25 August 2014 Cold

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 sort out thirty books from Marcus

Scrabble: I win, but get under 400. perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.

111 Games Mary win 58 John 54


Simin Behbahani – obituary

Simin Behbahani was a poet known as the ‘Lioness of Iran’ whose subversive verse was banned

Simin Behbahani in 2007

Simin Behbahani in 2007 Photo: AP

7:03PM BST 24 Aug 2014


Simin Behbahani, who has died aged 87, was widely considered to be the greatest living Persian language poet, known throughout the Middle East and much of the world as the “Lioness of Iran”.

She was credited with introducing modern themes into traditional verse forms like the ghazal, a Persian sonnet form distinguishable by its rhyming couplets and lilting lyrics. Traditionally, the ghazal featured a male poet addressing a woman. In Simin Behbahani’s poetry, the roles were reversed and she developed classical forms to explore everyday events and address social and political issues, including women’s and minority rights and freedom of expression.

She won numerous international awards both for her campaigning and her verse, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999 and 2002. As a result she was blacklisted by Iranian hardliners and denounced as subversive.

Simin Behbahani began writing poetry under the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, dealing with such matters as poverty, orphans and corruption, reflecting her lifelong concern with the marginalised and outcast. But the ghazal form was out of fashion; most of her poet contemporaries in Iran had embraced modern free-verse forms and some claimed the old genre was dead.

Her most popular poem, My Country, I Will Build You Again, was published soon after the 1979 Islamic revolution and expressed the optimism of those who thought they had witnessed a “democratic” revolution: “My country, I will build you again,/ If need be, with bricks made from my life”. But from the early stages Simin Behbahani was sceptical. “I realised changes were not going in the right direction,” she recalled.

When others woke up to the fact that the Islamic Revolution of 1979 had failed to deliver on its promises, people began to turn back to the old forms of poetry. As a result, Simin Behbahani, who had been largely ignored by the authorities under the Shah, began to attract the attention of the Islamic police.

Her work was banned for 10 years after the revolution and she became the target of harassment. Yet, oddly, for most of that time she was allowed considerable freedom to travel, and she made several tours of the United States.

This freedom, too, was curtailed, however, after the popular protests that followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed election victory in 2009, when she appeared before both the Iranian and Western media to read two new poems, one commemorating the slain student protester Neda Agha-Soltan and the other denouncing Ahmadinejad without naming him: “If the flames of anger arise any higher in this land, your name on your tombstone will be covered with dirt,” she wrote. “You have become a babbling loudmouth, your insolent ranting, something to joke about.”

In March 2010 the 82-year-old Simin Behbahani, by now almost blind, was detained at Tehran airport as she prepared to board a flight for Paris to attend an International Women’s Day conference and led away by Iranian security officers, who confiscated her passport and interrogated her for several hours.

She was born Simin Khalili in Tehran on July 20 1927 into a family of intellectuals. Her father was a newspaper editor, her mother a poet and French teacher.

She studied law at Tehran University in the 1950s and later took the surname of her first husband, Behbahani, which she kept after their separation and her second marriage.

Simin Behbahani served for many years as president of the Iranian Writers’ Association. She received the Simone De Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom in recognition of her involvement in the “One Million Signatures” campaign for the repeal of discriminatory laws against women in Iran.

Simin Behbahani’s husband predeceased her. She is survived by two sons and a daughter.

Simin Behbahani, born July 20 1927, died August 19 2014


Your prescient analysis of Britain’s constitutional future (Answering the English question, Editorial, 22 August) points unmistakably to an eventual full-blown federation of the four UK nations, each (including England) with its own parliament and government, and guarantees in the written federal constitution against interference by federal Westminster, or by England, in the internal affairs of the three smaller nations. However, you then fail to reach that obvious conclusion, apparently blown off course by the idea of splitting England into regions for federal purposes, which for many reasons (including strong English objections) is a nonstarter.

Like many other commentators, including the otherwise far-sighted Gordon Brown, you seem to see the disproportionate size of England as an obstacle to federation. But it’s precisely that which makes a federal system essential if the union is to survive. England’s dominance of the UK and interference in Scotland’s domestic affairs, even after partial devolution, have brought the UK to the brink of disintegration. If the union survives 18 September, we need to move gradually towards full internal self-government for all four nations and limitations on the powers of a federal parliament and government, on the pattern of many successful western federal democracies from the US and Australia to Germany and Switzerland. As you rightly say, a constitutional convention will be an excellent first step.
Brian Barder

• Tam Dalyell was right in 1977 just as John Redwood is right today. The present Westminster parliament, with or without MPs representing Scotland, needs reforming. As someone who favours a federal solution, I acknowledge how difficult it would be to establish effective regional government in England because many people are not sure where they belong. Lincolnshire, where I have lived for nearly 40 years, is a prime example. Why not therefore establish a parliament for England? But where should it be? You can see the bids rushing in.

So why not give our present parliament a dual function? It could be where MPs from Northern Ireland, Wales, England and possibly Scotland come together to debate and pass legislation that affects us all, defence being an obvious area, while reserving time for MPs representing English constituencies to legislate on matters affecting England alone.

