18 December 2014 Dentist

I still have arthritis in my left toe but its nearly gone. I go out to the new dentist with Mary.

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


Peter Wescombe was a diplomat who helped to save Bletchley Park from being developed into a housing estate

Peter Wescombe, who helped to save Bletchley Park from the developers

Peter Wescombe, who helped to save Bletchley Park from the developers

Peter Wescombe, who has died aged 82, was a diplomat, amateur archaeologist and – later in life – a driving force behind the Bletchley Park Trust, which saved the Second World War code-breaking establishment from being demolished and turned into a housing estate.

In 1991 Bletchley Park, conveniently located near a railway station and set in 55 acres of land, was thought to be worth (with planning permission) more than £3 million. When a plan was conceived to redevelop the site, Wescombe (who had had a house at Bletchley since 1960) joined forces with Dr Peter Jarvis, a retired GP, calling an impromptu meeting of the Bletchley Archaeological & Historical Society.

He later remembered: “Peter Jarvis and I walked despondently out of a council meeting, where, despite our pleading, it had been decided that Bletchley Park should be demolished to make way for 300-plus houses, a petrol station and a small supermarket. In May my wife, Rowena, and I met with Peter and his wife, Sue, at his house… to put forward an idea. We would ask BT, who owned the Park, if we could hold a ‘farewell reunion’ on the site for the wartime code breaking staff simply to say ‘Thank you’ for their magnificent achievements. They agreed.”

As Wescombe admitted, however, they “were not being exactly honest”: the idea was to invite the media to the meeting to publicise a campaign to save Bletchley for the nation.

“From then on,” Wescombe said in January 2014, “it was simply uphill all the way. I now often just stand and look, sometimes in disbelief, at the old, sad wartime huts gleaming in their coats of fresh paint, the grounds being restored to their wartime layout; B Block standing high and proud; groups of visitors and schoolchildren listening intently to guides telling the BP story; and everywhere staff and volunteers hurrying about their business. And I think to myself, ‘Wescombe, we actually made it.’ ”

After the necessary money and backing had been secured to keep the park as a heritage site, Bletchley was successfully transformed into a museum under the aegis of the Bletchley Park Trust, opening to visitors in 1994; this year some 190,000 people have passed through the gates.

Peter John Wescombe was born on January 4 1932 at Eltham, Kent, and brought up by his mother in straitened circumstances at Willesden, north-west London. Aged 14, after a brief period at Willesden Technical College, Peter joined the Shaftesbury Homes’ training ship Arethusa, ending up as leading boy. He was a drummer in the ship’s band, and recalled playing see-saw in the topmasts of the ship, some 180ft above the deck. The boys were not allowed to wear shoes even when there was thick snow on the ground.

In 1949 Wescombe joined the Navy, with which he would serve for the next eight years. While in the Far East with the destroyer Cossack, which was part of the United Nations force during the Korean War, he embarked on a correspondence with Rowena Bayles, a student nurse in Britain. When he returned to Britain in 1953 they met in London, and married after a whirlwind courtship.

After three years working for the CID with Essex police force, in 1960 Wescombe joined the Diplomatic Wireless Service, the arm of the Foreign Office which handles communications between Britain’s missions abroad and London. Over the next three decades his postings included India , Lebanon, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iraq, Somalia, the Soviet Union and South Africa.

In Lebanon, where he was based between 1963 and 1966, Wescombe developed his lifelong interest in archaeology. He collaborated closely with Lorraine Copeland, who specialised in the archaeology of the Near East and was the wife of the CIA officer Miles Copeland Jnr (their son Stewart Copeland made his name as the drummer with the rock band the Police).

Wescombe devoted much of his spare time in Lebanon to exploring sites with Lorraine Copeland, collecting a wide variety of tools and other artefacts. They discovered ancient stone circle structures on a site at the east end of the runway of Beirut airport, and co-wrote Inventory of Stone-Age Sites in Lebanon, published in 1965.

During his time in Iraq (1976-78), Wescombe worked on a site with Nicholas Postgate (now Professor of Assyriology at Cambridge University), but was unceremoniously booted out of the country along with several colleagues in a diplomatic “tit-for-tat” row with Saddam Hussein.

Wescombe was responsible for the security of diplomatic communications at the British embassy in Moscow between 1982 and 1985, during the last decade of the Cold War. He retired in 1992, shortly after launching the campaign to save Bletchley.

Wescombe gave lectures across North America about intelligence in the Second World War, and was a source of specialised technical knowledge about code-breaking; for example, he acted as an adviser for the 2001 film Enigma.

He was the author of Bletchley Park and the Luftwaffe and (with John Gallehawk) Getting Back into Shark, both published in 2009.

Peter Wescombe is survived by his wife and their two daughters and two sons.

Peter Wescombe, born January 4 1932, died November 25 2014


Indian Students Protest Against Taliban Peshawar School Massacre
Schoolchildren in India mourn for victims of Tuesday’s terror attack at an army-run public school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar. Photograph: Sanjay Sah/Barcroft India

As the world comes together to condemn an unspeakable act of depravity in Pakistan (Report, 17 December), we must unite around one message above all. Whatever political dispute or ideological upheaval may be occurring outside its doors, a school should always remain a safe space for children to learn, to play, to make friends and to laugh. This is non-negotiable.

This atrocity is part of a global pattern in which learning is under attack. The shooting of Malala Yousafzai in 2012, the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria earlier this year, the events in Peshawar – these shocking acts are just the visible extreme of daily incidents of violence and intimidation that keep millions of children – disproportionately girls – from school each day.

The global response to those events has been loud and unequivocal. We will not tolerate schools becoming battlegrounds. We must – and we will – ensure that every child can safely enjoy their right to learn. And as the people of Pakistan try to come to terms with the most senseless and brutal of crimes, our duty to them is to ensure that the voices of those of us who believe in that right are louder than those who think otherwise.
Tanya Barron
Chief executive, Plan UK

• The attack in Pakistan shows that it is ordinary Muslims who bear the brunt of the violence perpetrated by extremists. From the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan to Islamic State (Isis), al-Qaida and pro-government sectarian paramilitaries in Iraq and Syria to Buddhist extremists in Burma and extremist Hindus in Gujarat, India, it is Muslims who are the victims. The bombing of Isis by America and its allies has also resulted in civilian fatalities including women and children. Yet Muslims get mentioned as the extremists, not the victims of extremism.
Mohammed Samaana

• Growing up as a child in the early 90s in Pakistan, I have fond memories to cherish. Life had much to offer and we made the most of its offerings. I was sent to a mosque with my brother for Qur’an lessons and I cannot remember anything that I would now judge to be unpleasant said by our teacher. To speak badly about a different Islamic sect was unthinkable. Holy days were observed with religious fervour and without antagonism against those who did not celebrate that day. There was peace. There was tolerance. Both of these words now sound naive and have acquired new connotations.

Twenty years ago I could not imagine that one day children would go to school in their uniforms and return in coffins. Pakistanis all over the world are mourning yet another tragedy: the bleakest one. This was not random killing; this was targeted killing of children and their teachers. Add to those killed the greater number of children and adults traumatised by what they saw.

