13 January 2015 Shoping

Mary a little better though she could manage to get up for breakfast. Gout fading post office M&S, Tesco and Co op.


Frank Atkinson – obituary

Frank Atkinson was the creator of the Beamish Museum, in Co Durham, which provides the sights, sounds and smells of yesteryear

Frank Atkinson the man who created the world-famous Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham

Frank Atkinson the man who created the world-famous Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham Photo: North News / NNP

Frank Atkinson, who has died aged 90, was chief creator of the Beamish Museum in Co Durham and regarded as the father of the industrial museum movement.

Atkinson was working as curator of the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle in the 1950s when, inspired by open-air museums he had visited in Scandinavia, he came up with the idea of creating a museum of “living history” that would preserve the way of life, customs, and speech patterns of the North East of England at a time when the region’s traditional industries – coal, shipbuilding and steel mills – were beginning to disappear, along with the communities which served them.

Convinced that there was an urgent need to preserve not only household objects but also everything from complete buildings to industrial structures before they disappeared, in the 1960s he began collecting on a grand scale.

A 15-ton steamroller was bought for £150 from Northumberland county council; a J21 locomotive built in Gateshead in 1889 was bought for £1,200; and when Atkinson discovered that Rowley Station near Consett in Co Durham (a classic example of a small North Eastern Railway company station) was awaiting demolition, he arranged to rent it at £10 a year until it could be dismantled and rebuilt. A cast-iron gents’ lavatory from Willington Quay in North Tyneside was also taken down and stored.

Meanwhile, members of the public were invited to ransack their attics. “You offer, we collect” was the slogan; and contributions, ranging from miners’ tin boxes to turn-of-the-century dental equipment, and from 19th-century adverts to hand-sewn baby clothes and old uniforms, poured in. Eventually the collection spilt out of the Bowes Museum attics into about 30 huts and hangars at the old Army camp at Brancepeth.

In 1966 a working party was established to examine the concept of the museum, whose entrance feature was to be Tiny Tim (a huge 1883 steam-powered hammer which had been used to forge ships’ rudder posts). Beamish Hall, on a 300-acre site eight miles south-west of Newcastle upon Tyne, was soon identified as a suitable location.

The Friends of Beamish was set up in 1967, and in 1970 Atkinson left the Bowes Museum to become director of the new museum — the first to be financed and administered by a consortium of county councils (Cleveland, Durham, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear).

A preliminary exhibition called Museum in the Making, which opened in 1971, set an instant record by attracting a two-hour queue on its opening day, and 50,000 people came to visit over 21 weekends. The museum began with just two members of staff, and until 1972 displays were confined to the hall; but as open-air aspects of the museum became accessible, Atkinson developed new techniques of interactive, entertaining and participatory display which have been influential on older museums.

Displays included a whole town constructed from the buildings that had been dismantled and re-erected, with terraced housing, shops, a pub, a park, a school, a newspaper office, a bank and a row of houses where professional people would have lived. There was also a drift mine, a farm with animals, a steam railway and trams to take visitors round the attractions.

A tram stops on an Edwardian street at the unique Beamish Open Air Museum (NNP)

However, while the exhibits were fascinating in themselves, it was the first-person interpreters (many of them local people who had experienced the life they described) who brought history to life. “Visitors to the museum can follow a coal miner into the eerie blackness of a 1913 drift mine; wait in a prim Victorian parlour to be called upstairs to a scary cast-iron dental chair flanked by a foot-pedal-powered drill; sample freshly baked bread in the kitchen of a miner’s cottage; watch cheese being made at the Home Farm; or shop for tea, treacle or fancy bloomers at the cooperative store,” remarked an American visitor who recommended a day at the Beamish as an antidote to “castle burnout”.

But, as Atkinson explained: “Beamish was established mainly to give confidence to the people of north-east England themselves. They tended to have a chip on their shoulder about their past, proud of it and yet feeling that it was undervalued. The museum was for them. Tourism didn’t exist up there when we first planned it.”

By 1986 the Beamish had been named British Museum of the Year. In 1987, the year Atkinson retired, it became European Museum of the Year. Today it attracts more than 350,000 visitors annually.

The son of a plumber and an infant schoolteacher, Frank Atkinson was born near Barnsley on April 13 1924 and began building up his own small museum of odds and ends as a boy. Aged 10 he took up fossil collecting and became the youngest member of the Museum of Barnsley Naturalist and Scientific Society.

A 1940s farm at the museum (NNP)

He was educated at Barnsley Grammar School, where he decided on a museum career, but after taking a Science degree at Sheffield University he initially worked at a coking plant, spending his weekends volunteering at the Wakefield Museum and Art Gallery. He eventually got a job there and became, aged 25, the country’s youngest museum director. Atkinson went on to direct the Halifax Museums before his appointment as curator of the Bowes Museum in 1958.

After retiring from the Beamish Museum, he worked with the Thomas Bewick Birthplace Trust and as a member of the (now disbanded) national Museums and Galleries Commission.

Atkinson published an autobiography, The Man Who Made Beamish, in 1999 and wrote several books about the history and traditions of the North East, including Victorian Britain: The North East (1989) and Life and Tradition in Northumberland and Durham (2001), in which gave delightful accounts of such traditional pastimes as pigeon fancying and leek growing.

He was appointed CBE in 1995.

In 1953 Frank Atkinson married Joan Pierson, who survives him with their three sons.

Frank Atkinson, born April 13 1924, died December 30 2014


Andrew Parker, Director General of MI5
Andrew Parker, Director General of MI5. Photograph: AP

Andrew Parker, head of MI5, used his 8 January speech after the Paris attacks to reinforce the agencies’ case for wide-ranging surveillance capabilities (Report, 10 January). This argument is driven by factors both technological – “we can collect everything so we shall” – and political: ministers and agencies fear they might miss somebody as they search for those who might threaten security.

