3 Febuary 2015 GP

A quiet day 4 books sold , bank tip Co op, and Dr Jamieson somes to see Mary Might get NHS chiropody.


Julio Scherer Garcia interviews the Zapatista rebel Subcomandante Marcos

Julio Scherer Garcia interviews the Zapatista rebel Subcomandante Marcos Photo: Ulises Castellanos / Archivo Proceso

Julio Scherer García, who has died aged 88, was an investigative journalist who fearlessly took on Mexico’s often-corrupt political oligarchy and trained generations of reporters to challenge the establishment.

As editor of the weekly news magazine Proceso, which he founded in 1976, Scherer’s scoops included unmasking a secret army unit known as the “White Brigade” that fought an illegal dirty war against so-called subversives. He also exposed the extrajudicial killing in 1984 of the journalist Manuel Buendía at the hands of the Mexican security forces and investigated the illicit gains of President Carlos Salinas’s family members in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Even as a senior editor, Scherer remained a reporter at heart and was never far from the epicentre of Mexican news. In 2010 he interviewed Ismael Zambada, a leader of the infamous and violent Sinaloa cartel. When criticised for this contact with the drug trafficking underworld and, in particular, a photo that showed him arm-in-arm with the wanted criminal, he retorted: “If the devil himself offers me an interview, I will go to hell.”

Julio Scherer García was born on April 7 1926 in Mexico City, the son of Pedro Scherer, a wealthy second-generation German immigrant to Mexico, and Paz García Gómez, the daughter of a renowned lawyer.

Scherer read Law and then Philosophy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico but left his studies to work as an errand boy at the magazine Excélsior. His determination and talent for stories quickly became apparent, and Scherer rose to editor-in-chief by the age of 42.

It was during this period that he acquired a reputation for confronting the PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party that held power in Mexico for more than 70 years. The most pressing question of the day was responsibility for the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, during which police and the military killed up to 300 protesting students in the lead-up to that year’s Olympic Games in Mexico City.

The greatest sign of Scherer’s successful probing was that President Luis Echeverría Álvarez – who had been minister of the interior at the time of the massacre – successfully conspired to have Scherer’s Excélsior editorship rescinded in 1976 after a long campaign of intimidation at the hands of the state apparatus.

Zapatista rebels

But this did not silence Scherer, who founded Proceso alongside a number of journalists who left with him, including Octavio Paz, later awarded a Nobel Prize for literature. Such was Scherer’s reputation as a defender of social justice that he was invited by Zapatista rebels to mediate – alongside the Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú and a Catholic bishop – with the Mexican government following their 1994 uprising in Chiapas state.

Scherer refused, on the grounds that it was a conflict of interest. “My situation as a journalist obliges me to remain impartial,” he said, “and it is difficult to be both a mediator and a chronicler of the times we are living .”

He did, however, publish one of the most influential interviews with the balaclava-wearing and pipe-smoking Zapatista leader, Subcomandante Marcos, when the rebel group prepared to negotiate with incoming President Vicente Fox in 2001.

During his long journalistic career, Scherer also interviewed high-profile international figures such as John F Kennedy, Fidel Castro, Salvador Allende and Pablo Picasso. In 1971, he was the recipient of the Maria Moors Cabot award for journalism in the Americas. In 1996, Scherer stood down as director of Proceso, but continued to write for the publication.

Defeat of the PRI

Scherer trained hundreds of journalists and helped introduce to Mexico a journalistic style that sought to hold authority to account. He played a noteworthy role in the eventual defeat of the corrupt and coercive PRI in the watershed 2000 elections.

Scherer published 22 books in his lifetime, largely covering Mexican politics . But he refused to collaborate with any potential biographer, saying that his journalistic work alone should speak for him.

His wife, Susana Ibarra Puga, predeceased him in 1989. He is survived by nine children.

Julio Scherer García, born April 7 1926, died January 7 2015


Alan Milburn
Alan Milburn ‘profits directly from the private healthcare industry,’ writes David Murray. Photograph: Richard Gardner/Rex Features

Alan Milburn should not only be rebuked (Labour MPs berate party’s ‘top-down thinking’, 30 January), he should come with this health warning. He profits directly from the private healthcare industry – not only from consultancy to private healthcare through AM Strategy, but as chair of PriceWaterhouseCooper’s health industry oversight board. Commenting on his appointment, Milburn claimed that there were “strong opportunities for growth” in the private healthcare sector, which he would help PwC to exploit. He also sits on the strategic advisory board for WellDoc, has been a vice-chairman of the Lloyds Pharmacy advisory board and chairs iWantGreatCare.

His infatuation with US-style private healthcare dates from at least 2002 after a BMJ article claiming that California-based Kaiser Permanente achieved higher levels of performance at roughly the same cost as the NHS – a claim later shown to be false – prompted him to visit California. But the US healthcare model he espouses puts profits before patients, evidenced by the Commonwealth Fund finding US market-led healthcare worst and most expensive of the 11 prosperous countries. Stopping the privatisation he intervenes on behalf of would not only save money but improve the NHS. His shenanigans when in power even provoked the Treasury to issue a discussion document to explain why markets do not produce good healthcare for all (Public Services: meeting the productivity challenge, April 2003).
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

Reading your report (Miliband’s focus on NHS ‘mirrors lost cause of 1992’, 28 January) and the related editorial, I was amazed that there was no mention of either Alan Milburn or Lord Hutton’s vested interests in private healthcare provision, the former through AM Strategy and advisory roles with Bridgepoint Capital, owners of Care UK, while the latter sits on the board as a non-executive director of Circle Holdings, owners of Circle hospitals. Both Care UK and Circle are profit-making, with shareholders and board members to reward (and, as seen with Hinchingbrooke, if the pickings aren’t rich enough, they bail out). Care UK made a profit of almost £3m last year at its independent-sector treatment centre near Bristol; this was public/NHS money passing straight into private investors’ pockets, even though the ISTC did not achieve the number of operations in its contract.
Graham House

