8July2014 Squirrel

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park. I am so tired summer cold? A squirrel eats one of our roseheads.

ScrabbleMarywins, but gets under 400. perhaps I will win tomorrow.


Eduard Shevardnadze – obituary

Eduard Shevardnadz was a reforming Soviet Foreign Minister under Gorbachev who bit off more than he could chew as President of Georgia

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze speaks at a news conference in Tbilisi in 2001

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze speaks at a news conference in Tbilisi in 2001 Photo: AP

2:40PM BST 07 Jul 2014


Eduard Shevardnadze, who has died aged 86, played a key role in precipitating the collapse of the Soviet Union when he resigned as Minister of Foreign Affairs at a crucial moment during the presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev; he later rose out of the communist ashes to become president of the newly-independent republic of Georgia.

Yet the fragmentation of the Union did not stop there, and Shevardnadze did not escape the troubles unleashed by its break-up. In September 1993 he failed to quell an Abkhazian separatist rebellion and, as Georgia’s internal troubles spread beyond its borders, it became caught up in the many small wars that broke out throughout the Caucasus. The republic’s economy, once the most buoyant in the Soviet Union, came close to collapse and Shevardnadze’s presidency was increasingly dogged by rampant corruption and accusations of nepotism.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze gestures during a news conference in 1998 (REUTERS)

Shevardnadze — known as the “White Fox”, as much for his smooth diplomat’s tongue as for his shock of silver hair — had emerged on to the international stage as one of the new breed of liberals who had flourished under Gorbachev’s reforms, helping to overturn communist ideology and build a new relationship with the West. It therefore caused an international sensation when, shortly before Christmas 1990, he suddenly turned his back on his beleaguered leader. The timing of his announcement was critical: the “countdown” to the United Nations deadline of January 15 for Iraqi troops to withdraw from Kuwait had less than a month to go, and Gorbachev was at the lowest ebb of his five-year rule.

“I’ll put it bluntly, comrade democrats,” Shevardnadze declared, in a dramatic and emotional speech. “You have scattered. The reformers have slunk into the bushes. Dictatorship is coming.”

The political turning-point for Shevardnadze had, he claimed, occurred in April 1989, long before his resignation, when Soviet troops used brute force to crush a nationalist uprising in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, killing about 16 people. “Any state needs order,” he lamented at the time, “and this is especially true of one plagued by a severe crisis like ours. But I am categorically against the use of the army in punitive operations.”

His outspoken remarks proved too much for the hardliners, who from then on, according to Shevardnadze, used every opportunity to pick on him. He was accused of undermining Soviet security through arms cuts, of being soft on America, of selling out on Eastern Europe, and finally — the last straw for the Red Army generals — of pitching the USSR against its former ally Iraq in the Gulf conflict.

In June 1991, six months after his resignation, Shevardnadze caused further dismay among the Politburo’s old guard with his announcement, on a visit to Vienna, that he was to set up a new movement for “democratically minded Communists”. A month later, he and a dozen prominent Soviet liberals — who included Alexander Yakovlev, the “father of perestroika”, and Stanislav Shatalin, one of Gorbachev’s foremost economic advisers — signed a statement calling for a new Democratic Reform Group to provide an alternative to the Communist Party. Shevardnadze cannot have been entirely surprised when he was forced out of the Party a week later.

In August that year, when the tanks rolled into Moscow during an attempted military coup against Gorbachev, Shevardnadze joined Boris Yeltsin on the barricades. The coup soon crumbled and in November, in a vain attempt to shore up his position, Gorbachev asked Shevardnadze to return as Foreign Minister. To widespread surprise he accepted — only to find his post abolished weeks later as the Soviet Union disintegrated.

But if the death of the Soviet Union signalled the end of Gorbachev’s career, it marked a new beginning for Shevardnadze, who, early in 1992, took advantage of the political turbulence in the republics, and returned to his native Georgia pledging to rescue it from chaos. At first his intention of winning the Georgian leadership seemed a near impossible task. The recently-toppled nationalist leader, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a famous scientist and writer, still held broad popular support, and had vowed to fight on against the “Mafia” that had ousted him in a bloody coup in January. Moreover, it seemed unlikely that a former communist would be able to convince the people of his democratic integrity.

Indeed, Shevardnadze had been known in Georgia not so much for his work as a diplomat as for having being a tough head of the KGB and then party leader in Tbilisi in the 1970s and early 1980s. In these roles he had proved as ruthless in crushing dissidents (including Gamsakhurdia) as he had been in purging corruption. Nevertheless, on the bleak platform of Soviet public relations Shevardnadze stood out as a man with at least some grasp of the importance of image-making. By promising to use his international contacts to repair the country’s poor reputation — and by organising the occasional public display of devotion to the Georgian Orthodox Church — he succeeded in gathering popular support .

While Gamsakhurdia touched the romantic streak in Georgians, Shevardnadze appealed to their pragmatic instincts, which told them that isolation from Russia and the West was too high a price to pay for independence. Ultimately — and unlike Gamsakhurdia, who rushed to denounce anyone who dissented from his nationalist line — he was regarded as a skilled unifier.

In March 1992 Shevardnadze was appointed head of an interim ruling council in Georgia, formed to hold the fort until the next elections scheduled for the autumn. A month later his opinion poll rating was 70 per cent. In October he stood unopposed in Georgia’s first free elections since gaining independence from Moscow — he claimed he was “embarrassed” that no one had stood against him — and won 96 per cent of the national vote. When the presidency was restored in November 1995, he was elected with 70 per cent of the vote.

By this time the conflict with Gamsakhurdia’s supporters had been ended by Russian intervention on Shevardnadze’s side and Gamsakhurdia’s death in December 1993. Yet bloody separatist battles continued to rage in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, while the conflict in neighbouring Chechnya began to cause friction with Russia, which accused Shevardnadze of harbouring Chechen guerrillas and supported Georgian separatists in return.

Further friction with Georgia’s big neighbour was caused by Shevardnadze’s good relations with the United States, through which Georgia became a major recipient of US foreign and military aid and a strategic partner with Nato.

At the same time, Shevardnadze’s much-vaunted image as an anti-corruption campaigner became tarnished. Shevardnadze himself was never directly accused of graft, but as his family and cronies became visibly richer, people’s feelings turned. Shevardnadze survived assassination attempts in 1992, 1995 and 1998. He secured a second term as President in April 2000 in an election that was marred by widespread claims of vote-rigging, but the last straw came on November 2 2003, when voting for a new parliament was widely held to have been fiddled. Washington had warned Shevardnadze of the dangers of fraud, yet American and European monitors were united in their charges that the elections had been unfair.

Shevardnadze with cuts and bruises after an assassination attempt in 1995 (WTN PICTURES)

For days afterwards supporters of the opposition United National Movement, led by Mikhail Saakashvili, stood outside the parliament building in Tbilisi, demanding that the elections be annulled or that the President resign. Shevardnadze called for dialogue, yet gave no sign that he would make concessions.

On November 22 he narrowly escaped the storming of parliament and the president’s office, and on the night of November 23, after the intervention of Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, he was finally persuaded to go. He had decided to stand aside, he said, to avoid bloodshed. In reality he was unfit to rule.

Georgian protesters near the residence of President Shevardnadze, Tbilisi, 2003 (AFP)

Eduard Amvrosiyevich Shevardnadze was born on January 25 1928 at Mamati, in western Georgia, where his father ran the village school. His older brother, Ippokrat, who died in 1978, became a department chief in the central committee of the Georgian Communist Party.

Young Eduard studied history, before plunging himself into party youth work in the republic, long regarded as the most corrupt of the 15 in the Soviet Union. He joined the Communist Party in 1948, and rose to become head of Georgia’s Communist Youth League before being appointed Georgia’s Interior Minister in 1965.

