60 per cent of our rivers failing the EU Water Framework Directives to reach good ecological status by 2015, largely because fish stocks are so low.

It would be welcomed if the RSPB could help to support the wider environment as a whole rather than its current tunnel vision for the protection of birds alone.

Chris Burt

Chelmsford, Essex

Replace offensive words with numbers? It actually happened in Bombay in the 1950s – and there was even a movie too

Sir, Richard Tripp’s suggestion of replacing offending words with numbers (letter, May 10) takes me back to Bombay in the 1950s, when “420”, a section in the penal code relating to “cheating and dishonesty”, migrated into everyday speech as a useful synonym for a petty thief, a crook, a fraudster or a villain. It eventually acquired endearing connotations and became a popular euphemism for a loveable rogue, immortalised by Bollywood in a 1955 blockbuster Shri 420 (Mr 420).

Amir Shivji

Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

A London school’s ‘gay club’ is welcomed, but not without reservations – there are places where adults should not go

Sir, Highgate School’s LGBT club is most innovative; I hope other schools will follow suit (“It’s the school lunch break and gay club is on”, May 13). However, you quote Adam Pettitt, the headmaster, as saying “For a proportion of any given population, that means you can be gay if you want to be.” Mr Pettitt should realise that being gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgender is in no way a choice.

Verity King

Sutton, Surrey

Sir, It is macabre that, when society is unprecedentedly alert to paedophilia, a school should be encouraging its teachers to discuss with pupils their own and their pupils’ sexuality.

Adults might have found their true sexual identity but adolescents are entitled to change sexually and to be free from the interest or advice of their teachers in this area of life. Teachers who affirm shared sexual identity with pupils are out of order.

Underlying this issue is the myth that one is born gay or heterosexual. Parents of a girl where I was chairman of governors were deeply saddened that their daughter was in a lesbian relationship and asked the school to intervene. The wise headmistress said that she could not do so. Two years after school both girls were heterosexual.

School is not the time or place for identifying pupils as having a particular sexual identity. A period of silence from the gay lobby would not be amiss, so that teenage sex and sexuality can retreat again into modesty and reticence.

Homophobic bullying is unprecedentedly common, and I suspect this derives from too much media coverage rather than too little. I trust that DfE will ensure that Highgate School will be the last school to have its own Gay and Lesbian Club.

Patrick Tobin

Chairman, Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, 1998

Is it really an insult to call a female teacher miss? Some readers were called much worse in their teaching careers

Sir, At St Martin’s Prep School in Northwood during the 1940s, male teachers were addressed as Sir while lady teachers were invariably called Please (“Calling teacher ‘miss’ is an insult to women”, May 15).

Chris Medland

Chard, Somerset

Sir, When I taught in a large comprehensive school in Newcastle upon Tyne, pupils combined the local way of saying yes with the addition of miss, so their response was always a cheerful “Wey aye man, Miss”.

Sylvia Eades

Looe, Cornwall

Sir, In my first teaching year one 11-year-old boy always called me Mum.

Keith Anderson

Liverton, Devon

Sir, At Bedales, where first names are de rigueur, pupils generally have the greatest respect for their teachers.

Pearl Wheeler

Petersfield, Hants

Sir, As a very young teacher I remember a member of my Year 7 form addressing me as Grandma.

Victoria Andrews

West Molesey, Surrey


thumbs down.

Postcard from the edge: blowing bubbles and fishing in a coupe, by F Kuderna, c 1900

Postcard from the edge: blowing bubbles and fishing in a coupe, by F Kuderna, c 1900  Photo:

6:58AM BST 16 May 2014

Comments157 Comments

SIR – Never mind square plates. What really irks me is champagne coupes. They are entirely unsuited to champagne, as the broad bottom of the glass prevents a drinker from getting a proper nose of the wine and kills the bubbles far too quickly for anyone partaking at a moderate pace.

