Post Office

17July2014 Post office

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park. A quiet day I go to the Post Office

ScrabbleMarywins, but gets under 400. perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Anthony Smith – obituary

Anthony Smith was an adventurer who took his balloon on an East African safari and rafted the Atlantic in his eighties

Anthony Smith on board the Antiki

Anthony Smith on board the Antiki

5:53PM BST 16 Jul 2014


Anthony Smith, who has died aged 88, was a bestselling author, broadcaster, balloonist and octogenarian rafter.

Exploration lay at the heart of Smith’s varied pursuits. He was one of the first presenters of Tomorrow’s World; a science correspondent for The Telegraph; he published some 30 books; and had a fish named after him. He was also the first Briton to fly a balloon across the Alps and, in 2011, made headline news when he celebrated his 85th birthday mid-Atlantic on a home-made raft — a party shared with three fellow amateur adventurers of advanced years whom Smith had recruited through a small ad in these pages.

Antiki at sea in 2011

Smith had long harboured a desire to pay tribute to the survivors of Anglo Saxon, a British merchant ship sunk off the west coast of Africa by a German auxiliary cruiser in 1940. Of an original seven sailors who scrambled into Anglo Saxon’s jolly boat, only two — Roy Widdicombe and Robert Tapscott — survived a 2,800-mile journey across the Atlantic. They eventually landed on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas.

“As I grew longer in the tooth, I began to think that some kind of re-enactment might be interesting,” said Smith. “The idea grew in my mind that, using a raft, I would cross the very waters where Tapscott and Widdicombe had suffered so horrendously. With luck, I might even land on the beach where they had struggled up the shore.”

In 2010 he built a raft (funded by the compensation payout from a road accident) and named it Antiki — in honour of Kon-Tiki, the raft used by Thor Heyerdahl on his 1947 expedition to the Polynesian Islands. Smith’s 40-by-18ft raft was fashioned out of plastic gas pipes, and topped with a small hut and a sail billowing from a telegraph pole. It had a small gas stove, an outside “loo with a view” and a foot-pumped computer for communicating with the wider world.

Smith liked to quote TS Eliot’s line from Four Quartets: “Old men ought to be explorers”. Ageing quietly was not his modus operandi. “Am I supposed to potter about, pruning roses and admiring pretty girls, or should I do something to justify my existence?” he asked. Needing crew, Smith placed an advertisement in The Telegraph: “Fancy rafting across the Atlantic? Famous traveller requires 3 crew. Must be OAP. Serious adventurers only.”

Three fellow travellers were enlisted (though none was actually a pensioner) — David Hildred (57, from the Virgin Islands), Andrew Bainbridge (56, from Canada) and John Russell (61, from Oxford).

On January 30 2011 the four set out from Valle Gran Rey in the Canary Islands bound for Eleuthera. “It’s always good to have a destination in mind,” stated Smith, “even on a country walk.” Over the next 10 weeks his reports appeared in The Sunday Telegraph. “The raft’s two rudders broke on the third day,” he wrote. “Fresh food ran out after three weeks.” They saw four whales and marvelled at “the whole almighty spectacle” of the night skies.

Anthony Smith in the cabin of Antiki

They crossed the Atlantic over 66 days — travelling 2,763 miles at an average speed of 2.1 knots — before arriving, somewhat off course, at the Caribbean Island of St Maarten. Disappointed to have landed so far from his desired destination, Smith recruited four new shipmates — photographer Bruno Sellmer; Smith’s 62-year old godson Nigel Gallaher and his wife Leigh; and camerawoman Alison Porteous.

The new crew set out for Eleuthera in April 2012. “This second trip was very different from the first,” acknowledged Smith. “With two women and three men — rather than four men alone on a raft — the cabin was tidier and the culinary choice better. There were no card games, more casual chat and earlier bedtimes.” Against all odds, they succeeded, and were washed ashore at night in a violent storm just 200 metres from the very spot recorded by Anglo Saxon’s survivors.

Anthony Smith was born on March 30 1926 at Taplow in Buckinghamshire and grew up on the Astor estate at Cliveden, where his father was manager (he later became Chief Agent for the National Trust). His mother, Diana Watkin, was the daughter of the head of the Bank of England’s bullion office.

Anthony was educated at Blundell’s School and Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Zoology. At the age of 16 he read an account of the two survivors of the Anglo Saxon. “The story moved me deeply and stayed with me,” he later recalled.

Smith joined the RAFVR in 1944 and trained as a pilot, and after being demobbed in 1948 he continued to fly with the Oxford University Air Squadron.

His first book, Blind White Fish in Persia (1953), chronicled a student expedition to Persia where he explored the Qanat subterranean irrigation tunnels. During these travels he discovered a new species of blind cave loach, which was subsequently named Nemacheilus smithi.

In 1953 he joined The Manchester Guardian as a general reporter before leaving for South Africa to manage Drum magazine (a period he later detailed in Sea Never Dry, 1958). He described Drum as “the voice of black unrest, of segregated misery, of political aspiration”. When he left the magazine he cashed in his ticket home and bought a motorcycle which he rode from Cape Town to England. The five-month journey resulted in the book High Street Africa (1961).

Anthony Smith (on left) with Alan Root and Douglas Botting in Jambo in 1962

Smith rejoined The Manchester Guardian as industrial correspondent (1956-57) while also editing Manchester Guardian Weekly. From 1957 to 1963 he was a science correspondent for The Daily Telegraph.

In 1962 Smith took three months off to fly his hydrogen balloon, Jambo, across Africa for “The Sunday Telegraph Balloon Safari”. Fellow explorer and author Douglas Botting and the film maker Alan Root joined him on a flight from Zanzibar across northern Tanganyika, over the Ngorongoro Crater, where they were reported to have “come down quickly with a loud bang”. In his account (Throw Out Two Hands, 1963) Smith also described how they narrowly avoided being killed when the balloon flew into an enormous thunder cloud.

Jambo flying over East Africa

Smith’s African escapade fuelled a passion for ballooning. The following year he made his landmark crossing of the Alps, and in 1965 founded — with the aviatrix Sheila Scott — the British Balloon and Airship Club, of which he was president until his death. He worked on airship sequences for the films Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1967) and Superman II (1980) and became the proud owner of a three-seater gas airship, the Santos Dumont.

In 1963 Smith turned freelance. The move coincided with the birth of his first son, Adam, and the start of four years’ research for his magnum opus, The Body (1968), an exploration of the inner workings of the human form. Alistair Cooke called it “the masterpiece among all those works that tell us how we work and how we don’t”. It sold more than 800,000 copies, was published in 14 languages and made into a BBC series presented by Professor Robert Winston (The Human Body, 1998).

Anthony Smith at home in 2010

Further expeditions followed. A 6,000-mile journey around Britain’s mainland coastline by boat, lorry and Land Rover provided material for two books — Beside the Seaside (1972) and Good Beach Guide (1973). And he returned to ballooning with The Dangerous Sport (1970), in which he recorded his further adventures in Jambo. In the early Seventies, Smith spent two years as official correspondent for a Royal Society/Royal Geographical Society expedition to central Brazil, a period he chronicled in Matto Grosso (1971).

Smith presented many television programmes, including Science is News (1958-59); Tomorrow’s World (1966-67); Great Zoos of the World (1967-68); Great Parks of the World (1971); and Wilderness (1973-74). He also wrote the commentary for World About Us and The Natural World programmes and a series of children’s stories for Jackanory . Radio 4 listeners, meanwhile, enjoyed his series Sideways Looks (1977-89) in which he provided an amusing and provocative angle on everyday events.

