31May2014 Visitors

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate the have buy a house for the Army on the Isle of Wight Priceless

Mary’s home and Astrid, Sharland and Shona visit

Scrabbletoday, Maty wins the game, and get under 400 perhaps MaryI will win tomorrow


Karlheinz Böhm – obituary

Karlheinz Böhm was an actor who starred as the psychopath in Peeping Tom and later devoted his life to helping Ethiopia

Karlheinz Böhm circa 1960

Karlheinz Böhm circa 1960 Photo: GETTY

6:48PM BST 30 May 2014

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Karlheinz Böhm, who has died aged 86, was an Austrian actor celebrated for playing a very English psychopath – the cameraman-killer in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom; for the last 30 years of his life he dedicated himself to saving lives as the head of an organisation that raises money for humanitarian causes in Ethiopia.

Böhm always considered the latter work to be far more important than his acting. But to cinema audiences he will be remembered for performances in some 45 films, notably alongside a 16-year-old Romy Schneider in the Sissi (1955) trilogy about Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Böhm played Emperor Franz Joseph I and described his relationship with his co-star at the time as “collegial”. The pair, who met again five years later when Romy Schneider was living in Paris, eventually became close friends.

Karlheinz Böhm in Peeping Tom (REX)

Böhm also liked to recall dancing with Marilyn Monroe, when the pair met at an event in Hollywood thrown by her psychoanalyst. “She wore a huge pair of sunglasses. I said: ‘Why don’t you take off your sunglasses?’ She said: ‘Am I asking you to get undressed?’ Then we danced. Miss Monroe, glasses on, was beautiful.”

In his most famous acting role, however, Karlheinz Böhm’s attitude to women was considerably more fraught and, controversially, violent. As the nervous, repressed cameraman in Peeping Tom (1960) he plays a killer who mounts a mirror above his lens, then kills women so that they can see their own death pangs, which he records for his pleasure. Powell’s film has been hailed as a creepy masterpiece which perfectly skewers the voyeuristic, complicit character of cinema audiences lapping up sexual and violent themes projected for their pleasure. At the time of its release, however, it was critically derided. Böhm recalled emerging from the premiere with Powell: “We were excited to see the reactions of the audience. We were absolutely puzzled, when they all left the theatre in silence, ignoring us completely.” Unlike Powell, Böhm saw his career recover, thanks to an unlikely combination of Walt Disney and Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Karlheinz Böhm and Anna Massey in Peeping Tom (REX)

Karlheinz Böhm was born on March 16 1928 in Darmstadt, Germany, the only child of the celebrated conductor Karl Böhm and the soprano Thea Linhard. When he was 11 he went to boarding school in Switzerland. After the end of the war the family moved to Graz.

It was there that, after an argument with his parents one evening, he slashed his wrists with a razor blade. The housemaid found him, and he and his parents never spoke of it again. But his relationship with them continued to prove turbulent. Karlheinz took it upon himself to tell his father of his mother’s indiscretions while the conductor was working at Bayreuth. “Until her deathbed my mother never forgave me,” he said. “Of course that hurt me a great deal.”

Despite this trauma, Karlheinz was keen to follow his parents’ musical careers, only to fail his auditions as a pianist. Instead he studied English, and trained as an actor at the Burgtheater in Vienna. He took odd jobs on film sets and minor roles in theatre and on-screen. But then his big break arrived, with Sissi.

After the shock of Peeping Tom’s mauling, Böhm turned to Hollywood. In 1962 he played Jakob Grimm in MGM’s The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. Apparently cornering the market in famous-Germans-who-are-not-Nazis, he followed this role with a portrayal of Beethoven in the Walt Disney film The Magnificent Rebel. He could not escape Nazi roles altogether, however, playing a fascist sympathiser in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Karlheinz Böhm in the early 1960s (REX FEATURES)

He mixed feature and television roles and then, in the mid-1970s, appeared in four films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Before they teamed up for first of these, Martha (1974), Böhm visited Fassbinder: “I was impressed by what he was doing, and wanted to work with him. But when I met him he did not even raise his head. Only when I finished speaking did he look at me briefly, muttering something. His arrogance annoyed me deeply.” Fassbinder, however, was evidently more impressed. Days later he sent Böhm the screenplay for Martha.

Böhm credited Fassbinder with “my political awakening”, and on May 16 1981 the actor’s life changed completely. Appearing on a television show, he wagered on a whim that viewers would not stake a few pennies to help people in Sub-Saharan Africa. He was wrong. The money poured in and Böhm flew to Ethiopia with the equivalent of half a million pounds. That November he founded Menschen für Menschen (“People for People”). Two years later he abandoned acting altogether and became a full-time development worker. The charity has since raised hundreds of millions of pounds.

Karlheinz Böhm was four times married, and had seven children. His wife of the last 23 years, Almaz, who is Ethiopian, survives him.

Karlheinz Böhm, born March 16 1928, died May 29 2014


As a specialist working with patients who have neurologically based mental health problems, I was dismayed by Hadley Freeman’s offhand attitude to Elliot Rodger‘s mental health history (Elliot Rodger was a misogynist – but is that all he was?, 27 May). Freeman is wrong to take Rodger’s extreme statements about women at face value and depict these as evidence of both individual and societal misogyny.

Rodger has been described as having suffered from Asperger’s syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by impaired social behaviour, often with rigidly held distorted ideas regarding interpersonal relationships. People with Asperger’s, who frequently have a long history of frustration and bewilderment in their relationships, can form pathologically negative ideas from these experiences. Low self-esteem, social inadequacy and loneliness form a cauldron for angry feelings in the absence of the ability to process these feelings in a healthy way.

This is a far more complex picture than Freeman’s assumption of a culturally induced misogyny. We need to understand people who suffer from mental health issues, not use them as a vehicle for a diatribe.
Dr Annie Hickox
Consultant clinical neuropsychologist

• I see that Pope Francis has compared the systematic child sex abuse in the Catholic church to “performing a satanic mass” (Report, 27 May). A satanic mass is a silly, pantomime-like ritual. It is, moreover, neither illegal nor immoral to participate in such an activity. The rape and torture of children is arguably the worst crime a human being can commit. Still, I suppose the pope’s statement is progress. Let us see if it is backed up with the prosecutions of offenders,.
Julia Wait
Beauly, Highlands

Dom McKenzie Illustration:

I can’t help but be reminded of Orwellian doublethink when reading of Michael Gove‘s insistence that he has “not banned anything” from the new GCSE English literature specifications – yet there is clearly less scope for the study of modern/contemporary texts in the new syllabuses (Gove hits back in English GCSE syllabus row, 27 May). As a head of English, I find the new guidelines rather worrying. Of course, Shakespeare and the Romantic poets have their place and are worthy of study, but who is to say that contemporary and international writers are not?

