Author Archive

Mary in hospital

March 25, 2014

25 March 2014 Mary
MARY IN HOSPITAL
No Scrabble today Perhaps I will win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Jack Belliveau, who has died due to complications of a gastrointestinal disorder aged 55, was a scientist who managed to capture the first images of our brains’ thought processes in action, so engaging public imagination and laying the foundations for a whole new field of cognitive and behavioural neuroscience.
Before Belliveau began his research, radiologists gathering data on a patient’s cerebral function used an technique called PET (position emission tomography), but the images it produced did not have the clarity and resolution that allowed physicians to examine brain anatomy with any degree of accuracy. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), too, had been developed, allowing scientists to take high resolution images of the brain. But these were static, not dynamic, and could not track the brain’s response to stimulae.
It had long been known, however, that when neurons in the brain become active, local blood flow to those brain regions increases over four to six seconds before falling back, a phenomenon which can be detected by magnetic resonance which responds to the blood’s own magnetism. In the late 1980s Belliveau and colleagues at the Massachusetts General Hospital worked with industry to develop a technique – called dynamic susceptibility contrast imaging – to look at blood flowing in the brain. This involved the use of an MRI scanner that took pictures 20,000 times faster than conventional imagers.
Dynamic susceptibility contrast imaging became a standard technique for assessing the movement of blood in brain capillaries (“perfusion”) in stroke patients, but Belliveau wondered if the technique could also be used to view activity in the brain while it processes information. By focusing on blood flow and subtracting images of the brain at rest from those at work, he thought, areas involved in cognitive processing would be revealed.
Belliveau visited a discotheque equipment supplier and bought a strobe light to stimulate a response in the brains of a group of volunteers. He then took images of their brains while they watched the flashing light and compared them with images taken when the strobe was switched off. But there was no difference. He tried again, this time with his guinea-pigs wearing goggles that displayed a chequerboard pattern. The primary visual cortex that responded to the strobe showed up perfectly.
In 1991 he and colleagues published a paper in the journal Science which marked the beginning of an explosion of MRI research by behavioural scientists and, more importantly, by neuroscientists, helping to shed light on the brain’s neural networks.
This culminated in the announcement last year by President Barack Obama of a new £100 million initiative (Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies — or BRAIN) to map the brain and provide insight into diseases such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy as well as psychological conditions like schizophrenia and autism.
Meanwhile in Europe around 80 European research institutions and some from outside the EU are involved in a Human Brain Project, which will use supercomputer-based models and simulations to reconstruct a virtual human brain to develop new treatments for neurological conditions.
John William Belliveau was born in San Mateo, California, on January 25 1959 and studied Biology and Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology. After graduating in 1981 he spent a year in Britain at the University of Cambridge on a Winston Churchill scholarship, then took a PhD in biophysics at Harvard, where he made his breakthrough.
He remained at Harvard’s Martinos Centre until the end of his life, working on refinements to radiological imaging techniques and serving as first president of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping.
He married, in 2001, Brigitte Poncelet, who survives him with a daughter.
Jack Belliveau, born January 25 1959, died February 14 2014
Guardian:
Letting the over-55s raid their pension pots whenever and however they want means that some, at least, will squander their assets and eventually fall back on the state, increasing the burden on the young (Analysis, 20 March).
Since the baby boomers as a generation have written themselves unaffordable promises, racked up massive national debts and cornered the supply of housing, their financial judgment must be in question, so maybe trusting them further with money is unwise.
On average, people underestimate their life expectancy by almost five years, which suggests that individuals are not as well positioned as a third party to decide how much to keep aside for their old age.
The new freedom to withdraw pension assets means it will now be easy to avoid inheritance tax, which represents a large loss of tax to the Treasury, increasing the burden of national debt for future generations.
Many baby boomers may withdraw pension savings to invest in buy-to-let properties which could well push up prices for first-time buyers and force more of them into renting for their whole lives. These young people, saving for a deposit, won’t have access to the “pensioner bonds” which Osborne is subsidising for the over-65s.
Angus Hanton
Intergenerational Foundation,
http://www.if.org.uk
• Chris Huhne is absolutely right to warn that changes to pension rules are likely to lead to “another rip-roaring house price boom” (Osborne’s ‘brilliant’ budget could turn out to be a dud, 24 March). The shame is that all three main parties now seem to want above-inflation increases in house prices.
A booming housing market is lucrative for the Treasury but has dire long term social and economic consequences. If housing is the best investment opportunity available, money will pour into bricks and mortar rather than finding more productive outlets. And the impact of increasingly unaffordable housing on social justice and intergenerational equity should be clear.
Property bubbles also result in building splurges and pressure on the countryside, as recently seen in Ireland and Spain, while doing little for those in need because houses are built for investment on the assumption that prices will continue to rise.
We do need to build many more houses. But we should plan them well and locate them sensitively. A building frenzy fuelled by hopes of making a quick buck should be the last thing anyone wants. Which is why it is so disappointing that no party will commit to house price stability as a policy aim.
Shaun Spiers
Chief executive, Campaign to Protect Rural England
• If retirees could invest in bonds that went to fund local infrastructure, including social housing, rather than buy-to-let schemes, then we could have a win-win-win situation. Pensioners would have a secure source of income in retirement, significant sums of capital would be invested in socially and economically useful local projects instead of financial institutions, and the costs of housing – and housing benefit – would not be further forced up. Local economic investment, devolution to communities as well as to individuals, addressing the shortage of housing and underinvestment in infrastructure, all in one policy. That’s a real radical alternative to the coalition.
Alex Hollingsworth
Oxford
• Now that one will not have to take out an annuity (too late for me, but anyway), it turns out that private pension schemes were just a way of investing money and obtaining tax relief. The more you saved, the more relief, and the higher your earnings, the higher the rate of relief. The poorer subsidise the richer, as usual. If private pensions are to become merely investment vehicles, why should they receive tax relief?
Dan Usiskin
London
• Let them blow their pensions on a Lamborghini (21 March). What irresponsible nonsense, especially from a minister in a government that claimed to have green credentials. For Steve Webb’s information, Lamborghinis have a fuel consumption of 20 mpg, and more like 12 mpg when driving in towns and cities. The minister might also like to know that they emit 400-500 g/km carbon dioxide. If ministers want to suggest how recent retirees should spend their money, more responsible advice would be for car users to buy small hybrids (or electric cars, or even bicycles), and for home owners urgently to improve the insulation of their houses.
Barry Mellor
London
• Not a Lamborghini, stupid … it will be private hip replacements, early cataract treatment and heart-bypass if the pension pot is big enough. Where else is the cash to come from to keep the private providers in business?
Joyce Brand
Ludlow
• According to Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, her party “supports” the principle of the pension reforms announced by George Osborne (Report, 24 March). Can I ask was this decision made at a shadow cabinet meeting or a meeting of the parliamentary party, or was it just by a small clique of individuals?
Irving Nicol
Milton Keynes
• What is the Guardian doing presenting a very well-off family as being in straitened circumstances (Money, 22 March)? With a joint gross annual income of nearly £60,000, the family you featured are not in the middle of the income spectrum but in the top 28% – the average income for a family with two young children is around £30,000. Neither can they be financially squeezed with a monthly income of approximately £3,600. Even after deducting costs for mortgage and childcare, their monthly income must be over £2,000. How can a family of four reasonably find it difficult to live on this sum?
Jane Duffield-Bish
Norwich
• Are public employees, such as teachers, also to be trusted to make their own choices about retirement finance?
Will they also have the option of taking a pot of money, or are the contributions made throughout their careers not regarded as their money?
Averil Lewin

 

Your correspondent (Letters, 24 March) does not need HS2 to be built with a link to HS1 to get a through train from Crewe to Paris. Thanks to lobbying from the north-west, HS1 built a connecting track to the West Coast mainline to enable through trains. What this needs now are the trains and an operator prepared to take on immigration, security and the high Channel tunnel charges.
Tony Berkeley
House of Lords
• When the Channel tunnel was mooted, the votes of northern MPs were bought by the promise of a direct rail link to the continent. For a few heady months it was possible to board a train in York and step off in Paris, by trundling via Clapham Junction. New Thameslink tunnels were then built to take those trains under, instead of round central London. Someone in the capital soon put a stop to that.
Roger Osborne
Snainton, Scarborough
• The first phase of HS2 was always intended to reach Lichfield Junction, if not Crewe. Conventional trains would then be able to use it, just like Javelin services on HS1, and so cut journey times for through trains, even from Glasgow. At a stroke this would relieve congestion on the West Coast mainline: upgrading the existing lines out of London would still cost tens of billions, with years of disruption to existing services.
High-speed lines are built to higher and wider continental loading gauges. However, when the line from the Channel tunnel was built, no thought was given to proper connections with a future line to the north. In contrast, from the outset SNCF planned for successive phases of construction, leaving room for future growth, although we could learn from its mistakes with little-used intermediate stations: TGV Picardie was deliberately sited not to connect with the provincial network which crossed its route only a few kilometres away at Puzeaux.
David Nowell
New Barnet, Hertfordshire
• When it was announced in July 2013 that Hitachi had won the East Coast train replacement order, my reaction was that while it might benefit employment in Newton Aycliffe, the Department for Transport had gifted Hitachi an opening into the European market. Where does Vince Cable think the profits will go? “March of the makers”, indeed.
Robert As

 

In stating in the House Magazine that, for the personal independence payment and universal credit, he has a passionate belief that “what I am doing is the right thing”, Iain Duncan Smith echoes that other infamous politician, Tony Blair. I am sure we all recall his unflinching belief in the presence and threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and, when these failed to materialise, he said – without a hint of irony – “Look, I only know what I believe.”
Dan Tanzey
Thornton Cleveleys, Lancashire
• Your correspondent (Letters, 24 March) is right to point out that I don’t (unlike the BBC) pretend to be impartial. But he is wrong to link me with Tories who attack the licence fee. I have repeatedly defended it. I just think the BBC should try harder to deserve it.
Peter Hitchens
London
• While it is a good idea to suggest Martin Amis read the writings of Stuart Hall (Letters, 20 March), it is obvious that Amis knows Foucault.
Phil Rhoden
Kidderminster, Worcestershire
• Spotted in a cookshop in ever-so-desirable San Rafael, North California, a recipe book: Fifty Shades of Kale (In Praise of … Kale, 21 March 2014).
David Collison
Richmond, Surrey
•  Having graduated 55 years ago and been a Guardian reader for even longer, I regard myself as well educated and well read. However, I needed to look up two words in the letter to Pamela Stephenson Connolly (24 March). Her answer involving “tops” and “bottoms” is still incomprehensible. I wonder how the plushophilists fared when I was young, what with clothing coupons and bald teddybears.
Ann Pugh
Walsall
• Wow! 10 best chickpea recipes in Saturday’s Cook supplement (22 March). How about 10 best mushy pea recipes for all those north of Watford?
R Moulds
Ludford, Lincolnshire
• I have never been to Valhalla, but I have sometimes been in Chãos, Portugal (Letters, 22 March).
Michael Miller
Sheffield
The chancellor has stated that we are to exploit the invention of graphene in this country. In this regard it may be worth contrasting the numbers of patents held by Manchester University, where it was discovered (0), and Samsung (a lot).
While I agree that graphene probably is the best thing since sliced bread, it is hard to see how it can be commercially exploited in the absence of something to exploit. It is also my understanding that Sir Andre Geim, one of two emigre Russian scientists at Manchester who made the discovery, is not patent friendly, taking a similar line to the Manchester Manifesto published by John Sulston through the university, which is probably the simple most meretricious document relating to patents ever issued.
Before making further investments in graphene, the chancellor might well be advised to review the due diligence carried out by Manchester to ensure that graphene is actually its to exploit.
Philip Atkinson
Solicitor and former head of intellectual property at Eversheds

 

It matters not a jot for those of us who were against the imposition of student fees to say “we told you so” now that there needs to be a change to the system of repayments (Government got maths wrong over tuition fees, 22 March).
Given that it is too late to go back to where we started from, a rethink is due. If you were to take as a broad proposition that education is for life, perhaps a lifetime repayment scheme would be possible? A graduate could choose when to repay. This could be, as now, drip-feeding the loans back annually, or in later life after children have left home / downsizing property / inheritance / windfall and so on, with the amount needed repaying keeping place with inflation. Repayment from untaxed income would also help and encourage settlement of debt.
Nothing can overcome the injustice of a coalition most of whom benefited from free college education imposing a large financial handicap on younger generations through student debt. They cannot have thought through all the implications and life-changing decisions that debt has caused graduates. For instance, whether bringing up children is affordable and where they may well be denied a mortgage because student repayments have priority at the £21,000 earnings threshold.
Deb Nicholson
Bristol
• It has taken the government three years to admit its tuition fees system is not sustainable (Report, 23 March). It will take years to correct the enormous strain it has already put on our universities and students.
The system was always wrong in principle: saddling young people with a lifetime of debt, while starving universities of adequate funding. Now we hear the maths was wrong and there is a looming funding gap. We have been warning minsters that the overwhelming majority of postgraduate teachers will not be able to pay back their loans and will owe more than £100,000 after 30 years – twice as much as they borrowed. And if young people are unemployed or in low-paid jobs, go abroad or simply drop out of official statistics, the debt to the public purse will be much greater. Cutting fees would provide only a short-term solution. The spectre of raising fees still further is sheer madness.
Dr Mary Bousted
General secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers
•  The report that the government’s system for funding a university education may end up costing more than the system it replaced is not that surprising. Critics of the reforms have long argued that the trebling of tuition fees and provision of up-front loans was an accounting trick designed not to make the system more efficient but to further implant a competitive market into higher education. Perhaps the government should cut its losses and go back to providing a free education to all those who want a degree. Can UK plc afford it? Well, it depends whether you see higher education as a drain or an investment in the future. After all, Germany is set to scrap tuition fees and its economy does not appear to be collapsing.
Professor Des Freedman
Goldsmiths, University of London
•  If there is one thing we can learn from the student tuition fee loan debacle, it is the idiocy of applying the logic of neoliberalism to a sector in which it is clearly ill suited. This massive economic category error is not restricted to higher education. Neoliberalism, and its ideological adjutant, managerialism, has contaminated primary and secondary education, health and social care, and the voluntary sector. Tragically, there appears to be no end in sight for this discredited experiment in philistinism.
William Hutson
Nottingham
Needing an anecdote or two for a paper I was due to deliver on the occasion of the director Peter Glenville’s birth centenary in 2013, I rang up Ossie Morris (obituary, 20 March) late last year. He recalled, still with astonishing clarity, working with Glenville on Term of Trial (1962), a small black-and-white British film.
Interestingly, he hadn’t bothered to give the credit even a mention beyond its title in his riveting 2006 autobiography, despite the fact it co-starred Laurence Olivier, Simone Signoret, Terence Stamp and the newcomer Sarah Miles. Ossie’s fabulous memoir, devoting considerable space instead to his long collaboration with the Hollywood film-maker John Huston, was, rather fittingly and wittily, entitled Huston, We Have a Problem.

 

Independent:

 
I find it extremely difficult to reconcile your newspaper’s stance on climate change with your support for fracking. (Editorial, “Fracking is right and necessary. So publish more evidence”, 21 March.)
The only environmental advantage offered by fracking is that burning gas emits considerably less CO2 per unit of energy than coal, but this only benefits climate change if fugitive emissions of methane released by fracking are kept below 2 per cent. In the US there has been no proper monitoring but releases as high as 9 per cent have been recorded. Furthermore there is no evidence that shale gas will replace coal. Instead the US is exporting cheap coal and power stations elsewhere in the world are now converting back from natural gas to coal with disastrous consequences for climate change.
Finally the Chancellor’s policy is to support shale gas at the expense of renewables which explains why UK investment in green technologies has halved over the past  three years.
Opposition to fracking is therefore rational and scientifically based. It does The Independent no credit to pretend otherwise.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones MA FRCP FRCPath, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

I was very disappointed by your editorial of 21 March. You acknowledge the kind of concerns raised by protesters, but imply that they are misinformed and that there is abundant evidence that fracking is “safe and clean”, and that this will see off the “increasingly politicised” anti-fracking movement.
But on the contrary, experience from the US and elsewhere, backed by European Commission and American independent research, has identified significant pollution risks and actual damage from leaking wells, including permanent contamination of aquifers and drinking water by methane, heavy metals, radioactive elements and carcinogenic chemicals.
Local communities also suffer greatly from air pollution, noise from drilling and heavy truck movements, and water shortages. And significant release of methane from underground further accelerates climate change.
No doubt the corporate interests that stand to benefit financially (backed by a compliant government) can mount an impressive PR exercise aimed at getting public opinion on-side, but only by skewing the truth.
You claim that fracking will reduce energy prices and increase security of supply. But energy prices are set in an international market, so any gas extracted by UK fracking is unlikely to have much effect on our bills.
And rather than subsidising oil and gas giants trying to squeeze out the last drop of fossil fuels with what is a highly invasive and resource-intensive process, a better way to strengthen energy security is increased research and investment in a range of genuinely clean, renewable technologies, coupled with improved insulation and more efficient heating systems.
Dr Christine Marsh, Dawlish, Devon

The fracking lobby is wrong to suggest that public opinion remains “the last piece of the puzzle” (“Lobbying drive for fracking launched”, 20 March). There are other gaping holes in the industry’s game-plan too.
Experts have warned that shale gas won’t cut UK fuel bills, and the industry has completely failed to show how a shale-gas boom is compatible with tackling climate change.
On top of this there remains real concern about the damaging impact of fracking on local communities and their environment, particularly given recent cuts to the main regulator, the Environment Agency.
The real solution to our energy challenges are energy efficiency and developing the UK’s substantial renewable potential. This will not only be good for our environment – it will boost our long-term economic prospects too.
Tony Bosworth, Energy Campaigner, Friends of the Earth, London SW6

Only force will  stop Putin
Your correspondent Nick Megoran (20 March), a lecturer in political geography, wants to see Nato wound up in the interests of preserving good relations with an expansionist Russia.
This sort of reductionist claptrap has no credibility. If Mr Megoran consulted the freedom-loving peoples of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well as other countries which have borders with Russia, he would find massive support for their continuing membership  of Nato.
Why? They know that as long as they remain members any attempt by Putin to invade them would, in terms of mutual treaty obligations, require Nato to intervene militarily. Secondly, its membership of Nato gives the US massive traction, and moral collateral.
Force and the threat of force spearheaded by Nato are the only factors likely to impact on Putin’s thinking and restrain him from further adventurism.
Michael Batchelor, Swansea

It is really exasperating to see our government pressing the EU to “punish” Russia with economic sanctions. There can only be three consequences: (i) everyone, on both sides, is worse off; (ii) nothing will change as regards Crimea; (iii) in a couple of years,  we will all move on and  the sanctions will be lifted. An exercise which, if it has any purpose at all, is to make the political leaders feel less impotent than they actually are.
And anyway: why is it legitimate for the Falklanders to vote to be part of Britain rather than Argentina, the Gibraltarians to vote to be part of Britain rather than Spain, and the Northern Irish to vote to be part of Britain rather than Ireland, but not for the people of Crimea to vote to be part of Russia and rather than Ukraine?
Malachy Cornwell-Kelly, Sevenoaks, Kent

Your correspondents who adhere to the notion that “free elections” took place in Crimea should read Anne Applebaum’s book Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe to understand Russian-style elections. Where were (or are) the opposition parties in the Putin/Medvedev elections and reign? And, for all this talk about Crimea being so Russian, it was Catherine the Great who expanded Imperial Russia’s influence and seized Crimea.
Also, if the ethnicity of the people determines the fate of part of a country maybe the people of Bradford would like to vote to become part of Pakistan?
Zofia Pacula, Windsor

The ‘studentification’ of the city of Durham
As a resident of the City of Durham from 1984 to 2000, I am not surprised that there are protests about the loss of local housing to student accommodation (“Gown town: Durham locals fear losing their city to ‘studentification’ ” 17 March).
I lived in a two-bed terrace house in one of the streets near the viaduct and got used to the “thundering trains of the east-coast main line”, and enjoyed living there. I walked to my teaching job in the city, as did my daughter to her school, and I did most of my shopping in the city; there was a good selection of quality shops then.
The street’s inhabitants were a mixed bunch – professional people, retired, young singles and couples, and long-term residents. The street got a “City in Bloom” award for its tubs and hanging baskets.
Then developers bought up some of the houses, and one next to mine was turned into a four-bed student house. Gradually the area changed its character and was no longer desirable for couples or families. I represented our street on a local Police-University-Residents’ Liaison Committee to look at problems related to students living in the community, but the university was, to my mind, arrogant, and dismissive of residents’ complaints.
However, the university doesn’t need to fear disruption to residents from the latest development of student accommodation on the former county hospital site (a stone’s throw from the viaduct and Crossgate areas) – there will only be a handful left and they won’t matter.
Janet Slootweg, Crook,  Co Durham

Resistance movement at the checkout
Congratulations to Brendan Sharp on winning the Wyn Harness prize for young journalists (“Self serving”, 18 March). He makes many valid points about how the self-service tills in supermarkets can alienate customers.
However, I challenge his description of “old age pensioners” and what he assumes to be “their stark sense of inferiority” in relation to technology. Many of us have used computers for years and quite a few of us actually have smart phones.
Far from avoiding such tills because of being “subtly humiliated” some of us are engaged in active resistance. Our answer to the hard-pressed assistants who implore us to use the self-service machines is “No thanks. I don’t want to work for Tesco” or whoever. Another effective response is “No thank  you – I’m trying to save your job!”
So again, well done Brendan but please give older people a break and don’t make assumptions about an entire generation.
Barbara Sheppard, Cambridge

 

Times:
Sir, Many children were acquainted with the First World War poets well before Britten’s War Requiem in 1962 (letter, Mar 19). One set book for the London School Certificate exam in 1949 was An Anthology of Modern Verse (43rd edition), with poems by Brooke, Grenfell, Owen and Sassoon among others. The editor warned: “Some teachers may think a few of the pieces unsuitable to the youthful mind.” They actually seemed no worse to us than the other set text — Macbeth .
Professor A. J. Meadows
Seagrave, Leics
Sir, Kipling was “a better poet than all of them,” says Professor Karlin (letter, Mar 19) of the poets of the First World War. Field Marshal Earl Wavell would have agreed. Kipling appears more than any other poet in Wavell’s 1944 anthology Other Men’s Flowers. (Sassoon appears once, Owen and Edward Thomas not at all.) Wavell’s own poignant Sonnet for the Madonna of the Cherries (“a little wayside dandelion,” he says, modestly) should be considered for any Second World War anthology.
Barry Ferguson
Shaftesbury, Dorset
Sir, And not just Kipling. A. E. Housman also understood that honour comes in a soldier’s pack: “Here dead we lie/ Because we did not choose/ To live and shame the land/ From which we sprung.”
George Pownall
London SW4
Sir, Ian Cherry believes that Horace was extolling “the virtues of heroic gallantry”. Yet nowhere else in Latin poetry is found the concept that death is sweet. Either Horace was being deeply ironic (which puts a double irony into Owen’s poem) or, as has been argued by Horatian scholars, the text should be amended to read “dulci decorum est pro patria mori” – “it is fitting to die for one’s sweet country”.
Margaret Stephen
Westcott Surrey
Sir, Wilfred Owen’s collected poems were not published until 1963. His poetry was not well known during or after the First World War, but it may be that the poems struck a chord with the atrocities inflicted during the war in Vietnam.
His Dulce et Decorum is a graphic description of the horror of war that civilians and the returning soldiers may well not have been ready for just after the armistice.
Perhaps this poem crossed Mr Blair’s mind when troops were sent to the second Iraq war.
Ralph Bates
Aller, Somerset
Sir, Apropos Dr Harvey’s letter, the anthologies of English poetry tend not to include work in another language by, for example, Verlaine or Machado. This does not mean that poets from other cultures are not acknowledged. A poem in another language would not be readily understood by many people but once it is translated, it really becomes a different poem. In translation much of the beauty of the original language, eloquence and emotional appeal would be lost.
The war poets recounted their experience of death and yearning for home in terms that resonated with their families and their tragic generation. In the same way, Stramm, Ungaretti and Apollinaire recounted their experience, from their own perspective, within the context of their own culture, but to put poetry in another language alongside poetry in English in the same anthology would reduce the power of both poetic languages to move and inspire.
My father, who was a pilot in the Great War, was an avid reader, but whatever book he had in his hand, the work of Siegfried Sassoon was at his elbow.

Sir, My neighbour is involved in the care of a man who was discharged after ten weeks in hospital for treatment of a stroke (“One in three patients dies within a year of discharge from hospital”, Mar 19). His post-discharge care from the local authority stopped once he was deemed able to live alone in a bed-sit — although unable to go shopping because of mobility problems. My neighbour was told that voluntary organisations would take over some of his care but that further help would have to be paid for — not an option in his case. When she went to see him this week his only food was two ready-meals, ten days out of date. His flat needed cleaning but no one from the voluntary organisations is supposed to help domestically and no one is insured to take him out, so he just stares at the four walls.
Many patients are not sent out of hospital with the expectation that they are terminal, but the level of care is so abysmal that death becomes inevitable. In my experience as a hospital consultant, we didn’t operate on elderly patients with the aim that they would be dead within a few months. Lack of care in the community may well be a huge contributory factor.
Jane Stanford
London SW13
Sir, Your article) reinforces the fact that despite most of us wanting to die at home, busy hospital wards will continue to be the place where many of us will die.
It is therefore imperative that hospital staff provide high quality, compassionate care for their dying patients. The recent Neuberger Report emphasised that the ethical framework underpinning the guidance within the Liverpool Care Pathway was sound and in accord with the guidance from the General Medical Council. There are still misunderstandings and criticisms of anticipatory prescribing, clinically assisted hydration and the use of medication to relieve anxiety and distress for the dying.
To move forward decisively in improving care for the dying, NHS England must provide clear explanations of these difficult ethical issues while putting in place measures to improve the organisational governance within which care is provided.
Dr Gerard Corcoran
Formby, Merseyside

How many pensioners will raid their savings to buy a Lamborghini? And would it matter if they did?
Sir, Two aspects to the proposed reforms to pensions struck me.
First, someone with substantial other income can pass his or her pension savings to a spouse or civil partner with an overall reduction in the amount of tax the couple will pay.
Second, most pensioners (at least the ones who don’t buy Lamborghinis) will have more capital to leave to their heirs on their deaths, making many people better off and no one but insurance companies and their investors worse off.
Susan Kelly
London W5
Sir, It is being suggested that as a consequence of the Chancellor’s proposed pension reforms, some people would be tempted to cash in their pension pots and buy a Lamborghini.
This would not be a profligate purchase, providing the Lambo was old enough. Classic cars are reported to have shown an average capital appreciation rate of 28 per cent last year, and an astonishing 430 per cent over the past ten years. Furthermore, capital gains on classic cars are still tax-free.
Anthony H. Ratcliffe
London W1
The man who put the glam in Georgian England had some high-powered enemies, among them William Hogarth
Sir, Richard Morrison’s fascinating article on William Kent (“The carpenter’s son who put the glam in Georgian England”, Mar 22) does not quite tell the whole story about Kent’s enemies. William Hogarth was not just a “fellow artist” of Sir James Thornhill, he was his son-in-law. Thornhill’s star was on the wane by the 1730s and, to his credit, I think, Hogarth waded in to support the old boy whenever he could. This was partly out of love for Jane Thornhill/ Hogarth, but also because both Hogarth and Sir James detested the Palladian influence in art, of which Kent was champion and figurehead.
Michael Dean
Colchester, Essex
A reader outraged by Melanie Reid’s cancelled operation shares her experiences of NHS bureaucratic chaos
Sir, I read Melanie Reid’s Spinal Column (Mar 22) about her cancelled NHS operation with real empathy and increasing outrage.
Like Mrs Reid I too have had planned NHS surgery cancelled, not just once but on three occasions. Worse still, I had been told after first diagnosis that my operation would take place within four weeks due to the uncertain nature of the cervical polyp I had. Can one even begin to imagine the mental anguish I suffered during 13 weeks and after three “in situ” cancellations?
Ultimately I had the surgery in the private sector, performed by a wonderful gynaecologist who was totally bemused at the failings of the NHS in my lamentable treatment. Like Mrs Reid I too have suffered huge “mental and physical cruelty” at the mercy of an inhumane administrative system which treats its patients with the utmost contempt.
My concern is that cancelled elective operations are occurring all too frequently as failing hospital trusts try to meet unrealistic waiting list targets by overbooking theatre slots. The suffering caused by this is abhorrent, and this issue must be addressed at a national level. Indeed I would encourage all readers who have had elective surgery cancelled on one or more occasions to tell their MP and request that this issue is debated as a matter of urgency at Westminster.
Sandra Ward
Bridgnorth, Shropshire

 

Telegraph:
SIR – Your report recognised that William Kent’s greatest artistic achievement was landscape design, and rightly criticised the Victoria & Albert Museum’s exhibition about Kent for underplaying this. Curators have not worked out how to exhibit landscape design, and so ignore an art in which the British have led Europe since Kent’s time.
While working at Stowe House in Buckinghamshire, William Kent must have influenced the great Capability Brown, who was, at that time, the young head gardener there. Rousham House in Oxfordshire set another precedent in landscape design. Our beautiful countryside was to become part of the landscape designer’s palette.
Hal Moggridge
Lechlade, Gloucestershire
Peter Johnson
Great Gransden, Cambrideshire

SIR – You report that Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is in favour of a mansion tax.
This tax would be a fundamental invasion of individual property rights, currently protected under English law. In this respect, it must not be confused with a tax on earnings, savings or transactions, which is the state’s prerogative.
A mansion tax creates a precedent for other wealth taxes, allowing the state to exercise a claim on the property of anyone it chooses. This point is unlikely to be lost on those with property, and is a deterrent to further investment and the creation of wealth upon which we all depend.
Alasdair Macleod
Sidmouth, Devon
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SIR – As a member of the public, I strongly refute Danny Alexander’s claim that I am part of “a general consensus in favour of a mansion tax”. Although it will be a while, even in the current property price bubble, before my house reaches the likely threshold for a such a tax, I see it as an arbitrary confiscation of wealth which is grossly unfair, illogical and immoral.
Roger Earp
Bexhill, East Sussex
SIR – Given the Government’s appetite for our hard-earned money, should we start planning to block up our windows?
John Kellie
Pyrford, Surrey
Flood horror continues
SIR – Having recently travelled to Taunton, Somerset on the main road – which reopened only a week ago after nearly three months under water – before and after photos showing life returning to normal on the Somerset Levels are misleading.
Homes, farm buildings and business premises that were flooded still need months of repair work, at significant expense, to return them to anything approaching normal. Hundreds of acres of pasture also remain under water; those fields slowly emerging from the water are generally a filthy brown colour. The stench of polluted mud is in the air, and litter is heaped on what were the high-tide marks of the flooding.
Agony for the residents continues.
John Chillington
Wells, Somerset
Time for two watches
SIR – I wear my watch on my right wrist, not because I am left-handed, but because I broke my left wrist, aged 13, which was encased in plaster for six weeks. That was 51 years ago.
Since then, I have only worn a watch on my left wrist when flying across the Atlantic, when I find that one watch set at each of the departure and destination time zones helps with jet lag.
Philip Barry
Dover, Kent
The perfect match
SIR – I was much amused by the three questions needed to find the right partner suggested by four mathematicians from Harvard. These were: do you like horror movies; have you ever travelled around another country alone; and wouldn’t it be fun to chuck it all and go live on a boat?
Women assessing a possible partner want to know if he would make a good father, and is basically kind-hearted. I suggest the question: “When did you last see your grandmother?”
Jane O’Nions
Sevenoaks, Kent
African bloodbath
SIR – Your leading article (March 21) draws attention to the massive human suffering in the Central African Republic, where militias are brutally targeting both Muslims and Christians.
As a leading donor country and member of the United Nations Security Council, the United Kingdom has a vital role to play in preventing this crisis from spiralling further out of control. The Government must take action to protect civilians by providing further support to the African Union-led mission on the ground. It must also vote for a strong United Nations–led peacekeeping operation, with a clear mandate to protect civilians and support the re-establishment of state institutions across the country.
The Government should also appoint a special envoy to ensure the crisis remains on the international agenda, and open an embassy in Bangui. Twenty years ago, after the Rwandan genocide, the international community vowed never again to ignore mass atrocities. The Government must use its influence to prevent more human suffering.
Mark Goldring
Chief Executive, Oxfam
Matthew Frost
Chief Executive, Tearfund
Justin Forsyth
Chief Executive, Save The Children
Bathroom etiquette
SIR – Stephen O’Loughlin describes being allowed a bath only once a week at university.
At my boarding school we were allowed two baths a week, but a line had been painted above the plug hole allowing about four inches of water.
Diana Crook
Seaford, East Sussex
SIR – In the Seventies, I stayed for one night in a small hotel in Newcastle and asked to be provided with a bath towel.
The proprietor looked puzzled and said:
“But you are a one-nighter, and we don’t expect them to have a bath.” I was then begrudgingly issued with a bath towel for an additional charge of 50p, and told not to take all the hot water.
Ted Shorter
Tonbridge, Kent
SIR – When I was a teenager, I used to go on a two–week camp with the Scouts, for which my mother provided me with a new bar of soap. She complained that on my return, I hadn’t even washed the name off.
Peter Franklin
Woking, Surrey
Police should not be able to use water cannon
SIR – As a retired police superintendent with over 32 years’ service, I share your correspondents’ concern regarding police using water cannon on the streets of London.
Major public disorder is increasingly being organised through instant communication, which makes the rioters much more mobile than in previous years. That, in itself, renders the use of an asset such as water cannon ineffective.
Do we wish to use an offensive weapon on our streets that has the potential to cause serious injury or even death? The answer has to be no. I hope that the Home Secretary reaches the same conclusion.
Graham S Scott
Batley, West Yorkshire
SIR – The argument that “the introduction of water cannon would take us down a dark path” implies that the trust between the police and the public would be endangered. That trust has been severely tested by cases of police misconduct, some going back to the Seventies, when the then commissioner purged almost 500 corrupt officers from the Metropolitan Police.
Sadly, high-profile revelations since then have had an even more corrosive effect on that trust. If the police wish to retain what is left of the trust it has, it should welcome the cold water being poured on the idea.
Peter Saunders
Salisbury, Wiltshire
SIR – The “do-gooders” opposing water cannon ought to put themselves in the shoes of those who were at the receiving end of rioting, such as the shop workers. These people have the right to work free from fear, and the prime duty of government is the protection of its citizens.
Society needs more instruments in protecting life, limb and property. Hence the case for water cannon.
John Barstow
Pulborough, West Sussex
SIR – Many commentators seem to think that people who have responsibly saved into a pension fund are incapable of managing their own funds. This is an unfair assumption.
Benefit claimants are not only deemed capable but are encouraged to manage their own financial affairs. Rent is now paid direct to the claimant, not to the landlord as in the past, to promote financial independence.
Why should pensioners accessing their own money be treated differently to benefit claimants who are accessing money from the taxpayer?
Lynne Marsh
Prestwich, Lancashire
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24 Mar 2014
SIR – While the Budget has offered tax breaks for businesses, there is a bigger issue that would benefit companies far more: a mandatory payment time.
The National Specialist Contractors Council informed me that the Government has confirmed on numerous occasions that it will not legislate for 30–day payment terms. Why not? It would go a long way to lessen the need for expensive overdrafts, reduce insolvency, and promote growth and workforce security.
Derek Winter
Ashford, Kent
SIR – I would be able to overpay my mortgage payments from my earnings and, having cleared it four years before retirement, divert money to my pension fund. The problem is that, like many others, I cannot afford to do so without incurring a big penalty from my building society.
If such penalty clauses were removed, many would use the extra freedom to do what they wish with their own money. This would include both clearing debt and preparing for the future.
Kevin Wright
Harlow, Essex
SIR – In the euphoria surrounding George Osborne’s liberation of pension pots, has the pension mis-selling scandal been forgotten?
When Margaret Thatcher removed the requirement to belong to company pension schemes in 1988, many sharks fell upon the vulnerable, who were lured out of excellent company pension schemes.
Those sharks and their descendants must now be scenting blood at the prospect of a new feeding frenzy.
Mike Post
Marlow, Buckinghamshire
SIR – George Osborne might have overlooked an important safeguard in giving the elderly the freedom to blow their pension as they wish, rather than having to buy an annuity.
Pressure might be applied to a family member’s valuable pension pot. “Come on, Dad, I need a new car”, can no longer be rebutted with: “Sorry, I’m obliged to put it into an annuity”.
John Drewry
Beckenham, Kent
Irish Times:

Sir, – By any standards, the decision of the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeal to order Boston College to hand over recordings of taped interviews with dozens of former IRA and UVF members, which were conducted on the basis of confidentiality, is bizarre.
This decision, which has culminated in the bringing of charges against a person in Northern Ireland who made himself available to Boston College interviewers, poses a threat to the safety of those involved and has significant implications for future academic and journalistic research.
These interviews were recorded and collated for Boston College’s Belfast Project and participants were assured that they would not be published while they were alive. British prosecutors, in collaboration with the US Justice Department, want access to the tapes to aid their efforts to investigate past crimes in Northern Ireland.
The British government might display practical and moral leadership on this issue and lead by example.
In 1984, following a string of allegations about a shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland carried out by the RUC and British army, the British government set up the Stalker/Sampson Inquiry. Families of those killed as a result of this alleged shoot-to-kill policy are still awaiting justice.
Despite a four-year investigation into the allegations, the final report has never been published. Then, in 1989, the Stevens Inquiry was established by the British government to investigate claims of collusion between the RUC, M15, British Intelligence and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland’s “dirty war”. Following a six-year inquiry by the commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police Service, Sir John Stevens, culminating in three separate reports, only 19 pages of the 3,000-page final report were made public.
Furthermore, there have been three Joint Oireachtas Committee reports into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974. Since then the democratic pursuit of justice for the 33 innocent people killed in the biggest mass murder in Irish history has led to dead ends and cul-de-sacs.
Requests from Mr Justice Henry Barron in the final report of the commission of investigation into these bombings for documentation which was in the possession of the British government, and which would have been vital in establishing the identity of those responsible, were refused. Even recent requests from Taoiseach Enda Kenny to David Cameron to release files relevant to the cases were refused.
If the British government wishes to be seen to be consistent, fair and open in its application of standards of justice, why does it not apply equally the judicial principles it demands from Boston to Belfast and London? – Yours, etc,
TOM COOPER,
Templeville Road,
Templeogue,

Sir, – I was interested, and delighted, to read Simon Carswell’s piece (“Tea Party used Kenny visit to raise funds”, March 22nd) regarding Enda Kenny’s attendance at a fundraiser for conservative Republican congressman Mick Mulvaney.
Before his St Patrick’s Day trip to the US, the Taoiseach made it clear that he would advocate strongly for the approximately 50,000 undocumented Irish people living in the shadows in America. His attendance at the fundraiser is proof positive that he did just that.
The reality is that a few dozen Republican congressmen and women, many of whom have Tea Party ties, are standing in the way of immigration reform legislation that would benefit the undocumented Irish. The other reality is that the Taoiseach, as a white European male, can play a unique role in engaging the hard right in the US on this issue that affects so many Irish people — especially on St Patrick’s Day.
Many Irish people abhor the Tea Party movement. As a Democrat, I’m no fan myself. But winning over even a few of their hearts and minds would go a long way toward immigration reform.
In this light, the Taoiseach, whom I have been critical of on a number of other fronts, was absolutely right to attend Mulvaney’s fundraiser. – Yours, etc,
LARRY DONNELLY,
School of Law,
NUI Galway
A chara, – I am a citizen of the United States living and working in Ireland. Thus, when the Taoiseach helps to raise funds for a Tea Party candidate in Washington, my Irish taxes are supporting his efforts.
In other words, I find myself indirectly supporting a political party whose far-right politics I abhor. A Government spokesman is quoted as saying that “the fundraising question is not an issue for the Taoiseach”. It is an issue for me if a head of state on a foreign diplomatic trip becomes part of a campaign for one political party in another nation. Yours, etc,
MARGARET MILS
HARPER, Parteen,
Co Clare

Sir, – If Tanya Ward of the Children’s Rights Alliance (March 21st) has any hard evidence that any intercountry adoption registered in Ireland, was obtained through “child trafficking, abduction or the deception of birth parents”, she should immediately report it to the Garda.
The fact that no such complaint exists from the Children’s Rights Alliance confirms the fact that our pre-Hague adoptions are thorough and lawful. These internationally adopted children have not been denied the right to grow up with “parents and families”. They have been adopted from orphanages and baby homes because for so many reasons their birth families were unable to rear them.
I would be shocked to think that the Children’s Rights Alliance believed an orphanage in a birth country was a better place to grow up in than a family unit in an adopted country. The orphanages haven’t magically emptied because Hague exists. Hague hasn’t meant that there are fewerchildren needing families. It means that the families available to to those children are unable to reach them. – Yours, etc
DEIRDRE O’HALLORAN
Garnett Hall,
Dunboyne,
Co Meath
Sir, – In an ideal world, every child would be born into an ideal situation. In the imperfect world we live in, there will always be some who aren’t.
Adoption and fostering are as old as humankind. My own children are internationally adopted, and, far from this being under “a system of light-touch regulation” (Letters, March 21st) both adoptions required rigorous process in both countries.
We have since made contact with the original families of our children, as have many adoptive parents, and I have yet to hear of a case where there was anything misleading or untruthful in the paperwork.
The Hague Convention is very welcome as a further step to absolutely ensure that all adoptions are ethical. The convention’s full title is actually “The 1993 Hague convention on the protection of children and co-operation in respect of intercountry adoption”.
I would like to ask the Adoption Authority what active steps it is taking, and with which countries, to further the stated aims of the convention and to co-operate in respect of intercountry adoption? – Yours, etc,
LINDA KEOHANE,
Furbo,
Co Galway
The Commissioner of An Garda Síochána was badgered by politicians to give his opinions and comments before an open session of a Dáil committee and this he did in good faith. He is now being badgered to apologise for the same for the sake of political appearances and pointscoring. Disgusting indeed. Yours, etc,
CONOR O’REILLY,
Richmond,
Templemore,
Co Tipperary

Sir , – The appointment of Marie Collins by Pope Francis to the recently established Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors is a most welcome development (“Pope shows political nous in naming council for protecting minors”, March 24th).
Ms Collins has been a tireless campaigner for justice for the survivors of clerical sex abuse while working to ensure that those bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes who failed in their Christian duty to defend the “little ones” be brought to justice and held for accountable for their crimes of omission.
While she is one of eight members, four of whom are women, I am confident she will continue to be a forceful voice for those who have suffered from clerical sex abuse.
An equally challenging task for Marie and this new commission will be to bring about a radical change of heart and robust procedures for the protection of minors in all dioceses of the Catholic world . – Yours, etc,
BRENDAN BUTLER,
The Moorings,
Malahide,
Co Dublin.
Sir, – Brian Ó Broin (Letters, March 22nd) suggests that the target of 250,000 Irish speakers by 2030 is an achievable one, but only “if non-Gaeltacht Irish speakers begin to shoulder the burden that Gaeltacht people have been predominantly carrying since the foundation of the State – using the language at home”.
How strange to think that speaking to one’s family in what is considered to be one’s native tongue should be termed a burden. Communicating in either one’s first or second language at home should be (largely) a pleasure, not a burden; and I would imagine that for the vast majority of Irish-speakers it is.
If indeed the Irish language is such a heavy load to carry, then it should be ditched without delay. A language that is a burden is worthless.
Yours, etc,
JEREMY CASTLE,
Ballinderry,
Nenagh,
Co Tipperary
Sir, – An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, does not advance his cause by using the slur “linguistic Darwinists” (Opinion & Analysis, March 24th). The survival of the 2,000-year-old Irish language is a tribute to its evolution, not a refutation of it.
Yours, etc,
DR JOHN DOHERTY,
Cnoc an Stollaire,
Gaoth Dobhair,
Co Donegal

Sir, – How reassuring it is to know that the Vatican is putting its full might into Italy’s battle against organised crime. One can only imagine the profound effect that Pope Francis’s threat of hell has had on the hearts and minds of these hardened criminals.
The Italian government should now take the opportunity to turn the screw even further by reminding these Mafia killers that Santa Claus is always watching and perhaps we can move another step closer to ending the senseless violence that has scarred the beautiful Italian landscape for centuries.
Yours, etc,
SEAN SMITH,
Clonmellon,
Navan,
Sir, – I recall that my father, a member of the initial draft into the Garda Siochána, emphasised that the role of the Garda was to attempt to ensure that law-abiding citizens could pursue their lives peacefully, safe from the wrongdoing of others.
In my view, it is obvious that confidence in such a force can only be ensured where the standards of behavior by gardaí are of the highest order. Surely it follows that, regardless of whether forcing legislation does or does not exist, it is the duty of every member to enthusiastically support any member who draws attention to improper behaviour. While sympathising with the difficulty imposed by collegial loyalty in such cases, not to do so is surely a neglect of duty, any culpability being higher where rank is higher.
Yours, etc,
ALBERT PARKINSON
Redford Court,
Greystones,
Co Wicklow

Sir, – Una Mullally (Opinion & Analysis, March 24th) tells us that “women should be raging” that there are so few of them in the decision-making forum of what is supposed to be a representative democracy.
In the next election, if the quota regime has an effect, there will be an increased number of female candidates. There is considerable opposition to this development. The message from the objectors is that the women on the ballot paper are “token” and have no ability. This mantra will be repeated ad nauseam by insiders and incumbents from now till the general election and beyond.
The objectors have the weight of history behind them. In this state we are told that a mere 5 per cent of TDs have been women since independence. The Dáil is still between 80 and 90 per cent male.
Now, when there is a chance that the more than 50 per cent of the electorate that are women might get more of their kind onto the ballot paper we can expect the insiders and incumbents to fight tooth and nail to undermine the campaign.
Women may, as Una Mullally says, be raging, or they may not. What the electorate as a whole thinks will be known only when the votes are counted after the next election.
ANTHONY LEAVY,
Shielmartin Drive,
Sutton,
Dublin 13
Sir, – Has Una Mullally, or any of the other quotaistas , considered the fact that the reason there are fewer women than men in politics is that women don’t want to go into politics as much as men?
Doing a head count of the number of women in the Oireachtas and on the basis of this count declaring there is discrimination is like saying that men are discriminated against in the primary teaching profession because they are in a minority there. Ms Mullally’s sneering reference to a “parallel universe” shows that she, like many feminists, will not listen to any argument other then the one they are proposing themselves. – Yours, etc,
PAUL WILLIAMS,
Circular Road,
Kilkee,
Sir, – Michael Barry (Letters, March 24th), makes a number of points regarding dedicated busways versus a light tram system. On the issue of pollution, electrically driven trams are only non-polluting if their electricity source is generated from renewable resources.
Vienna runs virtually all of its buses on bio-methane extracted from the city’s sewerage system. This both reduces greenhouse gas emissions and can create sustainable jobs. If Vienna can do it, why not Dublin?
In an ideal world, where money was no object, of course it might be better to have a light tram system. But borrowed money is expensive. Better to borrow less and provide a service which may not be quite as fancy but will supply virtually the same result.
Another advantage of buses over trams is their flexibility. A bus can reroute around an accident. A tram cannot.
What is actually most important about public transportation services is that they are reliable and punctual. There is nothing worse than waiting for public transport, be it a bus or a tram, and not have it arrive.
Yours, etc,
DAVID DORAN
Ashfield
Bagenalstown
Sir, Dorcha Lee (Opinion & Analysis, March 22nd) admits that the chances of foreign military intervention in Ireland “lie somewhere between zero and nil”. This is a telling own goal from a militarist hawk.
Why do we feel it necessary to ape our neighbours with a conventional standing army? Which of the European powers could we repel in the unlikely event of a military invasion? We would be better served by substantially reducing the defence budget and redirecting funds into a counterterrorist armed division of the police force. Realistically, we need to confront threats posed by our armed criminal gangs, paramilitary groups or zealots of the al-Qaeda hue. Our navy’s role in fishery protection does, however, justify a serious allocation of resources. – Yours, etc,
DES O HALLORAN
Ballyard,
Tralee,
Co Kerry

 

Irish Independent:

* Differing faces of the Catholic Church were revealed in your newspaper recently.
Also in this section
Whistleblower row descends into ‘pantomime’
No new politics on offer
Quotas contrary to equal opportunity
On the one hand, we read reports of the Pope’s compassionate, non-judgmental response to questions about gay priests and gay marriage. On the other hand, we read that Fr Flannery had been silenced and banned from saying Mass, albeit by the machinations that the Pope himself seeks to reform.
The Fr Flannery case implies that outside the Vatican faith-police there is no salvation.
The idea that there is only one way to God, fenced in by various statements about what we ought to think and do is clearly at odds with the more inclusive example of Christ.
This demeans the whole Gospel tradition, reflected in the work of Pope Francis, who reaches out to the world rather than retreating into a cocoon of doctrine.
Of course, to claim to be a Christian, as I do, must distinguish me from those who claim not to be so inclined.
Yet, I often fail to see the difference.
Many of my atheist friends seem more forgiving and more compassionate, and hence more Christian, than I am.
I see my commitment as a direction I take, rather than as adherence to a set of clear-cut conclusions.
Indeed, I sometimes seem to weave my way in and out of a clear sense of purpose, feeling increasingly at home with the ambiguity that this engenders. My life slips in and out of sense.
It seems counterproductive to repress honest misgivings expressed by the ministers or laity of any church.
The repressive inculcation of orthodoxy and resignation reveals a fear of releasing our God-given intelligence, as if there was something sinister to hide.
A world of certainty and inner assurance has its advantages but tends to cultivate a superficial glow of self-satisfaction, often leading to a rush to judgment of those whose lives are more precarious and less assured.
The faith of our fathers is not the faith of our sons.
I took some comfort from my five-year-old granddaughter’s recent declaration that she felt she was half-Christian and half-normal.
PHILIP O’NEILL
OXFORD, UNITED KINDGOM
THE FORCE BE WITH YOU
* Well done, Leo. Well done indeed!
Against all adversity, you took the lead.
While Enda and Alan merely looked on,
You stood up and lauded Maurice and John.
So now, Mr Callinan, all eyes are on you,
Apologise, and mean it, and the FORCE may just be with you!
MARTHA KERTON
CLONMEL, CO TIPPERARY
GET SOME PERSPECTIVE
* In the wider world today, you have the tragedy of Flight MH370, the re-emergence of the Cold War over Ukraine/Crimea and the 59 deaths from the Ebola virus in Guinea.
And when you also consider what disasters this country has endured and weathered over the past few years, it is shocking to think that – in this state – one word, “disgusting”, has mature and so-called reasonable adults at each others’ throats and the possible destabilisation of a coalition government in the offing.
Enough said.
AIDAN HAMPSON
ARTANE, DUBLIN 5
DO THE MATHS
* I have a question for the parents and employers of Ireland.
Has anybody, anywhere, seen any benefits arising from the Project Maths curriculum?
No, I am not a teacher. I am a former IT manager and the parent of a Junior Cert student. I find the changes to the curriculum incomprehensible in their intent. It’s as if an arts faculty was unwillingly landed with responsibility for engineering and science.
The results that I see ( in my small world) are that the kids who enjoyed maths through national school are struggling with the verbosity of Project Maths, whilst those who were good at English alone are now doing better at Project Maths.
The student has to negotiate through a short story (worthy of an English comprehension paper) and figure out what has been asked. This introduces needless ambiguity.
For instance, a technically minded student would ponder whether the Leaning Tower of Pisa’s height is the vertical drop or the distance from base to top. The imprecision of the question will bug them throughout as they try to work out the solution.
Having worked in technology, I would prefer technical staff to ask questions and eliminate ambiguity rather than make assumptions.
Google or Microsoft would be nuts to invest in developing a database or algorithm where the core specifics are not nailed down.
We don’t want our mathematicians to be comfortable with ambiguity. To my mind, that is the opposite of maths. Does the Department of Education figure that we will import this skill in the future from the capable Indian or Chinese graduates or will the department require Irish students to complete a doctorate before they have acquired it?
My guess is that the changes to the curriculum are a heavy-handed attempt to encourage ‘problem-solving’ skills that the Irish have been valued for in the past.
Instead, it has introduced ‘puzzle-solving’. We, as a society, have developed a helplessness in our kids by managing every moment of their day and essentially doing too much for them.
In IT we developed problem-solving skills by dropping somebody in the middle of a problem, giving them responsibility and observing but not assisting unless a good attempt was made or a major disaster was imminent. The cost to the employer is the time it takes to observe and supervise. Generally, it’s a good investment.
Adapting maths to develop problem solving is misguided and lazy. Transition Year offers far more opportunities to develop these skills.
Realistically, as parents, we have to invest the time, too. So, I’m going to let them brush the floor (though it will give me a headache to watch – “two hands on the hurl, put down the phone, look at what you are doing” my mind will clamour silently). But I will only ask the questions: ‘Did you solve the problem? Is the floor clean?’
NASA awaits. . .
However, my question remains: ‘cui bono?’ in the murder of maths?
NAME AND ADDRESS WITH EDITOR
OPERATING THEATRE
* I’m writing in reference to the article in your newspaper ‘Rotunda defends paying top-ups due to private income from Gate Theatre’ (Irish Independent, March 24).
Obstetricians uncertain whether to accept additional largesse from the private income the Rotunda Hospital derives from the Gate Theatre might be helped if George Bernard Shaw’s perceptive play ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma’ was revived at the historic theatre.
DR JOHN DOHERTY
GAOTH DOBHAIR, CO DONEGAL

Mary

March 24, 2014

24 March  2014 Mary
I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. They have to  test a new electronic gun range finder. Priceless
Cold slightly better post office sold 3 books Mary very under the weather
No Scrabble today  Perhaps I  will win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Lord Moran, who has died aged 89, was the son of Sir Winston Churchill’s physician and made a name in his own right as a career diplomat, the author of an award-winning biography of Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and a distinguished cross-bencher in the House of Lords, where he campaigned to improve the lot of the Atlantic salmon.
In the 1970s Moran served as Ambassador to Hungary and then Portugal, but by his own admission it was his final posting — as High Commissioner in Canada from 1981 to 1984 — that proved the most testing.
He arrived in Canada in the middle of a major political controversy. The previous year Canada’s prime minister Pierre Trudeau had informed the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of his intention to “patriate” the Canadian constitution which, until then, could be changed only by acts of the British Parliament — albeit with the consent of the Canadian government. Trudeau’s move would require the British government to pass legislation, but the majority of Canadian provinces were opposed and appealed to the British Parliament, as the guarantor of their rights, to defeat Trudeau’s plans.
As Canadian Indians in full costume converged on Westminster, and representatives of the provincial governments wined and dined MPs, the British government was faced with the choice either of damaging relations with the Canadian government by refusing to introduce legislation, or risking defeat by a strong cross-party lobby in Parliament. “There was the possibility, if things went wrong, of a confrontation between the two parliaments, which would have been unprecedented and very serious,” Moran recalled. To make matters worse, Moran’s predecessor, Sir John Ford, had just been called back to London “for briefings” after complaints that he had been “meddling” in Canadian affairs.
A colleague on one of the many environmental bodies on which he served in later life observed that Moran was a man who “with his quiet manner, achieved more by raising an eyebrow than the rest of us achieved by raising the roof”. His discretion, courtesy and intelligence served him well in Canada as he sought to calm tensions and explain the British government’s position to the Canadian people. Mrs Thatcher, he explained, was “absolutely rock solid. Anything the Ottawa Parliament wanted, she would do.” But she was “not certain she could carry her own troops with her”. British MPs, he observed, were “not as disciplined” about following the party line as Canadian MPs.
Moran put such points across without ruffling feathers, and the feared confrontation was avoided as Trudeau eventually concluded a deal with the provinces that changed the arithmetic so that only Quebec stood out against patriation. The Canada Act was duly passed in 1982.
The goodwill this brought paid off when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands a few months later and Moran found himself having to ask the Canadian government for help in equipping the Task Force sent out to recapture the islands. “The Canadian Government did everything we asked them to do,” he recalled.
Moran’s time in Canada came back to haunt him in 2009, however, when, under the Freedom of Information Act, the BBC obtained a copy of his valedictory dispatch, “Final Impressions of Canada”, written in 1984 at a time when no one imagined that such musings, typically written for the amusement of colleagues, would reach the public domain.
“One does not encounter here the ferocious competition of talent that takes place in the United Kingdom,” Moran observed in his bracingly candid piece. “Anyone who is even moderately good at what they do — in literature, the theatre, skiing or whatever — tends to become a national figure, and anyone who stands out at all from the crowd tends to be praised to the skies and given the Order of Canada at once.” As for Canada’s Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, he had “never entirely shaken off his past as a well-to-do hippie and draft dodger”, while “the majority of Canadian ministers are unimpressive and a few we have found frankly bizarre.”
His remarks led to a predictable outcry in the Canadian press, though a few calmer souls pointed out that Moran’s strictures were mainly directed at the country’s political class, and that many Canadians would agree with him. In fact, Moran was generally positive about the country, observing that he would miss “the cry of the loon” and the country’s “cheerful shop girls and waitresses” and arguing for a “less dusty and more positive and substantial” relationship between the two countries.
Richard John McMoran Wilson was born on September 22 1924. His father, Charles Wilson, was Winston Churchill’s personal physician from 1940 until the former prime minister’s death and was raised to the peerage in 1943. The author of The Anatomy of Courage (1945), a pioneering account of the psychological effects of war, he would write a far more celebrated and controversial work, Winston Churchill, The Struggle for Survival 1940-1965: this was a memoir, published soon after Churchill’s death, which brought accusations that the 1st Lord Moran had breached patient confidentiality, but it provided historians with an indispensable first-hand account of one of the greatest historical figures of the 20th century. Richard would write an introduction to an edited version of the book, published as Churchill at War in 2002.
From Eton, Richard went up to King’s College, Cambridge, in 1942. After just six months, however, he joined the Royal Navy as an ordinary seaman and was assigned to Belfast on Arctic convoy duty. On his first voyage he took part in the sinking of the Scharnhorst, recalling that the only casualty in Belfast had been a reindeer, presented to Admiral Burnett by his Soviet counterpart, which died of shock during the confrontation.
After officer training in 1944, Wilson was promoted to sub-lieutenant and posted to motor torpedo boats at Gosport, escorting the invasion force on D-Day. His final posting was in the destroyer Oribi, again on convoy duty. When the war ended he was in Travemunde, Denmark, where he was shot in the leg by a British sentry.
In 1945 Wilson joined the Foreign Office. After postings in Ankara, Tel Aviv, Rio de Janeiro, Washington and South Africa, from 1968 to 1973 he served as head of the West African Department and, concurrently, as a non-resident ambassador to Chad.
Among other things he dealt with the British response to the Biafran War (the attempted secession of the south-eastern provinces of Nigeria), setting up an International Observers’ Group in Nigeria, accompanying the Prime Minister Harold Wilson on two visits to the area, and disbursing aid after the collapse of the breakaway state.
He went on to serve as Ambassador to Hungary from 1973 to 1976 where, among other things, he sought to alert British trade union leaders, starry eyed after being wined and dined by the Communists in Budapest, of the true nature of the regime. His subsequent posting was to Portugal, where he pressed for Britain to make greater efforts to revive its historic friendship with the country as it returned to democracy. In 1981 he was posted to Canada.
Moran, who listed his hobbies as “fishing, fly-tying, birdwatching”, succeeded to the peerage on his father’s death in 1977. After his retirement he became involved in conservation issues, serving as vice-chairman, then vice-president, of the Atlantic Salmon Trust; as president of the Welsh Salmon and Trout Angling Association; chairman, then executive vice-president, of the Salmon and Trout Association; chairman of Wildlife and Countryside Link; and president of Radnorshire Wildlife Trust.
He was also vice-president of the RSPB until 1997, when he resigned following the society’s decision to allow Barbara Young, its chief executive, to stay in her job after being made a Labour working peer.
In the House of Lords, Moran chaired a joint Fisheries Policy and Legislation working group, known as the Moran Committee, which brought together all the main national NGOs concerned with angling and fisheries to advise the government and the Environment Agency. He also served as president of the All-Party Conservation Committee of both Houses of Parliament.
In 2002 he organised a rare cross-bench-led defeat of the Labour Government, using an obscure parliamentary procedure to force a floor debate. Against a government three-line whip and with no official Conservative opposition, he persuaded peers to vote against a clause in the Animal Health Bill that would have given ministers greater powers to cull cattle in the event of another foot and mouth outbreak.
During spare moments from his duties as a diplomat, Moran devoted himself to historical research. His time in South Africa inspired him to write a biography of Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman, the Liberal prime minister who had granted self-government to the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, thereby securing the Boers’ loyalty to the British Empire despite their recent defeat by the British in the second Boer War. Published in 1973, it won the Whitbread prize for biography, and in 1985 he published a biography of the Civil War general Sir Thomas Fairfax.
Moran was appointed CMG in 1970 and KCMG in 1981. Last year he was awarded the Arctic Star for his service on the convoys.
A strong family man, he married, in 1948, Shirley Rowntree Harris, who provided staunch support to her husband throughout his diplomatic career. She predeceased him and he is survived by their daughter and two sons, of whom the elder, James, born in 1952, succeeds to the title.
Lord Moran, born September 22 1924, died February 14 2014

Guardian:

The new £1 coin (Budget reports, 20 March) has 12 straight edges and does not have a constant diameter. But to work in a slot machine a coin must be able to roll smoothly. This requires that the coin have a constant diameter. To achieve this, the coin must therefore be circular (as in the penny) or have an odd number of edges each of which is an arc centred on the opposite corner (as in the 50p and 20p coins). Still, I’m sure they’ve thought of this.
Jim Warren
Birmingham
• Kale would be more highly praised if supermarkets stopped chopping it into tiny pieces, reducing its keeping qualities and making it harder to clean and pick over (In praise of…, 21 March). And buying at local markets rules out any suggestion that it is cheap – a stall in the former spa town of Streatham in south London has been offering it at 99p for 100g. Hardly cattle feed, at £10 a kilo.
Tim Barnsley
London
• Low, even dismal, productivity in a service-dominated economy should come as no surprise (Editorial, 18 March). After all, a hairdresser can only cut one head of hair at a time.
Roy Boffy
Walsall
• WTF is not an acronym (Letters, 22 March). It is an initialism. An acronym is a word formed by the initials. Imgom is an acronym: I must get out more.
Richard Barnard
Wivenhoe, Essex

The unfair, unbalanced rightwing press in the person of Peter Hitchens (Letters, 19 March) moved quickly to dispel any notion that BBC reporting may be fair and balanced. And what’s this? A pincer movement attacking the BBC licence fee is mounted by 140 Tory rightwingers, who have long hated the BBC’s fair and balanced reporting of areas where a Murdoch, Barclay or Dacre-influenced spin would align with their desire to control the content and flow of information to the electorate (TV licence fee evasion could be decriminalised, 19 March).
If magistrate’s courts are clogged with licence fee dodgers, the answer is simple – introduce a fixed penalty that can be imposed by inspectors in a similar manner to parking fines. Maybe double or treble the licence fee would be appropriate, but using this excuse to justify a backdoor scheme to undermine the BBC’s revenues will not wash. The BBC and its supporters should take a more robust line in arguing for its continued financial security, allowing it to remain independent of political influence. What we do not want is for the broadcast news agenda to be set by the likes of Fox News in the US, which exists only to further the political and commercial aims of its proprietors and the political parties that they support.
Nigel Beatty
Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex
• Among the complaints about BBC bias one correspondent asked why there were no programmes revisiting the issues of the miners’ strike upon its 30th anniversary (Letters, 19 March). We might also ask, given the late cultural critic Stuart Hall did most of his broadcasting for the BBC, where were the TV retrospectives commemorating his life? No programmes either to mark the 80th anniversary of the birth of space pioneer Yuri Gagarin on 9 March despite his strong links with the city of Manchester where the BBC is based.
Dr Gavin Lewis
Manchester