Seven years later he assumed the leadership of the republic’s Communist Party, under dramatic circumstances: the party leader, Vasily Mzhavadze, had dismissed Shevardnadze from his post in charge of the KGB at the Interior Ministry for “excess of zeal” in cracking down on racketeers closely linked to the Georgian party.

Shevardnadze boarded the first train for Moscow, allegedly armed with a briefcase full of incriminating documents about the Georgian party secretary’s corrupt rule, and managed to turn the tables on Mzhavadze. He then embarked on a 15-year rule of Georgia that won him respect and hostility in equal measure .

“Is there anything here that is not for sale?” he thundered, shortly before his appointment. “If there is, I cannot think of it.” At an assembly in 1972, Shevardnadze reiterated his intentions to clean up the Georgia. “We Georgians,” he declared, “a people of farmers, heroes and poets, have become thieves, cheats and black marketeers.” In his first two years in power, his Moscow-backed crusade resulted in the arrest of some 25,000 people, including 9,500 party members and 70 police and KGB officials. He cracked down on every walk of society: peasants were prevented from sending the fruits of their private plots for sale on the black market in Moscow; officials were stripped of illegal possessions including Mercedes Benz motor-cars and luxury villas.

On one occasion “Mr Clean”, as he became known, saw a glittering collection of imported watches on the raised wrists of members taking a vote. In future, he suggested, perhaps his comrades could set an example by contenting themselves with the cruder home-made variety. He also had a notably liberalising influence on cultural life. Long before glasnost had even been thought of, Shevardnadze was approving the publication of books and plays that had previously been banned.

In 1973 the Georgians responded to the purges with a spate of violence, which culminated with an arson attack on Tbilisi’s opera house. A number of attempts were made on Shevardnadze’s life. But Shevardnadze would not be swayed and his efforts were finally recognised by the Kremlin in 1978, when he was appointed a non-voting member of the Politburo. None the less, he was virtually unknown outside the Soviet Union when Gorbachev appointed him Foreign Minister in July 1985 — not quite four months after his accession to the presidency.

Eduard Shevardnadze at home in Tbilisi, Georgia, 2003 (AP)

Initially world leaders were astonished by the promotion. And for a while, given Shevardnadze’s evident inexperience, there was speculation as to the president’s motives. When Shevardnadze made his international debut in August 1985, however, at the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Helsinki Declaration, his rough-hewn unstuffy personality won over his Western audience, while his friendly manner and natty suits could not have presented a more engaging contrast to his truculent predecessor, Andrei Gromyko. George Shultz, then US Secretary of State, lost no time in telling Mrs Shevardnadze that he “could do business” with her husband.

All over the world the “Shevvy smile” came to be welcomed as testimony to the profundity of the changes being effected in the USSR while, undaunted by his lack of experience, Shevardnadze rapidly familiarised himself with the immense spectrum of foreign policy and arms control issues, and began to steer Moscow’s Cold War politics on to a new course.

At Soviet-US summits he proposed international space peace agreements and cuts in strategic arms; in Beijing he met Deng Xiaoping and paved the way for the first Sino-Soviet summit in 30 years; in Phnom Penh he opened talks on Cambodia; in Afghanistan he acted as a troubleshooter, in preparation for the Soviet withdrawal; in the Middle East he strove for a settlement between Arabs and Jews, and revitalised Israeli-Soviet relations.

Shevardnadze’s most resounding success, though, was his key role in forging a new understanding between East and West. His American counterpart came to talk of him as a friend. They went on boating and fishing trips and relaxed together in the sunshine. In November 1989 he made an unprecedented visit to the Nato HQ in Brussels, where he announced “The Cold War is over” and, soon afterwards, signed Russia’s first major trade agreement with the EEC.

In the young democracies of eastern Europe, too, Shevardnadze was hailed as “Eduard the Peacemaker”. He encouraged perestroika; announced Moscow’s willingness to accept a Solidarity government in Poland in 1989 and, the same year, publicly sanctioned the “Sinatra Doctrine”, allowing east Europeans to go their own way. He described the dismantling of the Berlin Wall as “sensible” and, after initial misgivings, persuaded a vacillating Gorbachev to accept a united Germany as a member of Nato. With typical pragmatism, he out of the “two plus four” talks (between the two Germanies and the four wartime allies) with firm guarantees on borders and a sound friendship treaty with Germany, which agreed to provide aid to the Soviet Union.

Perhaps the most convincing display of the new order came in August 1990, when Moscow pledged its support for the anti-Iraq coalition.

The last year of his tenure of office was one of diminishing returns. As plans to convert the Soviet Union into a market economy came unstuck, he appeared tired, and resigned to the impotence of his position. None the less, by 1990 he could look back over the previous five years, with satisfaction. “It has become routine now to say that the Cold War is over,” he said in an interview in that year. “But just think what that really means: a new era, a new quality of life in the world. We have been able to do something good, and I have made my small contribution.”

His experience in Georgia subsequently provided less cause for satisfaction.

In 1951, Eduard Shevardnadze married Nanuli Tsagareishvili, a Georgian journalist, who died in 2004. He is survived by their son and daughter.

Eduard Shevardnadze, born January 25 1928, died July 7 2014


Labour must stand firm on rail renationalisation

A high-speed diesel train of the East Coast company seen crossing the viaduct at Durham, England, UK

A high-speed train on the east coast line. Photograph: Alamy

Your lead story (State to bid for rail franchises under Labour, 4 July) attributes to what it coyly refers to as “the rail industry” a series of arguments in favour of continued private ownership of our railways. But if we accept its own estimate that it costs over £5m to bid for a franchise (and hence over £35m during the next parliament), it is surely only logical to enquire why passengers and other taxpayers should be forced to shell out this kind of money in order to subsidise an unnecessary franchising procedure. What most people want for their money is improved services and more affordable fares, not extra work for accountants, lawyers, PR consultants and lobbyists.

Your story ends with a Labour party announcement that “we will set our policy at the appropriate time”. The Labour party’s existing policy, reaffirmed unanimously at last year’s party conference, is to take back into public ownership each railway franchise as and when it expires. The example of the east coast mainline shows that this policy is as economically advantageous as it is electorally popular. Its prompt and unambiguous confirmation by Labour’s forthcoming policy forum and the ensuing party conference may not be to the liking of the shareholders of private operating companies. But it would clearly be a major vote-winner with everybody else.
Francis Prideaux

• It is mystifying why Labour is apparently intending to require the state to bid for the railways that at the end of a franchise it already owns. Why the keenness to preserve a privatised, fragmented service which on every criterion has failed? Since 1997 the taxpayer subsidy to cover rail running costs has increased five-fold, to £5.2bn a year. Network Rail, which owns the track, gets a subsidy of £4bn a year, yet its debts have exploded to more than £20bn. The McNulty report said that UK fares were 30% higher than in France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, and UK operating costs were 40% higher because the UK industry, uniquely, is fragmented.

The Boston Consulting Group found that the annual public subsidy per passenger is £9 in Spain, £49 in Italy, £67 in France, £101 in Germany, but £136 in the UK. Yet, despite these enormous taxpayer subsidies the train companies have still siphoned off £6.2bn in profit and dividend payouts. Who wants to keep such a comprehensive failure? Certainly not the voters when polls record that 70%-80% of them, which must include a very large number of Tories, urgently want a return to public ownership, not least when East Coast has demonstrated it can operate more efficiently and at far less subsidy in public hands than when privatised.