Anthony Smith and his son, Adam, preparing for their trans-African road trip in 1983

During the early Eighties, Smith reversed the journey he had made in the early 1960s by motorcycling from England to Cape Town, accompanied by his 19-year-old son Adam on an identical machine. It became the subject of his 1984 travelogue, Smith & Son.

The Mind, a follow-up to The Body, appeared in the same year.

The Old Man & The Sea, Smith’s account of his last great adventure, will be published by Little Brown in February 2015. “People tell me I have led an interesting life,” wrote Smith. “I say the activities have led me. They have arisen from the blue, emptied my purse (almost always) and were often dangerous, making me wish they would cease. But there is some demanding and internal maggot more in charge of me than the me which is myself.”

In 1956 Smith married Barbara Newman. The marriage was dissolved in 1983. He married secondly, in 1984, Margaret Ann Holloway; that marriage was dissolved in 2007.

Anthony Smith is survived by a son and two daughters from his first marriage, a son from his second, a daughter from a separate relationship and a grandson.

Anthony Smith, born March 30 1926, died July 7 2014


I welcome Nicky Morgan to the world of education as the new secretary of state (Going, going … Gove, 16 July). This Sunday we will be screening a sneak preview of Art Party, a feature film starring John Voce as Michael Grove at the Latitude festival. Grove’s character is based on Morgan’s predecessor. All people involved in education are reeling from the last four years of Michael Gove‘s education reforms. His main mistake was to confuse the different subjects – mathematics, history, English, art etc – with educational standards. He thought certain subjects had innately high standards and some were substandard. These illogical and prejudicial views led Michael Gove to make a complete mess of the national curriculum.

He constructed a hugely complex system for valuing subjects that marginalised everything he thought was not worthwhile – including, surprisingly, creativity in the arts and design.

Other people will tell Morgan about problems with free schools, and academies. How Gove with one hand gave growing control over schools to local businesses and religious groups, which has led to huge difficulties over accountability, and how with the other hand he tried to control schools through the curriculum. But it is his diminishment of the arts in schools that has alienated every person I have met in my attempt to better advocate the arts to government since 2010.

I welcome Morgan’s appointment. She has talked about her frustration with the Conservatives‘ negative approach. Well, she has just replaced a man for whom a negative approach has spelled his demise. She should feel validated in the idea of showing children a future that has a positive message. The arts in schools provide a beating heart of hope. Art is about design and drawing the future. Creativity is future-gazing.

Until Tuesday I had been planning to run in Gove’s Surrey Heath constituency in the next election to flag up the place of creativity and design in our schools. I even bought a camper van from which to conduct my campaign. Morgan’s constituency, Loughborough, is further for me and my camper van to travel.

I hope Morgan will listen to teachers, children and parents. I hope she understands that not all kids are the same. That kids hugely intelligent at maths and science should be encouraged to enjoy and contribute to the culture of our country, and that gifted creative kids must not be told their subjects are not worth studying.

I hope Morgan gets the fact that British design depends on kids being visual and able to draw. I encourage her to visit the Nationwide Art Party on 21 August, GCSE results day, and do everything in her power to reverse the 14% decline in children choosing the arts in schools since 2010. Please do ask children to choose the arts at school and be all that they can be.
Patrick Brill (AKA Bob and Roberta Smith)

• Mr Cameron reveals his true judgment of the worth of women by appointing Nicky Morgan as education secretary but leaving her in post as women’s minister. Well, it’s not a “proper” job is it? Easy enough to sort out Gove’s mess at the same time.
Jill Marks
Broseley Wood, Shropshire

• If Nicky Morgan was known as the “minister for straight women” (Cameron scrapes off the ‘barnacles’ but stokes up trouble on the Tory right, 16 July) then surely she will now be the “secretary of state for straight children’s education”.
Professor Rebecca Boden
Wotton under Edge, Gloucestershire

• Despite Kenneth Baker’s claims to the contrary there have only been two Conservative education ministers who have radically reshaped the English education system. One was Rab Butler, who in 1944 forged a system out of disorganised fragments shattered by war; the other was Michael Gove, who dismantled a functioning system, shattering it by rhetoric and calumny. With all its faults Butler’s system lasted 70 years; will Gove’s “non-system”, with its still greater fault lines, last even seven?
Professor Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria

• You suggest that Iain Duncan Smith, unlike Michael Gove, survived the reshuffle because his policies are popular (Education secretary showed zeal but failed to win voters over. That’s why he lost his job and Duncan Smith didn’t, 15 July). This might not be the only explanation.

Employment and support allowance, replacing incapacity benefit: over 700,000 people waiting – endlessly – to be assessed by Atos. Personal independence payment, introduced last year to replace disability living allowance: by March, 349,000 claims made but fewer than a quarter decided; most claims now taking between six and 12 months to process. Universal credit, Iain Duncan Smith’s pet project, designed to “make work pay”: about a million people predicted to be on the benefit by now; claimant count this April, 5,880. (Not to mention millions of pounds wasted on failed IT systems.)

Is it not possible that, despite the fact that a cabinet post does indeed make work pay, there may have been a shortage of candidates for Mr Duncan Smith’s job?
Patricia de Wolfe

• The list of new ministerial appointments shows a refreshing example of this government’s commitment to transparency. George Freeman MP has joined the government as a health and business minister, a new role straddling the Department of Health and Department for Business. Quite coincidentally, before entering parliament he had a career in the biomedical venture capital industry. Is this also a rare example of the revolving door in reverse? At least there can be no further doubt about the government’s agenda for the NHS.
John Kehoe
Ramsbury, Wiltshire

• There was a careers conference in Cambridge on Monday and Tuesday. Tuesday morning was special. Was this, I wondered, the first time a gathering of careers advisers had burst into applause at the news that someone had lost their job?
Dr Lyn Barham

• Michael Gove’s appointment as Conservative chief whip is good news. It is hard to think of a job better suited to his talents. Tory MPs will now be able to appreciate at first hand all the courtesy, charm and tact that teachers know so well. The news that Mr Gove is to be given an enhanced broadcasting role in the runup to the general election will also be widely welcomed, not least in the Labour party.
Donald Mackinnon
Yardley Gobion, Northamptonshire

• Has David Cameron never read House of Cards by Michael Dobbs?
Hazel Davies
Notre-Dame-du-Bec, France

When is a snoopers’ charter not a snooping charter? When David Cameron and his stooge Nick Clegg call it the data retention and investigation powers bill (Surveillance bill rushed through in a day, 16 July).

The European court of justice decided in April that the blanket surveillance by the state, which forced companies to retain communications data for 12 years, must stop. In order to circumvent the ruling, David Cameron is creating a new law without either parliamentary oversight or scrutiny, so as to keep us “safe from criminals and terrorists”. Remember, people, the terrorists want to destroy your freedom. In order to combat this we need to record all your communications, track you and record you wherever you go. To protect your freedom. Hmm.

Will this legislation be applied to companies? Will it apply to multinationals that supply weapons to terrorists? Will it apply to tax dodgers? Will it apply to politicians? No? Thought not.

This draconian law isn’t happening in other EU countries, so why just the UK? It would seem that Barack Obama and the NSA’s influence trumps everything, even EU law – well, in this country anyway. Bets for when this data, which is being gathered to keep us “safe”, will be sold to Yahoo or Google?

Our free speech has been eroded, our worker rights have been watered down, our right to demonstrate is being taken from us and now Cameron wants to remove our right to strike. Let us not forget either that Boris Johnson’s water cannons await, lest anyone make the mistake and happen to believe we live in a democracy.

All this from an unelected prime minister and government. He has no mandate for spying on us, and what is worse is that the “opposition” have signed up for the snooping charter, sight unseen.