Britain faces unprecedented challenges: a financial system still too big to fail or jail; austerity causing unnecessary hardship to those already at the bottom of a massively unequal society; climate change flooding people’s homes; and a democratic system that seems pretty irrelevant to any of these problems. To begin to tackle these challenges the country needs not just a change of government but a transformative change in direction.
That demands a Labour or Labour-led administration. But if Labour plays the next election safe, hoping to win on the basis of Tory unpopularity, it will not have earned a mandate for such change. It must take into the election a vision of a much more equal and sustainable society and the support of a wider movement if these formidable challenges are to be met.
As members of the progressive community that recognise the need for Labour to play a leading role after 2015 we would urge the party to adopt an approach to its manifesto that is based on the following principles:
Accountability of all powerful institutions, whether the state or market, to all stakeholders.
Devolution of state institutions, by giving away power and resources to our nations, regions, cities, localities and, where possible, directly to the people.
Prevention of the causes of our social, environmental, physical and mental health problems, which requires a holistic and long-term approach to governance.
Co-production of public services by workers, users and citizens, to make them more responsive and efficient.
Empowerment of everybody, so they are equipped with the resources (time, money, support) to enable them to play a full role as active citizens.
National government has a continuing strategic role to play but the days of politicians doing things “to people” are over. The era of building the capacity and platforms for people to “do things for themselves, together” is now upon us.
Working in this way, with others, Labour can help act to fundamentally disrupt power relations and reframe the debate to make a good society both feasible and desirable. It is time people had the power.
Neal Lawson Compass, Rob Philpot Progress, Patrick Diamond Policy Network, Anna Coote Nef, Andrew Harrop Fabian Society, David Clark Shifting Grounds, Mark Ferguson Labour List, Tim Roache Class, Maurice Glassman, Ruth Lister Compass, Robin Murray LSE, Anthony Barnett Opendemocracy, David Marquand Mansfield College, Oxford, Charles Secrett ACT! Alliance, Marcus Roberts Fabian Society, Cat Hobbs Director, We Own It, David Robinson Changing London, Colin Hines Convenor, Green New Deal Group, Professor Victor Anderson Global Sustainability Institute
• It came as no surprise that young people did not benefit from the budget (Older people vote – that’s why George Osborne’s budget is for them, 21 March). Under-25s are an easier target for government cuts because four million of us are not registered to vote. I’m the chair of the Centrepoint parliament, a group of homeless young people from Centrepoint hostels. We believe young people are invisible to politicians, so launched our “You Got A Problem?!” campaign encouraging others to register to vote and realise how politics affects us all.
We’re already facing a lack of jobs and affordable housing, and if threats to cut housing benefit for under-25s go ahead, many of us could be on the streets again. Important services, such as Connexions, that advised and supported young people have been forced to close, leaving fewer places for homeless young people to go for help. So it was surprising to read that “2 million over-65s own assets in excess of £1m and still get universal winter fuel allowances”. It is hard to see some people receive benefits they don’t need while we face cuts and then more cuts.
Young people need to register to vote to see a change and make politicians realise that ours is a vote to be won. Millions of young people can stand together so that the government has to listen. Then who’s got a problem?
Layan
Chair, Centrepoint parliament (centrepoint.org.uk/yougotaproblem)
• “Not in my name” are these gerentocratic policies pursued. As a 61-year-old, I don’t relish being one of the grizzled leisured ones being waited on in restaurants and shops by the underpaid, poorly housed young. Such policies reflect the skewed and cynical political values of the current and recent governments, not those of our relatively idealistic generation. If there is a party with the courage to redress the balance, let them say so loudly and throw all resources at mobilising the votes of the young. The generous and idealistic old will gladly back them up.
David Longson
Sheffield

The current journey time from Crewe to London is as little as 1 hour 35 minutes (Fast-track plan for HS2, 15 March). The journey time on HS2, following a longer route through Birmingham, is unlikely to be much shorter and there would be relatively little economic or social benefit in any time saving which might be possible. Economic geographers have always known that express rail travel rather like air travel, only comes into its own on long journeys, because a relatively large proportion of the travel time on a short trip is taken up just getting to and from one of a limited number of hubs. The real potential for HS2 is surely to improve direct accessibility between the north of the UK and continental Europe. This is after all what HS1 does for London.
The decision to scrap the short direct connection from HS2 through London to HS1 will add considerably to interchange times, not to mention the inconvenience of lugging baggage through two busy stations and along Euston Road. As it is now proposed, HS2 will find it hard to compete with air travel to European markets and holiday destinations. It will instead add yet more to London’s relative locational advantages compared with the rest of Britain.
Jerry Spencer
Tarporley, Cheshire
• How very disappointing that David Higgins has gone to Manchester to deliver his report yet fails to recommend that work should commence in that city. If the idea is to bridge the north-south divide, surely it should start in the area most in need of rejuvenation?
Noel Livesey
Carnforth, Lancashire

Independent:

George Osborne has rashly promised to allow savers to take all of their pension pots, subject to tax on 75 per cent of it, to be used as they see fit. This is a highly populist policy which not even Nigel Farage will be able to trump.
All the main parties have said that they will support the idea in principle and the Chancellor will have to implement it – in spite of the several disadvantages which are emerging day by day. For example, will people who are tempted to take the lump sum appreciate that they will receive considerably less (having suffered tax on its removal) than they would have had they left well alone?
Osborne will have effectively taxed, ie raided, the pension pots of anyone taking the lump sum rather than the annuity option, and he will not be around when those who may prove to be profligate need state assistance in their later years.
David Hindmarsh
Cambridge
The Chancellor promised that pensioners who retire on defined contribution pension schemes will be offered free, impartial, face-to-face advice on how to get the most from the choices they will now have. He does not say who will provide this admirable service. If he has in mind the financial services industry, let us hope that it’s not the same parcel of rogues that over the past 25 years conned us out of billions by giving us free advice, often face to face, to put our money into personal pensions, mortgage endowments, equity-release schemes, personal-equity plans, precipice bonds, absolute return funds, interest-rate swaps and payment-protection insurance.
Ian Mackersie
Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear
Is it likely that an individual who is prudent enough to give up spending today to secure an income decades in the future will suddenly become the kind of spendthrift who, as one minister suggested, might go out and buy a Lamborghini (report, 21 March)? I think not.
Osborne’s proposals for the liberation of pensions is most likely to encourage a far greater level of pension saving; the existing alternative prospect of being forced to “invest” in an annuity which benefits insurance companies far more than the annuitant, has been extremely unattractive. It is also likely that this liberation will tilt the annuity market in favour of the purchasers as insurance companies cease to have a captive market and, necessarily, become more competitive.
David Bracey
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

For nine years, I lectured to young people (19-29) starting in business, with the help of a grant from a royal charity. My advice to start a personal pension as soon as they started earning money was greeted with derision. Advice to start thinking about retirement met the same response. There is no alternative, therefore, to taxes high enough to meet both objectives. If people want to save extra, they could have a tax-efficient personal pension, which would be the icing on the cake. As your interviewee Rita Young pointed out (report, 20 March), our pensions are the smallest in Europe, and “this budget was for Tories and no one else”. She is not fooled, so why should anyone else be?
William Robert Haines
Shrewsbury

The change in the rules concerning compulsory annuities will mean that many retirees will be looking for a safe and lucrative market to place their pension-pot lump sums. One such area may well be property. Investing in this sector will surely inflate the housing bubble still further. Is this just another example of the law of unintended consequences? Perhaps. Or perhaps George Osborne knows that rising house prices always play well with the middle-aged and elderly, home-owning, Tory faithful. Unfortunately it does little to help younger people desperate to get on the property ladder.
Malcolm Harris
Grimsby, Lincolnshire

The idea that following the Government’s liberalisation of defined contribution pensions, ordinary people will blow their pension pot and then be left to a life of penury recalls the age-old prejudice about the feckless working class. Of course those with a more elevated social status, bankers for example, are well known for the care they take with money.
Keith Flett
London N17
Garden city will be no such a thing
Janet Street-Porter (22 March) is spot on about the proposed Ebbsfleet garden city. How easily and glibly the term “garden city” is used by politicians to justify and sell large-scale housing projects such as this.
The notion that builders/developers would subscribe to the low housing density, the spacious airy houses, the large gardens front and back, the integrated community amenities and the parks and woodland provided for a population drawn from all socio-economic groups that were the characteristics of the original garden cities is utterly absurd. There would be no profit in it for them.
If such a new town is to be built, let us be honest and call it something like a “prestigious and exclusive development of executive houses and apartments with prices starting in the region of £500,000”.
Nick Hudson
Welwyn Garden City

You report that 15,000 homes are set to be constructed at a new garden city at Ebbsfleet in Kent. The Chancellor has said that this will be a “proper garden city”, like Welwyn Garden City or Letchworth. This announcement, while welcome, is only one of the measures needed to address England’s need for housing. For while the garden city idea offers one concept of a better quality of life, I would question whether this is really what many people want, today or in the future.
In fact, planning permission already exists for 22,000 homes to be built in Ebbsfleet, so one would challenge whether this is truly a new garden city, or just a rehashing of an existing scheme.
The idea of garden cities, in the historical sense, may not on its own be able to solve the current housing crisis. People are still going to be drawn to the bright lights of the city. Perhaps another solution would be garden suburbs, built on the outskirts of large cities and set only a short commute from people’s workplaces.  I suggest that the garden city principles (including long-term stewardship, together with the delivery of a sustainable and well-designed community) might be captured as much in that format as in a stand-alone new settlement.
Aman Sahota
Associate, Real Estate and Development, Lewis Silkin LLP, London EC4

Dungeness is perfectly safe
Contrary to your alarmist front-page story “British nuclear plant’s ‘Fukushima alert”, (19 March) EDF Energy’s nuclear facilities at Dungeness have always been extremely well protected from severe weather and seismic events.
Suggestions of a cover-up are completely incorrect. We take very seriously the need to be transparent. The local community was consulted and kept informed about our plans at all times and media were told. Furthermore we have recently reopened our visitor centre at Dungeness and have welcomed 5,000 people to see our operations in action over the past year.
Even before the Japanese tsunami, Dungeness was safeguarded against the worst flood risk that could be expected. Yet following the damage to the Fukushima Daiichi plant, EDF Energy acted with humility and leadership and worked with our regulator to establish whether there were more steps that could be taken to enhance safety.
Following an extensive programme of analysis, modelling and physical testing we decided to strengthen the flood defences at Dungeness still further. They have now been developed to an extent that the power station is protected against levels of events whose probability is vanishing small.
Similar exercises were carried out at all nuclear facilities, scrutinised by the Office for Nuclear Regulation, which has since acknowledged the safety of EDF Energy’s operations.
Martin B. Pearson
Station Director
Dungeness B, Kent
Make up has nothing to do with beauty
Alice Jones writes about the trend for women to take “no make-up selfies” (22 March). Many of us choose not to wear make- up daily. But it’s against the mainstream. I recently heard a commentator say the number of women spending money on cosmetic surgery showed the economy was on the up. No – rather it shows a culture swamped by the power of advertising.
We all have beauty within. As Benjamin Zephaniah puts it in his poem “(She don’t want to be) Miss World”: “Beauty is about how you greet /the everyday people that you meet”.
This is the beauty we should strive to develop, until it shines out of us, blinding each other with our natural radiance.
Louise Hall
Leicester
Crimea and scotland: spot the difference
The UK Government has furiously condemned the referendum in Crimea saying it is illegal and that to have legitimacy the independence issue would have to be decided by Ukraine as a whole. Perhaps it would care to explain why it has not taken the same approach over the Scottish referendum where the rest of the UK has been denied a vote?
RL Davey

Times:

Many doctors have strong opposing views — could they not agree at least to be neutral?
Sir, Dr Mark Porter’s excellent article (Most doctors support assisted dying — they want the option themselves, Mar 18) was a much-needed corrective to the hysteria that frequently surrounds the assisted dying debate.
Dr Porter rightly points out the disconnection between the monolithic opposition of bodies such as the BMA and the deeply divided views of the doctors whom they are supposed to represent, most of whom see neutrality as the correct stance. Surveys have shown similar disconnection between people of faith (overwhelmingly in favour) and their leaders (against); likewise, people with disability and those who claim to speak for them.
Meanwhile dying people and their loved ones are suffering. It is wrong that unrepresentative spokespersons can so dominate a debate as to be able to block a compassionate law that would permit greater choice for mentally competent people at the end of life.
Professor Raymond Tallis
Chair, Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying
Sir, Mark Porter is quite right that senior figures of the Royal College of General Practitioners may be out of touch with their membership on assisted dying. I write as one of the regional representatives appointed by the RCGP to assess the attitude of their GP members towards assisted dying. I acted for my patch of East Anglia where there are 1,700 members. Briefly, 7.5 per cent replied to my e-ballot, 47 per cent wishing to maintain opposition, 33 wised to move to neutrality, and 20 per cent were seeking the RCGP to move and lead on assisted dying.
The RCGP refusess to allow its 49,000 members to have a ballot on assisted dying stating that the subject was “too contentious and difficult an issue” for a simple vote.
Like Dr Porter, I believe that the RCGP should move to neutrality on assisted dying in order to best represent the opinion of the majority of its GP members,
Dr Philip Hartropp
Alwalton, Peterborough
Sir, Dr Porter believes that the opposition of the RCGP to assisted dying reflects the views of those who work “in the ivory towers of medical politics”. In fact, the opposition to a change in the law is the result of a consultation of GPs last year. Of the 1,700 members who responded, 77 per cent are against a change in the law. They felt it would undermine the doctor-patient relationship, put the most vulnerable at risk from coercion.
Dr Euan Dodds
Edinburgh
Sir, The recent consultation by the RCGP suggests that nearly four out of five GPs consulted wanted the College to stand firm in its opposition to assisted dying.
Dr Porter says doctors can assess a patient for assisted suicide and leave it to another doctor to supply the lethal drugs, but the main problem for most doctors is the near-impossibility of making the life-or-death assessments involved.
Doctors are all too aware of the vulnerabilities of seriously ill patients. They also have an important role to play in preventing suicide. Is it any wonder that most of them, and their professional bodies, are opposed to attempts to foist assisted suicide onto them?
Dr Idris Baker, Professor Marie Fallon, Dr Jim Gilbert, Professor Robert George, Dr Craig Gannon, Dr David Jeffrey, Professor Scott Murray, Professor Patrick Stone (UCL)

Leading figures from the worlds of theatre, ballet and opera welcome the Chancellor’s tax credit largesse
Sir, We welcome the extension of the creative sector tax credit regime to all UK theatre productions, including live performance in theatre, opera, ballet and dance, as the Chancellor announced in last week’s budget.
This is a powerful encouragement to the creative sector, stimulating jobs, live performance, cultural exports, and more public engagement in the arts across the whole country.
British theatre leads the world. We have some of the finest writers, directors, designers, actors, dancers, singers and technicians, and we must guarantee this pre-eminence for future generations. In particular, we are pleased that these proposals provide the greatest incentive for touring productions. This will stimulate the UK regions which so often are the training ground for new talent in our industry — at present, for almost a third of the year our regional theatres are “dark”.
We welcome the inclusion of opera, dance and ballet, alongside all forms of theatre. Importantly, these measures put theatre and all these performing arts on the same footing as those creative sectors that already benefit from a tax credit regime such as film, animation and high-end TV drama.
Christopher Barron, Birmingham Royal Ballet; Dan Bates, Sheffield Theatres; Sir Peter Bazalgette & Alan Davey, Arts Council England; Alex Beard, Royal Opera House; Julian Bird, SOLT & UK Theatre;
Hugh Bonneville; Matthew Bourne & Robert Noble, New Adventures Dance Company; Nica Burns, Nimax Theatres; Simon Callow; Stephen Daldry;
Sir Richard Eyre; Alan Finch & Jonathan Church, Chichester Festival Theatre; Sonia Friedman, Sonia Friedman Productions; Rupert Gavin, Incidental Colman; Nigel Havers; Sir Nicholas Hytner & Nick Starr, National Theatre;
Felicity Kendall; David Lan, Young Vic Theatre; Sir Cameron Mackintosh; Richard Mantle, Opera North; Caro Newling, Neal Street Productions; Sir Howard Panter & Rosemary Squire, Ambassador Theatre Group; Kim Poster, Stanhope Productions; David Pountney, Welsh National Opera; Ian Rickson; Josie Rourke & Kate Pakenham, Donmar Warehouse; Mark Rubinstein; Mark Rylance; Mark Skipper, Northern Ballet; Alistair Spalding, Sadler’s Wells Theatre; John Stalker; Nadia Stern, Rambert; David Suchet; Rachel Tackley, English Touring Theatre; Caroline Thomson, English National Ballet

Experts from the offshore dredging industry point out that obtaining building materials on land would be more damaging
Sir, Jenni Russell (Mar 21) lists world peace, an end to rape and a ban on dredging in the sea as three goods. Sea-dredged aggregates have long been used for building, and if sea dredging were banned it would mean the despoliation of more sites on land. Marine research has repeatedly shown that sea dredging makes no appreciable difference to beach protection or marine habitats.
David Harris
London SW13
Sir, May I, as a chief officer aboard a British dredger working off the UK coast, assure Jenni Russell that we run under stringent regulations which include care for the environment and sensitivity to marine life.
The land-based alternatives to marine aggregate dredging are far more destructive. Maintenance dredging, keeping ports open and rivers from silting up, is a separate issue, but one equally important to an island nation reliant on sea trade.
Peter Dixon
Norton Fitzwarren, Somerset

Harping on scientists’ gender and skin colour damages science and discourages youngsters from studying it
Sir, I was proud to be a scientist this week when the Bicep2 collaboration released evidence of events moments after the Big Bang (“Echoes of the Big Bang confirm theory of how Universe began”, Mar 18).
Unfortunately, some people still manage to see past these wonders and focus only on the gender and race of those involved. A columnist in one newspaper wrote that Maggie Aderin-Pocock (space scientist and expert science communicator) and
I were invited to comment on these results on Newsnight because of our “diversity”.
Maggie and I are both women with dark skin. If this is worthy of mention at all, it should be to celebrate that individuals in modern British society are achieving their potential, regardless of their appearance or heritage. Likewise, the Bicep2 team
is composed of men and women of many ethnicities, all with hard-earned expertise. These scientists are working together to uncover the secrets of the Universe, as opposed to peddling an outdated worldview from behind a fake name. I deeply pity the sort of person who can watch a report about ground-breaking news on the origins of the Universe and everything in it, and see only the gender and skin colour of the scientists involved. These attitudes are deeply damaging to science, and discourage women and people from different backgrounds from studying and engaging with science.
Dr Hiranya Peiris
Reader in Astronomy, UCL

A naval historian believes that propoals to paint HMS Victory all black are historically incorrect
Sir, Your report “Victory’s modern paint hides dark secret” (Mar 19) was intriguing but off beam. Ships’ hulls used to be coated with a mix of tar and black paint, but it was also common for naval ships to have wide bands along the wales of the hull painted in a variant of “English yellow”, between a light ochre and a reddish yellow.
Since she was saved for the nation in the 1920s, the Victory has been restored to look as she was in 1805 before the battle of Trafalgar. While analysis of paint layers has been useful it is not the only evidence; the returns of naval carpenters and dockyard stores are also studied. Contemporaneous paintings clearly show that in 1805 Victory had yellow bands along her hull.
The consultants state that the great cabin and captain’s cabin of Victory, being working spaces, would not resemble “country houses as they do now”.
While this shows little grasp of Georgian naval culture they have a point. The decoration of such cabins reflected the taste and status of the occupants, whose houses were typically decorated in light blue, yellow, pale grey and ivory white. The dark varnish in Victory’s grander cabins is a Victorian anachronism which should be rectified.
The suggestion that the Victory’s hull should be repainted all-over black would ruin a beautiful ship — and it would be historically incorrect.
Justin Reay
Editorial director, BritishNavalHistory.com
Oxford

Telegraph:
SIR – Sir Michael Pitt, chief executive of the Planning Inspectorate, seeks to defend one of his staff, Paul Griffiths, or “Inspector Blight”. Mr Griffiths has allowed 19 of the 22 appeals regarding wind turbines that he has considered since May 2009, to the fury of the local people who opposed them.
This record seems extraordinary. It is difficult to accept that all these people, who have extensive local knowledge, are wrong and Mr Griffiths is the only one who is right.
It is not surprising that the High Court did not find fault with one of his decisions on the grounds that local people were ignored. Matters of planning judgment are the exclusive province of the Secretary of State. There is no way of challenging an appeal decision except in narrowly prescribed circumstances.
The Planning Inspectorate, with its unknown, unelected and unaccountable inspectors, is an impediment to localism. Its reform is long overdue.
Alan Overton
Reading, Berkshire
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Crimea sanctions
SIR – Given that Crimea was always part of the USSR until Khrushchev inexplicably transferred it to the Ukraine, it is not surprising that Vladimir Putin sought to use the Ukrainian unrest to achieve its return to Russia. Although his methods have been devious and no doubt illegal, the joy of the Crimean people at their imminent return to Russia has been plain to see.
As Mr Putin has stated that he intends to go no further and that he wants a peaceful and secure Ukraine on his border, Western sanctions, which could lead to tit-for-tat repercussions, seem rather futile.
It may be more realistic for the Western powers to keep their powder dry, accept the inevitable, and determine far stronger sanctions and actions to be brought into play should Mr Putin go back on his word. A bit of realpolitik is required.
B J Colby
Portishead. Somerset
Budget bonanza
SIR – May I thank George Osborne, the Chancellor, for the staggering generosity he displayed in the Budget by reducing a pint of beer by 1p?
This means that, with a pint costing approximately £3, I will now save £10 for every £3,000 I spend on beer.
I reckon that if I drink an extra 20 pints a week I could make this saving in a year or so. I had better get drinking.
Alan Lewis
Cheadle, Staffordshire
Assisted dying Bill risks error and abuse
SIR – Ann Farmer writes cogently about the risks associated with Lord Falconer’s Bill on assisted dying, comparing it to the Abortion Act 1967 and its similar provision that two doctors must give their approval before an abortion can be carried out.
During my career as a psychiatrist, I came across a number of physically ill, suicidal patients who regained their will to live when treated for their underlying depression.
Would depression always be correctly diagnosed by the two doctors making the recommendation?
Angus McPherson
Findon, West Sussex
SIR – From assisted suicide to persuaded suicide is a small step, and from persuaded suicide to mercy killing is another small step. Those who seek to legalise assisted suicide now may come to regret the consequences.
Ray Cantrell
Colchester, Essex
HS2 connections
SIR – There is great potential for cities other than Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds to benefit from HS2 via the connections to the east and west coast main lines, but this needs to be addressed now if these locations are not to fall behind.
Many of these smaller cities could also be reached by HS2 trains moving to the classic railway network to complete their journey. But this will require new or significantly enhanced stations.
It is time for an urgent dialogue between HS2, Network Rail, the train operating companies and local authorities.
Jeremy Acklam
Institution of Engineering and Technology
London WC2R
Training paramedics
SIR – You report (March 9) that Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director, suggests that fewer 999 patients should be taken to hospital and that paramedics need more training in order to feel comfortable treating patients at home. Yet these are the people officially appointed by the NHS to deal with emergencies.
Some authorities, according to your report, are also using financial bonuses in an effort to persuade undertrained staff to take risks with patients’ lives. At the same time we have highly skilled doctors, trained at great expense and experienced in a vast range of diseases and conditions, saying: “If you have an emergency, don’t call us.”
And we are told that the NHS is the envy of the world.
Dr Philip E Elwood
Nettleham, Lincolnshire
SIR – The excellence of our NHS has become something of a credo. Last month I was in China and found myself unable to stand or walk properly. I went to the hospital, registered (10 yuan/£1), was taken to a nerve specialist who diagnosed the ailment as CCCI (insufficient blood to the brain), prescribed some medicine, and suggested I have a scan when I returned to Britain. I bought the medicine in the hospital pharmacy (£1.40), and was out of the hospital in 40 minutes. Back in Britain, I had to wait five days to see my GP, who referred me to a “super GP” at our local hospital – in five weeks’ time. This, the hospital informed me, was an urgent appointment.
Hari Thorpe
Swanage, Dorset
Bankers’ salaries
SIR – You report that suspect accounting standards may have allowed banks to overstate their profits and thus contribute to the bankers’ huge bonuses. We have previously read about alleged manipulations of index benchmarks such as Libor and foreign exchange prices, not to forget the ridiculous fiasco of payment protection insurance.
But who benefits from all this dubious activity? It is not the banks’ customers, who are now suing the banks in massive class actions. The shareholders don’t benefit either – they seem to have to pay for the losses and lawsuits. As for the taxpayer – the Government, the Bank of England and the regulators seem to shore up the system with our taxes while incurring huge liabilities for future generations.
Why do the banks and investment institutions pay such large salaries and bonuses to their employees, managers and directors?
Steve Male
Highampton, Devon
Long-range aircraft
SIR – The huge areas covered in the search for Flight MH370 reminds us of the need for long-range maritime patrol aircraft in Britain’s front line.
With a range of over 7,000 miles (or more with air-to-air refuelling) and sophisticated radar and acoustic sensors, the Nimrod MRA4 would have been tailor-made for this operation. Britain’s reputation would suffer if it were unable to offer such assistance in the event of a similar incident in the Atlantic.
Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Roberts (retd)
Lymington, Hampshire
Diet scaremongers
SIR – When will those who try to scare the living daylights out of us about our diets and lifestyles realise that the more they preach that things are bad for us, the less notice anybody will take?
Dr Michael Barley
Hove, East Sussex

SIR – As the founder and director of Zippos Circus and its associated school, the Academy of Circus Arts, I was delighted to read Dea Birkett’s article (News Review, March 16) supporting traditional circus in the face of the launch of the National Centre for Circus Arts (NCCA).
While I welcome any initiative that raises the profile of circus arts or brings in new audiences, it is important to put the NCCA into perspective as a training organisation which largely supports theatre and nouveau cirque. Yet it would seem to have appointed itself rather arrogantly as the ambassador for Britain’s entire circus industry.
There is actually another whole world of circus out there. “Big Top” circuses are thriving, with up to 40 tenting shows performing at some point each year around Britain. They are socially inclusive and culturally diverse, playing to huge audiences across the country, often for less than the price of a cinema ticket.
Furthermore, our academy is the only travelling tenting circus school in the world and prepares students for the reality of life in the ring, as opposed to a career in theatre or opera. When I want fresh talent I’ll be looking for highly skilled artists who also know how to rig their own equipment and hammer in a tent stake (and possibly even make candyfloss). I won’t be running to the NCCA’s door for a student with a BA.
The NCCA will never threaten the real magic of the Big Top – the show will most definitely go on.

SIR – I was pleased to see David Cameron set out his seven targets for a new Europe in The Sunday Telegraph.
He is now publicly committed to ensuring that Britain will no longer be bound to ever-closer union with other EU members under the Lisbon Treaty. But you were right to sound a cautionary note in your supportive leading article. He has to follow through.
David Sprague
Dorking, Surrey
SIR – David Cameron seems just as unlikely to keep his promise of holding a referendum after renegotiating our relationship with Brussels as the promise he made in 2008: that he would hold a referendum if the Lisbon Treaty was not fully ratified before the Tories came to power.
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It must have been clear to Mr Cameron at the time that all the indications were that the treaty would be safely voted through. The majority was 140.
Today Mr Cameron would have us believe that he can persuade not only an obdurate EU Commission, but also all other EU member states, to effectively tear up the Lisbon Treaty and come up with a new one designed to suit Britain’s needs – all by the end of 2017, and without invoking Article 50 of the treaty. Surely he must know that he is making yet another empty promise.
Rather than an honest debate on our EU membership, we are getting more political misdirection and obfuscation. By entering an election campaign hoping he can fool enough of the electorate to win, Mr Cameron evades the truth, abuses trust, and debases democracy.
Carol Doggett
Barton on Sea, Hampshire
SIR – Mr Cameron’s negotiating hand would be strengthened if he were to announce that, in the event of his seven targets not all being achieved, he would campaign for a No vote.
Alan G Cox
Belper, Derbyshire
SIR – Having read Mr Cameron’s seven points for a new Europe, I am disappointed that not one of them refers to the undemocratic, indeed anti-democratic, nature of the European Union. In 1975 I genuinely believed that I was voting for an association of sovereign states in a customs union. Despite governments giving away further political power without our consent over the years, I can still see the sense in some form of political treaty.
What I cannot understand is how Mr Cameron, his cohorts and others before him have failed to perceive how offensive it is to be governed by a corrupt organisation manned by second-hand politicians who exercise executive power without being accountable to the electorate. I would be prepared to support a European treaty if it provided an elected parliament which dispensed laws authorised by an electoral mandate.
Since I believe that Mr Cameron’s programme will not succeed at all, this attempt to encourage people like me to vote for him in the next election demonstrates the gulf that exists between the rhetoric of politicians and the reality of what can be achieved.
Major Gordon Bonner (retd)
Leeds, West Yorkshire
SIR – If the changes to Europe that Mr Cameron seeks are to be achieved, this first requires an EU convention to be set up to host the negotiations over the reforms between the member states. An essential precondition to setting up this convention, though, is that there are enough states interested in reform to constitute the quorum necessary to trigger its formation. Thereafter, of course, any reforms unanimously agreed by the convention will still have to be ratified by all 28 member states, some by a referendum.
At present, however, there is precious little evidence that any of this is going to happen before 2017, or indeed at all.
John Graham
Epsom, Surrey
SIR – Every week, it seems, we hear what “David Cameron thinks” or “David Cameron says”. When are we going to read that David Cameron has actually done something?
Don Minterne
Bradford Peverell, Dorset

Irish Times:

A chara, – Further to Ann Marie Hourihane’s article “Cinderella of public dental health braces itself for a cultural shift” (Health + Family, March 11th), over the last number of years, public dental services have been decimated.
Falling staff numbers, due to the recruitment embargo, and retirement, have had a hugely negative effect on the everyday operation of the service, with the decreased availability of service to patients, and target class primary school screenings in some areas, simply not being met. Where services have been reduced, we have seen an increase in patients presenting with pain and infection, necessitating complex treatment, and, in certain circumstances, acute hospital admission, a reprehensible consequence of the circumstances which now prevail, and simply unacceptable for a first world country. Waiting lists for oral surgery and treatment of both children and special needs patients under general anaesthesia continue to soar due to lack of resources and facilities.
While the introduction of orthodontic therapists, as alluded to in the article, may expedite treatment in some cases, the basics have been overlooked. Many orthodontic issues could be flagged and possibly intercepted earlier if the manpower was available to see and treat children more frequently, with the emphasis put on the maintenance of a decay-free primary dentition, which could, in turn, reduce the bottleneck which now exists, particularly in the provision of care under general anaesthesia.
At the annual general meeting of the Public Dental Surgeons Group of the Irish Dental Association in October 2013, this group called on the HSE to ensure adequate dental staffing in all areas, to allow patients access equitable services, irrespective of geographical location, thereby safeguarding their oral health. This group also called on the Department of Health and the HSE to ensure appropriate and timely provision of dental general anaesthetic services for children and special care patients in order to avoid unnecessary delays in treating pain, sepsis and dental trauma. These requests remain.
To no other profession does the old adage “A stitch in time saves nine” ring more true. Dental decay is the most prevalent, preventable disease worldwide. The simple messages of maintaining adequate oral hygiene and reducing frequency of intake of sugar remain to the forefront in the constant battle against it. – Is mise,
Dr ISEULT
BOUARROUDJ, BDS
President,
Public Dental
Surgeons Committee,
Irish Dental Association,
Belvedere Hills,
Ballinderry,
Mullingar, Co Westmeath.

Sir, – The National Transport Authority has submitted for public consultation their proposal for a “Bus Rapid Transit” project encompassing three corridors: Blanchardstown to UCD; Clongriffin to Tallaght; and Swords to City Centre. It is proposed to use streamlined buses, with a capacity of 120 passengers, which are much cheaper than alternative rail solutions, it is claimed. Such bus transit projects have been a solution in Latin America in places such as Curitiba and Mexico City and in a few provincial European cities.
The acceptance by planners to allocate dedicated road space to efficient public transport is laudable. However, there is a touch of Groundhog Day here. Decades ago when reopening the then disused Harcourt Street line was under consideration there were strong proposals made for a busway. Eventually, the siren allure of lower capital costs was resisted and a quality light rail system was built. Ask the present users of the Green Line Luas if they would prefer a diesel-powered busway and you would get a dusty answer.
At first sight, busways have cheaper capital costs (though unlikely to be as cheap as the claimed one-third of comparable rail costs). However, operating costs can be higher, as a properly designed light rail system can carry a higher throughput of passengers for a lower cost. Buses have a design life of around 12 years, as opposed to the 30-year life of a light rail vehicle. There is the pollution from diesel versus the non-pollution of electric traction. Finally, it has been difficult to lure motorists from their vehicles to travel on buses, as opposed to light rail. A light rail system would have higher patronage than a busway – look at the crowded Luas at rush-hour.
People may not realise that in the Dublin of 1900, there was a dense network of electric trams providing easy access across the city. Dublin is a European capital. To maintain its attraction to inward investment, not to mind the quality of life for its citizens, it should be an enhanced urban environment with high-quality transport system that is fast, safe, reliable and clean. Let’s get back to the future, invest wisely and move towards eventually having a dense network of Luas services in Dublin. – Yours, etc,
MICHAEL BARRY,
Frankfort Avenue,
Rathgar, Dublin 6.

Sir, – I find the carelessness of our Civil Service in mislaying the records of the late Brian Lenihan’s phone calls at the crucial moment for our country of the putting in place of the bank guarantee to be farcical (“Department of Finance has ‘no record’ of Lenihan phone calls”, Home News, March 20th). In light of Edward Snowden’s revelations of the diligence and thoroughness of the British secret service in keeping track of our telephonic communications, I wonder has your correspondent considered applying to GCHQ for details of Brian Lenihan’s phone records? If they were feeling in a generous mood I’ve no doubt they might even – in contrast to our Civil Service – provide a transcript of the actual conversations themselves! – Yours, etc,
CATHAL KERRIGAN,
Old Youghal Road,
Cork.

Sir, – Chris Johns makes the case that Ireland would make €400 million a year in tax by legalising cannabis (“Marijuana tax yield may prove the final blow to war on drugs”, Business Opinion, March 14th).
Surely it is time for Enda Kenny to show that Ireland could really be the best small country in the world in which to do “cannabusiness”? Can we afford to miss this opportunity?
Considering that the president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, is a Nobel Prize nominee for his innovative lead in moving away from the failed “war on drugs” and that Uruguay’s health system has now been placed in the top three countries in the world, surely Minister for Health James Reilly will lend support to this idea?
If given the nudge, President Michael D Higgins might be persuaded to champion this initiative by contacting his counterpart in Uruguay who – as it happens – lives just off the O’Higgins Road near Montevideo!
Crucially, Michael O’Leary could annoy Aer Lingus by emblazoning the cannabis leaf on aircraft – a branding symbol of Ryanair’s nicer, more relaxed flying experience. – Yours, etc,
JUNE O’REILLY,
Lecturer in Communication,
Cork Institute
Sir, – Technology has transformed economic activity in the last two decades or so. The balance of supply and demand has been reversed; supply exceeds demand rendering economic growth unnecessary and impossible, yet all recovery strategy is based on restoring growth. It was such a strategy of throwing money at growth that gave rise to unmanageable debt; growth cannot occur when growth is not needed and overproduction capability ensures growth is no longer needed.
Overproduction capability has been achieved by elimination of dependence on human labour, the elimination of work. To prevent social collapse job numbers must be restored; employment must be generated from less work but all policies are aimed at having those employed work harder, more efficiently, longer and into old age. Such policies only ensure fewer people will ever work. In future we will have more people working less or fewer people working more.
Attempts to have the impact of modern technology introduced into economic discussion have met a surprisingly hostile reaction, especially in broadcasting. Government departments, politicians and economists have simply refused to enter into any discussion on the subject as if by ignoring the possibility it might go away.
It will not go away; impending unemployment due to work elimination by advancing technology is a reality of the 21st century and the greatest social problem to be confronted. The only possible solution is more employment generated from less work. Shorter hours, longer holidays and earlier retirement must be considered.
I challenge the political, economic and media establishment to acknowledge the crisis of work elimination and enter debate on how to create more jobs from less work. – Yours, etc,
PADRAIC NEARY,
Tubbercurry,
Co Sligo.
Sir, – Further to Morgan Kelly’s article “Our real economic crisis will begin if ECB credit stops” (Opinion and Analysis, March 14th), the National Treasury Management Agency did not sell bonds in December. The NTMA’s last issuance of 2013 involved short-term treasury bills, not bonds, and took place in September.
More importantly, neither the treasury bills issued in September 2013 nor the bonds issued this year following Ireland’s exit from the EU/IMF programme were “bought entirely by the State-controlled (or effectively controlled) banks AIB and Bank of Ireland”. In fact, the majority of the issuance (approximately 80 per cent) was acquired internationally. – Yours, etc,
BRIAN O’NEILL,
National Treasury
Management Agency,
Treasury Building,
Grand Canal Street,
Dublin 2.

Sir, – I’m sure everyone is aware of the considerable damage caused to our countryside by the recent storms. This includes damage to our forests as well as our roadside, hedgerow and parkland trees. As the body representing the forestry profession in Ireland, the Society of Irish Foresters is very concerned at the possibility of an over-reaction by local authorities and others which could lead to widespread, unnecessary felling of healthy trees.
All landowners are obliged by law to act in a prudent manner. However, trees considered for felling should be inspected by competent professionals to determine if felling is justified on safety grounds. – Yours, etc,
PACELLI BREATHNACH,
President,
Society of Irish Foresters,
Glenealy, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Charles Lamb, I think it was, who, having been shown a rough draft of one of Milton’s poems, declared that he never again would look into an artist’s workshop.
Dick Ahlstrom’s article on the detection of gravity waves from “the dawn of time” (Signal from ‘dawn of time’ helps explain the birth of the universe”, Home News, March 19th) deals with things that, for me, are getting very near to the original artist’s workshop. But my reaction is quite different from that of Charles Lamb. I want more of it for it’s where science and religion meet. Is this not creation? – Yours, etc,
GABRIEL MARTIN,
Leinster Park,
Maynooth,
Co Kildare.

Sir, – I’m sure Brendan Behan would have had something to say on your editorial’s reference (The quare fellow, March 20th) to the “assassination” of Michael Collins, who died fighting, armed and in uniform among comrades similarly employed, armed and dressed. – Yours, etc,
DONAL KENNEDY,
Palmers Green,
London N13.

Irish Independent:

* Controversy surrounding the use of the word ‘disgusting’ by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is descending into an unworthy pantomime of political brinkmanship by ministers vying for public sympathy.
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Monumental achievements
The Oireachtas has been advised in four special reports by the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) since 2000 that An Garda Siochana management of the collection of road traffic fines has been inadequate. Official criticism of this matter has prevailed throughout the entire tenure of four garda commissioners and seven ministers for justice and none of them has taken effective remedial action.
Five government departments – Justice, Finance, Transport, Tourism and Sport – share responsibility for road traffic fines with An Garda Siochana but the PAC report noted that there was no analytical data to allow the issue of enforcement to become more focused and effective.
The C&AG’s fourth report in July 2012 was prompted by a member of the gardai presenting a file relating to 4,000 cases where it appeared that fixed charge notices issued had subsequently been cancelled.
In many cases the fixed charge notices had been cancelled corruptly and illegally and a number of persons who had benefitted from one or more cancellations of fixed charge notices for speeding or dangerous driving had subsequently committed similar offences, resulting in some cases in deaths and/or injury to themselves or others. Transport Minister Leo Varadkar is responsible for the Government’s Road Safety Strategy 2013 to 2020, which aims to reduce road collision fatalities from 162 in 2012 to 124, or fewer, by 2020 and a 30pc reduction of serious road traffic injuries.
Is this target achievable if the commissioner merely withdraws the word ‘disgraceful’? Will the public be reassured by politicians and the garda commissioner merely using the media to play Scrabble with them?
MYLES DUFFY
GLENAGEARY, CO DUBLIN
NO JOKE
* Everybody enjoys a bit of a laugh, a bit of banter, which is perfectly normal and acceptable. At times however, this bit of banter, may be had at the expense of someone else who may not enjoy being the subject of others’ entertainment. This is where, sometimes, people should perhaps consider a few things …
We can never know what’s going on in a person’s body, head or heart. A simple comment or gesture, made in the quest for a 20-second chuckle or to bask in the applause of a few peers, may be the most hurtful thing we can do to another and trigger a journey on a downward spiral that can result in untold harm and damage, not only to that person, but to those who they love and care for.
Such spur-of-the-moment decisions can result in a loss of self-esteem and self-respect.
So, please, before you decide to have a laugh at someone else’s expense, ask yourself this: “Is my 20-second chuckle worth the damage I may do to them and theirs?”
NAME AND ADDRESS WITH EDITOR
POLITICAL PAST MASTERS
* Around 1921, Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins sent private emissaries to Washington to plead with the US government to reduce the number of visas it issued to young Irish men and women because they needed the youth of Ireland in Ireland to advance the nation.
In 2014, without any hint of embarrassment, the leader of the Irish Government pleads publicly in Washington with the US government to alter legislation to allow permanent residence to Irish illegals.
The contrast between the selfless Irish statesmen of 1920s’ Ireland and the selfish elite of today, posing as caring politicians, could not be greater.
DECLAN FOLEY
BERWICK, AUSTRALIA
SELFLESS SELFIES
* I was shocked by the patronising attitude of Helen Moorhouse last week (‘There’s something about do-gooding on social media that doesn’t sit right’, Irish Independent, March 22) regarding the unified approach of women (and men) who participated in an online campaign to donate money towards cancer research.
Many of the participants had suffered from cancer and had the scars to prove it. These people were not worrying about pimples. They were posting pictures online because they believed in the power of people working together.
The Irish Independent reported that €500,000 had been raised towards cancer research.
As far as I’m concerned people who take the time and effort to participate and donate to this campaign are wonderful.
So Helen, next time you write an article, try and look at the big picture.
MAJELLA O’NEILL
CLONMEL, CO TIPPERARY
ON SIDE OF ANGELS
* I am writing as an octogenarian who has just spent six weeks in two Kerry hospitals recently, due to a fractured femur.
I have been in different hospitals throughout my long life, but it was my first experience in Kerry. It was an eye-opener, to say the least. The sense of duty from all staff should be seen to be believed, may the Lord bless them.
In my opinion, the staff are all God’s representatives and are continuing Mother Teresa’s good work.
I would hope Health Minister James Reilly and all current and future governments appreciate the vital role that all care staff play in all our lives.
LIL STACK
TARBERT, CO KERRY
THUGS ROAMING FREE
* Does anyone remember the vicious assault on the young Italian student, Guido Nasi, who was playing football in Fairview Park in 1999?
His wallet was stolen and when he tried to get it back he was hit with a bottle and left paralysed. He lives with his elderly mother in Italy and requires full-time care. The Irish people were deeply shocked by this dreadful attack and many contributed to a fund to help him.
I was reminded of Guido when I saw the horrible attack on a young Brazilian man in Dublin by two thugs who kicked him in the face and left him lying unconscious on the road. It was filmed by someone and posted on YouTube for the whole world to see.
RTE’s ‘Liveline’ has been full of reports of unspeakably violent incidents in Ireland. There was an attack on a non-national family on the Luas and dreadful cases of the most horrible cruelty to defenceless animals by sadistic thugs.
Viciousness, cruelty and sheer savagery are all on the increase. Dublin is not a safe place to be. I often watch the innocent tourists as they walk around, carrying cameras and admiring our city. They are so trusting and vulnerable. I have visited many countries but I have never felt the palpable sense of menace that pervades Dublin. O’Connell Street and North Earl Street are awash with drug addicts – a particular phenomenon that seems to have developed in the past two years. Why is it tolerated?
It seems that feral thugs believe that they can do what they like and nothing will be done about it.
And while we’re at it, could we perhaps show our deep sympathy and support to that unfortunate Brazilian student by establishing a fund to help him and show him that we are all sickened by what happened on the feast of our national saint?
ANTHONY REDMOND
DUBLIN 12

Books

March 23, 2014

23 March 2014 Books

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to have a visit from the admiral will he find any of Pertwee’s little schemes? Priceless

Cold slightly better post office sold 3 books

Scrabbletoday Marywins, just,and gets justunder400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

 

Mike Parker, who has died aged 84, was known as the “Godfather of fonts” – typographical rather than ecclesiastical — and was responsible for popularising Helvetica, a lettering style which now pops up on everything from corporate logos to the washing instructions on clothing labels.

Much thought goes into designing a font, but people rarely think twice about the lettering they see all around them, their interest mildly aroused only when they scroll through the strangely-named fonts on their computers. Yet ever since Johannes Gutenberg began transforming handwritten texts into modular fonts of movable type, the art of font design has been integral to the advance of literacy and modern civilisation.

The Bible printed by Gutenberg in 1455 used an old German ornate “blackletter” font; the fluid lines of “Garamond” (which Parker studied for a Master’s degree at Yale) emerged from the pen of Claude Garamond, a French publisher and “punch-cutter” of the 16th century (who also gave us “Grecs du Roi”, “Granjon” and “Sabon”). Most of today’s newspaper typefaces derive from the “Roman” typefaces of another 16th-century printer, the Dutchman Hendrik van den Keere.

The late 19th century saw a renewed interest in font design, led in Britain by members of the Arts and Crafts movement. In the early 20th century perhaps the most famous letter designer, Eric Gill, designed nearly a dozen fonts, including “Perpetua” and “Gill Sans”, the latter becoming the standard typography for Britain’s railway system and featuring on Penguin Books’ classic jacket designs of the 1930s.

Helvetica’s roots, as the name suggests, were Swiss. It began life as “Neue Haas Grotesk”, developed by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann for the Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein in 1957 — when Swiss designers were promoting the idea of “rational typefaces” to suit the ethos of the modern industrial age. The pair tweaked a 60-year-old German font, stripping off unnecessary fripperies such as the small flourishes at the end of letter strokes known as serifs, to produce a clean and simple typeface.

Parker, then working as assistant to Jackson Burke, director of typographic development at the Mergenthaler Linotype Company, spotted the font, liked its clarity and set to work to adapt it, renamed Helvetica, for the company’s linotype machines that then led the world in book and newspaper typesetting technology.

In 1961 Parker succeeded Burke as Mergenthaler’s director of typographic development. He went on to develop some 1,000 fonts, but Helvetica was the one that really took off. From the 1960s onwards it became a popular choice for public signage and commercial logos such as those for Société Générale, Nestlé, 3M, BMW, Kawasaki, Lufthansa, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Motorola and Panasonic.

Helvetica entered the digital age by securing a place among the 11 fonts bundled with Apple’s early desktop computers, and the company continued to use it widely in devices such as the iPod. In Britain its rather bland functionality commended it to state-run monoliths such as British Rail, which adapted it into its own Rail Alphabet font (which was also adopted by the NHS and the British Airports Authority).

However, while Helvetica became dominant in the public world, it never really took off on the printed page, research showing that serif typefaces are easier for users to read in book-length stretches of text. While some criticised Helvetica as nondescript and dull, Parker waxed lyrical about its aesthetic appeal: “The meaning is in the content of the text, and not in the typeface,” he explained in a 2007 documentary. “It’s not a letter that’s bent to shape; it’s a letter that lives in a powerful matrix of surrounding space. What it’s all about is the interrelationship of the negative shape, the figure/ground relationship, the shapes between characters and within characters… Oh, it’s brilliant when it’s done well.”

The son of an American mining engineer, Michael Russell Parker was born in London on May 1 1929. The family returned to America after the Blitz and settled in Rye, New York State. Mike was educated at boarding schools, where he became interested in painting, only to discover that he was colour-blind. Instead he took a degree at Yale University in Architecture, followed by a Master’s in Design.

After graduation he got a job at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, Belgium, whose extensive historical typography collection inspired his fascination with fonts. Returning to America, he joined Mergenthaler in 1959.

By the beginning of the 1980s, however, revenues from the sale of typesetting equipment were dwindling; and as the digital age dawned Parker saw a business opportunity in the design and sale of fonts themselves — independent of equipment. In 1981 he left Mergenthaler and, with Matthew Carter, established Bitstream, a company based at Cambridge, Massachusetts, which became the first in the world to produce digital fonts that could be licensed for use by anyone.

The company was highly successful in the 1980s, when desktop publishing and personal computer use took off. In the Nineties, however, Parker lost money attempting to develop a joint venture with Steve Jobs which never quite came off.

Parker’s knowledge of the history of font design was exhaustive. In 1994 he created a stir when he published evidence that the design of Times New Roman, credited to the British typographer Stanley Morison in 1931, was based on 1904 drawings by the American Starling Burgess, which, he suggested, had been stolen in the 1920s.

Subsequently Parker became consultant and type historian for the Font Bureau, a typeface design foundry, and in 2009 he launched a font called Starling, based on Burgess’s original designs.

Parker’s two marriages were dissolved. He is survived by his ex-wife Sibyl who cared for him in his final years, by a son and two daughters and two stepdaughters.

Mike Parker, born May 1 1929, died February 23 2014

 

 

Guardian:

 

Your editorial “There’s no choice: we must grow GM crops” (Comment) attempts to draw a direct and compelling link between the starvation of future generations and GM technology. In fact, the link is tenuous at best and irrelevant at worst. We can’t even prevent starvation now, when there is plenty of food, because the framework of world trade pulls in the opposite direction towards widening the gap between rich and poor. To change this requires political will on a world scale and this is where our first efforts should lie.

Beyond that, a significant reduction in cereal-fed meat production would release a lot of food for human consumption and probably produce health benefits as well. GM science may well produce some valuable gains, but products must face a severe testing regime, not just for human health, but, above all, for their potential damaging interaction with our natural delicate ecosystems.

Such a science in the hands of short-term profit seekers is unlikely to contribute to the solution of feeding the nine billion in 2050. We need to take a much wider view.

Philip Thornley

St Weonards

Hereford

Argentina, which once possessed one of the richest agricultural soils in the world, is facing soil depletion, soil structure degradation and initial desertification from growing GM crops. The situation in regard to GM crops in the US is not as rosy as your leader implies. The New York Times‘s Mark Bittman writes: “To date… the technology has been little more than an income-generator for a few corporations desperate to see those profits continue regardless of the cost to the rest of us, or to the environment.”

John Little

Bigbury on Sea

Devon

I’m writing to you to express my admiration for your editorial. You built your case on clear-headed and logical thinking. For too long, the issue of breeding enhanced crops through genetic engineering has been dominated by well-meaning, but scientifically illiterate people. Their cacophony has drowned out rational discourse. There have been two particularly unfortunate consequences of this hysteria.

First, research progress has been greatly slowed down, meaning crop improvement will now take longer. Second, a multitude of hurdles have enabled a small number of very large companies to dominate the market. This is particularly sad, since most of the discoveries that enabled these advances were made in publicly funded universities.

Philip Wigge

Sainsbury Laboratory

Cambridge University

The assumption that only GM crops will feed the world represents a position contested by scientists, food producers and civil society groups everywhere. Politicians must not swap due diligence for evaluation that prioritises speed over substance. Ministers ignore contrary evidence, such as the report from the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, which involved more than 400 international scientists. The government, instead, supports pro-GM corporations, such as Syngenta and Monsanto, which set profits before the needs of the poor.

The answer to global hunger is agroecology and access to land – not a technical “solution” that has brought thousands of Indian farmers’ suicides.

Graciela Romero War on Want and UK Food Group

Emma Hockridge Soil Association

Pete Ritchie Nourish Scotland

Jocelyn Jones World Family UK and Food Sovereignty Sussex

Andy Goldring Permaculture Association

Ruth West Campaign for Real Farming

Teresa Anderson Gaia Foundation

Simon Maddrell Excellent Development

Philip Goodwin Tree Aid

Eve Mitchell Food and Water Europe

Claire Robinson GMWatch

Debbie Clarke

Unicorn Grocery

 

While Andrew Rawnsley may be correct in asserting that Tony Benn’s political career was, ultimately, a “failure”, his crowning achievement – rare, in modern times – was to remain true to his principles: to encourage the citizen, in particular the working-class individual, to believe in their invaluable worth to society (“Charismatic leader of the left damned by warm Tory praises“).

Following the Digger vision, it was a society that he agreed should be judged by what it provided for the poor rather than how it treated the richest.

Yes, Rawnsley was correct to point out that the other Tony (Blair) led the Labour party to victory on three occasions, and improved the lives of working people (to a point), but such achievements came at a cost. In the quest to regain power for Labour, Blairism abandoned the socialist goal of equality and a fairer society. The party pandered to big business, the service industry and consumerism; under a Labour government, the gap between the rich and the poor began to widen. To cap it all, we now live in a political climate where all the discussion about austerity centres upon the “squeezed middle”. Where is the voice that will represent the “downtrodden poor”?

MA Hobbins

Woking

Surrey

Andrew Rawnsley writes that Tony Benn “had an incurably romantic view of what the British people would vote for”. It was precisely this romanticism that helps account for the widespread emotional resonance evoked by his death. Despite all his weaknesses he made people feel there should be more to politics than toadying to big powers, appealing to crude self interest and looking after number one.

Ivor Morgan

Lincoln

Look to the north – or else

Thank goodness one senior minister has finally acknowledged the nexus of political, economic and moral issues associated with the HS2 project (“Cable demands high-speed rail rethink to ease north-south split“, News).

The case for starting the project from the north always has been strong. Likewise the argument for significant investment to improve rail connectivity between major northern cities. These arguments tend to be ignored by a metropolitan elite that seems to have little grasp of current realities outside the favoured capital and south-east.

I confidently predict that failure to deliver what the north needs will make the Scottish independence debate look like a sideshow. Demands for devolved regional government for the north are waiting in the wings; non-engagement with these will make the northern half of England impossible to govern from London, whatever the outcome of the forthcoming Scottish referendum.

Gus Pennington

Stokesley

North Yorkshire

Let’s hear it for the PO bank

May I suggest an answer to Mick and Viv Beeby, who asked: “Where next for our bank account?” (“Co-op pay storm: it’s time to regulate the cabals that set executive salaries”, Big Issue)? I also decided to move from the Co-op when it sold out to the hedge funds; I opened a Post Office current account. They are, it’s true, not available everywhere yet (memo to the PO: why not?) but if they are able to do so, it is a great alternative.

The Post Office offers full current account services, including a cheque book, telephone and online banking, and your account can also be accessed at any of the hundreds of POs throughout the country, thus helping to keep them open, too. I had no trouble with the switch and all the staff I have been in contact with have been very friendly and efficient.

Liz Waterland

Deeping St James

Lincolnshire

Don’t make such a meal of it

I enjoyed Rachel Cooke’s Simon Rogan interview (Observer Food Monthly) story but here in Cumbria we are getting exasperated with the number of London journalists incapable of visiting L’Enclume in Cartmel without reference to long journeys and “braving” the West Coast main line or M6. It’s only a long journey if you assume all your readers are in London or perhaps the only people who would want to visit are from London.

In this instance, it is apparently “quite a journey” unless and only unless you live in Grange-over-Sands a few miles away. There are more than 10 million people in an arc from Glasgow to Liverpool via Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester, all within a couple of hours of L’Enclume. If you were the London Observer this assumption that writer and reader share the same outlook would make sense, but you aren’t and it doesn’t.

Richard Eccles

Wigton

Cumbria

Scarlett makes me see red

Gosh! I’ve just found a page in last Sunday’s paper without a picture of Scarlett Johansson! I’ve got nothing against the attractive and talented Ms Johansson, but perhaps six pictures of her in one edition, including the front page of both the main section and review section and a full-page picture as part of a four-page feature story, is just a wee bit excessive.

Eleanor Van Zandt

Bath

 

 

 

 

Independent:

 

Tony Benn’s passing leaves us ever closer to being saddled with faceless career politicians, who may be “effective” to our Joan [Smith], but don’t have a principle or a moral code in their collective, expensively educated bodies (“Benn was entirely ineffectual and usually wrong”, 16 March).

I may have disagreed with Tony Benn in many ways, and found his naivety both touching and infuriating in equal measure. Maybe his ideas were just too utopian? We will most probably never know. It is still a shame though, that supposedly left-leaning commentators choose to prefer living in the world of unfettered and destructive capitalism promoted by every government since Thatcher, and only tinkered with around the edges by the latest incarnation of the Labour Party.

I am also blonde and political – but I chose to mark his passing with the sadness and respect it deserved.

Emma Flowers

Witney, Oxfordshire

In all areas of human achievement history is the final arbiter of an individual’s success or failure. Many visionaries have died with the stigma of having been drowned by the waters of history, only for the currents to change and show they were in fact swimming powerfully in the right direction.

Thus to those antagonistic to change or those lacking in judgement, Tony Benn has failed because the world has become a plutocratic heaven and an ethical hell. However, the very excesses of this system and it’s catastrophic effects on our planet must ensure that Benn’s visionary, sharing socialism will become relevant and fashionable again. Else… all of us are done for.

Joan Smith’s obtuse and spiteful little dance on the grave of a great man already looks silly but to future historians it may well provide a classic example of the partisan fallibility of contemporary judgements.

Steve Edwards

Haywards Heath, West Sussex

I applaud Katy Guest’s decision not to review gender-specific children’s books (“A good read is just that. Ask any child”, 16 March) but why limit this policy to children’s literature? The relegation of women’s writing to the world of candy-coloured frivolity is demeaning to both writers and readers. Additionally, it corroborates the belief – commonly held among men – that women’s writing is not for them. This warps the literary space and denies many fine writers the reach they deserve.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Feminism is about gender equality, but it should also be about pride. Katniss from The Hunger Games is a strong female protagonist, but we should avoid suggesting that this is because she is associated with what might be considered typically male traits. Can a woman wearing a pink dress not be a strong feminist? Women can be “handy with a bow and arrow”, but they can also be a glittery pink princess, and the world we want is one in which all of these possibilities are the unchallenged norm for men and women alike.

Charlotte Davey & Joe Murgatroyd

London SE27

Prince Charles only gets away with perverting the course of democracy because of this class-divided country and the support of the establishment (Archie Bland, 16 March). In a small country like this one they have six palaces, thousands of servants, and this Government gives them an open cheque book while many are in abject poverty.

Jenny Bushell

Wimbledon SW19

Why does Jane Merrick insist that the Prime Minister should have visited Israel sooner (16 March)? Surely, it is bad enough that a British Prime Minister should heap such fulsome praise on, and “stand every step of the way” with, a country which illegally occupies Palestinian territory, has annexed Jerusalem against international law, discriminates against Israeli residents of Palestinian descent and ignores UN resolutions without going further out of his way to favour this particular country over others?

Jeff Smith

Beeston, Bedfordshire

Have your say

 

 

Times:

 

STATE school teachers hostile to Oxbridge are one of the reasons for the under-representation of their pupils (“University leg-up for state pupils”, News, last week). I remember the director of education of a Labour council who hoped no local pupils would apply to Oxbridge as they were “corrupt institutions”, and the department head who refused to speak to his star pupil after she accepted an Oxford place.

In more than 20 years as head of a comprehensive I can think of only two deserving pupils denied a place — and they are more than outweighed by those successful at colleges only too anxious to recruit from the state sector. Hostility to elitism has been one of the more damaging crusades.
Geoffrey Samuel, Twickenham, London

Analyse this
Caution must be applied when using research to endorse discriminatory practices. Less than a year ago the Higher Education Funding Council for England produced research that gave a very different picture from your report.

It tracked 225,765 students living in the UK who started university in 2006. Almost 65% of privately educated students gained a first or upper second-class degree, compared with 52.7% of their peers from the state system. It also emerged that 60.4% of students from fee-paying schools gained a graduate job — a skilled career — compared with 46.8% of other graduates.

The research mentioned in your article uses a smaller base and excludes students with A*/A at A-level (the majority within the independent sector). It should not be used to shore up the crass assumption that all who receive a government- funded education are disadvantaged.

Nor should it be used to deny that many students from disadvantaged backgrounds attend independent schools as bursary recipients.
Roberta Georghiou, Co-chairwoman, Girls’ Schools Association

Class leading
I’m afraid that, as with so much in this world, there is nothing new in Daisy Christodoulou’s Seven Myths About Education (“Classroom politics”, Books, last week).

She has — as have many young teachers before her — realised that what works best is teacher-led lessons. Interestingly, in the same section, John Carey remarks in his book The Unexpected Professor that to learn and to have fun are “two aims [that] seldom coincide”.

My first teaching textbook in the early 1970s in Scotland was useless, leading the pupil and the inexperienced new teacher down unfinished roads, following the politically led rise of the comprehensive system in Scottish education.

However, direct instruction is still alive and well. I know — I was one of those unfashionable teachers until recently.
Sandy Cunningham, Largs, North Ayrshire

Scan delays fail to reveal true picture

YOUR article “60% jump in patients kept waiting past six-week deadline for scan” (News, last week) fails to point out that the rise in waiting times is not happening because radiology departments are failing; indeed most of them will be able to demonstrate very significant increases in productivity over the past 10 years or so.

The problem is that the number of scan requests continues to rise exponentially as doctors increasingly rely on technology rather than clinical judgment. However, the output from a scan is not a picture: it is a proper radiological report from an appropriately experienced radiologist — generally a consultant — who has reviewed the images.

The target is that scans should be performed (on non-urgent cases) within six weeks of the request, but there is no mention of the crucial factor, which is when that scan is actually analysed. Because there is a national shortage of radiologists, many of these scans once performed will sit for weeks in a queue before anyone gets round to analysing them. Some of them will show significant pathology.

Hospitals will pour resources into achieving the six-week target (to get the box ticked) but ignore the crucial matter of getting the scans reviewed in a timely manner. The target culture does not work and merely drives dysfunction into the system.
Dr Tom Goodfellow, Consultant Radiologist, Pailton, Warwickshire

Type 1 error

The billionaire industrialist Jim Ratcliffe (“Union-busting tycoon tackles obese children”, News, March 9) says that “childhood diabetes didn’t exist when I was growing up. It was an old man’s disease. But now lots of kids have diabetes. They are eating so much sugar that by the time they are 16, the pancreas is giving up the ghost.”

In fact 97% of UK childhood diabetes is type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune condition that cannot be prevented and is not caused by lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise.