We leave our homes without certainty of ever returning. We turn on our TV, unfold our newspaper, with trembling heart, beseeching: “No, not another, not any more.” We bury our dead again, those who never wished the horror. For how long? The question echoes, echoes, echoes.
Name and address supplied

• On 16 December on Facebook a friend wrote “Pakistan has awoken”. I read that line over and over. We definitely were not awake before this attack. No matter how dire the incidents – malnourishment gripping children’s lives in Tharparkar, a couple being thrown in a brick kiln – we were shaken but still in deep slumber. An awake Pakistan would not look like it did on 16 December. And while we slept, our children were being slaughtered.

As a mother watching those scenes on the television, I was speechless. And broken. Like everyone else I was shocked and absolutely grief-stricken. As time goes on when one feels pain or sorrow, one usually wants to forget, move on. My worry now is that I will forget. we, as a nation, will forget. We will move on. Back to politics, back to watching Pakistan slipping away, being stolen bit by bit by corrupt politicians who claim to represent us, by an unjust judiciary where justice is a word buried among dusty files, back to a place where the poor get nothing and the rich get richer. One horrendous event after another has desensitised us. It is too constant and we are starting to feel we are too little for such big problems. We have become a hopeless lot, for when we are informed of a tragedy, we sigh and then we move on. We move away and we forget. But these images of blood on small bodies, small coffins and grieving mothers are something I do not want to forget. I do not want to forget Pakistan’s black day. I want it imprinted in my mind today, tomorrow, a year from now, five years and 10 years and 40 years from now. I want to feel as angry, as sad, as united as we do at this moment – when the wound is fresh and painful. I want to feel as determined about change as I do today. Because the families of those massacred will always remember it just like they did on 16 December. This sense of mourning should break the walls of opposing political parties, of different political sects, of differing religious clergy, of different places of worship. We are mourning our children together as Pakistanis. The only feeling we should ensure vanishes is hopelessness. We can have no room for such a feeling. It must be buried and never passed on to the future generations of this country.

This anger should now become our resolve. Our resolve from now on should be that we Pakistanis want our country back from extremism. We ordinary citizens ask for the criminals to be brought to justice; we want to know who financed them and who their beneficiaries are. We want to know who fed them, which home or mosque housed them the nights before this massacre. And we want them before us. We want to strangle the channels that nourish these extremists.

Let 16 December be a very dark, sad part of our history, never to be repeated. We want to make our voices heard when we say we do not believe there is any room for extremist religious venom in our land, in our classrooms, in our mosques, in our homes. Let our voices be heard loud and clear when we say extremist barbarianism is not taught in our religion, not taught in our Qur’an, not spoken of in our Hadith. We should be united when we say we will not tolerant extremism any longer.

And if you start to wither in your resolve, in your commitment to these children, in your determination to this country, read this article. Go back to your newsfeeds of 16 December- facebook, newspapers, twitter feeds and relive what we were subjected to on 16 December.

Let us not sway back into slumber again. Our future depends on us staying awake. We want to remember 16 December as that painful day that Pakistan woke up, and we resolved to reclaim our country.
Benazir Jatoi
Islamabad, Pakistan

BESTPIX Sydney Pays Respect To Victims After 16 Hour Siege
Flowers are left at Martin Place in Sydney, Australia, near the scene of a siege in which two people and the hostage-taker were killed. Photograph: Joosep Martinson/Getty Images

This latest act of terrorism by an Islamic militant has to be the last straw for any moderate and civilised Muslim (Three dead in Sydney cafe siege, 16 December). Enough of this madness, this murder and mayhem.

This senseless and inhuman carnage, this slitting of throats, the indiscriminate blowing-up of innocent men, women and children and general blood-letting has set Islam back in the dark ages and has shamed every right-thinking Muslim on the planet. It is we who really pay the price in our daily lives for the havoc they create around the world.

Several Muslim scholars have said the actions of these militant groups are anti-Islamic. So why have they not been declared non-Muslims or ex-communicated by senior clerics and moulvis? These, surely, are the real “kafirs” the Qur’an speaks of?

No longer must we suffer this disgrace in silence. And it is not enough to voice one’s disgust and disapproval privately to family and friends. The time has come for all moderate Muslims to denounce these barbarians publicly and vociferously. And tell the world that what they do is not in our name. And that this menace, this scourge must be exterminated in the same manner that they have adopted: ruthlessly and with brute force.

That will make the world a better and safer place for all of us.
Mohammed Khan
Mumbai, India

• The Sydney siege should not be viewed other than simply a criminal incident. On the same day in the US, an Iraq war veteran killed his ex-wife with six members of her family. Contrary to the incident in Sydney, where media outlets rushed to attribute it to Islamist extremist; no religious meaning was attached to the US shooting rampage. We should abstain from attaching any religious ritual or flavour to these criminal acts. Islam as Christianity are the same as they ever were: peaceful religions that forbid wanton aggression and terrorism. And as Christmas – “the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ”– is fast approaching; there is every need to refrain from empty slogans, political grandstanding and petty rivalries; and adroitly resurrect the gospel message of salvation, mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, humility, tranquillity, cooperation and peace.
Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

I agree that nobody should work for free. While “Unpaid internships rig the system. Curb them, now” makes a great Labour soundbite (Opinion, 15 December), it omits salient facts. There is no need to advocate new laws. Interns undertaking work, rather than shadowing, are already entitled to the national minimum wage. They are protected against working excessive hours and have rights to paid holiday and rest breaks. As your article suggests, enforcement agencies may not have the resources to protect these rights, but that is a different matter.

Many employers are aware of and gladly benefit from unpaid labour, particularly during this economic cycle. Most are not ignorant of the law, rather disinclined to impact this cost on their bottom line. As businesses cling to corporate social responsibility credentials, the basic legal (and moral) obligation of paying for work done, whatever workers’ social class, is getting lost.

Work experiences and their durations vary. Short-term work experience must be differentiated from the lengthy “exploitative” internships to which you refer. The former enables individuals to gain an understanding of a vocation before pursuing it. In the legal profession, work placements are typically outside of term time, of short duration (two to four weeks) and often paid. All precisely to encourage equality of access.
Melanie Stancliffe
Partner, Thomas Eggar LLP

• Unpaid internships are not just a scourge for the young. Women confronting a gender pay gap and unaffordable childcare are also sucked in. I am a fortysomething intern with a Cambridge degree and an MA. I spent six years in a part-time office admin job after having kids. I quit to do an MA in hope of getting better work. I am determined not to go back to the ghastly coffee morning circuit of an overqualified woman. But working nearly full-time for nothing while my three kids cook their own suppers seems a poor reward for trying to better my prospects. I’m at the “bank of my husband”, not “mum and dad”, but it is still infantilising and demoralising.
Name and address supplied

• When I was six the war ended and, as “normal” life resumed, the expression “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” became familiar to me. In time I understood it, but I think it shameful that 70 years on we are still rigging things to perpetuate the class war.
Beverly Cochran
Eastbourne, East Sussex

(FILE PHOTO) Police Cuts Announced
Newly qualified Metropolitan police officers take part in their passing out parade at Hendon Police Training College in June 2012. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty

