19 December 2014 Astrid

I still have arthritis in my left toe but its nearly gone. Astrid comes to call.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up nothing tea and her tummy pain is still there.


Ian McLagan – obituary

Ian McLagan was a diminutive keyboard player and Mod ‘clothes horse’ who recorded a string of hits with the Small Faces

Ian McLagan, keyboard player with the Small Faces

Ian McLagan, keyboard player with the Small Faces Photo: REX

Ian McLagan, who has died aged 69, was the keyboards player with the Small Faces, and later the Faces, when they were among the most successful British rock bands of the 1960s and 1970s; he went on to become a well-known sideman alongside artists such as the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Bragg.

Ian Patrick McLagan was born in Hounslow, London, on May 12 1945 . As a child his Irish grandmother taught him to play the concertina, and the skiffle craze inspired him to learn guitar. The arrival of rock and roll determined his musical future and he formed a band called the Cherokees, who later became the Muleskinners. After being expelled from art school for lack of attendance (“I was thinking music, music, music!”), Ian backed many visiting blues singers as a rhythm guitarist before changing to the Hammond organ. He joined Boz and the Boz People – who paid him £5 a week as organist – but quit when the band’s van kept breaking down during a Scottish tour. On his return to London he auditioned for the Small Faces, a London band who had scored a No 15 hit with their debut single and were about to sack their keyboard player.

McLagan proved a perfect fit: an instinctively brilliant musician, he was also small of stature and a Mod “clothes horse”. His first single with the Small Faces, Sha-La-La-La-Lee, reached No 3 in the UK charts in February 1966. The band went on to score nine more UK hits over the next two years and release the pioneering concept album Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake . Hits such as Itchycoo Park and All or Nothing would inspire punk and Britpop bands across the decades. Tensions in the band caused the vocalist Steve Marriott to leave on New Year’s Eve 1968, and the remaining trio drafted in Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart, both of whom had been working with Jeff Beck.

Now called the Faces – Wood and Stewart being of average height – the group signed to Warner Brothers and almost immediately achieved success in America; British success quickly followed. The band was known for their raucous mix of rock and soul, flamboyant fashion sense and joyous hedonism. In concert the band kicked footballs into the audience and had a bar and bartender onstage. Their extravagant parties and model girlfriends marked them as the embodiment of rock star glamour.

The Faces’ 1971 album A Nod Is as Good as a Wink… To a Blind Horse is considered their best; it reached No 2 in the UK charts and gave them their biggest hit with Stay With Me. But Stewart’s parallel solo career soon outstripped that of the group, and in 1973 the bassist Ronnie Lane quit the band. The Faces staggered on until 1975, when Wood joined the Rolling Stones.

McLagan joined a reformed Small Faces for two unrewarding albums, then, in 1978, moved to Los Angeles, complaining that with the advent of punk rock no one in Britain wanted a Hammond organ player. He formed Ian McLagan’s Bump Band, released two solo albums, then began playing with Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones. In 1984 Bob Dylan invited him to join his band for a European tour, and McLagan soon found himself in demand with leading British and American artists. In 1994 he went to live in Austin, Texas, where he became a stalwart of the city’s burgeoning music scene.

In 2000 he published a bawdy memoir, All the Rage: A Riotous Romp Through Rock & Roll History. His solo albums were well received, with United States (2014) receiving glowing reviews.

The Small Faces in 1966: (left to right) Steve Marriott, Kenney Jones, Ronnie Lane and Ian McLagan (REX)

Ian McLagan, who died following a stroke, was twice married: from 1968 to 1972 to Sandy Serjeant, a dancer on the television show Ready Steady Go, and from 1978 to Kim Kerrigan, the former wife of The Who’s drummer Keith Moon. She died in a car crash in 2006, and McLagan is survived by his daughter from his first marriage and a stepdaughter from his second.

Ian McLagan, born May 12 1945, died December 3 2014


US President Barack Obama talks by phone with Cuba's President Raúl Castro on 16 December
US President Barack Obama talks by phone with Cuba’s President Raúl Castro on 16 December. The two countries the next day announced they would restore diplomatic ties. Photograph: Pete Souza/Reuters

The implication of President Obama’s statement, “I’m not expecting transformation of Cuban society overnight”, is that closer economic and cultural ties with the US will eventually allow Cubans to see the light and embrace the “American way” (US decides to bring Cuba in from the cold, 18 December).

What is really needed is for US citizens to learn from other counties that its acceptance of the legalised bribery of its political funding practices, support of dictatorships around the world, lack of gun control, wealth inequality, poor healthcare provision, and tolerance of domestic poverty are much larger impediments of true democracy.
Peter Robbins

• For decades, American policy towards Cuba has been hijacked by a small cartel of politicos in Florida and their wealthy benefactors. The US embargo is estimated to have cost the Cuban economy close to a trillion dollars over its 53-year span, not to mention the untold suffering inflicted on the Cuban people and the countless individuals whose lives were lost at sea, induced to emigrate because of privations and embargo-related laws. President Obama’s decision is courageous, and long overdue.
Luis Suarez-Villa
Professor emeritus, University of California, Irvine, USA

• I look at Obama’s announcement of the complete end of the cold war with Cuba, including the opening of an embassy, with great caution. All monies spent by the federal government must be approved in a spending bill approved by Congress. The Republicans have vast majorities in the House and Senate. It is doubtful that even one Republican senator or congressmen would vote for one cent to be spent on the normalisation of relations with Cuba, and there are numerous Democrat senators and congressmen who if they supported this issue would risk losing their seats. Obama has nothing to lose, his political career is over. However, in the Congress this is a different matter. Obama is dreaming the impossible dream.
George Lewis
Brackley, Northamptonshire

• When you say “US decides to bring Cuba in from the cold” I assume you mean “US decides to stop its illegal and spiteful harassment of Cuba”.
Will McLewin

• Cuba embodied the failure of American foreign policy. It lies less than 100 miles from the Florida straits, yet more than 50 years of embargo failed to motivate the Cuban people to rise and overthrow the communist leadership; or to instigate a violent regime change in this tiny Caribbean island.

The Cuban scenario has always acted as an inspiration for millions across the globe dismayed by American arrogance and double standards; for the impoverished and the downtrodden and the victims of American policies of imposed sanctions, unlawful invasions and occupations, isolationism and interventionism that resulted in countless deaths in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Venezuela and the occupied Palestinian territories. And despite decades of these policies imposed on Cuba and its proximity to American shores; the US never managed to invade Cuba or to Americanise it. Today, Cuba has one of the most efficient educational systems in the world, universal literacy, universal health coverage and access to clean drinking water and sanitary services. It places children and young people at the heart of its policies. Needless to say, it has very low infant mortalities and high life expectancies. Even the most developed nations are envious of Cuba’s social and health system, and its ability to transmit its model and translate its knowledge and expertise into practice. The recent Ebola disease outbreak in west Africa has affirmed Cuba’s noble principles of equity, social justice and solidarity with the needy; something it has always done without asking for favours in return. It is time for the US to take note.
Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

• Now that relations between the US and Cuba at last look set to be placed on a more normal footingit is surely time for the US government to apologise for the attempts to kill or otherwise injure Fidel Castro in the 1960s. That must include the use of an exploding cigar designed to singe his beard and the scattering of thallium salts in his shoes to make his beard drop out.
Keith Flett