It is being suggested that Labour support for public ownership of rail is somehow “ideological”. The truth is the opposite: the Tories rammed through the botched privatisation for purely ideological reasons. Labour, as with UK voters and every other country in Europe, supports public ownership for the pragmatic reasons that it is more efficient, less costly, and keeps fares down. Clinging to Tory ideology, however, is a big mistake, not only over rail but over energy, housing, pensions, banks, welfare, to name but some.
Michael Meacher MP
Labour, Oldham West and Royton

• It is surprising that the Rail Delivery Group (RDG ) does not like the idea of a state-owned company bidding for rail franchises, because that is what is happening now, except that the franchisees concerned are not owned by the UK state but by other European countries. Segments of our railway system are being partly or wholly run by offshoots or wholly owned subsidiaries of French, German and Dutch state railways. The profits made are repatriated to their home countries. The government’s rail operator of last resort, Directly Operated Railways, is running the east coast service between London, Leeds and Edinburgh but is not being allowed to bid for the new franchise. Why not? A public sector comparator is what has been missing since the first rail franchise was let 20 years ago. Without one we can have little idea of whether we get true value for money from the private sector. How could the RDG, or anyone else, object to that? And, while Ed Balls may not want to return to the “nationalisation of the 70s”, he might want to consider the nationalisation of the 80s and early 90s when British Rail, overhauled and with a new management structure, was attracting more passengers and cutting costs, even in the teeth of the a recession. It did this for a taxpayer subsidy of under £1bn and falling. Today, as you report, the figure is £4bn despite a sharp increase in the number of passengers and the real cost of rail fares.
Alan Whitehouse
Thornton le Dale, North Yorkshire

• At last, a rational and popular response to the dissatisfaction with the way we run our rail services. Labour’s proposal to allow public-sector bidding for rail franchises tackles the obsession with privatisation head on. Since the publicly owned East Coast had to step in nearly four years ago and bail out a failed private-sector operation, it has provided a £600m profit to the exchequer, significantly improved passenger safety and recorded higher levels of passenger satisfaction than any other franchisee. The private rail industry operators have reacted with outrage but their suggestion that “any bidding competition between state and private train companies would be legally questionable” must be dismissed as scaremongering. There are numerous examples of public-sector contracting where a client-side team and an operations team work as ringfenced units within the same ultimate “ownership”. And what’s not to like about bringing a bit more competition to the market place?
John Rigby

• Labour’s announcement that it will dip its toe into reclaiming our railways is welcome but what a shame Ed Miliband bottled it and failed to support bringing all the franchises back into public hands as they expire. The Rebuilding Rail report, published by Transport for Quality of Life, offers a superb analysis of the mess Britain’s railways are in. It finds that the private sector has failed to live up to its grand promises of innovation and investment. The report conservatively estimates that £1.2bn is being lost each year as a result of fragmentation and privatisation. Between 1997 and 2013, rail fares leapt by 22%, while the cost of motoring fell by 9%. Privatisation has been a comprehensive failure. By bringing our railways back into public hands, the country could save £1bn a year – money which could, and should, be used to improve services and reduce fares.

Neal Lawson, of the thinktank Compass, has an insightful, localised and sensible take on public ownership: “Stations and trains are one of the few places left where we come together, where we rub shoulders as equals … we want a dynamic and responsive ‘peoples’ railway’ where users and workers are at the heart of the decision-making.” Ed Miliband should show the courage of his convictions, and support my private member’s bill to bring the rail network back into public ownership.
Caroline Lucas MP
Green, Brighton Pavilion

• For the 70% of the public who back the renationalisation of the railways, the two announcements made regarding the future of the railway network will have come as a blow. We heard from the Labour party that far from pledging to renationalise the network as many had hoped, it will instead allow public companies to join the bidding process – despite the fact that competitive bidding for rail franchises has been proven to lead to a race to a bottom and undercut services.

Then we heard from Sir David Higgins, the boss of HS2, that as many as 30 people in charge of delivering the high-speed rail network will be paid over £140,000 (HS2 salaries in excess of PM’s pay are justified, says transport secretary, 4 July). The Green party wants to restore the sense of pride and honour that comes with delivering a service run for the public good and we don’t believe that paying extortionate wages is the way to improve service provision.

With 70% backing our calls for renationalisation, Labour’s announcement is a disappointing one. We know that there is an alternative to the current system for managing the country’s railways – one that will put the interests of the public above the private purse. Together with the public and the other campaigns that back re-nationalisation, we can work together to deliver this change.
Caroline Russell
Green, spokeswoman for local transport

• The article on how living an hour from London (Report, 5 July) in much cheaper housing makes the commute to overheated London financially attractive, made me wonder how Manchester might fare when HS2 reduces the journey to central London to just over an hour? Unless the big northern cities and regions on the HS2 route develop their own significant magnetic pulling power, HS2 will only serve to bring millions of people within range of the massive and exponentially growing magnet of London. How, precisely, will that benefit the regions?
Dr Paul Kleiman

Seven years ago, the government ordered a review of the UK’s organ donation system. Figures showed that the rate of demand for organs was far outstripping supply, leading to hundreds of needless deaths every year. The Organ Donation Taskforce found that countries using a presumed consent, or “opt out”, system had far higher donation rates. The United Kingdom was not in the top 10. Tragically, nothing came of the review. Since then, 7,000 people – including children – have died. With recent advances in science have come increased potential, and demand, for transplantation. The gap is today greater than ever.

Despite laudable registration campaigns, the opt-in system can no longer be expected to fulfil its purpose. Organs are donated from just 1% of the numbers of deceased each year, while healthy organs from half a million people are cremated or buried. As a result, being on the transplant waiting list has become a game of Russian roulette. For example, if you’re waiting for a liver, there is a 20% chance that it won’t reach you in time. For heart patients, the figure is even higher. Children suffering kidney failure are having, in some instances, to wait for five perilous years.

In Wales, they are finally moving forwards. After a period of careful public consultation and debate, an awareness-raising programme is underway ahead of the implementation of a new “opt out” system next year. Those who object to organ donation can rest assured – as can their relatives – that their wishes will be respected under the new system.

For now, there are 7,000 people in the UK – many young children among them – waiting for a lifesaving transplant. While we wait for the rest of the country to catch up with the Welsh, we can at least ensure we are properly registered on the NHS’s donor database. For details, go to http://www.organdonation.nhs.uk.
Ed Goncalves
Director, KidneyKids UK

Polly Toynbee (Skinner is no model, yet he has a lesson for Labour, 4 July) claims that “Skinner, John Prescott and Alan Johnson – workers who came up through the unions, all clever men – would certainly go to university these days”. Dennis Skinner and I went to the Labour trade union’s Ruskin College in Oxford, where the entry qualifications were not O or A-levels but your involvement in strikes. Thanks to Ruskin, I then went on to get a degree in economics at the excellent Hull University. However, for Polly to blame Skinner and Tony Benn for “rendering Labour unelectable” in the 1980s is a bit much. The greater damage was the split to the Labour party caused by the SDP, of which Polly was a founding member and a parliamentary candidate in 1983.

It’s fair to say Polly and her fellow “social democrats” made a much larger contribution to keeping Labour in the wilderness for 18 years than Skinner and Benn ever did.
John Prescott
Hull, East Yorkshire

Your editorial on Radio 3 (Sound thinking, 5 July), while suitably praising Roger Wright for increasing the station’s range and variety of music, ignores the damaging impact he has also had on it. Wright’s long-term, though failed, intention has been to capture much higher listening figures by making daytime Radio 3 a far lower-brow service – emulating Classic FM’s style and coaxing over some of its listeners. There has been a tendency to pass over Radio 3’s mission to inform and illuminate. Instead, a superficial presentational tone, at worst characterised by Katie Derham’s patronising flippancies, prevails by daytime. The Wright approach may therefore leave Radio 3 vulnerable to the argument – of an economising board of management – that it should be closed down during the day, its listeners dispatched to Classic FM and the station reverting to its ancient format of evening service. If it happens, it will be Wright who achieved it.
Nicholas de Jongh

• It is hard to see what point of value is made by your leader in grudging praise of Radio 3, which rejoices in new media but ignores the numerous changes in message that have left many loyal listeners perplexed and disillusioned. It is most peculiar to go on about “digital transmission, sharing and community” unless the material transmitted, shared and offered to that community of listeners continues to be indisputably worthwhile. Sadly, more and more of it, and the way it is presented, falls short of Radio 3 traditions and expectations.

