18June2014 Stay

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park. Off to clean the spare bedroom for our guests

No Scrabblewe have tea with our Japanese friends


Carla Laemmle – obituary

Carla Laemmle was an actress of the silent era who lived on set and made a celebrated transition to talkies in Dracula

Carla Laemmle and her uncle, Carl, the founder of Universal Studios, in 1928

Carla Laemmle and her uncle, Carl, the founder of Universal Studios, in 1928

6:15PM BST 17 Jun 2014

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Carla Laemmle, who has died aged 104, was one of the last surviving links to the golden age of silent movies. As an actress and dancer she succeeded in navigating the precarious passage to “talkies” — a tricky transition that famously formed the backdrop to Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and The Artist (2011).

Her career was launched by “Uncle Carl” — the movie mogul Carl Laemmle, who formed Universal Studios in 1912. “I wasn’t that naive that I didn’t know my uncle was held in high esteem in Hollywood, and that my being his niece helped to propel my career chances,” she recalled in 2011. “But I wouldn’t say that I was given any special privileges. I can recall attending a party at Uncle Carl’s where I heard Jack Warner chatting to Albert Einstein about the theory of relativity. ‘I have a theory about relativity too,’ joked Warner, ‘I never employ them.’ Uncle Carl shared a slightly different perspective on it, signing me on a long-term contract in 1928.”

Her screen test was directed by Erich von Stroheim. She made several silent movie appearances during the 1920s, often dancing her way through choreographed numbers. However, it is for her first on-screen spoken dialogue — delivering the opening words of Dracula (1930) — that she will be best remembered.

Poster for Dracula (1930)

Dracula marked Universal out as the premier studio for the horror genre. A series of classics was released in quick succession, but Dracula remained the best known. Carla Laemmle opened the film, playing a bookish girl reading to her fellow passengers in a coach trundling through the mountains of Transylvania. “Among the rugged peaks that frown down upon the Borgo Pass,” reads the bespectacled Laemmle, “are found crumbling castles of a bygone age…”

The brief but celebrated appearance afforded her a place in film history. “It’s incredible that my scene took only one day to shoot and yet it has earned me screen immortality,” she said earlier this year.

She was born Rebekah Isabelle Laemmle in Chicago, Illinois, on October 20 1909, the only daughter of Joseph and Carrie Belle Laemmle, and first danced professionally aged six. Five years later, when the family moved to California, she enrolled in dance classes under the tutelage of Ernest Belcher.

She changed her name to Carla in 1922 (in honour of her uncle). Belcher put his pretty, willowy protégé to work in a series of film musicals he was choreographing, including The Phantom of the Opera (1925), with Lon Chaney, and La Bohème (1926), alongside Lillian Gish.

After the sudden death of Carla’s father in the late 1920s, Carla’s family were invited to move into a bungalow on the Universal lot near a New York street set. They remained there until the studio was sold in 1936.

“Growing up on the studio lot was a magic time of my life. I loved living in that fantasy world,” she recalled. “There was a zoo on the back lot and you could hear the lions roar in the morning. There was a camel that would get loose and come graze on our lawn. I’d go out with a dish of oatmeal and lure him into one of the empty garages.”

In 1928 she won promising reviews for her role on screen in the comedy The Gate Crasher (1928) and on stage as the prima ballerina performing with the Los Angeles Festival Orchestra at the Shrine Civic Auditorium. Other Los Angeles stage roles followed in the musicals Wildflower (1928) and No, No, Nanette (1929).

That same year she was loaned to MGM for The Broadway Melody — the first “talkie” to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. “Working on that picture was terribly difficult,” said Carla Laemmle. “The main problem was where to hide the microphone, which had to be close enough to record voices. Consequently Broadway Melody was the most static song and dance movie ever made.”

With the advent of sound, she was quickly put to work in a series of early film musicals, each showcasing her classical dance talents. These included The Hollywood Revue of 1929, and The King of Jazz (1930), in which she danced on the keys of an enormous piano to Rhapsody in Blue.

In 1936 she starred in the film serial The Adventures of Frank Merriwell directed by Ray Cannon. In a matter of weeks she and Cannon had become lovers, and he went on to write the play Her Majesty the Prince for her; it opened in 1936 and ran for more than 200 performances at The Music Box Theatre in Hollywood.

With Universal under new ownership, however, Carla Laemmle’s career began to founder. Away from the security of the studio, she freelanced, finding work where she could. She appeared in The Great Waltz (1938) ; alongside Frank Sinatra in Step Lively (1944); and supporting Cary Grant in Night and Day (1946).

She also appeared in Showboat in 1951, and that year, having split up with Cannon, she met Donald Davis, a singer who had just returned from the war in Korea. The pair married. “He was so handsome and charming,” recalled Carla Laemmle. He was also married to another woman. The union with Carla was annulled after three weeks.

In 1952 she rekindled her relationship with Ray Cannon, and the couple embarked on a 12-year study and exploration of the rich waters of the Mexican state of Baja California (Cannon’s book The Sea of Cortez was a bestseller in 1965). A few years later, Cannon suffered a stroke, after which Carla devoted herself to his care. Cannon died in 1977.

In later life her longevity made her a rare eyewitness to a bygone era. She treated interviewers to tales of Lon Chaney in costume and the stinking sets built for All Quiet on the Western Front. “Director Lewis Milestone had managed to recreate the smell of trench warfare,” she recalled. “It was very moving.”

Carla Laemmle celebrating her 102nd birthday in Beverly Hills (ALAMY)

Retired and living in quiet seclusion in Los Angeles, she was the subject of interest amongst horror-film fans, including Steven Spielberg . She narrated a documentary, The Road to Dracula (1999), and returned to the screen to play an elderly vampire in The Vampire Hunter’s Club (2001).

In 2009 she celebrated her centenary at a party in Hollywood which was attended by her former contemporaries Gloria Stuart and Lupita Tovar, and the then Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

She published her autobiography, Among the Rugged Peaks, in 2010. The title was taken from her debut line of dialogue, first delivered in Dracula 80 years before.

Carla Laemmle, born October 20 1909, died June 12 2014


The dismal, hateful attempts to “sanitise” central London (How hostile architecture keeps the unwanted away, 14 June) are of a piece with this government’s attitude towards the poor. Not content with driving people out of their homes by a combination of selling off social housing, the bedroom tax, and allowing an unregulated frenzy of greed to control the housing market, together with low wages and zero-hours contracts, which drive people into the arms of Wonga and debt misery, this government now wants homeless people, and in fact anyone who isn’t moving along or buying something, to simply vanish from the streets. The sight of these people, of course, may be offensive to obscenely wealthy foreign “investors” (ie tax-avoiding companies and individuals) who may wish to “invest” in central London properties (ie drive up prices even further out of reach) that are left empty while they increase in “value”.

Rather than paying for spikes, unusable bus shelter seats etc, why aren’t councils like Camden challenging the government on its despicable, inhumane policies of poor-cleansing?
Max Fishel

• Your article omits to mention the damage done by skateboarders to the benches and other structures they vandalise in their pursuit of self-gratification. Earlier this year, within one day of being installed by Transport for London, nearly all the beautiful wooden benches around the newly configured Euston Circus had been defaced. Unsightly gouges can be seen on once attractive seats, walls and ledges everywhere. Most of us want to live in nice surroundings and respect our environment and fellow citizens.
Belinda Theis

• In time for the third anniversary of his death, on 18 June, the first public memorial to peace campaigner Brian Haw has been installed in Whitstable, where he spent his teenage years. The generous response of mainly local people to a campaign launched a year ago (Letters, 18 June 2013) has funded an oak peace bench on the beach which is dedicated to Brian. The memorial was opened by family members and artist Mark Wallinger at the start of this month.

The situation in Iraq is a stark reminder of the continuing relevance of Brian’s legacy. His demand that our politicians and their advisers are held to account for the consequences of their muddle-headed hypocrisy and his signature call to “Wage Peace” are as vital now as at any point during the 10 years that he sustained his Parliament Square peace camp.