But there is no evidence that mass surveillance will do any good. Parker’s speech gave examples where successful interception of communications led to convictions but both referred to forensic analysis of communications of people after their arrest; neither referred to bulk collection enabling prevention. Lee Rigby’s killers and the Kouachi brothers in France were known to the security agencies, and therefore their communications could be intercepted on the basis of targeting and warrants. But they were not high enough up the list of agency priorities for more intrusive surveillance and their crimes were not prevented. To use these as evidence to support an argument for yet more surveillance powers is nonsensical; the agencies are already overwhelmed with information and must make difficult judgments. The task is to improve their capacity to process and evaluate what they have in relation to known suspects.
Peter Gill
Honorary senior research fellow, University of Liverpool

• Over the past few days we have learnt that freedom has a price, which sometimes has to be paid in blood; and if the politicians manoeuvre us into a position where we are no longer paying the price, they may have manoeuvred us into a position where we are no longer free.
Barrie Dale
Wantage, Oxfordshire

• If the security services are given more powers to deal with terrorism, there is justifiable concern that these would be used to suppress legitimate dissent. In the past, special branch collaborated with employers’ organisations to compile a blacklist of trade-union activists; when the IRA was active, the security services used police spies to gain intelligence about its activities, and even used agents provocateurs to incite actions to discredit the organisation. Similar tactics were then used by police to infiltrate peaceful environmental protest groups; there is evidence that police spies encouraged activists to undertake illegal activities; one such spy is even suspected of planting an incendiary device. Recently this paper revealed evidence of the police trying to recruit informers on campuses to report on student activists, so there appears to be a continued abuse of power. Will a letter to the Guardian criticising the security services result in being placed on a police database?
Derrick Joad

• Charlie Hebdo knew they were in danger; after all, they accepted police protection. But their actions have had tragic, and at least partly foreseeable, consequences, not only for themselves but for their protectors, all their families, and society at large. Ironically we may all now be subject to further limitations on our personal freedom and privacy as governments take the predictable opportunity to increase “security”.
Sarah Ashe
Modbury, Devon

• Congratulations to Simon Jenkins (8 January) for the wise advice not to overreact to the outrages in France. And right on cue, up pops Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, demanding “the assistance of companies which hold relevant data”.

No, Mr Nosey Parker, we are not going to let you have everyone’s data to sift through. Targeted surveillance is one thing. But bulk collection and retention of data is intolerable in a society that upholds the principles of liberty and freedom of speech, for which those poor French journalists paid with their lives.
Ron Mitchell

• Over the past decade the fight against home-grown terror has been led by the security services, which (for fear of disclosing techniques and sources) have chosen to adopt an unsustainably labour-intensive approach of ongoing monitoring and surveillance, rather than direct confrontation and criminal prosecution of those identified in the commissioning of extremist terror.

A fundamental shift in approach is needed, whereby we have early police intervention, as soon as extremist behaviour becomes apparent, to the full extent allowed by the law, rather than just waiting for terrorism to happen.
Mark Campbell-Roddis
Dunblane, Perthshire

• I wonder if Edward Snowden is having second thoughts? After the recent multiple tragedies in France and the strong chance that they could happen in the UK and elsewhere, it must be obvious that trawling of electronic mail is necessary to try to prevent future jihadist plans.
Dr RV Dubberley
Bredwardine, Herefordshire


A man waves an Israeli flag during Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Paris on 12 January 2015.
A man waves an Israeli flag during Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Paris on 12 January 2015. Photograph: Michel Euler/AP

Jonathan Freedland (First they came for the cartoonists, then they came for the Jews, 10 January), claims that Jews are targeted simply as “a kind of ultimate symbol of the west”, as a result of “a curious kink in the ultra-Islamist mindset”, or as the traditional scapegoat of European fascists.

But the Israeli government, with its new bill proposing to make Israel the nation-state of all the Jews in the world, and Jewish organisations such as the Board of Deputies, with their claim that the majority of Jews support Israel’s oppressive policies, contribute to the conflation of Jews with Israel and the subsequent rise in antisemitism and attacks on Jews.

To point this out is not of course to justify the conflation of Jews with Israel, just as it is wrong and unjustifiable to identify jihadis with Muslims. But the recent massacre in France of 16 people was purportedly carried out in the name of Islam; and the swift and powerful condemnation issued by Muslim groups all over the world will help to reduce anti-Muslim feeling and deter young Muslims from joining the jihadis.

This condemnation by Muslims contrasts strongly with the support given by most Jewish communal associations around the world to Israel’s massacre last summer of over 1,400 civilians, including over 500 children, in Gaza.

If world Jewish organisations were to learn from their Muslim counterparts and say loud and clear in response to Israeli atrocities “not in my name”, this could help to reduce antisemitism and make the recruitment of young Muslims by jihadis more difficult. Despite Freedland’s claim that Jews have “no control” over Israeli policies, such condemnation could also exert strong pressure on the Israeli government to stop its atrocities and enter into genuine peace negotiations with the Palestinian unity government.
Deborah Maccoby
Executive, Jews for Justice for Palestinians

Unison members at conference
Union members vote on a motion during the 2011 Unison delegate conference in Manchester. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

On the same day the government pledged to curb public-sector unions’ right to strike by introducing a 40% minimum vote threshold (Report, 10 January), it also pledged to cut the pay of health workers. This is no coincidence. The government fears strikes and knows that if it wasn’t for the unions and the right to strike there would be no barrier to moving millions of public-sector workers on to minimum-wage, zero-hour contracts. This government is out of touch. It believes that portraying unions as “the enemy within” will play well with the electorate. It could not have got this more wrong. There is more public support for unions today than there has been for many years. Especially when they take strike action to defend services and their members’ living conditions.

The public understands that working people need someone in their workplace who will stand between them and bullying managers. The hypocrisy of such attempts to further blunt the ability of unions to defend their members is not lost on the public. The same government that holds our pay down at 1%, while awarding itself 11%, unsurprisingly, doesn’t think voting thresholds should apply to it. If it were to apply a 40% threshold, then this government would not be in office. Once again the Tory-led coalition has one weapon: divide and rule. It blames migrants, people on benefits, public-sector workers and now trade unionists. We have four months to ensure that this government of class privilege is driven from office.
John McDonnell MP, Ronnie Draper General secretary, Bakers’, Food & Allied Workers Union, Billy Hayes General secretary, Communication Workers Union, Sean Vernell & Jane Aitchison Unite the Resistance, Ian Hodson President, Bakers’, Food & Allied Workers Union

• The principle that an important vote affecting the ordinary functioning of society should require the support of at least 40% of those eligible to vote seems fair enough – provided it is applied evenly; ie not only to unions, but also to parliamentary candidates and to parties seeking to share in governmental power. If unions are to be bludgeoned with this new rule, then any party which has not secured both 40% of seats in the Commons and the votes of 40% of the total electorate should be automatically denied access to the government benches.
Lawrence Buckley
Crieff, Perthshire

Depressed man
‘The treatment of depression involves antidepressants that help correct the underlying biochemical abnormality.’ Photograph: Garo/Phanie/REX

Depression is not an allergic reaction (Is depression a kind of allergic reaction?, G2, 5 January). Allergic reactions are appropriate immune responses against foreign materials. An autoimmune process may underlie some cases of depression, though we do not know how much of a role inflammation plays. Anti-inflammatory drugs have so far not yielded promising results in preliminary trials. The role of autoimmune inflammation in stand-alone depression is far from conclusive (Anti-inflammatory drugs ‘could fight depression’, 20 December). We know that depression is associated with impaired serotonergic and noradrenergic neurotransmission which impairs the brain’s ability to form new neural networks. The treatment of depression involves antidepressants that help correct the underlying biochemical abnormality. Adherence to medication regimens from your doctor is therefore important. Psychological and social intervention is also important: helping people make sense of their problems and devise strategies to overcome them. Cognitive behavioural approaches help retrain previously maladaptive ways of thinking. Further research into the neurobiological basis of mental disorders is needed. However effective psychological and social support is also needed.
Dr KD Jethwa
Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

• Research has now shown that competitiveness and self-focused achievements operate through different brain systems than those for concern for others and altruistic motives. Indeed stimulating one motivational system can tone down the other. Understanding these basic facts about the human brain is essential if we are to move towards a more just and moral society. Basically if you overdrive the competitive system, focusing on high rewards which give a dopamine rush (such as bankers’ bonuses) you risk toning down altruistic motivation systems.