D S Gammell
London SE1

SIR – I find being served a main course in a bowl annoying. One finds nowhere to rest a knife and fork in between mouthfuls, the food is frequently heaped up like a November 5 bonfire, and the trimmings that one tries to balance on the rim fall back in among the food in the centre of the bowl. What is this affectation? Bowls are for soup or pudding, not for main courses.

Margaret C Lemon
Vale, Guernsey

SIR – William Sitwell writes that square plates are “an insult to Mother Nature, whose offerings are many shapes but never square”.

The foundation of the natural world, of which all engineering is but a copy, is based on the relationship between the circle and the right angle. Whether you like square plates or not, don’t refer the problem to the natural world, which universally delights in and depends on the right-angled triangle.

Michael Smitten
Shifnal, Shropshire

SIR – In January I had the privilege of hearing Stephen Sutton address a conference of 4,000 people in the O2 arena on behalf of his charity, the Teenage Cancer Trust. We were deeply moved, not only by his message, but by his manner: focused, unaffected, good- humoured and compassionate; without a trace of self-pity or self-obsession.

If people want to look for leadership values or role models to propose to the young, I suggest they turn to his example. What a striking change Stephen made from many of our politicians and celebrities, who are lost in their own egos.

Jeannie Mardon
Coltishall, Norfolk

Road investment

SIR – You report that drivers should “get used” to 40mph limits on motorways. There is no target – official or otherwise – for managing speeds below 70mph. Graham Dalton, chief executive of the Highways Agency, was making the point that it is simply not acceptable to allow journeys to get slower, which is precisely why this Government has undertaken the biggest programme of road investment since the Seventies.

Our roads have suffered from decades of under-investment and we are determined to reverse that trend and create the road network our economy needs. In this Parliament, we will have invested more than £3.3 billion in major improvements. In the 2014-15 financial year, we have budgeted to invest over 50 per cent more than the average annual spend in the five years before 2010. We plan to treble the budget to more than £3 billion a year by 2020.

It is this massive investment that will make certain motorway speeds do not get slower. Our commitment will ensure that our road network gives drivers more reliable, faster journeys at the speed limit for which the road is designed.

Robert Goodwill MP (Con)
Roads Minister, Department for Transport
London SW1

Operatic visionary

SIR – While your article Glyndebourne: the 10 things you should know” rightly pays tribute to the founder of Glyndebourne, John Christie, and his grandson, Gus, the present chairman, it is sad that there is no mention of the great Sir George, son of John and father of Gus, who died only a few days ago.

It was almost entirely his energy, wisdom and resourcefulness that brought about the building of the wonderful theatre we see today. He should be celebrated for devoting his life to the development of this unique and glorious place.

Lady Harewood
Harewood, West Yorkshire

Juice rebel

SIR – Once again we have front-page warnings on what we should eat or drink (“Warning: no more than one glass of juice a day).

I should prefer to live a shorter life having eaten and drunk what I want to, rather than be condemned to live on, ignored on a hospital ward or in an old people’s home, or suffer raving dementia.
Rosie Clarke
Nailsea, Somerset

Who plays Kidman?

SIR – How long before we have an actress playing Nicole Kidman in a film playing Grace Kelly?

John Huelin
Woodstock, Oxfordshire

The Crimson Field

SIR – Kate Tompkins, chief executive of the Cavell Nurses Trust, claimed that nurse Joan Livesey’s story drew a parallel to Edith Cavell’s. It is not a parallel and was never intended to be, although Joan’s story was inspired by the famous quote of Edith Cavell’s inscribed on her statue in St Martin’s Place.

It was of vital importance to me to include Edith Cavell’s death in The Crimson Field. I felt passionately that the shocking execution should be part of the final episode and the news should reach the hospital at the time when all the characters’ loyalties were called into question.

Ms Tompkins also suggested that the inclusion of Edith Cavell was merely so that one character could deliver an anti-war, anti-establishment message.

Lt Col Roland Brett, who voices those lines, displays his growing doubts about the war from the first episode. When he expresses his “anti-war, anti-establishment” opinion, he is reeling with grief having recently received the news of his son’s death. His opinion that an executed nurse will re-ignite the fervour of the war is subversive and dangerous, as any criticism of the war would have been at the time.