In 1979 Stiff Little Fingers sang “They take away our freedom in the name of liberty”. They were singing about the terrorists; 35 years later it could equally apply to our government.
Julie Partridge

• In principle, the proposals are important for national security and law enforcement. It is essential that any intrusion into a citizen’s private affairs is minimal, proportionate to the benefits to society as a whole, and properly controlled and supervised. Hasty legislation has often proved to be badly flawed.
Dr Martyn Thomas
Institution of Engineering and Technology

• Two interesting contrasting stories on 11 July. One, British PM David Cameron is to rush through emergency law to allow spying on us. Two, German chancellor Angela Merkel orders CIA official out of the country because the US refuses to cooperate over spying allegations, including spying on her own mobile phone. We were recently told from on high (by Gove, possibly?), that “British” values included things like the rule of law, democracy and human rights. It looks like, when it comes to defending these values, it is a case of Germany 7, England 1.
William Hinds

• Britons never never never shall be slaves as long as we are willing to gag, blindfold and shackle ourselves voluntarily to preserve our inner freedom and moral superiority.
John Bird

Man and woman on scale, symbol for equality

Battle of the sexes … on the Letters page. Photograph: Alamy

At the age of 75, I have spent the great majority of my life being always pigeonholed as “Others” in most opinion polls. Wouldn’t it be helpful and for political transparency if the Guardian, in future, published a breakdown, maybe down to 1% level, showing who we actually support? In your current poll (Ukip support plunges to give Tories a slender lead, 15 July), we are on 11%, 2% in front of Ukip and 1% behind the Lib Dems. Now that Ukip is no longer being lumped in with “Others”, we find ourselves as a growing band of voters who, I suspect, wouldn’t even consider voting for the other two and a quarter major parties.
John Marjoram
Stroud, Gloucestershire

•  Between 11 June 2013 and 1 April 2014 I had seven letters published in the Guardian plus one in the Observer, and a reference to another by Michele Hanson. Another on 31 October 2012, and in 2005 I got a piece of advice published in Private lives. I’m sure the dearth of women letter writers (Letters, 12 July) is because of the overburdening of women with domestic work and paid work. Thankfully this no longer applies to me as my children are grown up and husband finally unloaded!
Margaret Davis

• Tony Blair might have persuaded Google to blur his house on Street View (How well do you know your mansions?, G2, 15 July). But one can still see the house from above, with the Blairs’ attached mews house and terrace, on Google’s satellite view, look up its interior features and value on Zoopla, and look at any number of (unblurred) other photos online. Perhaps Mr B should be contacting Google’s new “forgetting” facility.
Philip Steadman
Saint Astier, France

• Marcial Boo of Ipsa (Letters, 16 July), will have heartened the nation with the news that one group, at least, is exempt from the privations of coalition austerity. Yes, MPs continue to enjoy a generous spare-room subsidy. Good for them.
Graham Rehling
Canterbury, Kent

• Glad to see readers are starting to ask some serious questions of the cliche writers (Letters, 16 July). Have they anything left in the tank?
Paul Roper
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

As an old BBC hand, it troubles me to see the debate about the director general’s proposed scrapping of output quotas and spinning off in-house TV production so heavily skewed in the range of voices invited to comment (If the BBC scraps output quotas and spins off TV production, what impact will it have on the industry?, 14 July). Tony Hall‘s proposals are backed by loyal BBC senior managers, past and present, plus leading independents with clear vested interests in the changes, all further endorsed by Steve Hewlett (Opinion, 14 July).

There should have been at least one dissenting voice to put the case that this creeping privatisation will damage the ecology of television in the long term. There used to be deep-rooted commitment to a non-commercial public service ideal among staff, and consequently BBC output had a different feel from rivals. They were competing for audiences but not for funding. Now that producers and directors continually slip in and out of independents, there has been a culturally significant loss of that sense of being part of a public-spirited collective enterprise at the BBC.

Hall’s proposals will hasten this process to the detriment of our democratic culture. Output across channels and platforms will become ever more homogeneous and indistinguishable. Worse, there will be no major media outlet which is not structurally embedded in free-market ideology, making it even harder to get a hearing for alternative views that don’t buy into that way of life as a given inevitability.
Giles Oakley
Former head of BBC community & disability programmes

• Another alternative to Radio 3‘s silly chat shows (Letters, 10 July) is Radio New Zealand Concert, which is just like Radio 3 was before the dumbers-down took over: whole works with simple factual remarks (no simpering introductions, with the presenters’ fatuous opinions, texts or other tedious audience participation).
Dr Richard Carter

Dennis Walder writes of Nadine Gordimer‘s “support for all South African writers” (Obituary, 15 July). When I visited my birth country freely in 1991, after 26 years in exile, I already owed her a huge debt as a reader. So when the Congress of South African Writers invited me to join a weekend workshop, imagine my surprise to find her in its downtown office in Johannesburg, helping to organise the transport to our rural venue. This was the year she was awarded the Nobel prize for literature.

During a later encounter when I mentioned the novel on which I was working, she gave me this sound, long-lasting advice: “Take your time.” Elsewhere she spoke of how “details make a world” and, in addressing profound questions of a writer’s social responsibility, she gave us the term “witness literature” (Testament of the word, 14 June 2002). She honoured other great writers through quotation, for instance, Flaubert writing to Turgenev: “I have always tried to live in an ivory tower, but a tide of shit is beating its walls, threatening to undermine it.” She expanded my world, our world. Hamba kahle, Nadine Gordimer.
Beverley Naidoo


Having met, once, Israel’s Ambassador Daniel Taub  at a meeting in 2003 to “exchange evidence” on the shooting of my son, Tom, in Gaza, I feel compelled to respond to his deeply disingenuous article (“We believe Hamas prevents Gaza prospering in peace”, 16 July) in which he frames his points by dividing Gaza into three.

I’m not going to answer the inaccuracies, half-truths, misrepresentations and cruel logic but will leave this to others.

Mr Taub, there is only one Gaza, currently being bombed to pieces by the might and sophistication of Israel’s military as a “response” to the incomparably cruder Hamas rockets coming out of Gaza.

Fortunately, Israel has the infrastructure, funds and basic materials to build bomb shelters for its people.  Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank continue to suffer: an internationally recognised, illegal military occupation, extreme provocation brought about by settlement-building on Palestinian land in spite of international condemnation, the utter thwarting of prosperity due to closed borders and blocked coast, grossly disproportionate civilian deaths and injuries, the destruction of thousands of homes, and a lack of food, water and medical supplies.

It shows a breathtaking lack of empathy to refer to the “third Gaza that could have been” had they built a “prosperous society with tourists flocking to its beaches”.

Given the history of this conflict, it would take a lot to convince me of Mr Taub’s words that Israel “sought to avoid confrontation altogether”, that it acts with restraint, and that “quiet would be met with quiet”.

Jocelyn Hurndall
London NW5

Daniel Taub makes a carefully constructed argument that Israel is only against Hamas’s underground world in Gaza of rockets and tunnels. That part is understandable; firing rockets at Israeli civilians is wrong and a war crime.

But Israel has also hit Palestinians in Gaza above ground, civilians and civilian infrastructure, including schools, homes and medical facilities.

Taub promises “quiet for quiet” yet this is not on offer at all. A ceasefire cannot come soon enough, and then Israelis can return to a life we can all recognise as normal.

Palestinians in Gaza will remain in hell, under siege, deprived of basic liberties and rights, with power cuts 12 hours a day and water not even fit for animal consumption. They will have no port, no airport, and cannot trade and travel freely.

