30 December 2014 Dentist

Mary a bit better off to the dentist, alls well with her tooth and M&S and the bank.

Mary’s much better today, breakfast weight up pheasant for tea.


Sonia D'Artois in uniform

Sonia D’Artois in uniform

Sonia d’Artois, who has died aged 90, risked her life as an SOE agent in German-occupied France in the Second World War.

On the night of May 28 1944, nine days before D-Day, Sonia was dropped by parachute at La Cropte, south-east of Laval, in the Sarthe, north-west France. Code-named Blanche (and also Madeleine) and with identity papers in the name of Suzanne Bonvie, her job was to join the “Headmaster” circuit of Sydney Hudson, code-named Albin. Accompanying her were Raimond Glaesner, a native of Alsace, and Eugène Bec.

One of her jobs was to train the Maquis in the use of weapons and explosives. Initially, some of them objected to being instructed by a woman, but her professionalism quickly won their respect. Her other task was to act as courier and carry messages by bicycle or deliver money, wireless equipment and other vitally needed supplies.

She pedalled long distances and was in constant danger of being pulled in for questioning. Most of the other Resistance fighters in the area had been arrested by the Gestapo; a container with her clothes in it had been discovered by the Germans and she had to keep on the move.

Rarely spending two nights in the same place, she became accustomed to sleeping in barns and haystacks. In June, she was stopped at a roadblock and taken to the German HQ. There she was interrogated, locked in a cell, and her papers closely examined before she was released.

The forest of Charnie, about 25 miles west of Le Mans, was chosen as a base for the Maquis. They lived in tents or under tarpaulins, local villagers supplied them with food, and Sonia delivered arms and explosives. Shortly afterwards, the Gestapo struck. A member of the Resistance revealed under torture the location of the base and guided a company of German soldiers to a clearing in the forest where a party of the Maquis were preparing for a container drop. Some were arrested. Bec sacrificed his life to allow the others to scatter and escape.

The Germans discovered the signalling procedures used by the SOE and seized two planeloads of containers. In addition, the circuit lost three cars and a million francs. The disaster, Hudson said afterwards, was shattering but he was greatly encouraged by Sonia’s refusal to let it get her down.

On the way back to Le Mans, the two were riding on bicycles. There was a long, steep slope leading into the town. Sonia spotted a German sentry lounging in the road outside a property which the Germans had requisitioned. She put on speed, tore down the hill and made straight for the sentry, forcing him to leap out of the way to avoid being run down.

After D-Day, sabotage operations by the Maquis on trains and canals, bridges and enemy fuel dumps greatly increased as did attacks on German troops passing through the area on the way to reinforce the units in Normandy.

Sonia believed that there was no safety in keeping her head down and hoping to remain undetected. She therefore made a habit of eating in black market restaurants where she would strike up an acquaintance with the more approachable German officers and act in an open and friendly manner.

After the liberation of Le Mans, she was accused of being a collaborator. Young women suspected of consorting with the Germans were being marched through the streets with placards around their necks branding them as collaborators. Then, in the town square, they would be mocked by the crowd of onlookers, spat upon and roughed up before their heads were shaved.

Sonia’s practice of sharing her meals with German officers had not gone unnoticed and, had it not been for the timely intervention of her friends in the Maquis, she would have suffered the same humiliation.

Sonia Esmée Florence Butt was born at Eastchurch, Kent, on May 14 1924. Her father served as an officer with the RAF in the Second World War, but separated from Sonia’s mother soon after his daughter was born. Sonia was brought up by her mother in the south of France and educated locally.

After the Germans invaded France, she managed to get back to England and joined the WAAF. She did clerical work, which she found unexciting, and, after transferring to the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (the FANYs), she was recruited for training with SOE F Section. During this period, she met fellow agents Violette Szabo and Nancy Wake and fell in love with, and married, Guy d’Artois, an officer in the Canadian army.

In August 1944, Sonia and Hudson helped intelligence officers in the US Third Army by gathering valuable information about the disposition of the enemy forces in German-occupied areas.

On one occasion, they were stopped at an enemy roadblock while driving a staff car painted in the Wehrmacht camouflage colours and with the French tricolor draped over the side. They explained that they were dedicated collaborators who had come to warn them of the approach of Allied units. On another, their excuse that they were visiting a grandmother barely held up and they were fortunate to suffer nothing worse than the confiscation of their vehicle.

As the German retreat from the Falaise pocket turned into a rout, the two were able to obtain documents – passes, permits and identity cards – which authorised them to ignore curfews, to travel virtually unimpeded in forbidden zones and even to carry weapons. They realised that if they were unmasked it was tantamount to a death sentence. At the end of the month, they set off to reconnoitre the area between the Seine and the Marne. On the way back, near Bar-sur-Seine, they found the bridge guarded by armed German soldiers and the SS.

Hudson put his foot down and crossed the bridge at high speed. The Germans opened fire, blowing out the rear window and wounding him in the shoulder. Seeing that they were hemmed in by roadblocks, they abandoned the car and set off across country.

Soon they were stopped by a German patrol and, having been turned back, walked into Bar-sur-Seine. The Germans were afraid of being attacked by the local Resistance and Hudson was held hostage in a café overnight. At dawn, an officer arrived. Hudson showed him his Gestapo-stamped identity card and was released.

He then went to the house of the family that had accommodated Sonia for the night. Sonia told him that she had gone back to the café the previous day to collect his coat which he had left there by mistake. Two German soldiers had searched her at gunpoint, she said, and had raped her. But they had not discovered the German passes.

At a checkpoint outside Bar-sur-Seine, an NCO examined their papers once more. His face, as Hudson said afterwards, was full of suspicion but he let them go. They walked for two days along deserted roads, crossed the Seine using the remains of a demolished bridge and were eventually picked up by an American jeep.

At Divisional HQ at Troyes, they were able to report to the intelligence officer that the Germans appeared to have made few preparations for the defence of the River Marne. In September Sonia was reunited with Captain Guy d’Artois who had commanded three battalions of the Maquis in Burgundy and was subsequently awarded a DSO and the Croix de Guerre. Hudson was awarded a DSO and Bar and the Croix de Guerre.

Sonia returned to England the following month. After the war, she went to Canada with Guy and set up home near Montreal. In 1945 she was appointed MBE (Military Division) and was also mentioned in dispatches. In 1948 Guy d’Artois was awarded a George Medal for his part in rescuing a badly injured missionary in the far north of Canada the previous year.

In the early 1960s her son was driving home with a friend after having had dinner together at Como, Quebec province, when they were pursued by three thugs in their own vehicle and forced to stop. The three ruffians jumped out of their car and began to intimidate the two young men.

By coincidence, this happened in front of a house where Sonia was having dinner. Hearing the commotion, she decided to take charge. She hit one of the men in the face, smashed the car door on to his leg and held the other two until the police arrived.

Sonia, known to her friends as Toni, married, in 1944, Guy d’Artois. He died in 1999 and she is survived by their three sons and three daughters. For the last seven years of her life, John Tozer was a devoted companion.