I feel blessed to have been taught in the days when my own GCSE teacher had the freedom to introduce her students to a range of literature across periods and nationalities – we took in everything from Bertolt Brecht, Sophie Treadwell and Nadine Gordimer to Shakespeare, Dickens and George Eliot – and more. Imposing what one believes to be canonical texts on teachers and their students, to me, flies in the face of the intellectually and culturally broadening spirit of English literature.
Tak-Sang Li
Borehamwood, Hertfordshire

• In all the fuss over whether our children should be reading American as well as UK literature at GCSE level, there has been little or no suggestion in the media that they ought also to read some of the wealth of other English literature from abroad, such as that written by Indian, African, South American, Caribbean and even Irish writers. We should also be encouraging them to read from these and other traditions if we want them to have a really broad experience of literature.
Barry O’Donovan

• It doesn’t surprise me that the government wants to reduce English children’s exposure to American literature. But shouldn’t we instead be expanding the list of books that GCSE students are able to read? If the “English” was dropped from English literature then our kids could be reading Dostoevsky, Kafka, Flaubert, Goethe and so many more. The themes, motifs and symbols are all more or less maintained in translation, and dare I say The Trial or Crime and Punishment could be significantly more inspiring than Great Expectations or Pride and Prejudice.
Thomas Hunter
Budapest, Hungary

• I don’t suppose Maya Angelou will make it into the Gove curriculum. But I am buoyed up knowing that thousands of teachers out there will take no notice of him and introduce young people to the inspiration and wisdom and strength of Maya’s voice. Because, in her words, “You may trod me in the very dirt, / But still like dust I’ll rise”.
Rae Street
Littleborough, Lancashire

• John Sutherland is of course right to ridicule Michael Gove’s “chauvinistic” attitude towards American literature (The American writers every teen should read, G2, 27 May), but anybody looking to Benito Cereno for an allegory on “the complex, post-civil war relationship of white and black” will be disappointed. Melville’s novella was first published in 1855, six years before the American civil war began. Rather, Benito Cereno, set aboard a slave ship, is a brilliant meditation on the political and cultural tensions in the US leading up to the civil war; most particularly, the example Haiti had already set for the possibility of successful slave rebellion.
Keith Hughes
School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, University of Edinburgh

• At least Robert McCrum (This plumbs the depths of incoherence, 30 May) can take some consolation from the fact that flavour-of-the-month Philip Roth has received the ultimate accolade of Gove’s approval for inclusion in the new curriculum. Portnoy’s Complaint is surely exactly the kind of “American classic” his DfE spokesman had in mind when he talked about studying “seminal world literature” at key stage 3 (though 11 to 14 may seem a little on the young side to some).
Mike Hine
Kingston on Thames, Surrey

• I doubt any French minister would have faced criticism for advocating the teaching of French Literature in French schools, and children are presumably free to follow Professor Sutherland’s guide to American writers in their free time, if they so wish; but then the English have long grovelled to the US, supposing that we share identical cultures and societies.
John Russ

• I assume that Mr Gove found that The Crucible hit a bit too close to home.
David Whalin
Annandale, Virginia, USA

• Phil Hind writes of the final pages of Of Mice and Men bringing his young readers close to tears (Letters, 27 May). Many years ago I was dismayed as we came to that powerful climax to have the reading disrupted by a commotion at the back of the class. I looked up, in disbelief, to quell it with a furious glare, and, of course, it turned out to be a group of students striving to console a quietly sobbing friend. I have my own tears now. Of rage.
John Airs

• I read The Grapes of Wrath years ago and saw it in its US setting when starving migrant families moved towards California having been told that there were plenty of jobs there. I recently read it again and saw it as very relevant to our times when starving migrants try to get to the west in the desperate hope of finding work there. It is a book which opens the minds of young people to the world around them. Traditionally, ministers have not interfered in the actual syllabus teachers use. That’s the way dictators behave. Let us hope that young people, being contrary, will be more inclined to read these great books when they realise that the government doesn’t want them to.
Margaret Bacon
Highworth, Wiltshire

• I must have had one of the most exciting and privileged of A-level English literature syllabuses, and indeed have frequently referenced it in later life and in a variety of company. Apart from the standard reading list – Shakespeare, Milton, Austen, the Romantic poets etc – we had an auxiliary programme of novels based around the theme of adolescence, which embraced The Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies among others, while the poetry element looked at the work of Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes. This was at a state school in the early 1960s, when many of the books had been recently published; it set up a lifelong love and fascination for 20th-century American literature, especially when read with British counterparts.
Anne Goodchild

• For Michael Gove, or any other politician for that matter, to “interfere” in the GCSE English literature syllabus is an explicit admission that what students read in their English lessons (and, hopefully, at home) matters! In 1960, my English teacher “slipped” me a copy of Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (not on the GCE syllabus) the reading of which immediately enabled me to make sense of my own working-class upbringing and made me aware that I was a “socialist”. Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, even Hard Times (not Great Expectations!), among other works, can now be “slipped” to students to help them think about themselves in their society and even be entertained. Yes, Steinbeck, Lee, Dickens et al were hoping to sell their writings to adults and so make a living. English teachers take note: you are more powerful than you may have thought.
Peter Bunyan
Billericay, Essex

• Bim Adewunmi can be as flippant as she likes about James Shapiro (Last night’s TV, G2, 26 May), but I can assure her that he is an original and vigorous thinker and writer about Shakespeare, and has written many good books about him. In particular, 1599 is superb. All the niggling questions that I wasn’t encouraged to ask at school – Why is Henry V such a boringly adulatory play? Why does the plot of Hamlet meander a bit? – are answered in this book. It was an eye-opener for me.
Ruth Grimsley

• It is a pity that Michael Gove and his acolytes don’t think that English GCSE students need to know that “you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them” – To Kill A Mockingbird. However, JB Priestley was fortunate enough to be born in England, so they may still be allowed to read that: “We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are all responsible for each other.” – An Inspector Calls, another very popular GCSE text. And, as the inspector also remarks: “I’m losing all patience with you people.”
Peter Dawson

• Apparently, since Michael Gove threatened to ban certain American books from the English curriculum, sales of said books have skyrocketed. I wonder if Mr Gove would be so kind as to threaten to ban my new first novel The Crossover from the curriculum, as it could do with a bit of a boost.
John Westbrook

Has it occurred to top mandarin Jeremy Heywood (Iraq war whitewash claim, 30 May) that the discipline of transparency, which Bush and Blair felt able to ignore in their private collusion over the Iraq war, is a fundamental tenet of democratic government, which, had it been operating correctly at the time, would probably have saved us from engaging in a gruelling war on a false pretext. Far from protecting the spurious right of prime ministers to deal with presidents in secret, our civil servants – supposedly the sober guardians of democratic virtue – should be using this sorry episode as a pertinent and powerful example of why they should not.
Giles O’Bryen