Some Dubai-like dream world was never on offer and would take decades to create, even in the finest circumstances.

Chris Doyle
Director, Council for Arab-British Understanding
London EC4


It is no surprise that Hamas has rejected the Egyptian peace proposal. Hamas cannot have peace with Israel because its strategic culture calls for a constant conflict. The group defines its raison d’être as fighting the Israeli right to exist, not its occupation.

Its war against Israel is, therefore, not about winning, as Hamas cannot possibly win, but to keep the anti-Israel war hysteria boiling – which means that mounting causalities, civilian deaths, destruction of infrastructure etc are of no consequence to Hamas’s strategic calculus.

It is a shame that the West has allowed this state of affairs in Gaza to continue for so long. The Gazans will surely benefit from not having to live under rulers who are constantly driving them into pointless and destructive wars.

Instead of merely denouncing Israel for its military action, is it not time the West also took notice of the plight of Gaza’s besieged citizens and helped free them from Hamas’s quasi-legitimate rule?

Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Ilford

Israel refers to Palestinians who take armed action against the Israeli forces as “terrorists”. However, the Palestinians are simply reacting against an army of occupation and siege.

We do not refer to the French Resistance during the Second World War as “terrorists”. And we admire the Jews in the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto against the occupying Nazi soldiers – we would not describe them as terrorists and the Israelis certainly don’t.

John Lohrenz
Godalming, Surrey

Does Ambassador Taub think the British are stupid enough to believe his propaganda? Many countries were quick to impose sanctions on Russia because of interference in Ukraine. Why not the same sanctions on Israel?

Michael Pate
Preston, Lancashire

Daniel Taub implies that Israel’s actions in Gaza are proportionate to the firing of Hamas’s utterly ineffective missiles. Let’s be absolutely clear: they are not.

When the IRA bombed Canary Wharf, Warrington and the Arndale Centre in Manchester, killing scores of people, the UK didn’t order the RAF to heavily bomb the Bogside.

Mark Holt
Waterloo, Merseyside


Gove dismantled our education system

There have been only two Conservative education ministers who have radically reshaped the English education system.

One was Rab Butler who in 1944 forged a system out of disorganised fragments shattered by war; the other was Michael Gove who dismantled a functioning system, shattering it by rhetoric and calumny.

With all its faults Butler’s system lasted 70 years; will Gove’s non-system, with its still greater fault lines, last even seven?

Professor Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria

Richard Garner writes (16 July): “Mr Gove was certainly the most ideologically committed and zealous Education Secretary I have come across.”

I would question whether a free and democratic country should have someone in charge of education who is informed by ideology and is a zealot.

Having been a teacher in the UK state system for 33 years and a teacher in China for 10, I would urge every parent and taxpayer to be extremely wary of mixing ideology with any child’s schooling, unless there is a very wide consensus on the understanding and correctness and, most importantly, the wisdom of the ideology.

Is it not ironic that  during the watch of the ideological Mr Gove some schools have been found to  have governors whose ideology is deemed to be unacceptable?

Patrick Wood
Hong Kong

David Cameron apparently reckons that he will improve his election chances by moving Michael Gove after “Lib Dems warned they would exploit his unpopularity” (16 July). Wouldn’t it have been better if they had kept that to themselves?

Kate Francis


New data law based on bogus argument

The fact that the Data Retention and Investigative Powers Act was being voted through Parliament over just three days this week is a travesty. David Cameron’s justification for the emergency legislation is events in Iraq and Syria and the threat from criminals and terrorists targeting the UK. This is bogus.

Before the invasion of Iraq and the bolstering of the anti-regime forces in Syria by Washington and London, there was no terrorist threat emanating from these countries. Moreover, the Western powers have been actively aiding opposition forces in Syria as part of their goal of regime change.

Once again, the “war on terror” is being employed to abrogate civil liberties.

Alan Hinnrichs


What is the cost of weight-loss surgery?

You report that the NHS could offer weight-loss surgery to people with type 2 diabetes (report,  11 July). Has a survey been conducted of the long-term benefits? I have met people who have had a gastric band fitted and, after losing a huge amount of weight, they have gradually returned to their former size. Before billions of pounds are spent on these operations we should be assured of their long-term value.

Mike Stroud

When are people going to get it into their fat heads that obesity is not necessarily the fault of the sufferer? Yes, it might come from personal greed or be a result of years of allowing the food industry its pernicious head, but it may also be the result of illness: a metabolic failure.

I gained weight relentlessly for some 20 years. The belief that it was somehow my own fault was one of the reasons why my illness wasn’t diagnosed until I was very ill, my career and social life had been wrecked, and I had had a stroke.

You can imagine how my mental health was affected by the moral judgement I encountered almost daily.

Eventually I found a doctor who actually listened to me and believed me when I told him I could starve myself to death and I would still die fat.

He sent me to a man who knew what he was doing and bariatric surgery has not only saved my life, it has given me back a good quality of life.

Sara Neill
Tunbridge Wells, Kent


Sir, Contrary to the impression conveyed by the media, plenty of teachers and headteachers value the excellent contribution made to education by Michael Gove, who has been an energetic, determined and visionary secretary of state. I much lament his departure which, I fear, is the consequence of a huge misjudgment that places votes before principles and thus militates against further much-needed improvement. I do not agree with everything he has sought to do (nor does he) but I have not the slightest doubt that he has been the most effective education secretary there has been in my lifetime. His fearlessness, especially when upsetting vested interests, has been exemplary. I hope Nicky Morgan will continue the splendid work that has been done, from which pupils and parents have been the principal beneficiaries. It is for them, we need to remind ourselves occasionally, that schools exist.

Simon Corns
Headmaster, Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Blackburn, Lancs

Sir, You praise Mr Gove in his role as education minister but ignore the harm his reforms caused. It may be that some reforms were necessary, but you should recognise that his cavalier treatment of teachers hindered rather than helped reform.

When reform is undertaken, it makes sense to take those who have to put it into practice with you. And it makes sense not to overwhelm with reform from all sides.

I have just retired from teaching. In recent years changes were being made to almost every aspect of the job that I once loved. The inspection regime was changed — more than once; exam criteria were changed — with almost no notice in English; classroom methods became increasingly prescriptive; pension contributions were hiked so we had to deal with a cut in pay (as well as no pay increases). Perhaps most damaging was Mr Gove’s contempt for teachers, and this was taken up in the press. It has been distressing to have my profession, and thus myself, derided and scorned.

Anne Woodward
Holme on Spalding Moor, York

Sir, With the removal of Mr Gove from the Department of Education we once again see decisions driven by electoral prospects and not what is best for the country. Mr Cameron should be applauded for standing by Mr Gove through all the objections of “the blob” but at first sight that the education reforms may harm his electoral prospects he moves away from what he believes is best for the country to what he believes will be best at polling day. If Mr Cameron believes in the reforms as strongly as he has said in the past surely he should have stuck with his man.

David McIntosh

Sir, With the departure of Michael Gove we must pray that we shall not be returning to the years when a rapid and seemingly interminable succession of secretaries of state did little for those who really matter in our schools — the children.

When I was chairman of HMC, he and I may have had our disagreements, but these were trivial when contrasted with our shared and firm belief in putting the interests of pupils first. Only those who put the self-interests of the relatively few disaffected teachers above the needs of children will celebrate as he moves on.

Dr Christopher Ray
Vice-chairman, Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference

Development charities warn that the new Lobbying Act will have damaging unintended effects on democracy

Sir, The new Lobbying Act was poorly drafted and rushed through Parliament. Few people realise how it will snarl many charities and civil society organisations in red tape or silence them altogether.