Sonia d’Artois, born May 14 1924, died December 21 2014


NHS out-of-hours care is out of cash, out of luck

Ambulance crew bring a patient to the A&E ward
‘As an insider, I can see under-resourced out-of-hours services having a knock-on effect on ambulances and hospitals,’ writes Dr Chris Smith. Photograph: Mike Goldwater/Alamy

My father started out as a single-handed GP, was on call 24/7 and would know all of his patients. Sleepless nights reduced to one in three as other doctors joined his surgery. Then two surgeries combined to share on-call duties between around 14 doctors, but they would still know most of the unwell patients. Across the UK, out-of-hours provision was provided by similar-sized GP co-operatives.

The 2004 GP contract did not provide GP surgeries with adequate funding for out-of-hours service provision. Consequently, this shifted to larger providers.

These days, in an attempt to create economies of scale, out-of-hours services cover even larger geographical areas, with contracts given to private providers. GPs, as shift-workers, visit patients who they have probably never met before and will never meet again.

Over Christmas I did several out-of-hours shifts in Hampshire. The waiting times for home visits were often in excess of 12 hours (the “target” is six). The majority of these patients were frail and elderly, vulnerable and often unable to speak out. In one tragic case I was greeted by the patient’s grieving son and daughter. She had called the out-of-hours service 12 hours previously, complaining of breathing problems; by the time I arrived, her body had already been taken to the undertakers.

Service pressures over the Christmas period are entirely predictable.As an insider, I can see under-resourced out-of-hours services having a knock-on effect on ambulances and hospitals. There is an urgent need for adequately funded, local and responsive out-of-hours services, run by GPs providing care for patients in their local area.
Dr Chris Smith

• Why does Francis Maude (Health mutuals are not private firms, Letter, 26 December) continue to deny a Tory agenda of NHS privatisation? In doing so, he contradicts his fellow Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin, who defines privatisation in his 1988 book, Privatising the World, as: outsourcing public sector services to private sector companies; deregulation of public sector monopolies; and “trade sales” into the private sector of public sector bodies deemed to be “failing”. Reform of the NHS so far satisfies all of Letwin’s privatisation criteria, so this should not be in any doubt.

More doubtful are the prospects for any of Maude’s envisioned “mutuals” in the non-free-market environment of NHS tendering. Maude should know better than most that social enterprises – which are companies, not public sector bodies – won’t last two shakes of a reindeer’s tail trying to compete with international healthcare giants looking for business in the UK. Social enterprises for community services – once taken out of the public sector – have already lost out in a big way to the likes of Virgin, resulting in another set of NHS services permanently lost to the public sector.

At this point in the argument, ministers tend to resort to claiming “it’s up to GP-led clinical commissioning groups to decide who gets awarded contracts”. Aggressive and expensive litigation by private providers claiming that they were unfairly denied NHS contracts, together with the stringencies of EU competition law, mean that CCGs’ hands are too tightly tied and it is the market that decides instead. There is no free market in health. The direction of travel is one-way, stepwise, towards privatisation under foreign healthcare giants who want into UK business.
Dr Nick Mann (GP)

• There is no need to spin off large chunks of the NHS into not-for-profit mutual firms. There is a long track record of mutuals being bought/taken over/converted into commercial firms, often fuelled by large debts. This has made a few individuals very rich while those who work in the ex-mutuals get poorer pay and pensions, and frequently redundancies. The ill now leave hospital not as patients but as clients whose continuity and coordination of care become difficult. It does not serve them well. Fragmentation of services is a result of political ideology and, frankly, a deceit. Mr Maude will surely remember the enthusiasm for the conversion of mutual building societies into plcs.
Dr James Chang
Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire

• Despite the mandatory mild scepticism, you are still taken in by the flashy big science and personalised medicine rhetoric of the “genomics revolution” (Editorial, 23 December). Some revolution: it’s been running 30 years, and the UK still has the worst common adult cancer outcomes among comparable countries, with no evidence of improvement relative to the others. Countless have died prematurely because we cannot deliver the same level of conventional care as Canada or Australia. How spending £300m on the luxury of the 100,000 genome project is practically going to help anyone isn’t easy to understand. It may uncover or refine diagnoses in the 70% of subjects with rare genetic conditions, but that’s of little consolation when we have only vague and distant potential of treatments (which are always a decade away). As to the dilemma, give £150m to cancer treatment now, the rest to fund more paramedics and ambulance personnel, and put the genomics revolution on hold until the NHS has stopped falling apart.
Dr David Levy

John Stuart Mill, photographed circa 1870
Liberal thinker: John Stuart Mill (1806-73), photographed circa 1870. Photograph: London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

The recent heated flurry of letters about Christianity and tolerance (29 December) understates the disastrous impact of Christianity upon the world. Voltaire and an array of sceptical philosophers pointed out the inconsistencies in the New Testament. The Gospels and Paul’s letters are a virtual diatribe against the Jews as Christ-killers. To the persecuted Jews, Christ is the traitor who has hunted them down for two millennia. Within Christianity, sects have turned on each other. Across continental Europe, Roman Catholicism was associated with pitiless royal absolutism and, eventually, with the brimstone of fascism. The Church of England, as the religious establishment, schemed to beat down for centuries the radical dissenters – Quakers, Baptists, and then Methodists.

There would simply be no compassionate, level-headed, moderate civilisation without the advent of liberalism as exemplified by John Stuart Mill, who loathed the monopolistic tendencies inherent in Anglicanism. Liberalism, under threat from unrepentant Tory critics, seems the guarantor of tolerance, of which Christianity has always been the enemy. Cool, calm liberalism should be described as the answer, while Christianity is the essence of conservatism at its most vindictive.
Zekria Ibrahimi

• Freedom to worship is the expression of wider rights: the freedoms of expression and of association. It is these that require upholding. The focus on religious worship is not only a distraction from those rights but also a weakening of inner spiritually and devotion. The first Christians met under the cover of the first day of the week, ie the day that followed the sabbath, when the Jews returned to work and business. Quiet and private Christian worship thus did not draw attention to itself and was the stronger for it. Let our lives speak.
Norma Laming

Birmingham Central Library
Under threat: Birmingham Central Library. Photograph: Alamy

Lucy Mangan’s article on the need for libraries to change to survive (Every trick in the books, 27 December) is correct, but it misses out a key factor on the attraction of a good library – the opportunity to handle and to read historic and rare books. Of course there are many vital items available online, but these offer neither the depth of the available material, nor the pleasure of actually handling the original books. At the Leeds Library – founded in 1768 – we find that we are attracting newer and younger members because we have on the shelves many rare books from the 18th century onwards, as well as the latest fiction and non-fiction.