Brian Haw was surely the prime example of those who, as Owen Jones has reminded us (Comment, 13 June), foretold the nightmare that would unfold. He is worthy of our remembrance.
Richard Stainton
Whitstable, Kent

Chris Mullin’s obituary of Vladimir Derer (13 June) is eloquent both for what he says and for what he leaves out. Derer’s Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) came to be widely seen as a principal opponent of the “democracy” which it claimed to espouse. Many of us then in the party accepted the principle of accountability of MPs to their local parties, but insisted that it must be to the wider individual membership, not just to small groups of local activists. John Smith ultimately succeeded in introducing one-member-one-vote to the selection process, against the determined opposition of the CLPD and its allies (including Tony Benn). Labour’s subsequent success would have been impossible had he failed.
Paul Tinnion
Whickham, Tyne and Wear

• London’s deputy mayor says buying German water cannon while they’re on special offer will “save” £2.4m (Letters, 17 June). He says he hopes they’ll never be used. As with tasers – where we were told that they would only be used in exceptional circumstances, now defined as whenever tasers are used – such words are blandishments. We have got to stop this drift towards ever more heavily tooled-up and trigger-happy police.
Mary Pimm and Nik Wood

•  Surely the mayor can get value for money on water cannon through sponsorship, as with his bikes. Perrier Water Cannon sounds right, especially for protecting Knightsbridge and Chelsea.
Colin Burke

• Am I the only Guardian reader who’s never heard of Modern Family, let alone whether it/they should be praised (In praise of… Modern Family, 17 June)?
Frank Gordon
Giggleswick, North Yorkshire

• An English “sale” may raise the eyebrows of French tourists (Letters, 17 June), but not as much as the Danish version, “slutspurt”, did to mine.
John Rathbone

•  I still smile when I remember my French, English-speaking, brother-in-law 30 years ago laughing at the “soft verges” signs at the side of the road.
Phil O’Neill
Tunbridge Wells

Police at Orgreave, 1984: BBC News gave a distorted picture of events.

Police at Orgreave, 1984: BBC News gave a distorted picture of events. Photograph: PA Wire/PA

So the official history of the BBC covering 1974-87 is to be published with the great title Pinkos and Traitors. Your Media Monkey Diary item (16 June) mentions some of the key events – the Falklands war and the sacking of director general Alasdair Milne. There was another crucial controversy from this time, and, on the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave of 18 June 1984 (Report, 16 June), the question should be asked: will the book give an honest account of what happened to the BBC News that evening? Its 5.45pm bulletin left viewers in no doubt that the police assault on the miners was in response to unprovoked violence. The early evening ITN bulletin showed mounted police charging pickets who were simply standing around. The BBC’s role in this deception is explored further in Tony Harcup’s informative chapter in Settling Scores: The Media, the Police and the Miners’ Strike, the book I have edited for the 30th anniversary of the strike.
Granville Williams
Upton, West Yorkshire

I read with dismay that officials have started an inquiry into the leaking of information following the backlog debacle at the Passport Office (Passports backlog may be as long as 10 weeks, 13 June). As you report, the leak is being viewed by the Home Office as a serious security breach which will be investigated and, if Home Office staff are implicated, “formal misconduct procedures” will be considered.

On any view, this is a dangerously misconceived reaction. As Home Office staff were scrambling to deny that there was any backlog, staff within the Liverpool office could see that officials were not being truthful. Faced with an official reaction which belied the truth, it is understandable that those working within the office wanted to expose the reality of the situation. If the response had been honest in the first place, press leaking would not have been of any interest whatsoever and the evidence and embarrassment of a cover up could have been avoided.

To make a bad situation worse, a culture of fear is now, no doubt, engulfing staff in Liverpool. Good people trying to do their best are being painted as incompetent, and the threat of misconduct proceedings hangs over everyone. What surveillance techniques will be used to uncover the surreptitious leaker? The oppressive sense that “big brother is watching you” will permeate the workforce.

It is sad to see yet again a story where the cover-up is the real problem, rather than the issue being looked into by the media. The last time I looked, we lived in a democracy where challenging and exposing dishonesty in response to problems in government is entirely right. We should expect nothing less from our officials. In every workplace dissent and questioning should be encouraged as the sign of a healthy culture, not investigated and squashed by a culture of fear.
Cathy James
Chief executive, Public Concern at Work

Chris Huhne argues that parliament voted for the Iraq war because the House of Commons was too intimately bound up with the executive (Blair was only unstoppable because of a democratic flaw, 16 June). His proposed remedy is a constitution more like that of the United States, with the legislative branch being separated from the executive: “If we want … independent votes before we go to war … we need to divide prime ministers from their Commons troops.” I am not aware that the American Congress stopped George W Bush from going to war.
Ralph Blumenau

•  Blair was unstoppable because he wielded all the residual powers and patronage of the crown, even to the extent that he thought he could declare war without consulting parliament. Any directly elected prime minister would be even less accountable to parliament. He would have even more power to declare war without consultation. Chris Huhne is a member of the only major party to oppose the Iraq war and the only major party to propose major constitutional changes as the only way to stop an overmighty executive. The fact that we now have secret trials means that curbing the power of the executive through a new constitutional settlement is more urgent than ever. His proposal would make the executive mightier still.
Margaret Phelps
Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan

•  The basic flaw in our parliamentary system is not just that “ministers have to be MPs or peers”. It is that they continue to be MPs or peers once they become ministers. Since the 18th century the rule has been that any MP accepting an “office under the crown” ceases to be an MP, to preserve the independence of the Commons. However this has been sidestepped by the pretence that jobs in the government are fundamentally less incompatible with such independence. That is a distortion of the truth. Acceptance of a ministerial post should mean ceasing to be an MP, at least for the duration of the job, or at the very least, standing for re-election at the time. Get rid of the payroll vote, which corrupts parliament.
Kevin McGrath
Harlow, Essex

•  Chris Huhne does not need to go the convoluted lengths of a second vote; the French have already squared the circle regarding parliament and members of the government. French parliamentary candidates all have a suppléant elected alongside them who takes the place of any member of parliament appointed as a minister. This additional elected man or woman remains in the assembly until the elected MP ceases to be a minister.

It is the size of the “payroll” vote in the UK parliament that is the problem. The French system removes this flaw without undermining the electoral accountability of the individual.
Michael Meadowcroft

•  Chris Huhne writes: “In the week when Isis rebels began to rewrite the Sykes-Picot settlement of Iraq and Syria, and were feared close to Baghdad, Hague decided that his most useful immediate role was several good photo opportunities with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.”

How depressing to see him sneer at William Hague’s laudable efforts to render visible and challenge the horrifying crime of systematic rape, violence and sexual assault against millions of women and girls in conflict zones.

Is it because these human rights violations happen primarily to women that they are so less important than the rising conflict in Iraq? Is Angelina Jolie, whose commitment to this issue has been sustained, serious and effective, to be dismissed because she is beautiful? Is their partnership, dedicated to bringing these horrors to the attention of the world, to be treated with contempt because they benefit from partnering the very different attributes of a government minister and a film star?

Brutal sexual violence in war has been a silent and growing emergency for years, while the world has stood idly by. All credit to them for demanding attention, taking committed action and forcing it centre stage. Sadly it is in large part because the more “masculine” dramas of the current Iraqi crisis typically demand all the attention that these atrocities against women and girls have remained hidden for so long.
Gerison Lansdown
Chair, Child to Child

• Remember Colin Powell’s dictum on Iraq borrowed from the US home furnishing store, Pottery Barn? “You break it, you own it.” Presumably, Tony Blair is now banned from these shops.
Michael Wharton
Darsham, Suffolk

The Royal Colleges of Physicians and GPs are opposed to Nice proposals for population-level prescription of statins (Doctors call for rethink on prescribing statins, 11 June). As one of the designers of the Newcastle University simulation on healthy ageing, it is gratifying to see this scenario being played in the real world. Coming in the same week that we hear that one-third of the population is at high risk of type 2 diabetes, perhaps we can consider an even more interesting scenario: tagging obese patients with stepometers? If this is combined with rewards and penalties, the question is also ethical and philosophical, not medical: by what moral authority should doctors control behaviour? A scenario today, but reality tomorrow?