There may be nothing absolutely wrong with it – it just belongs on other channels and its presence here represents a dilution of the content of this one. A longer look at the website of Friends of Radio 3 would reveal that it exists to remind the BBC of the unparalleled standards of content and presentation – rightly described as “the envy of the world” – that the channel has been lowering in a ratings competition with Classic FM, which it is, all the same, losing (but why bother to compete?).
Alan Brownjohn

• While your editorial celebrates Roger Wright’s contributions to Radio 3, it fails to mention the less-favoured changes that Wright wrought. In 2007 he axed the much-loved Mixing It and rejigged the schedule to remove or truncate programmes offering more interesting music – in order to bolster the traditional classical music playlist. Since then, the dumbing down of the station continues apace, with presenters inviting listeners to tweet or send text messages in response to musical trivia questions. Hopefully, Wright’s replacement will slip free of the shackles of middle-brow conservatism and broaden listeners’ musical horizons with eclectic Late Junction-type programmes, rather than continue serving up the same old over-played classical fare.
Eddie Duggan

• Talk about patronising! After a Radio 3 concert or recital, the announcer often praises the performance we’ve just heard in an uncritically over-enthusiastic manner, as if the audience couldn’t judge it for itself.
John Trevitt

Mary Dejevsky is right, fear not ambition drives Putin’s Ukraine policy, but not in the way she imagines (Comment, 7 July). What Putin fears is liberal democracy – a strong liberal Ukraine may infect Russia, putting an end to his authoritarian regime. That is why the west should do what it can to support just that outcome.
Andy Hamilton
Durham University

• Ironic that in the same week Tata announces 400 job losses at its Port Talbot steelworks (Report, 2 July), that George Osborne, visiting India, is proud to announce a £20m investment in research facilities in Farnham and Donnington to support its Formula E racing team. As with all these deals it would be nice to know what is in it for the investors, as getting access to British technology can’t be the motive, can it?
Mabel Taylor
Knutsford, Cheshire

• Martin Dowds is on the right lines in his proposal to deal with the status of national treasures (Letters, 5 July). But he doesn’t go far enough. To address the hyper-inflation that has devalued the term we need: 1) Strict entry criteria, perhaps a secular version of the Vatican’s two miracles requirement for canonisation; 2) A Leveson-style oversight body with effective penalties for media misuse of the term; 3) A one-out-one-in rule against a fixed quota – preferably Euro-wide (by my reckoning, recent legal judgments have created several vacancies). In all modesty, I can’t see how my suggestions can fail to unite the nation at a time when we need our national treasures more than ever.
John Kelly
Little Raveley, Cambridgeshire

• On a positive note, please give Mr Randolph the credit he truly deserves for playing exquisite backing on Elvis Presley’s music during a 12-hour recording session at RCA studio B in Nashville on 3 April 1960 (Letters, 4 July).
Gaynor John

• Jesus may have been a radical Jewish rabbi who wore a sandal in the wind (Letters, 3 July) but when he subsisted on wild greens for 40 days and nights in the desert, he was probably a rocket man.
Alan Pearson


I have been watching football for 60 years, but this World Cup has made football a joke. The refereeing has been ridiculous. Have they been instructed by Fifa to ensure that Brazil and Argentina get through to the final?

Cheating has been allowed to go on unpunished, and the red card must have been left in the changing rooms.

The winner of the World Cup will be the team with the best divers and actors. This was football, but not as we knew it. I bet Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews are turning in their graves.

M Finn

Cannock, Staffordshire


The beautiful game has become increasingly ugly for a long time now. A serious injury like Neymar’s was inevitable and not isolated. As individual skill and fitness of players has increased in recent years, so has their ill-discipline, contempt for, and deceitful exploitation of, the rules, and total lack of sportsmanship.

Football is the only profession where to call an act “professional” is an insult: intentional, cynical, often dangerous behaviour specifically designed to gain advantage through cheating. Cheating is now the dominant ethos in modern football. Every corner or near-goal free kick is accompanied by widespread, unpunished off-the-ball fouls – pushing, tripping, holding, shirt-tugging.

Unless most players can be brought to respect the rules, unless fouls and deception again become the exception rather than the rule; then football already contains the seeds of its own destruction.

Keith Farman

St Albans, Hertfordshire


Over the past few weeks on TV there have been scenes of violent behaviour by thuggish men apparently trying their best to injure, maim or even disable other men. A lot of this has been before the watershed, when impressionable children may be watching. I refer, of course, to professional football.

Can someone please explain how this sort of disgraceful behaviour by grossly overpaid men could possibly be called acceptable?

Sue Thomas

Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria


Bad battleground to fight a bad treaty

You report (5 July) that Liberty and Refuge opposed the extradition of Eileen Clark for allegedly kidnapping her children, on the general grounds that our current treaty with the US is unbalanced, and the particular grounds that the legal system in the UK, yet again, has failed to understand the needs of a victim of domestic violence.

They are correct that the extradition treaty is unbalanced, another legacy of Blair’s kowtowing to Bush. They are also right to highlight the ways in which the legal system, and not just in extradition, poses hurdles to victims, including those of gender-based violence.

But it would be helpful to learn about the extent to which they have considered the case from the perspective of children’s rights as well as domestic violence. Liberty in particular questions what possible interest the US courts might have in Ms Clark? But it seems reasonable enough that a court there might wish to assess the question, of potentially quite wide significance: is the removal of a child from the home without the authorisation of either the partner or the state in the child’s best interest?

Accepting that the US, shamefully, is one of only two states (along with Somalia) not to have adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, what evidence is there to think that the US courts are unable to adjudicate fairly on an alleged case of kidnapping or issues of child protection? Among other things, the court may wish to clarify why, if Ms Clark was a victim of violence, she didn’t seek a restraining order, divorce or some other, more traditional, remedy which might not have implicated family rights to the same extent.

Liberty and Refuge seem to have chosen a case with weak facts to make the general case, which is too bad for the reform of the extradition legislation.

Andrew Shacknove



Jihad and other holy wars

As a contribution to understanding the motivation of British jihadists, David Crawford (letter, 2 July) draws attention to passages in the Koran that encourage Holy War. It should not be forgotten that other religions also envisage  holy wars.

The early books of the Old Testament, regarded with varying degrees of authority by many Christians and Jews, present God as encouraging the Israelites to engage in merciless aggression, slaughter and enslavement in order to dominate and occupy much of Syria and all of what is now Israel and Palestine.

Many of those who fought for the Allies in the Second World War will have believed God must be on their side, while “Gott mit uns” was a phrase commonly used in the German military from the German Empire to the end of the Third Reich. Indeed it was inscribed on the belt buckles of the Wehrmacht.

The problem for religious people is to determine how the will of God is to be understood in contemporary politics and warfare. This is not very different from the problem for non-religious people in deciding when it would be right to resort to force. That takes us back to the questions posed by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (30 June): why do some Muslims, but not others, see particular military and political campaigns as sanctioned by their religion?

Sydney Norris

London SW14

Although jihadi fighters returning to this country do pose a security risk it is very important that this is kept in perspective.

The vast majority are likely to be young men who have become disillusioned by the destruction and cruelty of the war in Syria and only wish to come back and get on with their lives.  Locking them all up will only harden attitudes and play into the hands of the hard-liners: “I told you  so; they just want to  oppress us.”