Almost 30,000 children in the UK live with type 1 diabetes and must take insulin every day via multiple injections or a pump simply to stay alive.
Karen Addington, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

No deal for Mr Blobby at BBC

IMAGINE what Noel Edmonds’s BBC would be like: a week-long house party with celebrities and game shows (“Mr Blobby bids to buy ‘doomed’ BBC”, News, last week). Perhaps some services need to go, but the corporation’s Reithian ideals should not be thrown out as it comes to terms with commercial limitations. The licence fee is still fabulous value.
Kevin Platt, Walsall, West Midlands

Not so fast on iPlayer boast

Once again the metropolitan and arrogant BBC says the iPlayer is to become the “front door” into the corporation (“BBC report says scrap licence fee”, News, March 9). Has anyone at Auntie inquired about the speed of internet connections outside urban areas? Even my fast connection struggles to cope if every member of my household watches iPlayer. For those outside the big cities the iPlayer will be more of a peephole than a front door.
David Thorpe, New Malden, London

Pay to play
There are many advantages to living in Perth, but Australian TV is not one of them. While we are grateful to be able to listen to The Archers et al free, we miss the quality and variety of BBC TV and would pay a significant premium for such a service. Adam Maxwell, Perth, Australia

Film reviewer flunks her screen test

CAMILLA LONG (“How I became a film critic”, Culture, February 16) writes that Unforgiven was “rubbish”, Mary Poppins was “stomach-churning stuff”, Henry V was great because Kenneth Branagh was “woof” and she saw Howards End four times as she was “unsure if there was anything sexier than being dry-humped on a barge by Samuel West”. Time has gone by but not Long’s teenage approach to life.

Yet it was her review of The Book Thief (Culture, March 2) that led me to write. The vitriol she pours out is false and absurd. She shows no understanding of the horror of wartime — hiding someone in a cellar meant dicing with death for all concerned. She describes the child heroine (played by Sophie Nélisse) as “a pudgy-faced goody-goody who spends most of her time borrowing books or reading to Max, the Jew in the basement”, and says Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush have terrible accents. Watson, Rush, Nélisse and the entire cast are all excellent.

She is trying to follow in the steps of AA Gill but is moving along the wrong path. Gill is wicked but with humour, observation and insight. Long does not notice the heart of a movie — only the penis. Does that make a critic?
Joss Ackland, Clovelly, Devon

Points

Pot shot
Allowing us to take our pension pots in a lump sum is not a good idea. Some people may invest wisely but many will not, and there are financial sharks looking for such tasty morsels. Many will lose their money one way or another.
Alan Scaife, Hampton Lucy, Warwickshire

Hungry for less
Camilla Cavendish makes an excellent analysis of the problems with food banks (“The wrong notions about solving poverty are piled high at the food bank”, Comment, last week). It is inexplicable why Britain, with social security benefits from cradle to grave, has need of them. Average workers cannot possibly live anywhere close to their place of work in the London area. In Greece if you do not work you will starve without family or community support. A fifth of its population is in that position.
Brian Vallance, Lefkimmi, Greece

Working model
Vast legions of non-working adults have become a generational concern in some areas. The churches are not considered relevant. The Conservatives can’t appear too radical on these matters for fear of being labelled uncaring, and so progress is minimal at best. Nothing short of a revolution is required. The next generation should not be allowed to spend their lives being unproductive. An unemployed person should be required to volunteer, be in training or be studying before an allowance is given.
Mary Cecil, Ballycastle, Co Antrim

Balanced opinion
In any society there will be poor and rich — but a society in which the desperately impoverished are minimised and the overly wealthy not lionised would be better than what we have. A differential certainly encourages ambition but too great a differential crushes it.
Bernadette Bowles, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Patriot games
It is a mark of the degree of Euroscepticism in this country that government supporters of the EU feel they have to dress up in patriots’ clothes (“‘True patriot’ Tories urge Cameron to keep UK in Europe”, News, last week). In doing so they miss the point, however. Those of us who oppose the EU do so not just because we are patriots but because we are democrats. We love our country because, despite all its faults, it can claim to have led the world in establishing parliamentary democracy and accountable government.
Mike Lynch, Wolverhampton

Hitting the buffers
The expenditure on HS2 is often justified on the grounds that the rest of Europe has modernised its infrastructure with a fast railway. What is overlooked is that distances in Europe are vastly greater than in Britain and HS2 entails huge expenditure for a gain of minutes rather than hours, as is the case in Europe.
Gordon Vinell, Uckfield, East Sussex

Head in the sand
If the 45 beaches identified by the Environment Agency are unsafe, why is it not closing them immediately instead of waiting until next year (“Kiss me quick before 45 top beaches close”, News, last week)? How many people might suffer illness or worse as a result of this inaction?
Alistair Nicoll, Sheffield

Peace pipe
Tony Benn and the folk singer Roy Bailey came to the Wickham festival two years ago and talked and sang respectively about the struggle for democracy, peace and human rights (“The tears of big Benn”, News Review, last week). Halfway through the evening Benn lit the pipe he had been holding and occasionally sucking on since the start of the proceedings. He puffed away till the end; nobody in the audience objected. Who else would have got away with this?
Gill Farrar, Fareham, Hampshire

Corrections and clarifications

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to editor@sunday-times.co.uk or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission (complaints@pcc.org.uk or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)

Birthdays

Damon Albarn, musician, 46; Mike Atherton, cricketer, 46; Sir Roger Bannister, first man to run four-minute mile, 85; Barry Cryer, comedian, 79; Princess Eugenie of York, 24; Mo Farah, athlete, 31; Sir Chris Hoy, cyclist, 38; Chaka Khan, singer, 61; Michael Nyman, composer, 70; Sir Steve Redgrave, rower, 52

Anniversaries

1857 Elisha Otis’s first “safety elevator” installed at 488 Broadway, New York; 1919 Italian Fascist movement founded by Benito Mussolini; 1933 Reichstag passes the Enabling Act, making Adolf Hitler dictator of Germany; 2001 Russian Mir space station burns up in the atmosphere before falling into the Pacific

 

 

Telegraph:

 

SIR – A daily shower may now be, as Victoria Lambert writes, the norm. But it was not always so.

Arriving to live in student digs at Exeter University in 1968, I was informed by my landlady that the bathroom was kept locked, and that I could ask for the key to take a bath, once a week.

Neither I nor my fellow house-mates thought this arrangement unusual.

Stephen O’Loughlin
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

SIR – I remember well the tin bath in front of the Rayburn on a Friday night in remote Suffolk in the Fifties. As the only girl, I was allowed the bath water first.

Heather M Tanner
Earl Soham, Suffolk

 

SIR – We write to express our deep concern at the attempt by the Metropolitan Police to introduce water cannon on the streets of London, and urge Theresa May, the Home Secretary, not to authorise their use.

The proposal lacks support even from the police, with five out of the six largest police authorities, several police and crime commissioners and Lord Blair, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, refusing to support the introduction of water cannon. The London Assembly voted down the proposal and 39,000 people have now signed a petition against it.

The Association of Chief Police Officers’ own briefing acknowledges that “water cannon are capable of causing serious injury or even death”. Water cannon would be more likely to be used against organised protests than in situations such as the 2011 riots, with profoundly disturbing implications for democracy.

Mrs May has previously rejected calls for the weapon to be introduced, saying in 2010: “I don’t think anybody wants to see water cannon used on the streets of Britain because we have… a different attitude to the culture of policing here in the UK. We police by consent and it depends on that trust between the police and the public.” The following year she reiterated: “The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon. The way we police in Britain is through consent of communities.”

Trust between the police and the public is fundamental to a peaceful, civilised society. The introduction of water cannon would take us down a dark path.

Joanne Darrant
Founder of petition against water cannon
Paul Burstow MP (Lib Dem)
David Lammy MP (Lab)
Andy Slaughter MP (Lab)
Shadow Justice Minister
Dame Tessa Jowell MP (Lab)
Diane Abbott MP (Lab)
Kate Hoey MP (Lab)
Katy Clark MP (Lab)
Andrew Love MP (Lab)
Caroline Lucas MP (Green)
Paul Flynn MP (Lab)
John McDonnell MP (Lab)
Jeremy Corbyn MP (Lab)
Dr Hywel Francis MP (Lab)
Martin Caton MP (Lab)
Sarah Teather MP (Lib Dem)
Dr Julian Huppert MP (Lib Dem)
John Leech MP (Lib Dem)
Martin Horwood MP (Lib Dem)
Lord Adonis
Joanne McCartne
Chair, London Assembly Police and Crime Committee
Fiona Twycross
London Assembly Member
Caroline Pidgeon
London Assembly Member
Liz Green
Leader of Kingston Council
Muhammed Butt
Leader of Brent Council
Jean Lambert MEP (Green)
Mary Honeyball MEP (Lab)
Shami Chakrabarti
Director, Liberty
Susan Bryant
Director, Rights Watch (UK)
Helena Kennedy
barrister and human rights law specialist
Gareth Peirce
human rights lawyer
Stephen Knight
London Assembly Member
Darren Johnson
London Assembly Member
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
Jeannette Arnold
London Assembly Member
Len Duvall
London Assembly Member
Tom Copley
London Assembly Member
Murad Qureshi
London Assembly Member
Andrew Dismore
London Assembly Member
Susan Bryant
Director, Rights Watch (UK)
Matt Foot
Criminal Defence Solicitor
Hannah Dee
Defend the Right to Protest
Rosie Rogers
National Coordinator, Compass
Dr Chris Cocking
Senior Lecturer, University of Brighton
Susan Matthews
Michelle Stanistree
General Secretary, National Union of Journalists
Paul Kenny
General Secretary, GMB Union
Billy Hayes
General Secretary, Communication Workers Union
Mark Serwotka
General Secretary, PCS Union
Len McCluskey
Unite the Union, General Secretary
Steve Turner
Unite the Union, Assistant General Secretary
Frances O’Grady
General Secretary, Trades Union Congress
Wes Streeting
Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Ilford North
Jessica Asato
Labour Paliamentary candidate for Norwich North

Finding your voice

SIR – Mary Beard wonders how we overcome the problem of women’s voices being ignored or labelled with derogatory words such as whine, whinge and strident.

First we need to address where women stand in our society; we must look to issues of equal pay, our domestic role and the nurturing of children. We should enjoy being women and what we have to contribute to the whole – neither better or worse than men, but different. Once we’ve overcome these obstacles, our voices will most certainly be heard as valued members of society.

Gillian Cohen
Hale, Cheshire

Flying jackets

SIR – I used to have access to subload seats on planes, where staff are entitled to travel on a space-available basis. In order to take advantage of this, I was obliged to dress smartly (collar, tie, jacket, no jeans) to “fit in” with first-class passengers. The irony was that the wealthy first-class passengers would, more often than not, be dressed down, not up, so I would be rather conspicuous.

Jeremy Burton
Reading, Berkshire

A fine nose

SIR – My wife is allergic to moulds and fungi, and can tell instantly upon entering a building if it has dry rot . She could make a fortune this way.

John Goulding
Potters Bar, Hertfordshire

Re-purposed heritage

SIR – Sir George White laments the Ministry of Defence’s plans for Larkhill aerodrome. This week, the local planning committee consigned RAF Hucknall, near Nottingham, to a future of houses and industrial units.

First opened in 1916 it was, from 1935, Rolls-Royce’s flight test establishment. All of the great engines were initially flown from there, from the Kestrel, through the famous Merlin, which powered Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mosquitoes, and heavy bombers, to the RB211 and its derivatives that contribute to this country’s kudos and export earnings. Airborne tests of the original Whittle gas turbine began as early as 1942, followed by the first flight of a Mustang with the Merlin engine, the world’s first turbo-prop aircraft, supersonic military jets, and the “Flying Bedstead” which tested jet-powered vertical take-off, leading directly to the Harrier jump-jet.

Why must we squander our heritage?

David Smith
Calverton, Nottinghamshire

School age

SIR – I was glad to read of the mother’s victory in keeping her son, whose birthday falls at the end of August, at home for another year before starting formal schooling (report, March 21).

When my son was three, he was only just starting to talk and hated being left at a crèche once a week. Luckily, we were living abroad, and my husband’s company paid the fees at the local expat school from the child’s fifth birthday. Starting school at five was right for him: he is currently at Oxford, studying engineering sciences.

Marilyn Leary
Worcester

Urban pests

SIR – We share Anthony Vickery’s experience of torment by grey squirrel.

Mr Vickery lives in the woods; we live on the top of a block in the Barbican in London. Squirrels have ruined our roof terrace and we have even caught one little monster munching on a vase of roses in our drawing room: it had entered via a slightly open window 200ft up from the street.

The pest control department of the City of London squeamishly refuses to deal with this nuisance (although they willingly exterminate other kinds of vermin).

So where do I find some buzzards?

Richard Lynam
London, EC2

Bletchley Park vs the Museum of Computing

SIR –The Bletchley Park Trust (BPT) says it “bent over backwards to cut the struggling computer museum a good deal in a joint-ticketing proposal for the National Museum of Computing.

At first sight, single-ticketing seemed to be a major step forward in relations between the two, but the offer included a section implicitly questioning the ownership of the Colossus Rebuild.

The National Museum of Computing could not accept a deal with such an unnecessary and provocative statement. The working rebuild of Colossus, the world’s first electronic computer, which cracked the most complex cipher of the Second World War and altered the course of the war, is the highlight of most people’s visit to Bletchley Park. The Colossus Rebuild has been maintained and displayed by the museum for many years through a long-term agreement with Colossus Rebuild Limited.

The “good deal” also failed to recompense the museum adequately for making the Colossus Rebuild available free of charge to Bletchley Park Trust visitors for many years despite calls by the museum since 2008 for fair recompense in the form of a rent and utilities discount. The Computing Museum faced an annual bill of more than £100,000 in rent and utilities from Bletchley Park Trust.

We hope that the Board of BPT will agree to an independent review so that the full facts can be addressed by third parties and the situation finally resolved so that a globally important heritage site can be an inspiration for future generations.

Tim Reynolds (Chairman)
Kevin Murrell (Deputy Chairman)
Andy Clark
Matt Crotty
Margaret Sale
Bob Willett
Kevin Murrell

Trustees of the National Museum of Computing

 

SIR – We welcome the move by the Chancellor in the Budget to reduce the cost of flyingto growth economies such as China and Brazil.

The next priority should be to ensure that there are the aeroplanes and routes to bring people to and from existing destinations in these markets as well as to new cities in China, Brazil and other growth economies.

One of the biggest barriers to Britain trading more with growing economies is a lack of connectivity. A long-term solution that will deliver a fundamental change in boosting trade is expansion of our airports.

To enhance Britain’s economic competitiveness and our status as a global aviation hub, before the next general election the leaders of all the main parties should commit to airport expansion.

Gavin Hayes

Director, Let Britain Fly

Baroness Jo Valentine

Chief Executive, London First

Mark Boleat

Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee, City of London Corporation

John Allan

Chairman, Dixons Retail

Sue Brown

Senior Managing Director, FTI Consulting

Sir George Iacobescu

Chairman and Chief Executive, Canary Wharf Group

Ufi Ibrahim

Chief Executive, British Hospitality Association

Andrew Murphy

Retail Director, John Lewis Partnership

David Sleath

Chief Executive Officer, SEGRO PLC

Sir Martin Sorrell

Chief Executive, WPP

Colin Stanbridge

Chief Executive, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Simon Walker

Director General, Institute of Directors

Mike Cherry

National Policy Chairman, FSB

Tony Pidgley

Group Chairman, Berkeley Group

Iain Anderson

Director and Chief Corporate Counsel, Cicero Group

Surinder Arora

Founder/CEO, Arora International

Dr Eamonn Butler

Director, Adam Smith Institute

Gordon Clark

Country Manager, Global Blue

Richard Dickinson

Chief Executive, New West End Company

Robert Elliott

Chairman and Senior Partner, Linklaters LLP

Chris Grigg

Chief Executive, British Land

Dale Keller

Chief Executive, Board of Airline Representatives in the UK

George Kessler

Group Deputy Chairman, Kesslers International

Tim Knox

Director, Centre for Policy Studies

John Lehal

Managing Director, Insight Public Affairs

John Morgan

Chief Executive Office, Morgan Sindall Group PLC

Theo de Pencier

Chief Executive, Freight Transport Association

John Rhodes

Director, Quod

James Rook

Managing Director, Nimlok LTD

James Rowntree

Managing Director Transportation, CH2M Hill

Francis Salway

Chair, Open for Business Champions

Hugh Seaborn

Chief Executive, Cadogan

Inderneel Singh

General Manager, The May Fair Hotel London

Michael Tobin

Chief Executive, TelecityGroup PLC

Paul Wait

CEO, Guild of Travel Management Companies

Ian Reeves

Senior Partner LLP

Richard Fursland

hief Executive Officer, BritishAmerican Business

Gary Forster

xecutive Director, Turley

Bob Rothenberg

enior Partner, Blick Rothenberg

Sir John Ritblat

Chairman of Governors, LBS

SIR – George Osborne’s announcement of an increase in Air Passenger Duty (APD) for the business jet industry clearly positions operators on the Continent at an unfair advantage over their British counterparts, following a recent survey from the Baltic Air Charter Association suggesting that 25 per cent of non-British business jet operators avoid paying APD.

Yet again the Government is picking on an industry which, according to the latest figures from 2008, contributed 4.2 billion euros to the British economy.

With a potential 50 per cent increase in the amount of APD, some British-based business jet operators will be less able to compete with the rest of Europe. The Chancellor continues to cripple an industry that is a major contributor to the British economy with a duty that was originally proposed as an environmental tax but has simply been absorbed by the Treasury.

Patrick Margetson-Rushmore
Chief Executive, London Executive Aviation
Stapleford Tawney, Essex

SIR – The scrapping of the scandalous annuity handcuffs is welcome, but we must be cautious. Pensioners will now be able to spend their own hard-earned money, but we need to avoid the flow of this money offshore to holiday properties, hotels, cruises and luxury goods – none of which will fuel the recovery in Britain. I would like to see pensioners invest and spend their cash on things that benefit Britain, and not the Costa Brava.

While it is their money, it was invested tax-free and some restrictions or incentives on its use would be appropriate.

Dr David Cottam
Dormansland, Surrey

SIR – As a result of the Chancellor’s budget, I watched my shares in Aviva and William Hill plummet on Wednesday (thanks, George). My only consolation was that Ed Miliband’s credibility plummeted even further.

Tony Bullock
Kirby Le Soken, Essex

 

 

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

 

2:30 AM

Madam – Martin Callinan succeeded admirably in one thing. His rather sly tapping into the Irish psyche by linking the evidence of two members of the Garda with the nation’s suspicions of “informers” would do credit to anyone wishing to muddy the water.

Also in this section

No new politics on offer

Quotas contrary to equal opportunity

Monumental achievements

The Sunday Independent banner headline had a politician pleading that we must protect the “whistleblower.” Much like we must protect the white-tailed eagle or some rare bird that is threatened. The pellet-riddled body of a white-tailed eagle tells us how quickly a rare species can be wiped out. That only two men from a force of 14,000 plus (not counting retired members) felt compelled to speak out, tells us how scared the rest are. Or are they so steeped in endemic sloppy practice that right and wrong are now blurred into grey?

The penalty points fiasco has permeated all of Irish life, in particular the ruling and influential classes. It is alleged points were wiped out across the pillars of society and its four estates. That erosion comes at a price. Sometimes it’s a favour returned and sometimes it’s just pointed silence and a nod of the head the other direction. That the whistleblower is seen as some lesser spotted oddity and needs protection surely is amazing.

In a true democracy both the Minister for Justice and Garda Commissioner would be gone by now. This won’t happen, because in Ireland we avoid sword-falling like an alcoholic avoids lemonade. However the body politic and a once grand institution is now dragged down to the level that the Catholic Church is viewed over its dealings with the various abuses.

Well done to all concerned including the rather silent Garda unions who left two honest colleagues swivel on a stick. One assumes the next government will appoint an outsider with managerial experience and a strong constitution to head the Garda force.

That whistleblowers need protection, that it merits a front page headline, is an indication of how far into the slime we as a people have sunk.

John Cuffe,

Dunboyne, Co Meath

Monumental achievements

Madam – I was almost in full agreement with Declan Lynch (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014) on his assessment of the Failte Ireland/Inspire Ireland promotional video, which I found cringe-inducing.

However, I took exception to his analysis of the video caption “Newgrange is older than the Pyramids and Stonehenge” when he declared “this could simply mean we’ve been reducing everything to ruins longer than anyone else”.

Newgrange is, of course, not in ruins but rather is one of the best-preserved Neolithic monuments in the world. It is almost incomprehensible that our ancestors, some 5,000 years ago, had such knowledge of the seasons and the trajectory of the sun and that when at its lowest azimuth on a single day in December they were able to harness its sunlight through a narrow channel to a central chamber. If this is not something we should use in promoting tourism in Ireland, then I’m not sure what else should qualify.

John Bellew,

Dunleer, Co Louth

OVER-EDUCATED, UNDEREMPLOYED

Madam – The comments by Declan Lynch (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014) were timely and true.

This Government is a real letdown in my view. All we can now aspire to as a country is to get a job working for an American. Since jobs are being shed at the same time, are we running after a receding train?

It seems that cars that can drive themselves will appear in the near future – they are almost ready. What will this do to those earning a living by driving?

We have more university qualifications than ever before. Yet all they do is ship off to Australia for a job. I once believed that education would help end unemployment and emigration, through empowerment. Why is this not the case?

Those who voted in the Government can hardly slate it now. What can sheep expect but to be slaughtered – or, as the Greeks say: “We are not the Irish.”

John Arthur,

Dublin 16

PRIDE IN ‘FOUR PROUD PROVINCES’

Madam – May I echo the words of David Scott from Belfast (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014) regarding Ireland’s Call. Yes it will take time to grow a fondness and attachment to it, but it is those words – “The four proud provinces of Ireland” – that stir me. It is a precious thing to see the 32 counties represent Ireland, and long may it continue and grow to all sports regardless of your political alliance. As a very proud Irishman I am humbled to see our men from Ulster wear the green of Ireland with the passion and pride they do.

Michael Fitzgerald,

Jersey, Channel Islands

CALL US BY OUR PROPER NAME

Madam –As a long-term reader, I am sick sore and tired of your correspondents referring to my country, Northern Ireland, as ‘The North’.

Why can’t these people use the proper term and give our country the respect it deserves? Better still, why don’t you set an example by living up to the sub-heading of your letters page and exercise your right to ‘edit where necessary’?

John McClung,

Kells, Co Antrim

NO SPEEDY FIX TO ROGUE POINTS

Madam – Following further revelations about the state of the administration of the penalty points system, I wonder if any of your readers are in the same position as myself.

When, in December 2013, I was notified that two points had been put on my licence for a speeding offence, I discovered somewhat alarmingly that I already had two points belonging to another driver.

Numerous letters, phone calls and emails have resulted in me being one step nearer to having the rogue points removed.

However, as the first offence took place in June 2011 and points cannot be removed retrospectively, I will have points on my licence for six years for one offence.

Robert Brown,

Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary

SILVER SCOTT MEDAL IS NO JOKE

Madam – Eoghan Harris proposed that the silver Scott medal be awarded to the Garda “whistleblowers” (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014). Surely he jests.

There are few Scott medals presented, and when done, it is for bravery displayed in the face of great personal danger.

Gardai, willing to put their lives on the line for the greater good, are a treasure to be cherished.

Fergus Moroney,

Castlegregory, Co Kerry

PERFECT POSITION FOR POETIC JUSTICE

Madam – How sad to read on the front page (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014) “that two district judges named in the whistleblower file on penalty points, each had their points removed three times, and points were also removed for the spouse of one of the judges”.

“This revelation is particularly serious in light of the fact that it is district judges who adjudicate on a daily basis on citizens who face the imposition of penalty points on foot of charges under the road traffic acts.”

This article continued on to page two, and it was so appropriate to read on page three opposite, a poem, The Madness of Mammon, by Anthony Cronin: “The sins of the rulers shall be visited on the people, forever and ever. The poorer we are, the more honest we’re required to be.”

This poem could have been a continuation of the penalty points story, and was so appropriate in the context of recent events. Oh dear, things never change.

John M Hunt,

Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo

WHISTLEBLOWERS DESERVE AWARDS

Madam – I agree with both Eoghan Harris and Gene Kerrigan that whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and John Wilson should be praised for the work they’ve done in exposing malpractice. The fact that this Government, and in particular the Minister for Justice, has refused to do so shows a government unrepresentative of the people it serves.

There is a way, however, that the people can show their appreciation and also embarrass the Government into doing the same. Log on to the “People of the Year” website and nominate the two whistleblowers. Then when the Taoiseach has to present them with their award it might dawn on him that his loyalty should have been to the people of Ireland, not his buddies the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner.

Kevin Conry,

Mullingar, Co Westmeath

 

FOI BILL IS A RETROGRADE STEP

Madam – In her critique of Minister Howlin’s FOI Bill (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014), Emer O’Kelly notes, I assume sardonically, that the minister “wants to give the little man and woman the right to find out how the great public and semi-private corporations are operating on their behalf”.

The minister richly deserves a derisive tone to overlay any analysis of his plan for the FOI Bill. While purporting to herald a new era of transparency, a section of this bill actually takes us in the opposite direction.

The current law requires public bodies to make known to the public, information regarding their operations across a range of categories, (sections 15 and 16 FOI Act 1997). The new bill abolishes this legal requirement and instead gives the power to the public institutions to decide what they will make public.

In addition, the minister is vested with new powers to decide what information will be published and to revise such information if he “thinks fit” to do so: Section 8 FOI Bill.

In his defence, the minister has said that a new “code of practice and guidelines” will contain publication requirements for the public bodies, but this code and guidelines are not specified in the text of the law – and it is what is printed in the text of the statute that matters.

This is an incredibly retrograde step that urgently requires the retention of the current law and not a ‘make it up as you go along’ charter, which is what the bill proposes.

John Sullivan,

Dublin 7

No new politics on offer

Madam – ‘Revolution’ or ‘busted flush’? (“Enda’s revolution needs heads to roll,” Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014); tossed stir-fried ratatouille or drab ‘deja vu’? What does this non-Government now offer us?

Some of us suggested, back in 2008 or so, that TDs should take Edmund Burke‘s definition of their mandate seriously, remove the flaked-out Cowen regime and form the equivalent of a National Government to confront what was clearly a national emergency.

Such a patriotic and pragmatic leap outside the box suited nobody in Leinster House. Everybody had their own blinkered reason for waiting for the then ‘Administration’ to collapse so that they could cherry-pick the carcase.

Professor Morgan Kelly may or may not be correct in his identification of the runaway locomotive coming hurtling down the track. What we can state with some certainty is that the EU is not yet ready to ‘work’ in the way it was intended to. For the benefit and security of all its members – particularly the smaller, more ‘open’ and vulnerable. Such as ourselves.

You, Madam, have done your best to encourage us, the Plain People of Ireland, to generate ‘a new politics’. I see no coherent and potentially politically effective group in Leinster House offering the long, hard road to such a new politics.

When I vote on May 23, I will see no such group of candidates on the ballot paper. However, time is short and if we do not take control of the locomotive of history soon, it will drag us, sleep-walking, to oblivion.

Maurice O’Connell,

Tralee, Co Kerry

Quotas contrary to equal opportunity

Madam – Regarding Emer O’Kelly’s article (Sunday Independent, March 9, 2014) on gender quotas and Sheila O’Flanagan’s response (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014), Ms O’Kelly’s article is the more convincing of the two in terms of reasoning and logic.

While Ms O’Flanagan is undoubtedly correct in saying that men in high positions do not always owe their status to being the best persons for their jobs on the basis of ability, quotas raise serious issues of their own.

As someone who has voted for women candidates in the past, I regret to say that the introduction of quotas will make me think twice about doing so in future because it will be impossible to know if such candidates have been chosen primarily for their ability or primarily to fill a quota.

This is a valid point, and I quite fail to follow Ms O’Flanagan’s reasoning when she says: “Such a belief is only possible if it is the case that all the male incumbents . . . are the best person for the job by reason of ability.”

Quotas are, by their very nature, obstacles to choosing the best persons on the basis of individual merit and are contrary to the concept of equality of opportunity, which is not the same thing as equality of outcome.

The supposed need for quotas seems to be based on the simplistic egalitarian premise that just because men and women are roughly equal in numbers in the general population, this should be reflected in every profession or occupation, and at every level, on the grounds that gender imbalances are always due to “sexism” and past or present discrimination, whether direct or indirect.

I do agree there are a few instances in which gender quotas could be justified, and one of these is in relation to education. UK research suggests that boys’ academic performance has suffered relative to that of girls because of the shortage of male teachers in both primary and secondary schools, a shortage which is especially acute in the former. Research also suggests there’s a preference among teachers for teaching girls, which, if correct, bodes ill for boys in the context of a female-dominated teaching profession. However, given today’s PC climate, there’s little chance of a serious debate on these matters anytime soon.

Hugh Gibney,

Athboy, Co Meath

OBJECTORS SPOUT ‘TOKEN’ MANTRA

Madam – Sheila O’Flanagan’s criticism of the people who have objections to the long overdue efforts to get more women on the ballot papers in the next general election is apt and to the point (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014).

The message from the objectors is that the women on the ballot paper are ‘token’ and have no ability. The ‘token’ mantra will be repeated ad nauseam by insiders and incumbents from now till the general election and beyond.

We are told that, since independence, a mere five per cent of TDs have been women. The Dail is still 80-90 per cent male. Now when there is a chance that the more than 50 per cent of the electorate that are women might get more of their kind on the ballot paper, the insiders and the incumbents will fight tooth and nail to undermine the effort.

They should not succeed.

A Leavy,

Sutton, Dublin 13

CALLINAN SHOULD STAND DOWN

Madam – Gene Kerrigan’s piece (Sunday Independent, March 16, 2014) was a simple work of journalistic brilliance.

When I first heard and then read the Garda Commissioner’s comment on the whistleblowers, I thought to myself that I must have misheard him or not interpreted his thoughts correctly. Unfortunately I was wrong.

To think our Justice Minister and Taoiseach approve of him only makes the whole sorry episode even sadder.

It would be nice to think that by the time this comes to print our Commissioner would have resigned, but I won’t be holding my breath.

Sean Healy,

Waterford

 

 

Fridge

March 22, 2014

22 March 2014 Fridge

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to deliver an ambassdor, can they find the rght country? Priceless

Cold slightly better order undercounter fridge

Scrabbletoday Marywins, just,and gets under400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

 

Bob Millard, who has died aged 91, was a teenager in the Home Guard in 1940 when he was approached by a friend and asked if he wanted to join “something a bit more interesting”; the “something” was a secret group, the British Resistance Organisation, also known as the Auxiliary Units, composed of civilian saboteurs who would go into hiding and carry out guerrilla operations behind the lines in the event of a German invasion.

It was shortly after British forces had beaten a desperate retreat from Dunkirk that Winston Churchill ordered a battle-hardened colonel called Colin Gubbins to form the new organisation. At the time German forces were only 25 miles across the Channel and invasion seemed imminent. Unlike other, often poorly disciplined, freelance resistance movements that sprang up across Nazi-controlled Europe, Churchill was determined that the British version would be state-sponsored and meticulously planned in advance.

Gubbins selected a dozen regular Army intelligence officers to recruit local men, many from the Home Guard and many with an intimate knowledge of their local areas (gamekeepers and poachers were said to be particularly popular recruits), and turn them into ruthless killers. “They should be solid chaps who are not likely to lose their heads under the sort of pressures that occupation brings,” one officer wrote of the character that was required, “quite ordinary types in normal, everyday jobs”.

Millard was one of thousands who signed up. “I said yes and they asked me all sorts of questions and then a week later I was contacted and told: ‘You can join.’ I had to sign the Official Secrets Act before being told we were to go underground and come up behind enemy lines in the event of an invasion…It was not whether there was going to be an invasion, but when it was going to come.”

Gubbins established his new HQ at Coleshill House, a stately home in Wiltshire, where recruits were trained in the dark arts of sabotage, stealth and silent killing. “We were trained in how to set up a charge, the best place to blow a railway line, how to tackle a sentry with a knife or garrotte — how to move around quietly at night,” Millard recalled.

After training he was issued with explosives, weapons and vital supplies and returned to a “normal” civilian life. In the event of an invasion, however, as a member of the Bathhampton Patrol, he was to report to his unit’s operational base (OB) in an 18th-century stone mine near Bath. This was one of hundreds of hideouts around the country, many of them dug out in woodland in the dead of night so that no one would know they were there. The OBs were so well hidden that many remain undiscovered to this day.

Millard’s patrol would regularly practise what they had been taught at Coleshill and also identified possible targets to attack in the event of a German invasion (including the main London to Bristol railway line and Claverton Manor – a local country house deemed a likely candidate for a German HQ). On one occasion the patrol staged a practice night attack on the airfield at Colerne to test their skills as well as the defences of the RAF unit guarding the airfield. During the exercise the patrol’s sergeant was taken captive, only to be “rescued” by Millard and other members of the patrol. They also captured a captain and flight sergeant and placed dummy explosives on the target planes before getting away.

Men in the Auxiliary Units were expected to last for about two weeks before they were either captured or killed. Though Millard was never given this depressing prognosis, he knew that the reality of invasion would have been brutal. Auxiliers, as they were known, were expected to ignore German reprisals among people in their own localities and were instructed never to be taken alive: “We were told at Coleshill that if a colleague was badly wounded he was to be shot. It was made clear if you were captured you would be executed — but before that you’d be tortured,” he recalled. “The story was that some patrols were given suicide pills because you weren’t to be caught.” Millard felt “apprehensive” but not scared. “There was a job that needed doing so you volunteered to do it,” he said. “You didn’t think much more deeply about it.”

By the middle of 1941 Hitler had turned his attention to the Soviet Union and the immediate threat to Britain had passed. However the Auxiliary Units were kept in place until November 1944, when they were stood down.

Millard received a letter of thanks at the end of the war and a small lapel badge, but for the next 50 years no one knew about the Auxiliary Units. Millard had sworn an oath of secrecy and even his wife was unaware of his involvement. “You just didn’t talk about it, really,” he said. “As far as my family were aware I was still in the Home Guard. It was all very hush, hush. After the war, it was water under the bridge.”

It was not until 1994, when a reunion was held to mark the 50th anniversary of the stand-down of the Auxiliary Units — and the end of the 50-year silence decreed by the Official Secrets Act – that Millard himself became aware of just how substantial the organisation had been. One of his fellow guests was a man with whom he had played rugby in 1941, neither being aware that the other was an Auxilier. He was also surprised to discover that, in addition to his own unit, there had been 10 other patrols around Bath alone.

In later years Millard was instrumental in helping to found the Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team (CART), a group of volunteers that has been uncovering the story of Britain’s Resistance Army and which has unearthed the remains of many of the underground bunkers from which Millard and his comrades would have launched their clandestine raids on the enemy.

He became the principal spokesman for CART, helping to educate the public, and in 2012 he opened a replica operational base at Coleshill House, cutting the ribbon with a Fairburns Sykes knife – the main assassination weapon issued to the units.

CART’s campaign for members of the Auxiliary Units to be included in the Remembrance Day march was crowned with success last year when former members were invited to participate in the Cenotaph ceremony. Sadly Millard was too ill to attend.

Robert Millard was born in Bath on New Year’s Day 1923 and educated at the City of Bath Boys’ School. After leaving school in July 1940 he became a student teacher and joined the Local Defence Volunteers (the Home Guard).

By 1942 the immediate threat of invasion had diminished and members of Millard’s Auxiliary Unit were allowed to volunteer for other services. Millard joined the Fleet Air Arm as aircrew and was subsequently involved in anti-submarine patrols and attacks on Tirpitz off Norway, eventually serving with the British Pacific Fleet. In September 1945 he was aboard Formidable when the aircraft carrier survived several kamikaze attacks while supporting the landings on Okinawa. He became a member of the “Goldfish Club”(with bar) having survived going down “in the drink” in an aircraft on two occasions, in May and November 1944.

After demob, Millard trained as a teacher at Loughborough Training College and joined the staff at City of Bath Technical College. In 1953 he returned to Loughborough Training College as a teacher and remained there for the rest of his working life, becoming head of the department of creative design at what is now Loughborough University. During his time there he ran the college British Sub Aqua Club and became a National Diving Instructor.

Bob Millard married Josephine Bond in 1946. She died in September last year and he is survived by their son and daughter.

Bob Millard, born January 1 1923, died March 15 2014

 

 

Guardian:

 

We believe that education, like healthcare, is a fundamental social good, one that benefits both individual students and society as a whole (Report, 21 March). We believe that everyone should have an equal right, during a formative period of their lives, to pursue their own interests for their own sake. The ability to exercise this right should not be filtered by wealth and privilege, or be determined by the current priorities of the labour market. Still less should it be decided by those who might profit from any imminent increase in student debt, or from the erosion of staff pay and conditions.

As a matter of principle we oppose the ongoing privatisation and marketisation of education at all levels, and any accompanying increase in staff workloads, casualisation and precarity. We reject in particular the neoliberal logic used to justify the recent introduction of (and subsequent increases in) university tuition fees. We believe that progressive taxes on wealth and income, rather than fees and loans, are the appropriate ways to pay for social goods. We do not want the future of education to be decided by the divisive, market-driven race to the bottom that is overtaking staff and students alike, and we are encouraged by the steps recently taken, in places like Germany, Chile and Québec, as a result of collective pressure, to reduce or eliminate tuition fees and to reclaim education as a universal right.

We call on our government, our university community and our colleagues in other universities to reject the marketisation of education, to abolish tuition fees, and to ensure that provision of all further and higher education is restored to the public, not-for-profit sector.
Éadaoin Agnew Senior lecturer, English literature
Eric Alliez Professor, Philosophy
Paul Auerbach Reader, economics
Etienne Balibar Professor, Philosophy
Robert Blackburn Professor and associate dean for reesearch, faculty of business and management
Fred Botting Professor, English literature and creative writing
Mary Brady Senior lecturer, nursing
Beth Brewster Associate professor and head of department, Journalism and Publishing
Howard Caygill Professor, Philosophy
Howard Chadwick Senior lecturer, mental health
Tina Chanter Professor and head of department, humanities
Simon Choat Senior lecturer, politics and international relations
Jonathan Chu Senior lecturer, dance
Radu Cinpoes Senior lecturer, politics and international relations
Valerie Coultas Director of studies, education
Martin Dines Senior lecturer, English literature
Paul Dixon Reader, politics and international relations
Ilaria Favretto Professor, politics
Peter Finn Lecturer, politics and international relations
Korina Giaxoglou Senior lecturer, linguistics
Carlie Goldsmith Senior lecturer, criminology
Peter Hallward Professor, philosophy
Sue Hawkins Senior lecturer, history
Peter Haywood (retired) Senior lecturer, faculty of business studies and law
Andrew Higginbottom Principal lecturer, politics and international relations
Atsuko Ichijo Senior lecturer, politics
Marina Isaac HPL, Economics
Meg Jensen Associate professor, English literature and creative writing
Reem Kayyali Pharmacy practice field leader, pharmacy and chemistry
Ann Kettyle Senior lecturer, nursing
Marina Lambrou Head of department, linguistics and languages
Amanda Latimer Sessional lecturer, politics
Marisa Linton Reader, history
Karen Lipsedge Associate professor, English literature
Catherine Malabou Professor, philosophy
John Ó Maoilearca Professor, film and television studies
Martin McQuillan Professor and dean, faculty of arts and social sciences
Paul Micklethwaite Senior research fellow, the design school
Simon Morgan Wortham Professor and associate dean for research, faculty of arts and social sciences
Catherine O’Brien Senior lecturer, film studies and French
Peter Osborne Professor, Philosophy
Winsome Pinnock Senior lecturer, creative writing
Jason Piper Director of studies, dance and drama
Maria Ponto Associate professor, nursing
Sam Raphael Senior lecturer, politics and international relations
Trish Reid Associate professor, performance and screen studies
Mike Roberts (retired) director of studies, history and politics
David Rogers Director, Kingston writing school
Stella Sandford Reader, philosophy
Mike Searby Principal lecturer, music
Jalal Uddin Siddiki Senior lecturer, economics
Jackie Smart Head of department, drama
Philip Spencer Professor, politics and international relations
Engelbert Stockhammer Professor, economics
John Stuart Associate professor, history
Eleanor Suess Associate professor, architecture and landscape
Allan Swift Lecturer, school of performing studies
Sara Upstone Associate professor, English literature
Frédéric Vallée-Tourangeau Professor, psychology
Julian Wells Director of studies, economics
Scott Wilson Professor, film and television studies

The thing that struck me most forcefully about the graphic in your budget special (20 March) was that, in terms of the amount spent on defence, we rank behind only the world’s superpower states of the US, China and Russia and the super-profligate state of Saudi Arabia. What on earth are we spending this huge amount on? Why?
Dr Neil Denby
Denby Dale, West Yorkshire

• The Serota, the triple mixed metaphor, was first noted here (Letters, 25 January). TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has achieved one in just nine words: “A welfare cap that bites into the safety net” (Vote blue, go grey, 20 March).
David Bernstein
Croydon, Surrey

• I don’t know about Heaven (Letters, 19 March), but I’ve been to Valhalla. You take the Harlem line from Central Station, New York. It takes about 45 minutes.
John Baldwin
Silverdale, Lancashire

• My mum, Edna Dashwood, worked as a draughtswoman in Portsmouth dockyard during the war. The joke was that it was possible to make several HMS Victories from all the souvenir pieces that had been sold (Letters, 21 March).
Mark Hebert
St Ives, Cambridgeshire

• As a 77-year-old Guardian reader, I am finding the widespread use of acronyms difficult to cope with. This week’s G2 dealing with youth subcultures was perhaps meant to say to us geriatrics look at what we can get away with today. However, instead of saying “What the fuck?!” you chose to acronymise it to “WTF?!”
William Burgess
Leeds

• Generation Y people who think they’re forgotten must attend a UK Uncut demo. They’ll find everyone from students to grannies (and sometimes Polly Toynbee), all united in anger, outrage and comradeship.
David Redshaw (70)
Gravesend, Kent

• Now that Generation Y have enlightened us all regarding their plight, I suggest they form a political movement to further their cause. They could call it the Generation Y Front.
Tim Wood
Northallerton, North Yorkshire

 

Campaigners welcome the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service that it is in the public interest to prosecute the three G4S custody officers in relation to the death in their custody of Jimmy Mubenga (Report, 21 March). Jimmy was due to be deported on 10 October 2010, but he never left Heathrow. On the British Airways flight he was heard to cry out, “Help me, I am dying”. As his wife Adrienne Kambana says: “He died alone like an animal.” Campaigners recognise that the CPS has had the opportunity to review the material in its possession, following the unlawful killing verdict at the inquest in July 2013 and it has arrived at the correct decision. The time is surely ripe for the law to be so drafted that companies whose employees are alleged to have committed such crimes will face the same charges as the individuals they employ. Statutory authorities should consider carefully whether they wish to employ such companies.
Diana Neslen
Campaign co-ordinator, Stop G4S

 

 

While I am not sure that garden cities are the answer to our housing shortage, the chancellor’s recent announcement for a “real garden city” to be built in Ebbsfleet contains, at least, a vestige of possibly unintentional vision.

Inexplicably, our housing shortage is normally discussed only as a problem of logistics and delivery. When did we relinquish the ambition to build new communities and resort, instead, to speaking only of housing numbers?

The largely unpopular (but not always unsuccessful) post-war attempts at co-ordinated and planned housing estates seem to have convinced us that such desires are futile, playing into the hands of housebuilders, who are given license to deliver their market-friendly but socially and environmentally disastrous product: acres of cul-de-sac estates devoid of any notion of the collective potential to organise housing in a meaningful manner.

Delivering housing should be different to delivering cars or washing machines, since the manner by which you place houses together has the possibility of creating not only streets and squares, but also the potential to create a meaningful sense of place and community.

Such opportunities and possibilities used to captivate our imagination and focus our ideas of society. When did we resign ourselves to talking about society without striving to give it shape? Do we have to wait for our next Olympics in order to give rhetoric and idea a physical form by co-ordinating resources in the name of something beyond what can be justified solely in practical and logistical terms?

We are building the physical world for future generations, whether we accept the responsibility or not. By default, we plan our cities and towns primarily as a response and a reaction to pressures. By calling our planners “development control officers”, we confess our retreat from the position that it might be possible to do anything meaningful. Instead, our poor planners are left to man the barricades of mediocrity, charged with preventing the worst from happening.

When did we decide that beautiful towns and cities were a thing of the past? Or do we really believe that can be built without planning them, by allowing the market to deliver them? Why would free enterprise insist on a park or a square, on a kindergarten or a playground, on a public swimming pool or any other non-commercial element in a situation that does not offer the incentive of financial gain?

The creation of large amounts of housing, similar in number to those required after the war, forces us to confront this problem seriously, not as an issue only of numbers and volume, but as a representation of social priorities and civic pride. Providing fast trains and new airports might be essential, but taking care of our built world, providing good homes and shaping the meaningful physical environment that nurtures communities must be just as important for the soul and spirit of the nation.

The chancellor’s plan for Ebbsfleet may well make good commercial and practical sense, but if we do not take such opportunities to lead with ideas and a vision of how to create community, then we will have squandered the chance to show that there are other considerations when building housing beyond commercial pressures or political expediency.
David Chipperfield
David Chipperfield Architects

 

Donald Braben and others ask for suggestions on how to support and encourage “maverick” scientists to pursue open-ended research (Letters, 19 March). One way is to encourage scientists to move from one institution to another, so they do not become set in the orthodox thinking of one particular group of peers. In former years, the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 used to award research fellowships to applicants intending to pursue research in any institution in the Commonwealth other than the one he/she currently worked in; and, most unusually and importantly, did not require applicants to submit any research proposal. On arriving at their chosen institution, they could pursue any project they liked. This is the kind of support mavericks need. Sadly, the 1851 Commission nowadays requires applicants to submit a research proposal, in line with the practice of other funding bodies. They – and other funding bodies – should rethink this conservative and risk-averse policy.
Rupert Lee (former 1851 research fellow)
Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire

• Quoting Richard Feynman, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts”, Donald Braben and colleagues invite Guardian readers to suggest ways in which scientific mavericks could prosper again. I am reminded of the story told by Milton Friedman about his erstwhile colleague, the maverick Hungarian-American physicist Leo Szilard: “When Szilard applied for grants he always proposed to do experiments that he had in fact already done, so that he could use the money for research whose outcome he could not predict. The system worked perfectly until one year his application was rejected on the grounds that the proposed experiment was impossible.”Rather than relying on this kind of subterfuge, we need at least a modest funding stream where the sole criterion for future funding is, overtly, the quality and originality of the applicant’s recent past research. In this way, top research would be rewarded by giving successful applicants the freedom to find their own new blue skies. In science, as in other walks of life, one of the best predictors of future success is past success.
PN Pusey
Malvern, Worcestershire

• The scientists advocating that more of their colleagues should become mavericks forgot to mention that their lives will inevitably suffer if they take this approach. For example, the careers of notable modern heretics like Peter Duesberg (HIV is not the cause of Aids), Arpad Pusztai (GM foods can be dangerous), Jacques Benveniste (memory of water) all suffered dramatically under the weight of attacks by the science establishment. It is also often said that Sir Fred Hoyle was denied a Nobel prize because of his support for the idea that life comes from space and for maintaining that the chemical origin of life is a statistical impossibility. Heretics may expect protection from other academics, but this is rarely forthcoming; as the saying goes “academic freedom is there to protect academics from their colleagues”. As for peer review, it is designed to prevent paradigm shifts. Where would Darwin have been had his famous (and unrefereed) book been peer-reviewed by the likes of arch anti-evolutionist Richard Owen?
Professor Milton Wainwright
Sheffield

• Like the Ancient Greeks, the maverick philosopher Hegel used dialectics to distinguish physics from metaphysics, and right political authority from not-right political authority. Like the Ancient Greeks, Hegel regarded enlightenment as people using physics to extend their understanding of the world beyond their natural horizons, to include abstract people – future humankind. Like the Ancient Greeks, Hegel recognised that “all power corrupts”. Like the Ancient Greeks, Hegel developed dialectics to repudiate the tendency of political authority to become self-validating and alienated from the rest of the population.

Hegel’s method for mitigating the tendency of political authority to become self-validating and alienated was for maverick philosophers to teach the rest of the population to critique all political authority according to whether it meets the needs of future humankind. Hegel, like the Ancient Greeks, regarded the rest of nature as unchanged by the course of history. Maverick philosopher Feuerbach recognised that, unlike other animals, humans deliberately change the rest of nature, because that is how they cultivate themselves – by deliberately cultivating their habitats. Prompted by Feuerbach, Marx and Engels famously “turned Hegel on his head, or rather his feet”. The Marxist method for mitigating the tendency of political authority to become self-validating and alienated is for maverick philosophers and scientists to teach the rest of the population to critique all political authority according to whether it cultivates humankind and the rest of nature.
Steve Ballard
London

 

 

Independent:

 

 

Times:

Sir, The Chancellor’s pensions revolution will allow people to get their hands on their own money and do with it as they choose. This is in touch with traditional Tory values of individual freedom and certain to be extremely popular electorally. The notion that people sensible enough to save for their retirement are hardly likely to blow the lot in the first couple of years is persuasive.

However, no one knows how long they are going to live. Doubtless these newly enriched people will invest their money wisely to partly fund their retirement but this will only take them so far. The question is how quickly to run down their capital — a conundrum which the maligned annuity neatly addressed. Those dying early in retirement tended to fund those who just went on and on, with the insurance company absorbing any imbalance.

Under the new arrangements, it is the next generation who will benefit when early leavers pass on the residue of their lump sum to their families, but the State will have to pick up the tab for the ones more inclined to linger. The equilibrium currently managed by the insurance companies will no longer prevail. What might seem like an excellent vote-winning idea today may look less appealing in 20 or 30 years.

John Stone

Elton, Matlock

Sir, It is suggested that people may cash in their pension funds, squander the money and then claim benefits. They should know about the Deliberate Deprivation of Assets rule. They may find that they are still treated as having the capital they have squandered, and that they are not entitled to those benefits.

D. M. Milstone

Northwood, Middx

Sir, I wonder whether there is another reason for the pension reforms. Care costs continue to rise as our population ages. Will giving pensioners direct control of their funds enable councils to consider these assets as “realisable” when determining an individual’s ability to pay for retirement care?

Alun Marriott

Tudeley, Kent

Sir, All this hot air about pensioners blowing their pensions on fast cars, holiday homes and helping their children out with house purchase deposits — but the average pension pot is only around £30,000. A budget idea for the better off?

P. D. Cocks

Horns Cross, Devon

Sir, The pension changes may, ironically, hit young people hard.

Letting the over-55s raid their pension pots means that some will squander their assets and eventually fall back on the state, increasing the burden on the younger generation.

On average, people underestimate their life expectancy by almost five years, so individuals are not as well positioned as a third party to decide what to keep aside for their old age.

The freedom to withdraw pension assets means it will now be easy to avoid IHT — a loss to the Treasury and increasing the burden of national debt for future generations.

Many baby-boomers may withdraw pension savings to invest in buy-to-let properties which could well push up prices for first-time buyers and force more of them into renting for their whole lives. These young people, saving for a deposit, won’t have access to the Pensioner Bonds which Mr Osborne is subsidising for the over-65s.

Angus Hanton

Intergenerational Foundation

London SE24

 

 

 

Sir, We would like to register our satisfaction at the passing into law of the International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014, which attained Royal Assent on March 13.

This Act will, for the first time for any government in the world, place a statutory responsibility on the Secretary of State for International Development to take gender into account in decisions relating to how the UK’s overseas aid budget is allocated.

The Bill was originally proposed by a British charity, the Gender Rights and Equalities Action Trust (Great), and taken up by Bill Cash as a Private Member’s Bill (supported by Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development).

“Bill’s Bill” (as the initiative has become known) has received little media attention despite its powerful potential to tackle what Archbishop Desmond Tutu has described as “the greatest human rights abuse of the 21st century,” the continuing discrimination against half of the world’s population, often denying women the right to make a valuable contribution to the development of their nations or to be protected against violence and abuse.

From now on the Secretary of State for International Development will have to routinely consider issues like access to education and protection under the law against sexual exploitation and domestic violence.

We would like to thank The Times for being one of the few newspapers to report this good news story (“Britain shows the world the way — again”, Mar 8) and Parliament for its cross-party support for this Act which will directly benefit the millions touched by UK aid globally for years to come.

Karen Ruimy, Mariella Frostrup, Jason McCue (co-founders of Great), Maria Sukkar (trustee), Miriam Gonzalez Clegg, Elisabeth Murdoch, Gemma Mortensen, Vanessa Branson, Renee Zellwegger, Elle Macpherson, Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead, Baroness Nye, Baroness Kidron, Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho, Emma Freud, Lady Trimble, Dr Scilla Elworthy, Brigitte Lacombe, Jemima Khan

 

Sir, Susan Patton advises women to snap up husbands with their degree certificates (“How to marry well; meet at uni”, Mar 18). The same could be said of men, too. If a man puts off marriage for too long he may have to buy a wife from the Third World or Eastern Europe, which stamps him as a write-off. This is even more likely if he deteriorates physically — many men wear badly as they are not governed by the rigorous beauty industry.

Patton’s book belongs to a US tradition back through Jo Hemmings’ The Little Black Book (2006) and Ellen Fein’s The Rules (1995) to Marabel Morgan’s The Total Woman (1973). The kindest adjective is “quaint”. Let this tradition stay moored on the other side of the Atlantic.

Margaret Brown

Stoke-on-Trent

Sir, My wife and I enjoyed our ruby wedding last weekend, having met and married at Nottingham University. I have always said that I saw my 2:1 degree as a side-benefit.

Dudley George

Alnwick, Northumberland

 

Two readers report finding among their family memorabilia the name tags of First World War soldier relatives

Sir, You say (Mar 15) that in the First World War no British soldiers were issued with metal tags. I have an aluminium tag worn by my great-uncle, Thomas J. Brown of the Loyal North Lancs. He was killed on April 5, 1916, in Mesopotamia having survived Gallipoli. Could this, too, have been a self-made one or were some metal tags issued to some regiments?

Joyce Draycott

Wickhambrook, Suffolk

Sir, My family memorabilia includes an ID tag worn by my great-uncle William Arnold. He was a gunner on the Western Front in the First World War, then in the Ordnance Corps. The tag is solid silver and hallmarked Birmingham 1917. Unlike Private McAleer, Uncle Willy survived.

Harry Arnold

Alrewas, Staffs

 

The sport of climbing and swimming around Cornwall’s cliffs is first recorded around half a century ago

Sir, Coasteering began well before the 1970s (“Terror of woman trapped in a sea cave”, Mar 19). In his A Climber in the West Country (1968), E. C. Pyatt calls Arthur Westlake Andrews (1868-1959), who devoted a lifetime to the promotion of cliff climbing in West Cornwall, the father of coasteering. The book has a photo of the coasteering route “The Traverse of the Gods”, first climbed in 1963, which crosses Tilly Whim Caves where the recent tragic accident took place. It is a great day out on a warm summer’s day in calm seas but in adverse conditions would be best avoided.

Dr John Steers

Bristol

 

The Church of England may be in decline but some bits of it are flourishing vigorously — what is their secret?

Sir, Baroness Hale’s contention that observance in the Church of England is not rigorous enough may well be right in the abstract (“Church is in decline because Christianity is not demanding enough”, Mar 21) but the parallel fall-off in Catholic church attendance suggests the causes of English church decline are more diffuse and may well be more broadly cultural. What the Church of England has not so far considered in any detail is why cathedral attendances in contrast have been growing steadily in recent years. The cathedrals offer a more complex and traditional liturgy and high standards of preaching, music and service enactment. Meanwhile, parish church services such as Christingle, in which candles blaze throughout the church, appeal to young and old. Rural churches are often full. Can it be that what parishes need for growth is imaginative and creative liturgical life full of visual interest rather than reductive, barebones biblicist evangelism?

Peter Wood

Stainton, Cumbria

 

 

Telegraph:

 

SIR – Have other readers noticed how many actors wear their watches on their right wrist?

I have long held a theory that those children with artistic ability who cannot handle right-handed scissors channel their talents into the dramatic arts – as did my left-handed son, who is now a television drama producer.

J M K Jones
Copdock, Suffolk

 

SIR – The British sense of humour is famous around the world. Anyone who has watched Prime Minister’s Questions can see that even our MPs are funny – occasionally intentionally.

Satire is a vital tool for campaigning organisations to create debate, expose hypocrisy and change opinion. However, the importance of parody in public debate is not recognised in copyright law. This omission has led to the removal of material that is undoubtedly in the public interest – such as Greenpeace films taken down from YouTube.

Since 2005, two governments have run reviews on copyright, both of which said that there should be a copyright exception to allow parody.

We now have less than a week for the Government to commit to a vote. If it doesn’t, the opportunity to change the law may be postponed until after the next election. That isn’t funny. We call upon Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, and Lord Younger, the minister for intellectual property, to act now and ensure that an exception to copyright for parody is put into law.

Jenny Ricks
Director of Policy, ActionAid UK
Maureen Freely
President, English PEN
Kirsty Hughes
Chief Executive, Index on Censorship
John Sauven
Executive Director, Greenpeace UK
Thomas Hughes
Executive Director, ARTICLE 19
Ann Feltham
Parliamentary Co-ordinator, Campaign Against Arms Trade
Niall Cooper
Director, Church Action on Poverty
Simon Moss
Managing Director, Programs, Global Poverty Project
Phil Booth
Coordinator, medConfidential
Jim Killock
Executive Director, Open Rights Group

Malaysian mystery

SIR – Boris Johnson writes of the “agony of those poor relatives” who do not know the fate of the 239 on board Flight 370. He might also spare a thought for those families of the 645 lost on the cruiser HMAS Sydney on November 20 1941, who have been kept in similar ignorance for 73 years.

Officially, our relations were the victims of an engagement with the German commerce raider Kormoran; however, raiders were not equipped to take on warships and 318 of the German cruiser’s much smaller crew survived. The mystery has been the subject of two government inquiries, but both upheld the official account.

I believe that the Japanese were involved. I hope that political expediency will be set aside to end our suffering.

Michael Montgomery
Idbury, Oxfordshire

Social cleaving

SIR – Martin Amis is right to point out the ruptures in our society perpetuated by money (report, March 18).

However, he should think more broadly to understand the true nature of the divisions within our communities. These go beyond cash-rich and cash-poor, also cutting across lines of both age and ethnicity. They have been compounded by a decline in the number of spaces where people from different backgrounds are able to mix, and research suggests that this leads to lower levels of trust among groups.

Craig Morley
London, SE1

What a clanger

SIR – Christine Lavender advises property seekers to check for church bells before buying. But things can get dramatically worse if a group of “enthusiasts” takes over a local church. If bell-clangers are allowed to make a dreadful din, why not motorcyclists, pub “musicians”, ice-cream vans, and so on?

Michael Gorman
Guildford, Surrey

Russian sporting ban

SIR – It is unlikely that sanctions against Russia will persuade Vladimir Putin to change course in Crimea. What might work better is to ban Russia from international sporting events, starting with this year’s football World Cup, the 2016 European Championship and the 2016 Olympic Games.

Fifa should also threaten to ban Russia from hosting the 2018 World Cup. There is plenty of time to arrange it in another European country. A sporting ban would make Mr Putin realise that the rest of the world is taking his actions very seriously. The sporting ban on South Africa played a major role in changing that country’s policies on apartheid.

Gilbert Paton
Knutsford, Cheshire

Lunar Communion

SIR – Atheists in America have a long history of objecting to the symbols and rites of religion. Their intransigence was epitomised in a story told by Bernard Lovell, the astronomer.

Buzz Aldrin was a devout Christian and when the Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the Moon, the first thing he did was to celebrate Holy Communion. The little ceremony was kept secret for fear of fanatical atheists, who had brought a lawsuit against Nasa because the crew of Apollo 8 broadcast the first ten verses from the Book of Genesis while orbiting the Moon on Christmas Eve in 1968. The action was based on the rather eccentric grounds that the word of God should not be promoted from the heavens.

John Bromley-Davenport
London EC4

Numbers game

SIR – The French solution to combating pollution in Paris is to ban odd and even number-plated cars on alternate days. When the same plan was adopted in Lagos many years ago, drivers just bought a second set of plates and changed them daily.

Lyn Everitt
Oakham, Rutland

Best left unopened

SIR – Many years ago I purchased a copy of Schlegel’s Philosophy of History (1846 edition). Most of the pages were uncut.

Now I have cut them, I understand why.

John G Squirrell
Reigate, Surrey

Conceding defeat too early to the grey squirrel

SIR – The Government has been defeated by the grey squirrel. It made no sense for Oliver Heald, the Solicitor General, to tell the Commons that eradicating the grey squirrel was “no longer considered feasible”. Many parts of the South of England, especially London’s parks, are overrun by these animals.

Throwing in the towel means that grey squirrels will spread even faster to all areas of the country – damaging trees by stripping the bark, attacking bird feeders, digging up plants, and gaining access to attics where they chew at the timbers and pipes.

The Government should encourage licensed gun-holders to eliminate the greys to help stop the further decline in the population of our native red squirrel.

Ron Kirby
Dorchester, Dorset

SIR – I would like to reassure your readers that, far from conceding defeat, the fight to protect red squirrels continues unabated in Northumberland. Citizens are doing what the state cannot or will not do.

Morpeth and District Red Squirrels is a voluntary group that actively protects reds and controls greys. We receive support from local county, town and parish councils, and a large number of local residents who work tirelessly to feed the native red squirrels in the area. As a result, we are now receiving reports of reds in localities where previously only greys were spotted. The beleaguered red is, indeed, worth defending.

Catherine Weightman
Hepscott, Northumberland

SIR – I am delighted to hear from Anthony Vickery that buzzards are striving to control grey squirrels in his garden in Dorset.

Here in Northern Ireland, where the red squirrel is still trying to hold on (assisted by such organisations as the North West Red Squirrel Group), the buzzards, which are numerous, seem unable to distinguish between the two types of squirrel and kill both with an even-handedness that is most upsetting.

Perhaps we should ask the RSPB to intervene and educate the buzzards towards a more eco-friendly diet.

Bob Parke
Campsie, Co Londonderry

 

SIR – The Government wants to micro-manage parents as they raise their children, and qualified school teachers. It tries to micro-manage the entire population’s eating habits and (by over-regulation) most of its lifestyle choices.

Yet the Government has suddenly decided that the elderly should be entrusted with control of their own pensions. By the time the current generation reaches that age, this may well be their first experience of freedom of choice.

Gillian Gibson
Little Baddow, Essex

SIR – I am delighted for all those nearing retirement who will benefit from enhanced rates as the annuity industry comes to terms with the loss of its captive market and improves its offerings accordingly. But how about those of us already taken prisoner in recent years?

John Makin
Oxshott, Surrey

SIR – While the reduction in Air Passenger Duty is a welcome step in the right direction, British Airways’ parent company, IAG, is correct in its assessment that the Chancellor’s announcement is just “window dressing”: Britain will still have the highest rate of duty in the world.

The difference in tax between Heathrow to Hong Kong and Paris to Hong Kong is around £250. BA’s price needs to be cheaper by that much – which would not be fair on BA.

Andy Bugden
Shenzhen, Guangdong, China

SIR – Are the people now described as too foolish to manage their own pension funds the same as those who are expected to vote sensibly at election time?