• Listening to President Obama I was reminded of Albert Einstein, who defined “insanity” as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. How prescient.
Dipak Nandy

• The breakthrough in Cuba-US relations is a rare piece of good news in a troubled world, but it is a pity the president did not take a harder line in negotiations with his opposite number over matters ranging from extra-judicial killings, interference in other countries’ affairs, the lack of health provision for much of the population and the failed political system, not to mention the presence of a concentration camp on Cuban soil. Still, Mr Castro can only do so much at what is the start of a process. It is to be hoped that in the medium term he can at least persuade Mr Obama to close the facility at Guantánamo Bay and return the occupied territory to its rightful owners.
Bert Schouwenburg
International officer, GMB

• The torture may have ceased, for now, but the mindset that engaged in it hasn’t gone. This was demonstrated by the story of the six Guantánamo prisoners who, after years in captivity without being charged with a crime, let alone convicted, were this week sent to freedom in Uruguay still shackled and blindfolded (Report, 12 December). That wasn’t some effort to extract information. It was arbitrary and pointless cruelty.
Kevin McGrath
Harlow, Essex

Man looking upset and depressed
‘The stigma associated with mental health problems is as great a challenge as the “condition” the ­person experience,’ writes Nick Arkle. Photograph: Denis Closon/Rex

I am pleased to see the choice of charities for the Guardian Christmas appeal this year, as I have worked as a mental health nurse for more than 30 years. Beyond the Cuckoo’s Nest is a project in Rotherham that has been active for over 20 years. The main aim is to challenge stigma by giving a voice to people with lived experience of mental health conditions, especially psychosis. This often involves presentations in schools and colleges.

Your article on young carers (Haven for isolated young carers of parents with mental illness, 13 December) brought to mind an experience we had in a local secondary school. Year 11 students listened to experiences of mental health difficulties and recovery. As we were leaving one explained that she was a young carer for her mother, who had been diagnosed with a psychosis seven years earlier. She had never disclosed this at school because of fear the stigma would lead to her being bullied. Having heard people describe their experience, she now felt able to talk about her own experience. A teacher pointed out that a support plan could now be developed for the girl.

I believe that the stigma associated with mental health problems is as great a challenge as the “condition” the person experiences. Having been a young carer myself (not something recognised in the 1960s), highlighting the needs of young carers as you have done is to the good.
Nick Arkle

• Like Gael Mosesson (Letters, 13 December) I owe heartfelt thanks to the NHS staff who are looking after me through cancer treatment. Everyone tells me how well I am coping; maybe that’s because chemotherapy, while not much fun, is easy compared with the distress of a first-time episode of severe depression, which two years ago put me in a psychiatric hospital for five weeks.

While there I met people in circumstances much more difficult than mine ( I am retired, financially secure, with supportive family and friends), who were kind and funny and helped each other and me through. I owe the wonderful NHS a lot, but mental health services are, in spite of the promises, still appallingly underfunded and overstretched. The work of the charities you are supporting fills a huge gap, so please, Guardian readers, double the number you first thought of and give it now.
Vanessa Reburn
Devizes, Wiltshire

• I have a different perspective on the use of psychotropic medication from your correspondent Naomi Wallace (Letters, 15 December) as a result of 30 years’ working in research in the pharmaceutical industry and subsequently nine years adjudicating on the compulsory detention of patients under the Mental Health Act. Psychotic patients have a mental disorder and need to be offered treatment in the same way patients with physical illnesses are offered help to control their symptoms. It is morally wrong to deny mentally ill patients treatment and to resist the efforts of well-meaning research scientists trying to understand the origins of the disease and subsequently sell the results of their endeavours as useful treatments.

If medications for mental health issues do not work they fall out of use and are replaced by better, safer medications. It is offensive to suggest that Big Pharma is bent on “assuring us we are very sick and in need of constant drugging” when so many lives have been saved and enhanced by psychotropic medications.
Professor Derek Middlemiss
Newark, Nottinghamshire

• Guidelines from Nice to support and treat pregnant women and new parents with mental illness are welcome (Report, 17 December), but we are concerned they will not be implemented given the huge gaps in perinatal mental health services across the country.

A recent inquiry showed a total of 111 mothers had died from psychiatric causes between 2010 and 2011, a distressing confirmation of the fact that mental illness can be terminal if not treated.

We call on the government to increase funds for specialist services, such as mother and baby units, as well as community-based services and to ensure there is adequate training for all health practitioners in touch with new parents. All those who need perinatal mental health services throughout the UK must have access to them.
Susie Parsons
Chief executive, National Childbirth Trust

In her survey of women changing their surname on marriage (Review, 13 December), Sophie Coulombeau says of the situation in America: “It was only in 1972 that a succession of legal cases confirmed that women could use their birth names in whatever way they pleased.” Up to a point. When I became the Guardian’s Washington correspondent in 1979, the US embassy in London refused to issue a visa to my wife (who keeps her own name) until we had produced our marriage certificate – not the easiest thing to do when you have packed up your home and are on the way to Heathrow.
Harold Jackson
Woolpit, Suffolk

• Stimulated by Coulombeau’s essay, I wanted more information on pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. On looking her up in my Chamber’s Biographical Dictionary I was met by the instruction: “Wollstonecraft, Mary – see Godwin.”
Ian Verber
Broughton in Furness, Cumbria

• Activist pensioners (Letters, 18 December) wanting to inform the world that they are reclaiming not just the P-word for themselves will find that, with a little judicious stitching on the G, the large logo displayed on the front of the sweatshirts of a well-known high street fashion brand can readily be transformed into the out-and-proud statement: “OAP”.
Mike Hine
Kingston on Thames, Surrey

• As a friend of mine heroically secured his concessionary admission to the Acropolis by waving his Blackburn council bus pass, the official summed up the transaction: “So, that’s one pensioner, and two normal.”
Brian Stevenson

• With reference to Simon Hattenstone (Opinion, 16 December), although sadly it has never been released as a single, up there alongside the Pogues, is Bob Dylan’s Must Be Santa. Just brilliant.
Celia Ford

Home Office immigration enforcement officers reflected in their vehicle
‘The UK remains the only EU country to detain people indefinitely for immigration purposes.’ Above, immigration enforcement officers reflected in their vehicle window. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The tragic death of Jimmy Mubenga (Mubenga jury not told of guards’ racist texts, 18 December) highlights the inhumane treatment of migrants in the UK. Regardless of immigration status, we should afford all members of our society with dignity. The UK remains the only EU country to detain people indefinitely for immigration purposes and allows the use of pain-based removal techniques. Citizens UK is calling for an end to both of these practices. Criminals and suspected terrorists can be held for a maximum of 28 days, but immigrants – guilty only of trying to gain safety and stability – are held indefinitely while civil servants process paperwork. This is costly in terms of footing the bill for expensive, high-security, prison-like facilities and for compensation. In the past three years, £15m in damages has been paid to unlawfully held migrants. Most important, there is the high human cost when people don’t know how long they are going to be locked up for, with the threat of a painful, enforced removal in the background.

These practices are at odds with the UK our members are proud to call home. This isn’t a call for an open-door immigration policy, but a request to ensure our processes allow dignity for families seeking sanctuary.
Jonathan Cox
Citizens UK

• The Mubenga case will go down as one that will not reassure our minorities. Many regard it as a perverse verdict, even discounting the withholding of the vile texts from the jury. After hearing conflicting evidence, the jury accepted the assurances of the accused that they, the nearest to Mr Mubenga, hadn’t heard his cries of “I can’t breathe”, or held him folded up for any length of time.