Some wealthy people are philanthropists, but many are not and don’t see the problem in taking a massive share of available resources because they’re locked into a competitive, self-focused (brain) system. In the case of politics, too, if people focus on developing arguments to destroy the arguments of others (rather than promote the good) they risk toning down their altruistic motivational systems. Individuals caught up in these basic motives systems can struggle to emotionally connect with the suffering of others. The problem for politicians is that audiences know whether they are presenting their arguments simply to beat their opponents, or actually to create good. Tricky, given the brain that evolution has given us.
Professor Paul Gilbert
Mental Health Research Unit, Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

• Three cheers for Hilary Mantel’s dismissal of the simplistic concept of grief as an essentially linear process ( Review, 27 December). Many people’s experience suggests that Kübler-Ross’s “stages” of grief are rather aspects of grief, that may be experienced in different orders and different combinations. Indeed the co-existence of separate, and often conflicting, emotions is a part of what makes grief difficult to describe. For some people, it is like being in a small craft on a large ocean: sometimes there are calm waters and blue skies; on other days great grey clouds exclude all light. And occasionally it seems that terrible whirlpools are going to suck the sufferer down into extinction. Insisting that there is a “grieving process” and that at any one time any given sufferer will be at a certain stage and progressing towards the next is entirely counterproductive.
PB Alldred
Leverburgh, Isle of Harris

Memorial to Yvonne Fletcher
Memorial to British police officer Yvonne Fletcher, who was shot dead outside the Libyan Embassy in London in 1984. Photograph: John D Mchugh/AP

I have been campaigning for over 30 years for justice for Yvonne Fletcher, who was shot and killed outside the Libyan embassy in 1984 (The 30-year rule documents they don’t want you to see, 7 January). I was with Yvonne when she was shot and my words were the last she heard. Although some papers were released last year, I am especially interested in the report by Anthony Duff, who was ordered by Margaret Thatcher to hold an investigation into the failings of GCHQ, among others, in the death of Yvonne. I understand this report is highly critical of MI5 etc and has been withheld from public view. This document would prove, beyond doubt, that my request for an inquiry into the death of Yvonne and the various roles played by several government departments should be allowed. My repeated requests to date have all been refused. I wonder why?
John Murray




The murder of the Charlie Hebdo journalists was shocking and repulsive, and has rightly been condemned. Nevertheless, it is undesirable that this tragedy should be elevated into a heroic defence of freedom of speech.

Such freedom is a privilege which must be exercised responsibly. It is not an absolute human right. The law of civilised nations does not protect defamation, plagiarism, blackmail, harassment and other forms of bullying. There has to be a sense of balance. It is legitimate to lampoon living public figures such as politicians and celebrities for their politics and lifestyle. It is also legitimate to criticise religious leaders for extreme beliefs, pomp and ostentation and perhaps, above all, for child abuse.

This is not the same as lampooning the founders of Islam and Christianity and other world religions. It is simply an insult to millions of sincere devotees, the majority of whom are totally opposed to fanatical terrorism.

All newspapers write about what they think their own audience wish to read. The journalists of Charlie Hebdo chose to write for self-proclaimed intellectuals who believe that their superiority justifies insult of lesser mortals who are seen (by them) as uneducated or unsophisticated. It is, in the case of the particular cartoons, the journalism of the snigger and the sneer.

The murder of the journalists is deplorable, but it is not appropriate to canonise them as martyrs to the cause of free speech.

Paul Honigmann
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire


It was sadly inevitable that someone would write suggesting that the journalists at Charlie Hebdo brought it on themselves, and that someone turns out to be Daniel Emlyn-Jones: “These writers should have known better than to insult Islam” (Letters, 9 January). Just like those rape victims, no doubt, who should never have gone out in their short skirts. What does Mr Emlyn-Jones expect us all to do? Censor ourselves and circumscribe our everyday freedoms lest some maniac feels justified in committing an outrage against us?

Duncan Torr
Maidstone, Kent


Not only was this latest carnage in Paris a brutal attack on freedom of expression in France, it was also an attack against our fundamental democratic values. There is absolutely nothing that can justify such cowardly and callous attack.

The military-like precision, extensive weaponry deployed and tragic targeting of pre-selected victims (where terrorists apparently knew the time of the editorial meeting at Charlie Hebdo) is alarmingly ominous – necessitating that we in Britain adopt a far more assertive stance against militant Islamism in the UK.

This involves more material and communal support for our intelligence services and the Counter Terrorism Command at the Metropolitan Police (SO15). The Home Secretary’s recent, courageous measures to counter British “jihadists” need to be applauded and espoused as the national minimum in our legal armoury.

For their part, British Islamic institutions are still woefully complacent, offering at best no more than rhetoric and well-rehearsed bouts of condemnation. They need to do much better in countering the pernicious ideology of radical Islamism, reinforcing on young impressionable Muslim minds that the security of this country is paramount – and instilling unmitigated pride in our British values and national institutions.

Dr Lu’ayy Minwer Al Rimawi


Charlie Hebdo took the hit because others in Europe were too cowed to satirise Islam. France took the hit because others in Europe were too craven to ban the burka. Now is the time for an emphatic display of solidarity to ensure our freedoms are upheld and no quarter is given to the evildoers.

Andrew Schofield
London SE17


The “Unity March” of one million people in Paris on Sunday reminded me of the Iraq anti-war march of two million in London and 15 million around the world in 2003. I wonder if the march in Paris would have been necessary if the 15 million had been listened to.

Chris Holden
London W4


The meaning of Auschwitz

Simmy Richman’s account of his trip to Auschwitz (8 January) reminds me of my own. In 1995, I boarded a bus at Victoria bus station and went overland (with some sea) to Krakow. Armed with a photocopy of the scrappily drawn map in Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark, I wanted to trace the Schindler story and did so before it became the tourist trail it is now.

I found traces of the ghetto wall in side streets, gardens and even a school playground. A local travel office offered a trip to Auschwitz, or Oswiecim, and yes, feeling uncomfortable in case I should be considered a ghoul, I booked it.

At the camp I met my guide, who explained that many guides had been Holocaust survivors, but as they were becoming too old, we in my group would have to put up with him, the mere child of a Holocaust survivor. The guide told us how important it was that people visited Auschwitz because the world must never forget what happened there in that period of history.