If, as you claim, senior police officers fear that further cuts will lead to “1980s-style emergency-only policing” (Report, 15 December), then I assume they know very little about policing in that decade. When I joined the Metropolitan police in 1980, I went to Clapham police station, where 16 or so police officers were on the streets every shift to patrol and respond to emergency calls. Each of the 12 “beats” had dedicated “home beat officers” to attend to community matters. There was a CID office with about 20 detectives, a proactive crime squad of about 10 officers, and a dedicated team of officers to investigate minor or “beat” crimes. We had a crime prevention officer and our own scenes-of-crime officer. Every report of crime was responded to by an officer in person and every crime was assigned an investigating officer. Moreover, the public could phone the police station or attend the front office and speak to a local police officer who knew the area. Almost every police station provided this level of service – and in those days fully functioning police stations were no more than a few miles apart. I think that, with a few tweaks, the 80s style of policing would suit most people very well.
David Cox

• There is no doubt that police forces are going to continue to face financial challenges, and that efficiency savings will need to be made. To that extent, I am in agreement with Bernard Hogan-Howe (Cuts without reform put the public at risk, 15 December). Where we part company is over his proposal for nine “super-forces”. They may well qualify as “super” in terms of size, land area and budget, but whether they would be judged as such in terms of service offered to the public may be completely different.

The strategic alliance between Warwickshire and West Mercia police is achieving the vast majority of savings that would be achieved through a merger, without sacrificing the element that a lot of senior police officers overlook – local democratic accountability. While there are areas like procurement and IT where big savings are still available, none of these require the nuclear option of lumping forces arbitrarily together. We must find ways of making the public relate more closely to the police; gargantuan super-forces will have the opposite effect.
Ron Ball
Police and crime commissioner for Warwickshire

A young rugby fan waves a Welsh flag
‘What I did was to ask whether the words of songs mean anything to us any more,’ writes Dafydd Iwan of songs sung by Wales rugby fans. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

It has been fascinating to listen to the debate regarding Delilah, especially as it is largely based on the false premise that I launched a campaign to get the song banned (Tom Jones says critics shouldn’t take Delilah so literally, 12 December, Banning songs is not something I would ever advocate – even if it was possible.

What I did in my short article for the Cristnogaeth 21 website was to ask whether the words of songs mean anything to us any more. My song to the survival of Wales against all odds (Yma o Hyd) is usually sung by the choirs in the Millennium Stadium, followed by Delilah and two hymns (Cwm Rhondda and Calon Lân). A strange mix, and great songs to sing, but do the words carry any meaning?

It was in this context that I mentioned that a song about a woman being killed was a strange choice for elevation to the status of a national anthem. All I can hope for – and perhaps that hope will now be partly fulfilled – is that next time you belt out this very singable song, you spare a thought for the poor woman who “laughs no more”, and avoid feeling any sympathy for the poor sod who killed her because he “just couldn’t take any more”.

In the immortal words of Polly Garter: “Thank God we’re a musical nation”.
Dafydd Iwan
Caeathro, Gwynedd

The Wedding Dance by Pieter Bruegel
Detail from the Wedding Dance by Pieter Bruegel. Photograph:

Reintroduced into the dress code of Henry VIII’s court to cover the embarrassing gap between modishly shortened doublets and gentlemen’s nether hose, the codpiece (Pass notes, 15 December) re-emerged as a must-have fashion item for the chap about town. The sumptuary laws, which dictated what styles, fabrics, colours and sizes of every item of clothing were permitted for which rank of society, resulted in their size and splendour being ever enlarged to emphasise status. In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare refers to “the deformed thief [of] fashion”, which made men appear “like the shaven Hercules … his codpiece seems as massy as his club”. Sadly for lovers of innuendo, by the demise of Elizabeth I, codpieces had been replaced by the less elaborate feature that became the modern fly.
Austen Lynch
Garstang, Lancashire

Polly Toynbee does not comment on the ironies of Iain Duncan Smith calling for the poor to change their reproductive behaviour (Opinion, 17 December). Perhaps he thinks that couples who have had two children will cease to want sex – because surely the country’s “most influential Catholic” cannot be advocating birth control?
Philippa Sutton
Newcastle upon Tyne

• Re: Real seniors (Pass notes, 16 December), on a recent visit to Drummond Castle Gardens near Crieff, we were amused and delighted by the categories at the ticket office: adult, super adult and child. Good to find a place that does not patronise its older visitors. I write as a super adult but by no means yet a real super adult.
Rosemary Philip

• While on holiday in Turkey recently, our guide referred to older people as pensioneers, which we all rather liked. It gives the feeling of purpose and activity to the status.
Gill Jewell

• Stockport, Stockport, so good they named it once, / Within the see of Chester, not known for clerical stunts; / Your suffragan can proudly say / “An historic Rector, me” / A cassocked queen who’s not too gay, / Mould-breaking C of E (Church of England’s first female bishop set to be named today, 17 December)!
Fr Alec Mitchell

• What should you spend on a Christmas tree (Report, 16 December)? Nothing if you have access to a winter garden. This year my tree consists of sprigs of bay and forsythia twigs. Each year it is different. The lights are 25 years old.
Selina Bates
Truro, Cornwall

• Southerners keen to experience the wonderful, uplifting Sheffield pub carols tradition (Report, 15 December) can do so at the Waterman’s Arms, Richmond on Thames (18 December at 8pm) and the Bricklayers Arms, Putney (21 December at 2pm).
Graham Larkbey



The exposure of the US CIA in Senator Dianne Feinstein’s report is very welcome – but will it be covered up, ignored and forgotten, like previous exposures? (Report, 10 December).

In February 1976 a select report by US Congressman Otis Pike revealed the extent of covert CIA interventions in overseas countries. These involved financial support, paramilitary training, arms shipments, the promotion of armed groups and the funding of civic, religious, professional and labour organisations against progressive and left-wing movements.

As a Member of Parliament I sponsored a debate on foreign policy and morality in 1976, in which I referred to the Pike report and CIA assassination plots. These sometimes involved using criminals against leaders such as Patrice Lumumba, Fidel Castro, Rafael Trujillo, Ngo Dinh Diem, and General Rene Schneider – not all left wingers. The CIA supported right-wing subversive forces in Iran, Vietnam, Guyana, Greece, Italy, Angola, Chile and other Latin American, African and Asian countries.

Henry Kissinger, who is again receiving publicity, assisted official efforts to obstruct and suppress anti-CIA criticisms, and Philip Agee (a former CIA operative) and Mark Hosenball (a journalist) were expelled from Britain for their exposures of CIA activities.

If the CIA’s blatant flouting of human and democratic rights is to end, political leaders in the US, Britain and elsewhere must cease to connive in it as they have done for so long.

Stan Newens
Harlow, Essex


Can there be any doubt that it is the implacable duty of the broadcast and print media to demand on behalf of the people, to preserve any remaining faith in our democratic system, that the endlessly delayed Chilcot report be published now and in full; well before the general election? The media should speak as one on this demand and should not stop until they succeed in shaming the establishment into publication.

It will be unconscionable for us to be asked to vote for politicians who have not been forced into responding to Chilcot’s findings. The shaming and shameful revelations of CIA kidnapping and torture and possible UK complicity put the necessity of this immediate publication beyond dispute. But without the efforts of the press, we will not get it.

Keith Farman
St Albans, Hertfordshire


I fully endorse calls for UK ministers to face investigation and prosecution for any collusion with CIA-led rendition and torture. (Editorial, “Full disclosure”, 13 December).