It would also be worth considering at the same time devolving more power to local government in England, including the replacement of the remaining two-tier structures by unitary authorities, which, I believe, has already happened in the other parts of the UK, and a root and branch reform of local government finance. It’s still not too late.
John Marriott
North Hykeham, Lincolnshire

• An English parliament would be disastrous for the north, leaving us even more marginalised by London and the south-east. I’m puzzled by the apparent breadth of support for an all-England parliament suggested by the Edinburgh and Cardiff University study you refer to. Up here there is growing interest in having devolved government for the north – and I detect little anti-Scots sentiment. Quite the opposite, with some suggesting that if Scotland votes yes they might like to consider moving the border a hundred miles further south!
Professor Paul Salveson

• Derek Wyatt (Letters, 21 August) is right to say that the UK should now become a federal state, but it should have six members, not four: England north of the Wash; “Saxland”, south of the Wash; the federal territory of London; Scotland; Wales; and Northern Ireland. A federation would be inherently unstable with one member (England as currently defined) having 84% of the population, and the government’s standard English regions have been rejected by the voters. Cameron should have offered the Scots the option of being part of a federal Britain.
Robert Craig

• The political units formed in Anglo-Saxon times offer a possible federalist framework: Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex and so on.
Philip Wood
Kidlington, Oxfordshire

• Let’s us hear less of an English parliament and more about how localities can be empowered. We will need a constitutional convention post-referendum if Scotland votes yes, but let it also address how areas of England can run their own affairs instead of continuing to be ordered around by Whitehall. Proper constitutional status is needed, and our own powers to raise monies. And if the Scottish people vote no, we will still need a constitutional convention to grant additional powers to Scotland. But it could also address the same issue for English localities.
Vicky Seddon

• As somebody born and brought up in Manchester, the thoughts of an English assembly leave me cold. England is so much less than the sum of its parts. Growing up I always identified with the north with such programs as the Northcountryman on the North Home Service. I am indeed first a Northerner, then perhaps British. I have never associated myself with England except perhaps in enjoyment of Vaughan Williams, Holst and Delius. To me the English are the softies down south. My solution is devo max to the north country (and to others within England).
Peter Swinbank

• What we English need is not so much a parliament for England as parliaments for each of the great English regions. And what the Scots need is not to escape from the UK, but the same as the rest of us: to escape from the grasp of London, with a major downsizing of the UK government machine at Westminster. Which we could seek better together.
Tony Ridge

Inventor James Dyson with one of his vacuum cleaners: his company is seeking judicial review of the

Reducing energy consumption is one matter, changing Newtonian physics quite another (Most powerful vacuum cleaner models banned, 22 August). If two vacuum cleaners have identical mechanical efficiency, but one is twice as powerful as the other, the more powerful cleaner will pick up more dust.

The new EU rules on wattage will simply extend the time required to remove the same amount of dust, or leave rooms dirtier. If they banned powerful kettles, we’d take longer to make tea.

For people with dust allergies, the outlook is grim. There will be more dust in their houses, and more cost to their purses as they have to change bags more often. Bagless vacuum cleaners, with dusty, dirty emptying, are not an option for the very allergic.

It would be good to see other manufacturers join forces with James Dyson in seeking the judicial review of this legislation that he intends to obtain. The grounds for such a review patently exist. The EU’s ecodesign requirements state that they “should not affect functionality from the end-user’s perspective”, which they will; and “should not negatively affect health, safety or the environment”.

Isn’t it better to introduce good testing and labelling so that we can choose more easily between products?
Nigel Pollitt

• I wonder when in the interests of climate change the EU will get round to banning the most powerful cars?

Ah, I forgot, only little people push vacuums around.
Martin Jeeves

Oliver Letwin, minister of government policy: an enthusiastic privatiser since the 1970s. Photograph

Channel 4’s David Abraham is naive to imagine that “US entities” are not queuing up to privatise institutions such as the NHS and public service broadcasting (A gold rush that threatens television’s risk-takers, 22 August).

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is merely the logical extension of Nicholas Ridley’s 1977 report, devised for the Thatcher shadow cabinet and supported by Keith Joseph and the Institute for Economic Affairs, which recommended a policy of breaking up the public sector and castrating unions. Ridley’s present champions within the Conservative party include Oliver Letwin and John Redwood, who when working for NM Rothschild bank’s international privatisation department laid plans for the Social Security Act in 1988, the same year Letwin published his book, Privatising the World. Letwin, now minister of government policy, has overseen the health secretary’s work since 2010. Cameron’s links with News International have been well documented and exposed in this newspaper. It’s not just “creative freedom and independence” that are at stake.
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

• Those of us who share your letter writers’ concern (Where’s the outrage over trade deal? 22 August) that TTIP will be a device to secure the permanent predominance of international capitalism over elected democracies need look no further the same day’s business pages, where we were told that Bank of America had “agreed” to pay a record $16bn fine over the sale of flawed mortgages (Report, 22 August)). I look forward to the day when my local paper reports that Joe Bloggs has “agreed” to pay his speeding fine. That one word already establishes, before any TTIP announcement, the true nature of relations between states and corporations.
Ted Woodgate
Billericay, Essex

• The outrage is being channelled by 38Degrees into protests throughout the country on 30 August (
Eddie Dougall
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

A dandelion seed head: the plant has dozens of uses.  Photograph: AP Photo/Gerry Broome

