Blood Transfusion

23 September 2014 Blood Transfusion

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day. Mary off to St James for her blood transfusion. Me to bank, books, Co op, and post office

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Iain MacCormick – obituary

Ian MacCormick was a clubbable MP for Argyll who pressed for greater self-government and a reform of divorce laws in Scotland

Iain MacCormick in 1976

Iain MacCormick in 1976 Photo: THE SCOTSMAN

5:46PM BST 22 Sep 2014


Ian MacCormick , who died aged 74 the day after voting “Yes” in the Scottish independence referendum, was MP for Argyll between 1974 and 1979, the period of the SNP’s greatest influence and numerical strength at Westminster.

He had an exceptional nationalist pedigree, being the elder son of John MacDonald MacCormick, a lawyer who in 1934 became the first national secretary of the SNP. His brother Sir Neil MacCormick, Regius Professor of Public Law at Edinburgh University, was a towering figure in Scottish intellectual and public life who devised a constitution for an independent Scotland and served as a Nationalist MEP.

Clubbable, civilised and with a natural streak of authority, MacCormick was teaching at Oban High School when in February 1974 Edward Heath called a snap election over the miners’ strike. Not only were the Conservatives defeated but the passions aroused by the campaign led to the collapse of the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland – and a breakthrough in Scotland by the SNP.

Capitalising on the imminent arrival of North Sea oil and growing dissatisfaction over being governed from Westminster, the SNP, with its slogan “It’s Scotland’s Oil”, captured six seats to add to its previous one and came close in several others, giving Scotland’s traditional parties their greatest fright until the recent referendum.

MacCormick had stood in 1970 against the former Scottish Secretary Michael Noble. Facing a new Tory candidate and assisted by a doubling of the SNP’s share of the vote nationally, he captured Argyll by 3,288 votes.

The prospect of more losses to the SNP at a likely further election shocked Labour, now in power, into dropping its opposition to any form of home rule and promising a Scottish Assembly. But the grudging nature of the promise led that October to the SNP gaining four more seats, and MacCormick increasing his majority.

MacCormick and his colleagues badgered Labour to deliver on its promises and pressed for still greater self-government. The 1978 Scotland Act provided for an Assembly to which specific powers would be devolved, subject to approval at a referendum by — thanks to an amendment from Labour dissidents – not just a simple majority but 40 per cent of those registered to vote.

Meanwhile the SNP contingent at Westminster gained a reputation for conviviality, and MacCormick pushed through a reform of his own: the Divorce (Scotland) Act of 1976. Previous moves to change Scotland’s arcane divorce laws had been blocked by Scottish Tories who had had their marriages dissolved under the more relaxed regime in England.

When Labour’s devolution proposals were put to the people of Scotland on March 1 1979 51.6 per cent voted “Yes”, but with turnout only 63 per cent the threshold for approval was not reached. James Callaghan’s government pigeonholed the scheme, whereupon the SNP tabled a motion of no-confidence. Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives, scenting a chance to oust Labour after five frustrating years, took it over and on March 28 the motion was debated. Emotions ran high, Callaghan warning the SNP they were “turkeys voting for an early Christmas”. Amid dramatic scenes, Labour lost by 311 votes to 310 and an election was called. Mrs Thatcher emerged the winner, but the contest also proved disastrous for the SNP, all but two of its MPs losing their seats – MacCormick by 1,646 votes to the Conservative John Mackay.

Iain Somerled MacDonald MacCormick was born in Glasgow on September 28 1939. From Glasgow High School he was commissioned into the Queen’s Own Lowland Yeomanry, leaving in 1967 a captain. He then took a degree at Glasgow University and moved to Oban to teach until his election to Parliament .

After losing his seat MacCormick held managerial posts at BT, then from 1993 a number of business appointments. He left the SNP in 1981 to be a founder-member of the SDP, but later returned and campaigned for a “Yes” vote until being taken ill earlier this year and admitted to hospital, Despite his continuing illness, he insisted on going to vote in person.

Iain MacCormick was married three times: to Micky Trefusis Elsom in 1964 (dissolved 1987), to Carole Burnett in 1987 (dissolved 1991) and in 2009 to Riona McInnes, who survives him with two sons and three daughters from his first marriage.

Iain MacCormick, born September 28 1939, died September 19 2014


Ed Balls delivers his speech to the Labour party conference on 22 September 2014 in Manchester. Ed Balls delivers his speech to the Labour party conference on 22 September 2014 in Manchester. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Three cheers for the proposal by Labour, when next in government, to introduce a phased increase in the minimum wage (Report, 22 September). What are we going to hear next? Business leaders will doubtless be flatly opposed to such an increase, on the basis that the policy will reduce profits and result in jobs being cut. They will be backed up by a screaming rightwing press. When are we as a society going to recognise that an unbridled market economy does not work in the interests of the vast majority of the people? The economy should be a tool that works in the best interests of us all. At the moment, large numbers of poor, low-paid workers operate as wage-slaves to support an economy which feeds the smug, uncaring, rich elites, who appear to live in an amoral universe, parallel and totally separate from that which most of us inhabit. Labour’s proposal is a small but important step on the long road to establishing a more equitable and fair society.
Steve Walker

• So Ed Miliband is going to increase the minimum wage from £6.31 to £8 by 2020. And Ed Balls is going to cap child benefit so he can “balance the books”. Why? Burn the books! Why not arrest bankers, renationalise the railways and the energy companies instead? What a dreary announcement on the first day of the Labour conference. After the balls and guts of the yes campaign in Scotland, even if you disagreed with them, Labour looks pathetic. Ed Miliband is a nice guy, but he hasn’t a clue.
Peter Woodcock

• I am pleased to hear that Ed Milliband is tackling the minimum-wage problem. Will he please address the employment laws that allow contractors to opt out of European legislation on hours worked. In my area workers are required to work 12-hour shifts sometimes on nights, for 13 days on then one day off. This pattern is repeated for months with an exhausted workforce. This is slave labour, employees are forced to comply because of the low minimum wage.
Marilyn Hall
Gainsborough, Lincolnshire