• The decision to withhold information about correspondence and notes of meetings between the British and US governments beggars belief. Has our government learned nothing from the agonies endured by the families of the Hillsborough victims? It’s time that the government realised that it does not rule us, it is there to serve us. We must have full disclosure now.
Joanne Nicholson
Weston super Mare, Somerset

• The press argues strenuously against political interference. The protracted scandal of the Chilcot inquiry demands you now deliver on your fine words. We need your implacable determination to hold the executive to democratic account. You have a duty to the electorate and a moral responsibility to the grieving relatives of fallen soldiers to demand that they hear the truth – the whole truth; not the sanitised, redacted, white-washing truth. President Bush and Mr Blair took us into an illegal war in Iraq. Mr Blair claims what Mr Bush no longer bothers to, that they were drawn reluctantly into a disastrous conflict because of an imminent threat based upon false intelligence that they accepted in good faith. Few voters and no journalists believe this fatuous claim to be true. Even the evidence already published argues forcefully against it. Publication of the conversations between Blair and Bush will almost certainly prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt: which of course explains the endless delays and refusal of transparency. I understand the argument that disclosure will prevent such private’ conversations in the future – good.

If you and your press colleagues do not force the truth out of the unelected Cabinet Office on our behalf you might as well accept any kind of interference politicians choose to impose upon you – for you will have already lost the war. This is an issue worth the odd editor going to jail for.
Keith Farman
St Albans, Hertfordshire

• Promises of “gists” and partial quotes simply won’t cut it. The detail will be where the devil resides. That’s why I have kept up the pressure in parliament via debates and parliamentary questions, and demanded nothing less than complete transparency when it comes to what Blair knew.  But there is a way forward. Ed Miliband has often said that under his leadership Labour is determined to learn the lessons of the past and to make a clear break from the New Labour years. What better test of that commitment than for him to make clear his desire to overrule the Cabinet Office on this matter in the public interest and to demand – at the very least – the full disclosure of Tony Blair‘s part in the communications.
Caroline Lucas MP
Green, Brighton Pavilion

• Dear Messrs Snowden and Assange, using your skill and experience, please could you help us out by publishing the full content of the letters between Blair and Bush leading up to the Iraq invasion?
Joe Collier
Richmond, Surrey

Since being elected as the South West’s first Green MEP last week I have received many messages of congratulation, as you might expect. More surprising has been the huge number of people who have contacted me to say that in many years of voting this is the first time they have elected anybody. In an era of declining turnouts and increasing votes for non-Westminster parties this is a worrying indictment of our outmoded electoral system and the unrepresentative politicians who refuse to reform it.
Professor Molly Scott Cato
Green MEP for South West England

• Excluding Belgium, where voting is compulsory, the smaller countries of Luxembourg, Malta and Cyprus and the ex-communist countries, the average turnout in the EU elections was 47%. The UK turnout was 34%. In all their hand-wringing about voter apathy, are our political analysts missing the obvious? Change the voting day to Sunday.
Bill Willoughby
St Ives, Cambridgeshire

My father was the chief constable of Birmingham in 1972 who ordered the gates at Saltley coke works to be closed during the miners strike. It was an operational decision made on the spot in the face of overwhelming numbers and considerable risk to public safety. Its political consequences were of course considerable. But the claim he was roundly condemned (Letters, 29 May) is misleading. The national press diverged in its views and the Birmingham Post on the following day, after quoting my father, concluded: “Of course he was right.” I believe the public are still appreciative when public safety is given priority by the police. Leadership involves taking decisions that are neither easy nor cut and dried.
Sally Mitchell
Twickenham, Middlesex

• Diego Maradona was sent off at one World Cup, blatantly cheated at another and was sent home in disgrace from a third, yet you place him second in your list of greatest World Cup players (Sport, 30 May). Many others have followed his lead to the detriment of the game. Talent is not all.
Gerrard Mullett
Penrith, Cumbria

• So our World Cup prospects are once again being distilled down to the hapless Wayne’s form (Sport, 30 May). Look what happened last time. This Rooney-centric view of the England squad is predictable but depressing, also potentially harmful to the team, the country and the lad himself. Germany never have to put up with this sort of nonsense – they get on with the job as a team, and with the press fully behind them as a team – spot the difference.
Dr Phil Barber

• Re “FT critic of Picketty accused of errors of his own” (30 May): this merely confirms the adage that if all economists were laid end to end they would never reach a conclusion.
Peter Constable

• The issue of left-hand drive French trains (Letters, 29 May) is unimportant. They have passenger doors on both sides.
Sally Cheseldine

• Of course trains in France run on the left – or what would happen halfway through the Channel Tunnel? The exceptions are metro systems, and mainline trains in Alsace and Lorraine, a relic of their days as part of Germany, where trains still drive on the right.
Greg Brooks
Tadworth, Surrey


In reference to Nick Clark’s article (“BBC fails to cast unknown actors”, 28 May) I’m not surprised by this at all nor, unfortunately, by some of the comments it’s attracted.

I’ve been a professional actor for nearly 27 years, working at all levels of live and recorded work. I work exclusively as a performer. I don’t need (at the moment) a second job, and after expenses have been taken off my turnover, I make between £18,000 and £19,000 a year, which is less than the starting wage for a teacher or nurse or trainee manager at McDonald’s.

For my money I work very long hours all over the country, and must endure exploitative and sometimes unsafe working conditions.

Why don’t I do something else? I don’t want to: I’m good at my job and don’t see why I shouldn’t be sufficiently rewarded for it.

Chronic low pay is endemic in the arts, for particular reasons:

1. Funding – before anybody splutters: “Why should my hard-earned wages subsidise some arty nonsense that I won’t want to see anyway”, the simple fact is that for every £1 invested in the arts, the UK Treasury makes back at least £2.

Yet despite this, funding is cut and in some local authorities non-existent; but without it the arts cannot flourish and artists cannot survive financially.

2. Exploitation – the arts, sadly, is full of examples of exploitation, bullying and abuse (verbal, physical and sexual) and many artists do not feel empowered to speak out because they might get labelled as “difficult”; nothing moves faster than a negative reputation.

This means that employers, producers and bookers will always drive down wages and conditions to their own advantage and artists will take their offers; it’s a self-perpetuating circle which drives this old “luvvie” bonkers.

Unions such as Equity do some very good work to combat this but they are hampered by restrictive labour laws and their own members’ unwillingness to speak out, and feelings of powerlessness about speaking out. When I hear an actor interviewed and they say: “Oh yes, I’ve been very lucky”, this just perpetuates this idea that we should be somehow grateful that we’ve got a job handed to us by some benevolent master from above. I want to say to them: “You aren’t lucky; you’re considered the best person for the job – that isn’t luck, that’s talent. Well done.”