From September 19 to election day, if charity campaigns are construed as favouring one party or candidate over another they must limit their activity within prohibitively tight spending caps. Campaigns as diverse as saving a nursery from closing or calling for action on climate change could be caught even if their sole intent is to raise awareness and they do not name a party or candidate.

The 400 international development organisations that Bond represents do not want to electioneer. They want to campaign on issues central to their purpose — tackling the root causes of global poverty.

We and many others call for the act to be replaced by one which regulates party-political lobbying while safeguarding civil society’s right to speak out. As it is, the Lobbying Act is a threat to a healthy democracy.

Ben Jackson


Broadband can’t just get faster; in tomorrow’s world it will have to be smarter too

Sir, Faster broadband will contribute far more to the UK’s future wealth than other infrastructure projects, but technical change is also needed.

In future the rapid increase in the population will make it financially unsustainable to deliver ever-higher speed targets for everyone. Instead, we should focus on encouraging technology and network providers to collaborate more closely to create “demand attentive networks” which can respond to individual user demand. This would offer better performing networks more cheaply.

The new focus would be on what users want to do over the networks, rather than on just growing bandwidth for bandwidth’s sake. For example there is likely to be a huge growth in video streaming over the next few years. Economic benefits would be gained from networks that can respond specifically to this trend. And we will need smart regulation to adjust bandwidth demand in real time — rather than having high capacity available everywhere, all the time.

Professor Will Stewart

Institution of Engineering and Technology

The Law Society’s tax experts say that the Revenue has been given far too many powers for its, or our, own good

Sir, The Finance Bill has given HMRC powers to make decisions that should be made by the courts. While it is easy to target entertainers, sports stars and business leaders on suspected tax avoidance schemes (“HMRC to demand tax from stars”, July 15), we should not lose sight of the fact that this change has turned HMRC into both judge and jury.

It can now assert that a decision in one taxpayer’s case is relevant to another taxpayer’s dispute and, unless the second taxpayer obtains judicial review or persuades HMRC otherwise, if that taxpayer continues with his appeal but loses he is at risk of penalties.

There are differing views on whether cash subject to tax disputes should be held by HMRC or the taxpayer until a case is decided, but for taxpayers to be penalised simply for questioning HMRC’s view is wrong, and the Law Society has consistently argued this point with officials.

Gary Richards

Chairman, Law Society tax law committee

High street health practitioners can advise people on how to avoid the bad-lifestyle illnesses

Sir, High street health specialists can help to reduce the pressure on GPs and A&E (“GPs on call to avert crisis this winter”, July 16), as well as tackling the illnesses that cripple the NHS. Long-term conditions cost £7 in every £10 spent on health and social care in England and eating badly, smoking and drinking cause four fifths of the main illnesses.

As community pharmacists, optometrists, dentists and hearing experts, our hours and locations are convenient alternatives to A&E or GPs. Our daily contacts with people are an opportunity to help them move from “sick-care” to “self-care”.

Our members are in the forefront of this “primary care”, and we hope everyone will see us as dispensers of health as well as of medicines, spectacles and hearing aids. It will play a big part in keeping a national health service free.

Dr Michael Dixon, NHS Alliance; David Hewlett, National Community Hearing Association; Don Grocott, Optical Confederation; Professor Robert Darracott, Pharmacy Voice

Reports about the rare corn-cockle are a useful reminder that the plant’s seeds are powerfuly toxic

Sir, Until I read your report (July 16) I was delighted to see corn-cockles among the sprinkling of wildflower seeds in my garden. I will uproot them immediately. I had no idea that these beautiful pink flowers were so dangerous. And to think that last week I introduced my six-month-old grandson to them and he had wrapped his little fingers around the blooms.

Linda Carsberg-Davis

Knutsford, Cheshire


xcluding them from the full church hierarchy

 A crowd of hundreds of women priests stands with Justin Welby

81 per cent of Synod members backed the motion to allow women to be ordained as bishops Photo: John Stillwell/Pool

6:57AM BST 16 Jul 2014


SIR – Can anyone explain why, once someone has been accepted into the Church of England priesthood, there should be any question about their advancement in that calling? Women deacons were exploited for years, doing excellent work while wishing to be ordained.

Now the Church has admitted them as equal to men in that respect, yet there still seems to be a groundswell of lay opinion wishing to restrict their admission to the full hierarchy. Is this not hypocritical?

Celia Moreton-Prichard
London SE13

SIR – While I have no particular view on whether women should be appointed bishops or not, I am fascinated by the logic that you keep voting on the issue until you get the decision that you want.

Tony French
Hatfield Peverel, Essex

SIR – The Synod’s initial decision to reject the appointment of women bishops was reached after prayer “seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit”. Two years later, it seems that the Holy Spirit has been asked to reconsider his opinion.

Max Gammon
London SE16

SIR – Just where do the underpaid and largely female nursery workers, nannies and child-minders who care for the infants of powerful women at the top of their game” fit into Isabel Hardman’s vision of gender “equality”?

Victoria Owens
Long Ashton, Somerset

As the world turns

SIR – I’m afraid that I do not agree with Sinclair McKay (“Let’s hope galactic travel never takes off”).

Having family in New Zealand, I frequently endure the 24-hour flying time involved in visiting them. Many years ago I thought that it would be wonderful if I could board a rocket in Britain, zoom up into space and wait 12 hours for the Earth to bring New Zealand round to me. Everybody thought that I was mad. However, it looks as if my dream might come true.

Unfortunately, I am unlikely to live long enough to enjoy it.

Pamela Wheeler
Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Children’s galleries

SIR – It is not only pubs that are becoming like kindergartens and crèches (Letters, July 14) but some art galleries, too.

The Tate is now being taken over by parents or nannies with pushchairs clipping your ankles and their shrieking toddlers running amok. There is little regard shown to those of us who have entered the gallery for a meaningful connection with the art on show.

Recently, however, I was very impressed by the large groups of five-year-olds on a school trip to London’s National Gallery. The children sat on the floor mesmerised while a pair of gifted lecturers brought to life two rather complex 15th-century religious paintings.

Gail Woodcock
Rottingdean, Sussex

Paying the Fidler

SIR – Apparently Lesley Fidler is a tax director.

If I were him, I would seriously consider changing either my name or my career.

Bruce Denness
Whitwell. Isle of Wight

Securing our food

SIR – Britain is currently 76 per cent self-sufficient in foods which can be produced at home (“Food experts warn it could be farewell to the land of plenty”), rather than the 68 per cent that was reported by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee. We are working to enable British producers to compete in markets here and overseas.

While increasing domestic production will benefit the food chain and the British economy generally, open markets and free trade are also fundamental to ensuring genuine security of supply globally.

Food security has never been reliant on Britain being entirely self-sufficient. Nevertheless, even on a measure of self-sufficiency, by historic comparison our level of self-sufficiency today is far higher than in the first half of the 20th century. During the Thirties, self-sufficiency was between 30 and 40 per cent.

We are investing more than £400 million in agri-food research every year, and £160 million in our agri-tech strategy, which is developing new resilient varieties of crops, more efficient use of water and a world-class centre of agricultural innovation.

I am confident our actions here will help safeguard our food security now and for future generations.

George Eustice MP (Con)
Minister for Farming, Food and Marine Environment
London SW1

Garden thieves

SIR – I grow my tomatoes in raised troughs. Each plant was supported by a cane, lashed with garden twine to the cross-bar above the trough.

The large population of local sparrows appear to be collecting nesting material, because each binding has been pecked through and removed (except one, which gave the game away).

Has anyone else experienced this problem?