Prevention of avoidable diseases is starting to look like the only way to save the NHS from bankruptcy, but this requires the NHS to become a behavioural-change organisation that promotes certain lifestyles. The power is there to do this. The GP contract can pay doctors to fill this new role, but isn’t that morally dubious? Health follows an income gradient: the lower the income, the more unhealthy the “lifestyle”. Unhealthy lifestyles of people on lower incomes are not freely chosen. Low pay, unemployment, and low social and economic status funnel through to low self-esteem. Stress and depression increase the risk of self-treatment via tobacco, alcohol, sugar and fat. Lower income also increases your likelihood of living in poor housing, and not being able to afford healthy food or exercise properly.

Doctors can intervene by filling people up with statins or forcing patients to wear new technology to monitor activity, blood sugar and cholesterol. Delivered at the population level, these measures will work by skating over the biggest cause of poor health, which is low income. Are doctors prepared to do this dirty work? They have a choice. Physicians and GPs are firmly camped in the top 1% of income. As inequality is becoming a hot topic and we are heading towards an era when unequal incomes might be addressed, might the colleges set an example by voluntarily limiting doctors’ pay to a multiple of average income? Taking a hit in your own wallet is a powerful step, as befits the hallowed status of medicine.
Kenneth Charman
Visiting fellow, Changing Age Network, faculty of medical sciences, Newcastle University

• I was interested in Sarah Boseley’s mention of the “nocebo effect” (Professor at centre of statins row says public being misinformed, 14 June), although it didn’t quite explain the nature of this phenomenon, which really has little if anything to do with middle age, and perhaps more to do, as she says, with people just not wanting to be on pills. My late father, Dr Walter Kennedy, first coined the term “nocebo reaction” in a medical paper back in 1961. He used the Latin nocebo (“I shall injure”) as the opposite of placebo (“I shall please”) to indicate any unpleasant response to real or dummy treatment, this being a response within the patient themselves, and not due to the pharmacological action of a medication.

In other words, there is not a “nocebo effect”, only a “nocebo response”. Unfortunately, the term nocebo is sometimes used incorrectly for an active drug’s unwanted pharmacologically induced negative side-effects. Kennedy clearly stated that nocebo responses should never be confused with true pharmaceutical side-effects.
Dr Peter Kennedy
Wivenhoe, Essex

Yet again, in Europe’s migrant ‘catastrophe’ (6 June) we read about a crisis involving hardships and deaths among people on the move, efforts to alleviate the problems and pleas for more assistance in this work. Why do we almost never hear about the underlying causes of the problem and constructive debate on the ways in which we may prevent its escalation?

While civil war, crop failures, ethnic, political or religious persecution and such like usually provide the immediate trigger for such movements, the underlying cause is almost invariably population pressure. The developed world, in spite of our fragile economies, could easily absorb a limited number of refugees and other migrants, but if no effective means of limiting the world’s population is developed, the problem will inevitably overwhelm us and become a world crisis.

While America and Australia have both benefited greatly from immigration over the past 200 years, their capacity to absorb more is declining. There is also a wild card in the pack: climate change. Who knows what that will do to the earth’s capacity to carry us all in reasonable comfort?

It is high time to look beyond the sticking plasters, make the diagnosis and develop preventive strategies which have a fighting chance of saving us from ourselves.
David Barker
Bunbury, Western Australia

• I’m taken aback by the Europe-as-victim spin of your front page headline. Surely the catastrophe belongs to those forced into exile? We WEIRDs (Western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic) are complicit in the wars and injustice driving this massive displacement.

Profits from the multi-billion dollar arms trade particularly enrich the five permanent members of the UN Security Council; the US, the UK, France, China and Russia. What kind of perverted thinking funds and profits from war, then deplores its consequences?

As climate change – driven by WEIRD economics and carbon emissions – begins to bite, countless people will be banished from homes and land by rising sea levels, famine, extreme weather, water shortages, resource wars and despair. Not only humans will suffer; many of the 8 billion species with whom we share this planet, and on whose wellbeing our own depends, are already being driven from their habitats. A whole biosphere, displaced and footloose? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
Annie March
West Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

• In my view the solution is not whether or not we let migrants in (to Europe) but rather that we should stop being such “consumerholics” and should a) pay fair prices for imported products and raw materials; b) stop the dumping of surpluses and land-grabs in developing countries; and c) use far less oil so that we no longer need to wage/incite war in order to get hold of that oil. This list goes on.

Migration is a symptom of the problem and the only long-term solution is to treat the causes rather than the symptoms.
Alan Mitcham
Cologne, Germany

• Thank you for the thoughtful and moving piece by Neil Gaiman on the refugee camps in Jordan (6 June). When we read of Jordan’s generosity in housing refugees (10% of the population) we felt even more ashamed of our political leaders in Australia. Both major political parties are committed to a cruel and costly policy of keeping asylum seekers away from Australia,

This is hard to reconcile with the land of the “Fair Go” and we can only hope that more responsible and compassionate voices will prevail as we are shamed into taking our share of the world’s displaced and desperate people.
Margaret and Paul Wilkes
Cottesloe, Western Australia

Ecuador’s popular reform

The indigenous populations of Andean countries have had an unrelentingly rough ride since the Spanish Conquest half a millennium ago (Can Correa deliver Ecuador its revolution, 6 June). Economic and political elites have managed to keep the lid on for a few centuries but now it seems that the wheel of fortune has turned and majorities are gaining control.

Rafael Correa’s efforts at wealth distribution are matched, if not superseded, by the achievements of Evo Morales in Bolivia. The elites of both Ecuador and Bolivia are predominantly of European descent and have been surprised that the increased leverage of the working class in their countries is seen as inevitable by Europeans outside their systems. Democratic pressures have been too persistent to resist.

With the inexorable economic polarisation of the disenfranchised majority, stripped of its legacy of public goods and increasingly impoverished by the greed of monopolies and cartels, the United Kingdom may well be on a path leading to similar rejection of our oppressive elites.
Brian Sims
Bedford, UK

A parent’s hidden hand

Alex Renton’s article (23 May), eloquently describing the abuse he and others received at his private boarding school, evoked a distant past that still lives vividly in the minds of many, including my own.

There was one thing in his account that I felt was missing. He had told his parents about a sexual assault – a risky thing to do in the circumstances – and his mother many years later told him that she had confronted the headmaster, but clearly had not told her son that she had done so.

So presumably he sailed into adulthood not knowing that he had had a protector, the felt presence or absence of which, as far as I know, is a crucial factor in coming to terms with childhood abuse. Thus are the sins of omission of our parents, our road to hell paved with their good intentions.
Michael Morice
Weaverville, North Carolina, US

If Charlie met Louis …

In Simon Callow’s understanding review of Peter Ackroyd’s book Charlie Chaplin (6 June), we are reminded of how, in 1915, Chaplin became the most famous man in the world, despite his humble origins.

How closely paralleled is the life of jazz musician Louis Armstrong 10 years later. Ackroyd’s words on Chaplin could also apply to Armstrong: “he, like Shakespeare, had the inestimable advantage of being an instinctive artist in the preliminary years of a new art”.

But there is one difference, as Callow points out: “As a man, Chaplin was barely human at all … In art he succeeded; in life, he failed.” Armstrong was a great man: the greatest American?
Edward Black
Church Point, NSW, Australia


• Your report on the European election (Europe faces a divided future, 30 May) rightly highlights the gains made by smaller parties but does not mention the single seat won by Germany’s Die Partei (The Party). Unlike the other minority parties Die Partei has no political axe to grind but, being closely connected with a satirical magazine, is likely to direct a sharp eye at the less visible parts of Europolitics. It should at least make Brussels less dull and may reveal more than some would wish.
Anne Humphreys
Agethorst, Germany

• Re Thailand’s junta to act on economy (World roundup, 6 June). The junta’s policies as indicated in this brief piece are in fact largely policies from Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai party, which were obstructed from being passed by the military-elite regime and their political party (Democrat Party) when Pheu Thai was in government. The article should have been crying foul, not praising the economic measures of the repressive military apparatus.
James L Taylor
Adelaide, South Australia

• Matthew Hays (6 June) seems upset about the possibility of hockey not being a truly Canadian game. He should be consoled by learning that basketball certainly is, having been invented by James Naismith, Canadian physical instructor at McGill University, in 1891.
Ron Date
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

• Your article on Jose Mujica of Uruguay (30 May) tingled my scalp and sent a frisson of delight up my back. Thinking of Australia’s Abbott, New Zealand’s Key, Canada’s Harper, should we require that our leaders spend two years in solitude at the bottom of a well before serving?
Mike Scott
Takaka, New Zealand

• Re the abdication of King Juan Carlos (6 June):

The reign in Spain

Ends mainly down the drain.

