Still sore knee

2June2014 Pain

No jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee

Scrabbletoday, I win the game, and get under 400 perhaps Marywill win tomorrow


Lady Soames – obituary

Lady Soames, the last of Churchill’s children, acted as ADC to her father and wrote a fine life of her mother

Lady Soames, then Mary Churchill, with her father Winston

Lady Soames, then Mary Churchill, with her father Winston  Photo: PA

4:25PM BST 01 Jun 2014

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Lady Soames, who has died aged 91, was the last surviving child of Winston and Clementine Churchill.

From her grandmother, Lady Randolph Churchill, Mary Soames was said to have inherited her dark eyes and good looks, and from her father, a profound sense of public duty and a liking for cigars. That sense of duty was expressed first as a daughter, then as the wife of the late Lord Soames, but latterly in her own right.

Lady Soames admitted to feeling at times like “the last of the Mohicans”, as she answered countless obscure questions about her father. She cited “Did Winston Churchill like spinach?” as a typical example. Reply: “Well, my father once threw a plate of it at my mother.”

Yet while she spoke of “having inherited a sacred trust to try and keep and give a true focus to the publicly perceived image of my father”, it was for her biography of her mother – Clementine Churchill (1979) – with whom she had a less easy relationship when young, that she received greatest acclaim as a writer.

The Churchill children were expected to take “the noble, valiant view of life,” and they never expected either parent to attend school prize-givings or sports days. History, as Mary Soames said, “kept barging in on our family life”. She related how, in 1915, her six-year-old elder sister Diana was heard by her nannie to pray: “Oh God, please bless the Dardanelles, whatever they are.”

Yet Mary Soames always spoke of her childhood as an exceptionally happy one. Much of that positive atmosphere was created at Chartwell, bought in the year of her birth. There was an eight-year gap between Mary and her sister Sarah (another sister, Marigold, had died at the age of two and a half, the year before Mary was born), but she remained the closest to her of all the siblings. As the youngest by far, Mary, known as “the Chartwell child”, was never confined to the nursery but given entry to “a grown-up world of interest, variety, excitement and fun”.

While many politicians and figures of state were guests at Churchill’s table (her father noted in his diary how, at the age of five, Mary treated Baldwin “with great ceremony” when he came to lunch), visitors also included such exciting personages as Charlie Chaplin, for whom a thrilled nine-year-old Mary was allowed to stay up specially. He did not disappoint and good-humouredly performed “various droll tricks”.

Allowed to table much younger than was usual for a child at the time, she recalled mealtimes at Chartwell with particular affection, as much for the memory of her father’s brilliant dialogue (often monologue), as the guest list. “No one for me has ever excelled the wit and wisdom, the joviality and joy of his company. It casts a spell over me still,” she was to say. “To have been his child was an enrichment beyond compare.” A lunch or dinner would often extend to three-hour sessions with poetry and songs and Shakespeare.

Mary Soames’s love of Chartwell was a strong bond between her father and herself. At the age of seven, her first public engagement was to lay the foundation stone of a small one-roomed house, known as the “Mary Cot”, which Churchill had built for her in the vegetable garden and around which he had erected a red brick wall (bricklaying was one of his hobbies). Churchill later painted a picture of this occasion which hangs in the studio at Chartwell.

Mary Soames’s fondness for Chartwell was such that she later admitted how shocked she had been to discover that her mother had been much less enthusiastic about it (mainly because of the burden of housekeeping and the worry about her family’s often precarious finances): “I almost resented her critical and unappreciative attitude to what was, for me, a garden of Eden, full of laughter, activity and high spirits.”

Clementine was, according to her daughter, “a wife above all and a mother second” (Mary later resolved, when her own husband Christopher Soames went into politics, that, in contrast, her own children would come first), and it was to Clementine’s first cousin, Maryott Whyte, a trained Norland Nurse, that young Mary turned for comfort. Maryott, known as “Cousin Moppet”, “Nana” and later as “Grandnana” arrived at Chartwell at the age of 22 and remained there for more than 20 years.

Clementine, however, elicited feelings of admiration and respect from her children, treating them, Mary recalled, with a mixture of tenderness and severity, which evolved into shyness and reserve as they grew older. It was not until her teenage years that Mary was able to forge a closer relationship with her mother. She dated this to 1935, when her mother took her on a skiing holiday (valiantly learning to ski at the age of 50). Yet Mary Soames’s later book about her mother was partly successful because of the objectivity bred by their early, more circumspect relationship.

The biography was a long time in the writing. Begun, at her husband’s suggestion, in the mid-1960s, it was not published until 1979 (two years after Clementine’s death). Mary Soames conducted long interviews with her mother, and her reading of Clementine’s vast archive of correspondence was painstaking. The book’s long gestation became something of a family joke, but Mary Soames always put her duties as a wife before those of being a writer, especially while her husband was British Ambassador in Paris. But her hard work eventually paid off, and the book, which won the Wolfson Prize for History and the Yorkshire Post Prize for Best First Work, became a bestseller.

This success (greeted with her characteristic air of amused self-deprecation) was followed by a book of reminiscences: A Churchill Family Album (1982); a biography of the 5th Duke of Marlborough, The Profligate Duke (1987); Winston Churchill, His Life as a Painter (1990); and Speaking for Themselves, the personal correspondence between Winston and Clementine Churchill (1998). In 2011 she published A Daughter’s Tale: The Memoir Of Winston And Clementine Churchill’s Youngest Child.

Mary Soames was born in London on September 15 1922. Within two months of her birth, her father found himself, as he put it, “without office, without a seat, without a party and without an appendix”. Clementine, while still nursing her baby daughter, had been obliged to fight the greater part of Churchill’s election campaign (following the break up of Lloyd George’s coalition government) on his behalf; and her husband had been left so weak by the operation on his appendix that he was able to appear only in the last few days of the campaign, and then had to be carried about in a chair.

Fighting as a National Liberal, Churchill was defeated by the Labour candidate and thus lost the constituency he had represented for 14 years. At the end of that momentous year, Churchill took the whole family to the south of France for his convalescence.

Mary was educated as a day girl at Manor House School, Limpsfield, near Chartwell. She left school aged 17 and, during the first two years of the War, served with the Red Cross and the WVS. During this time she lived with her parents on the top two floors of Admiralty House. In 1941 she joined the ATS, serving in mixed anti-aircraft batteries, and rose to the rank of junior Command (equivalent to the rank of captain). While she was manning the batteries in Hyde Park, her father often used to drop in on her during the course of an air raid.

While in London, she occasionally took advantage of the relative quiet and comfort of her father’s bedroom in the Cabinet War Rooms, which he rarely used, although she was not officially entitled to do so. Her only concern, she confessed, was that the guards would think she was sheltering there because she was frightened. She later served with a battery in Brussels, and, at the end of the war, in Hamburg.

Mary acted as ADC to her father on several overseas trips, including the first Quebec conference in August 1943 between Churchill, President Roosevelt and the Prime Minister of Canada, Mackenzie King. She accompanied him to Potsdam for the Big Three Conference in the summer of 1945, witnessing with amusement Stalin autograph-hunting after dinner. She was demobilised early in 1946 and appointed MBE (military).

