20 May2014 NUS

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Clyde Snow – obituary

Clyde Snow was the ‘Sherlock Holmes of bones’ who helped unearth Josef Mengele but also brought living killers to justice

Dr Clyde Snow holding a human skull in his office in Oklahoma City, 1986

Dr Clyde Snow holding a human skull in his office in Oklahoma City, 1986 Photo: AP

7:18PM BST 19 May 2014

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Clyde Snow, who has died aged 86, was among the world’s foremost forensic anthropologists, known as “the Sherlock Holmes of bones” for his role in solving some of the darkest mysteries of the last century; among his successes was identifying Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor at Auschwitz nicknamed “The Angel of Death”.

Armed with a measuring tape for determining skull circumference, anthropometer for sizing up leg bones and Boley gauge for recording the dimensions of teeth, Snow set out to identify victims of crime, aeroplane crashes and natural disasters; he was also equipped to settle long-standing historical debates and to bring criminals to justice.

When computer imaging and DNA profiling arrived, Snow used those technologies too. Accompanying his skilful application of the latest scientific methods was an encyclopedic knowledge of the human skeleton, honed over a career that saw him examine thousands of bodies. While the size and shape of the pelvic bones could give an indication as to gender, the age of a child might be approximated by studying how the cranium had fused, a process that occurs gradually . Snow could even tell whether the body was Caucasian, from careful examination of the eye sockets. “There are 206 bones and 32 teeth in the human body,” he was fond of saying, “and each has a story to tell.”

The Wild Bunch, showing the Sundance Kid seated at left, and Butch Cassidy, seated at right

Many of those stories were of enormous significance. Following the assassination of President Kennedy, Snow appeared before Congress to testify that hospital X-rays taken after the shooting were indeed those of the president. He worked with forensic artist Betty Gatliff on a plaster facial reconstruction of Tutankhamen; scrutinised the remains of the young men murdered by “Killer Clown” John Wayne Gacy; and joined the hunt for the grave of Butch Cassidy that ended amid frustration in Bolivia – the suspected burial site turned out to contain a German prospector.

Among Snow’s most widely publicised expeditions was a trip to Brazil in 1985 at the behest of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Nazi-hunting organisation. In a cemetery near Sao Paulo, police had uncovered the remains of a man formally interred as “Wolfgang Gerhard”. By comparing measurements of the leg bones to official records, Snow helped to confirm that “Wolfgang Gerhard” was in fact Josef Mengele, the Nazi physician who performed grisly experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz.

German Nazi doctor and war criminal Josef Mengele (circa 1945)

The most striking piece of forensic evidence to arise from the dig came from Snow’s West German colleague Richard Helmer, employing a technique that Snow himself had helped devise. Known as skull-face super-imposition, the process used clay to secure 30 pins to various points of comparison around the skull. The team then identified the same points on photographs of Mengele and superimposed the two images, which proved a perfect match. Snow had first employed a simpler version of skull-face super-imposition a decade previously, to help him identify the long-mummified corpse of a train robber shot dead in 1911. The cadaver in question had spent several years as a fairground attraction, where its owner assumed it was a wax dummy – until an arm fell off in 1977, revealing human bone.

An only child, Clyde Collins Snow was born on January 7 1928 in Fort Worth, Texas, and grew up in the panhandle town of Ralls. His father, Wister, a doctor to a largely poor rural community, was unafraid to introduce his son to the realities of sickness, injury and death . On a father-and-son hunting trip when he was 12, Clyde had his first encounter with human remains, stumbling across the bones of a local hunter . The sheriff identified the dead man by a set of keys at the scene.

An indifferent student, Clyde was expelled from high school after a prank involving firecrackers, eventually graduating from the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell. After dropping out of various colleges he settled on a degree from the Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, followed by a brief spell in medical school at Baylor University in Houston and a Master’s degree in Zoology from Texas Tech University. After three years in the Air Force he enrolled at the University of Arizona to study Archaeology, where he learned many of the careful excavation techniques that would serve him well in his chosen field. He eventually earned his PhD in anthropology in 1967.

Dr Clyde Snow unites parts of a skull, in San Salvador, El Salvador in 2000

As a physical anthropologist with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) during the 1960s and 1970s, Snow helped the industry overhaul escape routes and safety procedures by examining the ways in which crash victims died. He also investigated plane crashes on site, and in 1979 worked 18-hour days to help identify victims of an American Airlines crash – the deadliest ever to occur on US soil. Most of the bodies were so badly charred that they could scarcely be distinguished from each other . Using X-rays, photographs and statements from survivors, however, Snow was able to make a dozen positive identifications; but the experience was among the most unpleasant of his career, and he retired from the FAA that same year.

By this time Snow’s reputation in the wider forensic community had been established, and he was much in demand as a consultant to the Oklahoma City police and to medical examiners further afield. Increasingly he applied his knowledge to the field of mass murder and human rights abuses, travelling to Argentina in 1985 to investigate the fate of the country’s “disappeared” – the 20,000 or so civilians who vanished during the military government’s crackdown on political dissidents. Training a group of university students to assist him as he went along, Snow assembled sufficient evidence to allow the convictions of five generals for their roles in mass abduction, torture and murder. “Bones make great witnesses, they speak softly but they never forget and they never lie,” he said.

Back in the United States, he went on to lead several teams working to identify the bodies of civilians killed in terrorist attacks, such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the attack on the World Trade Centre in September 2001. In 2006 he testified as an expert witness in the tribunal trial of Saddam Hussein, describing his discovery in 1991 of mass graves containing the bodies of Iraqi Kurds.

With his slow Texan drawl and ever-present cowboy boots, Snow cut a memorable figure at crime scenes. He chain-smoked Camel cigarettes, and cultivated a morbid sense of humour befitting his career path. “Here’s to homicide,” he once quipped to an interviewer. “It keeps us busy.”

Clyde Snow married, in 1970, Jerry Whistler. She survives him, as do five children from previous marriages.

Clyde Snow, born January 7 1928, died May 16 2014


Pfizer‘s increased bid for AstraZeneca (Report, 19 May) is becoming an unsightly spectacle. The process could have been easily be stopped if the government recognised that the purchase represents a potential breach of national security – which would allow the prime minister to block the deal. In the event of some sudden and novel chemical or biological threat to the UK, who else could the government realistically turn than to our own major drug companies. When it comes to the development, manufacture, distribution and know-how on medicines, and so of antidotes, the combined power of the top two UK companies GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca would be a most powerful resource. Turning to some body overseas would be inherently risky. In the second world war we had to turn to the US to develop penicillin. It would be better if we maintained the wherewithal to do the business in house.
Joe Collier
Emeritus professor of medicines policy, St George’s University Medical School, London

• A likely scenario. Pfizer increases its “final” bid. Hedge fund and other corporate managers sell to take a quick profit and bonus. Pfizer later finds its due diligence was inadequate. It has to sell parts of the business to fund its debt. Businesses in US and UK are closed down to make further economies. The legally binding commitments are found to have no financial penalties attached. As with most takeovers, the deal is found to have destroyed value, and after five years is considered a disaster. How do defenders of capitalism justify this as delivering the best outcome for the greater community?
Dr G Price
Chelmarsh, Shropshire

• Britain has few strategic industries other than pharmaceuticals and aerospace and to allow a foreign company to take control of such a major UK company would be disastrous for British technology, science, and know-how. Mr Cameron and his ministers frequently talk about taking tough decisions. It’s now time for them to be really tough and stand up for British jobs and intellectual property.
Charles Tyrie

We are writing to protest against the failure of the mainstream media to provide serious coverage of the local authority elections and, in particular, to report on candidates to the left of the establishment parties.