Pity, really.
Andrew Stewart
Berkeley, California, US


Keith Gilmour and Andrew Rosemarine (letters, 16 June) both seem strangers to the realities of the Bush-Blair Iraqi adventure.

Blair sold the invasion on the grounds of weapons of mass destruction, based upon speculative, not hard, intelligence. Bush and Blair justified it post facto as regime change. Without the consent of the UN, on either pretext this remains a violation of international law.

Yet it was the manifest foolishness of the adventure which was breathtaking.

For 400 years Ottoman administrators dreaded being posted to govern the three provinces of modern Iraq. Only the most able (and ruthless) succeeded in bringing stability, security and prosperity.

Living in Baghdad in the early Seventies, I knew of no one who was not utterly aware of the Stalinist nature of Saddam. But alongside the terror, he introduced unprecedented health and education services. In particular, women, regardless of ethnic or religious origin, had the chance for the first time in Iraq’s history to prosper. All that has now ceased.

For everyone under Saddam there was an iron rule: extinguish every political thought from your head. It was indisputably terrible and terrifying. Yet it was also widely understood that Iraq depended on strong government because of the centrifugal impulses of family, tribe, sect or ethnic loyalty.

It is inconceivable that Bush and Blair were not warned of the acute danger of removing authoritarian control of the country. Having visited Saddam’s torture chambers, I am under no illusions about his rule. Yet when we see the mayhem today I am compelled to agree with  the 11th-century Iraqi, al-Mawardi, who warned that unrighteous government is preferable  to chaos.

David McDowall

Richmond, Surrey


There are things worse than turbines

Oh, how I envy those communities under threat of wind turbines (letter, 16 June). Here in rural Cheshire we are confronting the far worse possibility of coal bed methane extraction over a vast area.

This would mean not just the blighting of the countryside but the wholesale industrialisation of it, with the construction of hundreds of wells, pipelines, access roads, frack pads, and large and very frequent truck movements, as well as the accompanying pollution.

The Government thinks this is a good thing. The Labour Party simply does not reply to my questions on their view of this situation. Is it not time for a full, transparent debate with all the facts rather than a headlong rush into a technology which is untried on this scale in our country?

Susan Fryers

Tilston, Cheshire


Right in the middle of my view from my kitchen window is a large electricity pylon. I’d rather have an “ugly” wind turbine to look at, thanks.

Prue Bray

Winnersh, Berkshire

Scotland for our grandchildren

JK Rowling (12 June) wants us to believe that a United Kingdom is the best choice we can make for our grandchildren. But it’s for my (unborn) grandchildren’s sake that I’m yearning for an independent Scotland.

The real challenges that we face this century – economic, environmental, political– need a change in political culture that can only be brought about by returning real power to local communities. Smaller, Scotland-sized countries have proven the most progressive and far-sighted.

Ms Rowling is right to worry about all the oil-talk. Independence or no independence, the oil will be running out by the time our grandchildren are in charge. But the real question to ask is, what will we leave for them? Shall we plough oil revenues into developing renewable energies, for which Scotland is full of potential? Or shall we stick with a Westminster that is blocking wind turbines for aesthetic reasons while giving a green light to fracking?

The choices we make now will create the world our grandchildren live in. The best thing we can do for them is to create a fair, representative, and progressive country that all of us can sustain for generations to come.

Josh Bergamin



For too long the English have suffered at the hands of the Scots. We have to tolerate dark evenings so that the Scots can have lighter mornings. For this reason, I hope the Scots do vote for independence, and we can move to a time zone that suits the English better.

Ruth Coomber

Needham Market, Suffolk


When faith schools limit choice

The argument is sometimes made that faith schools (letters, 11 June) provide more freedom of choice for parents, but often the opposite is the case.

In Epping, Essex, when we lived there, there were only two state schools in our catchment area: one a low-achieving comprehensive and the other a high-achieving Christian school, where parents needed to have been active in their church for several years.

The latter was over-subscribed and able to choose families whose children were more likely to be well motivated. Its success had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with selection. For the non-religious in there was therefore no choice at all, and only the comprehensive was open to us, even though our taxes helped to pay for both schools.

David Simmonds

Woking, Surrey

Let the grass grow  in our parks

Rob Curtis (letter, 14 June) makes perfect sense. What is our fascination with a perfectly manicured lawn?

All parks, particularly in town and city centres, can  provide positive benefits for wildlife by having uncut grass areas. This also will provide a more diverse richness for everyone, with wild flowers and grasses. It could also help the house sparrow, which needs insect-rich wild spaces for its survival.

Another major benefit is that not cutting every blade of grass will save money.

Martyn Pattie

Ongar, Essex


Even the US is learning that GM doesn’t work

It is weird that you have become a pro-GM campaigning newspaper (editorial, 17 June) just as the technology is starting to be rejected in the US, because consumers are insisting on honest labelling and farmers are seeing just how badly GM crops actually perform over time.

You misrepresent almost everything about GM, including why people oppose GM crops. They represent a continuation of a chemical and high-input based farming system which is completely unsustainable in a world of scarce resources and in the face of climate change.

GM rice has not been delayed by the widespread global opposition, including from groups in the Philippines where it is being developed. The initial promises by pro-GM campaigners were completely unrealistic and were never likely to be kept, as has proved to be the case. Those developing Golden Rice have made clear that it is still several years away from possible commercial use, because a number of safety and other tests still have to be carried out.

There are new crop-breeding technologies, such as marker-assisted selection, based on our knowledge of the genome, which carry none of the inherent uncertainties that go with GM crop technology, and which are already delivering solutions to many problems for farming in developing countries.

Instead of fighting old battles about GM, it would be good if The Independent could take a rather more forward-looking approach to the problems that farming faces.

Peter Melchett

Policy Director

The Soil Association



It is all very well extolling the benefits of GM technology in response to worldwide nutritional deficiencies, but humanity at large continues to ignore seeking any solution to the most fundamental issue to which you make reference. This is that world population is on a path of exponential growth – you state to 9.5 billion by 2050 – with whatever calamitous increases may befall us thereafter.

Until governments, major religions and society in general urgently, determinedly, and concertedly tackle the root problem – be it by change of attitudes to family size, the acceptance and free availability of effective contraception, or perhaps more draconian measures such as the limitations China has sought to implement – we are just tinkering on the fringes of the problem.

How much more population-pressured famine and human strife has there to be before the world wakes up?

Robert Oates

Ledbury, Herefordshire


The concern about GM foodstuffs is primarily the possible monopoly strangle-hold over small farmers through patents taken out by agribusiness, rather than interference with the “natural order”.

Canon Christopher Hall

Deddington, Oxfordshire


Is deprivation a barrier to success, and should parents be fined for not reading to their children?

Sir, Rachel Sylvester writes that the education secretary believes that deprivation need not be a barrier to success (“Gove’s rallying cry: don’t patronise the poor”, June 17). Indeed. But his policies will not achieve that goal for most poor children.

By the time children begin school there are very marked differences in children’s abilities based on parental income and class. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, and while schools generally raise the attainment level of all children, they do not close these class-based differences. Hence the importance of those interventions before children start school that aim to close these fundamental differences in cognitive and social skills.

Unfortunately Michael Gove shows little if any interest in this area, building an education policy based on his own experience. I admire the way he drives through his policies, but schools can only achieve what he wishes for them if the foundation years give children the skills they need before school to help to trump their class background.