Much of our early material is unique and invaluable to researchers and it coexists convivially with the readers of the newspapers, journals and current novels. Our experience is that modernisation and literary heritage must go hand in hand for libraries to flourish.
Michael Meadowcroft
Chair of trustees, The Leeds Library

Rio’s Oscar Niemeyer, Chicago’s Mies van der Rohe and London’s Ernö Goldfinger all have had their best mid-century buildings saved and used because they are valued as historically important examples of 20th-century architecture. Birmingham architect John Madin’s most iconic work, his Central Library, is to be demolished (Why we can’t leave Charles in charge, 27 December). Shame on you, Birmingham, and although there are some good things happening in places like the Jewellery Quarter and Digbeth, sadly the city planners want to turn the centre of what was once referred to as the City of a Thousand Trades into the City of a Thousand Costas. There seems to be an attempt to erase the city’s recent past and it will end up with Birmingham becoming a bland fudge of empty grade-A office buildings. Joseph Chamberlain must be turning in his grave at Key Hill cemetery at how the city he built – and its passion – is being dismantled by people who have no regard for its history or its future.
Darren Cannan

William Hague tucks into a bacon roll.
Rarely a good look: William Hague tucks into a bacon roll. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

I’m disappointed you used the picture of Ed Miliband eating a bacon roll (G2, 29 December). Wait beside anyone with a loaded camera and sooner or later they can be pictured losing their dignity; spluttering on a hot drink, picking their nose or appearing to make a rude gesture. Of all embarrassing photos, this one is constantly reproduced. It seems to me the reason is the antisemitic subliminal message: Ed Miliband is a Jew; he chokes on bacon.
Michael Hudson

• In his unnecessarily wordy thesis arguing that we have become passive consumers of the conflict in the Middle East (Click away now: how bloodshed in the desert lost its reality, 23 December), Will Self has conveniently forgotten about the largest protest march in British history in February 2003, which arguably played a key role 10 years later in halting the planned US-UK attack on Syria in August 2013.
Ian Sinclair
Author, The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003

• We need a serious discussion, one that includes HGV drivers, about lorry design (Report, 27 December): where the bin-men sit; where the dead-man’s handle is situated; how long it takes a runaway lorry to stop.
Godfrey Holmes
Withernsea, East Yorkshire

• Julian Baggini (Move your money from the high street and help to achieve a fairer society, 31 December 2013) stirred us into new year action. After 50 years we left one of the big banks for a mutual building society. The switch was easy. The original local, courteous and friendly staff has changed for another. Providers who are mutual, local, environmental and responsible encourage a fairer society. They are out there – still waiting for more of us to join in.
Sarah and Richard Titford
Sudbury, Suffolk

• May I make a plea for at least one Christmas quiz next year that all the family can do together, with a reasonable chance of getting most of the answers, without resorting to media devices. The quiz should also have a children’s section. Your quizzes seem more about the cleverness of the questioners rather than welcome entertainment that is not too taxing after drink and food. The Financial Times and the Spectator were also at fault, I thought.
Geoff Smith

• Let’s hear it for the 11,000 workers who gave up their Christmases to work on improving the railways (Report, 29 December).
John Hurdley

Volunteers remove poppies from the moat of the Tower of London, 16 December 12014.
Volunteers remove poppies from the moat of the Tower of London, 16 December 2014. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

You are right to highlight the remarkable creative achievement of Paul Cummins and Tom Piper in delivering Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London (Simple twists of fate that brought ceramic poppies to the Tower, 29 December). It was indeed the defining image of the 2014-1914 commemorations. But none of it would have happened without the assistance of the skilled potters of Stoke-on-Trent. All of the 497,000kg of clay used for the project – a slightly sanded, red earthenware – was supplied or sourced by the Etruria-based Potclays company. Help with the firing regime, kiln space, slab rollers, and production came from a range of Potteries businesses.

Drawing on hundreds of years of ceramic skills, these world-class designers, technicians and manufacturers were honoured to work with Paul Cummins on his inspirational vision. It would be nice for this heroic contribution to the success of the Tower poppies to be acknowledged – and for Stoke-on-Trent now to work alongside Derby to bring the Weeping Window and Wave installations to the Midlands on their upcoming UK tour.
Tristram Hunt MP
Lab, Stoke-on-Trent Central

• Whatever your views about war and religion (Sorry, Rev Davies – John Lennon was right about religion, Deborah Orr, 27 December), I feel that the following quote from my father’s first world war diary provides a nice comment on the way war and religion interact: “The beer was passed around, we drank each other’s healths, then toasted absent friends, pictured for a few brief seconds the homeland … kindness and love, goodwill towards all men, returned with some dissatisfaction to our present surroundings, shook ourselves straight, and proceeded to gather what of fun we could from war on the birthday of the Prince of Peace.”
Philip Pendered
Tonbridge, Kent


Great article by Howard Jacobson (27 December), and I share the same angst. I too have been conned, at Victoria railway station in London, by a seemingly very distressed, well-dressed lady who said she lived in Belgravia and had got locked out of her home.

If I had refused I would still be wondering two years later if I should have given her the money. I now know she was a con, as she did not return the money to my office address the next day, and the phone number and address she gave me did not exist – she was very clever.

But now I often give blunt refusals when asked for help as the embarrassment of being conned floods back. What to do?

Jenny Sykes
Upminster, Essex


Women on the front line

The opening of further frontline combat roles to women in the British Army is a welcome step forward against arbitrary discrimination.

The load which can be backpacked varies greatly from man to man and from woman to woman. Numerous conflicts have demonstrated that even a relatively low limit does not necessarily render a person militarily ineffective.

Mixing within the infantry may even have some impact on a culture of chauvinism which can make it difficult for ex-soldiers to reintegrate within modern civilian social and family life.

It is not unreasonable, however, to wonder what would happen if and when we again need mass mobilisation or even conscription; that is something which can be dismissed as impossible only until it actually happens.

Would this new option for the few then become an obligation for the many? Or will we be pushed back into gender stereotypes, with women again singing “We don’t want to lose you, but we think you ought to go”?

Some of the greatest progress towards gender equality was made in response to women’s contributions in each of two world wars; wars in which the burden of being killed or maimed in action continued to fall, overwhelmingly, upon men.

How long a period of equality would it take before men will no longer accept this as their natural lot?

John Riseley
Harrogate,  North Yorkshire


Is Emin’s ‘Bed’ just a bed?

A couple of years ago, in a gallery in Margate, I saw an indifferent black-and-white photo going for about £70. Next to it was an exact reproduction of the same photograph, signed on the border in marker pen by Tracey Emin (though it wasn’t taken by her); that was going for £1,500.

Should I worry about the suggestion that her My Bed might not be the original bed that she occupied?

Surely what’s important with such marketed artists is not the concept (we’ve known for some time that anything can be art), nor the skill involved (hmm!), nor the workmanship, (somebody else’s), but the connection to celebrity the piece affords. It’s like watching the Kardashians – you wonder why people pay to do it, but they do!

Rather than generate editorials like yours of 29 December, however tongue-in-cheek, we should be allowed quietly to enjoy the fact that someone would fork-out £2.55m for this bed, however authentic, or not. I’m sure Tracey laughs all the way to the bank.

In the meantime, I console myself with the fact that I have four possible Emin copies in my house – two of them doubles!

Robert Carlin
London W10


A way to repair the housing market

Although Philip Goldenberg (letter, 26 December) makes a good point that adding more bands to the current council tax system would be far simpler and more effective than Labour’s proposed mansion tax, neither will do anything to improve our dysfunctional housing market.

The central issue is how to increase supply in line with demand. This can best be addressed by introducing a land value tax (LVT) which would give those holding land with planning permission the choice of paying the tax (and thereby increasing government revenues) or increasing the supply of housing (and thereby reducing price inflation).

Only a government in league with large landowners and developers would see this as a bad idea.