The problem is to separate the majority from the hard-liners. This is something that the Muslim community must be deeply involved in, in the same way as they have already started to tackle radicalisation. Anything that seems to be imposed from the outside will play into the hands of the radicals. We should remember our involvement with the International Brigade in Spain.

G H Levy

Andover, Hampshire


Yet another slogan to save our schools

I was intrigued to hear the latest Big Idea from the shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, announcing “Master Teachers” and a “Royal College” of teaching as the key to moving to the sunlit uplands of Singaporean wonderfulness (a practice imported from somewhere other than the UK is bound to be better).

Whoever came up with this had to scratch their heads a bit. We’ve already had “Advanced Skills Teachers” and “Excellent Teachers” so this new superlative has been wheeled in, presumably, as an antidote for boring old mediocre qualified teachers (like me?).

As for the Royal College, I have no doubt that a well designed heraldic device and the imprimatur of our Sovereign Lady, Elizabeth, will help avoid a repeat of the late lamented General Teaching Council.

Yes it is easy to be cynical, as we are in an era of educational policy made on the hoof, designed to spin a good headline. I do hope when I fly off for my summer hols I have a Master Pilot as against just a boring old mediocre one. Crashing is rarely desirable whether at an aeronautical or policy level.

Simon Uttley

Headmaster, St John Bosco College, London SW19

GPs’ advice on antibiotics

As an organisation dedicated to the care of patients, the Royal College of GPs would never “blame” patients. Nor do we believe that GPs hand out antibiotics “like sweets” (Jane Merrick, 3 July).

Antibiotics have done a brilliant job of eliminating bacterial infections for nearly a century. But they are not a cure for all ills and the public’s heavy reliance on them is now very concerning. We need to do everything we can to prevent people building up a resistance.

With over 1.3 million consultations in general practice every day, GPs are well placed to advise patients of the risks associated with overuse and  to suggest alternatives.

Dr Maureen Baker CBE

Chair, Royal College of General Practitioners

London NW1

You can’t always trust a ‘national treasure’

Not long ago, Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris might well each have been called “a national treasure”. It seems high time to stop using that phrase about celebrities.

It implies that such figures are beyond reproach and should be universally loved. It has a patronising ring to it. To his great credit, Alan Bennett has refused to be so labelled. One can only hope that other prominent figures will reject the label too.

Paul Guest

London NW6


Sir, Lord Falconer of Thoroton’s bill will not, as your headline claims, “transform doctors into killers” (Melanie Phillips, Opinion, July 7).

A terminally ill patient, of sound mind and settled will, must be able to take a prescribed lethal drink themselves without assistance. They are not being pushed off the cliff, they are still voluntarily jumping. I do not regard that to help such patients in this way is doing them harm — quite the reverse. It is cruel for patients who find themselves in that situation to have to choose between a barbaric means for suicide or an expensive trip abroad. A majority of doctors would opt for an assisted death for themselves and having the means available.

As usual, the arguments mounted against assisted dying are for situations which would not be legalised by the bill soon to be debated in the House of Lords. In fact Melanie Phillips has sympathy with Lord Falconer’s intentions and agrees that those who break the current law should not be prosecuted. Surely this goes to the heart of why the Supreme Court has urged the legislators to look again at the current law.

Andrew Johns, FRCS

Bramley, Surrey

Sir, Melanie Phillips makes a misjudgment in expressing astonishment that a Church of England chaplain, Canon Rosie Harper, defends the Falconer bill. My experience as a congregational minister who spends much time in hospitals and hospices is that there is nothing sacred about the suffering that can be experienced by the terminally ill. Theologians may assert its heavenly merit, but clergy know its human cost. It also leads to considerable religious doubt, with questions by patients and relatives as to “how can a loving God allow this?”

We should give every protection to those who wish to carry on till their very last breath, but it is equally religious to allow those who are dying to choose when their life ends, if they prefer to avoid more weeks of agony or indignity. The Falconer bill is to be commended for offering both safeguards for the vulnerable and options for those who wish to have an assisted death. It is fully in keeping with religious principles that we heal when we can, comfort when we cannot, and help those who wish to gently give back to God the gift of life that has run its course and is no longer wanted.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain

Maidenhead Synagogue, Berks

Sir, Melanie Phillips writes an informed view about assisted dying, albeit one with a stark headline. I do, however, agree with it.

Would doctors help patients to commit suicide if Lord Falconer’s bill does become law, though? You reported on June 16 that “a small majority of GPs would like this option for themselves”. That poll was misleading because 25 per cent of GPs were undecided.

I have met few doctors who would actually practise assisted dying. It is difficult — even impossible — to imagine a mindset that could be alongside the dying, really helping their symptoms and their coping with uncertainty, and then switching to offer a “date to die”. Would their patients trust them? This loss of trust would be part of Phillips’s “new dark age”.

Nigel Rawlinson

Dorothy House Hospice, Bradford on Avon, Wilts

Sir, We should bear in mind the possible international impact should the bill become law: as the world-leader in palliative care (thanks to the modern-day hospice movement started by Dame Cecily Saunders), where the UK leads, others are likely to follow.

Gail Featherstone

Sevenoaks, Kent

Sir, I’ve noticed a distinction between the two camps of people who either support or disapprove of assisted dying. Those who want measures to prevent it visualise it happening to other people. Those who want to allow it think of it happening to them. Although I’m firmly in the latter camp, I have no idea which is the more compelling moral argument.

Alan Bird

Kendal, Cumbria

Just what is the scientific answer to the riddle of mysteriously getting headphones in a tangle?

Sir, Never mind the Frisch-Wassermann-Delbrück conjecture (“Scientists solve the riddle of how not to get knotted”, July 7). In 1889 the celebrated philosopher Jerome K Jerome devoted three pages of T hree Men in a Boat to a quantitative approach to what is essentially the same problem. Using the example of a skiff’s tow rope laid out straight in the middle of a field, he computed 30 seconds as the time required by the rope to get itself into a tangle when you turn your back.

Dr David Brancher

Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

Sir, I was fascinated to read the explanation for the knotting of headphone leads. Perhaps the same scientists could explain to me why, whenever I clean behind my desk, I find that the leads to my router, PC and monitor have become appallingly tangled despite being neither unplugged or touched.

Nick Winstone-Cooper

Bridgend, South Wales

Lads’ magazines are removing pictures of scantily clad women from their covers. Shouldn’t you?

Sir, On the same day (July 7) that you report on the removal of photographs of scantily clad women from the front covers of lads’ magazines, it is generous of you to redress the balance by offering just such a picture on the front cover of Times2.

Michael Davison

Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

Why the new uniform for Scots competitors to the Commonwealth Games could swell the ‘No’ vote…

Sir, If the cringeworthy uniform to be worn by Scots competitors at the Commonwealth Games (photograph, July 7) is an example of Scottish decision-making, it will do much to swell the No vote in the independence referendum. Frankly, one would not do this to a sofa.

John Eoin Douglas


Edith Cavell, through her actions, converted Herbert Asquith to the cause of the suffragettes

Sir, The execution of Edith Cavell made a profound impression on the then prime minister, Herbert Asquith (“Wartime heroine Edith Cavell is honoured with £5 coin”, July 5). “She has taught the bravest man amongst us a supreme lesson of courage,” he said in 1915, “and in this United Kingdom and throughout the Dominions of the Crown there are thousands of such women, but a year ago we did not know it.”

Overnight this hitherto unyielding opponent of votes for women, who had been physically attacked by Mrs Pankhurst’s suffragettes, was converted to the cause.