There needs to be more respect for the artist and, to my colleagues I say, self-respect is a big part of that.

We’re worth more money. Let’s end poverty wages – for everyone.

John Gregor, London N16

I’m delighted to see that Equity has protested at the BBC’s use of the same actors all the time. I can’t be the only viewer who

feels profound boredom descend at the sight of the same bunch of actors on the screen yet again.

I remember once when Dr Who went to a museum/library in a galaxy far, far away in time and space, and five more visitors arrived – and I recognised four of them!

I’ve always thought that the BBC should use its power to seek out new talent, give them their chance to be widely seen and get more work, then find new people.

But on the contrary, they just lazily use the same people over and over again, often typecasting too, which can’t be good for the actors’ development.

Henrietta Cubitt, Cambridge

Chilcot a disgrace and an insult

It is a complete disgrace and insult to all those killed and injured in the Iraq war that the Chilcot inquiry is to be gagged by the Whitehall machine determined to protect confidentiality by hiding behind issues of national security.

It seems that those families who have waited nearly five years for the outcome of the inquiry have waited in vain, as no real evidence will now ever surface as to the truth in the matter.

Dennis Forbes Grattan, Bucksburn, Aberdeen

Another British whitewash, as expected. Why should Sir Jeremy Heywood have a say in any political decision on the Chilcot inquiry or anything else? He is an unelected official who works for us.

The public know that Blair and Bush went on an oil grab and to destabilise the Middle East and will never let history be rewritten to say that the WMD excuse was anything other than a pack of lies.

Blair did it for personal wealth and power. Bush was being manipulated by the Pentagon war machine and armament companies.

P Cresswell, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh

What are they trying to hide? We elect individuals to represent our geographical area. They are called Members of Parliament. Is it not right that we should be told what has been said on our behalf?

Martin Levin, London E4

During the Iraq invasion, Tony Blair’s leitmotif was “It’s the right thing to do”. How, in his barrister days, would Mr Blair have dealt with someone under cross-examination who used that justification for their actions? He was, after all, reputed to be competent at that job.

S Lawton, Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

Correspondence between George Bush and Tony Blair:

GB: Yo, Blair. If you bring your army to Iraq, kill Saddam and reclaim my Daddy’s oil wells, I’ll make you a millionaire!


The End.

Paul and Rose Willey, Worthing

Driverless cars and jobless people

Driverless cars are here and, like every other innovation, will no doubt rapidly multiply. You spelt out the benefits that they may bring (Editorial, 29 May), but as always, there is another side to the coin.

How long before driverless lorries are introduced? What then of the jobs of the thousands of lorry drivers?

No doubt technology will enable lorries and vans to be burglar-proof, so goods will be transported safely, requiring only loading and unloading, poorly paid jobs and less demand for intervention by human beings. This is part of a trend that no politicians seem able to grasp, let alone to consider.

Bill Fletcher, South Cerney, Gloucestershire

Your leader claiming that driverless cars could save a bit of fuel misses the point. We don’t need minor energy reductions, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent. No vehicle running  on pneumatic tyres will ever get anywhere near that. Tyres are inherently energy-inefficient. The savings that we need necessitate steel wheels on steel rails.

Luckily, we already have such ways of getting around without having to drive ourselves: they’re called trains and trams.

Jon Reeds, Wallington, London

I predict dodgems ahead if these cars cannot cope with downpours or thunderstorms, as those still driving for themselves have to negotiate the abandoned and stricken driverless cars. Is this what we have to look forward to?

Jason Levett, Tunbridge Wells

King Charles the patriot

My namesake, David  Ashton, wants our next monarch nicknamed “Charles the Meddler” (letter, 28 May).

Charles is as entitled as anyone else to lobby the Government – while ministers are free to disregard his concerns, however well informed.

But I suggest that, following Bolingbroke, he will be renowned as “Our Patriot King”, when this battered nation needs one more than ever.

David Ashton, Sheringham, Norfolk

In suggesting that William the Conqueror was the last English king to have a memorable sobriquet, David Ashton is surely forgetting Richard the Lionheart – and his brother John Lackland.

Jonathan Wallace, Fenham, Newcastle upon Tyne

Prehistoric Pakistan

Following 9/11, the Bush administration was said to have threatened that the US would bomb Pakistan “back to the Stone Age” if it did not cooperate in the “war on terror”.

Following the recent outrage against the woman who wanted to marry the man she loved, and the incredibly wide acceptance in Pakistan of her relatives’ actions, it would seem that bombing would have been superfluous.

Jim Bowman, South Harrow

From one loo to another

Katherine Mangu-Ward’s article about texting while on the lavatory (“Out of the (water) closet”, 29 May) reminded me of one of my mother’s stories.

Eternally harassed by the demands of her three small children, she saved a letter from a friend to read in the only private spot available to her.

Finally seated on the loo, she opened the letter, only to read: “Dear Jean, I am sitting on the loo to write this letter, as it is the only way I can get away from the children”.

Plus ça change!

Catherine Rose, Olney, Buckinghamshire


Sir, The Times rightly highlights the barbaric treatment of Meriam Ibrahim (May 30). Her case is part of a murderous pattern in Sudan in which the Arab Islamist regime has tried to eliminate anyone not willing to live by its miserable interpretation of Islam. Right now the Sudanese armed forces are systematically bombing villages and hospitals in the Nuba mountains, trying to ethnically cleanse more than a million people there. They are also continuing to terrorise Darfur. It is time for the UN to hold Sudan to its commitments under international and Sudanese law, and to the constitution it adopted under the UK-brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005.

The international community’s words of condemnation make no impression on the Sudanese regime. We must apply the long agreed (but never enforced) targeted smart sanctions against Sudan’s leaders. Until the consequences of their actions are felt personally, there will be many more Meriams.

Olivia Warham

Director, Waging Peace

Sir, Your decision to give front-page coverage to the plight of Meriam Ibrahim and her newborn child is a timely wake-up call to us in the comfortable West about the scale of human rights abuses in Sudan. On a number of occasions I have travelled around that country for the organisation I work for — Aid to the Church in Need — and have seen for myself the appalling treatment that Christians and other minorities receive. It is almost as if they are non-persons and have no rights at all.

Behind every story of suffering, however, there is another story of extraordinary courage and hope. I remember visiting a displacement camp outside Khartoum and meeting Christians forced to live there after being thrown out of their homes. One woman I met there spoke of the hardships she and her young family endured. Holding up a beaker of water, she said: “I would rather survive on this cup of water than give up my faith.”

We should salute the courage and faith of Meriam and the many others like her.