Geoffrey Payne
London W5


When she was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher put a lot of energy into enabling and persuading tenants to become home-owners. David Cameron has put that policy into reverse, making it almost impossible for workers to buy.

His government has built too few houses, forcing up prices and enabling private landlords to make fortunes through high rents. Many of the few new houses are being bought by foreigners and massive numbers of houses that are available for sale are being bought by the rich (or those with access to loans) in order to cash in on the vast difference between the returns on rents and alternative financial options.

House prices are beyond the reach of all but the highest paid; even those with good earnings are finding that the high rent levels are preventing them for saving enough for a deposit.

Not only is the Government destroying the prospect of so many buying their own home, it is impeding the recovery of the economy by allowing a vast proportion of earnings to be diverted from trade to private landlords.

A B Crews
Beckenham, Kent


Sex pests put to flight

I agree with Jennifer Towland (letter, 29 December) that Nigel Glover’s polite daughters need to toughen up their response to loutish males. Such men rely on a timid female reaction, and one way to discomfit them is to retaliate in kind.

To rude personal remarks, ignore the face and scrutinise the crotch, as if studying (inferior) goods for sale, then accompany various negative gestures – head-shaking, dismissive hand-flapping – with a loud “No chance. Not a hope.” I have seen apparently confident older men withdraw hastily from such treatment.

S Lawton
Kirtlington, Oxfordshire


Long-distance Morris dance

So the Chanctonbury Ring Morris Men came to visit us in Washington, Tyne and Wear (“A costume drama that rings a bell”, 27 December)?

It would have been nice of them to come so far for our entertainment, but I think it more likely they were at Washington near Steyning, West Sussex.

Jack Hale
Gateshead, Tyne and Wear


Why were rail passengers left stranded?

Your editorial of 29 December suggests that rail maintenance should not happen at Christmas, but you don’t suggest an alternative. Do you think it should be done during the working week, inconveniencing thousands of workers?

The real scandal of Saturday’s closure of King’s Cross station was the failure to suggest alternatives. People for Yorkshire and farther north should have been told to go to St Pancras and change at Derby. Only local passengers needed to go to Finsbury Park.

Network Rail needs to explain the lack of advice not the need to do repairs.

Rob Edwards
Harrogate, North Yorkshire


Your correspondent Francis Roads (letter, 29 December) wonders why East Coast Trains (EC) didn’t divert some of their trains via Cambridge to Tottenham to relieve the pressure at Finsbury Park. There are four reasons why this didn’t happen.

First, most of EC’s trains are electric, and the line from Peterborough to Ely has no overhead wires. EC has no diesel locos of its own, so would have had to hire one from a rail freight company (something not necessary under British Rail).

Second, it’s doubtful whether any of EC’s drivers have the required route knowledge, so EC would have had to hire a pilotman.

One consequence of privatisation has been that drivers now have much narrower route knowledge than was the case with BR, so there are many fewer diversions over alternative routes. Privatisation has made the rail system much less flexible.

Third, at least going to Finsbury Park the trains were on their normal train paths, but going via Cambridge they would have had to fit in with the normal services to Stansted airport and Liverpool Street, and would have disrupted those services.

Fourth, what would have happened to the East Coast trains when they got to Tottenham – back to Edinburgh?

Ian K Watson


I was surprised to read your editorial on the problems at King’s Cross and Paddington. Surely you are aware that Network Rail is a nationalised concern in all but name. Therefore government ministers have overall responsibilities for these problems – not that they will be in any hurry to admit this!

Simon Bryant


We urgently need to address the causes of drug and equipment errors which kill or harm patients

Sir, Whether addressing the causes of drug or equipment errors which kill or harm patients (report, Dec 24), or road and aviation accidents, there are two principal lines of investigation. First, was the health professional, driver or pilot up to the job in performance terms; and second, was the task they were expected to undertake made overly difficult — beyond their ability to cope — because of poorly designed equipment or delivery systems?

What is known is that operator error is to blame in a high proportion of incidents, no matter the field of activity. And to try to improve performance both individually and across the board is a costly hit-and-miss affair. Professor Reid is right to focus on the need for co-operative redesign action by the NHS and its equipment and drugs suppliers; and, if necessary, the NHS should wield its considerable purchasing power.

If the NHS needs any persuasion it can look to the reduction in motor vehicle accidents that has occured largely as a result of better designed roads and safer cars.

With hospitals under pressure from increasing throughput and the consequent risk of error levels increasing, and with many patients self-administering drugs, it is of increasing importance that the operation of equipment and systems should adhere to a lowest common denominator approach, to reach a wide variety of “operatives”, if errors and deaths are to fall.

Morton Warner
Emeritus professor, University of South Wales

Sir, You suggest that the NHS has a lot to learn from airlines about avoiding unnecessary risk (“Safe as Planes”, leader, Dec 24). This is an analogy commonly used to berate NHS staff, carrying the implication that “many harms could be avoided if only the doctors and nurses were to follow sensible procedures”.

About ten years ago, when I was clinical director of the medical admissions’ unit in a medium-sized acute hospital, I was invited to a meeting organised by the Department of Health. The (then) chief medical officer lectured us on safety, taking the approach “what can we learn from the aviation industry?” The more he talked, the more it appeared that he did not know what it was like in a medical admissions’ unit, and that the things he advocated — although desirable — were totally impracticable. I was unwise enough to pursue the aviation analogy with him later. I explained that, whenever I’d been on a plane, the number of passengers was limited to the number of seats, and that the plane didn’t take off until the pilot thought it was ready to do so. I asked him if there was anything useful that the NHS could learn from this. He didn’t give an answer, and I haven’t been invited back since.

Dr John Firth
Consultant physician, Cambridge

Sir, The avoidance of unnecessary risk in hospitals must indeed be minimised. Your airline analogy is, though, perhaps unfortunate. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends that women with straightforward pregnancies should have babies at home because it is “generally safer”. But suppose you are on a flight. The intercom crackles to life and a voice says “Hello! I am Gordon Brown and I am your pilot today. I thought you would like to know that I have been fully trained except in the details of what to do if an engine fails or there is a major fuel leak. But I am pleased to say that my senior colleague, who does know how to deal with those, is waiting at the end of a telephone in case of an emergency.”

Would you happily take off? Change the words and ask yourself whether you would like your sister, wife or daughter to fly in a midwife-led unit. If we are to learn from airlines we must be consistent; the risk of an out-of-hospital birth may be small, but if the untoward occurs the result could be catastrophic.

Dr Andrew Bamji
Rye, E Sussex

Sir, The NHS is good at product innovation; adopting in new drugs and procedures, but process innovation is more challenging. It is much easier to innovate in applying new services. It is much more difficult to change practices.

By intention or oversight, the NHS practices “distraction management”, focusing on technological innovations while ignoring or neglecting the basic activity of improving the existing service — which is far more important.

Dr David Allen
Management tutor, School of Medicine, Manchester University

If we are going to point the finger, the government’s record on managing projects is a little shakey too…

Sir, We end the year as we started it, with the pot calling the kettle black. Presumably Sir Nicholas Soames’s demand for the dismissal of Network Rail senior management will also support the dismissal of all those senior civil servants who have consistently failed to bring in projects on time and under budget (“Call to sack rail chaos bosses”, Dec 29).

