20 October 2014 Blustery

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day I manage to sweep the drive in parts.

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


Richard Mackworth – obituary

Richard Mackworth was an engineer who restored his family seat and made Routemaster buses reliable

Richard Mackworth

Richard Mackworth

6:59PM BST 19 Oct 2014


Richard Mackworth, who has died aged 89, applied his skills as a mechanical engineer to keep London’s Routemaster buses on the road in the 1950s and later to the restoration of his family seat, Buntingsdale Hall, near Market Drayton, Shropshire.

The hall, a rambling red-brick Grade II* listed house, had been built for the Mackworth family between 1719 and 1721, though they sold it in 1797. During the Second World War Buntingsdale was requisitioned as a Bomber Command control centre. The RAF kept the building during the Cold War until 1981 when the house was sold to developers who divided it into flats and, it is claimed, embarked upon insurance scams which were going to conclude with the house being burned down. When Mackworth, a descendant of the original owners, became aware of the situation, he and his wife Rosalind set about buying back the flats piecemeal. In due course they succeeded in reclaiming the whole house, to which they moved, on a semi-permanent basis, in 1985.

By this time the house was in a serious state of disrepair, with no water, gas or electricity. All the floorboards and mantelpieces had been stripped out. Water was pouring in through the ceilings.

With minimal help from conservation bodies, Mackworth set about repairing the house, starting with the roof. Then, once the house was watertight he began on the rooms, restoring them one by one with the help of a team of local people. He did much of the work himself, often teaching himself new building techniques on the job and seeing off vandals on his own. It was a long and laborious process which was crowned, in 2004, with the house being removed from the Historic Buildings at Risk register. By the end of his life Mackworth had the satisfaction of knowing that the work was complete.

Buntingsdale Hall, near Market Drayton, Shropshire

Richard Charles Audley Mackworth, known as “Dick”, was born on October 29 1924. His father, Philip Mackworth, was a much-decorated Air Vice Marshal, and Richard’s early life was peripatetic as his family followed the RAF around the globe. He was educated at Upper Canada College, Toronto, in Canada, where his father was in charge of wartime pilot training for the RAF.

The moment he turned 17, with the war in Europe still raging, young Dick volunteered to follow his father into the RAF. In fact he had to join the Royal Canadian Air Force, but soon managed to transfer to the RAF, serving towards the end of the war as a pilot in Transport Command and Coastal Command. After the end of the war he was involved in long-haul flights to the Far East, repatriating PoWs.

Demobbed in the rank of Flight Lieutenant, he went up to Pembroke College, Cambridge, to read Mechanical Engineering, graduating with a First, followed by an MSc at Imperial College. He was then invited to joined the design office of London Transport, where he was responsible for ensuring the reliable operation of the engine and drivetrain (the components that deliver power to the wheels) of the red Routemaster buses which were then beginning to appear on London’s roads.

After 10 years with LT he joined BOC, where he was responsible for developing new food freezing technologies, followed by Chemico and finally as chief construction engineer with the American international engineering and construction company Fluor, with whom he was involved in building oil pipelines in the Arabian Desert. In the early 1980s he was sought out by the Libyan national oil company Sirte to handle the repair and rebuilding of a desert control centre which had been blown up by terrorists, and also to rebuild the oil pipelines across the desert. He worked on this project for some years before returning to Britain to devote himself to Buntingsdale Hall.

In 1960 he married Rosalind Walters, who survives him with their two daughters.

Richard Mackworth, born October 29 1924, died September 9 2014


Healthcare worker with children recovering from Ebola, Freetown, Sier A healthcare worker speaks to children recovering from Ebola at a treatment centre in Freetown, Sierra Leone, 15 October 2014. Photograph: Michael Duff/AP

Kofi Annan is right to criticise the slow reaction by the west to the Ebola crisis (Follow Britain’s example on Ebola, David Cameron tells world leaders, 17 October 2014). However, I do not agree that “if the crisis had hit some other region it probably would have been handled very differently. In fact, when you look at the evolution of the crisis, the international community really woke up when the disease got to America and Europe.” Mr Annan knows very well that there would be no need for the west to help Africa fight Ebola today if most of the £550bn given to the continent as development aid since independence, had not been diverted to fund local leaders’ luxury lifestyles.

Yet the insinuation of racism is too often used to morally blackmail western governments into taking, or not taking an action in Africa. For example, last year, the African Union passed a resolution that claimed the west was using the international criminal court (ICC) to witch-hunt African leaders.
Sam Akaki
Director, Democratic Institutions for Poverty Reduction in Africa (Dipra)

• Sierra Leone has been a recipient of development aid for many years. The UK and US, the biggest donors, both stress that they prioritise health. Net bilateral aid from the UK in 2012 was £62m. However, reports on the effectiveness of aid from the OECD in 2010 and the UN University in 2013 make no reference to health. The capacity and resilience of the health system in the face of Ebola strongly suggests far too little progress has been made. Unless radical improvements are made to primary healthcare and basic services such as sanitation and clean water, Sierra Leone and a multitude of low and middle income countries will remain vulnerable to chronic ill health and premature mortality and epidemics. We are surely entitled to ask whether the emphasis on trade and economic development in aid is at the expense of the majority of the populations in many states.
Neil Blackshaw
Little Easton, Essex

• We welcome the deployment of medical staff, public health specialists and even the military who are arriving to support their efforts (Report, 16 October). But we must also remember the thousands of local people who have been working flat out on this disease since the first outbreaks. They are doctors and nurses, community health workers, cleaners and those who bury the dead safely. And there are also ordinary people who have volunteered to go into villages and teach people how to protect themselves from the disease and also try to quell the panic and fear that people are understandably feeling.

ActionAid staff and volunteers have been doing this job here in Liberia and in Sierra Leone, as well as going into quarantined areas to provide emergency food rations to those who are not allowed to harvest their crops or go to market to buy food. So, yes we need funds for medical treatment, but let’s not forget, to cut this outbreak off at the source requires a holistic approach involving medical intervention, prevention campaigns and practical aid for those affected, which is centred around community mobilisation.
Ms Korto Williams
Country Director, ActionAid Liberia

• US secretary of state John Kerry speaks of the Ebola “scourge” as comparable with HIV (Report, 18 October). I was a clinical nurse specialist working with people with HIV/Aids three decades ago when HIV was first identified. At the time there was ignorance and fear about “a disease of dark origin” coming out of Africa and seen as a threat to the west. Now we face a similar situation with Ebola; it is forgotten that Sierra Leone has the world’s highest mortality rate for malaria, in excess of Ebola figures. Malaria kills 130/100,000 of its population. How much does the west express concern and demand action? Oh, I forgot: malaria has zero rates in these countries.
Denis Cobell

• What are your human rights during quarantine? It is clear that the right to free movement and enjoying family life is restricted for public safety needs. People will be locked away to ensure our wellbeing. We do have a responsibility for their care. Do we have enough secure rooms or will we use prisons? How can we guarantee everybody is treated with respect? Who is responsible for people’s wellbeing during the two months lasting quarantine? Rents? There will be a need for psychological support.