One of the defining characteristics of politics in Britain today is the unanimous support for austerity among the three major parties.Ukip, the supposedly anti-establishment party, is also pro-austerity, with Nigel Farage recently arguing for an “extra” £77bn worth of cuts. At local level, austerity has been translated into the huge destruction of public services, with local authority spending being slashed by one third over five years. Yet the national media appear to consider elections to councils – responsible for administering the bedroom tax and cuts to social care, along with library and youth club closures – to be an irrelevance.

We are not arguing here for support for particular candidates standing in this year’s elections for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (co-founded by the late Bob Crow), for Left Unity or for other anti-cuts independents.But we are arguing that they, standing in one in seven of all the seats up for election this year, should be given a fair hearing in the media, the Guardian included.
Dave Nellist Chair, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Peter Pinkney president,RMT, Mick Cash acting general secretary, RMT, Steve Hedley assistant general secretary, RMT, Alan Pottage national organiser, RMT, Daren Ireland regional organiser, RMT, Sean McGowan regional organiser, RMT, Mike Sargent Council of executives, RMT, Stephen Skelly Council of executives, RMT, Kevin Morrison Council of executives, RMT, Alex Gordon past president, RMT, Sean Hoyle former member Council of executives, RMT, Steve Gillan General secretary, POA, Joe Simpson assistant general secretary, POA, Brian Caton ex-general secretary, POA, Dave Ward Deputy general secretary, CWU, Ian Hodson President, BFAWU, John McInally PCS vice-president, Cllrs Keith Morrell and Don Thomas Southampton city councillors – expelled from Labour for voting against cuts, Hannah Sell deputy general secretary, Socialist party, Charley Kimber national secretary, SWP, Mark Thomas editor, Socialist Review, Cllr Michael Lavalette independent, Preston, Nick Wrack Independent Socialist Network, Pete McLaren Independent Socialist Network, Glenroy Watson RMT activist on London Underground, Hugo Pierre Camden Unison convenor for education

•  I agree with Victoria Trow (Letters, 19 May) that the Guardian, a sensible centre-left newspaper, should tell us more about the Green party, and the “other others”. In a blind tasting of 2010 election policies, 25% of 400,000 users on picked the Green party’s policies, twice that of Ukip and more than Labour and the Tories.
John Launder
Skipton, North Yorkshire

•  This Thursday voters in Scotland will elect six members of the European parliament (MEPs). In total the UK will elect 73 MEPs and between Thursday and Sunday millions of voters across the EU’s 28 member states will be electing 751 representatives to the parliament.

The parliament is the directly elected law-making institution of the European Union and amends, approves or rejects EU laws, many of which have an impact on our daily lives, from consumer protection to workers’ rights.

However, despite such a crucial role, voters take little notice of the European policies of the political parties and simply express their judgment on the government of the day. Ukip, like a number of other Eurosceptic parties, is set to gain a bigger foothold in the European parliament through a mixture of protest and voter apathy.

These elections will shape the future direction of the European Union, in areas ranging from climate change to immigration. The European policies of the political parties in these, and other areas, is therefore vital. It is also especially important this year as the key political groupings in the parliament have put forward candidates to be president of the European Commission, the body that proposes legislation.

It is not only important that electors in Scotland vote in these crucial elections but that those heading to the polling booths treat them with the respect they deserve.
Alex Orr

• Polly Toynbee stated that “[this] week’s polls are a free hit” (Comment, 16 May). Does that mean that local elections are meaningless? Does that mean that local elections are insignificant? Does that mean it is not appreciated that councils have more local and immediate impact on people’s everyday lives than Westminster will ever have? Does that mean it is considered thatMPs are more influential on the immediate issues that concern residents than are local councillors?

Too many electors cast their local election votes on the basis of national issues and national parties’ popularity. As a consequence, good, effective and hardworking local representatives, of all parties, are discarded through no fault of their own.

It’s time that London-based journalists and politicians understood that the world extends further than the Westminster village.
Cllr Dave Hibbert
Cabinet member for environment and housing, Oldham MBC

• You told us what Ukip voted for and against (Say no to Nigel, G2, 30 April), so with the European elections now upon us, can you tell us what the other UK parties supported or voted against? It would also be useful if you could state our MEPs’ attendance record as well.
Martin Smith

• Asimple test of just how much citizenship teaching is going on in our schools todayand of what quality (Letters, 19 May; Report, 15 May)would be to find out how many secondary schools, state and private, have beenexamining the campaigns for this week’s local and European elections, and I don’t mean merely mentioning they are going on.

I never missed the opportunity, 20 years ago,to engage inexamining electionmanifestos,and helping students understand the processof elections, though it never added a grade to anything other than engagementwith a process with which they became fascinated.Asking a 15-year-old to writeafive-point manifesto will tell yousomething about him or herbut more importantly about how they perceive thestate of the nation and its issues.The great paradox is that in an era of such enormous political interference in education pupils are exposed to so little political education.
David Handley
Skipton, Yorkshire

• I think we’ve allbeen amazed at the amount of coverage given to Nigel Farage (Letters, 19 May) but there is no Ukip candidate inthe Winchester wardwhereI am standing as anindependentagainst the three main parties.As a former Lib Dem councillor (I resigned when they went into coalition)I am standingan alternative for the many people who will never vote Lib Dem again, but as a fairly well-known local campaigner I find I am picking up votes fromall sections of the community who are disillusioned withthe mainparties. I’ve been struck by how much of a protest vote Ukip has attracted by the fact that residents who say they will vote them in the European ballot will vote for me in the local elections.I explain that I could not be further away from Ukip politicallybut it does not seem to matter. I will benefitby default simply because I am not in one of the main parties.
Karen Barratt
Independent local election candidate, Winchester

We are told that the disgraceful delay in issuing the Chilcot report on the lead-up to the Iraq war is due to problems in agreeing how much of private conversations between Mr Blair and President Bush should be made public (Report, 17 May. If these conversations were about golf or amateur art, both men are entitled to whatever level of privacy they choose. If, however, the conversations were about policy, war or Iraq, then no right to privacy applies. Both men’s decisions on Iraq and any discussions relating to them arose from their respective democratic roles. Their power and rights is not personal but ex-officio. We who elected them to those offices have the fundamental democratic right to know any and all information relevant to the decision to take our countries to war. Especially where there is the possibility of illegality. All and every conversation Chilcot knows of must be published irrespective of the personal wishes of the parties involved. This principle must be vigorously asserted and this absurdly protracted saga ended forthwith. If Chilcot gave assurances on confidentiality, then he exceeded his brief and is equally culpable.
Keith Farman
St Albans, Hertfordshire

• It’s time for David Cameron to intervene to resolve the impasse between John Chilcot and the cabinet secretary, which is the cause of the delay in the production of the report of the Iraq inquiry. Mr Cameron should tell the cabinet secretary to allow Chilcot and his colleagues to quote any documents, classified or not, that they think fit. It is absurd to imagine that five privy councillors appointed by the previous prime minister would choose to publish anything that might jeopardise Britain’s long-term interests.
Stephen Plowden

