19 August 2014 GP

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A wettish day. I takr Mary to see her GP

Scrabble: Mary wins, but gets under just 400. perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.

103 GameI win 56 John 50 Mary Average score


Margaret Wileman – obituary

Margaret Wileman was president of Hughes Hall, Cambridge, during the early years of its expansion

Margaret Wileman

Margaret Wileman Photo: HUGHES HALL

6:37PM BST 18 Aug 2014


Margaret Wileman, who has died aged 106, was founder president of Hughes Hall, Cambridge, overseeing the early stages of its transition from a graduate teacher-training college for women to a co-educational institution for graduate study.

When she arrived at Hughes Hall in October 1953 at the age of 45, she became the seventh principal since the foundation of the all-female college in 1885. With a maximum of 70 students it was by far the smallest college — and one of the poorest in the University, to which it had been admitted in 1949 as a “recognised institute for women” (though it did not achieve full college status until 2006). The college buildings, next to the University cricket ground, were mainly Victorian and the general atmosphere was one of genteel poverty.

Margaret Wileman found herself doing three jobs — as Principal, University Lecturer in Education and as Director of Women Students at the university. She had no secretary until 1960, when she appointed a graduate of the Guildhall School of Music who, she noted, “could type at incredible speed, as though playing a particularly sparkling Scarlatti sonata”.

The 1960s were a critical period in her time at the college. The Bridges Report led to the creation of several new graduate colleges and to the admission of an increased number of women students to a wider range of colleges. She seized the opportunities offered by enlarging the scope of the college and increasing numbers: first, women graduates were admitted to subjects allied to education, then mature undergraduates studying for the BEd and a small number of affiliated students (graduates of other universities who wished to study for a Cambridge BA).

In her final year, 1973, when her title changed to president, men were admitted to the College. Today Hughes Hall is a full college of the University with 600 students, both men and women, studying for the whole range of Cambridge degrees.

Margaret Wileman was determined that expansion should not be at the expense of standards and was a demanding, if kindly, interviewer, always on the alert for those who embroidered their CVs. One applicant recalled how, having applied to Hughes Hall to read History, she entered the Principal’s study to be interviewed by the small, bright-eyed Miss Wileman. “She said: ‘Hello, my dear. I see on your application form that you are interested in British steam engines.’ … She took off her watch, laid it on her desk and said: ‘Talk to me for 20 minutes about steam engines.’ At the end she told me: ‘Right, my dear, you’re in.’ And that was that.”

After her retirement Margaret Wileman remained an honorary fellow and continued to take a keen interest in college affairs, lunching there every week during term time until she was well over 100 and regularly attending college concerts. The original 1895 college building is named in her honour, as is the music society. In July this year she attended the college’s Summer Garden party.

Margaret Annie Wileman was born on July 19 1908. An excellent musician and poet, as well as a scholar of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, she took a First in Modern Languages in 1930, then trained as a teacher in the Oxford Department of Education.

After teaching posts in Reading and at Queen’s College, Harley Street, during the war she lectured at St Katharine’s College Warrington (now part of Liverpool Hope University). For 10 years she was a resident warden at Bedford College in London before taking up her post at Hughes Hall.

During vacations both during and after the war she worked in refugee camps and girls’ borstals.

A devout Roman Catholic, in later years she helped to run education programmes for Catholic nuns.

In 2000 the French government appointed her Officier de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques in recognition of her services to French literature.

Margaret Wileman, born July 19 1908, died August 12 2014


Professor Simon Wessely puts his finger on an exquisite problem in health and public service, the asymmetrical distribution of costs and benefits (Only a third of depression cases treated, 14 August). He bemoans the fact that spending on mental health benefits employers in terms of fewer days lost, but this works both ways. The adjoining article highlights the urgent need for wider policy changes to tackle the obesity epidemic, which is overburdening the NHS (Report, 14 August). There are many other examples, including reductions in air pollution and road accidents, where significant monetary benefits accrue to the NHS. Until we devise a common investment framework based on outcomes, rather than inputs to service silos, many billions of pounds and lives lost or lived in avoidable pain will disappear down the gaps between services. “Joined–up” government is as far away as ever, despite years of investment in elegant rhetoric.
Neil Blackshaw
Little Easton, Essex

• Professor Wessely sees funding for mental health services coming only from a shift of resources from physical health services. Since our public services have in fact been robbed to pay for the crisis of capitalism, particularly that of its banking system, this indicates that we might look elsewhere to meet the needs of those in need of mental healthcare. We could, for example, close tax loopholes exploited by the super-rich and by corporations. We could also consider shifting spending from “defence”, and from the covert mass surveillance of citizens exposed by Edward Snowden. And so on… In this way, all our healthcare needs – mental and physical – could quite adequately be met.
Professor Helen Colley

• We began our careers over 45 years ago, a decade after Thomas Szasz had declared, with uncommonly good sense, that the mind could not be “ill” other than in a metaphorical sense. If problems in living are due to some brain disorder, then this is a physical illness, not a “mental” one (Letters, 14 August); such conditions might reasonably be compared to diabetes, cancer or the like. Where they have no obvious physical origins, it seems wiser to consider them to be existential in nature: arising from the influence of the myriad personal, interpersonal, cultural and social factors that make up human existence.

In our youth we assumed that this distinction would long since have taken root and a new vision of human services would have become established. Instead, efforts are still being made to embed the problem of “mental health problems” within a old-fashioned health (ie illness) service.

If we are to believe the statistics, few people do not experience some serious problem in living at some point in their lives. The “normal” population has become abnormal. Society cannot hope to address this rising tide of misery, distress and anomie by reinforcing an outmoded, if not inherently false, idea that such problems are “just like” diabetes or cancer, however reassuring this might be. High time that young minds came forward to propose a new way of looking at human distress and difficulty. The old model definitely needs fixing.
(Dr) Phil Barker and Poppy Buchanan-Barker
Newport on Tay, Fife

• Sheila Hollins makes reference to a BMA report that highlighted the need for a holistic approach to the care of those who have a learning disability (Letters, 14 August). I remember the publicity with respect to Sir Jonathan Michael’s report, which likewise examined evidence of the neglect of the physical health needs of those with intellectual impairments. Do the commissioners read these reports?
Mary Gameson

• Your correspondent is correct to cite the complex commissioning arrangements as being part of the problem with NHS mental health services. It also has to be realised that although there is some public accountability in NHS foundation trusts that have publicly elected governors who can speak up for patients, there is no such representation on the clinical commissioning groups whose members are all appointees – yet it is they who are responsible for funding allocations, and sadly they have let down mental health patients through the inadequate funding that historically has been allocated to NHS mental health trusts like my own.
Ian Arnott
Deputy lead governor, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS foundation trust

• Since being diagnosed with breast cancer this spring, I have been amazed at the immediate availability of treatment, resources, sympathy, understanding and time off work. This has all been hugely welcome and important in coping with my illness. The support extends to my husband, who is never questioned about his need to take time off to care for a wife with cancer. I am strongly aware of the disparity between the support I have received and the desperate lack of resources available for equally debilitating and potentially life-limiting illnesses such as depression (‘Last week my son took his life. We will never know why’ 15 August). I suspect much of this is due to societal attitudes to certain types of illness or disability, and a misconception that mental health problems are somehow your own fault. Many people could imagine getting cancer (“there but for the grace of God”), but mental illness remains unimaginable.

The boundaries between physical and mental health, however, are paper-thin. My need for time off has been due not only to the physical effects of cancer treatments but also to the huge psychological and emotional adjustments I have had to make. This, too, is understood and resourced, from easy access to cancer support nurses to free mindfulness training courses for cancer patients.

There is a long way to go before we will achieve true parity of esteem between physical and mental health services. I hope the current public debate will contribute to people with depression getting the same amount of support that I have benefited from.
Dr Irene Tuffrey-Wijne
Associate professor in nursing, St George’s, University of London, and Kingston University, and author of

• The government’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme has led to some improvement in the availability of evidence-based psychological therapies in England. However, concerns have been raised from a variety of sources, including practitioners and patients within IAPT services, that the implementation and development of IAPT may have stalled somewhat in the past year.