Sarah Phelps
Writer/creator, The Crimson Field
London W12

SIR – Your television reviewer suggested that “the forgotten women of the Great War deserve better” than The Crimson Field. I have just watched the powerful 1979 dramatisation of Testament of Youth, about these women, on DVD.

I found it every bit as moving and absorbing as on first viewing. Its power comes from the writing (the words of those who actually lived through the war), the quality of the acting, and the restraint with which horrors are suggested and left to our imaginations. This is much more effective than masses of fake blood.

Bridget Krasinska
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

Happy commuter

SIR – I haven’t used London Underground since the Tube strikes over three weeks ago.

Using Boris’s rental bike scheme, a pair of trainers and an umbrella has been a much more enjoyable way to travel in London. I have discovered a few new places, taken some photos for my daughter’s school project, arrived at work in a much better mood and saved a few quid along the way.

Ollie Gadney
Barton Stacey, Hampshire

The pros and cons of using a person’s first name

SIR – When my wife was attending antenatal clinics years ago, hospital staff had just started calling patients by their first names in order to prevent distinction between married and unmarried mothers.

As that distinction no longer matters, we can dispense with the informality.

Keith Macpherson
Houston, Renfrewshire

SIR – At my school, all children, teachers, support staff and governors are called by their first names. We are about to celebrate our centenary, and universities, employers, old scholars and parents tell us that the use of first names is important in establishing relationships based on mutual respect and trust rather than on the techniques of command and control so often employed.

The fact that we have no school uniform also contributes to the success of our children and the happiness of our school.

Richard Palmer
Head, St Christopher School
Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire

SIR – Is it any wonder that tax-mitigation schemes for those with larger than average incomes are in the news?

Political parties rail against complexity when in opposition, but when in power fail to reform anything – however unfair – if it will give them bad press. The 60 per cent tax rate is a good example. How can you respect a tax system that has a higher rate on lower earnings?

John Kaufman
Petts Wood, Kent

SIR – I was pleased to see you drawing attention to the grotesquely unfair theft of the personal allowance for those earning more than £100,000 a year. This, together with the 50 per cent tax rate, was one of Gordon Brown’s nasty traps designed to embarrass the Conservatives. George Osborne has reduced the 50 per cent rate to 45 per cent; when is he going to reinstate the personal allowance?

John McNab
Aston, Hertfordshire

SIR – While it is not reasonable for anyone enjoying an income of more than £100,000 to complain too much, it cannot be sensible that the effective tax rate should be 60 per cent for the first £20,000 over that figure, before falling to 40 per cent for the next £30,000 and 45 per cent thereafter.

Of course, these anomalies are also suffered by taxpayers earning much more, but the effect is no doubt felt most by those with income just over the threshold.

By the way, taxing personal allowances in this way, in my view, makes a nonsense of the oft-repeated call for wealthy pensioners to give up benefits such as winter fuel allowances or bus passes, which for most are worth less.

Robert Beale
London SW3

SIR – The impact of the withdrawal of child benefit was to impose an effective marginal tax rate of 60 per cent on those earning between £50,000 and £60,000 with two children, and 73 per cent for those with four children. These are all punitive tax rates that the Labour government of the Seventies would have been proud of and are applied to families that are no more, or less, “hard-working” than others.

Dean Smith
Ipswich, Suffolk

SIR – The anomaly of the 60 per cent income tax rate may be seen as small beer if the 1 per cent mansion tax is introduced.

Politicians are becoming adept at inventing new ways to tax the middle class and wealth producers.

Stephen Mason
Epping, Essex

SIR – It’s frightening to discover I am paying 60 per cent tax, but more frightening to try to decide who to vote for.

I won’t vote Labour because they did it, the Conservatives haven’t undone it, and I’m not earning enough to join Ukip.