If half of the Met’s armed officers are threatening to down weapons in protest over being prevented in future from colluding over evidence following a shooting (Report, 19 May), their offer should be gratefully accepted. It could save lives.
Dr Scott Poynting
Auckland, New Zealand

•  D-Day anniversary T-shirt range, under “Entertainment” (cover of theguardian offers summer brochure, distributed with Saturday’s paper). Really? 36,000 allied troops, 200,000 German troops and 19,000 French civilians died during Operation Overlord. A glorious day in the fight against fascism, yes, but a bit glib to turn it into a range of T-shirts. Something one might expect from the Daily Mail perhaps.
Rigby Jerram
Kendal, Cumbria

• Despite what Wikipedia may claim, Boko Haram does not mean “western education is sinful” (Letters, 16 May). Boko is a Hausa word meaning “fraud”, and encompasses anything non-Qur’anic. Chinese education would be just as boko as western education.
Chris McKeon

• Croughton (Letters, 19 May)? According to the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names, the first syllable’s pronounced like “crow”, the bird. But your correspondent is right: it’s a great opportunity to perplex those pesky allies. Why don’t we suggest they create another facility at Sprowston, Norfolk? Or even just at Leicester?
John Wells
Emeritus professor of phonetics, UCL

• As an exiled Scot I would vote for an Alexander Brothers tribute band to represent Scotland in the Eurovision song contest (Letters, 15 May). Two former house painters, who sang such classics as Nobody’s Child or Take Me Back (to the land of lochs and glens) and packed halls with their brand of country and western with a strong Scottish flavour. Though my wife leaves the room when I play them.
Ian Arnott

•  Are you trying to lose all your readership above the age of 60? The witless cartoon accompanying Confused about your pension? (Money, 17 May) gives me cause to think so, and how clever of the artist to combine so many ageist/sexist/snobbish cliches in one little drawing!
Felicity Brown

I was sad to read Ed Miliband‘s views on immigration (Report, 17 May). We shouldn’t be hearing him legitimising the Ukip idea that the bad time people are having is because of immigration. Labour should be dispelling the myths about immigration and they should be fighting for worker’s rights. Miliband asked: “What happens when people come here – are wages undercut?” It is the employers who undercut wages – not immigrants. It is the employers’ greed for greater profits that is leading to zero-hours contracts and poor pay. If employers aren’t paying the minimum wage, they are breaking the law – chase them up. Don’t blame immigrants.

Labour is always banging on about hardworking families – well, many of those are on their knees trying to pay the gas and electric bills, mortgages, petrol costs etc. These are nothing to do with immigration, but to do with these companies seeking to make massive profits from their customers. Offer us hope that Labour will tackle that. Has it occurred to Miliband and Ukip that there are a million or so UK citizens living and working in Europe? If we stop immigration into this country, what’s to stop other European countries sending our citizens home to seek jobs and benefits here?

The Labour party is leaving the fight against racism to groups like Hope Not Hate, the Mirror newspaper and Eddie Izzard. We in Hope Not Hate are posting newspapers through people’s letter boxes urging them to get out and vote because we fear that lethargy will let Ukip in and we will see immigrants increasingly scapegoated for problems that are not of their doing. We shouldn’t be doing it alone. It’ll just make those of us who are disgusted by the Ukip posters and anti-immigrant messages wonder who on earth we turn to at the voting booth for a message of hope.
Helena Coulston

• Labour – and the Guardian for that matter – entirely miss the point in the defection of Labour voters to Ukip in the north of England. In recent years the party has been run by a clique from privileged backgrounds bickering and agonising over minority issues and political correctness, and encouraging swaths of the population to develop an impossibly thin skin and a victim mentality.

They have lost touch with what would once have been their core support. Inequality is not primarily a black v white or a male v female issue; it is poor people, irrespective of race or gender, who are the victims. While Labour continues to ignore the plight of poor white British people with no prospects, and tells them they are in fact privileged and that the system must be changed to disadvantage them further, it will continue to lose votes and will deserve to do so.

Nigel Farage is an admirer of Mrs Thatcher, a view which would alone have rendered him unelectable in northern England and Wales until recently. Many people are willing to overlook this because he is the only person representing their views on a small number of issues which they think are crucially important, but which the major parties have for years refused to even discuss.
Peter Baillie
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey.

• I’m happy for Ed Miliband to read Thomas Piketty on the beach. What I’m not happy about is the absence of any sign he will do something radical as a result. With regard to hitting back hard – as Nigel Farage constantly demonstrates – if the public thinks your message resonates, attacks will simply bounce off.
Jeremy Cushing

Wyn Francis regrets (Letters, 17 May) that in the profile of Alan Moses, the new chairman of the press “self-regulator”, Ipso, (Here comes the judge, 16 May) there was no mention of his salary and who pays it. In fact Moses is to be paid £1,000 a day for a three-day week (which amounts to £250,000 a year pro-rata), which is almost twice the prime minister’s rate of pay, and is 20% higher than Moses’s own salary before his retirement as a judge.

This salary is determined not by the supposedly independent board of Ipso itself, but by the industry-only funding body, the Regulatory Funding Company, which, of course, also funds Ipso. The salary is not published by the RFC (which does not even have a website), but is available “on request”. Curiously, despite a profusion of positive profiles of Moses in our raucous press, either no journalist has seen fit to request this information, or no editor has seen fit to allow it to be published.
Jane Winter
Victim of computer hacking, London


It is heartening to see new measures of progress entering the mainstream debate. But we must question your editorial’s concern (19 May) that non-monetary measures “could be used as an alibi for the growing divide between rich and poor”. An economy that was run to maximise well-being would care more, not less, about reducing poverty and inequality.

It is GDP, not well-being, that has historically been used as an “alibi” for inequality. GDP only tells you the size of the cake: it says nothing about how that cake is distributed. And for decades we have been told that if we freed “wealth creators” to grow the size of the cake, the benefits would trickle down to those at the bottom. We now know that this is untrue.

By contrast, well-being evidence demonstrates that distribution does matter. Poverty and deprivation are strong predictors of low well-being, but further up the income scale the link between money and well-being almost disappears – with relative income seemingly at least as important as absolute income. Focusing on GDP growth won’t improve well-being if the fruits of that growth go disproportionately to the rich.

Well-being is not merely a sideshow – it is a serious alternative to a yardstick of progress that has failed in economic as well as non-economic terms.

Christine Berry, Researcher, Centre for Wellbeing, New Economics Foundation, London SE11

Your editorial “Britain: The global capital for billionaires” (12 May) captured the problem without either analysing the cause or providing any solutions.

The disparity of wealth has increased since the adoption of the Reagan/Thatcher concept of low-regulated free-market economics. From the end of the Second World War until 1980 the opposite was happening, at least in developed countries. Annual growth rates were higher in this period than they have been since in the UK, despite spanning the 1970s oil-price crisis. It is strange that nobody is discussing this until you realise who has benefited from it and who has not.

The crash in 2008 was also caused by this failed unregulated market capitalist model so beloved of all our politicians and newspaper owners. This approach has failed almost as comprehensively as the Marxist central planning model.