Tthe IAPT programme has had problems meeting the pledge to provide psychological therapy to 15% of people in the community with anxiety disorders or depression. Whereas previously the national IAPT team within the Department of Health was responsible for all aspects of the programme (ie development, commissioning, outcomes monitoring and performance management, education and training, etc), responsibility for its implementation is now divided across various newly created NHS organisations – NHS England, Public Health England and Health Education England. There have been delays and confusion in establishing where responsibilities lie, which has negatively impacted on the commissioning of training numbers for this year.

One of the strengths of the IAPT programme had been its ability to collect outcome data on almost everyone who has been treated. This development was much appreciated by patients and was admired internationally. Unfortunately, the recent change in reporting systems has severely undermined the confidence of both public and professionals in IAPT outcome reporting. Many of our members lead IAPT services. They are alarmed to see that 40% of the cases who had been treated by their services were “lost” in the August 2013 information centre reports. In January this year we asked the DoH to rectify this.

The increasing complexity of organisations within the NHS structure does not help the overall picture of giving people access to appropriate treatment pathways and support. This complexity suggests that, if IAPT is to fully realise its potential for transforming the lives of people with common mental health problems, the capacity of the IAPT national team needs to be increased and there need to be clearer lines of accountability and effective working relationships.
Professor Dorothy Miell
President, British Psychological Society

• Owen Jones’s focus on depression and suicide is welcome (Man up? Snap out of it? Why depressed men are dying for someone to talk to, 16 August). But he fails to mention the effect that corporate productivist economics have had in eroding our community and social commitments. During New Labour’s tenure I was teaching in higher education on what had degraded down to short-term 10-week contracts, after which I ended up back on benefits until the next semester. Simultaneous to this I was volunteering for a charity that counsels the suicidal. However, the benefit authorities only count continuous employment as 13 weeks. So I was classified long-term unemployed, put under pressure to take other work and, most significantly, told my voluntary work with the depressed and suicidal was making me unavailable for employment. I was eventually forced to leave it.

So, under New Labour’s neoliberal pro-market model, the desperately depressed and my work as an educator and volunteer were less valuable than the provision of cheap employees to corporate supermarkets.

I understand that shortly after this, that participation in the voluntary sector decreased to record low levels. More recently suicidal levels among harrassed benefit claimants have increased.
Dr Gavin Lewis

• The news of Robin Williams’s tragic death has, naturally, piqued the interest of the world’s media in mental health issues, especially as faced by men. Perhaps because he was such a well-loved public figure, we were all surprised to learn he suffered so desperately; but so many people with depression do just that. We become exceedingly capable at living an emotional lie in public: we have “the me everyone sees” and “the me only I see”. But the exertion it takes to keep the private me just that, private, exerts a terrible toll: insidiously it saps every scrap of hope, happiness, desire, love and confidence I have (which is not a lot), leaving me with nothing for myself.

How long will this interest last? Will it help change how this exceedingly common illness is seen? Up to 25% of the population will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. But the areas of care receiving some of the deepest cuts in funding in the NHS are those aimed at mental health. I am, and will continue to be, reliant on the NHS for my treatment and, hopeful, recovery. But however much I welcome this media attention, I am truly anxious for the future of mental healthcare, for men and women, in the NHS; and for someone with depression, added anxiety is really rather counterproductive.
Dr Joachim New
Banbury, Oxfordshire

Working in a children and adolescent mental health (CAMH) clinic for 14 years I have often seen young people needing inpatient treatment sitting on paediatric medical wards at our local hospital for days whilst staff look for the inpatient therapeutic beds they need (Special report, 18 August). When they are found beds, they may be a long way from their parents, adding another layer of stress and distress for families already struggling. I suspect the “ivory towers” that Sarah Brennan refers to may well be – at least in part – CAMH, but we have worked very hard to be more accessible, more friendly and to deliver early interventions.

I agree with her that a seamless range of services should be on offer. But there is no need for “government inquiries, reviews and a new taskforce”. As clinical staff we are often “consulted” – usually by people paid eye-watering amounts of money to report on services we deliver – but rarely listened to, and there is a huge difference.

The problems are not that complex, actually, but do require funding that understands two things: mental health and young people. For example, the “transition cliff” is not so much about needing to simplify the transition process, but that it is inappropriate to transition a young person who may be chronologically 18 but emotionally 12. Looked after children, who struggle more than most with mental health problems, suffer in particular here. So, no more taskforces, please.
Suzanne McCall

• Integrated CAMHS services are indeed an urgent priority (Dr Peter Hindley, 15 August). Likewise equitable access to talking therapies. My son, now 23, was badly let down by by CAMHS – we requested cognitive behavioural therpy but were told it wasn’t available. So we supplied Paul Stallard’s book Think Good, Feel Good – a wonderful resource for young people. My son liked filling in the worksheets and seemed to derive some benefit. Could CBT not be part of mainstream provision for young people?
Mary Gameson

• The juxtaposition of letters about mental ill-health and services, CAMHS in particular, and news about A-level results frustrates me. Are people not aware that the emphasis on good results – which these days seems to mean nothing less than straight A*s and As – puts some vulnerable young people at risk? I have worked in CAMHS and with suicidal and self-harming young people in the voluntary sector and would like to see more parents, teachers and members of the public and the press putting less emphasis on this narrow part of life’s high achievement. The prevailing attitude adds to the pressure and for a few young people could be the final straw.
Salli Ward
Wilmslow, Cheshire

• Safety and welfare concerns about child prisoners continue to plague our conscience (Report, 15 August). Investigations, inquests and inspection reports repeatedly document regimes where bullying, self-harm, violence and restraint are rife, with little meaningful rehabilitation or therapeutic intervention.

The children and young people who are incarcerated are no strangers to a tough life. Many of them have a history of mental ill health, drug and alcohol problems, learning difficulties, abuse, and trauma. Despite this knowledge, we have allowed 33 children to die in prisons since 1990. And rather than invest in community services that can address the reasons behind offending, ministers plan to build the largest child prison, euphemistically called a secure college. It is imperative that there be a fundamental review and radical rethink of how we respond to children in conflict with the law.
Deborah Coles
Co-Director, Inquest

• At what point does a situation that has prevailed for years suddenly acquire the status of national scandal (Report, 18 August)? Anyone working in adolescent mental health could have flagged this one up 15 years ago. You would do better to maintain a daily front-page checklist of unresolved scandals (food banks, underpaid care-workers, arms sales, housing shortage, corrupt politicians etc) as witness to what is broken about this country, rather than give random prominence to the odd one, only for it to be consigned to oblivion for another long stretch.
Peter Kaan

Is it not time to heed the many recent studies which prove that involvement in music-making is beneficial for those suffering from depression? Listening to music, especially live music, is good for us and playing and singing can lift the spirits with no recourse to chemicals or dependence on therapists. Music-making with others is socially affirmative. Instead of downgrading music in the national curriculum and reducing young people’s access to music lessons, the government would be wise to make it a high priority.
Susan Tomes

Iraqi Shia fighters make their way to the front line to fight militants from the Islamic State group

Paddy Ashdown (Western intervention won’t prevent the break-up of Iraq, 15 August) talks about Iraq as if we Iraqis do not have an opinion that matters. British and American interference in Iraq directly and solely caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands, pushed the country over the edge and resulted in the current tragedy.

Barack Obama, François Hollande and David Cameron talk about arming the Kurdish peshmerga as if this is the only solution to the so-called Islamic State terrorists, who have taken over a third of Iraq, systematically destroying internationally recognised heritage.

I was born in Mosul, of mixed Arabic and Kurdish origins. Although I live in London, not a day passes that I do not speak to my family and friends there. These evil marauders are not “Sunni terrorists” as they are often described. Most are not even Arab or Muslim. Well over 40% of the Iraqi population consists of peace-loving Sunnis, including the Kurds, and not one Sunni that I know supports these terrorists. Ashdown, unfortunately, is further pushing the concept that the Sunnis are the terrorists.

People are being killed and made homeless every minute of the day now, and thinking about arming the Kurds only is just about the most absurd option. And the statement by Obama and Cameron that the number of Yazidis stranded on Mount Sinjar is too small to warrant a rescue can only be described as criminal.