I once was wrongly quarantined for swine flu and something as ordinary as pneumonia was missed in the hysteria, and nearly treated too late. This time, some people with temperatures coming from Africa might be misdiagnosed too. We need compassion for the infected, the NHS staff but also the innocently quarantined. We should not let hysteria dictate our treatment of potential infected people but focus on public health measures that are properly thought through.
Julia Thrul

• While the Hong Kong government has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently (Letters, passim), preventative health measures initiated there during the Sars crisis of 2003 when Dr Margaret Chan, the current head of the WHO, was director of health, included the obligation for lift buttons, door handles etc in public buildings to be disinfected many times a day. These measures are still in force, as is the obligation for all passengers arriving at the international airport to walk through thermal imaging fever-scanners. Border control points between Hong Kong and mainland China also implement disease prevention and control measures. These are not fail-safe measures by any means, but at times of crisis like the current Ebola outbreak, such actions most certainly help educate the public about how diseases can spread, and how individuals can monitor their habits to help prevent further rapid spreading.
Paul Tattam
Teignmouth, Devon

• After the screening confusion at Heathrow (Report, 14 October), perhaps the UK could seek advice from Nicaragua. I passed through Managua airport on Monday en route from Houston, stood in line with everyone else to have my temperature checked, and today received a precautionary follow-up visit from a doctor. Nicaragua’s national health budget, by the way, is less than a typical NHS trust.
John Perry
Masaya, Nicaragua

• I see travellers are being checked for symptoms of Ebola at departure points in affected countries. A further precaution would be to advise the public against unnecessary international travel for the time being. This would buy time for doctors to contain the virus at source.
Susan Roberts
Sterrebeek, Belgium

• Is fear of Ebola on aeroplanes the spur to video-conferencing that businesses have been long waiting for?
Godfrey H. Holmes
Withernsea, East Riding

• For any infective disease, the basic reproduction rate is the number of new cases produced by a single case in a susceptible (ie unvaccinated) population (Simon Jenkins, 17 October). If the figure is less than 1, the infection will die out. If greater than 1, an epidemic can result. With Ebola the rate is just above 1.5, which means that every two cases produce three more. That is the basis for the WHO prediction that new cases in West Africa will double every month. Without an effective vaccine, the disease will become progressively more difficult to control as the number of cases increase, and unless quarantine measures are introduced, spread to the rest of the world seems inevitable.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

• Simon Jenkins is right to inveigh against the habit of politicians keeping the populace in a state of fear. The tragedy is that this epidemic could have been nipped in the bud months ago if governments had paid heed to organisations such as Medecins sans Frontières whose newsletters portrayed the horror of the situation in unemotional terms. The cutting of the WHO budget and aid to the health systems of West Africa by the World Bank and others is now revealed as the grossest false economy, for which we will all pay dearly in terms of both human misery and money.
Dr John Hurdley

Scotland's hope? Gordon Brown. Scotland’s hope? Gordon Brown. Photograph: Garry F Mcharg/PA

It has generally been acknowledged that Gordon Brown (Comment, 18 October) brought new energy and passion to the no campaign in the final weeks before the referendum. He also persuaded the three party leaders to agree the “vow” on further devolution, which some believe ensured a positive result for the union. So he cannot now simply stand on the touchline and encourage the players on the field. He must help to ensure his vision is realised. There are three ways he can do so.

First, he can help Lord Smith of Kelvin succeed in what is a difficult, if not impossible, task of finding a consensus among the five parties on his commission. Then he can help ensure that the English democratic deficit is not dealt with by trying to alter the standing orders of the Commons on the English votes for English laws model, which, as he rightly says, would again threaten the integrity of the UK. This can only be resolved by looking at our constitution in a coherent way in a UK constitutional convention similar to the one which designed Scottish devolution. If Gordon can persuade the three party leaders on the “vow”, surely he is the person to get them to agree to set up such a convention now, so it can work in parallel with the Smith commission.

Finally, he should consider whether his enormous talents could be mobilised to help Holyrood implement the new powers that are to be agreed by standing for the Scottish parliament. This may appear to be an unusual move but we are now in uncharted waters, and bold action, at which Gordon is adept, is what is needed.
George Foulkes
Lab, House of Lords

• I respect Gordon Brown’s desire to ensure fairer treatment for Scotland. But his complicated suggestions will not alter the fact that “533 English MPs can, at any time they choose, easily outvote the 117 parliamentarians from the rest of the UK”. He should add that as the 533 are disproportionately from English public schools, they are unlikely to have much sympathy for the Scottish working class. They overwhelmingly gave support to the millionaire Tory ministers who, by mammoth cuts to the Scottish welfare budget, created more inequality, poverty, want and hunger than I have ever seen in Scotland’s deprived areas. Moreover, the Labour party backed these cuts as, to their shame, so did the 41 Scottish Labour MPs, who dare not differ from the Labour leadership.

I write with over 50 years in the Labour party. The only way for Scotland to combat the harmful policies imposed by Westminster is by independence. I plead with Gordon Brown to be the Labour leader who leads Scotland to an independence which can bring about greater democracy, equality and social justice.
Bob Holman

Woman typing on computer keyboard ‘I’m surprised male letter writers so outnumber females, as in your column I outpublish my husband. But I rush to the computer and dash off letters.’ Photograph: Martin Rogers/Getty

I don’t know which statistic describes me (The role of the Guardian letters page in the digital age, Open door, 13 October), but I always look at the letters page. I glance first at the headlines of the letter groups, then the names of the authors. Being female, 66, retired, healthy, content (in my private life, not in the state of things), I nevertheless find certain subjects too depressing to bother with, so letters on those are rarely read by me.