I think that Auschwitz stands as a symbol not of oppression, but of freedom. This camp symbolises what our world would have looked like if our forefathers had not given their all to defeat an evil, totalitarian ideology. It is a reminder of evil defeated.

Perhaps it might also encourage us to stand up against totalitarianism in all its forms whether political or claiming to be religious.

Eric Griffiths
Brampton, Cumbria


NHS: Listen to the accountants

During my time in the NHS, both as a surgeon and a trust chairman, the idea that privatising the service would bring the rigour and clarity to the NHS which its public service ethos lacked was popular with politicians

After two years managing Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Circle has backed out because of insufficient funding, an unprecedented clinical load, insufficient places to look after the elderly when they are ready to leave the acute wards, and the possibility of an unfavourable report from the Care Quality Commission.

Hundreds of hospital trusts throughout the UK face these problems but do not have the luxury of passing the buck to someone else.

Please let us have no more talk of privatising the NHS, but do let us listen to those Circle accountants who very succinctly state the reasons that the NHS is in trouble, and let us make the necessary changes to save the best and most cost-effective healthcare system in the world.

Andrew Johnson FRCS
Great Bourton, Oxfordshire


I live within the area served by Hinchingbrooke Hospital. I work with people who attend the hospital and my husband drives patients to attend clinics there.

Based on what people who use the hospital say to us, there is a general level of satisfaction and the most noticeable improvement since it moved from NHS management in 2012. We are therefore amazed at the recent news that Circle is withdrawing from its contract to run the hospital.

Prior to the Circle takeover, Hinchingbrooke was due to be closed and local people were desperately concerned that they would have to travel to Peterborough to receive care. My fear now is that the NHS will not take the hospital back into its management and we will be left with no local hospital. This will not only affect local residents but will affect the wider public because the hospital also provides accident and emergency services for frequent traffic accidents on the notorious A14, which passes nearby.

It’s incredibly sad and extremely frustrating that politics and electioneering cause situations in which we, the public, lose an excellent service, accessible care and committed staff. It’s happening in schools, colleges and councils, and is intended, I believe, to undermine the value of public services across the country. Hinchingbrooke Hospital is just the start. Where will it end?

Lizzie Clarke
Hilton, Cambridgeshire


Scotland’s very own ichthyosaur

Dr Steve Brusatte comments that the new type of ichthyosaur identified this week from a fossil found on the Isle of Skye means that “we’ve found a new species that was uniquely Scottish” (“First remains of new ‘shark-like reptile’ found on the Isle of Skye”, 12 January).

As the fossil dates from 170 million years ago I do think this is taking nationalism a step too far.

Phil Cole


Fish sauce for vegans

Mark Hix (10 January) offers a vegan recipe that includes fish sauce. As fish is apparently a vegetable, can he provide me with some seeds in order that I can grow my own?

Marianne Haylett
Barnet, Hertfordshire


Britain stands on the brink of a GM food revolution, but not everyone is pleased with the idea

Sir, Matt Ridley says that GM crops are “safer, cheaper and better for the environment than conventional crops” (“The argument’s over. Let GM crops flourish”, Opinion, Jan 12).

This will be news to farmers in the United States, who after 15 years of growing genetically modified crops are reported to be increasingly turning to non-GM seeds. This is because non-GM seeds are cheaper than GM, because non-GM crops fetch a higher price than GM crops, and because GM crops have led to resistant insects and weeds. As a result, according to the US department of agriculture, there has been an overall increase in pesticide use in the US since GM crops were introduced.

These inconvenient truths are why, if the EU changes go through this week, Scotland and Wales will be able to consolidate their non-GM position to protect the reputation of their farming industries, and maintain their ability to export uncontaminated food to other countries around the world.

In Scotland and Wales, farming plays a larger role in the economy than is the case in England, which is why English politicians have been able to indulge in the ideological promotion of GM crops, and to ignore the clear market signals, not just from other EU countries, but from the US, Russia, China and elsewhere, that getting a reputation for a GM-contaminated agriculture is not good for business.

Peter Melchett
Policy director, Soil Association

Sir, There is little doubt that GM crops need to be seriously considered as a route to producing healthy disease-resistant plants for human and animal consumption. For too long the idea of planting a crop in the soil and then bombarding it with chemicals to eliminate any potential pests or diseases had seemed an odd way to produce food. Using various chemicals — ending in – cides (fungicide, herbicides, insecticides — totally unbalances many natural processes that should take place in the soil. If the use of GM crops allows us to reduce inputs of pest and disease-control chemicals, this has to be a benefit.

However, I was concerned by the statement in your report (“Britain on brink of GM food revolution as minister says yes”, Jan 8) that maize, sugar and oilseed rape have been genetically engineered to withstand higher concentrations of herbicides. I presume this means that it will allow the grower to use larger amounts of herbicides to control weeds, thereby benefiting the crop, which would be impervious to the chemical.

The potential problem is that, while the crop will not be affected by the chemical, it will still be in or on the plant and at higher levels than previously, and therefore being passed into the food chain. The idea of genetic modification to increase resistance to the -cide chemicals may be one of the less attractive reasons to grow such crops.

The potential problem is that, while the crop will not be affected by the chemical, it will still be in or on the plant and at higher levels than previously, and therefore being passed into the food chain.

David Hudson
(Bioagronomist) Talke, Staffs.

Sir, Matt Ridley’s assumption that the debate is now over on GM crops must be challenged. While there may indisputably be benefits from this technology, these have to be carefully weighed against overtly commercial considerations that might in the long term not do the environment or people any favours at all. Further debate is most certainly needed.

Dr Robert Cassels
Whittlesford, Cambs

Sir, In the battle to produce more food while ensuring that we leave room for wildlife, it is crucial that we take the best from all farming methods to maintain a sustainable agricultural industry in the future.

Well-funded research is key to solving this dilemma. Research on our own Allerton Project farm has shown that reduced or no ploughing (no-till) can have overwhelming benefits to soil health and crop production. Less soil disturbance means more earthworms and soil fungi, and this in turn helps to improve soil structure — thus increasing its capacity to absorb water during heavy rainfall.

Importantly, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by employing this system. This can all be achieved without necessarily having to use GM crops.

Dr Alastair Leake
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

My marksman badge for the Bren gun was mistaken for that of a squadron sergeant major – to my great satisfaction

Sir, As a young sapper I managed to acquire the marksman qualification with the Bren gun. With it went a badge of exactly the right shape, size and sleeve position to be mistaken for that of a squadron sergeant major (letters, Jan 9 & 12). It was an occasional pleasure to have a sergeant stand up and put his heels together for me — and to make my gracious response.

David Brancher

Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

Who, exactly, is responsible for the structure, format and style of broadcast general election debates?

