8 October 2014 Rain

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day Coop, Post Office, Newsagent.

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


Alastair Reid – obituary

Alastair Reid was a Scottish poet who translated Pablo Neruda and ran off with one of Robert Graves’s ‘muses’

Alastair Reid, Scottish poet, translator and teacher

Alastair Reid, Scottish poet, translator and teacher Photo: WALTER NEILSON/WRITER PICTURES

6:19PM BST 07 Oct 2014


Alastair Reid, who has died aged 88, almost single-handedly sparked the boom in Latin American literature, introducing English language readers to the work of Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges.

Reid was many things – poet, translator, teacher – but most of all he was an unlikely wanderer. Pablo Neruda called him patapela: “Mr Barefoot”. His light-footed wanderings took him from Scotland through the Americas to a houseboat on the Thames near Cheyne Walk with critical stops in Mallorca, where for a time he was close to Robert Graves – until he fell in love with, and stole away, Margot Callas, the older poet’s “muse”. He also spent time in New York, and contributed to the New Yorker magazine for more than half a century.

Robert Graves (REX)

It was from that position that Reid introduced the English-speaking world to the poetry of Neruda and the uncategorisable poems and fictions of Borges. Neruda told him: “Don’t just translate my poems, improve them.” It is generally agreed that he made them live in English every bit as sensually as they breathe in Spanish. Along the way he turned out more than 40 books of poems, translations and travel writing.

Alastair Reid was born at Whithorn, Galloway, on March 22 1926, a son of the manse. His interest in wandering, he said, came from watching Irish seasonal farm workers in the fields near his father’s kirk. He served in the Royal Navy during the war, decoding ciphers, a foreshadowing of his skill in making Spanish authors shine in English.

After the war he read Classics at St Andrews University, but his naval travels had shown him that he had to move on from Scotland. He went to the United States and taught classics at Sarah Lawrence College in the New York City suburbs. In the mid-1950s, the young poet headed to Spain, and Mallorca, where he became part of the circle of acolytes around Robert Graves in Deya. The pair had Classics in common and worked together on translations of Suetonius.

His skill with the Spanish language was extraordinary. Acquiring it, he later wrote, was like “starting a new life”. This new life had consequences.

He became secretary and confidant to Graves; his relationship with Margot Callas put all that at risk. At the time Reid was married with an infant son, but he and Callas ran off to mainland Spain, leaving their partners behind.

Eventually Callas returned to Graves and was forgiven. Reid was cast out of the Deya circle forever – although for a time he kept a house with minimal comforts in a village nearby, handing over the keys to different groups of friends while he continued his wanderings.

In 1964 he met both Neruda and Borges for the first time and began translating their work into English. In a time of great cultural turbulence Neruda’s poems and Borges’s ficciones were to literature what rock and roll was to popular music: an earthquake. Reid was the quiet man behind the scenes bringing not just those he translated, but also other writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to notice in literary circles.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Reid continued to teach and became a kind of Pied Piper figure to his students. He was old enough to be their father and had been living the counter-culture lifestyle for at least 20 years. Yet he was no hippie; there was seriousness in his rootlessness.

Although rarely in New York, he was a New Yorker man. He was a protégé of celebrated editor William Shawn but in 1984 his relationship with the magazine began to change. The New Yorker is famed, and occasionally mocked, for its rigorous fact checking.

A few years previously, Reid had given a seminar at Yale University where he admitted that in some of his reportage he used composite characters. A student attending the seminar wrote about Reid’s comments in the Wall Street Journal. It created a terrible storm in the Manhattan media teacup. Composites were not facts, thundered the Dean of Columbia School of Journalism. Reid was judged guilty by the establishment of bringing the New Yorker into disrepute. It was an uncomfortable spotlight. After Shawn retired, the relationship with the magazine was not what it had been.

His wanderings continued, often to a new island retreat in the Dominican Republic, albeit one that was as lacking in creature comforts as the Mallorca house. He began to return regularly to Scotland in the early 1970s with a sojourn in Pilmour Cottage in St Andrews.

Visitors were told to drive across the golf course to find it, an unlikely set of directions, but in fact the house was reached by driving through a small gate at the bottom of the car park and following a gravel track along the course. Guests could join Reid and his young son Jasper picking potatoes in the garden and throwing lost golf balls back on to the course.

There was never much money in this life. Reid spent his last decades living in a one-and-a-half room flat in Greenwich Village with his second wife, Leslie Clark.

For much of his life, Reid supported himself through teaching. Those lucky enough to have learnt about poetry through him, and to have heard the love poems of Neruda read in his soft Galloway burr, with a rhythm that more than hinted of swaying Spanish sensuality have fond memories.

He is survived by his wife and two sons.

Alastair Reid, born March 22 1926, died September 21 2014


Nick Clegg at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow. Nick Clegg at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

Polly Toynbee is far too lenient on Nick Clegg and his cronies in the Lib Dem party (Start telling the hard truth, Nick – there is no free lunch, 7 October). Having sacrificed any liberal principles they might have had at the Downing Street altar, and been complicit in everything that “a Tory government more extreme than any since the war” (in Toynbee’s words) has inflicted upon the ordinary and less fortunate people of this country, they deserve neither sympathy nor advice.

Totally swallowing the Tory line about how ignoring the deficit would leave the next generation with a mountain of debt, Clegg then allowed the tripling of university fees, ensuring all but the richest students had their own personal Everests. Their duplicity clearly knows no bounds; it beggars belief that they now are reaching out to “soft Tories who are fiscally responsible but do not like any hint of a nasty party” (Brutalise Tories over tax pledge, Clegg tells Lib Dems, 6 October). Presumably they regard such people as the only voters likely to be so daft as to forget that the Tory-dominated coalition government was only able to pass “nasty” legislation because of Lib Dem support.

What we are still waiting for is a response from Labour, who still insist on defending a risky lead with seven months to go, instead of providing “something different” that could give them the mandate to transform our socially immobile society. How can working people relying on benefits be expected to tighten their belts further, when their employers are receiving £85bn a year in taxpayers’ subsidies (Cut benefits? Yes, let’s start with our £85bn corporate welfare handout, 7 October)? Even the Lib Dems spotted that the Tory conference had left an “open goal” for their opponents, but the Tories’ downright selfishness and cruelty have provided an easy target for years. The real mystery is why Labour doesn’t shoot.
Bernie Evans

• Polly Toynbee is absolutely right. Week after week, at prime minister’s questions, we have watched Nick Clegg sitting beside David Cameron, nodding sagely in support of the latter’s pronouncements. We have watched Danny Alexander stand with shiny confidence to support George Osborne, and we have seen Vince Cable, at any opportunity, deny any rift with his Conservative colleagues. The Lib Dems must be quite mad if they think we don’t remember this.
Bernadette Sanders

• The Liberal Democrats deserve our vote. They’ve earned it. Does anyone seriously believe we would have been in a better position with an unchecked Conservative government these last four years? Or a Gordon Brown Labour administration?