Bill Davidson
Balderton, Nottinghamshire

SIR – I have given debt advice at the Denbighshire Citizens’ Advice Bureau for the past 10 years, following my retirement after 20 years as a bank manager.

I have been surprised by the number of clients who, having reached pensionable age, still have substantial debts that, in many cases, are at unmanageable levels.

Given the Chancellor’s announcement that new pensioners will have access to their total pension savings, how does he propose to prevent the funds being seized by pressing creditors?

Currently the funds are mainly protected from creditors. Seizure of monies in the future could mean the pensioner will fall back on the state for financial support.

Paul Webster
Dyserth, Denbighshire

SIR – Will the new pound coin be made of steel, like all the smaller denominations now are? Having magnetic coinage in one’s pocket is a bit of a nuisance when standing behind the wheel of a yacht that has a binnacle compass.

David Gray
Corfe Mullen, Dorset

 

Irish Times:

 

A chara, – It’s a delight to read Una Mullally’s view of the Irish language (“Irish – A language for all speakers”, Monday March 17th), coming as it does from a fluent urban speaker. She’s absolutely right to note that we need to start looking outside the Gaeltacht if we’re serious about achieving the 250,000 daily speakers sought by the Government by 2030. I fly in the face of conventional wisdom in my belief that this number is very possible, but it can only be done if non-Gaeltacht Irish speakers begin to shoulder the burden that Gaeltacht people have been predominantly carrying since the foundation of the State – using the language at home.

Ms Mullally is right to note that snobbery exists within the language, but should go a little easier on Gaeltacht people. Yes, there is a certain Gaeltacht hostility towards “46A Irish” and the dialect of the urban Gaelscoil, but it is there firstly because of the difficulty Gaeltacht people have speaking Irish with city folk, whose Irish is often a non-fluent schoolroom mishmash, but secondly because there is the whiff of the language hobbyist about many urban speakers. They’re delighted to “come down” to the Gaeltacht and practise their Irish on the natives, but when they go home, it’s back to English again. Native speakers are rightly annoyed by this. City speakers of Irish will earn respect when it becomes clear that they are using Irish as a home language with their children, not just for one-night-a-week hobbyism or for the day job.

When this happens (and I think it will), that 250,000 daily-speaker figure will rapidly become achievable. Is mise,

BRIAN Ó BROIN, PhD

Department of English,

William Paterson

University, New Jersey.

Sir, – Una Mullally rightly notes that the “Irish language is for all, not just for the fluent”. She is very concerned that “snobbery towards Irish is real”. Here in Wales the very same point of view was put forward earlier this year by Karen Owen in the Welsh language weekly newspaper Y Cymro . There was a fierce response – from snobs and non-snobs! – Yours, etc,

CLIVE JAMES,

Cae Gwyn,

Caernarfon, Cymru.

A chara, – Una Mullally’s piece is pertinent, timely and most welcome. It opens a major debate.

The success of the policy of promoting our national language by an overemphasis on the Gaeltacht is open to question. For its size, the Gaeltacht has had disproportionate influence and, it can be argued, has frustrated the wider promotion and development of the language. Is it not time now to turn attention to areas where greater developmental opportunities exist – if only because of greater population density and a broader growing interest in the national tongue?

For the most part the national agencies, notably the Department of the Gaeltacht, TG4 and Radio na Gaeltachta, have been somewhat passive to the need for a more inclusive base. My own representations to TG4 for greater flexibility to satisfy a wider diversity of intonation in its programming, elicited the response that the “integrity” of the language had to be preserved. Not a particularly enlightening response! It may be a little unfair to pick on TG4 given the quality of some of its programmes, but it must not lose sight of the fact that it is “Teilefís na Gaeilge” and not “Teilefís na Gaeltachta”. Its remit extends to all of Ireland.

Snobbery “within” the language, as Ms Mulally points out, is a dilemma; but whether we like it or not a two-tiered edifice is emerging. The summer days going west to challenge the progression of one’s capability in the language is now less easily satisfied. Regrettably, one finds that the fíor Gaeilgeoir is becoming less willing to engage with those of us on lower fluency levels or who lack the blas.

All, however, is not gloom – there have been some very worthwhile developments and initiatives with respect to the language. In the Gaelscoileanna, demand for places across communities outstrips supply, while the emphasis in the Leaving Cert on speaking the language is having a most positive impact. We can now say with some certainty that interest in the language is growing.

So how do we build on this? For those of us in the eastern region, an official recognition of a Leinster dialect, alongside those of Ulster, Connacht and Munster, would certainly be a help. Persuading TG4 to broaden its staffing and commissioning base would facilitate a more inclusive service. Encouraging the promotion of more centres of Irish learning in areas outside the Gaeltacht would give a significant impetus. Assigning the responsibility for the language to the Taoiseach’s department would ensure the necessary leadership. Such actions could readily be taken without any additional cost to the national finances. – Is mise,

PG Ó hEOCHAIDH,

Gleann na Smol,

Blackrock, Co Dublin.

 

Sir, – Vincent Browne’s singling out of an entire sport’s “culture” as private school boorishness is a strange attempt at some form of populist class warfare (“Rugby culture is boorishly patriarchal”, Opinion and Analysis, March 19th). It is strange because, while perfectly entitled to an opinion, I find it very ironic indeed that he deems those who have attended private fee-paying schools to be “posh”, despite having attended a private fee-paying school himself.

This is surely a ground-breaking statement for a contrarian? An instance of “self-contrarianism”? – Yours, etc,

JUSTIN DEEGAN,

Celbridge Road,

Maynooth,

Co Kildare.

Sir, – Gabriel Rosenstock puts his finger in the wound (March 21st). In my Dublin Catholic school, renowned for its rugby, we 10-year-olds practised military drill as an integral part of the curriculum, swinging white batons to signify that we were “officer class”. We had our own parade ground for marching and afterwards it was compulsory rugby on the playing fields of Rathmines. There were beatings for not attending. True to post-colonial type, Ireland was imitating its colonial masters – young Irishmen were being trained in British imperial traditions. This was in the late 1950s, more than 30 years after Ireland theoretically became independent.

The English also gave us that fine, egalitarian game of soccer – ruptured sinews and broken bones indeed, but no ruptured spleens or broken heads. We were not permitted to play soccer, it was for the lower classes only. – Yours, etc,

GERARD MONTAGUE,

Zaumberg,

Immenstadt,

Allgäu, Germany.

Sir, – Vincent Browne on “boorishness“? That’s a good one. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL HEALY,

Ardagh Park Gardens,

Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The suggestion by Denis O’Connor (March 21st), writing from Toronto, that “anyone who encourages a child to play rugby is an eejit”, is rich considering that ice hockey is Canada’s national sport. Hardly a genteel game. – Yours, etc,

BRENDAN O’CONNOR,

Clinstown,

Stamullen, Co Meath.

 

Sir, – Eamonn McCann’s argument for Ireland supporting Russia over Crimea is a classic instance of half-baked facts and rhetorical tricks being deployed to a bad end (“If we have to pick a side over Crimea, let it be Russia,” Opinion & Analysis, March 20th).

Crimeans should have some say over their political destiny, but the referendum held in Crimea last Sunday fell so far short of even “shifting norms of democratic probity” that it has to be dismissed. The vote was in no sense free or fair. The choice put before Crimea’s citizens was not a choice since it contained no option to remain within Ukraine. The vote was rushed forward so that there could be no campaigning against it, held under the auspices of a Crimean government that lacked any legitimacy and that denied meaningful protest against the referendum, and under conditions of a media blackout of Ukrainian news sources. Not surprisingly, many Crimeans boycotted the poll to deny it any legitimacy. Now that Russia has annexed Crimea and fatally wounded its relations with Ukraine, we will never know what Crimeans actually wanted.

Mr McCann is right to note that Russia has grievances with the post-cold war security architecture in Europe. It is, however, hypocritical of him to argue for the right of Crimeans to make decisions about their political and security futures and deny those rights to east Europeans whose countries joined the EU and Nato after 1989. Nato and EU enlargement may not have been well handled diplomatically, with rash promises that there would be no eastward enlargement of Nato made on several occasions by people who had no right to determine the foreign policy orientations of the new east European democracies. But this does not obviate the right of east Europeans to choose to be part of either Nato or the EU, a right that they exercised.

The rhetorical reason that Mr McCann holds east Europeans’ rights in such low regard is to justify Russian fears of further Nato expansion and to link these to Ukraine’s relationship to the EU. But no such relationship exists. Contrary to Mr McCann’s assertion, there is no mention of “Kiev align(ing) forces with Nato” in the agreements that Ukraine was due to sign with the EU last year. There is talk of co-operation in policing, anti-terrorism and other security areas, and of bringing about alignment between Ukrainian policy and the European Common Foreign and Security Policy. This has nothing to do with Nato and, given the state of European foreign and security policy, is not much of a threat to anyone.

The other argument that Mr McCann proposes, that the West is bad so we should ignore the wickedness of others, is so intellectually lazy that I will not dignify it with a response. – Yours, etc.

Prof NEIL ROBINSON,

Department of Politics

and Public Administration,

University of Limerick,

Limerick.

 

A chara, – The Government will move shortly to appoint a new member of the European Commission. As a country, we have, for the most part, appointed effective commissioners over the years who have made significant impacts on their portfolios and in tackling challenges faced by European citizens. For example, current commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn has achieved much success in her science, innovation and research brief.

Yet the debate in Ireland seems to be more about the potential of freeing up a Cabinet spot in a forthcoming reshuffle than about the qualities of the individual that will be appointed to Brussels or the portfolio that the Government should seek.

The appointment should be made on the basis of the person best capable to provide leadership and vision in the portfolio they receive and a willingness to seek Europe-wide solutions, not because of party loyalty or a desire to see somebody off the national pitch.

Given the challenges across Europe, a commissioner with specific responsibility to tackle the social and economic consequences of youth unemployment should be appointed, and Ireland would do well to seek such a post. – Is mise,

MALCOLM BYRNE,

The Chase,

Gorey, Co Wexford.

 

A chara, – On March 20th, we, as a nation, and in spite of years of austerity, cuts and bailing out banks, are one of the happiest in Europe (“Irish rank highly for quality of life in EU, survey finds,” Home News, March 20th).

However, the following day, we learn that as a nation, notwithstanding years of austerity, cuts and bailing out banks, we have some serious issues to do with suicide – most especially among adolescents (“Ireland has ‘exceptionally high rates’ of suicide”, Home News, March 21st). Lies, damned lies and statistics. – Is mise,

MICHAEL NASH,

Assistant Professor

Mental Health Nursing,

School of Nursing

and Midwifery ,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.

 

A chara, – Finally, a Government Minister acknowledges the distinguished, not disgusting, service Garda Sgt Maurice McCabe and retired Garda John Wilson have done for the State (“Burton increases pressure on Callinan”, Front Page, March 21st). Personally, I find both Sgt McCabe’s and Mr Wilson’s brave and selfless acts incredibly heroic. I believe both these individuals, at enormous personal costs to themselves, their immediate family and friends, have been wholly vindicated in the entire course of their actions.

However, what I do not understand is why Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and Taoiseach Enda Kenny find it so impossible to embrace wholeheartedly these honest whistleblowers and apologise for the horrendous treatment both men have received and continue to endure? Surely the sooner an apology is sincerely given to both men, the better for everyone involved. – Is mise,

JASON POWER,

Maxwell Road,

Rathgar,

Dublin 6.

 

Sir, – Recent references to the impact of caring on women’s lives are well made and ultimately reflect the reluctance of the State to really value such care (“Imbalance at the top in third level”, Education, March 18th; Letters, March 20th).

However, universities also have responsibilities to create organisational cultures which are “women friendly”. The impact of such cultures is illustrated by the fact that while roughly one in three of those at professorial level in the University of Limerick are women, the national average is 19 per cent (with NUI Galway having only 13 per cent). Furthermore, the University of Limerick moved from a position where it had no woman at professorial level 15 years ago to one where it now has almost twice the national average. Hence even in the context of less than optimum involvement by the State, change is possible. Universities cannot be allowed to ignore their responsibilities. – Yours, etc,

Prof PAT O’CONNOR,

Department of Sociology,

Faculty of Arts, Humanities

and Social Science,

University of Limerick

 

Sir, – Two years. Read that and say it out loud. I was told today there is a two-year waiting list at the hearing centre on North Great George’s Street in Dublin if I wish to have my three-year-old son’s hearing, which I have concerns about, tested there. – Yours, etc,

CAROLINE MITCHELL,

St Mary’s Road,

East Wall,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – I note that Tom Carey (March 19th), former county engineer in Clare, clarifying that a motorway was not rerouted to preserve a fairy tree, has insisted on spoiling a very good story with the facts (“Away with the faeries”, Magazine, March 15th). Such behaviour, if continued, could lead to the ruination of many newspapers, and a decline in radio and television current affairs programmes.

I would ask for restraint from the public during this difficult period. – Yours, etc,

ANTHONY WALSH,

St Aidan’s Drive,

Goatstown, Dublin 14.

 

 

Sir, – Before the Patricks, including Patrick Freyne, get too smug and claim their name as the most “versatile on the planet” (“I’m no saint”, Magazine, March 15th), may I remind them that the “Michaels” can match their six piddly nicknames and go one better: Mícheál, Mick, Mike, Mickey, Mikey, Mitch and Micilín. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL “MICK” KELLY,

Dunmore East,

Co Waterford.

 

 

Irish Independent:

 

* While not wanting to take one whit from the richly deserved adulation accorded by the Irish public to Brian O’Driscoll in the past few weeks to mark his international retirement, please let us spare a thought for another of our rugby superstars, Ronan O’Gara.

Also in this section

Just say no to a nanny, Orwellian state

St Patrick’s Day can be about social change

So when is the real democratic revolution?

O’Gara’s playing achievements were no less outstanding than BOD’s. He is Ireland’s second most capped player (128), and the third most capped in rugby union history. He is the all-time highest points scorer for Ireland and is the fourth highest points scorer in the history of rugby union. He also holds the Heineken Cup record for points scored (an amazing 1,365) in that competition.

He captained Munster, Ireland and the Lions, and won four Triple Crowns with Ireland and two Heineken Cups with Munster. Who will ever forget his drop goal in 2009 against Wales which won us our only Six Nations‘ Grand Slam, or his nerveless 84th-minute drop-goal, after 41 phases of play, to secure victory for Munster against Northampton in the 2012 Heineken Cup campaign?

Sadly and inexplicably, O’Gara was accorded no opportunity for a glorious and celebrated retirement from the international rugby fray. His fate at the hands of Ireland’s then rugby management a year ago was to be left out of the 23-man squad for our final Six Nations game, against Italy, which we lost. A great player was badly wronged.

STEPHEN O’BYRNES

MOREHAMPTON ROAD, DUBLIN 4

HEROISM OF VARADKAR

* Cometh the hour, cometh the lion! Mr Leo Varadkar has done the State a great service. It is not his calling for the withdrawal of the “disgusting” remark by the Garda Commissioner, which is in itself an act of great service. It is that he has proven there is a politician in Government who is not only lucid but who can coolly and calmly look at a situation and rationally assess the correct course of action. He has further elevated his standing by thanking the garda whistleblowers.

The fact that he has called for this action in a personal capacity and not from behind the usual government-generated spin machine proves him to be that rarest of party politicians: a man of integrity and bravery.

These are the qualities that define all heroes throughout history. They are the qualities that defined Mr Wilson’s actions; they are the qualities that defined Sergeant McCabe’s actions and those of the independent politicians who were until now the only people within the legislative processes of the State who, to put it simply, did the right thing.

I often wonder if history, with its eye eternally focused on the heroic deeds of the dead, smothers that which is heroic within each and every one of us. Does it paint such a vision of the heroes of the past that we get a feeling that we could never measure up to O’Connell, or Parnell, or Davitt, while at the same time forgetting that they were, like us, simply human?

Mr Varadkar reached into his humanity and found a hero.

Well done, Mr Varadkar: you, like the whistleblowers and the media that have supported them, and indeed the families behind all those who have supported the quest for truth, have also added to the light you so eloquently spoke of. The heroes of the nation grow in numbers; how refreshing and hopeful for us all.

DERMOT RYAN

ATHENRY, CO GALWAY

THAT’S DEMOCRACY

* Sometimes democratic elections produce unwelcome results. The voters of Crimea voted by an overwhelming majority to join Russia . . . let them!

KEVIN DEVITTE

MILL STREET, WESTPORT, CO MAYO

LABOUR’S IVAN WOES

* Just when you thought the Labour Party’s woes couldn’t possibly get any worse, Ivan Yates announces that he voted for them at the last election (Irish Independent, 20 March).

How can Mr Gilmore’s party ever recover from such an embarrassing revelation?

BARRY WALSH

CLONTARF, DUBLIN 3

ODDLY SUNNY THOUGHTS

* Edward Horgan wrote (March 20) that Ireland’s indebtedness now stands at €500bn, and that to physically move €500bn by road would take over 30 40-foot containers, each stuffed floor to roof with €50 notes – and our Taoiseach tells us things are improving? Must be the weather he has in mind.

PADDY O’BRIEN

BALBRIGGAN, CO DUBLIN

LEADER FOR EC NEEDED

* The Government will move shortly to appoint a new member of the European Commission. As a country, we have, for the most part, appointed effective Commissioners who have made significant impacts on their portfolios. For example, current Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn has achieved much success in her Science, Innovation and Research brief.

Yet the debate in Ireland seems to be more about the potential of freeing up a cabinet spot in a forthcoming reshuffle than about the qualities of the individual appointed to Brussels.

The appointment should be made on the basis of the person best capable to provide leadership and vision in the portfolio they receive, and a willingness to seek Europe-wide solutions – not because of party loyalty or a desire to see somebody off the national pitch.

Given the challenge across Europe, a Commissioner with responsibility to tackle the social and economic consequences of youth unemployment should be appointed – and Ireland would do well to seek such a post.

CLLR MALCOLM BYRNE

GOREY, CO WEXFORD

EU TREATS US FINE, MING

* I see ‘Ming’ Flanagan is trying to get himself into the European Parliament to proclaim the message that “we have gone too far with this European project”.

The European project he is talking about is a union of nearly 30 democratic states, with a home market of 500 million people, each of which signed a treaty to cooperate in matters of mutual interest.

He also said that the EU “left us with a bill of €70bn”. He is thus blaming other people in Europe, who ran their countries much better than we did, for what happened to us. The vast majority of EU countries did not go broke. Ireland did.

He also ignores the fact that European taxpayers, some from countries much poorer than us, funded 20pc of our €100bn infrastructural development programme over the decades.

They also funded another, €85bn programme, put together by the EU, the ECB and the IMF, to rescue this country from the results of the reckless decisions of its own most powerful citizens.

Of course if ‘Ming’ and UKIP have their way, they can always go back to the tariffs and tanks of the 1930s.

A LEAVY

SUTTON, DUBLIN 13

POPE FRANCIS: REAL THING

* The media must run with the latest news that sells. That is understandable. The ‘Francis effect’ is not a passing fancy. He certainly has a way with words, a clear, ready, off-the-cuff answer to every question. But will he last the pace? Will people get tired of his style in time?

It is important to realise that this is not about style at all. This is the man Francis; what you hear is what you get. He talks his own personal faith. Far from skin-deep, every syllable comes from the very core of his being. He is no seven-day wonder. Good for the long haul, he speaks what he lives: the truth, like his Master.

SEAN MCELGUNN

ADDRESS WITH EDITOR

Irish Independent

 

Hair

March 21, 2014

21 March 2014 Hair

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to stop take Mrs Murray around the harbour, the get lost!Priceless

Cold slightly better hair and library card

Scrabbletoday Marywins and gets under400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

 

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the former president of Sierra Leone who has died aged 82, invited British forces to rescue his capital from a brutal rebel army, paving the way for Tony Blair’s most successful foreign intervention.

A kindly and well-meaning man, temperamentally about as far from a war leader as could be imagined, Kabbah found himself confronting a singularly ruthless enemy when, in May 2000, rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) massed outside the capital, Freetown.

For almost a decade, RUF insurgents had ravaged Sierra Leone, specialising in hacking the arms and legs off their victims. Foday Sankoh, the RUF’s psychotic leader, had been trained in Libya by Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and sent back to West Africa to carry out a “people’s revolution”.

On January 6 1999 the RUF struck deep inside Freetown, carrying out a massacre which the city’s people still remember with horror. So when Sankoh and his men returned the following year Kabbah, who had already been overthrown once and restored once, faced the prospect of his capital again being sacked with trepidation.

Ensconced in a gloomy official residence on a windswept hill overlooking the Atlantic – with a tank permanently stationed outside – Kabbah knew that his own Army was incapable of stopping the RUF. He was also grimly aware that he could not rely on the world’s biggest United Nations peacekeeping force, which maintained 17,000 ineffective and often inert troops in Sierra Leone.

So Kabbah turned to Britain, the former colonial power.

At first, he received a lukewarm response. Britain dispatched 800 troops, consisting of 1 Bn the Parachute Regiment and supporting elements, under the command of Brigadier David Richards. But the official mission was simply to evacuate British and other eligible citizens from Freetown.

In the event, this evacuation took less than a week. Instead of packing up and leaving, however, Brig Richards then decided – largely on his own initiative – to stay in Freetown and prevent the RUF from capturing the city. Tony Blair gave retrospective backing to his commander on the ground.

Brig Richards was barred from going on the offensive, so he carefully deployed his troops in exposed forward positions and waited for the RUF to attack.

 

The rebels took the bait and attacked British paratroopers near Lungi airport on May 17. The ensuing firefight was, in hindsight, the turning point of Sierra Leone’s civil war. For the first time since its foundation in 1991, the RUF collided not with a ragtag African army, but an elite fighting force. The rebels duly came off worse. Just how badly they were mauled remains unclear: Britain maintains that 30 insurgents were killed; the true figure was almost certainly far higher.

On the same day, Foday Sankoh was captured by Sierra Leonean forces acting with the help of British intelligence. After suffering this almost simultaneous double blow, the RUF began to fall apart and the threat to Freetown evaporated. The rebels opened talks with Kabbah and the civil war formally ended in 2002.

Fewer than 800 British combat troops had changed the course of history in a country of five million people – without suffering a single loss (although one British soldier was killed four months later during a mission to rescue 11 hostages).

Brig Richards went on to become a general and Chief of the Defence Staff; Blair became a national hero in Sierra Leone, where babies were named in his honour. Kabbah never forgot his debt to Blair. In his last weeks in office in 2007, Blair paid a triumphant visit to Sierra Leone where Kabbah made him a “paramount chief” with the right to sit in the country’s version of the House of Lords.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was born on February 16 1932 in what was then the British Crown Colony of Sierra Leone. Although a devout Muslim, he attended St Edward’s Catholic secondary school in Freetown, before moving to Britain where he lived for more than 10 years.

Kabbah studied at Aberystwyth University and was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn in 1969. He then joined the United Nations Development Programme, working in Africa as its resident representative in Lesotho.

Kabbah returned to Sierra Leone in the late 1970s, where he became a senior civil servant and permanent secretary in several ministries. A bureaucrat rather than a politician, he nonetheless ran for president and won the election in 1996. He served for only a year before being overthrown in 1997 and then restored to office by a Nigerian military intervention the following year.

After the civil war, Kabbah won a sweeping victory in the 2002 election, running as the man who had brought peace. He served as president until 2007, but achieved little with his time in office.

Kabbah proved too weak to act against corrupt ministers. On his watch, Sierra Leone was penetrated by Latin American drug barons, who used the country as a staging post for running cocaine to Europe. When the opposition made (justified) complaints about his government’s corruption, Kabbah resorted to accusing them of a “lack of patriotism”. Few missed him when he retired from office.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s wife, Patricia, predeceased him. They had five children.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, born February 16 1932, died March 13 2014

 

Guardian:

 

 

I am old, much older, than Charlie Brooker (G2, 17 March), and he has problems understanding the generation you have let loose on G2. So pity me who, in my first job as a young engineer, relied on my trusty sliderule to earn a living (do they know what they were?). There were few telephones, no TVs, no computers. One of our children was still at home at 27, would they believe? However, I am still much interested in how the world changes, but at times despair that I am now irretrievably lost and stranded. I search for things and ideas I can recognise in all the frenetic cultural activity around me, things to latch on to that might drag me along with them.

What do all these trainee “digital” journalists editing G2 actually do? They obviously have the means to communicate with one another that I never possessed until later in life, and make money from them.

But what is it that they have to say? They can communicate with one another globally and instantly and, as far as I can see, aim at the shortest pithiest statements (fewer than 140 characters – oneliners, if possible) on major aspects of the human condition.

I do realise that I am probably already presenting the image of elderly ossification they dread, but I hope they appreciate that almost all aspects of their world today have arrived since I was their age, although we are all in this same world together now. I would like to be here to see how they will be coping another 50 years from now. How about a week of G2 driven by those born before 1930?
Frank Evans
Orpington, Kent

• OK, so your Generation Y team have demonstrated that young people today are as hard done by, misunderstood, arrogant and randy as they always are (been there, done that, got the mental scars), and also that they can produce as good a G2 as your usual gang. How about now giving them a crack at producing the Sport section?
Bob Heath-Whyte
Chalgrove, Oxfordshire

 

It came as no surprise to me that a lot of the upper decks of HMS Victory are not original (Report, 17 March). My grandfather, George Rogers, was bosun of the yard in Portsmouth when the ship underwent a major refit in the 1920s. At that time a lot of the original oak was removed and the decks remodelled. My grandfather and the master carpenter in charge of the refit were each allowed to take a cupboard door made of the original oak. Grandfather had a gate-legged table, a dressing-table set and a pair of candlesticks made from his door, all of which are still in my possession. In that same era, visitors to the ship were each given “a piece of Victory oak” as a souvenir as they left the ship. According to my mother (who was banned from joining the visiting tourist parties at the request of the sailors showing visitors round because she used to ask awkward questions), these souvenirs came from a local sawmill and were mostly anything but oak. Had they been authentic, there would by now be absolutely nothing left of the original timbers anywhere.
Val Harrison
Birmingham

 

 

In order to put the current crisis in Crimea in perspective, I would refer people to a very interesting book that I am sure John Kerry, William Hague and, no doubt, President Putin have read. It is The Grand Chessboard,written in 1998 by one of President Obama’s favourite foreign affairs theorists and President Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski. In it he argued that the US had to take control of a number of strategic countries, including Ukraine, arguing that that country is “a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country (means) Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire”. He warns against allowing Russia to regain control over the country because, by doing so, “Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia”.
Colin Burke
Manchester

• Instead of imposing sanctions on Russia for recognising Crimea‘s independence, perhaps we should welcome President Putin’s new-found enthusiasm for democracy and ask him when he plans to hold a similar referendum in Chechnya and allow the Chechens to declare their independence from Russia.
Sam Dastor
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

• Timothy Garton Ash (The focus is on Crimea, but next is the fight for Ukraine, 19 March) criticises the Crimea referendum for lacking “the consent of all parts of the existing state”, and for being held “without due constitutional process”. Why did he not similarly complain when the referendums which carved up Yugoslavia were being held – without the consent of all parts of the existing state, and without due constitutional process?
Marko Gasic
London

• David Cameron has rightly condemned the annexation of Crimea as illegitimate and illegal. He called at prime minister’s questions for “a rules-based system where countries obey the rules”. This would be an excellent and brave initiative. Consistency is key. For example, last week, in a speech to the Israeli Knesset, one has to ask why he did not call for Israel to cancel its illegal annexations of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, both of which were condemned by UN security council resolutions 24 years ago. It took less than 24 hours to pass sanctions on Russia. He did not even ask when Israel would be ending its 47-year-old military occupation. If Putin had been paying attention, he would have been happily reassured.
Chris Doyle
Director, Council for Arab-British Understanding

• Despite the illegitimate nature of the Crimea referendum, the fact that it was carried out within the space of two weeks must be a cause of a little embarrassment to Minurso, the UN body charged with organising a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara. That was back in 1991. Twenty-three years later, in the face of ongoing Moroccan obstruction and international indifference, Minurso has still not fulfilled its mandate and a population a quarter the size of Crimea’s is still awaiting a say on its future.
Stefan Simanowitz
London

It would be nice to see some mention of the contribution made by secondary-modern-educated men and women, the poor bloody infantry of the workforce, in the shipyards, factories, building sites, hospitals, offices and elsewhere in the UK, now that the last of them are coming up to retirement. In all this recent chatter about Etonians at the top and the clamour in some quarters for the return of grammar schools, the sec mod class of 64 and before that have remained, as usual, invisible.
Frank Conway
Newcastle upon Tyne

• So, is Tanya Gold’s insight (If fashion is how you express yourself, I pity you, 20 March) into the exploitative, misogynistic nature of the fashion industry going to stop the Guardian’s continued promotion of it on its front and main national and international news pages? The frequent photographs of young, gaunt, vacant, Barbie-doll women modelling the latest trends seems completely at odds with the paper’s ethos. Like art, fashion has become business and should therefore be on the business pages. What an opportunity the Guardian misses to provide an alternative aesthetic that expresses the paper’s wonderful, observant, human and humane journalism.
Judy Marsh
Nottingham

• Paradise in Norway gone (Letters, 15 March)? While away your time in Purgatorio, western Sicily.
Dr Mike Rushton
Tarporley, Cheshire

• I feel that the Treasury could be on very dodgy ground in suggesting that the new £1 coin (Report, 19 March) is the most secure coin in circulation in the world. Anyone, especially small boys of my generation who carried around their meagre savings in their trousers, could guarantee that within a few weeks any sharp sided “threepenny bits” among the pennies would wear a hole in your pocket and you lost the lot. What then the security of the new coin?
John Marjoram
Stroud, Gloucestershire

• But unlike threepenny bits, I can’t see 12-sided £1 coins ever becoming Cockney rhyming slang.
John Cranston
Norwich

 

 

There is not an ounce of humanity in a budget which puts a cap on overall benefit spending that includes housing benefit needed to pay rents in a property market which is out of control (Vote blue, go grey, 20 March). Any fat cat can swallow the cream of UK property and leave it empty. The coalition continues to allow the existing caps on the housing benefits of families and individuals to create unmanageable rent arrears and hunger. Tenants are forced into temporary, overcrowded and often sub-standard accommodation in the private, and increasingly overpriced, rented sector. Meanwhile, the dreaded diseases of poverty reappear. Will, or can, the Labour party produce any policies which will redeem their capitulation to the overall cap in voting for it?
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

• You emphasise (Editorial, 20 March) how George Osborne continues to see reducing the government’s debts as central to his economic strategy. Yet he regards the much larger debts of the banking sector as not worthy of his attention. It is estimated that government debt will peak at around 80% of GDP, while the debts of the banks remain stubbornly high at 500% of GDP. Britain shares with Japan the least envied title of being the most indebted of the G8 countries. When the next financial crisis comes, as it will, Britain may have to apply for what would be the largest loan in the history of the IMF. In return for that loan, the IMF will impose on Britain a savage austerity programme, similar to Greece’s. Is the government’s complacency due to its assumption that Britain, as with its over-indebted banks, is too large to be allowed to fail? More likely it is because the government has taken its eye off the ball as to what is the real cause of the crisis: rash speculation by over-indebted banks.
Derrick Joad
Leeds

• Most baby boomers are not rolling in it. In fact most can’t afford to retire. Final-salary pensions were closed down years ago, and women particularly find NI contributions only cover 18 years of child-bearing/raising, and those contributions are reduced. In addition, any money people are able to scratch together for retirement has made a loss for years.

If we could get hold of moneys from my husband’s work, for example, the future might look more manageable; and if he died first, I would have a little more to live on than a worrying half of not much. Osborne’s bribes make principled older people turkeys who must vote for their own Christmas in a society that teaches that we’re greedy, fattened-up people who have long had it easy and had it all. Where is the coherent narrative from other political parties to help counteract this divisive bribe? And while we’re at it, we’ve all paid NI contributions, ie a tax for public services such as the NHS. Successive governments have wasted all that money, which is not our fault. Remember, only a few swing votes in the UK count.
Olivia Byard
Witney, Oxfordshire

• While I wouldn’t want to argue against the chancellor’s assertion that responsible pensioners should be trusted to make the right financial decisions about what to do with their pension money, individual choices need to be understood within the contexts in which they are made. Unfortunately, that context is the British financial services industry, and one can have little confidence that the advice pensioners will be able to access will be given in their interests.

I doubt if one would get very long odds betting on the proposition that in 10 or 15 years’ time, we will be waking up to the great “pensions drawdown misadvice scandal” (no doubt the wise will shake their heads and remind us of the “pensions misselling scandal” of the Thatcher era). Nor will you get long odds betting that no one will be considered criminally liable for it. Under neoliberalism, it is only the less privileged who have to take responsibility for their choices.
Rob Raeburn
Brighton

• It will come as a great relief to any emergency service worker that if they are killed in action their estate will not be subject to inheritance tax. Of course, they already had the mere sum of £325,000 free of this tax, and if by chance they are married or in a civil partnership, the combined estate of a mere £650,000 would be exempt and would not be taxable if they are survived by their spouse or partner. Given the salaries of most emergency workers and their relative youth, they may not have had much time to build large and valuable estates, and happily only a small number die in active service. I suspect that this generous gift by the chancellor may not cost the country too much money. Would it be cynical of me to suggest that this was merely a piece of well-sounding PR?
David Lawson
Ilford, Essex

• Every pensioner able to put £10,000 into each issue of the new three-year “pensioner bond” will, if the interest rate is the expected 4%, have an income (net of tax at 20%) of £320. Poorer pensioners without that level of savings will get nothing. Another example of the government using state finance to give to those that have in order to attempt to buy their votes.
John Gaskin
York

• If the likelihood is that only a “small minority” of retirees will misuse their pension pot and fall back on the state is therefore of no consequence, why is the likelihood that only a “small minority” of EU immigrants will misuse the benefits system then outrageous and an indication that urgent action is required?
Gordon Milligan
Berlin

• We have been concerned for some time that the government’s proposed reforms for apprenticeships would have a negative effect on the number of small and medium enterprises taking on apprentices because of the additional costs and increased red tape. We hope that the budget announcement, in addition to the apprenticeship funding reform-consultation feedback, will result in sufficient steps being taken to support small businesses providing apprenticeships.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s recent work leading the government’s Electrotechnical Trailblazer was an opportunity for small businesses to have their voice heard in making sure that apprenticeship further-education courses are fit for purpose. The priority now will be to make sure that small businesses in the electrotechnical and other engineering disciplines are given a generous share of government grants. After all, given the huge shortfall of engineers, apprenticeships represent a valuable lifeline to the future of engineering in the UK.
Paul Davies
Institution of Engineering and Technology

 

 

 

 

 

Independent:

 

George Osborne may have calculated that giving money to the elderly in his Budget would persuade us, on the basis of unenlightened self-interest, to vote Tory in 2015. But he may not be aware that many of us have grandchildren, and we are appalled at the difficulties our youngsters are having to struggle with because of the policies of his government.  

With enormous fees if they are lucky enough to get to university, ever-increasing rents demanded by greedy landlords, unemployment or low-paid and insecure jobs, and ferocious and corrupt policing if they dare to demonstrate or protest, life is pretty tough for youngsters these days.

I and many others try to make up for Osborne’s harshness by giving our grandchildren some of our pension, and I, and I hope many others, will persuade the youngsters to use their votes but never to vote Tory. Osborne may live to regret his cynical “Help the Aged Only” budget.

Tony Cheney, Ipswich, Suffolk

George Osborne, whose high office probably precludes him regularly frequenting public houses, and whose drinks in the Commons watering holes are subsidised by us taxpayers, can be forgiven for not knowing the harsh realities of pub life for beer drinkers. But journalists, even those of the modern school who do not spend all afternoon at the bar before submitting their copy, surely have no excuse. Your paper’s headline on the Budget “A speech for . . . drinkers” (20 March) is as misleading as a politician’s spin.

A penny duty off a pint of beer does not result in a penny off a pint. Publicans never change prices by 1p, and never reduce prices, and increases nowadays are 10p minimum, more likely 20p. After last year’s “beer drinker’s budget” I was laughed out of the bar of my local after asking why I did not get a penny off, and two weeks later all drinks went up by 20p.

John E Orton, Bristol

Has the Chancellor factored in a large budget increase for the policing of organised crime, given his gangster’s gift of increasing tobacco duty in the Budget?

It is only a matter of time before violent gang “turf wars” break out in our inner cities, in parallel with the exponential increase in contraband cigarette sales. It is similarly just a matter of time before, because of this ugly phenomenon, Treasury revenue from tobacco starts to drop off.

Nicky Samengo-Turner, Hundon, Suffolk

The new 12-sided pound coin just confirms that the pound today is only worth 3d in old money. And why the long delay to its introduction? It is only a coin, not a hi-tech device.

Colin Stone, Oxford

UK useless in aircraft search

The search going on in the southern Indian Ocean for the Malaysia Airlines aircraft points up the UK’s stark lack of military capability. Such a search can only be done with sophisticated long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

The Australians, the New Zealanders, and, of course, the Americans have provided Orion aircraft, and even the very latest aircraft, the US Navy’s P-8A.

This should be an area where Britain might be able to help. But we couldn’t, even if we wanted to. We used to have one of the best maritime patrol aircraft in the world, the Nimrod. Since 2010, when we grounded our current Nimrods and decided not to carry on with a newer version, this country has had no maritime air patrol capability.

This is an extraordinary situation for a maritime nation such as the UK  – and our inability is sharply emphasised by the absence of equipment that could help in this very sad situation.

Sean Maffett, Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire

Am I the only person who is surprised to discover from the disappearance of a Malaysian aircraft that the means of transmission in aeroplanes can be so easily switched off by the pilot or others, or indeed switched off at all? I cannot see any legitimate benefit in planes having this “facility”, and a whole raft of dangerous disadvantages.

Ian Craine, London N15

HS2: most of us pay  but get nothing

Simon Calder, as usual, hits nails on the head (“Expensive and destructive, but also the only way to revitalise the railways”, 17 March). HS2 benefits too few and has a business case that is precarious at best. The environmental damage, especially to woodland, is completely unacceptable.

While it would be nice for Brits to enjoy the same high-speed inter-city rail service that most on the continent have known for decades, there is a far more urgent need.

This morning, I sat in a bus which arrived 13 minutes late and took 40 minutes to fight its way just six miles into town. For every long-distance commuter and business traveller, there are a hundred who face the consequences of road congestion and the failure to deliver rail for local service.

Now that we see the result of pretending that road transport alone suffices, we need to prioritise the reopening of stations and lines closed 50 years ago, and building new light electric rail systems within towns and out to their suburbs and satellites.

Blowing the budget on a single system for the wealthy few may deliver political kudos, but it will anger the rest of us who pay but get nothing.

Ian East, Chairman, Oxford-Bicester Rail Action Group, Islip, Oxfordshire

One of the biggest benefits of HS2 is the economic redevelopment opportunities. We’ve heard a lot about these opportunities for the major cities connected by the high-speed line, but little or nothing about the potential wins for cities beyond the immediate confines of the HS2 network.

There is great potential through the connections to the east- and west-coast main lines for cities other than Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds to benefit from HS2, but the challenges around realising these benefits need to be tackled now if these locations are not to fall behind.

In addition, many of these smaller cities could be reached by HS2 trains moving to the classic railway network to complete their journey. But this will require new or significantly enhanced stations.

We need an urgent dialogue between HS2, Network Rail, the train operating companies and local authorities to fully understand the challenges that the arrival of high-speed trains will bring to the classic railway network.

Jeremy Acklam, Institution of Engineering and Technology, London WC2

Two achievements of Tony Benn

Prue Bray asks what Tony Benn did apart form talking “a lot of left-wing stuff” (letter, 18 March). For full details she should obtain the several volumes of Mr Benn’s splendid diaries, covering 50 years of parliamentary life.

But let me mention two concrete things he did. As the drums of war against Iraq built up 11 years ago, Tony Benn, then and until his death president of the Stop the War Campaign, flew to Baghdad to interview Saddam Hussein. Benn asked Saddam directly if he had weapons of mass destruction. Saddam denied he did, saying, according to Benn’s diary: “I tell you, as I have said on many occasions before, that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction whatsoever.”

It turned out Benn was right. Benn also, when energy minister in the late 1970s, promoted the biggest ever taxpayer-sponsored energy-efficiency campaign. In so doing, he was years ahead.

Dr David Lowry, Stoneleigh, Surrey

Reasons for Turner’s strange vision

Turner’s eyesight has worried many for a long time (letter, 19 March).

Leigh Hunt in 1831 thought Turner’s “chromatic absurdities” might be the result of an ophthalmic condition. A “lens sclerosis” and secondary astigmatism were also blamed for the distortions of vision that caused Mark Twain to describe Turner’s work as “like a ginger cat having a fit in a bowl of tomatoes.”

The subject is discussed in the eye-surgeon Patrick Trevor-Roper’s The World through Blunted Sight  (1970) and by the undersigned in a biography of Turner. (Standing in the Sun, a life of JMW Turner, 1997).

Anthony Bailey, Mersea Island, Essex

Outsourcing the job of a parent

So the Government is to make £2,000 available to parents to help pay for childcare – just as long as the person providing the care is not the child’s own parent, but a paid surrogate. This will enable parents to fill all those job vacancies around the country, I suppose – perhaps in nurseries?

And yet we regularly hear that there is a “crisis of parenting” in this country. Just who is supposed to be doing this parenting, if parents are being given incentives to outsource it rather than doing the job themselves?

Marjorie Clarke, Totnes, Devon

 

 

Times:

 

 

Sir, Why anyone wants to be ruled by Vladimir Putin is a mystery, but Western leaders have not covered themselves with glory. The violent overthrow of an elected government in Ukraine was viewed with equanimity by Cameron, Obama et al. A peaceful referendum in Crimea has aroused howls of rage from the fiddlers, giving new meaning to the concept of hypocrisy.

John Bromley-Davenport, qc

Malpas, Cheshire

Sir, As a Hungarian of 1956, I never thought that the following would leave my lips, but Putin is right — Russia is taking back what is historically and popularly its own, ignoring the decision of the drunken Khrushchev in 1954.

Dr Andrew Zsigmond

Liverpool

Sir, The West’s self-serving lack of resolve over the invasion of Ukraine is worrying. Cannot the UK at least lead a group prepared to ban all sporting contacts with Russia while its troops remain on Ukrainian soil?

David Harris

London SW13

Sir, The Ukrainian Ambassador says the Crimea has been “heavily subsidised” (letter, Mar 20). This burden now passes to Moscow — in return for an assurance that Sevastopol cannot become a Nato military base. A win-win situation?

David Ashton

Sheringham, Norfolk

Sir, I thoroughly agree with Jenni Russell (Opinion, Mar20) that the West should take the blame over Crimea for its meddling in Ukraine. Did the EU actually consider the fact that Russia bases its Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol? If Ukraine joined the EU and eventually Nato, there is no chance that this situation would be allowed to continue with the possibility of Russian nuclear armed ships in an EU state.

Julian Nettlefold

Editor, Battlespace

Sir, If the West fails to exact a heavy price for Putin’s foreign adventurism, others, notably China, with domestic and economic problems of its own, may be encouraged to follow the same route. The interests of the City, of German exporters and of European gas consumers must take second place to the need to shore up international stability, otherwise the final bill in terms of increased military spending, and perhaps even war, could be far higher.

Adrian Cosker

Hitchin, Herts

Sir, Most Crimeans want to become part of Russia. The pragmatic approach is to let them get on with it. We have far more pressing problems much closer to home.

Stephen Knight

Rhoscolyn, Anglesey

Sir, Whether the West chooses to recognise the referendum or not, it had a 95 per cent turnout (something most Western democracies could only dream of) with an 89 per cent Yes vote — a vote which appears to be far more genuine than the 2004 US presidential election, for example.

The West should be helping to support a peaceful transfer of Crimea to Russia ensuring that the minorities in the region have protection.

The US and EU need to be very careful how they lecture the rest of the world on democracy.

ELizabeth Hastings-Clarke

 

Some of the measures announced by Mr Osborne sound attractive but now they must be implemented

Sir, Most people will support actions to reduce tax avoidance but allowing HMRC to demand disputed taxes before the taxpayer has had his case heard by a court gives unacceptable power to the taxman (“Revenue wins power to raid bank accounts in battle over tax avoidance”, Budget supplement, Mar 18).

In his Budget speech, the Chancellor reminded us of the signing of Magna Carta in 1215. That wonderful document set down that: “No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised (dispossessed) . . . but by lawful judgement of his peers”. That principle has protected the citizens of this country for 800 years. He was wrong to violate it.

Richard Tweed

Croydon

Sir, The Chancellor announced early on in his Budget Speech that emergencies personnel who die in the line of duty will be exempt from inheritance tax. How many people will actually benefit from that?

If the person is married their assets pass freely to their spouse — and if they are single how many would have assets in excess of the inheritance tax threshold?

A more meaningful gesture
would have been to repay soldiers who have had to buy their own life insurance while fighting during
recent wars.

Sara Blunt

Chislehurst, Kent

Sir, The latestBudget promised all sorts of goodies, especially for pensioners, but why should they believe it?

After all in October 2007 Mr Osborne and Mr Cameron promised all sorts of changes to inheritance tax, but once they were in office those promises were quietly forgotten with not a word of apology to those of us who believed them.

Rear Admiral Conrad Jenkin

West Meon, Hants

 

It is a tough decision whether to give up a career to look after small children, and women need help not hectoring

Sir, I am surprised that Lucy Powell, the Shadow Minister for Childcare and Children, considers it a “waste of talent” when mothers are not at a distant place of work, but actually at home looking after their own children (letter, Mar 18). Parents should be being encouraged to look after their children in the crucial early years of childhood and then helped back into work when their children are ready for that separation.

Instead of making those who chose this route feel guilty that they are “holding the economy back”, Ms Powell should be backing these parents’ tough decision and offering them a way back into work that values the time they spent managing their home and children.

Maria Smith

Exeter, Devon

 

 

Council tax bills vary wildly across the country as house prices are skewed by the London property boom

Sir, One anomaly created by the massive rise in London property prices compared with the rest of the country is seen in the council tax demands now being sent out.

The demand for my home (band F; value £475k) in a Dorset village is £2,489. The demand for my home in Islington (band G; value £1.5m) £2,101. The equivalent Band F would be £1,821, ie £650 less.

Mind you, I do get six buses a day, last bus 6pm. And what do Londoners get? Ah yes, the Tube and bus system. Will any politician be brave enough to sort this out?

Mike Nixon

Sutton Poyntz, Dorset

 

Slow-moving bureaucracy is threatening to turn young Catholics couples away from church marriage ceremonies

Sir, My daughter plans to marry a non-Catholic in a Catholic church in August. She now has to rely on the goodwill of an unpaid volunteer in each parish to find and post her the required original certificates for baptism and confirmation. This is a slow process because parishes are inundated with similar requests. The result is long delays and considerable anxiety.

It’s fair for the church to charge for this but not fair to rely on an unpaid, usually very nice volunteer to fulfil this church-regulated duty. The inefficiency and anxiety could turn faithful young people away from a church marriage — and so their children may not be brought up as Catholics.

Peter Hobday

Folkestone, Kent

 

You don’t expect a hospital to order a young mother not to nurse her baby in a maternity wing waiting room

Sir, How outrageous and contradictory that a new mother is stopped from breastfeeding her baby in a hospital waiting room by a health trust aiming to “Promote positive attitudes to breastfeeding” (“You can’t feed your child here, hospital told new mother”, Mar 19).

The maternity information also advises: “We think it is a good idea that your baby is with you at all times.”

How can this possibly happen if a child as young as six weeks is not brought along while her mother has time-consuming blood tests?

While David Eltringham, the chief operating officer of the hospital is worrying about “patient safety”, the rest of us should ask what dangers could possibly be posed to anyone. I have never heard of an accident being caused by breast feeding.

Janet Weston

Westerham, Kent

 

 

Telegraph:

 

SIR – The body of Tony Benn may rest overnight in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster next week, an honour previously awarded only to Margaret Thatcher. There has perhaps never been a better example of British absurdity.

On the one hand, we have a politician who led this country as prime minister through three terms and changed the country’s financial and international fortunes dramatically.

On the other hand, we have a politician who was never prime minister, making it as far as secretary of state for industry. He had dramatic and outdated hard-Left views and was left behind by his own party as it moved to the centre. He continued to be a great constituency MP, a champion of the powerless, a diarist of the highest order and a good father.

But Benn and Thatcher are in different leagues; it is like comparing Winston Churchill with Dick Crossman.

J R Nickell-Lean
Ryton, North Yorkshire

SIR – Tony Benn was a brilliant orator, but was nevertheless an egocentric maverick; it would be a travesty to extend to him the accolade that was granted to Margaret Thatcher. She was a political winner; he a political loser.

David Phipps
Freshford, Somerset

SIR – An “accident of birth” allows many to forgive Tony Benn for his silver-spoon background and public school education. Yet Old Etonians in Government are roundly criticised for being toffs. Why?

Michael Nicholson
Dunsfold, Surrey

Clear as a bell

SIR – I was dismayed to read yet another complaint about “noisy” bells, in this case bells that have chimed for 140 years in Knighton, Radnorshire.

Surely people who buy houses anywhere near bell towers, whether they be church or civic buildings, should check on the frequency of the ringing before they buy. Bravo to the town mayor and his campaign to keep them ringing.

Christine Lavender
Send, Surrey

Left out

SIR – Peter Luff MPhas said that left-handed children need more support in schools (March 18). Far from being psychologically scarred by my schooldays, I can use right-handed scissors and write legibly despite being left-handed.

Improving standards in the teaching of basic numeracy and literacy would be a more worthwhile cause to champion.

Kirsty Blunt
Sedgeford, Norfolk

SIR – My husband, myself and two of our three children are left-handed. The verse our daughter was taught on starting school wasn’t very helpful: “The hand you write with is your right, the one that’s left is left.”

Kay Blackwell
Maesygwartha, Monmouthshire

SIR – Like Rowan Pelling, I am a left-handed person living in a right-handed world. I have also battled with tin openers designed for the right-handed. One of the most useful tools I have acquired is a left-handed ruler. Before any right-handers scoff at this, try drawing a line against a ruler without being able to see the numbers clearly. My left-handed ruler has the numbers running from right to left.

Clifford Baxter
Wareham, Dorset

German cemeteries

SIR – Like M J Gibson, I try to visit German war cemeteries, like the one at Langemarck. I find the contrast between stark German cemeteries and serene British ones astonishing.

I always read the comment books at the Commonwealth memorials, and some of the most poignant remarks I have seen have been from German visitors. Perhaps quiet appreciation is preferable to flamboyant visual displays.

Ray Bather
Allendale, Northumberland

Natural deterrent

SIR – In my wooded garden we used to have a serious grey squirrel problem. They ate everything I tried to grow in the garden and they even raided the house.

But since a pair of buzzards returned to breed, the grey squirrel numbers have collapsed. Natural control obviously works.

Anthony Vickery
Poole, Dorset

Money talks

SIR – The introduction of £1 coins resembling the old threepenny bit will be a reminder to all in Britain how much successive governments have safeguarded the value of our money.

What used to cost 3p back in 1971, when the threepenny bit was rendered obsolete by decimalisation, now costs just over £1.

Mark Boyle
Johnstone, Renfrewshire

SIR – The reverse image on the original threepenny bit was of the flower thrift.

Surely no better image could be found in these challenging times?

Christopher Macy
Lincoln

MoD should not build on Stonehenge aerodrome

SIR – I am deeply saddened that the Ministry of Defence plans to build thousands of homes over the site of the historic Larkhill aerodrome, within sight of Stonehenge.

In February 1910, my great-grandfather Sir George White (1854-1916) founded what became the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

He chose Larkhill as a testing ground for his new Boxkite aeroplanes in part because there was little except Stonehenge for errant aircraft to hit, and in part because he hoped to attract interest from the nearby Army base. He acquired the flying rights over 2,000 acres there, building an iron hangar to house his aircraft and setting up a pioneering school. Others joined him, and Larkhill blossomed.

Two Boxkites flying from the original Bristol shed became the first aircraft to take part in British military manoeuvres. Arguably the first air-to-ground radio signals were received at Larkhill and the first government trials to select aircraft for the Forces took place there. A great number of the pilots available when the First World War broke out were trained at Larkhill. Many brave young men lost their lives at the aerodrome, but through their bravery and sacrifice, extraordinary strides in the development of British aviation took place. It is certainly the oldest hangar to survive in Britain, and is, perhaps, the oldest in Europe.

While this hugely significant building is under threat, in Australia, pioneering Bristol aircraft are being celebrated. On March 1, the flight of a specially built Boxkite replica was the centrepiece of the Royal Australian Air Force centenary celebrations. The purpose was to replicate the first Australian military flight, made on a Boxkite by Lieutenant Eric Harrison at 7.40am on March 1 1914. Harrison learnt to fly at the Bristol School at Larkhill.

Larkhill was a cradle of British and Commonwealth aviation. There must be many suitable sites for new homes. Historic Larkhill is not one of them.

Sir George White

Rudgeway, Gloucestershire

 

SIR – Richard Spencer is unfortunately right when he says the situation in Syria is actually much worse than one might think. Amnesty International has reported on how 250,000 people are now subjected to brutal medieval-style sieges, in which entire neighbourhoods have been sealed off from the outside world.

In the Yarmouk district of Damascus, for example, the Syrian army has maintained a deadly stranglehold since July, preventing people getting in or out and cutting off the food supply and electricity. Food is so scarce that many of the 20,000 malnourished residents have been reduced to eating cats and dogs or boiling dandelion leaves.

Meanwhile, Syrian army snipers callously shoot at those foraging for food. Over 200 people have died in Yarmouk’s barbaric siege, with at least 128 perishing through starvation.

Last month’s long overdue United Nations resolution on Syria called on all parties – government forces and armed opposition groups – to lift their sieges and allow in food and medical supplies. This has not happened and, unless it does, the grotesque suffering of the Syrian people is likely to descend to a level that most people will struggle to believe.

Kate Allen
Director, Amnesty International UK
London EC2

 

SIR – Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, says that living standards have dropped by £1,600 in the past four years, which I would have thought was an inevitable consequence of Labour’s policies up until 2010.

It would be interesting to know how that drop in living standards splits between the various sectors of society – what is the drop for the richest 10 per cent, the next 10 per cent, and so on. This would surely prove whether we were “all in it together” or not. It is curious that neither Labour nor the Conservatives seem willing to divulge this information.

Barry Smith
Loughborough, Leicestershire

SIR – The Chancellor’s announcement of additional help to cathedrals for renovations is extremely good news, not only to communities battling to keep their immense buildings windproof and watertight – a task made far more difficult through this winter of storms – but also to the heritage construction industry, which has been cruelly punished through the recession.

As a building conservation architect (and surveyor of the fabric at St George’s Chapel, Windsor), I know that the heritage sector has yet to show signs of recovery.

The loss of irreplaceable historic craft and trade skills critical to the sustainable maintenance and repair of these magnificent buildings is gravely concerning. It is vital that the Government provides greater support to skills training for conservation specialists.

Martin Ashley
Twickenham, Middlesex

SIR – I am blessed with two young children, parents who require support to keep them at home, and a husband who works long and variable hours. I also volunteer at my children’s school.

I did not make a choice not to work. Indeed, like thousands of others, I work long hours, unpaid, out of family necessity. Am I to presume that if I stopped helping my higher-rate-taxpayer husband, abandoned my parents to the NHS, sent my children to school ill, and took a minimum-wage job for a few hours a week I would be entitled to a pat on the back for contributing to the economy?

Josie Jennings
Moulton, Suffolk

SIR – I was initially delighted to hear Nick Clegg on the radio telling me I was going to get £2,000 per child for child care. With four children, that would be welcome. My joy was short-lived, however, as my wife reminded me that all our child-benefit payments had been taken away, amounting to many more thousands lost than we may gain. She then went on to ruin my breakfast by telling me that it wouldn’t apply to those who had only one income. My solution? Pay her to become a cleaner in our own home and vote Labour next time around.

Daniel Connolly
Lancing, West Sussex

 

 

Irish Times:

 

Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 01:10

First published: Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 01:10

Sir, – Are Vincent Browne’s sensibilities confined to rugby, where he finds it so “disturbing” for a participant to obtain a “thrill in legally inflicting pain on someone else” (“Rugby culture is boorishly patriarchal”, Opinion and Analysis, March 19th)? If this susceptibility extends more widely, perhaps he would ponder his own opinion pieces, where he has been inflicting pain for years. – Yours, etc,

GEOFF SCARGILL,

Loreto Grange,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Rugby could be viewed as part of the overall British package offered to this nation and gratefully accepted along with an accompanying ethos which many Irish schools have embraced and championed in our recent history. This British ethos (along with fagging and other abominations) had one aim and one aim only, namely to desensitise British youth and thus prepare them for the cold-hearted military and cultural domination of native peoples around the world. The “playing fields of Eton” is where most of their battles were fought and won. The British Empire is no more, but the fight continues as long as the will to compete and dominate is seen as a legitimate aspiration for sentient beings. – Yours, etc,

GABRIEL ROSENSTOCK,

Gleann na gCaorach,

Co Átha Cliath.

Sir, – It is such a pity that the venerable Vincent Browne did not play serious rugby at school, even though we know he did attend Castleknock College for five years. If he had it seems doubtful that he would find rugby culture “boorish and patriarchal”. Mr Browne obviously has never tackled an opposing player in full flight for the line, never had the satisfaction of bringing down an adversary physically and legally. He is extraordinarily good at it on television and in print – but on the physical field of play? No, nay, never! – Yours, etc,

ERIC C O’BRIEN,

Howth Lodge,

Howth, Dublin 13.

Sir, – Considering the risk of physical injury alone, anyone who encourages a child to play rugby is an eejit. – Yours, etc,

DENIS O’CONNOR,

Front Street East,

Toronto, Ontario.

Sir, – Does homophobia exist in rugby? Does misogyny exist in rugby? Does boorish behaviour? Yes. Rugby – like Gaelic football and hurling and soccer – is simply a sport played by people and since any community contains these things, it is silly to suggest that a sport or a club or an office or any large collective of people does not reflect elements of those attitudes. But they do not define it.

Is rugby a tough sport? Yes. Mr Browne suggests that the “manly” culture of rugby is dysfunctional. Is it dysfunctional to teach teamwork, hard work, taking the knocks life may send and getting back up again? Those are values many people would like to pass on to their children.

The culture of rugby that I know is one epitomised by Brian O’Driscoll and Donncha O’Callaghan and so many more of the icons of Irish rugby – fair play, hard work and respect (we still call the referee “Sir”, though that may be a product of the “posh private education” that seems to irk Mr Browne so much).

BARRY CUNNINGHAM,

Clonfert,

Maynooth,

 

Sir, – There are compelling reasons why the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) should introduce a standard to monitor the outcome (morbidity and mortality) for subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) patients who are denied access to emergency neurosurgical or endovascular treatment. Standards of performance are key drivers of patient safety. They measure not only performance but facilitate comparison with healthcare providers in Europe and elsewhere. This can inform best practice and use of scarce resources.

Untreated SAH patients face life-threatening risks. The cost of an intensive care bed (€1,800 per day) is the same whether a patient is being treated in the neurosurgical centre or is in an intensive care bed in the local hospital – and not being treated. The humanitarian and economic consequences of not securing a ruptured brain aneurysm are immense.

Providing additional neurosurgical intensive care beds addresses the unmet need of patients who require emergency neurosurgical treatment. It also removes the onus on admitting hospitals to provide intensive care beds for SAH patients who are being “managed” rather than treated. Early treatment significantly reduces the risk of a catastrophic rebleed, levels of morbidity and mortality and length of stay, when compared to patients who are not treated.

The refusal by HIQA to introduce a standard to monitor, and then publish the outcome for untreated SAH patients, invites questions regarding the competence of HIQA to assess patient safety risks. – Yours, etc,

JIM LAWLESS, MBA

Cypress Downs,

Templeogue,

Sir, – Rosita Boland’s article (Weekend Review, March 8th) referred to Ireland’s ratification of the Hague Convention and its impact on inter-country adoptions. Prior to ratification, Ireland operated a system of light-touch regulation – an indefensible position given our own history of forced adoptions.

Children have been denied the right to grow up with their parents and families because of child trafficking, abduction and through the deception of birth parents. Given the sums of money involved, inter-country adoption can encourage malpractice and corruption, with children and prospective adoptive parents at risk of being exploited for financial gain. A 2009 International Social Service report found that “the number of ‘abandonments’ depends considerably on the extent to which there is a demand for the children concerned”.

The Hague Convention aims to protect children and their families against the risks of illegal, irregular, premature or ill-prepared adoptions abroad. Hague-compliant countries are required to build up their domestic child protection, care and adoption infrastructures, with inter-country adoption as a measure of last resort. Consequently the number of children placed for inter-country adoption is very low once Hague comes into force.

On the other hand, non-Hague compliant countries – many of which are developing countries, such as Ethiopia – often have large numbers of children for adoption but very weak child protection systems.

Ireland’s ratification of Hague has had a personal and profound impact on hundreds of prospective adoptive parents. Unfortunately, there is no magic solution. We must protect children from exploitation and abuse and ensure that every adoption is in the child’s best interests. It is for this reason that we urge extreme caution if Ireland moves to enter into a bilateral agreement with a non-Hague compliant country.

We urge the newly established Child and Family Agency to integrate its adoption and childcare systems. Adoptive parents currently undergo an intensive investigation process and then languish for years in the system with little prospect of ever becoming parents. At the same time, procedures prohibit adoption applicants from fostering, despite a chronic shortage of foster families. Reform is clearly needed. Each adoption applicant should be informed of the likely timeline and outcome of their application and of fostering opportunities open to them. A change in the law to allow for “open” adoptions is also long overdue and could benefit children growing up within the care system. – Yours, etc,

TANYA WARD,

Chief Executive,

Children’s Rights Alliance,

Molesworth Street,

Dublin 2.

 

Sir, – Further to recent letters on the future of Aldborough House in Dublin, your readers might be interested in the fate of Belcamp House, an important 18th-century structure within a few miles of Dublin Airport.

This house, designed by James Hoban (the architect of the White House) in the 1770s and containing an original oval office, a precursor to its famous namesake, was for a time the residence of Henry Grattan, as well as being rented for a time by Countess Markievicz as a centre for the Fianna movement. Run as a school by the Oblate Fathers as Belcamp College, which closed in 2004, the house and lands were sold to Gannon Homes and, like so many other development sites, ended up in Nama.

The house has been allowed to fall into complete neglect and, through vandalism and various arson attacks, little is left now but a ruin of a house that welcomed Jonathan Swift and other famous personages when it was one of the leading country houses in the Dublin area.

Even if funds were not available to preserve this historic building, surely it would not have cost much to protect it from the vandalism directed against it. Sadly Aldborough House seems to be going the same way. – Yours, etc,

ERNEST CROSSEN,

Ard Aoibhinn,

Chapelizod,

Dublin 20.

 

Sir, – I don’t know where Brendan Behan is nowadays, but if he gets hold of your editorial (“The Quare Fellow”, March 20th) in which he is described as a “cultural icon”, you can expect to hear from him.