Sir, Your report “Ukip is a ‘major party’ and can join television debates” (Jan 9) suggests that Ofcom’s consultation on major political parties would dictate the line-up of possible leaders’ debates before the election.

This is not the case. Ofcom has no role in determining the structure, format and style of any broadcast general election debates that might take place. This is up to broadcasters.

Ofcom’s role is to set rules governing the minimum allocation of party election broadcasts, a duty placed on Ofcom by parliament.

Tony Close

Director of content standards, Ofcom

A diagnosis of the condition is often the spur a child needs to boost his or her self-esteem

Sir, As a fully qualified teacher of dyslexic pupils over a long period, I believe that Dr Simon Gibbs’s study at Newcastle University (“Dyslexic label ‘harmful’ ”, Jan 8) has failed to recognise the effect of a diagnosis on the child himself/herself. Almost invariably it is the spur that the child needs to boost his or her self-esteem and efforts to learn, alongside appropriate literacy teaching, which can lead to rapid progress. “I was afraid I was stupid!” was the comment made by many who have since acquired degrees.

If teachers are failing dyslexic pupils it is down to ignorance and lack of training, not diagnosis.

Pamela Cheshire


Whitehall really ought to set a good example on prompt payments, as delays hurt small businesses

Sir, The government’s poor performance on prompt payment, as highlighted by the National Audit Office (report, Jan 8), could have a significant impact on the solvency of small businesses. In 2013-14, almost half of the insolvency practitioners working on corporate insolvencies reported working on a case where late payment was a major factor.

Late payment is one of the more frustrating causes of business failure: it has a disproportionate impact on smaller businesses. Ministers have been vocal about the need for prompt payment, and must set an example.

Giles Frampton

President of R3, the insolvency trade body




To avoid the spread of fundamentalism, we have to improve the way we teach religion in schools

How to avoid more attacks from Islamists; protecting the Cornish pasty; funding cancer drugs; and superslow broadband.

Demonstrators gather in the Place de la Republique prior to the mass unity rally following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, France

Demonstrators gather in the Place de la Republique prior to the mass unity rally following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, France Photo: BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

SIR – One factor in the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in both France and Britain is the fact that religion is given such a low priority in the teaching curriculum and in the media.

As children are not being taught the difference between a rational and measured interpretation of sacred texts and a fundamentalist approach, it is not surprising that so many people are being snared by religious fundamentalism – and I include Christians in this.

As a vicar, I welcome involvement in my local secondary school, where I talk about the value of intelligent interpretation of scripture and respect for others, but I still feel the subject is not given the full importance it should be.

Let’s stop reducing religion to Songs of Praise and the early Sunday morning breakfast spot on local radio, and find a way to enable people to think intelligently about religion so that it becomes part of what it is to be British.

Rev Simon Tillotson
Whitstable, Kent

SIR – Max Jalil (Letters, January 10) draws a parallel between the cartoons in Jyllands-Posten and those depicting Jews in Thirties Germany. The former ridicule beliefs, the latter demonise people.

David Culm (Letters, January 10) states that we “should observe sensitivity and respect for other cultures’ beliefs”.

This is wrong. We should show respect for other people, not their beliefs. These should be fully open to criticism, ridicule and opposition; especially those that justify murder as a response to mockery.

Mike Mahoney
Tetbury, Gloucestershire

SIR – Watching the unity march of one million people in Paris yesterday reminded me of the Iraq anti-war march of one million people in London, and 10 million people in cities around the world, on February 15 2003. Would the march in Paris have been necessary if those 10 million people had been heeded?

Chris Holden
London W4

SIR – We did not see so many of the world’s leaders in London after the July 7 bombings, when many more people than those poor victims in Paris were murdered by Islamist extremists.

Were those deaths less tragic or are the French more patriotic?

Marion Armstrong
Peacehaven, East Sussex

Protecting the pasty

SIR – It is not only Cornish pasties that are threatened by the prospect of the free trade deal being promoted by the European Union and America (US could take slice of Cornish pasty market”, report, January 6). The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would have huge consequences for national sovereignty across the board.

It would introduce sweeping new powers for American corporations to sue member states for introducing legislation that is detrimental to their profits. Instead of such disputes being dealt with in British courts, investor protection provisions under the partnership would mean such cases would be heard secretly outside our national legal system.

It is ironic that many in the business community who so bitterly resent the intrusion of Brussels in legislative matters seem so keen to lock us into a far-reaching trade deal that would so dramatically undermine Britain’s ability to regulate its own health, labour and environmental standards, let alone its baked goods.

Nick Dearden
Director, World Development Movement
London SW9

Same-sex marriage

SIR – Our Prime Minister states he is proudest of a piece of legislation (same-sex marriage) that, regardless of whether you support it or not, has lost his party huge support and could precipitate the disestablishment of the Church. This connection between Church and state is demonstrably important, set against the background of events in Paris.

It is difficult to decide whether the content of the remark or the fact he chose to make it is more damaging to him.

Is it really too late to install a new leader for the Conservative Party before the May election?

Mary Baxter
Ledbury, Herefordshire

TV hearing aids

SIR – My wife and I have a three-pronged answer to the challenge of following the mumbling on Broadchurch and Silent Witness (Letters, January 9): we wear Bluetooth earphones, turn on the subtitles, and we can both lip-read a little.

We always need a whisky before bedtime.

Michael A Mills
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

SIR – And for which values will we British march?

Avril Newey
Earlsdon, Warwickshire

SIR – In all the comment about last week’s atrocities in Paris, there has been much said about the rights and wrongs of insulting Muslim beliefs, freedom of speech, why many feel we must stand with Charlie Hebdo, why others have some sympathy with the killers because of the provocation.

Extraordinarily, I have not heard or seen a single comment that questions the motive of a killer who enters a Jewish supermarket and kills random shoppers. It seems there is no need to explain. They were killed not because they said or did things that were blasphemous or provocative, but because they were probably Jews.

Is the world so inured to this that the question “Why?” is not even deemed necessary?

Frances Canning
Stanmore, Middlesex

SIR – During my teenage years, the law declared that I was entitled to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover. While I appreciated being given the choice, I have never chosen to exercise this particular right. Equally, there are times when I exercise my right to use the off button when certain comedians appear on television.

How much longer will I have any choice? When can I expect a visit from a politically correct jobsworth to inspect my bookshelves?

Polly Haselton
Horley, Surrey

Cancer Drugs Fund

SIR – We will soon learn the fate of more than 40 medicines available to English patients through the Cancer Drugs Fund. This special fund was intended to be a quick fix, required because the appraisal methods used by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which reviews all NHS medicines, continue to prevent cancer patients from getting the medicines they need.

We know the fund is not a sustainable long-term answer. But while Nice remains broken, the fund and its medicines must exist so that cancer patients can access new, innovative treatments.

Medicines are vital in the fight against cancer. Fifty years ago, just one in five people with cancer had any hope of surviving for 10 years or more. Today, more than half will live for a decade.