Media treatment of Nick Clegg has been as lazy, patronising and trivial as their attitude to coalition government. One would think he is the only politician ever to fail to deliver in government a promise made in opposition. Give me, and him, a break! The pledge on tuition fees was naive and unwise, but there was simply no money to deliver it.

Only 60% of the electorate bother to vote. Still fewer make the effort to understand the compromises coalition politics require. They want complex issues to be simple; and politicians to magic them away. The Liberal Democrats put country before party; and brought common sense and fairness to bear on a modestly endowed Conservative administration prone to lurch right at the first excuse.
Keith Farman
St Albans, Hertfordshire

• Giles Oakley (Letters, 6 October) should look at his political priorities for a hung parliament. He accuses the Lib Dems of “repeatedly abandoning whatever ideals they are supposed to represent, just to stay in power”. The Lib Dems have implemented a good chunk of their 2010 manifesto, whereas Labour have not. The priority is surely to implement policy, not merely to obstruct one’s opponents.
Mark McKergow

• Though a confirmed Labour democratic socialist for life, I believe that Nick Clegg could have had, and may still have, an almost historic value in British politics (Clegg suffers poll setback on eve of Glasgow speech, 7 October). He has a straightforward and pleasant demeanour, a multicultural European background (like nobody else in parliament), he is multilingual, linguistically intelligent and a former MEP.

Given sufficient courage and the stamina he could speak up for Europe and the vast multitude of benefits the union bestows – economic, cultural, guaranteed peace (after a thousand years of wars), a broader and more exciting perspective for future generations (than our present timid subservience to all that is American) – and help forge a magnanimous, outward-looking and diverse Britain, unprecedented in our history of isolated narcissism. Europe is the most important issue of the century ahead.

The slogan for politics should not be “it’s the economy, stupid!” but rather “it’s the future, the culture and our inspiration that makes us eager and strong!” The former is the limited focus for small and short-term minds, the latter (and Clegg could be a formidable voice) could help rid us at last of the politically dull.
Ian Flintoff

‘We urge Hong Kong residents to express their views in a peaceful manner,’ says Chih-Kung Liu of the Taipei representative office in the UK. Photograph: unclesiu/GuardianWitness

Your report (30 September) is correct in its analysis of how we in Taiwan perceive the situation in Hong Kong. While it is true the people of Taiwan empathise with the people of Hong Kong in their struggle for democracy, it must be stressed that Taiwan is not Hong Kong and the “one country, two systems” formula has no bearing on Taiwan – a country ruled by its own sovereign government. As the report notes, Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, has clearly stated that we in Taiwan do not accept the concept.

Taiwan has had universal suffrage for quite some time and each time we hold an election many of our Hong Kong friends come to observe the proceedings. We understand and support the Hong Kong people’s demand for universal suffrage. As Hong Kong is an extremely important global financial centre, any political turmoil there will impact not only Asia but the entire world. So we urge the mainland Chinese authorities to listen carefully to the demands of the Hong Kong people and adopt a peaceful and cautious approach. At the same time, we urge Hong Kong residents to express their views in a peaceful manner. We do not wish to see any conflict. Observers outside Hong Kong hope that it will gradually move towards democracy. We believe that, if a system of universal suffrage can be realised there, both Hong Kong and mainland China would benefit.
Chih-Kung Liu
Taipei representative office in the UK 

• Our hearts must go out to the people of Hong Kong. It’s a travesty of democracy when voters are required to choose between, in the words of pro-democracy campaigner Martin Lee, “a rotten orange, a rotten apple and a rotten banana” (Report, 1 October). We must do all we can to ensure the people of Hong Kong can have the kind of genuine political choices we enjoy in the – er, UK.
Andy Croft
Ripon, North Yorkshire

Hinkley Point A, right, and Hinkley Point B in Somerset The nuclear power stations Hinkley Point A, right, and Hinkley Point B in Somerset. The financial deal behind plans to build Hinkley Point C is now under scrutiny. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Today (8 October) the 28-strong outgoing European commission will make a decision on the Hinkley C financial deal, with far-reaching consequences both for the integrity of decision-making in Europe and for the future of European energy policy (Conflict of interest concerns over EDF’s Hinkley nuclear project approval, 1 October).

In December 2013, the commission raised doubts on almost all aspects of the project, finding the state credit guarantee of £10bn for EDF “incompatible under EU state aid rules”. So why is competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia, backed by former EU president José Manuel Barroso, recommending the commission give the deal the green light? Could it be that the German federal government has been involved in a backroom deal?

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has previously achieved exemptions from EU subsidy rules for Germany’s ambitious renewable energy plans. The legislation behind this, which provides feed-in incentives for renewable energy technologies, is helping transform energy generation away from fossil fuels and nuclear; renewables now account for around 30% of Germany’s electricity.

However, in return for these subsidy exemptions, Merkel is rumoured to have agreed to support British nuclear subsidies. So, while the Berlin government is decommissioning its own nuclear power plants and turning to renewables, it is at the same time undermining nuclear phase-out across the rest of Europe. Greens in the European parliament urge departing commissioners to hold fast to their principled opposition to this extremely dodgy deal and set all of Europe, not just Germany, on course for an energy policy for the common good.
Molly Scott Cato Green MEP
Rebecca Harms Green MEP
Claude Turmes Green MEP
Benedek Jávor Green MEP
Michèle Rivasi Green MEP

Ben Affleck in Gone Girl Ben Affleck in Gone Girl. Merrick Morton/Allstar Picture Library/New Regency Pictures

John Green continues to claim that the GDR did not employ torture at Hohenschönhausen (Letters, 4 October). Exhibitions at the prison – now a memorial and education and research centre – clearly show that torture was systematically used. Green also dismisses Anna Funder’s Stasiland as “secondhand evidence”. He forgets, for example, Erika Riemann’s 2003 memoir The Bow on Stalin’s Moustache, detailing her eight years of torture and rape after she was jailed at the age of 14 for defacing a poster of Stalin.
Terry Philpot
Limpsfield Chart, Surrey

• Joan Smith (Comment, 7 October) trivialises the serious question of rape myths with her opportunistic attack on Ben Affleck (and why not author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn?). Does she really believe the world would be a safer place if the entertainment industry restricted itself to statistically probable plots?
Paul Roper
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

• Giles Fraser (Loose canon, 4 October) seemed intrigued at parishioners who, although not related to the child in question, are known as aunties and uncles. As a child I had many aunties and uncles who were not related to me, and I am now auntie to a number of my friends’ children. It is commonplace in Scotland.
Lorna Elliott

• When I read the comment on housework from househusband Anuranonanist (G2, 7 October) I came over all faint and had to sit down, calling for water. If it’s really true, I have three questions: 1. What’s he on? 2. Does he polish his halo himself? 3. I notice his nom de plume includes the word “onanist”. Is there an activity he’s omitted from his list?
Helena Newton