It was while she and her father were staying at the British Embassy as guests of the Duff Coopers on a 24-hour trip to Paris to see the American Secretary of State, that she met Capt Christopher Soames of the Coldstream Guards, who was then the assistant military attaché. “I think he fell in love with me immediately,” she recalled, “and I did quite quickly after that, but at first I thought he had other fish to fry.” Not so, it transpired, because within the month they were engaged. When asked in an interview shortly afterwards if she intended to be a career wife or a housewife she replied: “A housewife, of course” — maintaining that this was a job that required one’s full devotion and commitment.

At the end of the war Churchill bought two farms and a market garden adjoining Chartwell, and for 10 happy years after her marriage (at St Margaret’s, Westminster) she lived at the grey stone farmhouse at Chartwell Farm which stood at the bottom of her parents’ garden. Her husband (known affectionately to the Churchills as “The Chimp”), took on the management of the farms and embarked on his political career. Four of her five children were born there and, by 1957, the family had outgrown the farm and moved to Hamsell Manor near Tunbridge Wells, about 40 minutes drive from Chartwell.

Christopher Soames’s marriage to Mary was undoubtedly his great opportunity: his father-in-law’s influence on his career was inestimable, as was the able, cheerful support of his wife, who accompanied him on six election campaigns in the course of his political life. Yet he, in turn, became an indispensable confidant, companion and counsellor to Churchill in both public and private matters (and encouraged him to take up his favourite sport — racing).

In 1968, in possession of a black pug and a labrador, 10 of her father’s pictures and her treasured gardening tools, Mary Soames returned to the place where she had first met her husband, but this time as the British Ambassador’s wife.

Thus began four “very golden years” for her. The posting was a great success. The French relished having one of Churchill’s relations at the Embassy, and the Soameses did not disappoint. They entertained in great style and made the British Embassy a focal point of Parisian social life.

After a stint in Brussels, where her husband was the British President of the European Community, Mary faced her most testing role yet, when Christopher was made the last British Governor-General of Rhodesia in the final run-up to Independence in 1979-80. The job was an immensely difficult one — her husband was expected to preside over an election and a ceasefire in a country where resentment, bitterness and violence ran deep. As Mary put it: “We couldn’t very well throw tea parties on the lawn, or have the politicians round for cocktails.”

Instead, she visited schools, hospitals, orphanages and refugee camps, launching her own fund for the children of Rhodesia (in 1979 she had been made UK chairman of the International Year of the Child). In the tense atmosphere she was also deeply concerned about her husband’s health: four years previously he had undergone open-heart surgery.

Despite these concerns, Mary Soames thrived on a situation to which she had to a large extent been born and bred. “One gets caught up in the thing. I find that if I have been out for a couple of hours I return with the feeling that I must have missed something. I immediately grab people and say: ‘Is there anything happening?’”

She did everything she could to encourage the British administration staff, strained to near breaking point by the volume and pressure of work. She exercised her considerable charm on Rhodesian leaders of all varieties and once found herself addressing, off-the-cuff, 900 of Joshua Nkomo’s Zipra guerrillas when she went to inspect a field hospital. Against all the odds, she managed to win widespread admiration and confidence, and on her return to London her contribution was recognised when she was appointed DBE.

It was on account of her success in Rhodesia that in 1989 the arts minister, Richard Luce, claimed to have had the idea of making her chairman of the Royal National Theatre Board. (He had been a junior minister at the FCO in 1979-80). It was certainly an original appointment, and it was greeted with disbelief in many quarters, not least at the National Theatre. Theories abounded: that it was Margaret Thatcher’s attack on all the Socialists at the NT; or her way of apologising for having thrown Christopher Soames out of the Cabinet for being a “wet”.

Mary Soames herself was under no illusions: “I think they were horror struck. I know they were. I don’t blame them.” Not only did she know practically nothing about the theatre, she also had almost no experience of running a board. On her arrival at the theatre she admitted to the new director Richard Eyre: “I haven’t been to the theatre for years. Treat me as if I know nothing.”

For Mary Soames, though, the appointment came at a fortuitous time. Her husband had died in 1987 after a long illness, and with his death “a great hunk, perhaps three quarters, has fallen away from my life”. Despite all forebodings, her appointment was a great success, and her partnership with Eyre became close. Hers was an active, commanding chairmanship in an organisation which had traditionally preferred its chairmen to be seen and not heard. She brought in a large amount of sponsorship to the theatre (an idea which had been received with some hostility when first mooted) and was re-elected for a second three-year term just before her 70th birthday.

Mary Soames’s son, the Tory MP Sir Nicholas Soames, once described his mother in an interview as “a very formidable woman” who “like Lady Beryl Strebe-Greebling… could break a swan’s wing with one blow of her nose”. For her own part she pronounced herself grateful for her father’s dictum: “We must all rise to the level of events” — which is precisely what she always did.

Mary Soames received several honorary fellowships or doctorates, as well as honours from around the world. In 2005 she was appointed Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter.

Lord and Lady Soames had three sons and two daughters.

Lady Soames, born September 15 1922, died May 31 2014


I am confused about the of the scope of the Chilcot inquiry (Editorial, 31 May). Given that the government wanted an inquiry and this was supported by parliament, and given that most of the public wanted to know the truth about this monstrously costly action, both in terms of finance and human lives, and given the moral obligation to explain these actions to the dead and maimed of Iraq, how come an unelected cabinet secretary can decide what we should be told? I remember William Hague in relation to GCHQ surveillance saying that if you had nothing to hide, then you had nothing to worry about, and Tony Blair saying he had not lied to parliament and the people; so why the secrecy? Why has unelected Jeremy Heywood more power than all the rest of us put together?
Beverley Jones

• In light of Senator John Kerry’s plea to Edward Snowden last week to “man up”, return to the US and surrender to US justice (Report, 29 May), might not a suitable deal now be struck. Let Mr Snowden do as requested in return for Messrs Blair and Bush “manning up” in respect of the Chilcot report?
Roger Gough
Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire

• Does anybody think that if the roles were reversed a formal inquiry in the US would be prevented from publishing correspondence with the UK prime minister for fear of the damage it might do to relations with the British?
Patrick Twist
Evesham, Worcestershire

• So we may be allowed to read ” the gist” of the Blair-Bush communications. We know the gist; that’s why we’re having the inquiry.
Denis Howell
Dyffryn Ardudwy, Gwynedd

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the loss of 29 souls on the Mull of Kintyre when RAF Chinook ZD576 crashed in unknown circumstances (RAF flight from Northern Ireland crashes into Mull of Kintyre hillside, 3 June 1994).

For 17 years the Ministry of Defence claimed the two pilots were guilty of gross negligence. For 17 years it withheld vital evidence and misled successive inquiries, by omission and commission.

However, in 2011 Lord Philip issued his report, confirming the airworthiness recommendations issued by the Ministry of Defence’s controller aircraft were “mandated” upon the RAF’s assistant chief of the air staff.

The charge against the pilots was posthumously lifted, but not before their families had endured years of heartache (Chinook crash report ‘clears pilots of blame’, 10 July 2011).