I usually read all the letters in the humorous section, always read those by Keith Flett, and since the publication of friend Norma Laming’s letter about her rabbits’ voting preference (Letters, 14 August), I look for her name. I have sent several letters over the years, but have not so far made the cut.
Eva Joyce

• I’m surprised male letter writers so outnumber females, as in your letters column I outpublish my husband. But I rush to the computer and dash off letters, while he takes three days to make sure his position is clear and misses the boat – you move the news agenda on so relentlessly. Maybe women who work full-time and mind the kids would manage to write if the news window was wider.
Margaret Squires
St Andrews

• I fancied I might be counted among the core letter writers, but I seem to have been drummed out of the group lately. I’ll happily accept editorial space in lieu (Letters, 15 October). Shall I send my bank details?
W Stephen Gilbert
Corsham, Wiltshire

• I remember the good old days when the letters page was ranked alongside the leader column (Letters, October 16).
John Bailey
St Albans, Hertfordshire

Alexander Wang x H&M Collection Launch - Show Like George Osborne dressed by Steve Bell? Aleander Wang x H&M catwalk show, 16 October 2014. Photograph: Thomas Concordia/WireImage

Jess Cartner-Morley (Wang brings sport and scuba chic to high street, 18 October) curiously ignores the similarity between H&M’s latest collection, and George Osborne’s S&M outfit, designed and oft-employed by Steve Bell. Surely the defining influence?
Eddie Dougall
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk  

• Recent activity in the fossil banks would suggest an appropriate name for the current geological era (Letters, 17 October) might be the Rapacious Period – known perhaps colloquially, as the Boracic?
Chris Osborne

• I don’t recall Lord Freud (Report, 16 October) raising objections when the party closed down the Remploy factories because they needed subsidies.
David Redshaw
Gravesend, Kent


I have read with interest your many articles about the NHS. Having received a great deal of treatment from the NHS over the past three years, I thought it was about time I gave my thoughts and experiences.

I live in Worcestershire and have access primarily to a superb GP. We have been with this practice for many years and have built up an excellent relationship with all the staff, GPs, practice nurses and ancillary staff.

In 2010 I finally decided that problems with arthritis were severely hampering what I could do. Having gone through preliminary procedures we – the GP and I – decided that an operation was needed.

My GP was happy to refer me to my hospital of choice: the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham. Over the next 12 months I had two procedures: a right ankle fusion and 12 months later a left knee replacement.

During both of these procedures my experience was one of total satisfaction, both with the outcomes of the operations and the care administered by the staff.

I am now, thanks to dedicated, committed and highly skilled NHS staff, totally pain-free.

I thought that I had done at that point and felt very grateful to a superb health service. I was wrong. I was diagnosed shortly afterwards with bowel cancer. Once again I received first-rate treatment from doctors and surgeons.

I am now recovering and, throughout all my experiences of four separate NHS trusts covering six hospitals, I can honestly say that I was treated with kindness, care, respect and some of the most skilful surgery and radiotherapy you could wish for.

I have had treatment from the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust, Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire, and community support services, as well as the Royal Orthopaedic  Hospital and my GP at St John’s Surgery in Bromsgrove.

My final point is this: stop knocking the NHS. Yes, there may well be problems; it’s an enormous organisation which is strapped for cash. My abiding memories are of dedicated, skilled individuals who are committed to the very best of care and treatment they can offer. The best part, by far, of the NHS is the people.

I genuinely hope that current and subsequent governments keep their hands off a service which was and should still be one of the best there is.

I would not choose to have private healthcare. I have been treated to some of the best surgery I could wish for and all delivered free. The NHS was groundbreaking at its inception and still maintains those ideals, when it is allowed to do its work unfettered by interference.

Don’t privatise the NHS.

Peter Garnett
Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

Could there be anything more chilling than the unnamed Government source’s comment in your report “Tens of thousands of patients at risk from NHS outsourcing” (17 October) about “the need to minimise regulatory burdens on business”?

In other words, safeguards put in place to protect patient safety must be lowered in order to allow the private sector to extract more profit out of patient sickness.

Christopher Anton

If the Germans had taken Stonehenge…

It’s 1956 and the Third Reich is well established over the whole of Europe. His Excellency Herman Schmidt, Governor of occupied England, grants permission for a German aristocrat to remove the stones of Stonehenge to a site in Berlin where they are re-erected in a museum to the ancient world.

It cost the German aristocrat a lot of money to transport them over to Berlin, so the then German superstate bought the stones off him in recompense.

Let’s skip forward a couple of hundred years and, supported by the US, the people of Britain, in a decade-long war, have reclaimed their land. Seeking to restore their cultural history, they apply to a now chastened Germany for the return of Stonehenge on the grounds that it is stolen goods.

How is this any different to our unlawful possession of the Elgin Marbles? The Greek people have an absolute right to the return of stolen goods.

G Barlow
Greasby, Wirral

Egg freezing gives women choice

Media and public alike have been too quick to criticise the move by Facebook and Apple to pay female workers to freeze their eggs.

These companies are being progressive, acknowledging that many of their female employees wish to have children later in life and enabling them to do so. It’s not such a sinister move as is being portrayed. These companies are incredibly supportive of parenting and offer a whole arsenal of benefits to support women if they choose to have children, from bonuses to surrogacy subsidies.

Many women working in tech are young. They don’t want to put their careers on hold to have children, but neither do they have the funds to stop their biological clocks. Allowing women to freeze their eggs makes this choice accessible, providing further flexibility about how they want to play out their careers. View it as a radical perk or a chain to the office; ultimately it provides a choice – and one that women aren’t forced to take.

Hayley Fisher
London SW1

Let’s have a new generation of hope

When I was growing up in the 1960s, the dominant mood was one of hope for the future. Around us were many events – including the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam war, challenges to the established order, and many diseases that had tragic outcomes for individuals – but hope was the sentiment that led to progress. Despite the many failures in the latter half of the 20th century, progress has been driven by people and politicians fuelled by this sentiment.

Contrast that period with our current situation. Following the lead of the US, our politicians are attempting to exploit fear to generate votes; our 24-hour rolling news searches for disasters, tragedies and crimes to energise its output; and the tabloid press produces headlines to shock rather than inform.

Ebola, Isis, economic instability and the funding of the NHS are all matters that need solutions, and mankind’s resilience and innovation can find answers, but not if paralysed by fear.

I implore our political leaders in the future election campaign to give the people of this country a vision of hope. If they do not, fear will lead to despair, and my concern is for the effect on the young generation growing up in such an inward-looking, insecure society.

John Dillon
Northfield, Birmingham

False benefit of restricting migrants

Our Prime Minister has it in mind to restrict immigration from the EU of the unskilled and, no doubt, of the handicapped too. We are to attract only the skilled and gifted. “Johnny Foreigner” must be kept away as much as possible.

European countries would then take the exactly reciprocal course. They will want our finest and to return our unskilled.

The original idea of freeing up European labour markets was so that swings in labour need would be self-correcting, as, to a large extent, they are.

Kenneth J Moss

David Cameron is hinting at applying a brake on immigration from mainland Europe. If he and George Osborne were to reverse their policy of playing up our economic recovery, then the UK would appear less attractive to foreign nationals. But of course this might lower further their chances of a Tory majority next May.

Peter Erridge
East Grinstead, West Sussex

On a day that saw more damaging rhetoric from David Cameron on Europe, giving it “one last go” at negotiations, you reported on the ongoing resistance of the bankers, backed by George Osborne, to new European rules on bonuses.

Where are the politicians brave enough to insist that it is the greedy banks and global corporations that should be in the last chance saloon, and that political unions – both the UK and the EU – offer the best defence for their citizens against the negative side of globalisation?