• Larry Elliott (It’s time to tackle Labour’s double deficit, 22 September) is right to support the Fabian Society’s call for workers on the board of all but the smallest companies. However, if the unions are to have a bigger say, they need some new ideas. For example, increasing worker responsibility for quality control and self-supervision could raise pay and be business friendly at the same time. Rampant collective bargaining brought down Jim Callaghan and gave Margaret Thatcher her chance.
Malcolm Cookson
Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria

• Ed Balls’s promise to cut child benefit in order to prove his seriousness about cutting the budget deficit reminds me of an occasion when the Labour government of the 1960s proposed cuts to the health service to impress Swiss currency speculators. Told of this plan, Michael Foot suggested that it would be even more convincing if Labour MPs were sent into the street to tear down the hospitals with their bare hands. I don’t know if Mr Balls has considered this idea, but I offer it to him as a sure-fire way of proving that he is a committed axe-wielder.
Ian Aitken

• Owen Jones is right to point that under Miliband Labour is in crisis (Journal, 22 September). But his notion of “bankrupt leadership” misses the point. Labour was never meant to be a dictatorship. The party was not intended to be the leader and his gang’s personal property. Before the neoliberals staged their coup and ended internal party democracy, Labour was a social movement. Of their own accord, grassroots supporters fought fascism in Spain, embraced the freedom for Africa movement, boycotted apartheid and fought for gender, class and racial equality. The party stood up to the corrupt powerful, rather than consulted with it. The Labour leadership was honoured with the job of evangelising these values. Since the Blairite coup, the leadership has instead attacked and betrayed its grassroots. Without the genuine democratic representation of the grassroots there is no Labour party. All that is left is a cabal of self-seeking careerists. We should question the fundamental structure of the party, not simply its failing personalities.
Dr Gavin Lewis

• The shadow equalities minister, Gloria de Piero, herself from a working-class background, is to be congratulated on criticising the preponderance of those from public schools in high positions (Policy pledges, 22 September). I hope she will also protest about the increasing number of MPs from the less than 1% of the population who attended Oxbridge and the declining number of working-class Labour MPs. The same report refers to the shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt (private school and Oxbridge) who was imposed on the Stoke-on-Trent constituency in preference to an able, local, working-class candidate.
Bob Holman

Wherever he finds the money, there is no point Ed Balls trying to save the NHS if he does not also invest in prevention (NHS is Labour’s priority, 20 September). One reason the NHS is getting so expensive is that there are more ill people – obesity and type 2 diabetes are just the tip of an iceberg of preventable disorders. These are not so much lifestyle diseases as life-cycle ones, because the origins of so much chronic illness lie in the earliest stages of life. The best time to reduce it is during pregnancy and the first months of infancy. There is a mass of scientific evidence to show how maternal ill-health has long-term effects on children and thus the degree of so-called lifestyle choices that they can exercise later in their lives. The “transformation fund” proposed by Dr Jennifer Dixon (Letters, 18 September) should be used to combine public and family health in a wraparound physical and mental perinatal service for all; a huge but worthwhile task, which will in due course pay for itself in better population health.
Dr Sebastian Kraemer
Whittington hospital, London

• Professor Hollins (Letters, 18 September) rightly calls for a greater investment in mental health care. However, in saying that mental and physical health problems must be treated with equal importance, he risks giving the impression that the two are fundamentally separate things. As the Mental Health Foundation has pointed out in its 2013 inquiry into integrated care for people with mental health problems, mental and physical health are indivisibly linked through common biological, psychological and social factors. Only when all health and social care staff accept this link will patients, whatever their needs, receive the best holistic care, whatever their primary diagnosis. This would mean, for example, dietary advice and housing support for people with schizophrenia, and psychological support for people with cancer.
Simon Lawton-Smith

I’m disappointed in your hopeless efforts at supporting feminism in fashion (Gucci takes dressing for real life as its Milan theme, 18 September). These are clothes that could never be worn to a day job unless it happened to include visiting Anna Wintour with a fashion plan; could never be worn for real-life shopping, lifting of messy children, or any of the other myriad of practical chores/jobs of most women’s lives. Dear beloved Guardian, you are a Pulitzer prizewinner, please behave like one, and stop putting these fantasy doe-eyed, expressionless girls on your National news pages. If you have to report on fashion shows, please can you put them in the business pages where they belong.
Judy Marsh

Richard Seymour (Bombs are not the answer, 16 September) speaks of a muted sentiment among sections of the left, supporting the US bombing of Isis. I am opposed to a continuing air campaign but I have no objection to bombing Isis in the foothills of Mount Sinjar. Contrary to what Seymour says, the Peshmerga were only able to rescue the Yazidis because of that bombing.

The Yazidis demonstrate how thin the US “humanitarian” pretext was for attacking Isis – it couldn’t wait to abandon them, leaving the most vulnerable stranded. What is true is the hypocrisy of the US, which is revolted by the beheadings of journalists while its ally, Saudi Arabia, is beheading over 20 people per month. Another ally, Egypt, is worse than the Pinochet regime in Chile when it comes to torture and human rights. The evidence suggests that western/Saudi arms supplies to the jihadi groups in Syria are the source of much of Isis’s weaponry.

The solution in the Middle East lies in a tearing down of the whole rotten edifice of regimes and interests that guide US policy – from Saudi Arabia to Israel.

