2July2014 Ears

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park. I go to the clinic to have my ears syringed

ScrabbleMary winsand gets over 400. well done Mary,perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Christian Führer – obituary

Christian Führer was an East German pastor whose weekly ‘prayers for peace’ blossomed into huge demonstrations that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall

Christian Fuehrer standing in front of St Nicholas Church in Leipzig, Germany

Christian Fuehrer standing in front of St Nicholas Church in Leipzig, Germany  Photo: AP

6:33PM BST 01 Jul 2014


Christian Führer, who has died aged 71, was pastor of the St Nicholas Church in Leipzig which, in 1989, became the focus of the demonstrations that brought down the communist regime in East Germany (GDR).

Führer became the pastor at the city’s 16th-century Lutheran church in 1980 at the height of the Cold War. In the GDR, although atheism was the official ideology, churches were spied upon but allowed to stay open, providing a modicum of “free space” where people could discuss things they could not discuss in public.

In 1982 Führer began holding weekly prayers for peace on Monday evenings, which were tolerated by the authorities because, at a time of intense controversy in western Europe over the deployment of US Pershing missiles, it was thought to be helpful for church-based peace groups to make connections with their counterparts in the west. Few came at first, but attendance grew as the Soviet Union began the process of reform under Mikhail Gorbachev.

In February 1988, however, Führer invited 50 people who were part of a movement that advocated the right to leave East Germany to a discussion at the church. In the event about 600 turned up and many began attending his regular prayer sessions. Over the following year the prayers and the open-air vigils that followed attracted more and more people.

In May 1989 police attempted to cut off the church by barricading the surrounding streets, an effort which backfired when even more people turned up. As word spread, people in other East German cities began repeating the Leipzig demonstrations, meeting at city squares on Monday evenings.

Pastor Christian Fuehrer as he speaks a prayer for peace in the Nikolai Church in Leipzig

On October 7, the 40th anniversary of the founding of the GDR, St Nicholas was closed, but some 4,000 people gathered outside and tried to march on the city’s ring road. The demonstration was broken up violently by police using batons, water cannon and dogs. There were many injuries and arrests.

In preparation for the weekly vigil scheduled to take place two days later, police warned that protests would be put down “with whatever means necessary”. In anticipation of violence, paratroopers were flown in and hospitals cleared for an expected influx of patients, specifically ones with gunshot wounds.

On the evening of October 9, what began as a few hundred gatherers at the church swelled to more than 70,000 in the streets outside. At the urging of Führer and other speakers, however, the protest remained nonviolent and the crowd, clutching candles and flowers, marched through the city in a peaceful demonstration, chanting the slogan Wir sind das Volk! (“We are the people!”) as armed soldiers looked on.

Although there were some arrests, without precise orders from East Berlin and surprised by the size of the demonstration, local police and political leaders shied away from causing a massacre. “We were ready for anything, except for candles and prayer,” an East German official was quoted as saying.

The following week, 120,000 people turned up for the vigil and the week after that, 320,000. On November 9 the Berlin Wall tumbled down.

Rally in Leipzig in 1989

“What I saw that evening still gives me the shivers today,” Führer said in an interview in 2009. “And if anything deserves the word ‘miracle’ at all, then this was a miracle of Biblical proportions. We succeeded in bringing about a revolution which achieved Germany’s unity… It was a peaceful revolution after so much violence and so many wars that we, the Germans, so often started. I will never forget that day.”

The son of a Lutheran pastor, Christian Führer was born in Leipzig on March 5 1943 and, from a young age, knew he wanted to follow his father into the ministry. He studied Theology at what was then Karl Marx University (now the University of Leipzig), working during his vacations in a car factory, as a telegram delivery boy and as a waiter on a train.

He worked as Pastor in Lastau and Colditz until his appointment to St Nicholas in 1980.

After German reunification, Führer threw his energies into helping to mitigate the worst effects of the economic crisis that followed the conversion of the Ostmark to the Deutschmark at a rate that forced many old East German industries to the wall. He travelled to the former West Germany to learn how churches could help the unemployed, and in 1991 started the St Nicholas Church’s initiative for the jobless, helping people to find work, even just volunteer work, dealing with debt and advising on benefits.

Like many other former East Germans he regretted some of what unification had brought: “People here feel a real schizophrenia,” he explained in 1994. “No one wants to go back to the days of dictatorship, but at the same time we’re not really happy with the new system… Even those who have jobs and have cars and take nice vacations are worried about what is happening to our society. Brutal competition and the lust for money are destroying our sense of community. Almost everyone feels a level of fear or depression or insecurity.”

In 2004 he again organised Monday demonstrations against the cuts in welfare benefits introduced under German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The following year he shared the Augsburg Peace Prize with the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He stood down as pastor of St Nicholas in 2008.

With the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaching, last week Führer was awarded Germany’s National Prize. Prevented by illness from appearing in person, his daughter accepted on his behalf.

Christian Führer’s wife Monika died last year. He is survived by their four children.

Christian Führer, born March 5 1943, died June 30 2014


The British Psychological Society’s ethics committee and research ethics reference group have serious misgivings about the recent “experiment” by Facebook (Report, 29 June). Facebook sought to modify peoples’ emotional states by selectively withholding postings with emotional content. This appears to contravene all four principles of research ethics as set out in the Society’s code of human research ethics and a recent set of principles agreed by most British learned societies involved in social science research.

It infringed the autonomy and dignity of individuals by interfering with the personal decision-making as to the posts that people wished to make to their chosen groups and, most importantly, by failing to gain valid informed consent from the participants. The scientific value of this study would seem to be low, since there is already a strong body of literature which confirms emotional contagion as a social process. The intervention was socially irresponsible, in that it clandestinely meddled in people’s social lives with consequences that are very likely to have had significant negative effects on individuals and groups.

There has undoubtedly been some degree of harm caused, with many individuals affected by increased levels of negative emotion, with consequent potential economic costs, increase in possible mental health problems and burden on health services. The so-called “positive” manipulation is also potentially harmful. The BPS promotes the highest level of ethics and standards in both research and practice in its guidelines for researchers, teachers and practitioners. The Society’s Ethics Guidelines for Internet Mediated Research is available online.
Professor Kate Bullen Chair, ethics committee, Professor John Oates Chair, research ethics reference group
British Psychological Society

Drastic changes: it is uneconomic for lawyers to take on new staff. Photograph: Alastair Grant/AP

In your article Law graduates hit by stiff competition, legal aid cuts and falling crime, (29 June) you report that an excess of university law courses has contributed to a glut of graduates and paralegals. There is no doubt that inadequate information is being provided to parents and students of budding law graduates. We estimate that up to 3,000 people a year are emerging from those courses with no immediate prospect of a training contract with a law firm. Many students do not understand the risks they face in trying to become a trainee solicitor. After a first degree, students are spending £10,000 on postgraduate law courses and we believe some people who are being sold these courses have no reasonable prospects of being hired to become a solicitor.

However, a focus on the oversupply of graduates disguises the chilling attack on access to justice in England and Wales resulting from the Jackson reforms and government cuts to legal aid. These drastic changes make it uneconomic for lawyers to take on new staff. It is becoming apparent in courts around the country that without lawyers to resolve disputes less contentiously, more parties end up fighting in court, to their own detriment and that of third parties, such as children. Far from stirring up unnecessary litigation between the parties, as was frequently falsely alleged as a justification for legal aid cuts, lawyers are very effective at steering people away from courts and saving the taxpayer money.
Nicholas Fluck
President, Law Society

• The police, under pressure from the Law Society, will launch a criminal investigation of Wonga as it seems offences under the Solicitors Act may have been committed over fake legal letters (Report, 27 June). To the outrage of its members, the Church of England continues to hold Wonga shares after its ethical investment advisory group classed them as a “moral” investment. The advisory group chairman, James Featherby, claimed the row “highlighted misconceptions about ethical investment” – which is an understatement of truly sublime dimensions. The 18th-century Quakers started ethical investing by prohibiting investment in “any business which harms our neighbours” – that surely includes lenders charging 4,000% interest.
Rev Dr John Cameron
St Andrews, Fife

No doubting that Aditya Chakraborrty hits the soft underbelly of clothing retailers with the “Swansea stitcher” (Why we need a Truth on the Clothes Label Act,1 July). What would also be useful would be to stop clothing manufacturers using the term “Designed in UK” printed four and five times larger than the “made in” part of the label. This technique is also used widely in the household goods area along with a union flag. Most people want to know where a product is made rather where it was designed. I confess to having a nice winter warmer saying “Knitted in Denmark – Made in Latvia” all on one label!