But, Lord Philip did not expand on precisely what was mandated: that the aircraft was not airworthy and “should not be relied upon in any way”.

Despite this very clear statement, a false declaration was made to RAF aircrew that the aircraft was airworthy and the design sufficiently mature. This act has never been explained or investigated.

In fact, during Lord Philip’s deliberations, the Ministry of Defence claimed that the RAF was not involved at all in approving the aircraft for RAF use; a deceit which forced a ministerial retraction and apology. None involved have ever been called to account for their actions. It is time to set the record straight.
David Hill
Yate, South Gloucestershire

Ofsted and Michael Wilshaw have given an excellent lesson to us all by deciding to de-marketise and de-privatise school inspection, taking it back into the public sector (Ofsted to take inspections back in house, 30 May). The time is long overdue for calling a halt to contracting out everything to the profit of the likes of Serco, G4S and other corporations. We need to define and reclaim a renewed public domain, with a public-service ethos and democratic values. Can we do this? Ofsted’s example says: yes, we can.
Emeritus professor Peter Moss
Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London

• The wall in Bethlehem does not separate Israel from the Palestinian West Bank, as you say in your caption of the pope kissing the wall (Report, 27 May). It cuts through Palestinian land allowing the expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on land not internationally recognised as belonging to Israel. In one place, it bisects the Palestinian refugee camp of Aida in Bethlehem.
Margaret Derbyshire
Billericay, Essex

• David Boyle (The politics of sandals, 30 May) and George Orwell are both wrong. It is possible to be a socialist and wear sandals and do yoga exercises quietly in Welwyn Garden City. But now we vote Green.
Bob Mays
Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire

• In response to Deborah Orr’s rightful call to “let no evidence of misogyny, however insignificant it seems, go unchallenged’ (31 May), can we start with the Guardian Cryptic Crossword of the same day; I presume the solution to 6 down “Sexy woman found in a state in India, say” is goer.
Wendy Bradley

Eben Moglen’s article (The truth is ours – now we must act, 28 May) is significant in representing the liberal consensus over the Snowden revelations, focusing on rights to privacy rather than the NSA‘s expanding role in US global power projection. Edward Snowden‘s contribution in exposing the extent of NSA surveillance has been important (although the role of previous whistleblowers Russell Tice and and Katharine Gun should also be acknowledged). But the underlying argument is that a legitimate role remains for external surveillance carried out by Western intelligence agencies, and one compatible with the protection of individual rights to privacy given improved democratic oversight.

The vast, global electronic network of the NSA was constructed to support US foreign policy, including conventional wars in the Persian Gulf and, increasingly, covert warfare using drones and special operations forces that has led to the deaths and injuries of thousands of civilians. If the domestic implications are to be considered, then analysis needs to focus on how the national security state is redefining political opposition as subversive and applying the technologies of covert war for internal suppression.

This narrow debate on the recalibration of surveillance through improved oversight totally ignores these global security dimensions, for example, how to apply international law to illegal acts of covert warfare in which the NSA’s electronic intelligence plays a vital role. As far as the UK is concerned, the closure of the NSA’s extensive network of bases here, centered on Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, would be one significant step in reclaiming our democracy from an unaccountable, secret state.
Steven Schofield

•  May I offer my thanks to Eben Moglen for his article. I worked for many years as a minister in secular employment and learnt from many other people’s experience how costly speaking out can be to the whistleblower, to his/her family and social networks, and to their future employment prospects. Generally they are brave people pushed to a position where they can see no other way to live with themselves. I wish Edward Snowden well and thank him for the integrity and courage to make his disclosure. It might yet help ordinary people like me to regain that sense of fairness, equality and justice that will support a protest. Our grandchildren need us to remember the richness of a sense of freedom and to fight for it before it is too late.
Dorrie Johnson
Bubbenhall, Warwickshire

•  In 1998 Deep Blue beat Gary Casparov at chess. The race is now on to create intuitive, artificial intelligence; the so-called singularity point will be when intuitive AI and human intelligence have become indistinguishable.

Government has put in place the sophisticated machinery of mass surveillance; and has deliberately avoided widespread, democratic accountability. Only a relatively small number of people have any control over it all. The surveillance system is almost running itself because nearly everyone in the system is afraid to blow the whistle. How near are we to a takeover of all humanity when the next Deep Blue (this time with intuitive intelligence and political awareness) realises that the machinery for the “takeover” is already in place. Of course this won’t happen because it’s too far fetched … or is it?
Dr Timothy Bland
Romford, Essex

• John Kerry suggests that Edward Snowden has betrayed his country, I think not. He may have betrayed an oppressive government but all his actions evidence behaviour on the part of the government which is clearly written out of court by the founding documents of the US.

The Declaration of Independence and the constitution clearly explain the principles that should be the prime purposes of a government. The unalienable right to liberty is to be guaranteed by a government deriving [its] just powers from the consent of the governed, and whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it. Further, the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause (amendment IV).

The routine searches of the general communications of the American people is a violation of their unalienable liberty (as further defined by the fourth amendment, quoted above). And it was certainly not done with the consent of the governed. Edward Snowden has merely revealed the same sort of oppressive and tyrannical behaviour on behalf of his government that the founding fathers sought to throw off. And Mr Snowden has gone nowhere near the proposal of promoting a change or abolition of government – I hate the think how the US government might react if he did.

Interpretations change over 240 years – not necessarily for the better.
Peter Swinbank

•  If John Kerry is serious about prosecuting Edward Snowdon for espionage he should “man up” and file charges against newspapers (such as the Guardian and the New York Times,) which published the revelations.

Snowdon alerted the world to widespread wrongdoing by the US espionage agencies; I agree that he should return to the US. To be presented with the congressional medal of honour.
Henry Lawrence

•  So Edward Snowden, tormentor of the US intelligence services, the man who took on the State Department and won, tormentor of the British and American military who unearths their darkest deeds, needs to “man up” does he? I wouldn’t like to see him after he’s had a couple of pints.
Brendan O’Rourke

Fairtrade acknowledges that landless agricultural workers are a most disadvantaged group and therefore a difficult group to reach (“Harsh truths are necessary if Fairtrade is to change the lives of the desperately poor“, News). SOAS’s new report highlights the need for a concerted, systematic and coordinated effort to improve conditions for temporary and casual workers. These most vulnerable of people are being failed by all parties – local and international governments, trade unions, NGOs and companies. Fairtrade is committed to playing its part in addressing the associated challenges ahead. 

Fairtrade aims to work with farmers on Fairtrade-certified small farms to ensure that secure and stable incomes meet their needs and those of the workers.  The SOAS report fails to recognise this. If a farm is selling a small fraction of its produce as Fairtrade and the rest on the conventional market, there is very little of the extra money from Fairtrade sales to go towards projects like healthcare and sanitation. Fairtrade works incrementally – it is trade, not aid, after all.

Fairtrade cannot solve all the problems of rural development. Our aim is to reach more people and deepen the impact that Fairtrade can have. To make progress we need to increase the market for Fairtrade products. This is something that we are committed to, in order to achieve greater benefits for farmers and workers in developing countries.