Andy Burnham says he wants to repeal the Health and Social Care Act, and your editorial rightly points out that this implies another major NHS reorganisation. What you fail to mention is a draft bill tailor-made to address this problem, the NHS reinstatement bill 2015, drafted by David Owen and Allyson Pollock. It embodies the surgery you say is required to remove the competition clause, and also reinstates the secretary of state’s duty to provide a service. It carefully minimises the reorganisation involved in stopping the market engine in its tracks. Much thought has gone into this non-party-political draft, and if Labour in power could be persuaded to back it, it would stop the destruction of the NHS and give Labour time to plan what else it wants to do. The Greens and the National Health Action party already back the bill.

As to funding, competition is costly. Doing away with it will save a lot of money, which can be used to fund patient care. Since the internal market was introduced under John Major, administration costs as a proportion of NHS spending have gone up from 4% to over 14% and rising, as more and more clinical commissioning groups feel themselves forced to go down the competition route. Here is a well-thought-out path towards recovery, which deserves at least a mention.
Jeanne Warren
Garsington, Oxfordshire

Britain's Home Secretary May delivers a speech in central London
The counter-terrorism and security bill currently being debated in parliament was outlined by Theresa May, the home secretary, in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute in November. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

We are deeply concerned that the counter-terrorism and security bill currently being debated in parliament will place an unlawful and unenforceable duty on educational institutions and staff.

One of the purposes of post-compulsory education is to foster critical thinking in staff, students and society more widely. Our universities and colleges are centres for debate and open discussion, where received wisdom can be challenged and controversial ideas put forward in the spirit of academic endeavour.

This principle of academic freedom is enshrined in the Education (No 2) Act 1986, which places a duty on universities and colleges to “ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers”.

Part 5 of the new legislation would place a statutory duty on those same institutions to prevent students being drawn into terrorism. We share the concerns raised by the joint committee on human rights about how this duty would work alongside existing requirements to ensure freedom of speech. Universities take their duty of care towards students very seriously, and guidance is already in place to combat extremism in academic settings.

This proposed legislation is both unnecessary and ill-conceived, and we are calling on the government to urgently rethink its proposals and take appropriate steps to ensure that academic freedom remains uncompromised by any efforts to tackle extremism in the UK.

The best response to acts of terror against UK civilians is to maintain and defend an open, democratic society in which discriminatory behaviour of any kind is effectively challenged. Ensuring colleges and universities can continue to debate difficult and unpopular issues is a vital part of this. Draconian crackdowns on the rights of academics and students will not achieve the ends the government says it seeks.
Professor Wendy James





Sir, The BMA is urging MPs to support the regulations being debated today on the use of mitochondrial donation, which can prevent inherited conditions in children that can lead to severe disease, disability or death.

While we echo calls for the need for proper review before this new technique is used in clinical practice, we are reassured by the thorough ethical and scientific reviews, and the extensive public consultations that have already taken place.

We believe now is the time to move a step closer to the use of the technique by those who want to avoid having children affected by these devastating conditions.

The UK has an effective and trusted regulator which makes the final decision about whether and when to allow new techniques to proceed. If the regulations are passed by parliament this does not mean that the work can immediately go ahead; it gives the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority the power to approve the procedure as and when it deems it appropriate, based on expert review and evidence.
Dr John Chisholm
Chairman, BMA medical ethics committee

Sir, The head of the Wellcome Trust, Dr Jeremy Farrar, finds it remarkable that the Church of England should state that “there has been insufficient scientific study” on mitochondrial DNA donation, “without first asking the Newcastle University scientists” to explain the research (“Church ‘wrong on three-parent babies’ ”, Jan 31).

The HFEA’s third scientific review concluded (June 2014) that “there are still experiments that need to be completed before clinical treatment should be offered.” An addendum in October stated that “the panel agreed that the [. . .] experiments are also essential for assessing the safety and efficacy of PBT.”

Perhaps it is evidence rather than advice that the church needs from the Wellcome Trust and their team at the University of Newcastle.
Warren Macdonald
Boscombe, Bournemouth

Sir, It would have been better if Dr Helen Watt of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre (letter, Jan 31) had added information not known to most readers. The centre is an independent charity founded in 1977, and is not affiliated to any higher educational institution.

It is not under the aegis, control or sanction of the University of Oxford, or of any of its institutions. The academic activities of the centre are overseen by the governors who take counsel from an independent academic advisory panel. The centre is a Roman Catholic organisation though it is not an agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
Sir Peter Bottomley, MP
House of Commons

Sir, I was interested to note that, when referring to pronuclear transfer, Dr Watt recommends that parliament should refuse to grant in-principle consent for this or any other intervention on the human germ-line. As any form of sexual reproduction, including conventional intercourse that results in conception, constitutes an intervention on the human germ-line, this recommendation would end any concerns about overpopulation, though perhaps rather drastically.
Dr David Greenberg
Fulbourn, Cambs

Sir, Could Conservative MPs Fiona Bruce or Jacob Rees-Mogg (“Legalise three-parent babies, say Nobel winners”, Jan 29) please clarify the difference between insertion of mitochondria from a third parent into the genetic make-up of an embryo and the transplantation of a liver, kidney or cornea? Surely both interventions alter a human being in a longstanding way.
Dr R Gitendra Wickremasinghe
Bushey, Herts

Sir, Matt Ridley criticises the Church of England for opposing mitochondrial donation (Opinion, Feb 2). The statement to which he refers was made by the Rev Brendan McCarthy, the church’s adviser on medical ethics. This statement is opposed by many members of the Church who are ashamed of this attitude towards loving but desperate parents.