John Pontifex

Aid to the Church in Need

Sir, The recent reports about the Nigerian schoolgirls, Meriam Ibrahim and Farzana Parveen, could not be more distressing. The striking feature of these cases is not that they are concerned with religious intolerance; the true horror is the attitude to violence against women in all its forms. The international community needs to unite and speak out and bring an end to this horror and to fight to allow all women to have the basic human rights accorded to men.

Sarah Le Foe

London SW6

Sir, The UK gives hundred of millions of pounds in aid to Pakistan. This week a young pregnant woman was beaten to death not in some remote rural village but in front of the High Court in the country’s most cultured city. There were dozens of police, lawyers and members of the public looking on. Not one raised a finger to help.

I cannot help wondering why we continue to give aid money to a country like this when millions of our children and elderly live in poverty. That it boosts the smugness and self-satisfaction of our increasingly worthless elite does not seem like a good enough reason.

Michael Schachter

London NW6

Investing in general practice will enable surgeries to deliver shorter waiting times

Sir, Further to Alice Thomson’s blistering critique of our call for more funding for general practice (“These overpaid doctors must stop whingeing”, Opinion, May 28, and letters, May 30), we are not asking for higher GP pay. We are asking for an increase in the proportion of NHS funding for general practice so that more GPs and practice nurses can be employed. In recent years there has been a cut in funding to general practice — to 8.39 per cent of the NHS budget — while the population is increasing and ageing, leading to higher demand for GP services in particular.

Investing in general practice will enable surgeries to deliver shorter waiting times, longer consultations and better continuity of care.

Workloads for family doctors are ballooning, and 84 per cent of GPs worry that they might miss something serious in a patient. According to a poll in March, 62 per cent in Britain think GPs’ workloads are a threat to standards of care.

Dr Maureen Baker

Royal College of General Practitioners

Dr Patricia Wilkie

National Association of Patient Participation

We need to know the truth behind this disgraceful display of dissembling

Sir, Tony Blair has stated that he has no objection to the Chilcot inquiry going ahead and went so far as to say “get on with it” (May 28), so what is preventing publication of its report?

Sir Gus O’Donnell can no longer be accused of acting to protect Blair. Is it credible that O’Donnell and George Bush can be the cause of further delay? Lord Owen has done his best but to no avail. We need to know the truth behind this disgraceful display of dissembling posing as a possible threat to the US-UK “special relationship”.

Amy Wade

Cranbrook, Kent

A-level law has helped to open up the legal profession and make it more socially diverse

Sir, May I, as a head of law in a state sixth form college for 20 years, respond to the criticism of A-level law (“Calling time on A-level law?”, May 22). Law is a rigorous academic A level assessed entirely by external examination. For many years Cambridge University hosted a conference for teachers of A-level law. This does not suggest disapproval of law as an A level, and many of my students went on to study law at Cambridge and other respected universities.

If critics of law A level were to look at the AQA law syllabus and past exam papers they would be left in no doubt regarding the academic rigour of the subject. It is no easier to get a good grade in law than in other academic subjects and the national exam statistics confirm this. Many of my students are now pursuing successful careers as barristers or solicitors. They are invariably positive about A-level law.

The study of A-level law has helped to open up the legal profession, traditionally dominated by those who have been privately educated, and make it more socially diverse.

Peter Ashton

Scarborough Sixth Form College

Many years ago I chided a fellow undergraduate for dropping litter

Sir, Many years ago I chided a fellow undergraduate for dropping litter (letter, May 30). He pointed out that, far from it being an antisocial act, he was in fact providing employment for those tasked with keeping the streets clean. If no one littered, they would be out of work.

John Mellin

Salterforth, Lancs


SIR – The significant reduction in smoking has saved not a single life. Everybody has eventually died, often after receiving late-life hospital treatment for other diseases that cost more than treatment for lung cancer, had they developed that earlier. Those who give up smoking will contribute far less to the public purse in taxation than if had they continued to smoke.

Similarly, cutting obesity rates will not save the NHS money (Letters, May 29). Even if it miraculously brought everyone down to their ideal weight overnight, those same people would still require money to treat other problems in due course, eventually costing social services ever more for care in old age.

We will all die. Some of us will need expensive treatment before that day comes.

John Snook
Chapeltown, South Yorkshire

SIR – Rather than saddle us with even more obesity-related cost, should Nice not be proposing that personal income tax codes and passenger air fares be linked directly to body mass index? A year’s moratorium before implementing such a move would permit those serious about losing weight to do so and hence render themselves exempt from the penalty.

John Hopkins
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

SIR – Weight Watchers on the NHS? Do I get my golf subscription on a repeat prescription? No doubt Weight Watchers is more pain than pleasure, but so is my golf.

Chris Russell
Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire

A taste for voting

SIR – People all over Europe have used the only method open to them to send a very powerful negative message (Comment, May 29), saying they do not like the European Union as it now is. This should strengthen the Conservative case to return to each country the right to govern its own affairs and resources.

Now that people have rediscovered the power of the ballot box, we may see a return to it being used as a reflection of the people’s voice in future elections.

Joyce Chadwick
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

SIR – Bob Millington (Letters, May 28) suggests that voting should be compulsory.

It is our democratic right to vote or not. To make voting compulsory would be yet another instance of government telling us how to run our lives. Were I to be dragged kicking and screaming to the polling booth I would still have the option of spoiling my vote. So what’s the point?

M Johnson
Petersfield, Hampshire

Bad guys being killed

SIR – In your report “Sorry, a forward roll is too risky to be seen on children’s TV” (May 27), there is an assumption that children mainly watch the BBC.

I am nine years old and my brother is six. The BBC is not a channel we watch that much. It is not what our friends watch.

We tend to watch Regular Show, Adventure Time, The Amazing World Of Gumball and many more that are on the cable channels. All of these involve weird humour, with fight scenes, magic, shootings and bad guys being killed in many ways.

Regular Show is our favourite, and our dad thinks it is very clever, which is why we are allowed to watch it.

There’s no need to worry about television becoming too safe. Adults are just watching the wrong channel.

Ellis and Hugo Wheeler
Hayling Island, Hampshire

Getting Rid of Racism

SIR – It is a grave mistake to associate racial prejudices with immigration (“Are we all racist now?” Comment, May 29).

Our National Health Service relies heavily on foreign health professionals. Overseas students annually contribute more than a billion pounds towards our economy. It is hard to envisage today’s Britain without foreigners. One cannot make foreigners scapegoats for all social and economic ills.

Britons of foreign origin are not fairly represented in the Cabinet, governmental institutions or even in the higher echelons of education.

The key to addressing these institutional malfunctions is to revamp the structures that cause economic, social and educational disparities and marginalisation.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
London NW2

SIR – At the family service in church recently, a young mother answered a quiz question correctly with the word “Jesus”. Her little daughter, with a look of horror, cried: “Mum, you swore!”

Can we blame children for mirroring our own half-grasp on life’s complex issues?