As for the responsibility of MPs who commission these projects, I suggest Sir Nicholas’s statement, “No other commercial organisation would set about the problem without a very clear idea of how they were going to do it, how long it would take, what it was they would use and what would be the finish time”, be a permanent poster in the cabinet room and the offices of all government ministers.

Anthony Lewis

Huntingdon, Cambs

The A303 is all very well if you want to see Stonehenge — but if it’s Cornwall you want try the M5

Sir, Why on earth would anyone want to drive from London to Cornwall using the A303, unless to enjoy the scenic route past Stonehenge (letter, Dec 27)? As a young Londoner in pre-motorway days I welcomed the construction of the A303 as a major improvement on the old A30. These days, although the way is a little longer, the M4 and M5 surely provide a far quicker route to the southwest.

Barry Richardson

Isham, Northants

Not all “key archives” are closed in Romania, as Michael Bourdeaux, of the Keston Institute, has discovered

Sir, Ben Macintyre’s article contains a welcome and long-overdue report on the political situation in Romania (“Christmas revolution has yet to run its course”, Dec 26).

However, not all “key archives” are closed. My colleague, Alina Urs, has recently been working in them and she located the file on the late Metropolitan Nicolae Corneanu (obituary, Dec 16), who betrayed his Church but later recanted the compromise he made with the Securitate. Its revelations shed devastating new light on Romanian Church history. She also found an account, written by my minder, of my visit to the Romanian Church in 1978.

Canon Dr Michael Bourdeaux

Keston Institute, Oxford

Sir, The real myth surrounding Waterloo (report, Dec 26) has nothing to do with Wellington or Blücher. The truth is that Napoleon was defeated by the Fourth Coalition led by Schwarzenberg using a strategy devised by Radetzky. This coalition won the Wars of Liberation of 1813-14, which liberated France, Germany and the Low Countries from the Corsican, who was forced to abdicate as emperor. The Congress of Vienna then settled the future shape of most of Europe by the time of Napoleon’s return. Waterloo was a postscript. If Napoleon had won, over 600,000 Austrians, Russians and others were already on their way to crush him as they had done before. So Waterloo may have drawn a line but Europe was already liberated and restructured.

Napoleon realised what had happened when he tried to commit suicide at the battle of Arcis sur l’Aube in 1814 when he was defeated by Schwarzenberg (Blücher had allowed him to escape). Unfortunately the Austrian contribution to his defeat is overlooked in Germany and Britain.
Alan Sked
Author of Radetzky: Imperial Victor and Military Genius and professor of international history, LSE

Sir, As I’m sure Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski (letter, Dec 27) knows, Wellington only gave battle on June 18 because Blücher had promised to come to his aid.

The two had met before the battle of Ligny on June 16, and on the 17th, the day before Waterloo, Wellington told the Prussian General Gneisenau’s messengers that “he would accept a battle in the position of Mont St Jean, if the Field-Marshal [Blücher] were inclined to come to his assistance even with one corps only”.

That was the plan. In the event, of course, it was a damn close-run thing.
Richard Ellis

Tenby, Pembrokeshire


The Essex Hunt gathers at Matching Green, Essex

The Essex Hunt gathers at Matching Green, Essex Photo: Andrew Parsons / i-Images

SIR – As a passionate Conservative supporter, I read with interest your article on the proposed repeal of the Hunting Act 2004 by a Conservative government.

The most important matter for this country’s economic survival is the election in May of a government with an overall Conservative majority.

The Tory party will risk losing votes by including any mention of hunting in the manifesto. There are a large number of far more important matters to address in that document that are of great concern to voters. The hunting community is prospering under the Hunting Act – the Conservatives would do well to leave this situation alone.

Christopher W Robson
Richmond, North Yorkshire

SIR – When hunting with hounds was legal, I used to attend the Boxing Day meet in Newbury Market Place, hoping that the hunt members would have a jolly good day out but that the fox would get away.

The pictures of this year’s meets suggest that, under the present law, this happy state of affairs pertains; so why don’t we just leave things as they are?

If the Conservatives are returned to power next May, they will have many more vital matters to deal with.

Roy Bailey
Hungerford, Berkshire

SIR – The media reports that a quarter of a million people turned out to support Boxing Day hunts. Providing that these are drag hunts and no animals are killed as a result, then I have no issue with people engaging in this activity. To get out in the fresh air in our countryside is something marvellous.

The Hunting Act is a workable piece of legislation. Problems only occur when it is not properly enforced. One of the main issues is hunts using trail hunting as a false alibi to avoid being prosecuted, and this needs to be addressed.

I am not for undermining rural pursuits, and do understand the excitement and spectacle of a ride across countryside. I just do not understand why this must include the slaughter of innocent wild animals for sport.

Julian Ware-Lane
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

SIR – In the 17th century the Puritans disliked bear baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.

I believe the motivation of today’s hunting opponents is largely the same.

Silas Krendel
London NW3

SIR – Running about with tinsel wrapped round your head, jumping 6ft fences and no prospect of a pint at the end of it all: surely the horses deserve a vote next year, too.

Richard Wright
Newbury, Berkshire

Network Rail chaos

Travellers locked out of Finsbury Park station (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

SIR – Rail chaos caused by justified engineering works could be alleviated by moving the shutdown to August.

The days are longer and snow and ice would not interfere with the schedule. It is easier to tolerate alternative routes, long waits and other modes of transport in the warmer months than it is in the depths of winter. The main objection is the impact on commuters. Commuters pay the highest fares but they also enjoy the biggest taxpayer-funded subsidies. By contrast, people who only use the railways to visit loved ones over Christmas still contribute as much to a system that repeatedly lets them down at this special time of year.

A summer shutdown would be less painful and fairer.

Dr David Cottam
Dormansland, Surrey

The Assisted Dying Bill

SIR – This year significant progress has been made in the campaign to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill people.

In light of pressure from the Supreme Court, Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill unanimously passed its Second Reading in the House of Lords, and at committee stage the majority of peers engaged constructively, rather than seeking to block its progress. To that end, an amendment was agreed to include the additional safeguard of judicial oversight. If there is not enough time for the Bill to complete its stages before the general election then it is imperative that Parliament continues this important debate afterwards.

Currently one Briton a fortnight ends their life in the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. For each person who travels abroad, 10 terminally ill people are taking their own lives in this country. The 2014 Reith lecturer, Dr Atul Gawande, has said that “we are heartless if we don’t recognise unbearable suffering and seek to alleviate it”. Most people in Britain support law change on assisted dying, and no one believes that someone should face a prison sentence of 14 years for compassionately assisting a loved one to die.

We are closer than ever to allowing dying people to have safeguarded choice in how they approach their deaths. Whoever forms the next government must allow time for Parliament to reach consensus on a safeguarded law.