The solutions our Coalition Government has chosen to employ have exacerbated the disparities, making the poor pay for the actions of bankers.

The sad thing is we have evidence of a system that worked much better, the regulated social market capitalism that was in place in most democracies up to 1979, that we were told by the politicians of the time had failed – a failure that would be deemed a success in today’s economic environment.

Instead of debate we blame the EU, foreigners, billionaires, the unions, take your pick.

Dr Robert Sloss, Bury, Lancashire

The news that the 1,000 wealthiest Britons now own £519bn – the equivalent of a third of Britain’s gross domestic product – should set alarm bells ringing. The figures reflect a grotesquely unequal society, which comes into ever clearer focus when it is remembered that one million people go to food banks.

This level of inequality needs urgent attention, given that there is only a limited amount of time that the mass of people are going to continue to tolerate such an unjust situation.

Paul Donovan, London E11

Scapegoats for Europe’s woes

I have changed my mind about the EU.

I have always considered the EU to be an undemocratic, corrupt, interfering, smug, self-satisfied institution, with a rigid free-market and federal agenda. I still believe that analysis of the EU to be correct. However, I am voting for a pro-EU party – the Green Party if you want to know – because there is one thing far worse than the EU and that is the growth of militant nationalism that is exclusive, intolerant  and blinkered, and which looks for whipping-boys on which to relieve its frustrations.

Moves towards a federal Europe will stoke the flames of nationalism so the EU must be reformed on a social-democratic model, so that it becomes a commonwealth of independent nations rather than a federal state.

It has long been one of the weaknesses of the EU that when people perceive that they have lost control of their countries’ internal affairs, because of European  institutions that are not directly accountable, then scapegoats will be found and there will be a return to nationalism. Nationalism should not become the legacy of the EU.

Lyn Atterbury, Pila, Poland

Camps where we corral migrants

I don’t often find myself agreeing with every word that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes, but this morning’s piece (19 May) was exceptional. It made me as angry, as it so obviously made her. So where do we go from here?

Could I suggest that a good start might be for newspapers like The Independent to stop referring to places like Yarl’s Wood with the coy title of “Immigration Removal Centres” and start calling them what they really are: concentration camps.

A concentration camp is a means of corralling people of a particular sort so that they can no longer cause bother to the ruling élite. My German friends never cease to remind me that they are a British invention, instituted during the South African wars of the late 1890s to keep unruly Boers in one place. Perhaps revealing to the nation that this country still operates concentration camps might wake people up?

John Williams, West Wittering, West Sussex

You have made no proper analysis of why there is so much concern over uncontrolled immigration to this country.

It is not about race, despite The Independent and other dishonest media attempts to paint it that way. It is primarily about numbers.

Our schools are full, our hospitals are full, our GP surgeries are full, our housing stock is full, our prisons are full, our roads are clogged, and all of these are leading to a reduction in the quality of life for all residents in this country.

There is some understandable resistance to people of some cultures that bring with them attitudes and behaviour that are incompatible with the values of this country, such as forced marriages, honour killings, female genital mutilation, and demonising of children as witches. There is also understandable resistance to people who bring their conflicts with them, such as the Sunni-Shia conflict or the Tamil Tigers.

But the essence of the argument to control immigration is numbers, irrespective of race. Because of the attempts by The Independent and others to deliberately misrepresent this argument I will be casting my vote for UKIP for the first time on 22 May.

Ian Dunlop, Staplecross, East Sussex

I would much prefer to live next door to a Romanian than to Nigel Farage.

Gill Littlehales

Pudsey, West Yorkshire


The land of falling house prices

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, has identified surging housing prices as the biggest risk to the UK economy. He believes that “there are not sufficient houses built in the UK”.

Maybe Mr Carney should come to Middlesbrough, where my three-bedroom semi is still worth less than it was in 2007, and hundreds of perfectly good houses have been demolished.

When I read such  articles in the media, I often think that they are about a foreign country.

May I suggest the Government should start looking at encouraging businesses, by offering them incentives to relocate, or at least set up satellite offices, away from London to the forgotten towns such as mine. This would help to cool the housing market in the South-east, and at the same time ease the unemployment in the depressed areas.

Or is that too easy?

Gerard Etherington, Middlesbrough

Survival of the farthest-flung snails

Your report on the homing abilities of snails (16 May) clearly shows that natural selection is at work.

That garden snails do not return if removed more than 20 metres is obviously related to the width of suburban gardens. One garden away is normally less than 20 metres; two gardens away is normally farther than a snail will be thrown. So there is no need to develop the navigational skills for returning from the greater distance.

Another possibility is that the snails are smart enough to realise that a gardener with enough venom to hurl them that far is best avoided.

David Ridge

London N19

Isn’t there enough spite shown already to innocent creatures without your encouraging gardeners to throw snails at least 20 metres?

G Pigott

Holland-on-Sea,  Essex


Pride: Brighton College rugby 1st XV suggested joining the annual procession Chris Radburn / PA Wire

Published at 12:01AM, May 20 2014

Teenagers may well benefit from LGBT clubs as they come to terms with their sexuality

Sir, Patrick Tobin (letter May 17) describes teachers who affirm sexual identity with a pupil as being out of order. However, it is indisputable that in many teenagers sexual identity is already determined. Not to discuss the possibility of being LGBT is to stigmatise and isolate those that are.

Sensible discussion of sexual identity is essential, both for those still seeking to discover their own nature and for those who already know it. Where Mr Tobin is correct is that no one should be forced to conform to a particular identity — whether that be lesbian, gay, straight, bi or transgender.

Andrew Pettitt

Bromley, Kent

Sir, Patrick Tobin asserts that “homophobic bullying derives from too much media coverage rather than too little”.

My excellent secondary school in the 1970s had plenty of homophobic bullying of anyone thought to be gay, and I wish there had been both more media coverage and a LGBT society to support me, a boy who had known he was gay from the age of 10.

Alex Beard

Spilsby, Lincolnshire

Sir, I have encountered pupils whose decision to describe themselves as gay has been a uniquely important moment of self-assertion and self-affirmation. One hopes at these moments that the love and respect of parents for their child, and that of other significant individuals, will help them to live calmly with their decision.

Of course, motives for coming out can be more diffuse than a clear statement of orientation. Among teenagers especially it may be part of a convoluted bid for attention. But in any case, LGBT groups are a useful earthing device. They work much like any other group which promotes self-help through common awareness. If they can persuade a youngster riven with guilt and self-loathing to shed some of that self-obsession and start thinking more about other people and other needs, then good work has been done. If, on the other hand, they engender such boredom that a new recruit takes refuge instead in his French prep or in rugby practice, that’s fine too. Adolescents need occupation.

As a teacher and as a housemaster, I would actively welcome an LGBT group in any school in which I worked.

David Hargreaves

London N1

Sir, Patrick Tobin, a former headmaster of mine, describes as “macabre” the head master of Highgate’s decision to establish a club where adolescents who are struggling with their sexuality can talk openly about their concerns. Surely he would not prefer these young people to suffer in silence.

Homophobic bullying in schools does not “from too much media coverage”. It happens because schools lack the courage to stand up to it and shy away from teaching children to recognise that all human beings of whatever colour, creed, gender or sexuality are of equal value. We have an openly gay head boy (elected by his peers), a Gender Society where 6th formers can discuss matters of sexuality and, one day perhaps, we might even agree to the 1st XV rugby team’s suggestion that we take a float in Brighton Pride to highlight the pain caused to young people by homophobic bullying.