The Guardian could make a start and set an example for others to follow. In same edition of the Guardian, on p9 of G2, there was a page of menswear offers with no information as to where the products are made (clearly not in UK given the prices). Many people buy by post or online and it is too late to read the label.

So, transparency editor, why not start with the paper’s own offers?
Jeff Rooker
House of Lords

Civil partnerships should not only be available to opposite-sex couples (Letters, 1 July) but made the mandatory first step for all couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, who wish to commit publicly to a permanent relationship. Thereafter those couples seeking God’s blessing can pop along to their local church for a spiritual top-up, no questions asked. The church could get down to the business of blessing partnerships that are already recognised by the state and the community at large.
Very Rev Richard Giles

• I was pleased to read in your editorial that the Guardian considers itself to be a republican newspaper (30 June). Does this mean that you will no longer inflict us with photographs of royal celebrities going about their tedious business?
Barbara Forbes

• One thing all papers could do in the wake of the phone-hacking trial (Report, 1 July) is to publish a step-by-step guide on how to change your mobile phone Pin from the default setting to a personal code known only to you?
David Gerrard
Hove, East Sussex

• We continually hear from Ukip and others about the bad rules and regulations imposed by Brussels. I wish someone would compile a list of the many good ones, the latest being a charge cap on mobile usage abroad (Report, 30 June).
Alan Grieve
Ferndown, Dorset

• As a pensioner, I pay income tax but no national insurance – a 20% tax rate on my income above the personal allowance threshold. If both were merged as proposed by George Osborne (Report, 30 June), it would mean a 30% rate. There would have to be a large increase in the personal allowance to counteract a sudden drop in my income. Not a vote-winner.
Paul Sewell

• Charlotte Higgins misses one crucial point (Report, 1 July). The BBC is so precious because you can watch a football match plus all the build up without once being coerced into putting a bet on it.
Robert Newton
Oldham, Lancashire

Michael Gove‘s partisan characterisation of Labour local education authorities in his piece (My hero: Lord Harris, the Conservative millionaire who is saving schools, 29 June) is baloney. Ten years ago, I was the leader of Merton council when we had two schools in Mitcham that were underperforming. Because of the changes introduced by the Thatcher government, the council lacked both the financial resources and the legal powers to turn the schools around. We knew they needed a fresh start and turned to the academy programme to achieve it.

Far from being afraid to challenge underperformance and champion children, we initiated the changes. As a Labour council we sought out Lord Harris because he is an outstanding individual with probably the best record nationally as a CTC and academy sponsor.

Far from disdaining his approach to education and discipline, we approved it. It came close to the approach we would have taken if we had had the powers and money to make a difference. It is misleading of Michael Gove to continue to advance his political objectives through false attacks on local councils: they are closer to the issues than he is, more democratically accountable to those affected and potentially more competent and expert at leading local educational improvement.

Conservative attacks on local education authorities are nothing new: consider the way that the former Inner London Education Authority’s record was routinely traduced. However, it behoves an education secretary who wishes to dictate the way history is taught to be more careful with the facts.
Cllr Andrew Judge

• Michael Gove tells us that Lord Harris of Peckham is “a saviour of schools” because he has turned around failing schools through traditional discipline and an academic curriculum. It would seem that the secretary of state knows little about what actually goes on in the schools he is so enthusiastic about.

Does he not know that, far from offering an academic curriculum to all, Harris schools are among the greatest users of the vocational qualifications that in other circumstances he is the first to sneer at? Is he not aware that six Harris schools were among the 50 schools that saw the biggest decline in pupil numbers between year 7 and year 11, with a decline of at least 10%? Getting rid of under-achieving pupils is one way of making your results look good. He should also know that exclusion rates in some Harris schools are well above local and national averages.

Gove makes no attempt to compare the performance of Harris schools with any other. It is now accepted as a statistical fact that the improvement of results in sponsored academies is no greater than that in similar local authority schools. Recent research has made it clear that the massive improvement in London schools had little or nothing to do with academies and their sponsors. Instead of recognising that improvement can be found in schools of every kind and that there is no one recipe for success, he chooses to score cheap party political points at the expense of our children and their future. By doing so he continues to stoke up conflict rather than to build the collaborative system that we really need and shows himself unfit for office.
John Bolt

• I was the principal of Bacon’s college in Rotherhithe, a city technology college, between 1995 and 2001. This CTC was sponsored by the Philip and Pauline Harris Trust, the Church of England and the London Docklands Development Corporation. I am pleased to join Michael Gove in celebrating Lord Harris as an enlightened influence in education. Nevertheless, I have had to reflect on what it is that I find so distasteful in Gove’s writing. In part, it is the absence of respect for precise language and evidence.

Upon what evidence does Gove base his assertion that Harris “has done more to help working-class children than any Labour politician since Atlee and Bevan”? What is the meaning of “He [Lord Harris] also ensured his schools were led by traditionalist teachers…”? As a wise and sophisticated sponsor-supporter Harris quite properly never engaged me in that kind of inquiry. He was only interested in coming to understand how things would be made to work. Is it possible that I detect slogansing in Mr Gove’s style of discourse, which is anathema to proper debate?

I can remember times – for example, under Edward Boyle and Tony Crosland, and David Blunkett and Ken Baker – when education was not a slanging match for puerile party political point-scoring. That was never the game I saw Lord Harris play.
Clive Grimwood
Bitteswell, Leicestershire

• Michael Gove is right to celebrate the contribution Lord Harris has made to education, but it is a gross exaggeration to claim that “he has done more for working-class children than any Labour politician since Attlee and Bevan”. The last Labour government lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty, hugely improved school buildings, reduced class sizes and created Sure Start, achievements which the present government has seriously undermined.

Philanthropy is welcome, in this and other fields, but it should complement, not replace, public provision.
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords

Giles Fraser inveighs against “the Trojan horse of militarisation of our schools” (Loose Canon, 28 June). He is being hypocritical: he needs to address simultaneously the fact that hundreds of parish churches display regimental army colours referencing past wars, “great” military encounters and possibly “the glorious dead”. Unless the church displays leadership in condemning war and conflict – and gets rid of this paraphernalia – it cannot assume the moral high ground.
Chloe Baveystock

• When communist-ruled East Germany introduced pre-military instruction in its high schools on the principle “indoctrinate them young, and you have them for life”, a brave group called Women for Peace was prepared to go to prison in protest against the militarisation of society. In the west, their courage was applauded.

Given the tragedy of child soldiers in many parts of our violent world, and given the obscene commercialisation of war games for children, is not the promotion of military cadet forces in our schools more than reason enough for parents in David Cameron’s increasingly militarised Britain to say no to the preparation of our young generation for tomorrow’s killing fields?
Barbara Einhorn and Paul Oestreicher

• Giles Fraser queries the increasing militarisation of our schools and asks if anyone has been speaking up about this. I would like to reassure him that the Quakers have produced a very readable report, The New Tide of Militarisation, which encourages us all to think about this issue. Forces Watch is another organisation that is specifically trying to raise awareness about this. It is not just in our schools, but in wider society as well that we can see this militarisation. I echo Giles Fraser when he asks whether this is really the best way to mark the centenary of the beginning of the first world war.
Barbara Childs
Okehampton, Devon

• Giles Fraser writes about the expansion of cadet programmes in schools and remarks “how little fuss has been made about this”. Fuss is being made in some quarters. Here in Wrexham, we have previously challenged military activity days for schoolchildren, also the practice of bringing weaponry into the town centre for children to play on. This year, we protested on Armed Forces Day after the council failed to take seriously our concerns about recruiters targeting children – including soldiers showing small children how to fire guns.

For the past two years we have marked International Peace Day with children from several local schools who come together to discuss some of the issues around militarism and to explore the practice of peace.