Frank Field, MP

House of Commons

Sir, Rachel Sylvester suggests that I think the poor should not be educated. Really? What I do say is that every child deserves a richer education than that provided by a traditional academic curriculum. See Michael Reiss’s and my An Aims-based Curriculum (2013). I stand by the claim that many (not all) non-middle-class children find it hard to adapt to a traditional academic curriculum. Your graph would seem to bear this out. It shows that 72 per cent of poor white British boys failed to get five good GCSEs.

John White

Emeritus professor of philosophy of education, Institute of Education, University of London

Sir, The education secretary believes deprivation need not be a barrier to success. I agree, but where I grew up in industrial South Wales in the 1950s deprivation was regarded as a spur rather than a barrier.

Emeritus Professor Edgar Jenkins


Sir, Your leading article (June 16) says: “The most important component of a good school, unsurprisingly, is the teaching staff.” Whether or not that is true depends upon the definition of a good school. If that definition is concerned primarily with results, it is certainly not the case. In grammar schools, for example, but also in other schools that are in effect selective, the pupils and their parents are the most important components of success.

Ron Jacobs

Farnham, Surrey

Sir, In criticising active learning (“The trendy teaching methods that replace facts with ‘activities’ ”, June 16), you say that “rather than learning facts [students] engage in activities”, as if those two things are mutually exclusive. In reality, activity-based strategies ensure that facts are learnt more thoroughly than if the student was simply engaged in rote-learning.

The activities do not stand alone, but take place between more traditional classroom activities and at the end of detailed units of study — usually as a means of consolidating knowledge and getting students to think about things in a fresh and original way. Good classroom teachers have the flexibility and experience to use the best methods from both traditional and progressive approaches — sometimes in the same lesson.

Russell Tarr

Sir, I find it disturbing that Sir Michael Wilshaw sees nothing wrong in setting national policies on the basis of his own idiosyncratic approach as a head teacher (“Fine parents who don’t read to children, says schools chief”, June 17).

Notwithstanding this weakness, it is bizarre to blame parents who have often been failed by the education system for being unable to support their children or their schools. It would be logical, if the chief inspector were able to impose his own ideology, that provision also be made so that any young person who on leaving full-time education is illiterate and/or innumerate should be compensated for the failure of the state.

John Gaskin


Sir, Twenty years ago the directors of the Rank Foundation made a grant to three primary schools in an inner-city area to provide material to assist parents with reading with their children. The scheme was partly hampered by the fact that a number of parents themselves could not read. Additional help with adult literacy was needed.

SJB Langdale

(Former director of grants, the Rank Foundation) Banbury, Oxon

Sir, Homework, homework, homework, I am fed up with it and so is my nine-year-old granddaughter. Over her last half-term holiday (spent with me), we had days out to: a science park, an Egyptian exhibition, visit London, spend time with family she doesn’t often see, walk in the woods identifying birds, trees and flowers, visit the play park and go swimming. Yet time always had to be found to work on her holiday homework project, which, shock horror, was mostly my work, as she was engrossed in finding out more about what she had seen and done that day.

We are eager to educate the next generation, but being told that school can be the only provider of that education is getting on our nerves.

Pam Tull

(Retired primary school teacher) Brockenhurst, Hants

Magna Carta had a forgotten sibling: the Charter of the Forest 1217. Together they protected the right to food

Sir, Magna Carta (letter, June 17) had a forgotten sister: the Charter of the Forest 1217. Together both protected (albeit in feudal terms) social rights — including the right to food.

The right to food requires the same legal protection as Magna Carta’s right to fair trial. No child or adult should need a food bank in 21st-century Britain. To mark the beginning of the year-long celebration of the Magna Carta, a practical celebration would be for the coalition and opposition to agree to reinstate what was once British: the basic human right to food.

Geraldine van Bueren, QC

Professor of international human rights law, Queen Mary, University of London

A proper education policy would mean children could reap all the benefits that music can bring

Sir, The most important point Richard Morrison made (Times2, June 13, & letters, June 16) was the lack of music and arts education. When I went away to school in 1954, aged 14, I had little interest in music. The flame was lit by an inspirational director of music, the late JL Crosthwaite, and my love of music has given me enormous pleasure and sustained my spirits in difficult times ever since. With a proper education policy many children could reap similar benefits. Who knows, one of them might even sit next to Harriet Harman.

Brian Pickering


The torrent of abuse directed at the BBC World Cup commentator was completely misguided

Sir, Those people bombarding Twitter about Phil Neville’s commentary (report, June 17) should think again. I thought Neville was insightful, discerning, prescient and delightfully understated, with a firm grasp of the geometry of the football pitch. Some so-called BBC pundits could learn a lot from the former Manchester United player, and I only hope his confidence hasn’t evaporated overnight.

Paul Thomas

Economics department, Stowe School

Is early closing in Gladstone’s constituency the real reason why we vote on Thursdays?

Sir, With reference to voting (letter, June 17), I believe that Thursday was chosen because it was early closing day in Gladstone’s constituency. (This was in the days when many shops were open until 10pm.) He felt that there would be more chance of people voting if they were not occupied by shopwork or shopping.

Anna Knowles

Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys

It has long been a nickname for a British soldier — how just how long, exactly, has Tommy been around?

Sir, After Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington proposed reforms for the army (letter, June 17). One was the idea of a pay book for each soldier. A copy was circulated for consideration. It was signed “Thomas Atkins”.

IH Cairns


Sir, “Tommy Atkins” was pre-printed on First World War army recruitment forms to show how to fill them in, as Tommy had already been used for generations as a nickname for a British soldier. In Rural Rides, William Cobbett recalls being a new recruit in 1783, when the twice weekly ration of inferior brown bread had always been known as Tommy; thus the soldiers who ate it became Tommies.

bruce hunt

Linton, Cambs



Hands up: moulds for rubber gloves, photographed by Wolfgang Suschitzky (born 1912)  Photo: © Special Photographers Archive / Bridgeman Images

6:58AM BST 17 Jun 2014

Comments11 Comments

SIR – Henry Wickham did not smuggle rubber tree seeds from Brazil (report, June 14). Financed by the (British) government of India, he bought 70,000 seeds (at £10 per 100) in Brazil in 1876, and, chartering SS Amazonas, exported them, with the goodwill and co-operation of the Brazilian government, to Kew Gardens, where 2,800 germinated. Most of these were then sent to Ceylon, and a few to Singapore and Java.

The industrial rubber industry came about thanks to H N Ridley, scientific director of Singapore’s Botanic Gardens (known as “Mad Ridley” for his idea of a commercial rubber crop). In 1898 he advised Tan Chay Yan to start the first plantation in Malaya, with seven million seeds from the gardens. Malaya was the pre-eminent global producer of rubber by 1910, and Ridley’s dream was fulfilled.

Roger Croston
Christleton, Cheshire

Trial by jury and habeas corpus are among those freedoms under threat

KIng John signs Magna Carta in 1215 - cause for a national holiday next year to mark its 800th anniversary?

KIng John seals Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215 Photo: Alamy

6:59AM BST 17 Jun 2014

Comments220 Comments

SIR – Magna Carta is to be celebrated by David Cameron’s administration, even if Allan Massie says that it was not a “revolutionary” step in its time.

Yet it was the first, successful attempt to limit the state’s power. Clause 29, to this day, deprives the state of power to order punishment of a citizen, which can be decided only by a jury of the defendant’s peers. It inspired the American revolution.

Nobody has mentioned that Magna Carta never crossed into continental Europe. Continental criminal procedures are little known in Britain, even by the Government.

In 1215, Pope Innocent III was setting up the Inquisition, which, far from limiting the authorities’ power over the individual, made it absolute. When he heard of Magna Carta, he wrote to the English clergy saying they had done something “abominable and illicit”. In Europe, only England escaped the Inquisition. Centuries later, Napoleon’s new laws adopted and adapted an inquisitorial method, redirecting it to the service of the state. Napoleon’s codes underpin most continental legal systems today.

Brussels aims to create a unified European criminal code. The embryo “Corpus Juris” proposal was unveiled in 1997, and was denounced in The Daily Telegraph. It would abolish trial by jury, habeas corpus, and other safeguards considered normal by the British, yet ignored by the European Convention.