When people reach for a product with the FAIRTRADE mark, they are making a proven difference to the lives of the people who produce them. To have an even greater impact we need more of those customers – and more companies and donors – to back Fairtrade.

Michael Gidney

Chief executive

Fairtrade Foundation

A terrible racist legacy

In the 1950s my school in east London organised a trip for the fifth formers to Austria, to a village, perhaps hamlet might be a better word, called Judenstein (Jews’ stone). The church was dedicated to the “murder” of a Christian child by Jews for his blood (“In quiet sandstone streets, 56 villagers contemplate the meaning of a name“, News.)

The centrepiece was a silver tableau about 3m by 1.5m and several metres high. Its subject was a depiction of the slaying; and the stations of the cross round the church were replaced by the various stages of the capture and killing of the child.

I believe the church itself has since been “cleansed” of the more hideous aspects of this blood libel but the villagers of Judenstein, unlike the villagers of Castrillo Matajudíos, have not shown the slightest inclination to change the name of the village. The irony of this school visit was that 60-70% of the pupils at that school were Jewish.

David Conroy

London SW19

A truly noble Brazilian

David Goldblatt, in his brilliant feature on Brazil (“Brazil’s football party can’t hide the country’s tensions” In Focus) wrote: “It is notable that not a single Nobel prize has been awarded to a Brazilian.” I am sure that others will agree with me that the Nobel prize for literature should have been awarded to Jorge Amado, who died in 2001. He used the Portuguese language with the incisiveness of a satirist and the lyricism of a poet. His output was enormous; his humour irresistible. In 2014, when Brazil is in the news everywhere, maybe we should honour this wonderful writer by encouraging everyone to study his richly imaginative novels,

Penelope Maclachlan

London W7

Think again about Neil Lennon

In offering theories for Neil Lennon’s victimisation, (“A good man Scotland abused and betrayed“, Comment) Kevin McKenna might have benefited from analysing the reporting of death threats towards former Rangers players like Nacho Novo and Fernando Ricksen. Unlike the unfortunate crimes committed against Neil Lennon, these acts were not reported as sectarian, but rather as a potent blend of football rivalry and idiocy. Could it be that Lennon is just an unlikeable figure in a goldfish-bowl environment?

McKenna is correct in stating that Lennon was reviled throughout Scotland. However, fans of clubs like Aberdeen and Dundee United have no time for the baggage that accompanies supporting Rangers or Celtic. It is ridiculous to suggest that a fan of the “great Glasgow alternative”, Partick Thistle, might boo Lennon because he is a Northern Irish Catholic.

James Robertson


Handsome is as handsome does

Of the three critics who were less than polite about the opera singer Tara Erraught’s looks, I noticed that you didn’t print a photo of one of them, Richard Morrison. Does he look so horrendous that you hesitate to scare Observer readers (“Time to bring the curtain down on critics’ sexism“, In Focus)? You printed photos of two of the others, Rupert Christiansen and Quentin Letts. Let me just say that if I were playing the game commuters play when they’ve finished reading their newspapers (to put it politely, wondering which of the passengers sitting opposite are the most attractive), these two gentlemen would come way down the list.

Sue Boulding



Greater London Authority

Published at 12:01AM, June 2 2014

Sir, Rather than setting a dangerous precedent, devolving more power to London and other UK cities offers a fantastic opportunity to drive future economic growth (“Capital Idea”, leader, May 30).

UK cities are home to 60 per cent of the national economy and 73 per cent of highly skilled jobs. Yet we remain one of the most centralised developed countries in the world.

London keeps just seven per cent of the taxes paid by its residents and businesses, compared with 50 per cent in New York. Greater devolution of tax-raising powers does create issues for redistribution, but a “straw man” of full-scale city independence should not distract from measured proposals, such as those of the London Finance Commission, to give cities greater control over decisions that shape the lives of the people who live and work there.

No one is arguing that London should not pay its fair share to the broader nation. Yes, thousands of people commute to the capital each day, generating income tax and national insurance. But they may have been educated elsewhere in the UK, or return home at night to use public services in places well beyond its borders. It is right that London contributes to these costs.

This doesn’t mean that London, and other cities, shouldn’t also be empowered to direct funds where they are most needed — be it addressing critical housing shortages or investing in vital infrastructure.

Solving these pressing issues at a city level is important to the UK’s future prosperity. We should be helping cities to drive the national economy forward, not confining them in a fiscal straitjacket that locks so many decisions in Whitehall.

Alexandra Jones
Chief executive, Centre for Cities

Sir, Your editorial misses the point. Rather than creating “city states”, giving London and the rest of England’s local government greater autonomy from central government would help to shift the fundamental imbalance of power that exists between Whitehall and the rest of England. Scotland provides an example of how a devolved taxation system can work, and the government is granting greater financial autonomy to Wales.

What is wrong with England that it can’t be trusted to have more say over its own financial affairs and use local councils as the vehicle for English devolution. All parties lack a credible position on this — which should be put right without further delay.

Graham Allen, MP
Chairman of the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, House of Commons

Sir, The mayor of London’s advisers should read the Crossman diaries, which brilliantly expose the rivalry between political parties over who could provide the highest number of new-builds in the 1960s (“Boris floats big idea for homes on the river”, May 30). It resulted in the blighting of cities with “innovative” designs and construction methods, promoted by Poulson corruption, and ended in badly constructed properties and misery.

No doubt the mayor’s advisers will say that things will be better this time. But after Mr Johnson and the prime minister have appeared in a set PR piece handing over the keys to worthy and specially vetted citizens, how many of their own circle will move from Notting Hill or north London and actually live in them?

Brian T Scott
Newcastle upon Tyne

Sir, Virginia Patania and Naomi Beer (letter, May 30) ask why older doctors are “retiring early in droves”. Part of the answer lies in a pension provision which is excessive by many standards and unaffordable by the nation. The solution lies not in paying doctors more, which would allow even earlier retirement, but in training more doctors and paying them less.

About 30 per cent of doctors in the NHS qualified abroad, rising to 50 per cent in the hospital service. In some parts of the country even locums are unavailable to fill service gaps. This is a shocking failure of leadership in what used to be a fine service.

Professor Michael Joy, FRCP
North Curry, Somerset

Sir, I strongly disagree with the claims made by Alex Wild of the TaxPayers’ Alliance (letter, May 30). At the moment there are advertisements for GPs in Canada (Alberta) for £162,000 to £270,000 per annum and Melbourne (Australia) for £140,000 to £220,000 per annum. Open the BMJ and British Journal of of General Practice to see the constant advertisements for overseas jobs.

Its no wonder that Australia has 20.2 GPs per 10,000 people and we have only 6.8, given the poor remuneration that is evident on an international scale.

Carry on complaining and you will speed up the retirement and emigration from — and loss of — new entrants to the specialty.

John B Ashton (retired GP)
Norton sub Hamdon, Somerset

Sir, What an appalling idea that drug dealing and prostitution will be included in measuring the UK’s GDP from September (May 30). Will we add sex trafficking next?