Isis, an openly genocidal group, certainly deserves to be obliterated but only the people of the region can do this. That requires the building of mass movements across the sectarian Shiite/Sunni divide. But there may be a coincidence of interests. Our demands for the withdrawal of the US are not affected in any way by a tactical decision to support bombing as a means of rescue.
Tony Greenstein

• There is one army that can eradicate Isis from Syria and bring stability to the whole country, with the minimum of civilian casualties and the lowest risk of unforeseen consequences. That is the Syrian army and there is no good reason for Obama and Cameron to be preventing them from doing that job.
Brendan O’Brien

• As the UK slides towards another military entanglement in the Middle East, on the coattails of the US, we need the Chilcot report on the lessons of Iraq more than ever (Stop this menace, 15 September). Instead, the coalition are filibustering his report to delay it until the runup to the general election, in an attempt to score cheap political points at the expense of Labour. Chilcot should publish a short interim report with the key recommendations now – with or without government support.
Paul Godier

I read Zoe Williams (22 September) with mixed feelings. I agree that the miners’ defeat crushed the unions and destroyed the mining communities, but I cannot feel sad about the end of mining. Forget about global warming, it was a dirty and dangerous job. I come from a mining family in the west of Scotland. My great-grandfather, my grandfather and my father were all miners. My grandfather went straight to the pits from school at the turn of the 20th century; my father, who left school top of his year, tried hard to get work elsewhere (even going as far as London) before ending up in the mines. In 1943, a mine roof collapsed on him and he became a paraplegic with complications which kept him in hospital for the last 17 years of his life.

A little while later, my brothers and I went to live with my grandparents. My grandfather’s hand was maimed while working coal machinery, he also had scars in his backbone caused by cutting coal in very low tunnels and he was diagnosed with pneumoconiosis. He worked the backshift (2pm-10pm) and every night, as a child, I could not go to sleep until I heard his key open the front door. My grandmother’s determination to keep her grandsons out of the mines resulted in me being the first of my family to go to university and my father was the last to go down the pits. I once asked my grandfather about the General Strike. He said he enjoyed it, because the weather was good and he had a six-month holiday from the pits.
Bill Macinnes
Worthing, West Sussex

Yes, we need more powers to be given to local areas, such as the Greater Manchester city region and, presumably, shire counties (Report, 22 September). So much has been stripped away, which needs to be returned and considerably enhanced. The electorate generally has no appetite for more tiers of bureaucracy, but would welcome far more powers being exercised by current local bodies working together. Alongside the debate about subsidiarity needs to be one about solidarity. In this vastly unequal country, where many people’s lives have been ruined by vicious policies, it is not enough for us to neatly divide up the country in ways which make sure we get what we want for our particular neck of the woods, without regard to how the most vulnerable might fare in other places. So we need plenty of time for discussion about how to balance subsidiarity and solidarity, and how to come to a constitutional arrangement where common values and the protection of the vulnerable can be agreed upon and safeguarded across the whole UK.
Gabrielle Cox

• John Redwood (Comment, 20 September) correctly points out that directly elected regional government in England has proved unpopular. Why directly elected? The last time the issue of provincial councils was looked at seriously was by the Royal Commission on Local Government in England. In its 1969 report, the commission proposed eight such councils and made it clear that there was no reason for these to be directly elected. Local authorities within the provincial areas would simply appoint representatives to serve on the council. The powers of the provincial council would have to be determined by parliament, but would certainly have to include some right to tax and to borrow within agreed limits.
Peter Newsam
Thornton Dale, North Yorkshire

• John Redwood suggests holding a devolved English parliament at Westminister when the UK parliament is not in session. That seems unwieldy for all sorts of reasons, but I guess he doesn’t want to spend taxpayers’ money on a new building. Why not recycle the House of Lords? Then everyone’s a winner.
Jim Steel

Your coverage of the global climate change protests (News, 22 September) was much appreciated but when are you going to challenge the lifestyle choices that contribute to the problem? You might start by stating the tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted by each holiday in the Travel section.
Mark Hancock

• As an ex-NHS-worker, I can assure you there is no need for a strike to be effective to show the importance of its staff (News, 19 September). A simple work to rule will bring it to its knees, such is the hard work and dedication of NHS staff – at all levels – who routinely “go that extra (unpaid) mile” for patients.

Debbie Cameron

• Hilary Mantel was not alone in having fantasies about assassinating Margaret Thatcher (‘I thought, if I was someone else, she’d be dead’, 20 September). My mother was a peaceable and generous woman but in her 80s during the Thatcher years, she regularly denounced the young men of Britain for lacking the backbone to go out and “kill that woman”, ending with “If I had a gun, I’d do it myself”.
Professor Robert Moore

Holywell, Flintshire

• To complete Tim Dowling’s lively piece on U and non-U speech (G2, 22 September), you couldn’t do better than quote John Betjeman’s poem How to Get On in Society. From its opening line – “Phone for the fish knives, Norman” – to the closing couplet – “Beg pardon, I’m soiling the doileys with afternoon teacakes and scones” – every word is loaded. Wonderful snobbish stuff.
Ella Holmes

Burton-in-Lonsdale, North Yorkshire

• Amid the talk of a new constitutional settlement I fear that I must have missed something. I see the Guardian now includes stories from the US (Hormones and high prose: Kerouac’s teenage letters, 19 September) under the banner “National”.
Colin Thunhurst
Keighley, West Yorkshire



Care homes will willingly pay staff more than £8 an hour — if local authorities do their bit too

Sir, You report that Labour is planning to raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour (Sept 20). As a director of a company that operates 17 care and nursing homes across England, I would love to be able pay our staff more — but the problem is that local authorities in England are significantly underfunding elderly residential care placements.

The healthcare analyst Laing & Buisson has calculated the “fair cost” of a place in a residential care home at £600 a week. Local authorities are currently paying between 60 and 70 per cent of this figure, which they claim is the maximum they can afford. Meeting the “fair cost” price would increase local authority spending by about £3 billion a year when home care is included.

If Ed Miliband commits to all local authorities paying £600 a week for residential care, I will happily sign the pledge to pay all care staff at least £8 per hour. Unfortunately, as he hasn’t got a spare £3 billion to fund this, I suspect I will be waiting a long time.