If we really want to build a better world, the government should invest in peace education, not use schools to boost military recruitment.
Genny Bove
Wrexham Peace and Justice Forum

• Giles Fraser must be much older than he looks if he had to wrap puttees in the CCF. They were replaced by anklets before world war two.
Michael Barber

We are gravely concerned about the continuing detention of Alexander Sodiqov in Tajikistan. His arrest demonstrates the deteriorating environment for academic researchers across much of the world. A young researcher working on the academic project on Rising Powers and Conflict Management in Central Asia, he was detained on 16 June and accused of espionage and high treason. He remains in custody despite no evidence being found to justify the ridiculous accusations.

His research with colleagues at the universities of Exeter and Newcastle explores the politics of conflict management in Badakhshon, Tajikistan, since violence there in 2012. This study was funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council as part of over £4m investment into projects looking at how states such as Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa are changing the world. Like all research on the ESRC Rising Powers programme, the study to which Sodiqov is contributing is independent, is peer-reviewed and confirms to the strictest norms of academic ethics and academic excellence.

With the visit of Tajikistan foreign minister to the UK this week, we ask the foreign secretary, William Hague, to call for fair treatment for Sodiqov and for his release. His arrest is unwarranted and an attack on academic freedoms. It undermines the reputation of the government of Tajikistan in the international community and in the community of international scholars of which Sodiqov is a part.
Dr Khalid Nadvi University of Manchester, ESRC Rising Powers programme co-ordinator, Professor Simon Deakin University of Cambridge, Dr Rilka Dragneyva-Lewers University of Birmingham, Dr John Heathershaw University of Exeter, Professor Caroline Humphrey University of Cambridge, Professor Peter Knorringa Erasmus University, Rotterdam, Professor James Manor University of London, Professor Giles Mohan Open University, Dr Neil Munro University of Glasgow, Professor Marcus Power University of Durham, Dr Frauke Urban SOAS, University of London, Professor Ian Scoones IDS, University of Sussex, Professor Philip Shapira University of Manchester, Professor Brian Salter King’s College London, Professor Rudolf Sinkovics University of Manchester, Professor Stephen White University of Glasgow, Dr Kataryna Wolczuk University of Birmingham

In a piece about Pascal Husting of Greenpeace International (To target Greenpeace’s flying director is to miss the point, 25 July), Zoe Williams writes: “Greenpeace was behaving like a corporation which campaigns … rather than a charity with values.”

I found the essence of this piece problematic because Greenpeace International (Pascal Husting’s employer) is not actually a charity; it is an organisation which campaigns. I worry that Zoe Williams had not properly understood this important distinction before she set out to write a piece about Greenpeace’s status.

While she is perfectly entitled to her opinions on Greenpeace, I do think it is beholden on the newspaper to report any opinion fairly and accurately.
Monica Ayliffe
Richmond, Surrey

A disturbing global pattern

Once again the Guardian Weekly supplies the threads that together weave a disturbing fabric: specifically, China may give Britain the India treatment (27 June). Ian Jack warns that Britain risks becoming a third-world supplier of goods and services to its Chinese masters. The same applies even more to Australia, where the last vestiges of semi-independent manufacturing, in the shape of the motor-vehicle industry, are scheduled to vanish within a few years. This will leave us totally dependent on China and other growing economies continuing to pay artificially inflated prices for our coal, iron ore and agricultural produce.

In the feature by Peter Geoghegan: Aberdeen, the oil city (27 June) we see a clear example of how a resource-dependent economy promotes economic inequality and social disharmony, while providing the illusion of overall prosperity. This is the current situation in Australia with the mining boom. As Jack points out, the age of colonialism is by no means over. While the present manifestation may be more subtle, the cult of globalisation as a panacea is nonetheless one that at its heart carries sinister connotations.

Declining global powers, in which I include the US and the UK, continue to engage in ultimately futile wars in a vain attempt to defend what they perceive as their national interests. Meanwhile, ascendant powers, including China, expand their economic interests on every continent to facilitate their own unsustainable expansion.

Is there a solution? Certainly none that does not begin with wider awareness of the real problems at the heart of our current economic, social and environmental crises.
Noel Bird
Boreen Point, Queensland, Australia

Who are the real interlopers?

Peter Beaumont’s article on Iraq (20 June) appears to miss the point. He speaks of the bloodshed of the “sectarian war” in 2007-08, of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian government, about Iraq’s fragile state and describes Isis and al-Qaida in Iraq’s leaders as “opportunistic interlopers whose vision is shared by the smallest minorities”.

In 2007-08 Iraq was occupied by a US-led invasion force, the “opportunistic interlopers” whose primary aim was to gain control over the Middle East for economic and strategic ends. After their invasion they imposed a “non-inclusive” regime over the country. And one reason given for the illegal invasion was not that Iraq was weak and fragile, but because it was potentially powerful and thus constituted a threat.

The cause of Iraq’s current circumstances was the illegal invasion and occupation of the country. This injustice was compounded by US propaganda.

Iraq is as it is today primarily because of brutality inflicted in the recent past. Why is the west still trying to imply that the fault lies with the Iraqis themselves?
Lavinia Moore
Aldgate, South Australia

• We are witnessing in Iraq the beginning of the third act of the drama, originally produced by American fantasists, that opened in 2003 with only the first line having been written and the rest to be improvised.

In the first act, the Iraqi state was dismantled, the emerging Iraqi nation destroyed and the regional power balance altered in favour of America’s arch-enemy Iran.

The muddled second act – in two scenes, one written in Washington the other in Baghdad – was about putting the pieces of shattered Iraq together again, but demonstrated instead that a broken country is like a broken egg.

There wasn’t supposed to be a third act; the unsustainable second act, however, made a third inevitable: the drama demanded to be brought to a conclusion. The conclusion won’t be scripted by America. It will, however, enliven the American preoccupation with politics.
JM Haas
Pullman, Washington, US

Australia’s refugee problem

The letter of Frederika E Steen (Reply, 27 June) is the first on the topic of Australia’s treatment of refugees in an overseas news outlet that I have come across. Australians are outraged by the treatment of refugees, but our newly established rightwing government, and their supportive media and rightwing religious followers, have made it very difficult to get sufficient press publicity to counteract that of Tony Abbott’s Liberal government.

The letter sets out the inhumanity in the current government activities, which “demonise refugees” and which are, in fact, being very dishonest about the refugees’ motivations for leaving their countries.

The damage done to refugees by Australia’s stance is terrible, and I hope that the tide will change. With exposure from such publications as the Guardian, Australia will again go back to welcoming refugees.
Paula Kelly
Geelong, Victoria, Australia

Iran photos were political

Having recently spent a few weeks in Iran, I was struck by the fact that two editions of the Guardian Weekly in a row (16 and 23 May) featured articles on Iran illustrated with photos of women, the choice clearly made to convey opposite messages but neither directly connected to the content of the articles.

In the first case the story was about a book fair in Tehran, accompanied by a photo of two younger women in the more “modern” style of clothing commonly seen on streets everywhere in Iran.

In the second case, it was a front-page story about the impact of sanctions, illustrated with a photo of three women covered in black, also commonly seen on the streets, totally unrelated to the content of the article but clearly intended to convey a political message.

This tabloid-like manipulation of what women wear is not what I would have expected of the Guardian.
Wendy Flannery
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

The real cure for hiccups

Contrary to what Meeri Kim writes about the suppression of hiccups, prolonged breath-holding is the most effective self-administered treatment (13 June). But it does mean prolonged. With elbows on a flat surface, take a deep breath and clamp the nostrils shut with the heels of your hands. You have to keep breath held to a point of near asphyxiation, bringing up at least three suppressed hiccups. On the point of passing out, let the breath out slowly and under control. The buildup of carbon dioxide will have suppressed the hic reflex.

It’s very unpleasant and should only be used when all other attempts have failed. But it works.
David Bye
Kosd, Hungary

Howard was omitted

Your cartoon captioned George Bush and Tony Blair’s legacy in the Middle East is a powerful summary (20 June). However, the absence of the former Australian prime minister, John Howard, on the shoulders of the grim reaper makes many Australians feel let down. Howard was in the US at the time of the 9/11 attack. He was the first leader of a country to sign up with George Bush to unleash the War on Terror, which has caused so much bloodshed and misery. In a just world not only Bush and Blair but also Howard will be facing the international criminal court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Bill Mathew
Melbourne, Australia

Sick as a Fifa parrot

Thanks for the brilliant Hadley Freeman article Inside a Fifa World Cup Stadium (20 June). Those of us who have little or no interest in football have known for years that this is the truth about Fifa and these massive global jamborees. The line “someone later swore they saw Sepp Blatter running out of the stadium, clutching various wallets to his chest” perfectly describes everything to do with Fifa.