The European arrest warrant is a stepping stone towards Corpus Juris: a European prosecutor will issue European warrants. Yet Mr Cameron intends to reconfirm the European arrest warrant. This will trash the foundation stone of our freedoms in Magna Carta. So just what is Mr Cameron meaning to celebrate?

Torquil Dick-Erikson

Marrying for money

SIR – It is not inheritance tax that is the cause of the increase in marriages among older people (Letters, June 14), but pensions. I know of several people who have married so that their pension does not die with them. The surviving spouse gets the pension, even if the other has only weeks to live and the relationship has not lasted long.

Philip Baddeley

Life in jeans

SIR – At Easter, my husband and I returned to the village church where we were married 50 years ago, expecting changes. In our day it had been a tie, hats and gloves in a church with declining numbers. Now it is a place of worship with jeans, jeans and more jeans. It was vibrant with life.

Ginny Batchelor-Smith
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

No flies on me

SIR – S W Twiston Davies (Letters, June 16) wonders whether fewer squashed insects on windscreens mean that cars have become more streamlined or that we have wiped out much of the insect population.

I fear the latter is the case. My old four-by-four has the aerodynamics of a brick, but it does not get splattered with insects.

Adrian Waller
Woodsetts, South Yorkshire

SIR – The fly population is as alive and irritating as it has always been. Ask any motorcyclist. Helmets, visors and leathers have to be cleaned at the end of every trip.

I agree that the better streamlining of cars causes fewer of the little blighters to hit the glass.

Allen Booth
Horley, Surrey

Passport to Scotland

SIR – Andrew Black (Letters, June 13) points out that an independent Scotland, as an EU member, will have to say yes to the Schengen agreement. This will mean that passports will be needed to cross into England.

Will the Passport Office’s current problems be solved in time for my Scottish grandson’s birthday in November? Will the UK Passport Office be able to cope with the influx of Scottish citizens prudently applying for UK passports before September? And how much time should I factor into my journey to allow for delays at the Gretna border crossing?

David Harris

SIR – Presumably a Scot who is resident in Scotland will be obliged to swap his UK passport for a new Scottish one after independence. In the meantime, it is reasonable to assume Scotland will no longer be entitled to EU privileges.

Can we conclude such a Scot will no longer be entitled to free health cover while travelling within the EU? Who pays for the treatment if he has a heart attack in Paris?

Ernie Cochrane
Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire

Fine by me

SIR – Your report “Student racks up £4,500 library fine on book 61 years late” reminds me of how, as a schoolboy in the Sixties, I borrowed from the magnificent Huddersfield Town Library a first edition of a book by Sir Richard Burton about his African explorations, published in 1863.

To my shame, I lost the book (I think I left it on a bus), and informed the library. I received a letter stating that, according to library rules, I had to pay a fine of the costs the library had incurred when the book was bought some 100 years before. I paid the fine of a few pence and the matter was discharged.

Leslie G Mallinson
Ascot, Berkshire

The the

SIR – Why do most people under the age of 50 never use the long e in “the” in front of a word beginning with a vowel?

Is it something new being taught in schools, along with the pronunciation of the letter h as “haitch”?

Try abandoning the long e for a few hours and you’ll find that it’s jolly hard work.

Cherry Cray
Whitehill, Hampshire

Persuading bats not to come home to roost

SIR – England’s historic church buildings are not here to play a role in the conservation of bats. Bats are incontinent little creatures who evacuate large quantities of faecal material (albeit in small portions) during flight. Infection from bats to humans remains a risk, however small.

Although bats hold protected status, they can still be persuaded not to roost in buildings. Upon taking the office of churchwarden three years ago, I found a tiny bat clinging to the white linen cloths of the Communion rail and I decided to do something about the problem.

I spent a week observing the entry and exit points of the bats, including flight paths to their roosting point. They were coming in through certain windows that were left open all day and night.

By opening the windows at nine in the morning and closing them at five in the afternoon, I encouraged the bats gradually to find elsewhere to roost, as the windows would be shut in the early morning when they came home to roost. A year later, they were no longer seeking refuge in this small, historically important medieval church, and none of the creatures was injured or killed in the process.

Dr R C Newell
Compton Beauchamp, Oxfordshire

SIR – Can it really be the case that bats are given priority over worshippers in our historic churches? They are living in a habitat that was never intended or designed for them.

Similarly, badgers are given priority over the livelihoods of dairy farmers and at the expense of hedgehogs and ground-nesting birds. The violent fox is valued over sheep farmers who are helping to preserve our countryside and over the country folk who have traditionally controlled their numbers.

Ian Matthews
Gwernymynydd, Flintshire

Identifying the factors that have contributed to the Isis crisis

ISIS enforcer Shakir Wahiyib

ISIS enforcer Shakir Wahiyib

7:00AM BST 17 Jun 2014

Comments61 Comments

SIR – You say that Tony Blair was right to identify Syria’s civil war as the “proximate cause” of the rapid advance of Isis. You then say that Isis was given a lifeline as a result of the barbarous struggle in Syria.

But you add that Iran and Russia bear some responsibility for today’s crisis by propping up Assad. It may seem strange to say this, but if the Western powers had done the same, instead of supporting the rebels, who include elements of al-Qaeda and of course Isis, then the latter would not have carved out a domain inside Syria, allowing it to sweep into Iraq.

Iraq has been in turmoil ever since Mr Blair and George Bush decided to invade it, and remove Saddam. There were no terrorists in Iraq then, but there are now.

John Warren
Wolverhampton, Staffordshire

SIR – If one imagined for a moment that the allied forces who invaded Iraq in 2003 had found nuclear weapons, or the capability to make them, few would now be saying that the action taken was unjustified or illegal.

The weapons would no doubt have been destroyed but in what other respects would the present chaos in Iraq have unfolded differently?

David Langfield
Pyrford, Surrey

SIR – If Mr Blair thinks he was justified in his actions in 2003, surely the Chilcot report should be published now, with no “redactions”, to prove his justification.

Robert Sunderland
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

SIR – The latest appearance of Mr Blair, urging (in his role as peace envoy) the need for war, has the characteristics of Professor Moriarty. Just when you think he is finally banished, up he pops again, with another plan to lead humanity to disaster.

Keith Flett
London N17

SIR – Would Mr Blair be so keen on military intervention in the Middle East if he, or members of his family, were in line for deployment to that snake pit?

Brian Farmer
Chelmsford, Essex

SIR – Surely those who earlier had concerns about Mr Blair’s sanity must by now have had all doubts removed.

S G Fowler
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

SIR – Aren’t there enough good Muslims in the Arab world ready and able to rise up and defend Islam and their own countries against the misguided, ignorant, evil men?

Rosemary Marshall
New Malden, Surrey

SIR – Boris Johnson was very much to the point. Tony Blair is the Sepp Blatter of international politics.

T J Tawney
Hildenborough, Kent

Irish Times:

Sir, – The angle you took on the development of cycle lanes on the Dublin city quays reflects the obsession this country has with cars as a primary mode of transport (“New quays cycle lane to lead to restrictions for Dublin motorists”, June 17th). If our cities are to become more pleasant places to work and live in, we have to find alternatives to cars for inner-city commutes.

As someone who spends most of his time in the city centre, I’d find it refreshing if every improvement were seen as such and not only in terms of how it disadvantages one type of road user. – Yours, etc,


Vernon Avenue,


Dublin 3.

Sir, – As a daily commuter into Dublin city centre, I was dismayed but not surprised by reports of the plans of the city manager, Owen Keegan, to restrict car traffic on the north quays to only one lane. What is unsurprising about the proposal is that, while it is driven by the council’s noble intention to reduce the number of car journeys into the city, it proposes no solutions as to how affected commuters will adjust to this development or what realistic alternatives will be put in place for them.

The idea that Dublin can become a cycle-friendly, car-free urban zone is indeed admirable, and initiatives such as the Dublin Bike scheme have rightly been lauded. However, the reality facing thousands of commuters is somewhat different. Ironically, or perhaps predictably, the residents of the north and west of the city who use the quays and would be most affected by this decision are those who have fewest alternative options when it comes to commuting. Public transport from the outer reaches of Lucan and Blanchardstown or satellite towns in Meath and Kildare is of limited value at peak times and slows to a trickle outside those hours. The notion that commuters can simply hop on their bikes and freewheel into the office seems to overlook the distances involved, the Irish climate and the fact that not everyone is physically able to cycle long distances to work.