I would urge all members of the House of Commons to support the motion to be moved today and vote in favour of this donation, which will prevent horrible diseases recurring in future generations.
The Rev Jean M Mayland
Hexham, Northumberland

Sir, In the interests of whipping up even more enthusiasm for the ukulele (“Ukulele sales soaring”, Feb 2) I would point out that the tuning of a ukulele is identical to the highest four strings of a guitar at the fifth fret and the chord shapes are similarly identical, just five semitones higher. Any half-decent guitarist could pick up a uke and play it. George Harrison and Eric Clapton are the proof of that. Michael Gove? Not sure.
Adrian Delso
Sutton Waldron, Dorset


Sir, The fine regiments suggested by Dr Wynne Weston-Davies for the new 77 Brigade (letter, Feb 2) all need regimental mottos. I humbly suggest: “Who Likes Wins”; “Death or Retweet”; “Through the Mud and the Blood to the Chatroom beyond”; “Quo Fas Et GPS Ducunt”; and “iDien”.
Algy Cole
Altrincham, Cheshire

Sir, The Capps (letters, Jan 31) have my sympathy. My surname is often misspelled, and I have been Mike, Knife, Spry, Sly, Snide, Spies and even Ismail. My favourite, though, is the scrambling of my initials (JSSS) into a new name: “Jay Tripolos”.
James (Seamus) Smyth
West Malling, Kent

Sir, I would suggest that correct pronunciation of scientific names and loan words must depend purely on the cadence of the host tongue (letter, Jan 2). Diplódocus sounds silly to British people. Besides, the name is a contrived neo-Latin combination of two Ancient Greek words, such that it would never have been uttered by contemporary speakers even if they had known of the creature’s existence. Consequently I am not sure it is the place of a learned classicist such as Dr Bowie to tell us how to pronounce it.
Dr Richard Braithwaite
Pondwell, Isle of Wight

Sir, Prince Charles has the vision of an idealist when he professes to re-create “hope from hopelessness and health from deprivation” (News, Feb 2). However, as future monarch, if the prince wants to play an activist and interventionist role, he will alienate many of his subjects. A political role is not for a constitutional monarch.
Sam Banik
London N10
Sir, I am reading your articles about the Prince of Wales with interest. It is imperative for the prosperity of our country that we develop a functioning meritocracy. As a working-class lad who rose to become the CEO of a publicly listed technology company, I would not employ this man in even the most junior of roles. And yet he will become King.
Simon Yates
Croxton Kerrial, Leics
Sir, If suffering in silence is bad for you (News, Jan 2) then we should not be at all surprised if Prince Charles airs his views on subjects which he feels passionate about. It probably makes him feel a lot better.
John Berry
Countesthorpe, Leics



Each party should offer detailed policy on how to reform the NHS before the general election Photo: ALAMY

SIR – Before the general election the main parties must come up with specific policies to reform the NHS.

If the notion of “free at point of use” is to be maintained, the services on offer without charge should be specified and exclusions named.

Socially, non-English speakers need a bilingual person to accompany them for consultation.

To relieve pressure on A&E, the police must resume their duty to handle alcohol abuse in the street.

Medically, we must withdraw free provision of some elective procedures, monitor patients for eligibility and process payment, where appropriate, to refund the state (the taxpayer) for services provided.

The funding of our “free” health service is the most expensive item in our national housekeeping budget. This concept must be protected from abuse or it will bankrupt us. Who, then, will look after the vulnerable?

Tony Jones
London SW7

SIR – If Charles Moore (Comment, January 31) is unhappy with the prizes on offer from the NHS, he’s at liberty to augment them in the same way that he can pay for private education or pay for a first-class rail ticket when he’ll arrive just as quickly in second class.

Martin Asbridge
Gosport, Hampshire

SIR – Charles Moore says the NHS doesn’t work. Yes it does, because it saved my life and quite a few others.

Yes, I queue, because there are others whose urgency might be greater than mine.

How would choice (paying for health care) improve chances of beating death? Should this depend how much you pay?

I’m not pessimistic about the NHS so long as we continue to have it. If it costs more, tax us – and Apple.

Terry Collcutt
Bletchingley, Surrey

SIR – I feel very sorry for Dr Barber and his doctor wife having to work between 30 and 40 hours a week (Letters, January 31).

As a manager of a chemical plant, I was responsible seven days a week, 365 days a year. This involved long hours, working at weekends and all bank holidays. There was no overtime payment. My colleagues and I did this because we enjoyed what we did.

Michael Winney
Gorsley, Herefordshire

SIR – Phil Williams (Letters, January 31) suggests that “GP surgeries should abolish appointment systems and become the first point of contact for anyone feeling unwell”.

A large part of a GP’s workload is chronic disease management, care of the frail elderly and mentally ill in the community, and domiciliary terminal care.

It would require a large increase in the number of GPs, nurses and ancillary staff before general practice could undertake the role suggested by Mr Williams.

Dr Sheelagh Turner
Stocksfield, Northumberland

Passing the Saatchi Bill

SIR – We note the successful third reading of the proposed Medical Innovation Bill (the Saatchi Bill).

While there have been significant advances in cancer treatments in recent decades, there remain areas where there has been no meaningful advance. Diseases such as glioblastoma, sarcoma or pancreatic cancer have seen no clinically relevant improvements over those decades.