However, there is a disreputable convention that one faction of the governing class never knifes its predecessors in power. They are all in it together and in their turn may need blind eyes turned, inconvenient paper trails deleted, skeletons left undisturbed in cupboards and judge-led public enquiries blocked or rendered anodyne.

Michael McCarthy
London W13


Muslims are the victims of extremists

The attack on the school in Pakistan shows that it is ordinary Muslims who bear the brunt of the violence perpetrated by extremists. From Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and sectarian paramilitaries in Iraq and Syria, to Buddhist extremists in Burma, to extremist Hindus in Gujarat in India, it is Muslims who are the victims. Bombing IS by America and its allies has also resulted in civilian fatalities including women and children. Ironically, Muslims get mentioned as the extremists not the victims of extremism.

Mohammed Samaana


In view of your headline “In God’s name” (17 December), perhaps God’s Christmas message to The Independent and to all of us is, “Not in my name”.

The history of religion demonstrates an increasingly nuanced understanding of the divine nature, but even the ancient Israelites, in a world where violence was the norm, were enlightened enough to shun human sacrifice and respect the foreigner. It has been taking our society long enough to work out the full implications of Jesus’s revolutionary teaching, but surely no one today reading “Blessed are the peacemakers” can be in any doubt where at least the Christian God’s values lie.

Any religion claiming to be pro-humanity should be distancing itself utterly from the carnage perpetrated in Peshawar this week.

John Davis


Down with dogmatic regionalism

“His unbiased opinion… he ought not to sacrifice”: these memorable words of Edmund Burke, along with others in similar vein, must surely be the corrective to the Government’s ill-thought-out proposals for English votes for English laws (report, 17 December).

While one is aware of the power of party whips and constituency organisations, the members of the House of Commons have traditionally and rightly been seen as persons who should not be prisoners of any local, sectional or indeed regional interest.

The correct way out of the West Lothian question dilemma is surely a truly federal structure with both regional assemblies for all who wish them and an overarching legislative body analogous to the American Congress.

Andrew McLuskey
Staines, Surrey


The Tories wrap themselves in the Union flag – only to implement policies guaranteed to destroy the Union. They shriek “we’re fighting for Britain”, while alienating our biggest trading partners, threatening in the process inward investment. And – most damning of all – they claim financial success while adding to the country’s debt and impoverishing most of the population.

Tom Palin
Southport, Merseyside


In praise of Peterborough

Simon Calder and Hugo Campbell (“Peterborough named the ‘worst place to be without a car in UK’”, 16 December) might be surprised to hear that, after years of battling the slow buses of Bristol, overcrowded Tube trains of London and gridlocked streets of Cambridge, I moved back to my roots in Peterborough in search of a stress-free transport experience. Yes, I need a car, but thanks to Peterborough’s sensible house prices I can afford this, and any environmental guilt that I have is assuaged by the knowledge that Peterborians buy the greenest cars in the country (142g CO2 emissions per kilometer vs 177g/km for Londoners) and the city’s faster traffic flow (19.3mph rush-hour traffic vs 10.1mph in Westminster) reduces the amount of heavily polluting idling.

What’s more, could it be that the combination of low-density urbanisation, an excellent road network and decentralised employment opportunities have prevented clustering of the middle classes around transport hubs and thereby helped to keep our house prices low?

Not everything has worked in the Peterborough experiment, but many things have. Bus services can be improved with investment, cars are becoming ever greener, and our city centre is being rejuvenated. Being “named and shamed” with a “damning verdict” and “vitriol” is undeserved, and risks masking successes from which the overcrowded and unequal south of the country could learn.

Celyn Yorath


Sports personalities without a chance

I agree with Matthew Norman (16 December): nice, talented chap though Lewis Hamilton is, Rory McIlroy deserved to win Sports Personality of the Year. One reason, I suspect, is that motor racing is one of the few sports still regularly shown on BBC.

This week, one could watch just 3.5 hours of live sport (cycling and gymnastics) and 6.5 hours of football. For golf, cricket, rugby, horse racing and so on, you have to watch other channels. Perhaps the time has come to wrap the whole thing up – or sell it to BT.

Alan Sonnex
Jordans, Buckinghamshire


Woeful attendance at carers’ debate

During an important debate about carers in the House of Lords, there were just nine of their Lordships present. Important facts emerged: for example that carers are allocated 15-minute slots, and are not paid for the time spent travelling between these 15-minute slots, and that the non-payment of the minimum wage was widespread. Their Lordships of course can claim £300 a day for just turning up.

John Humphreys
Milton Keynes


No teenagers in France

Susan Chesters’ letter (“Grow old gracefully in French”, 16 December) reminded me why the French have more difficulty with the concept of teenagers than we do, their language not having a conveniently useful term for the numbers 13 to 19 as English does.

David J Williams
Colwyn Bay, North Wales


Surely voters have a right to know what their politicians have been up to before they go to the polls?

Sir, Your front-page story (“Whitehall shockwaves over Chilcot draft report”, Dec 17) clearly indicates that the outcome of this important but inordinately protracted inquiry will not be known before the general election. That represents a disservice both to democracy generally and specifically to voters’ right to know, in what will inevitably prove a finely balanced election result.

This unsatisfactory state of affairs is exacerbated given the US senate’s excoriating (but laudably open) report into the CIA’s use of torture and rendition, with valid questions outstanding over the UK’s complicity. It is lamentable that UK voters face going into the polling booths in May without knowing the Chilcot inquiry’s findings, no matter how damaging these turn out to be for Tony Blair, David Miliband and Jack Straw, among others.

If nothing else, the current impasse illustrates the flaw in allowing those who face criticism, and their lawyers, to challenge and demand deletions and amendments before publication. After all, we don’t allow defendants in our courts of law to lodge appeals or to demand that judges amend their sentences in advance of a verdict. Perhaps the same principle should apply to inquiries such as Chilcot in future.

Paul Connew
St Albans

Sir, On Monday I watched the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, explain that, with the permission of the Iraqi government, he intended to send some hundreds of soldiers to train the Iraqi army (of which very little is known). The government was also supplying military equipment, surveillance and RAF bombing, because it was a vital British interest, he stated, that ISIL should be “pushed back”. It is all too easy to see how ISIL could draw these British soldiers into fighting, as may be their plan, whatever our policy might be. Mr Fallon had nothing to say about this and how this new “plan” was consistent with assurances that our soldiers would never have a combat role in Iraq.

Now I read that some unnamed lawyers are delaying the publication of the Chilcot inquiry by their attempts to modify or delete criticisms of those who contrived Britain’s disastrous involvement in the invasion of Iraq. It would be interesting to know the basis for the claimed ability to influence and censor criticisms, for there can be little point in a public inquiry if its judgments may be secretly determined by lawyers rather than by Sir John Chilcot himself.

Martin Cozens
Lacock, Wilts

Sir, It will be unconscionable for us to be asked to vote for politicians who have not been forced into responding to Chilcot’s findings. The shaming and shameful revelations of CIA kidnapping and torture, and possible UK complicity, put the necessity of the report’s immediate publication beyond dispute. Without the concerted efforts of the press, however, we will not get it.