Andrew Gardner
London NW3

Islam and the treatment of women

No. Mr Beswick, Islam does not “forbid rape” (letter, 16 October). The Koran, chapter 4, verse 24 lists the categories of women that are forbidden to Muslim men, among them “married women, except those whom you own as slaves”.

The Koranic commentator Sayyid Maududi interprets this as meaning that it is lawful for Muslim “holy warriors” to marry women prisoners of war even when their husbands are still alive. Maududi didn’t live in some brutish century of the past. He died in 1979.

This is the justification that Isis is using for its barbarous treatment of enslaved Yazidi women and girls.

David Crawford
Bromley, Kent


Sir, Philip Collins (“Let’s halt the pensioners runaway gravy train”, Opinion, Oct 17) overlooks the effect of low interest rates. The £100s per annum “gained” by pensioners from the rise in state benefits has been at the cost of £1,000s lost to them because of reduced interest on savings and annuities. The baby boomers took their cue from their parents, who lived within their means. The 21st-century family have bought into the concept of entitlement “because they are worth it” and now blame others.
Rodney Fisher
Liss, Hants

Sir, The problem is that politicians of all persuasions think that you can have public services and a welfare state for nothing. Many of my generation paid tax of up to 27p in the pound to fund hospitals, schools and universities for present and future generations. We didn’t whinge. We have a low-wage, low-tax economy that allows the wealthy and large corporations to opt out of paying taxes. It is the super-rich, who have about 95 per cent of the wealth in this country, that are getting off lightly.
Barry Wadeson

Milton Keynes, Bucks

Sir, Philip Collins fails to mention that more than 50,000 pensioners are forced by their councils to sell or ensure estate provision of their homes in order to pay for care and nursing as self-funders.
Vernon Scarborough

Copthorne, W Sussex

Sir, Both Philip Collins and the Institute for Economic Affairs (report, Oct 17) suggest a dramatic reduction in the state pension. Both ignore the fact that such a move would hurt the less well-off far more severely. Meanwhile, the imminent change in state pensions to a flat rate is an aggravating factor to some, with retirement age creeping upwards and a regime that requires only 35 years’ contributions to achieve a full pension — far less than required for us nuisance baby boomers.
Malcolm Griffiths
Solihull, W Midlands

Sir, Pension reform is welcome but pension companies will see their income diminished as a sizeable number of “new” pensioners will choose a tax-free lump sum over an annuity. This will cause instability among pension companies and the possible loss of lifetime savings should one go bust — as happened with Equitable Life. A solution might be to enhance tax benefits for pension holders to encourage them to take an annuity or keep an existing one. The government should also set up a compensation scheme to protect pensioners if their pension provider goes belly up.
Stephen Kirk

London NW1

Sir, Life isn’t as agreeable for some pensioners as Mr Collins imagines. Mindful that job changes would leave me with a couple of minute preserved pensions, I saved assiduously. I opted for Equitable Life, so goodbye to most of that. I gasp with relief each month when the state pension turns up.
Elizabeth Balsom
London SW15

Sir, That successive governments have squandered money on vanity projects is hardly the fault of the baby boomers. There has never been a one-to-one relationship between contributions and distribution across age bands.
Tim Thomas

Langstone, Hants

Sir, Ross Clark (Thunderer, Oct 15) contends that “in 2012-13 tax relief on pension contributions cost the Treasury £50 billion”. Since all bar the 25 per cent tax-free cash from a pension pot is taxable, the net cost is actually £2.5 billion. He also states that by saving £40,000 a year (the contribution cap) “you would end up so rich that that you could afford a valet and a butler”. The £1.25 million fund limit, however, would buy a 65-year-old a taxable joint annuity of £40,000 a year. You won’t get many butlers for that.
Jon Minchin

Pensionline, Epsom, Surrey

Sir, I am a member of the squeezed middle-aged and I am sure that Philip Collins, would be pleased to hear that my 85-year-old mother agrees with him, and is doing her little bit. I am still in receipt of “pocket money” most weeks.
David Ward

Moreton, Wirral

Sir, Bill Bryson’s book Mother Tongue says that the suffixes “-age” and “-idge” (“Garage, Farage”, letter, Oct 16) are of French origin. “-age” words adopted before the 17th century became anglicised into “-idge”. Later adoptions retained the Gallic flavour. “Farage” must be a recent import.
Barbara Geere (née Grattidge)
Bromley, Kent

Sir, It has been a wonderful year for blackberries here, with a plentiful crop of juicy, flavoursome fruit. My freezer is full to overflowing. I wryly note that my local Tesco is having to heavily discount its blackberries — imported from Guatemala.
Robin Edwins
Ecclefechan, Dumfries & Galloway

Sir, Apropos Boris Johnson’s proposal to ban smoking in London parks (report, Oct 15). While on business in New York, to celebrate a sale I sat on a quiet bench in Central Park and lit a cigar. I was blissfully puffing away, when a woman in a mink coat appeared. “You’re killing the trees,” she snarled, her face in mine.

“Madam, how many innocent minks died for your coat?” I asked. “Pray desist.”

She desisted. I exhaled.

Peter Rosengard

London W9
Sir, The problem in Richmond Park is people trying to push the trees over.

Steve Dobell

London SW14

Sir, Our nation should be building at least 240,000 homes a year in communities that are well-designed and in suitable locations, rather than the piecemeal development that can happen currently. We need solutions that aim to ensure people’s happiness and secure national prosperity. Good planning goes beyond the cycle of elections, and cross-party support for the Lyons housing review — unveiled last week — is vital for high-quality developments to be delivered. For too long planning has been marked by division. It is time the nation came together. We need a national consensus with:
1) Comprehensive redevelopment of brownfield sites (such as the docks in London, Salford and Bristol);
2) Add-ons to communities where new development improves amenity for everyone; this will include extra services and better transportation — and should not be housing estates just added to the edge of a town, and
3) New settlements based on garden city principles.

The country must set itself on a sustainable path to create communities with the best public transport, play areas, schools, workplaces and social facilities. Our children deserve no less.

Lord Adonis

Bob Allies

Roger Bootle

Paul Carter Leader Kent County Council

Sir David Higgins Chairman HS2 Ltd

Lord Deben

Keith Exford Group Chief Executive Affinity Sutton

Sir Terry Farrell

Peter Freeman Argent and Mayfields Market Towns

Euan Hall Chief Executive The Land Trust

Kate Henderson Chief Executive

Peter Jones CBE Chairman South East LEP

Sir Michael Lyons

Roger Madelin

David Orr Chief Executive National Housing Federation

Nick Raynsford MP

Campbell Robb Chief Executive Shelter

Francis Salway Chair Town & Country Housing Group

Lee Shostak Chairman Shared Intelligence

Lord Taylor of Goss Moor

Pat Willoughby Partner Wei Yang + Partners

Lord Wolfson


An overhaul of A-levels will result in thousands of ‘overambitious’ sixth-formers applying to Oxbridge, according to Mike Sewell Photo: GETTY IMAGES

6:55AM BST 19 Oct 2014


SIR – I was very disappointed to read the comments made by Mike Sewell, the head of admissions at Cambridge, on the risk of too many students making “overambitious” applications to Oxbridge once AS examinations no longer count towards A-level grades.