The guilty parties that invaded Iraq in 2003, and literally destroyed it, should go back now (boots on the ground and all) and correct their mistakes. How? First, by wiping out these terrorists, and second by removing the hateful, sectarian comedians to whom they handed over the country.
Saad Jadir

• Dr Rod Thornton (Letters, 14 August) makes a compelling case against arming the peshmerga and clearly knows what he is talking about. But his conclusion – that the Kurds need to be protected, not armed, leaves me uncertain what he is advocating. Surely not British boots on the ground? The British people rightly have no appetite for sending our young men to die in someone else’s quarrel. And if it is simply to lend support by air strikes, one cannot help recalling the effect of a similar policy in Libya – a country now rent between warring factions and with no effective central authority. I hope he will write again with precise positive, not simply negative, recommendations.
Brian Hayes

A dinner-party in Paris in the mid-60s. Marcel Proust is the subject of the conversation. The Frenchman on my right, a teacher, turns to me and says, in French (the following translation is mine), with the utmost seriousness: “Of course, it’s impossible to really appreciate Proust without having read the Scott-Moncrieff translation.” I’ve frequently used that ever since as a wonderful example of literary pretentiousness. Following your article (The back page, Review, 15 August), do I owe my dinner neighbour a apology (to be received posthumously, I fear)?
Marcel Berlins

• At a time of my and many other Jews’ distress at the Israel/Gaza horrors and the subsequent backlash of rising antisemitism in Britain and Europe, it amazes me that in describing Lauren Bacall as “proudly Jewish” Sali Hughes (The first on the list for beauty, 14 August) feels obliged to add the phrase “she rubbished rumours of a nose job”. Here we go again! I hope it was just a slip of the pen. I’m not cancelling my Guardian yet, but just to oblige your stereotyping remain, defiantly, a big-nosed Jew.
Dr Andrew Platman

• Things ordered in numerical order, particularly on the internet, are now known as listicles (Fifty million reasons why BuzzFeed hopes to be top online media brand, 12 August), presumably there’s also an equivalent term for numerically ordered tests.
Alan Pearson

• So, the England women’s team win the rugby World Cup – and manage to make page 12 of the Sport section (18 August)! Wow, progress or what!
Alison New

• Is this the ultimate irony of privatisation? I have just received a statement for my Post Office savings account – delivered by TNT.
Sally Taylor

• I’m no expert on dogs or cats (Letters, 18 August), but our ducks are highly skilled in the use of web applications.
Tom Locke
Burntisland, Fife

Was Michelangelo's painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling inspired by religion, or just funded by it

Further to the correspondence inspired by Ian Flintoff on Richard Dawkins, the notion that religious inspiration has contributed to the bulk of great art in the past (Letters, 16 August) needs more careful examination.

For a significant period of European history, including the pre-Christian Roman era, commercial success for an artist, and therefore survival of art works to the present day, entailed tacit or more often explicit conformity with social, political and especially religious norms, in societies where religious institutions formed a key part of the political power structures. It was the power of those institutions to employ artists and pay for their materials which “inspired” or prompted the production of art. It is noteworthy also that in societies where the religious institutions largely discouraged or refused to fund the production of figural art, such art flourished within the more limited secular market, although survival of its products has been significantly hampered by those same religious institutions.

Artists may or may not have been “inspired by religion”, but we will never know, except in those rare cases where they explicitly denied such inspiration and usually suffered the consequences. For the rest, we can only try to read implicit meaning from their work – a notoriously inaccurate form of analysis, rather akin to the belief system espoused by Flintoff himself and so coherently criticised by Dawkins and other rationalists.
Sarah Lambert

Val Biro with his 1929 Austin.

Val Biro with his 1929 Austin. Photograph: George Harris/Associated/Rex

I first knew Val Biro around the age of 10 as the jolly driver of Gumdrop, when his vintage car was just starting to appear in print – and then he became my stepfather. In my teens we argued a great deal. His view of the world was deeply unscientific, built on passion and emotion. Mine was obsessed with logic, clarity and clearing up ambiguity. In the process, my ability to organise ideas developed dramatically and I absorbed from him the habit of working on only what one wanted to work on into the early hours of the morning.

Every birthday he presented me with a painting, and without my realising it, he infected me with art, so that it became one of the most important parts of my life – just as important as the “scientific” way of looking at the world that had come to me more naturally. For the past 10 years or so we would attend exhibitions together, and Val was still driving up to London until a couple of months ago. I would book him a parking space behind Tate Britain or the National Gallery and we would have lunch before seeing the show.

Afterwards we reminisced about our respective pasts and curious characters we had met in publishing, and discussed the politics of the day and the exhibition we had seen. What I learned through all this was a way of looking at the world that values art alongside science, passion alongside logic, and doing work that you love rather than just as a means of paying the bills.


Last week, a letter came telling me it was time to renew my TV licence. On the same day, the BBC was acting alongside South Yorkshire police to discredit Cliff Richard. He hadn’t been charged with anything, but the BBC put the label of “sex offender” on him before he’d even had a chance to respond to the allegations. I threw my renewal letter into the bin.

Your article by Geoffrey Robertson (16 August) highlighted the police’s wrongdoing in this case. But it should have gone further. There is something sinister happening at the BBC. I’m not sure if its reporters are members of the National Union of Journalists, but they certainly don’t abide by its code of conduct, which clearly states that a journalist “does nothing to intrude into anybody’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of public interest”.

Did the public need to know an unproven allegation had been made? I think not. In behaving in this way the BBC has been acting like a tabloid newspaper.

Caolan Byrne
London SE10


Thirty-five years ago, I met, and exchanged a few words with, a well-known, now famous, actor in a lavatory during the interval of the gala opening of a refurbished theatre. Nothing happened; we just exchanged a few words: “Hello, good show isn’t it?” – “Yes, isn’t it?” If I googled that actor today, I should get only references to his work and, perhaps, his own website.

But what if I took it into my head to tell the police that this actor had propositioned or molested me in that lavatory? There were no witnesses; we were the only ones there. Would the police now be kicking in his door, while being recorded by the BBC? Would this action now be on every news website?

Then, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, if I googled that actor tomorrow, I would get multiple references to allegations of “sex abuse”. Even if some of these references were about unfair reporting, the inference would be clear: “No smoke without fire.”

I do not want proven paedophiles to escape punishment. But I do not want innocent people to be found guilty by rumour or malicious suggestion.

S Garrett
East Lydford, Somerset

American ideas about the NHS

I am mystified by the American doctor Jen Gunter’s rather condescending assessment of how favourable her view of the NHS was after her son received emergency treatment (16 August). Was she expecting a third-world experience in an impoverished country?

The UK is a rich country, and the NHS is a highly developed and complex organisation. We pay comparatively very little for our health care in the UK and we get an awful lot for our money.

The NHS is still regarded by many as the envy of the world, despite its difficulties.

I teach nursing at the University of Birmingham, and our students have elective clinical placements in countries all over the world, including the US. The one message which I constantly hear from them following their experiences overseas is “I will never complain about the NHS ever again.”

Mark Hughes
College of medical and Dental Sciences
University of Birmingham

At first glance, the figures provided about Vanguard (“NHS faces huge bill over private provider’s botched eye operations, 15 August) suggest that many millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been actively encouraged to haemorrhage out of the NHS as superfluous management earnings, investor returns and profits.

And the services provided have caused harm.

Had the money been used to fund NHS treatment directly, more people would have been treated sooner and the harms would not have arisen. The mania for profit-driven private-sector involvement in the NHS defies reason.

Steve Ford
Haydon Bridge, Northumberland


A chance missed to cripple the jihadists

Your editorial of 18 August is only partially correct in the interpretation of last year’s vote on Syria, and you omit a vital point.

The Government rightly wished to keep open the possibility of military action against Assad, who had just, once again, gassed his own people, correctly calculating the usual short-lived expressions of anger from the media and the world.

But the impact of a strike would also have assisted the moderate opposition, those who had bravely taken to the streets against him originally and endorsed principles for a democratic, pluralist Syria, and who were increasingly finding themselves also fighting a nascent extremist and largely foreign force. There was a chance, a year ago, to take some action which might have cut off IS at its knees in Syria.