Keith Farman
St Albans

Real Christmas trees can improve one’s mental health, according to a study. Can this be true?

Sir, I hope Dr Gatersleben (“How a real tree can spruce up your mental health at Christmas”, Dec 17) builds into her test proper balancing factors for the accompanying stress of choosing an appropriate real tree (height, thickness, spread, colour, etc), haggling over the price, fixing the chosen tree in the back or on top of the car, squeezing it though several doors, setting it up in the best place in the house (is it straight, secure in its base, will it stay upright, fresh and not make a mess for a fortnight or so?).

We have bought our very first artificial tree this year. It looks just like the real thing, is nicely symmetrical, easy to set up and will not make a mess or fall down. If necessary, we can spray it with an appropriate soothing scent.

David Walton

Keinton Mandeville, Somerset

The correct collective noun for geese in flight is a ‘skein’. A gaggle refers to geese with their feet on the ground

Sir, I do not wish to ruffle any feathers, but with reference to your splendid photograph of greylag geese (Dec 16) the correct collective noun for geese in flight is a “skein”.

A gaggle refers to geese with their feet on the ground.

Diz Williams

Prestatyn, Denbighshire

Pooh is not a ‘doll’. Far from it. To say as much proves that he ought to be repatriated

Sir, The very fact that Angela Montefinise of the New York Public Library refers to Pooh as a “doll” should strike fear into the hearts of Pooh-lovers and have them rushing to the barricades to demand that he be sent back to the UK (report, Dec 17). Pooh is most certainly not a doll. He is, of course, “THAT sort of bear”.

Fur should fly.

Suzie Marwood

London SW6

Sir, I’m American. We’ll give Winnie back when you give the Elgin Marbles back to Greece. Deal?

J Reynolds

Wiveliscombe, Somerset

Just how old is ‘old’, exactly? And does ‘thinking young’ really help you to live longer?

Sir, “Don’t act your age: think young, live longer” (Dec 16). I agree. On turning 65, I decided to take up competitive motorsport speed events — sprints and hillclimbs. Part of the motivation for this was to celebrate the 80th “birthday” of my 1934 Frazer Nash. Together we had a very successful season.

MW Vincent

Padbury, Bucks

Sir, I believe that it was George Thomas, one-time Speaker of the House of Commons, who said that he regarded anybody as being old who was five years older than he was.

I fully agree with this.

Jim Shuttleworth (age 89)

Guilsborough, Northants

‘Redaction’ clearly shows the extent of the material that the person releasing the document wishes to hide

Sir, “Redaction” (letter, Dec 17) has a particular meaning. The document in question, for legal or confidential reasons, is shown as originally set out but with the relevant words blacked out so as to make them illegible. Consequently, the reader can see on the face of the document the extent of the material which the person releasing the document wishes to hide.

Tony Radevsky

Falcon Chambers, London EC4


The hostage crisis in Sydney; training to be a nurse; solar-paneled car parks; green reasons to keep British beef on the menu; holy rabbit, and uses for surplus bubble wrap

A bouquet is pictured inside a secured area at the scene of a hostage taking at Martin Place after it ended in Sydney early December 16, 2014. Heavily armed Australian police stormed a Sydney cafe on Tuesday and freed a number of hostages being held there at gunpoint, in a dramatic end to a 16-hour siege in which three people were killed and four wounded.

A bouquet is pictured inside a secured area at the scene of the hostage taking at Martin Place in Sydney Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed

SIR – The siege at a café in Sydney should not be viewed as anything other than a criminal act committed by a lunatic with a history of sexual violence and assault. People have been quick to attribute the siege to Islamist extremism. But Islam is the same as it ever was: a peaceful religion that forbids aggression and terrorism.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
London NW2

SIR – We in the West live in a liberal, tolerant society.

Unfortunately, these are the values that play into the hands of the fanatics who have hijacked Islam.

Gerry Doyle

SIR – Despite being played down by Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, it is worth noting that the gunman in Sydney was a self-styled Islamic preacher and scholar.

Islamic fundamentalists need to be challenged, especially by other Muslims, before they destroy the religion.

Y F D Taylor-Smith
São Marcos da Serra, Algarve, Portugal

SIR – Several Muslim scholars have declared that the actions of militant groups are anti-Islamic. So why have the perpetrators not been declared non-Muslims or ex-communicated by senior Islamic clerics?

It is not enough to voice one’s disgust and disapproval privately to family and friends.

The time has come for all moderate Muslims to denounce these barbarians publicly and vociferously, and to tell the world that what they do is not in our name.

Mohammed Khan
Mumbai, India

SIR – The man who took 17 people hostage in Sydney was out on police bail.

As we saw in the tragic case of Lee Rigby, evil perpetrators of these kinds of crimes are often known to the authorities. This suggests that something is wrong with the justice systems in both the United Kingdom and Australia.

Marianne Stevens
Mandurah, Western Australia

SIR – The 9/11 terrorist attacks were the most extreme ever perpetrated, and the CIA was criticised for not preventing them from happening.

The subsequent conduct of the CIA may not have been correct, but those were dark times and they were dealing with a new threat. It was war and still is.

Releasing the report into the CIA’s interrogation programme now has only served to fan the flames of terrorism, to wit the latest outrage in Sydney.

S H Barclay
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Training to be a nurse

SIR – John Kellie is right to question the usefulness of a three-year stint at university for those contemplating a nursing career (Letters, December 16).

The excellent ward sisters I encountered during the 13 years I chaired an NHS Trust had learnt their profession effectively as apprentices straight from school.

Young people not pursuing higher education should go to their local hospital to try nursing for three months. If they are still interested after looking after patients’ most basic and personal needs, they most likely will make the grade and stick with the job instead of aspiring to pseudo-management positions that have almost nothing to do with hands-on care.

Introducing degrees has changed the nursing profession.

Peter Hayes
Siddington, Cheshire

Out of the question


SIR – While I agree with Tony Cross (Letters, December 13) that David Dimbleby’s chairmanship of Question Time leaves a lot to be desired, I disagree with the idea that he should “take a leaf out of his brother’s book”. Both of them should listen to a recording of Any Questions chaired by the late Freddie Grisewood to learn how to do the job properly.

Ray Powell
Bramcote, Nottinghamshire

Converted motorist

SIR – I had my three-litre car converted from petrol to LPG last year (Letters, December 13), and it was the best move in motoring that I have ever made. It costs me £20 a week in fuel to run instead of £50, and LPG produces virtually no pollutants.

One would think that the Government would actively support conversion, but the only help that is given to us is a miserly reduction on our road tax.

Colin Crawford

SIR – If the Government is serious about reducing the number of diesel vehicles to cut pollutants, then it should put pressure on car manufacturers.

I recently bought a mid-size family car solely for private motoring and a moderate annual mileage. The vast majority of cars with an engine capacity of around two litres and automatic transmission are diesel.

Now I am likely to be penalised in future for something I did not want in the first place, but car makers gave me no choice.

Edwin Guttridge
Martock, Somerset

Solar solutions

Workers installing 320 square metres of solar panels on roof of farmstead barn in Binsham (Reuters)

SIR – Sue Samuelson (Letters, December 15) overlooks how much putting solar panels on the roofs of new houses would increase their cost, making it even harder for first-time buyers to get on the property ladder.