I am fortunate to live near a train station on the Maynooth line and so use public transport almost every day, but should I wish to come home after 6.30pm or to undertake anything more complex than a simple “A to B” journey, public transport becomes almost useless, therefore I do occasionally need to drive into the city and would like to retain that option. I am sure there are many thousands of people who have even fewer public transport options for whom the car is even more critical.

Traffic management is obviously a crucial part of the work of the city council; however this has to be more meaningful and better thought out than simply cutting off access for cars. Likewise, increasing the number of safe zones for cyclists is very important, but simply putting cyclists into car lanes is not good enough. There could be alternative options. The Liffey Boardwalk has been an utter failure as a civic amenity; could it be reimagined and extended as a cycle path? The Luas track runs parallel to the North Quays; is there space for a cycle lane there? The South Quays are traditionally less of a bottle-neck for traffic – were they examined as an option?

We are told Mr Keegan is a cycling enthusiast so perhaps he has his own opinions on how people should be commuting to work. What is disappointing, but again not particularly surprising, is to hear him describe the implementation of this proposal as “inevitable”, before it has been put out for public consultation or brought to the elected representatives of the council. This raises the wider question of how unelected officials can have such apparent autonomy, particularly since most of the affected citizens will reside outside the Dublin City Council area in the Fingal and South Dublin County Council areas, and perhaps highlights again why Dublin needs an overarching authority, such as a mayor, with powers in matters such as this. – Yours, etc,


Clonsilla Road,

Dublin 15.

Sir, – I must admit that I didn’t notice any of the successful candidates in the recent election for Dublin City Council advocating in their manifesto the creation of a cycle lane along the North Quays, thereby further tightening the tourniquet on other traffic.  There is an easier way that council officials seem to have overlooked to reduce the amount of city centre traffic – that is to abolish private car allowances and free parking for councillors and officials; if they like cycling so much, they should lead by example. – Yours, etc,


Abbey Hill,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Tony Moriarty’s suggestion (June 17th) of making a Garda website available for people to send footage of reckless cyclists (or, indeed, all road users) is interesting. As a law-abiding cyclist, I doubt I would have anything to fear from such an initiative.

I do wonder, however, which of his “fellow pedestrians could walk with more safety” – the ones who walk on cycle paths, or those who cross the road wearing headphones without looking when they “sense” motorised traffic is no longer moving?

Or could it be that we only recognise poor road etiquette in those that take another form of transport to ourselves? – Yours, etc,


Granville Road,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – I am writing in response to a letter (June 16th) in relation to a recent Department of Education and Skills circular 0030/2014 regarding the special needs assistant (SNA) scheme.

I would like to make it clear from the outset that there has been no reduction to the number of SNAs allocated to schools. There are presently 10,656 SNA posts allocated to schools, which is more than at any time previously.

Nor are reductions in SNA posts contemplated. In December 2013 the department announced it was increasing the number of SNAs by an additional 390 posts to 10,965 in order to reflect demographic growth and increased needs for SNA support. This will ensure that every child who needs access to SNA support will receive access to such support, in line with the department’s policy.

The purpose of the SNA circular is not to reduce the number of SNA posts being allocated to schools, but to clarify the scope and purpose of the SNA scheme. It restates and clarifies the role of a SNA, which is to assist the class teacher and resource teacher to provide for the care needs of pupils and it details the kind of care needs which SNAs are provided for.

Some parents have also expressed concern about whether children will be allocated SNA support on entering primary school for the first time. The circular is intended to facilitate the provision of SNAs to new primary pupils immediately, where this is required. However, for some new pupils, their need for SNA support only emerges over time and when this need becomes clear, SNA support is provided without delay.

There have also been suggestions that the circular means that there will no longer be SNAs available to support students in secondary school. That is not accurate. Secondary school students who need access to an SNA will continue to receive support from an SNA.

To address concerns that have been raised about the circular, the National Council for Special Education has been asked to develop an information booklet for parents in relation to the SNA scheme. – Yours, etc,


Special Education Unit,


of Education and Skills,

Marlborough Street,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – Does anyone remember Fine Gael’s “Five-Point Plan”? If I recall correctly point number four was “A New Politics: Abolishing the Seanad, reforming the Dáil and empowering the citizen. Real power to the people”.

I heard Minister for Finance Michael Noonan explaining that the Taoiseach’s fixing of the make-up of the banking inquiry committee was “normal politics”.

Clearly “New Politics” is still in its infancy. – Yours, etc,


Rathdown Park,


Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Thank goodness that there is still a columnist within The Irish Times who is always prepared to write what should be obvious to most – the truth. Stephen Collins is a breath of fresh air and I just hope that all the politicians read it and heed it (“Sound and fury overwhelm rational political debate, Opinion & Analysis, June 4th).

In relation to the GSOC report, Mr Collins writes that “The only conclusion to be drawn from the report is that the political system and the media spent three months engaging in a wild goose chase”.

And now we are going to spend how many more months and money on another wild goose chase in the form of the proposed and already discredited banking inquiry.

Long may Mr Collins continue to spell out the truth for us. – Yours, etc,


Seaford Gardens,


Co Louth.

Sir, – Peadar O’Sullivan (June 17th) has surely got his football analogy the wrong way round – it would be difficult for Stephen Donnelly to grab a ball that Enda Kenny had already walked off with and held firmly in his grasp. All he has done is puncture it, and rightly so, although he would have found it impossible to find a pin big enough to puncture the Taoiseach’s ego as well. – Yours, etc,


Belton Terrace,


Co Wicklow.

First published: Wed, Jun 18, 2014, 01:07

Sir, – The current debate on the regulation of cigarette packaging brings to mind my late father’s favoured brand, Sweet Afton. As a young boy I was very taken by the packet with a portrait of Robert Burns (of whom I knew little at the time), above an image of the Afton river meandering through pleasant meadows against a background of distant, romantic Scottish hills and, printed beneath, the poet’s mellifluous couplet: “Flow gently, sweet Afton among thy green braes, Flow gently, I’ll sing thee a song in thy praise.”

So taken was I by the persuasive design that, when I completed my Leaving Cert and had an income of my own from a summer job, I immediately asserted my independence by going out and buying, yes, a collection of the poems of Robert Burns.

I never smoked Sweet Afton or any other brand of tobacco; an example, I suppose, of the law of unintended consequences or, as Burns put it: “The best-laid schemes o’mice and men gang aft agley”.

Please note that I support any packaging measure that might help to reduce the sale of cigarettes. – Yours, etc,


Countess Grove,


Co Kerry.

Sir, – Of course it is “completely bonkers” for Pope Francis to ask the 150 bishops at the forthcoming synod to advise him on changes to teachings on family life (“Asking bishops for advice on family life ‘bonkers’, says McAleese”, June 17th).

There was a very half-hearted attempt at consulting Catholic laypeople to ascertain their views and doubtless by now these views will be summarised beyond recognition into lifeless generalities.

What is needed is women like Mary McAleese to address these celibate eminences and shake them out of their dogmatic slumbers.

However , such a move is extremely unlikely as the bishops believe they already have all the answers. The problem, as they see it, is simple – Catholic laypeople are obstinately refusing to listen to them. – Yours, etc,


The Moorings,

Malahide, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Paul Delaney (June 16th) suggests that since there is little difference, if any, between our two Civil War “political” parties, and in order to halt a possible Sinn Féin-dominated alliance in Irish governance, both parties should merge.

He does both parties a cruel disservice. There is little doubt that some Fianna Fáil members will prefer to put milk in their tea first and, on the other hand, some Fine Gaelers will shudder at the thought of having sugar in their tea, ever.

Think also of the sense of loss to our electorate of being deprived of the enjoyment of voting for such music-hall inspired entities as “The Soldiers of Destiny” and “The Family of the Irish”.