I fully accept that we cannot know what would have happened subsequently if action, rejected by the US and on which the UK Parliament never voted, had been taken, and the consequent removal of chemical weapons is no small gain. But we can be quite certain of what has happened by not doing so. Assad continued to collude with the Islamic extremists to pursue a narrative too readily swallowed elsewhere that his “opposition” were all the same, simply extremist terrorists not worth the support of  the world.

Moderates have been steadily weakened and demoralised. A dreadful bombing and killing campaign, with conventional weapons apparently given the green light, has been continued even more forcibly against the Syrian people whilst the world turned the other way. This has all derailed any negotiations for a conclusion which Assad might have feared, and IS has become ever stronger, emerging into the force we see now in Syria and Iraq.

A year’s delay in dealing with IS has come at more of a cost than just tying western foreign policy in elaborate knots; there is no comfort that the casualties are not on our own doorstep.

Alistair Burt MP
North East Bedfordshire
Minister for the Middle East, 2010-2013


Gay people bullied in name of Christianity

Imagine. A perfectly decent, gifted and well-balanced teenager being made to feel she “lived in shame … degraded and very humiliated” (Vicky Beeching: The Big Read 14 August) This is emotional abuse on a par with the severest bullying.

Yet, since it is done in the name of Christianity, no one is held culpable in law for such a gross and offensive misuse of power, as well as the cruel distortion of Christian theology and love at  its core.

This aggressive and deliberate homophobia can be life-threatening, as in her case, through the accumulated effect of extreme denial, guilt, loneliness, stress and deep trauma. There is a war being waged against young gay and lesbian people and the perpetrators walk free every time.

Trying to destroy the self-esteem and integrity of any person, simply on the grounds they are lesbian or gay, should be a criminal offence.

Since this odious practice is endemic in churches and other faith-based groups they need to feel the full weight of society’s total disapproval, not only by it being made illegal to offer so-called “ex-gay” or “reparative therapies” or exorcisms, but by also having to function without benefit of charitable status.

Anything less and the message is: “It’s OK to bludgeon into submission anyone if we don’t like their sexual orientation.”

The Rev Richard Kirker
London E1


Reading that Vicky Beeching had come out as gay was a liberating experience for me. As a young, gay Christian so far in the closet it’s a wonder I haven’t found Narnia, Beeching has given me hope.

For the first time ever, coming out to my family and friends actually seems like a possibility. Her coming out is, quite frankly, an answer to prayer.

Name and address supplied

Fleecing the ‘southern toffs’

Perhaps it is not surprising that so many country pubs are closing down. I visited one in the shadow of Lancashire’s Pendle Hill at the weekend and was shocked to find that while I’d been charged £3.30 for a pint of ale, the cheery, straw-chewing villager standing next to me at the bar only had to pay £2.90.

On enquiring about the discrepancy, I was informed there was a special “locals’ rate” but “wealthy Southern toffs” like me must pay more because we could afford it.

Charles Garth
Ampthill, Bedfordshire


Rude Roman language

Natalie Haynes’s review “Portrait of a chameleon emperor” (Radar, 16 August) quoted Horace referring to his friend Caesar Augustus as a “perfect penis”.

Surely a better translation would be “complete prick”?

Elizabeth Roberts
Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway


As referendum day approaches the complications of independence are becoming apparent – not least, how much Salmond wants to give up

Sir, The excellent arguments against Scottish independence (leader, Aug 18) suggest that the Yes lobby is short on logic. As the Queen said in her Silver Jubilee speech in 1977, “I was crowned queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. An independent Scotland retaining the monarchy is akin to any other independent nation deciding it would like the queen as its monarch. If Mr Salmond is not ready to give up the monarchy, the pound and the Bank of England, he is not ready to leave the UK.

Professor Anthony Watson
Bashley, Hants

Sir, It is obvious that if Scotland does vote for independence a governor general will be appointed to act on behalf of the Queen. He or she will be a Scot. The Queen is a constitutional monarch and does not directly rule — as we are all taught at school. As with her current 16 realms Scotland would be free to replace her with an elected president or with a different monarch. It is well known that at least three realms will reconsider their relationship with the Crown after the passing of Elizabeth II.

The suggestion that the Queen is “pro union” is divined from a speech given in 1977. But, as with all Her Majesty’s words (excepting the Christmas Day message) these were her government’s opinions.

Richard Bailey
Ryde, Isle of Wight

Sir, Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister of Australia (interview Aug 16) expresses himself with greater directness than domestic sensitivities would probably allow were he a UK politician. Nevertheless, while he may overstate his case, Mr Abbott makes it clear how momentous and final a Yes vote would be.

The union of England and Scotland greatly increased the security of these islands and created what has been, on most counts, Europe’s most successful and enduring nation states, a bastion of freedom and security which has more than once held the pass against tyranny and ensured the survival of liberal democratic values far beyond its shores. Those on both sides of the border who are prepared to countenance the dissolution of the UK should reflect how future generations might view this. While there will be those who rejoice, a Yes might vote in September, could well be judged the moment when an iconic nation state with all that it has represented, fractured and turned in on itself.

Robert Page
Luton, Beds

During his referendum campaign Alex Salmond has made absurd claims about Scotland’s social virtues, replacing the Celtic cringe with a false sense of moral superiority.

Dundee University and the pollster Survation tested such claims and found Scots wanted just as harsh controls on immigration, welfare, social housing and aid as their neighbours.

The first minister protects the fantasy that Scotland’s wholly devolved education system is the best in the world by pulling our schools out of key international surveys and studies. However, this ploy cannot hide the shameful fact that in wide areas of Scotland, on his watch, the only way parents can obtain a decent education for their children is to buy it.

He has turned our traditional pride of place into chippy defensiveness by introducing self-reverential delusions which diminish Scotland’s natural warmth and humanity.

The Rev Dr John Cameron
St Andrews

The RAF is sending Chinooks into Iraq for the first time since 2011 CPL NEIL BRYDEN/MoD/Getty Images

Published at 12:01AM, August 18 2014

“The barbarity and genocide in Northern Iraq and Syria, if not checked, will spread and affect us directly in various ways”

Sir, There are several imperatives for intervening once again in the Middle East. The barbarity and genocide in Northern Iraq and Syria, if not checked, will spread and affect us directly in various ways.

The appalling situation is a part of a bigger crisis that is fast becoming a global game changer. This is not just about the Middle East, as events in Indonesia and Nigeria show, and the longer-term threat to the UK is significant. The wrongs of the recent past and understandable dread of re-engagement must not blind us to this. Too little too late now and we court more horrors and greater dangers in the years ahead.

Getting things right this time requires our political leaders and opinion formers to persuade public opinion that firm, proportionate action is required to prevent genocide and chaos from spreading. Action must be genuinely international, even if a disproportionate amount of any initial military and logistic action is US/British because few others have the requisite capabilities — eg Chinook helicopters and experience.

Short-term emergency action must however be backed up by international efforts to nurture political frameworks and multi-ethnic and multi-religious state infrastructures. We must encourage the international community to stop reacting to events and begin to drive them. A sustained effort is required to safeguard viable states and to quarantine areas where order has collapsed. This may well involve both “soft” and “hard” power, but diplomacy must lead and involve the key regional powers and actors.

For us the centre of gravity now is British public opinion. Perhaps we need to examine our own consciences and priorities more and be less hasty to blame our politicians and recent mistakes. Hard work beckons.

Brigadier Nigel Hall

General Tim Cross

London W1

Sir, David Aaronovitch’s article “Only military action will defeat the jihadis” (Aug 14) is spot on, along with his apt comment, “This is Operation Drop Something From a Tornado and Get Out”.

Operation Haven in April 1991 which I participated in is a good example of what can be achieved in terms of the humanitarian relief, but also the very deployment on the ground sent a strong message to Saddam Hussein and his Republican Guard. It acted as a deterrent which helped to stabilise the region. I would hope that the UK Armed Forces, along with its Nato and Kurdish allies, could not only mount a similar operation but, most importantly, also deter the so-called Islamic State from further acts of barbarism. I just hope that the prime minister and his Cobra team have not missed this golden opportunity by its limited and hesitant approach to date.