Group Captain Terry Holloway
Great Wratting, Suffolk

Irish Times:

A chara, – Further to the assertion by Anthony Leavy (May 15th) that there is “no alternative to austerity”, it is true that the Government currently spends more than it gathers in taxation. However, the point that Mr Leavy apparently chooses to ignore is that the cuts in spending imposed by the Government affect the poorest and weakest in society far more than they do the wealthy and those on higher incomes.

Likewise, the taxes and charges imposed by this Government are designed to ensure that as many people as possible are required to pay them, with only lip-service paid to the fact that a great number of people simply cannot afford to pay. For many, it is not a question of their standard of living being lowered, it has become a question of deprivation, poverty and, in some cases, homelessness.

The appropriate taxation of wealth in this country would most likely not eliminate the need for some tax and cuts to be imposed on society as a whole, but a top-down approach would certainly be a nod toward a more equal society. It would also mitigate to some degree the burden imposed on the poorest in our country and would in all likelihood make the austerity measures that were imposed far more palatable.

The corporate taxation system in this country has been demonstrated to be a shambles, particularly in relation to large multinationals. It has been the subject of severe criticism in both the US and UK. There is certainly scope for an increased tax-take in this area without the spurious doomsday scenario peddled by some people, that of large multinationals running out the door at the slightest increase in taxation. – Is mise,


Lismore Road,

Crumlin, Dublin 12.

Sir, – Ruth Coppinger (“Turn elections into referendum on unfair taxes and austerity”, Opinion & Analysis, May 14th) peddles the usual unworkable Toytown version of taxation and economics, just as Fianna Fáil did when, as an election ploy, it abolished property tax some years ago. – Yours, etc,


Glin, Co Limerick.

Sir, – It is interesting that as its keynote speaker, the HSE picked an expert from the US, a country with one of the most expensive and worst-performing healthcare systems in the world (“Health cuts ‘wrong way’ to reform system, Harvard expert says”, Home News, May 16th) .

Prof Robert Kaplan tells us that GP’s shouldn’t be paid for simply “being there”, but for providing “excellent outcomes and efficient processes”, for which they would be rewarded. Clearly, he misconstrues “being there” in the sense that he is “there” in Harvard while delivering a masterclass to the “healthcare leaders” in the Irish health service, at a cost of €50,000 to the taxpayer. He further advocates a splintering of the GP’s clinical role into specific areas of focus – diabetes, disability, etc.

The key strength of Irish primary care is that the GP is in every sense “there” – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. GPs provide around 25 million consultations annually, with a shrinking 3 per cent of the healthcare budget. They continue to deliver a high standard of care and provide value for money, in spite of being persistently undermined in this objective in both resourcing and policy terms.

Narrow goal-based incentives do work, as the British discovered where they resulted in an unanticipated £1.8 billion overspend in this area as targets were surpassed by GPs. But perhaps the HSE could start by allowing us to get on with even the basics.

As for Prof Kaplan’s issue with GPs dealing with “the whole range of conditions”, coming from the hyperspecialised world of US healthcare, he may well miss the whole point of general practice – to provide an integrated model of care where conditions are not compartmentalised and where the finer details can fall through the cracks as a patient moves between providers, none of whom are intimately acquainted with the patient’s needs in a holistic sense. – Yours, etc,


Riverside Medical Centre,


Dublin 15.

Sir, – Joseph O’Leary (May 15th) accuses me of making a “scathing commentary” on the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) website on the relationship of Fr Michael Cleary with Phyllis Hamilton (“Slipping back into clericalism?”, Opinion & Analysis, May 13th).

Those who take the trouble to read that discussion will see that I did no such thing. What I did do initially was to lament the consequences for the church of the contradiction between Fr Cleary’s high public profile as a defender of a rigorous Catholic sexual morality, and his private life. Then I pointed to the difficulty of defending without serious implications the origins of Fr Cleary’s relationship with Phyllis Hamilton in a meeting between a mature priest and a teenager.

At no stage did I make a personal attack on the character of Fr Cleary, and the implication that I did so against Phyllis Hamilton is transparently untrue.