The pharmaceutical industry, in partnership with British universities, charities, clinicians and the NHS, has developed and delivered these medical advances. But there is still more to do, and as cancer rates rise, doctors need to be able to prescribe the right medicines at the right time for the right patients.

We need fundamental reform of Nice. Its role must be to identify promising medicines that help patients lead longer and healthier lives, not to be the gatekeeper of the public purse. Nice must be granted the power to make the NHS a world leader in the use of the most innovative new medicines.

We know the NHS is under huge financial pressure. That is why, as an industry, we have committed to underwrite the spend on all medicines so that it cannot exceed a set amount. So far, we havne’t seen this deal result in greater uptake. We have already offered substantial NHS savings, and will continue to do so.

The NHS spends less than £1 in every £10 on medicine. Further cuts would be short-sighted and compromise patient care. Innovation in medicines is moving faster than the health system can deliver to patients. The NHS needs to catch up.

Jonathan Emms
President, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry
London SW1

If you think Switzerland is disorganised…

Avant-ski: flattening the snow before the men’s super combined slalom at Sochi last year

SIR – You report (, January 7) that Suzi LeVine, the American ambassador to Switzerland, complained on social media that chaos reigns at Swiss ski lifts. She commented on Facebook: “We enjoyed a great day at Adelboden but I was so puzzled by the scrum heading to the lift (and the inefficiency in terms of how many people were on each lift).”

Has she ever been to Italy?

Dr John Doherty
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

Helping the high street

SIR – You report that Tesco is to close 43 of its stores. We are keen to revive our high streets and independent retailers; surely, every little helps.

Dr Bertie Dockerill
Shildon, Co Durham

Superslow broadband in many rural areas
SIR – The Government’s claim that “We are now a superfast [broadband] nation” (advertisement, January 7) is a joke.

Here in rural Wiltshire, our maximum download speed is rarely above 2Mbps. In the evenings it often drops below 500Kbps, making our village website maintenance nigh impossible at that time.

We have been promised a high-speed connection, but not until late this year.

Andrew Blake
Shalbourne, Wiltshire

SIR – I live within a mile of our telephone exchange, in a large village 22 miles from Charing Cross; it’s not exactly the middle of nowhere. I am told that there is no prospect in the foreseeable future of replacing my very unreliable broadband connection with fibre-optic cable.

Why is the Government boasting about superfast broadband which I and so many others cannot have?

Norman Gerald
Radlett, Hertfordshire

SIR – I can assure those smug government ministers and civil servants in their ivory towers that our village internet connection is glacially slow, when it works at all, and there are no plans to upgrade the five miles of copper cable to the nearest exchange. It appears we live in two nations.

J B Grotrian
West Knoyle, Wiltshire

SIR – Here in the drab, dank, slow north, I have to share files by email with colleagues who live inside the M25 in a piecemeal fashion, and I am constantly obliged to remind them that we don’t all have the same super-duper broadband service.

Bill Thompson
Frankby, Wirral

Cut up the loyalty card

SIR – Brian Herbert (Letters, January 7) should be aware that detailed information about individuals and families is like gold-dust to marketing companies.

If he possesses a loyalty card he should cut it up, as they will know every intimate detail of his family’s life. That’s what loyalty cards are for: we are all just data.

Roy Hodgson


Globe and Mail:

Jennifer Keesmaat

Greenbelts make cities more livable, affordable and transit-friendly

Irish Times:

Sir, – I read Joyce Hickey’s account of her overnight experience as a patient in an emergency department with a mixture of relief and despair (“A patient’s experience: my night on a hospital trolley”, January 10th). Relief that it is clearly not my department (based on the physical description), and relief that the staff described were doing Trojan work in heroic circumstances. Despair knowing that, while difficult to achieve, the solution is clear. Flow through emergency departments can, and must be, unblocked.

To suggest that improving primary care, or chronic disease management programmes, will take a huge part of the burden of unexpected, critical deterioration in health status is overly optimistic, and preventive public health, while also playing a part, takes decades, or even generations, to make its effects felt.

The description of the aggressive, belligerent person, interfering with the care and comfort of others, was very real to me and appears to be the widespread image of emergency departments, but it represents a relatively small proportion of the people present.

Much of the dysfunction in emergency departments is due to overcrowding by patients who do not fit the pejorative picture of the drunk, the worried-well, or the social misfit.

The patients who take up most space are those whose clinical problem cannot be dealt with in the community setting, and who require acute hospital admission to save their life, to prevent further deterioration of an already dangerous disease or injury, or simply to enable them to recover function. Because of lack of functional bed capacity, they must wait, in hope and increasing despair, for the bed to be vacated, cooled, cleaned, changed and declared available.

The average length of stay in Irish hospitals is about six days. But a small percentage of patients need longer. When they cannot leave for independent living, this creates a problem. For every week spent in an acute hospital bed, another person is denied access to that bed for their procedure or episode of illness. Some of these unfortunate long-stay patients, denied independence by their illness or injury, are young but most are elderly. And the elderly cohort is increasing dramatically in proportion. This problem will not simply go away.

The cost of keeping an elderly person in an acute hospital bed is significantly less than in a nursing home, speaking purely in financial terms. There is, however, a much greater personal cost in terms of sleep deprivation, loss of personal dignity and control, and loss of social networks.

Most people will cope with this for the average length of stay, which amounts to just under a week. On return home, they will need to recover from their episode of sleep deprivation, just as they would from jet lag after a trans-continental flight.

But the frail elderly person, often with some degree of dementia, will find this sleep deprivation to be even more terrifying than the fit young man with a leg fracture. They have no one with whom to develop a relationship, as the other patients constantly change and staff also change about. Those waiting – for three, four, or even more months – in these conditions to have central funding released to allow nursing home care might well be described as victims of institutional abuse. Remember that these people are also required to surrender 80 per cent of their liquid assets and continuing cash flow to obtain a “Fair Deal”.

We have been through a very lean period, and have now turned the fiscal corner, so to speak. We, as a nation, must invest in the infrastructure and running costs of the care of all our citizens.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has seen a marked reduction in staff numbers, a cut in salaries, an increase in hours worked and an increase in proportion returned to the exchequer, from those very staff who are trying desperately to work in these appalling conditions. Surely it is time for him to reform and to improve public expenditure?

Let us leave the blame-game behind us and work collectively and collaboratively to enable improvement in all parameters of health. But remember that bricks made without straw will crumble. – Yours, etc,


Clinical Professor

of Emergency Medicine,

St James’s Hospital,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – I was obviously flattered that Prof Tom O’Dowd (January 10th) read my opinion piece “Australian emergency care the State’s best template” (January 8th). However I found many of his contentions not to accord with either the international evidence or my personal experience as a consultant in emergency medicine. Perhaps his continued use of the term “A&E” some 14 years after our departments were retitled emergency departments (EDs) suggests that he may not be fully familiar with the situation in EDs across the country in 2015.