Andrew Higginson

Barnes, London

Sir, From your news reports we are all only too aware of the terrifying humanitarian crisis in Iraq, the shortages of healthcare services and the looming threat of genocide initiated by the IS.

As doctors all having a connection with Iraq silence is not an option for us, and we believe inaction by the British government is an act of avoidable negligence. The moral and humanitarian case to support the helpless people of Iraq and to take them out of their misery is clear. The UK, the US and others have had major involvement with Iraq and cannot walk away or turn a blind eye from all this now.

Dr Husni Habboush, Consultant Haematologist, Wales

Dr Ali Kubba FRCOG, Consultant Community Gynaecologist, London

Professor Saad Shakir, Director, Drug Safety Research Unit, Southampton

Sadoon S Sadoon, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Medway Maritime NHS Foundation Trust, Kent

Dr Baha Al-wakeel, Consultant Emergency Medicine and H Senior Lecturer, North Middlesex University Hospital, London N18

Dr M H Jawad FRCP FRCPCH DCH, Consultant Paediatrician, Surrey & Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust

Dr A Alissa, General Practitioner, London SW15

Dr Moayed Aziz, Consultant Anaesthetist

Miss Zara Nadim, Consultant Obstetrician and gynaecologist, Surrey & Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust

Dr Mazin Alfaham, Consultant Paediatrician, Cardiff

Dr Wala Alsafi, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Rotherham General Hospital

Western political ignorance and arrogance are blamed for the civil wars raging in the Middle East

Sir, Tim Cross and Nigel Hall (letter, Aug 18) make a compelling case for intervention in the Middle East, but their argument is flawed. They misunderstand the cultures and desires of the indigenous peoples and misread the political realities facing western governments and financial vested interests.

As a former infantry officer I can see the military merits of their plan; but as an arabist who left Syria just a few weeks before the insurrection broke there, I see it offering no long-term solution for the region. In the minds of the indigenous peoples, it is western cultural ignorance and political arrogance that have created the cancer of militant Islam — we destroyed communities where Sunnis, Shia and Christians had lived side by side and brought civil war.

You cannot be accepted as the world’s policeman while turning a blind eye to the sins of your allies or choosing to work with only the “regional powers and actors” you please. Power without authority is worthless; and authority if it is not accepted by the majority is ultimately useless.

The Rev RC Paget

Brenchley, Kent

We should be doing our utmost to make sure that boys and girls study mathematics and the sciences

Sir, Unconscious biases, as you point out (Aug 15), can have a strong influence on whether girls take maths and science at A-level and how they perform if they do. The ethos of a school and direction from parents, can play a huge role in subject choice. Surveys for the Institute of Physics found that more than four out of five schools perpetuate gender divides between subjects.

Part of the solution could be to introduce a broad baccalaureate-style course that would require all students to study science and mathematics to age 18, as suggested in the Royal Society’s recent Vision report. This would mean all girls would study these subjects for longer, opening up opportunities after school and giving them time to get to grips thoroughly with the subjects without external influences subtly deterring them.

School leaders also have a responsibility to tackle unconscious bias where it creeps in. Schools must aim to foster gender balance in subject choices, and ensure that their teachers expect male and female students to be equally likely to want to pursue biology or physics.

Science and mathematics are crucial to future employability and the UK’s economic prosperity — we should be doing all we can to make sure as many young people as possible, be they boys or girls, study these subjects.

Sir Martin Taylor

Professor Dame Athene Donald

Is it possible to criticise Israel without being accused of antisemitism?

Sir, Jonathan Sacks (Aug 16) writes with insight on religious hatred but he fails to understand that it is Israel’s belligerence, growing sectarian nature, aggressive colonisation and indifference to international law which are the real cause of so much concern and hatred.

Events do not happen in a vacuum and by conflating Judaism and Zionism, antisemitism and criticism of Israel, Rabbi Sacks seems to be condoning what is happening in Israel.

Like many idealists who once worked on a kibbutz I am appalled at the way the vision of the founding fathers of Israel has been betrayed by fundamentalist zealots and the monster it has become.

Dominic Kirkham



The Queen’s Swan Marker with a cygnet at the annual swan upping on the river Thames  Photo: CARL COURT/AFP

6:57AM BST 18 Aug 2014


SIR – What is it about the Cam that encourages such avian thugs as the swan Asboy (report, August 14)?

From 1959 to 1962, I coxed Fitzwilliam House eights in the Lents and Mays races. One unforgettable early morning, I was coxing an eight down past the Gut, where the Cobfather of all protective parents was surging up and down, with a look of row-past-me-if-you-dare in his eye. Which the stalwart Fitzwilliam oarsmen did.

Like a Stinger missile, the swan, neck outstretched, launched his attack, not of course at the burly rowers, but at me.

With tremendous foresight, our stroke ordered us to stop, and my life was saved by the batteries of water splashed over Asboy’s great-grandfather by eight blades working in unison. He resumed his angry swimming and we moved off sharpish.

Des Evans
Chichester, West Sussex

King John signs the Magna Carta at Runneymede in June 1215  Photo: Alamy

6:59AM BST 18 Aug 2014


SIR – You quote the chairman of the Magna Carta Trust, Sir Robert Worcester, as saying: “It now affects more than 100 countries, who are following the rule of law, which includes France and Germany and Italy and all the Europeans, but also all the countries in the Commonwealth, save two or three.” (report, August 15)

All the countries he refers to may indeed be “following the rule of law”, but the criminal justice system in continental jurisdictions is very different to that extant in Britain and other common-law countries.

In Britain the potential defendant enjoys the protection of the law of habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence, trial by jury and the right to silence. The defendant is also protected from hearsay evidence, trials in absentia, revelation of previous convictions and unregulated press reporting.

There is no equivalence between the inquisitorial systems of criminal justice extant on the Continent, where none of these protections exist, and our own adversarial criminal justice system.

Christopher Gill
Hon President, The Freedom Association
Bridgnorth, Shropshire

SIR – The case for a public holiday on June 15 2015 (Leading article, August 14) to remember Magna Carta is well made.

But the real gap for a public holiday is October, where a day between October 14, the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings (our greatest defeat) and October 21, the Battle of Trafalgar (our greatest victory) might be salutary in these uncertain times.

Jeremy Harbord
Devizes, Wiltshire

Speeding scooters

SIR – There are speed limits on mobility scooters (Letters, August 15): 4 mph on pavements and 8 mph on roads. As with many other things, they are rarely enforced.

James B Sinclair
St Helier, Jersey

Hi, heaven

SIR – In our village church, we had just embarked on prayers of general intercession when a mobile left on a seat burst into life with a man’s voice saying: “I’m sorry but I cannot accept any further requests, please try again later.”

Have smartphones finally achieved the communications ultimate?

Rodney Stone
Marlborough, Wiltshire

Raid on Cliff Richard

SIR – The police defence of their treatment of Sir Cliff Richard (report, August 16) misses the point.

It is widely accepted that celebrities should not be given preferential treatment, but neither should they be given worse treatment. The police would not have acted in this way if the person concerned had not been a celebrity.

Robert Ascott
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – One has to question the priorities of some police, given that so many officers were dispatched to search the property.

When robberies occur at modest houses it is as much as one can do to get a crime number for insurance purposes, let alone an investigation into the offence.

Brian Pay
Kibworth Beauchamp, Leicestershire

Defence of the elm

SIR – I wish Richard Kellaway every success in his venture (Letters, August 15), but please don’t blame the farmers for the lack of hedgerow elms.

I run an arable farm with conservation a priority. In the Seventies I lost more than 100 elm trees due to the importation of elm timber with bark in place, which introduced the elm bark beetle to this country.

Subsequently I began planting many acres of new woodland, and endeavoured to allow elm shoots from the felled trees to re-establish in some of my hedgerows. The elms flourish for about six years until the bark becomes hard enough for the beetle to live beneath. Once there, the tree is dead within a year. This leaves many yards of hedges with little growing except bramble.

Willum Butterfield
East Haddon Hill, Northamptonshire

Life in Beebossia

SIR – Dan Hodges paints a colourful picture of life in “Beebossia” (Comment, August 14) – sadly it’s a misleading one.