Both Oxford and Cambridge have worked hard over the past two decades to dispel some of the myths about studying at their universities and I worry that Dr Sewell’s remarks may undermine some of what has been achieved.

The danger is that such comments will fuel self-doubt in able students who are often too quick to underestimate or disregard their talent and potential. They could also be misinterpreted by teachers and schools with limited experience of Oxbridge applications as encouragement to adopt a risk-averse approach on the basis that it is better not to try than it is to risk not succeeding.

There is no shame in not securing an offer if one applies to Oxbridge; very few of us go through life without encountering a mixture of success and disappointment.

Jason Morrow
Headmaster, Norwich High School

Charity handouts

SIR – Jonathan Robson states that it is “not the Government’s role to fund charities”. However, charities do receive a great deal of funding from the Government – perhaps too much.

In reply to a written question that I tabled, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on behalf of the Government, wrote: “According to the 2014 UK Voluntary Sector Almanac, published by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, in 2011-12 voluntary sector organisations received over £5.9 billion of central government and NHS funding.”

Lord Stoddart of Swindon
Independent Labour Peer

Slash the slang

SIR – Last year The Telegraph reported that a primary school in the West Midlands had banned the use of Black Country slang.

This week it was revealed that standards at the school have improved, which merits an appropriate response: bostin!

Dr Paul Baines

SIR – I am an 81-year-old who speaks Received Pronunciation.

I was recently at a gathering when a young chap turned and said to me: “Why do you speak so weird?”

Wendy Shaw
Kirkham, Lancashire

The Grand Hotel in aftermath of the IRA bombing Photo: Rex

6:57AM BST 19 Oct 2014


SIR – I started attending Conservative Party conferences in 1982 and continued until the seaside towns were abandoned and Birmingham and Manchester became the hosts. For me, the 1984 conference will always be the most memorable.

On the Thursday of that week I had been awarded the privilege of proposing the motion for the debate on employment. I had worked hard on my speech, interviewing many people on the subject and learning a great deal.

When the bomb exploded and woke me in nearby Regency Square, and later when I turned on the television to see Norman Tebbit being pulled from the rubble, I was horrified.

What struck me, and what no one has mentioned since, was the silence in the town, which was normally bustling. I found a telephone and called my husband to tell him I was safe and that I was staying put: nothing should deter us from finishing our conference with true defiance.

I have seldom been so proud to be a Conservative as I was when we greeted the solemn but determined prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. She was the target of the IRA’s hatred, but she had the courage to stand in front of us all and promise to fight.

As for the Brighton bomber, Patrick Magee, I agree with Norman Tebbit: if he has not repented, he should not be forgiven.

Sally A Williams
Dinas Cross, Pembrokeshire

Ticked off with trains

SIR – Your correspondent Jim Middleton (Letters, October 5) complains about the speed of Crossrail trains.

I live 44 miles north-west of central Manchester. If I wish to get to the city by train, I have to first travel 25 miles east to Leeds before changing and catching a train to Manchester, a further 45 miles to the west. On one of two possible routes for this second leg I would at one point, after travelling for over an hour, be a mere 7 miles from home.

There are 2.2 million people in West Yorkshire subject to this farce, or elements of it. A missing link of 11.5 miles between Skipton and Colne, which used to provide an excellent connection to Manchester and Liverpool for those living north of Leeds and Bradford, was closed in the Seventies.

Dr Beeching, then chairman of British Railways, wanted to leave it open, but London-based civil servants required the London Midland region to lose 12 miles of track to make up a closure target, and this piece handily fitted the bill. The cost of re-opening this track would be a few million and the disruption virtually nil.

Our transport needs are addressed by civil servants in the capital who enjoy so much subsidised public transport that cars are not even necessary for a decent life – and now they are to get Crossrail too.

These people do not seem to have a clue about provincial conditions.

David Pearson
Haworth, West Yorkshire

SIR – Your correspondent Ian Nalder does not go far enough when he says that the HS2 project should be deferred.

It should be cancelled.

P M Hughes
Bascote Heath, Warwickshire

Staring down students

SIR – Keith Pearson (Letters, October 5) writes that teachers should “assume authority to demand respect” in the classroom.

In 1946, when I began my teaching career in a boys’ elementary school, a wise headmaster gave me some sound advice. Pointing to his left eye he said: “This is the best method you have for keeping order: the cold, silent stare.”

In 1959 I moved to a secondary modern school and later spent 14 years in a college of technology. Students included A-level and Higher National Diploma candidates, private secretaries, motor mechanics and some tough young mining engineers, but with any who attempted disruption – and some did – the cold, silent stare never failed.

Kevin Heneghan
St Helens, Lancashire

Churchill’s bills

SIR – Boris Johnson may be right to conclude that Churchill was warm-hearted, but it was a mistake to pray in aid the fact that he “sent money to the wife of his doctor when she got into difficulties”. The reason he did this was more prosaic.

The government paid Churchill’s doctor during the war. When Lord Moran continued in his role as Churchill’s personal physician after the war, he declined any direct payment, partly because it would have been taxed at more than 90 per cent.

The solution the pair reached was that Churchill would pay Lady Moran under a seven-year deed of covenant. As a non-taxpayer, she was able to boost the sum he paid by reclaiming the basic rate of tax; as a higher-rate taxpayer, Churchill was able to use the payments to reduce his own tax bill. The net cost to him was about 10 per cent of the amount Lady Moran received.

So successful was this arrangement that Churchill extended it to the Morans’ sons when he needed more medical attention in his later years.

David Lough
Penshurst, Kent

Escape to Alcazar

SIR – How can one recommend Seville (Travel, Your Say, October 12) without mentioning the magnificent Alcazar – the stunning Moorish Palace next to the cathedral?

Carol Parkin
Poole, Dorset

Apt punishment?

SIR – Reading about the packed “isolation” room reminded me of a comparably ironic policy implemented by Strathclyde’s education department when I worked for it in the Seventies: persistent truancy was punished by exclusion from school.

Robin Dow
Stocksbridge, West Yorkshire

Great British traditions: fish, chips and puns served up at the Jolly Sole chip shop in Banffshire, Scotland Photo: christopher Pillitz / Alamy

6:59AM BST 19 Oct 2014


SIR – Paul Levy traces the “exotic history of fish and chips” and how this became the “emblematic dish of the United Kingdom”.

Fish and chips actually helped ease the hardship experienced by the unemployed during the Great Depression in the Thirties when there wasn’t much food or money to go around.