I would expect an academic general practitioner to advocate strongly for investment in primary care; however the notion that better resourcing of GPs (and I agree that this is something that should be done in its own right) will have an impact on the current trolley crisis is misguided.

What Prof O’Dowd and your readers should appreciate is that the current crisis which is manifested in Ireland’s emergency departments is a problem of admitted hospital inpatients. These are patients who have had their emergency care and now require in-patient hospital care; therefore their care is beyond the capability of our colleagues in general practice (and indeed many have been referred to hospital by their GP).

The current trolley crisis has therefore little to do with the emergency departments – the plight of patients warehoused in our departments awaiting a hospital bed is simply a symptom of problems elsewhere in the healthcare system.

It is often stated as a fact that emergency medicine and primary care are interchangeable and that optimally resourcing primary care will obviate the need for emergency department care. The evidence contradicts this. Even where primary care-based alternatives with sophisticated diagnostics are provided, the number of patients attending local emergency departments inexorably rises. Australia is a particularly good example of this phenomenon.

The UK’s Primary Care Foundation report Primary Care and Emergency Departments published in 2010 suggests that 10-30 per cent of patients attending emergency departments could be treated in primary care, a figure which is far lower than the figure regularly trotted out.

Ironically, many of us working in Ireland’s emergency departments recognise that some of these patients are actually referred to emergency departments by our primary care colleagues.

Prof O’Dowd’s line that if we resources primary care we would be able to do with fewer, smaller emergency departments is not supported by the evidence. There is undoubtedly a need for some rationalisation of emergency departments, particularly in the eastern half of the country, but not for the reasons Prof O’Dowd suggests.

Primary care and emergency medicine are two distinct branches of medicine; Ireland needs both and both need to be adequately resourced to do their respective jobs – different but distinct with a small degree of overlap. – Yours, etc,


Consultant in

Emergency Medicine,

Sligo Regional Hospital,

The Mall, Sligo.

Sir, – My colleague Prof Tom O’Dowd somewhat misses the point: “What rightly upsets Dr Hickey and his colleagues are the vast numbers attending A&E that could be dealt with by general practitioners”.

It is true that some patients attending emergency departments could be better cared for in primary care.

However the 601 patients waiting for admission last week are not this group. These patients have been seen and assessed by both an ED physician and another admitting speciality who both concur that the patient requires hospitalisation.

These patients have heart attacks, strokes, pneumonias, collapses, fractures and many other conditions which require acute care in hospital.

Better resourcing of primary and community care is a must, particularly after hours. Like so many things in healthcare, the dividends of this will not be instantly apparent.

But the current crisis is one of flow. We need to be able to get those patients who need admission into hospital and that means we need to be able to get those whose care is completed back out. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – While condemnation of the murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo has been universal, it is worth noting that many commentators have qualified that condemnation by referring to “responsibilities” that attach to freedom of expression.

Such responsibilities clearly exist. We should not defame, we should not bully, we should not incite hatred, but this protection should not extend to belief systems, religious, political or otherwise.

In particular, belief systems that seek to proscribe the actions of non-believers should be held up to scrutiny, including ridicule, regardless of the insult they cause.

To purpose of the attack of the offices of Charlie Hebdo was simple: to intimidate media organisations into obeying the Islamic rule regarding the depiction of Muhammad.

To suggest that media organisations have a duty to refrain from causing offence to belief systems is appeasement of that intent. – Yours, etc,



Co Leitrim.

Sir, – To me it seems incredible that the elite has rushed to support Charlie Hebdo’s “right” to publish material insulting a religious faith. Particularly in Ireland one would expect educated people to recognise the danger of inflaming sectarian divisions and violence, and the deaths of entirely innocent people, as in Paris.

The ideal of freedom of speech, like majority rule, is only safe when tolerance is universal. In the meantime limitations such as blasphemy laws are much the lesser of two evils and a rare symptom of wise government. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – The problem seems to me to lie not in religious fanaticism, but in religious ideology per se. Political parties come and go and, aware of their own transience, tend to retain a sense of humour about themselves. Not so religions. Believing they hold the answers to the fundamental questions of existence, their adherents tend to develop a sense of their own importance which goes far beyond arrogance. Let us be honest, no one really knows whether there is a god or not, or what he, she or it looks like. And perhaps if we all concentrated more on this world and less on the next, we might become a little more courteous to each other.

Until the State evolves beyond pandering to the narrow beliefs of any religious group, we will not truly be free and democratic. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – The notion that there is such a thing as freedom of speech is patent nonsense and anyone who has travelled beyond the boundaries of their own comfort zones surely knows this as fact. Even if one accepts the concept expounded by those who promote the liberal concept of “freedom of speech” as a right, they would also have to concede that with such “rights” go obligations and common sense.

While I personally am happy to aspire towards French republican ideals, I have yet to see them practised in France or indeed anywhere else for that matter.

We are constantly reminded that we live in a globalised world. If this is actually true then such a world transcends national borders. In this new globalised and increasingly dangerous world, I’m afraid that cultural differences will have to find new solutions to old problems.

Extremism and fanaticism must certainly be tackled, but we will not succeed by deluding ourselves and ignoring valid cultural or religious differences. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – JD Mangan (January 8th) describes the sneering attitude of many critics of Charles J Haughey’s “big house” lifestyle, which he deems to be “a classic example of the begrudging attitude that the Irish do so well”. Perhaps if Mr Haughey had lived from the money he earned, there would be more focus solely on his “significant political achievements”. However, as the Irish taxpayer was the one paying for the handmade shirt on his back, I think we are entitled to begrudge a lifestyle we funded, but did not enjoy. – Yours, etc,



Co Westmeath.

Sir, – Matthew Mac Gabhann (January 12th) lays the blame for Charles Haughey’s political survival on AIB’s failure to pursue his debt. That scenario was not really possible in the frantic maelstrom of events in those days. Anyway, all the bould Taoiseach would have done would have been to lean on his other sources of revenue to make up the shortfall. There were other deep pockets available to come up with the odd million. – Yours, etc,



Co Cavan.

Sir, – Harry McGee is the latest in a long line of Irish Times journalists and commentators to warn us of the dangers of “instability” (“Why stable government needs the party whip”, January 10th).

We had the dubious honour of remaining “stable” throughout a financial meltdown. Not only has the status quo remained resolutely intact, it is even more embedded that it had been prior to 2007.

Who does this “stability” serve?

Rapid and intensifying climate change is the future. The “stability” of the current system actually impedes the change necessary to transition Ireland to an adaptable and resilient society and economy.

The opposite of stability in this context is not chaos – but it is fundamental change to our current economic system. That will involve the destabilisation of certain institutions.

The alternative is set out in clear terms in various UN climate change reports. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 2.