While clinicians have leeway to prescribe drugs “off-label”, we know from our direct experience with patients that viable clinical options are not being used in the vast majority of “terminal” cases. When all standard therapies have failed, and there are no clinical trials available, the response is almost uniformly to move that patient into palliative care.

We do not dispute that the clinical trial is necessary in order to identify those advances that work and those that do not. However, the evidence base for medicine can come from many different sources. Data collection is a necessary corollary of increased off-label usage and the new registry included in the Bill will record information (including side-effects and outcome data) in every instance of an innovative treatment. This ground-breaking registry will enable us to analyse real-world data, thereby providing greater patient protection than exists at present.

Ultimately the question that must be addressed is: what can we responsibly offer to those patients for whom there are no suitable clinical trials?

Pan Pantziarka
The George Pantziarka TP53 Trust
Dominic Hill
Film maker & patient advocate
Professor Marc-Eric Halatsch
Professor of Neurosurgery, University of Ulm
Lydie Meheus
Managing Director, Anticancer Fund, Brussels
Dr Gauthier Bouche
Medical Director, Anticancer Fund, Brussels
Richard Gerber
Glioblastoma survivor and patient advocate
Professor Angus Dalgleish
St George’s Hospital, University of London
Professor Ahmed Ashour Ahmed
Professor of Gynaecological Oncology, University of Oxford
James Hargrave
Empower Access to Medicine
Dr John Symons
Director, Cancer of Unknown Primary Foundation
Flóra Raffai
Professor Stephen Kennedy
Professor of Reproductive Medicine, University of Oxford
Dr Ian N Hampson
Reader in Viral Oncology, University of Manchester
Professor Andy Hall
Associate Dean of Translational Research, Newcastle University
Professor Emeritus Ben A Williams
Psychology, long-term glioblastoma survivor, patient advocate, Moore’s Cancer Center, University of California, San Diego
Dr Al Musella
President, Musella Foundation, founder The Grey Ribbon crusade: umbrella organisation for over 100 brain cancer charities
Professor John Boockvar
Director, Brain Tumor Center Lenox Hill Hospital NYC
Professor Emil J Freireich
Ruth Harriet Ainsworth Chair, Developmental Therapeutics, The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas
Brett Shockley
Patient advocate
Professor David Walker
Professor Pediatric Oncology, University of Nottingham
Laura Mancini
Clinical Scientist, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, UCLH NHS Foundation Trust, London
John Morrissey
Adviser to the Children’s Cancer Research Fund
Stephen Western
Patient advocate,
Richard E Kast
MD, IIAIGC Study Center
Charlie Chan FRCS
Consultant Breast Surgeon
Professor Chas Bountra
Professor of Translational Medicine, University of Oxford
Dr Henrietta Morton-King
North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust
Dr Andrew Brunskill
Clinical Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Health Services, University of Washington Seattle)
Vincent Galbiati
President & CEO of Tomorrow’s Cures Today, Washington DC
Neil Hutchison
Founder, Magic Water Pediatric Cancer Foundation, San Diego
Fiona Court
Consultant Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon, Cheltenham
Professor Alastair Buchan
Head of the Medical Science Division and the Dean of the Medical School at the University of Oxford
Dr Georgios Evangelopoulos
Patient advocate, lawyer & political scientist
Professor John Yarnold
Professor of Clinical Oncology at The Royal Marsden and Institute of Cancer Research
Professor Jerome H Pereira
Consultant General & Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon, Norwich Medical School University of East Anglia
Dr Lynne Hampson
Non Clinical Lecturer in Oncology, Institute of Cancer Sciences, Manchester
Dr Robert Kirby
Senior Lecturer, Hospital Dean, University Hospitals of North Midlands
Professor Gareth Evans
Professor of Medical Genetics and Cancer Epidemiology, University of Manchester
Dr Rupert McShane
Coordinating Editor Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group, Oxford University
Michael Shackcloth
Consultant Thoracic Surgeon, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital
Professor Vikas P Sukhatme
Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Co-founder Global Cures
Vidula Sukhatme
Co-founder Global Cures
Sarah Lindsell
CEO, The Brain Tumour Charity
Neil Dickson
Chairman, The Brain Tumour Charity
Alex Smith
Founder, Harrison’s Fund
Giles Cunnick
Consultant General & Breast Surgeon, Bucks Healthcare NHS Trust
Dr Piers Mahon
Biotech Consultant
Paul Fitzpatrick
Chairman, Duchenne Now
Dr David Faurrugia
Consultant Oncologist, Cheltenham General Hospital
Dr Chris Govender
Medical Officer in Addictions
Sue Farrington Smith
Chief Executive, Brain Tumour Research
Professor Steven Gill
Professor in Neurosurgery, University of Bristol

Nicer with mice
SIR – Can anyone identify the brain-numbingly awful “music” played while one is on hold for the Citibank telephone banking service? It is interspersed with repeated assurances that my call is important to them (0800 00 55 00 if you want to try it). Could there be a worse on-hold experience?

By contrast, when I had to call a rodent control company recently, I was treated to Max Bygraves singing about mice in a windmill in old Amsterdam, which had me waltzing round the kitchen.

June Green
Bagshot, Surrey

Testing GCSEs

No pupils at Eton, Marlborough, Harrow or Westminster met an official benchmark of five A* to C grades in GCSE subjects including both English and maths Photo: ALAMY

SIR – The Education Secretary’s assertion that this year’s school league tables reflect the “new, higher-quality GCSEs” introduced by the current Government is misleading (Comment, January 30).

In fact, the first exam of the reformed GCSEs is not until 2017, so they are entirely untried and untested – unlike the excellent International GCSEs (IGCSEs), taught in many of our leading schools and now suddenly dumped from the tables.