Defending counsel argued that along with racist texts against Africans on the phones of two defendants were a mass of offensive “jokes” on Stuart Tribelnig’s phone “at the expense of almost every imaginable minority”, but in the eyes of the judge all content of the texts was irrelevant. This was contrary to the coroner’s verdict, which was also withheld from the jury.

The fate of Eric Garner (A powerful new cry for US justice: ‘I can’t breathe’, 5 December) shows that the justice system on both sides of the pond are struggling to reassure minorities they are equal before the law when it comes to dispensing justice.
Eddie Dougall
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Small fishing trawler, Eyemouth harbour, Scottish Borders
‘Local, sustainable fishermen make up nearly 80% of the UK’s fleet, but are given only 4% of the quota.’ Above, fishing trawler at Eyemouth harbour, in the Scottish Borders. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA

Cuts to fishing quotas will ultimately benefit the long-term future of the fishing industry, as it will lead to healthier number of fish in the future. We all want to see healthy seas. This is the basis for a thriving fishing industry.

Fisheries minister George Eustice claims he secured the best possible deal for fish stocks and the UK’s fishing industry at the EU negotiations (Report, 17 December). But the crucial decision now is how he allocates this quota in the new year.

The fishing quota is concentrated into the hands of a few industrial-scale companies, at the expense of local, sustainable fishermen who make up nearly 80% of the UK’s fleet, but are given only 4% of the quota.

The government has a golden opportunity to change this flawed and unfair system. Following the successful reform of EU fishing law, the government must put local fishermen at the front of the quota queue so that they can fish seasonally and sustainably all year round. This makes sense environmentally and economically as it will create thousands of new jobs and boost coastal economies.
Ariana Densham
Oceans campaigner, Greenpeace UK

Clearly the murder of José Tendetza is a very serious matter (Ecuador indigenous leader found dead days before planned Lima protest,, 6 December). In order for those responsible to be brought to account, it is crucial that the investigation is rigorous, evidence-based and transparent.

Contrary to the allegations reported in this article, Ecuador’s interior minister, José Serrano, has already called for the investigation into José Tendetza’s death to be independently overseen by the indigenous Shuar federation, to ensure its transparency. A reward of $100,000 has been offered to anyone who can provide accurate information about the crime, and the results of a further autopsy have been published, stating death was caused by strangulation.

The claim that Ecuador’s government is somehow complicit in this crime or attempting to hide it is as outrageous as it is baseless.

It is vital that the rights of the indigenous peoples and their surroundings are protected, and over the past seven years Ecuador has made tremendous progress. Ecuador is now officially a plurinational state recognising indigenous languages as official and conferring specific rights for indigenous communities and territories. Over 1.3m hectares of natural habitat has been conserved due to a scheme rewarding communities and landowners for leaving forests undamaged, a sevenfold increase since 2006. Ecuador is a world leader in reduction of poverty and access to education, and our indigenous communities are the group which has benefited most. It is into this process, and the transformation away from extractivism to a high-skilled economy, that Ecuador is ploughing its resources.

Ecuador has also taken the lead internationally in protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and of nature, setting up an observatory on the activities of multinationals in the global south and passing a motion at the UN human rights council that a legally binding instrument be set up holding multinationals to account. The ongoing refusal of ChevronTexaco to pay for causing one of the biggest environmental disasters in history in Ecuador’s Amazon is an example of why such a body is necessary.

Central to Ecuador’s citizens’ revolution are the legal rights of communities and of nature, ensuring justice and respecting the rule of law. It is crucial that justice is done in the case of José Tendetza, and Ecuador’s government is committed to making this happen. This case must be investigated transparently, not be used as a political tool against a progressive government.
Juan Falconi Puig
Ambassador of Ecuador to the UK


Dr Munjed Farid al Qutob (Letters, 17 December) claims that the Sydney gunman was a criminal, not a Muslim. This brings to mind the words of Tony Blair in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when he claimed that the perpetrators were not Islamic terrorists, just “terrorists pure and simple”.

But by the time London was attacked in July 2005, Blair had changed his tune. In a speech to the Labour Party conference, and recounting by then 26 al-Qaeda episodes, he noted that the terrorists’ motivation was “a religious ideology, a strain within the worldwide religion of Islam, as far removed from its essential decency and truth as Protestant gunmen who kill Catholics or vice versa are from Christianity. But do not let us underestimate it or dismiss it. Those who kill in its name believe genuinely that in doing it, they do God’s work; they go to paradise”.

Then in September 2013, David Cameron turned the clock back to mimic the Blair of 2001, stating of the al-Shabaab attacks that month in Kenya and all the others before: “These appalling terrorist attacks that take place where the perpetrators claim they do it in the name of a religion – they don’t. They do it in the name of terror, violence and extremism and their warped view of the world. They don’t represent Islam or Muslims in Britain or anywhere else in the world.”

Of course the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Isis, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and their violence, or the actions of a lone Sydney gunman, no more represent the average Muslim than the late Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church represent the average Christian. But does that mean religious dogma isn’t a significant contributing factor to their “warped view of the world”, nonetheless?

Alistair McBay


It is interesting to see how those who commit crimes in the name of their god are rapidly disowned by their fellow religionists. Yet, as Voltaire wrote: “Those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

As long as it is allowed that children may be indoctrinated into belief in a god who has great powers, and is able to hand out great rewards or terrible punishments, there will be people who interpret their belief in ways which are harmful, and who believe that they have sanction from or duty to their god to do harmful acts.

At this moment, one may naturally think those comments apply to one particular sect, but not so. The reason why religious groups who recognise the problem will defend the right of all religions to indoctrinate children is that they realise that once a restriction is applied to one religious group, it may become clear they are actually all indefensible.

Tony Pointon


Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob complains that the media rushed to attribute the tragic siege in Sydney to religious extremism but attached no religious significance to the terrible multiple murders in the US by an army veteran. He implies that this reflects a bias against Islam but overlooks the fact that it was the gunman himself who made the siege in Sydney an Islamic act when he obliged his hostages to hold the Shahada up to the view of the cameras outside. The media may often be guilty of jumping to conclusions, but in this case there was clear evidence that the gunman’s motivation was at least in part religious. The fact that he may have been of doubtful mental stability does not alter this.

If Dr Al Qutob wishes to persuade the world that Islam is a peaceful religion he might do better to address the substantial number of his co-religionists around the world who clearly take a very different view to his on aggression and terrorism, rather than berating the media.

Jonathan Wallace
Newcastle upon Tyne


Congratulations on your headline, “In God’s name” (17 December). A despairing world does indeed wonder how religious atrocity can be halted.

Derek Fabian &  Ewa Maydell-Fabian


Wake up to the dangers of Ukip

I greatly applaud your editorial of 16 December, “The nasty party”, for condemning the appalling utterances of some of Ukip’s principals. It is high time that the majority of those that are being sucked into giving Farage and his cronies support and succour were made aware of the real dangers they are at risk of creating if Ukip gains too much power.

How did a relatively small number of fascist extremists win over the majority of normal Germans to their way of thinking and behaving? It frightens me to think that the same could happen here over the next decade or so, unless ordinary members of society with the power to vote wake up to the dangers that they could be facing.