For starters, the Government does not appoint the BBC’s director general – the BBC Trust has that responsibility. The BBC has not paid out £100,000 in “goodwill payments” to people who had complained of harassment: the figure covers a six-year period and includes payments made in response to all complaints to TV Licensing during this time.

Mr Hodges also suggests that last year more than 50 people were sent to jail for non-payment of the licence fee: licence fee evaders are fined, not jailed. Only if they fail to pay the fine is jail an option for the courts.

At 40p a day per household, the BBC is great value for money – and support for the licence fee as the method of funding the BBC has risen from 31 per cent in 2004 to 53 per cent now.

Andrew Scadding
Head of Corporate Affairs, BBC
London W1

SIR – Has Dan Hodges ever watched any television in other countries? The BBC, for all its failings, is a treasure.

I would be happy to pay my licence fee for BBC Four alone.

Alison Place
Hampton, Middlesex

In plain English

SIR – Travelling on my twice daily commute along the A4 in west London, I encounter advertising hoardings that tell me, variously, to “Live Colourful”, “Go Fun Yourself” and “Drive Bold”.

How do I do any of these things?

Sarah Sinclair
Richmond, Surrey

Don’t deny cannabis-based drugs as painkillers

SIR – No wonder that the treatment of extreme chronic pain lags so far behind other medical disciplines when cannabis-based medication is denied to patients who could benefit from it (report, August 16).

Today pain management largely relies on derivatives of the willow tree and the poppy and its progeny. The former cannot alleviate excruciating chronic pain and may damage internal organs. The latter require ever-increasing doses, leading to confusion, physical instability, addiction and again, possible organ damage.

Until the NHS is prepared to be more adventurous in the search for new painkillers, possible funders will remain reluctant to invest in this desperately needed branch of medicine.

Erica Barrett
Hastings, East Sussex

SIR – I have had multiple sclerosis for 20 years, and in June I experienced the joy of walking through town without looking at the ground. My right hand, which had been curled and numb, started to straighten, and the fearful muscular pain abated. For the first time I slept soundly without sleeping pills, and was able to watch television without leaning on a chair to cope with spasms.

A dear friend had financed my first online purchase of Sativex, the cannabis-based drug, since two GPs in Shropshire and Norfolk had turned down my request.

I could scream with frustration and desperation, not on my own behalf but on behalf of all MS patients, many of whom are both younger than me and less mobile.

Jacquie Langham
Holt, Norfolk

Iraqi Christians displaced by the violence in their country wait in line for aid Photo: Reuters

7:00AM BST 18 Aug 2014


SIR – A genocide was perpetrated 99 years ago upon the Christians of the Middle East, including the Aramaic-speaking Assyrians, Chaldeans and Aramaeans. Now we see history repeating itself.

Christian towns and villages, such as Qaraqosh, Telkepe and Alqosh, which had largely escaped the violence of recent decades, are now emptied of their people. These towns, with ancient monasteries, are of huge historical and cultural significance. In this area, furthermore, Aramaic has been spoken for thousands of years.

Wave upon wave of refugees, amounting to hundreds of thousands of people, are now crowded into the small Kurdish region, itself gravely threatened by the Islamic State forces. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Yazidis have fled via the mountains without shelter. Urgent aid is needed, but in the longer term the refugees cannot stay in Erbil.

As scholars engaged in the study of their language and cultural heritage, we call upon Britain, the governments of the European Union, the United States, and the international community to do all in their power to allow the refugees back to their homes in the plain of Mosul and to institute an internationally protected safe haven in northern Iraq of the kind that, 20 years ago, protected the Kurds from genocide. This enabled the region up to now to enjoy a stability and prosperity that we would wish for all Iraqis.

Dr Eleanor Coghill
University of Konstanz
Dr Alessandro Mengozzi
University of Turin
Professor Geoffrey Khan
University of Cambridge
Profesor Dr Werner Arnold
University of Heidelberg
University Professor Dr Shabo Talay
Free University of Berlin
Professor Yona Sabar
University of California, Los Angeles
Professor Dr Heleen Murre-van den Berg
Leiden University of Leiden
Professor Fabrizio Pennacchietti
University of Turin
Professor Dr Otto Jastrow
Tallinn University
Professor Steven Fassberg
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Professor Hezy Mutzafi
Tel Aviv University
Dr Samuel Ethan Fox
University of Chicago
Dr Sergey Loesov
Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow
Dr Pablo Kirtchuk
Institut National de Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris
Dr Maciej Tomal
Jagiellonian University, Krakow
Dr George Anton Kiraz
Rutgers University, New Jersey
Nineb Lamassu
University of Cambridge
Zeki Bilgic
University of Konstanz
Georges Toro
University of Konstanz
Dr Charles G. Häberl
Rutgers University, New Jersey
Dr Roberta Borghero
University of Cambridge
Dr Michael Waltisberg
University of Marburg
Dr Alinda Damsma
Leo Baeck College, London
Dr Na’ama Pat-El
University of Texas at Austin
Dr Johanna Rubba
Cal Poly State University, California
Rev Kristine Jensen
Aramaic Bible Translation, Peoria, Arizona
Dr Lidia Napiorkowska
University of Cambridge
Kathrin Göransson
University of Cambridge
Ariel Gutman
University of Konstanz
Michael Wingert
University of California, Los Angeles
Timothy Hogue
University of California, Los Angeles
Kristine Mole
University of Cambridge
Dr Jasmin Sinha
Aubange, Belgium
Fabio Gasparini
University of Tutin
Demsin Lachin
Aramaic Bible Translation, Turlock, California
Dr Margaretha Folmer
Leiden University
Professor Dr Estiphan Panoussi
University of Gothenburg
Professor Emeritus Olga Kapeliuk
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Dr Jean Sibille
University of Toulouse
Joseph Alichoran
Institut National de Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris
Professor Eran Cohen
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Robin Bet Shmuel
Oriental Cultural Centre, Duhok, Iraq
Dr Alexey Lyavdansky
Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow
Martin Luther Chan
University of California, Los Angeles
Dr M. David Hanna
Los Angeles
Dr Laura Kalin
University of Connecticut
Illan Gonen
University of Cambridge
Dr Francesco Zanella
University of Bonn
D. Robert Paulissian
Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies

SIR – Saddam Hussein was no threat to Britain before our invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the Islamic State is no threat today. Its members are extreme but rational players responding to events in the Middle East.Our policy a year ago was to fund them to defeat President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, so why the turnaround now?

Western intervention in the Middle East has been a disaster. Many have died, countries have split on sectarian lines, and minorities have been targeted in the ensuing chaos. Our policy must be to step away and offer only diplomacy and aid.

Bilal Patel
London E1

SIR – No doubt the reason David Cameron does not want Iraqi Christian refugees in Britain is that he knows the asylum system is completely out of control, as it has been since Tony Blair was prime minister.

Hugh Jones

SIR – As a result of this crisis, when some British Muslims call for a caliphate under sharia law, we know what they mean.

C M Bartel
Orpington, Kent

Irish Times:

Sir, – In 1992, the excuse was the absence of legislation. Yet with legislation now in place, we have learned of the forced premature delivery by Caesarean section of a baby to a vulnerable woman who sought an abortion. Nobody, surely, can claim this dreadful situation is progress. – Yours, etc,


Grey’s Lane ,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – I fully agree with the following assertion by Prof William Binchy: “Inequalities based on race, age, gender, physical or mental capacity, economic or intellectual power violate the basic requirement of human rights” (“UN committee’s view on abortion contradicts core ethical value of human rights”, Opinion & Analysis, August 18th).

However, this is written in the context of a defence of one of the most draconian abortion laws in the world. Every single inequality Prof Binchy lists is in fact compounded by the anti-abortion amendment that he campaigned for in 1983.

To understand the discrimination at the heart of the Eighth Amendment, it must be considered alongside the Thirteenth, which allows for travel outside Ireland for abortion services, a provision acknowledged as necessary by most anti-abortion campaigners. For the more well-to-do in Ireland, such “abortion tourism” is an inconvenience; for the working poor and the unemployed, this avenue can be effectively barred. (This inconvenient truth was put to and acknowledged by the Government delegation at the UN hearings.) Many people with physical disabilities also face difficulties or are unable to travel. Minors, too, may well not be able to: they may not have a passport or money, or they may not be in a position to tell their parents. As asylum seekers are hemmed in by our borders unless they receive permission from the Minister for Justice and Equality to leave, and as the pocket money they receive would not go anywhere near covering the price of a “weekend break”, this option is all but eliminated in their case too.