Lord Lexden

House of Lords


SIR – Eight per cent of Britain’s daytime electricity came from solar power on June 21, and Germany now generates over half its electricity in this way. Why then is the Government ignoring the potential of mid- to large-scale solar farms in its current proposals on renewable subsidies?

Solar farms are quick to build, and the technology is available now. Solar energy is cheap and low-carbon and it helps Britain meet its renewable energy target. It is popular with the public, provides an alternative income stream for farmers, and is helping a growing number of schools to cut their energy bills.

Given the right support now, large-scale solar power could be free of subsidy by 2020. Yet a large number of longer-term investments will not go ahead under current proposals. The majority of the players in Britain’s solar market are innovative small and medium enterprises, procuring investment from alternative sources such as crowd-funding. So, as well as helping to solve our energy crisis, solar power is also promoting competition in the market.

Juliet Davenport
Founder and CEO, Good Energy
John Sauven
Executive Director, Greenpeace UK
Dave Timms
Executive Director, 10:10
Jonathan Selwyn
Managing Director, Lark Energy
Karl Harder
Co-founder and Director, Abundance Generation
Ed Gillespie
Co-founder, Futerra
Julia Groves
CEO, Trillion Fund
Reza Shaybani
Chairman, British Photovoltaic Association
Paul Barwell
CEO, Solar Trade Association
Jonathon Porritt
Founder Director, Forum for the Future
Sally Uren
CEO, Forum for the Future
Dr Nina Skorupska
Chief Executive, Renewable Energy Association

Bananas limit

SIR – The suggested daily limit of 35g of sugar a day (Letters, July 5) applies only to Non Milk Extrinsic Sugars (NMES), which means that milk sugar and sugars that are intrinsic to fruit and vegetables are not included. Thus, the limit applies to “added sugars” and does not conflict with the advice to eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

However, I’m not surprised there is some confusion; dietary recommendations are always subject to change since they depend on the scientific evidence and methodologies available – and, like most human endeavours, on politics.

Dr Ruth Ash
London Metropolitan University
London N7

Whose ship?

SIR – Is there any good reason why the letters “HMS” have been painted on the new aircraft carrier? I understood that naval vessels did not need the letters HMS to show their country of origin.

Lord Parmoor
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Feeling like dying

SIR – Charles Moore’s article on assisted dying asks “once it becomes legal … how long before it becomes expected?”.

Lord Falconer’s Bill provides that the terminally ill individual has to initiate the process, and that two doctors must independently certify that the patient has made the decision while of sound mind, after discussing palliative care options.

In Oregon, where the Death with Dignity Act was passed in 1997, 700 began the eligibility process last year; of these 122 were given the prescription for life-ending medication, and 71 actually took it.

The three most frequently mentioned end-of-life concerns were: loss of autonomy; decreasing ability to participate in enjoyable activities; and loss of dignity.

The decision seems therefore to be focused on personal feelings, rather than public expectations.

Lord Avebury
London SE5

SIR – Charles Moore regrets those opposed to assisted suicide using the term “slippery slope”. Yet the phrase is wholly accurate.

The assisted suicide legislation in the Netherlands and Belgium was originally intended for those at the end of their lives. Its scope has gradually widened to include the confused elderly, those with sight deterioration, and children.

William W Baird
Dunblane, Perthshire

Eyes on airport checks

SIR – Anthony Gould (Letters, July 4) says “security staff can hardly be expected to identify someone from their eyes alone”.

Though abandoned in Britain, iris recognition technology has been in use in Amsterdam since 2001.

Duncan Rayner
Sunningdale, Berkshire

Celebs’ celerity

SIR – As a resident of Chiltern Street, I’d like to assure the drivers of the Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Aston Martins blasting off from the Chiltern Firehouse that we’re all really impressed with their super-cars, so there’s no need to demonstrate that they can accelerate from zero to 60mph before slamming on the brakes at Dorset Street.

Since any large primate can be trained to stomp down with its right foot, perhaps they should think of a less dangerous and more environmentally sound way to feel manly.

Dan Fleisch
London W1

ENO productions bring in a younger audience

SIR – As a relative newcomer to opera, I have to say I disagree wholeheartedly with Mary Firth (Letters, July 3).

Acting upon the good review from your own opera critic, we booked for Benvenuto Cellini. We loved it – fantastic staging, excellent singing, and a great orchestra.

Looking around at the audience in the bar during the interval I commented to my wife that there seemed to be many younger faces. The chatter afterwards would suggest they enjoyed it too.

Merrick Howse
London N12

SIR – The management of English National Opera is at last learning that if you treat your core audience with contempt they will vote with their feet and stay away.

I have now stopped attending the Coliseum because, time after time, a much-loved work has been traduced by an idiotic production that shows scant regard for the composer’s intentions, imposing a half-baked gloss on the meaning and accompanying it with an ugly stage picture.

It is all so unfair on the musicians, who sing and play their hearts out to little avail.

Roger White
London SW12

SIR – As ticket and programme prices soar, we also seem to be paying more for less for the interval ice-cream. Why?

Graham Aston
Weybridge, Surrey

SIR – I noted a recent report concerning the reduction in home-grown food consumed in this country. A crisis is now threatening to hit the rural economy.

The price paid to the farmer for fat cattle is down by 25 per cent, compared with the start of this year. Milk is once more below 30 pence per litre. Furthermore, the price of wheat is down from around £220 per ton, in December 2012, to £140 per ton, just before the peak time of harvest.

Supermarkets and their processors must bear some of the blame for this situation, since they are taking advantage of the rise in the value of the pound to import cheaper, foreign produce.

Many rural businesses, including my own, rely on the agricultural industry. The uncertainty in the markets is hitting us particularly hard.

Mick Moor
Matlock, Derbyshire

SIR – We are extremely disappointed that our colleagues from the Royal College of Pathologists (Letters, July 1) are welcoming proposals to “name and shame” GPs on cancer referral rates.

To suggest that GPs are causing delays in diagnosis by not efficiently using the right blood tests is simplistic and does a great disservice to our profession. It is an insult to hard-working and hard-pressed GPs.

When GPs are under huge pressures, with patient demand far outstripping capacity, we believe that a collaborative approach is more likely to improve the care we can give to our patients.

A “name and shame” strategy is likely to decrease the threshold for referral and result in other parts of the NHS being swamped. This will ultimately lead to delays in patients receiving treatment and worse outcomes.

Timely diagnosis of cancer is a priority for the Royal College of General Practitioners and we are working hard to support GPs so that they can identify signs of cancer as early as possible and refer the patients they suspect of having cancer for the most appropriate tests.

The average full-time GP will see approximately eight new cases of cancer in their average 8,000 patient consultations per year, and 75 per cent of patients found to have cancer are referred after only one or two GP consultations.

There are 40 million more consultations in general practice today than there were even five years ago, and GPs are routinely working 11-hour days and seeing between 40 and 60 patients in a day.

The crisis in general practice is so severe that at least 27 million patients will have to wait more than a week to see a GP this year and 84 per cent of GPs are worried that their workloads are so high that they might miss something serious in a patient.

We are calling on all four governments in the United Kingdom to increase funding for general practice to 11 per cent from 8.3 per cent of the NHS budget, so that we can provide more GPs, more appointments and longer appointments.

General practice keeps the rest of the NHS strong and stable. We should be supporting our GPs, not criticising them.

Dr Maureen Baker
Chairman, Royal College of General Practitioners
London NW1

SIR – If there is a perception of delay in cancer diagnosis, real or otherwise, it is devastating for patients and their families but also soul-destroying for their GPs.

Sinister causes (including cancer) could explain just about any symptom in the average GP consultation. The risk of not finding that needle in the haystack is why GPs must pay thousands of pounds a year for liability insurance.