Geoff Lane

Director, Regal Care Trading

The Arts Council is investing £250 million over four years in music hubs — a significant initiative

Sir, It’s heartening to see Richard Morrison (Sept 19) urging our political parties to make young people’s access to arts and culture a priority. I plead guilty to “banging on”, as he puts it, about local partnerships between universities, business and cultural organisations because I’m worried by the pressure on local authority funding of the arts. We need alternatives. And the music hubs, which Morrison seems somewhat dismissive of, represent an investment of £250 million over four years. It’s early days but this is a significant initiative.

He also argued that lottery cash is distributed unevenly. Yes and no: London did receive more than its fair share in the first 15 years, something we’re addressing. But quoting crude per capita distribution figures is at odds with the principle for deployment of lottery funds. It was always meant to be invested in a focused number of worthwhile projects. To the Sage in Gateshead he could have added the Lowry in Salford, the Hepworth in Wakefield, the Nottingham Contemporary and many more.

Sir Peter Bazalgette

Chairman, Arts Council England

Bob Dylan said his songs “were about three minutes”. What, exactly, was he trying to say?

Sir, Dr John Doherty (letter, Sept 22) recalls the interview in which Bob Dylan responded to the question asking what his songs were about by saying that they were all about three minutes. Rather than being an admission that his songs did not mean much, this was Dylan’s way of pointing out the inanity of the question. In fact Dylan never interpreted his own songs. To him it would have been the same as a comedian explaining why his jokes were funny.

Jan Zajac

West Milton, Dorset

Some of the greatest minds in history have suffered from this painful condition

Sir, As a sufferer from gout (letters, Sept 20), I take comfort from the fact that I am in the company of three of my great heroes: Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei and John Milton.

Tony Phillips

Chalfont St Giles, Bucks

A simplistic ‘left-right’ perspective fails to identify the real problem facing Judaism in Britain: that of disaffiliation

Sir, Your report (Sept 22) on the challenges facing the Jewish community misses a crucial point. Research by the United Synagogue demonstrates that a simplistic “left-right” perspective fails to identify the real problem: that of disaffiliation.

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research’s data shows that while the percentage movement in both directions between Orthodox communities and Progressive communities is very similar (between 9 and 11 per cent), far higher numbers of Jews are disaffiliating from religious communal life altogether, and describe themselves as being “just Jewish” or “secular/cultural” Jews. The rate of this disaffiliation is almost twice as high among those who had a Reform or Progressive upbringing (37 per cent) compared with those who had an Orthodox upbringing (20 per cent).

The good news is that this trend is being addressed; the United Synagogue’s investment in youth provision, for example, has led to a dramatic rise in young membership. The Chief Rabbi has called upon the Jewish community to “transform our synagogues into powerhouses of Jewish religious, educational and cultural experience”; we are doing so.

Stephen Pack

President, United Synagogue


Harvesting hops in Kent: what fraction of the price of a pint goes to the farmer?  Photo: Alamy

6:58AM BST 22 Sep 2014


SIR – Barry Max Wills highlights how over-priced a cup of coffee is (Letters, September 19).

Next time you are sitting – if you can afford it – in a pub with a pint in your hand, consider the negligable fraction of the price retained by your host, the licensee and the low price for which the brewers brew and sell it.

Consider, too, the vast “on cost” despite which the “pubcos” in the middle amazingly still claim to be unable to produce a profit.

Kevin Henley
The White Lion
Crewe, Cheshire

SIR – A pot of tea in a cafe starts at about 80p, but often is more than double that amount; hotels often charge the extortionate price of £3.50. When one can buy a good teabag for half a penny, where do the added charges come from?

Ron Kirby

A&E departments in two London hospitals closed earlier this month Photo: PA

6:59AM BST 22 Sep 2014


SIR – The death of a patient waiting in a queue of 15 ambulances outside an A&E department (report, September 19) reflects a crisis in Britain’s medical services which has been developing over many years.

Since its inception in 1948, the NHS has been closing hospitals and A&E departments, reducing beds from 11 per thousand of population in 1948 to 2.6 in 2012-13. In comparison, the European average is 5.3.

This month, two major London A&E departments – at the Hammersmith and Central Middlesex hospitals – were closed.

When I was the A&E registrar at the Central Middlesex in the Seventies, I frequently had to close the department to ambulances owing to the queues of patients waiting for attention. Conditions today can only be worse.

But the lack of beds is not the only threat to patient safety; increasing closures mean that junior doctors have fewer places to train in acute medicine and surgery, which A&E departments uniquely provide.

Max Gammon

London SE16

SIR – My wife and I are just two of 10,400 patients in my local GP surgery, and have been happy with the service.

But all five of the partners in the surgery have just tendered their resignations from the NHS, with effect from January 2015.

What are we to make of this mutiny in the NHS?

Peter Davies
Reading, Berkshire


SIR – I currently am enjoying a paperback that my father bought in 1959 for 2 shillings and 6 pence.

Admittedly, it is rather dog-eared, but it is almost certainly a lot better than a 55-year-old Kindle will be in 2069.

Clive Pilley
Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex

Bring home the bacon

SIR – I have always understood that bacon is a cured meat that will last a few months. Lately, no matter which supermarket I purchase bacon from, it has on the packet: “Once open consume within two days.”

I really cannot eat eight rashers of streaky two breakfasts running, and do not wish to freeze it.

Must I give up bacon?

Alan Self
Crowborough, East Sussex

EU crime risks

SIR – One of the dire warnings given by Europhiles is that, should Britain leave the European Union, we would endanger the cooperation between police forces and border agencies of all of our European partners.

However, the example of the convicted Latvian murderer being sought in connection with the disappearance of Alice Gross suggests that being a member of the EU could, in fact, be a hindrance to safety.

You report (September 19) that the Latvian authorities said “that they were under no obligation to forewarn Britain about [Arnis] Zalkalns’s conviction”.