• So a student union condemns the use of the words “mingers” and “sluts” in a rugby club leaflet, describing it as “inexcusably offensive and stigmatising language”. They do this in a student paper called Beaver Online (Report, 7 October)?
Helen Keats (@HelenKeats)
Kingston, Isle of Wight

Indoor herd of milk cows ‘Keeping cows in very large indoor herds requires exceptional animal husbandry skills.’ Photograph: David Levene

Jon Henley says in 1995 there were 35,000 dairy farms in the UK, now there are 13,000 (The battle for the soul of British milk, 2 October). There were 196,000 in 1950. This drop in numbers has happened everywhere, even in New Zealand, the most efficient dairy farming country in the world, and numbers are down by far more in most of Europe. In fact, UK dairy farmers have just come through one of their most profitable periods ever, with milk prices reachinged a record of over 33p/litre earlier this year. As a result,UK milk production has soared, this year up nearly 10% to the highest for 10 years. Though we are not immune to world markets – and world dairy prices have fallen by 40% this year, with the European dairy industry now seriously affected by the Russian trade embargo, the biggest problem for UK dairy farmers right now is how to pay their tax bills!
Barry Wilson
Editor, Dairy Industry Newsletter

• While it is important to maximise overall food production to cope with the ever-expanding population (a global problem), increase in volume is not necessarily the solution. The reason the Holstein-Friesian is basically the only cow used in milk production is that it produces the greatest volume. However, farmers have known for at least the last 100 years that its milk has the lowest content of butter fat – and the lowest level of protein. It would be interesting to know the nutritional value of the 11,000-litre milk yield of the indoor cows as against the 4,000-litre yield of Steve Hook’s cattle.

Also no mention of what routine is followed in an indoor diary re breeding and calving. My understanding, having grown up on a farm, is that a cow needs to calve annually to be able to produce any milk – unless there has been an incredible biological change in the reproduction of milk cows.
Christian Wangler

• Disease, combined with the difficulty of getting cows pregnant, results in 25%-30% of the adult animals being removed from the herd (culled) every year and replaced by young cows (heifers) reared on the farm or mature cows purchased from other farms. Replacing so many cows each year is a significant cost to the dairy business, especially if these are in their first or second lactation (dairy cows do not reach their peak production until after having their third calf and subsequent lactation). It also tends to be disruptive to the herd hierarchy and, if replacements are sourced from other farms, increases the risk of introducing infectious diseases.

Your author rightly points out that Holstein-based cows can produce very high milk yields, but this is dependent on feeding them large amounts of grain-based concentrate feed, which contains imported soya beans as a major source of protein. These modern cows are bred for performance and, like high-performance cars, require a high level of expert maintenance to avoid breakdowns. Keeping them in very large indoor herds requires exceptional animal husbandry skills if significant losses caused by disease are to be avoided. I believe that by attending to the losses caused by disease in all types of dairy herd, farmers will be able to reduce their costs and consequently improve their business performance.

In closing, it is interesting to note that the main photograph reveals that even a state-of-the-art indoor farm is still using old tyres to weigh down the plastic sheeting over the silage clamps. This constitutes a health risk due to the sharp pieces of wire released when the tyres break down in the sunlight which fall into the silage and are eaten by the cows, the wires subsequently penetrating the stomach wall. It is this attention to detail which all dairy farms need to address if they are to maintain a viable business.
Graham P David

• While drinking unpasteurised milk may be very natural, bear in mind that by doing so you are consuming a proportion of raw faeces, urine and blood. As a milk recorder taking samples on farms in the Midlands I have seen samples that varied in shade from slightly pink to the colour of red paint from the occasional cow that is still classed as “fit for human consumption”. Indeed it would appear that the only milk refused by dairies is that which contains antibiotics; this is mostly fed to calves or simply thrown down the drain.
Simon Rourke
Barby, Northamptonshire

• The traditional mixed-farm systems of which small-scale dairy production is a part were the basis for the rich diversity of meadows and farmland wildlife, birds, bees, flowers etc and the declines to both are parallel. The “charities” that dominate wildlife policy in the English countryside have never suggested a rerun of the Milk Marketing Board that helped guarantee both, and which Mrs Thatcher abolished.
Peter Hack

• The intensification of animal farming has arguably caused a greater quantity of suffering than anything else in history. Unnatural feeding, selective breeding and even genetic manipulation have created animals that put on weight so fast that some cannot stand properly; grazing animals are kept indoors; and many animals are in constant pain. A partial solution would be a worldwide ban on dosing farmed animals with antibiotics (except for individual sick animals), since the drugs both promote excessive growth and suppress the illnesses that would otherwise make overcrowded conditions untenable. As individuals, we can eat less meat, eggs and dairy, and buy only the highest welfare items. Ideally, we should avoid animal produce altogether; Animal Aid’s 2014 Vegan Challenge takes place next month – visit govegan.org.uk for details.
Richard Mountford
Development manager, Animal Aid

• Dairy farmer Steve Hook’s valiant attempts to bring raw milk to a greater public are soon likely to be thwarted as irreplaceable grazing land is being taken for housing around his farm without regard to the future needs of local food production and long-term sustainability. An already overstretched infrastructure is being pushed beyond sensible limits to appease a theoretical target for house building in this part of East Sussex. It must surely be common sense to build on urban brownfield sites where there may be access to transport links/schools/sewage disposal and even jobs, rather than jeopardise small farming enterprises that are showing a way forward for our ailing dairy industry.
Mike Lodge
Hailsham, East Sussex

bottles of champagne ‘The husband of a friend bought a bottle of champagne when their youngest left home. They found that this was not enough to truly celebrate and moved on to Cointreau.’ Photograph: Gary Hershorn/Corbis

When we deposited our younger child at Bangor, his parting shot was, “Thanks, Mum, thanks, Dad, see you at Christmas” (‘I was like somebody in a fable who had got everything they wished for’, 4 October). We took two days to get home because we found a delightful B&B with a restaurant next door. Our drive home was euphoric, we had rediscovered our inner irresponsibility.

When he finished and found a job, it was even better because there was money in the bank at the end of every month. The husband of a friend bought a bottle of champagne when their youngest left home. They found that this was not enough to truly celebrate and moved on to Cointreau. My friend said it was the best hangover ever.
Diana Lord


The Liberal Democrats deserve our vote. They’ve earned it. Does anyone seriously believe we would have been in a better position with an unchecked Conservative government these past four years? Or a Gordon Brown Labour administration?

The media’s treatment of Nick Clegg has been as lazy, patronising and trivial as their attitude to coalition government. One would think he is the only politician ever to fail to deliver in government a promise made in opposition. Give me, and him, a break! The pledge on tuition fees was naive and unwise but there was simply no money to deliver it.

Only 60 per cent of the electorate even bother to vote. Still fewer make the effort to understand the compromises coalition politics require. They want complex issues to be simple; and politicians to magic them away.

The Liberal Democrats put country before party, and brought common sense and fairness to bear on a modestly endowed Conservative administration prone to lurch right at the first excuse. We owe the Liberal Democrats a vote of thanks – or at least, a vote.