However, the former chairman of the public health committee in Sunderland did later recall that he opposed the spread of fish and chip shops at the time because they were often “dirty rooms with primitive equipment and doubtful frying oil”.

He said they smelled unpleasant and he thought they were unhygienic, but conceded that the fish and chip shop played its part in providing cheap, tasty meals.

Peter Myers
Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire

Owen Paterson will say that the Government’s plan to slash carbon emissions is fatally flawed Photo: AFP

7:00AM BST 19 Oct 2014


SIR – Unfortunately, arguments made by Owen Paterson, the former environment secretary, about the Climate Change Act will fall on deaf ears in Government.

The current Environment Secretary, Ed Davey, will not listen to reason and the Scottish government has over-ridden local authority planning decisions and the wishes of a significant percentage of the population to plaster Scotland with expensive and inefficient wind turbines, despite Scotland having huge quantities of water available for hydropower and thousands of tonnes of coal still to be mined.

Peter J Fitch
Lhanbryde, Morayshire

SIR – Three cheers for Mr Paterson. At last a senior politician is speaking out about the impossibility of reaching the target of an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, without shutting down most British businesses and putting the lights out.

Moreover, it would not make a jot of difference to climate change when no other country has such stringent, legally binding targets and many countries have no targets at all.

Rodney Tate
Swineshead, Bedfordshire

SIR – Mr Paterson has got himself into an intellectual jumble. The Climate Change Act is studiously technology-neutral and does not mandate the use of renewable or any other energy. It sets a legal framework for governments to establish emission objectives, on time scales that help strategic planning for and by industries.

It is always easy to favour alternative technologies that have not yet faced the realities of deployment on a large scale, as Mr Paterson does modular nuclear power, but it is unclear why he assumes this would be any more viable, cheaper, cleaner or more socially acceptable than existing options.

Michael Grubb
London WC1

SIR – As a Green Party candidate, I find it fascinating to watch the Tory Right and Ukip rail against efforts to rein in dangerous climate change.

If we burn the amount of carbon the likes of Owen Paterson and Nigel Farage want us to, we will be complicit in causing unprecedented human migration as millions flee newly hostile climates. This would lead to a drastic increase in the pressure on our own borders.

Dr Rupert Read

SIR – Mr Paterson may have some good ideas, but switching off the fridge for two hours at a time would not save energy – you cannot cheat the physics.

A finite quantity of energy is needed to cool or heat a finite mass through a finite temperature range. Intermittency cannot change this – when the fridge is switched on again, it will use the rest of the energy to catch up from where it left off.

The only way to reduce fridge energy is to raise the chilling temperature on the thermostat, but this could compromise food safety.

Any saving is somewhat illusory anyway since the heat the fridge takes from its contents is usually delivered into its surroundings, thus reducing heating costs.

James Wraight
Chatham, Kent

SIR – In his party conference speech, Ed Miliband made a commitment to take all of the carbon out of our electricity by 2030.

In reality the more wind and solar capacity we install, the more back-up capacity we will need for when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. This cannot be supplied by nuclear power, because it cannot just be switched on and off.

Where does Mr Miliband propose to source this back-up power if not in gas and other fossil fuels?

Paul Homewood
Stocksbridge, West Yorkshire

SIR – While we install 14W lightbulbs in our homes to save a few ounces of carbon, some people are preparing for a jolly jaunt into space for fun.

Ralph Hardy
Wokingham, Berkshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Dr Anthony White (“Wind is not a solution to our renewable energy problem”, Opinion & Analysis, October 15th) makes the case that burning wood pellet “sustainable biomass” instead of coal at Ireland’s largest C02 emitting power plant at Moneypoint “would meet Ireland’s renewable targets in one fell swoop”. Dr White advises the group Re Think Pylons and his arguments on Moneypoint are also used by Wind Aware and other groups campaigning against Ireland’s current renewable targets through wind energy.

Absent from Dr White’s and much of the anti-pylon, anti-turbine arguments promoting biomass import is the recognition of the imperative to promote a global strategy of energy demand reduction, efficiency and decarbonisation, including supporting wind energy in strategically appropriate locations.

A biomass power plant has already been granted permission in Killala, Co Mayo, relying on import of timber from Canada and the US. Bord na Móna is already burning some biomass in its Edenderry peat power plant, including imported palm kernels. This nominally reduces Irish emissions, but causes multiple adverse impacts in other countries.

Importing biomass from a highly carbon polluting country, such as the US, is not a sustainable solution to get a notional reduction in Irish emission under current EU carbon accounting rules. Furthermore the production and cultivation of different types of biomass are not carbon neutral, as they have a land use, transportation and environmental impact.

Mass-burning biomass for power generation without heat-loss recovery is inefficient in energy return. Forest thinnings are used in Sweden and Austria in combined heat and power (CHP) plants or for district heating schemes, but this is a finite source. The part conversion of coal-burning plants, such as Drax, England, to imported timber is being strongly opposed by environmental organisations in Britain on grounds of carbon and deforestation impact.

Ireland needs a rapid peat and fossil fuel exit strategy, combined with massive efficiency investment in a range of indigenously sourced or generated renewables. Moneypoint needs to close as soon as possible, but switching from coal to imported biomass does not stand up to scientific and economic evaluation. – Yours, etc,


An Taisce, Dublin 8.

Sir, – For some time now I have noted a tendency by The Irish Times to highlight the conditions of direct provision for asylum seekers and more generally to advocate for greater openness in the treatment of migrants of all categories into Ireland. Laudable as it may be in general terms to underscore the protection of the human rights of all who land on our shores through whatever means, I cannot but be very disappointed at the failure to even discuss the case for limits on migration, as the great majority of “mature” first world nations now do. It is almost as if once again Ireland wants to pretend that this is a global trend that we as a small “friendly” nation can somehow ignore or cope with, no matter what the scale.

It would seem reasonable to expect The Irish Times would provide a balanced forum to debate what is fundamentally a key public policy with the most profound social and financial consequences for the years ahead. Nor is it sufficient to occasionally publish the odd disgruntled missive from an outlier to the argument.

In the absence of informed, rational voices with enough expertise or courage to comment on this matter here at home, then please locate those analysts from other countries who might provide factual evidence upon which may be advanced alternative theses on the desirability or otherwise for future policy development on migration.

Ireland provides a route to a passport far less onerous than most other countries.

Contrary to popular discourse in the media, a strong argument can be made that the essential cohesion of nation state societies needs the glue of cultural homogeneity to some degree. Otherwise as can be seen in Britain to a large extent, we are nothing more than a collection of economic units operating entirely alone within delineated class structures designed to funnel the allocation of wealth, status and capital. Perhaps Ireland has gone down that road already but others will argue that aspects of our culture are still distinct, but will only remain so for as long as our ethnicity remains intact, vibrant and different to the rest of the world. Can sociologists not discuss this on your pages?