Heads of independent schools offer these because we have the freedom to choose courses based only on what is best for our pupils, free from constant and contradictory political interference. All school heads should have that choice.

It is absurd to have a league-table system which is so confusing to everyone; I ask education ministers to come up with a better plan for next year.

Richard Harman
Headmaster, Uppingham School

SIR – It is hardly surprising that Simon Lebus should mount an impassioned defence of IGCSEs given his position as Chief Executive of Cambridge Assessment, the world’s largest provider of these qualifications (Letters, January 31).

If IGCSEs are more rigorous than GCSEs then why are they routinely recommended by school improvement networks as a tactic for struggling schools to hike up their results quickly? Traditional GCSEs are far more demanding and provide a much better grounding for future study.

Steve Jackson
Wells, Somerset

Slow food

SIR – There has been much discussion about authenticity in television dramas. There have been complaints about props, period language, sound and light levels.

My pet peeve is the length of time it takes actors to prepare vegetables. The other night I watched someone spend five minutes peeling a potato. Don’t start me on carrot dicing.

Professor Keith Day
Portstewart, Co Londonderry

Terrible at names

SIR – What’s in a name (Letters, January 31)? Quite a lot. When I was eight, my school-fellows and I had to research the meanings of our given names. Later we had to stand and report the result to the whole class.

After hearing my friends say “gift of God”, “giver of joy”, and so on, it was my turn. “Strange, foreign and barbaric,” I mumbled. Believe me, I was careful when choosing names for my own children.

Barbara Mills
Harpenden, Hertfordshire

SIR – When I met my husband, I fell in love almost immediately. He said his surname was Kildare. For three months I wrote to him as Ian Kildare. Then he admitted his surname was actually Belcher.

We were married for 43 very happy and funny years, but I still wonder whether I’ve forgiven him.

Verity Belcher
Christchurch, Dorset

SIR – If only my parents had given it more thought.

Richard Head
Beckenham, Kent

Wellspring of cheddar

SIR – Our local pub’s Valentine’s Day menu (Letters, January 31) includes “Artesian Cheeses”. Well, that should be interesting.

Fiona Rolt
Blakesley, Northamptonshire

Beavering away to protect Britain from floods

A platform pipe made of catlinite, pearl and bone near the Mississippi river,100 BC–AD 200

SIR – You report on rising beaver numbers in Scotland. Conservationists periodically claim that beavers can lessen flooding by their dam building, as these slow the passage of water downstream. This is a flawed argument that confuses dams with sluices.

A beaver’s dam would trap a certain amount of water. But in any storm, eventually it would overflow.

A human-operated sluice would permit flow in normal times, but hold back in heavy storms, lowering the flow below the sluice.

Dr Ken Pollock
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

A reward beyond money for parish clergy

SIR – Around one quarter of the priests in the Church of England’s Guildford diocese are self-supporting and draw no stipend, me included (Letters, January 28).

Some have full-time jobs outside the Church and yet still spend their lives in the service of God and of other people. We do so out of love of God, his Church and its people and not for reward in this life.

Many priests have given up well-paid secular jobs in exchange for a stipend of around £24,000 (in 2014) and tied housing. The surprising thing is that so many people still offer to become priests at all.

Rev Dr Thomas Weil
Guildford, Surrey

SIR – While the senior hierarchy seems to be expanding, the number of stipendiary clergy has fallen by two thirds over the past 20 years or so to around 8,000.

If it were not for self-supporting and retired clergy, the position would be even more parlous. One of the main problems is that the Church has morphed to accommodate the secular society in which it finds itself. Sunday is no longer special: churches compete with sports activities, church schools are not that vigorous on faith matters, and more and more post-ordination training is concerned with making sure that priests are aware of current legislation as it impinges on parish ministry and the paperwork.

If the amount given by church congregations could rise to 5 per cent of their gross income, there would be a significant change in how we are viewed by the nation.

We also need to ensure that all strands of Anglican tradition are included in the walk of faith as we attempt to wean our nation off materialism and feed them on the joys of spiritual fulfilment.

Rev Simon Douglas Lane
Hampton, Middlesex

The last word

SIR – Is the use of unprecedented unprecedented, asks Dr Bentley (Letters, January 30). Absolutely.

Ken Davis
Ferndown, Dorset


Globe and Mail:

Kristen Thomasen

We regulate driving. Why not droning?

Irish Times:

Sir, – Now that the Rugby Six Nations is upon us the topic of Ireland’s Call rears its head again. Malachy Clerkin’s article reminds us of the different points of view and familiar points of opposition to Ireland’s Call are cited (“Standing tall after 20 years”, January 31st).

Rugby has always played an invaluable role in bringing people from all parts of the island together while other forces were tearing them apart.

Under the careful guidance of the IRFU, both players and supporters gathered together with no challenge to anyone’s religious or national identity. For a long time, however, only Amhrán na bhFiann was played.

When I played for Ireland the captain, Ciaran Fitzgerald, would ask us to spend the last few moments in the dressing room with our immediate teammates – in my case Trevor Ringland from Larne and Keith Crossan from Belfast. Completely trusted teammates, now lifelong friends. I always found it difficult that they had no anthem to sing as they stood beside me moments later on the field.

However, the issue goes further than that. As Trevor mentioned in the article, the players were directly touched by the Troubles. Another teammate, Nigel Carr, had his career ended when he got caught up in a bomb attack on the way to an Irish training session. Trevor, Keith and I were in the car behind.

When the IRFU introduced Ireland’s Call, it was an act of leadership on their part, leadership it also showed in 1996 when it backed the Peace International.

The song is frequently attacked both just for being there and also for its musical quality. Criticism on the first point completely misses its principal objective.