This only goes to show what a useless measure of the nation’s wellbeing GDP is. We should never be in thrall to it, any more than we should be in thrall to economic growth in a world of finite resources. We need a much better index of human wellbeing and quality of life which politicans can trumpet.

Michael Smith
London SW20

Sir, Further to your report on mobility scooters (May 28), they do not need (and probably should not be able) to be driven at 8mph. The impact energy of a vehicle being driven at this speed is four times that of one driven at 4mph, a speed which is more than adequate for most purposes and far less damaging should a collision occur.

Second, proper training in the use of mobility scooters should be given and this should include a test of the ability of the driver to stop in an emergency. Finally, the Department for Transport’s suggestions, referred to in the article, should be extended and made mandatory — and not merely left as recommendations to be totally ignored.

Professor Colin Roberts
Cornwall Mobility Centre, Truro

Sir, Janice Turner (notebook, May 29) complains that her sons “will leave school ignorant of Jane Austen, the Brontës, Chaucer, Conrad, Hardy, Lawrence, George Eliot and, saddest of all, Dickens”. It would be a very tall order for any school to introduce its pupils to the works of all these authors. In any case, they wouldn’t need to leave school in this innocent state if parents took the trouble to enlighten them. Or does she think parents have no role in their children’s education?

Julian Luxford
Ceres, Fife


tin to Hitler

Bear bait: The Prince of Wales feeds a fish to Hudson the polar bear at Winnipeg Zoo on his tour of Canada  Photo:

6:58AM BST 01 Jun 2014

Comments35 Comments

SIR – Russia vents its spleen over the Prince of Wales’s alleged remarks and seeks to remind us of its suffering in the Second World War (report, May 25).

It might equally be worth remembering the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 which facilitated the Nazi advance into Europe in the first place. The Prince articulated the feelings of many across Europe who are horrified by President Putin’s behaviour in Ukraine.

John Rees
London W14

SIR – I am sure Prince Charles was not suggesting that President Putin’s actions were comparable to the dreadful atrocities committed by the Nazis, but more to Hitler’s gobbling up of neighbouring Austria, Czechoslovakia and then half of Poland, under the pretext, in part at least, of protecting ethnic Germans.

Prince Charles is quite correct in what he said and entitled to say so.

John Whyte
Lymington, Hampshire

SIR – I now understand why the Prince of Wales achieved only a lower second-class degree in history and archaeology.

Malcolm Dann
Burton, Chesire

SIR – It is interesting that in President Putin’s response to the Prince of Wales’s off-the-record comments, there is no objection to the content of what he said, only to the observer’s right to say them.

Patrick Ryecart
London SW1

SIR – While cats are the biggest killers of songbirds in Britain (Letters, May 25), it is the doubling in numbers of all native and non-native predators that is contributing to their decline. One in five households now owns at least one cat. It is far easier to blame farmers and spend £500 million a year of taxpayers’ money on agri-environment schemes.

Wildlife has been turned into entertainment for a largely urban public. Controlling predators is a taboo subject which could also threaten the membership of large organisations. Even good science is avoided, suppressed or ignored.

Nick Forde
Trustee, SongBird Survival
London SW4

SIR – Has anyone bothered, for the sake of fairness, to guess the number of rodents that cats dispose of annually? Rodents consume and contaminate food stocks and are vectors of many serious diseases. Their removal by cats must save the country millions of pounds.

Kevin Daly
Lingfield, Surrey

SIR – Given that cats are fed twice daily ny their owners, why are they permitted to be out at night to plunder our songbirds? Surely the RSPB should support a night curfew.

Penny Green
Bishopstone, Wiltshire

SIR – It is ridiculous to assume that cats are to blame. My cat has succeeded in killing a few worms in his time but never birds. How about urbanisation? There are far fewer birds now where I live than a few years ago, as far more houses have been built and birds have lost their habitat.

Kate Christley
Cuffley, Hertfordshire

SIR – Elisabeth Chaston (Letters, May 25) says her cats hardly ever kill small creatures, but as they “go where they please”, how does she know? We have a visiting black cat trying to catch songbirds; a loud hiss scares it off. A powerful water pistol would be even better.

Hamish Grant
Buckland St Mary, Somerset

Home security

SIR – David Laker (Letters, May 25) worries that we are constantly surveyed by CCTV cameras, that our credit card use and computer activities are monitored, our telephones are open to surveillance and our bank accounts open to plunder.

My wife does all of that and more without any of the latest technology. She tells me she is multitasking, while I look at her admiringly and say nothing.

Tom Hutchings
Reading, Berkshire

Defence of the realm must not be risked

SIR – In your first leading article (May 25) you say we should vote Tory at the next election as only the Conservative Party can resolve the questions posed by the electoral success of Ukip.

In your second leading article, you say that defence of the realm is the paramount responsibility of any government, and that this Government has cut defence spending to the point where we may not be able to defend ourselves.

If the Conservative-dominated Government cannot be bothered to defend the realm, I do not believe that the Tories deserve many votes at the next election.

Patrick Kinmont
Rodmarton, Gloucestershire

SIR – David Cameron continues to undermine our Armed Forces. His threatened cut to the rapid reaction defence force is not only damaging to security and ability to help in national and international disasters, but also plays into the hands of the EU federalists with their plans for a European army and their ambitions to destroy our independence, way of life and democracy.

Jennifer Beattie
Clevedon, Somerset

SIR – With regard to the news of further cuts in defence spending, I don’t know what effect they have on our enemies, but, by God, they frighten me.

Peter Davey
Bournemouth, Dorset

Policing the police

SIR – It is hard to believe that no job description exists for the role of Police and Crime Commissioner, as Anne Barnes, who currently holds such a post for the county of Kent, claims.

I was under the impression that the job required holding chief constables to account for their management of resources.

What could be easier to measure than average overtime earned, sick leave taken and complaints incurred per officer? If such figures were published and compared in league tables with other forces, glaring anomalies could be identified and explanations demanded.

John Kenny
Acle, Norfolk

Clegg’s masterplan

SIR – Nick Clegg’s decision to veto boundaries change was, in my opinion, very “grown-up” indeed (Letters, May 25).

Mr Clegg makes no secret of his desire to be part of the next government: he knows that Lib Dem voters would be more at ease with a Lib-Lab coalition than with a Lib-Con one. The present boundaries give an advantage to Labour.

By securing that advantage Mr Clegg hopes that, come 2015, Labour will find itself in the same situation that the Conservatives were in in 2010 – with a majority of seats, but not an absolute majority, whereupon Nick joins the two Eds and lives happily ever after.

Odette Calvert
Sandhurst, Berkshire

Fracking necessity

SIR – Olivia Williams wonders, as she flies into Los Angeles and spies rooftop solar panels, why we are “contemplating fracking…and building precarious new nuclear reactors”. Without fossil fuels and nuclear power, she would have to kiss goodbye to her jet-set lifestyle. Solar and wind energy alone are not enough.

John Fisher
Hulme, Cheshire

Causes of car crashes

SIR – John Makin (Letters, May 25) suggests that black box technology in cars could help reduce accidents as it would enable insurance companies to decline to insure habitual breakers of speed limits.