Sir, – Although I agree with the sentiments expressed by Austin Savage (January 12th) regarding courtesy and older citizens, a conscious effort to be courteous is not without its hazards. A number of years ago I offered my seat to an elderly gentleman on the Luas and in response he pushed me backwards and ran down the carriage without saying a word! His wife indicated that I had offended his pride.

On a visit to my local cinema a few years ago to see the film Philomena, my wife and I found ourselves at the front of a queue made up in the main of senior citizens. When the doors opened we both felt we were participating in the Pamplona bull run as the elderly crowd pushed (that’s putting it mildly) forward and trampled on anyone in the way. I would encourage all to be courteous to our senior citizens but I would ask that they return the compliment! – Yours, etc,


Kilmacud, Co Dublin.

Sir, – After two weeks of dreadful repeats on the awful new UTV Ireland, how can I persuade my programme supplier UPC to restore the UK version to my package? It was changed without my authority or approval and I miss many of the former programmes. – Yours, etc,


Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.


Irish Independent:

Monty Python’s movie ‘The Life of Brian’ poked fun at Christianity.
Monty Python’s movie ‘The Life of Brian’ poked fun at Christianity.

People who believe they are entitled to kill anyone who dares to mock their religious beliefs need to get a life, as distinct from taking lives. I feel uneasy about some of the more belligerent satirising of religion, but no amount of mockery or humorous comment can justify attacking or killing a fellow human being.

  • Go To

We can all be offended by attacks on our beliefs or by abrasive criticism of them. One’s person’s joke is another person’s blasphemy. The best response is a dignified rebuff, or simply to ignore the ridicule or criticism. I remember people who were shocked when the Monty Python film ‘The Life of Brian’ came out. There were protests and many Christians were understandably upset by the movie’s scathing depiction of their religion.

And yet in later years some of those who had objected to it most strongly said they’d like to have the song ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ played at their funerals, possibly forgetting it featured in the movie in a most irreverent context: a crucifixion scene.

Personally, I respect Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and all the other great religions of the world and the right of followers to worship as they see fit. But people ought to be entitled to express their disapproval of religion too, regardless of how offended any of us might be.

A life without humour would be very dull indeed, and attempts to suppress joking and satire have never quite succeeded. Somebody somewhere will always find a way to poke fun and make at least one other person laugh.

In one of her last performances the brilliant Joan Rivers -who was Jewish – joked outrageously about Nazis in leather being attractive. Now there was a woman who understood humour. No section of society, no belief system, no mode of human behaviour escaped her savage wit.

Speaking of Nazis, in the Third Reich citizens had to be very careful about what they said, with spies and fanatics everywhere.

However, humour still managed to surface now and again, as with the story of the family that gathered to say Grace around the dinner table. The father said: “For what we are about to receive we thank God and Hitler.” The youngest boy asked: “Dad, what happens if Hitler dies?” The father winked and said: “Then we just thank God.”

We all need to lighten up about our religious beliefs or lack of them. As the Monty Python song cautioned, the last laugh could be on us.

John Fitzgerald

Callan, Co Kilkenny

Sinn Fein’s telling silence

The silence of Sinn Fein in the aftermath of the Paris shootings is deafening. It’s ironic that they didn’t try to hijack the ‘Je suis Charlie’ March in Dublin last weekend.

However, I suppose in the light of Gerry Adams’s recent comments regarding newspaper editors, it was probably best to keep a low profile. So much for free speech in Ireland if Sinn Fein are not challenged on this.

John Fagan

Collinstown, Co Westmeath

Jewish people must be defended

The world is reeling from yet another hate-filled attack on the Jewish people, this time at a Kosher supermarket in Paris in which unsuspecting and innocent victims lost their lives to the world’s oldest hatred – anti-Semitism.

World leaders have condemned the hostage-taking episodes in France and shown solidarity at this testing time, and that will give a modicum of encouragement while so many Jewish families will meet around their Shabbat tables to ponder the latest deaths that were perpetrated just because the victims were Jews.

The Hebrew word from where we get the English word ‘Jew’ is ‘Yehudah’ (Judah), which means ‘praise.’ The Jewish people have contributed greatly in the arenas of medicine, science and the arts, in banking and the world of commerce.

It is only fitting that we extol their virtues at a time when their very existence is being undermined by such targeted terrorist attacks.

We in the democratic nations must seek to always condemn and root out any anti-Semitism that raises its ugly head in the communities where Jews live, worship and work. The Christian nations take their Judeo-Christian traditions, laws and culture from the Bible and the history of the Hebrew people and we should acknowledge that by showing our gratitude and loudly condemning all anti-Jewish rhetoric and actions which must make families and individuals feel extremely vulnerable. History attests that hatred and even murder of innocent Jews is not new, but it must not be tolerated in European countries where Christian values have been inextricably linked to Jewish ones for centuries and where the contribution of the Jews has been a real blessing.

May we wish ‘shalom’ or ‘peace’ to the families in Paris and to the extended Jewish community world-wide. We have a common bond with the Lord God of Israel. Amen.

Colin Nevin

Bangor, Co Down

Hard lessons

I hope the outrages of the recent past will have opened the eyes of the more gullible among us as to what we could possibly encounter in the future and also what the Jewish people are suffering every day.

It also proves that there are those among us who would destroy everything we hold dear, even our religious beliefs. I just hope we desist from watering down – in any way – our Christian beliefs, and to show these people that, like the French, we still cherish our beliefs.

Remember, in this twisted logic we could be targeted because we helped an ally in the recent war effort in Iraq.

It goes without saying that we should assist in any way the constant struggle to keep this most serious threat at bay – or we’ll all pay the price.

John N Barry

Malahide, Co Dublin

Meditations on Mass

I recently attended Mass in my local church in Salthill. At the start of Mass the priest made reference to the terrible events in Paris the previous week and the way people had come together in solidarity to express their anger over what had happened.

I thought of loving-kindness meditations I had attended recently where participants were invited to send loving thoughts to people in their lives – friends and enemies alike. This can have huge benefits to the person – helping them to remove negative, energy-sapping thoughts from their mind.

Later, to coincide with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which we were celebrating, the priest invited us to renew our baptismal promises. Don’t most organisations have initiation ceremonies?

The format of the Mass is the same every Sunday, except for specific readings.

There is actually a hypnotic quality to this, repetition of familiar phrases can have a relaxing effect, similar to playing bongo drums in a group setting. One of the purposes of Mass is to enable us to tune into our spiritual side, isn’t this what many meditation techniques are about as well? In Our Lord’s prayer we are urged to “forgive those who trespass against us.”

Many therapists are of the opinion that true healing cannot take place until a person is in a position to forgive someone who may have harmed them.

Don’t forget what I said earlier about sending loving thoughts to our enemies in loving kindness meditations.

Tommy Roddy

Salthill, Galway

Irish Independent


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