On the second, people lament that we do not have a stirring song such as the French Marseillaise or the Welsh anthem. Some have even said it affects the performance of the team. In addition to us being the current Six Nations champions, can we ask how many world cups have France and Wales won? Zero. What about some actual winners? I would have full respect for the English, Australian and New Zealand anthems but I have never heard any of my friends from these countries claim that their anthems are particularly inspiring. Both New Zealand and South Africa (another World Cup winner) explicitly adapted their anthems to reflect different identities, realising that bigger issues were involved.

So congratulations to the IRFU for maintaining their position and I look forward to singing Ireland’s Call (in addition to Amhrán na bhFiann) on Saturday week to get behind Rory Best or whichever of the Ulster players line out for the Irish team, together with Trevor, Keith and Nigel (who are coming to stay for the weekend) in the stands and can only regret we could not sing together when we were on the actual pitch. – Yours, etc,


Killiney, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Thanks to Malachy Clerkin for his thought-provoking article. As he writes, you either love Ireland’s Call or hate it; but for those of us (and I believe there are many) who were never taught the Irish national anthem – Amhrán na bhFiann – in school, it brings a unity and cohesion that was lacking at international rugby matches. I envy the French with their mighty La Marseillaise; they sing it with such gusto and not only at the beginning of the match, but at any time their team need a boost.

If the children of this country are not being taught their own national anthem, how does anyone expect it to be sung with such ferocity; oh, it is sung, but not by the majority and therein- lies the crux of the matter.

If the huge majority of Ireland supporters that will attend both matches in the Aviva within the next few weeks are to be heard, we need to sing in unison, with heart and feeling, and not only at the beginning of the match.

Let us do what the French do! Let’s sing the song we all can sing, during the game, giving our boys the help they need from us, the spectators, the 16th man. And for that to happen, I entreat the IRFU to publish the words of Ireland’s Call in the match programme, even just the first verse and chorus (which in all likelihood is all that will be sung).

Good luck to the boys in green; and good luck to the thousands of us who will stand together and bring the house down! – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – Malachy Clerkin quotes Neil Francis: “I guarantee you that given a few hours over a few pints and a blank sheet of paper, a couple of us could come up with a better song.”

Well in the past 20 years, he must have been short on friends, paper and pints. You were a great player but we are still waiting to hear your Call, Mr Francis! – Yours, etc,




Sir, – In March 1995, the Irish rugby squad spent a few days training in Kilkenny. Someone suggested that they would attend a school assembly in Kilkenny College and that the pupils would sing the new song. A manuscript score and a cassette recording of the work had been sent from IRFU headquarters.

A keyboard – played by a pupil – was duly programmed to imitate the accompaniment and the pupils were rehearsed. The presence of the players caused great excitement, of course, and Ireland’s Call received one of its earliest performances.

The event was captured by a camera crew from BBC Wales, and featured on their evening news clip on the Irish team’s preparations prior to meeting Wales, later that week. – Yours, etc,



Co Kilkenny.

A chara, – I do hope that no one will be too perturbed by what the splendidly likable and lovable Stephen Fry (if the word “avuncular” was not coined with him in mind, then it should have been) had to say to Gay Byrne on the subject of religion (“‘God is clearly a maniac’, Fry tells Byrne”, February 2nd). After all, Mr Fry is angry with a god he doesn’t believe in; and the god he is angry with isn’t the god that those who believe in God believe in either. – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Even before the broadcast of Gay Byrne’s Meaning of Life with Stephen Fry it was clear that blasphemy was about to be committed by RTÉ. The advance clip that went around the internet and social media shows Mr Fry explaining why God is “utterly, utterly evil”, among other opinions. This must surely cause offence to many religious people and how could it do otherwise. This is the definition of blasphemy under the Defamation Act 2009.

Are gardaí about to raid the offices of RTÉ to seize the programme, as allowed for in the Act? Are they about to raid my home to seize my Sky box where I have a copy of the programme, as they are allowed by the Act?

Can RTÉ claim the allowed defence that “a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates”?

If it is acceptable to call God “utterly, utterly evil” to a reasonable person (whatever that may be) then by definition only an unreasonable person would take exception, which will be disappointing to many religious people who consider it blasphemy.

The coverage of this programme around the world on mainstream media and the internet shows Ireland and its blasphemy laws for what they are, an anachronistic throwback to an earlier age. The civilised world has moved on and so should we, by getting rid of blasphemy from our Constitution as soon as possible. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – Dr Pádraic Whyte ( February 2015) claims that those calling for a No vote in the marriage referendum, while claiming to represent the interests of children, have not thought about the gay children and teenagers listening to the debate: “On a daily basis, these children are told that they are not equal to their classmates, while classmates are told that their gay friends are worth less.” I haven’t heard anybody say this.

He also writes: “This can generate and perpetuate a culture of fear and intolerance in the classroom, of homophobic bullying in the schoolyard, and of hate crimes on the street.” This is the latest pretext by which open discussion is being discouraged and even suppressed – the unprovable doctrine that somebody expressing an opinion leads to somebody else inflicting violence. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would ultimately stop anyone from expressing disapproval of anything. Are the regular denunciations of “homophobe” and “bigot” putting opponents of this referendum proposal (or, indeed, their children) in danger of being beaten up? Why not? Because people with the “right” opinions don’t do that kind of thing?

Finally, the concept of equality is the very concept at issue in this debate. Those calling for a Yes vote believing it is required to bring about marriage equality; those opposed think that there is already marriage equality, since the same laws apply to everyone. Can’t we respect each other’s opinions enough not to throw around the term “equality” as though its application were obvious? It is, in fact, a perennially vexed term. – Yours, etc,



Ballymun, Dublin 11.