“I’m not an effin’ Russian monstrance” will be the thrust of his message. – Yours, etc,

KIERAN FAGAN,

Seafield Court,

Killiney,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – My favourite quotation concerning Brendan Behan appears in John Montague’s memoir, Company: A Chosen Life . Neatly summarising his friend’s sexual proclivities and linguistic abilities, Montague says, “He was the only trilingual bisexual I ever met.” – Yours, etc,

PAUL LAUGHLIN,

Spruce Meadows,

Culmore,

 

 

Sir, – Regarding Fr Tony Flannery’s piece (“Pope pragmatic in prioritising structural reform”, Rite & Reason, March 11th), he seems to be arguing that Pope Francis is reorganising the internal governance of the church, (the curia, the synod of bishops, etc) in order that theological change will follow in the wake of such structural changes. Either that or that theological change cannot take place without prior structural change.

Fr Flannery ends his article by saying, “I am very hopeful” (of change). This hopefulness is somewhat at odds with the sense of the two preceding sentences where Fr Flannery cites the pope’s recent statement of defence and indeed praise of the church’s handling of the clerical sexual abuse scandals and the pope’s assertion of Pope Paul VI as a “genius”, for his encyclical Humanae Vitae . These two observations are hardly tokens of an intention towards change.

Father Tony’s theory that structural change is a necessary precursor for theological change, if that is what he is saying, seems to me to be a feeble thesis.

Surely Pope Francis could institute theological change in areas such as clerical celibacy, the ban on contraceptives and the place of women in the church if he had a mind to amend the governance of the church at the same time or even after such changes?

The necessity for proper structural changes to bring about doctrinal change is far from convincing on reading Fr Flannery’s article. – Yours, etc,

RICHARD HOLDEN,

Middleway,

Taunton,

Somerset,

 

Sir, – Seamus O’Callaghan (March 20th) asks if, in keeping with the social conscience that both Guinness and Heineken have displayed in regard to withdrawing sponsorship of the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York, if they, and the drinks industry, would pick up the tab for the A&E charges and other hospital treatments that their products necessitate each week?

This is yet another example of the “blame anyone but ourselves” attitude so deeply etched in our psyche.

To suggest that breweries and distilleries are responsible for the behaviour of individuals who voluntarily overindulge in alcoholic products is rendering individual responsibility for our own actions obsolete. Are we in this country ever going to mature to the point whereby we accept responsibility for our own behaviour and stop blaming others?

Such logic would place responsibility for the anti-social behaviour of car drivers on car manufacturers, sugary soft drinks producers and chocolate manufacturers for obese children and decay in teeth and fast food outlets for rising cholesterol and diabetes levels.

We do not need events like St Patrick’s Day parades to see our streets awash with drunkenness and anti-social behaviour, although such events do come in handy for blaming others for our own delinquency. – Yours, etc,

TOM COOPER,

Templeville Road,

Templeogue,

 

Sir, – Warren McKenzie (March 19th) takes issue with Taoiseach Enda Kenny preaching to the United States government about immigration reform, calling it a “gross interference” in American domestic affairs.

While the United States government is no stranger to taking an active role in the domestic affairs of foreign states, Mr McKenzie raises a valid argument – that our Taoiseach should tackle the very real problems at home. There are said to be up to 50,000 undocumented Irish migrants in the United States of America, a federal republic with a population of 313.9 million people. Back home in Ireland, a State with a population of 4.6 million people, there are said to be up to 30,000 undocumented migrants, the majority of whom have been here for many years.

I wonder if the Taoiseach devotes 40 times as much attention to the undocumented in Ireland as US president Barack Obama devotes to the undocumented Irish? – Yours, etc,

SEÁN Ó SIOCHRÚ

Glenbeigh,

Co Kerry.

 

Sir, – Daniel Griffin repeats (March 13th) the old charge that the Seanad is elitist. One only has to accept the legitimacy and value of the electoral college as an instrument of democracy to see that the charge is without merit.

At the same time as the electorate at large elects local authority councillors, it mandates them to form an electoral college to elect 43 Senators. This is a no less democratic process for being indirect.

Likewise, the voters elect TDs who in turn elect the Taoiseach, conferring on him by these two democratic steps, the mandate defined in the Constitution to nominate 11 Senators. By the same processes, he is empowered to nominate 15 Ministers, but nobody regards that power as undemocratic.

As for the remaining six Senators, they are elected by graduates who have invested effort and funds in increasing the value of what they can contribute to society. The State has also invested resources in their education. In return for these investments, the State gives them the right to elect representatives who, because they are not part of the party political system, are likely to add diversity to the Upper House.

The electorate showed last year that it does not want the Seanad to be abolished. The broadening of the graduates’ franchise is an appropriate reform. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL DRURY,

Avenue Louise,

Brussels,

A chara, – Dr Mary Scriven’s comments (March 19th) epitomise what the anti-smoking lobby has regrettably become. What began 50 years ago as a well-intentioned campaign to raise public awareness of the dangers of smoking is now little more than an alarmist witch-hunt whose raison d’être seems to be the harassment and control of those who choose to consume this legal product.

While Dr Scriven may find the public use of e-cigarettes “rude”, “unpleasant” and “regressive”, she tellingly fails to provide any health reasons for her objection. Of course, this is because no such reasons exist.

Smokers are no different from any other addicts in that they stand a better chance of conquering their dependence if treated with encouragement and understanding. – Is mise,

Dr GARETH P KEELEY,

Gneisenaustrasse,

Dusseldorf,

Germany.

Sir, – I think it is time to stamp out the debate around electronic cigarettes. No butts. – Yours, etc,

HUGH McDONNELL,

Strand Road,

Termonfeckin,

Co Louth.

 

 

 

Irish Independent:

 

* Another quango and another idiotic report. An alliance between the Health Minister and the rather Orwellian titled Minister for Children have come up with an exclusion fat-free takeaway zone for children.

Also in this section

St Patrick’s Day can be about social change

So when is the real democratic revolution?

Letters: Using and abusing the right to free speech

As if the humble chipper is the sole cause of waddling Jennie’s and Johnny’s life . . . were it so simple.

Where is the 1.5km zone to be placed in the supermarket when the parents buy the vast array of food laced with sugar and encrypted lettering masking god knows what?

Who will permit children to be allowed actually run, play ball in the school yard and tumble free from the omnipresent threat of suing somebody else for Paddy and Patricia growing up with its attendant tumbles and falls.

Will the newspaper shop have barbed wire around a 10ft-high soft drinks stand preventing the youngsters from buying sugared water or will the Government ban such sugar-loaded juice?

Perhaps we should let parents decide themselves what to do. I see many of them buying such food for their children in the takeaways. Is this because of the pace of life, or the lack of money to buy ‘real’ food due to government policy.

Lead by example, I say. Educate but don’t impose a nanny, Orwellian state.

Also, perhaps a few of those who seem disturbed by overweight children might lead by example and lose a few pounds themselves. The last few ministers for health carried some excess poundage themselves.

JOHN CUFFE

CO MEATH

THE POLITICS OF SCAM

* Alas! Elections are mere cosmetic exercises in musical chairs. You are simply replacing the faces, yet the music remains the same.

Now that all power is of the European, centralised version – which means decisions for this country are made in Europe – and passed on to the organ grinders who call themselves politicians.

They in turn carry out the wishes of their European masters. Elections have become nothing but scams. All manifesto-false promises should be treated as toilet paper.

Waiting for political messiahs to save us is futile. People need to look inward and forget politics and politicians.

ANTHONY WOODS

ENNIS, CO CLARE

TIP OF FINANCIAL ICEBERG

* I am writing to you, as I assume many others have, regarding the pitiful greed of Irish banks within our society.

This story will probably come of no surprise to you; however, as I am only 22 years of age with limited life experiences, I am still in shock.

My story is essentially about my parents who are both in their 50s and are struggling as hard as anybody I have met in order to keep a roof over our heads.

I am in my final year of college, my sisters are married and have their own families; however, we are finding it difficult to see the goodness in life when we watch our parents living off a few euro every week.

Simply put, they are close to negative equity but not close enough for the banks to decrease their mortgage repayments – repayments that are crippling them every month.

We have downgraded in every aspect possible, my parents’ quality of living is quite humiliating as they find themselves waiting in the evening in Tesco for the reduced products.

They spend their days at home as they cannot afford to eat out, meet friends or visit relatives.

A few weeks ago we thought that a blessing had come in surprise, a contract from the banks offering a reduced mortgage repayment for a set period of time. My parents got advice from other people, signed the contract and sent it back to the banks.

It was agreed that the new repayments would start in March. However, we were notified recently that the banks had made a ‘mistake’ and have decided to rescind the contract.

My parents are distraught and are now fearing that the house will be repossessed.

This is only the tip of our story. I know you may not be able to print this but, even knowing that there are others in our situation that are being kept silent by society, may provoke a reaction.

NAME AND ADDRESS

WITH EDITOR

BOD NOT OUR ONLY HERO

* Ireland’s spectacular Six Nations victory over France in Paris and the equally spectacular solo display by Brian O’Driscoll in his final international appearance will long be remembered in Irish and international sporting history.

The plaudits being showered on the country’s rugby team and on O’Driscoll, in particular, have been well earned.

However, we should not lose sight of the fact that these players are highly paid full-time professionals. This is their paid chosen profession.

On St Patrick’s Day in Croke Park, just two days after Ireland’s rugby victory over the French, four GAA teams contested the All-Ireland club hurling and football finals.

Despite the amateur status of both these codes, those in attendance at Croke Park and those watching on television were treated to spectacular displays of sporting skills.

For generations, the GAA in villages, towns and cities – both in Ireland and abroad – and exclusively on the premise of volunteer participation, turned the GAA into one of the world’s largest and most successful amateur sporting organisations.

These players, who, in their spare time, play for the love of the game with no monetary compensation epitomise the original ideals of sport. They are true sporting heroes.

TOM COOPER

TEMPLOGUE, DUBLIN 6W

BEWARE OF EXAM CHANGE

* I write as somebody who has been involved in education for more than 35 years. During that period I have had experience of state and independent, fee-paying schools.

The schools included both primary and secondary international schools in the Netherlands and Belgium and state schools in the UK – in London and in the industrial region of south Wales.

Most of the time I held posts of responsibility in the managing of subjects throughout the school.

I notice that Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is in danger of repeating the errors that led to the British educational system slipping down the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) international tables of educational achievement.

The emphasis on child-led education and social co-operation in learning can lead to a difficulty in discerning individual progress.

Covering ground by investigation and by reporting is time-consuming. In group work there is a danger of certain children doing the work while others ‘coast along’. . .

Replacing examinations with teacher assessments is also fraught with difficulty.

The temptation to make overgenerous assessments to enhance teacher achievement is ever present and there is no certain way of controlling one teacher’s assessment of a level with those of another.

The reduction of the central role of the teacher can lead to covert bullying and, since this is already a problem, it is likely to get worse.

It is to be hoped that Mr Quinn will consider the advice of the many experienced teachers who have seen the results of experiments – not dissimilar to his – and who know of the pitfalls.

WILLIAM SHEPHERD

MONKSTOWN, CO DUBLIN

Irish Independent

 

 

21 March 2014 Hair

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to stop take Mrs Murray around the harbour, the get lost!Priceless

Cold slightly better hair and library card

Scrabbletoday Marywins and gets under400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

Obituary:

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the former president of Sierra Leone who has died aged 82, invited British forces to rescue his capital from a brutal rebel army, paving the way for Tony Blair’s most successful foreign intervention.

A kindly and well-meaning man, temperamentally about as far from a war leader as could be imagined, Kabbah found himself confronting a singularly ruthless enemy when, in May 2000, rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) massed outside the capital, Freetown.

For almost a decade, RUF insurgents had ravaged Sierra Leone, specialising in hacking the arms and legs off their victims. Foday Sankoh, the RUF’s psychotic leader, had been trained in Libya by Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and sent back to West Africa to carry out a “people’s revolution”.

On January 6 1999 the RUF struck deep inside Freetown, carrying out a massacre which the city’s people still remember with horror. So when Sankoh and his men returned the following year Kabbah, who had already been overthrown once and restored once, faced the prospect of his capital again being sacked with trepidation.

Ensconced in a gloomy official residence on a windswept hill overlooking the Atlantic – with a tank permanently stationed outside – Kabbah knew that his own Army was incapable of stopping the RUF. He was also grimly aware that he could not rely on the world’s biggest United Nations peacekeeping force, which maintained 17,000 ineffective and often inert troops in Sierra Leone.

So Kabbah turned to Britain, the former colonial power.

At first, he received a lukewarm response. Britain dispatched 800 troops, consisting of 1 Bn the Parachute Regiment and supporting elements, under the command of Brigadier David Richards. But the official mission was simply to evacuate British and other eligible citizens from Freetown.

In the event, this evacuation took less than a week. Instead of packing up and leaving, however, Brig Richards then decided – largely on his own initiative – to stay in Freetown and prevent the RUF from capturing the city. Tony Blair gave retrospective backing to his commander on the ground.

Brig Richards was barred from going on the offensive, so he carefully deployed his troops in exposed forward positions and waited for the RUF to attack.

The rebels took the bait and attacked British paratroopers near Lungi airport on May 17. The ensuing firefight was, in hindsight, the turning point of Sierra Leone’s civil war. For the first time since its foundation in 1991, the RUF collided not with a ragtag African army, but an elite fighting force. The rebels duly came off worse. Just how badly they were mauled remains unclear: Britain maintains that 30 insurgents were killed; the true figure was almost certainly far higher.

On the same day, Foday Sankoh was captured by Sierra Leonean forces acting with the help of British intelligence. After suffering this almost simultaneous double blow, the RUF began to fall apart and the threat to Freetown evaporated. The rebels opened talks with Kabbah and the civil war formally ended in 2002.

Fewer than 800 British combat troops had changed the course of history in a country of five million people – without suffering a single loss (although one British soldier was killed four months later during a mission to rescue 11 hostages).

Brig Richards went on to become a general and Chief of the Defence Staff; Blair became a national hero in Sierra Leone, where babies were named in his honour. Kabbah never forgot his debt to Blair. In his last weeks in office in 2007, Blair paid a triumphant visit to Sierra Leone where Kabbah made him a “paramount chief” with the right to sit in the country’s version of the House of Lords.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was born on February 16 1932 in what was then the British Crown Colony of Sierra Leone. Although a devout Muslim, he attended St Edward’s Catholic secondary school in Freetown, before moving to Britain where he lived for more than 10 years.

Kabbah studied at Aberystwyth University and was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn in 1969. He then joined the United Nations Development Programme, working in Africa as its resident representative in Lesotho.

Kabbah returned to Sierra Leone in the late 1970s, where he became a senior civil servant and permanent secretary in several ministries. A bureaucrat rather than a politician, he nonetheless ran for president and won the election in 1996. He served for only a year before being overthrown in 1997 and then restored to office by a Nigerian military intervention the following year.

After the civil war, Kabbah won a sweeping victory in the 2002 election, running as the man who had brought peace. He served as president until 2007, but achieved little with his time in office.

Kabbah proved too weak to act against corrupt ministers. On his watch, Sierra Leone was penetrated by Latin American drug barons, who used the country as a staging post for running cocaine to Europe. When the opposition made (justified) complaints about his government’s corruption, Kabbah resorted to accusing them of a “lack of patriotism”. Few missed him when he retired from office.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s wife, Patricia, predeceased him. They had five children.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, born February 16 1932, died March 13 2014

Guardian:

I am old, much older, than Charlie Brooker (G2, 17 March), and he has problems understanding the generation you have let loose on G2. So pity me who, in my first job as a young engineer, relied on my trusty sliderule to earn a living (do they know what they were?). There were few telephones, no TVs, no computers. One of our children was still at home at 27, would they believe? However, I am still much interested in how the world changes, but at times despair that I am now irretrievably lost and stranded. I search for things and ideas I can recognise in all the frenetic cultural activity around me, things to latch on to that might drag me along with them.

What do all these trainee “digital” journalists editing G2 actually do? They obviously have the means to communicate with one another that I never possessed until later in life, and make money from them.

But what is it that they have to say? They can communicate with one another globally and instantly and, as far as I can see, aim at the shortest pithiest statements (fewer than 140 characters – oneliners, if possible) on major aspects of the human condition.

I do realise that I am probably already presenting the image of elderly ossification they dread, but I hope they appreciate that almost all aspects of their world today have arrived since I was their age, although we are all in this same world together now. I would like to be here to see how they will be coping another 50 years from now. How about a week of G2 driven by those born before 1930?
Frank Evans
Orpington, Kent

• OK, so your Generation Y team have demonstrated that young people today are as hard done by, misunderstood, arrogant and randy as they always are (been there, done that, got the mental scars), and also that they can produce as good a G2 as your usual gang. How about now giving them a crack at producing the Sport section?
Bob Heath-Whyte
Chalgrove, Oxfordshire

It came as no surprise to me that a lot of the upper decks of HMS Victory are not original (Report, 17 March). My grandfather, George Rogers, was bosun of the yard in Portsmouth when the ship underwent a major refit in the 1920s. At that time a lot of the original oak was removed and the decks remodelled. My grandfather and the master carpenter in charge of the refit were each allowed to take a cupboard door made of the original oak. Grandfather had a gate-legged table, a dressing-table set and a pair of candlesticks made from his door, all of which are still in my possession. In that same era, visitors to the ship were each given “a piece of Victory oak” as a souvenir as they left the ship. According to my mother (who was banned from joining the visiting tourist parties at the request of the sailors showing visitors round because she used to ask awkward questions), these souvenirs came from a local sawmill and were mostly anything but oak. Had they been authentic, there would by now be absolutely nothing left of the original timbers anywhere.
Val Harrison
Birmingham

In order to put the current crisis in Crimea in perspective, I would refer people to a very interesting book that I am sure John Kerry, William Hague and, no doubt, President Putin have read. It is The Grand Chessboard,written in 1998 by one of President Obama’s favourite foreign affairs theorists and President Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski. In it he argued that the US had to take control of a number of strategic countries, including Ukraine, arguing that that country is “a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country (means) Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire”. He warns against allowing Russia to regain control over the country because, by doing so, “Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia”.
Colin Burke
Manchester

• Instead of imposing sanctions on Russia for recognising Crimea‘s independence, perhaps we should welcome President Putin’s new-found enthusiasm for democracy and ask him when he plans to hold a similar referendum in Chechnya and allow the Chechens to declare their independence from Russia.
Sam Dastor
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

• Timothy Garton Ash (The focus is on Crimea, but next is the fight for Ukraine, 19 March) criticises the Crimea referendum for lacking “the consent of all parts of the existing state”, and for being held “without due constitutional process”. Why did he not similarly complain when the referendums which carved up Yugoslavia were being held – without the consent of all parts of the existing state, and without due constitutional process?
Marko Gasic
London

• David Cameron has rightly condemned the annexation of Crimea as illegitimate and illegal. He called at prime minister’s questions for “a rules-based system where countries obey the rules”. This would be an excellent and brave initiative. Consistency is key. For example, last week, in a speech to the Israeli Knesset, one has to ask why he did not call for Israel to cancel its illegal annexations of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, both of which were condemned by UN security council resolutions 24 years ago. It took less than 24 hours to pass sanctions on Russia. He did not even ask when Israel would be ending its 47-year-old military occupation. If Putin had been paying attention, he would have been happily reassured.
Chris Doyle
Director, Council for Arab-British Understanding

• Despite the illegitimate nature of the Crimea referendum, the fact that it was carried out within the space of two weeks must be a cause of a little embarrassment to Minurso, the UN body charged with organising a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara. That was back in 1991. Twenty-three years later, in the face of ongoing Moroccan obstruction and international indifference, Minurso has still not fulfilled its mandate and a population a quarter the size of Crimea’s is still awaiting a say on its future.
Stefan Simanowitz
London

It would be nice to see some mention of the contribution made by secondary-modern-educated men and women, the poor bloody infantry of the workforce, in the shipyards, factories, building sites, hospitals, offices and elsewhere in the UK, now that the last of them are coming up to retirement. In all this recent chatter about Etonians at the top and the clamour in some quarters for the return of grammar schools, the sec mod class of 64 and before that have remained, as usual, invisible.
Frank Conway
Newcastle upon Tyne

• So, is Tanya Gold’s insight (If fashion is how you express yourself, I pity you, 20 March) into the exploitative, misogynistic nature of the fashion industry going to stop the Guardian’s continued promotion of it on its front and main national and international news pages? The frequent photographs of young, gaunt, vacant, Barbie-doll women modelling the latest trends seems completely at odds with the paper’s ethos. Like art, fashion has become business and should therefore be on the business pages. What an opportunity the Guardian misses to provide an alternative aesthetic that expresses the paper’s wonderful, observant, human and humane journalism.
Judy Marsh
Nottingham

• Paradise in Norway gone (Letters, 15 March)? While away your time in Purgatorio, western Sicily.
Dr Mike Rushton
Tarporley, Cheshire

• I feel that the Treasury could be on very dodgy ground in suggesting that the new £1 coin (Report, 19 March) is the most secure coin in circulation in the world. Anyone, especially small boys of my generation who carried around their meagre savings in their trousers, could guarantee that within a few weeks any sharp sided “threepenny bits” among the pennies would wear a hole in your pocket and you lost the lot. What then the security of the new coin?
John Marjoram
Stroud, Gloucestershire

• But unlike threepenny bits, I can’t see 12-sided £1 coins ever becoming Cockney rhyming slang.
John Cranston
Norwich

There is not an ounce of humanity in a budget which puts a cap on overall benefit spending that includes housing benefit needed to pay rents in a property market which is out of control (Vote blue, go grey, 20 March). Any fat cat can swallow the cream of UK property and leave it empty. The coalition continues to allow the existing caps on the housing benefits of families and individuals to create unmanageable rent arrears and hunger. Tenants are forced into temporary, overcrowded and often sub-standard accommodation in the private, and increasingly overpriced, rented sector. Meanwhile, the dreaded diseases of poverty reappear. Will, or can, the Labour party produce any policies which will redeem their capitulation to the overall cap in voting for it?
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

• You emphasise (Editorial, 20 March) how George Osborne continues to see reducing the government’s debts as central to his economic strategy. Yet he regards the much larger debts of the banking sector as not worthy of his attention. It is estimated that government debt will peak at around 80% of GDP, while the debts of the banks remain stubbornly high at 500% of GDP. Britain shares with Japan the least envied title of being the most indebted of the G8 countries. When the next financial crisis comes, as it will, Britain may have to apply for what would be the largest loan in the history of the IMF. In return for that loan, the IMF will impose on Britain a savage austerity programme, similar to Greece’s. Is the government’s complacency due to its assumption that Britain, as with its over-indebted banks, is too large to be allowed to fail? More likely it is because the government has taken its eye off the ball as to what is the real cause of the crisis: rash speculation by over-indebted banks.
Derrick Joad
Leeds

• Most baby boomers are not rolling in it. In fact most can’t afford to retire. Final-salary pensions were closed down years ago, and women particularly find NI contributions only cover 18 years of child-bearing/raising, and those contributions are reduced. In addition, any money people are able to scratch together for retirement has made a loss for years.

If we could get hold of moneys from my husband’s work, for example, the future might look more manageable; and if he died first, I would have a little more to live on than a worrying half of not much. Osborne’s bribes make principled older people turkeys who must vote for their own Christmas in a society that teaches that we’re greedy, fattened-up people who have long had it easy and had it all. Where is the coherent narrative from other political parties to help counteract this divisive bribe? And while we’re at it, we’ve all paid NI contributions, ie a tax for public services such as the NHS. Successive governments have wasted all that money, which is not our fault. Remember, only a few swing votes in the UK count.
Olivia Byard
Witney, Oxfordshire

• While I wouldn’t want to argue against the chancellor’s assertion that responsible pensioners should be trusted to make the right financial decisions about what to do with their pension money, individual choices need to be understood within the contexts in which they are made. Unfortunately, that context is the British financial services industry, and one can have little confidence that the advice pensioners will be able to access will be given in their interests.

I doubt if one would get very long odds betting on the proposition that in 10 or 15 years’ time, we will be waking up to the great “pensions drawdown misadvice scandal” (no doubt the wise will shake their heads and remind us of the “pensions misselling scandal” of the Thatcher era). Nor will you get long odds betting that no one will be considered criminally liable for it. Under neoliberalism, it is only the less privileged who have to take responsibility for their choices.
Rob Raeburn
Brighton

• It will come as a great relief to any emergency service worker that if they are killed in action their estate will not be subject to inheritance tax. Of course, they already had the mere sum of £325,000 free of this tax, and if by chance they are married or in a civil partnership, the combined estate of a mere £650,000 would be exempt and would not be taxable if they are survived by their spouse or partner. Given the salaries of most emergency workers and their relative youth, they may not have had much time to build large and valuable estates, and happily only a small number die in active service. I suspect that this generous gift by the chancellor may not cost the country too much money. Would it be cynical of me to suggest that this was merely a piece of well-sounding PR?
David Lawson
Ilford, Essex

• Every pensioner able to put £10,000 into each issue of the new three-year “pensioner bond” will, if the interest rate is the expected 4%, have an income (net of tax at 20%) of £320. Poorer pensioners without that level of savings will get nothing. Another example of the government using state finance to give to those that have in order to attempt to buy their votes.
John Gaskin
York

• If the likelihood is that only a “small minority” of retirees will misuse their pension pot and fall back on the state is therefore of no consequence, why is the likelihood that only a “small minority” of EU immigrants will misuse the benefits system then outrageous and an indication that urgent action is required?
Gordon Milligan
Berlin

• We have been concerned for some time that the government’s proposed reforms for apprenticeships would have a negative effect on the number of small and medium enterprises taking on apprentices because of the additional costs and increased red tape. We hope that the budget announcement, in addition to the apprenticeship funding reform-consultation feedback, will result in sufficient steps being taken to support small businesses providing apprenticeships.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s recent work leading the government’s Electrotechnical Trailblazer was an opportunity for small businesses to have their voice heard in making sure that apprenticeship further-education courses are fit for purpose. The priority now will be to make sure that small businesses in the electrotechnical and other engineering disciplines are given a generous share of government grants. After all, given the huge shortfall of engineers, apprenticeships represent a valuable lifeline to the future of engineering in the UK.
Paul Davies
Institution of Engineering and Technology

Independent:

George Osborne may have calculated that giving money to the elderly in his Budget would persuade us, on the basis of unenlightened self-interest, to vote Tory in 2015. But he may not be aware that many of us have grandchildren, and we are appalled at the difficulties our youngsters are having to struggle with because of the policies of his government.  

With enormous fees if they are lucky enough to get to university, ever-increasing rents demanded by greedy landlords, unemployment or low-paid and insecure jobs, and ferocious and corrupt policing if they dare to demonstrate or protest, life is pretty tough for youngsters these days.

I and many others try to make up for Osborne’s harshness by giving our grandchildren some of our pension, and I, and I hope many others, will persuade the youngsters to use their votes but never to vote Tory. Osborne may live to regret his cynical “Help the Aged Only” budget.

Tony Cheney, Ipswich, Suffolk

George Osborne, whose high office probably precludes him regularly frequenting public houses, and whose drinks in the Commons watering holes are subsidised by us taxpayers, can be forgiven for not knowing the harsh realities of pub life for beer drinkers. But journalists, even those of the modern school who do not spend all afternoon at the bar before submitting their copy, surely have no excuse. Your paper’s headline on the Budget “A speech for . . . drinkers” (20 March) is as misleading as a politician’s spin.

A penny duty off a pint of beer does not result in a penny off a pint. Publicans never change prices by 1p, and never reduce prices, and increases nowadays are 10p minimum, more likely 20p. After last year’s “beer drinker’s budget” I was laughed out of the bar of my local after asking why I did not get a penny off, and two weeks later all drinks went up by 20p.

John E Orton, Bristol

Has the Chancellor factored in a large budget increase for the policing of organised crime, given his gangster’s gift of increasing tobacco duty in the Budget?

It is only a matter of time before violent gang “turf wars” break out in our inner cities, in parallel with the exponential increase in contraband cigarette sales. It is similarly just a matter of time before, because of this ugly phenomenon, Treasury revenue from tobacco starts to drop off.

Nicky Samengo-Turner, Hundon, Suffolk

The new 12-sided pound coin just confirms that the pound today is only worth 3d in old money. And why the long delay to its introduction? It is only a coin, not a hi-tech device.

Colin Stone, Oxford

UK useless in aircraft search

The search going on in the southern Indian Ocean for the Malaysia Airlines aircraft points up the UK’s stark lack of military capability. Such a search can only be done with sophisticated long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

The Australians, the New Zealanders, and, of course, the Americans have provided Orion aircraft, and even the very latest aircraft, the US Navy’s P-8A.

This should be an area where Britain might be able to help. But we couldn’t, even if we wanted to. We used to have one of the best maritime patrol aircraft in the world, the Nimrod. Since 2010, when we grounded our current Nimrods and decided not to carry on with a newer version, this country has had no maritime air patrol capability.

This is an extraordinary situation for a maritime nation such as the UK  – and our inability is sharply emphasised by the absence of equipment that could help in this very sad situation.

Sean Maffett, Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire

Am I the only person who is surprised to discover from the disappearance of a Malaysian aircraft that the means of transmission in aeroplanes can be so easily switched off by the pilot or others, or indeed switched off at all? I cannot see any legitimate benefit in planes having this “facility”, and a whole raft of dangerous disadvantages.

Ian Craine, London N15

HS2: most of us pay  but get nothing

Simon Calder, as usual, hits nails on the head (“Expensive and destructive, but also the only way to revitalise the railways”, 17 March). HS2 benefits too few and has a business case that is precarious at best. The environmental damage, especially to woodland, is completely unacceptable.

While it would be nice for Brits to enjoy the same high-speed inter-city rail service that most on the continent have known for decades, there is a far more urgent need.

This morning, I sat in a bus which arrived 13 minutes late and took 40 minutes to fight its way just six miles into town. For every long-distance commuter and business traveller, there are a hundred who face the consequences of road congestion and the failure to deliver rail for local service.

Now that we see the result of pretending that road transport alone suffices, we need to prioritise the reopening of stations and lines closed 50 years ago, and building new light electric rail systems within towns and out to their suburbs and satellites.

Blowing the budget on a single system for the wealthy few may deliver political kudos, but it will anger the rest of us who pay but get nothing.

Ian East, Chairman, Oxford-Bicester Rail Action Group, Islip, Oxfordshire

One of the biggest benefits of HS2 is the economic redevelopment opportunities. We’ve heard a lot about these opportunities for the major cities connected by the high-speed line, but little or nothing about the potential wins for cities beyond the immediate confines of the HS2 network.

There is great potential through the connections to the east- and west-coast main lines for cities other than Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds to benefit from HS2, but the challenges around realising these benefits need to be tackled now if these locations are not to fall behind.

In addition, many of these smaller cities could be reached by HS2 trains moving to the classic railway network to complete their journey. But this will require new or significantly enhanced stations.

We need an urgent dialogue between HS2, Network Rail, the train operating companies and local authorities to fully understand the challenges that the arrival of high-speed trains will bring to the classic railway network.

Jeremy Acklam, Institution of Engineering and Technology, London WC2

Two achievements of Tony Benn

Prue Bray asks what Tony Benn did apart form talking “a lot of left-wing stuff” (letter, 18 March). For full details she should obtain the several volumes of Mr Benn’s splendid diaries, covering 50 years of parliamentary life.

But let me mention two concrete things he did. As the drums of war against Iraq built up 11 years ago, Tony Benn, then and until his death president of the Stop the War Campaign, flew to Baghdad to interview Saddam Hussein. Benn asked Saddam directly if he had weapons of mass destruction. Saddam denied he did, saying, according to Benn’s diary: “I tell you, as I have said on many occasions before, that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction whatsoever.”

It turned out Benn was right. Benn also, when energy minister in the late 1970s, promoted the biggest ever taxpayer-sponsored energy-efficiency campaign. In so doing, he was years ahead.

Dr David Lowry, Stoneleigh, Surrey

Reasons for Turner’s strange vision

Turner’s eyesight has worried many for a long time (letter, 19 March).

Leigh Hunt in 1831 thought Turner’s “chromatic absurdities” might be the result of an ophthalmic condition. A “lens sclerosis” and secondary astigmatism were also blamed for the distortions of vision that caused Mark Twain to describe Turner’s work as “like a ginger cat having a fit in a bowl of tomatoes.”

The subject is discussed in the eye-surgeon Patrick Trevor-Roper’s The World through Blunted Sight  (1970) and by the undersigned in a biography of Turner. (Standing in the Sun, a life of JMW Turner, 1997).

Anthony Bailey, Mersea Island, Essex

Outsourcing the job of a parent

So the Government is to make £2,000 available to parents to help pay for childcare – just as long as the person providing the care is not the child’s own parent, but a paid surrogate. This will enable parents to fill all those job vacancies around the country, I suppose – perhaps in nurseries?

And yet we regularly hear that there is a “crisis of parenting” in this country. Just who is supposed to be doing this parenting, if parents are being given incentives to outsource it rather than doing the job themselves?

Marjorie Clarke, Totnes, Devon

Times:

Sir, Why anyone wants to be ruled by Vladimir Putin is a mystery, but Western leaders have not covered themselves with glory. The violent overthrow of an elected government in Ukraine was viewed with equanimity by Cameron, Obama et al. A peaceful referendum in Crimea has aroused howls of rage from the fiddlers, giving new meaning to the concept of hypocrisy.

John Bromley-Davenport, qc

Malpas, Cheshire

Sir, As a Hungarian of 1956, I never thought that the following would leave my lips, but Putin is right — Russia is taking back what is historically and popularly its own, ignoring the decision of the drunken Khrushchev in 1954.

Dr Andrew Zsigmond

Liverpool

Sir, The West’s self-serving lack of resolve over the invasion of Ukraine is worrying. Cannot the UK at least lead a group prepared to ban all sporting contacts with Russia while its troops remain on Ukrainian soil?

David Harris

London SW13

Sir, The Ukrainian Ambassador says the Crimea has been “heavily subsidised” (letter, Mar 20). This burden now passes to Moscow — in return for an assurance that Sevastopol cannot become a Nato military base. A win-win situation?

David Ashton

Sheringham, Norfolk

Sir, I thoroughly agree with Jenni Russell (Opinion, Mar20) that the West should take the blame over Crimea for its meddling in Ukraine. Did the EU actually consider the fact that Russia bases its Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol? If Ukraine joined the EU and eventually Nato, there is no chance that this situation would be allowed to continue with the possibility of Russian nuclear armed ships in an EU state.

Julian Nettlefold

Editor, Battlespace

Sir, If the West fails to exact a heavy price for Putin’s foreign adventurism, others, notably China, with domestic and economic problems of its own, may be encouraged to follow the same route. The interests of the City, of German exporters and of European gas consumers must take second place to the need to shore up international stability, otherwise the final bill in terms of increased military spending, and perhaps even war, could be far higher.

Adrian Cosker

Hitchin, Herts

Sir, Most Crimeans want to become part of Russia. The pragmatic approach is to let them get on with it. We have far more pressing problems much closer to home.

Stephen Knight

Rhoscolyn, Anglesey

Sir, Whether the West chooses to recognise the referendum or not, it had a 95 per cent turnout (something most Western democracies could only dream of) with an 89 per cent Yes vote — a vote which appears to be far more genuine than the 2004 US presidential election, for example.

The West should be helping to support a peaceful transfer of Crimea to Russia ensuring that the minorities in the region have protection.

The US and EU need to be very careful how they lecture the rest of the world on democracy.

ELizabeth Hastings-Clarke

Some of the measures announced by Mr Osborne sound attractive but now they must be implemented

Sir, Most people will support actions to reduce tax avoidance but allowing HMRC to demand disputed taxes before the taxpayer has had his case heard by a court gives unacceptable power to the taxman (“Revenue wins power to raid bank accounts in battle over tax avoidance”, Budget supplement, Mar 18).

In his Budget speech, the Chancellor reminded us of the signing of Magna Carta in 1215. That wonderful document set down that: “No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised (dispossessed) . . . but by lawful judgement of his peers”. That principle has protected the citizens of this country for 800 years. He was wrong to violate it.

Richard Tweed

Croydon

Sir, The Chancellor announced early on in his Budget Speech that emergencies personnel who die in the line of duty will be exempt from inheritance tax. How many people will actually benefit from that?

If the person is married their assets pass freely to their spouse — and if they are single how many would have assets in excess of the inheritance tax threshold?

A more meaningful gesture
would have been to repay soldiers who have had to buy their own life insurance while fighting during
recent wars.

Sara Blunt

Chislehurst, Kent

Sir, The latestBudget promised all sorts of goodies, especially for pensioners, but why should they believe it?

After all in October 2007 Mr Osborne and Mr Cameron promised all sorts of changes to inheritance tax, but once they were in office those promises were quietly forgotten with not a word of apology to those of us who believed them.

Rear Admiral Conrad Jenkin

West Meon, Hants

It is a tough decision whether to give up a career to look after small children, and women need help not hectoring

Sir, I am surprised that Lucy Powell, the Shadow Minister for Childcare and Children, considers it a “waste of talent” when mothers are not at a distant place of work, but actually at home looking after their own children (letter, Mar 18). Parents should be being encouraged to look after their children in the crucial early years of childhood and then helped back into work when their children are ready for that separation.

Instead of making those who chose this route feel guilty that they are “holding the economy back”, Ms Powell should be backing these parents’ tough decision and offering them a way back into work that values the time they spent managing their home and children.

Maria Smith

Exeter, Devon

Council tax bills vary wildly across the country as house prices are skewed by the London property boom

Sir, One anomaly created by the massive rise in London property prices compared with the rest of the country is seen in the council tax demands now being sent out.

The demand for my home (band F; value £475k) in a Dorset village is £2,489. The demand for my home in Islington (band G; value £1.5m) £2,101. The equivalent Band F would be £1,821, ie £650 less.

Mind you, I do get six buses a day, last bus 6pm. And what do Londoners get? Ah yes, the Tube and bus system. Will any politician be brave enough to sort this out?

Mike Nixon

Sutton Poyntz, Dorset

Slow-moving bureaucracy is threatening to turn young Catholics couples away from church marriage ceremonies

Sir, My daughter plans to marry a non-Catholic in a Catholic church in August. She now has to rely on the goodwill of an unpaid volunteer in each parish to find and post her the required original certificates for baptism and confirmation. This is a slow process because parishes are inundated with similar requests. The result is long delays and considerable anxiety.

It’s fair for the church to charge for this but not fair to rely on an unpaid, usually very nice volunteer to fulfil this church-regulated duty. The inefficiency and anxiety could turn faithful young people away from a church marriage — and so their children may not be brought up as Catholics.

Peter Hobday

Folkestone, Kent

You don’t expect a hospital to order a young mother not to nurse her baby in a maternity wing waiting room

Sir, How outrageous and contradictory that a new mother is stopped from breastfeeding her baby in a hospital waiting room by a health trust aiming to “Promote positive attitudes to breastfeeding” (“You can’t feed your child here, hospital told new mother”, Mar 19).

The maternity information also advises: “We think it is a good idea that your baby is with you at all times.”

How can this possibly happen if a child as young as six weeks is not brought along while her mother has time-consuming blood tests?

While David Eltringham, the chief operating officer of the hospital is worrying about “patient safety”, the rest of us should ask what dangers could possibly be posed to anyone. I have never heard of an accident being caused by breast feeding.

Janet Weston

Westerham, Kent

Telegraph:

SIR – The body of Tony Benn may rest overnight in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster next week, an honour previously awarded only to Margaret Thatcher. There has perhaps never been a better example of British absurdity.

On the one hand, we have a politician who led this country as prime minister through three terms and changed the country’s financial and international fortunes dramatically.

On the other hand, we have a politician who was never prime minister, making it as far as secretary of state for industry. He had dramatic and outdated hard-Left views and was left behind by his own party as it moved to the centre. He continued to be a great constituency MP, a champion of the powerless, a diarist of the highest order and a good father.

But Benn and Thatcher are in different leagues; it is like comparing Winston Churchill with Dick Crossman.

J R Nickell-Lean
Ryton, North Yorkshire

SIR – Tony Benn was a brilliant orator, but was nevertheless an egocentric maverick; it would be a travesty to extend to him the accolade that was granted to Margaret Thatcher. She was a political winner; he a political loser.

David Phipps
Freshford, Somerset

SIR – An “accident of birth” allows many to forgive Tony Benn for his silver-spoon background and public school education. Yet Old Etonians in Government are roundly criticised for being toffs. Why?

Michael Nicholson
Dunsfold, Surrey

Clear as a bell

SIR – I was dismayed to read yet another complaint about “noisy” bells, in this case bells that have chimed for 140 years in Knighton, Radnorshire.

Surely people who buy houses anywhere near bell towers, whether they be church or civic buildings, should check on the frequency of the ringing before they buy. Bravo to the town mayor and his campaign to keep them ringing.

Christine Lavender
Send, Surrey

Left out

SIR – Peter Luff MPhas said that left-handed children need more support in schools (March 18). Far from being psychologically scarred by my schooldays, I can use right-handed scissors and write legibly despite being left-handed.

Improving standards in the teaching of basic numeracy and literacy would be a more worthwhile cause to champion.

Kirsty Blunt
Sedgeford, Norfolk

SIR – My husband, myself and two of our three children are left-handed. The verse our daughter was taught on starting school wasn’t very helpful: “The hand you write with is your right, the one that’s left is left.”

Kay Blackwell
Maesygwartha, Monmouthshire

SIR – Like Rowan Pelling, I am a left-handed person living in a right-handed world. I have also battled with tin openers designed for the right-handed. One of the most useful tools I have acquired is a left-handed ruler. Before any right-handers scoff at this, try drawing a line against a ruler without being able to see the numbers clearly. My left-handed ruler has the numbers running from right to left.

Clifford Baxter
Wareham, Dorset

German cemeteries

SIR – Like M J Gibson, I try to visit German war cemeteries, like the one at Langemarck. I find the contrast between stark German cemeteries and serene British ones astonishing.

I always read the comment books at the Commonwealth memorials, and some of the most poignant remarks I have seen have been from German visitors. Perhaps quiet appreciation is preferable to flamboyant visual displays.

Ray Bather
Allendale, Northumberland

Natural deterrent

SIR – In my wooded garden we used to have a serious grey squirrel problem. They ate everything I tried to grow in the garden and they even raided the house.

But since a pair of buzzards returned to breed, the grey squirrel numbers have collapsed. Natural control obviously works.

Anthony Vickery
Poole, Dorset

Money talks

SIR – The introduction of £1 coins resembling the old threepenny bit will be a reminder to all in Britain how much successive governments have safeguarded the value of our money.

What used to cost 3p back in 1971, when the threepenny bit was rendered obsolete by decimalisation, now costs just over £1.

Mark Boyle
Johnstone, Renfrewshire

SIR – The reverse image on the original threepenny bit was of the flower thrift.

Surely no better image could be found in these challenging times?

Christopher Macy
Lincoln

MoD should not build on Stonehenge aerodrome

SIR – I am deeply saddened that the Ministry of Defence plans to build thousands of homes over the site of the historic Larkhill aerodrome, within sight of Stonehenge.

In February 1910, my great-grandfather Sir George White (1854-1916) founded what became the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

He chose Larkhill as a testing ground for his new Boxkite aeroplanes in part because there was little except Stonehenge for errant aircraft to hit, and in part because he hoped to attract interest from the nearby Army base. He acquired the flying rights over 2,000 acres there, building an iron hangar to house his aircraft and setting up a pioneering school. Others joined him, and Larkhill blossomed.

Two Boxkites flying from the original Bristol shed became the first aircraft to take part in British military manoeuvres. Arguably the first air-to-ground radio signals were received at Larkhill and the first government trials to select aircraft for the Forces took place there. A great number of the pilots available when the First World War broke out were trained at Larkhill. Many brave young men lost their lives at the aerodrome, but through their bravery and sacrifice, extraordinary strides in the development of British aviation took place. It is certainly the oldest hangar to survive in Britain, and is, perhaps, the oldest in Europe.

While this hugely significant building is under threat, in Australia, pioneering Bristol aircraft are being celebrated. On March 1, the flight of a specially built Boxkite replica was the centrepiece of the Royal Australian Air Force centenary celebrations. The purpose was to replicate the first Australian military flight, made on a Boxkite by Lieutenant Eric Harrison at 7.40am on March 1 1914. Harrison learnt to fly at the Bristol School at Larkhill.

Larkhill was a cradle of British and Commonwealth aviation. There must be many suitable sites for new homes. Historic Larkhill is not one of them.

Sir George White

Rudgeway, Gloucestershire

SIR – Richard Spencer is unfortunately right when he says the situation in Syria is actually much worse than one might think. Amnesty International has reported on how 250,000 people are now subjected to brutal medieval-style sieges, in which entire neighbourhoods have been sealed off from the outside world.

In the Yarmouk district of Damascus, for example, the Syrian army has maintained a deadly stranglehold since July, preventing people getting in or out and cutting off the food supply and electricity. Food is so scarce that many of the 20,000 malnourished residents have been reduced to eating cats and dogs or boiling dandelion leaves.

Meanwhile, Syrian army snipers callously shoot at those foraging for food. Over 200 people have died in Yarmouk’s barbaric siege, with at least 128 perishing through starvation.

Last month’s long overdue United Nations resolution on Syria called on all parties – government forces and armed opposition groups – to lift their sieges and allow in food and medical supplies. This has not happened and, unless it does, the grotesque suffering of the Syrian people is likely to descend to a level that most people will struggle to believe.

Kate Allen
Director, Amnesty International UK
London EC2

SIR – Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, says that living standards have dropped by £1,600 in the past four years, which I would have thought was an inevitable consequence of Labour’s policies up until 2010.

It would be interesting to know how that drop in living standards splits between the various sectors of society – what is the drop for the richest 10 per cent, the next 10 per cent, and so on. This would surely prove whether we were “all in it together” or not. It is curious that neither Labour nor the Conservatives seem willing to divulge this information.

Barry Smith
Loughborough, Leicestershire

SIR – The Chancellor’s announcement of additional help to cathedrals for renovations is extremely good news, not only to communities battling to keep their immense buildings windproof and watertight – a task made far more difficult through this winter of storms – but also to the heritage construction industry, which has been cruelly punished through the recession.

As a building conservation architect (and surveyor of the fabric at St George’s Chapel, Windsor), I know that the heritage sector has yet to show signs of recovery.

The loss of irreplaceable historic craft and trade skills critical to the sustainable maintenance and repair of these magnificent buildings is gravely concerning. It is vital that the Government provides greater support to skills training for conservation specialists.

Martin Ashley
Twickenham, Middlesex

SIR – I am blessed with two young children, parents who require support to keep them at home, and a husband who works long and variable hours. I also volunteer at my children’s school.

I did not make a choice not to work. Indeed, like thousands of others, I work long hours, unpaid, out of family necessity. Am I to presume that if I stopped helping my higher-rate-taxpayer husband, abandoned my parents to the NHS, sent my children to school ill, and took a minimum-wage job for a few hours a week I would be entitled to a pat on the back for contributing to the economy?

Josie Jennings
Moulton, Suffolk

SIR – I was initially delighted to hear Nick Clegg on the radio telling me I was going to get £2,000 per child for child care. With four children, that would be welcome. My joy was short-lived, however, as my wife reminded me that all our child-benefit payments had been taken away, amounting to many more thousands lost than we may gain. She then went on to ruin my breakfast by telling me that it wouldn’t apply to those who had only one income. My solution? Pay her to become a cleaner in our own home and vote Labour next time around.

Daniel Connolly
Lancing, West Sussex

Irish Times:

Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 01:10

First published: Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 01:10

Sir, – Are Vincent Browne’s sensibilities confined to rugby, where he finds it so “disturbing” for a participant to obtain a “thrill in legally inflicting pain on someone else” (“Rugby culture is boorishly patriarchal”, Opinion and Analysis, March 19th)? If this susceptibility extends more widely, perhaps he would ponder his own opinion pieces, where he has been inflicting pain for years. – Yours, etc,

GEOFF SCARGILL,

Loreto Grange,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Rugby could be viewed as part of the overall British package offered to this nation and gratefully accepted along with an accompanying ethos which many Irish schools have embraced and championed in our recent history. This British ethos (along with fagging and other abominations) had one aim and one aim only, namely to desensitise British youth and thus prepare them for the cold-hearted military and cultural domination of native peoples around the world. The “playing fields of Eton” is where most of their battles were fought and won. The British Empire is no more, but the fight continues as long as the will to compete and dominate is seen as a legitimate aspiration for sentient beings. – Yours, etc,

GABRIEL ROSENSTOCK,

Gleann na gCaorach,

Co Átha Cliath.

Sir, – It is such a pity that the venerable Vincent Browne did not play serious rugby at school, even though we know he did attend Castleknock College for five years. If he had it seems doubtful that he would find rugby culture “boorish and patriarchal”. Mr Browne obviously has never tackled an opposing player in full flight for the line, never had the satisfaction of bringing down an adversary physically and legally. He is extraordinarily good at it on television and in print – but on the physical field of play? No, nay, never! – Yours, etc,

ERIC C O’BRIEN,

Howth Lodge,

Howth, Dublin 13.

Sir, – Considering the risk of physical injury alone, anyone who encourages a child to play rugby is an eejit. – Yours, etc,

DENIS O’CONNOR,

Front Street East,

Toronto, Ontario.

Sir, – Does homophobia exist in rugby? Does misogyny exist in rugby? Does boorish behaviour? Yes. Rugby – like Gaelic football and hurling and soccer – is simply a sport played by people and since any community contains these things, it is silly to suggest that a sport or a club or an office or any large collective of people does not reflect elements of those attitudes. But they do not define it.

Is rugby a tough sport? Yes. Mr Browne suggests that the “manly” culture of rugby is dysfunctional. Is it dysfunctional to teach teamwork, hard work, taking the knocks life may send and getting back up again? Those are values many people would like to pass on to their children.

The culture of rugby that I know is one epitomised by Brian O’Driscoll and Donncha O’Callaghan and so many more of the icons of Irish rugby – fair play, hard work and respect (we still call the referee “Sir”, though that may be a product of the “posh private education” that seems to irk Mr Browne so much).

BARRY CUNNINGHAM,

Clonfert,

Maynooth,

Sir, – There are compelling reasons why the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) should introduce a standard to monitor the outcome (morbidity and mortality) for subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) patients who are denied access to emergency neurosurgical or endovascular treatment. Standards of performance are key drivers of patient safety. They measure not only performance but facilitate comparison with healthcare providers in Europe and elsewhere. This can inform best practice and use of scarce resources.

Untreated SAH patients face life-threatening risks. The cost of an intensive care bed (€1,800 per day) is the same whether a patient is being treated in the neurosurgical centre or is in an intensive care bed in the local hospital – and not being treated. The humanitarian and economic consequences of not securing a ruptured brain aneurysm are immense.

Providing additional neurosurgical intensive care beds addresses the unmet need of patients who require emergency neurosurgical treatment. It also removes the onus on admitting hospitals to provide intensive care beds for SAH patients who are being “managed” rather than treated. Early treatment significantly reduces the risk of a catastrophic rebleed, levels of morbidity and mortality and length of stay, when compared to patients who are not treated.

The refusal by HIQA to introduce a standard to monitor, and then publish the outcome for untreated SAH patients, invites questions regarding the competence of HIQA to assess patient safety risks. – Yours, etc,

JIM LAWLESS, MBA

Cypress Downs,

Templeogue,

Sir, – Rosita Boland’s article (Weekend Review, March 8th) referred to Ireland’s ratification of the Hague Convention and its impact on inter-country adoptions. Prior to ratification, Ireland operated a system of light-touch regulation – an indefensible position given our own history of forced adoptions.

Children have been denied the right to grow up with their parents and families because of child trafficking, abduction and through the deception of birth parents. Given the sums of money involved, inter-country adoption can encourage malpractice and corruption, with children and prospective adoptive parents at risk of being exploited for financial gain. A 2009 International Social Service report found that “the number of ‘abandonments’ depends considerably on the extent to which there is a demand for the children concerned”.

The Hague Convention aims to protect children and their families against the risks of illegal, irregular, premature or ill-prepared adoptions abroad. Hague-compliant countries are required to build up their domestic child protection, care and adoption infrastructures, with inter-country adoption as a measure of last resort. Consequently the number of children placed for inter-country adoption is very low once Hague comes into force.

On the other hand, non-Hague compliant countries – many of which are developing countries, such as Ethiopia – often have large numbers of children for adoption but very weak child protection systems.

Ireland’s ratification of Hague has had a personal and profound impact on hundreds of prospective adoptive parents. Unfortunately, there is no magic solution. We must protect children from exploitation and abuse and ensure that every adoption is in the child’s best interests. It is for this reason that we urge extreme caution if Ireland moves to enter into a bilateral agreement with a non-Hague compliant country.

We urge the newly established Child and Family Agency to integrate its adoption and childcare systems. Adoptive parents currently undergo an intensive investigation process and then languish for years in the system with little prospect of ever becoming parents. At the same time, procedures prohibit adoption applicants from fostering, despite a chronic shortage of foster families. Reform is clearly needed. Each adoption applicant should be informed of the likely timeline and outcome of their application and of fostering opportunities open to them. A change in the law to allow for “open” adoptions is also long overdue and could benefit children growing up within the care system. – Yours, etc,

TANYA WARD,

Chief Executive,

Children’s Rights Alliance,

Molesworth Street,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Further to recent letters on the future of Aldborough House in Dublin, your readers might be interested in the fate of Belcamp House, an important 18th-century structure within a few miles of Dublin Airport.

This house, designed by James Hoban (the architect of the White House) in the 1770s and containing an original oval office, a precursor to its famous namesake, was for a time the residence of Henry Grattan, as well as being rented for a time by Countess Markievicz as a centre for the Fianna movement. Run as a school by the Oblate Fathers as Belcamp College, which closed in 2004, the house and lands were sold to Gannon Homes and, like so many other development sites, ended up in Nama.

The house has been allowed to fall into complete neglect and, through vandalism and various arson attacks, little is left now but a ruin of a house that welcomed Jonathan Swift and other famous personages when it was one of the leading country houses in the Dublin area.

Even if funds were not available to preserve this historic building, surely it would not have cost much to protect it from the vandalism directed against it. Sadly Aldborough House seems to be going the same way. – Yours, etc,

ERNEST CROSSEN,

Ard Aoibhinn,

Chapelizod,

Dublin 20.

Sir, – I don’t know where Brendan Behan is nowadays, but if he gets hold of your editorial (“The Quare Fellow”, March 20th) in which he is described as a “cultural icon”, you can expect to hear from him.

“I’m not an effin’ Russian monstrance” will be the thrust of his message. – Yours, etc,

KIERAN FAGAN,

Seafield Court,

Killiney,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – My favourite quotation concerning Brendan Behan appears in John Montague’s memoir, Company: A Chosen Life . Neatly summarising his friend’s sexual proclivities and linguistic abilities, Montague says, “He was the only trilingual bisexual I ever met.” – Yours, etc,

PAUL LAUGHLIN,

Spruce Meadows,

Culmore,

Sir, – Regarding Fr Tony Flannery’s piece (“Pope pragmatic in prioritising structural reform”, Rite & Reason, March 11th), he seems to be arguing that Pope Francis is reorganising the internal governance of the church, (the curia, the synod of bishops, etc) in order that theological change will follow in the wake of such structural changes. Either that or that theological change cannot take place without prior structural change.

Fr Flannery ends his article by saying, “I am very hopeful” (of change). This hopefulness is somewhat at odds with the sense of the two preceding sentences where Fr Flannery cites the pope’s recent statement of defence and indeed praise of the church’s handling of the clerical sexual abuse scandals and the pope’s assertion of Pope Paul VI as a “genius”, for his encyclical Humanae Vitae . These two observations are hardly tokens of an intention towards change.

Father Tony’s theory that structural change is a necessary precursor for theological change, if that is what he is saying, seems to me to be a feeble thesis.

Surely Pope Francis could institute theological change in areas such as clerical celibacy, the ban on contraceptives and the place of women in the church if he had a mind to amend the governance of the church at the same time or even after such changes?

The necessity for proper structural changes to bring about doctrinal change is far from convincing on reading Fr Flannery’s article. – Yours, etc,

RICHARD HOLDEN,

Middleway,

Taunton,

Somerset,

Sir, – Seamus O’Callaghan (March 20th) asks if, in keeping with the social conscience that both Guinness and Heineken have displayed in regard to withdrawing sponsorship of the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York, if they, and the drinks industry, would pick up the tab for the A&E charges and other hospital treatments that their products necessitate each week?

This is yet another example of the “blame anyone but ourselves” attitude so deeply etched in our psyche.

To suggest that breweries and distilleries are responsible for the behaviour of individuals who voluntarily overindulge in alcoholic products is rendering individual responsibility for our own actions obsolete. Are we in this country ever going to mature to the point whereby we accept responsibility for our own behaviour and stop blaming others?

Such logic would place responsibility for the anti-social behaviour of car drivers on car manufacturers, sugary soft drinks producers and chocolate manufacturers for obese children and decay in teeth and fast food outlets for rising cholesterol and diabetes levels.

We do not need events like St Patrick’s Day parades to see our streets awash with drunkenness and anti-social behaviour, although such events do come in handy for blaming others for our own delinquency. – Yours, etc,

TOM COOPER,

Templeville Road,

Templeogue,

Sir, – Warren McKenzie (March 19th) takes issue with Taoiseach Enda Kenny preaching to the United States government about immigration reform, calling it a “gross interference” in American domestic affairs.

While the United States government is no stranger to taking an active role in the domestic affairs of foreign states, Mr McKenzie raises a valid argument – that our Taoiseach should tackle the very real problems at home. There are said to be up to 50,000 undocumented Irish migrants in the United States of America, a federal republic with a population of 313.9 million people. Back home in Ireland, a State with a population of 4.6 million people, there are said to be up to 30,000 undocumented migrants, the majority of whom have been here for many years.

I wonder if the Taoiseach devotes 40 times as much attention to the undocumented in Ireland as US president Barack Obama devotes to the undocumented Irish? – Yours, etc,

SEÁN Ó SIOCHRÚ

Glenbeigh,

Co Kerry.

Sir, – Daniel Griffin repeats (March 13th) the old charge that the Seanad is elitist. One only has to accept the legitimacy and value of the electoral college as an instrument of democracy to see that the charge is without merit.

At the same time as the electorate at large elects local authority councillors, it mandates them to form an electoral college to elect 43 Senators. This is a no less democratic process for being indirect.

Likewise, the voters elect TDs who in turn elect the Taoiseach, conferring on him by these two democratic steps, the mandate defined in the Constitution to nominate 11 Senators. By the same processes, he is empowered to nominate 15 Ministers, but nobody regards that power as undemocratic.

As for the remaining six Senators, they are elected by graduates who have invested effort and funds in increasing the value of what they can contribute to society. The State has also invested resources in their education. In return for these investments, the State gives them the right to elect representatives who, because they are not part of the party political system, are likely to add diversity to the Upper House.

The electorate showed last year that it does not want the Seanad to be abolished. The broadening of the graduates’ franchise is an appropriate reform. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL DRURY,

Avenue Louise,

Brussels,

A chara, – Dr Mary Scriven’s comments (March 19th) epitomise what the anti-smoking lobby has regrettably become. What began 50 years ago as a well-intentioned campaign to raise public awareness of the dangers of smoking is now little more than an alarmist witch-hunt whose raison d’être seems to be the harassment and control of those who choose to consume this legal product.

While Dr Scriven may find the public use of e-cigarettes “rude”, “unpleasant” and “regressive”, she tellingly fails to provide any health reasons for her objection. Of course, this is because no such reasons exist.

Smokers are no different from any other addicts in that they stand a better chance of conquering their dependence if treated with encouragement and understanding. – Is mise,

Dr GARETH P KEELEY,

Gneisenaustrasse,

Dusseldorf,

Germany.

Sir, – I think it is time to stamp out the debate around electronic cigarettes. No butts. – Yours, etc,

HUGH McDONNELL,

Strand Road,

Termonfeckin,

Co Louth.

Irish Independent:

* Another quango and another idiotic report. An alliance between the Health Minister and the rather Orwellian titled Minister for Children have come up with an exclusion fat-free takeaway zone for children.

Also in this section

St Patrick’s Day can be about social change

So when is the real democratic revolution?

Letters: Using and abusing the right to free speech

As if the humble chipper is the sole cause of waddling Jennie’s and Johnny’s life . . . were it so simple.

Where is the 1.5km zone to be placed in the supermarket when the parents buy the vast array of food laced with sugar and encrypted lettering masking god knows what?

Who will permit children to be allowed actually run, play ball in the school yard and tumble free from the omnipresent threat of suing somebody else for Paddy and Patricia growing up with its attendant tumbles and falls.

Will the newspaper shop have barbed wire around a 10ft-high soft drinks stand preventing the youngsters from buying sugared water or will the Government ban such sugar-loaded juice?

Perhaps we should let parents decide themselves what to do. I see many of them buying such food for their children in the takeaways. Is this because of the pace of life, or the lack of money to buy ‘real’ food due to government policy.

Lead by example, I say. Educate but don’t impose a nanny, Orwellian state.

Also, perhaps a few of those who seem disturbed by overweight children might lead by example and lose a few pounds themselves. The last few ministers for health carried some excess poundage themselves.

JOHN CUFFE

CO MEATH

THE POLITICS OF SCAM

* Alas! Elections are mere cosmetic exercises in musical chairs. You are simply replacing the faces, yet the music remains the same.

Now that all power is of the European, centralised version – which means decisions for this country are made in Europe – and passed on to the organ grinders who call themselves politicians.

They in turn carry out the wishes of their European masters. Elections have become nothing but scams. All manifesto-false promises should be treated as toilet paper.

Waiting for political messiahs to save us is futile. People need to look inward and forget politics and politicians.

ANTHONY WOODS

ENNIS, CO CLARE

TIP OF FINANCIAL ICEBERG

* I am writing to you, as I assume many others have, regarding the pitiful greed of Irish banks within our society.

This story will probably come of no surprise to you; however, as I am only 22 years of age with limited life experiences, I am still in shock.

My story is essentially about my parents who are both in their 50s and are struggling as hard as anybody I have met in order to keep a roof over our heads.

I am in my final year of college, my sisters are married and have their own families; however, we are finding it difficult to see the goodness in life when we watch our parents living off a few euro every week.

Simply put, they are close to negative equity but not close enough for the banks to decrease their mortgage repayments – repayments that are crippling them every month.

We have downgraded in every aspect possible, my parents’ quality of living is quite humiliating as they find themselves waiting in the evening in Tesco for the reduced products.

They spend their days at home as they cannot afford to eat out, meet friends or visit relatives.

A few weeks ago we thought that a blessing had come in surprise, a contract from the banks offering a reduced mortgage repayment for a set period of time. My parents got advice from other people, signed the contract and sent it back to the banks.

It was agreed that the new repayments would start in March. However, we were notified recently that the banks had made a ‘mistake’ and have decided to rescind the contract.

My parents are distraught and are now fearing that the house will be repossessed.

This is only the tip of our story. I know you may not be able to print this but, even knowing that there are others in our situation that are being kept silent by society, may provoke a reaction.