Your celebration of the piss-a-bed was a bit half-hearted (In praise of… dandelions, 21 August), ignoring their musical, sexual, gastronomic and other uses. The stalk makes an excellent wind instrument, until it wilts after five minutes (I used to run a dandelion orchestra in France: we played short, minimalistic pieces). The locally anaesthetic sap could be turned into an action-delaying rubber, the leaves enhance most salads, the flowers make an astonishing diuretic wine and the roots are a source of ersatz coffee. The ideal posy for a stroll in the woods with a partner, providing seductive aids for all the senses.
Brian Smith
Berlin, Germany

• The death of James Alexander Gordon, famed reader of the football results on the BBC’s Sports Report, (Obituary, 20 August) brings to mind a bulletin many years ago when a news reporter was called in at the last minute to read the football results: “League Division 1, Arsenal 2; Birmingham City 3, Manchester United 2 …” He wondered why a team was left over at the end.
Mike Broadbent
Luton, Bedfordshire

• No one needed to see an aerial view of Cliff Richard’s house as breaking news: the cost of that helicopter should come out of Tony Hall’s salary (Police attack BBC over Cliff Richard raid, 23 August).
Peter McKenna

• Working in a bookshop I am often asked for a resume of a book a customer has picked up. I’ve never been able to decide whether we would sell more or fewer (Letters, 23 August) if I handed out a John Crace Digested Read.
Angela Barton
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire



Sir, You say that relying on physician associates is likely to be a false economy (“Doctor, Doctor?” leader, Aug 22). From my perspective on the hospital shop floor there is a definite shortage of personnel and this can affect the training of doctors and patient safety. My trust is recruiting nurses from the Philippines and Portugal, because we do not have enough nursing staff. Doctors, fresh from medical school, find their training programmes changed in line with an NHS recommendation called “Broadening the Foundation”. They spend less time in hospitals training in surgery and medicine, and more time in the community studying psychiatry and general practice.

To counteract the reduction of the medical workforce the introduction of Physicians Assistants is a sensible move and, if properly planned and monitored, will be a positive adjunct to patient care and safety.

Humphrey Scott
Head of School of Surgery
Ashford & St Peters NHS Trust

Sir, Thirty years ago at Papworth Hospital we saw the need for physician assistants to help in our operating theatres and intensive care unit. Our first recruits were theatre sisters from other hospitals. These worked under the supervision of consultants and soon proved their worth. They became proficient at various tasks previously performed by junior doctors, such as removing the saphenous vein for a coronary bypass operation, thereby liberating junior staff to enhance their training by being more involved with the major part of the operation.

Clearly, as has been shown in the US, many roles in the NHS could usefully be filled by non-doctors with the right training. I would urge, however, that these individuals be called Physician Assistants rather than Physician Associates, for this should clarify their role. Also that they should serve under the responsibility of individual consultants or consultant teams.

Sir Terence English

Sir, I believe your comments on the potential value of physician associates to the NHS are short-sighted. Experience in the US, where there are more than 80,000 such professionals, demonstrates the value of these individuals who work under the supervision of fully trained doctors and with well-defined roles. Your criticism would have better been directed at the unwillingness of the secretary of state to bring physician associates under statutory regulation. Protection of the title, and regulation of the profession through the Health Professions Council, would ensure uniform standards for all the university courses being set up to create this new cadre of health care workers, as well as allowing scrutiny of the performance and continuing professional development of individuals. I believe such statutory regulation would be welcomed by the Physician Associates themselves.

Humphrey Hodgson
Emeritus Professor of Medicine UCL
London N10

Sir, Physician associates have been valued members of our medical team at East Surrey Hospital for a year. They are universally enthusiastic, intelligent and committed clinicians who do not replace doctors but rather work in synergy with them. They are an exciting new role to be welcomed to the NHS.

Dr Ben Mearns
Dr Natalie Powell
Surrey & Sussex Healthcare
NHS Trust

Sir, As a principal recreation and amenity officer at the Welsh Water Authority in the 1970s and 1980s I had many meetings with riparian, angling and canoeing bodies (David Aaronovitch, “Don’t let this petty row mess with the river”, Aug 21). I was trying to negotiate access for canoeists to specific rivers. On every occasion the riparian and angling organisations agreed but then backed out with spurious excuses. The Welsh Water Authority made significant grants to angling associations to buy stretches of rivers in Wales, but we could never get access to such waters for canoeing.

Canoeing is a healthy outdoor sport which has grown in popularity in recent years. British paddlers have been worthy Olympic medallists due in no small measure to the success of facilities such as are to be found on the Afon Treweryn in North Wales.

As Mr Aaronovitch states, the situation could be resolved if organisations such as the Angling Trust would act in a mature and democratic manner. Scotland has shown the way through the Land Reform Act of 2003, surely the time has come for England and Wales to follow suit.

John W Gittins

Sir, I fail to understand the enthusiasm in some quarters for Mr Gove’s reforms which discourage schools from allowing pupils to resit exams. The reforms seem designed to make it easier to assess and compare schools rather than to encourage students to achieve their potential.

As a school governor I have seen that the opportunity to resit can make a huge difference to some pupils, particularly those of middle ability, who may then be able to improve their grades and thus their chances for employment or further education.

In the real world we are not expected to get everything right first time and perseverance is admired and rewarded. Mr Gove should be aware of this since I understand that he had to take his driving test seven times.