It appears that the EU’s policy of “freedom of movement of peoples” is being exploited by authorities in certain countries to lose track conveniently of some undesirable citizens.

Why else would a murderer sentenced to 12 years in prison, but released after seven, not be closely monitored for five years, at least, after release?

Marc Versloot
London SW18

Happy commuters

SIR – A new study by Norwich Medical School has found that walking, cycling and taking the bus increase happiness levels. Driving to work, however, causes boredom, social isolation and stress, and reduces workers’ ability to concentrate.

Londoners like taking the bus. Between 1999 and 2013, the number of bus passenger trips in London rose 64 per cent, from 1.4 to 2.3 billion. A bus trip provides an opportunity to read, catch up on social media, write work emails or call a friend.

Londoners also love to cycle. In the morning peak, up to 64 per cent of vehicles on some main roads are now bikes.

It would be a joy to reward commuters in the rest of the country with a world-class bus network and Dutch-style cycle infrastructure.

Darren Johnson (Green)
Member of the London Assembly
London SE1

Hot autumn offers

SIR – I, too, have wondered about lightweight and flexible ladies” shoes (Letters, September 19).

That sort of ladies probably buy “white boys’ shirts” for their children and “luxury autumn duvets” for their beds.

R M Daughton

The classical factor: bring real music to schools

SIR – You report (X Factor pupils put drums ahead of violins”, September 15) that rising numbers of pupils are shifting away from the violin, flute and recorder in favour of the electric guitar due to the influence of reality television programmes.

Pop music is like football: it presents children with the possibility of a fast way out of their daily reality, to stardom and wealth.

Given the high-profile exposure of pop music through all kinds of media, and the unfortunate categorisation of more serious music as an exclusively middle-class pleasure, it is small wonder the balance has shifted.

Every child has the right to experience the beauty of classical music first-hand.

Sue Freestone
Principal, King’s Ely School
Ely, Cambridgeshire

SIR – Michael Henderson highlights (Sad decline of our musical youth”, Comment, September 20) the parlous state of music in state schools.

James Rhodes, the classical pianist, also deserves praise for his efforts to address this problem recently in his documentary “Don’t Stop The Music” on Channel 4.

However, nothing will change fundamentally until we restor the system – which once existed in counties across Britain – that nurtures and develops children’s musical ability for the duration of their time in school. Unfortunately, this requires proper funding, with well-qualified, properly paid teachers.

Successive governments have encouraged instead a model which relies on a series of models which include cheap, trendy, short-term ideas that lead nowhere.

Robert Parker

In the enthusiasm for devolution, it is time to simplify bureaucracy, not add to it. Photo: Getty Images

7:00AM BST 22 Sep 2014


SIR – I am concerned at the frenetic post-referendum drive for devolution of powers to regional assemblies and even cities.

In my few square metres of England, I currently am represented at a parish council, a city council, a county council, a myriad of quangos, the two houses at Westminster, and the European parliament.

All of these bodies come with their attendant bureaucracies, committees and sub-committees. Some have affiliated, unelected, hangers on, paid for by the electorate.

I feel very well represented and expensively over-managed and governed from grass roots to continental level. I will be able to struggle by without another group, which will no doubt regularly need to go to Australia or America to see “best practice” in action.

I hear the sound carriages being coupled to the gravy train Some of these bodies must go in the shake-up.

Alan Love
Chelmsford, Essex

SIR – There doesn’t need to be a two-tiered system of MPs sitting in Parliament in order to debate and make decisions on English and British matters.

Devolve appropriate powers to cities and town councils that would make sense within their local context, thus freeing up time in Parliament for national matters.

There is passionate desire to have a balancing of the powers and a long-overdue overhaul of the voting system on purely English matters. Politicians should set out proposals to put before the electorate in May 2015 and let us decide.

Valerie Gatward
Pulborough, West Sussex

SIR – I agree with Jim O’Neill (Business Comment, September 20) that we need to devolve far more decision making to the regions.

He makes no mention of Birmingham and the West Midlands. This region is the second most populous region after London. Birmingham is also at the forefront of the revival in manufacturing – just look at the expansion of Land Rover and Jaguar – not to mention the fact that Birmingham has the highest number of start-up businesses outside London.

Why is one of our great cities relegated to the second division? It is time we took this city as seriously as the Chinese do.

Stephen Message

SIR – Subject, of course, to Nick Clegg’s blessing, would not this be an opportunity to review the constituency boundaries?

Stephen Hitch
Ermington, Devon

SIR – One of the reasons for disillusion with Parliament is that many electors’ votes are futile in constituencies with an overwhelming majority for one party. In my rural constituency, any vote other than Conservative is pointless.

The best answer is true proportional representation, where parliamentary power reflects the votes of the people.

The argument against this is that it can be difficult to maintain the link between constituency and MP. One solution would be larger constituencies with, say, five MPs, enabling a mixture of representatives to be elected.

Stanley Morris
Somerton, Oxfordshire

SIR – Drew Brooke-Mellors asks (Letters, September 20): “How can we motivate 84 per cent of voters to turn out at the general election?”

Surely the important thing is that everyone has a right to vote, not that they exercise that right. Better that they don’t vote at all than they vote aimlessly because they have been told that they should.

Jerry Hibbert
Lechlade, Gloucestershire

SIR – At the next election, should I vote for what is best for me, or my community, or England, or the United Kingdom, or Europe, or the world?

William Jupe

Irish Times:

Sir, – Alex Salmond didn’t win. But he did make a difference. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – David Cameron, promising all sorts of goodies to Scotland, and to Wales, England and Northern Ireland as well, might do well to heed the alleged advice of Sean Lemass to a new TD: “Never, ever make a promise you cannot break!” – Yours, etc,


College Road,


Sir, – The pathetic performance of Gordon Brown in the referendum on independence reminded one of nothing less than our own version, John Redmond. Both men based their pleadings on the promises of the English establishment, commitments designed to undermine the clamour for freedom and never to be fulfilled. It will be interesting to see how “devo-max” will be delivered, if ever, going on past experiences. Of course we will always have another one of London’s favourite strategies to use if necessary. Partition! It worked in Ireland, India, and elsewhere. – Yours, etc,



Co Cavan.