NAME AND ADDRESS

WITH EDITOR

BOD NOT OUR ONLY HERO

* Ireland’s spectacular Six Nations victory over France in Paris and the equally spectacular solo display by Brian O’Driscoll in his final international appearance will long be remembered in Irish and international sporting history.

The plaudits being showered on the country’s rugby team and on O’Driscoll, in particular, have been well earned.

However, we should not lose sight of the fact that these players are highly paid full-time professionals. This is their paid chosen profession.

On St Patrick’s Day in Croke Park, just two days after Ireland’s rugby victory over the French, four GAA teams contested the All-Ireland club hurling and football finals.

Despite the amateur status of both these codes, those in attendance at Croke Park and those watching on television were treated to spectacular displays of sporting skills.

For generations, the GAA in villages, towns and cities – both in Ireland and abroad – and exclusively on the premise of volunteer participation, turned the GAA into one of the world’s largest and most successful amateur sporting organisations.

These players, who, in their spare time, play for the love of the game with no monetary compensation epitomise the original ideals of sport. They are true sporting heroes.

TOM COOPER

TEMPLOGUE, DUBLIN 6W

BEWARE OF EXAM CHANGE

* I write as somebody who has been involved in education for more than 35 years. During that period I have had experience of state and independent, fee-paying schools.

The schools included both primary and secondary international schools in the Netherlands and Belgium and state schools in the UK – in London and in the industrial region of south Wales.

Most of the time I held posts of responsibility in the managing of subjects throughout the school.

I notice that Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is in danger of repeating the errors that led to the British educational system slipping down the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) international tables of educational achievement.

The emphasis on child-led education and social co-operation in learning can lead to a difficulty in discerning individual progress.

Covering ground by investigation and by reporting is time-consuming. In group work there is a danger of certain children doing the work while others ‘coast along’. . .

Replacing examinations with teacher assessments is also fraught with difficulty.

The temptation to make overgenerous assessments to enhance teacher achievement is ever present and there is no certain way of controlling one teacher’s assessment of a level with those of another.

The reduction of the central role of the teacher can lead to covert bullying and, since this is already a problem, it is likely to get worse.

It is to be hoped that Mr Quinn will consider the advice of the many experienced teachers who have seen the results of experiments – not dissimilar to his – and who know of the pitfalls.

WILLIAM SHEPHERD

MONKSTOWN, CO DUBLIN

Irish Independent

Jill

March 20, 2014

20 March 2014 Jill

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to stop Leslie from ResigningPriceless

Cold slightly saw Jill pottereed

Scrabbletoday Marywins and gets under400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

Oswald Morris, who has died aged 98, was an Oscar-winning British cinematographer whose career bridged the cinematic shift from the mood-infused chiaroscuro of the 1940s silver screen to the lush celluloid palette of the Technicolor productions of the latter half of the 20th century.

Morris, along with Freddie Young, Jack Cardiff and Christopher Challis, was of the generation of cinematographers who learnt their trade as cinema developed around them. He filmed more than 50 features, including perennial favourites such as John Huston’s early take on Moulin Rouge (1952), the country house puzzler Sleuth (1972) and the 1974 James Bond outing The Man with the Golden Gun. In the years before standardised film industry practices and technical advances, such as Steadicams and digital enhancement, Morris found that lighting and shooting movies was often an exercise in logistical flexibility, ego management and technical invention.

He won his Academy Award for Fiddler on the Roof (1971), a shoot on which he slipped a silk stocking over his camera lens to gain the distinctive sepia-tinged visuals. The film was, he said, “a cameraman’s dream because it had everything a cameraman could wish for.” Filming Norman Jewison’s musical — in which Chaim Topol plays a Jewish peasant attempting to marry off three of his daughters in pre-revolutionary Russia — allowed Morris to take a cinematic journey through the seasons. “We have winter with rain, winter with dull weather, winter with snow. We have dawns, sunrises, hot summer days, cold winter days, sunsets and nights,” he said. “Now I can’t think of anything, except possibly a storm, that one couldn’t have put in this film from a photographic point of view.”

Morris would defuse actors’ demands as adeptly as he would soften the light in which they were bathed. “I would chat them up before filming started and ask if they had any hang-ups,” he explained. “You bypass the director and form a relationship with them. Sophia Loren was as nervous as a kitten when I worked with her in 1957. She said, ‘I don’t look good in profile. I have a pointed nose’. So we developed a code: I would grimace whenever she was going into profile.”

Directors could be equally tricky. He worked on eight films with the notoriously difficult John Huston. “I did use to go up and say, ‘John, we have a problem’,” remembered Morris on publication of his memoirs Huston, We Have a Problem (2006). “He would always say: ‘Well, kid,’ — he always called me kid — ‘what are you going to do about it?’ and I’d go and find a solution. We always came up with something in the end.”

Oswald Norman Morris was born on November 22 1915 in Ruislip, Middlesex, where his father ran a newsagents and encouraged his son’s interest in film (they shot amateur shorts in the garden by the outside lavatory — calling them Bogside Productions). Oswald attended Bishopshalt School, working as a projectionist in a local cinema on his holidays, before joining Wembley Studios, alongside a young Michael Powell, in the early Thirties. Moving up from clapper boy to camera assistant, he worked on American Fox Film Company productions of “quota quickies” — fast turnaround features made to meet the legal requirement on British cinemas to show a quota of British films.

During the Second World War he served as a pilot in Bomber Command, in raids over France and Germany, winning a DFC in 1943. While he was filming The Odessa File in 1974, a German “grip” asked him whether he had ever visited Hamburg. “Yes,” replied Morris, “the last time I was 20,000 feet up”. Later on in the war Morris was transferred to Transport Command and given the job of taking Field Marshall Sir Alan Brooke on a global tour, which included a stop-off in the Crimea where Brooke attended the Yalta Conference. For this he was awarded an AFC.

On being demobbed Morris joined Pinewood Studios, where he worked alongside Ronald Neame (who called him “probably the greatest cameraman in the world”) and David Lean, who employed him behind the camera on Oliver Twist (1948).

In fact, Morris had the unique privilege of twice putting Charles Dicken’s orphan in the frame. As cameraman on Lean’s adaptation he was given the task of creating a point-of-view shot of Oliver being punched in the face. “The only way I could think of to achieve this was to use a pram,” recalled Morris. “I couldn’t run with the camera as it would be too unsteady. So I climbed in, and David Lean gave me a push. The punch went right into the lens.” Two decades later he was the director of photography — responsible for the entire look of the production — on Carol Reed’s film of Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! (1968).

In 1952, Morris “broke every rule in the book” while shooting Huston’s Moulin Rouge. On being interviewed for the job at the Dorchester Hotel Morris asked Huston how he envisaged the completed film would look. “I would like it to look as though Toulouse-Lautrec had directed it himself,” replied Huston. Morris shot using strong, light-scattering filters on the camera, which had never been used before. “We also filmed every set full of smoke so that the actors always stood out from the background,” he recalled. “The Technicolor people hated it.” Their tune changed, however, on the film’s positive reception. “The head of Technicolor in America wrote to Technicolor in London congratulating them on the wonderful colours in the film. No mention of me.”

In addition to his win for Fiddler on the Roof, Morris was Oscar-nominated a further two times: in 1969 for Reed’s Oliver! and in 1979 for Sidney Lumet’s The Wiz (a sequel to The Wizard of Oz). He also won Best Cinematography Baftas on three consecutive years, for the family saga The Pumpkin Eater (1965), Sydney Lumet’s anti-establishment drama The Hill (1966) and the John le Carré adaptation The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1967). He made his last film, The Dark Crystal, in 1982.

Film directors, he claimed, were a rare and varied bunch. “The top ones are a breed apart. David Lean would quiz me over every shot, while John Huston was so laid-back that for Beat the Devil he simply told me to shoot it as a ‘shaggy-dog film’ and I had no idea what he meant. But what links them is that they are always receptive to ideas. They listen to people.”

Unlike many cinematographers, however, Morris never wanted to join their ranks. “I didn’t want to have to deal with actors,” he said late in life. “If the acting is bad, blame the director. If you can’t see what’s going on, blame the cinematographer.”

Morris was appointed OBE in 1998 for services to cinematography and the film industry and made a Bafta Fellow in 1997.

Oswald Morris married first in 1939, Connie Sharp, his childhood sweetheart who died in 1963. In 1966 he married, secondly, Lillian Fox, a film script supervisor who died in 2003. He is survived by a son and two daughters of his first marriage.

Oswald Morris, born November 22 1915, died March 17 2014

 

 

Lenny Henry (Report, 18 March) is clearly right to draw attention to the lack of black and Asian people in the television industry. He is wrong, however, to suggest that “new legislation” is needed to solve this problem. There is legislation in place, but the industry must solve its own problems. The first stage is to look carefully at the reasons why, after decades, there are still too few black faces on our screens and, no doubt, even fewer in executive positions behind those screens.

Where the cause is old-fashioned unlawful race discrimination, then those at the top should act swiftly to bring the industry’s complex procedures within the law. Where there are other barriers, the television industry has available to it in the Equality Act 2010 wide scope for positive action to overcome under-representation – the main test being that the action is proportionate. Lenny Henry has given some thought to where change is needed and is putting forward his ideas to the BBC and Ofcom. The legislation is there; what is needed is a commitment to use the law boldly to bring about meaningful change. Good luck.
Barbara Cohen
Chair, Discrimination Law Association

• It isn’t enough to give a slave their freedom and a colony its independence and there will not be an unqualified apology that admits reparations are due in law at least until they are settled (Legitimate reparations, Comment, 17 March). The reparations suggested by Caribbean nations are reasonable and will hardly hurt the European nations implicated in the slave trade. Many will believe them not punitive enough, insufficient reparations for the evils of slavery, colonisation and racism in our lifetimes.
Dr Graham Ullathorne
Chesterfield, Derbyshire

 

We were interested to read Joe Sandler Clarke‘s piece about the number of children strip searched by the Metropolitan police and the Met’s response to it (Met police strip search more than 4,500 children in five years, 17 March). His piece quoted a spokeswoman from the Met, who said: “Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Prisons undertook regular joint inspections of the Met’s custody suites and records, and had found the use of strip search to be ‘proportionate and appropriate’.”

We have never given the Met that general assurance in all their operations as we inspect each borough separately. We are not in a position to say that all strip searching of children and young people is necessary and proportionate across all boroughs and in some cases we have identified concerns, such as young people strip searched in Merton without an appropriate adult present.
Nick Hardwick
HM chief inspector of prisons
Dru Sharpling
HM inspector of constabulary

 

The universities attended by your Generation Y trainee journalists who control this week’s G2 (15 March) reveal the selective processes of mass higher education just as surely as Michael Gove’s view of Old Etonians’ influence on Cameron in the same issue. (Though the latter mainly reveals that many Tories have abandoned hope of winning next year’s election and merely seek to stop a Boris succession.)

Not one of the nine female 24- to 30-year-old trainees (out of 10 in total) attended a former polytechnic (though one coyly admits to “living in Oxford for three years” – at Oxford Brookes perhaps … or not?). Unlike the fabled progress from tea-boy (sic) to editor, these trainees already served extended academic apprenticeships at universities representative of the next rung below Gove’s “preposterous Etonians”. John Harris’s “Inside the A* factory” (Guardian Weekend, 15 March) shows how this selection happens in schools where literary tests indicate more or less expensively acquired cultural capital.

So I look forward to reading inter alia what these top 10 have to say about how we box our way out of the social and cultural logjam the current education system has gotten us into.
Patrick Ainley
University of Greenwich

• Laura McInerney’s argument about the absurdity of claims that too few girls are studying physics is well argued (Education, 18 March). There are marked gender preferences across all subjects that merit attention. But the natural science lobby has, for a long time, succeeded in privileging their subjects in the minds and actions of government – evident in curriculum reform, teaching and research funding in universities, the appointment of science advisers in government departments (why no history advisers?) and even in their own science and technology select committees in parliament. A more even-handed approach to subjects is needed.
William Solesbury
Visiting senior research fellow, King’s College London

 

So Lord Dyson has overruled the attorney general’s decision regarding publication of Prince Charles’ letters (Report, 13 March). Looks like this won’t be swept under the carpet after all.
David Gerrard
Hove, East Sussex

• I loved those sci-fi stories about the future of the media (G2, 17 March). Of course, I read them on my Kindle edition. However I don’t think we need to worry quite yet. My recent music choices on Amazon (other, tax-paying internet businesses also available) were Piazzolla, Albeniz, Steely Dan, Chet Baker, Neneh Cherry and Beethoven. Amazon replied by saying that I might also enjoy John Denver. Actually, I am now worried.
Bob Pite
London

• In France, local taxes automatically include the TV licence fee (Report, 19 March). One has to opt out of paying, which makes the process simpler. Of course, a Tory-led government could not do something sensible that the French do.
Professor Paul Fowler
Potterton, Aberdeenshire

• When the new pound coin was introduced 30 years ago (Report, 19 March), the then leader of the opposition, Neil Kinnock, compared it with Margaret Thatcher: thick, brassy and thinks it’s a sovereign.
Calum Bartlett
Lingen, Herefordshire

• I recall asking Doncaster miners in the parish where I worked why the pound coin was called a “Scargill”, to be told that it provided a new name for the 50p coin: “‘alf-a-Scargill”.
Rev Canon Chris Oxley
Lutterworth, Leicestershire

• Didn’t Queen Victoria once make a birthday present of Mount Kilimanjaro to her German cousin (Letters, 18 March)?
John Smith
Sheffield

• Gill Jewell (Letters, 19 March) is in good company. We in the West Midlands have also been ignored, to say nothing of those in the south-west. Were I paranoid, I would suspect a devious plot.
Stan Zetie
Birmingham

 

The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that by the end of this financial year 60% of the cost-reduction programme will have yet to reach the front line (Report, 6 February). Eighteen months ago council leaders were talking about the “graph of doom” – when repeated budget cuts would reduce local authority services to little more than bin collections, care for the elderly and looked-after children. Now even that seems optimistic. The poorest boroughs like ours in Newham – hit 10 times harder than the richest by local authority cuts – felt the brunt of the recession but are not feeling the recovery. This doesn’t feel like the predictable lag between the time when an uplift in the private sector ripples out into the public. This feels like a disconnect.

As the economy appears now to be picking up for some, but grinding others further down, it is surely time to revive the discussion about the cuts and whether those who bore the biggest burden of the recession should also benefit least from the recovery. If we were all in it together, shouldn’t we get out of it together?
David Robinson
Co-founder, Community Links

• The growing chasm between rich and poor is an obscenity, if not the only one. But does Simon Jenkins (Comment, 19 March) seriously expect the chancellor to tax the rich? Rather his focus is chiefly on the poor, for political and economic reasons, and his policies are resulting in the worst crisis in living standards since the 1930s. The only glimmer of hope for those who seek a fairer future is the handful of Fairness Commissions recently set up by local authorities. Of course, they face a tidal wave of government cuts that are anything but fair, however they have begun to establish a foothold for an alternative approach.

In Sheffield, for example, the council has introduced the living wage and now subjects all policies to a test of fairness; tackling health inequalities has been prioritised by commissioners, including the obscene early death rates among people with mental health problems and learning disabilities; and, to save children’s lives, 20mph speed limits are being introduced. Already there is sufficient evidence of impact on local policy priorities and public enthusiasm for greater fairness for the Labour opposition to take note. It is there that we must look if the gap between rich and poor is to be closed.
Professor Alan Walker
University of Sheffield

• As a higher-rate taxpayer – largely because of my widow’s pension, since my teacher’s pension certainly wouldn’t get me there – I fully accept my tax “burden” and would happily vote for a party who came out and made a case for higher taxes for high earners. Sadly, the only party that made a case for raising taxes so we can pay for better services was the Lib Dems. Since I live in Buckinghamshire, and am therefore to all intents and purposes disenfranchised, given the Tory majorities hereabouts, and since the Lib Dems have made themselves political outcasts, I don’t expect to get the chance to vote for such a policy any time soon.
Jill Wallis
Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire

• Welfare benefit is set to be capped at £119.5bn. Suppose that sum is spent by, say, February of the tax year. Does that mean that people who depend on the capped benefits – disablement allowance, incapacity benefits et al – will be left to suffer? Is that the mark of a caring society?
Peter Cave
London

 

Martin Amis (Report, 18 March) may still see white skin as a key attribute of being English, but I was born in London in 1950 of a Jewish mother whose family fled from the pogroms of 1880 and 1904, and a Nigerian father who served in the Merchant Navy during the war. I have considered myself English because I was born in England and know only English culture – I am not Scottish, Welsh or from Northern Ireland. It is racist according to law to treat someone like me “less favourably” because of the colour of their skin.

When I was the chair of a community group in south London in 2006, I managed, with others, to celebrate St George’s Day so that the BNP could not monopolise that day with a racist march as they had done previously. The history of England should be celebrated and it should be inclusive of all of us born in England. From John Archer, a black Englishman who became mayor of Battersea, to Henry Sylvester Williams and William Cuffay, a leading Chartist, these men and many more unnamed black men and women played a significant part in the struggles of working-class people in England. Are they to be denied their place in English history because of the colour of their skin?
Linda Bellos
Founder, Black History Month in the UK

• Martin Amis does not speak for most people in England when he says that having white skin is still an important part of being English. The majority don’t share his view. A poll by YouGov found just 22% of people in England say it’s important for someone to be white for them to be regarded as English, compared to 74% for whom it is not important. The figures are even more striking when broken down by age. Those, like Amis, aged over 60 are more than three times as likely to consider “being white” as important to Englishness than 18-24 year olds; 86% of this younger group say being white is not important to being English. Amis’s version of Englishness may still ring true for a minority, but most people – particularly the next generation of English men and women – are proud of an inclusive English identity that reflects our modern and diverse nation.
Sunder Katwala
Director, British Future

• Has Martin Amis found the time to read at least a sentence or two by the late Stuart Hall? Or at the very least seen John Akomfrah’s The Stuart Hall Project (now available on DVD)? If not, perhaps he should, and then dig a little deeper in order to reflect on his (Amis’s) meaningless view that multiculturalism is “a luxury”, apparently some sort of soft altruism which cannot endure in “hard times”. Yes, Amis should definitely familiarise himself with the work and ideas of Stuart Hall, and chuck in some Foucault for good measure.
Bruce Ross-Smith
Oxford

• As the European and local elections approach in May, the political agenda is becoming increasingly dominated by attempts to appeal to voters by drumming up racism and xenophobia. This vying by mainstream parties to be the most trenchant on immigration has even led the government to suppress the facts about the impact of immigration on unemployment. Leaving this discussion unchallenged is deeply dangerous. The scapegoating of immigrants for economic and social problems may be convenient but it is both false and leads to real discrimination and abuse of minority communities. For mainstream parties to get caught up in the slipstream of this destructive agenda will not raise their votes but instead plays into the hands of the more extreme exponents of this racist and xenophobic politics, whether the authoritarian, far-right variants like the BNP or the populist version of Ukip, which calls for an end to all immigration – whatever the economic and social cost – while promoting “little Englander” isolationist policies across the board.

Alongside the campaign against Bulgarian and Romanian migrants that dominated the tabloid media at the beginning of the year, hostility to Muslims also remains a constant feature. Very few voices have been raised against this dialogue of hate and prejudice. This is creating a dangerous slippage where anti-immigrant, xenophobic, anti-Traveller and racist views become normalised within the mainstream political debate. We have therefore decided to take the occasion of the annual UN Anti-racism Day to organise a counter-blast and celebrate our diversity and the contribution of all. The scapegoating of migrants and Muslims is a blight on society.  We hope that everyone who agrees with us will join us in Parliament Square, London, at 11am on Saturday 22 March (www.standuptoracism.org.uk).
Diane Abbott MP, Mark Durkan MP, Peter Hain MP, Naomi Long MP, John McDonnell MP, Mohammad Taj TUC president, Weyman Bennett, Sabby Dhalu Unite Against Fascism, Christine Blower NUT general secretary Billy Hayes CWU general secretary, Mark Serwotka PCS general secretary Len McCluskey General secretary, Unite Dr Tommy Tomescu Alliance Against Romanians and Bulgarians Discrimination Co-President Don Flynn Director, Migrants’ Rights Network, Jean Lambert MEP, Sally Hunt UCU general secretary, Chris Keates NASUWT general secretary, Ged Nichols General secretary, Accord, Andy Reid PCS national exec, Matt Wrack General secretary FBU, Mick Whelan Aslef general secretary, Kingsley Abrams Unite executive council, Anton Johnson Unite London & Eastern Region LGBT committee chair, Ian Hodson National president, Bakers’, Food & Allied Workers Union, Farooq Murad Secretary general, Muslim Council of Britain, Zita Holbourne PCS NEC and national co chair Barac UK, Martin Powell-Davies NUT national executive, Aaron Kiely NUS black students officer, Dr Daud Abdullah Spokesperson of British Muslim Initiative (BMI), Shakeel Begg Imam, Lewisham Islamic Centre, Abdullah Faliq Media and external relations secretary, Islamic Forum of Europe, Dr Omar Hamdoon President of Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), Mohammed Kozbar Chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque (FPM), Canon Barry Naylor, Balwinder Rana Sikhs Against the EDL, Dr Francisco Dominguez Centre for Brazilian and Latin American Studies (Middlesex University), Marisol Guzman Women and Family Commission Ecuadorian Movement in the UK, Hackney Refugee Forum, Sarah Isal Chair, European Network Against Racism, Dr Jennifer Langer Director, Exiled Writers Ink, Yvonne MacNamara The Travellers Movement, Juan C Piedra Ecuadorian Movement in UK, Phien O’Reachtigan Pavee Advise Assist Direct, Veerendra Rishi Indian Institue of Romani Studies, Dr Rhetta Moran Matron, RAPAR, Simon Woolley Director, Operation Black Vote, Lindsey German Stop The War Coalition, Paul Mackney Joint chair, Greece Solidarity Campaign, Michaël Privot Director, European Network Against Racism (ENAR), Maurice Wren Refugee Council chief executive, Jon Lansman Editor, Left Futures, Kate Hudson General secretary CND, Bob Archer Redbridge association president, National Union of Teachers, Gerry Gable Editor, Searchlight, Cathy Pound Organiser, Trade Union Friends of Searchlight, Cllr Patrick Vernon South London People’s Assembly, Nick O’Brien We are Norwich, Andrew Burgin Left Unity, Hugh Lanning Unite Against Fascism, Nick Long Lewisham Local Gov Unite branch LE/1183, Raj Mandair National BAME Labour Executive, Kevin Ovenden One Society Many Cultures, Michael Burke Economist, Glyn Robbins Convenor, United East End, Ulrike Schmidt We are Waltham Forest

 

 

Guardian:

 

 

 

 

Independent:

 

 

 

 

The bare bones of your front-page story “British nuclear power plant’s ‘Fukushima alert’” (19 March) are that as the result of a routine review of safety, EDF, unprompted and erring on the side of extreme caution, decided that the shingle beach at Dungeness could no longer provide adequate protection against flooding and that they should, to be perfectly safe, shut the reactor down while an additional flood- protection wall was built.

This is the kind of decision that managers of technical systems take every day of the week. No crisis of any kind, no hint of a disaster, but news of this was apparently enough to send your environment editor into hysterics.

Apart from the fact that Dungeness is a nuclear-power plant near the sea, there are no parallels between this and Fukushima, whose location has long been known to be prone to earthquakes and tidal waves.

David H Bebbington, Broadstairs, Kent

Nuclear power is dangerous – quite literally because it is so toxic, and because it distracts attention from the investment we need to be making in harnessing the free energy of the sun,  the wind, the waves and  the tides.

We need a green-energy revolution in this country – and nuclear should be absolutely no part of it. Since this winter’s extreme weather this country has finally woken up to the dire threat of climate and weather chaos – threats which undermine severely the case for nuclear-power stations, virtually all of which are sited on the coast, because of how hungry they are for cooling water and for water to discharge into.

Nuclear is so last-century – and so pre-floods.

Rupert Read, Green Party, Norwich

The operator of the Dungeness power plant recognised an emergent risk to their facility. They reviewed and assessed that risk and as competent operators decided to shut down the facility until remedial work could be carried out thus minimising the risk to all involved. They have undertaken the work and can now ensure the continued secure energy supply to the UK.

Congratulations EDF

Marc Owen, North Ferriby,  East Yorkshire

Britain, after Tony Benn

The passing of Tony Benn highlights, for me, not what might have been but what we now have. A majority of benefit claimants are now in full-time low-paid work; television programmes (Famous, Rich and Hungry) end with appeals for donations to food banks for our British citizens; and taxpayers’ money is poured into enabling ever more house purchases that are driving up prices (and debt) yet again.

Three decades of Thatcherism have delivered a low-wage economy and poverty so widespread that it is now subsidised by income tax to jack up employers’ low-wage jobs and middle-class aspirations.

And they called Tony Benn the most dangerous man in Britain.

Vaughan Thomas, Usk, Gwent

OK Prue Bray (Letters, 18 March). Tony Benn argued passionately, educated and informed us, stood up for and advanced the rights and interests of ordinary working people and the disadvantaged. He entertained and charmed us but sometimes infuriated us as well. He stimulated debate, united and divided, gave us insights into politics and government in his diaries, challenged the cant and arrogance of right-wing and centrist politicians.

He was an honest, caring, humorous and highly intelligent man. Isn’t that enough?

Robert Heale, Bedford

When Tony Benn was Minister of Technology he enthusiastically supported Concorde, built in his constituency of course. At the same time he cancelled the UK government’s financial support for the then infant Airbus project, leaving it to the French and Germans. He didn’t think it would be a commercial success!

Andrew Scholes, Whitwell, Hertfordshire

Do the Scots really want this vote?

Your perceptive editorial “The power of No” (18 March) says “given the public appetite for such a ballot, this newspaper can only support it being held”.

Are you sure that there is a public appetite? Sure most, not all, politicians want a ballot – so do Edinburgh-based journalists and BBC Scotland. But my impression is that the public want to get on with their lives, and don’t fancy having to make a choice between seeming to be patriotic Scots and remaining part  of Britain.

There are hundreds of thousands of what Jim Sillars memorably called “80/90-minute Scots” who would roar our heads off at Murrayfield or Hampden Park but have no appetite for being required to make a judgement on the future constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom.

Tam Dalyell, Linlithgow, West Lothian

I read parts of the Scottish White Paper on independence in Oban library yesterday, while waiting for the ferry home. It is made up of shoulds, coulds and woulds and SNP manifesto commitments for the 2016 Scottish elections. I don’t understand why anyone takes it seriously. As James Cusick points out (18 March) the time given for the many negotiations that have to take place is ridiculously short.

But once there is a yes vote, there is no reason why Alex Salmond cannot postpone the 2016 elections until the negotiations are complete. Referring to the transition period, the White Paper states that legislation will “provide for continuity of laws: all current laws, whether in currently devolved or reserved areas, will continue in force after independence day, until they are specifically changed by the independent Scottish Parliament”.

David Pollard, Salen, Isle of Mull

New-look pound coin

The choice of design for the new pound coin, which is reminiscent of a threepenny bit, is inspired. The purchasing power of the pound will soon be equivalent to that of the threepenny bit when it was discontinued.

Nigel Scott, London N22

The West precipitated Crimea crisis

Hillary Clinton’s description of the Crimea crisis as being about “our values” versus Vladimir Putin’s “aggression” overlooks the West’s role in precipitating the crisis (report, 19 March). At the end of the Cold War the US assured Russia that German reunification and the Soviet withdrawal from Eastern Europe would not occasion an advancing US military threat. Yet instead of abolishing Nato as a Cold War relic, the alliance was actually pushed eastwards with Ukrainian membership touted as a goal. This was perceived in Moscow as an act of aggression. The imposition of symbolic sanctions and the knee-jerk support of the politically dubious new Ukrainian government has further escalated tensions.

Winding up Nato would be more useful than winding up Putin.

Dr Nick Megoran,, Lecturer in Political Geography, Newcastle University

Patrick Lavender’s letter (17 March) brilliantly details US hypocrisy when it comes to foreign policy, but it beggars belief that the EU has joined in.

Everyone seems to forget that Ukraine’s legitimate government was overthrown by terrorists. Then Russia, rather than react against this, simply went to protect those who speak Russian and see themselves as Russian. In order to do this properly an election took place which confirms what everyone knows, that Crimea wants to be part of Russia. But when it comes to foreign policy the US does not believe in democracy.

Then everyone goes on about “international law”, something Israel has defied for at least 40 years, yet never faced any sanctions for. One rule for one…

Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey

Many in the West have difficulty in taking seriously either the US Secretary of State John Kerry or the UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and Russia has the same problem. Vladimir Putin mocked their “baffling, primitive, and blatant” Crimean posturing saying it was a little late in the day for the West “to take a lead on observing international law”.

It had recognised Kosovo’s secession from Serbia as legitimate arguing that “permission” from the central authority for a unilateral declaration of independence was unnecessary”.

In view of our recent record of invasions and international interference which set ablaze the entire Islamic Crescent, it is difficult to argue that  the Russian president is being unfair.

Dr John Cameron, St Andrews

Whatever viewpoint one takes on the current “crisis” in the Crimea, the people voted and declared their preference – and a huge majority voted to cut links to the Ukraine. The referendum might be illegal in the eyes of the likes of Hague, Obama and possibly some of the EU but nonetheless is hugely telling.

Ewa Maydell  & Derek Fabian, Milton, Dumbarton  

 

Times:

 

Sir, Instead of HS2 correcting the UK’s economic imbalance (Hugo Rifkind, Mar 18), its speed-first route to Birmingham risks making that city and its airport a real-time part of the London colossus, worsening the North-South divide. If, however, HS2 capacity is equally important, the M1 and M6 corridors await it. HS2 could then improve the East Midlands economy, with a station at East Midlands Airport. And, although its twin destinations of Leeds and Manchester may be over 90 miles north of Birmingham, they are only 40 miles apart. If HS2 began construction by using the M62 corridor to draw these two centres time-closer, it would from the start shrink two of the UK’s economic divides.

Michael Wand

Brentwood, Essex

Sir, Hugo Rifkind suggests building HS2 regardless, so we can have a “bloody great super-fast railway”.

Fine, but who is going to use it, when recent statistics show all types of long-distance business travel reducing, for obvious reasons.

J. J. Cameron

South Heath, Bucks

Sir, The decision (“HS2 link to the Tunnel abandoned’, Mar 18) to scrap the short interconnection between HS2 and HS1 is a third shot in the foot for this project. The other two potentially fatal injuries were ruling out the proposed Euston Cross station under Euston, St Pancras and Kings Cross, and routing HS2 into a terminal station in Birmingham rather than connecting with the rest of the network at a long overdue expansion of the appallingly cramped Birmingham New Street. Any single bullet might not have been fatal to the success of the project. Three supposedly money-saving decisions may well be.

We seem to have learnt nothing from the mistakes of the Victorians, who built main lines into dead-end London termini, requiring all passengers to change stations for onward travel. Only now, 150 years later, have we rectified this thinking with Thameslink and Crossrail.

Without the HS1/HS2 link enabling direct trains to Europe from the North, HS2 loses most of its potential to compete with air to European destinations.

Tony Whittaker

Willington, Derbyshire

Sir, I welcome the letter (Mar 17) calling for “a comprehensive review of UK transport priorities, and where, if at all, HS2 fits with this”. It reminded me that we used to handle such “big topics” as follows: wide-ranging Green Paper, then reasoned public discussion, then a White Paper, then parliamentary scrutiny and debate, then decision.

Archy Muir

Kenilworth, Warks

Sir, London and the South-East are economically dominant because they are closer to Europe than the peripheral UK which suffers from what geographers call “the friction of distance”. Friction can sometimes be remedied by lubrication which is the anticipated role of HS2 in bringing the Midland and North closer to London. The reality is that there are geographical limits beyond which HS2 cannot succeed or justify its cost, so it may be wiser to invest in tourism, recreational and retirement opportunities in our beautiful peripheral regions than attempting to turn Britain into a “bloody great super-fast railway” system.

Bernard Kingston

Biddenden, Kent

 

 

 

It is high time for a Royal Commission to start the process of restoring public trust in the police services

Sir, Your report “Manchester police to face triple corruption inquiry” (Mar 18) made interesting reading the day after Dame Anne Owers, chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, confessed to the BBC’s Newsnight programme that she lacks the resources to properly investigate the cases referred to the commission.

Her admission poses serious questions over the IPCC’s ability to tackle the current scandals that have triggered a crisis in public trust in the police, including the Manchester triple investigation of your headline. Coincidentally, we now learn that a lorryload of documents relating to a Met police corruption investigation (which impacted on the Stephen Lawrence case among others) was suspiciously shredded in 1983.

Significantly, these revelations coincide with the report from the respected World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers warning of the dangers to press freedom posed by politicians’ royal charter proposals and the impact of the Leveson Inquiry (“Global news body backs UK papers’ fight for freedom”, Mar 18).

Lest we forget, some revelations about police corruption owe much to the determination of investigative journalists, aided by police whistleblowers, serving or retired. That, in itself, flags up the risks posed by aspects of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations and the subsequent enthusiasm with which too many police chiefs have ordered draconian crackdowns on police/press contacts.

Surely the time is overdue for a new Royal Commission on policing in the UK generally. It would serve the public interest well in these critical times for trust in the police, and it would also be in the best interests of the great majority of honest, dedicated police officers.

Paul Connew

(former editor, Sunday Mirror)

St Albans

 

A mother of three reckons legalising drugs would help parents to teach their children about the risks

Sir, I applaud Anne-Marie Cockburn for her mission to challenge traditional drug education for our young people following the tragic death of her daughter, Martha, from ecstasy (Mar 15). Drugs are a part of youth culture and, as such, our youngsters should be told detailed and useful facts about drugs so they can make informed choices. Like Anne-Marie I think drugs should be legalised so quality and quantity control can be made just as with the drug alcohol, but until that time our young people deserve to be advised about the effects of different drugs, as I have done with my three offspring. The “just say no” approach is outdated and useless and just plays into the hands of teenage rebellion.

Sue Reed

Willimoteswick, Northumberland

 

 

The 4th Sunday in Lent is Mothering Sunday, not to be confused with the recent US custom of Mother’s Day

Sir, I was dismayed to see “Mother’s Day Gift Guide” this morning (Mar 19). Mothering Sunday suggests loving, caring warmth, whereas Mother’s Day reeks of commercialism. Children used to pick wild flowers for their mothers — “Those who go a-mothering find violets in the lane” — and painstakingly make cards.

Ann Tillard

North Chailey, E Sussex

Everyone spends too much time worrying about coffee and butter when the real health damage is done by alcohol

Sir, Forget caffeine (Times2, Mar 18) and start concentrating on the serious stuff, alcohol. If the amount of time and energy spent on warnings about relatively innocuous substances which, like bacon and butter, often prove less harmful than we had been led to believe, was spent on combating the ills of alcohol abuse, the atmosphere on Friday and Saturday nights in towns and cities all over this country would become much pleasanter, the police could be deployed to fight crime and the A&E departments of hospitals could concentrate on the genuinely ill.

Kathryn Dobson

Liverpool

 

 

 

Telegraph:

 

SIR – I counted the number of hugs in Sunday night’s episode of The Voice. During the 75-minute programme, I recorded 105 hugs, or 1.4 hugs per minute. However, as an accurate count was difficult to achieve during scenes of mass-hugging, it is possible that some hugs may have been missed. If my television proves to have a slow-motion function, I will redo this part of the research retrospectively.

The subsequent programme, Mr Selfridge, was also included in my study. It has a running time of 60 minutes, including commercial breaks. While watching, I recorded two hugs, both of which took place in emotional scenes depicting the reuniting of families. There were no hugs during the breaks.

Barbara Adam
Milngavie, East Dunbartonshire

 

SIR – The media describes the Euro-sceptic viewpoint inside the Conservative Party as a minority. But how do we know that? Ninety-five Tory MPs have declared their hand by asking for a more urgent referendum. That leaves about 210. Half of these are the payroll vote, bound never to disagree publicly with the party line on pain of dismissal; another 105 have chosen to remain mute. Some of these may be EU enthusiasts, others simply hoping for preferment. But what do they really think?

It should not be beyond the wit of the 1922 Committee to organise a simple secret ballot of the 210. A single question, two alternate boxes for a cross in either, an otherwise plain no-name ballot form and a ballot box in a prominent place. It could be that, with guaranteed confidentiality, over 60 would admit to Euro-scepticism. That would make them, with the 95, a majority.

In a democracy is it not the wishes of the majority that are supposed to prevail? In the referendum of 1975, voters supported staying in the European Economic Community, and for the next 17 years, until Maastricht, the dissenters accepted the result. That is the British way of doing things. Stopping people having a vote, and calling them troublemakers is not our way.

Frederick Forsyth
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

Child care bias

SIR – “Working parents to get £2,000 handout” looks very impressive. However, parents who stay at home to care for their children are just as much working parents and deserve equal consideration.

John Scotson
Altrincham, Cheshire

SIR – As with all special interest tax reliefs, the introduction of this one will have the long-term effect of increasing the average cost of child care, as providers raise their fees until they reach the full charge that the market will bear.

It would be so much better to reduce the overall rates of income tax instead.

John Archibald
London N20

Rhododendron shelter

SIR – We have a large old rhododendron bush in our garden, which I think is a rhododendron ponticum. It has been there for at least 50 years.

The bush does not discourage wildlife: ivy, bramble and holly grow profusely underneath it, and it is used as a shelter for many small birds. Dunnocks, robins and tits can be seen regularly in the bush, and it once housed a blackbirds’ nest.

Helen Oliver
Beckenham Kent

SIR – The reason for banning rhododendrons is because they are believed to act as host to the pathogen that causes sudden oak death. Many of the large estates and well-known gardens in Cornwall, including the Lost Gardens of Heligan, have already carried out extensive programmes of uprooting and burning the most commonly seen rhododendron ponticum.

Linda Reed
Selby, North Yorkshire

Exploding flour

SIR – Forget about sugar; why is flour sold in paper bags?

Something else in a shopping basket can easily pierce the bag, and then you get an explosion of flour. Is this form of packaging to do with moisture retention?

Rose Tanner
East Peckham, Kent

Chancellor’s vision

SIR – Since entering Parliament in 1983, I have had a ringside view of eight chancellors, and I believe that George Osborne already compares favourably to all of them.

He has a strong vision of an enterprise Britain that can compete in a ruthless global race, recognising that every small business and entrepreneur deserves encouragement because out of their ranks will emerge the great companies of tomorrow. Firms will only succeed if they have motivated workforces, so this is why the Chancellor is so keen on raising the basic tax threshold and increasing the minimum wage. This will help to increase productivity and investment.

Today’s Budget is a step forward from what was a ghastly economic inheritance, but it is also another step on the way to Mr Osborne establishing himself as one the great post-war chancellors.

Henry Bellingham MP (Con)
London, SW1

HMRC fantasy

SIR – An impact assessment by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs concluded that people who are dragged into the 40 per cent tax band and see their disposable incomes fall “may choose to work more in order to maintain their post-tax incomes”.

Most employees in the 40 per cent band will find either that their employers can’t offer them more hours, or won’t pay them overtime, even if they do work more.

Keith Appleyard
West Wickham, Kent

Ripe bananas

SIR – I tasted my first English banana in the Fifties, aged 12, on arrival at a Sussex boarding school from a southern Indian one. In my first letter home, I commented on how “dry and horrible the English bananas were”.

I still do not care for the taste of those on offer here; good mashed banana sandwiches require soft, sweet, ripe fruit.

Frances Finch
Welland, Worcestershire

SIR – When the first consignments of bananas reached our village shop in straw-filled wooden boxes at the end of the Second World War, our concern was not with the quality of the fruit but with the huge tropical spiders that had survived the journey.

Roy Jones
Quorn, Leicestershire

The party politics behind garden cities and HS2

SIR – You report that Tories are thought to be reluctant to build a garden city in Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire or Oxfordshire because they fear a backlash from rural voters in safe Conservative seats in those areas.

What a pity that same rationale wasn’t applied when the decision was made to push ahead with HS2.

Neil Blake
Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire

SIR – We should be developing brownfield sites within walking and cycling distance of London’s business districts. This would also have the advantage of bringing investment, light and life to areas urgently in need of all three.

London needs New York-style, quality high-rise living, not more miserable commuters.

Victor Launert
Matlock, Derbyshire

SIR – The idea of garden cities, in its historical sense, may not on its own be able to solve the housing crisis. People are still going to be drawn to the bright lights of the city.

Another solution would be garden suburbs, built on the outskirts of large cities. The garden city principles, including long-term stewardship, together with the delivery of a sustainable and well-designed community, might be captured as much in that format as in a stand-alone new settlement.

Aman Sahota
London EC4

SIR – George Osborne’s plan for garden cities sounds so delightful, but I can’t help thinking that with the economic restrictions and limited land available they will end up more city than garden.

Anne Newbery
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire

 

SIR – The rump of Ukraine will remain outside Nato and outside the protection of Article Five of the Nato treaty – an attack against one member being an attack against all. Therefore, there will never be a “credible armed deterrent”, as Air Vice Marshal M R Jackson mentions. Russia has had a generation of humiliation as the Warsaw Pact nations deserted to Nato, with the former Soviet Baltic states rubbing more salt into its wounds. Those nations are all protected by their Nato membership. The recovery of Crimea is symbolic not only for Russia but also for Ukraine and the West, dependent as they are on Russian gas.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has achieved his objective, and will now concentrate on wooing Kazakhstan away from the influence of the West.

Chris Watson
Lumut, Perak, Malaysia

SIR – Until 1954, Crimea was part of Russia. Not for the first time, its inhabitants have voted to leave Ukraine, recently with 97 per cent in favour of returning to Russia, yet the British Government regards the result as illegal. Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom since 1707, but if 51 per cent of its voters choose to leave the UK in this year’s referendum, Alex Salmond will regard that as a valid result as, of necessity, will the Government.

The situation in Ukraine became predictable once the Ukrainian parliament removed Russian as an official language in February. Bearing in mind that Russian is the first language of more than 14 million inhabitants of Ukraine, that was surely an act of provocation.

R B Tubb
Thatcham, Berkshire

SIR – Regarding the Crimea referendum, Maggie Hughes says: “At least they’ve had an in/out vote” (Letters, March 17). They haven’t. Voters had two options: to “support the reunification of Crimea with Russia as a subject of the Russian Federation” or to “support the restoration of the 1992 Constitution and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine”. It was not clear whether the second option referred to the original version of the constitution, which declared Crimea an independent state, or the later amended version which declared Crimea to be an autonomous republic within Ukraine. Retaining the constitutional status quo was not an option.

Robert Saunders
Balcombe, West Sussex

SIR – Central America and the Caribbean are generally regarded as falling within the sphere of influence of the United States.

The United States put armed forces into around 17 countries in the region during the last century, the most recent being Panama and Grenada. The American attitude to Crimea shows a degree of double standards. Or are they exasperated at losing the use of Sevastopol’s port?

Hywel Davies
Newport, Pembrokeshire

 

 

Irish Times:

 

Sir, – Fr Brian Eyre, a Catholic priest who has received a dispensation from celibacy and who has married, yet who still practices ministry, though not in public, makes a case for a married priesthood within the Catholic Church and argues that one reason that this should be allowed is because this church allows clergy which it knows to be gay to minister as priests (“Priesthood and matrimony are not incompatible”, Rite & Reason, March 18th).

“We have some gay priests ministering in dioceses and doing good work, but we can’t have married priests. We can accept one but not the other. Why? The problem is the woman. She has been seen as the temptress, the Eve who brought about the fall of Adam,” he writes.

While not going into the topic of whether the creator actually needs “clergy” in order to commune effectively with creation, there are a few points in Fr Eyre’s article that might still be addressed.

Firstly, it might be noted that while it is true that Rome knows about its gay clergy, it is the case that such clergy are expected to be celibate.

Fr Eyre may know some that are not, but he has not presented priests who are in openly same-sex relationships as part of his case.

He tells us about his wife, the “woman by his side, a companion to walk with him through life”; but if gay clergy had such a companion – walking with them through life – they would soon have their ministry terminated. Celibacy is the issue rather than sexual orientation, I would suggest.

It might also be said that since Fr Eyre has brought up the subjects of “gays” and of “women” in the Catholic church, might he not have said more about both?

How about a case for the “woman by his side”, his wife, having a right to access the same ministry as himself?

How about making a case for the gay clergy he mentions to also be allowed to have a companion by their side – walking with them through life?

It could be argued that it might not be a good thing to have a “married clergy” in the Catholic Church if the ensuing increase in numbers of such clergy were only to see more men promoting a male priesthood and exclusively heterosexual relationships. – Yours, etc,

DECLAN KELLY,

Whitechurch Road,

Rathfarnham,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – I read with interest the article by Fr Brian Eyre. While I agree with his position that the priesthood and matrimony should not be regarded as incompatible, I believe he is not clear on the reasons why the church is opposed to permitting a married clergy. He argues that obligatory celibacy for the priesthood arises out of the church’s attitude towards women. The attitude of church authorities towards women is shameful and a cause of scandal in the modern world. But I believe it is not the core reason the church demands that those aspiring to the priesthood make a vow to live a life of celibacy before considering them for ordination.

But that culture is a dysfunctional one and, ultimately dangerous. It is part of the culture that speaks of “manly”, that admires a male “standing up like a man”, or in the cringe-making lingo of the rugby world, that urges players to “man up”.

Donncha O’Callaghan’s autobiography was published a few years ago and a feature of that were the stories of casual violence that arose on rugby pitches and even on training grounds. Donncha O’Callaghan is someone else I admire and from what I know of him he is a decent, generous person, but again he was offering an insight into the “manliness” of the rugby world.

The image many of us males have of what it means to be a man, is disturbing and it doesn’t much differ from the rugby world’s ideal. One feature it surely does not include is homosexuality – the ideal man, hegemonic man, is certainly heterosexual, perhaps aggressively so. A bit prone to violence or at least “able to look after himself” – ie able to beat the bejasus out of anyone who challenges him. A capacity to drink enormous amounts of pints – sensibly of course – is almost de rigeur. And being a good man with the girls, lots of girls.

The posh private all-male schools do their bit to engender this culture, as does the media and, classically, rugby does it too. Less so the GAA and, I think, soccer.

It isn’t just the social boorishness that is the problem with this, it is the homophobia, the misogyny, or at least the patriarchy that goes with it – the idea that the world is there for the men, the business, political and professional world certainly, although to put a decent gloss on it in modern times we let the women in a bit. But for the most part women are there for decoration, sex and procreation, of course.

And, no, I am not saying Brian O’Driscoll and or Donncha O’Callaghan are representative of this sort of hegemonic masculinity – Brian O’Driscoll seems very different from that and so too I understand from people who know him, is Donncha O’Callaghan. But that the icon of modern rugby should speak of a thrill in legally inflicting pain on someone else, is, well, disturbing.

 

Sir, – Adrienne Murphy (“Autism – it’s not all about genetics”, Health and Family, March 18th, 2014) argues that autism is not primarily a genetic disease, based on her experiences with her own son. While I sympathise with the desire of parents to find causes to explain their children’s illness, they should be cautious of claims that the condition is caused by fluoride in the water, aluminium toxicity, GMOs, vaccines or any other supposed environmental toxins. There is no good evidence to support these claims, which amount to little more than conspiracy theories.

By contrast, the evidence that autism is primarily due to genetic insults is overwhelming. If one of a pair of identical twins is autistic, the chance that the other one will be too is over 80 per cent, while the rate in fraternal twins is less than 20 per cent. Any environmental exposures should not differ across identical versus fraternal twins – what does differ is the degree of genetic similarity. More generally, if you are related to someone with autism, your risk of autism is vastly increased over the population average (unlike adoptive siblings who are at no increased risk, despite sharing the same environment). We now know that the condition can be caused by mutation of any one of several hundred different genes, many involved in how the brain develops. Around a third of cases can currently be diagnosed with a specific genetic condition and that number is increasing rapidly.

In a subset of cases, these conditions are associated with additional problems, including gastrointestinal symptoms. These can sometimes be ameliorated by dietary interventions, which may well affect behaviour and improve quality of life for those patients. That does not mean that nutritionists can cure autism, any more than homeopaths can. – Yours, etc,

KEVIN MITCHELL, PhD

Associate Professor

of Genetics

and Neuroscience,

Trinity College Dublin,

 

Sir, – Further to John Holden’s article “Imbalance at the top in third level” (Education, March 18th), I write as one of the small handful of women professors at NUI Galway.

Care-giving responsibilities, especially in relation to children, are cited as the main impediment to the aspirations of university women for senior positions. A focus on that significant point highlights the larger elephant in the room. Some male colleagues also choose to spend time with their children instead of writing late into the night to meet project and publication deadlines.

They, like their female colleagues who go home to their children, or those who devote their lives beyond the campus to a sick parent, partner or sibling, or to spending quality time with loved ones after work, are less likely to succeed in the game of thrones.

The modern university, driven by a caste of highly stylised, predominantly male managers supported by HR executives, is not sympathetic to the human consequences of policy and strategy for the workplace. A fatal result of this unenlightened management philosophy is inequity for academics who, after satisfactorily performing their duties, dare to have a private life outside the gates of the university.

The disadvantage is, undoubtedly, compounded for women who, as Prof Kathleen Lynch suggests in the article, are the primary carers, a factor that is not considered by university managers.

However, the underlying problem will not be solved by addressing gender equality alone. The question is, how much is enough?

Humanity and labour law must begin to have their place in university work practices, so that women and men have equality of opportunity to become professors without having to sacrifice all of life for that success. – Yours, etc,

Prof ELIZABETH

FitzPATRICK,

School of Geography

and Archaeology,

 

 

Sir, – I wish to strongly disagree with the politically correct nonsense put out by Vincent Browne (“Rugby culture is boorishly patriarchal”, Opinion and Analysis, March 19th).

Rugby is hard and physical and those who engage in it accept that or do not play it. That is the reality. It is good to see the Irish women’s rugby team do so well internationally and may they continue to prosper. They are quite prepared to engage in rough physical play, showing bravery, courage and determination and no-one criticises them! – Yours, etc,

DAVE KAVANAGH,

Lawrence Grove,

Clontarf, Dublin 3.

A chara, – Vincent Browne approaches the topic of physically aggressive sports such as rugby from an entirely negative point of view.

Contrary to Mr Browne’s assertion, it is perfectly possible to enjoy the positive aggression of sports such as rugby and Gaelic football without being a dysfunctional, violence-glorifying misogynist. Indeed, for many sedentary office workers – both male and female – the catharsis of physical exertion is highly conducive to good physical and mental health. There’s nothing like a big “hit” to clear the head and improve the mood!

Indeed, if Mr Browne had taken the time to watch the women’s international which followed Brian O’Driscoll’s last match at the Aviva, he would have seen a formidable team of Irish women crashing into their Italian opponents with great skill and physical fearlessness. Are they, too, propagating the nefarious “culture of rugby” which glorifies the infliction of pain?

Mr Browne might consider receiving a few decent shoulder charges or rugby tackles to clear his mind of this misguided theorising. – Is mise,

OLOF GILL,

The Mill,

Clare Island,

Co Mayo.

 

Sir, – I was delighted to read that Guinness, Heineken and the Boston Beer Company pulled out of sponsoring the New York St Patrick’s Day parade (“Kenny tries to keep in step despite New York parade row”, Home News, March 18th). It should not, however, have taken an issue of discrimination against gays to prompt this move. Behind the publicised decision of these companies lies a conversation yet to be candidly had about why such drinks companies are sponsoring events intimately associated with Ireland and the Irish people worldwide.

Perhaps parade organisers everywhere can learn from the New York example and refuse to accept sponsorship from drinks companies in the future. – Yours, etc,

ULTAN Ó BROIN,

Utrecht, Netherlands.

Sir, – In keeping with the social conscience that both Guinness and Heineken have displayed in regard to sponsoring the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York, I was wondering if they, and the drinks industry, would pick up the tab for the A&E charges and other hospital treatments that their products necessitate each week?

This could dramatically reduce the number of patients on hospital trolleys and relieve taxpayers of the burden of paying for the product liability of the drinks industry on top of having to bail out the banks.

I will be welcoming election candidates who come to my door with some real proposals to address this issue. – Yours, etc,

SEAMUS O’CALLAGHAN,

Bullock Park,

Carlow.

Sir, – The scientific community is celebrating another “discovery ” relating to the origin of the universe (“Signal from ‘dawn of time’ helps explain the birth of the universe”, Home News, March 19th). Of course everything describable can be described and the latest theoretical answer to “how” falls well short of the answer to the more significant question “why”, but everyone is entitled to their moment in the sun.

No wonder the universe is expanding, making room for all that hubris. – Yours, etc,

EUGENE TANNAM,

Monalea Park,

Firhouse,

Dublin 24.

Sir, – Despite the illegitimate nature of the referendum in Crimea, the fact that it was carried out within the space of two weeks must be the cause of some embarrassment to Minurso (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), the UN body charged with organising a referendum on self-determination there. That was back in 1991.

Some 23 later, in the face of ongoing Moroccan obstruction and international indifference, Minurso has still not fulfilled its mandate and a population a quarter the size of Crimea’s is still awaiting a say on its future. – Yours, etc,

STEFAN SIMANOWITZ,

Willow Road,

London.

 

 

Sir, – Russian president Vladimir Putin has gauged the weakness of the political establishment in the West almost flawlessly. He considered that mere talk had reached epidemic proportions in western democracies, and the stomach for any kind of military support for their political and commercial colonialism was absent. He knew they would consider first that such support would be just bad for investment.

He then proceeded to give leaders in the West a master class in how to annexe a strategic interest without firing a shot. He not only judged the western political establishment quite accurately, he also judged the level of disenchantment with “democratic capitalism”. The taxpayers of the West are so fed up of supporting political and commercial adventures around the world that there is now little or no prospect that their “leaders” could ever hope to persuade them to support a military adventure based on those leaders’ loss of face. – Yours, etc,

ROY STOKES,

Limekiln Park,

Dublin 12.

 

Sir, – I agreed with Conor Pope’s five-star review of the Guinness pint bottle of stout (Pricewatch, March 17th) but not about it being hard to find.

I feel he needs to travel to sample the joys of Waterford and south Kilkenny pubs, where the pint bottle of Guinness still holds its traditional prominence.

“A bottle off the shelf – small glass” (½ pint size) is all the barman needs to know to serve one of the finest drinks still available.

Some say the lower the shelf the better the taste – a stone floor is the ideal – and no central heating, of course.

There are tips on how it should be poured – especially when it is “high” or a “bit fresh” – and on how it should be imbibed, but these are for more esoteric musings. Sufficient for now – hold the glass at a 45 degree angle, pour slowly to achieve a finger-width frothy head of an off-amber hue and with a good “cut” in the taste.

Off-amber? It must be time to talk hurling. – Yours, etc,

HUGH McELROY,

Killapy,

Sir, – Is the current e-cigarette controversy proof that there can, indeed, be smoke without fire? – Yours, etc,

RONAN CAHILL,

Moyne Road,

Ranelagh,

Dublin 6.

 

 

 

Irish Independent:

 

* I applaud the Taoiseach for his unswerving resolve to participate in this year’s New York St Patrick’s Day Parade. However, the decision of organisers to ban gay rights activists from the parade is discriminatory to say the least.

Also in this section

So when is the real democratic revolution?

Letters: Using and abusing the right to free speech

Letters: Keeping a little light alive

It is disheartening that diverse interpretations of human rights remain very alive today, and that there are people out there who still view this idea as no more than “bawling upon paper”.

St Patrick’s Day does not belong to Ireland only. Its tremendous appeal cuts across cultures and espouses tolerance, emancipation, diversity and symbolism. In essence, it is a colour-blind event where everyone celebrates the life of a man who was taken as a slave, found God and was the driving power which rekindled the innate spirit of leadership, wisdom and spirituality in each of us, irrespective of gender, religion, creed and sexual orientation.

The day itself symbolises the moral appeal of human rights. This symbolic gesture predates the American Declaration of Independence which takes it as granted the idea that everyone is endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; and the pinnacles of the French Revolution which assert that men are born and remain free and equal in rights.

It is therefore disheartening that the abrogation of human rights, the occurrence of famines and poverty, the neglect of the agency of women and the worsening threats to environment have become part of the prevailing rhetoric, or as others put it “rhetorical nonsense”, when the 21st Century was supposed to be about participatory and inclusive governance where everyone should have a voice.

The idea of freedom is in itself too inclusive. No one should harbour any sceptical thought about this. St Patrick’s Day should remain at the vanguard of social change. Let us hope that next year the day will invoke the conspicuous idea that “it is hard to envisage good health and the fulfilment of needs and wants as freedoms without stretching the term until it embraces everything that is of central value to human beings”.

DR MUNJED FARID AL QUTOB

LONDON, NW2

WHAT DO WE STAND FOR?

* I am sure I cannot be the only one to wonder why in today’s diverse Irish society those that represent us cannot make a stand when the modern Ireland is not being fully represented.

If anything, the reaction to the New York St Patrick’s Day parade by a few drinks companies in contrast to our Taoiseach sets a dangerous precedent and shows me that we are more reliant on big business to set our moral compass than those that are chosen to represent our society.

I for one expect more from those that have been elected to our highest office than to act simply as a bean counter selling the Irish brand to the highest bidder. I struggle to understand how it can be forgotten that we are a society, a nation for which people died to establish. We should not be represented as a corporation that can be bought and sold.

I do not believe it is good enough to just pay our debts and move on, this generation has to achieve more for the pain it is suffering. We must build a future for our kids that is more than just bean counting but a society that is predicated on equality, fairness and freedom of speech.

In my view, this is what has been lacking in the vision of what it means to be Irish and we are now in danger of missing an opportunity to define what our society stands for in the 21st Century.

JOHN GRUMLEY

ADDRESS WITH EDITOR

PUTIN THE POLL-TOPPER

* Vladimir Putin informs us that the referendum in Crimea was held “in full accordance with democratic procedures”. To win with 97pc of the vote is no mean achievement.

Eamon de Valera once famously stated that in order to read the mind of the Irish electorate he had only “to look into his heart”. The old chief often triumphed at the polls but never came remotely close to winning 97pc of the vote.

Clearly Mr Putin has perfected the art of “cardiac self-examination” to a degree Dev could only have dreamed of. But then the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was recently returned with no less than 100pc of the vote.

Where did Putin slip up? Perhaps the 3pc who dissented in Crimea are in reality a “margin of error” and it would be simpler for all to accept this fact and round the figure up to 100pc.

FR IGGY O’DONOVAN

O’CONNELL STREET, LIMERICK

CATHOLIC GENERATION GAP

* At Mass on St Patrick’s Day in our local church, the priest spoke about our Christian heritage. He surprised me by saying the present generation of Irish people was the first in history which has failed to pass on the Catholic faith to our children.

He said that we may have to look to our grandchildren now. I think, unfortunately, that he may be right.

ANTHONY J JORDAN

SANDYMOUNT, DUBLIN 4

INSURANCE MADNESS

* The proposed 1pc insurance levy to cover the cost of flood damage to homes that probably should never have been built in flood-prone areas is a levy too far. We have been forced to bail out banks, builders and irresponsible developers. In the past our governments have forced us, unwillingly, to bail out PMPA Insurance, AIB/ICI insurance, and most people probably don’t realise that we also pay for injuries caused by uninsured drivers.

If this flood insurance levy goes ahead, then building in flood plains will also probably continue. Why not build a house too close to the sea or a river if someone else will pay for any flood damage?

With Ireland’s total indebtedness at over €500bn, the ordinary people of Ireland cannot continue to provide funding through such levies. It’s far too easy for our politicians, who are among the highest paid in the world, to give away our money without our permission.

EDWARD HORGAN

NEWTOWN, CASTLETROY, LIMERICK

TECHNOLOGY JOB THREAT

* On St Patrick’s Day, Bill Gates warned the world that nobody realises how many jobs will be eliminated by computerisation. At the end of January, the ‘Economist’ magazine warned of a tornado of job elimination in office work and a tsunami of other job losses looming that no government is preparing for.

I have been playing that tune for five years but nobody takes any notice. Perhaps with the endorsement from Bill Gates those who endlessly discuss economics will at last think the subject of job elimination by technology worthy of consideration.

Technology has transformed economic activity in the last two decades or so. The balance of supply and demand has been reversed; supply exceeds demand, rendering economic growth unnecessary and impossible, yet all recovery strategy is based on restoring growth.

It was such a strategy of throwing money at growth that gave rise to unmanageable debt. Growth cannot occur when growth is not needed and overproduction capability ensures growth is no longer needed.

Overproduction capability has been achieved by the elimination of dependence on human labour. To prevent social collapse job numbers must be restored and employment must be generated from less work – but all policies are aimed at having those employed work harder, more efficiently, longer and into old age.

It will not go away, impending unemployment due to work elimination by advancing technology is a reality of the 21st Century and the greatest social problem we face.

PADRAIC NEARY

TUBBERCURRY, CO SLIGO

Irish Independent

 

 

Sharland

March 19, 2014

19 March 2014 Sharland

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.Leslie is determined to resign from the Service and Captain Povey can’t believe his luckPriceless

Cold slightly saw Sharland,

Scrabbletoday Marywins and gets Over400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

Madeline Gins, who has died aged 72, was a poet and painter who, with her creative partner and husband Arakawa, a Japanese-born conceptual artist, set out to achieve everlasting life through architecture, designing structures which – they claimed -would “counteract the usual human destiny of having to die”.

Their work, based loosely on a movement known as “transhumanism,” was premised on the idea that people degenerate and die because they live in surroundings that are too comfortable. The Arakawa-Gins solution was to create homes that leave the occupants feeling disoriented, dizzy, and slightly bilious. “People, particularly old people, shouldn’t relax and sit back to help them decline,” Arakawa explained. “They should be in an environment that stimulates their senses.” In normal homes, with level floors and modern conveniences, he claimed, “our bodies forget how to operate, we become weaker faster and we live shorter lives.”

Their philosophy, which they branded Reversible Destiny, resulted in designs for buildings where floors undulate like sand dunes; where kitchens are positioned at the bottom of steep slopes; where windows are too high, or too low, to look out of; where doors are missing, allowing no privacy; where electric sockets and switches are located in unexpected places on the walls, and where the whole is painted in dozens of clashing colours.

The Reversible Destiny Lofts in Mitaka, Tokyo (GETTY IMAGES)

Their ideas remained largely theoretical until 2005 when they unveiled a small apartment complex in the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka, known as the Reversible Destiny Lofts. Painted in lurid blues, pinks, reds and yellows, each apartment features a dining room with a warped floor, making it impossible to install furniture, a sunken kitchen and a study with a concave floor. “You constantly lose balance and gather yourself up, grab onto a column and occasionally trip and fall,” observed one visitor. “Even worse, there’s no closet space.”

But to Gins and Arakawa such inconveniences were precisely the point. “[It] makes you alert and awakens instincts, so you’ll live better, longer and even forever,” explained Arakawa, pointing to studies with mice that had shown that an “enriched” environment that stimulates the body and mind can stave off the effects of ageing. The estate agents’ blurb for the development touted “the discomforts of home”. Some apartments even found tenants.