Unlike Mr Gove’s driving instructor however, secondary schools have a finite time to improve the results of their less able students and allowing early exam entry and resits may be part of this process. Surely schools should be encouraged in this, rather than penalised in the league tables even if they are successful.

Dr Mike Betterton
Skelton, Cleveland

Sir, During the war my mother joined the WRNS and was sent to the US on board the Empress of Scotland. She told me: “There were four of us, three with double-barrelled names. The Americans were expecting seven Wrens.”

Christina Padbury
Duxford, Cambs

Sir, Red kites do indeed take live prey in some circumstances (letter, Aug 22). This spring I was playing golf in Oxfordshire and a farmer over the hedge was ploughing up a field of winter wheat that had failed. His tractor was pursued by no fewer than 34 red kites, all searching for anything that moved and not at all happy with each other’s company.

Robin Knight
London W4

Sir, Around here red kites regularly take young plovers, leverets, ducklings and also tried to snatch a pointer puppy. Thankfully the owner scooped up the puppy just in time. I can assure you that no mowing machinery was in sight at any of these venues.

Joyce Marriott
Pyrton, Oxon


The Scots are tired of being called parasites

For many years, North Sea oil allowed Scotland to subsidise the rest of the UK

The vote on Scottish independence takes place on September 18 Photo: PA

6:58AM BST 24 Aug 2014


SIR – Ron Mason (Letters, August 17) is right that Scotland runs a large budget deficit but this is also true of the whole United Kingdom. In 2012-13, the UK raised £612 billion in revenue and spent £720 billion. Scotland contributed 9.1 per cent of the revenue and received 9.3 per cent of the spending. In the process, Scotland ran a £12 billion deficit, £1.5 billion of which was supplied by other UK taxpayers and the other £10.5 billion by borrowing.

Yet Scotland’s deficit is regularly discussed as if beleaguered English taxpayers were funding the whole lot.

For most of the last 34 years, North Sea oil has allowed Scotland to subsidise the rest of the UK. This is a matter neither for boasting nor for resentment: had the oil been discovered off England’s coast, Scotland would have benefited along with the rest of the UK.

My fear is that every time Scotland is depicted as England’s weakling dependant (or indeed as a nation of xenophobic bigots) and every time “gratitude” is demanded from the Scots, more of them are galvanised into voting to terminate the Union. After all, there is no pride or self-respect in belonging to a Britain where you are regarded as a parasite.

Rob Johnston
Peterhead, Aberdeenshire

Shorter summer hols

SIR – It is all very well tourist industry bosses complaining about the prospect of shorter summer holidays (Letters, August 17), but I believe that if school pupils were asked for their opinion, a large majority would prefer a shorter main break in the summer.

The current system is outdated and a nightmare for working parents. A major change is long overdue. In time, the benefits of an evenly balanced school year will be proved.

Minna Andrews
Burntwood, Staffordshire

So annoying

SIR – “Like” is not the only word to be over-used (Letters, August 17). “So” is a terrible Americanism to use at the start of sentences, especially when asked a question. It is even more annoying when people drag it out – “Sooooooo” – while their brain thinks of an answer.

Andrew Holgate
Woodley, Cheshire

SIR – Recently, when saying farewell to someone who was emigrating to France the following day, they responded “See you later”.

I only just managed to restrain myself.

Jane Scott
Buckden, Cambridgeshire

Teach schoolchildren as pupils, not students

SIR – Douglas Davies (Letters, August 17) should be grateful that he does not work in junior education, in which even six-year-olds are routinely described as “students” in both state and independent schools.

It is symptomatic of a trend that denies children (sorry, “young people”) the opportunity to be children. Parents should beware: many teachers who talk about their “students” have also fallen for the canard that education these days is all about students acquiring vacuous “skills”, coordinated by “learning facilitators” – rather than actually being taught things.

Peter Boyle
Buckland, Oxfordshire

SIR – This pernicious fad oozed out of the Left-wing teacher training colleges in roughly the Sixties. Presumably it was supposed to empower the pupils and make them feel more adult.

Putting children in the position of students places the responsibility for their educational success or failure unfairly on them.

Jenny Cobb
Five Ashes, East Sussex

SIR – I worked in comprehensive schools for 30 years. We always called those we were teaching “students” because they were studying. The word “pupil”, deriving as it does from a Latin word meaning “without parents”, seemed less relevant.

Mik Shaw
Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex

BT customer service

SIR – John Petter’s positive view of his own consumer division at BT contrasts totally with ours. Over the last five months we have spent over 18 hours on the telephone speaking with five different divisions of BT.

For about two months we were trying to have the loss of the broadband service reinstated. Agreeing to an engineer visit, which eventually sorted out the problem, was anathema to BT. It also took BT four or five months to install a telephone service despite being given over two months’ notice of our moving date. For two months after moving we relied on fragile mobile reception, and ran up sizeable mobile-phone bills.

For a company that specialises in communication, its internal communication systems are rubbish. Of the 50 to 60 BT staff we spoke to, only two took any responsibility for the issues we presented. We were subjected to endless cycles of listening to the same automated menus; being asked to repeat the same information; being passed from person to person without notice or benefit; being asked to run the same tests, and experiencing our calls drop out and having to start all over again. The inconvenience and time wasted was appalling.