As long as these huge, self-important, wealthy global organisations, and the companies that support them, continue to control so many areas of our lives, ordinary people will, in increasing numbers, say “no – we don’t agree with this” and continue to protest.
Eric Beckmann
Shrewsbury, UK


• In your sports story All Blacks frustrate England (13 June), the former must have been desperate for manpower if they truly recruited “Conrad Black”, Lord Black of Crossharbour, to play and score a “try two minutes from time”. His performance of the haka must have been a sight to behold.

You meant to say Conrad Smith.
Anthony Walter
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

• By the time Lawrence Darani’s messages cease to be posted, ie in 999 years, each of his descendants will have a few million ancestors of Darani’s generation (20 June). If we also take account of the intermediate generations, let us hope that Darani remains the exception in his wish to attain immortality.
Amy Gibson
London, UK

• Your front-page article Iraq stares into the abyss (20 June) refers to Nouri al-Maliki as ‘”president” of Iraq. However, Ian Black’s piece later in the same issue calls him “prime minister”, which is correct.
Alaisdair Raynham
Truro, UK


Your editorial on Isis (1 July) is wonderfully vague. To state that the aim of the West should be to stop terrorism without a single suggestion on how to do it is insulting. It’s like saying that income tax should be 5 per cent and government spending increased by 45 per cent. So what? The devil is in the details.

Shouldn’t the fact that thousands of people are being slaughtered and war crimes being committed  on a huge scale have been mentioned? Or is it OK if the unspeakables kill the unpronounceables, as long as it doesn’t spill over into the West?

This is a global struggle between the forces of darkness and the forces of good. It is time for the “good guys” to do the right thing. This includes the enlightened nations and the good and moderate Arabs of all persuasions (and they are the majority of Arabs).

Dr Stephen Malnick
Ashkelon, Israel

It is impossible to conceive a more toxic mix than that which exists in the so-called Islamic State – heat, many young males without employment, and plentiful supplies of the true “weapon of mass destruction”, the AK47. Neutralising these three challenges is beyond the power of any government, so the chaos in the Middle East has no foreseeable resolution.

David Bracey
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s pile of possible factors behind young Muslims becoming jihadis (30 June) omits such excerpts from the Koran as: “Fighting is obligatory for you” (chapter 2, verse 216); “Fight for the cause of God”, (2:244);  and “God loves those who fight in his cause” (61:04).

These are a few of over 160 Koranic references to “holy” war.

David Crawford
Bromley, Kent


Tell us the costs  of NHS treatments

The key policy issue is how to make NHS spending more transparent so voters know how well any extra money would be used (“Raise our tax bills to save the NHS, voters say”, 1 July). A recent visit to Cuba leads me to one suggestion.

In the pharmacies there, wall posters state boldly that the country’s health service is “free” at the point of use. But they also list the actual costs of many of its treatments, ranging from visits to a nurse or GP through measures such as mending fractures to major surgical procedures such as a heart by-pass or kidney dialysis. Reading such posters in pharmacies and GPs’ clinics in the UK could educate us all into an awareness of the real costs of the NHS – most of us are already aware of its benefits.

Additional revenue for the NHS should not come from higher National Insurance contributions – retired pensioners like me, heavy users of the NHS, do not pay NI. It would be fairer for it to come from higher income tax, payable by the retired as well as by the employed.

Dr Alan Baker
Emmanuel College, Cambridge

A great career wiped out by sex scandal

Although I abhor the activities of Rolf Harris, it is with a certain sadness that I realise that a great career over many decades has been virtually wiped from the pages of theatrical history as a result of the guilty verdicts at his trial.

In future, any time Harris is remembered it will be for his sexual activities and not for his ability to entertain. Over the years Harris has entertained us on television, in theatres and with “Jake the Peg”, “Two Little Boys”, and “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport”, to name just a few of his popular songs. His ability to paint a picture before your very eyes was an act of great talent.

In the weeks and months to come, will he regret those moments of madness that have taken him in the blink of an eye from the top of the bill to the bottom of the trough? Fame is fleeting – never quicker than when found guilty in a court of law.

Colin Bower


Jimmy Savile was not always as coy about his sexual propensities as he was in his 1990 interview with Lynn Barber, reprinted on 30 June.

I have a cutting from The Observer of 4 July 1976 in which, in response to the question “What is your pet hate?”, he replied: “Cold water and getting up early. Habit. I am the clockless man – one who is more animal than man, who does what he likes when he likes, eats when he likes, sleeps when he likes, goes where he likes when he likes, savages young ladies when he fancies.”

In retrospect, this seems like a confession of guilt, but clearly no one took him seriously.

Peter Graves

Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris were loaded with honours. Surely the honours system should be changed to prevent further embarrassing mistakes, the private lives of public figures being as thoroughly and systematically investigated as the Vatican does those of prospective saints, and the names of television celebrities only put up for gongs if it can be proved that praying to them has performed miracles.

Peter Forster
London N4

Why keep printing pictures of Jimmy Savile and his like; it must be shocking for the victims, and I certainly don’t need reminding.

Jacqueline Neville

The World Cup: I  still don’t get it

I am indebted to many correspondents and colleagues who have tried to educate me on the rationale of the World Cup, but I still admit to puzzlement.

I was always told that “the taking part, not the winning” is the important thing about sport. The World Cup will only produce one winner, not even a league table, so it can’t be a dishonour not to win. So why is it apparently humiliating for England to lose out in what is after all, only a game?

I am all in favour of international get-togethers, such as Scout jamborees, music festivals and scientific meetings, where participants of many nationalities mix and celebrate, and I thought the World Cup was similar. However, England have gone home having been knocked out.

Why? Shouldn’t the team congratulate those who beat them and stay on for the rest of the event, cheering on those who are left, and have an international party at the end. Meanwhile play a few informal games with amateur sides, visit schools, youth clubs and hospitals etc, and generally raise their profile and give enjoyment to many. They must all have had clear diaries for the period in case they proceeded further in the tournament.

I’m lost.

Richard Pring
Clevedon, Somerset

Fight back for Britain in Europe

“Smell the coffee,” Alexander Stubb, the Finnish Prime Minister, has urged British electors on Europe; and he is right, because it’s British voter euroscepticism, fed by right-wing tabloid misinformation, that spurs on the Tory Party’s eurosceptic right and the blatant negativity of Ukip.

Cameron’s failed intervention against the election of Jean-Claude Juncker to the presidency of the European Commission has left Britain dangerously isolated.

John Cridland as Director General of the CBI has outlined the risk to this country’s jobs and future prosperity if we exit the European Union: but our isolation is additionally a direct threat to the long-term peace and geopolitical stability of Europe. Leaving the EU would also undermine the ability of employees to challenge the exploitative practices of unscrupulous employers in this country.

It’s now vital for pro-European politicians, businesses, journalists, individual citizens and organisations to speak out loud and clear against the madness of leaving the European Union. Setting up a high-profile and well-funded umbrella organisation to fight the eurosceptics should be the first step of the fightback.

Richard Denton-White
Portland, Dorset

David Cameron’s failure in trying to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker becoming president of the European Commission was a total humiliation.

Dealing with EU leaders and institutions requires a diplomacy and skill that the UK simply does not have and it is well and truly in the EU departure lounge. Any thoughts of a fundamental renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU are off the agenda.

We in Scotland are shackled to a corpse, part of a UK which is a pariah when it comes to the EU, friendless, toxic and with no influence. The choices before us are simple: we take charge of our own affairs in the EU, building strong relations with other member states, freed from the ill will there is towards the UK – or we remain in a failed UK which will see us forced out of the EU against our will.

The choice is simple and it is in our own hands come this September.

Alex Orr

Take a stand for the English language

Perhaps a “standee” (letter, 28 June) is a passenger whose feet are stood on.

Carolyn Beckingham
Lewes, East Sussex


Combining income tax and National Insurance should bring a welcome transparency

Sir, It’s brave of the Chancellor to even think about merging income tax and National Insurance (“Osborne’s grand plan to join up tax systems”, June 30). Universal Credit, combining six benefits into one, also seemed an admirable reform but on current progress it will take over 1,000 years to roll out.