Peter Bridgman
Charlbury, Oxfordshire


Ukip’s success at securing £1.5m from the European Union from a fund set aside for parties that want to promote European integration exposes the party’s blatant hypocrisy. Taking money from the EU while fervently working against it is the same as those who come to the UK, who don’t believe in our laws and seek to overthrow democracy, but who use the human rights legislation that democracy created to prevent them being deported. Ukip would be the first to condemn such people for this treachery and yet they consider it perfectly acceptable to behave in the same way themselves. Please remember this next May.

Henry Page
Newhaven, East Sussex


Perhaps you might consider letting a representative of the Green Party have a slot to balance that nice Mr Farage on a weekly basis. It would be so refreshing to hear from a rational but radically different opinion from all the other, rather restricted, views that are rolled out with tedious monotony.

Robert Hammersley
Cuckfield, West Sussex


Ukip’s immigration spokesman maintains Ukip’s candidates are “ordinary people” who did not have the media training that their political rivals had and sometimes had to be “guided”. This is one hypothesis. Another is that it is a party whose policies attract individuals with views that are repellent enough to require censor by its central office and which brings out and fosters a blinkered nastiness in its supporters.

Angelo Micciche
St Erth, Cornwall


John Blenkinsopp (17 December) asks why The Independent gives Nigel Farage “the oxygen of publicity” by allowing him to have a weekly column. Might it have something to do with the newspaper being called The Independent?

Patrick Walsh


Does cartoon violence really hurt?

I read with interest your report (17 December) of the joint University College London/University of Ottawa research findings that on-screen death and violence in cartoons “can be particularly traumatic for young children, and the impact can be intense and long-lasting”. Noting that both Snow White (1937) and Bambi (1942) were included in the survey, one might be forgiven for wondering how it is that successive generations of kids have previously proved to be highly resistant to the effects of such trauma, despite prolonged and repeated exposure?

Could it be that young people are able to determine the difference between make-believe and the genuine article?

Jeremy Redman
London SE6


How to improve ‘question time’

Like Alice Jones (13 December), I watch Question Time and I concur that it often descends into a transplant of the Commons Punch and Judy show. The most interesting and informative part is the audience, who seem to have ideas quite different from the supposed opinions of Britons.

It would not be difficult to improve the show enormously. To start with; no more than two politicians at any time. Instead, include scientists, engineers, doctors, architects, and lawyers on each show. Not only would these professionals have a good knowledge of the minutiae of the issues at stake, but because, being  professionals, their livelihood and reputations depend on logical thinking.

John Day
Port Solent, Hampshire


Prince William should look closer to home

Prince William campaigns on behalf of African rhinos and elephants. Well done; both worthy and excellent causes. But why doesn’t the slaughter of our native breeding hen harriers, now in steep decline due to being shot by gamekeepers on grouse moors, also merit his attention? In 2007 allegations were made that his brother, Harry, had shot two hen harriers on the Sandringham Estate, but the case never came to anything.

Peter Brown


Welcome US-Cuba rapprochement

President Obama mentions health as part of the new relations between the US and Cuba (report, 18 December). It will, of course, be 100 per cent from Cuba to the US and might help the US to attain a civilised universal system to replace the shameful apology that it currently has.

Ted Clark
Leamington Spa


Sir, Alice Thomson (“Preserve the Union. Give Scots home rule”, Dec 17) is only half right, and dangerously so. Giving the Scots home rule in a unitary constitution will not avert calls for independence and could easily lead to counter calls from the English.

English votes for English laws (Evel) is acceptable as a temporary solution, but will fairly quickly be seen not to have dealt with the anomalous position of Scots MPs because most legislation for England will have financial consequences and therefore affect Scottish finance, particularly if the Barnett formula remains in place.

Creeping devolution of powers leads to disintegration of the Union. Better, as both Joseph Chamberlain and Walter Long recognised, “Home Rule all round” and a properly designed federal constitution.

If the federal government were confined to foreign policy, defence, and measures to secure a level playing field and open market within the context of Europe, the relative size of England would not matter and income tax would be paid more readily because it would be levied to fund purely English, Scottish, Welsh and Ulster business.

John Barnes

Etchingham, E Sussex

Sir, Mr Hague, as former Welsh secretary, will know there is a third consequence facing his three possible options on English votes for English laws (report and leader, Dec 17). England is not a standalone jurisdiction. Since 1535 the laws of England and Wales have been unified (notwithstanding Welsh devolution), and since 1542 England and Wales have been a single state under the English crown.

Over the past two years some 60 public general acts have been passed by the Westminster parliament. Of those, 49 extended to the whole of the UK (albeit with some sections dealing separately with individual territories, such as Northern Ireland). A further four extended to Great Britain alone. Six applied to England and Wales only, and one applied just to Scotland.

Only the six England and Wales bills (just 10 per cent) would have given rise to the “English votes for English laws” approach and, even then, some provision would have been needed to ensure that Welsh MPs were not excluded from the legislative process. As a consequence some mechanism has to be found whereby bills highlight specific English issues which differ from those for Wales. In legislative drafting terms this is going to be something of a challenge and will (as you say in your leader) need time to get right.

Jonathan Teasdale
Haywards Heath, W Sussex

Sir, It seems rather odd to assume that the Scots, having voted decisively against independence, actually want the SNP to be handed victory by the back door. But what about the implications of “Evel” for Wales?

In truth Wales as a country is an artificial concept whose boundaries have been determined more by political convenience than by the wishes of local populations. There are Welsh people, a Welsh language and a Welsh culture but in large parts of Wales they are a minority, and North and South Wales have little in common.

For obvious geographic reasons the north has far more economic, and historical, links with Merseyside than with Cardiff, and any sensible scheme of devolution would re-create “Manwebshire” — the old Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board area — rather than force alien government from Cardiff on the north. The people of the north voted against devolution in the first place; they deserve better than to be thrown out of the UK at the behest the self-interested political mafia in Cardiff.

Mark Griffiths

Llandyrnog, Denbighshire

Sir, English votes for English laws makes a good soundbite but it provides neither devolution for the people of England nor a set of logical roles for the MPs representing different parts of the Union. Devolution in Scotland and Wales did not mean giving MPs representing Scottish or Welsh constituencies responsibilities for those nations. Rather, devolution removed from them any influence over uniquely Scottish or Welsh matters.

Ian Statham (letter, Dec 18) is no doubt right that English people favour giving Scottish MPs “no say whatsoever” over English matters — but they currently have no say over Scottish matters either. Under the government’s Evel proposals MPs representing Scottish constituencies would only have a role in respect of UK-wide issues. That is surely what the aim should be in the long term: a UK parliament that deals only with UK-wide matters, and devolved assemblies for the whole of the population.

Every English region other than the North East has a population comparable to, or larger than that of, Scotland, and many have populations larger than that of Scotland and Wales combined. If it is economically efficient and democratically just for the five million people living in Scotland to decide their own education, housing and planning policies, then so it should be for the five million in Yorkshire or the eight million in London.

David Seex
London E2

Sir, To accept that Mr Cameron was correct to state that a solution must be found to permit English votes for English laws leads inexorably to the disintegration of the Westminster parliament and thus the break-up of the United Kingdom itself.