Malcolm and Rosie Baxter
Lairg, Sutherland

Recycling vs burning

SIR – While it seems true to say that Britain “is on track to export a record amount of waste for incineration abroad”, it is wrong to suggest that this is due to “a shortage of incinerators”. In fact it is due to incineration overcapacity in an increasing number of European countries, coupled with a shortage of domestic recycling infrastructure.

Similarly, it is incorrect to suggest that incineration is somehow environmentally friendly. Greenhouse gases are not emitted by burying plastics, but they are most certainly emitted by burning plastics.

As most of what is incinerated and landfilled could be recycled, the question should not be “Why are we not burning more in the Britain”, but “Why are we not recycling or composting more?”.

Incinerators are very expensive to build, and this money should be invested in recycling, which is greener than incineration and creates far more jobs.

Shlomo Dowen
United Kingdom Without Incineration Network
Mansfield, Nottinghamshire

An island divided

SIR – The article on Famagusta by Victoria Hislop would benefit from some historical perspective. The Treaty of 1959 “Concerning the Establishment of the Republic of Cyprus” was followed in1960 by the Treaty of Alliance, in which Britain, Greece and Turkey all undertook to guarantee the independence of Cyprus.

In 1974, the Greek military junta aided the pro-enosis (union with Greece) Cypriot National Guard to mount its own coup. Britain abdicated from its treaty obligation to maintain an independent Cyprus. This left Turkey to occupy about a third of the island in the predominantly Turkish north to halt the union with Greece taking place.

In 2004 the United Nations put forward the Annan proposals for reuniting the island. In the subsequent referendum the Turkish Cypriots, despite some reservations, voted 65 per cent in favour of reuniting. The Greek Cypriots, however, voted 76 per cent against reunification.

This is why the island continues to be divided.

Walter F Hughes
Bennington, Nottinghamshire

Don’t fear metric

SIR – Unlike Richard Tyler (Letters, August 17), children today have no fear of metric units. Imperial units receive little attention in today’s school curriculums.

I cannot understand why people still talk about consumption in miles per gallon when we have been buying petrol in litres for years.

Tim Nixon
Braunton, Devon

St Ives must control its seagulls or they’ll take over

More and more gulls are being attracted to seaside towns by the easy availability of food

Seagulls survey the view from an ice cream shop in St Ives, Cornwall

A pair of hungry seagulls await their next victim from a convenient vantage point in St Ives, Cornwall  Photo: ALAMY

6:59AM BST 24 Aug 2014


SIR – I love visiting St Ives, but I shall be less inclined to do so if the council has really given up the fight to control the seagull problem.

There have been several recorded incidents from around Britain this summer of people being injured by seagulls trying to snatch food. People should be much more wary of gulls, and herring gulls in particular, than Dr Ross-Smith of the British Trust for Ornithology suggests.

The best way to combat the problem is for the public to avoid consuming food in the open air, to dispose of any food waste in a bin with a lid and definitely not to feed such birds with titbits. That is easier said than achieved.

The increasing number of birds being attracted to seaside towns by the easy pickings does warrant continued efforts to control numbers in the interests of public health and public safety. Many councils recognise this and best practice has been pioneered in Dumfries since 2008 with advice from the bird conservation charities. The pricking of eggs is effective if it is done more than once during the breeding season.

For St Ives to give up the fight to keep numbers under control only means that they will have to deal with an even bigger, and more expensive, problem at a later date.

R J Ardern

Muslim countries should play a bigger role in combating Isil

Predominantly non-Muslim countries are reluctant to get directly involved in fighting the extremist caliphate in Iraq

Shi'ite volunteers, from Abbas Unit who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), parade down a street in Kerbala, southwest of Baghdad

Shi’ite volunteers from Abbas Unit who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant parade down a street in Kerbala, southwest of Baghdad Photo: Reuters

7:00AM BST 24 Aug 2014


SIR – David Cameron says the world cannot turn a blind eye to the creation of an extremist caliphate in Iraq.

Could Mr Cameron explain what he means by “the world”?

Who does he suppose should prevent further conflict and slaughter? Clearly, Britain, America, much of Europe and most members of the UN do not want to get directly involved because of strongly negative public opinion. Might one reason for this be that many think that the Muslim world should be taking a bigger role in controlling Muslim transgressions?

Islam has 1.57 billion adherents, making up over 23 per cent of the world population.

It is predicted that the world’s Muslim population will grow twice as fast as other groups over the next 20 years. By 2030, Muslims will make up more than a quarter of the global population. This might suggest that problems will increase and not decrease.

Roger Haywood
Happisburgh, Norfolk

SIR – David Cameron does well to join the dots with regard to the fight against extremism, however in listing possible allies he includes sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran, and excludes the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel.

He names our foes as Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and al-Shabab, but neglects to mention Hezbollah and Hamas. Unless you complete the circle you will not have a effective campaign against extremism.

Brian Greenaway
South Darenth, Kent

SIR – Given our recent history of intervention in the Middle East, David Cameron’s reluctance to commit British troops to the crisis in Iraq is entirely understandable.

Surely the solution is for both Britain and America to urge the United Nations to mobilise a multinational task force as a matter of extreme urgency. Many countries must be appalled by the behaviour of Isil but would be reluctant to get involved without a UN resolution.