The Eighth Amendment also impacts those with mental capacity issues: the spectre of the Eighth Amendment looms large in the Assisted Decision-Making Capacity Bill 2013, which outlines a situation wherein a woman’s stated end-of-life care wishes can be overturned by the High Court if she is pregnant. Finally, the gender discrimination in the 1983 Amendment is clear: women cannot avail of the full range of services to safeguard their health (merely their lives), a restriction not placed on men.

Naturally, the pregnant woman is largely absent from the rights discourse Prof Binchy outlines. This omission is a requisite for anti-choice doublethink that attempts to reconcile support for both abortion bans and human rights. – Yours, etc,


Main Street,


Dublin 20.

Sir, – Listening to the debate about the rights of a woman to have an abortion, it is easy to forget that there is a tiny human being who is currently fighting for life at the centre of this situation. Very few commentators in the media have spoken about the impact for this child of being delivered so early. One study found that up to half the children born between 24 and 28 weeks of gestation have a disability. Other risks include hypothermia, hypoglycaemia and respiratory distress, to mention just a few. So, if this child survives, it is a distinct possibility that he or she will experience the consequences of somebody else’s “choice” long into the future. Where are this child’s rights in this debate? – Yours, etc,


Rutledge Terrace,

South Circular Road,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – Minister for Rural Affairs Ann Phelan says action may be taken to prevent supermarkets being built in rural areas, but the closure of Garda stations and post offices will continue (Front Page, August 16th).

Donegal – Ireland’s most deprived county – has seen this approach before.

The Government took decisive action – it cancelled the A5 road link to Dublin and introduced the Wild Atlantic Way which, like Government policy, leads nowhere in both directions. – Yours, etc,


Cnoc an Stollaire,

Gaoth Dobhair,

Co Donegal.

Sir, – Further to your coverage of the issue in your Weekend supplement (August 16th), the lifeblood is draining from rural Ireland. There are not enough people nor is there enough money to sustain communities and small businesses. Houses and holiday homes are empty and undervalued. In contrast, in the cities, people scramble to afford decent housing in safe environments.

Surely, therefore, one possible solution to revitalising rural Ireland would be to find ways to encourage all those who can function remotely – writers, artists, academics, advisers, engineers and retirees – to consider the joys of living away from traffic in the wonderful environments of countryside and coastline.

To provide the necessary incentives, Ann Phelan is going to have to do the homework and persuade her colleagues in Government and the private sector of the long-term benefits to the country as a whole of investing in a first-class infrastructure in communication networks.

Easy access to broadband for all may be the eventual solution but it is a ways off yet and, in the meantime, one can provide first-rate communications services (internet, fax) by continuing to support and expand facilities in community centres, which play a huge role in rural life.

For the last decade, we have enjoyed living on the staggeringly beautiful Donegal coast, with stunning views, lovely neighbours, wild, windswept beaches and first-rate golf courses.

Without the support of a fantastic community centre staffed by great people and with very good communication facilities, it would not have been possible for us to remain here for substantial portions of each year.

There must be many like us who would be only too happy to trade a life of city strife for the joys and advantages of rural environments so long as business level communication services were available. – Yours, etc,




Co Donegal.

A chara, – Changes to short-form death certificates may offer some succour to bereaved families following a death by suicide (“Legal requirement for an inquest after a suicide needs to be reviewed”, Opinion & Analysis, August 13th).

Balancing the legal requirement of an inquest with the grieving of a family, even a whole community, is undoubtedly difficult. But inquests serve many functions, including highlighting if future deaths can be prevented.

The public interest aspect of media reporting of deaths by suicide can still be improved. While good practice guidelines exist, sometimes they are not always adhered to.

When circumstances are “tragic”, or the person is of high profile, recent history shows a lack of restraint in some media reporting of intimate and distressing aspects of suicide.

This may cause much more harm than a lawful inquest. – Is mise,


Assistant Professor

Mental Health,

School of Nursing

Sir, – Desmond FitzGerald (August 14th) seems determined to label anyone who protests Israeli actions in Gaza as anti-Semitic. I think he is deliberately missing the point. The reason so many people from different backgrounds and persuasions are condemning these actions is because their representatives, who have no trouble unequivocally opposing Russia, the Taliban, both sides in Syria, the Islamic State and a host of sub-Saharan African warlords, are strangely reluctant to come out strongly against the atrocities (and that is undoubtedly what they are) being committed against innocent civilians and children in Gaza.

I am prepared to condemn unconditionally any terrorist actions by Hamas against Israel. I look forward to an equally clear-cut statement by Mr FitzGerald concerning Israeli actions. I suspect I may be waiting some time. – Yours, etc,


Seafield Crescent,

Booterstown, Co Dublin.

Sir, – If the HPAT (Health Professions Admissions Test) was “originally introduced as a predictor of suitability for a career in medicine” (“Points for medicine fall sharply after test restructure”, Home News, August 18th), it must surely now be deemed a failure, and one which merely favours those who can afford expensive HPAT “grinds”.

Given that the Medical Council has recently told us that 10 per cent of our young medical graduates chose not to register or reregister as doctors in Ireland last year (some of whom have quit the profession entirely), and given our routine inability to properly staff our hospitals each July due to the exodus of newly minted doctors, is it not time that we dropped the emphasis on “suitability” for a medical career and replaced it with “sustainability” (identifying potential doctors who will actually stay and serve in our struggling system).

This might mean dropping the controversial screening test. But alternatively, why not utilise the HPAT as a “bargaining chip” and actually waive it for those would-be medical students here who have the necessary Leaving Certificate points and also commit to, say, a six-month stint in our emergency departments (or other areas of medical manpower shortage), with the usual (but hopefully evolving) terms, conditions, training and salaries to apply?

The net result of such a boost to our staffing numbers would undoubtedly transform our acute health service for the better, with remarkably little cost to the State.

Even more importantly, it would positively favour those who have that immeasurable but essential quality, a passion to care for their fellow citizens. – Yours, etc,


Consultant in

Emergency Medicine,

Mercy University Hospital,

Grenville Place,

A chara, – Further to your editorial of August 18th, so now we can add salt to the list of foods that bounce back and forth on the lists of what is healthy and what is not. It seems like today’s health food is tomorrow’s poison and vice versa, much to the bewilderment and frustration of the poor punter who only wants to do what is best.

The whole confounded business reminds one of the scene in Woody Allen’s Sleepers, where doctors in the future are laughing at the people of our era for not appreciating the health benefits of deep fat, steak, cream pie and hot fudge. Indeed.

At this point I would hardly be surprised if an article were to appear in a prestigious medical journal extolling the life-enhancing properties of deep-fried Mars bars washed down with generous helpings of caffeinated corn syrup.

It would be less confusing simply to eat moderate amounts of the foods we like – what we’d risk losing in potential health benefits would be more than made up for by the reduction in stress in dealing with all this conflicting “expert” advice. – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Regarding the requirement that broadcasters give equal access to the proponents of either side of an argument, I wonder whether it would be consistent with natural justice to apply this obligation to the Sunday sermon?

I also wonder whether the proponents of a particular point of view may have reason to regret the insistence with which they use various legalistic contrivances to assist in propagating their causes.

The recent carry-on about Derek Mooney’s indiscretion has done little more than expose the complainants to ridicule. A self-inflicted reductio ad absurdum is not an effective way to further one’s arguments. – Yours, etc,


Hillside Drive,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – I am personally aware of several people who have travelled from Ebola-endemic areas of west Africa in recent days to east Africa and onwards to European destinations, including Ireland, with little difficulty. Given Ebola’s varied incubation period of two to 21 days, when cases are still infective, such relaxed travel procedures are worrying.

The World Health Organisation believes that the current epidemic is under-reported and the extent of its spread underestimated.

Certainly there is not enough evidence about the epidemiology of this disease to warrant the confidence expressed by many health agencies with responsibility for the protection of the public.