Richard Cairns

Head Master, Brighton College

The Great Hall of Barts Hospital has an important war memorial which must be defended

Sir, It is difficult to believe that there are plans to change the Great Hall at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. In addition to the many treasures, noted by Sir Marcus Setchell (letter, May 17), may I add that the archway at the base of the hall is the hospital war memorial. Nothing should be done to diminish the visibility of the names of those gallant Barts doctors who died in the two World Wars.

JCM Currie

Penzance, Cornwall

The new leader of India has established close ties with China, and now it will be interesting to see what happens

Sir, You are correct (leading article, May 17) that Modi’s election rhetoric over India’s nuclear doctrine has made China “extremely nervous”. However, over the years China and Modi have invested heavily in each other to forge a bond that could have far-reaching ramifications for
Sino-Indian relations.

Modi has visited China four times. In 2011 he made a high-profile five-day trip in which he was accorded a welcome generally reserved for heads of state. Beijing also heeded his request to free 19 Gujaratis, arrested in Shenzen on charges of smuggling. This was at a time when the West would have nothing to do with Modi because of his alleged role in a 2002 pogrom against Muslims in which more than 1,000 people were killed.

Now Modi is in power, it is only a matter of time before China will seek any potential pay-off from its personal relationship with him. Given his open admiration for China, Modi’s success must raise a hope in China of him becoming a sort of Indian Richard Nixon, pitting India with China against the West.

Randhir Singh Bains

Gants Hill, Essex

A senior British politician recalls a faux pas which did nothing to smooth Anglo-Belgian relations

Sir, Your obituary of Jean-Luc Dehaene (May 17) reminded me of the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings that I attended, as defence secretary, with John Major in Normandy in 1994.

In Bayeux after the service on the beach one guest, speaking English with what I took to be a French accent, said “How are you, Malcolm?” I did not recognise him but he reminded me that we had met when we were transport ministers. I still did not recognise him but assumed he was in the French government. Trying to get a clue I asked “What are you doing now?” Looking unimpressed, he said “I am the prime minister of Belgium”. I was suitably chastened.

Having been vetoed by Major for the presidency of the European Commission, Dehaene never, as you say in your obituary, quite forgave the British. After my faux pas, who could blame him?

sir malcolm rifkind

House of Commons

Women may lose confidence when on maternity leave, but babies benefit from having them at home too

Sir, Harriet Green asserts that during a long maternity leave mothers “lose confidence very fast” in their ability to return to work (May 17), and suggests less time at home post birth.

Given all that we know about the importance of primary attachments to the major caregiver in the first year of life with regard to appropriate neurological development in babies, perhaps we should look at the other side of the coin? Babies too lose confidence very fast — sadly, there are no second chances for them.

debbie holroyd

Headley, Surrey

Expanding Heathrow would subject more than one million people to dangerously unbearable noise pollution

Sir, It must frustrate Heathrow’s largely foreign institutional shareholders that Britain puts an emphasis on individual freedom. Akbar al-Baker, Qatar’s representative on the Heathrow board, considers it “excessive” (“Never mind the noise, Heathrow should open round the clock, says airport chief”, May 19).

He is right that we need a hub airport that can compete with the world’s best but in saying that “as soon as the aeroplane is out of the airport perimeter, you will hardly hear it”, Mr Baker is forgetting that Heathrow occupies an area less than half that of the new airport in his home country.

Research to be published by the Mayor this week shows that a three-runway Heathrow would inflict noise above safe WHO levels on more than a million people. If Britain is to continue to have a major hub, Heathrow must relocate.

Which makes me wonder why it is that Mr Baker, as head of Qatar Airways, has supported the relocation of Doha’s airport to a new site outside the city, where it can grow, while showing no enthusiasm for the same policy prescription for London. Are Qatar Airways’ commercial interests entirely congruent with Britain’s national interest?

Daniel Moylan

Mayor of London’s Chief Advisor on Aviation


Keep it in the family to solve a grave problem

Practical solutions for saving space after death

Rising dead: Grave niches with plaques in the columbarium at Bassano Romano, Lazio, Italy  Photo: ALAMY

6:58AM BST 19 May 2014

Comments46 Comments

SIR – Your report rightly drew attention to the lack of space left for traditional burials.

I would like to be buried upright in the ground, in a coffin that will decompose, and with an oak sapling planted above me. My family could join in on their demise. Above us would grow a family tree.

Tim Burgess
Rostherne, Cheshire

SIR – At Camden and Islington Cemetery, near the North Circular Road, up to six people can be buried in the same grave.

George Curley
London N7

SIR – Have your ashes scattered; you won’t take up space and your descendants won’t have to keep up your grave.

Sara Bastin
Woodchester, Gloucestershire

SIR – End-of-life care isn’t just an issue in hospitals. Of course, it’s important to improve the quality of care in the final hours of life in hospital, but it’s also important to explore the alternatives sensitively with people and their families.

This could mean supporting people to die at home if that is what they want. Our evidence shows that if health and social care services work together, they can provide high-quality palliative care so that people die with dignity and their families are reassured.

Tony Hunter
Chief Executive
The Social Care Institute for Excellence
London NW1

SIR – My husband died last year after 19 months of tortuous illness. We had to make our own referral to palliative care, and although the medical treatment during his 16 emergency admissions was generally good, the failure of multiple services to coordinate care was a disgrace.

At the end he was able to receive hospice care where nursing, communication, kindness and after-care for the family were in abundance. Perhaps it is time for the unfunded hospice care system to train the NHS in the care of the dying.

Sally Blythe

SIR – I have known quite a few people who have been told they were dying, and all were devastated to receive the news. No one, not even doctors, has the right to take away another person’s hope.

People, especially old people. know when they are dying. They don’t need confirmation of it, just love and care while they are still alive.

Patricia Rollins
Stoke Golding, Warwickshire

Tongue-tied Brits

SIR – Sajid Javid, the Culture Secretary, has suggested that all immigrants should learn to speak English if they wish to settle and work in the UK (, May 17). If all Britons living abroad were made to do the same, we would soon have another million or so heading back home:Britain is the laziest nation in the world when it comes to learning new languages.

Paul Caruana
Truro, Cornwall

Amoral children

SIR – It seems to me that all the responsibility of bringing up children to be good citizens is given to the schools.

Whatever has happened to the parents? Surely it is in the home that children learn morality and the values that go towards good citizenship.

Elizabeth Feldman
Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire

Check this out

SIR – I have been studying supermarket aisle fashions for years. My advice to Sally Jaspars would be to wear whatever takes her fancy: pyjamas, Lycra pants, shell suits, tattoos, dungarees or fur boots in summer.

Ivor Knight
Southsea, Hampshire

SIR – I never go out shopping without hat, heels and lipstick, even to collect a newspaper. Sartorial standards may be slipping, but not on my watch.

Michelle Varney

Music lessons

SIR – Your report “School cuts risk child’s right to music lessons” (May 13) claims that music education is “under threat from government cuts”.

In fact, music, art and design are all now statutory subjects for children between the ages of 5 and 14, and the Government is investing £170 million in music education hubs, which are improving access to music education for all pupils, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This will ensure every child has the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, and that clear progression routes are available and affordable to all young people.