David Langfield
Pyrford, Surrey

SIR – David Cameron refuses to acknowledge that Saudi Arabia and its kleptocratic rulers have further destabilised the Middle East by playing the destructive sectarian card against “apostate” Shiites. The result was the regular targeting of Iraq’s Shiite pilgrims and their shrines by Sunni jihadists. Now it’s the turn of Iraq’s Christians and Yazidis. Saudi Arabia would also have the West go to war with Iran rather than seek rapprochement.

William Hague foolishly aligned Britain with the Saudis by supporting Syria’s Sunni jihadist insurgents. No wonder British Sunni militants flocked to Syria and now Iraq. That some will return as trained terrorists is a legitimate worry. The terrorists posing a threat to the West are Sunni, not Shiite. Assad, Hezbollah and Iran are not our enemies.

Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

SIR – The Australian government is in the process of enacting a change in law which will allow it to revoke the citizenship of anyone who is identified as having travelled abroad to join groups such as Isil. This will in effect prevent them from returning to Australia.

Surely Britain should consider taking similar action?

Jeff Tonge
Bolton, Lancashire

SIR – With the tragic death of James Foley, isn’t time the EU issued a clear directive to its members not to pay kidnappers ransom money? Countries like Spain, Italy and France are financing and encouraging Isil.

Carole Storey Tennant
Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex

SIR – David Cameron says that this struggle will last the rest of his political lifetime. The Allies defeated the Nazis in six years. Surely if all the nations opposed to Isil, including those in the Middle East, united together militarily under the auspices of the UN, they could get rid of it very quickly?

Anthony Gould
London W1

Irish Times

Sir, – In relation to Isolde Goggin’s article “Why GPs don’t need collective bargaining” (Opinion & Analysis, August 18th), there are multiple anomalies in the GP relationship with the State. The biggest is the State’s dominant or monopoly position as a purchaser of GP services and its ruthless exercising of this dominance as demonstrated by the Fempi (Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) reductions.

Ill health, unfortunately, is inextricably linked with unemployment and poverty.

In 2011, Enniscorthy had an unemployment rate of 31.7 per cent, in comparison to the official State unemployment rate of 14.3 per cent. The demands on GP services are massive in towns such as Enniscorthy, yet the average funding per patient each GP receives is the same across the country.

I would appreciate an opportunity to negotiate a service level agreement and budget directly with the State on behalf of my patients but this mechanism does not currently exist. Again, it’s unclear how competition can be encouraged in areas of high deprivation where GPs are increasingly unlikely to remain in practice. Perversely the State has reduced competition in these towns by using the blunt instrument of Fempi by making practices less viable.

Deprivation indices such as those used in Northern Ireland are used there to support basic and enhanced GP services in areas of deprivation. Would it be anti-competitive for GP practices in one area to receive deprivation payments and for others not to?

While it is true there was a larger percentage rise in State funding to GPs in the seven-year period up to 2008 when compared with the rise in the retail price index for the same period, this was largely due to funding having come from a very low base. Virtually all this increase in funding has now been reversed and little over 2 per cent of the health budget goes to fund GP services, as compared to 10 per cent in the UK. – Yours, etc,


Enniscorthy Medical


Court Street,

Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

Sir, – In recent years there has been much comment in the media about the introduction of the new Project Maths curriculum into the secondary system. However there appears to have been very little comment about the corresponding curriculum in the primary system. As a parent of children who have recently passed through this system, I have had many occasions to peruse the workbooks that students are now learning from to progress in mathematics. I have been somewhat alarmed at the standard of some of the textbooks that are being used in many of the classrooms.

The treatment of many of the topics or strands is simply not in sufficient depth to challenge more able or even brighter students. There is insufficient time given to the learning of fundamental mathematical operations such as multiplication and division in many of these workbooks. Instead of investigating a topic in any depth, the exercises move very quickly from one topic or strand to the next. In some textbooks, almost all the exercises pose questions on all the strands on every page without ever going into any depth in any of these strands.

What appears to be happening is that authors in these books are recoiling from including any form of challenging or difficult problem-solving questions. I would have major reservations about this approach to the teaching of mathematics at this level.

It is worth nothing that major changes are currently being introduced into the primary maths curriculum in the UK with the aim of improving standards and bringing standards at primary level into line with countries such as Singapore and other high-performing maths countries. There is a strong emphasis being placed on practice to gain familiarity with, and expertise in, fundamental concepts in the subject at this level.

In conclusion, particularly in light of the proposed changes in the UK, I think there is a need to have a root-and-branch review of the standard of mathematics that is now being taught, the curriculum itself and the quality of the textbooks provided at primary level in this country. – Yours, etc,


Lecturer in Mathematics,

Institute of Technology,

Tallaght, Dublin.

A chara, – Aongus Collins’s cartoon in the Health + Family supplement (August 19th) of a career guidance counsellor in a one-to-one meeting with a student will bring a wry smile to many involved in education.

Since 2012, a series of short-sighted cuts has seen the guidance and counselling service provided to our second-level students seriously diminished.

One recent study by the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) found that over 70 per cent of schools have had to reduce the provision of one-to-one guidance counselling for students and that almost a third of schools have been forced to abandon one-to-one sessions.

This is despite the fact that students place a very high value on one-to-one sessions with their schools guidance counsellor and that this is seen as a key factor in their satisfaction with overall guidance provision.