Given that the Ebola I virus has shown a remarkable ability to survive in different environments since its first onset in 1976, it is entirely possible that a strain of the virus suited to an urban high population density setting, rather than its current rural low density population, could evolve. Improved health surveillances at our national ports would be prudent and should be more visible and more rigorous. – Yours, etc,


Glenvara Park,


Sir, – Now that Labour’s support has doubled, according to the first poll since their change of leadership, is there any chance that Fine Gael might take a leaf out of its book?

There are some very capable politicians in the party, and any one of these would be better than an increasingly remote Taoiseach who is either unwilling or unable to engage in public debate. The extent of his communication with the public, apart from his stock-in-trade soundbites, seems only to consist of scripted speeches in the Dáil – along with the same old repeated putdowns of the Opposition.

Labour’s dumping of the old guard seems to be paying off, so where better to start in Fine Gael than with the current “Father of the Dáil”? – Yours, etc,


Belton Terrace,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I don’t understand why the analysis of the Leaving Cert is always presented in terms of boys versus girls. The tone of the presentation of these “girls over boys” results is always celebratory, rather than questioning how the system is clearly not working for boys and that it is high time for a rethink. – Yours, etc,


Olney Crescent,

Terenure, Dublin 6W.

A chara, – The “music” played in Croke Park is a characterless cacophony inflicted on spectators – and that right up to the starting whistle.

As well as the loud commercials when the so-called music is not being blasted out, why attempt to trick spectators wishing to see an action replay on the large screens during the game by annoyingly replacing them irregularly with commercial advertising? Have we not already paid for our tickets? – Is mise,


Droim Dhá Thiar,

Co Liatroma.

Sir, – The Irish Times is to be commended for providing balance to both sides of the debate on how we should reflect on events that ultimately lead to Irish independence.

As a people, if we are to achieve anything from the decade of commemorations, it should be to understand what really happened 100 years ago in all its complexity, rather than what is the most convenient narrative or conjecture for both sides of the political divide in terms of their own legacy or current political objectives. – Yours, etc,





A chara, – The “music” played in Croke Park is a characterless cacophony inflicted on spectators – and that right up to the starting whistle.

As well as the loud commercials when the so-called music is not being blasted out, why attempt to trick spectators wishing to see an action replay on the large screens during the game by annoyingly replacing them irregularly with commercial advertising? Have we not already paid for our tickets? – Is mise,


Droim Dhá Thiar,

Co Liatroma.

A chara, – Any chance of a decrease of 100 per cent in the number of letters about statistics? – Is mise,


Ellensborough Drive,

Kiltipper Road,

Dublin 24.

Irish Independent:

The resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady will do little to heal the pain of those abused by Brendan Smyth.

At the heart of the incompetent and inappropriate handling of the abuse scandal was a fatal flaw in the way the Catholic Church was organised and saw itself, not the acts of particular bishops, which were symptomatic of a deeper malaise.

The mode of selection of bishops was, and remains, unfit for purpose. The search for a safe pair of hands to fulfil the bishop’s role kills the enthusiasm and drive of many charismatic and dedicated priests who are crying out for inspiring leadership.

Outmoded ways of exercising leadership, through the appeal to authority as the determiner of all that is right and good, is the worst possible foundation on which to build our lives.

There can be no authority, even the authority of God, that can ever replace our personal responsibility for what we do and become.

Yet obedience to Rome remains the defining virtue required in our bishops. With a few notable exceptions, once they take office, they retreat into a world far removed from the lives and sentiments of those they purport to serve.

Though many have toned down the level of regalia worn in public, there remains a residual over-emphasis on pomp, power, control and hierarchy and on over-dressing in purple and red.

Cardinal Brady was a man of his times, deeply trusting of the institutional church to get things right. What he did was inexcusable but driven by the belief that the hand of God 
guided that institution in all it did. In reality, he was a fallible leader in a fallible church, 
making very serious errors of judgment.

He was misguided, naive and ill advised. He shared with all of us the capacity for getting things badly wrong if we do not seek good counsel.

Thankfully, the present Pope is more focused on what the church can learn rather than on what it can teach.

He seems more concerned with rekindling a commitment to seeking truth than with proclaiming that we possess it.

Philip O’Neill

Oxford, UK

Commemorate the RIC

I was privileged to be among the congregation at a Mass in the Pro Cathedral on August 3, marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. It was heartening to hear Archbishop Diarmuid Martin refer to those Irish men who took part in the war (one of whom was his uncle) as “having fought with great courage in the defence of an ideal”. Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan, who also attended, correctly said afterwards that it was “most regrettable” that the Irish war dead were “airbrushed from history”.

Sadly, there is another cohort of Irish men who “fought with great courage” for the same ideal – the promise of Home Rule and devolved government – and who are still “airbrushed from history”.

They served their communities faithfully in the decades leading up to independence, as the record will testify, until they found themselves suddenly on the wrong side of history.

The record shows that over 500 members of the RIC and 14 members of the DMP died violently between 1916 and 1922. The writer Sean O Faolain, whose father Denis Whelan served with the RIC in Cork city, said of this bloody period: “Men like my father were dragged out in those years and shot – so be it. Shot to inspire terror – so be it. But they were not traitors – they had their loyalties and they stuck to them.”

The RIC was stuck between a rock and hard place. Quite a number were sustained in their choice by a strong police culture in their families, but like the Volunteers who opposed them, they were for the most part staunchly Catholic and nationalist.

However despite our lobbying efforts over several years, there seems to be no apparent appetite among our politicians to have a memorial erected to these men or even to have an official commemoration for them, a matter of major disappointment to their legions of descendants.

Gerard Lovett

Knocklyon, Dublin 16

Rights of the child

Dearbhail McDonald remarks of the current abortion controversy that, “once again, it is vulnerable young women who do not have the safety valve of travel or other means, who are paying the price for our political cowardice” (Irish Independent, August 18).

Perhaps she should spare a thought for the vulnerable baby lying in one of our hospitals right now. Is that baby not paying a price? Is that baby’s very life and existence “wrong” in the eyes of some, or at least unworthy of mention?

Tom Finegan

Celbridge, Co Kildare

Listening to the debate about the rights of a woman to have an abortion, it is easy to forget that there is a tiny human being who is currently fighting for life at the centre of this situation.

Very few commentators in the media have spoken about the impact for this child of being delivered so early. One study found that up to half the children born between 24 and 28 weeks’ gestation have a disability. Other risks include hypothermia, hypoglycaemia and respiratory distress, to mention just a few.

So, if this child survives, it is a distinct possibility that he or she will experience the consequences of somebody else’s ‘choice’ long into the future. Where are the child’s rights in this debate?

Dr Ruth Cullen

South Circular Road, Dublin 8

Stand up to the ECB’s bullying

The European Central Bank has confirmed that the loss of our permanent vote at ECB council level is imminent as a result of a change in voting structures, caused by the entry of Lithuania into the eurozone from January 1 next year (Irish Independent, August 11).

In no circumstances should Ireland, at local or European level, submit to the latest bullying tactic of the ECB. A more valid alternative would be to leave the monetary union and join Britain and Sterling.

Following the loss of our permanent vote at the ECB council, Ireland will be relegated to the second tier of smaller European countries, having less voting rights than the five bigger ones sitting on the council.

The ending of one state, one vote, for smaller member states next January is an affront to democracy.

The troika saw fit to compliment us on our efforts and success in economic recovery before it finally bid us “adieu” – but not, unfortunately, before leaving us shouldering the biggest part of a €64bn debt to the ECB.

Now, we see the true hypocrisy in how the European Central Bank says “thank you”.

James Gleeson

Thurles, Co Tipperary

Make mine a 99

There I was, glancing at my Irish Independent and waiting for my plain ice cream cone, when, with joy unbridled, I read that Brendan Howlin may offer some little relief to Public Service pensioners like me.

“Cancel that order…make it a 99,” I hollered. Back to life in the ‘fast lane’ soon?!

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont, Dublin 9

Swapping imperial masters

A question that has never been answered is what price would Ireland have paid for German support, 
had the Easter Rising in 1916 succeeded?

Would the country have simply swapped one imperial master for a somewhat less benign one?

Colum Joyce

Clifden, Co Galway

Irish Independent


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