Dr Aileen K Adams CBE
The Earl of Arran
Julian Barnes
Rt Hon Baroness Blackstone
Paul Blomfield MP
Jo Brand
Rosemary Brown OBE
Rt Rev & Rt Hon Lord Carey of Clifton
Sir Graeme Catto
Prof Dame Jill Macleod Clark
Dame June Clark
Lesley Close
Harriet Copperman OBE
Viscount Craigavon
Dr Jacky Davis
Rt Hon Lord Dholakia OBE
Joe Dunthorne
Sir Terence English
Barbara Follett
Anna Ford
Prof Godfrey Fowler OBE
Lady Celia Goodheart
Hugh Grant
Brenda Fricker
AC Grayling
Susan Hampshire OBE
Canon Rosie Harper
Sir Michael Holroyd CBE
Dame Elisabeth Hoodless
Eric Idle
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
Prue Leith CBE
Bernard Lewis OBE
Lord Lipsey
Baroness Lister of Burtersett CBE
Caroline Lucas MP
Ian McEwan CBE
Prof Klim McPherson
Dr Elisabeth MacDonald
Dr Henry Marsh CBE
Lord May of Oxford OM
Baroness Meacher
Diana Melly
Sir Jonathan Miller CBE
Deborah Moggach
Sir Andrew Motion
Dr Michael O’Donnell
Rt Hon Sir Richard Ottaway MP
Sir Christopher Paine
Sophie Pandit
Lord Pannick QC
Heather Pratten
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale
Sir Michael Rawlins
Lord Rees of Ludlow OM
Lady Kathleen Richardson OBE
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE
Nick Ross
Rt Hon Dame Joan Ruddock MP
Ruth Silver
Sir Patrick Stewart
Dame Janet Suzman
Prof Ray Tallis
Lord Taverne
Lord Turnbull KCB CVO
Edward Turner
Frank Turner
Zoë Wannamaker CBE
Baroness Warnock DBE
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe
Lewis Wolpert CBE
Sir Chris Woodhead
Matthew Wright
Dr Graham Winyard CBE

Secure vehicle

SIR – My late husband left everything in good order for me: lists of passwords, account numbers, and instructions on how to work the DVD player.

I had need to contact BT a few weeks ago and the lady who answered my call asked for the name of my first car as a security check. All at once the internet no longer knows me, and hours have been spent on the phone trying to crack the code. Of course it was his car, not mine, when the account was set up.

Should anyone remember Christopher Barlow at Sussex University in 1963 and recall his car, I would be hugely grateful. It’s eight digits, so the clapped-out Mini isn’t the answer.

Sarah Barlow
Newport, Pembrokeshire

Long-distance call

SIR – On a ferry six miles off the Norwegian coast close to the Russian border, I was able to receive an excellent 4G signal (Letters, December 26) from the local telecoms provider.

Chas Hockin
Reading, Berkshire

Thatcher’s achievement

Margaret Thatcher in 1987, waving to supporters from Conservative Party headquarters (AP)

SIR – Philip Duly (Letters, December 27) observes that in Margaret Thatcher’s historic second successive general election victory, her share of votes cast actually declined. So what? More important, her vote increased and she won, which was the objective.

If there are three or more substantial parties, it is more difficult for any one of them to secure more than 50 per cent. Margaret Thatcher’s achievement was that having secured 13,698,000 votes in 1979 and 13,012,000 in 1983, she increased her vote to 13,763,000 at her third successive victory in 1987. The contrast with the record of Tony Blair (“The Master”) is marked. His vote fell from 13.5 million in 1997 to 10.7 million in 2001 and then to just 9.5 million in 2005.

If David Cameron could command the level of support achieved by Margaret Thatcher, he would have no need to worry about percentages. He would win.

Lord Tebbit
London SW1

New speed cameras are essential to road safety

SIR – Your leader on December 27 expresses understandable concern that public bodies might employ digital speed cameras as “cash cows”. However, contrary to what many may feel, speed cameras are a proportionate and ethical means of dealing with speeding on our roads.

The overall number of speed cameras in this country is hardly changing at all. What is happening is that existing obsolete 35mm wet film cameras are being replaced by digital cameras, which operate more efficiently. It is worth repeating that speed cameras are only ever installed at collision hotspots, where there is a clear history of speed-related personal injury collisions over several years.

There is a national requirement that all speed cameras are painted yellow and are sited where they are clearly visible to motorists. People who speed through camera sites are not concentrating on the road or the local speed limit. The camera will only be activated by speeds well in excess of the local limit.

Speed really is a killer – the speed at which a vehicle is travelling largely determines the severity of any injury if an accident occurs.

Ian Kemp
Head of Metropolitan Police Traffic Criminal Justice Command 2005-13
Sutton, Surrey

SIR – The speed limit is not a target speed, but the absolute maximum allowable.

Any person who ignores this simple rule deserves to be fined.

David Burrett
Chichester, West Sussex

SIR – While exceeding a posted speed limit is deemed to be dangerous and therefore an offence, no attempt is made when an individual case comes to court to prove that exceeding the speed limit actually posed a risk to anyone.

It follows that every case that involves speeding should be prosecuted as dangerous driving.

Brian Worboys
Broomfield, Essex

My way or the fairway

SIR – Golf can never be made more interesting for spectators unless catapults and tackling are permitted (Letters, December 26).

However, the sliding tackle would need to be banned in order to protect the putting surface.

Philip Saunders
Bungay, Suffolk

The downtrodden Khans have the last laugh

Yes they Khan: Shobu Kapoor and Adil Ray star as the put-upon couple (BBC)

SIR – I was disappointed to read Rowan Pelling’s comments concerning the BBC comedy Citizen Khan. This light-hearted show does much to break down barriers. The timing is excellent, particularly that of Shobu Kapoor as Mrs Khan.

One does not have to inhabit a particular world to find a sitcom amusing. I enjoyed Dad’s Army and Porridge, and both were alien worlds to me. Just because I live in north Surrey it does not mean that the only comedy I can enjoy is Outnumbered, good though it may be. I was rooting for the downtrodden but proud Khans from episode one.

Linda Davis
Chessington, Surrey

Days ahead

SIR – In my twenties I would party all night long, and in my thirties we went to supper parties. When in my forties, dinner parties were enjoyed, and in my fifties I appreciated a long lunch with friends. Now in my sixties I have discovered the joy of a good breakfast out.

Can anyone tell me what comes next?

Squadron Leader T J W Leyland (retd)
London SW1

A fresh look

SIR – May I suggest that anyone who needs to shed a few pounds after Christmas acquires reading glasses.

The hours spent walking through the house trying to find them will see the excess weight fall away effortlessly.

Claire McCombie
Woodbridge, Suffolk

Globe and Mail:


Why Stephen Harper will move the climate needle in 2015

Irish Times:

Sir, – Rosita Boland (“Is a school sleepout the best way to raise awareness of homelessness?”, Opinion, December 23rd) makes some excellent points about the effectiveness of, as opposed to the sentiment behind, the annual “sleepout” by students in Dublin every Christmas. Perhaps it would be better if each student invited a homeless person to stay in their parents’ home for Christmas week, providing integration with a real family and taking pressure off health and social services at a critical time. – Yours, etc,


Donnybrook, Dublin 4.

Sir, – The Belvedere College sleepout raises an extraordinary amount of money for a wonderful cause, and I have great admiration for the lads who choose to give up their time over the Christmas holidays to sleep out in the cold and the rain. It’s fully acknowledged, I think, that obviously the two days are in no way a comparison to the struggles of those sleeping rough in Dublin all through winter, and indeed, all year round. However, there is a huge problem with the dehumanisation of homeless people and what the lads do every year makes people think. I know that I personally was struck by my sympathy towards the students who had another night to go before heading home, and my instant realisation that there are people sleeping rough who don’t have that refuge to go to. I always considered myself aware of the plight of rough sleepers particularly in Dublin, but I (and all of us) can definitely use a change in perspective once in a while.