Electorates throughout the world have the option of voting for socialism, liberalism, conservatism and nuanced variations of these and other political philosophies and, generally, they know what they are voting for because political parties “do what it says on the tin”. Here in Ireland, we have two main tins but, unfortunately, both are blank (and probably empty). – Yours, etc,



Foxrock, Dublin 18.

A chara, – Geoff Scargill may disagree with Paul Delaney’s assertion that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are two sides of the same coin. However, there is little “difference between the party that drove this State into the worst financial crises in its history” and the party that supported them through the so-called Tallaght strategy.

While Fine Gael may have “garnered increasing respect for us on the world stage”, it should perhaps be more concerned with its own electorate. – Is mise,


Cearnóg an Ghraeigh,

Baile Átha Cliath 8.

A chara, – Ed Kelly (June 13th) ably defends the Belfast Agreement and its provision for a peaceful and democratic route to Irish unity.

It may also be worth reminding your readers that Bunreacht na hÉireann was amended on that basis.

However, I part company with Mr Kelly on his contention that a referendum now is pointless because “everyone already knows the answer”.

As well as providing a useful picture of political, social and demographic change in the North, a referendum would also inform those on either side of the debate as to how many citizens they would need to persuade of the merits of their arguments for continued partition or Irish unity.

Surely that’s democracy in action? – Is mise,


Falcon’s View,

Blanchardstown, Dublin 15.

Sir, – Your report on the Junior Certificate German examination(“‘Very nice papers’ in accessible language”, June 14th) contains a comment from a teacher to the effect that the removal of the more difficult tenses from the paper helped “to make the learning experience nicer for the kids”.

However, one has to ask if a knowledge of those difficult tenses is important if a student is to become competent in the language? If so, should the tenses not then be taught and assessed?

Efforts to make the learning experience pleasant are commendable, but we must not do our students the disservice of failing to provide them with the elements necessary to acquire competence in a subject, even if those elements prove difficult. – Yours, etc,


Rail Park,


Co Kildare.

Sir, – The last two weeks of primary school are upon us and a heatwave has ensued. The sense of impending freedom is palpable and luckily the children and their pals are still easily pleased. They have passed the afternoon in and out of each other’s houses filling up used plastic bottles for that most Dublin of summer pastimes – the neighbourhood water fight. Their shrieks of shock and delight can be heard on the wind as they divide into skilled teams that Fifa would be proud of.

This time next year, we’ll all be mindful of our water usage, and while I’m all for conservation, I will really miss this long-cherished part of Dublin childhood. – Yours, etc,


Wainsfort Park,


Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Until I watched Germany vs Portugal on Tuesday afternoon, I thought Angela Merkel was working. – Yours, etc,


Holywood, Co Down.

Irish Independent:

As the world begins to see the horror unfolding in Iraq with the emergence of ISIS jihadists who are brutally slaughtering their own people in the name of Islam, we see in Kenya another barbaric killing by al-Shahbab, the missing teenagers in Israel taken by Hamas, the stupidity of Afghanistan and the sadness of Palestine. Has the Islamic world gone mad? The simple answer is yes! But is Islam an ideology of hate, evil, and teachings of ‘kill’? The answer is no.

I say no because the people who are the cause of these barbaric and horrific murders and abductions of teenagers, are not following the pure pious teachings of Islam. They are following medieval ideology that has nothing to do with the pure spiritual teachings of Islam.

Anyone who takes the time to explore Islam with an open mind and heart will conclude that Islam is not a violent, barbaric faith; rather, it teaches tolerance, love and forgiveness. The Holy Qur’an makes it very clear that there is no compulsion in Islam and that right is clearly distinct from wrong (Ch 2 v 257) – in other words, we are able as human beings to recognise what is wrong and what is right, what is evil and what is good.

The spiritual head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad Khalifatul Masih V, while addressing university students in Benin on extremism, quoted the Qur’an: “Whosoever killed a person – unless it be for killing a person or for creating disorder in the land – it shall be as if he had killed all mankind” (Al Maidah, Ch 5 v 33).

My heart is hurt and battered by these evil people who call themselves Muslims. I truly say as an Irish Muslim I am exhausted after 23 years of accepting Islam – not exhausted with Islam or being a Muslim, but exhausted of having to defend myself and Islam because of such wicked people.

This morning when my wife was watching the news with tears in her eyes, watching the acts of violence and barbaric killing by ISIS, her response was, “No wonder people don’t like Islam.” I had to explain to her what most are not aware of, which is that the Holy Prophet Muhammad warned the Muslim ummah (people) and ulama (religious scholars) that one day this would happen! He warned, in such an accurate, chilling way, that “a time will come when nothing will remain of Islam except its name and nothing of the Qur’an except its script”. He said “their” mosques (ie, those Muslims whom he has nothing to do with) would be full of worshippers but devoid of righteousness, that their imams would be the worst creatures under the canopy of the heavens, that evil plots will hatch from them. But he also said there would be one community of Muslims who will be on the path of righteousness, who will follow the true teachings of Islam and whose imam will lead them to peace and spirituality.

This is my purpose in writing: to reassure the people of Ireland that Islam is a religion of peace, love and tolerance. Until all the imams and sheikhs in Ireland and, indeed, around the world stand up and condemn these acts of violence and this wrongful interpretation of Islam by ISIS and all the other evil so-called ‘Islamic’ organisations, these acts of evil will not be halted.





John Bruton states that David Cameron – in his objection to Jean-Claude Junker as EU President – is serving neither himself, his party or his country. May I ask: Whose interests does John Bruton serve?





I read with interest the Irish Independent article ‘Lack of bailout deal fuels extremist parties’ with an ironic eye. It was published on the same day Europe is blaming the Iraqi president for fuelling the current crisis by not being inclusive.

The European Community for many years had a sort of family feel. However, suddenly it was a Union and determined to commit to defence – and, need I say it, the “We may ask, but we won’t pay any attention to your answers” European Constitution and Lisbon mess alienated many people who were quite happy to co-operate and help our neighbours.

The bashing the people of the outer rim countries were given – because their banks, businesses and government were stupid enough to believe in ‘free money’ – sealed a burgeoning anti-European feeling.

You would think that Europe would listen to their own advice in seeking fairness in their dealings with the Irish people among others, but no – their interest is in getting their money back rather than finding justice for the Irish people who have been saddled with the debt. They have no interest in banking regulation being tightened or punishing the guilty – those are all local matters, as long as we still keep on paying for the German banks’ reckless spending.

Luckily, unlike Iraq, we don’t have any extremists to push Europe into chaos – or is EURSIS next year’s surprise?





So our ‘friends’ in the EU aren’t/ mightn’t be recapitalising our banks despite assurances by Michael Noonan and Enda Kenny that they would.

What does this actually mean in plain English?

What it means is that the Irish people were lied to.

Does this mean Mr Noonan and Mr Kenny are liars?

Not quite, in their defence, actually, for one simple reason: they may have believed it and had evidence at the time.

What has the lie achieved for the EU?

This lie was told before the Fiscal Compact Treaty, which now, apparently, even though we weren’t fully informed, is the reason the re-capitalisation won’t occur.

So what this means is that either Mr Kenny and Mr Noonan told a deliberate lie to buy time and succour for the Compact Treaty – or the EU made complete fools out of the pair of them.

No matter what way one looks at it, Enda and Michael are not fit for purpose unless they produce the evidence that led them to claim bank re-capitalisation; and point out that this was a precedential agreement and therefore carries more weight in law than the subsequent Treaty; and, lastly, they must, on behalf of the Irish citizens whom they tax in order to collect their six-figure salaries, fight it in the European Court.

Or we could, of course, have a second referendum on the Fiscal Treaty and let Europe know that we’re sticklers for tradition.

Over to you, Mr Kenny – your destiny awaits. You will go down as Ireland’s greatest Taoiseach to date, or you will be recorded as a modern Lord Castlerea when the papers are opened in 30 years or so . . . or sooner, like after the next election, perhaps!

To the strategists who are reading this: the term you are looking for is ‘running out of road’, which is something every Irish person understands completely, having being born on an island!





I hope England doesn’t reach the quarter finals. I don’t want to see Eamon Dunphy wearing a dress on television. Men dressing as women have proved expensive for RTE and consequently for the taxpayer.



Irish Independent


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