The government of the UK has been conducted by Westminster for centuries. To start tinkering with what Westminster MPs can or cannot do — depending on where they come from — can only be the slippery slope to the break-up of the United Kingdom.

Ian GF Mavor
London SW1

Sir, The West Lothian question arises because Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have an extra tier of government that the English don’t have and, it seems, don’t want. An alternative would be to abolish the members of the Scottish parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies and have the Westminster MPs fulfill their role. English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs could sit in their devolved parliaments dealing with local issues for part of the week, and in the UK parliament dealing with only UK-wide issues for the rest of the week. This would put all constituent parts on an equal and fair footing.

Paul Usher
Harpenden, Herts

Sir, In describing James Watson as a genius and “titan of 20th-century science”, Tom Whipple (Dec 13) overeggs the pudding. His “genius” lay in the ability and ruthlessness to harness the efforts of others. Even with the measurements and data purloined from Rosalind Franklin’s notebook and the helical structure of DNA that her famous photograph 51 revealed (seen without her consent), Watson still had difficulty fitting the four bases into his model of DNA.

It was his good fortune that the American structural chemist Jerry Donohue shared Watson’s room in the Cavendish laboratory. Observing Watson’s struggles, he suggested that the “enol” form of the bases was wrong and that they should be substituted for the “keto” form. That did the trick, and the rest is history.

It is not credible that Franklin did not know her maths, as Watson alleges. It was she who famously corrected the Nobel laureate Linus Pauling that the phosphates must be on the outside of the DNA chains and not on the inside.

Years later, Aaron Klug’s analysis of her notebooks showed that on February 24, 1953, she realised that both the A and B forms of DNA were two-chain helices. On February 28 Francis Crick announced that he and Watson had found the secret of life.
Roslyn Pine

London N3

Sir, It is a happy coincidence that the first woman to be appointed a bishop in the Church of England, the Rev Elizabeth (Libby) Lane, bears the same name as the first woman county and High Court judge. Elizabeth Kathleen Lane became the first female county court judge in 1962, being “promoted” to the High Court bench (as a judge in the probate, divorce and admiralty division) three years later in 1965. Does this presage preferment to a diocesan see for Libby Lane in 2018, perhaps?
David Lamming

Boxford, Suffolk

Sir, It is incorrect to say that only now has the first clinic to treat victims of female genital mutilation been set up (report, Dec 17). A lot of work has been put into helping victims of FGM, particularly over the past five years, as it has become much more recognised as a major public health problem. In 1997 a midwife and I established a clinic at Guy’s Hospital to care for FGM victims. We have now treated more than 6,000 women, helped several UK hospitals to set up FGM clinics, and run regular courses for health workers about FGM.
Janice Rymer

Professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, Guys and St Thomas’ Hospitals Foundation Trust

Sir, The Christmas truce of 1914 was a missed opportunity for lasting peace because the wrong game was played. Instead of 90 minutes of fussball, a timeless cricket Test ought to have been arranged in no man’s land (letters, Dec 13). Cricket was popular in Germany from the turn of the 19th century, especially in Berlin. Playing on into 1915 might have encouraged French and Belgian cricketers to send home for their kit to play similar matches with their neighbours.
Brian Cope

Finham, Coventry


Photo: ALAMY

SIR – It is a myth that degree-level education for nurses is bad for patient care (Letters, December 17). A study of nurses in 11 European countries (including England) by RN4CAST, the research group, has shown that hospital mortality is approximately seven per cent lower for every 10 per cent increase in the proportion of nurses with degrees.

Research in America also found that a 10 per cent increase in the number of nurses with a bachelor’s degree was associated with a five per cent reduction in the likelihood of patients dying within 30 days of admission.

Given this data, it is unsurprising that every major British review of nursing over the past 20 years has supported degree-level education as the right preparation for the challenging and complex roles that nurses undertake.

We should be proud of our graduate nurses, help them to apply their skills to lead innovation and improvement in patient care, encourage them to engage in research and support them in challenging poor practice.

This should not distract us from a broken workforce planning system that has delivered a predictable crisis in the number of new nurses following 20 per cent cuts in the number of places between 2010/11 and 2012/13.

Prof Dame Jessica Corner
Chairman, Council of Deans of Health
London WC1

SIR – I trained for nursing under the “modular” system 32 years ago, which provided a hugely valuable practical experience, for what is – or should be – a very practical vocation.

I am now an ambulance paramedic. University-based training is becoming the norm for this equally practical job. I wonder how many youngsters will “stick at it” when their highfalutin qualifications clash with the realities of the work we do.

The nation is obsessed by “going to uni”, and getting a degree. It’s time to acknowledge that not going into higher education is not the end of the world.

Tim Bradbury
Winnington, Cheshire

SIR – I started my nurse training in the Sixties, aged 17. First, we had six weeks of preparation in the training school. After that, we were sent on to the wards to experience real nursing.

One of my first jobs was cleaning the dentures of the men on my ward after breakfast. This did not put me off and I qualified in 1972.

Gillian Roxburgh
Kintbury, Berkshire

SIR – Does nobody appreciate the immorality of tempting trained medical staff away from mostly poorer countries because we refuse to afford to train our own?

D C Cox
Falmouth, Cornwall

Violence in Pakistan


SIR – What has happened to Pakistan? I was born in Murree in 1936 and lived in Peshawar in the North West Frontier Province until my family left the country when I was 10, just before independence.

My memories are of the total freedom we had as children of the Raj and of the kind and gentle local people we knew and mingled with every day. It is unthinkable that any faction in that beautiful country should stoop to murdering children.

Jonathan Lawley
London SW12

SIR – Do these so-called Muslims read their Koran? All but one of its chapters begin with the words “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”.

Michael Edwards
Haslemere, Surrey

SIR – The Taliban’s massacre of children in Pakistan should demonstrate to the world that these thugs and their ideology have no place in civilised society. To slaughter innocent children is not a requirement of Islam, and their acts should be condemned by all faith leaders.

It is time for the world to unite against these barbarians – the Taliban, Boko Haram and Isil – all of which claim they are fighting in defence of their religion.

It is time for Pakistan to cooperate with other nations to seek out those who perpetrate these crimes against humanity.

Keith Taylor

Risks of home birth

SIR – How right Anita Singh is: giving birth is unpredictable. Expectant mothers might live miles from the nearest hospital, traffic can cause problems, and fast ambulance transport might not be available when things don’t go to plan.

I trained as a midwife in the late Sixties, when a flying squad provided rapid transport of blood for situations when women were bleeding to death at home. Does Nice want to return to these times?

Appropriate use of interventions – such as forceps, Caesarean section and blood transfusion – can improve the outcome for both mother and baby. The assertion that doctors trained in obstetrics and gynaecology are intervening unnecessarily lacks evidence.

Christine A Lee
Emeritus Professor of Haemophilia, University of London
London WC1

Money sings

(Getty Images)

SIR – My local branch of Lloyds Bank started playing music many months ago (Letters, December 16).

I now visit as infrequently as possible and do most of my banking online. I am sure this is what the banks really want.

S H Furlonger
Epsom, Surrey

SIR – I have complained bitterly to my local Lloyds Bank, as its “music” is so loud that my hearing aids can’t cope. I have been forced to move banks to a quieter one.

Supermarkets are just as bad. I recommend Lidl as the only supermarket I know where you can shop in peace.