Keith Farman

St Albans, Hertfordshire


As the conference season closes and minds are drawn to the election, I am hearing more and more about parties having no overall majority and another coalition being likely. Personally, I like the idea that none of the parties should have completely free rein to further their agenda.

Politicians are beginning to make statements to the effect that if the will of the people is for no overall majority then they will work in partnership. But can anyone tell me how, in our voting system, I show my preference for such an outcome?

Ashley Herbert

Huddersfield, West Yorkshire


American ideas infect our health care

I am surprised that the authors of the open letter on health-service funding (6 October) do not mention the cost to the NHS of the previously gradual, but now galloping, privatisation of the service.

The NHS was the most efficient system in the world, with only 6 per cent of the budget going on administration costs. The implementation of the Health and Social Care Act, 2012 has cost an estimated £3bn. The Act has opened up the NHS to private, for-profit, firms with their hordes of lawyers, accountants and management consultants, which will be taking our NHS money and giving it to their shareholders.

The administration time and cost will increase as contracts are written, bid for and managed. Then there are legal costs if a private firm challenges a decision.

As our health care system is now being moved towards the American model, it is worth noting that in the American health care system less than 70 per cent of the budget goes on direct patient care. The remainder goes on insurers, hospitals and doctors billing each other, insurance marketing and profit, and administration (James G Kahn et al. “Cost of Health Insurance Administration in California”, Health Affairs 2005)

Margaret Ridley

Ely, Cambridgeshire


There’s something I don’t understand. Can anybody help?

When I look at my budget, I see that I have enough money either to pay for basic necessities (food, clothing, accommodation etc), or to fund a world cruise; but not both. I make the obvious, prudent choice.

Now, Britain has enough money either to provide adequate social services (health, police, education etc), or to build nuclear submarines and maintain a military presence on the world stage; but not both. This country is not, however, making the obvious prudent choice.

Why not? And if its current imprudent choice is not what we actually want, why are we allowing our elected representatives to make it for us? And how can we stop them?

Michael Swan

Chilton, Didcot, Oxfordshire


Casualties of the rugby field

With reference to Allyson M Pollock’s article “Isn’t it time we tackled rugby?” (7 October), when I joined a south London comprehensive, a strong rugby school, as a teacher in 1982, there was still much concern about a sixth-former who had broken his neck and was paralysed for life playing in an inter-school match the previous autumn.

Much later, around 1997, my youngest son was playing in a Midlands schools under-14 semi-final. He suffered a nasty injury to his genitalia, which required hospitalisation and several stitches. In the same match the scrum half broke his thighbone and was off school for several months.

Anecdotal evidence admittedly, but I am also concerned about the massive collisions in modern adult rugby which have resulted from recent rule changes – after all, they remain our children in adult life.

John Scholfield

Market Deeping, Lincolnshire


Internet anonymity breeds trolls

The woman unmasked by Sky News as a troll in the McCann case has apparently committed suicide. I feel immensely sorry for her, and I hope the McCanns do too.

The sooner that the internet insists on users using their true names and abolishes the alias, the better. And that goes for newspapers too.

What happens is this: people adopt the persona of their alias, and stupidly say things that they think their character might say. It is that simple, and that insidious.

Dai Woosnam


I was for a while a member of a Facebook group interested in wild flowers. To my surprise a fellow member began to accuse the McCanns of murder. (You may well ask what it had to do with wild flowers.) When I took her to task for this her attacks became worse and she included me in her insults. “It’s only Facebook,” she said.

It was only my warning that the McCanns can take people to court for slander and libel that caused this wretched woman finally to shut up, I think. I left the group, so I can’t be sure.

Why some people are so convinced, with no evidence, of the guilt of strangers that they hijack social media I don’t know, but it makes me glad that we no longer have the stocks or public hangings.

Sara Neill

Tunbridge Wells, Kent


Judaeo-Christian verdict on Ukip

Nigel Farage has said that this country needs “a much more robust defence of our Judaeo-Christian heritage”. Too right it does. Which – this may come as a surprise to Nigel – means that it needs defending against people like Nigel.

Because I can’t see Jesus being thrilled with the idea of “prioritising housing for people whose parents and grandparents were born in this country”. (That’s a line from the Ukip manifesto.) You see, I don’t remember Jesus saying, “When I was homeless, you gave me shelter – but only after asking where my parents and grandparents were born.” Of course, given the fact that Jesus’ mother wasn’t born where Jesus ended up living, Nigel would have kicked him out, wouldn’t he? Good old Nigel.

Emma Wilson


Political alternative that we already have

Your article on Mick Cash (6 October) reported how the new RMT chief thinks we need an alternative party on the left of politics, and you have also reported on Ken Loach and others thinking the same. I do wish you would report a little more often on the alternative party that we  do have.

The Green Party is the only party opposing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty, which will threaten jobs and force the NHS to open up to private US health care providers; it’s the only party that proposes renationalisation of the rail companies, an end to the cap on council borrowing for home building and the introduction of a living wage rather than our feeble minimum wage.

This is the alternative party, but Mick Cash, Ken Loach and others don’t seem to realise this.

Could it be that what we really need is an alternative press able to report more fairly on choices available to those voters who are rejecting all the parties whose annual conferences have had multi-page  spreads in all the papers recently?

Lois Davis

London SW11


Why go to Morocco?

The British holidaymaker Ray Cole, from Deal in Kent, has been jailed for four months in Morocco for “homosexual acts”. His family and a number of politicians have urged the Moroccan authorities to release him.

The Foreign Office website warns that in Morocco homosexuality is a criminal offence. Why did Mr Cole go there as opposed to the numerous countries which are more tolerant and welcoming? When in another country one must observe its laws or face the penalties.

Clark Cross

Linlithgow, West Lothian


Sir, Janice Turner’s piece “Don’t make me pay your staff, Sainsbury’s” (Oct 4) made me want to shout and dance around my sadly undecorated kitchen. I have two part-time retail jobs and I am a mother of a two-year-old son. I also happen to be a graduate with 15 years of international experience in retail marketing, who finds herself working on a supermarket checkout 12 hours a week. I have so many stories to tell: the low wages are just the beginning. Try the overriding sense of distrust, the docking of pay for being three minutes late, the constant searches of your bag and locker, and managers’ insistence on pushing store cards, with rewards and time off in return for opened accounts. A staff discount at the store is based on the “staff” credit card, so not only do the stores get away with low wages they can also trap the underdog into debt.