The Government should insist that large commercial buildings are fitted with solar panels. Using agricultural land doesn’t even require concreting over the land, and, if the panels are raised high enough, sheep can still graze below.

Sally Johnson
Cullompton, Devon

SIR – All supermarkets should cover their car parks with solar panels. The land is already used up, customers would be kept dry in poor weather, and a substantial amount of power could be generated.

John Baker
East Bergholt, Suffolk

Buzzards are vital to a balanced ecosystem

SIR – Angus Jacobsen (Letters, December 15) displays a Victorian ignorance of the ecology of the countryside by suggesting that the only reason buzzards should not be exterminated is that their place would be taken by other birds of prey.

The buzzard is an important link in a healthy ecosystem, its diet comprising rabbits, rodents, earthworms and carrion, rather than the bird species Mr Jacobsen mentions. We cannot blame dwindling bird populations on vital predators that have lived in balance with their environment for millennia until man interfered.

David Gardner
Trefin, Pembrokeshire

SIR – Mr Jacobsen has it the wrong way round; predators are in fact controlled by their prey. A consequence of the spread of the rabbit disease myxomatosis in the Fifties was that the buzzard population declined.

In my North Somerset buzzard study area, the birds feed on a wide variety of prey. The most important bird prey are corvids (crows, magpies, jays and jackdaws) and pigeons. After more than 200 years of persecution, buzzards have now recovered to healthier numbers.

Robin Prytherch

SIR – I blame the domestic cat for the loss of bird species in Britain. The Mammal Society estimates that 55 million birds are killed by cats in Britain annually.

Like most dog owners, cat owners should pay a licence fee and ensure the cat always wears a collar with a bell attached.

Anne Chadwick
Chichester, Sussex

Green reasons to keep British beef on the menu

Horned hedge trimmer: cattle help to control the spread of weeds on pastures and moors (Matthew Davies/Alamy)

SIR – As a beef producer, I echo Jemima Lewis’s concerns that we are eating less beef and lamb. As we see a decline in the numbers of grazing cattle and sheep on pastures, dales, downs and moors, we accelerate the encroachment of bracken and invasive pastoral weeds. Eventually vast areas will return to unproductive scrub forestry.

This is a problem ignored by Defra, despite the fact that in 2011 the Government’s Foresight Report, produced with help from 400 global experts on population and food security, forecast a national food crisis in 25 to 30 years. The report further emphasised the importance of pastoral red meat production in supplying sustainable diets for our children and grandchildren.

Mike Keeble
East Witton, North Yorkshire

How Britain shapes up

SIR – In Britannia Obscura: Mapping Hidden Britain, Joanne Parker says the shape of Britain resembles a wingless dragon or a bob-tailed dog (Review, December 13).

Surely my old geography teacher at Haverstock Comprehensive School had it spot on: Britain looks like a Victorian lady in a mob hat who is riding a pig.

I live somewhere near the crook of the old lady’s knee. The pig’s head is facing Ireland – an island that is obviously a dog, by the way.

John Powell
Tavistock, Devon

Top-down strategy

Tate Britain’s Christmas tree in 2001, by Yinka Shonibare (JOHN COBB)

SIR – I always cut the top off our Christmas tree (Letters, December 15). My husband inevitably buys one slightly too tall to fit under our stairs so, rather than cutting the bottom off and risk losing the bushiest part of the tree, I find it better to shape and trim from the top, shortening some of the lateral branches to create a pleasing silhouette.

No one ever notices what I have done, but they do comment on the good shape of our tree.

Susan Walker
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

SIR – I was delighted to receive an email from a council harbour authority wishing my family and me “a very Merry Christmas”.

Of course, the disclaimer underneath reads: “The views in this message are personal; they are not necessarily those of the Council.”

There’s much to be said for the old Christmas card.

Malcolm Williams
Chichester, West Sussex

SIR – Ann Hellewell seeks rabbit for her Christmas Eve game pie (Letters, December 16). She should come to County Durham, where our butcher offers fresh “holy rabbit” for sale.

The animals are caught in the churchyard.

Judith Anderson
Mickleton, County Durham

Bubble trouble

SIR – My wife bought a “small” roll of bubble wrap to insulate the greenhouse.

Well, I’ve insulated the greenhouse and double glazed the windows in my shed and garage, but I still have more than 70m of bubble wrap left. What can be done with it?

Paul Molyneux
Heswall, Wirral

Irish Times:

Sir, – Keep Ireland Open would like to support wholeheartedly the sentiments expressed in your editorial (“Encouraging numbers”) and in David Turner’s letter (December 16th).

We have been unsuccessfully campaigning for many years. The four main political parties – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin (yes, even Sinn Finn!) have run a mile from any legislative proposal that might just possibly offend the farming community.

It is now obvious that walking tourism cannot compete with other European countries. An article in the winter issue of Walk magazine – the official organ of the immensely influential Ramblers organisation – singled out Ireland as having the least walker-friendly regime in Europe. A sad fact with which we must agree. Walking visitors to other European countries are assured of a warm welcome, with no nasty “keep out” signs. They will encounter well-marked and maintained trails and a freedom to roam in upland areas.

The latest statistics tell us that farmers represent less than 4 per cent of our population.

An aphorism mentioning tails and dogs comes to mind. – Yours, etc,



Keep Ireland Open,

Butterfield Drive,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – David Turner rightly bemoans the dearth of long-distance walking trails in Ireland, and the lack of attraction for the millions of Europeans and others who like to take a holiday on foot, or on two wheels.

To give Fáilte Ireland its due, it has belatedly begun to realise that it missed an important trend; its recent research showed that many more Germans would visit our shores if we had sufficient mileage of interconnected trails. Our much-lauded 43km greenway in Mayo pales into insignificance by comparison with the 70,000km that can be enjoyed in Germany.

So why don’t we have our own network and why don’t we go after the thousands of jobs that would result from it?

It’s very simple. Our politicians don’t understand the potential of our hundreds of miles of canal and river navigation towpaths or our disused railways. They don’t understand the need for long trails, and instead they favour short routes going from nowhere to nowhere so that TDs can be seen to deliver funding locally. They prefer to block greenway development on abandoned rail lines because vague promises of trains in the future are easier and don’t require any action, and because the squatters who are slowly acquiring these State-owned assets by adverse possession mustn’t be discommoded.

Mostly though, they just don’t understand. They don’t understand that tourists have no desire to holiday with their families along busy roads. They don’t understand that nobody will come to Ireland to spend a week cycling up and down the Mayo Greenway.

A couple of years back, a Mayo county councillor suggested that tourists who fancied a walking holiday could use the Castlebar ring road. Clearly our politicians have a lot of catching up to do before tourism policies match the realities of the market. – Yours, etc,



Co Roscommon.

A chara, – Your editorial was spot-on. Our limited public countryside access, compared to that of our competitors, is hindering our tourism development. There is no legal right in Ireland to walk in our countryside or mountains areas. Rural areas, in particular, are losing out. They have most to gain from ecotourism if walkers had some legal access as enjoyed in other countries. – Is mise,


An Charraig Dhubh,

Baile Átha Cliath.