But exceeding the speed limit is the cause of just 4 per cent of accidents. According to Department for Transport statistics, the following are all more to blame: failure to look properly, misjudging the path or speed of others, careless or reckless driving, poor manoeuvring, loss of control, driving too fast for the conditions (but within limits), slippery road, tailgating and sudden braking.

Peter Owen
Claygate, Surrey

Pride in appearance

SIR – Surely the widespread problem of obesity is linked to a general fall in personal standards, the wearing of clothes previous generations would not have been seen dead in, scruffy hair, unpolished shoes, awful manners and eating and drinking almost anywhere.

If people take no pride in their appearance they have little incentive to look after their waistlines.

Richard Lee
Mitcham, Surrey

Building up

SIR – Clifford Baxter (Letters, May 25) believes excessive immigration to be the cause of the housing shortage and consequent price rises.

But what if the immigrants are builders?

Dr David Moss
Ettlingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Steamy wager

SIR – According to Bradshaw (1895), Adlestrop (Letters, May 25) had four trains daily in each direction.

I’ll bet they were all on time.

Chris Harding
Parkstone, Dorset

SIR – David Cameron thinks that he can negotiate a new deal with the EU, and hopes that we will endorse it in his referendum.

He is either very naive or very duplicitous because he must know that all he can hope to achieve is some tinkering around the edges. The root and branch surgery required would destroy the EU as we know it, and there is no possibility of that being agreed to in Brussels.

The Tories must make the referendum the centrepiece of the election manifesto and then trust the people to give the right answer without underhand manipulation. Trust the people. I would vote for that.

Eric Howarth
Bourne, Lincolnshire

SIR – For Mr Cameron to stand any chance of countering the Ukip threat, he must convince the electorate that during negotiations with the EU he will not wilt in the face of the die-hard Euro federalists.

A good start would be to state unequivocally that unless power to govern our own country is repatriated to Westminster, including full control of who comes to live here, he will not just hold the referendum, but will be firmly in the “Out” camp.

Tim Coles
Carlton, Bedfordshire

SIR – David Cameron says he “gets it”, and will claw back powers from Brussels to Westminster.

So why has his Government just approved legislation to give £18 million for pro-EU propaganda in EU elections?

And why is he voluntarily proposing to opt back in to 35 EU justice laws? These include the European Arrest Warrant, whereby anyone in Britain could find himself hauled off to a foreign jail without habeas corpus, with no presumption of innocence and on circumstantial evidence not admitted in a British court. This is to trample on Magna Carta and the freedoms we have taken for granted for 800 years.

When your leading article says, “Only the Tories can offer real change in Britain”, I beg to differ. We are getting more of the same deceit.

Tony Woodcock
Southbourne, West Sussex

SIR – Ukip has risen from the ashes of the Conservative Party’s infighting on Europe.

Nigel Farage knows that Ukip will not perform as well in the general election as it did last week, but even if it wins anything above 10 per cent of the popular vote in 2015, the Conservative Party is set to lose.

Europe is the Achilles-heel of the Conservative Party, and it has to be solved once and for all.

James A Paton
Billericay, Essex

SIR – Esmond Bulmer (Letters, May 25) believes that the country should be given the choice of being ruled by Westminster or Brussels. In other words, democracy or bureaucracy.

John Strange
Worthing, West Sussex

SIR – As the party in power, the Conservatives alone can turn the tide but will no doubt fall short again by offering us jam tomorrow.

The electorate will only be appeased by immediate action on immigration, benefits control, HS2, wind farms, planning and of course, the EU.

Robert Sherriff
Southam, Warwickshire

SIR – David Cameron can begin to build bridges with his defecting supporters by speeding up the renegotiations with the EU so as to be able to offer the country an in/out referendum on the same day as the general election next year.

Roger Hopkins
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – Having previously ignored the voters of Denmark and France, the EU elite has received a message from the latest election that is loud and clear.

The citizens of Europe will no longer accept the EU as it is: an undemocratic, inward-looking, inefficient and integrationist bureaucracy.

If it will not accept drastic change, it is doomed to failure. Enlarging the community will only slow the inevitable decline.

B J Colby
Portishead, Somerset

Irish Times:

Sir, – The revelation by the boss of the Health Information and Quality Authority that the health service lacks accountability and “doesn’t know how many patients it is killing and harming” is shocking, true and not surprising (“Health service failing patients, says departing Hiqa chief”, May 26th).

In Paul Cullen’s interview with Dr Tracey Cooper, departing chief executive of Hiqa, she tells us “We’re not the kind of country where people who provide services can demonstrate how good they are in terms of performance, outcomes and safety. They’re not making this information publicly available.” But Hiqa is the authority which was established to set standards and then evaluate and publish information on the delivery and performance of our health service. After eight years we are left with promises.

Dr Cooper’s comment, in relation to lack of accountability and withholding of health information, is interesting. Hiqa, although advised in 2008, has still not put in place a standard to monitor and publish the outcome for patients who suffer a brain haemorrhage – subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) – and are denied access to emergency neurosurgical treatment in Beaumont Hospital. SAH patients are left untreated in hospitals which have no neurosurgical expertise and we still don’t know how many, if any, survive.

“The hospital does not have the resources to retrospectively review” is the answer from the HSE, on behalf of the Minister for Health, to a parliamentary question requesting this information.

Lack of accountability is often a cover for poor leadership and corporate governance. In the case of Hiqa there is no clear separation of roles and responsibility between Hiqa and the HSE. Hiqa claims that it is not responsible for the safety of patients unable to access neurosurgical treatment and claims that Beaumont Hospital is responsible and required to provide assurances to the HSE. Beaumont claims that it is not responsible for patients it does not admit for treatment. These assurances are no substitute for independent clinical audits benchmarked against international best practice.

The role of investigating authority (Hiqa) and the body which allocates funds (HSE) to healthcare providers needs to be clearly defined. Government needs to revisit the Health Act 2007 and clear up this ambiguity.

To be fair, Dr Cooper has made a significant contribution to our health service and can take credit for a number of initiatives which undoubtedly save many lives. I wish her well. – Yours,etc,


Cypress Downs,


Sir, – People will probably agree that it is the State which carries the ultimate responsibility for housing its citizens, but therein lies the problem in what is called the “housing crisis”. Social housing in one form or another is the basic requirement for people with a long-term housing need, but sufficient housing has never been built, or even planned, to cope with the huge volume of new people on housing lists, particularly in the large urban centres. There is an expectation that the private rental market will be available to take up the slack, but there are an insufficient number of properties in the private rental market, largely due to the actions of Government and lenders.

The average number of properties owned by private landlords is one, with many in negative equity and with heavy mortgages attached. Landlords need to let their property at market rent, not approximately 15per cent below, which is the average rent supplement level, in order to be able to try and pay the costs of being a landlord, never mind making a profit from the business of letting property.

The Government penalises people in receipt of rent supplement by capping it, but then blames landlords for not being willing to subsidise the accommodation.

The State, in its wisdom (or its desire to gather in easy taxes), has blatantly decided to penalise landlords by a long series of indirect taxation measures, which in turn can result in rental income being taxed on a loss-making situation. Following on from that, landlords cannot pay their mortgages in full, aggravating the mortgage arrears situation.