There are a number of other programmes being funded by government to allow young people to perform in national ensembles and at some of the UK’s most prestigious venues. Our In Harmony programme works in some of the country’s most deprived areas to transform the lives of children through community-based orchestral music, while our Music and Dance Scheme supports exceptionally talented musicians and dancers at specialist schools.

This Government is fully committed to making sure our children get a fully rounded cultural education.

Elizabeth Truss MP (Con)
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education
Ed Vaizey MP (Con)
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries
London SW1

Lee Rigby memorial

SIR – Do we lack the courage to commemorate the sacrifice of Fusilier Lee Rigby by erecting a simple, stout memorial where he fell? Let the offended pass by on the other side.

Chris Scott
Coulsdon, Surrey

That adds up

SIR – When children can swim 60ft, they get a certificate and can use the “big” pool. When teenagers pass their driving tests, they get a licence and can drive a car.

Calculators are an amazing and necessary tool, but let children prove they can add, subtract, multiply and divide in their heads and on paper (whether they be 7 or 11), and then give them calculators.

Marva Hall
Harpenden, Hertfordshire

When square plates meant hot, square meals

SIR – William Sitwellmay scorn the square plate, but wooden ones were standard issue in ships of the line in Nelson’s day, because they suited the crowded messes and lack of storage space on board.

Sailors were fed a hot meat meal every day while many on land nearly starved. The practice led to the expression “a square meal”, meaning a good one.

Cdr Michael Collis (retd)
Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire

SIR – William Sitwell has hit on something in his view of square plates as “at odds with nature”. The same could be said of square speed signs, so beloved of councils nowadays. Round road signs are less of an abomination, especially if they are small – something that, considering the obesity crisis, should be applied to plates, too.

Tim Coles
Carlton, Bedfordshire

SIR – Square plates and wooden platters are avoided by gentlemen. Food served on a bed” is equally to be eschewed. My pet hatred is anything that has been “drizzled” on.

Arthur Ord-Hume
Guildford, Surrey

SIR – I wish Richard Ackernley every success in his campaign to keep square plates off dining tables in the Dales. But I fear that the use of “jus” in place of “gravy” is now too widespread to overcome.

Andrew Barratt
Bellingdon, Buckinghamshire

SIR – I have been presented recently with sombrero-sized soup dishes with a small indentation in the centre which contains the three tablespoons of soup or, in some cases, a microscopic starter. Surely these should go the way of the square plate?

Terry Critchley
Knutsford, Cheshire

SIR – I have yet to receive any communication about the European elections from either Labour or the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps they have decided that they have no chance of being elected here in the South East.

But if a political party cannot be bothered to circulate details about its candidates or policies, why should I be bothered to turn out to vote for it?

Henry Langley
Gillingham, Kent

SIR – I have to say that I was confused for a moment or two by the party named at the top of my MEP postal voting form. It seemed to be Ukip but not quite. So I looked a bit further and right down the bottom of the long form I found the real Ukip. This is playing dirty, surely. Who are these people, and who is conniving with them to permit this psephological chicanery?

Related Articles

Charles Lewis
London N2

SIR – David Cameron suggests that rather than switch to Ukip at this Thursday’s European elections, Conservative supporters should stay loyal and await the outcome of his negotiations to reform the EU, provided, of course, that he wins a majority at next year’s general election.

Since the Prime Minister has already announced that he will lead the campaign to stay in the EU in the promised referendum, what sort of reforms does he seriously expect to win?

Dewi Jones
Brighton, East Sussex

SIR – My problem with the European elections is that I don’t actually know for whom or what I am voting.

Boris Johnson’s ideaof sending existing MPs to be MEPs seems a good one, especially if all other member states did the same.

But we could go one step further and set up a virtual parliament using teleconferencing. This would remove the need for the charade of moving between Brussels and Strasbourg, saving millions.

It would also stop unnecessary expenses claims.

Roger Jackson
Stockport, Cheshire

SIR – Unfortunately, Boris Johnson’s suggestion that British MEPs be drawn from the pool of Westminster MPs would be illegal under EU law.

In the United Kingdom we have used proportional representation for European elections since 1999, when the European Parliamentary Elections Act was forced through against opposition from the House of Lords. Since then, European Council Decision 2002/772/EC has forced all EU member states to use proportional representation for elections to the parliament. This prevents the UK from changing its system for the election of MEPs.

Christopher Kaye
Coombe Dingle, Gloucestershire

Irish Times:

Sir, – It is of concern, but perhaps not surprising, to read that the HSE is now relying on the advice of a Harvard professor of leadership development and management practice to inform health policy in Ireland (“Health cuts ‘wrong way’ to reform system, Harvard expert says”, Home News, May 16th).

The nub of Prof Kaplan’s proposal is that the HSE should base reform and rewards on “excellent outcomes and efficient processes” rather than simply “being there”. The suggestion is that general practitioners should specialise in particular conditions rather than dealing with the “whole range of conditions”.

In this primary care utopia, it seems the “general” is to be removed from “general practice”. GPs are the only clinicians trained in multi-morbidity. This is why mortality figures improve the more general practitioners there are in the community. GPs manage patient care. We operate at the highest level of complexity – not the lowest, as health economists and politicians like to say. We manage 98 per cent of the Irish population’s illnesses and multi-morbidity needs daily and over 24 million consultations take place in general practice each year. Local GPs keep up to 95 per cent of patients out of costly secondary care.

General practitioners deal with the full range of medical conditions presenting in their community. This is what makes the general practice service so successful. The very idea of a specialist-based primary care medical service is just allowing the expensive, fragmented and inaccessible hospital-centric model for health to creep into primary care.

Our model and training for general practice is so effective that such countries as Australia, Canada and the UK are actively recruiting our GPs. The HSE fails to recognise the talent and expertise on its own doorstep. Irish general practitioners are trained in the European definition of general practice and family medicine.

The Irish College of General Practitioners would be delighted to address the educational deficit in HSE leadership at any time. Our college comprises almost over 3,500 members. We work alongside five university departments of general practice. We are not short on expertise, neither are we short on the research that supports our work. As those currently delivering primary care in Ireland, we have earned the right to have our views on reforming the system to be heard. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive,

Irish College of

General Practitioners,

4/5 Lincoln Place, Dublin 2.

Sir, – If the HSE and Department of Health top brass addressed by Prof Robert Kaplan heed his advice to reward and pay people in the health system for delivering superior outcomes and efficient processes, his hefty speaking fee will have been worth it.

Ireland’s healthcare bill of nearly €17 billion is the sum total of thousands of decisions that are made every day by doctors, patients, nurses, hospital administrators and others.

Given the sheer number of decisions that are made, to attain greater system-wide efficiency, we must move from blunt, top-down cost-control measures to using appropriate incentive schemes and information to improve the decision-making process at the micro level, with an understanding as to the consequences of these decisions at the system-wide level.

In seeking to introduce a new universal health insurance (UHI) system it is clear that this Government is trying to meet the key health policy objective of providing an equitable health system. What is less clear is whether the proposed UHI system will promote efficiency and quality, what should be a second key health policy objective.