Sir, – With a British general election due in early 2015, the electoral map there is becoming more complex following the Scottish referendum and the anticipated rise in electoral popularity of the Scottish nationalists, at the expense of Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Either David Cameron or Ed Miliband will, in all probability, be faced with the prospect of leading a coalition or minority government.

Against that background, the current budgetary impasse in Northern Ireland poses an interesting dilemma for Sinn Féin, in particular.

With its ongoing abstentionist policy in Westminster and no threat of IRA violence, does Sinn Féin have any political leverage with any prospective UK prime minister?

Any further budget concessions by David Cameron will be garnered by DUP/UUP influence, not Sinn Féin, with an eye to post-election support at Westminster.

Perhaps it is time for Sinn Féin to take up its Westminster seats and become a proper democratic party with some real influence in UK politics. – Yours, etc,


Glenageary, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The referendum-fatigued electorate will surely be bewildered by the news that we are to have a constitutional poll on whether or not to lower the age of presidential candidates from 35 to 21 (“Referendums on same-sex marriage and voting age for May 2015”, December 16th).

One can scarcely think of an issue which could be more utterly removed from the day-to-day worries of voters.

Where exactly did this proposal come from? It didn’t feature in the manifestos of either Fine Gael or Labour at the 2011 general election, and nor was it included in the Programme for Government. The only party which proposed such a referendum was Fianna Fáil, which was hit hard in that election, suggesting there wasn’t much demand for it on the doorsteps.

The first time the idea reappeared after the election was at a meeting of the 100-strong “Constitutional Convention” in Malahide in January 2013, where those present took it upon themselves to put forward this proposal. Even at that tiny gathering, the proposed amendment only garnered a bare majority of those present, with 50 in favour carrying the day due to a small number of abstentions.

The Government has now baulked at the possibility of rejecting the idea, despite the fact that there seems to be no public appetite for it whatsoever – apart, that is, from 50 people in a room in Malahide a full two years ago. And on the back of this total non-issue, TDs from both Government parties will as usual be whipped through the lobbies to vote for a Bill to call the referendum, despite the fact that neither party has ever supported the idea, and that no-one anywhere views it as an issue of even incidental importance.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, ordinary people will continue to focus on getting a job, paying the bills and caring for their families. – Yours, etc,


Harolds Cross,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Why are we having a “plebiscite” on the ownership of our water resources and a “referendum” on same-sex marraige ? Which one is legally binding? – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

A chara, – Institutional care has for decades been internationally recognised not to be suitable for people with intellectual disability. Institutional living not only denies people their basic human rights compared to normal household living in ordinary, open integrated community settings, but furthermore is known to lend itself to abusive practices.

As a paediatrician specialising in intellectual disability, I can well recall the outcry among the many who were committed to the community care model, following the announcement that the building of an institution for people with intellectual disability in Swinford was to go ahead. At the time, there was already an excellent, countywide, community-based service for children with intellectual disability in Co Mayo, and people wanted similar services to be extended to adults. Most of those professionally involved with the intellectual disability services in the west of Ireland signed a document petitioning the health authorities not to proceed with the plan for the institution, but instead to invest the money available in developing community services.

Unfortunately, with an election looming, it was considered politically expedient to build a large institution, and so the voice of the people was ignored. Not for the first time, the provision of jobs trumped all considerations of appropriate care for the marginalised.

Minister of State for Disability Kathleen Lynch should take immediate action, and put in place a plan to close Áras Attracta within a reasonable time, and move on to community care, rather than waste time and money endeavouring to change that which is most likely inherently unchangeable. – Is mise,


Bearna, Co Galway.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole may be right or he may be wrong when he says that the Economic Management Council is “dominated by civil servants and policy advisers” (“Gang of four rule tramples Cabinet and Constitution”, Opinion & Analysis, December 16th).

We could have done with an Economic Management Council, dominated by civil servants and policy advisers, during the years of the boom. It might have prevented the people at the head of the government, financial institutions, etc, from bankrupting this country and contributing to its needing an €80 bilion bailout. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 13.

Sir, – Given the refusal of our “democratic” politicians to give up the power which they took for themselves with no reference to the citizens of the Republic, it is clear that we were very wise to refuse to grant them the powers they asked for in the rushed and ill-prepared referendum of October 2011 on the 30th Amendment to the Constitution [Oireachtas inquiries].

In assuming that we would approve the amendment simply because we were asked to do, Fine Gael and Labour appear to have begun to lose touch with reality at a very early stage in this Dáil. I seem to remember that the Taoiseach complained that it was not passed because we of the non-elite did not understand the terms. It probably never crossed his mind that we refused because we had so much reason to distrust politicians.

Pundits regularly lecture us on the need to behave as a grown-up electorate. I believe that most Irish voters are much more grown-up than our senior politicians and, I hope, much less hypocritical. – Yours, etc,


Rathgar, Dublin 6.

Sir, – Dr Vincent Kenny (December 17th) points to a “statistical correlation” between alcohol outlet density and health harms as disclosed in a recent Scottish study. Correlation and causation are quite different. Indeed, the authors of the study to which he refers expressly state that, “We cannot conclude that the relationship is causal” and point to the need for “further analyses” and “better quality time-series licensing statistics”. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The concern about excessive alcohol consumption is not new, nor particularly Irish. In the 18th century, the British elite expressed horror at the alcohol consumption of the “lower classes” in London, with gin being of particular concern.

Now, we again express our concern at cheap alcohol – with even the working class drinking cheap wine! Who knows where it will end? Cheap cognac? It is time to act and make sure that cognac remains the reserve of the bankers we bailed out. – Yours, etc,


Bogotá, Colombia.

Sir, – It was heartening to read Patsy McGarry’s tribute to missionaries and gardaí (“Goodwill to all NGOs, gardaí and the church”, Rite & Reason, December 16th).

May I add Sr Mary Sweeney of Dungloe, Donegal, working in Sierra Leone for 40 years? I heard her heart-rending account of the Ebola crisis now raging around her school on RTE’s Morning Ireland. She told of one boy who has lost every single member of his enlarged family. She and her community are struggling to fight the disease in their new clinic under terrible conditions. Her school was levelled during the civil war but she rebuilt it and no doubt her faith and courage will endure through this trial too. Yes, as Patsy says, it “feels great to be Irish” but let’s continue to support and cherish those on the front lines. – Yours, etc,


Donegal Town.

Sir, – I read that Oireachtas banking inquiry committee chairman Ciaran Lynch has said “we can’t made adverse findings against an individual”, adding that it could make only findings of fact (“Finnish and Canadian financial experts to be first witnesses in banking inquiry”, December 16th).

I immediately looked at the membership of the committee but to my amazement observed no trace of a quantum physicist among its number.

With operating conditions like that, it’s enough to make Schrödinger’s cat laugh. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – Regarding the ECB’s refusal to appear before the joint committee of inquiry into the banking crisis, is it a case of Hamlet without the protagonist? – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin

Sir, – Instead of thanking members of Dáil Éireann for supporting the motion which called on the Government to “officially recognise the State of Palestine, on the basis of the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital”, and praising successive Irish governments for remaining committed to the “establishment of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state, in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza, existing alongside and at peace with the state of Israel” (December 16th), Ambassador Ahmad Abdelrazek should have written an open letter to the leaders of Hamas – part of the so-called unity government which he represents – asking them to drop their ongoing call for the destruction of the state of Israel. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – William Hederman’s article about protest (“Protest works – if it breaks rules”, Weekend, December 13th) is a significant contribution to the debate about democracy and power.