Lenders are aggressively forcing sales, as has been shown in the hard-line stances taken by the banks at the Oireachtas finance committee. The Government and the Central Bank have aided and abetted this situation by continually giving in to the bullying tactics of our lenders, and landlords are losing their property as a result, which also means that tenants are also being de-housed with nowhere else to go. The Government maintains it cannot interfere with the commercial operations of the lenders, yet it continues to interfere brazenly in the commercial operations of landlords.

Instead of increasing the supply of property, actions by the Government are decreasing it. Traditional bedsit accommodation with shared bathrooms is now illegal, but there is no alternative for tenants caught up in this scenario.

Landlords continuing to operate bedsits are breaking the law, but to be put into a situation which makes their tenants homeless is a national scandal. The Government is ignoring this situation.

Rents decreased over 40 per cent in recent years, and are still below peak levels. Local property tax is for services provided to the tenant, yet it is levied on the landlord, increasing costs.

Is it possible for someone with a grain of intelligence to look at the “housing crisis” fairly? Will certain politicians and others stop vilifying people who have the courage to invest in property (despite the huge downsides of so doing), who treat their tenants as customers, and who want to have their business recognised as such? Given the right conditions, the Government should look at the private rental market as a partner of the State in housing citizens. Partners deserve fair and equitable treatment. – Yours, etc,



Irish Property

Owners’ Association,

Ashtown Business Centre,

Navan Road,

Dublin 15.

Sir, – The Leaving Certificate exams will start shortly and there will be a lot of media coverage surrounding these exams. I actually think that most of this coverage is hype and very unhelpful hype at that.

While the Leaving Cert is a big event, ultimately it’s just another step along the journey of life. I am now 48 and have completed three Leaving Certs in my time.

I did the first when I was 17 and to be honest, it didn’t mean very much to me at the time. I completed the other two as a mature student, because I decided to go to college.

I might never have succeeded in my return to education, had it not been for the experience of completing that first Leaving Cert, when I was 17. It was just one step on the way to my eventual success, when I graduated from UCC, at the age of 28.

I later completed two postgraduate diplomas, including a teaching qualification and have been teaching for the past 12 years, as well as doing an interesting variety of other skilled work.

What all this has thought me is that education is (or should be) all about creating options and that life is a serious of choices and challenges. Life also involves a lot of “trial and error” and there is nothing wrong with that.

Every experience in life (including the exam process) has the potential to educate us and you can never have too much education, whatever its source.

Everybody who is doing the Leaving Cert should be allowed to get on with it, without all this annual fuss in the media. My experience has also taught me that “stress” is often a self-fulfilling prophecy, ie the more we talk about stress, the more we are likely to experience it.

Students, parents and the media need to take a balanced and proportional approach to the Leaving Cert. There is education all around us; it’s up to us to take it all in.

Ultimately, we are all educators and we all influence those around us. So please, let the students get on with it, without all this annual media cackle. – Yours, etc,


Bowling Green,

White Street,

Sir, – Since the Islamic Republic of Iran attacks Israel in every international forum it can and openly calls for the destruction of the Jewish State, we find it appropriate to take issue with the words of the Ambassador of Iran Javad Kachoueian (“Iran seeks better relations with West, says envoy”, May 28th).

The Ambassador claims that Iran has the right to enrich uranium and expand its nuclear programme, ostensibly for peaceful purposes. It is a pity that in his interview he did not mention other things that Iran apparently also thinks it has a right to do, such as execute homosexuals and Bahai’s, torture dissidents, export terror groups around the world such as Hizbullah and Hamas, blow up a Jewish community centre as it did in Buenos Aires in 1984, and serve as the chief buttress of the murderous Assad regime over the past few years – thereby ensuring that the Syrian civil war has become a ghastly quagmire with over 160,000 corpses and counting.

He refers to the election of Hassan Rouhani to the Iranian presidency last year. It might be better to use the word selection, as Mr Rouhani was one of only eight candidates out of 680 who were approved to run by Ayatollah Khamenei and his cronies who really run the country.

As for the alleged 2005 fatwa by Ayatollah Khamenei condemning the building of nuclear weapons that the Ambassador refers to, alas trying to find it is like trying to track down the unicorn because although many have referred to it no one has ever seen the text of this mysterious fatwa.

Based on long and painful experience, it is wise to judge Iran by its actions, not its spurious rhetoric. – Yours, etc,


Press Officer,

Embassy of Israel,

Pembroke Road,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – In his interview with Tim Butcher, author of a new biography of Gavrilo Princip, Mark Hennessy discusses how world history was “made in the Balkans” in 1914 (Arts & Ideas, May 28th). The article also examines aspects of this region’s more recent past. It focuses on Bosnia and Herzegovina, looking at how that country has struggled since it was devastated by war between 1992 and 1995.

Mr Butcher points out that the political structures created by the Dayton Agreement, which ended the conflict, have merely perpetuated division. This has been exploited by Bosnia’s ruling elites, whose egocentricity and reluctance to cooperate have rendered the state dysfunctional. In protests across Bosnia and Herzegovina this spring, people of all ethnicities expressed frustration at these “leaders” who have left them impoverished and powerless.

Two weeks ago, Bosnia’s plight was exacerbated when it was struck by the severest flooding ever recorded in the Balkans. In Bosnia alone, 39 per cent of the population has been affected by this disaster. Towns have been destroyed, villages wiped out and agricultural areas have been ruined. Tens of thousands of people are homeless or displaced. There is a serious risk of disease due to contaminated floodwater.

Undiscovered landmines may have been moved by flood-triggered landslides and these pose another threat to life.

In the worst-hit places – as we have heard directly from relatives who live there – basic supplies like food and clean drinking water are scarce.

The historical significance of the Balkans is fascinating but we must remember the millions in Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia who are suffering today in the aftermath of the floods.

A striking feature of this catastrophe is that it has brought the people of these countries together in solidarity, despite the agendas of their politicians.

However, massive international assistance is also required. In Ireland, the Irish Red Cross has launched its “Balkans Floods Appeal” and other organisations, such as Whitewater Foundation and Human Appeal Ireland, are helping those in need.

While mulling over events in Sarajevo in 1914, we should think of the flood victims of the Balkans in 2014 and support the relief effort. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – By abolishing town and borough councils, this Government banished to the wilderness hundreds of years of history, tradition and structure, with little or no debate. There is reason to believe that the small towns and cities of Ireland will suffer irrevocably from this decision.

For many years local town and borough councils have had the resources to develop and present themselves well; witness the quality of the streetscapes and the cleanliness of many of our towns. None of this happens by accident; they are the result of concerted management and effort by those responsible within the local town councils over many years. The new scenario will dilute this effort by spreading the resources more thinly across the larger municipal areas well beyond the town boundaries.

The death of town centres by the promotion of out-of-town shopping centres and other developments will be ever more likely with the loss of the strong voice and authority of town representation. It should be remembered also that what is good for most towns is ultimately good for the surrounding area, in terms of business and economic activity. It is generally recognised that good planning revolves around developing centres of population which are sustainable, with the critical mass in terms of population to develop services properly. Again, the new scenario with municipal areas can only harm such objectives, with struggles for the locating of development between the rural and town members and the likelihood of an in-built majority of rural-based representatives.