Gavin Inglis
Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex

Jammed in the fridge

SIR – I believe it is the lower sugar content that requires modern jams to be refrigerated to prevent the onset of mould (Letters, July 15).

It is not this fact that I object to as much as having to remember to take it out of the fridge two hours before use so that I can taste it.

Peter Hamilton
London SE3

Living wills can clarify the assisted dying debate

SIR – On the available evidence relating to the forthcoming House of Lords debate on the Assisted Dying Bill, few seem to recognise the crucial place of the advanced medical directive (AMD), hitherto called a “living will”.

An AMD is drawn up with one’s solicitor at an earlier time, when one is fully compos mentis and able to discuss one’s wishes with one’s spouse, children and GP. Medical staff can be appraised of these expressed wishes, thereby obviating any subsequent uncertainty and sense of guilt.

John Maxwell
Great Barton, Suffolk

SIR – Lord Falconer, an eminent lawyer, should be familiar with the aphorism, “Hard cases make bad law.”

His Assisted Dying Bill would be just that: bad law prompted by some very hard cases.

Stanley Brodie QC
London EC4

SIR – That we put down our beloved pets to prevent them suffering is often cited as justification for assisted dying in humans (Letters, July 15), but according to the Dogs Trust 10,000 dogs a year are destroyed because they are abandoned and unwanted.

Though its intentions are good, the Assisted Dying Bill could easily evolve from a path for those in unbearable pain to end their lives in dignity into a coercive option to reduce the burden on carers or – worse – into state-sponsored euthanasia on economic grounds.

Phil Mobbs
West Hanney, Berkshire

SIR – Just how dependable are the terminal diagnoses offered by doctors? The prognosis given by NHS doctors that the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, had three months to live, was wrong by a factor of 11.

Either the doctors’ prognosis was not right, or the quality of care provided by the Libyan health service is further ahead of the NHS than we appreciated.

Martin Burgess
Beckenham, Kent

The road less travelled: an overgrown sign for the Via Aurelia Antica in Rome  Photo: Getty Images

6:59AM BST 16 Jul 2014


SIR – Driving over 100 miles along the hedged and tree-lined roads in the Midlands, I was surprised at the large number of road signs partially obscured by overhanging branches. In these days of sat navs, perhaps councils claim that there are higher priorities, and that there is no money to pay staff to do this pruning, which could be a health and safety risk.

But is there not a small opportunity in the Big Society for local people to do some modest cutting back to help motorists know where they are and find their way to their destinations?

Roger Knight
Burton Latimer, Northamptonshire

Is Cameron’s reshuffle aimed at tightening his control of the Cabinet?

The decision to replace key ministers with inexperienced MPs shows a lack of respect for voters

Nicky Morgan, Philip Hammond, Michael Fallon, Liz Truss and Michael Gove

Clockwise from top left: Nicky Morgan, Philip Hammond, Michael Fallon, Liz Truss and Michael Gove

7:00AM BST 16 Jul 2014


SIR – If the Conservatives in the Government have been shuffled to make the party more electable in 2015, that is common sense. However, to be replacing so much experience with inexperienced young MPs is disrespectful to the electorate.

It is true that David Cameron’s control of the Cabinet should be tightened. Is this his motive, I wonder?

Paddy Germain
Marden, Kent

SIR – Surely the Prime Minister should be thinking of what is best for the country, not what will win him the most votes in the next election.

Anne Rose
Brundall, Norfolk

SIR – David Cameron insults us all by force-feeding his Cabinet with women.

Lynne Lindsay
Ashill, Somerset

SIR – I am puzzled by Mr Cameron’s replacement of Michael Gove and Owen Paterson. What has the Prime Minister got against Mr Gove, except that he speaks his mind to all, including his fellow ministers? And Mr Paterson can only have been removed for being a climate-change sceptic and against the fox-hunting ban.

As far as the replacements are concerned, Nicky Morgan, now at Education, is a Treasury lawyer. Liz Truss, who had been minister for education and childcare, dislikes “trendy” education and has campaigned for better standards. Why has Mr Cameron appointed her to control animals and the environment?

This reshuffle makes no sense, except in the context of Mr Cameron’s desperate bid for re-election next year.

Daniel Bratchell

SIR – William Hague, the outgoing foreign secretary, has a clear claim to have made the most misjudgments of any British cabinet minister in the last 100 years.

Both in opposition and in government, he was wrong about Afghanistan, wrong about Iraq, wrong about Libya, wrong about Egypt, and wrong about Syria.

Time will show the effects of his unnecessarily provocative recent policy on Ukraine, Iran and Russia. Although this follows the American lead, it lacks the considered, well-informed and cautious approach for which our Foreign Office used to be famous.

Vincent Howard
Barton Stacey, Hampshire

SIR – David Cameron’s reshuffle will be complete when the Tories win the next election and Nick Clegg and the other Lib Dem Coalition members lose their jobs.

Dominic Shelmerdine
London SW3

SIR – When a football team is doing badly, the team is kept and the manager is sacked. In politics, it seems that the team is sacked and the manager stays.

Roger Jenkins
Dunnington, North Yorkshire

Irish Times:

A chara, – Will the new Minister of State for the Gaeltacht have to have an interpreter as well as an adviser when he visits the Gaeltacht? – Yours, etc,




Co Meath.

A chara, – Joe McHugh is a politician of integrity and if he succeeds in becoming fully competent in Irish during the life of this Government, he will win many people’s respect. Is it not rather unfair that he was put in this position, however? – Yours, etc,


Cúirt Claremont,

Bóthar Fhionnghlaise,

Baile Átha Cliath 11.

Sir, – I see Éamon Ó Cuív and his fellow Gaeilgeoirí are up in arms over the lack of fluency in Irish of relevant Government Ministers. All he has succeeded in doing is getting people’s backs up all the more against Irish, which, whether he likes it or not, is a language spoken by very few, and cared about by even fewer.

The country has far more to be worrying about than whether or not Joe McHugh or any other Minister has the cúpla focal. – Yours, etc,




A chara, – Not so long ago we had a Minister for Finance who didn’t have a bank account. Now we have a Minister of State for the Gaeltacht who doesn’t have fluent Irish. It proves once again that in politics neck is more important than anything else. – Is mise,




Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Enda is now in charge of the mad hatter’s tea party where everything is the opposite of what it seems. Aon focal eile, Mr McHugh? – Yours, etc,




Co Meath.

Sir, – It is only a few short months since the Irish Language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin resigned from his post because of perceived lack of Government support for or commitment to the implementation of what is supposed to be official policy towards the Irish language.

In particular, the then commissioner felt that his role in assisting Irish speakers to fulfil their right to deal with the State apparatus in their own language was being undermined. Many thousands of us took to the streets in recognition of his stand.

The Cabinet reshuffle is like a further slap in the face for the Irish-language community. We now have a situation that would be farcical if it were not so insulting.

For reasons of geographical distribution, or whatever, two able politicians have been appointed as senior and junior Ministers in the Department of the Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht, but neither of them is capable of communicating in Irish with the public bodies or the local communities or the many individuals who work in this particular field. They will be unable to perform many ministerial duties without giving offence. They will be unable to follow media debate on matters that are part of their brief. Their ability to lead Oireachtas affairs on language policy will be compromised.

Their appointment can only be said to add to the reasons why Seán Ó Cuirreáin felt obliged to resign in protest. – Yours, etc,


Charlesland Court,


Co Wicklow.

A chara, – Is it too impudent for me, an Irish speaker, to ask who will explain to me in my native tongue, Irish, still the State’s first official language, the rationale regarding future decisions to do with the Gaeltacht and An Ghaeilge? It’s clear that both the new Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys, and the Minister of State, are not competent Irish speakers and will be unable to conduct interviews on either TG4 or Raidió na Gaeltachta – or indeed any of the surviving Irish language media – in the first language of the viewers, listeners and readers.