As to the question of the insurance taken out in 1987 by Irish bishops against financial liability for clerical sexual abuse, the “derisory premium and insured sum” are entirely beside the point. Our bishops delayed until 1994 in taking effective steps to protect children – and quite obviously did so then only because of the revelation of clerical child abuse in the media publicity over the Brendan Smyth case. The record is clear and still lamentable; it was the parents of abused children who initiated effective child safeguarding in the church – not Catholic bishops.

As for the safeguarding of young adults in the church, my understanding is that Catholic dioceses in Northern Ireland are presently setting out to develop guidelines for safeguarding relationships between clergy and all vulnerable adults. For some reason progress is slower in the Republic. The ACP could still play a part in mending that situation. Why should Catholic parents not hope it would take a lead in that? – Yours, etc,


Greenhill Road,


Sir, – It is a matter of record that the near-winning of Home Rule by peaceful means in 1912 was the occasion of the discussion of the partition of Ireland, the creation of the UVF, the formation of provisional administrative bodies in Northern Ireland and of support for extraconstitutional action by members of the British Tory Party.

I do not think readers should give credence to the clearly prejudiced view that 1916 was the primary cause of partition. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a fallacy; Ante hoc ergo propter hoc is ignorance and prejudice. – Yours, etc,


St Kevin’s Parade,

South Circular Road,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – John K Rogers (May 15th) claims that Pearse and Connolly, as the principal proponents of the 1916 Rising, had no mandate from the general public to take up arms on their behalf.  May I remind Mr Rogers that it was British terror in Ireland that had no mandate, and revolutionaries by definition act first then seek a retrospective democratic mandate, which is what was given in the 1918 general election when Sinn Féin received a massive electoral endorsement, winning 75 of the 103 seats.

The right to resist foreign occupation does not necessarily stem from the ballot box. There is a long-established and internationally recognised right of people to resist foreign occupation, as expressed in UN resolutions 3070 and 3103, which acknowledge the status of combatants struggling against colonial domination and the rights of people to self-determination. – Yours, etc,


Templeville Road,


Dublin 6W.

Sir, – I have received only one canvasser to my door. Is this a record? – Yours, etc,


Sion Road,

Glenageary, Co Dublin.

Sir, – One of the election posters for the Labour Party references the number of journeys undertaken on the Dublin Bikes scheme. I was unaware that I was part of a political party advertisement when cycling. – Yours, etc,




Co Kildare.

Sir, – After finding another doorstep-sized pile of election leaflets, I won’t term it literature, inside my letter box, I can’t help but wonder why, with all the technology available, the candidates have to send out multiple copies of the same fiction to each address and at my and every other taxpayer’s expense.

A far simpler solution would for each electoral area to print one booklet with a page or two for each candidate and deliver one copy to each of our newfangled postcodes.

That way the electorate could have one easily consulted source of information and not have to remember if it was the green bin or the budgie’s cage that a particular candidate’s efforts were filed. – Yours, etc,



Co Westmeath.

Sir, – Peter Cully (May 16th) notes that “more than 42,000 people crowded into a Dublin stadium wearing the colours of . . . an English provincial city, to cheer them on against a local football club” and asks “in what other country of the world could this happen?” Using Liverpool’s 2013 pre-season tour to answer his question, those countries would be Thailand (34,000 people in Bangkok), Indonesia (80,000 people in Jakarta) and Australia (95,000 people in Melbourne).

With regard to Mr Cully’s question of “Do we laugh or cry?”, I would say it would depend on what the score was. – Yours, etc,


Auburn Drive,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – I wonder about the accuracy of Peter Cully’s description of Liverpool as a “provincial English city”. It reminded me of the old joke about the English being prepared to give us back Belfast if we were prepared to give them back Liverpool in return. – Yours, etc,


Morehampton Terrace,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – In the piece on the appointment of a principal to a secondary school in England, it was described as a “top school” and a “great Catholic school” (“Goodbye Mr Lambon”, Magazine, May 17th). On reading the article, I discovered the school charges its students €36,000 annually. I would suggest a criterion of a “top” school might be that it does not charge fees and provides a good education for its students, whatever their means. The Irish Times often describes fee-paying schools as “top” or “prestigious”. There is an obvious implication that these schools are superior to the general school. This is not the case.– Yours, etc,


Aille Indreabhán,

Co na Gaillimhe.