Gill Faragher
Bookham, Surrey

Waste of lives

SIR – It is sad that 2,250 people died from drug-related causes in 2011 (report, May 28). However, 6,045 people committed suicide in that year. This, too, is a pointless waste of life that needs to be addressed.

Valerie Marriott
Crowborough, East Sussex

On the tiles

SIR – I thought I was the only one (Letters, May 27). The large black tiles in my en-suite have marbled swirls and lines in which I have seen: a can-can dancer with her skirt raised; Icharus, wings outstretched, soaring skywards; and a farm hand leading his horse into a low sun.

Don Wallace
Macclesfield, Cheshire

SIR – In the Sixties, there was a popular design of tile. At first sight, the pattern appeared to depict the random veins of marble, but after some contemplation, one began to discern running chickens. Some bathrooms had pink chickens, others had blue. The worst arrangement of them had all the chickens standing up the same way.

Trevor Rhodes
Poole, Dorset

SIR – When Shelagh Parry (Letters, May 28) as a child asked what was for dinner, her mother said: “Air pie with the crust off.” My mother would invariably reply (with a smile): “Three jumps at the pantry door.”

Rex Taylor
Bungay, Suffolk

Mothers’ stock replies to ‘What’s for dinner?’

SIR – My grandmother would often reply: “Legs of chairs and pump handles.”

Sylvia Antonsen
Deal, Kent

SIR – When my children asked what was for pudding, my response was “WASP” –wait and see pudding.

Jane Midgley
Bovey Tracey, Devon

SIR – As the biographer of Cornelius Ryan I was delighted to see your profile of the Daily Telegraph war correspondent (“In the right place on the longest day”, May 24). But many of the war stories told about him are only bar-room tales that obscure a life every bit as exciting as his famous books, such as The Longest Day.

While it is true that Ryan witnessed

D-Day from the air, aboard a B-26 bomber, he didn’t actually set foot in Normandy until August, when he accompanied Patton’s Third Army into liberated France.

Though a “former altar boy”, he was no innocent abroad. Growing up in a mixed nationalist-loyalist Dublin family, he knew from an early age that there are two sides to every story – the main reason The Longest Day treats both sides with equal respect.

Although I’m pretty sure Ryan didn’t drink from Hitler’s coffee pot, I do know that he owned a piece of the Fuhrer’s urinal, given to him by his wartime friend Walter Cronkite

SIR – Nick Clegg has been very clear on the Liberal Democrats’ policies. We do not agree and therefore have not voted for them. They do not need to change leader or policies; that is what they are.

Ed Miliband and his team, having ruined the country by applying their policies, now want to present another set of policies and wish us to forget. Lessons have not been learnt.

M J Meadowcroft

SIR – Nick Clegg may be the popular reason given for the fall of the Liberal Democrats, but I’m not so sure. He was the one who got them into government in the first place.

Unfortunately too many others in the party have let the side down. For a small group they have certainly had more than their fair share of scandals, with Lord Rennard, Chris Huhne and David Laws.

Supposed big hitters such as Vince Cable, who was going to set the world alight, have been damp squibs. I suspect that the Liberal Democrats will join Fulham and be relegated from the premier league at the next election.

Mick Ferrie
Mawnan Smith, Cornwall

SIR – Your leading article (May 28) was too kind to Nick Clegg in saying that he “did the honourable thing when he decided to put the country first and help form a government”. He was putting himself and his party first.

It was his only chance of ever being in government, enjoying the trappings, perks and vainglory of a deputy prime minister, and wielding far more political influence than his popular support deserved.

We are not in the world of Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome when “none was for a party” but “all were for the state”.

Dr Peter Greenhalgh
Southfleet, Kent

SIR – Why, in 2007, was Menzies Campbell (born in 1941) considered to be too old to lead the Liberal Democrats; while, in 2014, Vince Cable (born in 1943) is being touted as successor to Nick Clegg?

Alec Ellis

SIR – A letter yesterday referred to the Liberal Democrats’ refusal to allow boundary changes, probably letting Labour gain 20-30 more seats at the next election than it would otherwise have done.

For a party purposely to allow a gross distortion of the voting system to continue, out of simple pique with another party, is the clearest indication it is unfit to govern.

Ken Rimmer
Chelmsford, Essex

SIR – Lord Oakeshott is not a very nice person. Mr Clegg is well rid of him. He is a better person, a gentleman.

I hope his party will rally round and help him – and I am not a supporter.

Monica MacAuley
Taunton, Somerset

Irish Times:

A chara, – Joan Burton has decided that she wants to become the next leader of the Labour Party while committing to working with Fine Gael and continuing in Government. Surely one of the most important attributes of any leader is to know when a decisive change of direction is required? Labour’s disastrous election results were a direct result of their “performance” in this current Government and Ms Burton needs to realise this or start preparing for an extremely short tenure as Labour Party leader. – Is mise,


Maxwell Road,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – Eamonn McCann criticises the Labour Party (“Labour’s disastrous election reflects crisis in European social democracy”, Opinion, May 29th) for not “appealing to their union affiliates to join in active opposition” to the troika.

He seems to have forgotten that Bertie Ahern’s infamous 2007 speech, when he wondered why those “cribbing and moaning” about the economy “don’t commit suicide”, was made at an Ictu conference. His musings were received with chuckles and the odd clap from the union delegates.

Not only were the unions cheerleaders for “Bertie economics” but the then Ictu general secretary was a member of the Central Bank’s board for the 15 years up to 2010.

Mr McCann’s view of trade unions is so old fashioned that perhaps, as with most of his columns, “selective perception” rather than amnesia is at work. – Yours, etc,


Bayside Walk,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – Eamonn McCann’s article is a fair reflection of what happened to Labour. Unfortunately, he is factually incorrect in stating that Unite is affiliated to the Irish Labour Party. Unite disaffiliated from Irish Labour over a year ago for the very reasons he outlined in his article. Unite also led the way against the Haddington Road agreement and has always taken an honourable position on the side of the working class. – Yours, etc,



Antrim Road, Belfast.

Sir, – All over Europe people vented their anger with an out-of-touch ruling elite, and a single currency project that is destroying the hopes of a generation. But some do not acknowledge that and just label us all neo-fascists. Actually, why not just hold the elections again, and tell us to vote for the correct and acceptable parties this time? The EU truly is on borrowed time. – Yours, etc,


Orwell Gardens,


Dublin 14.

Sir, –The recent results in European elections suggest a widespread dissatisfaction with the performance and the intrusion of governance from Brussels and there is no doubt that citizens wish for less bureaucratic overreach and more local control and policies which benefit the average working man and woman.