A subsequent project, Bioscleave House, on Long Island, New York, was similarly unsettling — so much so that for safety reasons it remained off-limits to children, while adults were asked to sign a disclaimer when they entered. “In addition to the floor, which threatens to send the less-sure-footed hurtling into the sunken kitchen at the centre of the house,” wrote a reviewer, “the design features walls painted in about 40 colours; multiple levels meant to induce the sensation of being in two spaces at once… and an open flow of traffic, unhindered by interior doors or privacy.”

Inside the Bioscleave House in East Hampton

The architects felt obliged to produce a training manual for those having difficulty staying upright, featuring such instructions as: “Try to maintain two (or more) separate tentativenesses, that is, two (or more) distinct areas of indeterminacy.” If that did not work they helpfully installed a series of poles from floor to ceiling which could be grabbed in the event of total disorientation. “It may take five hours,” they enthused, “to get from one side of the room to the other.”

Madeline Gins and her husband had ambitious plans for a “reversible destiny town” and a “reversible destiny lower-middle-income housing complex”, which would “not only provide shelter for its residents but actually intervene with the universe on their behalf”. They themselves, they announced on their website, had “decided not to die,” because death was “old-fashioned”.

But their dreams were scuppered in 2008 when they lost their life savings which they had invested with the fraudster Bernard Madoff, architect of the world’s biggest-ever Ponzi scheme. The disaster forced them to close their Manhattan office and lay off five employees. Arakawa died two years later.

Madeline Gins soldiered on alone for four more years, designing two “reversible destiny healing fun houses” along with a “biotopological scale-juggling escalator” for Rei Kawakubo’s Dover Street Market in New York, before succumbing to cancer.

Madeline Helen Gins was born in New York City on November 7 1941, and read Physics and Eastern Philosophy at Barnard College. She later enrolled at Brooklyn Museum Art School where she met Arakawa, a protégé of Marcel Duchamp and already an established conceptual artist. They later married.

Madeline Gins began her working life as a poet and experimental novelist. Her first work, Word Rain (subtitled A Discursive Introduction to the Intimate Philosophical Investigations of G, R, E, T, A, G, A, R, B, O, It Says), was published in 1969.

In 1997 “Reversible Destiny”, the first major exhibition of Madeline Gins’s collaboration with her husband, opened at the Guggenheim Museum SoHo in New York. It featured two pieces of work in progress, The Mechanism of Meaning, a vast installation featuring paintings, collages and “words in painting” (including injunctions such as “Keep the viscosity equal to the deliquescence”) and a section devoted to their later architectural designs.

Their architectural fantasies first achieved physical form in 1995 when an “experience park” consisting of a mountainous “exploratorium” of curved and warped surfaces designed to throw people off balance, opened about 100 miles east of Osaka. Visitors were exhorted to be “more body and less person”, but after two people broke their legs in the first two days, hiking boots were recommended and hard hats provided at the entrance.

Madeline Gins and Arakawa wrote several books, including Reversible Destiny, We Have Decided Not To Die (1997) and Making Dying Illegal (2006). Another book, Architectural Body (2002), was translated into Japanese and printed as both a book and a roll of lavatory paper. Shortly before her death Madeline Gins completed Alive Forever Not If But When, a book which she had begun with her husband.

Madeline Gins, born November 7 1941, died January 8 2014

 

 

 

Guardian:

 

 

Tony Benn famously said there are five questions to ask the powerful (Letters, 17 March). 1) What power do you have? 2) Where did you get it? 3) In whose interests do you exercise it? 4) To whom are you accountable? 5) How can we get rid of you? In view of Charles Windsor’s reluctance to comply with the Freedom of Information Act over his letters to ministers (Editorial, 13 March), perhaps these questions could be put to him.
Barbara Williams
Wantage, Oxfordshire

• Whoever wrote your editorial on supermarkets (14 March) has obviously never visited Aldi or Lidl. Both sell salmon en croute and sea bass fillets with fennel butter, as well as partridge, pheasant, quails, venison, goats’ cheese and other delicacies. All of excellent quality and very reasonably priced.
Jill Adams
Birmingham

• Re the new weather page (Letters, 15 March): I have been wondering why the east of England has been left out in the cold. All eight cities across the top of the page ignore the existence of the half of the country which lies to the east of the Pennines and often experiences weather very different from those featured. How about Leeds, York or even Newcastle as a representative of our area?
Gill Jewell
Leeds

• My understanding was that the Duke of Edinburgh (Letters, 18 March) was known in Scotland as “Auld Greekie”.
Joe Cummings
St Mèdard de Mussidan, France

• In the Czech mountains north of Prague there is an area called Hell (Letters, 15 March), above which there is a restaurant called Heaven (and it is too).
Helen Keating
Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries

• We don’t really need experts to tell us the universe could be expanding again (Waves from the big bang, 18 March). I’ve noticed that, compared to 80 years ago, it takes me longer to reach the floor.
AH Lee
Llanwrda, Camarthenshire

• I’m 31. Generation Y G2 made me feel really old (Letters, 18 March).
Julia Harris
Hastings, East Sussex

 

Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” said Richard Feynman in the 1960s. But times change. Before about 1970, academics had access to modest funding they could use freely. Industry was similarly enlightened. Their results included the transistor, the maser-laser, the electronics and telecommunications revolutions, nuclear power, biotechnology and medical diagnostics galore that enriched the lives of virtually everyone; they also boosted 20th-century economic growth.

After 1970, politicians substantially expanded academic sectors. Peer review’s uses allowed the rise of priorities, impact etc, and is now virtually unavoidable. Applicants’ proposals must convince their peers that they serve national policies and are the best possible uses of resources. Success rates are about 25%, and strict rules govern resubmissions. Rejected proposals are usually lost. Industry too has lost its taste for the unpredictable. The 500 major discoveries, almost all initiated before about 1970, challenged mainstream science and would probably be vetoed today. Nowadays, fields where understanding is poor are usually neglected because researchers must convince experts that working in them will be beneficial.

However, small changes would keep science healthy. Some are outlined in Donald Braben’s book, Promoting the Planck Club: How Defiant Youth, Irreverent Researchers and Liberated Universities Can Foster Prosperity Indefinitely. But policies are deeply ingrained. Agencies claiming to support blue-skies research use peer review, of course, discouraging open-ended inquiries and serious challenges to prevailing orthodoxies. Mavericks once played an essential role in research. Indeed, their work defined the 20th century. We must relearn how to support them, and provide new options for an unforeseeable future, both social and economic. We need influential allies. Perhaps Guardian readers could help?
Donald W Braben University College London
John F Allen Queen Mary, University of London
William Amos University of Cambridge
Richard Ball University of Edinburgh
Tim Birkhead FRS University of Sheffield
Peter Cameron Queen Mary, University of London
Richard Cogdell FRS University of Glasgow
David Colquhoun FRS University College London
Rod Dowler Industry Forum, London
Irene Engle United States Naval Academy, Annapolis
Felipe Fernández-Armesto University of Notre Dame
Desmond Fitzgerald Materia Medica
Pat Heslop-Harrison University of Leicester
Dudley Herschbach Harvard University, Nobel Laureate
H Jeff Kimble Caltech, US National Academy of Sciences
Sir Harry Kroto FRS Florida State University, Tallahassee, Nobel Laureate
James Ladyman University of Bristol
Nick Lane University College London
Peter Lawrence FRS University of Cambridge
Angus MacIntyre FRS Queen Mary, University of London
John Mattick Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney
Beatrice Pelloni University of Reading
Martyn Poliakoff FRS University of Nottingham
Douglas Randall University of Missouri
David Ray Bio Astral Limited
Sir Richard J Roberts FRS New England Biolabs, Nobel Laureate
Ken Seddon Queen’s University of Belfast
Colin Self University of Newcastle
Harry Swinney University of Texas, US National Academy of Sciences
Claudio Vita-Finzi FBA Natural History Museum

 

 

 

Owen Jones’s piece on the rightwing bias of the BBC is to be welcomed (Comment, 17 March). I’ve lost count of the number of times flagship programmes like Newsnight, for example, frame debates in ways which reflect this bias. On my local BBC news programme, Look North, the rightwing Taxpayers’ Alliance is frequently introduced as an “economics research group” and its “researchers” seem to be called on more often than any other relevant pressure group in the region. Just recently a presenter described a Labour council’s modest increase in council tax as being “in their blood”, while the very next night going soft on a representative of a Tory council that had done the same thing. But impressions won’t do. What we need is robust data. I know there are university media research groups working in this area, but they are few in number. Perhaps they or readers can suggest the easiest and most practical way individuals can collect facts and figures?
John Quicke
Hull

• Owen Jones detects irony in the fact that I am occasionally asked on to the BBC while I continue to argue that it is heavily biased towards the left. He needs a sense of proportion. The corporation’s general sympathy for the moral and cultural left, as acknowledged by (among others) Andrew Marr, John Humphrys and Mark Thompson, is not cancelled out by occasional exceptions, nor by outnumbered appearances on liberal-dominated panels. It is also not much affected by the BBC’s admittedly careful balance in party political matters, especially now that the Tories have joined the cultural and moral revolution.
Peter Hitchens
Mail on Sunday

• I was privileged to work at the corporation during its more halcyon days, when salaries were subdued within a cherished public service ethos, whereby no one expected, nor wanted, incomes equivalent to those in the commercial sector. At that time the myth about its leftwing bias was constantly purveyed by its enemies. I was mystified as to how this originated. My view was that the BBC and most of its employees were conservative, with both a small and a big C.

That has been graphically demonstrated over the past weeks: the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike – the most seismic labour dispute in the country’s history – has come and gone with scarcely a word or comment from the BBC. It was left to ITV to mark the occasion with an informative, incisive documentary. We are overwhelmed with BBC programmes about the first world war, and yet the traumatic 1984 strike appears to have been airbrushed out of history by the corporation.
Jennifer Sheridan
London

• I was very happy working for the BBC for 28 years, so still fondly regard it as one of the best institutions in Britain. But I agree with Owen Jones that not only its news presentation, but the bias of some programmes, is not up to the standards of the BBC ethos I was trained in. The rot set in with Thatcher’s insertion of John Birt as director general, which crippled the BBC as he didn’t understand the ethos; and, to their eternal shame, New Labour’s bear-baiting has stripped it of its independence of thought, as Owen Jones suggests. As a pro-government mouthpiece it does democracy no favours and I cringe at some of the output.
Janet Whitaker
Former radio drama producer, Burton Bradstock, Dorset

 

As the custodian of the personal data of thousands of students, Ucas takes its data protection responsibilities extremely seriously. We never sell, or disclose, or give access to, the personal data of our applicants for commercial advertising and marketing purposes (Report, 13 March). Our commercial revenue is generated through email campaigns (sent by us), advertising on our websites, running conferences and conventions, and providing analytical services. Our biggest client group by far is universities and colleges. I am intensely proud that we manage a highly regarded national service without any recourse to the taxpayer. We do this by running an efficient operation and by treading a scrupulously careful line in generating additional revenue via our commercial subsidiary, Ucas Media. We operate wholly within the guidelines of the Data Protection Act and all relevant legislation, and apply our own criteria and restrictions to ensure that any commercial messages are suitable for the intended audience. Applicants can opt out of receiving our services at any time and, if they do, will still receive all the information they need to participate fully in the admissions service.
Mary Curnock Cook
Chief executive, Ucas

 

The average UK driver now pays more every year in fuel duty and VAT than for their gas and electricity bills – and that’s just the tax, not the fuel. Having the highest duty for diesel and the second highest for petrol in the EU is disadvantaging millions of families and businesses across the UK and reducing consumer spending power. This Treasury cash cow of a tax impacts on the engine room of our economy, the UK haulage industry, with their predominant business cost ultimately affecting the level of all consumer product prices.

We’ve repeatedly asked the Treasury to challenge findings of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research that a 3p cut in duty would create 70,000 jobs and increase GDP by 0.2%, but they refuse to rebuff these figures. So far the nascent economic recovery has been bankrolled by consumers rather than industry, and having the highest fuel taxation in Europe will reduce any further flows of disposable income into the UK economy.

Over 60% of consumers do essential food shopping by car, and 50% use cars and vans to commute to work. Restricting both of these activities by high fuel taxation threatens future growth and causes misery to millions. A 3p per litre duty cut for all vehicle fuels in the budget isn’t just prudent fiscal planning but should be an essential pillar of the government’s strategy for economic regeneration. Any financial recovery begins through increased consumer spending. The Treasury must not ignore this essential fiscal truth.
Quentin Willson Motoring journalist and FairFuelUK campaigner, Angus MacNeil MP SNP’s Westminster spokesperson on transport, Geoff Dunning Chief executive, Road Haulage Association, Jason McCartney MP Conservative member of transport select committee, Naomi Long MP Deputy leader, Alliance party of Northern Ireland, Nigel Dodds MP Deputy leader, Democratic Unionist party, Paul Sanders Chairman, Association of Pallet Networks, Pete Williams Head of external affairs, RAC, Rob Flello MP Labour, Rob Shuttleworth Chief executive, UKLPG, Sammy Wilson MP DUP parliamentary spokesman on economic and finance matters, Tessa Munt MP Liberal Democrat, PPS to the secretary of state for business, innovation and skills, Theo de Pencier Chief executive, Freight Transport Association, Howard Cox FairFuelUK campaign founder

 

Your 7 March article that discussed the unrest in Xinjiang province in China posed the question, “What does result in the hate from Xinjiang?” Over 20 years ago, my husband and I made the trip across China by train from west to east – a fascinating and interesting experience that opened a whole new world to us.

In the course of one of our stopovers in Xinjiang province, we were going through a market. We had just started to talk to someone who could speak English when a burly policeman rolled up and demanded, ” Is this man annoying you?” We looked a bit startled and began, “No, of course not. We were just …” By now, the man had been taken out of our reach. No further conversation with these subversive foreigners.

Later, we were able to have a brief chat with a native of these parts from whom we began to appreciate that the Uighurs were far from happy. Apparently even then, Han Chinese were being transported to Xinjiang by the thousand by the Chinese government, the aim being to make the Uighurs a minority in their own homeland.

It seems that their aim has been achieved and that the Uighurs have thus been usurped in the management of their own affairs. Nothing in China happens by accident and the treatment of the Uighurs is no different from many other injustices that reign throughout that land.

It should be no puzzle to the man who asked what brought about the hatred in Xinjiang. It is pure and simple: that the natives of those parts, the Uighurs, have been swamped by the official influx of Han Chinese from the east. No wonder there is hatred. It is, indeed, surprising that it has taken so long for the hatred to manifest itself.

We reap the reward of what we sow, whoever we are, wherever we are and whenever it takes place.
Helen Heron
Hong Kong

The crisis in Crimea

The apparent ambition of the Kremlin towards Crimea is remarkably similar to the strategy and rationalisation used by Germany in the 1930s (West scrambles to contain fallout of weekend uprising, 28 February).

In 1936 German troops occupied the Rhineland. On 10 April 1938 Austria ceased to exist and became part of Germany. On 30 September 1938 the Sudetenland was taken from the Czech Republic and annexed by Germany. These takeovers were accomplished without resorting to warfare; however, threats of invasion were formidable. The rationale used by Germany at the time was their concern for the welfare and wellbeing of the pro-German population of these areas.

On 14 June 1940 the Soviets presented an ultimatum to Lithuania demanding the arrest of certain key officials and the acceptance of Red Army troops to occupy their country. Lithuania accepted this ultimatum. During the next few days the same terms were agreed to by Estonia and Latvia.

On 26 June 1940 Russia demanded that Romania allow Bessarabia and Bukovina be annexed to Russia. German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, in a panic, implored Romania to yield, which it did on 27 June.

Germany was alarmed they might lose their oil supply should Russia occupy the whole of Romania. Germany’s source of oil is now Russia. Deja vu, all over again?
Ed Lien
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

• While Terry Hewton (Reply, 14 March) is right about the past importance of Russia’s Black Sea ports, I believe they will be less so in future.

A couple of years ago I read in these very pages about the increasing volume of shipping using the old Northwest Passage. The arctic ports of Russia should be much more useful in the near future than in the past; maybe more useful than Black Sea ports for extra-Mediterranean trade.

However, I doubt that this increased naval facility will mitigate the angst felt by Russia (the only state with Arctic and Black Sea ports that I’m aware of) over Crimea. As my Greek relatives proverbially advise: only ever acquire property, never relinquish it.
S W Davey
Torrens, ACT, Australia

The joys of solitude

I wholeheartedly agree with the points John Bohnert’s letter (28 February) makes about the joys of solitude, and I would add the joys of writing, music and sculpting. This kind of life can be very satisfying indeed as I know.

The difficulty comes with health problems that can make one unable to cope with some basic physical aspects. Unstable equilibrium, inability to lift or sense things, failing eyesight, hearing, the need for an operation and becoming bedridden – any of these and others would take away one’s independence to a greater or lesser extent.

So far – I am in my 80s – I have been very lucky. I do need some help but am largely able to carry on with my way of life. It is a question of compromise, as far and as long as possible, I suppose.
Marlene Binggeli
Perchtoldsdorf, Austria

Ethical expediency

In your editorial Keeping promises (7 March), you say that Irish parties ought to have the “maturity” to accept that hundreds of IRA murderers should escape prosecution in order to respect “an agreement that has delivered nearly 15 years of peace”. From the perspective of the Basque country where ETA has been forced to stop all activities and a final dissolution is expected, that ethical expediency looks appalling.

Our situation is certainly different, as ETA has been brought to its end by the rule of law. But several self-appointed international “mediators”, some of them British, seem to be trying to prescribe for us an Irish-style closing model so as not to miss “a unique opportunity for peace”, apparently unaware that peace has already been irreversibly achieved.

Some Basque nationalist parties contend that such a solution would help heal the wounds in our society but they are always suspect as historically they have systematically opposed all initiatives that have led to the present situation. I do hope we won’t end up paying your unpalatable price.
Anton Digon
Vitoria, Spain

Problem of empty homes

I read on your 28 February front page that there are 700,000 empty houses in the UK. Later in the same issue I read that there were 122,500 new houses started in England in 2013, less than half of the estimated 250,000 new homes a year needed to meet the demand for housing in England.

I’m at a loss to understand what the housing need or homelessness situation is in England, and I can only surmise that there might be an extremely high number of empty houses in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Peter Johnston
Lasqueti Island, British Columbia, Canada

Kipling’s love of the train

Jonathan Yardley’s heartfelt review of Tom Zoellner’s book Trains (7 March) recalls Rudyard Kipling’s detailed locomotive study .007 (The Day’s Work, 1908). In this piece, the newcomer to the engine shed encounters his seniors in the mechanical world that determined the railroad’s expansion in the American continent of that era. The precision of technical description is lovingly evoked in the personalities of the engines that ruled in the continent’s growth.

The depth of Kipling’s mechanical enthusiasm is perhaps overlooked in criticism of his political attitudes, but the poetry of engineering excels, in this as in other delights of the Victorian steam age.
Jack Palmer
Watson, ACT, Australia

Briefly

• Tim Lewis, in Who wants a male pill? (7 March), states that “in the fifth century Hippocrates had some success with heating a man’s testicles in a hot bath”. I wonder if any correlation has been established between the low fertility rates in Japan and Scandinavian countries and their love of taking extremely hot water or steam-cleaning treatment in, respectively, onsen (hot springs) and sauna cabins.
Alaisdair Raynham
Truro, UK

• Nervy Marina Hyde gives Optic Nerve a poke in the eye by suggesting to watch the watchers (7 March). Drop a spanner in the works. Give budding NSA subcontractors with their posh jobs pause to consider “what the hell am I doing?”
R M Fransson
Denver, Colorado, US

• Holly Baxter tells us of the travails of double entendre place names (Shortcuts, 7 March). Many of my friends are from Newfoundland, where if you visit Come by Chance by way of Dildo you need not visit Conception Bay.
Bob Walsh
Wilton, Connecticut, US

 

 

Independent:

 

Extending HS2 Phase One to Crewe, as proposed by Sir David Higgins, is a substantial amendment to the original plans, which have gone out to recent public consultation, and may be seen in some quarters as a distress signal for the entire project.

With the cities of Derby, Sheffield and Stoke all making convincing cases for city-centre stations, and digital technology radically changing the way that business is conducted, is it now time to go back to first principles and design a scheme which meets the aspirations of the UK as a whole?

High Speed Rail and the expansion and modernisation of the existing UK rail system are both excellent objectives, but we need to future-proof them and make them attractive to private investment.

Dr John Disney, Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University

The Government’s enthusiasm for HS2 is difficult to comprehend. Apparently, we don’t have the funds to support the disadvantaged in our society. Neither can we afford to carry out basic maintenance work. The national debt stands in excess of £1trn and we know that further massive cutbacks will have to be made following the next general election.

Miraculously, however, we apparently do have in excess of £40bn to spare to fund this rail scheme. Never mind that, by the Government’s own figures, the business case for it is at best flimsy, at worst, non-existent. Apart from being morally outrageous, HS2 appears to be financial madness on an epic scale.

Keith O’Neill, Shrewsbury

Hear, hear for HS2. We invented railways. The UK is small and overcrowded, ideal territory for railways. This will take freight off the roads. Japan has had bullet trains for decades; Europe is well trained.

We should start building it from the north and south now, not least while money is cheap. And there are the jobs – please, priority for UK residents.

Protesters have justifiable worries. As in France, HS2 should be in cuttings, landscaped, tunnelled. The sooner we do it the better.

Ebbsfleet on HS1 is to be developed. HS2 will do the same for the North. It will make for a more united country.

I hope all the political parties will support this endeavour.

Rosanne Bostock, Oxford

Crimea votes to go back to Russia

Isn’t the furore in Western governments about the referendum in Crimea a bit rich? They say the vote is illegal because it took place under conditions of Russian occupation. So does that mean that the elections in Iraq and Afghanistan which took place under Western military occupation where also illegal?

I wonder how Western governments would have liked it if after they invaded Iraq and Afghanistan China and Russia had imposed sanctions on them?

Mark Holt , Liverpool

We all are horrified by the appalling behaviour of the Russians; they have invaded land that is not legally theirs. We have gone to the UN to prove our case. But all the people who have looked at Crimea know the wishes and preferences of the majority of those who live there. However we in the West are now about to impose sanctions to try to reverse their aggression.

But hang on, did not our PM, that principled politician, denounce sanctions against Israel being called for on behalf of a people whose land is being invaded and constantly stolen by that country, or am I missing something?

Peter Downey, Wellow, Somerset

Crimea was part of Russia for centuries. The Russian government has merely reversed Khrushchev’s arbitrary 1954 decision to give Crimea to Ukraine.

This is a unique case. Nowhere else has been given away, without its consent, by its government. There is no need for alarm.

Will Podmore, London E12

From Bath to  Brussels with Ukip

Steve Richards (Voices, 11 March) visited Bath and observed: “The Lib Dems face a daunting challenge at the next election. I spent a few days in Bath last week, a seat currently held by them, and kept on bumping into people who had voted for Clegg’s party last time but who insist they will not do so next year even if that means the constituency elects a Tory MP.”

It is true that the popularity of the Lib Dems has plummeted nationally. They cannot rely on the incumbency factor in Bath because the Lib Dem MP Don Foster will be retiring in 2015. Labour do not have much support in Bath. However it is not at all certain that the Tory candidate would be elected.

Ukip has a local candidate, Julian Deverell, who has plenty of good contacts and roots locally. The Tory candidate has been parachuted in from London, and his campaigning to date has been sporadic. Ukip has an excellent chance of electoral success in Bath.

The first King of all England, Edgar the Peaceable, was crowned in Bath in 973, in the Anglo-Saxon Abbey Church. It would be fitting for a patriotic Englishman to be elected to represent Bath in 2015.

Hugo Jenks, Bathampton, Bath and North east Somerset

Is there any European measure that Ukip would vote for? I ask because, having checked what UK MEPs did in last week’s European Parliament vote on forcing mobile phone manufacturers to all use the same design of charger, I see that Ukip’s MEPs voted against.

Ukip bangs on about supposedly defending Britain from Brussels meddling, but if that meddling means I can recharge my iPhone when I forget to take my charger with me to work, then I am all for it. Ukip seem so blinded by their rejection of anything European they’ll even vote against perfectly sensible measures like this.

Stuart Bonar, London W1

Earworms show a brain in good shape?

Howard Jacobson (15 March) bemoans the presence of the earworm, the tune that lodges in the brain, and suggests that it might be ruinous to our mental health.

But hold on. In an experiment conducted by the teacher of a class of excessively disruptive boys, she found that playing classical music quietly in the background  had a calming effect on their behaviour. She went on to discover that the music of Mozart was more calming than that of any other composer. I am sure Howard Jacobson would understand that.

The theory was then put forward that by composing his ethereal music, Mozart was treating his own Tourette’s syndrome, often associated with the exclamation of obscene words, or socially inappropriate and derogatory remarks.

In a ward of people suffering from Alzheimer’s, I often found that despite the absence of any memory for the past, they would sing songs in tune and word-perfect, presumably indicating that the part of the brain in which Howard Jacobson’s “earthworm” had burrowed had remained intact. So the ohrwurm is not all bad news.

Dr Nick Maurice, Marlborough, Wiltshire

The case for taxing mansions

Nick Eastwell writes that the “mansion tax” is unjust because some people may never have had enough income to pay, and that they will only be subject to the tax because their house is an asset that bears no resemblance to the original purchase price (letter, 12 March).

In other words they have a substantial potential, but not realised, capital gain. In principle this is analogous to a family who have a child at university and thus have a spare bedroom. The Government expects them to downsize if they have insufficient income to pay council tax. Why should the same not apply to those who live in mansions?

Vaughan Clarke, Colchester, Essex

That dog is a German spy

Spy dogs (Natalie Haynes, Another Voice, 14 March) were apparently taken seriously during the Second World War, when my aunt and uncle and their young son left London to live in Hythe in Kent.

My cousin had always wanted a dog, and became very attached to one belonging to neighbours, which regularly followed him to school. As a newcomer, wanting to impress the other children, he invented a tale about the dog being a German spy, parachuted on to the beach.

My aunt knew nothing of this until two very intimidating policeman arrived at the door, wanting to know where the dog had come from.

Laura F Spira, Oxford

Talking the talk with Tony Benn

I totally get that Tony Benn talked a lot of good left-wing stuff. But can someone please tell me, what did he actually do about it?

Prue Bray, Winnersh,  Berkshire

 

 

Times:

 

 

Poetry may not be the best way to learn history but it has some supremely valuable lessons

Sir, Further to your excellent coverage of the poets of the First World War (Mar 17), few of us realise that most of these poets, particularly Wilfred Owen, were more or less forgotten, and not discussed in schools, until Benjamin Britten brought them thundering into view with his War Requiem almost 45 years after the events they describe.

As Owen (and Britten) says: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The poetry is in the Pity. All a poet can do is warn.” That is why poetry is important, and why Jeremy Paxman (‘“Poetry is no way to teach the Great War’”, Mar 14) is wrong.

Tony Palmer

London W3

Sir, Fewer than one in eight of the combatants who died in the war were English-speakers, but all the important poetry of the war seems to have been written in English. Have we and our cultural leaders never heard of Ungaretti, Stramm or Apollinaire, or any of the other poets who wrote of the war in languages other than our own.

Dr A. D. Harvey

London N16

Sir, When I studied the war poets at grammar school in the late 1960s I was struck by two things from Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce et Decorum Est . The first was the true awfulness of death by a silent assassin, gas. The second was how Owen had taken a Latin text from Horace meant to extol the virtues of heroic gallantry and used it to warn us that not everything we read in the press should be taken at face value. It would appear that both messages are as true today as they were then.

Ian Cherry

Preston

Sir, May I assure Sir Max Hastings that if I want to find truth I’m infinitely more likely to find it in literature. History merely offers interminable debate that can never be finally settled, while a great poem can offer us humans truth in a sentence. So give me Sassoon or Owen ahead of any historian.

Colin Clayton

Port Erin, Isle of Man

Sir, Another feature on First World War poetry with all the usual suspects, and without a mention of Kipling, who was incomparably a better poet than all of them.

If your readers want the horror of war, try Gethsemane ; if it’s ruthlessness, Tin Fish ; if it’s sorrow, My Boy Jack ; the whole dreadful tangle of feelings is piercingly alive in Epitaphs of the War . Moreover, Kipling was a great poet of the aftermath of the war — the suffering of the survivors, both those who were maimed in body and mind and those who were left to mourn.

Professor Daniel Karlin

University of Bristol

Sir, A key area of study in the First World War is the use of art, language and the media to manipulate public opinion.

A study of propaganda reveals to the student the inherent danger of accepting well-rehearsed arguments at face value.

In believing and disseminating the unsubstantiated and prejudiced argument that the First World War is taught mainly through poetry Jeremy Paxman ironically displays a profound ignorance of history teaching in modern Britain.

Janette Rowley

Libby Purves was wrong about the tax man, technically — but in practice she was absolutely right

Sir, Libby Purves (“Memo to HMRC: we’re not all on the fiddle”, Mar 17) is technically incorrect when she states that the taxpayer cannot claim back fees paid out to correct mistakes which are entirely the fault of HMRC. In fact there used to be a publication by the Inland Revenue entitled Code of Practice 1 – Errors and Mistakes by The Inland Revenue, which showed how aggrieved taxpayers could obtain recompense.

That publication has long since been withdrawn, and reference to this remedy is now hidden in an abstruse form in a “Helpsheet”, not ostensibly relevant to that topic. The average punter would be unlikely to research that particular reference unless prepared to spend a disproportionate amount of his life on the exercise.

If appropriate taxation professional help is sought in order to obtain redress, against the inevitable protestations of HMRC that they were acting in accordance with “normal practice”, then the fees for this assistance (irrecoverable) would usually exceed the amount recovered.

This brings me to the conclusion that although Libby is, as aforesaid, technically wrong, she is pragmatically quite correct.

Les Beckett

(Chartered tax adviser)

Abergavenny. Monmouthshire

Sir, Libby Purves is right. Her article reminds me of the response of a great aunt to a similarly inappropriately phrased observation by a policeman, made in the 1930s: “Young man would you kindly remember that you are a public servant.”

HMRC, please take note.

C. S. B. Williams

Oakham, Leics

 

The gender gap is closing but the class gap is widening — poorer people die younger after shorter retirements

Sir, You say that “the wealthy enjoy an extra 20 years of healthy life” (Mar 15). Indeed. The gender gap is closing, but the class gap is widening. The poorer-off not only work for more years, from the age of 16, but they then have far fewer years of healthy retirement, as well as lower life expectancy overall. Yet we continue to raise the state pension age the same for everyone — and that means the poor get even fewer decent healthy years in retirement. They work longer and die younger, with few years of healthy retirement in between. Unfairness compounded.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

House of Lords

Sir, I once had an illuminating introduction to how “working class” women manage as best they can’ with childcare (letters Mar 15). I was taken outside a large secondary school adjacent to a social housing estate, and shown groups of young pupils, years 7 to 11, hastening from school to get to the nearest primary school. I was told they would act as carers for the younger children until their mothers returned from 12-hour shifts, often at 8pm. As the mothers had left at 7.30am, the years 7 to 11 pupils also dressed and fed the family to get the children and themselves to school in the morning.

This army of young carers keeps large numbers of women in work to this day, and the families depend on the income generated (and the working tax credits paid to boost the minimum wage).

It does not help them to take part in after-school clubs, or help with homework timetables, but they shore up our economy: shop workers, factory “girls’” and many nurses and carers, depend upon them.

Mike Clegg

Lytham St Annes, Lancs

 

Professor’s evidence to the House of Lords did not touch on the spring 2015 general election

Sir, You say (Mar 17) that “Scots could lose right to vote in general election” if they vote for independence in the referendum. You attributed this proposition to evidence which I gave to the House of Lords Committee on the Constitution. The transcript shows clearly that my evidence did not touch on the 2015 general election, nor did anyone on the committee question the right of Scottish electors to vote in that election, whatever the outcome of the referendum. Independence, if it comes at all, would not be until 2016 at the earliest.

Professor Alan Boyle

University of Edinburgh

 

Britain should look at the history of its own overseas possessions before criticising Russia over Crimea

Sir, The people of Crimea have voted overwhelmingly to be Russian. The Falkland islanders voted powerfully to remain British. The Gibraltarians have made it clear that they do not wish to be a part of Spain. A simplistic observation perhaps, but what is the difference?

Pamela Hart

Watford, Herts

 

 

Telegraph:

 

 

SIR – You report that the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station will not be delivering electricity to the grid until 2023, or even later. It was expected to be up and running by 2017 but deadlines have already been missed, and the construction costs have rocketed to £16 billion.

On top of that, the European Commission says that total public subsidies could reach £17 billion, which is more than the cost of the plant itself. What are the benefits of having a private-sector electricity generating industry when high financial returns have to be paid to the shareholders for decades, and the Commission has to be satisfied that the subsidies don’t amount to illegal state aid?

The Central Electricity Generating Board would have built Hinkley Point C, and paid for it out of taxation, with the regulator making sure that the electricity prices charged to the customers were providing a modest rate of return on the capital investment. Was it a mistake to nationalise the electricity, gas and water companies in the Eighties?

James Allan
Hartlepool, Co Durham

Long-standing MPs

SIR – By my calculation, Tony Benn’s death leaves John Freeman, the former Labour politician, broadcaster and diplomat, who was elected in 1945, as the only surviving MP to have served in Parliament under King George VI.

Only three former MPs survive who sat in the House of Commons during Winston Churchill’s final term as prime minister: Lord Healey, Lord Mason of Barnsley and James Ramsden, the last Secretary of State for War, all of whom were elected in by-elections.

Simon Gordon
Faversham, Kent

Bard’s biblical grasp

SIR – Sir Trevor Nunn’s view is his own, but can he argue that the majestical roof of Hamlet, or the cloud-capped towers of The Tempest, reach higher than even the lowlands of Job? There is no zero sum here: Shakespeare’s language and imagery grow from the Bible.

We need both, yet many students know neither. In Kipling’s Proofs of Holy Writ, Shakespeare remarks to Ben Jonson: “If the pillars of the temple fall out, nature, art, and learning come to a stand.”

E G Nisbet
Egham, Surrey

‘Non-stun’ slaughter

SIR – Lord Sheikh states that comments made by our president-elect concerning animal slaughter without pre-stunning have created misunderstandings. He further claims that the method of zabiha slaughter, where the neck is cut without the animal being pre-stunned, renders it immediately unconscious.

The British Veterinary Association’s position on non-stun slaughter has been developed in light of scientific research which demonstrates that slaughter without pre-stunning compromises animal welfare. The EU-funded Dialrel project (2006-10) reviewed all of the evidence and concluded that it was highly probable that animals feel pain during and after the throat being cut without prior stunning.

The BVA’s prime concern is for the welfare of animals and we oppose the practice of non-stun slaughter. It is important to note that around 80 per cent of halal slaughter is pre-stunned.

Robin Hargreaves
President, British Veterinary Association
London W1

Free organ lessons

SIR – Caroline Mitchell writes that most rural organists play for the love of it. Many, like myself, do so in gratitude for the opportunity to learn to play this magnificent instrument. The Presbytery of Perth has a scheme whereby anyone with the requisite keyboard skills is given a year’s tuition paid for by the Presbytery, thus increasing the number of organists available to play for Sunday services. At a time when organists are a scarce commodity in some places, it might be a scheme worth copying more widely.

Doreen Beattie
Errol, Perthshire

SIR – The Organist and Master of the Choristers at Arundel Cathedral mistakenly believes that you wouldn’t expect an accountant to give free advice to a church. I know many professional accountants who do just that, and who also use their “considerable training and ability” to take on the onerous role of honorary church treasurer.

Michael Robinson
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

Stonehenge eyesore

SIR – Just outside Oswestry there is a very fine old iron-age fort. There has been a planning application to build houses around it, a construction that I likened to building around Stonehenge. It was therefore of little surprise to read (report, March 13) of a proposal to build in the eyeline of this ancient monument.

Peter Barling
Oswestry, Shropshire

First fruit

SIR – After the Second World War, the Ministry of Food declared a special ration of one banana for each child under 14.

I remember coming down for breakfast to be confronted by a solitary banana on a plate. No knife and fork had been provided, but I was shown how to unpeel it. I took one mouthful and declared that I didn’t like it, whereupon four grateful adults divided it up and shared it between them.

David Griffiths
Bromley, Kent

SIR – I recommend the African banana, much smaller than the West Indian variety but very sweet. They are best eaten directly off the tree.

John G Prescott
Coulsdon, Surrey

The death of British soldiers from our poison gas

SIR – Your report of the Battle of Loos during the First World War, in which Private William McAleer was killed, states, as do other accounts, that a change of wind direction was responsible for blowing the poison gas back towards the British lines, so killing many soldiers.

I have transcribed a report of the battle, written at the time by my husband’s great uncle, who fought at Loos. He describes how the Scottish infantry rushed from their trenches and “reached the German line so quickly that many died from the effects of our own gas”. He tells of seeing “hundreds of dead Scotch [sic] infantry”, many killed by gas in the German trenches.

I wonder whether the accepted version, blaming a change in the wind, or Great-Uncle Henry’s report is correct.

Penny Clive
Swanmore, Hampshire

SIR – My wife and I have just returned from a short trip to Flanders. We visited many graves and cemeteries, including the German cemetery at Langemarck.

Michael Morpurgo, the children’s author, suggests British schoolchildren should visit such German war graves. Everywhere we went there were wreaths, cards and other tributes of reconciliation on the headstones of German soldiers from British pupils. There were no reciprocal messages from their German counterparts.

M J Gibson
Tockington, Gloucestershire

SIR – As a small businessman who organises walking tours in the pretty Cotswold town of Burford, I applaud Geoffrey Lean’s article on David Cameron’s controversial planning reforms. Unfortunately, Bampton, where Downton Abbey was filmed, is only one of several villages that would be adversely affected by new developments.

Until recently, I was a parish councillor in the nearby village of Alvescot. We successfully fought plans by West Oxfordshire District Council to build 1,600 houses – these would have swamped a parish with only 110 properties. But plans are afoot for another development in the village to include 1,000 houses, business premises and a school.

There is little local need for such projects. Despite the presence of RAF Brize Norton, the area has high unemployment. There are similar proposals to enlarge Brize Norton village itself, and now plans to build 250 homes in Burford, thereby increasing the population of that iconic town by some 40 per cent.

These developments would change West Oxfordshire’s towns and villages at a time when the need for new properties is further east. We can have increased tourism, or we can have commuter and semi-retirement estates. We can’t have both.

Roger Bellamy
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

 

SIR – There are two lessons to be learnt from the current situation in Crimea.First, credible armed deterrence would have stopped Russia in its tracks. While it was never likely to be an option for Ukraine alone, it must remain an option for Nato. The “Peace Dividend” – the reduction in defence spending by Western countries after the end of the Cold War for supposed economic benefits – was based on an over-optimistic premise and it has now gone so far as to encourage aggressive states to flex their muscles on our borders. This in turn increases the risk of armed response. As the military strategic balance tilts away from the Western powers so the world grows less safe.

Second, the European Union has to take more care with its expansionist aspirations. Russia, predictably, cites Western interference in Ukrainian affairs as an excuse for the occupation of the Crimea. It should have been clear well in advance that the direction of EU diplomacy was provocative in Russian eyes. Without the advantage of credible deterrence (which excludes sanctions) what has happened was inexcusable but entirely predictable.

Air Vice-Marshal M R Jackson (retd)
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

SIR – There could be a diplomatic solution to the Crimea situation. The Kiev government might be persuaded to recognise the Russian annexation of Crimea by treaty in exchange for full recognition of the new Ukrainian regime by Russia, and a payment by Russia of a very large sum of money as compensation.

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Such transactions are not unknown to diplomacy. Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States. Russia sold Alaska to the United States. The sum paid by Russia would go some way to solving Ukraine’s economic difficulties. If the Kiev regime accepted such a treaty, the transfer to Russia would be legitimised and could be recognised by the United States, the EU and Britain, so neutralising the whole crisis. The legitimacy of the deal would also, by the terms of the treaty, prevent any further expansion into Ukraine by Russia.

As it is already accepted that the Russian annexation is more or less inevitable, and popular with a majority of the Crimean population, this would be a peaceful way of settling the matter.

Damian Grimes
Llanrwst, Denbighshire

SIR – Duncan Rayner describes the West’s mild interference in Crimea as “provocative”.

The Crimeans may well have voted for Russian control but the presence of 20,000 Russian troops is provocation in the extreme, and distinctly undemocratic.

No account is taken of the legality of the referendum or of the minority Ukrainian or Tatar population who, given Russia’s poor record in dealing with minorities, face a very grim future.

Iain Gordon
Banstead, Surrey

 

 

 

Irish Times:

 

 

Sir, – The concept of the private rental market being subject to rent control, or as Senator Aideen Hayden puts it, “rent certainty” (“It’s time we felt at home with the idea of rent control”, Opinion & Analysis, February 28th), makes as much sense as saying the State should immediately put the money paid for accommodating over 30 per cent of the population into building social housing.

Housing is not built overnight and no-one wants to see ghettos being created to satisfy some spurious ideology, but private landlords are providing an essential service to the community and to their customers, who are their tenants. “Rent certainty” is no more than rent control in another guise. In any event, tenancy agreements and leases already prescribe the rent to be paid during the term of the tenancy or lease.

Landlords are business people who have their own costs to sustain the properties that are homes for some 800,000 people in Ireland – more than at any time in the last 50 to 60 years. These costs include 25 per cent of interest paid on mortgages and loans not being allowable as expenses (which can actually result in being taxed on a loss), local property tax (and the previous household charge and non-principal private residence charge) not being allowable against income, although landlords are charged for services provided to tenants. Other substantial costs include insurance, maintenance, registration, compliance, as well as the normal taxes levied on the population, such as the USC, PRSI and income tax. It is ironic that management charges in multi-unit developments are allowed against rental income, yet charges for services provided to tenants are not allowable.

Central Bank statistics show that landlords with arrears in their buy-to-let mortgage accounts rose from 39,948 (26.9 per cent ) to 40,426 (27.4 per cent) at the end of the third quarter of 2013, which disposes of the suggestion espoused by certain sectors that landlords have deep pockets and are somehow immune to the financial crisis in our society.

The mid-February report from Germany’s Bundesbank strongly supported efforts to encourage investors back into the market, and held the view that this would be more effective in moderating prices than rent control, which the Bundesbank described as “counter-productive”. How can people promoting rent control be treated seriously when its previous incarnation up to the early 1980s contributed to the ruination of many fine buildings throughout the country as rental income was controlled and property owners were unable to retain or maintain their properties?

It is easy to shout out that increased rents should be held back by legislative means. Yet those bald statements conveniently ignore the fact that the market forces causing rents to increase are the same market forces that caused a reduction in rent during the austerity years, and increases now originate from a very low base where rents decreased by some 40 per cent over the past five years.

Recent actions by the Government in making it easier for lenders to repossess properties will only cause further aggravation to the rental market through independent landlords exiting the business, and their properties being snapped up by so called vulture funds that will not have the same ethos as an independent landlord who values tenants. – Yours, etc,

STEPHEN FAUGHNAN,

Irish Property

Owners’ Association,

Ashtown Business Centre,

Navan Road,

Dublin 15.

Sir, – I find the Taoiseach’s whinging to my government about “immigration reform” to aid thousands of Irish who have entered America under false pretences and are living here illegally appalling (“Undocumented Irish frustrated with US lawmakers, says Kenny”, Home News, March 14th). This is a gross interference in American domestic affairs by a foreign leader.

Rather than being a high-profile spokesman for lawbreakers, perhaps Mr Kenny should have forgone this year’s boondoggle to America and spent his time, and taxpayers’ money, tackling the very real problems at home that are the root cause of such illegal behaviour. – Yours, etc,

WARREN McKENZIE,

Serenity Lane,

McKinney,

Texas.

Sir, – If it takes one bowl of shamrock to sort out the “undocumented”, how many would it take to bail out the banks? Answers in writing only to Enda Kenny, Michael Noonan, Nama, Central Bank and the troika (cc St Patrick). – Yours, etc,

PADRAIG Ó CLEIRIGH,

Leim an Bhradáin,

Co Cill Dara.

 

Sir, – We witnessed a truly great sporting weekend and have sadly seen an Irish hero wear the green of Ireland for the last time. When we look back in 10, 20 or 30 years from now, the achievements of our favourite son will be no less spectacular. In a country where our institutions have continually failed us, we have often looked to the institution of sport for respite and inspiration. We have not been let down. Professional sport in most cases demonstrates true meritocracy as there is no place for spin, waffle or nepotism. On the pitch, there is nowhere to hide.

Within this arena, Brian O’Driscoll has set his own standards on and off the pitch over 15 years.

People often cite his hat-trick in Paris in 2000 as the trigger for international recognition, but for many it was his performance for the British and Irish Lions against Australia in the opening test of the 2001 series that achieved this. He scored one of the great tries and in doing so, led the Lions to a test victory over the reigning world champions. We often forget how bleak Irish rugby was in the 1990s, but through that performance, we had someone who banished those dark days to a distant memory.

We live in a world that seldom provides heroes. Sport is the exception and we have ours in Brian. He will undoubtedly be remembered for his tries and turnovers, but mostly for how he dealt with adversity. He came back after his 2005 career-threatening injury to become a stronger player, who achieved greater success through Heineken Cups, a Grand Slam and further Lions tours. When dropped by Warren Gatland last summer for the final Lions test, he simply moved on and returned to help Ireland win a second Six Nations championship. – Yours, etc,

DAMIAN O’RIORDAN,

Madinat Al Alam,

Muscat,

Sir, – Trevor White’s article (“Why do Irish people take so little pride in Dublin”, Life, March 17th) makes the astonishing claim that, with reference to the Irish people, “most of our citizens can’t stand Dublin”, while attempting to substantiate this assertion with reference to an unnamed survey commissioned by Dublin City Council in 2010 which “revealed that just 26 per cent of Irish people have any emotional connection to the capital”. Such a conclusion based on this evidence is at best unscientific, and at worst disingenuous and provocative in equating a lack of an “emotional connection” with not being able to “stand” our capital city.

The many facets of “Irishness”, of Dublin and of this country’s relationship with the rest of the world are truly unique, and our culture, heritage, music and games are seen as inclusive and accessible to anyone with an interest, without being limited to people “of” or “from” this country, and indeed Ireland is known as a fantastically diverse, welcoming and interesting place that is enjoyed by millions of visitors each year.

The urban-rural divide is an inevitable feature of any society. I would have hoped that particularly at this time of year, when the eyes of the world are on Ireland, that readers could be spared the jaded cliches about “parochialism and provincialism”, and the divide between Dublin and “the rest of the country”.

Perhaps our energies and the energies and exceptional capabilities of Mr White and others like him would be better spent celebrating all that is good about this country and its peoples, rather than dwelling on or exaggerating our perceived differences. – Yours, etc,

BARRY COLFER,

Pembroke College,

University of Cambridge,

 

 

Sir, – Further to Manchán Magan’s article “Away with the faeries”, Magazine, March 15th, I was county engineer in Clare for 12 years prior to my retirement in 2008, so I oversaw infrastructural development, including the motorway, in the county.

I can categorically state that the motorway was not rerouted to avoid the sgeach or fairy bush. The fact is that, when the controversy arose, nobody knew the precise co-ordinates of the bush, except that it was fairly close to the carriageway under construction. When its precise co-ordinates were determined, it was found that the bush occupied a spot which lay between the main carriageway and the northbound slip road at the Latoon interchange, so we fenced it in and it did not interfere with construction works.

Later attempts to vandalise it by unknowns with a chainsaw did not succeed, thankfully, and it co-exists today with the motorway. – Yours, etc,

TOM CAREY,

Gallows Hill,

Ennis, Co Clare.

 

Sir, – Now that the Crimeans have had their say, are we to expect a referendum on Chechnya’s allegiance any time soon? – Yours, etc,

PAUL GREGAN,

Sans Souci Wood,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – The depressing assertion of your editorial (March 18th) “There is almost now, like it or not, a fait accompli quality to Ukraine’s loss of Crimea”, should perhaps have read, “Sadly, EU economic self-preservation, and imperial expansionist bullying, combine in triumph, as one United Nations member invades another with astonishing and shameful impunity”.

The situation in Ukraine is undoubtedly complex, but so what? This complexity should not blind us to the shocking reality that a sovereign nation’s territorial integrity has been ripped apart, with every possibility that further Ukrainian territory will be annexed.

The slow strangulation of the infant Russian democracy under Vladimir Putin has been conveniently and long ignored by whatever the “West” is supposed to be. Now, I fear, the tanks are coming home to roost! – Yours, etc,

DECLAN DOYLE,

Lisdowney,

Kilkenny.

 

Sir, – Together with two friends I attended the game on Sunday between Blackrock College and Clongowes, which turned out to be a thriller, played in exemplary spirit. It made a fine conclusion to a rugby weekend. On the field, that is.

Seated in the sparsely populated north stand, there was a mix of rugby people, some neutral fans, including many families with children.

Some 10 rows behind was a large group of young men, all attired in Blackrock jerseys and colours, who offered loud, occasionally aggressive, vocal support. This included a chant of few words, “**** off Clongowes, “**** off Clongowes”, not an imaginative lyric, just highly objectionable.

They appeared to be recent graduates rather than current pupils and so outside the direct sphere of any influence from their alma mater. However, it made me wonder how they came to acquire these “values”.

What school did I go to? Blackrock College. Proud of that fact? Let me get back to you on that. – Yours, etc,

PETER CULLY,

The Alders,

Monkstown Valley,

Co Dublin.

 

Sir, – Greg Carley’s call (March 18th) for the introduction of a €5 coin is a pragmatic response to the increasing devaluation of the loose change in our pockets. Here in the UK the 1p and 2p coins are almost irrelevant. The Bank of England has recognised this fact and in 2016 it is going to introduce a polymer £5 note to replace the existing paper one.The £10 plastic note will be introduced a year later. Such a move has overwhelming public support. The new note will be more durable and as such will be more environmentally friendly, it will be harder to counterfeit and, with a shelf life of five years, it will be in circulation for some 2½ years longer than the current fiver.

There is a downside, of course. Although the polymer note is waterproof and will survive a spell in the washing machine, it could melt if you take your iron to it. You have been warned. – Yours, etc,

FRANK GREANEY,

Lonsdale Road,

 

 

Sir, – Following the success of Property, The Terror , Morgan Kelly (“Real crisis will begin when ECB halts sweet credit line,” Opinion & Analysis, March 14th) has finally delivered his difficult second album SME, Future Fear . Sadly, it doesn’t live up to the promise he showed all of seven years ago. After building up our hopes that we’re in for another full-on credit crunch-style crisis, he fumbles it by declaring that “SMEs will eventually recover from their debt overhang – this sector is nothing if not resilient” before fading with a lament on the state of academe. A big disappointment for miserabilists everywhere. Maybe he should have done as U2 did and postponed. – Yours, etc,

BRIAN AHERN,

Meadow Copse,

Clonsilla,

 

 

 

Sir, – While I appreciate the attempts by those who smoke to tackle their nicotine addiction, I find the widespread use of e-cigarettes to be extremely rude and unpleasant. It is now approaching the 10th anniversary of the smoking ban in the Republic and I feel the use of e-cigarettes in public places to be regressive. – Yours, etc,

Dr MARY SCRIVEN,

Browningstown,

Ballinlough, Cork.

Sir, – Am I alone in detecting an increasingly intolerant attitude emerging regarding electronic cigarettes? The health “dangers” posed by someone “vaping” next to one are virtually nil. – Yours, etc,

PATRICIA O’RIORDAN,

Stamer Street,

Dublin 8.

 

 

Sir, – It was upsetting to encounter the negative reaction (March 13th) to the Taoiseach’s participation in the recent service of thanksgiving and remembrance for the most remarkable Irish inventor Louis Brennan (“Taoiseach honours Mayo-born inventor of the torpedo”, Home News, March 12th).

Brennan’s inventions spanned a number of application areas and were by no means exclusively of military application.

While the dirigible torpedo that he invented clearly had military application, its deployment in the coastal defence of the British Isles probably prevented much death and destruction from German U-boats among the civilian population.

As a nation, we ought not to be churlish in our attitude to the remembrance of greatness in our past in all of its rich diversity. Brennan’s genius and creativity serve as a source of inspiration as we address our current challenges. – Yours, etc,

LOUIS BRENNAN, FTCD

Professor in

 

Sir, – I fail to understand why dog-owners are fined €150 “on-the-spot” or, on summary conviction, up to €3,000 for failing to clean up a dog’s waste, yet horses are permitted to be used as a tourist attraction in our city and are freely permitted to foul our streets. Would it not be a simple matter to attach dung-catchers to these animals and offset the cost by selling the manure for fertiliser?

We all need to play our part in keeping Ireland tidy. – Yours, etc,

LUCY McFARLANE,

Newtownpark Avenue,

Blackrock,

Co Dublin.

 

 

Sir, – Good to see lots of Patrick’s in the Magazine (“I’m no saint”, March 15th) but where are the Fitzpatricks? – Yours, etc,

BRID FITZPATRICK,

Beechlawn Manor,

Terenure, Dublin 6W.

 

 

 

Irish Independent:

 

* With media focused entirely on the Government lurching daily from farce to fiasco, another significant injustice to pensioners has slipped under the radar, ie the unilateral elimination of the Transition Pension for 65-year- olds.

Also in this section

Letters: Using and abusing the right to free speech

Letters: Keeping a little light alive

Wake up you ‘Moby Dicks’

This represents a loss of €12,000 to those who have worked and paid PRSI all their working lives, up to 40 years in many cases. Workers did this in the legitimate belief and expectation that they would receive this money on retirement.

Contrast this shakedown of ordinary Irish citizens to the kid glove, hands-off treatment by the Government of their own lavish pensions and perks. Just like those in the previous Fianna Fail government, present ministers, as well as the President of our bankrupt little state, will retire on world-class, six-figure pensions and golden pay-offs.

Contrast also this shakedown on the easy availability of countless millions for a growing army of consultants in quangos like Irish Water and across all government departments. The Government boasts that it has not reduced basic social welfare rates – true maybe, but in a whole series of sleight of hand stealth taxes they have savaged the income of ordinary pensioners.

Apart from the transition pension, pensioners have also lost the Christmas bonus and vital telephone subsidy; many have lost their medical cards; prescription charges have trebled; government changes have driven the cost of ‘gold-plated’ private health insurance through the roof; and there’s been an increase in retention tax on savings.

It is inexplicable, therefore, that the present grey brigade appears, so far, to have lost its bottle and has meekly accepted the unprecedented, unfair, immoral and unequal treatment meted out by the Government.

Presumably and hopefully, pensioners and others are patiently biding their time, waiting in the long grass to collectively and justifiably give their verdict, loud and clear, on May 23 next. Time surely for a real and genuine democratic revolution.

JOHN LEAHY

WILTON ROAD, CORK

 

OUT, OUT, OUT

* At first it might seem reasonable to wonder what all the fuss is about Enda Kenny marching in the New York St Patrick’s Day parade, that is until you consider the bigger picture.

No rational vote could have chosen Fianna Fail in the 2011 election, so people were instead left with little option but to take a leap of faith and plump for Fine Gael.

In doing so, they were reassured by Mr Kenny claiming that he was offering a complete and total break with the way things were done in the past, so much so that he specifically stated when he took office that there had been a “democratic revolution” in Ireland and this would be reflected in his style of governance.

Well, three years into that term, people can be under no illusion that they were sold a dud.

In New York, when given the choice between following the example of the new New York mayor, he buckled and simply could not stop himself from looking like the wannabe New York ward boss that he is at heart.

At every juncture of his period in office to date, when Mr Kenny is confronted with a situation that requires him to take actual action, he reverts to type and makes an emotional speech but then fails to tackle the root cause.

He made an emotional speech upon taking office; his speech about church failings on child abuse was moving but he’s done nothing to hold the religious orders to account and get them to pay up.

He made another speech on the rights of children but has done nothing to ensure a child in the Irish care system of 2014 can come out the other end an emotionally secure person – and of course, there is still no children’s hospital.

The public have an opportunity in the upcoming local and European elections to vote intelligently and send a message to Mr Kenny and his government partners – that they have failed to live up to the promise that they made to the Irish people in 2011.

If you don’t think austerity has been fairly spread and if you realise that there is a difference between the sacrifices we all have to make to correct our current budget deficit, and the sacrifices some of us were made to make to pay for private sector banking debt, then May 2014 gives you the chance to make your voice heard.

DESMOND FITZGERALD

CANARY WHARF, LONDON

 

PARADING SEXUALITY

* I believe the Taoiseach was entirely correct to resist pressure to follow the example of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Minister Joan Burton and boycott this year’s New York St Patrick’s Day Parade, despite being strongly urged to do so in our national media and by many others.

Gay organisations are not unfairly discriminated against in the New York parade.

The parade rules which bar them from displaying banners proclaiming their sexual orientation also bar heterosexuals from doing likewise.

This is a crucial point which seems to be overlooked or ignored by most commentators.

Thankfully, the Taoiseach understands this, but the boycotters and their numerous supporters in the media and elsewhere apparently don’t. Besides, there are other events, such as gay pride parades, when gay organisations can express their sexual orientation and carry banners to that effect.

HUGH GIBNEY

CASTLETOWN, ATHBOY, CO MEATH

 

PUTIN MASTERCLASS

* Mr Putin gauged the weakness of the political establishment in the west almost flawlessly. He considered that talk and discussion had reached epidemic proportions in western democracies, and the stomach for any kind of military support for their political and commercial colonialism was absent.

He knew they would consider that such support would be just bad for investment. He then proceeded to give leaders in the west a masterclass in how to annexe a strategic interest without firing a shot.

The taxpayers of the west are so fed up supporting political and commercial adventures around the world, there is now little or no prospect that their ‘leaders’ could ever hope to persuade them to support a military adventure, based on their leaders’ loss of face.

ROY STOKES

LIMEKILN PARK, DUBLIN 12

 

DIFFERENT VOICES

* I read the letters, the debates and the opinions in your newspaper.

I am saddened and ashamed to read of the dilemma the author of ‘St Patrick’s lament’ (March 17) faces on La Fheile Padraig in Ireland in 2014.

I did not join the parades this year. Instead, I walked for a charity on the day.

Yet I hope all who joined festivities on St Patrick’s Day, and especially visitors to Ireland, enjoyed themselves.

When I am up to it, I enjoy a celebration.

I am not in negative equity, and I will not ever be among those who ‘have craved fame and fortune’ (‘Keeping a Little Light Alive’, March 17). I still ride my bicycle. Eccentric or not at my age?!

And paying off a big health bill where I had to refer myself to London for head surgery last year. Thankfully, I’m doing okay for now.

I am still working. None of us knows where we may be in one or two years from now.

For me, it’s good to still be here, and to be contributing. Please get your prolific letter writers writing articles for the Irish Independent.

We need to hear the voices of the observers and carers out there.

NAME AND ADDRESS WITH EDITOR

Irish Independent

 

Consultant

March 18, 2014

18 March 2014 Consultant

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to pick up some unexploded depth charges.Priceless

Cold slightly saw Consultant, minor improvement next appointment three weeks!

Scrabbletoday Marywins and gets Over400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

 

Clarissa Dickson Wright, who has died aged 66, sprang to celebrity as the larger of the Two Fat Ladies in the astonishingly popular television series.

Clarissa Dickson Wright was a recovering alcoholic, running a bookshop for cooks in Edinburgh when the producer Patricia Llewellyn was inspired to pair her with the equally eccentric Jennifer Paterson, then a cook and columnist at The Spectator.

The emphasis of the programme was to be on “suets and tipsy cake rather than rocket salad and sun-dried tomatoes”, the producer declared. Hence bombastic tributes to such delights as cream cakes and animal fats were mingled with contemptuous references to “manky little vegetarians”.

Not all the reviews were kind. Victor Lewis Smith in the London Evening Standard referred to the ladies’ “uncompromising physical ugliness” and “thoroughly ugly personalities”. Another critic quipped: “Perhaps handguns shouldn’t be banned after all.” Most, though, became instant addicts and predicted future cult status. By 1996 the programme was attracting 3.5 million viewers.

The Triumph motorbike and sidecar which sped the two fat ladies around the countryside might have appeared contrived (although Paterson was a keen biker), but their kitchen-sink comedy could never have been scripted. Clarissa Dickson Wright would come up with such lines as “look at those charming looking fellows” when describing scallops, and advise businessmen to come home and cook “to relax after the ghastly things they do in the City”.

Not content to confine themselves to the kitchen, the indomitable pair ventured out into the field, gathering mussels in Cornish drizzle — using their motorcycle helmets as pails — and perilously putting out to sea in a sliver of a boat to catch crabs.

Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmeralda Dickson Wright was born on June 24 1947, the youngest of four children. “My parents had great trouble deciding what to call me in the first place,” she explained about her abundant christening, “but then they were so delighted they had finally found a name, they got pissed on the way to the church.” To decide which name should come first, “they blindfolded my mother and turned her loose in the library, where she pulled out a copy of Richardson’s Clarissa”.

Her father, Arthur Dickson Wright, was a brilliant surgeon who was the first to extract a bullet from the spine without leaving the patient paralysed; he also pioneered the operation for stripping varicose veins and his patients included the Queen Mother, Vivien Leigh and the Sultana of Jahore. He had met Clarissa’s mother, Molly, an Australian heiress, while working in Singapore.

Growing up in Little Venice, Clarissa’s first memory was of eating a hard-boiled egg and a cold sausage on a picnic at Wisley at the age of three. Her father, though basically miserly, did not stint on household bills. He had pigeons flown in from Cairo and a fridge permanently full of caviar. From infant trips back to Singapore remembered consuming “deeply unhygienic but delicious” things wrapped in banana leaves.

When her parents entertained, Clarissa read recipes to the illiterate cook, Louise, who in turn would squabble with Clarissa’s mother about what they were going to serve. One day, Louise stood at the top of the stairs: “Madam,” she said, “if you make me cook that I’ll jump.” “If you don’t Louise,” Mrs Dickson Wright retorted, “you might as well.” (Clarissa also had memories from around this time of Cherie Booth “always doing her homework in school uniform in the middle of louche Hampstead parties — she was a swot”. Later she observed the budding union between Booth (“desperately needy”) and Tony Blair (“a poor sad thing with his guitar”). Later still she observed that the “wet, long-haired student” that she had known had been replaced by a man with “psychopath eyes. You know those dead eyes that look at you and try to work out what you want to hear?”)

Clarissa’s father became a progressively violent alcoholic, so that when he came home “one would take cover”. He broke three of her ribs with an umbrella and on another occasion hit her with a red-hot poker. She later confessed to poring over botanical volumes in search of suitable poisons and scouring the woods for lethal mushrooms.

Boarding school proved a wonderful refuge. She then did a Law degree externally at London (her father refused to pay for her to go to Oxford unless she read Medicine) and was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn in 1970. It was while she was at home studying for her Bar final that a letter arrived for her mother while the family was at breakfast. It turned out to be from her father, announcing divorce proceedings. After her father left the house Clarissa Dickson Wright never saw him again.

She was by then a regular pipe smoker, consuming two ounces of Gold Block a week. The first woman to practise at the Admiralty Bar, she received excellent notices from, among others, Lord Denning, and was elected to the Bar Council as a representative of young barristers.