This is an increasingly fraught time in the Gaeltacht and throughout a growing Irish language community. We are not a “fringe”. The Government has made commitments in its programme for government and in various manifestos and has adapted the policy of previous governments with relation to the Irish language and the Gaeltacht, including the implementation of a 20-year plan for Irish.

Whatever the faults of the previous Minister of State, Dinny McGinley, and other Gaeltacht ministers in previous governments, they could still adequately explain and defend their decisions to the likes of me. – Is mise,



Cúil Aoda,

Co Chorcaí.

Sir, – We were promised a democratic revolution. What we have got is a cynical exercise in geographic clientelism that would make even Fianna Fáil blush. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – Perish the thought that we would ape our neighbours. British prime minister David Cameron, in a predictable election strategy, sacks middle-aged men and older to make way for female ministers.

Our Taoiseach sacks middle-aged men and older, to make way for younger men.

Another coup for Fine Gael. – Yours, etc,



Moyne Road,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – What a pity Enda did not bring in more women to give his team a modicum of elegance, energy and elan. Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty, Mary Mitchell O’Connor and Michelle Mulherin would surely be a match for most of the incumbent Ministers of State, as would Ciara Conway and Anne Ferris on the Labour side. – Yours, etc,


Moyclare Close,


Dublin 13.

Sir, – In his latest letter (July 16th), Israeli ambassador Boaz Modai makes a series of factually incorrect pronouncements. Please allow me to set the record straight.

Hamas did not “begin its present rocket offensive against Israel on June 12th, the first day of the search for three murdered Israeli teenagers” – whose murder we have condemned. Moreover Israel has failed to prove that Hamas is behind this crime.

On June 11th two people were killed in Gaza, one a 10-year-old child. Israel then invaded the West Bank, supposedly in search of the killers of the three teenagers, but in the process shot and killed 11 civilians, injured over 100 others, damaged hundreds of houses and arrested over 650 Palestinians, including 11 members of parliament.

It is perfectly clear that Israel’s current attack on the illegally besieged and completely defenceless Gaza Strip is a response to the recently formed and internationally recognised Palestinian unity government – because there is nothing that Israeli prime minister Netanyahu fears more than to negotiate with the unified Palestinian government. The murder of the three teenagers and the Hamas rockets are merely the pretexts for this massive and criminal escalation of Israeli violence.

Mr Modai shows some temerity in citing the additional protocol to the Geneva Convention’s prohibition of attacking the civilian population, especially when the highly respected NGO Defence for Children International estimates that on average one Palestinian child has been killed every three days by Israel since 2000.

MrModai is at least correct in claiming that “the difference between Israel and Hamas boils down to this: we are using bomb shelters and the Iron Dome system to protect the residents of Israel”.

The people of Gaza (1.7 million) have no bomb shelters, no Iron Dome, and indeed no air raid alarms; at present 18,000 Gazan civilians have taken refuge in UNRWA schools – and Israel has so far targeted and damaged several of these, in violation of the same Geneva Conventions cited by Mr Modai.

The international community must intervene to stop the continuation of this criminal Israeli campaign, which has so far indiscriminately targeted private houses, nursing homes, mosques and civilian infrastructure. So far over 208 Palestinians have been killed, some 20 per cent of them children. By putting peace further beyond our grasp, this does nothing in the long term to protect Israelis, for whom the end of their occupation of the state of Palestine and a just peace with their neighbours are the only guarantees of security. – Yours, etc,


Ambassador of

the State of Palestine,


Co Dublin.

Sir, Further to Fintan O’Toole’s article “Latest cuts for coalface charities simply crass stupidity”, (Opinion & Analysis, July 15th), it would appear that small charities have become victims in the “who funds what” battle between departments. The groups affected are run on a shoestring and are possibly the most efficient organisations in this country in terms of their financial management.

These small groups offer a vital service to small numbers of people with disabilities. If their funding is cut, then the voices of those that they represent are silenced. I would appeal to the Government to allow small charities to continue to do so much with so little. – Yours, etc,




Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I note that the Taoiseach says that small charities can “avail of a formal process of appeal” about the sudden, unilateral and devastating loss of their funding (“Disability charities can appeal funding cuts, says Kenny”, July 15th). Appeal to whom? It turns out the appeal is to Pobal, the very body making these cuts.

The Neurological Alliance of Ireland (NAI) is an umbrella organisation coordinating and advocating for its 31 member organisations. These organisations serve and represent people experiencing various types of disadvantage because of their neurological disability. Eleven of these organisations have also suffered funding cuts without any explanation or rationale.

NAI has worked energetically with the State in good faith to design and develop neuro-rehabilitation services in Ireland – services which hardly exist here, but are taken for granted elsewhere in the EU. Without such services, many people with neurological disability are left to rely on the more costly emergency and acute services as their condition progresses. This costs the State (and families) much more than would otherwise be the case.

The research literature shows that the the absence of rehabilitation services costs more than the price of providing them. NAI is ideally placed to draw on the detailed expertise and geographical knowledge of its member organisations and partner dynamically with the State as required. NAI is regularly told by the State how its expertise is valued — as in the 2011 neuro-rehabilitation strategy report. If these cuts go ahead, NAI will cease to exist.

After all our hard work, we now know how much we are really valued – zero. I hope this embarrassing saga is brought to an end to an end without putting us through further humiliation. Then we can get back to building a better Ireland. An apology would ease the pain a bit too. Fintan O’Toole is right. It is crass stupidity indeed! – Yours, etc,


Park Drive,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – Dubliners really are being ripped off. Fiona Reddan (“Is it time to wave goodbye to your car?”, July 15th) tells us that an annual bus pass in Dublin costs a breathtaking €1,230 per year.

In Vienna, an annual public transport pass costs €365, which works out at one euro a day.

For that, you get unlimited use of one of the world’s best public transport systems, with five underground lines (which are continually being modernised and extended), 29 tram routes and 145 bus lines, as well as an overground urban rail network. – Yours, etc,


Stanislausgasse 8,



Sir, – Fiona Reddan’s article mentions car-sharing. I would like to draw your attention to the electric car-sharing available in some European cities.

This system works very much like our Dublin Bike scheme. There are a few cars and perhaps a small van parked at dedicated charging stations.

They can be rented casually, once registered, by swiping with a rental card, and once you have finished with the vehicles, they are returned to the charging bay.

A perfect solution for town and city dwellers who need only occasional use of a private car.

Can we envisage a city centre with just bicycles, the Luas and electric cars?

How quiet that would be! – Yours, etc,


Old Carrickbrack Road,


Dublin 13.

Sir, – When the ESB constructed the two 600ft chimneys in the South Docks in Dublin in 1972, it did so without having to apply for planning permission. In those days State, semi-State and local authorities were considered “exempt” from the provisions of the Planning Acts. Following a Supreme Court ruling in 1993, new legislation was introduced to require all such authorities to apply henceforth for planning permission, and previous developments carried out by the State were “deemed not to have required permission”. Had the ESB applied for planning permission in 1972, I am quite convinced that they would have been refused both by Dublin Corporation and on appeal (in those days before An Bord Pleanála was set up in 1976, an appeal was made to the minister for local government). Many objectors, including pilots, were totally opposed to the chimneys and this was in the days before the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), set up in 1992.