The NHS performs better than any health care system in the Western world – at a fraction of the cost of other countries – because British GPs hold the dual responsibility of caring for the patient in front of them and keeping the NHS alive within its monetary constraints by avoiding unnecessary referrals. GPs also seek to avoid delays which might adversely affect patients’ health.

If a doctor is negligent (and this might be by causing a delay in diagnosis), there are due processes that determine whether any wrong has been done – via the General Medical Council or courts.

Naming and shaming GPs who miss cancer diagnoses is a bullying tactic which lacks evidence of effectiveness. GPs will pre-empt this by referring so many patients for tests that those who do have cancer will lose out and the NHS will be bankrupted.

This attack on British general practice is not based on fact. Only 10 per cent of cancer patients needed more than five appointments before being referred for a cancer diagnosis. No fewer than two thirds are diagnosed at the first GP consultation.

GPs are doing an excellent job and attacks on them should stop.

Dr Samir Dawlatly
Zahida Adam
Sheila Adams
Dr Bunmi Adeniji
Dr Kemi Adeyemi

Irish Times:

Sir, – I was touched and honoured to hear Joan Burton say again in recent days that I have had a role in the development of her political thinking and her commitment to social justice. I was especially pleased to hear her say that she plans to take on social housing as a priority in her new role, and I applaud her commitment to resolving this most distressing issue.

We are seeing homelessness increasing at the rate of a family a day in Dublin alone. Every day I encounter families with small children who are harassed, broken, their self-esteem trampled on, the parents distraught and the children traumatised. I have never seen anything like it in 30 years working with people who are homeless.

And the best that we as a society can offer such families is bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

This was initially intended as a stop-gap response, but it has become a way of life for some families, many of whom are confined to living in one room with no cooking facilities for periods as long as nine months or more, some for over two years or even longer. Now even this inadequate form of accommodation is in short supply. I have seen many families wait a whole day to see if a B&B can be found for them; within the past week I have seen families and sometimes pregnant women sleeping in their cars; I’ve seen parents trying to find someone to take their children for the night while they sleep rough themselves.

The Taoiseach has accepted that homelessness in this country is now at a crisis point. And yet we do not see any crisis response.

State-subsidised rents are set too low to be attractive to landlords, so people already in financial distress are having to top-up their rent allowance, and when they run into difficulties, they lose their homes. If Ms Burton raised the level of rent supplement in the next budget, there would be a direct and measurable effect – fewer people would lose their homes.

She also needs to regulate rents to provide better protection for tenants; this would also help to secure people in their homes. Regulations are needed to ensure that temporary accommodation for homeless families is adequate and appropriate. By committing sufficient resources now she could could end long-term homelessness by 2016.

But above all we urgently need major investment in a social housing building programme, in the order of 50,000 new homes within the next five years.

This would not only provide housing but would, as Ms Burton has pointed out, provide jobs, stimulate the economy and help to bring about conditions in which fewer people are in dire financial straits.

I believe Ms Burton has the leadership, political knowledge and ability to convince her Government colleagues to tackle homelessness and offer hope to families living in fear of letters from the bank or a knock on the door. – Yours, etc,




Focus Ireland,

9-10 High Street,


Dublin 8.

Sir, – The election of Joan Burton as leader of Labour is good, not just for that party, but for women across all political parties and in a general sense. Women are so poorly represented in both public life and business that it is important to have a strong woman like Ms Burton playing such a vital role in Irish politics. – Yours, etc,



Butterfield Avenue,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – Joan Burton plans on reforming the tax system “to remove some of the obstacles and cliffs people face when taking up work” (“Kenny ‘looks forward’ to discussing economy with Burton”, July 5th). I feel compelled to point out that cliffs are generally only removed by erosion, which takes eons, or by sudden landslides, which are disastrous. – Yours, etc,


Wellington Street,



Sir, – I am appalled by the suggestion that Jacqueline Kennedy’s letters to Fr Joseph Leonard of All Hallows College might be burned (“Robert Kennedy’s widow tells priest Jackie letters could be ‘burned’”, Front Page, July 7th). It is in the interests of history that these letters should be preserved and that they should eventually be in the public domain.

Although there have been a few – very few – competent biographies of John F Kennedy, he remains an enigma. We can speculate about the reasons for this. One reason is the continuing impact of his terrible assassination and the sense of loss that it evokes. That still clouds our judgment. Another, however, is the assiduous efforts of the Kennedy family to “manage” the narrative of his presidency. Jacqueline herself began this process when, in an interview with the journalist Theodore White shortly after the assassination, she compared his period in office to Camelot. The existence of this cache of letters which, albeit in a small way, helps to get at the truth behind the enigma, is of inestimable value to historians.

President Kennedy and his wife were public figures of historic importance, and they are both deceased – and it seems to me in these circumstances that the public interest in setting the historical record straight outweighs any residual requirement of confidentiality in relation to the letters.

May I make a proposal which seems to me to balance the various interests at stake in this matter? It is that the Vincentian congregation, which apparently owns the letters, should donate them to the National Library of Ireland with the stipulation that they would not be made available to scholars during the lifetime of Jacqueline’s daughter, Caroline, without her permission. After her death, access to the letters would be unrestricted.

I write as someone who greatly admires John F Kennedy, but there is no need to enlarge him in history beyond what he was in life. Our heroes are ironically more attractive, and arguably more admirable, when we can see them as real human beings in all their complexity – and not as mere plaster saints. – Yours, etc,


Vale View Lawn,


Dublin 18.

Sir, – UCD’s new president Andrew Deeks has rightly highlighted the funding crisis in higher education (“Replace annual charge with student loans, says UCD president”, July 5th). He correctly identifies a significant access barrier in the form of growing up-front registration fees.

However, the alternative Prof Deeks proposes – full student responsibility for tuition in the guise of deferred loans – would undermine the ideal of public education in a different but equally serious way. The UK experience has shown that the purpose of student fees is not necessarily to save money for the state – which ends up absorbing a great deal of bad debt – but rather to create a consumer mentality in students; to instil new forms of market-based discipline in academic labour and consumption.

Indeed Prof Deeks suggests that if students build up debt based on the modules they study, they would feel “the need to get the benefit”. The theory is that market mechanisms of payment and exchange would lead students to work more, demand more, and thus to raise the standard of university education.

Yet a consumer philosophy distorts the core function of university education. Indeed there is little evidence to support the idea that market mechanisms improve the standard of university education.

In the US, the last three decades or so have seen an exponential growth in student tuition fees yet, correspondingly, an alarming increase in the proportion of adjunct and casualised teaching staff, as corporatised universities spend an ever greater proportion of their income on baubles and gimmicks with little educational value.

That is the experience we should contemplate before we consider endorsing student debt as a tool of market discipline. – Yours, etc,


School of Law,

NUI Galway,

University Road,


Sir, – The malaise at the heart of the Civil Service long predates the structural changes listed by Edel Foley (July 5th).

The reality in the private sector is that consistently poor performance cannot be afforded by the employer and will lead to dismissal. It is actually this ultimate sanction that makes performance appraisal systems work.

But in the Civil Service it seems underperformers have to be afforded because dismissal is not an option. So we end up with the kind of fudge described by Eddie Molloy (“Accountability needs brickbat of punishment”, Opinion & Analysis, July 4th). – Yours, etc,


The Maples,


Sir, – Bishop Éamonn Walsh (July 5th), referring to the passion and death of Jesus Christ, points out that part of the way in which Catholics are asked to “share in that sacrifice” on Good Friday is through fast and abstinence.

One has to wonder how big a sacrifice is it to abstain from something which is not available? – Yours, etc,


Grangebrook Close,


Dublin 16.

Sir, – Bishop Éamonn Walsh hits the nail on the head when he says that Christians can make up their own minds when it comes to alcohol and Good Friday (July 5th).