Sir, – The Scottish referendum was an astonishing waste of time and money, not to mention hours of meaningless media commentary and irrelevant column inches. With estimates of up to £50 million for this diversion, both sides should be ashamed of themselves for advancing a fake “issue” when all that was at stake was the branding of Scotland. The lives of disadvantaged families and children from Thurso to Dumfries would not have been affected one iota by either a Yes or No result.

We’ve all been Europeans for years now, and our destiny is linked to developments on mainland Europe, not what some remote outposts with minuscule populations want.

And don’t get me going on our ridiculous banking inquiry! – Yours, etc,


Scholarstown Road,

Knocklyon, Dublin 16.

Sir, – One very positive result of Scotland’s referendum decision is that the sizeable body of Anglophobic opinion in this country was not given an opportunity to dip its collective pen into the usual old poison and gloat, ad nauseam, over the break up of the UK. For this, dear Scotland, many thanks. – Yours, etc,




Co Wicklow.

Sir, – A new day of note on the Scottish calendar – Dependence Day, September 18th. – Yours, etc,


Glendale Park,

Dublin 12.

Sir, – Scotland has given Europe and the world an example in democracy. It has shown that it is entirely possible to resolve the always thorny issue of independence through the ballot box. By and large, the debate was conducted in a civil manner, with both sides defending their views. David Cameron and Alex Salmond have reminded us all of the virtues of the democratic process. That in itself is the great triumph of what we witnessed this week in Scotland.

By way of contrast, the government in Madrid refuses to acknowledge the demands of a vast majority of the citizens of Catalonia to hold a similar vote. This desire has been repeatedly expressed in a peaceful but clear manner by the citizens of Catalonia. On September 11th, only a few days ago, 1.8 million people marched down the streets of Barcelona demanding the right to vote. This follows on from similarly large demonstrations over the last number of years.

The Spanish government hides behind an outdated constitution drafted in 1978 under the careful watch of the military, only three years after Gen Franco’s death. Some 80 per cent of over-18s in Catalonia did not vote for that constitution.

The Catalan parliament passed a Bill last Friday that will allow for a non-binding referendum on Catalan independence to take place on November 9th.

For many people around the world, an independent Scotland is no more an inconceivable notion than that of an independent Catalonia. – Yours, etc,





Abbey Drive,

Navan Road,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – In the past fortnight, leadership figures in both Fine Gael and Labour have used the impasse in Stormont over welfare reform as a stick to beat Sinn Féin (“SF control of economy like handing keys back to troika, says Burton”, September 15th).

Not only are Charlie Flanagan and Joan Burton declaiming from positions of ignorance on the policy matter, they are undermining the functioning the NI Assembly in order to score points in Leinster House.

I was alarmed to hear the leader of the Irish Labour Party accept the spin of the Tories and their enablers that those opposed to welfare reform in the UK “seem relentlessly opposed to any measures to help people back to work”.

The trade union movement in Northern Ireland has been relentlessly opposed to these these flawed and vindictive proposals, especially since their disastrous enforcement in England, Wales and Scotland. We have led a major civil society campaign highlighting the injustice and unworkablility of the Tory vision of the welfare state. Alongside allies in the churches, academia, and the community and voluntary sectors, we have lobbied, leafleted, picketed and protested at these pernicious “reforms” – at least some of which will be abandoned after next year’s general election, unless the Conservatives pull off a most surprising win in the current political environment.

Every political party in Stormont has been on the receiving end of our campaign work, which has resulted in support from Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Green Party and individual MLAs from the UUP and DUP.

The ICTU in Northern Ireland has never supported any particular political party. Trade unions that support working people are relentlessly opposed to policies that affect and afflict the working poor. That is our function.

It is a sad day when our work is undermined by politicians in the Republic of Ireland desperate for a cheap soundbite. – Yours, etc,


Assistant General Secretary,

Irish Congress

of Trade Unions,

Northern Ireland,

Carlin House,

Donegall Street Place,


Sir, – John McManus, discussing the fish farm proposals being promoted by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, notes that many politicians are withholding their support for the proposed projects (“Fish farms a breeding ground for tensions over job creation”, Business Opinion, September 15th).

In reality, there’s no mystery behind the growing scepticism of plans for large-scale fish farms. Recent studies have shown that farmed salmon has more than twice the fat content of a typical pizza (some 14g of fat per 100g compared to 6.4g for a pizza margherita, with the corresponding figure for wild salmon standing at 3.2g per 100g). It’s not a product that can sustainably be marketed as healthy. Farmed salmon have a high fat content because, cooped up in cages, these fish get little exercise. The fish cages, which are tethered to the sea bed, become breeding grounds for lice, leading salmon-farm owners to douse the cages with chemicals to try and abate the problem. But drenching with chemicals has its own ill-effects and concerns over the level of toxins found in farmed salmon are increasing.

Caged fish are typically fed by dropping feed from overhead. Sadly, this makes for an easy meal for wild fish – and so they can congregate around the cages. But, as mentioned, the fish cages harbour high concentrations of lice. And, while the exact level of impact continues to be debated, it is no longer disputed that the presence of fish cages leads to higher levels of lice infestation among wild fish.

And so, for the most part, politicians are being convinced by one straightforward argument – there are more salaries at stake in Ireland’s pre-existing fishing and angling tourism sectors than stand to be created by the proposed fish farms, with the case made here in Ireland borne out by the experience in Canada. In short, it’s coming down to simple economics. – Yours, etc,


Policy Director,

An Taisce,

Tailors’ Hall,


Dublin 8.