Voters don’t like taxes but accept paying NI contributions. It would be better to build on this distinction by, say, hiving off the NHS to be paid for from a reformed NI base, rather than confronting people with a combined system.

Frank Field, MP

House of Commons

Sir, Most people would be surprised that the total of NI and tax rates on earnings over £10k is 40 per cent (including employers’ contributions). However, the Chancellor should win plaudits for improved transparency. PwC recently held a discussion about tax reform. One clear finding was that people are likely to support a simpler tax system that they understand.

Kevin Nicholson

Head of Tax, PwC, London

Sir, This “grand plan” to merge income tax and NI has been coming for many years but no party dared introduce it, because people will never accept that it is anything other than a cynical way of taxing pensions on top of the income tax the elderly already pay.

You effectively acknowledge this in your report but disregard it in your leader where you give the plan your enthusiastic support.

However, stating that tax rates would automatically be reduced for pensioners will not convince pensioners that this is not merely a blatant way of making us pay even more for healthcare and welfare in old age because we are all daring to live too long.

Do not forget that such schemes as this will apply to all generations to come, not just the elderly today. If successive governments had planned properly for the increase in longevity due to better health care etc, such kneejerk schemes would not be necessary.

Melvyn Elliott

Sheepwash, Devon

Sir, You are right to support any plan to integrate income tax and NI. The reduction in the number of tax advisers and duplicate systems this will bring about makes clear sense. The income tax system knows an individual’s age so it ought to be easy enough to avoid charging a pensioner extra. Reduced collection costs, preservation of existing allowances and benefits for businesses are achievable and ought to be widely accepted. Why, however, stop with this merger? Combined they raise about £261 billion and yet we have a separate system to collect the BBC licence fee that costs around 1 per cent of that, a proportion that must be within the margin of error inherent in any budget. Surely it is easy enough to collect the required sum for the BBC through a combined income tax and NI regime.

Equally, as council tax funds only about 25 per cent of council expenditure why not add this to the combined regime and avoid having a tax based on out-of-date property values and where the services used by individuals have no relationship to property values anyway.

Improvements in our taxation system will never come about by tinkering at the edges; radical reform is needed.

Tim Bentley

Blean, Kent

It is time to remove the obstacles to licensing old drugs for new purposes when they are effective

Sir, There is a real barrier to licensing old drugs for new purposes, even when they are effective, so some beneficial, even life-saving, treatments with minimal costs, are not available.

A private member’s bill introduced by Jonathan Evans, MP, today is an opportunity to address this anomaly. We fully support the bill and hope it will lead to a change in access to treatments. These include breast cancer treatments that could prevent some people at high risk of the condition from developing it and prevent some people with primary breast cancer from developing secondary breast cancer and ultimately dying from the disease.

It is vital to ensure that potentially life-saving drugs that have been shown to be clinically effective in a new way can be made available to patients who need them.

Professor Robert Coleman

Yorkshire Cancer Research Professor of Medical Oncology, Sheffield Cancer Research Centre

Dr Ellen Copson

Senior Lecturer in Medical Oncology/ Honorary Medical Oncology Consultant, University Hospital Southampton Foundation NHS Trust

Professor Jack Cuzick

John Snow Professor of Epidemiology; Head, Centre for Cancer Prevention; Director, Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary University of London

Professor Gareth Evans

Professor of Genomic Medicine and Cancer Epidemiology/ Honorary Consultant Clinical Geneticist, Manchester Centre for Genomic Medicine, University of Manchester

Professor Anthony Howell

Professor of Medical Oncology/ Research Director of the Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention Centre, University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust

Dr Sacha Howell

Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Medical Oncology, University of Manchester; Department of Medical Oncology, Christie NHS Foundation Trust

Professor Stephen Johnston

Professor of Breast Cancer Medicine, Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

Professor Ian Kunkler

Consultant and Honorary Professor in Clinical Oncology, Edinburgh Cancer Centre, Western General Hospital

Dr Andreas Makris

Consultant Clinical Oncologist, Mount Vernon Cancer Centre

Professor Carlo Palmieri

Professor of Translational Oncology, Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, University of Liverpool

Professor Trevor Powles

Medical Director, Cancer Centre London

The world’s nations face huge challenges and it is crucial to plan our responses ahead of time

Sir, In the week that official figures showed the UK on course to have the largest population in Europe we also published our response to how we might better plan for the huge demographic and climate challenges facing our nation (“Population surge in Britain is fastest in EU”, June 27).

One hundred years after the establishment of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and planning as a professional discipline, not only are the challenges we face today of a scale and complexity significantly greater than in 1914, the cost of failing to respond to them will also be much greater. They now represent major threats to the security and stability of this and other nations.

In our report Future-Proofing Society we argue that there are still reasons for optimism — if countries adopt and plan for a much broader resilience in economic, environment and social infrastructures. We must also recognise that, while vital, emergency planning alone is insufficient to prevent the looming challenges of demographic and climate change becoming critical. We need urgent planning and collaboration across institutional and administrative boundaries.

Planning is needed more than ever.

Trudi Elliott

Royal Town Planning Institute

Britain must face up to its much diminished importance on the international stage

Sir, Like Matthew Parris (Opinion, June 28), I can see no case for the UK to arm itself to play the role of global policeman. But Parris’s article is dangerously open to the charge of moral desertion if he leaves it there without proposing a fresh channel for Britain’s international energies. The “responsibility to protect”, endorsed by the UN in 2005, obliges all nations to defend vulnerable civilians from mass atrocities. As a Security Council member, Britain would carry greater weight than some of the traditional neutral countries by spearheading a drive at the UN to give substance to this resolution — a 21st-century role of which it could be proud.

Clive Robinson

Garstang, Lancs

Sir, Matthew Parris failed to mention the country’s national interests, such as the security of our sea-borne trade.

David Yates

Weymouth, Dorset

Sir, Matthew Parris has revealed the truth which Britain has for so long been unwilling to acknowledge: Britain is a minor player in the world scene. We did not seem to realise that for every one of us in Britain there are 99 other people in the world who might see things differently from us. China is different: there are more than 18 people in China for every 82 elsewhere in the world. Moreover, China will soon have the greatest gross domestic product of any country in the world.

Ewart Parkinson


University lecturers feel that teaching students is undervalued compared with research

Sir, It was interesting but not surprising to read “Universities view teaching students as low-status work” (June 30). I lectured at a respected university for 43 years and always thought that to get on one had to be constantly seeking research funding and writing papers. Lecturing brought very little credit at all.

I spent 14 worthwhile years as director of an undergraduate course, my door always open to students. A lot of time was spent listening to students from other courses, their supervisors being too concerned with research and paper writing to be bothered with them.

This does not augur well for a continuing output of well-educated graduates to enter commerce and industry, especially now that fees for undergraduates are at an all-time high, and students are regarded as “customers” not students.

NP Fletcher

Loughborough, Leics

Some bats have rabies, others ruin churches – maybe we should try to encourage them to roost elsewhere

Sir, Julia Harmer (“Don’t blame bats”, June 30) claims that UK bats do not pose a risk to public health.

In April this year I visited Stokesay Castle in Shropshire. Towards the end of my guided tour I came to a notice announcing that one of the bat colonies in the North Tower was carrying the rabies virus. Any visitor who touches or is bitten by a bat is advised to contact a member of the staff so that the appropriate treatment can be given.

Michael Jordan

Buckholt, Monmouth

Sir, If there is a shortage of roosts for rare bats, appropriate structures should be erected by conservation bodies, rather than churches being compelled to serve as bat sanctuaries. Conservationists such as the Bat Conservation Trust (letters, June 24 and 30) have no moral basis for upholding the imposition of damage, disfigurement and dirt on churches, which were erected and are maintained, at considerable expense, for human use.

Edmund Gray

Iffley, Oxford


A reader recalls his encounter with Cvjetko Popović, whose bomb never reached the Archduke’s car

Guns used to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand

The guns used by the assassins of the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, on display at a military history museum in Vienna

6:58AM BST 01 Jul 2014

Comments179 Comments

SIR – In his article, “The lie that started the First World War”, Tim Butcher mentions the Sarajevo assassin who lost his nerve. He is referring, I believe, to Cvjetko Popović.