On the plus side, I have met and worked with the most amazing women, who keep the wheels turning, juggling family around ever-changing shifts and getting home later as the stores open later. Janice’s piece illustrates the country’s divide and the lack of connection between politics and ordinary people’s daily lives. Janice, please keep doing what you’re doing.
Elizabeth McGrath
London SE20

Sir, Janice Turner’s description of the way in which we reward our employees (Oct 4) is one-sided and not something we recognise. Sainsbury’s colleagues are rewarded better than employees of most other retailers and packages are comfortably higher than the national minimum wage. We have invested significantly in our pay rates and benefits, and this year has seen an industry-leading rise of 3 per cent for store-based colleagues. Furthermore, 134,000 colleagues shared a record bonus totalling over £80 million this year. Our people also value the other benefits they enjoy, including a discount card and a contributory pension scheme.
Angie Risley
Group HR director, Sainsbury’s

Sir, Janice Turner is spot on. Any political party brave enough to replace the minimum wage with the living wage [as set by the Living Wage Commission] would get my vote. Likewise any supermarket honest enough to pay that wage without legislation would get my custom.
Roy Thomson
Woodmancote, Glos

Sir, May I set Janice Turner a challenge? Set up a high street business, let’s say a book-shop, big enough to employ staff. Then — after rates, rent, interest payments, PAYE, national insurance, VAT on non-book sales, banking and accountancy charges, licences for music and alcohol (for the wine bar) — see if she can pay the living wage. Corporation tax would not be an issue: there would be no profit.
Peter Davies
Linghams Booksellers
Heswall, Wirral

Sir, If stores displayed a sign stating that all staff were paid the living wage, it would help people to choose where to give their custom.
Henry Kronsten
London W6

Sir, The comment made by Next — how could it be paying too little when 30 people apply for each job — is immoral. Retail workers have to apply for tax credits and loans to get by. Enlightened companies that show the way out of the 21st century blacking factory should be named — and the others shamed.
Judith A Daniels
Cobholm, Norfolk

Sir, Janice Turner says she buys from John Lewis “because it shares its profits with staff”. She should, for accuracy, point out that its cleaners are contracted-out and not eligible. Nearly 120,000 people have petitioned John Lewis to pay the cleaners a living wage.
Jane Lambert
London SW18

Sir, John Lewis is in the van of good practice in constraining its top pay to a multiple (75:1) of its average pay.
David Yates
Weymouth, Dorset

Sir, My understanding is that European competition law does not permit the government to subsidise companies. Surely paying tax credits to low-paid workers means that it is doing just that?
Jonathan Ward
Tredington, Warwicks

Sir, Proposals for restructuring the EU executive by Jean-Claude Juncker, president-elect of the European Commission, would weaken EU nature protection measures, a matter that I have raised with environment minister George Eustice. Under the flag of reform, Mr Juncker is focusing on deregulation and has asked for a review of all major EU environmental measures. His request does not mention the need to achieve full implementation of existing EU environmental objectives, let alone any new initiatives. The government would be well advised to exert all its efforts to defeat Mr Juncker’s retrograde proposals.
Stanley Johnson
London NW1

Sir, Just remember: all mushrooms are edible (letters, Oct 6 & 7). It’s just that some are edible only once.
Bill Leighton

Sir, Now that former Ikea boss Mikael Ohlsson is joining Tesco (Business, Oct 7), does this mean I will have to assemble my ready meals myself, using wordless diagrams, only to find out that two potatoes are missing?
Mike Parfitt
London SW20

Sir, The discovery of HMS Erebus (Weather Eye, Oct 7) raises the hope that one of Britain’s earliest railway engines could be recovered. In 1845 the Admiralty bought engine No 4 from the London and Greenwich railway and installed it in Erebus to drive its screw propeller. Any remains would have huge historic interest.
DJ McCollum
Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol


The France and Germany Star (third from left) is awarded for service in World War Two Photo: Rick Pushinsky

6:57AM BST 07 Oct 2014


SIR – More than 10,000 British soldiers, and others from the Empire, are buried on the Continent, almost all in Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries.

There is a France and Germany Star for action in those countries. Why is there no Netherlands Star – or even a clasp on the France and Germany Star ribbon?

Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have medals. Why are the heroes of Arnhem and Walcheren in Holland ignored?

We survivors are all in our nineties, so time is short.

Major Edwin Gibson (retd)
Arundel, West Sussex

Ultimatum: the Liberal Democrats want more taxes for the middle classes

6:58AM BST 07 Oct 2014


SIR – Yet more taxes on the middle classes; no relief from European human rights rulings; no military action against Isil in Syria, thus rendering the action in Iraq pointless.

Does Nick Clegg ever actually listen to himself?

Philip Ashe
Garforth, West Yorkshire

SIR – In petulantly demanding more taxes for middle earners as a price for his party’s support in any future coalition, Nick Clegg has allowed his hatred of the Conservatives to distort his judgment.

Who on earth is going to vote for more taxes? With this ridiculous demand he has signed his party’s death warrant.

Rachel Mason
Seaton, Devon

SIR – Oh, how I welcome the promise by Nick Clegg: “Cameron told: raise tax or no coalition” (report, October 6). Stick to your guns, Mr Cameron.

Alan J Wellan
Langley, Warwickshire

SIR – I am sure that, come the end of the party conference season, somebody will have made a tally of how often the word “hard-working” has been used. This empirical evidence could then be used as a basis for legislation to ban it.

Jeremy C N Price

Passports and patient records in safe hands?

SIR – I sincerely hope that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, does a swift job of sorting out the fiasco at the Passport Office.

Having heard countless stories of miserable holidaymakers chasing passport applications – which caused enormous angst at the height of the holiday season – I recently applied for my passport renewal on the understanding that things had settled down.

I was surprised and pleased to receive my new passport three weeks later, but soon found that the issue date read September 23 2014 and the expiry date December 23 2014. Is £72.50, with an additional Post Office checking fee of £8.75, not a little expensive for a passport with a three-month validity?

After hours of wasted time on the phone with the passport advice line I was offered no assistance other than a suggestion that I visit the nearest passport office, at my own expense, where I will have to wait to have this error rectified and receive a new passport.

In the meantime, I cannot apply for a visa for a country that requires me to have at least three months remaining on my passport.

Countess Alexander of Tunis
London SW6

SIR – Online access to medical records is a wonderful idea in theory, but potentially flawed in practice. With so much valuable data in one place, what’s the betting security will be breached in no time at all, leading to phishing expeditions of the likes we’ve never seen before?

Personally, I’d need a lot of convincing before I see the home of Google, Amazon, eBay and pornography as a safe place to park my medical records.

Joseph G Dawson
Withnell, Lancashire

Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow: traffic on the Queen Elizabeth II bridge spanning the Thames Photo: Alamy

6:59AM BST 07 Oct 2014


SIR – We recently returned from a nine-day break on the Continent in which we covered about 1,300 miles in France and Germany. Apart from the usual busy stretch past Lyon, our motoring was, on the whole, relaxing.

This came to an end when we arrived at the Dartford Crossing on our return. The queue was at least seven miles long and took a full hour to get through.

Some of the dubious costings used to promote the benefits of the proposed HS2 rail link were based on time saved. Has anyone assessed the costs of the Dartford Crossing in terms of time wasted and damage to the environment?

Perhaps the many billions to be spent on HS2 might be better spent on alleviating this very serious problem.

To add insult to injury, the fee for using the crossing has been increased from £1.50 to £2.