Surely those who wish to mark this important day in the Christian calendar can refrain from alcohol themselves without needing to impose a law banning it for both themselves and everyone else? – Yours, etc,


Coolgariff Road,


Dublin 9.

Sir, – Ruairí Quinn’s 1997 budget did manage to record a surplus, something little less than miraculous in Irish national economic terms; it was also a deeply politically inept budget.

The prospects for growth were good. Mr Quinn could have yielded a bit, and clawed some of it back later. The coalition might have got re-elected.

Fianna Fáil had no such inhibitions, and showed no inhibitions at all for the next 14 years: the result, bankruptcy.

However, Mr Quinn can take a large measure of credit for getting the 1995 divorce referendum passed.

When the polls started going the anti-divorce way, he went out on the hustings and campaigned strongly for it when other colleagues showed no such enthusiasm.

Given the narrowness of the margin in favour, it is arguable that he, and the weather in the west, swung it. – Yours, etc,


Ceannt Fort,

Sir, – I hope that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste do not overlook talent in the Seanad when appointing new ministers in the upcoming Cabinet reshuffle. – Yours, etc,


Hillcourt Road,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Many of the direction signs along our roads are obscured by dense foliage after several weeks of strong growth and are unreadable.

Surely it would not be too much to ask the various councils or the National Roads Authority to ensure that these aids to safer and easier road use are readable at all times? – Yours, etc,


Knockmaroon Hill,


Dublin 20.

Sir, – Arthur Henry (July 7th) prefers fixed castors at the front of his supermarket trolleys – the arrangement used in the more vicious type of dodgem car, where the thrill of the carousel is added to the mayhem of the car crash. Well, to each his own. – Yours, etc,



Birr, Co Offaly.

Sir, – Really! Now men with trolley difficulties. All they have to do is either, a) stand in front of the trolley – full or otherwise – and pull it after them; or, b) walk beside the trolley and guide it along with one or both hands. No pushing or shoving, as it just glides alongside. Why can’t men ask a woman what to do? – Yours, etc,


Lower Churchtown Road,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – To allay Joe Sweeney’s concerns (July 4th) about the exposure of “the retail sector and Irish taxpayers to significant losses” by an alcohol levy on bottles of wine and cans of beer, may I propose instead the introduction of a drinking licence for the consumer?

Similar to a TV, driving or dog licence, the fee could be fixed to replace the €10 per day that each Irish taxpayer is being forced to pay in alcohol-related crime and health costs. – Yours, etc,


Bullock Park, Carlow.

Sir, – If the cringeworthy uniform to be worn by Scottish competitors at the Commonwealth Games is an example of Scottish decision-making, it will do much to swell the No vote in the independence referendum. Frankly, one would not do this to a sofa! – Yours, etc,


Spey Terrace,


Irish Independent:

What is significantly absent in recent debates about the measures required to get the country back on its feet is the voice of the churches, having silenced themselves through fear of being accused of unwarranted interference in politics.

The relationship between church, particularly the Catholic Church, and state has never really recovered from the infamous involvement in the ill-fated Mother and Child Scheme, opposition to it arising from a neurotic fear of socialism. Since then, any hint of involvement by the churches in informing government policy is aggressively cut off at source.

The notion that church and state could ever be separable is absurd. It rests on the assumption that there are two domains, the sacred and the profane.

There is but one, the domain of the human search for a way of life that works to the advantage of all. The institutional church has been its own worst enemy in failing to project a real concern for people in their worldly circumstances – an issue close to the heart of Pope Francis. It is as if the life of the golf clubhouse was more important than the game.

Irish people, be they secularists, humanists or atheists, to varying degrees believe in the basic tenets of Christianity. By this I mean that they seek to live in accordance with the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.

The fact that the current programme for the recovery of the economy hits the poor hardest of all, amid the continuing shameless self-administering of exorbitant and unearned salaries, pensions and severance awards by members of government, raises key questions of justice that are central to Christian and secularist thinking.

Questions of justice should be at the heart of the ministrations of church and state. Differences between churches are irrelevant in the context of current human needs but differences in how seriously we take the plight of the poor are radically significant.



JobBridge is really working

In light of the recently publicised JobBridge scheme of a 30-hour week picking potatoes for €238, it should be pointed out that the frequent attacks on JobBridge represent nothing more than unfair, political point-scoring that often backfires.

Look at what the initiative actually entails. An unemployed person, whose official title is job seeker, is given reasonably paid, non-exploitative work that, in 60pc-plus cases, leads to follow-up permanent employment. Even if it doesn’t lead to permanent employment, the individual can put on their CV that they were willing to work.

All these things add up to a solid government initiative that is shrinking the dole queues, and in the right way, at minimal cost, and without the burden of extra taxes on the wider population.

We can take heart in the fact that high-profile people who blindly denied those realities, and based their entire platform on that denial, failed at the last elections – both local and European.

I’m sure, though, that in such people’s current unemployment, JobBridge could turn up an internship they’d enjoy, if only they’d swallow their pride.


Leo loses his roar in office

Speak up, Leo.

In recent weeks, Jimmy Deenihan, Phil Hogan and Pat Rabbitte have appointed several government cronies to state boards. These appointments have been defended by Enda Kenny, who said they brought a “wealth of experience”, and by Richard Bruton.

One person that has been quiet on the subject is Leo Varadkar. Perhaps this is because in early 2011, with Fine Gael in opposition, Mr Varadkar lambasted the Fianna Fail/Green government for doing exactly what his own colleagues are engaging in.

On his website, regarding appointments to state boards, Mr Varadkar stated that “these and other positions are hugely important positions which should be subjected to considerable public scrutiny. Unfortunately, based on past experience, outgoing government ministers will use their remaining time in office to pack these State bodies with political appointees.”

This is just another blatant example of the hypocrisy that has been the hallmark of this Government.

Both parties made numerous promises prior to the election, particularly with regard to ethics and the manner in which they would go about their politics. Since they have taken power, however, this Government has proved itself to be one of the most devious, cynical and untrustworthy in the history of the State, arrogantly standing over an extensive list of broken promises.


Residents should strike a deal

I remember some years back when Bertie almost got his way regarding building the ‘Bertie Bowl’ – I just thought how lucky we were that he didn’t get his way in the end.

We have something so unique in this wonderful city of ours – two fantastic stadiums located bang in the centre of the city.

How brilliant is that? It means that visitors can walk from their hotels to the event, be it sport or music. They can also arrange to meet friends easily before or after the event for drinks or food – it just works so well and creates business for numerous people.

The residents of Croke Park were right to object to five concerts in a row, it’s just too much. I know because I live close to Lansdowne Road.

I accept the consequences of living close to a stadium, but to be hemmed in for five nights in a row is not on.

What was even more right was that they were heard, which makes it great to know that people power still works. I hope that this a lesson for the two organisations.

But when you look at the economics of it all, it would be suicide for tourism in Ireland if the fourth and fifth concerts were not to go ahead at this stage – it just makes sense for the residents to allow them to go ahead, especially at this late stage.


The times they are a changin’

Tom Farrell’s daughter told his granddaughters to “go and play with your tablets” (Letters, July 7).

Yes, Tom, they are mini-computing devices. God be with the days when you were told “go outside and play” cowboys and Indians or whatever. No imagination needed nowadays. Technology takes over.

Progress? Not so sure.



Enda needs to sort out this mess

Dear Enda, there are times when you remind me in looks of the late JFK. So with that in mind I have this to say:

Garth Brooks is from the USA supposedly coming here to sing for a few days

Young and old fans all over the world look on in disbelief

Those that have paid their hard earned cash and so far what have they got?

You said, he said, she said, we said – and we still have not solved the problem

You know Enda, if it were JFK he’d find a way

Be the man and get it done you’ll be a hero to everyone.


Irish Independent

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