Jane Righton
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

To have and to hold

SIR – Julie Juniper (Letters, December 15) has a curious view that wearing a wedding ring would indicate that she would “belong” to someone.

A wedding ring is not a sign of belonging but of a union in partnership.

Wilhemina Bothwell
Cirencester, Gloucestershire

SIR – Referring to Simon Edsor’s query about when men started wearing wedding bands (Letters, December 13), it is of more interest to me to know when and why “wedding rings” became “wedding bands”. Another import from across the pond?

Eileen Harrington
Scawthorpe, West Yorkshire

The English Question

SIR – You correctly point out that the solution to the English Question is simple, but that it is likely to be fudged.

The Prime Minister should insist that the English Question is dealt with under the same legislation that will grant further powers to the Scottish Parliament. All that is needed is a short, two-part Constitutional Reform Bill. Part one would amend the Representation of the People Acts to limit the voting rights of any person elected for a Scottish seat to undevolved matters. Part two would then devolve the agreed new powers to the Scottish Parliament.

Parliament must vote on this before the general election so that every MP’s position is clear to the electorate.

Christopher Dickson
Leatherhead, Surrey

Golf appeal

(Getty Images)

SIR – I was disappointed that Rory McIlroy (above) did not win Sports Personality of the Year. Last summer he dominated golf, winning three titles in just over three weeks – arguably the greatest achievement by a British golfer in the modern era.

Golf is declining in popularity as a sport. Some simple changes could be made, such as not allowing the Open to be held at any golf club that does not admit women.

However, the main problem is that golf takes too long to play. Cricket suffered a similar problem, so it introduced 20/20 competitions. Golf needs a similar solution.

Barry Smith
Loughborough, Leicestershire

SIR – I do not understand what all the fuss is about. It is only the sporting version of Strictly Come Dancing, where the best dancers do not necessarily win. Just a lot of fun at the taxpayers’ expense.

W K Wood
Bolton, Lancashire

SIR – The end was nigh (Letters, December 15) when Bob Dylan decided to take up golf.

Alex Robb
Woolton, Lancashire

The season of goodwill – and reimbursement

SIR – Every year, my children ask me what presents I would like for Christmas.

Inevitably, my mind wanders to the various items that they have “borrowed” over the previous 12 months. Would it be unkind or insensitive of me to ask for a large ball of string, a pair of kitchen scissors, a set of screwdrivers, a pair of binoculars and a well-maintained 18in-blade, petrol-driven lawnmower?

Ken Grimrod-Smythe
Ingbirchworth, South Yorkshire

SIR – Last weekend we attended a Sunday school production involving some of our grandchildren.

Last year’s performance had been a traditional nativity play (Letters, December 12). Granddaughter Alice was the Virgin Mary and her brother Louis was Joseph. At some point the narrator announced: “Then Joseph took the holy child from Mary.” Mary had other ideas and screamed: “No, he’s mine!” Joseph made a grab for the child, but was strongly resisted. Tears and raised voices ensued.

This year the plot concerned the writing of Silent Night, and the script provided for no contact between the two children. Thus was peace preserved, rather to the disappointment of the audience.

Paul Renecle
Newent, Gloucestershire

SIR – Paul Molyneux (Letters, December 17) could do his wife a service by cutting insoles out of their leftover bubble wrap for her party shoes, thus making her Christmas dancing more comfortable.

Though with 70 metres to use, it is to be hoped that she is the Imelda Marcos of the Wirral.

Sara Dickinson
Tadworth, Surrey

A long hop across the country in search of rabbit

Bunny boiler: a 19th-century Japanese foot warmer made of varnished stoneware (

SIR – Ann Hellewell (Letters, December 16) asks where the rabbits have gone.

They are all in my garden and she is welcome to bring a gun, a net, her ferrets or all three.

Chris Gordon
Boston, Lincolnshire

SIR – Ann Hellewell can have the rabbit I ordered some months ago as a treat for my husband (I am a vegetarian).

It is/was a wild, free-range rabbit. It was delivered fresh and wholly intact – a sight I found so distressing that I burst into tears and stashed it in the freezer away from my sight and thoughts.

So the rabbit is here, frozen in time, if anyone would like him/it.

Ann Baker
Torpoint, Cornwall

Irish Times:

Sir, – Being kept on life support while a team of people decides if you will be treated like an incubator or a human is archaic and saddening (“Medical dilemma over woman on life support”, Front Page, December 18th).

This woman is not being kept “alive”, she is being perfused and ventilated inhumanely because the Government refuses to act on repealing the eighth amendment before the next election. This cowardice has meant that twice in the last year, doctors have been left with bizarre situations where the foetus has actually become more important than the woman. This is complete madness. How many more women have to be treated like vessels, solely here for the purpose of growing foetuses?

People talk about reaching a stage of viability, but this term is extremely misleading. I am a paediatric doctor working in a neonatal intensive care unit and babies being born at 24 weeks isn’t something that we should be aspiring to or relieved about when it happens. It means life support for a period of time, four months in intensive care, a high chance of severe disability and a 50 per cent chance of death.

Delivering babies once they become “viable” is not the answer to this legal mess. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 1.

Sir, – Over 31 years ago I opposed the insertion of the eighth amendment to the Constitution on abortion, feeling that the wording was not understandable and its consequences were unclear. The outcome of the insertion of Article 40.3.3 into the Constitution cannot be what those who proposed it intended.

We have lurched from one disaster to another with a pregnant woman or girl at the centre of each calamity and doctors in the unenviable position of being unclear what they can do, with lawyers leaning over their shoulders. The Minister for Health Leo Varadkar spoke the truth when he said that the health of the pregnant woman, even if she has a serious problem, cannot be taken into consideration as things are (“Existing abortion laws are ‘too restrictive’, says Varadkar”, December 17th).

He could have said more about cases where the developing child has a fatal foetal abnormality, diagnosed nowadays during pregnancy, which was not the case three decades ago.

He could have pointed out that we now know some women in such situations are having the abortion of such a foetus initiated in England but the second stage carried out in Ireland, either for financial reasons or because she and her partner wish to have the child buried in Ireland. How long before there is a disaster on a plane or a ferry?

How long will we ignore the fact that hundreds of women are importing abortifacient pills without medical supervision? Without counselling in these cases, the embryo will certainly be lost and a woman’s life may be too.

The removal of Article 40.3.3 is a health issue, one of great importance to women, and it is right that the Minister for Health should have spoken on the present unsatisfactory situation. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – Perhaps the most important words in Leo Varadkar’s speech on Clare Daly’s Bill to repeal the eighth amendment of the Constitution were these: “We can never say ‘never again’ and think to mean it. We need to face up to that and be honest about it. There is no perfect abortion law and never will be. We will always be challenged to amend and refine whatever law we have and so we should.”

They sum up precisely why we must urgently remove the complex issue of abortion from our Constitution and deal with it through legislation that can be amended when its shortcomings become obvious. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – As a practising counsellor and psychotherapist, I read with interest Fiona Gartland’s article “Call for pre-trial hearings on disclosure of notes in sex cases” (December 15th, 2014).

Among the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission, in its report Disclosure and Discovery in Criminal Cases, was that “in a sexual offence case, the court should have regard to the following additional factors: (a) society’s interest in encouraging the reporting of sexual offences; (b) society’s interest in encouraging the obtaining of treatment by complainants of sexual offences; and (c) the public interest in ensuring that adequate records are kept of counselling communications”.