If you take away protest, and the right to campaign on issues without being hounded or negatively labelled in all sorts of way, democracy is a hollow sham.

Protest works at many different levels (just as power does not reside only in the Oireachtas). Protest does not always have to break rules to work – but it does need to be imaginative, appropriate to the campaign and the stage it is at, and also to the level of support. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Further to the suggestion that mischievous dogs should spend some time in “pugatory” (December 16th), some comforting pointers can be found in the writings of St Bernard. – Yours, etc


Dublin 24.

Sir, – Even the dogs in the street know only cats are admitted into “purrgatory”. My deepest apologies. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Gender (and women’s) studies centres may be “few” in number, as Dr Chryssa Dislis mentions (December 17th), but the viewpoints they promote imbue what is taught in a wide variety of courses in the humanities and social sciences. – Yours, etc,


Castleknock, Dublin 15.

Sir, – A motorist I encountered while crossing the Malahide road recently clearly does not intend to include the “green man” on her Christmas presents list. She completely ignored the poor divil. – Yours, etc,


Beaumont, Dublin 9.

Irish Independent:

Indian Muslim children pray for the victims of the Peshawar attack. Photo: AP Photo/Ajit Solanki
Indian Muslim children pray for the victims of the Peshawar attack. Photo: AP Photo/Ajit Solanki

I, like most of the world, was shattered by the news of the slaughter of 132 children at their school in Pakistan. They were innocent and vulnerable and should never have been targets.

All over the world, in the run up to the birth of an infant in a stable, people are racing about spending money and stressing themselves out, in this little infant’s name who was born with nothing.

Our values have become shallow. Human life is the most precious gift of all. To be human is to be great. Yet look at how we are treating each other. A spiritual void has opened up and it is filling with darkness.

Even if one has no faith, from December 21 a new light comes and the days begin to stretch again. Let us embrace the light that is in us all, and nurture hope rather than hate.

Jed Thomas, Connemara, Co Galway


A letter to myself

If you’re trying to show off for people at the top, forget it. It doesn’t matter. They will look down on you anyhow. And if you’re trying to show off to people at the bottom, forget it. They will look up at you with envy. Status will get you nowhere. What will get you somewhere is being your authentic self. If you’ve got something to say – say it. Somewhere to be – get there. Something to do – do it. Nothing to say – shut up. Someone to love – love ’em up! Trust me, you’ll sleep better at night!

So many people walk around with their eyes half-closed. Closed to everything and everyone around them. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things and, at the same time, pushing further away from them what matters most. By devoting yourself to loving others and yourself, you create a space within you to something that gives you purpose, meaning and inner peace. Don’t be afraid to walk away from situations or relationships which don’t serve you. Rather, spend your energy searching and reaching for something that serves, feeds and replenishes your soul. Most importantly, forgive all who wronged you, but first you must forgive yourself. Life is too short to spend time thinking of “what ifs”. There is much to be grateful for. Grateful that when you close your eyes at night you wake up to a beautiful tomorrow.

Be thankful for being you. For being here. For having the courage to walk away and stand up for what is right because at the end of this – when you’re grey and wrinkly – look back at what you’ve accomplished and achieved in life and let out a laugh knowing that you let yourself live, your spirit soar and your soul search. For whatever you did do on this Earth, you’ve got to be proud.

To you – my beautiful self. I love you always.

Benita Lennon, Address with editor


Drugs problem must be tackled

Since the launch of RTE’s crusade on homelessness, I can’t help but feel that this country doesn’t have a homelessness problem – it has a drugs problem. I don’t doubt the need for affordable housing, but all the new houses in the world won’t end the homeless problem, as so many on our streets are addicts.

The media chose to represent the death of a man on the streets close to Leinster House as the death of a victim of economic austerity and lack of social housing, rather than as a victim of the poison of drugs.

The late Tony Gregory always highlighted this cancer on our streets, which can be seen in every urban area in this country. However, since his passing it no longer seems a fashionable topic in Montrose. As long as we fail to acknowledge that heroin is still eating away at the very heart of our society, not only will homelessness continue to grow, but it will be the least of our problems.

Peter Cosgrove, Wellingtonbridge, Co Wexford


The truth behind building crisis

I refer to Donal O’Donovan’s comment on the lack of supply of new houses and I have to say I disagree with his assertions.

The reasons new houses are not being built are as follows:

1. Most of the large-volume builders which built the three-bedroom semis are in Nama or are gone bust for a variety of reasons.

2. Our tradespeople in the 30 to 50 age bracket are gone in the last wave of post-Celtic Tiger emigration.

3. Any new builder who would stick his head over the parapet and lay out his own money would be crazy – and he will not be getting any risk capital from the state-owned banks.

4. Should a builder start up in the morning he would be descended on by public service planners, health and safety persons and Revenue inspectors who have been maintained at full strength over the last five years and are sitting there waiting to get on the road. It would not be worth the hassle and the red tape.

5. Finally, who can afford or would want a family home when the Government and society in general appear to be anti-family in its attitude?

Daniel Coleman, Carrigrohane, Co Cork


Everyone has a right to privacy

A right to a private life is a value under the UN Charter of Human Rights. How, then, is it okay for TV stations to record and broadcast the humiliation of vulnerable and fearful – yet capable of understanding – elderly women in Aras Attracta’s Bungalow 3 to millions of viewers?

We viewed their fear of being punished, being used by the “couldn’t-care-lessers” to bully them.

They understand fear. They feel. Would someone please ask them – as they alone have this unique experience to answer authoritatively – whether more money should be spent on broadcasting more TV reports humiliating more people, or in a more intelligent way?

Jim Fitzgibbon, Ballykeeran, Co Westmeath


Fresh political blood needed

I’m surprised Mr A Leavy could think that if there had been a Fiscal Council during the Celtic Tiger years, that it would have led to better decision-making and that we could have avoided the mess the country is in. The Fiscal Council struggles now, so I don’t see why it would have been any better in years gone by.

The reason the country is in such a mess – and people like me can’t make our living in our own country and have to emigrate – is not because there wasn’t a Fiscal Council, nor that a Fine Gael/Labour government would have acted any differently to the various Fianna Fail led ones.

It is because the poor decision-making is due to the nature of the Irish character. Too many voted for the same tired old grey faces of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail for decades. Meanwhile, they moaned about how nothing changes and the cronyism, shoddy standards and public squalor continues. They are now so deluded that they think Sinn Fein/IRA is the solution.

Just because Enda Kenny is now Taoiseach doesn’t mean he magically changed overnight from the parish pump TD he always was. Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin are great gas for throwing out the smart-mouth one-liners, but are we seriously meant to think a small-time teacher and a union official are capable of making the sort of decisions that professional managers are only equipped to make after years of direct experience and work towards professional qualifications?

A Fiscal Council is not needed in Ireland. Instead what is needed are new candidates to stand for political office who have never stood for election to anything ever before. In that way you can still vote for a normal political party or group, but for a new candidate and in the process retain the stability of the party system, but replace the people within it with new untainted people.

Desmond FitzGerald, Canary Wharf, London

Irish Independent

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