The essence of ensuring the proposed UHI system meets the requirements of promoting efficiency and quality will be to create a truly competitive healthcare market with consistent incentives and structures that motivate all of the various market participants to act in the best interest of patients.

It is important that the ground rules that are put in place reward health insurers for partnering with efficient providers who work with them to manage effectively quality and cost, and not for anti-social behaviours like risk selection, market segmentation and generation of consumer confusion, as happens in the health insurance market currently, in spite of risk equalisation.

While it does not appear to warrant mention in the Government’s recent white paper on universal health insurance, public accountability for performance by health insurers and healthcare providers will be an integral element of making the new UHI system work. If consumers know about relative performance, they buy from high performers. Healthcare quality metrics are already well developed and in use in other countries.

We know more about the quality of our washing machines and vacuum cleaners than we do about the quality of our healthcare insurers and providers. – Yours, etc,


Morehampton Road,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – As academics in Ireland who have been following national and international developments in relation to prostitution regulation, we note that one year has passed since the publication of the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality that unanimously supported the enactment of laws penalising the purchase of sexual services of another person by means of prostitution, or any request, agreement or attempt to do so. Despite the political consensus on the committee, no progress has been made to implement its recommendations. The report summarises an extended national consultation process, which involved the publication of a consultation paper by the Department of Justice and Equality, followed by a call for written submissions which attracted in excess of 800 responses, an international study visit, a conference and oral hearings at the joint committee.

Even though the committee concluded that it found “persuasive the evidence it has heard on the reduction of demand for prostitution in Sweden since the introduction of the ban on buying sex in 1999”, no meaningful action has been taken to progress to the legislative stage. Contrary to the lack of political leadership on this issue in Ireland, other countries are acting decisively. The French National Assembly, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and an all-party committee of MPs in the UK have all supported targeting demand for prostitution to curb abuse, exploitation and trafficking. Canada, despite a controversial ruling providing a legal basis for prostitution establishments, has now engaged in a national consultation on this issue; some Canadian government ministers oppose a regularised sex “industry”. We are calling on the Government and the new Minister for Justice and Equality to target reducing the demand for prostitution as a priority by implementing the recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, and adopting the Nordic model. – Yours, etc,


Department of Sociology,

Trinity College Dublin;














Sir, – Arthur Boland (May 17th) comments on the lack of ducklings or moorhen chicks on the lake in St Stephen’s Green this spring.

I suspect the reason for this is the hordes of herring gulls and great black backed gulls that infest the lake at this time of year and compete with each other for an easy snack the second a duckling appears.

It is like a fast-food restaurant for the gulls and, while they are waiting for the next tasty morsel to arrive, they happily eat the bread intended for the poor ducklings’ parents!

Is there anything that can be done to give the ducklings a fighting chance? – Yours, etc,


Friarsland Road,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – Arthur Boland notes the absence of ducklings and moorhen chicks in St Stephen’s Green, and yet no shortage of young blackbirds. This would seem to indicate the presence of a predator of ground-nesting birds. A mink in residence perhaps? – Yours, etc,


Blainroe Upper,


Co Wicklow.

Sir, – On many occasions I have seen well-intentioned members of the public feeding the swans, ducks and seagulls at the pond at St Stephen’s Green. However, I fear dispensing large sliced pans to the feathered friends does more harm than good. Perhaps all the chicks have sunk under the weight of that dough. – Yours, etc,



Hollywood,Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Michael Patrick Campbell calls for Ireland to join Nato because we “have a moral obligation not to let our planet slip back into the horrific wars and great power intrigues of the 20th century” (May 19th).

Nato is itself a product of “great power intrigues” and its exclusive aim is to foment “horrific wars” in order to ensure global “full spectrum dominance” by the US and its EU accomplices.

But perhaps Mr Campbell is just kidding. His letter certainly reads like a parody of the worst kind of neo-conservative rhetoric. – Yours, etc,


Lower Baggot Street,


Sir, – We should be wary of letters from America and armchair generals at home telling us we have a moral duty to put our sons and daughters into the Nato military front line against those who do not share the American world view. On the eve of the centenary of the horrible slaughter of the imperialist first World War, we ought to think better of war-mongering and any rush to arms in other people’s countries, which events in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc, clearly show prolong conflicts and seem to solve very little.

Éamon de Valera may deserve some criticism for some of his actions but keeping Ireland neutral during the second World War was for many his finest hour. It is one Fianna Fáil legacy worth preserving. – Yours, etc,


Moyclare Close,


Dublin 13.

Sir, – Breandán Ó Mathúna (May 17th) states emphatically that perceived “top or prestigious” schools are not superior to the general school. I would be interested to know the criteria on which he bases his hypothesis. His main argument seems to be on the grounds of cost. Surely it is time we got over the “one for everyone in the audience” attitude, which operates on the principle of “if I can’t have it, you can’t either”.

Supporting your local school or your national education system is admirable. However, doing so in a blinkered manner is to deny the obvious. The destructive outcome of teaching to the middle, refusing to provide for academic excellence, dumbing down and the demand for uniformity cannot be ignored. It is a misconception to assume that ability to pay is the only criterion for entry to UK public schools. A high level of academic achievement is required for the “top” schools. More and more of them are ensuring that financial considerations do not deter able pupils from having the advantages associated with such an educational system. – Yours, etc,



Moyne Road,

Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

Sir, – In your article last Wednesday on Jackie Kennedy, attention was drawn to her friendship with Father Leonard of All Hallows, Dublin (Front Page, May 13th). I was working in the 1950s in the Irish Central Library for Students, Upper Mount Street, Dublin, and Fr Leonard used to visit there often. He would arrive whistling Nell Flaherty’s Drake and challenge me to tell him the tune’s name. He told me once that on a holiday in Parknasilla in Kerry he and George Bernard Shaw were staying in the same hotel. Walking together, Shaw used to ask him about aspects of Catholicism, information he needed for his play Saint Joan. When Shaw died in 1956 Fr Leonard took part in the BBC radio programme about him. Yes, the Kennedys and Shaw! The proverb “Is beag í Éire” (Ireland is small) springs to mind. – Yours, etc,



Sidmonton Gardens,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I honestly have little or no idea what Maureen Dowd was writing about in her article on Condoleezza Rice et al (“What would Condoleezza Rice have said in speech had she delivered?”, World, May 19th). It was like getting my face stuck in a dish of spaghetti bolognese and my mouth struggling to find any pieces of mince.

Her remarks attributed to so many people in a rapid-fire manner just left me with a headache and none the wiser. Undoubtedly she is a clever person, but it might be more useful if she could write an article that gives her own views rather than quoting those of a dozen others, with her incessant name dropping. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – Further to a letter (May 14th) that questions the sustainability of boarfish and its use in the new proposed bio-marine food ingredients plant in Killybegs, the long-established International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which advises on ocean sustainability, has concluded that the boarfish fishery is fished in a sustainable manner and recommended a total allowable catch of 127,000 tonnes for 2014, of which Ireland has a quota of 88,000 tonnes.

The boarfish is a small pelagic shoaling species that has undergone a significant increase in abundance in the northeast Atlantic.

The increase is believed to be related to an increase in water temperature and consequently an increase in suitable habitat and conditions for boarfish in this region.

An extensive review of all available literature and studies conducted throughout the species range indicate that boarfish do not appear to be an important prey species in the Celtic Sea area and this is highlighted in the scientific advice given by the ICES last year.