How ironic that the ESB will now require planning permission to demolish these chimneys. Could we have a bit more of a rigorous assessment of the “iconic” value of these chimneys in the light of the above? Dublin Bay should return to being the “lung” of the city and not the “bladder”. – Yours, etc,


St Vincent Road,

Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Responding to Mr Laurence Vize’s plea (July 10th), I am glad to advise that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin is proposing in his amendments to the Freedom of Information Bill 2013 to confirm that the information that public bodies are currently required to include in their “Section 15” and “Section 16” FOI manuals will now be provided for in the publication schemes required under the FOI Bill.

Publication schemes for FOI are a further example of the adoption of best practice in FOI from abroad in Ireland’s FOI regime.

They will help ensure that public bodies publish more information on a proactive basis outside of FOI than has ever been the case in the past.

The legislative provision will ensure that there is no potential for a diminution of the information that public bodies are currently required to make available in the public domain.

There is no question of public bodies deciding for themselves what should be included in their publication scheme.

These must be made in accordance with a model publication scheme made by the Minister following consultation with the Information Commissioner.

The code of practice for FOI is another important innovation in the FOI Bill, whose development has benefited from the pre-legislative scrutiny of the FOI Bill by legislators and also from the important report on the operation of FOI in Ireland prepared by a group of FOI experts, academics and advocates external to the public service. A draft of the code has been published for public consultation on the department’s website. – Yours, etc,


Press Officer,

Department of Public

Expenditure and Reform,

Government Buildings,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Why we should think that the English funding model for higher education is one we should follow is beyond me.

The thrust to fund institutions from fee income has resulted in a number of disastrous developments, including a dependence on overseas students who can be asked to pay inflated fees but not asked to present with the necessary academic qualifications or show proper attendance at their selected course. This resulted in London Metropolitan University being fined £35 million in 2009 and more recently £6 million for over-recruiting.

Research is increasingly funded by grants to find answers to specific questions rather than to fund the brightest and best to follow their imaginations.

If universities are to serve their students, their staff and their country they need adequate funding. Fees will not produce sufficient funding, which leaves government or private and business sources as the only alternatives. – Yours, etc,


Dublin Road,


Dublin 18.

Irish Independent:

* Roy Orbison sang ‘It’s Over’ and Elvis Presley sang ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’. Well it’s now official – it is over, and there are many who will be ‘Lonesome Tonight’, tomorrow night and many many other nights thereafter.

I’m sorry for the 400,000 who waited in hope that it might all be ironed out, and I am sorry to think that their few hours of enjoyment was whisked away due to planning laws.

It seems ironic that the planning laws of today were enforced and that they were the reason that the five concerts were cancelled.

It is a sad irony when you think back to what was allowed in the past when criminal builders, bankers and speculators were able to get what they wanted regardless of the planning laws, or any other laws. A sad irony to think that we the people, who never borrowed a penny of the bond holders debt, were in turn by law forced to repay every cent because Europe told us to.

There are many who will today raise a fist in victory for this outcome, but be warned, the winner of a battle does not always win the war.

I’ve only spoken to a few people who live near Croke Park, they all said as one that the GAA were decent when it came to concerts or to football or hurling finals. I hope they continue to be generous.

I’m not a fan of Garth Brooks, I did not have any tickets for the concerts but all the same I am sad for the man. Sure he’s a multi-millionaire and he has what a lot of us wish we had, but in the end he is as human as the rest, he also dreams and I’m sure he was thinking back to how it was going to be, to walk out onto a stage specially built and to feel the applause that only an Irish audience can give.

Well It’s Over and many are Lonesome Tonight

Perhaps on the cancelled concert nights if you happen to pass Croke Park you might well hear the Simon and Garfunkel song The Sound Of Silence.



Kicking the gift horse

* Nothing surprises me any more regarding our leaders.

After all we’ve seen: The Celtic Tiger, the bank guarantee… thank God that’s all gone now. But then we see the brutal mishandling of a few concerts by Garth Brooks that would have injected a much needed boost to the greater Dublin economy, along with the feel-good factor in every line dancing lover’s heart and down every hokey pokey laneway.

Those who purport to run the country appear to do nothing right. The shuffle, shuffle in the Fine Gael and Labour dark rooms has left us with little trace of women on the ministerial benches.

Enda Kenny and the Fine Gael handlers deserve the idiot of the year award for what must be frankly one of the wackiest decisions ever made – appointing Joe McHugh as Aire Na Gaeltachta? A career politician whose words in the native language would not go much beyond Pog mo Thoin. What ever happened to the 20-year plan for Irish?

Poor Dinny McGinley. The most proficient user of Gaelic in the Dail, and he gets the size 12 in the seat of his pants for his efforts. It’s no wonder that Garth gave the two fingers to them and their austerity bally-go-backwards attitudes to what was in essence kicking a gift horse in the mouth.



Back to you in the studio

* “Unanswered prayers, Bill.”

“We’ll leave it there so, Garth.”

All together: “Okey Doke!”



Fingers crossed for a washout

* Years ago I was set to go on a great sun holiday to Spain.

At the last minute I had to cancel. I was a bit upset on missing the opportunity to get a tan and relax. Lo and behold the weather in Spain was miserable that week and here, in Mayo, the sun was shining and the air was warm. I never thought about Spain for that whole week.

The point I’m getting to is that I hope it rains as hard as it has ever rained over Croke Park and just Croke Park for the dates that Garth Brooks was supposed to perform.

It will make people a little bit less angry at everyone and everything involved in this fiasco and maybe they will think about something else for those five days.



Hope can set you free

* There is much talk on suicide prevention. Suicide as we know is at epidemic levels in this country today. It is also an area I am passionate about because of my personal experience.

Not because of an attempted suicide on my part, but because I have overcame severe depression and I believe that everyone can recover if they are committed and determined and, importantly, given the correct psychotherapeutic help.

Since I began speaking out three years ago of my own recovery I am regularly contacted by either relatives of people with mental health difficulties or sufferers themselves. They are looking for some pearls of wisdom.

The reality is that unless a person wants to help themselves and takes responsibility for their own recovery, the most caring relatives and most professional help will amount to nothing.

A person must be prepared to face their own pain in order to be able to move on from it.

A person who suffers from a diagnosed “mental illness” often has a great feeling of powerlessness with regard to their life. This sense of powerlessness pervades their entire life from personal and working relationships to even the type of career they follow.

There is hope however, and people like me have a huge amount to offer.

In ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, Red, played by Morgan Freeman, said “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” This may be true of a prison setting, but on the outside, sometimes hope is all we can cling on to.

In my late teens I never thought I would make it into my 20s.

Today I celebrate half a century on the planet, the last 21 years medication free.

If I can do it, anyone can do it.



A struggle for human rights

* It is unfortunate that Israel’s apologists are trying to portray Palestinians as backward people bent on the destruction of Israel.

Terrorism is inexcusable. It is true that no people can tolerate the unrelenting barrage of rockets raining down on their homes, and no government can sit idly by while their people live in constant fear.

But what about Palestinians living under the yoke of Israel’s military occupation for decades. The West should place the Palestinian struggle within the global struggle for human rights, social justice, equity and peace. Israel’s defenders should travel to the Gaza strip and see first hand the humiliation endured by Palestinians; something reminiscent of the unmitigated anguish endured by European Jewry in the Holocaust.

Today, Palestinians are collectively punished, bombed from the air where the bomber cannot be reached by the defenceless people he just inflicted horror on. Instead of exonerating Israel, Western commentators should have a taste of what is meant by carrying out day to day activities in a tiny swathe of land, Gaza, which is the largest Robben Island prison on Earth, where the poverty rate is almost 70pc, and where unemployment has been aggravated by the continuous destruction of civilian infrastructure and the strangulation of economy.



Irish Independent


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