The recently published ESRI report Leaving School in Ireland: A Study of Post-School Transitions highlights the critical importance of the career guidance service in a student’s journey through second-level school and beyond. Students felt that generic group guidance activities were a poor substitute for the personal interaction of one-to-one meetings and did not reflect their individual needs and aspirations.

Reducing the already meagre resources available to young people at a time when they have greatest need for them makes little educational or economic sense and will most likely prove more costly in the long term.

The appointment of Jan O’Sullivan as Minister for Education and Skills provides a welcome opportunity to undo some of the damage done in the recent past. Reversing the swingeing cuts to the guidance provision would be a good first step – Is mise,





Co Kerry.

Sir, – Paul Krugman’s observation that war makes no economic sense is obvious when looked at logically (“Wars make no economic sense yet they still happen”, August 19th). However his assertion that wars are driven by the egos of leaders who are looking for political survival or longevity falls short of the full story.

In many of the world’s larger economies, and especially that of the US, a significant proportion of public expenditure is made up of a military-industrial complex which requires regular wars to use up the vast inventories of weapons, and thus pave the way for additional lucrative contracts to replenish the arsenals. This sector has been significantly privatised in recent years and has increased its influence in the corridors of power, with a massive presence among the phalanx of lobbyists. The results are a shameful indictment of capitalism at its worst. The Iraq war of 2003 was merely a slush fund for privatised military contractors and weapons producers. The ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza is being fuelled by US arms supplied by privatised subcontractors such as Lockheed Martin, whose share price got a 6 per cent bounce during the bombings.

Public opinion, and with it common sense, is bought through the oftentimes incestuous relationship between military contractors and the media.

War is a major factor in economic activity globally even though it has no logical basis and will remain so until we elect political leaders prepared to take on these vested interests. – Yours, etc,


Linden Avenue,



Sir, – It’s interesting that a spike in house prices, particularly in Dublin, coincides with a reported shortage of supply. Clearly, the market, the beast that brought us to near disaster in 2008, is still being allowed to rule. Keeping it at the centre of national life is a recipe for another major blow.

Its apologists will, of course, trumpet the price rise as a vindication of recent national policy, and a good thing. Yet a rise in the price of milk is not, usually, seen as a good thing. In fact, the house price rise threatens to betray another generation of young people.

Leaving the provision of homes for them in the hands of private developers, and, thus the market, is a pretty staggering abrogation of national responsibility. A home is a sacred thing, and its integrity should never be threatened by unscrupulous profit-seekers.

A less laissez faire approach by national agencies is, clearly, called for, for the worship of false gods is not recommended in any religious tradition.

The creation of a department of housing might be a useful first step, one appreciated by thousands of worried young couples. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – Further to recent correspondence, the HPAT (Health Professions Admissions Test) has always been a ridiculous test for admission to medical school.

Potential medical students should be warned that when they graduate, they may well have to leave this country permanently. There should, therefore, be induction courses on life in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain and the US! – Yours, etc,


Merlyn Road,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – I write to compliment the staff of An Post on the extraordinary quality of their service. For example, I have posted many letters right up to the last collection time of 5.30pm in Kells, Co Meath, and these were correctly delivered the next day in Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Galway, Kildare, Kilkenny, Leitrim, Waterford and Westmeath.

Based on my experience in many countries, the Irish postal service is among the very best. – Yours, etc,


Headfort Demesne,


Co Meath.

Sir, – I have just received a letter that a friend had accidently misaddressed. The envelope arrived with a large An Post sticker with my correct address written by hand. The sticker bore the quite clear instructions: “For Internal Use Only” and “Do NOT deliver with this label attached”.

In this impersonal age and the advent of generic postcodes looming, I was heartened to see that An Post had time for the human moment. – Yours, etc,



Co Donegal.

Sir, – In the interests of equality on this our fair isle of comely maidens, could I make a plea for an annual “Lovely Boys Competition”? As we already have a blueprint with the Rose of Tralee gawkfest, the same quasi-indeterminate criteria could apply: any Irish ancestry you can muster up is always a help; be straight, for God’s sake; no daddies please; an ability to dance a little jig or coo a little poetry; and finally, but by no means least, evidence of admirable intelligence and ambition combined with a simpering naivety.

However, I strongly suggest the inclusion of a new element, the old reliable swimwear round, as it ensures we never lose sight of the actual nature of the competition – to find the prettiest boy.

Boys, please form an orderly queue, either as participants or apologists. – Yours, etc,




Irish Independent:

So Professor Richard Dawkins thinks that it is immoral to bring a Down Syndrome child into the world. Immoral? I always thought that morality was that attribute of humankind that made us different from all the other animals on the planet.

Morality is our conscious having a go at us – for example, if you get on a train without paying, or find a €50 note and slip it into your pocket, that little voice in your head will say, “that might belong to an OAP who’s now skint until Thursday.” It’s not right to keep it, it’s not moral.

Why stop at Down Syndrome professor, why not include people who will go on to be diagnosed with diseases such as MS or cancer, even your fellow professor, Stephen Hawking, the greatest mind since Einstein?

Now, I know you’ll probably say that these are acquired illnesses and are impossible to predict from a foetal scan. That’s true, professor, but as you would be the first to admit, what technological miracles await us in 10 or 20 years’ time? If we are able at that stage to determine, from a scan of the womb, illnesses that will in the course of our lives incapacitate us to such an extent that our bodies are no longer able to carry out orders from the brain, would you still advocate such a course of action, even if it would deprive the world of someone like Prof Hawking?