These guys choose to provide that change in perspective and help change the problematic view Irish society has of the homeless while raising money to improve facilities that will be extremely useful and are desperately needed.

For that, I think they deserve recognition, not criticism. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – In reviewing the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, Lara Marlowe leaves out some very obvious points that highlight Hamas’s culpability in starting and prolonging the conflict (“How the Gaza war changed perceptions”, December 27th). There was no mention of rockets that were continuously fired at Israel before the conflict escalated and continue to be fired to this day, contrary to the assertion that there was a 19-month ceasefire by Hamas. No mention of the well-documented tunnels that had been dug into Israel with the aim of capturing and/or killing Israelis. Hamas could have built schools and hospitals but they chose to use what building materials they had to foment yet more terror. Seemingly Ms Marlowe does see the connection between Israel stopping building material and the use to which they are put in Gaza.

Ms Marlowe omits to mention that there were several Egyptian-brokered ceasefire proposals which Israel, and even the Arab League, agreed to and Hamas refused. She also omits to mention that Egypt closed the Rafah crossing and any aid that got through came through the Israeli side. Even the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is on record in blaming Hamas for the slaughter.Israel draws enough short straws in the Irish media without pieces like this. – Yours, etc,


Kilkee, Co Clare.

Sir, – It is interesting to note that while the Tánaiste urges USC assistance for the old, officials in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform argue for cuts in State pensions (“Cuts to State pension must be considered, review finds”, December 29th).

State pensions are probably the only model of pension that will endure – the payment of entitlements from current expenditure rather than from funds built on years of growth in growing economies.

The penny or cent appears not to have dropped yet; economic growth on the scale needed to furnish lavish or even moderate pension funds is over. The world has reached a level of productive ability, including goods and services, which renders further substantial growth unnecessary and impossible. We have been extraordinarily successful in reaching an era of sufficiency; instead of growth we need planned restraint of our extraordinary unprecedented ability to produce made possible by the advent of computerisation.

Pension funds depend on market investment and substantial growth. Although at the moment markets appear to forge ahead they are built on very fragile foundations and virtual values that have little to do with tangible provision of goods and services for the world. If they collapse, as many reputable US economists predict, pension carnage will be horrendous.

This should not be a pessimistic outlook, however, as real wealth, which is the ability to provide goods and services and a good life in abundance for all, was never more powerful, secure or in better shape. There is more wealth created in the present world than at any previous time – more than adequate to give everybody, including the greedy, a decent share. The methods of distribution through employment and entitlements must, however, be reconstituted. It is impossible to manage economics of sufficiency and automation with an ideology of continual growth and working hard. If we persist there will be enormous casualties, with pensions one of the first. – Yours, etc,



Co Sligo.

Sir, – Paddy Agnew reports from Rome on how important the “Francis Show” has become during 2014 and speculates that the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin might have reopened its embassy because it wants to be in on “one of the most fascinating shows not just in town but on the planet” (“Year of the Pope: No wonder Iveagh House wanted to get back in on the action”, December 27th).

Another reason why the Department of Foreign Affairs might want to get back on the Popemobile, Mr Agnew suggests, is because under Emma Madigan, the new Ambassador to the Holy See, “Ireland is far more likely to make common ground with Francis on issues such as combating poverty, reducing hunger and promoting sustainable development than it is on same-sex marriage, divorce and family planning”.

But do these reasons justify the expense of reopening an embassy to the Holy See in Rome? The Vatican, whose population consists primarily of celibate men, contributes little to Irish trade.

Are we keeping a house and staff in Rome for the sake of taking part in a “show”?

As for combating poverty, reducing hunger and promoting sustainable development, are we not doing so already, and might we not do so even better without the burden of running this unprofitable and unnecessary embassy?

What is hardest to understand is why the Irish people, many of whom have been hurt by the behaviour of this State’s officials, were not consulted in regard to the reopening of this embassy.

The embassy was closed once without any ill-effects to our nation. It can be closed again. Let’s not miss the opportunity. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – I am delighted to see an Irish internet service provider offer content filtering for Irish families (“UPC to enable blocking of internet content from March”, Mark Hilliard, December 27th).

Only the most technically aware Irish parent will be capable of adequately filtering all the internet access devices in the typical home. It requires skills across multiple technology platforms, pitting wits against the urges and skills of curious teenagers. Network-level filtering is the only effective tool to protect Irish children from disturbing and inappropriate content.

I look forward to more service providers following suit as soon as possible. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 18.

A chara, – I’ve been finding it a struggle to deal with the prize bond company’s requirements for payment of two cheques issued to my father. He died many years ago but the bonds were still in his name. On behalf of my mother, I did the necessary last August to show that she was the rightful inheritor, providing a copy of the death certificate and will, etc.

Now the company has asked for photo ID, proof of her PPS number and address. The latter was easy enough to provide, but she has no current photo ID and I have had to use my archaeological skills to go through the domestic disarray to find an official letter addressed to her that had her PPS number on it. I found one from 2009.

To substitute for lack of photo ID, the company asked my mother to write a letter saying that she has no photo ID!

The other two documents had to be certified copies, so I had to take the originals and the copies to the post office to have them certified. So, after several phone calls and exchanges of correspondence, the paperwork is done, and I await developments.

It takes all the fun out of winning a few bob. –Is mise,


Artane, Dublin 5.

Sir, – You were right. I can confirm that fairies were indeed responsible for decorating the Christmas tree along the Sally Gap in Co Wicklow (“There’s every chance it was the fairies”, December 24th).

A total of 10 hardy biking fairies, with baubles adorning their wings, made the arduous journey from Dublin to a lonely tree along the Military Road. A support team met them at the top with mulled wine and good cheer. If you zoom in on the photo, you’ll see the names of all the people who donated money to the No Bucks Homeless Outreach Bus, an umbrella project established by the Tiglin Rehab Centre. Parked on Marlborough Street in Dublin every Thursday evening, volunteers offer tea, food, warmth and chat to those needing it. A total of €750 (and counting!) was raised on the Bikes and Baubles Cycle challenge. – Yours, etc,




Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Contrary to what is asserted in Michael J Donnelly’s letter (December 27th), there had been reform in Northern Ireland under Terence O’Neill prior to 1968.

From the very start of his premiership, O’Neill embarked on a modernisation programme – encouraging industrial investment, implementing infrastructural development and creating a second university in Northern Ireland. He also sought to bridge the sectarian divide, and he set out his objectives in this regard in an important speech at the Corrymeela Centre in Ballycastle in 1966. His government recognised the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and the Nationalist Party became the official opposition in Stormont.

Most important of all were his meetings with Lemass in 1965, and with Jack Lynch in 1967 and 1968.

With hindsight, these may appear to represent modest progress.

They did not, however, seem so modest at the time and they raised expectations within the nationalist community and provoked a backlash from some elements of the unionist community.

This fuelled the atmosphere that gave rise to the civil rights movement, an unmistakeable instance of a “revolution of rising expectations”. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 18.