Brainwave: Boris Johnson wants to merge public-sector pensions Photo: Telegraph

7:00AM BST 07 Oct 2014


SIR – Boris Johnson is correct. We should amalgamate the thousands of public-sector pensions. If we were to copy Sweden, we would have about 40 instead of 39,000.

The 40 could be organised by theme and region. From the 40 there could be subscription to a Citizens’ Wealth Fund. It in turn would enjoy a AAA rating and would stand as a catalyst and partner to global capital coming ashore.

Managers of the 40 funds and the Citizens’ Wealth Fund would invest some of our long-term dormant capital and mitigate the coming problems of an ageing society through the funding of new infrastructure.

More is possible: capital when pooled could take higher risk and back innovative entrepreneurs whom we need to support.

Mark Florman
London SW7

SIR – Boris Johnson deals with two issues: the inefficient management of public-sector pension funds, and the use to which those funds are put. No one can argue against him about the former, but his idea that a consolidated state pension fund should be directed to financing public-sector projects is plainly wrong.

These funds are not the Government’s property; they belong to the beneficiaries, which is why independent trustees are appointed.

It is a primary function of the state to protect and respect property rights, not nationalise or command them for its own use. These are not to be confused with sovereign wealth funds.

By all means seek to reduce duplication in the management of these funds, but the way to persuade independent trustees to invest in public-sector works is simply to offer them an adequate return.

Alasdair Macleod
Sidmouth, Devon

SIR – A Citizens’ Wealth Fund? Good idea. But what makes Boris Johnson think that fund managers, with a “war chest of £180 billion”, could manage this vast amount? How would people who can lose pots of money running smaller public pension funds be expected to manage the whole lot?

John Tilsiter
Radlett, Hertfordshire

SIR – It is illuminating to read that there are 39,000 public-sector pension funds, but the idea of one great pool for politicians to dip into in order to fund otherwise unviable projects is even less palatable.

The question to be raised instead is why the state runs pension funds at all.

Tim Coles
Carlton, Bedfordshire

SIR – I have waited for years for something on which I can agree with Boris Johnson and at last it has arrived. Is this to be the start of something, like the cluster of London buses on the same route, or just a splendid one-off?

Richard Forth
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Irish Times:

Sir, – Hospital referrals are in the news again with the accusation that the HSE is manipulating the waiting list data (“Varadkar denies waiting lists are being manipulated to meet targets”, October 7th).

So-called “waiting list validation” is important when managing limited health resources, however the real issue is how this is achieved when you are dealing with vulnerable groups of patients.

Is the HSE aware that approximately one tenth of the population is functionally illiterate and an indeterminate proportion rely on advocates, eg family, neighbours, home helps, etc, when accessing even the most basic of healthcare?

The strategies used by hospital management to manipulate the figures are well rehearsed but one of the many problems encountered by GPs in the southeast is a volume of referrals that are marked “deflect”, a term used by one Dublin teaching hospital to return referrals to the GP on the pretext that they are “out of area”. How many of these referrals are in this “no man’s land” on the way back to GPs is unknown. These patients are usually re-referred to a hospital in another part of the country, usually more distant than the original hospital and usually involving significant inconvenience to all concerned.

GPs use a number of strategies to access care for their patients and commonly refer patients to a number of hospitals for the same health problem in the hope rather than the expectation that they will be seen in a timely fashion. We also send “expedite letters” in their thousands every year at the request of patients and relatives, even if the clinical situation remains unchanged.

Chronic under-resourcing and cutbacks at the gatekeeper stage of the referral are at the heart of this issue. GPs get a derisory 2 per cent of the health budget as opposed to 10 per cent in the UK.

The voracious appetite of the hospital sector ensured that general practice sustained a disproportionate cut in funding to feed the “monster” that is the hospital sector over the past six years. This is compounded by a medical staffing crisis across the board which is steadily getting worse.

There has never been a supplementary budget for general practice, unlike the hospital sector where this annual tradition is part of the credo. It is now time to resource GPs and allow them to commission care for their patients by giving them control of a defined budget.

It takes vision and courage to effect change for our patients but why not start with a little honesty and transparency when it comes to activity levels, or indeed inactivity levels, in health? – Yours, etc,


Enniscorthy Medical Centre,

Co Wexford.

Sir, – It is with utter disbelief I learned that the national broadcaster will be ceasing to broadcast RTÉ Radio 1 on longwave from the end of October 2014.

Having lived in Scotland for the past 16 years, I have grown very fond of listening to RTÉ Radio 1 on my commute to and from work every morning. On a Saturday it is Saturday Sport with Des Cahill, a fantastic show followed by Sunday Sport throughout the summer. Listening to fantastic commentary from around the island of Ireland and beyond is wonderful. I know that I am not alone in using longwave to listen to RTÉ radio; several of my friends also tune into longwave regularly, keeping in touch with the news and sport from home.

I don’t have digital radio in my car in Dundee, nor do I imagine does half the population of west Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula, Inishmore or Glencolmcille.

Of course 96 per cent of the population of the island of Ireland can receive RTÉ Radio 1 on FM or digital radio, but do they have the technology to do so?

I believe this to be a short-sighted decision by RTÉ. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – For a large number Irish emigrants in Britain, RTÉ radio is their primary source of news and cultural contact with Ireland. Longwave radio broadcasts provide a cheap, reliable and, yes, mobile means of access via a portable radio. Hard as it might be to believe for those in the media, most older people feel excluded by the rush towards a hi-tech digital future. A couple of years ago the UK government and the BBC were forced to abandon a plan to cease all analogue radio broadcasts by a huge public outcry. RTÉ seems to have pushed through a cut to this service (transmitting to Britain since 1926) as a false economy. The service is actually a cheap way to project Ireland’s authentic voice into Britain and helps to foster regular visits to Ireland through cultural outreach.

I don’t know what consultation with the Irish in Britain was carried out before making this short-sighted decision but I’m asking for common sense to prevail and for it to be rescinded, or at least delayed until further research is done. Almost no-one I’ve spoken to here about the ending of LW 252 approves of it. Surely digital can go hand in hand with analogue to provide an important service for a small but significant part of the Irish diaspora here. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – When I spoke with RTÉ regarding the longwave shutdown, I was told that their priority was to shut down the longwave service first and think about the replacement later. There is a precedent that shows that RTÉ may take their time on this. Tara TV, the overseas television service, was unilaterally shut down by RTÉ in 2002. Some 12 years have passed and as yet no replacement has been announced. Like much of Official Ireland, RTÉ appear to regard the diaspora as a cash cow waiting to be milked rather than an integral part of the Irish nation. – Yours, etc,


Mill Hill, London.

Sir, – John Thompson (October 6th) seeks a cleverer way to help the working poor and points out the problems of seeking wealth redistribution simply by increasing minimum wages. It seems to me that if we accept that the current and growing income gap between top and bottom earners is unhealthy and dangerous to society, we should look at reducing maximum wages.

There have been suggestions that employers be precluded from paying top earners anything from 10 to 40 times more than the lowest-paid earners in their organisation.