But, before embracing the xenophobic attitudes and nationalist policies of those from the right and left, and especially leaders such as Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen, who trade on the anger vote, let us remember that the origin of the current union was the European Coal and Steel Community, set up in 1951 for the prime purpose not only of making war unthinkable but of taking the instruments and materials of war out of the hands of ultranationalist leaders and governments. For half a millennium before 1945, there was scarcely a period of 30 years when the nations of Europe were not at war. Not only has the current union, despite all its faults, given us a potential economic powerhouse, considerable ease of travel, but it has also kept the peace among member nations for nigh on 70 years. Let us by all means fix the problems of a more federal Europe but let us also make sure that the ingredients that have led to that remarkable achievement stay intact. – Yours, etc,




Co Donegal.

A chara, – We now see a scheme being implemented that is aimed at boosting housebuilding and the sudden realisation that there is, in fact, an issue with discretionary medical cards being taken off very sick children. It’s amazing how elections can focus Government minds on problems . – Is mise,


Lismore Road,


Sir, – It’s hardly a big surprise to hear that the Government is to review how medical cards are allocated. Well, not the Government. It has decided to set up an “expert panel” to decide on what range of conditions should apply to who should get medical cards.

What does this mean? What does it say about the system that it had put in place up to now? Or rather the people who made the decisions up to now? If they didn’t have the expertise, why were they filling the expert role up to now? – Yours, etc,


Stradbrook Road,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Why is it that, if you have a child with a chronic illness and apply for a medical card, the “system” demands that you must receive that medical card for the entire family, and then decides that, as the family income is above a certain level, that card is refused?

Why can the “system” not permit a medical card for the sick child only, since that is all that the majority of parents of sick children want? Surely even the most cold-hearted “system” must recognise that, no matter how well off the family, a chronically ill child requires constant medical care, at great expense and stress.

Compiling a list of qualifying illnesses will not provide a solution either, as inevitably some very sick child will find that they are not on the list, leading to further distress for an already overburdened family.

It should be possible for the family GP to furnish a letter, accompanied by a simple form, to the HSE, leading to the provision of a medical card which would remain in force in perpetuity. Or am I being naive? – Yours, etc,




Co Dublin.

Sir, – What does it tell us about our political masters that a review of medical card withdrawals is now to take place?

It is hardly a coincidence that this happens only after their party positions of power have been rocked to the foundations by the recent election results.

Does this not tell us that loyalty to party takes priority over loyalty to the people whom they are supposed to serve? How sick is that? – Yours, etc,


Crosthwaite Park South,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sat, May 31, 2014, 01:08

First published: Sat, May 31, 2014, 01:08

Sir, – Gerry Adams’s letter in response to Fintan O’Toole (“Labour Party’s long road from tragedy to farce”, Opinion & Analysis, May 27th) was long on rhetoric and short on realism.

Mr Adams knows that Sinn Féin’s successful election results had little to do with the “scourge of sectarianism” and much to do with its core political strategy – to put the party into or close to power in both jurisdictions so that it can ratchet up its demands for Irish unity. He would dearly love to be able to claim that Sinn Féin’s “mandate” as the biggest party in the North (with the largest share of the first preference vote in the European and local elections) and the second biggest in the South (which must be its aim in the next general election) demands a border poll and other moves towards unity.

Whether electoral support for Sinn Féin means popular support for unity in the short term is another matter. It is clear from recent opinion polls in the North that there it does not. In last September’s Belfast Telegraph poll, 4 per cent of Northerners said they wanted a united Ireland now and 22 per cent in 20 years. Among Northern Protestants the figures were respectively 0 per cent and 8 per cent .

An Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll in November 2012 showed 69 per cent wanting a united Ireland and being prepared to pay more taxes for it. This is a classic example of the unrealistic, aspirational thinking of so many people here. As long as unity doesn’t happen for a long time (35 per cent said it would never happen; 15 per cent said it would happen in 50 years and 22 per cent in 25 years), they say they are prepared to pay higher taxes for it. However, in the real world of the here and now, they are deeply unhappy at paying what citizens in almost every other European country pay – property taxes and water charges. Could one find a better example of a united Ireland as “pie in the sky”?

None of which prevents the Sinn Féin leadership from driving on towards their impossible (in the short to medium term) and deeply destabilising primary goal of Irish unity. For those of us who believe the only way towards any kind of unity is the lengthy and extremely difficult business of trying to bring the people of the island – including those pesky unionists – into some kind of mutual regard and understanding, this is delusional stuff which can only lead to a return of violence. – Yours, etc,


Palmerston Court,

Rathmines, Dublin 6.

Sir, – I was always under the impression that the Letters Page was a forum for readers to sound off on the issues of the day or comment on matters raised in the newspaper’s columns. Now I find you publishing a letter from Gerry Adams, who, as as a TD and president of Sinn Féin, has many outlets available to him to comment on any issue he chooses. I am not an expert but the letter you published read more like a press release.

He may not be the first public representative to avail of the opportunity to have his views aired on this page, but I sincerely hope he’s the last. – Yours, etc,



Sat, May 31, 2014, 01:07

First published: Sat, May 31, 2014, 01:07

Sir, – Patrick Davey (May 30th) claims the right to have his children educated in a religious school. This is as unattainable a “right” as the right to live in a religious town, or to work in a religious factory. A “right” that can only be realised if others are denied their own rights is no right at all.

The idea that the majority has more “rights” than minorities do is tyranny, and the removal of a right through effective unavailability is as much a violation as if it were explicitly denied in law.

Secular education is compulsory, and religious education cannot be. By conflating the roles of State school and church school we have created inequality between those of the majority faith and those of other faiths or none. The only way to respect everyone’s rights equally is to separate the roles of church and state, leaving schools to teach a full secular curriculum to all regardless of faith, and allowing each church to supplement this with its own particular teachings outside school hours as parents wish and free from State interference.

Separation of church and state is not an attack on religion. It releases everyone, religious and irreligious alike, from the shackles of pretence and hypocrisy. People of faith should follow the example of their brethren other countries and embrace a secular state as the means of their own liberation. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Sir, – Imagine the following scenario. A service provider (doctor) is asked to supply services to the State. The service provider (doctor) has absolutely no say in the fees to be paid for such services. Furthermore, the Minister not once but repeatedly can cut the fees as he or she sees fit.

Should the service provider (doctor) sign such a contract? – Yours, etc,




Co Sligo.

Sir, – Throughout the election campaign, there was a steady trickle of letters to your paper on the subject of election posters, with the majority of contributors insinuating that candidates and parties would be far less enthusiastic about taking down their posters than they were about putting them up. These posters are invariably put up by volunteers – many of whom spent much of the weekend at election counts, where for the majority the ultimate outcome, after long and exhausting election campaigns, was disappointment. Yet despite this, it is noticeable that the vast majority of election posters are already down, with just a few stragglers remaining to be removed, most likely by those same volunteers. Credit where credit is due? – Yours, etc,


Finnstown Priory,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – It’s always pleasing to leaf through your property supplement, which has returned to its former glory with an apparent multitude of eligible properties seeking appropriate owners each week. Elizabeth Birdthistle’s sample survey of recent auction results ( May 29th) displays a pre-bust trend with Advertised Minimum Values (AMV) consistently being well exceeded.