Sir, – The caption under a photograph in your online edition (“Abbey Theatre celebrates rich 110-year history in 110 moments”, December 27th) credits the Abbey Theatre with “the Irish premiere” of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in 1969 when in fact it had been produced at the Pike in 1955, where it ran for six months followed by a 10-week national tour and a later transfer to the Gate.

The recent television documentary on Brendan Behan failed to mention the first production of The Quare Fellow at the Pike in 1954, giving the erroneous impression that it was first staged by Joan Littlewood in London in 1956.

Alan Simpson directed both first Irish productions. – Yours, etc,



Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – After those passionate 15 indictments of the curia by Pope Francis (“Francis’s broadside leaves Roman curia shocked and awed”, December 23rd), will the curia go into confessional mode or plotting mode? – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Driving home on Christmas Night I happened upon a pedestrian, clearly the worse for wear, with no form of illumination, walking on a rural road and wearing dark clothing. This man was clearly a danger to himself and other road users. If an amendment to the Road Traffic Act were enacted that would see pedestrians on thoroughfares fined for not using a flashlight and florescent vest, it would go a long way to solve this worrisome problem. – Yours, etc,



Co Kerry

Irish Independent:

Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny

Dublin Airport seemed so festive and seasonal before Christmas, when I collected two of the children who returned to spend it at home. Now, having waved them off again, it seems cold and forlorn. I know the Government is trying, but hundreds of thousands of our brightest and best have left. And will not be able to return, except for a few fleeting days. It’s time to do away with the nonsense of this being “the best little country in the world to do business” and other glib phrases from the “we are where we are” glossary.

This will not, nor can it be, a great country until we can offer jobs and homes to our young. Until they can earn a living wage without being hammered by punitive taxes that make it virtually impossible to have any reasonable standard of living.

The Taoiseach must surely realise that we have given enough. Sacrificing our children to give vulture capitalists their pound of flesh was never part of the plan.

Once upon a time there was a vision for Europe – and we felt part of it. But it is now abundantly clear that the bigger countries, led by Germany, set the agenda. The little guy must carry the hod and take the whipping at his master’s whim. Brussels or Frankfurt can promise and beguile but, make no mistake, we have been thrown to the wolves.

Both Mr Kenny and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan bought into the fiction that we would get retrospective help with our bank debt and that the people who obediently bore the biggest transfer of private debt to public citizens in the history of economics would eventually get a fair deal. Well, we have been had. Unless you do something about it Mr Kenny, you will pay dearly. So, are you prepared to fight for what was promised to us? Or would you prefer to bear the political price for being part of the problem?

E Toal

Co Galway


A message of light and hope

The longevity of the written word can be seen in the 1897 letter by American journalist Francis P Church in ‘The New York Sun’. In response to a child’s query “Is there really a Santa Claus?” he replied: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist…”

Many newspapers have printed it in full every Christmas for over 100 hundred years. More than 30 years before he penned that editorial Mr Church reported on the American Civil War. His experiences had not hardened him, and his warm-hearted letter stands the test of time.

There was an event in Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral at Christmas to promote wellness for people. It is estimated that 450,000 people in Ireland experience depression in some form.

At the event a similarly nice letter from British actor Stephen Fry to a fan, Crystal Nunn, was read. Here are extracts from that 2006 letter.

“Dear Crystal,

“I am so sorry to hear that life is getting you down at the moment. Goodness knows, it can be so tough when nothing seems to fit and little seems fulfilling. I’m not sure there’s any specific advice I can give that will help bring life back its savour. Although they mean well, it’s sometimes quite galling to be reminded how much people love you, when you don’t love yourself that much.

“I’ve found that it’s of some help to think of one’s moods and feelings about the world as being similar to weather. Here are some obvious things about the weather: It’s real. You can’t change it by wishing it away. If it’s dark and rainy, it really is dark and rainy and you can’t alter it. It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row. BUT it will be sunny one day. It isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out, but come out it will. One day.

“It really is the same with one’s moods I think… BUT they will pass, they really will.

“I don’t know if any of that is any use: It may not seem it, and if so, I’m sorry. I’d just thought I’d drop you a line to wish you well in your search to find a little more pleasure and purpose in life.

Very best wishes,

Stephen Fry.

I read Tommy Roddy’s Irish Independent’s Letter of the Day for December 27, 2014. Titled ‘Sharing my feeling of peace with all mankind’ it too was on the theme of sharing hope and goodwill to others. I’d like to wish Tommy and readers best wishes for the New Year.

Mary Sullivan



Imaginative thinking required

As the year ends I feel a certain elation; satisfaction that at last the message of changed economics is beginning to dawn on the elite of economic thinking.

For almost seven years I have written many times to this newspaper expressing the view that we misunderstand and are taking an entirely wrong approach to the great economic crisis of the early 21st century. I note, however, that David McWiliams is moving slightly towards my point of view; he has begun to mention “technology” in his recent economic columns. I put forward the theory that this is not a time of “recession”; it is, in fact, the best economic time ever experienced.

We are living through the greatest economic transformation the human race has ever experienced and the essential pillars of economic ideology have been changed forever.

On that basis, I suggest that instead of seeking “growth” (increasing production) and “recovery” the world must adapt to and restrain unprecedented ability to produce and deliver practically everything (goods and services) in great abundance, rendering “growth” unnecessary and impossible.

The power of modern technology is awesome. In the last two decades or so it has utterly transformed the whole economic situation.

Society, indeed civilization itself, desperately needs functioning business and employment for its very survival. We should thank our lucky stars for existing in such wonderful times. Rather than persisting with outdated, inappropriate economic ideology we should embrace our good fortune, adapt to much improved times and get on with living far better lives than our ancestors ever thought possible.

Happy New Year – and, with some imaginative economic thinking, it most certainly could be.

Padraic Neary

Tubbercurry, Co Sligo


No life after debt

Dear Mr Kenny as our current leader, and loyal subject of the EU and the European banks, I want you to know the effect your lack of resolve is having on me.

If only you were more interested in caring for the people of this nation than you are in caring for the balance sheets of some German banks and the investment gamblers, I’d be off doing something else.

To put things in the right context, I’ll tell you a little about myself first. I am not unemployed. I am not a mortgage holder. I am not a father to a young family. I am not disabled. I am not rich. I am not one of your quango buddies. I am not and never was one of your supporters.

Sounds pretty good so far, right? It gets better. Here’s what I am. I am working full time. I am earning (before tax) between 40k and 45k per annum. I am living cheap (I cycle to work. I bring my lunch to work. I don’t eat out a lot or go to the cinema every other night. ). I am, in spite of all of that, broke.

Most months I finish up just getting by or a little into my overdraft. This is not right. I am now making more money than I every have previously, but I come out with less. I now have the job I want, but it’s not doing any more for me than the job I had washing pots on minimum wage. “Why?” you might ask.

Well, the reasons are simple. When I should be in a very comfortable situation, with a good lifestyle and the ability to grow some savings, I am instead taxed to the hilt. I am left with no money after I pay for only my essentials and it’s to pay off someone else’s debt. Not my debt, Enda. I don’t have any debt.

Alan Morton

Address with Editor

Irish Independent


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