Certain parts of Dublin (such as Lucan, Tallaght, Blanchardstown and some inner-city areas) now carry the greatest burden by far of coping with inflows of immigrants.

The consequences are easily seen from similar patterns that have occurred in other jurisdictions, with all the attendant social outcomes. Interesting indeed in this vein, to note from your poll coverage recently, is that Sinn Féin voters were counted among those most in favour of the preservation of direct provision, running counter to the dogma of open border republicanism preached by the leadership of that party.

Ireland might not need a right-wing party as seen in almost every other EU nation to legitimately represent a minority view in this context but it most certainly needs mainstream politicians and national media publications to present all sides of the argument in a reasoned and balanced discourse, and to address adequately the strong concerns of what may be a significant silent majority. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – From memory, albeit somewhat addled by successive years of financial sensory overload, the Universal Social Charge replaced the health and income levies, which were introduced as a temporary measure at a time of national crisis. Now that the economy is more secure and the crisis is over, we should then expect that the Universal Social Charge will be reduced and gradually phased out. It would surely take a cynic to suggest that the Government would hold on to such a device merely as a vehicle to allow it to keep its election promise of not raising income taxes. – Yours, etc,


An Uaimh,

Co na Mhí.

Sir, – After Budget 2015, primary schools will have just €170 per child per year to pay for heating, electricity, water, waste disposal, insurance, cleaning, toilet rolls, hand towels, maintenance of buildings, maintenance and replacement of equipment, postage, telephone and texting, office and classroom consumables, photocopying, printer ink, first aid supplies, banking fees, security, school tours, staff training, school projects and all the other items that need to be paid for just to keep the school open and functioning.

This is less than €1 per day per child.

Even less again when you consider that primary schools pay VAT at the full rates on everything.

Can you help inform the families of Ireland that the voluntary contribution asked for by some schools is a financial necessity nowadays and along with the compulsory property tax and water fees, families should now budget for a “voluntary tax” to help fund the primary schools their children attend?

Depending on the amount of the “voluntary tax” families choose to give, we could have a discussion on investing in our children, but for now I’m just referring to paying the bills. – Yours, etc,



Galway Educate Together

National School.

Sir, – To resist unsound changes to the Junior Cycle being imposed by Government, ASTI and TUI members have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action, up to and including strike action if necessary. In addition to the clear opposition of teachers themselves to school-based assessment, a national opinion poll last May showed that the majority of the public are opposed to teachers correcting their own students’ work for certification purposes.

Our main areas of opposition to Junior Cycle changes relate to the planned removal of national certification and external assessment, both of which provide status and credibility to the assessment process.

Such credibility is linked with the high level of public trust in our education system. Indeed, a recent OECD survey placed Ireland first among countries measured for public confidence in their education system. We are also opposed to the imposition of further pressure on the capacity of schools to provide a quality education service in the wake of several years of austerity cuts, none of which were reversed in this year’s budget.

Furthermore, it is clear that proposed changes to subject provision will have detrimental effects on the quality of education for students. Certain subjects such as CSPE, history and geography will be downgraded to optional status.

Such detrimental change will hinder the development of students as informed and active citizens. Sustainable and real educational reform requires teacher support and public confidence. We call on the Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan to engage with us on this basis. – Yours, etc,


President, ASTI,

Thomas McDonagh House,

Dublin 8;





Dublin 6.

Sir, – During a recent Seanad Éireann debate on the 1916 centenary, members referred to the “radical” nature of the Proclamation, Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú in particular quoting the “cherishing all the children of the nation” phrase (“Ó Murchú warns against politically divisive debate on 1916 commemoration”, Seanad Report, October 16th).

The social-radical aspect of the Proclamation should not be exaggerated. The chief emphasis (as one would expect from an IRB manifesto) was on independence and sovereignty. Guaranteeing citizens’ liberties, and “equal rights and equal opportunities”, takes up only a line or two, and there is no mention of a social programme, still less a cultural one.

In this respect, the Proclamation is sometimes confused with the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil in 1919, which is the real children’s charter and which should be credited with articulating, in some detail, the aspiration to human rights and social justice in revolutionary Ireland.

Moreover, it is clear from the context of the Proclamation that the oft-quoted (but widely misunderstood) phrase, “cherishing all the children of the nation equally ”, has nothing to do with justice for the young or social equality but rather with bridging the historic divide between Protestant and Catholic, planter and Gael, unionist and nationalist. – Yours, etc,


Emeritus Professor

of Irish History,

University College Cork.

Sir, – The problem for David McConnell (October 13th) and Seamus McKenna (October 14th) is their limitation of allowable evidence to that which can be repeated under laboratory conditions. Anything of a metaphysical or non-reproducible or subjective nature is simply not accepted as evidence. However, I am absolutely certain that both hold views on many questions which cannot be verified by scientific means, not because the technology has not been invented yet but because they are issues of a different type. – Yours, etc,


Shankill, Dublin 18.

A chara, – David McConnell writes with an eye-watering certitude that would make a pontiff blush “people made God, not vice versa”. He overlooks two realities shared by both believer and non-believer.

The atheist can no more categorically prove that God does not exist than can the theist prove the opposite. Were this not so, no sane person would believe other than what had been incontrovertibly proven. Further, both religion and science reach a point of faith in explaining existence. Science, with its rigorous methodology of cause and effect, responds to the question of how the material that caused the Big Bang originated with an answer that is tantamount to faith – it just was “there”. – Is mise,


Nutley Road,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – David McConnell again exposes the contradictions of the allegedly “humanist” claim that “nothing exists beyond the empirical realm”. Admitting that humanists, like everyone else, recognise the “phenomena of truth and falsehood, good and evil”, he tries to limit these phenomena to the merely empirical. To say that “we decide for ourselves what is true or false, good or evil” is a trivialisation of these phenomena, as if truth and the good never imposed themselves with undeniable authority on our minds and consciences. “The daunting moral dilemmas we face in the modern world, especially in my own field of genetics” would not be daunting at all if one did not believe in non-empirical values such as human dignity and freedom. To say that we live in a world invented by humankind is to miss the powerful presence of things that humans clearly did not invent, beginning with being itself.

Prof McConnell’s complaints against historical Christianity – Giordano Bruno, Galileo, “a church which assures us that women are lesser creatures than men” – is that it failed to “distinguish truth and falsity, good and evil”. But in making that judgment he is again subscribing to the trans-empirical reality of truth and the good. Otherwise what is to prevent one from saying that people can “decide for themselves” whether the Earth goes round the sun or vice versa, and whether it’s acceptable to persecute freethinkers and discriminate against women? Let’s decide by rational argument, not by blind faith, he would say, but this again recognises the reality of reason, something that is clearly much more than a human invention or a merely empirical datum. – Yours, etc,


Sophia University,


Sir, – Further to the recent debate concerning RTÉ’s plans to stop broadcasting on longwave, it is worth noting that in the event of a national emergency, important information concerning civil defence would be given to the public by radio as this is the most effective medium of communication for all the public, especially via battery-powered portable radios.