In 1964, at the Mlada Bosna museum in Sarajevo, I had a long and fascinating conversation with Popović, who said the real reason he did not throw his bomb was that his poor eyesight meant he could not identify the occupants, and he did not want to harm the wrong people. He told the court he had lost his nerve “because I knew that was what they wanted to hear”.

At the age of 68, he had recently retired from his post with the local museum, and, through an interpreter, answered many questions about that day in 1914.

When asked if he felt any remorse, he said he did not because (I paraphrase): “It was a war that was bound to come. If the assassination had not happened, something else would have started it. Very powerful people wanted war.”

At the time I simply considered this an old man’s pathetic attempt to justify a wicked action, but having had many years to study the matter I think he was right.

John Carter
Bromley, Kent

SIR – John Shrive (Letters, June 28) asks whether the car in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, now on display in a museum in Vienna, had its number plate, AIII 118, matching the date of the armistice, added after the event.

One of the photographs taken on that fateful day in Sarajevo a century ago clearly shows the car bearing that very registration number. So it would indeed appear that it was an amazing coincidence.

A C J Young
Bolton, Lancashire

GPs detecting cancer

SIR – The Royal College of Pathologists welcomes proposals by Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, to publicise persistently poor detection of new cancers by GPs.

The timely diagnosis of cancer depends on clinical suspicion backed up by efficient use of the right test.

The marked discrepancies in the use of blood tests by GPs for some cancers are described starkly in the recently published NHS Diagnostic Atlas of Variation. There is a five-fold variation in the use of the PSA test for prostate cancer and a nine-fold variation in the use of CA125 for ovarian cancer.

These tests are available across the NHS. There is no single satisfactory explanation for such variable performance, but it is not because of differences in the demographics of GPs’ patients.

Uniform and rapid communication of results of all tests from pathology labs to all users, especially GPs, requires the development of a national laboratory medicine catalogue, a list of pathology tests that have been validated for use within the NHS. The NHS funding of this is at risk.

The College has urged the Secretary of State to protect this project and its funding.

Dr Archie Prentice
The Royal College of Pathologists
London SW1

SIR – My husband, a GP for more than 20 years, went to our local A&E with symptoms of advanced cancer late last year and died in January. He had put his tiredness and lack of energy the previous summer down to the long hours and stress of his job.

How sad to think that, under Jeremy Hunt’s proposal to name and shame GPs who fail to spot cancer, he might have been chastised for not recognising his own symptoms.

Barbara Seddon
Bolton, Lancashire

National Insurance

SIR – Proposals to merge income tax and National Insurance are apparently considered impractical because of the difficulty of IT changes. The answer is simple: abolish National Insurance and adjust income tax. The IT changes could be restricted to setting the NI rate to zero for both employer and employee.

Simpler, more honest taxation would improve productivity and improve tax revenue.

Brian Gilbert
Hampton, Middlesex

Nothing in confidence

SIR – Why do former cabinet ministers feel the need to blab about private conversations with the Prince of Wales?

Such behaviour in most professions would be intolerable.

M O Thomas
Grantham, Lincolnshire

Shot across the bows

SIR – We should ask all London mayoral candidates this question: “If elected, will you scrap Boris Johnson’s water cannon?”

Barry Tighe
Woodford Green, Essex

Apple to the core

SIR – Recently I bought some apples from the Asda store in Ashford, Kent, each apple being identified with an oval sticker as “100 per cent pure apples from New Zealand”.

Do they also grow “non-pure” apples in New Zealand?

Karel Diblicek
St Mary in the Marsh, Kent

Coy meter man

SIR – I recently had my old-fashioned electricity meter replaced. I was perfectly able to read the old one, which had a mechanical digital display, and submit my readings online.

With the new one, in order to press buttons I would have had to stand in my kitchen sink, which was not designed to take my weight. So I told my energy providers.

They responded that they would take a reading and asked me to provide a date within 14 working days. I replied that any time was fine, as long as I was told what date and time it would be.

They replied that they needed a certain time and date from me. I provided one. They replied that they couldn’t read my meter at that time and date.

Could a mathematician work out how many combinations of emails, on this basis, will result in an amicable meter reading? I am still working on it.

Michael Smitten
Shifnal, Shropshire

Television nodders

SIR – Doing nodding cutaways or “noddies” to edit into an interview item (Letters, June 26) is standard practice for television interviewers.

Some years ago, when I had just finished interviewing someone about their garden, the cameraman asked the inexperienced young director if she wanted noddies. “No thanks,” she answered, “I had a sleep on the train.”

Professor Stefan Buczacki
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

SIR – When I was a BBC television newsreader, to the surprise of cameramen, I categorically refused to do the customary nods after recording an interview, on the grounds that it was a despicable piece of ham acting.

Instead, I spent 30 seconds looking by turns interested, curious, amused or incredulous. Much more fun.

John Edmunds
London W2

Weakening fast

SIR – The onset of the month of Ramadan in the Islamic lunar calendar at this time of year means that Muslims are not eating or drinking for about 20 hours a day.

For those carrying on normal activities such as driving or even practising medicine, this cannot be safe.

Geoffrey Wyartt
Newent, Gloucestershire

Heads up: two spectators in thematic headgear at this year’s Wimbledon championships  Photo: AFP/GETTY

6:59AM BST 01 Jul 2014

Comments87 Comments

SIR – The dress code for spectators at Wimbledon is going downhill.

Wimbledon was once unique both for players and spectators with style and panache, but alas no more.

Allan J Eyre
Brookfield, North Yorkshire

SIR – Vivien Coombs (Letters, June 28) would not need to reach for the mute button to avoid the wittering of tennis commentators if the BBC provided viewers with a simple technical answer. The choice on the red button of a clean feed (with only the sound of play) would be very welcome.

Edward Rayner
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – For me, the most irritating part of Wimbledon is the hand slapping after every point in the doubles matches – even when it’s a double fault.

Kate Ludwick
Easton-in-Gordano, Somerset

A referendum on EU membership would require an Act of Parliament Photo: Getty Images

7:00AM BST 01 Jul 2014

Comments261 Comments

SIR – The authors of several letters on this page have urged, and continue to urge, that David Cameron call a national referendum without further delay. But a referendum requires an Act of Parliament to set it up.

Nick Clegg would certainly use his blocking vote in the Commons to prevent that. The phalanx of Lib-Dem and Labour peers in the Lords, some of them on the Brussels payroll and disgracefully refusing to acknowledge a conflict of interest, would seek to do the same there.

That is why Mr Cameron must await the outcome of the next general election and hope he returns with a working majority.

There is no point in baying for the moon.

Frederick Forsyth
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

SIR – It is widely reported that the 26-2 vote for Jean-Claude Juncker was a humiliating defeat for David Cameron – it was far from it. Not only was this a victory for principle over last-minute political manoeuvring and expediency but, more importantly, history may well show this to have been a turning-point for Europe.

Since that vote a number of European leaders have emphasised the importance to the EU of Britain’s continuing membership, indeed Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has now stated this to be “a priority”.

The Prime Minister’s stance has therefore at least opened the possibility of a future “two-tier” EU, containing those moving towards ever-closer union alongside those with greater national autonomy.

Sir Charles Masefield
Markyate, Hertfordshire

SIR – The post-Juncker European discussion leaves one wondering if history will judge the role of Mr Cameron as that of a catalyst rather than a loser.

J A Whitmore

SIR – Praise should now go to Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, in supporting Britain at Ypres. Back in 1932 it was Winston Churchill who said in his speech on November 23: “These are not the days when you can order the British nation or the British Empire about as if it were a pawn on the chessboard of Europe.”

Today, the European Union pretends that Britain is no more than a pawn on its board in a game that it only sees ending in checkmate for us. But the EU’s own principal pieces are castles in the air.

Lord Ironside
Colchester, Essex

SIR – No one doubts Mr Cameron’s willingness to take on the EU. What is in doubt is his, and our, ability to get anything changed.

The appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker is just another manifestation of this reality.

Ian Johnson
Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Irish Times:

Sir, – I refer to Una Mullally’s article “Time for action on our booze epidemic” (Opinion & Analysis, June 30th).

While it is entirely reasonable to criticise the slow pace of change in this contentious area of public policy, it is quite wrong to say, in relation to the Government’s response, that “nothing happens”.