These suggestions take no account of the varying sizes of organisations or of the possibilities of contracting out functions such as cleaning to low-pay firms and high-grade functions to self-employed consultants.

I would like to suggest the introduction of a social cohesion tax. It could contribute to improving the situation and would apply to the public, private and voluntary sectors. It would not preclude other taxation measures, such as taking more low earners out of the income tax net, increasing the level at which middle-income earners pay the present higher rate of income tax, introduction of a financial transaction tax or introduction of a more sophisticated form of wealth tax than the present property and inheritance taxes.

The social cohesion tax would be a very high rate of tax on very high incomes, to commence at a multiple of the minimum wage. Very high earners would be encouraged to support increases in the minimum wage as any improvement would enable them to keep more income out of the social cohesion tax bracket. With a minimum wage of €15,000 a year and a multiple of 40, the very high rate (say 70 to 80 per cent) would start at €600,000 a year. With a multiple of 30, the start would be at €450,000 a year. The multiple could be reduced over time.

All taxes pay for community services. Some taxes also have social engineering features; high taxes on tobacco encourage a healthier lifestyle.

The social cohesion tax is meant to encourage social cohesion. I would not expect it to succeed overnight and I recommend that a first call on funds raised would be to close loopholes in the system. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – The recent inquest in Sligo on the tragic death of Dhara Kivlehan has focused attention again on shortfalls in the provision of intensive care beds in Ireland. In a 2012 survey, Ireland had 6.5 beds per 100,000 population, while the average in Europe was 11.5. Inevitably, our intensive care units (ICUs) run at 100 per cent bed occupancy and delays like that experienced by Mrs Kivlehan are routine.

There have been calls for a review of intensive care provision and needs. A comprehensive review has already been commissioned by the HSE and it reported in 2009. This was undertaken by Prospectus and entitled “Towards Excellence in Critical Care: Review of Adult Critical Care Services in the Republic of Ireland”. It recommended 418 critical care beds for existing requirements; we currently have only 233.

Delays in accessing intensive care are immediately life-threatening. These delays and treatment in sub-optimal settings are an everyday occurrence for the critically ill patients we treat. An increase in intensive care bed numbers to the level recommended by Prospectus is required to be able to provide immediate care for all those who need it. – Yours, etc,




Vice President,

Intensive Care

Society of Ireland,

Merrion Square North,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Further proof, if any was needed, that Fine Gael and Labour have no intention of stopping the country sliding even further back into the practices of the last government is the revelation that, in the midst of a scandal about cronyism at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan didn’t even blush at reappointing Michael Soden and Des Geraghty as members to the Central Bank Commission quango (“Soden and Geraghty reappointed to Central Bank Commission for five-year terms”, October 6th).

Is it not remarkable that the Minister for Finance doesn’t seem to have thought for a moment that it was time to get fresh faces around the Central Bank Commission table?

Did no one in the department think it would be worthwhile to advertise the positions to see who might apply?

It’s long past the point where a light was shone on the day to day management of the Department of Finance and the areas under its remit. – Yours, etc,


Canary Wharf,


Sir, – Does Roy Keane’s autobiography really warrant front-page treatment in your newspaper (October 7th)? Do we need to know the details of who said what, to whom, and using what language? Is there nothing more important to discuss until Mr Keane is awarded the Nobel Prize for literature? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 2.

Sir, – Yet another book on Roy Keane, and there I was just recovering from the nationwide news of Twink’s dog going missing.

I don’t know if my heart can take much more excitement. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – Instead of talking to the Electrical Power Research Institute in the US about the problems of connecting solar electricity to the grid, why doesn’t ESB Networks talk to its counterparts in the UK about how easy it is (“Smart power to revolutionise future use of electricity”, Innovation. October 4th)?

There, over the past 15 years, over 250,000 solar energy systems have been installed, mainly in domestic or farm settings, for a total of 3,400 MW. In addition the solar electricity suppliers are paid over £0.13 for each unit of electricity generated as well as £0.05 for each unit exported to the power grid. In Belgium, with a smaller solar yield than Dublin, over 3,000 MW are installed whereas in all of Ireland we have less than 1 MW! – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir , – Laura Kennedy writes (“The Yes Woman: Vegan for a week and hungry the entire time”, October 3rd) that she tried a vegan diet for a week, was hungry all the time, experienced intense cravings for meat, had intensely negative emotions towards vegetarians and vegans and ended the week by going for a steak.

As a vegetarian for the past 34 years I feel qualified to comment on this article. A vegetarian and indeed a vegan diet is infinitely varied; for a person who eats in this way there is a vast choice of healthy foodstuffs. Ancient and advanced civilisations lived long and healthy lives, free from animal slaughter, respecting and honouring the lives of their fellow creatures.

A meat-centred diet for society has many far-reaching consequences. In Diet for a Small Planet, written in 1971, Frances Moore Lappe pointed out that an acre of cereals can produce five times more protein than an acre devoted to meat production; legumes 10 times more; and leafy vegetables (spinach) 15 to 20 times more. The sustainability of feeding grain to livestock to produce meat for human food, when much of the world is starving, is not sustainable. Much less so when vast tracts of rainforest are felled to produce soya farms to feed livestock.

Loss of this carbon-sink is irreplacable and, coupled with the fact that methane produced from the vast numbers of animals reared for human consumption contribute more to global warming than motor vehicles, it is now time to consider what it is that we put on our plate.

As for animal welfare, many creatures are reared and slaughtered in cruel conditions, with many such animals never seeing the natural light of day. Many health professionals now recognise that a meat-centred diet contributes to many of the serious diseases afflicting modern society. George Bernard Shaw, a lifelong vegetarian, described this as mankind digging their own graves with their knives and forks.

If Ms Kennedy has been bred and sustained on a diet of meat all her life, it is understandable that when she abstains for a week that she will have cravings, much as the abstainer from alcohol, cigarettes or sugar does. And so it is that she goes for a steak. If she tried for a little longer she might acquire a higher taste.

As a thinking journalist she might also consider some of the issues touched upon above, which underpin the substance on the end of her fork (the flesh of a dead bullock), before she puts it in her mouth. This will take courage. – Yours, etc,



Co Leitrim.

Sir, – I have just read the article by Arminta Wallace inside the back cover of the Magazine accompanying the photograph of George Patrick Leitch (September 27th). She quotes Jack McManus as saying that George called his wife “Bates”, which may have been her maiden name. That is not so. He called her “Bets”, and I don’t know where that came from. Her maiden name was Sicily R Allen. At one time she acted with the Father Matthew Players, who were happy to welcome protestant actors. Her father was Maj George L Allen, who for some 30 years was registrar of the School of Physic in Trinity College Dublin.

In the 1930s, George Leitch used the small son of one of his wife’s sisters as a subject for amusing photographs at certain times of year. They illustrated putting back the clock in the autumn, bringing home the Christmas presents, and cleaning the chimney for Santa. That small boy still has prints of the original photographs.