Neither the internet, digital radio, mobile phone nor TV services can be relied upon in an emergency due to limited access, bandwidth congestion and reception difficulties.

Many people do not possess portable digital radios but every cheap portable radio, ideal for emergency use, has either medium wave (AM) or longwave (LW), together with VHF (FM).

Longwave is unsurpassed in its ability to penetrate steel-framed buildings, deep valleys, underground carparks and rail or road tunnels, the places where the public might be expected to congregate.

It is the duty of RTÉ is to provide a public service as well as entertainment. If RTÉ wants to save money, it could consider ending TV transmissions after midnight that cater for a very limited audience. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I recently made an online request for my Irish Water account number. I received a politely worded response indicating it was not possible to supply this information by email for data protection reasons. Perfectly acceptable. However, the email concluded, “Sorry for any incontinence caused”. Am I entitled to have my “leak” repaired for free? – Yours, etc,


Donnybrook, Dublin 4.

Irish Independent:

Doesn’t anything relating to politics make for depressing reading of late? Who can we trust? What direction are we going? And – most importantly for the Irish – who can we blame?! Fianna Fail brought us the biggest harvest. We lorded it, spent too much, made bad decisions and lost it all. The result? Boot them out.

Fine Gael were elected on a landslide by promising to change the way politics works and were prepared to make the hard decisions. Austerity was here. They stuck to the Brian Lenihan four-year plan and had the balls to implement it. We did not get to the Promised Land, but we seem to be on high enough ground to see it.

Unfortunately we – the “great unwashed” – don’t see it that way, we have enough of austerity. Result, kick them out and make way for the “Shinners” and Independents. The Shinners will abolish water rates and the household charge, but are like the bold schoolboy who copied his homework – they have the answer, but can’t explain the mathematics that got him there.

The Independents seem to have inhaled too much of what was exhaled by a former colleague and will be happy doing a “Jackie Healy-Rae” deal when the time comes. Sure, you have to look after number one. Back at square one again, nothing learned!

Well, I’m off to bed now, already tired of the word politics. I hope I’ll fall into a nice deep sleep listening to the therapeutic sound of rainwater slowing filling up my toilet cistern. Meanwhile, the rest of you run around like a flock of frightened sheep looking for a gap in the ditch which will lead you to the promised land.

If you want to know who destroyed this country then just look in the mirror. Until Ireland and its politicians have the maturity to properly analyse its problems and explain the solutions (and we, the people of Ireland, have the confidence in our parliament to implement them) we’re all fecked.

Through all of Ireland’s troubles the only ones that remained in situ were the senior civil servants who advised the government/schoolteachers what to do and, indeed, are still doing it. It is they who run the country.

Thank God, we Irish have someone left to blame. I think Mark Twain had those very people in mind when he said “they would never have given us the vote if they thought it made any difference”.

Eugene McGuinness

Kilkenny city

No light for Death Row inmates

In her column (Irish Independent, October 18) Mary Kenny tells us that in Texas, where they still have the death penalty, the ‘last cigarette’ for a condemned prisoner is now prohibited on heath and safety grounds.

A clear sign that smoking can be a death sentence?

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont, Dublin 9

Legacy of Cumann na mBan

In reply to James Woods (Irish Independent, October 16) Cumann na mBan supported a regime change that, when it took place, denied them their human rights. The right to work in the civil service was changed, the old age pension was reduced for women, the right to divorce and contraceptives were removed as was the right to serve on juries. Farms were taken off unmarried women.

All this was happening in a context of improving human rights in Britain. The welfare state was enacted with free education and free health. Cumann na mBan had poor vision and poor spirit not to fight for their human rights. As regards Constance Markievicz, she had the heart of a lion and the brains of a sheep.

The big oppressor is ignorance. We need revolutionaries to help us to keep pace in a hi-tech race, by making superior products by innovative methods to bring prosperity to the country.

People with an economic vision know that a nation is only an imagined community. A significant economic unit in a creative scientific interdependent world would have been the unity of Britain and the US. All significant innovations were Anglo-American. The cure for TB and polio came from this creative scientific community and their use in Ireland was delayed by sectarian bigotry. Thousands died or were maimed as a consequence.

Kate Casey

Limerick city

Help our children, minister

An open letter to Jan O’Sullivan, Minister for Education and Skills.

We are parents of children who attend St Michael’s House Special National School in Baldoyle. This school caters for children who are severely and profoundly disabled.

Last July, we were shocked and dismayed to hear there would be a further cut to teaching staff and to the number of special needs assistants (SNA) in this school. As I am sure you are aware, this school lost a teacher in each of the last three years. Children who attend this school not only have severe to profound intellectual disabilities, but many also have severe to profound physical disabilities and other highly-complex needs.

Much of the school day is taken up with personal care such as PEG feeding (tube feeding), toileting, dealing with seizures, hoisting, ensuring the safety of the mobile children, repositioning of children throughout the day and dealing with various medical issues.

This takes up most, if not all, of the SNAs’ time. As a result, the teachers are trying to teach our children in groups. Ideally, the vast majority of pupils who attend this school need intensive and discrete 1:1 teaching time if they are to attend, learn and achieve their individual education plan goals.

Along with many others, we wrote to you during the summer about this situation. At the time our letters were forwarded to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) for their attention.

The NCSE then replied to us that – in their advice paper published in May 2013 entitled “Supporting Students with Special Needs in Schools” – they had recommended that special schools for severe/profound learning disabilities should be allowed to establish one class group on a pupil-teacher ratio of 4:1 (Section 27.2). The NCSE submitted this policy advice to the Minister for Education and Skills in 2013. To date, this recommendation has clearly been ignored.

Regarding the cuts to the number of special needs assistants in the school, we are now extremely worried about the health and safety impact of this on our children. As a result of the cuts to SNA numbers, there are now larger groups of children in each classroom.

We are extremely worried that the logistics of this is unworkable for these severely/profoundly-disabled children. To give you just one example, a mobile child can pull a feeding tube from a more vulnerable child.

It has been announced in last week’s Budget that there will be an additional 1,700 teacher and SNA posts created. In light of this, we are asking you to please reverse the appalling decision regarding the loss of a teacher and special needs assistants from this school.

Can you tell us please if the lost teachers and SNAs will be reinstated? And, if not, can you please outline to us how you intend to maintain both health and safety and educational standards in this school?

We would very much welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with you.

Fiona Murphy Anna Hayes

Representing Parents’ Association of St Michael’s House Special National School, Baldoyle, Dublin 13

Irish Independent


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