Tue, Sep 23, 2014, 01:07

First published: Tue, Sep 23, 2014, 01:07

Sir, – I attended the Reform Group seminar on September 18th on the passage of the Government of Ireland Act, 1914.

Some have put forward the proposition that the British government was never serious about granting home rule to Ireland. I think that I can ascertain the necessity for this line of argument – it’s all to do with an uneasiness about the legitimacy of the Easter Rebellion.

John Bruton raised the inconvenient truth that the Rising – led and fought overwhelmingly by people whose morality was set by reference to Roman Catholicism – did not satisfy the conditions necessary for a “just war”. While it may, possibly, have been defined as a “just cause” and of “right intention”, it was certainly not authorised by a “competent authority”, nor was it a “last resort”.

It is doubtful if the harm done (hundreds dead, the centre of Dublin devastated) was proportionate to its prospects of success (it had none).

In that context, the apologists for the Rising adopt two lines of reasoning to get around the problem. The first is to assert that the whole home rule business was a chimera, a mirage, that would never become a reality. Only armed rebellion would deliver “freedom”. That was not the perception of the vast mass of the Irish people in 1916; it would have negated what the entire leadership and followers of the Irish Parliamentary Party, from Parnell to Redmond, had stood for.

The second line of defence is that of “post-event justification”.

This reads history backwards, using the 1918 election results to validate retrospectively the 1916 rebellion.

It is exactly the sort of dangerous illogicality that has allowed the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin to justify their murderous campaign between 1968 and 1998. The end, in other words, always justifies the means. I am sure that your readers can see where that can lead.

I also got the sense at the seminar that Mr Bruton had a real grasp of the human tragedies that lie behind the Rising and the wars of 1919-23.

Prof Ronan Fanning suggested that, in the context of the Great War then raging, the fatalities of the Rising were “a drop in the ocean”.

Mr Bruton pointed out that this was a false comparison; the Rising’s casualties were additional; and, in his view, unnecessary. No death is “a drop in the ocean”; each left parents, children, lovers, siblings and friends bereft. Whatever about the military men and rebels, no-one asked those civilians who died whether they were happy to do so for Ireland.

Finally, it was also pointed out that the 1916 rebels’ appeal to “our gallant allies in Europe” in the Proclamation was utterly counterproductive, since it ensured that the Irish separatist case was ignored at the Versailles peace conference. The British, the French and the Americans were not going to treat with people who had openly sided with those posing an existential threat to their states. – Yours, etc,


Rathasker Heights,

Naas, Co Kildare.

Sir, – I am driven to wonder what John Bruton hopes to achieve by his repetition of the thesis that Ireland would have done better if the violent events of 1916 to 1922 had not occurred.

Leaving aside his limited view of the Irish side of the equation – noble-hearted John Redmond gently leading us all across Jordan to a rather inadequate land promised, tardily and reluctantly, by London – it is his perception of the Britain of the period that surely calls for remark.

The British Empire had no experience of or inclination towards letting bits go. Eventually fortified by victory in the Great War, it tended to be pugnacious in the defence of its God-given dominion over palm and pine. Hence also in 1916 the response had been solely military, including the inevitable gunboat, and the drumhead dispatch of the leaders and signatories. That reaction was not a British policy mistake; it was entirely consistent with the British approach to native trouble wherever it arose.

To suggest that by mere acceptance of the Home Rule Act, we might have avoided revolution and the independence struggle, or negotiated better terms leading to separation (the essential aim of the Irish majority over the centuries) is unprofitable speculation, lacking even amusement value.

Reference to current events in Scotland, which has been made, brings sharply to view how very different today’s PC and welfare state Britain has become, with its enormous national debt and rather fewer gunboats to its name. The Scottish nationalists have it easy. – Yours, etc,


Silchester Road,

Glenageary, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Last Wednesday a relative was taken by ambulance to Tallaght hospital A&E unwell and in a distressed condition.

A total of 33 hours later a bed became free and he was admitted. He spent almost half that period lying on a trolley in the hallway of the busy A&E department while the clearly overworked staff did their best to attend to patients.

I’d be surprised if this intolerable situation was not replicated in other underfunded and understaffed hospitals across the country.

At the same as this deplorable state of affairs continues, the Government is hinting at tax cuts in the upcoming budget, a vote-grabbing stroke if ever there was one.

The leopard clearly hasn’t changed its spots, despite protestations from the political class that auction politics is a thing of the past. – Yours, etc,


Lansdowne Park,

Templeogue, Dublin 16.

Sir, – Coming on the heels of data privacy concerns, the furore over the distribution of a U2 album offers a revealing insight into competing approaches of cloud computing – personal consent versus corporate creepiness.

It would seem that the keeping of naked selfies on an individual’s device is fine, but the pushing of music onto the same device is not.

Perish the thought that Apple and the Rolling Stones might ever enter a deal to republish Get Off of My Cloud. – Yours, etc,


South Circular Road,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – I hope the recent EuroMillions winner takes his or her time to collect the €86.7 million jackpot. The longer the winner takes to claim the money, the more outlandish the rumours.

I had a phone call yesterday from a friend letting me know that he had heard that I had won. I didn’t deny or confirm the rumour. – Yours, etc,


Mill Street,


Co Mayo.

A chara, – It struck me as curious that Donald Clarke’s article decrying a general ignorance of basic scientific principles among those who would consider themselves well educated (“Scientists are respected in theory while artists are celebrated in practice”, Opinion and Analysis, September 20th) was tagged under “Religion and Beliefs”, in the online edition at least. An editorial slip? Or a sly nod towards the notion that for some science has taken the place of faith? – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – I would like to thank all those involved in establishing the Woodenbridge World War One Memorial Park (“Woodenbridge park to mark Wicklow dead of first World War”, September 18th). A hundred years ago John Redmond urged Irishmen to go “wherever the firing line extends in defence of right, of freedom and religion in this war”. My great-uncles, Edward and George Kearon, answered Redmond’s call, and died together at sea on November 10th, 1917, aged only 17 and 19.