Sir, – A plea to opponents of marriage equality. By all means, try to convince me that some people’s lives will go worse if there is marriage equality. By all means, try to convince me of the slipperiness of the slope from marriage equality to unspeakable licentiousness. But please stop saying – as several of your correspondents have in recent days – that there cannot be marriage equality because it is not possible to “redefine” marriage. None of the scores of countries and US states in which there is marriage equality appear to have vanished in a puff of logical or conceptual confusion. So it is quite mysterious what reason to oppose marriage equality people take themselves to be offering when they make this sort of claim. – Yours, etc,




Sir,– Your editorials often offer a reasoned and independent-minded analysis. It is disappointing, therefore, to see them lapse into the hand-wringing and pearl-clutching pretend horror that has characterised the wall-to-wall media coverage of the apparently earth-shattering event of a man calling the President a midget (January 31st).

It is par for the course, indeed vital, that the nexus of political and economic power ridicules and demonises popular and progressive movements in order to uphold the political and economic orthodoxy. Demonstrators must be shown in the media to be disorderly, aggressive, even ridiculous. “Customers” must be disabused of the lofty notions they hold above their station, radical and dangerous ideals such as equitable taxation and social justice.

To that end, ample column inches and airtime must be given over to a man calling the President a midget, otherwise we would have to focus on the more important issue – why the wealthy have seen their share of the pie increase as a result of “austerity”, while the poor and marginalised are shoved further into the quicksand of poverty and deprivation.

A handful of protesters hurling misplaced personalised insults at a head of state is neither particularly newsworthy nor characteristic of the anti-water-charges and anti-austerity movements. But they must be portrayed as being both in order to divide and conquer popular opposition. We are invited to be aghast at the supposed violence of the Tánaiste being splashed by a water balloon; we are discouraged from questioning the real, legalised violence of troikanomics, which has engendered humanitarian catastrophes across Europe. We are prompted to express outrage at Joan Burton being grounded in her car for a few hours; we are not as readily called upon to question the Government’s complicity in spiralling numbers of families, including young children, being grounded in cars because they have been made homeless.

But we must be “sensible” and prioritise our concerns and focus on a man calling the President a midget. – Yours, etc,


Cambridge, England.

Sir, – Stephen Collins (“Protests and Dáil antics fail to drown out good news”, Opinion & Analysis, January 31st) seems to suggest that the abuse that a small number of protesters hurled at the President in Dublin was reflective of the general anti-water charges movement.

I support the idea of water charges. However, from my own personal experience, most of the people involved with the anti-water charge movement are not uncivilised socialist extremists, but genuinely annoyed with the sheer waste that they are expected to pay towards through their water charges – and they would utterly condemn the abuse hurled at the President. – Yours, etc,


Ballinamore, Co Leitrim.

Sir, – The working people of Greece have delivered a clear message to the European Union, to the IMF and to the Greek oligarchs that they have had enough of “austerity,” enough of being bullied, enough of being dictated to by these forces. They desire to be treated as citizens with dignity, with honour; they desire to live free from fear of what tomorrow will bring, without fear of what will happen to them if they become ill or whether their pensions will be there tomorrow.

Fear is the weapon that the Irish establishment, the European Union, the IMF and global bankers and finance houses have created and orchestrated, in a climate of fear dutifully promoted by their mass media against any possible alternative. They wish us to believe there is no way forward for the peoples of Europe other than the one imposed on them in the interests of saving the capitalist system itself.

Already the chorus has begun from the EU and other international powers and institutions that the Greek people must be “reasonable”, must modify their aspirations, must be “realistic” about what is possible. We must reject such fetters upon the people’s hopes. Only working people can decide what is reasonable and where the boundaries of our desires are. The victory of Syriza, in the eyes of the Greek people, is a victory for the popular desire for a different path and a better way forward, for real substantive change.

Time will tell whether the trust they have placed in Syriza was ill-judged. It may well turn out to be just another wave of social democracy that will crash on the rock of real, existing monopoly capitalism, leaving a trail of disillusionment and broken promises.

Syriza has raised expectations in Greece; it has raised hopes throughout the European Union. Here in Ireland some are attempting to clamber onto the Syriza bandwagon; but for those forces and individuals who desire more radical change the task now is to build the forces for real change, to hold those who claim to speak and act for the people to their promises.– Yours, etc,



Dublin 22.

Sir, – By cheerleading the demands of Syriza for debt forgiveness, Irish media commentators are supporting Greek hypocrisy.

After receiving billions in a bailout, the Greek attitude now is to give the two fingers to every one of the citizens of other EU countries who paid for the results of the recklessness and irresponsibility of those in charge in Greece when that country was bankrupted.

The consequences of the bankrupting of this country sees the Irish version of Syriza’s hypocritical attitude in operation in violence on our streets.

Like their support for the Syriza party at present in Greece, Irish media support for the policy of “let someone else pay” in this country is preaching the “mé féin” gospel of everyone else paying for demands no matter how reckless and hypocritical. That has to be unacceptable. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 13.

Sir, – Regarding the reported silence of former high-profile cabinet ministers (February 2nd), it is marvellous to see some good news make the front page. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Drivers, please turn on your lights. It is not yet spring. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Irish Independent:

Stephen Fry on The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne
Stephen Fry on The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne

Stephen Fry’s recent interview with Gay Byrne raised issues with which many thinking people, especially those of us who were born in the 1940s and who have lost God, have been grappling.

  • Go To

I expect that all people at one time or another seek answers to the question: “Where did the universe come from?” Wherever one seeks the answer, the truth is that the religious explanation and the scientific theory are not all that different. Each tells us that the universe appeared suddenly out of nothingness. Scientists do not claim to know why this is so. Believers claim they do. God created it. But to the question, “Who or what created God?” they simply answer, “God has always existed.” In each case, we are asked to accept an effect without an apparent cause.