According to your article, the commission’s recommendations were made in the context, inter alia, of a recent increase in requests for access to counselling records in sexual offence cases.

While I am not qualified to comment on the legal aspects of the commission’s report, I am concerned at the growing tendency to intrude into the relationship between counsellor and client, in particular, the requirement in the Children First Bill 2014 that counsellors report childhood abuse disclosed by victims who are their adult clients.

This requirement is likely to militate against all three of the commission’s points quoted above.

Together with other practitioners with whom I have discussed this matter, my feeling is that, by discouraging clients from disclosing sexual abuse or from entering counselling in the first place, a requirement for mandatory reporting will operate against the client’s therapeutic needs as well as being counter-productive, from a public policy point of view, in that abuse which might have been disclosed and come voluntarily to the attention of the authorities, as at present, will not now do so.

This is apart from the possible impact on the client of their involvement in the criminal justice system resulting from mandatory reporting by the counsellor, regardless of the consent or otherwise of the client, in circumstances where the client is in a vulnerable and fragile condition.

Hopefully, in considering the question of mandatory reporting by counsellors and psychotherapists, our legislators will take note of the Law Reform Commission report’s recommendations.

Balancing the imperative of protecting children with that of meeting the therapeutic needs of the client/victim is clearly very difficult. Mandatory reporting of their childhood abuse disclosed by adult clients may appear necessary to protect children yet, for the reasons outlined, the appropriate balance may not lie in that direction. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Obviously we need a proper network of hiking trails on publicly owned land (Editorial, December 16th).

However, the insistence by some that they ought to have rights also to trespass on private land derives from a feudal mindset that is part suburban arrogance (the countryside is my plaything), part begrudgery (as we saw in the Lissadell House farce) and part ignorance of the family and personal significance of land to a country person (the urban person will assume that a house and garden are much more “personal” than “mere land”).

Not all ramblers are decent or well-behaved, and no ramblers’ association can guarantee that they will be. Once a trail becomes established or publicised on social media, it’s open season for all ramblers, decent ones and not-so-decent ones alike.

I know of elderly hill farmers who are plagued with aggressive, illegal shooters and anti-social behaviour by delinquent gangs on their land. They see outlying barns and farms in remote areas as a handy no-surveillance alternative to shopping malls. The effect is that old folk and children in isolated areas do not feel safe on their own land.

Further, when I lived in a high-rise flat in Dublin, no doubt it would have been pleasant to have been able to avail of the amenities of the large private walled gardens I walked past in parts of South Dublin. However, you can imagine the (justifiably) outraged reception, both social and legal, had I attempted illegally to march my family over a fence onto a private lawn in Foxrock to have a picnic.

In the area of access to other people’s property and other people’s amenities, it seems that well-heeled suburbanites are happy to play the “property is theft” card, but only when it suits them. – Yours, etc,



Co Tyrone.

Sir, – Peter Nyberg, in testifying to the Oireachtas banking inquiry, blames individual borrowers as well as large developers and bankers for the banking crisis and economic crash. In doing so, he is, unwittingly, falling into the trap which politicians and bankers would like everyone to fall into (“Soft landing was ‘quite unlikely’ , says Nyberg”, December 18th).

Except for a very few, most individuals who borrowed exorbitant sums to pay extortionate prices for very ordinary houses had very little choice if they wanted to provide security of tenure and long-term stability for their families.

If it had been possible to buy a three-bedroomed home in Dublin in a reasonable area for less than €350,000 to €400,000, then of course home buyers would have taken that option, if it were there. It wasn’t, which is why so many ended up buying in places 100-150km from their jobs and extended families.

But because of the decisions of politicians not to acknowledge that excessively high home prices are bad for both society and the economy and to enforce limits on bank lending, those bankers, like the devil, were given a horse, and by God they rode it to hell!

Placing blame on individual home buyers for the crisis is engaging in the same “group-think” that politicians and bankers will engage in during the banking inquiry in an attempt to absolve themselves from the blame which lies squarely and solely on their shoulders. This is grossly unfair to ordinary citizens who had no involvement in the bad decisions by the so-called “leaders” of our country. – Yours, etc,


Bagenalstown, Co Carlow.

Sir, – The ability of the Central Bank to maintain a rules-based system of mortgage control is questionable, given past experience in this country. As was reported in “ESRI voices concern over housing market move” (Front Page, December 17th, 2014), the ESRI in its submission to the Central Bank states that the new mechanisms were “the only real protection” against a credit-fuelled boom and it was concerned about the effects on the housing market from the housing supply side. The loan to value proposal is set at 80 per cent and the loan to income is set at 3½ times annual earnings by the Central Bank.

The new mechanisms aren’t “the only real protection” and the above proposals are skewed to favour the wealthy. On the loan to value side, a loan to value on houses up to and including €400,000 could be set at 90 per cent; for properties between €400,001 and €900,000, a loan to value could be set at 80 per cent, with €900,000 the maximum mortgage available for a property from any institution. The loan to income could remain at 3½ times annual income with account taken of longer terms than 25 years, say 40 years, for those purchasing properties up to €400,000, to allow for the high cost early stage, with reviews half way through the period to allow for earlier redemption, if required by the borrowers. This approach, strictly maintained, would allay the fears of the ESRI and be beneficial towards housing supply and borrowers and dampen any housing boom.

Our purpose is to provide affordable housing for all of our population and not investment vehicles. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 9.

Sir, – I am bemused to learn that the process of deleting PPS numbers undertaken by Irish Water is “quite seismic” and will take months (“Deletion of PPS numbers a ‘seismic’ process, says Alan Kelly”, December 18th). Would it to help expedite matters if I sent a Christmas gift of a bottle of Tipp-Ex? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6W.

Sir, – I signed up to Irish Water, early on, as I have a medical condition that requires a lot of water. I signed up for fear of being “roasted” by the meter for this use. I ticked a box on the application to receive information from Irish Water on a medical exemption. No such information has arrived. I emailed Irish Water last week and was informed that the medical exemption facility has been dropped. I think this will come as news to many people. I am beginning to wonder if my application is now null and void as Irish Water has not delivered on my application, so I emailed them again. I have been informed that you can ring them and have your application cancelled. I think that will also come as news to people. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – As we head into the Christmas season, many families in Ireland will be struggling with the pressures of the festive season. Years of austerity have put huge strains on family budgets, hundreds of thousands are out of work and rising rent prices are forcing people out of homes across the country.

But the good news is that more and more people are becoming dissatisfied with this state of affairs. Thousands have marched against the water charges and hundreds of thousands of families are using the Christmas period to donate to charities of all kinds. And all those people know that if we want a better Ireland, we will need to work together.

Yet not all of us realise that our efforts to build a better Ireland will not succeed unless we strengthen the way we work together across borders.

Our world is connected like never before. From international bank debts to the spread of infectious diseases, what happens in one part of the world matters to us all.

And what drives people in developing countries into poverty is directly linked to the type of situations that cause people in Ireland to lose a job, a home or an income. In 2015, let us endeavour to do our best to overcome the challenges that Ireland is facing, by understanding them as global, not just local, problems. And let us celebrate those around us who are providing inspirational examples of what it means to be an active citizen in a highly inter-dependent and interwoven global society. – Yours, etc,




1-2 Baggot Court, Dublin 2.