Considerable investment has been made in establishing a comprehensive scientific basis for the sustainable development of the fishery and effective management strategies have been developed for it that will ensure the future sustainability of this valuable marine resource. – Yours, etc,


Killybegs Fishermen’s


St Catherine’s Road,


Sir, – I will not be voting on Friday. This is not because I am indifferent or apathetic, although that is undoubtedly how I will be classified. I have always taken my right to vote seriously and used it. The reason I will not be voting is because I will be on holiday. I am going with a British friend who has already voted. That is because she can easily get a postal vote and I cannot.

Why? Do the powers that be not trust Irish voters? I have raised this issue with canvassers and they tell me that they have encountered problems even trying to get a postal vote for people who are severely handicapped and that students away from home are deterred from voting by the difficulty of travel.

I have seen no mention of postal voting among the suggestions for reform that are being proposed. Why not? – Yours, etc,


Cabra Road,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – In light of recent rent increases and the increasing property shortage, why not introduce a severe tax on vacant or unused property, both buildings and land? There are immediate obvious benefits – an improved visual and social landscape, an increase in available affordable property and a jobs boost for the construction sector. Put the property you own to some use – live in it, rent it, farm it, commercialise it, donate it or sell it – otherwise be prepared to be taxed for the luxury of speculating on it. – Yours, etc,




Co Meath.

Sir, – Further to Patrick Logue’s “An Irishman’s Diary on why printed newspapers are hard to beat” (May 19th), nothing beats The Irish Times for lighting a turf fire. – Yours, etc,


Cnoc an Stollaire,

Gaoth Dobhair,

Co Donegal.

Irish Independent:

Published 20 May 2014 02:30 AM

In the last few days before the European elections, it is worth pointing out what exactly it is the candidates are fighting for.

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Hope: a thing of magic

Youth recognises political promises

Certainly, some of them will claim they want to represent the Irish people, when the reality is most of them have signed a legally binding contract with their respective parties to abide by the party whip system.

But I suspect that every MEP who gets elected will make sure they claim every single cent from the expenses and allowance system. The basic gross monthly salary of an MEP is €8,020.53, up from €7,956.53 in 2012. It ‘can’ be subject to Irish tax, but most Irish MEPs prefer to avail of the far lower special EU tax rate, which results in a net payment of €6,250.37. Only Nessa Childers publishes her net monthly salary, although she doesn’t publish an actual tax certificate, which she states is €4,716.90 for 2013 and which is in line with what an Irish person earning the same salary, paying full PAYE and other taxes, would take home. But not one of the other Irish MEPs provides details on their net salaries.

Then there are the expenses.

MEPs are refunded the cost of travel upon provision of a receipt, but are also entitled to a fixed allowance based on the distance and duration of the journey to cover the cost of travelling. Added to this is the tax-free €4,243 for ‘travel’ to meetings within member states.

There is also the tax-free €304 per day to cover the cost of each day’s accommodation and lunch, which is €152 a day when outside the EU, with travel and hotel costs paid for directly. Let’s not forget the final salary pension.

Every Irish MEP should be required to publish their tax certificate, their salary slip, details of the ownership of the property they live in in Brussels and of their constituency office, also the receipts for expenses claimed, plus tax certificates for every person they employ, and their diaries to show who they have been lobbied by and who they lobby on behalf of.

They should also publish audited accounts of how they funded their campaigns and where they spent the money.





The ill-founded suggestion that Pope Francis is more interested in public relations than in public apologies for the sins of the church is steadily gaining ground, ignoring the extent to which the new Pope has already refocused and redirected the organisation of the Catholic Church, preventing it from sinking into an abyss of scandal and incompetence through the dodgy behaviour of senior Vatican officials.

Recently, ‘The Economist‘ ran a rather original analysis of the Pope as a trouble-shooting CEO sent in to turn around a failing organisation that was haemorrhaging customers, and with a demoralised sales force.

Like all good managers, Pope Francis has focused on one clear mission. He has made helping the poor and the marginalised the key focus of the church. This is intended to shift the emphasis of the church’s life away from the preoccupation with precise orthodoxy.

The Pope seems well aware of the danger of attempting to change the direction of an organisation overnight. What he seeks to do is to direct our commitment to a way of life that is humane, forgiving and attentive to the needs of those who are not well served by the way the world works. Questions about contraception and homosexual relations are peripheral to the church’s core purpose.

What is crucial in any organisation lies in knowing clearly what we are for and showing it. If the main focus of the church’s efforts is concern for the poor, it is reasonable to expect that this concern shows itself in all that it says and does, particularly in the context of the mindless drive for the accumulation of wealth where poverty is seen by the rich as inevitable and justifiable collateral damage.

The intelligent innovator seeks to find where desired changes already show themselves and breathes life into them. An innovating organisation begins with a change of heart, moves to a change of mind and then to a change of practice.

I am convinced we have the change of heart, representing the beginnings of a conversion to a more earth-bound church, meeting the demand for consistency between what we know about the world and what we do about it.





In light of the ongoing debate on God in your letters page, it might be worthwhile considering a short selection of the extraordinary beliefs of atheists themselves.

In order to be an atheist, you need to believe that the universe popped uncaused into existence from literally nothing; that the extreme initial order of the universe happened by accident; that the fine-tuning of the expansion of the universe happened by accident; that the fine-tuning of the solar system and the earth’s place within it (including all of the necessities of life) happened by accident; that life originated from inanimate matter by accident very shortly after the formation of the earth; that a multilayered system of encoding information (that includes redundant and error-correction mechanisms) evolved via random shuffling of chemicals very shortly thereafter; that there was enough time for the slow evolutionary process to sort through the mind-bogglingly large space of possibilities of protein structures; that evolution was able to drive the development of each species along parallel male and female paths at the same time; that human language was able to rapidly diverge into hundreds of completely distinct languages despite a very low population; that the scientific method can ultimately explain everything in the universe, even though the truth of this statement cannot be proven via the scientific method; that personalities, feelings, etc, are all derived from the movement or interactions of chemicals in the brain; that there ultimately is no such thing as free will; that morality is subjective and that if the majority felt that, say, murder was okay, then it would be okay; that Jesus Christ never existed, or if he did, he was a madman, and that his followers were all happily martyred based on mass hallucinations.

Whose beliefs rely on blind faith exactly?





I wish to protest at the decision to name our new naval vessels after Samuel Beckett and James Joyce. The inappropriateness of this decision is well illustrated by the fact that both of these gentlemen felt it desirable to leave these shores as quickly as they possibly could, and indeed James Joyce opted to carry a British rather than an Irish passport.

The fine tradition of naming our Navy’s ships after Celtic mythological figures was Irish, much loved, and served well over some 17 vessels.

The suggestion that the new names will increase recognition of the Navy overseas is faintly ludicrous.

The best way to increase overseas recognition is to play our part, alongside the 14 other EU maritime nations, in countering the scourge of maritime piracy offs Somalia and west Africa.

Of course, the worst part of this mistake is now that the tradition has been broken, the naming of future ships is at the mercy of whatever whim catches the fancy of the time.

Considering what took place at Shannon Airport the other day, why not LE Donald Trump? Better still, we could sell the naming rights. LE Aviva has a nice ring to it!



Irish Independent

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