Last October I secured Government approval for a package of measures including provision for minimum pricing (to deal with alcohol that is cheap relative to its strength), restrictions on marketing and advertising, regulations on labelling and health warnings, and a host of other instruments which will be contained in the forthcoming Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

This will be the first ever legislation in this country dealing with alcohol from a public health perspective. The heads of Bill are currently being finalised for Cabinet approval.

Far from inaction (or “guff”) this Government is delivering the kind of effective measures that will have a real impact on reducing our excessive consumption of alcohol.

Tackling our alcohol misuse requires more than a periodic outcry. It calls for the implementation of policy choices that some will find difficult, even objectionable, but which are essential if we are to have a real impact on the problem.

That is what we are determined to do. – Yours, etc,


Minister of State,

Department of Health,

Hawkins House, Dublin 2.

Sir, – Congratulations to Una Mullally on a meaningful, factual and honest article. Yes, a very good start would be to close the Dáil bar. Why it was ever put there in the first place amazes me. I feel sure the ladies and gentlemen of the Dáil can consume alcohol with their meals at the Dáil restaurant when needs arise. Having a bar to pop in and out of during their working day seems outrageous. – Yours, etc,



Donnybrook Castle,

Dublin 4.

A chara, – According to the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, women were indeed the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus and played a key role in the formation of the early Christian community and in witnessing to the Risen Christ ever since and especially in the world today.

The exclusion of women from priesthood can no longer be justified by using the scriptures and by selective quotations from the Gospels, which were put together long after Jesus. The only basis for excluding women today is the tradition of the Catholic Church. That argument is now beginning to look threadbare, given that the modern world has begun to recognise the equality of women and also given the decline in male vocations.

The claim that Jesus ordained only males to the priesthood has no biblical basis. The fact is that Jesus never ordained anyone to the priesthood. That men only were ordained was a later development and a gradual development mainly in keeping with the Roman culture of the time. Nowhere in the Gospels does it state that men were the only ones to be ordained as priests. Presumably those disciples of Jesus who were present at the Last Supper were exclusively Jews and that could hardly be used as an argument that only Jews should be ordained.

Jesus went out of his way to include everyone in his new community.

A fundamentalist interpretation of scripture has done neither the church nor Jesus any service in creating a new and inclusive world or in building up the reign of God in the world. Outdated superficial interpretations of scripture are a real hindrance in furthering the message of Jesus of peace, love, forgiveness, truth and inclusion.

The Holy Spirit is calling on us to think again about this issue and to open up the discussion about ending the marginalisation of women in our world and in our church. – Is mise,




Co Fermanagh.

Sir, – If the issue of women and the priesthood is primarily about fairness and equality, then surely men should be allowed, indeed encouraged, to become nuns? It could be win-win all round, with women keen to be priests, and men nuns, as sadly both ranks are greatly depleted.

In the happy circumstance of this happening, I can foresee a time when a keen and ambitious young man rises through the ranks and eventually becomes mother superior of his order. Wouldn’t we have something to talk about then? – Yours, etc,


The Ninch,


Co Meath.

Sir, – Barry Walsh’s letter (June 28th) saying that Jesus apparently only chose male apostles is fine and reasonable as far as it goes, but why stop at the Twelve? In Luke, another “72” are appointed with no indication of either name or sex. In Romans, mention is made of one “Junia”, a female name. Not alone that but she is described as “outstanding among the apostles”! – Yours, etc,


Shamrock Avenue.



Sir, – Given the recent OECD report findings (“Hospital consultants among best-paid in world”, Front Page, July 1st) that the average annual reimbursement for public work paid to consultants is €171,000, why is the Government surprised that newly qualified consultant posts remain empty with a “new entrant” salary of less than 60 per cent of this figure?

Does it honestly expect them to work longer hours, more weekends, on totally different terms and conditions, trying to rearrange trolleys on the ship of gargantuan dysfunctionality that is the HSE, while their so-called senior colleagues may add private income to their already much greater salaries? – Yours, etc,


Castleknock Manor,

Dublin 15.

Sir, – Eamonn McCann (“Most Irish media failed Gerry Conlon with silence”, Opinion & Analysis, June 26th) criticised the response of Irish journalists generally to the scandals of the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, and quoted Ed Moloney, a previous Northern Editor of The Irish Times, as saying, “If the story had been left to the Irish media to cover, Gerry Conlon would have died in a prison cell.”

When challenged about this comment on his blog by the former editor of the Irish News, Nick Garbutt, Mr Moloney later clarified his position, and said that he had only been referring to Dublin-based outlets.

Our files are readily available and confirm that the Irish News consistently campaigned for the release of victims of miscarriages of justice throughout that difficult era and maintained close links with their families.

As a result of this relationship, we were specifically asked by the late Mr Conlon to organise a petition asking the British government to apologise formally to those involved in the Guildford Four/Maguire Seven case. His request, made in 2005 on the 25th anniversary of the death in jail of his father, Giuseppe, reached a successful conclusion through a public statement by the then prime minister, Tony Blair, in Downing Street three weeks later.

Mr McCann cited five respected figures from other news organisations as emerging with credit from the case of Mr Conlon, and wrote, “There may be other Irish journalists who should be mentioned, but names don’t spring to mind.”

As someone who did not work for the Irish News during the imprisonment of the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, I feel that a number of members of staff from that paper could reasonably have been added to Mr McCann’s list. – Yours, etc,



Irish News,

Donegall Street,


A chara, – Sheila Barrett (July 1st) asks a very good question – when will Irish emigrants be given the vote? It should be noted that some emigrants already have the vote, which makes the current situation all the more unjust, unequal and even comical. Members of the diplomatic corps and Defence Forces can vote in Oireachtas elections when abroad. All Irish university graduates have the postal vote for Seanad elections from wherever they are in the world. And of course Irish emigrants from Northern Ireland can continue to vote in Northern Irish elections when they leave the island. The Republic has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the European Union that disenfranchises its emigrant citizens. And now for the truly comical – all Irish emigrants living abroad can in fact stand for and be elected to the Dáil, but cannot vote themselves. – Is mise,


Rue Gaston Paymal,

Clichy, France.

Sir, – In response to Chris Johns (“Why saving and investment are the keys to our future”, Business Opinion, June 27th) , I would argue that there are two legs holding up modern developed economies – cheap energy in the form of fossil fuels and almost unlimited credit created out of thin air by banks.

As energy gets scarce and more expensive to extract and the huge mountains of sovereign, corporate and personal debt that exist worldwide become impossible to repay, there is only one way for developed economies to go, and let’s just say that the next 20 years will not be the same as the last 20 years. Economic growth on a scale seen in the last 250 years is over and capitalism – or any other “ism” – is not going to save it. – Yours, etc,


Market Square,


Co Westmeath.

Sir, – Peter McVerry (“Apartheid Irish-style created by housing policy”, Opinion & Analysis, June 27th) raises a very important question relating to the evolution of housing policy in Ireland since the foundation of the State.

Irish government policy in the 1930s and 1940s was such that social housing estates amounted to 60 per cent and 70 per cent respectively of all new housing construction in those decades. This represented an effort to get rid of the infamous tenement housing in urban areas, particularly in Dublin.

Unintentionally, however, this policy sowed the seeds of how Irish housing developed thereafter. From the 1950s on, a proliferation of private housing estates resulted in what Fr McVerry correctly describes as apartheid-style housing in Ireland.

He points out that the Planning and Development Act 2000 required builders to allocate 20 per cent of housing output to social and affordable housing. However, resistance from builders and private owners quickly buried that requirement. It was simply abandoned.

Can such a policy be enacted and succeed? The answer is yes. This very policy has been in place and successfully implemented in New Zealand for over 50 years. Political will is all that is needed. – Yours, etc,


Bishopscourt Road,


Sir, – Minister for Health James Reilly’s proposal to increase the price of tobacco products by 100 per cent makes very bad economic and health sense (“Reilly calls for packet of 20 cigarettes to cost €20”, Front Page, June 27th).

If this measure is agreed and put through in the budget, the vast majority of smokers will travel to Northern Ireland and purchase their cigarettes there (and do the weekly shopping too while they’re at it), resulting in lost tax revenue to the State.

Would the Minister not consider reducing the price of cigarettes to reflect the price on the Continent, and in one swoop stop the illegal trade in contraband tobacco products overnight? – Yours, etc,


Oakview Avenue,

Dublin 15.