Perhaps, Prof Dawkins, in the future you could refrain from such callous, hurtful statements and stick instead to your incredible life’s work on Darwinism.

Mike Burke, Sixmilebridge, Co Clare


The forgotten county?

With the GAA All-Ireland semi-finals and finals in mind will the threatened train strikes have an impact on the people of Dublin, Kerry and Mayo? Of course it will, as they have trains.

Will it have an impact on the people of Donegal? Of course it won’t. Fifty years ago the last train pulled out of Donegal and its rail lines were ripped up resulting in the country’s most peripheral county becoming even more peripheral.

No politician in the intervening period has had the courage to try and reverse a completely incomprehensible action. And they wonder why Donegal people consider themselves the “forgotten county”.

Micheal Mellett, Lucan, Co Dublin


Helping the competition

The logic of the railway workers in calling for a 48-hour strike is difficult to grasp. In a bid to better their employment and conditions they hand over their customers to potential competitors. As a strategy for securing a better future, this particular train of thought shouldn’t have been allowed leave the station.

TG O’Brien, Dalkey, Co Dublin


Olive branches

What a juxtaposition of stories on your World News section last Saturday. Sixty-eight people blown to bits – not by UN/USA/Israeli forces – but by Islamic suicide bombers. Then Hamas execute 18 Palestinian citizens outside the Omari mosque, as worshippers were leaving, forcing them to watch the “warning” by their brave hooded freedom-fighters.

Opposite news of this gruesome “church-gate collection”, we were informed that “Italy’s olive groves face devastation by mystery bugs”. Not much hope of peace without olive branches, and they are needed now more than ever!

Sean Kelly, Tramore, Waterford


Fact versus fiction

After the brutal and cold-blooded murder of brave journalist James Foley, I feel it is wrong for all media to be continually referring to these cowardly terrorists as being associated with a fictional country or domain called “the Islamic State”. There is no such place.

These savages originate from many places but are carrying out their atrocities in Syria and Iraq. Continuing to refer to the aforementioned fictional place only gives credence and encouragement to these barbarians to carry out their mindless slaughter.

Thomas O’Connor, Crumlin, Dublin 12


Abortion is a society issue

Referring to Desmond Fitzgerald’s letter (Irish Independent, August 21) where he refers to abortion as a “social issue” and John Bellew’s letter (Irish Independent, August 22) calling abortion “the taking of human life,” the crux of the issue is the disagreement over whether a foetus is a human life. Tied in with this is the question of when does this life start: conception, implantation in the womb or some other arbitrarily defined point in time? Abortion will always be a divisive issue because of these diametrically opposing views.

The only way to move on from this impasse is for all parties, pro-life and pro-choice camps, to bring a sense of empathy and understanding to women who are pregnant against their wishes. We as society need to look at ourselves and not look at this issue in isolation. How do we treat our fellow human beings in general and especially the vulnerable and marginalised members of society?

Thomas Roddy, Salthill, Galway


Protecting the innocent

In the debate surrounding the unfortunate case of the baby delivered by caesarean section, the salient question is: Should an evil deed committed by one person (a rapist) result in the punishment of an innocent life (the unborn) that is unable to defend itself?

Is there not something inherent within our human psyche that tells us we should do everything possible to protect human life, particularly innocent life that cannot protect itself?

John Bellew, Dunleer, Co Louth


Dazzled by dance

It doesn’t look like the Haka war dance is a decisive factor in All Black wins. Australia sauntered to the sideline after the Haka. While I’ve no doubt NZ are extremely tough, it’s the dance component of their game that dazzles opponents. Would it not be worse if South Africa had a war dance? I imagine a coach’s worst fear is that you do all the routine of preparation and conditioning and yet the team plays flat on the day.

New Zealand appear best able to quickly crank themselves from a routine mindset to full throttle. In the patchwork of plays that make up a rugby match, every AB player is consistently seeking to spark the multi-cylinder engine that is NZ rugby. Whether it’s the individual himself, the lineage of the jersey, the competition for place or sheer duty, playing without dash and intelligence appears to sit least comfortably with AB rugby.

Patrick Dillion, Dublin


Albert Reynolds, the gent

It was a pleasure to meet the late Albert Reynolds, by chance, in London, some 10 years ago. He was accompanied only by his wife and without bodyguards, and we had a brief conversation about his premiership and Irish politics in general. He was, indeed, a gentleman and an international statesman who brought pride to Ireland.

Dominic Shelmerdine, London SW3


Sacking the Taoiseach

I would like to recount a little story about the time Albert Reynolds worked in CIE as a clerk. My own late father, Frank Gray, was at that time the Personnel Officer for the country, and as such Albert had to report to him.

It was noticed that Albert would be ‘missing’ from his posts in various railway stations in the country on more than a few occasions, as he worked as a relief clerk. My father learned that Albert had a sideline – no pun intended – so, it fell to my father to call on Albert and ask him if he wanted to continue to work for CIE or did he want to run his ballrooms. The rest is history. My father often told this story about the time he sacked a Taoiseach.

Olive Power, Ballina, Co Mayo

Irish Independent


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