Sir, – Is it my imagination or is 2014 turning out to be an exceptional year for nesting blackbirds in Dublin? At present every green space in the city centre seems to be literally hopping with recent fledglings. Walking to work early this morning, I counted 17 of them in various gardens, St Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square – and they were only the ones I saw.

On the other hand, I have not yet seen a single duckling or moorhen chick on the lake in the Green, nor do the pair of swans that successfully raised a brood of eight cygnets there last year seem to have hatched any young as yet this year. – Yours, etc,


Greenville Place,

Clanbrassil Street, Dublin 8.

First published: Sat, May 17, 2014, 01:05

Sir, – I must commend Joseph Ryan’s suggestion (May 15th) to create dedicated walls throughout Dublin for public art and graffiti.

I suggest those who are sceptical of the suggestion should familiarise themselves with the Lennon Wall in Prague, which has been used as a focal point for artistic expression and political dissent for decades.

Such an avenue for public expression in Dublin would be a great addition to the city, and would redirect into aesthetic creativity those energies currently wasted in destructive vandalism. – Yours, etc,


Pairc a’ Chrosaire,

An Rinn,


Co Waterford.

Sir, – Regarding the opposition to water charges, the Irish people should be reminded that when the infinitely more expensive bottled water came to our shops, we took to it like ducks. – Yours, etc,


Synge Street,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – Never mind the Commonwealth, let’s join the Donaldwealth at Donaldbeg. – Yours, etc,


Shandon Crescent,


Dublin 7.

Sir, – Countdown to War (May 14th), the fifth instalment in your splendid “Century: The Years That Shaped Modern Ireland”, is a great addition to the previous four excellent publications.

Looking forward to the next issue in the sequence. – Yours, etc,


Beacon Hill,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Eugene Tannam (May 13th) suggests one way to get snails and slugs to leave your garden is to send them a solicitor’s letter. By snail mail, presumably. – Yours, etc,


Pine Valley Avenue,


Dublin 16.

Irish Independent:

Updated 17 May 2014 02:35 AM

* The gardai are going through a rough time. In fact, that is always the case if one thinks about it. We give them a can of pepper spray and send them out at night to battle the great heaving mess that is humanity, while we sleep comfortably in our beds.

Also in this section

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

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

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

We don’t see, and don’t want to see, the carnage they witness. We don’t see humanity in its lowest form. And yet we expect them to be superheroes. They have to get my cat out of the tree and they have to make sure that traffic flows and they have to witness our judiciary in action.

They have to deal with requests that put them in almost impossible positions. Perhaps rather than declare an all-out war on our gardai, we should sit down and listen to them. Yes, there are some who are probably at the point where their services are no longer required and they should be removed with haste, but the rest know more about us than we probably know ourselves.

If we are to turn this current debacle to our advantage as a society as a whole, then we have to ask our gardai how our laws are letting them down. For, if they are somewhat off centre as we all are to some degree or another, then it is as much a reflection on ourselves as it is on them and any culture that developed under a judicial system that was designed in Victorian times.

The ‘Big Debate’ on law and order has to be had. It has to extend beyond the confines of our Oireachtas and it has to include all players: judicial, political, legal and criminal. The boom threw off the shackles of our ‘Poor Paddy’ image, but it also allowed for some of the more human sides of our nature to flourish as well; some traits that require a review under law.

Remember, it is impossible to fix something if one believes it is not broken. It is broken and how we fix it will define the world and the society that my children and every other citizen’s offspring will enjoy as mature adults when they get there in the future.

It is after all our civic duty – is it not?