Unlike scientists, believers claim to know the reason why God created the world/universe. “God created the world for His or Her own glory.” And this is the nub of Stephen’s argument, I believe. What kind of Creator would create a world, wonderful and beautiful as it can sometimes be, with so much violence, brutality, pain, corruption, greed and injustice?

To say, as believers continue to say, that such evils are “God’s will”, is an insult to human intelligence. Such trite explanations have been used for centuries to keep the powerless and suffering poor from challenging the avarice and greed of the powerful.

I know there are believers who scoff at and dismiss Stephen’s arguments, as if all agnostics and atheists deliberately take up their stances in order to undermine and attack religious beliefs.

Believers may not realise that the loss of God is a source of deep sorrow to many thinking people. With belief in God came the comfort of meaning and a sense that the world was in the hands of a caring presence, who brooded over and would protect His or Her creation and who would rescue the poor and the needy.

Without belief in God, we are left to face a bleaker reality: there is no objective meaning to our existence and, most painful of all, we are forced to accept that the care of this beautiful blue planet is now in the hands of us, the human species.

It would require a blind act of faith to believe that we can save the earth and its creatures, when the evidence, clearly visible in the world around us, in news bulletins and other media, is that this task is beyond our flawed, selfish natures. For me, this is the deepest sorrow of all.

Joe Buckley, Co Kildare

The merits of the Dáil

Hugh Gibney advises that we elect the Dáil on the basis of merit and expertise and ignore gender (Letters, Irish Independent, January 27). Was a nearly 90pc male Dáil, the decisions of which helped to bankrupt the country, elected on the basis of merit and expertise?

A Leavy, Sutton, Dublin 13

The last word on the term ‘gay’

As an octogenarian, I have lived through changing times: times when we were told sex was something they did in America, and times of arranged marriages and long courtships (She: “We’ve been friends now for 10 years, is it not time we got married?” He: “Sure, who’d have us?”).

I have come to the conclusion that it’s just a case of “different strokes for different folks”, so I have no problem with Health Minister Leo Varadkar coming out as a homosexual, but I do object to the hijacking of that lovely adjective “gay” (which the dictionary defines as “carefree, merry”). Please folks, give us back our lovely word and let’s all be carefree and merry together!

Eileen Malone, Rathfarnham, Dublin

‘Neutrals’ need a strong military

The response to the recent disruption to our civil aviation and incursion into our airspace by Russian bombers is nothing short of a typically Irish reaction.

Let’s be clear. One of the basic underpinnings of a state, any kind of state – be it communist or capitalist or whatever – is sovereignty of territory and by extension the defence of that territory, including the airspace. This idea is enshrined in international law and has been for centuries. In spite of this, Ireland flouts the idea.

We had no response of our own to the Russian incursion other than to basically borrow the Royal Air Force. Imagine that. We never stop talking about “800 years of oppression” by the United Kingdom yet gladly, willingly call on an air force provided by the British taxpayer to defend us. In addition to this undermining us as a state, we should also be worried by the rise of right- wing parties in British politics, parties who are unlikely to look favourably on British taxpayers’ money being spent on providing Ireland’s protection.

Cries of neutrality are pointless. After all, Sweden has a history of neutrality too but it maintains strong and modern armed forces and will defend its land, as seen when it aggressively searched for a Russian submarine thought to be intruding in its waters months ago.

Colin Smith, Clara, Co Offaly

Russians came in for the cold

I wouldn’t worry too much about the Russians flying near Ireland (Irish Independent, January 31). They were probably just doing a bit of cold weather training.

Ian Cahill, Mullingar, Co Westmeath

Don’t hold historical grudges

My sympathy, for what it’s worth, goes out to the Greek people, who have suffered so much loss in the last decade.

But my sympathy also goes out to the German people, who seem to be generally expected to shoulder other people’s burdens.

However, I am not entirely comfortable with people referring to Germany’s actions in Greece in World War II, although we cannot deny them. Following the same line of thought, we can point out that Hitler invaded Greece only because his ally Italy had botched its invasion of that country, which it had carried out against German wishes.

Hitler rose to power in circumstances not too alien from today’s. Everyone agrees World War II was a consequence of World War I, for which, in 1914, countries like Britain and France were not blameless … and, winding back the clock further, why haven’t the Welsh complained about the Irish brigands who abducted Saint Patrick, not to mention the compensation claims that should be coming to Greece from every country between Greece and India for the invasions of Alexander the Great?

History is dangerous if we remember it without learning its lessons – and that applies to everyone, whether they are oppressors or oppressed, and feel guilty or aggrieved.

Paul Holland, Oranmore, Co Galway

Can’t God take care of himself?

After Stephen Fry’s comments about God on RTE’s ‘The Meaning of Life’, Marian Finucane, on her radio show of January 31, said a lot of people would be offended. Later, in an interview with a priest, she asked if he was offended by the remarks.

It amazes me that believers in Christianity and Islam, two religions with Hell in their belief system, don’t think their God is well up to taking care of things himself if he’s offended by the “blasphemers”.

Is an eternity of torment for “blasphemers” not enough for those of these faiths, not to mention the loss of an eternity of bliss? You would imagine if they really believed the stuff they claim to believe, they wouldn’t be concerned about what people say or draw.

Frank Whelan, Ballinaclough, Co Wicklow

Don’t believe a word

Enda Kenny has categorically ruled out coalition with Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin after the next election – and we all know from previous experience that Enda never reneges on a promise!

Seamus McLoughlin, Keshcarrigan, Co Leitrim

Irish Independent


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