There are also other less tangible impacts that result from the civic pride strengthened by the ceremonial aspect of town governance, civic receptions, and so on.

We have allowed something very valuable to be thrown away, which we may live to regret. I hope I am wrong.


Kells Road,

Sir, – Norman Freeman (An Irishman’s Diary, May 13th) and the citizens of our country should be very interested to know that many young Irish chaps (myself included), and without the “sales talk” referred to in the article, voluntarily joined the Marconi International Marine Communications Company as radio officers (having obtained a certificate in radiotelegraphy in one of the colleges here in Ireland to serve in Irish Shipping Ltd and more usually in the British merchant navy).

One of the regular voyages taken by Irish vessels was to the port of St John in New Brunswick, Canada, to load a cargo of wheat to help keep bread on our tables.

These Irish-registered ships, decorated and illuminated in our own national colours, could take 10 or more weeks to complete the round voyage.

It is true that many of the ships, because of their size and age, would have been more at ease sailing the duck pond in St Stephen’s Green than rolling and pitching through the wild Atlantic Ocean for days in the national interest.

The flashing Fastnet lighthouse was a very welcome “ray of light” indeed on our return journey.

My sincere wish for our nation is that whatever we have to remember and commemorate, those who believed in what they chose to do during the war years deserve some mention.

As for the coconut wine referred to in the article, ugh! It’s a gin and tonic for me. – Yours, etc,


The Village Gates,


Co Dublin.

A chara, – Dr John Doherty’s letter of May 14th resurrected a long-forgotten school memory for me. During an examination on European history, we were asked to describe the origins and causes of the War of Austrian Succession. A friend of mine wrote at length about the terrible war that was fought to prevent Mother Theresa succeeding to the Habsburg thrones. A little learning is a dangerous thing. – Yours, etc,


Airedale Road,

South Ealing,


Sir, – I’ve noticed that a lot of keep-fit enthusiasts shout quite a bit, even in “normal” conversation. I believe this is due to their habit of listening to their iPods while jogging or cycling, thus rendering them a little hard of hearing. – Yours, etc,


Stamer Street,

Dublin 8.

Irish Independent:

The Leaving Certificate exams will start shortly and there will be a lot of media coverage surrounding them. I actually think that much of this coverage is “hype”.

Also in this section

Letters to the Editor: Beaten, but no defeat

No escape from the Harry Houdini property trap

New leader needs to get some clout in Brussels

While the Leaving Cert is a big event, ultimately it’s just another step along the journey of life. I am now 48 years old and have completed three Leaving Certs in my time. I did the first when I was 17 and, to be honest, it didn’t mean very much to me at the time. I completed the other two as a mature student, because I decided to go to college. I might never have succeeded in my return to education, had it not been for the experience of completing that first Leaving Cert at 17.

Like I said, it was just one step on the way to my eventual success, when I graduated from UCC, at the age of 28. I later completed two post-graduate diplomas, including a teaching qualification, and have been teaching for the past 12 years, as well as doing an interesting variety of other skilled work.

What all this has taught me is that education is (or should be) all about creating options and that life is a series of choices and challenges. Life also involves a lot of ‘trial and error’ and there is nothing wrong with that.

Every experience in life has the potential to educate us and you can never have too much education, whatever its source.

Everybody who is doing the Leaving Cert should be allowed to get on with it, without all this annual fuss in the media. My experience has also taught me that “stress” (eg, exam stress) is often a self-fulfilling prophecy – the more we talk about stress, the more we are likely to experience it.

Students, parents and the media need to take a balanced and proportional approach to the Leaving Cert. There is education all around us; it’s up to us to take it all in. So please, let the students get on with it, without all this media cackle.



Following O’Leary’s lead

In an interview with Pat Kenny on Newstalk, Michael O’Leary said Ryanair’s blunt policy of “give us your money, sit down and be quiet” had been dropped, with encouraging results.

Will the Government follow suit and abandon its similarly forthright attitude to the electorate?



Medical card debacle

There is absolutely no truth in the rumour that the HSE has donated surplus used medical cards as spot prizes at parties for children under five.



A healthy solution

Given the country’s financial situation and given that 42pc of the population have medical cards, there is one solution that would be fair, substantially reduce fear, scrambling, excessive administrative costs and nightmares, and ensure that nobody above the financial qualifying limit for medical cards endures financial hardship due to a medical condition/conditions – which is the reason for discretionary medical cards in the first place.

The solution is that every family above the financial limit who requires a medical card pays something subject to a threshold. Otherwise, the fear, pressure, etc, goes on and lists of qualifying medical conditions won’t change the overall situation.



Labour deputy conundrum

As we now know, Joan Burton and Alex White will battle it out for the position of Labour leader.

Alan Kelly, Michael McCarthy and Sean Sherlock are hoping to become deputy leader. So far, so interesting.

However, a conundrum exists.

As Joan Burton is the elected deputy leader and has not formally resigned the position, the Labour Party could have a problem on its hands. What happens if Mr Kelly, Mr McCarthy or Mr Sherlock are elected to the position of number two and Ms Burton does not become leader?

Labour could end up with two elected deputy leaders – would Joan be prepared to step down?



‘Best’ is yet to come on water

In relation to water charges: we start at €240, now we have €500. My brother-in-law lives in Devon, England, with his wife and two children. He travels for business and is out of the house for half of each week. They live in a ‘normal’ house on normal income. Their annual water charge is £1,200 – that’s €1,460!

The best is yet to come!



Don’t forget Euro Parliament

With the conclusion of the count in Ireland Midlands North West, the last of the European Parliament’s 751 seats has been filled. The world’s largest trans-national democratic electorate has spoken. The pageantry of the elections is over. The posters festooning our streets are coming down. Ireland’s 11 successful candidates will, hopefully, put on the green jersey and work together for the best interests of the Irish people.

However, with the elections concluded, will the media again forget about the European Parliament? Will the European Parliament Report still be broadcast only to insomniacs and those returning from the pub?

Or will journalists fulfil their duty to inform Irish people on the ongoing work of the European Parliament and implications for them?



Save historic Moore Street

It is ironic, to put it mildly, that soon after Minister Jimmy Deenihan granted consent to a planning application that will see the destruction of the Moore Street 1916 battlefield site, he ‘condemns in the strongest terms the damage that has been caused to one of our most iconic ancient monuments’ at Tara.

No less a body than the Imperial War Museum in London is now on record as describing the Moore Street area as “the only city-based 20th-Century battlefield to survive in all of Europe and possibly the world”.

It will be obliterated under the Chartered Land planning application that the minister has now approved on his grant of consent to proposed work to the 1916 National Monument at 14 to 17 Moore Street.






No need to ban vaping

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 smoke at all.



Marriage and poverty

According to David Quinn (Irish Independent, May 30), marriage is “the most successful anti-poverty programme ever”.

It is heartening to know David Quinn, and the Iona Institute, will be supporting the legal recognition of same-sex marriage in 2015.



Irish Independent

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