How do I know all this? The small boy’s name was Dudley Levistone Cooney. – Yours, etc,



Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin

Sir, – I don’t agree with Hugh Gibney (October 7th) that there is no good reason why we should change our motto , “The obedience of the citizens produces a happy city ”. Who are the citizens obeying? Shelley was more accurate, “The man of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys”. – Yours, etc,


Blessington, Co Wicklow.

A chara, – I agree with Hugh Gibney. Some disinclination to accept rules and their enforcement – probably due to historical reasons in this country – displays effective contempt for good citizenship. It is damaging, antisocial and results in an unhappy city. – Is mise,


An Charraig Dhubh,

Átha Cliath.

Sir, – Pensioners are the big winners of the past eight years, airily proclaims Fiona Reddan (“Your Money”, October 7th).

To which I can only reach for the words of Pyrrhus to his generals after the battle of Asculum in 279 BC: “Another victory like that gentlemen, and we are done for.” – Yours, etc,


Killiney, Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

The report from the expert group on discretionary medical cards (Irish Independent, October 3, 2014) states that such cards should continue to be means tested, and that it is not practical to issue them on the basis of defined medical conditions.

Rubbish! And Professor John Crown agrees with me – the experts “should try harder”, he said, commenting on the report in on RTE’s ‘Six One’ on October 3.

Currently, there is one application form which everyone completes. This requests income details. The vast majority of medical cards are issued because the applicant’s income is below the limit. Those who are over the limit but have health issues have to argue their case for a “discretionary” card on the form and may enclose relevant documentation with their application.

This year, the removal of discretionary cards from sick people to save money became a national issue and affected local election results – hence the ‘expert’ group.

Why not have a second application form that does not ask about income? Call it the medical need medical card. The form would be drawn up by medical professionals with input from, say, a carer for a long-term sick person who would understand the costs of being ill. The medical team dealing with the applicant would complete the form and have to state in their professional opinion (1) that the card was needed in view of the health of the applicant and (2) after how many years a medical review should be made.

A sick person would have the security of knowing that he/she had the card at least for the period specified by their doctor. In my own case, my very sick husband was issued with a discretionary medical card after a long battle but it was then reviewed 11 months later, when it was known he had a late cancer diagnosis. Another fight ensued to save his card, during which I became ill with the stress of dealing with the HSE.

I made a submission to the expert group on the above lines. It obviously didn’t impress them, that’s assuming they even read it?

Enid O’Dowd

Ranelagh, Dublin 6

Give Bono the Finance post

There’s a Budget coming up shortly and there will, of course, be the usual grinding of teeth, the who is right, and the who is wrong.

Why may I ask has no one bothered yet or considered to ask Bono to become our Finance Minister? Just take a look at his CV – not an ounce of cronyism anywhere.

Did Bono not single-handedly get the banks to write debts off for the underprivileged countries of the world?

If he could do that for them, what would he do for us, besides singing?

If we wait any longer, you know it’s going to be too late. The next thing you’ll hear is he’s living in Rome. Yes you’ve guessed it: Pope Bono, it even sounds right.

He’ll bring the teenagers of the world back to religion, so much so that you’ll have to pay to get into Mass on a Sunday.

Go out to Killiney, in Dublin, and ask him if he’ll take the job as Finance Minister. You know how well he manages his own finances.

Ask him, while you’re at it, if he’ll take over Irish Water as well. The people of the world will beg us to sell them some of Bono’s own water.

Fred Molloy

Clonsilla, Dublin 15

No incentive left to save

Far more important than the cronyism scandal at the ‘top’, is the shocking treatment dished out by banks and the Government on ordinary people putting a few bob away for the rainy day.

It’s hard to imagine some banks are paying as little as 0.01pc interest – a before tax return of just 10 cent for lodging €1,000 for one year. Think of the massive Deposit Interest Retention Tax (DIRT) of 41pc on top of that and you quickly realise the hypocrisy.

Where is the balancing act when the same banks charge 4.5pc upwards on money borrowed for mortgages or other uses?

Is this how these vampires should treat ordinary savers or taxpayers who indirectly bailed them out for billions less than six years ago, when their bad housekeeping caused the collapse of the banks?

The Government can also bow its head in shame. Interest on six of the State’s savings products, sold through An Post, has had a fourth cut in less than two years. This reduction means that €10,000 invested in State Saving Bonds will now return just €83 a year, down from €132.

Surely the Exchequer has the power to bolster these rates, or at least maintain them – since the ECB has slashed its lending rate to almost zero (0.01pc)! This is another kick in the rear to ordinary people who have been burdened with more than their share in taxes over the past year.

James Gleeson

Thurles, Co Tipperary

Getting teeth into flouride row

I am incensed at Sarah Carey’s implication that working class people are incapable of brushing their teeth properly with a flouride toothpaste, available from grocery retailers for about 50-90 cent (‘Removing flouride from our water just indulges middle class liberals, Irish Independent, October 6, 2014). I also am enraged by her patronising assumption that all working class people eat dreadful, sugar-filled diets resulting in dental cavities.

I am a working class person and have drunk spring water all my life. At 50, I still enjoy chewing a balanced diet with my own teeth.

Eileen O’Sullivan

Bray, Co Wicklow

The real birth of Christ

Christmas seems to be assaulting the senses even earlier each year, as media outlets vie to promote the season as soon as the summer months begin to wane.

‘Christmas’ or ‘Christ’s Mass’ is the celebration of Christ’s birth in the western hemisphere, whereas the eastern and orthodox churches mark it on January 7. So who is correct?

By the fourth century, as Jews played a lesser part in the church’s affairs, the celebration by non-Jewish (or Gentile) Christians of the “Mass of Christ” to mark the birth of Jesus now became the norm as the congregations became increasingly Gentile.

This distanced the church from Jewish teaching and the significance of the Biblical feasts that Jesus celebrated. One such feast is the Feast of Tabernacles, known as ‘Sukkot’ in Hebrew, meaning ‘booths’ or ‘tents.’

This recalls the Exodus of the Israelites as they made their way from Egypt into the Promised Land and lived for 40 years in makeshift dwellings. When this celebration falls in September/October, Jewish homes around the world are decorated much in the way Christians decorate their homes for Christmas.

One factor that is overlooked by both Jew and Gentile is that this feast may well be the true birth date of Jesus Christ. From my own studies, I believe Yeshua (Jesus) was born on the first day of Tabernacles, or ‘Sukkot’. Tabernacles this year begins on ’15th Tishrei’. This means Yeshua’s birthday falls on Thursday, October 9.

Colin Nevin

Bangor, Co Down

Price we pay for our politics

It seems the Fine Gael “toe-the-line-dancers” are completely out of step. As Enda attempts to choreograph the ‘FG Hokey Cokey’ – ‘You put your right pal in . . .’ – political parties wonder why they fail to attract young people into their ranks.

More than 2,300 years ago, Plato proclaimed: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors”. Just goes to prove, nothing changes.

Sean Kelly

Tramore, Co Waterford

Irish Independent


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