A chara, – I read with considerable interest Michael Parsons’ article on Seán Ó Cuirrín’s translation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula into Irish, a book first published in 1933 (“Irish translation of Dracula funded by minister who slashed the old-age pension”, June 30th).

I have in my possession an updated version of the same book, published by An Gúm in 1997. It is an enthralling translation, containing a very rich lexicon, marvellous turns of phrase and cora cainte, which are gradually being lost to the native language today. Priced at only €10, it is a must-read for any serious student of Irish who wishes to develop his or her linguistic or translation skills to an advanced level. It is also a fabulous read in its own right. – Is mise,


Colpe Avenue,



Co Louth.

Sir, – A mere five runners went to post in last Saturday’s Irish Derby at the Curragh. Alas, what was once the jewel in the crown of the Irish flat-racing season has lost a lot of its prestige and allure. The first three home in the Group One race (total prize money €1.25 million) were trained by the maestro of Ballydoyle, Aidan O’Brien. While not wishing in any way to devalue a stupendous achievement, it’s surely high time Horse Racing Ireland reappraised its scheduling of the classic. It’s now generally accepted it’s staged too soon after Royal Ascot.

If the event is to regain its international status and not develop into a quasi-benevolent fund for the all-powerful, all-conquering Coolmore syndicate, a radical review of the present set-up will have to be undertaken in the very near future. – Yours, etc,


Beacon Hill,


Dublin 2.

Sir, – Ned Monaghan (June 30th), who wants fixed wheels on the nearer pair of supermarket trolleys and casters confined to the front pair, should go to America, where (except for use in Ikea stores) they are all built to his preferred pattern. He would soon discover how unwieldy it is in actual supermarket conditions – specifically, how much more room it takes to change direction. This is because you and the casters have to pivot around the fixed pair (think of a compass needle). By contrast, you can move a four-caster trolley with yourself as the pivot (think of a windscreen wiper, or, to tighten the analogy, half a compass needle).

I pointed this out last year to a supermarket manager in New Jersey, adding that he could narrow the isles by eight inches and fit another entire sales gondola into his store. His amused and tolerant smile was replaced by a more thoughtful expression. I like to think he was mentally planning the route to Ikea in nearby Newark. – Yours, etc,




A chara, – Further to your news report “Humanists to take legal action to overturn outdoor weddings ban” (June 30th), will outdoor smoking areas be allowed at indoor humanist weddings ? – Is mise,


Ellensborough Drive,

Kiltipper Road,

Dublin 24.

Sir, – What a magnificent photograph by Brenda Fitzsimons of something being propelled by hot air – greatly enhanced by virtue of the fact that, for once, it did not involve any incumbents of Leinster House (“Balloon over Meath”, Front Page, June 30th). – Yours, etc,


Cormac Terrace,


Dublin 6W.

Irish Independent:

As I am witnessing the installation of water meters in my area, I am once again reminded of the folly and futility of this operation. The cost of Irish Water, the labour force involved, meters and other materials would probably provide for gold replacement water pipes in the system. At a time when we are allegedly broke and committed to gifting Europe with further billions, it seems daft to indulge in this money-eating project.

The anticipated huge cost to each household must worry every citizen in the country. I am open to correction on this, but I seem to remember Irish Water intimating that in the event of a shortfall in revenue received, it would increase the water charge to make up the deficit – a licence to print money. And all the time consumer cash is drained from an ailing economic system.

Will anxiety and uncertainty over the amount of the charge lead to health and hygiene problems? Will toilets only be flushed once a day? Will showers become a luxury? Will outdoor flower beds be left barren? Will it in numerous ways adversely affect the quality of our lives?

Add to this the enormous cost of servicing the system, a new layer of bureaucracy, meter readers by the hundreds, huge administration costs and maintenance bills, and the length of time it will take to recover the initial outlay.

If a water charge has to be imposed, wouldn’t it be much simpler and far less costly to do so in the same manner as the property tax with the appropriate exemptions, or to join the two together under some local charges heading? The water meter fiasco is a sure sign of a government and administration having lost the plot.

Statistics in the media today point out that children and adults in one out of every five households are living on or below the poverty line while we continue to throw countless millions literally down the drain on an unnecessary and ill-thought-out project.





Your wistful and wishful commentary on the exodus of Irish-trained doctors to foreign shores, flags a deeper malaise. (Editorial, July 1).

The dysfunctional relationship between the Leaving Cert ‘points-race’ and wannabe medics betrays a ‘filthy-lucre’ motivation for a majority (though not all) of prospective clinicians. High-points ‘intelligence’ tallies seem to be the overriding criterion in the competing academic gallop for assertive (usually middle-class) professional alignment. Money, social status and professional aggrandisement usually trump any inherent compatibility with the eventual coalface work, dealing with real people who are health-distressed.

Altruism, empathic orientation, or natural inclination towards authentic, egalitarian care are all in shortish supply for some aspiring medical students. For them money-money-money careerism feeds the surge towards medicine as a career .

So few candidates are hewn from the pure Hippocratic disposition of innate sensitivity and dedicated delicacy of respectful engagement. If only the balance of enthusiasms relating to financial reward and caring philosophy could be recalibrated, swopping primacies and priorities for the communal sharing of ability – for, of course, an appropriately decent reward.

However, the primitive call of the ‘moolah’ wins out for some at least.

Thus, it’s inevitable that when the system here punches below the financial reward scale of overseas’ remuneration templates, the cash-crop will surely lure some abroad. For some but obviously not all, there’s no hint of gratitude or commitment to the Irish citizen who funded them through college, just a flighty exodus along the yellow-brick road of ‘dosh-posh’. The sad thing is that so many prospective medical students who could precisely fit the salient empathy/sensitivity aptitude bill for suitability towards a selfless healthcare ethos, just fall short of the stringent points sluice-gate, and are inevitably lost to the profession.

There are, of course, many statutory/adminstrative labyrinths abounding in the system delivery, which are inefficient, impractical and unproductive. But surely, more young and able, newly-qualified clinicians could choose to stay around to work towards transformation of these, rather than jump ship.





The headlines of the Irish Independent (July 1) highlight the amount of pay-off to Maire Geoghegan-Quinn and the contempt this Government shows to the working people of Ireland, who have yet to see any of the green shoots the Coalition keep bragging about, not to mention the health service which is even more shambolic than during the Cowen era.

If Michael Noonan thinks we can be sweetened up for voting this crowd back in by reducing his trademark austerity in the Budget, he is grossly mistaken and would be better focussed in remembering the wipeout of Fianna Fail and the Greens in 2011. The election is drawing closer than many realise and the electorate need to see their money back in their pockets, and quickly – not in the pockets of the likes of Geoghegan-Quinn.





You know the way it is. You meet for a few drinks every now and then and enjoy the evening. Now, there is considerable concern about over-indulging in the country, and rightly so. The publicans, through their organisations, complain that they are not making a cent and business is bad. The latest from the medical profession is that three pints equates to binge drinking. It seems we, as a drinking nation, are in a bit of a quandary.

Well, we have a few jars and I decide to finish the night on a non-alcoholic lager. And so the prices of the drinks – pint of Guinness €4.70; pint of Heineken €5.20; 500ml bottle of non-alcohol Erdinger Lager €5.20. So why is alcoholic beer cheaper than non-alcoholic beer in pubs?

Publicans are constantly blaming supermarkets for cheap drink being sold and decimating their businesses and causing alcohol-related problems. But publicans charge more for non-alcoholic drinks than for alcoholic drinks. Surely it should be the other way around. Erdinger in off-licences retails for generally about €2, and I am sure there is a profit for the retailer in that.

So may I make a suggestion to the Finance Minister, a kind of pre-Budget submission so to speak from an ordinary Joe Soap? Scrap any duty on non-alcoholic beers and introduce a lower duty on low-alcohol beers and lagers so the likes of Guinness, which is mid-strength, and lagers with low alcohol levels might possibly get a hold in the market. And is it time to think about the cafe-bar idea again?

Maybe too it’s time for the Brits to take over again. But this time with pub chains and give us some real competition in the pub business.

And to the publicans of Ireland – what about a bit of competitive pricing and a drink, be they alcoholic or non-alcoholic, at a fair and reasonable price.





I read with interest the letter from Joe Breen regarding profits of €65m in VHI. Very High Indeed.



Irish Independent


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