Sir, – Kathy Sheridan is, as usual, incisive and so right (“Time for voters to shake off the shackles of localism”, Opinion & Analysis, December 17th). However, she does not specifically mention the fundamental causes of the political malaise that have been with us since the foundation of the State, ie the PR voting system, multiseat constituencies and too many TDs, which breed and feed on localism. The electorate was given two chances to change the system in 1959 and 1968, but declined.

There is no indication that the established parties or the so-called “reformers” are prepared to tackle these real issues now. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Patsy McGarry’s article on President Michael D Higgins made for welcome reading (“Goodwill to all NGOs, gardaí and the church”, Rite & Reason, December 16th).

We as a nation appear to be drowning in negativity at every turn. As Mr Higgins said in Ethiopia about missionaries and those working in NGOs, “to me they represent an Irishness to which all of us should aspire”.

Maybe we have to travel abroad and look back to see the qualities at times hidden beneath the surface, qualities we are afraid to express and qualities we are in danger of loosing. Blaming everyone else for the problems we see all around us has become the norm as personal responsibility appears to have taken a back seat.

Wouldn’t it be great to start of the new year on a positive note, ringing to the sound of “yes we can”. This only requires changing the mindset first. – Yours, etc,


Director and co-founder,


Bride Road,

Dublin 8.

Irish Independent:

Published 19/12/2014 | 02:30

People can feel the loss of loved ones more at Christmas
People can feel the loss of loved ones more at Christmas

Next week, we celebrate the feast of Christmas. Whatever people think about its religious significance – or, alternatively, its connection with consumerism – it is undoubtedly a time for meeting up with family and friends.

It is a time of year that many people find difficult. Memories of happier times can often come to the fore and these can contrast starkly with a person’s present circumstances. We often feel the loss of a loved one who passed away during the year more acutely at this time of year. And Christmas can often highlight more difficult periods in a person’s life, whether from childhood or adulthood.

We are hard-wired for connection with other people. It is a deep need in us and is as essential to life as air and food. That is why the feeling of loneliness is probably the most difficult feeling we as humans have to deal with. Much has been said and written about the death of homeless man Jonathan Corrie near Dail Eireann in recent weeks. But perhaps the most poignant response I heard came from another homeless man who said “you kinda get hardy to the cold but the worst pain of all is the pain of loneliness.”

If you are celebrating Christmas this year in the company of loved ones, whether family or friends, please spare a thought for anyone who may be spending Christmas alone. Even better if you are in a position to seat someone extra round your table for dinner, invite someone you suspect may be spending Christmas alone. While some people make a conscious decision to be alone at Christmas and may even resent what they might see as ‘do gooders’ trying to tell them what is good for them, I would rather annoy someone in this way than to think someone may be on their own.

There is nothing worse than the pain of loneliness and the longing for someone’s company when there is no one there. Let’s ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone this Christmas.

Tommy Roddy

Salthill, Co Galway

An emigrant’s Christmas

The true meaning of Christmas is love and for me it’s all about being around the people you love, like family and friends.

However, this year I am not able to be around those people in my life, as I am living abroad in Canada and it’s just too expensive for me to go home every year for Christmas, which I would love to do. I have made good friends through work but that’s not the same as being around friends you have known all your life.

Personally, I will feel a bit lonely waking up this year on Christmas Day with no family to sit and open presents with. I’ll miss seeing what everyone got, joking about the presents and then sitting down for Christmas dinner.

I left Ireland in 2012 for work in Canada and I have been home for Christmas the last two years. To move abroad was a big decision to make and I didn’t know what to expect. Now, I have a job and I’m making money, which I wouldn’t be doing if I was still in Ireland .

But it’s at times like Christmas that you think about the people in your life and what they mean to you, and my family are the ones I would like to see on Christmas morning. I know I won’t and that makes me feel a bit sad and lonely, but I suppose that’s what I get for moving abroad!

So while all of you are spending Christmas with your loved ones, spare a thought for those who can’t make it home.

John Coldrick


’60s Cuban crisis made me jump

I think it’s great that the United States is starting to thaw relations with Cuba, one of the last foes from the Cold War. It has been a long, strange journey since the late ’50s. Since Fidel Castro and his brother Raul have ruled Cuba there have been 11 US presidents.

I grew up in America and spent the early ’60s as a young kid, living in fear of the missiles supplied by Russia that were only 90 miles from the US.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, our family was looking at buying an underground bomb shelter. There was a fear that the end was near. But my mom and dad decided not to buy a bomb shelter but instead bought a trampoline. My mom thought if the world was going to end, we might as well have fun.

Kevin Devitte

Westport, Co Mayo

Hare coursing disgraces Ireland

With dozens of animal baiting fixtures to be held over Christmas, a stark reminder of just how anomalous and out of date our animal cruelty laws are has been provided by the conviction of four men earlier this month for hare coursing in Cambridgeshire, England.

In addition to fining the culprits, Huntington Magistrates’ Court ordered that two of their vehicles be crushed.

By contrast, here in Ireland hare coursing is permitted by law and supported by some leading politicians.

Following weeks of unnatural captivity, the timid and inoffensive hares can be mauled or otherwise injured as the dogs pin them down or toss them about on the coursing field.

A special provision exempting hare coursing from prohibition was inserted into the Animal Health and Welfare Act at the behest of the powerful pro-hare baiting lobby. This legislative anomaly utterly disgraces Ireland in the estimation of decent people worldwide.

Hundreds of hares will be forced to run for their lives over Christmas, with snugly dressed fans gathering to watch the iconic creatures, their eyes bulging from sheer terror as they dodge and swerve to evade the salivating dogs.

John Fitzgerald

Campaign for the Abolition Of Cruel Sports

Callan, Co Kilkenny

Political farce disguised as reform

I note your report that next May the electorate will be given the opportunity to consider such weighty topics as the age of qualification for the office of President.

No doubt this referendum will be the source of weeks of political debate and even a commission to ensure that the electorate are fully aware of the finer nuances of this vital issue. In the meantime, legislation regarding the issue of the supply of water is “guillotined” through the Dail, thus avoiding a proper debate on the subject. And when that legislation proves entirely unsatisfactory, the amending legislation is itself guillotined through. This Government offered us political reform but has delivered us political farce.

Norman FitzGerald

Taylors Hill, Galway

Hospital staff need more support

I welcome the letter from the Carr family (Irish Independent, December 17) since it corresponds to my own experience of a year ago and I am sure that of many other anxious parents.

Nevertheless our hospital staff and management deserve more support than our beleaguered politicians have so far been able to give them in 2014.

Christmas is a good time to reflect on where we have gone wrong. The Ballyhea bailout protesters will tell us if we listen to them and follow their example of reasoned and dignified protest until matters are corrected.

But I can do no better at this time than the Carr family and I add my Christmas greetings to theirs.

Dr Gerald Morgan

The Chaucer Hub

Trinity College Dublin

Introduce non-religious oath

It is puzzling why the Government has not included amongst the forthcoming referenda what would be a relatively simple and uncontentious change to our Constitution.

All parties and religious leaders in our state are committed to a pluralist society and to add in an option to ‘truthfully affirm’ for those who do not wish to swear the existing religious oath would surely meet with no objections from any quarter?

With about a quarter of a million people of no religion in the State it cannot be acceptable to discriminate any longer against them in this way.

Dick Spicer

Bray, Co Wicklow

Irish Independent


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