Faith and claptrap

* Michael Burke (Irish Independent, May 15) hit the nail on the head, and I quote: “The truth is, religion, no matter what form you believe in, is based on nothing more than faith, and all the scientific counter evidence is just condescending claptrap”. Faith being the operative word.



Telly addict

* David Quinn gets five columns to inflict us with his thoughts and dreams. Lucky him, most of us – if lucky – depend on the letters page.

He lambasts RTE because he is only on television every six to eight weeks. What arrogance. Who does he think he is? Most, in fact 99pc of this nation’s population, were never in RTE and most wouldn’t think that they possessed some God-given right to feature.

We all have opinions equally as valid as Mr Quinn’s; alas, we don’t get a column to expose them, or an airing every six weeks from RTE.



Vote – and emulate India

* The biggest democracy in the world is not the US, nor indeed the European Union. In fact, it is India, a developing country.

Its 814 million eligible voters have now cast their ballots, during a six-week contest, resulting in a record turnout of 66pc.

In contrast, in Ireland, only 57pc of people voted in the 2009 European and local elections. Hopefully, this time around, the people will decide to use their hard-fought right to decide – and hopefully we can match the turnout in India.

Our vote on Friday will have a direct influence not just on our own future, but also on the future of Europe and the rest of the global community. The 950 local councillors and 11 Irish members of the European Parliament we elect will have a say in local and international issues such as climate change, equality, taxation and energy.



Archaic and offensive wording

* The Cork Deaf Association was dismayed by the wording of a recent article referring to a ‘deaf-mute’ (Irish Independent, May 14.) It is astonishing that a national paper of repute used such an archaic and offensive term when referring to a deaf man. The term ‘deaf-mute’ is closely aligned to that other wildly offensive term ‘deaf and dumb’. Both of these terms imply that a deaf person is unable to communicate.

Let me assure you that deaf people are perfectly capable of communication and expression. In fact, Irish sign language – the preferred method of communication among the majority of the Irish deaf community – is an extraordinarily expressive language, which can make spoken communication seem limited by comparison.

The article also referred to the need for court proceedings to go particularly slow to facilitate the sign language interpreter. We must also correct this misconception. Sign language interpreters generally require that communication take place at a normal, reasonable pace.

We recommend that journalists writing for your newspaper become more deaf aware before writing any future articles relating to the deaf community.



Great War’s 100th anniversary

* This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1. New material, such as the stories from those who lived through the war, are contained in the book ‘Forgotten Voices from the Great War’, compiled by Max Arthur.

It tells the story of the men and women – from Britain, Ireland, France, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US and Germany – who lived through the war as civilians, munitions workers, soldiers, nurses, doctors and drivers.

German medical officer Lieutenant Stefan Westmann told of the time when, for a week in 1916, they were under constant shelling, how the dugouts crumbled and fell on top of them and they’d had to dig themselves and their colleagues out.

Sometimes, they’d find their colleagues suffocated or smashed to a pulp. Soldiers became hysterical and wanted to run out; fights developed to keep them in the safety of the deep bunkers. They had nothing to eat or drink while shells burst upon them for that week.

Mrs Scott-Hartley was with the Voluntary Aid Detachment group in a big house converted to a hospital in London in 1917 and said how all the cases there were shell-shocked, which meant they couldn’t keep their hands or their heads still. She held them gently behind their heads so she could feed them.

Heinrich Beutow, a German schoolboy, told how food became scarce by 1918, queues were longer and going to a soup kitchen became a feature of everyday life. Meat was particularly scarce as was butter – and they had turnips repeatedly because there were so few potatoes.

Sergeant-Major Richard Tobin spoke of the summer of 1918 when the breakthrough came: “The Armistice came, the day we had dreamed of. The guns stopped, the fighting stopped. Four years of noise and bangs ended in silence. The killings had stopped. We were stunned. I had been out since 1914. I should have been happy. I was sad. I thought of the slaughter, the hardships, the waste and the friends I had lost.”


Irish Independent


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