For far too long, all these forgotten heroes of Co Wicklow went unremembered, but this park remedies that wrong. – Yours, etc,


Ballinacarrig Lower,

Ballinaclash, Co Wicklow.

Irish Independent:

If Sunday’s fare in Croke Park is a forerunner of what we can expect in next year’s All-Ireland football final then I can only suggest there will be no shortage of tickets for anyone.

I feel truly sorry for all players who played in this year’s final. They were confined to orders not to express their skills and talents, which I have no doubt they have in abundance. However, it appears there is now a law of win-at-all-costs. It doesn’t matters if what they serve up to their loyal fans is boring and a step nearer to what is played in the soccer world.

The song about building a wall around Donegal almost happened on the pitch on Sunday. All we were short of was the blocks and mortar in the middle of the pitch so that each team could kick the ball over the wall at selected intervals.

It’s sad when the only exciting memory of this fiasco of a final was the unfortunate mistake made by the Donegal goalkeeper which allowed the Kerry forward a free shot into the net.

GAA fans deserve better than this – and county boards better wake up and instruct their managers that the game is meant to be played for the enjoyment of the fans. If this kind of football continues it wont be long before people think twice about paying for something they can do at home for free – and that is to fall asleep.

Fred Molloy, Dublin 15

Paisley a man of contrasts

Tributes to Ian Paisley have tended to define him in terms of numerous deliberately-ambiguous characteristics. These are driven by the Irish injunction not to speak ill of the dead.

For instance, the claim that Paisley was a man of conviction implies that this was a virtue. To have unmovable conviction is often an indication of pathological inability to see beyond one’s own beliefs.

Ian Paisley was determined to keep the Catholics at bay, colluding in depriving them of basic rights, particularly equality of treatment.

He was steadfast in his determination to have no truck with Irish nationalists, particularly the IRA.

His thunderous rabble rousing declaration, “Never! Never! Never” was chilling in the determination to perpetuate the injustices that defined life for so many in the North.

Paisley was the chief influence in sustaining the radical antipathy between the Protestant and Catholic communities.

It was his determination not to budge one inch from the Protestant supremacy in the North that eventually led to the violence that marked the life of the region for years.

Attempts to bring together the warring parties were frustrated by each side desiring to fire the last shot. There seemed to be no hope of mutual forgiveness of the wrongs of the past.

Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony said: “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones”, but the good that Ian Paisley did will live after him; in the end, he saw that if we want closure on the dark history of the North we have to be prepared to forgive and seek reconciliation with those we have learned to despise.

It is a strange irony that Ian Paisley showed us that way; like his God, he worked in mysterious ways.

Philip O’Neill, Oxford, England

Time to help out the poor

To tax or not to tax!

Average citizens don’t fully understand the tax system. I know that from long experience.

Between direct tax on wages and indirect tax example vat, surcharges, fuel excises, and tax on new homes Ireland collected over €37 billion in 2013.

Dr Michael Collins, senior researcher with the Nevin Institute, has completed a comprehensive study of the tax system in Ireland by gathering and analysing information from regular household surveys, CSO figures and data from the Department of Finance. His key findings were that people on middle income pay the least amount of tax while those on the bottom and top income pay the most tax.

Startling as it may seem our direct income tax is progressive, while our indirect is regressive.

Politicians are trying to make a case for tax relief for the “squeezed middle” earners. This is a myth. Citizens on low income need tax relief and waivers if society is not to pick up the tab further down the line in the shape of homeless, poverty, and illness.

Many on low income have slipped into poverty in the last six years, they are struggling to maintain some semblance of pride and dignity while trying to eat regularly and keep the bills paid. There are other, better ways of collecting tax.

Tax is critical for the operation of a democratic civil society. Ireland’s leaders need to ensure the poor do not suffer by indirect tax.

Dermot Hayes, Ennis, County Clare

Wanted: billionaires

Who wants to be a billionaire? It’s the most lucrative position in the world, with just three recorded in Ireland – though I’m of the opinion I could name five off the cuff!

The number of billionaires around the world in 2014 remains static since last year at 2,325 – surely a rare species! Europe is the place to be if you’re one of this select group, according to a new report carried out by Wealth X and UBS (Irish Independent September 19).

More billionaires – 775 – live in Europe than any other continent on Earth; most of them reside in the UK and Germany. North America is the second-most popular continent, with 609. Their total global wealth is $7,291 trillion.

It was also of note in the report that the fastest-growing segment of the billionaire fraternity – in terms of wealth and source – are those who inherited only part of their fortune and became billionaires through their own entrepreneurial endeavours.

Most of the fortunes were made in finance, banking and investment. This professional species are thin on the ground here, leaving endless opportunities for bright young Irish sparks of the future. In the process, they would create a real employment boom.

James Gleeson, Thurles, Co Tipperary

Health service is ailing

Last Wednesday my brother-in-law was taken by ambulance to Tallaght Hospital A&E unwell and in a distressed condition.

Thirty-three hours later a bed became free and he was admitted.

He spent almost half that period lying on a trolley in the hallway of the busy A&E department while the clearly over-worked staff did their best to attend to patients.

I’d be surprised if the intolerable situation is not replicated in other under-funded and under-staffed hospitals across the country.

At the same time as this deplorable state of affairs continues the Government is hinting at tax cuts in the upcoming Budget – a vote-grabbing stroke if ever there was one.

The leopard clearly hasn’t changed its spots, despite protestations from the political class that auction politics are a thing of the past. Finance Minister Michael Noonan would better serve the country if he forsook the tax cuts bribe and put any money he has to spare into the desperately-needy hospital front-line services and provide beds for sick.

Frank Khan, Templeogue. Dublin 16

Irish Independent


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