By my calculations, on a total AMV sales book of €34.2 million, €44.25 million was achieved on the big day for the 35 properties mentioned (March to May, 2014). Intending buyers please note and kindly add the now required 29.4 per cent average to seal the deal! – Yours, etc,


Devoy Quarter,


Co Kildare.

Sir, – Recent speculation about the identity of the next Irish EU commissioner has lowered the status of this important office to that of a political consolation prize for a sub-optimal performance in the national political arena.

What a pity it has been brought down to this level. – Yours, etc,



Co Donegal.

Sir, – One only has to read yesterday’s front page of The Irish Times to realise how crazy is the Ireland we live in. Bausch & Lomb in Waterford is seeking 20 per cent wage cuts.Yet Nama is seeking extra funding to retain staff.

Is any wonder that “basket case” is now becoming a much-used phrase? – Yours, etc,


Clover Hill,



Sir, – The main reason the HSE gives for banning vaping is that it might “re-socialise” smoking. I have been a pipe smoker for over 40 years and, when my children were very young, each of them insisted on having their own pipe. None of them grew up to be pipe smokers; in fact, none of them smokes at all. – Yours, etc,


Hawthorn Park,

Forest Road,


Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

* It was dark, pitch black, confined, and the air supply was running out. Employing the skills of both contortionist and escape artist he deftly freed himself from the bondage of shackles and tightly wrapped chains – without the confines of the milk pail under spotlight centre stage, the packed to the rafters audience began to grow restless.

Also in this section

New leader needs to get some clout in Brussels

EU institutions’ blatant disregard for democracy

Letters: Labour now has a chance to share a new vision

Within, unburdened of his many and varied restraints in under a minute but ever the showman, slowing his heart rate to preserve the little remaining oxygen, building suspense, keeping the crowd on the edge of its seat, until finally as if by magic a man appears on a balcony to the rear of the theatre. His reception thunderous applause from one and all. Alas the master illusionist, greatest magician that probably ever lived and shrewd businessman Harry Houdini found he had to up the ante to ever higher levels.

The mob grew impatient, the performances became challenges and towards the end literally death-defying stunts, until finally he died in mysterious circumstances.

Now think of the property market with “value” appearing seemingly out of nowhere, but before looking closer, and stating that it’s obvious a “two-tier market” is emerging, one must look at the bigger picture.

As the self proclaimed greatest armchair economic conjurer I am certain that the required 25,000 housing units per year will not be built any time soon, if ever.

However human beings will continue to need houses and supply will continue to fail to meet demand with the problem only exacerbated by any kind of population increase. So far, so simple. But remember I opened with the description of an illusion.

Viewing the terrain from a distance, it’s still hard to see the “value” and sitting in a theatre staring at a milk pail has exactly the same problem. The real magic is how the trick is sold.

So allow me to expose this dirty trick as Harry would a second rate rival. One must “buy in” to the three stages of a trick for it to work.

1. The Pledge/Pitch: Property prices are on the rise again.

2. The Turn: Irish version of UK “Help to Buy”– aka 95pc mortgage.

3. The Prestige: You get a mortgage, buy a three bedroom house for €500,000, forget what happened in 2008 and will seriously consider calling Joe Duffy within the next five years.



* You begin to get some idea of the mindset of the present government, when you see its most senior minister almost falling over himself to fawn at the feet of an American billionaire as he arrives at Shannon Airport, followed up by another senior minister being prepared to stand up in front of the cameras to do PR for Bausch and Lomb, to tell its workers to kowtow to its masters, or else . . .

Then the minister for transport performs a similar function for the management of Aer Lingus and Irish Rail.



* As a member of the general public I am writing this complaint cathartically to express my anger and frustration following an unfortunate visit to the new NDLS centre in Limerick city.

As proof of address I had brought my TV licence renewal notice and the TV licence that had been subsequently purchased on the 28/05/2014 with me to the centre.

The employee who was dealing with my driving licence renewal stated that the above was not sufficient proof of address because it was not one of the listed proofs on the NDLS booklet. The listed documents for proof of address included utility bills.

The fact that my TV licence renewal form and TV licence was not accepted on this occasion is particularly irksome given that I have conscientiously paid this bill that so many avoid paying.

A TV licence is issued on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources for RTE which is a semi-state agency and therefore my TV licence should have been accepted as proof of address.

I contacted a supervisor at the NDLS processing centre in Cork.

He suggested that the reason the TV licence could not be used for proof of address was because it was possible for an individual to have more than one if they owned more properties issued to different addresses.

I pointed out that it was possible for an individual to possess more than one electricity, phone bill or cable television bill and these were deemed acceptable.

I am a jaded taxpayer living in a country governed by a bureaucratic over-paid public sector. This incident, when examined appears minor, yet it is symptomatic of the pernicious problems which pervade governing bodies.

The employee that dealt with me did not use intelligent discretion and her objection to the documentation was based on her personal interpretation of the criteria outlined in the booklet.

The robotic function of this public sector employee reflects the diminishment in initiative, imagination and creative intelligence that has been caused by the bureaucratic system that fails the Irish citizen on a daily basis.



* It was very disheartening to read Lise Hand’s blatantly sexist article “Joan power-groomed to the max” (Letters 28/05). Joan Burton has declared her intention to run for leader of the Labour Party, potentially making her the most senior female politician serving in Dail Eireann. Instead of examining her bona fides as a candidate, the Irish Independent devotes half a page to a childish “sketch” mocking her appearance and hair style.

How can we expect to attract more women to political and public life when a national newspaper still treats senior politicians with such disrespect based on their gender?



* I attended the Don Williams concert recently in the Olympia. Not by any means my first encounter with the man and as always a great example of someone with an excellent voice delivering classic tunes with the minimum of fuss.

Keep on rollin’ Don !



* I am extremely disappointed that there is no loyalty scheme for supporters who purchase wheelchair tickets.

But there is a scheme for people who purchase other tickets, either through the Parnell Pass scheme (in Dublin) or the GAA Season Ticket scheme (Nationally). In both schemes dedicated fans are entitled to All-Ireland final tickets.

Why is there no loyalty scheme for people who use wheelchair tickets? The current system for obtaining a wheelchair ticket for the All-Ireland final is flawed.

Even if a person who purchases wheelchair tickets has attended 100pc of the previous games, that person still has to write in and hope that they get a ticket. This is far from satisfactory.

It is a shame that this goes against GAA’s ethos to promote equality.




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