Things started to go awry, though, when her parents died in quick succession in the mid-1970s. Her father left his entire £2 million fortune to his brother, explaining his decision in a caustic rider to his will. Clarissa’s mother, he wrote “never helped me and sought to alienate my children”. Clarissa’s sisters had married men either too old or too young, and her brother’s fault was to be “seeing Heather (one of Clarissa’s sisters) again”. As to his youngest daughter: “I leave no money to Clarissa, who was an afterthought and has twice caused me grievous bodily harm, and of whom I go in fear of my life.” The family contested the will to no avail.

It was Derby Day when Clarissa came home to find her mother dead. “It was a shock I quite simply couldn’t handle,” she recalled. She went to her boyfriend’s house and surprised everybody by pouring herself a large whisky: “I remember thinking ‘Why have I waited so long? I’ve come home.’ I felt this enormous sense of relief.”

Her “habit” soon consisted of two bottles of gin a day, and a bottle of vodka before she got out of bed. “Suddenly it was as if I’d done it,” she remembered of her consequent loss of ambition. “I could hear the eulogies at my memorial service in my head, so what was the point of actually going through the mechanics of doing it.” In 1980 she was charged with professional incompetence and practising without chambers; she was disbarred three years later.

Financially this presented no immediate hardship since her mother had left her a fortune. Yet by the age of 40, Clarissa Dickson Wright had blown it all on “yachts in the Caribbean, yachts in the Aegean, aeroplanes to the races – and drink”.

“If I’d had another £100,000,” she conceded, “I’d have been dead.”

At rock bottom she went to the DSS to ask for somewhere to live, only to be told: “We’re not here for the likes of you, you know. You’re upper class, you’ve got a Law degree.”

She began to cook in other people’s houses. “Of course it’s only the upper classes who will become domestic servants now,” she reflected. “Other people feel it demeans them.” One day, when preparing to cook for a house party, she was on her knees, cleaning the floor. “I looked up,” she remembered, “and said ‘Dear God, if you are up there, please do something.’” The next day she was arrested for refusing a breathalyser. “I was carted down the long drive just as the house party was coming up it. From then on, I was inexorably swept into recovery.” It took place at Robert Lefever’s Promis Recovery Centre at Nonington, not far from Canterbury. She retained an affection for Kent ever after.

Clarissa Dickson Wright owed her proportions to drinking six pints of tonic a day over 12 years, leading to “sticky blood” (a condition normally associated with people taking quinine tablets over a long period) and a very slow metabolism. Of the ungallant nature of the Two Fat Ladies title, she said: “Well there are two of us. I have a problem with ‘Ladies’ as it sounds like a public convenience. But which bit do you object to? Are you saying I’m thin?” Her size did not deter suitors. “I get more offers now than when I was slender,” she said. “Especially from Australians. They’re crazy about me.”

It could also be a formidable weapon. On Two Fat Ladies she was known as “Krakatoa” for her temper, and once put two would-be muggers in intensive care. “I didn’t go around beating people up,” she said, “but if people were aggressive to me, then I hit them.”

A knowledgeable food historian, she argued that the “use of anti-depressants is directly relatable to the decrease in use of animal fat (a stimulant of serotonin).” She did not own a television, but went across the road to watch the rugby. Her choice for Desert Island Discs ranged from The Drinking Song by Verdi to Ra Ra Rasputin by Boney M. The desert island of her imagination was “a Caribbean island during the cool season with lots of shellfish… and perhaps the odd hunky native that one could lure to the sound of music.”

Following the success of Two Fat Ladies, Clarissa Dickson Wright was elected a rector of Aberdeen University and opened a restaurant in the grounds of the Duke of Hamilton’s 16th-Century Lennoxlove House.

Then, after Jennifer Paterson died in 1999, Clarissa Dickson Wright presented the One Man And His Dog Christmas Special. She later went on to appear (from 2000 to 2003) in the series Clarissa and the Countryman, with Johnny Scott. It was remarkably un-PC, but the real reason for the fact that the BBC dropped her, she claimed, was that she was too pro-hunting.

Her support for the Countryside Alliance did see her plead guilty to attending a hare coursing event in 2007. She had thought it legal as the greyhounds were muzzled and the magistrate gave her an absolute discharge. “I did not get a criminal record for that,” she said. “I was quite looking forward to going to jail in Yorkshire and writing the prison cookbook. It would have been a rest.” In 2012 she again raised eyebrows when she suggested that badgers shot in any cull should be eaten. Badgers, she noted, were once a popular bar snack: “I would have no objection to eating badgers. I have no objection to eating anything very much, really.”

Her autobiography, Spilling the Beans (in which she claimed, among other things, that she once had sex behind the Speaker’s chair in Parliament) was published in 2007. That and other ventures such as the “engaging county-by-county ramble” Clarissa’s England (2012), and a return to the small screen (filming a three-part series for BBC Four on breakfast, lunch and dinner) saw her finances steadily improve. One supermarket chain offered her an “awful lot of money” to promote it, but she could afford to turn it down. “I don’t regret it. I used to say that all I had left in life was my integrity and my cleavage. Now it’s just my integrity.”

Her faith was less well defined than her views on field sports. “I’m not a very good or compliant Catholic. I reserve my right to disagree. My ancestors fought with Cromwell. Other ancestors went with Guy Fawkes. So we’re bolshie on both sides.” She admitted attending Mass to “give thanks” and enjoyed AA meetings, describing them as “better than television”.

The love of her life was a Lloyd’s underwriter named Clive who died from a virus caught in Madeira. Latterly she said that she had a long-time admirer. “We are very companionable,” she noted. But they did not live together. “Heaven forfend! I don’t mind cooking his meals, but wash his socks? No.”

Clarissa Dickson Wright, born June 24 1947, died March 15 2014

 

Guardian:

 

I would like to congratulate Luke Harding for his balanced and informative article about the makeup of the new Ukrainian government (‘They’re not fascists, they’re peasants’, 14 March), which puts into perspective some of the wild claims from Moscow that Ukraine is in the grip of anarchy, and Russian-speaking citizens are under threat from rampaging gangs of fascists. In fact, its new leaders seem up to now to have shown remarkable restraint in the light of considerable provocation.

There are clearly economic and social tensions in Ukraine, which the international community (including Russia) can help to resolve, with goodwill on all sides. But the last thing Ukraine needs is further military action by Russia on the pretext of “protecting order”. And Russia has enough challenges of its own without getting involved in a bitter and costly trade war with the EU and the US, and an armed conflict with its neighbour.
John Bourn
Gateshead

•  Before the US and EU introduce sanctions against Russia for recognising an illegitimate referendum, they should explain clearly why they regard the new government of Ukraine as legitimate (US and EU expected to announce sanctions against Russia, 17 March).

Treating it as somehow self-evidently so simply will not do, and is particularly provocative in light of the fact that the EU itself brokered and then promptly broke a compromise deal for a unity government.

And the uncompromising stance of the US in particular makes one wonder what role was played in recent events by the money it ploughed into Ukraine to promote the market-friendly policies it so dishonestly calls “democracy”.
Peter McKenna
Liverpool

• The fact that the options presented to the Crimean electorate did not include any “Ukrainian options” (Two options but only one possible outcome, 15 March) means that the referendum is no more or less democratic than our own AV v FPP referendum, in which there were no proportional representation options. As in Crimea, so too in the UK the powers that be have total control over the choice of ballot. Sadly, international rules on the conduct of referendums do not recommend multi-option voting. Hence Crimeans who might have wished to vote for a compromise, or even just the status quo, are not allowed a free choice.
Peter Emerson
The de Borda Institute

•  With its newfound passion for democracy and self-determination, I hope that the Russian Duma will now support referendums in Chechnya and North Ossetia to enable those people to decide whether they want to remain in Russia.
Bashyr Aziz
Pelsall, West Midlands

•  Crimea was part of Russia for centuries. The Russian government has merely reversed Khrushchev’s arbitrary 1954 decision to give Crimea to Ukraine. This is a unique case. Nowhere else has been given away, without its consent, by its government. So there is no need for alarm.
Will Podmore
London

•  Can someone tell me why it was OK to bomb Serbia for not letting go of Kosovo, but to reward Ukraine for not letting go of Crimea? Must be a good reason if only i could think of it.
Bruce Kent
London

 

The letter (15 March) from Gail Chester and 31 others protesting about the relocation of the Women’s Library from London Met to the LSE reads like a list of personal axes to grind. Surely it is time to look at the bigger picture and for all of us who cherish and love the Women’s Library to now support it in its new home. At long last, I dare to hope that this irreplaceable archive will be secure for future generations – academics and the general public – to appreciate. We are where we are, and we owe it to all the women in the past whose struggles are carefully documented in the library to show that we can and will pull together on this issue.
June Purvis
University of Portsmouth

• I was reassured to read Elizabeth Chapman’s account of the place of the Women’s Library at LSE (Letters, 15 March). One advantage offered at the Aldgate site was to mothers who were allowed to study in the reading room with their babies, on condition that the babies did not disturb other readers. This was a wonderful opportunity for mothers who could then study, without needing to find someone else to care for their babies. I wonder whether LSE can offer a similar option.
Naomi Stadlen
London

 

Tristram Hunt (Comment, 13 March) is right that “school inspections must be free of political meddling”, that Michael Gove‘s policy of “forced academisation” is disastrous, and that “we need to disaggregate curriculum from qualifications; question the breadth of provision; and highlight the broader function of schooling in building character and resilience in young people”.

He is also right in his critique of Ofsted – but doesn’t go far enough. Over the years it has often been a ruthless enforcer of government policies with a narrow vision of education that has ignored local circumstances; for many teachers its inspectors are fear-inducing and unsupportive; for headteachers an adverse report may cost their job; and overall it seems to promote a bullying culture in school staffrooms which would not be tolerated in playgrounds. It is time to close down Ofsted – and save £70m of the national schools budget.

Schools aren’t factories and don’t need tick-box inspection: to raise their profile they need dialogue with experienced fellow professionals. That can come from local authority inspectors who understand local problems, from colleagues in neighbouring schools on the basis of school self-evaluation, and from teacher-trainers at the local university. Schools improve from the inside – through collegial discussion of staff, drawing on views of parents, community support, local governors and fellow educators – not from the outside in the form of quick in-and-out visits by Ofsted inspectors.
Professor Michael Bassey
Newark, Nottinghamshire

•  Tristram Hunt’s confirmation that, as secretary of state, he would guarantee the independence of Ofsted and ensure that all schools funded by the taxpayer are open to inspection is welcome. So too is his recognition that there is far more to a good education than can be recorded in tickable boxes. It is now time for him to ask himself whether England should remain the only country in Europe to attempt to manage thousands of schools by means of contracts with an individual government minister. Academy “freedoms” are important but can perfectly well be secured by other means. Contracts are proving unenforceable and ludicrously inefficient. They would remain so even when managed by a more competent secretary of state than the present one.
Peter Newsam
Thornton Dale, North Yorkshire

•  Some of the suggestions made by the Policy Exchange review about the inspection of schools are helpful, but overall they are dangerous to the future of our children and our country (Ofsted needs shorter inspections and better use of data – thinktank, 17 March). Yes, more frequent visits by better-qualified inspectors could be valuable, as would a shift of emphasis towards helping schools to improve their performances – both to make what is being done more effective and to respond to changes in the world in which we live.

However, to rely on test results to judge schools and decide whether and how they should change would be disastrous. Already there is far too little time observing teaching and talking with teachers and children. I know of a six-class school judged on the basis of six lessons being seen. Test results are never perfect. By 13 years of age it was shown that 10% of children were misplaced under the old 11-plus system, and the percentage rose with age. The tests given today are also far too narrow to provide an adequate picture of a school’s performance. Our children need a broadly based education that will enable them to take a positive and effective part in the world about them.

Children’s education needs to proceed from where they are, and so does the development of a school.
Professor Norman Thomas
(Former HMI), St Albans, Hertfordshire

•  The Policy Exchange report on inspection makes many good points but fails to get at the heart of the inspection process. Evaluating a school without observing work in class is akin to reviewing a play or a concert without having seen it performed. It can be done, it probably has been done, but it should not be done.
Professor Colin Richards
(Former HMI), Spark Bridge, Cumbria

• The Kent LEA “Protocol for what happens to a headteacher if/when their school receives a poor Ofsted report” (Headteachers face up to the prospect of being ‘disappeared’, 11 March) should be no surprise. Heads have been losing their jobs in reaction to Ofsted inspections for a long time.

Now, only the most driven individuals would wish to take a job which has to be one of the most vulnerable leadership roles in professional life. When an inspection goes badly, the talent and years of hard work invested often count for nothing. Many headteachers have had their careers tarnished, or wrecked, by the implementation of Ofsted’s approach. In turn this “zero-tolerance” approach is replicated by both local authorities and central government, who fear being seen as weak in their management of schools. Fear and intolerance permeate the system.

The paradox here is that we fete and honour successful headteachers. In psychological language, there is a powerful split at work here, based on our own experiences of having once been schoolchildren ourselves. On the one hand we idealise headteachers (and teachers generally) who are perceived as “good”, but we cannot bear the idea of “failing” school leaders or schools. Our politicians and Ofsted have played into this simplistic formula for too long.

It seems Ofsted may slowly be realising that for schools they approve of, the threat of public exposure and professional punishment for “failure” is not the answer. It is not the answer for schools which are struggling, either.
Dr Phil Goss
(Former headteacher), Kirkby Lonsdale

• Teachers are leading the transformation of English education, and your misleading article (Inside the A* factory, Weekend, 15 March) undermines their enormous efforts. We have given teachers more freedom: the new national curriculum states what children need to know, rather than telling teachers how to teach, and Ofsted has made it clear it will focus on whether children are learning, rather than interfering in how teachers teach. That makes teachers more important. Thanks to them, 250,000 fewer children are now in failing secondary schools, while we have the highest-ever number of children doing subjects like chemistry and physics.

Your article also described a “demoralised” profession working in an “exam factory”. But we have got rid of GCSE modules, and moved to linear A-levels with exams only at the end of the course, hugely reducing the number of tests children sit. Meanwhile we have the best generation of teachers ever. New teachers are half as likely to switch to another career as other graduates. Teach First, which recruits more teachers than ever, is ranked the third-best graduate employer in the country. We have the highest-ever proportion of new teachers with top degrees, and our teachers are paid more, and promoted more quickly, than in most developed countries.

Your failure to report the real story of English education – of a transformed system and brilliant teachers – undermines teachers and the work that they do.
Elizabeth Truss MP
Education minister

One of the attractions of towers for developers (The only way is up…, 13 March) is that they can almost be guaranteed to be free of social rented housing; five such developments at the Elephant and Castle – Tribeca Square, Strata Tower, 360 Tower, Eileen House, One the Elephant – have not a single social rented unit between them. In every instance the developer has successfully argued that the scheme simply would not be financially viable if it had to have social rented housing; as a consequence, while towers sprout up in Southwark its housing list, currently 20,000, just continues to grow.
Jerry Flynn
35 Percent campaign, London

• Ironically, the outcome of your efforts to have Prince Charles’ letters published under the Freedom of Information Act (Report, 13 March) will have the effect of stifling freedom of expression. Who in the future will ever commit their opinions and thoughts to paper in the expectation of privacy when there will be every chance that those opinions and thoughts will be made public one day?
Gaynor Clements
Elsworth, Cambridgeshire

• Terry Eagleton (Molly Bloom without the swear words, Review, 15 March) need not fear: the theologians cracked the Lenten drinking impasse by establishing a league table of days. A national solemnity easily trumps a weekday in Lent, so your St Patrick’s Day pint is perfectly in order. (Alas, finding a way to bless the love of two men or women still eludes us.)
Fr Wealands Bell
London

•  Steve Bell’s cartoon strip (If… flashback, G2, 12 March) refers to the royal eminence as the “Chooky Edinburgh”. As any Scot could advise, the correct phrase is “Chooky Embra”. Ya mug ye.
David Stevenson
York

• Why can’t the remains of Richard III be shared between York and Leicester (Editorial, 15 March)? One foot in each grave…
Tully Potter
Billericay, Essex

• How refreshing to find that nine out of 10 of the young G2 editors (Generation Y takeover, 15 March) are female. Does that mean Fred will make the tea?
Sue Morhall
Chelmsford, Essex

 

 

 

Fifteen years ago on 18 March 1999, the then prime minister’s pledge to end child poverty led to all of the leading parties coming together with a promise that child poverty in the UK would be ended by 2020. This historic move made child poverty a political priority and led to huge progress.

As charities and frontline organisations, we saw what this change meant for struggling families. There was a dramatic rise in investment in childcare, better early-years support through Sure Start, crucial child benefit and child tax credit support, and major improvements in lone-parent employment rates. The fall in UK child poverty in the years leading up to 2008 was the largest of any OECD nation in the world.

Alarmingly, that trend is now in reverse; child poverty is on the rise. The Institute for Fiscal Studies warns that by 2020 – the year by which the government committed to tackle this crisis – nearly one million more children will be in poverty compared to the current official figures. And the government’s consultation on its draft child poverty strategy promises very little that might alter this course.

Effective solutions are possible – the evidence is clear. We need politicians to commit to tackle low pay, put an end to families having to choose between heating and eating, bring down unaffordable rents, and help make work pay by providing more help with the costs of childcare.

Politics is about promises and priorities. Whether it’s when the chancellor stands up to deliver the budget on Wednesday or when parties start to write their manifestos for the next election. It’s time our political leaders kept their promises and made ending child poverty a priority once again.
Alison Garnham Chief executive, Child Poverty Action Group, Neera Sharma Assistant director of policy and research, Barnardo’s, Matthew Reed Chief executive, The Children’s Society, Anne Longfield Chief executive, 4Childre, Fiona Weir Chief executive, Gingerbread, Sol Oyuela Public affairs director, Unicef UK, Dr Hilary Emery Chief executive, National Children’s Bureau, Susanne Rauprich Chief executive, NCVYS, David Holmes Chief executive, Family Action

 

 

Independent:

Extending HS2 Phase One to Crewe, as proposed by Sir David Higgins, is a substantial amendment to the original plans, which have gone out to recent public consultation, and may be seen in some quarters as a distress signal for the entire project.

With the cities of Derby, Sheffield and Stoke all making convincing cases for city-centre stations, and digital technology radically changing the way that business is conducted, is it now time to go back to first principles and design a scheme which meets the aspirations of the UK as a whole?

High Speed Rail and the expansion and modernisation of the existing UK rail system are both excellent objectives, but we need to future-proof them and make them attractive to private investment.

Dr John Disney, Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University

The Government’s enthusiasm for HS2 is difficult to comprehend. Apparently, we don’t have the funds to support the disadvantaged in our society. Neither can we afford to carry out basic maintenance work. The national debt stands in excess of £1trn and we know that further massive cutbacks will have to be made following the next general election.

Miraculously, however, we apparently do have in excess of £40bn to spare to fund this rail scheme. Never mind that, by the Government’s own figures, the business case for it is at best flimsy, at worst, non-existent. Apart from being morally outrageous, HS2 appears to be financial madness on an epic scale.

Keith O’Neill, Shrewsbury

Hear, hear for HS2. We invented railways. The UK is small and overcrowded, ideal territory for railways. This will take freight off the roads. Japan has had bullet trains for decades; Europe is well trained.

We should start building it from the north and south now, not least while money is cheap. And there are the jobs – please, priority for UK residents.

Protesters have justifiable worries. As in France, HS2 should be in cuttings, landscaped, tunnelled. The sooner we do it the better.

Ebbsfleet on HS1 is to be developed. HS2 will do the same for the North. It will make for a more united country.

I hope all the political parties will support this endeavour.

Rosanne Bostock, Oxford

Crimea votes to go back to Russia

Isn’t the furore in Western governments about the referendum in Crimea a bit rich? They say the vote is illegal because it took place under conditions of Russian occupation. So does that mean that the elections in Iraq and Afghanistan which took place under Western military occupation where also illegal?

I wonder how Western governments would have liked it if after they invaded Iraq and Afghanistan China and Russia had imposed sanctions on them?

Mark Holt , Liverpool

We all are horrified by the appalling behaviour of the Russians; they have invaded land that is not legally theirs. We have gone to the UN to prove our case. But all the people who have looked at Crimea know the wishes and preferences of the majority of those who live there. However we in the West are now about to impose sanctions to try to reverse their aggression.

But hang on, did not our PM, that principled politician, denounce sanctions against Israel being called for on behalf of a people whose land is being invaded and constantly stolen by that country, or am I missing something?

Peter Downey, Wellow, Somerset

Crimea was part of Russia for centuries. The Russian government has merely reversed Khrushchev’s arbitrary 1954 decision to give Crimea to Ukraine.

This is a unique case. Nowhere else has been given away, without its consent, by its government. There is no need for alarm.

Will Podmore, London E12

From Bath to  Brussels with Ukip

Steve Richards (Voices, 11 March) visited Bath and observed: “The Lib Dems face a daunting challenge at the next election. I spent a few days in Bath last week, a seat currently held by them, and kept on bumping into people who had voted for Clegg’s party last time but who insist they will not do so next year even if that means the constituency elects a Tory MP.”

It is true that the popularity of the Lib Dems has plummeted nationally. They cannot rely on the incumbency factor in Bath because the Lib Dem MP Don Foster will be retiring in 2015. Labour do not have much support in Bath. However it is not at all certain that the Tory candidate would be elected.

Ukip has a local candidate, Julian Deverell, who has plenty of good contacts and roots locally. The Tory candidate has been parachuted in from London, and his campaigning to date has been sporadic. Ukip has an excellent chance of electoral success in Bath.

The first King of all England, Edgar the Peaceable, was crowned in Bath in 973, in the Anglo-Saxon Abbey Church. It would be fitting for a patriotic Englishman to be elected to represent Bath in 2015.

Hugo Jenks, Bathampton, Bath and North east Somerset

Is there any European measure that Ukip would vote for? I ask because, having checked what UK MEPs did in last week’s European Parliament vote on forcing mobile phone manufacturers to all use the same design of charger, I see that Ukip’s MEPs voted against.

Ukip bangs on about supposedly defending Britain from Brussels meddling, but if that meddling means I can recharge my iPhone when I forget to take my charger with me to work, then I am all for it. Ukip seem so blinded by their rejection of anything European they’ll even vote against perfectly sensible measures like this.

Stuart Bonar, London W1

Earworms show a brain in good shape?

Howard Jacobson (15 March) bemoans the presence of the earworm, the tune that lodges in the brain, and suggests that it might be ruinous to our mental health.

But hold on. In an experiment conducted by the teacher of a class of excessively disruptive boys, she found that playing classical music quietly in the background  had a calming effect on their behaviour. She went on to discover that the music of Mozart was more calming than that of any other composer. I am sure Howard Jacobson would understand that.

The theory was then put forward that by composing his ethereal music, Mozart was treating his own Tourette’s syndrome, often associated with the exclamation of obscene words, or socially inappropriate and derogatory remarks.

In a ward of people suffering from Alzheimer’s, I often found that despite the absence of any memory for the past, they would sing songs in tune and word-perfect, presumably indicating that the part of the brain in which Howard Jacobson’s “earthworm” had burrowed had remained intact. So the ohrwurm is not all bad news.

Dr Nick Maurice, Marlborough, Wiltshire

The case for taxing mansions

Nick Eastwell writes that the “mansion tax” is unjust because some people may never have had enough income to pay, and that they will only be subject to the tax because their house is an asset that bears no resemblance to the original purchase price (letter, 12 March).

In other words they have a substantial potential, but not realised, capital gain. In principle this is analogous to a family who have a child at university and thus have a spare bedroom. The Government expects them to downsize if they have insufficient income to pay council tax. Why should the same not apply to those who live in mansions?

Vaughan Clarke, Colchester, Essex

That dog is a German spy

Spy dogs (Natalie Haynes, Another Voice, 14 March) were apparently taken seriously during the Second World War, when my aunt and uncle and their young son left London to live in Hythe in Kent.

My cousin had always wanted a dog, and became very attached to one belonging to neighbours, which regularly followed him to school. As a newcomer, wanting to impress the other children, he invented a tale about the dog being a German spy, parachuted on to the beach.

My aunt knew nothing of this until two very intimidating policeman arrived at the door, wanting to know where the dog had come from.

Laura F Spira, Oxford

Talking the talk with Tony Benn

I totally get that Tony Benn talked a lot of good left-wing stuff. But can someone please tell me, what did he actually do about it?

Prue Bray, Winnersh,  Berkshire

 

 

Times:

 

 

Many parents want their children’s school to espouse the values that they learn at home

Sir, Further to Philip Collins on faith schools (Opinion, Mar 14), my wife and I thought hard before sending our daughters to a Jewish primary school.

Amid the moral decline in our increasingly secular society, we felt that the values that underpin our lives would not be emphasised in a non-denominational school. The values of the home and the school should not contradict each other.

We are not Charedi Jews like those of Stamford Hill that Philip Collins lived alongside. My children had access to television and points of view that were different to ours. They knew by watching soap operas that there were values being expressed that we opposed. They were able to make their life choices in the knowledge of what was available outside the home and the school. However, the school supplemented the values of the home and meant that they had a solid core of beliefs and practice to use as their yardstick as they entered a multicultural adult life.

Jeremy Michelson

Manchester

Sir, Philip Collins seeks to undermine the sincerely held beliefs of faith communities, focusing much of his attention on my own community and the school of which I am chairman of governors.

He casts us as discriminating against poor families when in fact many of our students come from underprivileged backgrounds.

He misrepresents the value of faith schools. We have never suggested that faith is a “determining factor” for a good school but we do believe that it is right for us.

The State respects our right as a community to make that decision for ourselves and although Mr Collins pours scorn on our arrangement with an examining body which allows us to redact certain questions in accordance with our values, it is precisely that set of values that make us a school that has never had a problem with drugs, crime, underage pregnancies and countless other issues that blight many mainstream schools.

We would never seek to impose our values of Mr Collins; we only ask that he extend us the same courtesy.

Theo Bibelman

Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School

LONDON N16

Sir, Philip Collins fails to distinguish between faith schools and church schools. The former do indeed select pupils on the basis of Christian (let us say) observance, but the latter do not. They accept all comers from their local area, irrespective of faith, or lack of it. They are best seen as the Church’s gift to the community. Yet these schools are often highly successful and popular with parents. Mr Collins should ask himself why this is. The answer lies in the ethos of such schools, which frequently combines the drive for the highest academic standards with outstanding pastoral care. This is based on the Christian values of mutual respect and support, showing compassion towards the needy, cherishing and enriching each individual and demonstrating forgiveness and trust when difficulties occur in relationships.

Mr Collins is, of course, correct to emphasise the importance of the quality of teaching, but it is only when the ethos is right that both teachers and pupils can achieve to the maximum of their potential.

Roy Ludlow

Winsley, Somerset

 

Western doubters about the referendum in Crimea forget that many of its people regard themselves as Russians

Sir, In the 1990s I made frequent calls at the port of Kerch, in eastern Crimea, as master of a merchant ship.

Shipmasters have contact with a number of locals — shipping agents, customs and immigration officials, pilots, dockworkers and the military guarding the port installations. All were ethnic Russians, who formed the large majority in Crimea. None had a good word to say about Crimea’s inclusion in the Ukrainian Republic and all desired reunification with Russia.

Peter Adams

Lambley, Notts

Sir, Crimea was part of Russia for centuries. Russia has merely reversed Khrushchev’s arbitrary 1954 decision to give Crimea to Ukraine.

Will Podmore

London E12

Sir, Mr Putin will succeed in annexing the Crimea but he will be defying international law, and this challenge must be met with an equal determination to support defenceless Ukraine with political and economic sanctions. Ordinary citizens can play a part. Professional people of every kind, athletes, and ordinary tourists should cancel any forthcoming visits to Russia. In response to aggressive state-controlled Russian media foreign journalists should take every opportunity to remind Russia that while it may have a long established interest in Crimea, this does not nullify either the legal rights of Ukraine or the moral rights of the Crimean Tartars. The very name Crimea (Turkish in origin) tells us who has the better claim to this much fought over peninsula. The poor Crimean Tartars were, along with Ukrainians, victims of Stalin’s genocidal policies. Only when Russia officially abandons its deplorable admiration for Stalin and his equally evil predecessor Lenin, will there be any hope for true democracy in Russia.

John Kenrick

Newcastle upon Tyne

 

Women who find it too expensive go back into skilled employment after having children are a loss to the economy

Sir, John McTernan (Thunderer, Mar 15) says childcare is expensive for a few years but then gets relatively cheaper. He fails to appreciate that in those early few years women leave the labour market because it’s too expensive to go back to work.

According to the Resolution Foundation and Mumsnet, two in three mothers say the high cost of childcare is a barrier to work. And as a result, maternal employment rates are poor compared with our economic competitors. Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) analysis shows maternal employment rates for mothers, with their youngest child aged between 3 and 5, lower than the OECD average (58 per cent, compared to 64 per cent); and the gender pay gap is growing for the first time in 15 years.

Not only is this a waste of talent and, in many cases, trained and skilled workers, it’s holding the economy back. So it’s not “hope” that makes Labour determined to tackle this Government’s childcare crunch of rising prices, falling places and cuts to support but necessity. Indeed early work from the IPPR shows that even modest increases in supply-side childcare support would raise £1.5bn in tax receipts and reduced benefits alone. Labour’s plans to extend free childcare for working parents with 3 and 4-year-olds is a fully costed proposal that will help make work pay and break down barriers to the labour market for women.

Lucy Powell, MP

Shadow Minister for Childcare and Children

 

Children suffering stress from overparenting is a sensitive and serious issue which needs careful handling

Sir, Being a mother of three children and living in the aspirational middle England I was interested in High Investment Parenting (HIP) (Weekend, Mar 15). I like to think that I don’t put my children above my marriage and that I achieve a healthy balance in my family life. I don’t need to get my children into any top schools or run them to clubs as a full time hobby. I enjoyed the article very much until I came to do the quiz. I understand that it was tongue in cheek, but I was not able to answer any of the questions. I was neither (a) a HIP parent, (b) a workaholic, (c) or a Peter Pan character.

Children suffering from stress due to over-parenting is a sensitive and serious issue and should be dealt with as such. It is possible to be lighthearted while being meaningful. I would have liked this quiz to be meaningful.

Abigail Macfarlane

Stratford upon Avon

 

Women who find it too expensive go back into skilled employment after having children are a loss to the economy

Sir, John McTernan (Thunderer, Mar 15) says childcare is expensive for a few years but then gets relatively cheaper. He fails to appreciate that in those early few years women leave the labour market because it’s too expensive to go back to work.

According to the Resolution Foundation and Mumsnet, two in three mothers say the high cost of childcare is a barrier to work. And as a result, maternal employment rates are poor compared with our economic competitors. Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) analysis shows maternal employment rates for mothers, with their youngest child aged between 3 and 5, lower than the OECD average (58 per cent, compared to 64 per cent); and the gender pay gap is growing for the first time in 15 years.

Not only is this a waste of talent and, in many cases, trained and skilled workers, it’s holding the economy back. So it’s not “hope” that makes Labour determined to tackle this Government’s childcare crunch of rising prices, falling places and cuts to support but necessity. Indeed early work from the IPPR shows that even modest increases in supply-side childcare support would raise £1.5bn in tax receipts and reduced benefits alone. Labour’s plans to extend free childcare for working parents with 3 and 4-year-olds is a fully costed proposal that will help make work pay and break down barriers to the labour market for women.

Lucy Powell, MP

Shadow Minister for Childcare and Children

 

UK fuel duty is among the highest in the EU — a cut in the Budget would be a shot in the arm for the economy

Sir, British drivers pay the EU’s highest duty for diesel and the second highest for petrol. This is disadvantaging millions of families and businesses, reducing consumer spending power, strangling the UK haulage industry and leading to higher prices all round. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has estimated that a 3p cut in duty would create 70,000 jobs and increase GDP by 0.2 per cent.

We believe that a 3p per litre duty cut for all vehicle fuels in the Budget would be prudent fiscal planning and an essential pillar of the Government’s strategy for economic regeneration based on increased consumer spending.

Quentin Willson

Howard Cox

FairFuelUK Campaign

 

 

Telegraph:

 

SIR – Those of us directly affected, as I was as the father of Flora, murdered at Lockerbie by the terrorist destruction of Pan Am 103 in December 1988, will never forget the short interval during which we were unable to confirm whether our families were known to have died.

Then came September 11 2001, where one of the planes was hijacked only to crash, near Pittsburgh, as a result of brave attempted intervention by the passengers.

The augmented anguish of the families of passengers on flight MH370, caused by the week-long absence of certainty over whether this was structural failure, sabotage or a hijack, must be terminated by discovery of the plane’s fate.

This time the relatives do not even know whether their loved ones are dead or possibly alive in central Asia or even an Indian Ocean island.

We would beg that all the satellites and drones, all the radars, and all the intelligence services of the world, never mind whether Chinese, American or Malaysian, be deployed to their utmost to give certainty to the relatives.

Anything less is to connive in torture of the most hideous kind.

Dr Jim Swire
Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire

Statins and muscle pain

SIR – I can add myself to the acquaintances of Robert Hurran (Letters, March 15) who experienced agonising muscular pains after being prescribed statins.

I didn’t, initially, realise the cause until, fortunately, I read an article in the Telegraph describing the possible side effects. I spoke to my doctor, who tried me on a different brand, but the problem did not go away.

I decided to cease taking them, of my own volition, and relief was almost immediate, with complete recovery in about seven days. I have since spoken to a number of others who have suffered without knowing the cause.

The medical profession seems loath to warn patients unless questioned directly.

Charles Dobson
Burton in Kendal, Westmorland

SIR – Last year, your columnist Dr James Le Fanu highlighted the issue.

With the support of my GP, who said that one in 200 people is prone to adverse side effects, I stopped taking statins.

Three months later all the muscular symptoms had gone. I reverted to a halved dose and they have half returned.

Who do we believe, and why?

Neil Blake

Ewelme, Oxfordshire

Grains down the drain

SIR – I open all paper bags of sugar (Letters, March 14) by holding them over the sink – less mess. There must be a better way of packaging sugar.

Jeanette Green
Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire

SIR – You stand your Tate & Lyle packet inside a Tupperware box. Then and only then do you cut open the packet and pour the sugar into the container. You won’t lose a grain. The same goes for Weetabix.

Rosmarie Hall
Canterbury, Kent

SIR – Captains of industry are well rewarded enough to be able to pay others to open their packets of sugar and breakfast cereals. If they themselves had to open the packets and contend with the spillage, the problems would soon be fixed. I feel this is a strong argument in favour of pay restraint at the top.

Ian Macpherson
Guildford, Surrey

 

 

SIR – During the war, when I was a baby, my mother heard that a local shop had a delivery of bananas (Letters, March 14).

I was pushed there in my pram and parked outside the shop while my mother made her purchase. So delighted was she that it was not until she arrived home that she realised she had the bananas but not the baby.

Hilary Phillips
London W5

SIR – I remember being bitterly disappointed when bananas finally became available because they were not juicy. I’d had the occasional oranges, which were available on children’s ration books during the latter part of the war.

Bananas are still not my favourite fruit. It amazes me, though, that they remain so cheap compared with other fruits.

Jill Forrest
Bishop’s Waltham, Hampshire

SIR – The sham referendum in Crimea gives Russia a pretext for annexation. For President Vladimir Putin, demographic change there (with growing Tatar and Ukrainian populations, combined with a younger generation less in sympathy with Russian domination) means that events in Kiev have given him a one-off opportunity, which he intends to take.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, needs to show his teeth. Britain clearly does not have the appetite to confront Russia militarily, although a limited deployment in Ukraine would still stop Mr Putin in his tracks.

As it is, Mr Putin will continue to roll the dice. That gambling is of grave concern, not just to the rest of Ukraine, but also to our Nato allies in eastern Europe. It will be deeply destabilising.

Unless Mr Cameron does show his teeth, the comparison with Chamberlain will become irresistible.

Martin Potter
Bristol

SIR – On the legality of yesterday’s referendum in international law, it should be recalled that, in 2010, the International Court of Justice issued its advisory opinion that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia (February 17 2008) did not violate international law. To date, 110 states have recognised Kosovo.

The 1994 Budapest memorandum on security assurances, provided to Ukraine by Britain, the United States and Russia, did not guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Instead the powers agreed “to respect” Ukraine’s borders. The difference between guaranteeing and respecting is the same in international law as in ordinary language. A guarantee can be cashed; respect is a matter of degree.

The powers agreed to take the matter to the Security Council if Ukraine faced a nuclear threat; in other circumstances they agreed to consult.

Cornelia Navari
Visiting Professor of International Affairs
University of Buckingham

SIR – Mr Putin says that Crimea is more important to Russia than the Falklands to Britain. That may be so, but in drawing this parallel does he not understand that Russia is taking the part of Argentina?

John Pope
Ivybridge, Devon

SIR – It would be bizarre to start military actions against Russia over Crimea, as the people of Crimea welcome the chance to be Russian again.

Corry Lilley
West Wittering, West Sussex

SIR – At least they’ve had an in/out vote.

Maggie Hughes
Gnosall, Staffordshire

SIR – Does the referendum promoted by Russia in Crimea imply that Russia will now be pleased to support such referendums in its own country?

Ralph Bradley
Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Garden city jobs

SIR – George Osborne should observe that housing is needed where there is work. Building a city in the middle of nowhere will succeed in inflating the housing bubble but will not solve the problems of people seeking housing near to their jobs.

Dr Robert J Leeming
Balsall Common, Warwickshire

Ball and cross

SIR – Another footballer who won the VC in the First World War (Letters, March 15) was L/Cpl William Angus. He played for Celtic and Enlisted with the Highland Light Infantry as a territorial. His VC was for rescuing his officer under fire at Givenchy.

Phil Angus
Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

SIR – Bernard Vann was not the only Church of England clergyman to earn a Victoria Cross. The Rev Theodore Bayley Hardy, chaplain to the Lincolnshire Regiment, won the VC, DSO and MC for a succession of heroic rescues of wounded men under fire, even though he was over 50 years of age when he joined up in 1916.

When George V presented his VC in France, he appointed him one of his chaplains, to save him from further danger. Hardy declined the offer and, three weeks before the armistice, he was killed.

Aidan Tolhurst
London SW14

Badger debating

SIR – Much as I love badgers, I wonder if more important issues might concern Parliament. It wasted much time on fox hunting; they are still being hunted.

Bill Thompson
Frankby, Wirral

Uncommon market

SIR – European Union citizenship is reported to have been bought for £150,000. Where can I sell mine?

A D Gatling
Berwick St James, Wiltshire

Heroic failure

SIR – The Royal Society of Arts (report, March 14) suggests the word fail be excised from educational vocabulary. Would it approve of the report of a friend of mine: “Tries, but useless”?

Mark Solon
London N1

Tony Benn’s no entry sign

SIR – I was brought up to judge a person by what he did rather than what he said. The most conspicuous act of Tony Benn I can remember was to refuse those walking along the Essex coast to pass in front of Stansgate Abbey, his ancestral home. They were told to go round the back, despite their having a legal right to walk along the foreshore.

David Crawford
Llandudno, Conwy

SIR – Evidence of Tony Benn’s economic illiteracy is his remark: “We had full employment when we were killing the Germans. Why can’t we have full employment when we’re building hospitals?” We ended the war bankrupt, and owing vast sums to America.

David Watkins
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

SIR – I am surprised no one has pointed out that Tony Benn was the only British politician to appear in a Superman story. He was prime minister of a Soviet satellite British state in the story “Red Son”.

The storyline is based on Superman having landed in Soviet era Ukraine rather than Kansas. The result is that he helps a form of Stalinism to take over the whole globe (except the United States).

Alan Crerar
Swindon, Wiltshire

SIR – My wife and I once went to see Tony Bennett at the Royal Festival Hall. Tony Benn was appearing next door at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. One man was wandering round looking bemused, having got into the wrong venue.

Les Sharp
Hersham, Surrey

 

 

 

Irish Times:

 

Sir, – Any suggestion that our education system has been “dumbed down” should be viewed in the context of the shift in expectations that has occurred over the last few decades (Dumbing-down will ‘screw up’ economy, Morgan Kelly warns”, Home News, March 10th).

While a good education is a desirable asset perhaps it has all gone too far, as now every child is expected to aspire to reach third-level.

Not only that, but our institutes of technology are hoping to achieve university status, putting further emphasis on the fact that a third-level degree is now a basic requirement for most jobs. Several decades ago it was possible and normal to find employment with just a Leaving Certificate qualification. The Civil Service and companies such as Aer Lingus, RTÉ, and most of the banks were happy to accept employees straight from school who received on-the-job training – and several went on to hold senior positions within those organisations. Only a small number of candidates went to university, where entry requirements varied but in some cases amounted solely to an ability to pay the fees. There was no pressure on students or schools to attain high CAO point levels or the status of degrees.

I am not advocating a return to the situation where only the privileged few could attend university, but many current students are attending university not because they want to be there but because it is expected of them. School league tables and the allocation of places based on the popularity of courses, which dictates the points required, have both contributed to an intense pressure on children to perform.

Students of average ability, the majority in any society, often struggle to reach their target point level while their parents struggle to get additional tuition for them in an attempt to secure their child’s future. It is this madness, rather than a “dumbing down” of exams, that has led to students achieving higher grades in exams. The emergence of a market in grind schools is proof of this.

Children have to wait for their CAO offer to discover what place they have been allocated, and rather than studying something they have an interest in, they often get allocated something they are unsuited to. It is perceived that any degree is better than no degree, and those who leave the education system with just a Leaving Certificate find it difficult to get anything other than low-paid work.

A third-level qualification has become a basic necessity, but worse than that, more and more graduates find themselves having to embark on further studies such as masters degrees and doctorates to stand out from the crowd and get employment in their field. It is therefore inevitable that our universities have many students of average ability registered, but it is not the answer to make exams more difficult and fail them. They have been led to believe that society will judge them based on their academic achievements, and the annual media interest in school results and points levels bears this out.

An alternative would be to reduce the emphasis on school league tables and points by offering a suitable alternative to university degrees for more students. Further investment in post-Leaving Cert courses, where a broader range of courses could be offered in State-run colleges that would confer a qualification acceptable to relevant employers, is an option. The institutes of technology could be used for this purpose rather than upgrading them to university status, and potential employers could be involved in designing modules that would give students required skills. The current range of courses offered in universities could then be modified to avoid competition.

It is time to change the perception that every child has to get a degree and that every college has to be a university to be valued. Then, and only then, can we consider making third-level exams harder. – Yours, etc,

BA KEOGH,

Stonepark Abbey,

Rathfarnham,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – Morgan Kelly warns that “despite the IT revolution”, administration has grown at an alarming rate in the university sector. Surely it is partly because of the IT revolution that this expansion has occurred? All that management software has to be used to justify the expense of both itself and management.

With this IT revolution has come the advancement of the institutes of technology. Paul Hannigan, the chairman of Institutes of Technology Ireland, wants more profiling of the customer, calling for more data to be be collected in the “handshake” between second and third level (“Why colleges need to know their students better, Education, March 11th). This, he asserts, is to help the institutes to “contextualise” academic results, “ease the transition” of students, gain a more “holistic view” of them in order to “enhance services” – all of this designed to better retain the students, to maintain those bums on seats.

This edu-business babble is embarrassing. What next – loyalty cards to gain academic credits?

With the institutes represented as having such an academic wish-list by their spokesman, Prof Kelly must view the institutes of technology on the march to university status “as further evidence that Irish universities are beyond repair”. – Yours, etc,

JUNE O’REILLY,

Lecturer in Communication,

Cork Institute

of Technology.

 

Sir, – Jim Lawless (March 10th) drew attention to deficiencies he perceives in our national approach to the medical catastrophe of subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH). Because interventional radiological and neurosurgical services cannot be provided at local hospital levels, it is incumbent upon providers to ensure timely access to these services at specialist centres.

Appropriate urgent care will predictably improve survival and reduce disability in this clinical scenario.

We, the Council of the Intensive Care Society of Ireland (ICSI), wish to commend Mr Lawless on his motivation to address this matter and indeed on how constructively he has directed his grief following his wife’s tragic death toward better outcomes for others.

Definitive resolution of the problems relating to SAH will require a coordinated and multidisciplinary approach. However, we would emphasise that neurosurgical emergencies are among many acute medical and surgical scenarios which require immediate intensive-care admission. In such circumstances, rapid access to intensive care and its ancillary services is crucial.

The report Toward Excellence in Critical Care , by management consultants Prospectus, commissioned by the HSE in 2008, outlined Ireland’s need for intensive-care unit resources. The standards at the time of publication fell far short of those required.

While some of its broad-reaching findings and recommendations are being addressed, the overarching requirement was for a doubling of intensive-care unit bed capacity by 2020.

Halfway through this timeframe, bed capacity has actually been actively reduced.

We in the ICSI feel obliged to highlight the necessity for an expansion of critical care capacity.

For any patient faced with an acute life-threatening illness, delay in accessing intensive care units demonstrably reduces the prospect of survival.

As regards subarachnoid haemorrhage, whilst more research on outcomes is welcome and essential, the immediate emphasis should be on ensuring timely access to adequate critical care resources for all patients who need them. The case for this can be predicated on existing data. – Yours, etc,

Dr PATRICK SEIGNE,

Dr BRIAN O’BRIEN,

Dr IVAN HAYES,

Dr ROBERT PLANT,

Dr DOROTHY BREEN,

Consultants in

Intensive Care Medicine,

Cork University Hospital;

Dr RORY DWYER,

Consultant in Intensive Care

Medicine,

Beaumont Hospital;

Dr CATHERINE

MOTHERWAY,

Consultant in Intensive

Care Medicine,

Mid-Western Regional

Hospital, Limerick;

Dr EILIS CONDON,

Consultant in Intensive

Care Medicine, James

Connolly Hospital, Dublin;

Dr IAN CONRICK-MARTIN,

Specialist Registrar in

Intensive Care Medicine,

The Mater Misericordiae

University Hospital, Dublin;

Dr MARIA DONNELLY,

Dr ARABELLA FAHY,

Consultants in

Intensive Care Medicine,

Tallaght Hospital;

Dr VIDA HAMILTON,

Consultant in Intensive

Care Medicine,

Waterford Regional

Hospital;

Dr BRIAN MARSH,

Consultant in Intensive Care

Medicine, The Mater,

Dublin.

Dr PATRICK NELIGAN,

Consultant in Intensive

Care Medicine,

University College

Hospital, Galway.

Dr RUTH-AOIBHEANN

O’LEARY,

Specialist Registrar in

Intensive Care Medicine,

The Mater, Dublin;

Dr ELLEN O’SULLIVAN,

Consultant Anaesthetist,

St James’s Hospital, Dublin;

Dr DERMOT PHELAN,

Consultant in Intensive

Care Medicine, The Mater,

Dublin;

Dr DONAL RYAN,

Consultant in Intensive Care

Medicine, St. Vincent’s

University Hospital;

Dr MICHAEL SCULLY,

Consultant in Intensive

Care Medicine, University

College Hospital, Galway ;

Dr ANDREW

WESTBROOK, Consultant

in Intensive Care Medicine,

St Vincent’s University

Hospital;

The Intensive Care

Medicine Society of Ireland,

22 Merrion Square North,

Dublin 2.

 

 

Sir, – There are real educational issues, and there are spurious educational issues. Talk to any primary school teacher who was around in the Celtic Tiger years and you will be told that the extra resources that were made available to schools, during that period, made a huge difference to children with learning difficulties. By the same token, withdrawal of these supports, and increased class sizes, the result of deliberate educational cutbacks by the present Government, will result in more children leaving school unable to read, write or do simple arithmetic. That is a real educational issue.

It is not the issue that is being debated in the media, however. I think that the Government is well aware of this media bias, and cynically uses it to distract attention from the awfulness of some of its educational policies.

Ruairí Quinn (routinely portrayed in the media as a “reforming” Minister for Education) had hardly settled into his job when he announced that he envisioned 50 per cent of schools being removed from Catholic control.

He received a lot of positive media coverage for this. He commissioned a survey of parents – not a random sample, but conducted in areas where demand for non-Catholic schooling was expected to be highest – and discovered that actual demand, for non-denominational schools in these areas, ranged from less than 1 per cent of parents up to a maximum of 8 per cent.

That is, a small number of non-Catholic schools are viable, and will be provided by the State. No one, and certainly not the Catholic Church, has a problem with this. I am sorry that some citizens, in areas where demand for non-denominational education is low, cannot be accommodated, but it seems a bit extreme to infer from this that we are somehow failing as a republic. If the demand is there, this State will provide the bulk of the funding for schools that are non-denominational, faith-based or language-based. Is that not how a liberal democracy should work? – Yours, etc,

JIM STACK,

Lismore,

Co Waterford.

 

 

 

Sir, – It ends where it began for Brian O’Driscoll. Whatever else happens in his life from now on, he’ll always have Paris. – Yours, etc,

JOHN B REID,

Knapton Road,

Monkstown,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Now that Brian O’Driscoll’s international career is over, can I have my name back please? – Yours, etc,

BRIAN O’DRISCOLL,

Rathangan,

Duncormick,

Co Wexford.

Sir, – In response to John O’Byrne (March 15th), Brian Boru was not a Clontarf man, he was from Thomond. No, I don’t think he ever played in Thomond Park! – Yours, etc,

BRENDAN CASSERLY,

Abbeybridge,

Waterfall,

Cork.

A chara, – What deserving champions and wonderful role models for our young people. Forgive me for also hoping that the win will mean the fulfilment of Gordon D’Arcy’s promise to shave his beard. There is a thin line between attractive stubble and wearing a furry creature on your face and the trend amongst Irish men at the moment is to most definitely cross that line! – Is mise,

KAY CHALMERS,

Well Road,

Douglas,

Cork.

Sir, – It appears Fingal’s mayor is determined to block a plebiscite on the alternative of a new directly elected Dublin-wide mayor (“Fingal council set to block referendum on directly elected mayor for Dublin”, Politics, March 14th).

I suppose the mayor deserves credit for at least openly saying he is opposed to giving voters a choice. On the other three Dublin councils many councillors that are opposed to reforming Dublin local government aim to defeat the measure by not turning up for the vote, defeating it on a technicality, while not having to explicitly insult the voters in an election year by voting against it.

I would suggest that on May 23rd, Dublin voters withhold their vote from any councillor who, by either voting no or absenting themselves, denies citizens their say on reform. – Yours, etc,

Dr KEVIN BYRNE,

Schoolhouse Lane,

Dublin 2.

 

Sir, – I have just signed a medical card renewal form for one of my adult patients. He has had significant physical disability and medical problems from birth. He will never be above the income threshold for a medical card. Why do his parents have to go through the stress of submitting the same information again and again to ensure that he doesn’t lose his medical card? Unless he wins the Lotto, he needs a medical card for life. Is there no-one in the Primary Care Reimbursement Service and the HSE with the common sense to see that? – Yours, etc,

Dr ELUNED LAWLOR,

Loughboy Medical Centre,

Kilkenny.

 

 

Sir, – The writer and artist Christy Brown was one of the most extraordinary Dubliners of the 20th century. Tomorrow his personal archive will be sold at the London auction house Bonhams.

The archive, which includes many previously unseen manuscripts, letters, pictures and poems, is expected to fetch up to €50,000.

At the moment that sum is beyond the reach of most Irish museums. If the archive leaves these shores an important part of our cultural heritage will be lost, probably forever.

Is there someone who would like to ensure that Christy Brown is remembered for generations to come here in Dublin, his hometown? I hope so. – Yours, etc,

TREVOR WHITE,

The Little Museum

of Dublin,

St Stephen’s Green,

Dublin 2.

 

 

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole (“The Irish film industry needs belief, strategy, and . . . action”, Weekend, March 15th) writes: “It is not accidental that a country such as Denmark, which has both its own language and its own economy, has the confidence to also develop its own TV and cinema culture.”

A memorable observation but left hanging, I thought, as an obvious mention of TG4 in this context never materialised. – Yours, etc,

GABRIEL ROSENSTOCK,

Gleann na gCaorach,

Co Átha Cliath.

Sir, – The possible ending of the one and two cent coins (“Coppers face axe: are one and two cent coins on the way out?”, Home News, March 15th) prompts the question of what coins do we need for everyday use. A logical step would be to introduce a five-euro coin to replace the five-euro note. A coin can last up to 100 years in circulation (Victorian pennies were still in use in Ireland up to 1971), whereas the less cost-effective €5note lasts less than a year.

The Central Bank has the power to introduce such a coin for use in Ireland, it just would not be legal tender elsewhere in the euro zone. It could also be a decent size – in line with the half-crown or £1 coin.

I suggest 2016 would be the ideal time to launch the first €5 coin for circulation and this could also double as a commemorative coin in honour of the 1916 uprising. Worth considering? – Yours, etc,

GREG CARLEY,

Rock Lodge,

Killiney, Co Dublin.

 

 

 

 

 

Irish Independent:

* Minister Phil Hogan referred to the BBC interview with Tom McFeely “as an outrageous waste of free speech” (Irish Independent, March 1). This was not so much a waste of free speech but an abuse of it.

Also in this section

Letters: Keeping a little light alive

Wake up you ‘Moby Dicks’

Taxing issues for offshore oil firms

The right to freedom of expression is invoked regularly without a clear sense of what is involved. Freedom of expression does not stand on its own feet; it is an offshoot of the general notion of freedom.

To say we are all free is not a description of our current state but a prescription about how we ought to be treated.

The principle of freedom runs as follows: we are free to do what we like unless there are relevant reasons for interfering in that freedom. The presumption is in favour of non-interference.

The question of free expression is about the grounds on which we can be prevented from saying or writing what we wish to write.

The right to freedom of expression is not absolute and can only be exercised in the context of rational constraints, not arbitrary ones.

Freedom of expression cannot be elevated above a whole range of other freedoms. Additionally, it has to be set against the principle of equality.

Freedom of expression can only exist where there is equality of access to the means of expression. Mr McFeely has a right to make his case but only if his victims have equivalence of opportunity to make theirs.

For years, the Murdoch press has provided an inordinately influential platform for the voice for one man, excluding the millions of voices of those who think differently.

We have witnessed the regular sickening spectacle of politicians in Britain coming on bended knee to seek Mr Murdoch’s support at election time.

Freedom of expression will always remain an ideal towards which we aspire. It is destined to be continually used and abused.

However, it is the one freedom that defines a democracy.

PHILIP O’NEILL

OXFORD, OX1 4QB

GREAT SHOW, IMELDA

* I have just watched Imelda May’s first show on RTE (March 16). Wow, what a warm, lovely, talented lady she is, and the generosity she showed to her guests is really what makes this lady so special.

I remember seeing her, heavily pregnant, on the 50th anniversary of the ‘Late Late Show’, and her chat and musical performance that night were the highlight of the show.

This lady is, as she said herself, passionate about continuing her new show and promoting all the wonderful musical talent in the country, new and old. So I would very strongly advise RTE, on behalf of the viewing public, not to let this very special lady down.

BRIAN MCDEVITT

GLENTIES, CO DONEGAL

HYPOCRISY ON CRIMEA

* I have to say I’m somewhat astonished by the reaction of the EU and US to the referendum in Crimea. While I’m sure that the Russian government is far from blameless, the belligerent tone from western governments does nothing but exacerbate the situation and increase the risk of conflict.

Throughout this whole crisis, most of the western media coverage has – perhaps unsurprisingly – presented a somewhat one-sided version of events. Yet despite this, it is abundantly clear that the vast majority of those living in Crimea would prefer closer association with Russia, and voted as such.

The US and EU, however, have decided that the will of the people is irrelevant and that they will simply refuse to recognise the result.

The pretence on which they base this position is that the referendum supposedly violates the Ukrainian constitution. In reality, however, the prospect of Crimea returning to Russia would be incompatible with the political ambitions of Brussels and Washington.

Both the US and the EU were happy to support the violent, destructive and lethal protests in Kiev, in order to precipitate a regime change, so for them to reject the overwhelming will of the people in Crimea is the absolute height of hypocrisy.

Now that they have their more ‘amenable’ government installed in Kiev, it appears that they have no intention of allowing their influence to be threatened by something as heinous as a referendum.

SIMON O’CONNOR

CRUMLIN, DUBLIN 12

TIME FOR A SINGSONG

* It used to be that when the last refrain of ‘Amhran na bhFiann’ was blasted out by the fans, either in Lansdowne Road or Croke Park, I always believed they were finishing with “. . . Shovin’ Connie around the field”. (As a child I thought it referred to Bishop Con Lucey of Cork, who was seen at every important GAA match).

I didn’t know the words to the national anthem back then, and I still don’t – but sure what harm?

Things get into our heads and stay there, or they don’t get in at all, but we are no less a patriot because of it.

While I might not be well versed in this song, the air to the anthem is never far from my consciousness, and over the past three years another set of words have crept into my brain, but in another context.

You see, when I am challenged to remember a date or a time in a conversation or filling out a form, I have to sometimes force myself not to sing out or write: “Was it the day Michael Collins was shot?” – by way of an uncertain question or answer.

I’ve put this down to a visit I made to Clonakilty once and saw the statue there of Mr Collins, and my first thought was that he appeared angry, and had his hand out as if to say: “There ye all are, and I’ll bet not one of you remember the date I was shot!”

While the purists can scoff and ridicule my perceived scant attention to a set of words that denotes their own rabid nationalism, as they might see it, there is not a man in this country who has not paid more on-going attention to this anthem than my good self. I deserve a medal for the sweaty strain it becomes not to succumb.

ROBERT SULLIVAN

BANTRY, CO CORK

A UNITED IRELAND

* Although an admirer of the late Margaret Thatcher, I found the late Tony Benn to be a supremely admirable figure, too.

Mr Benn, like me, espoused a united Ireland, and an abolition to the British House of Lords and monarchy. Compared to the UK, the Republic of Ireland has an enviable democracy. I sincerely hope to see, in my lifetime, a united, peaceful Ireland, and an independent republic of England.

DOMINIC SHELMERDINE

LONDON, W8

VOICE FOR PATIENTS

* I was seriously behind and patients were kept waiting. Nearly everyone I saw seemed to have a complex health issue. The only time I caught up was when I saw a child. I actually thought to myself, ‘my job would be so much easier if I saw more children and fewer sick and elderly adults’.

I was stressed as I rushed out to do a house call to an elderly man. He had a bad chest infection. He was incredibly apologetic for having called me out. He said, ‘I hate calling you, you are so busy’. I left his prescription into the pharmacy on my way back and my secretary took it out to him as he had no one to collect it.

He is what we GPs call a ‘heartlift’ patient. He reminds me why I went into general practice. He is one of the many reasons why we need more resourcing of general practice, primary care and community services. He has no political clout. I am his voice.

DR ELUNED LAWLOR

LOUGHBOY MEDICAL CENTRE, KILKENNY

Irish Independent

 

 

Another quiet day

March 17, 2014

17 March 2014 Another Quiet day

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to pick up some stranded admirals Priceless

Cold slightly better sort books and things

Scrabbletoday Marywins but getunder400, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

 

Malcolm Tierney, who has died aged 75, was a durable actor with the face of a villain. He was best known for his role in the BBC series Lovejoy as the smartly-dressed antique dealer Charlie Gimbert, who regularly runs rings around Ian McShane’s be-jeaned and leather-jacketed protagonist.

Between its first series in 1986 and his return in 1993 (by which time the programme had become a Sunday evening fixture), Tierney had appeared in Brookside as local gangster Tommy McArdle, and as a boorish rival of Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) in the original House Of Cards (BBC, 1990).

On stage, Tierney commanded a wider variety of parts . At the Royal Court, he was a youthful Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night (1968); and in the same year he played Disraeli in Edward Bond’s allegory Early Morning, which had to be shown to critics in a private afternoon performance after its evening show was banned by the Lord Chamberlain. He claimed that while the play was in progress, there were 200 police officers around the Royal Court.

Tierney once shared a flat with the famously larger-than-life Tom Baker, and in real life he resembled his fellow thespian. He shared with the former Dr Who star a sonorous voice; distinctive (latterly white) curly hair; a wide, toothy smile; a wardrobe of long, baggy overcoats and scarves; and a fondness for wine, women and song. In Soho, he was a popular habitué of the Colony Room club and the French House pub, and last year held a private party at his Pimlico home at which all the 100 guests were female.

Malcolm Tierney was born on February 25 1938 in Manchester, the son of a mill girl and a boiler maker who had been awarded the George Medal in the Great War for saving two lives in No-man’s-land. As a boy, Malcolm met several eminent comedians while his father held various jobs at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. After attending St Mary’s Roman Catholic Primary School in Oldham, Tierney won a scholarship to Manchester School of Art, where he started appearing in plays; he later trained at Rose Bruford College in Sidcup .

He was last on the cast list in Red Roses For Me (Mermaid, 1962) by Sean O’Casey, then supported Trevor Howard in Strindberg’s The Father (Piccadilly, 1964), produced by the wayward writer William Donaldson. An early lead on television, and front cover of TV Times, came in Love On The Dole (Granada, 1967).

Cato Street (Young Vic, 1971), by the actor Robert Shaw, concerned a plot to assassinate the Cabinet in 1820, with Tierney, as an agent provocateur, and Bob Hoskins supporting Vanessa Redgrave. Tierney worked with her again in A Touch of the Poet in 1988, and was Agamemnon to her Hecuba for the RSC in 2005.

With Redgrave and her brother Corin, he was part of a failed challenge for Equity’s leadership at the union’s AGM in 1973. Continuing to argue in favour of the closed-shop system of membership, Tierney campaigned for Equity Left Alliance throughout the 1990s. He stood unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1999 and 2000.

Developing a penchant for playing real-life figures from the art world, he was Ford Madox Brown in The Love School (BBC, 1975); had the title role in LS Lowry – A Private View (Granada, 1981); and returned to the same part in Mr Lowry, a one-man play at the Bristol Young Vic, in 1993. He played George Melly in Home Death (Finborough Theatre, 2011), by Nell Dunn.

His films included roles in Star Wars (1977) and Braveheart (1995), in the latter disposing of William Wallace’s wife. Tierney’s final stage performance was as Sorin in The Seagull (Southwark Playhouse, 2012).

From 1979 to 1999 he was married to Andrea Schinko, and their two daughters survive him.

Malcolm Tierney, born February 25 1938, died February 19 2014

 

 

Guardian:

 

 

Your main coverage of the death of Tony Benn (Obituary, 15 March; Michael White, 15 March) was ungenerous, and did little justice to the man who was one of the most loved political figures in Britain today. Millions were inspired by his principles, his commitment and his unswerving support for many campaigns. He was president of the Stop the War Coalition right up to his death and helped initiate the People’s Assembly in opposition to government policies of austerity and inequality. Far from having little influence on politics and change, Tony was in the forefront of opposing wars, apartheid, racism and sexism. In this he was often in advance of establishment opinion, but equally often in agreement with public opinion. He was loved precisely because he did articulate views shared by many outside the corridors of power.

Your tendency to point-scoring about arguments dating back more than 30 years and refusal to seriously address his views perhaps demonstrates that they had more purchase than his opponents care to admit. Those who support trade unions, equality, peace and – dare we say it – socialism have little voice in the media or established politics. They have lost a great champion in Tony Benn. His political legacy will hopefully be measured by their future success.
Lindsey German Convenor, Stop the War Coalition, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Katy Clark MP, Steve Turner Assistant general secretary, Unite the Union, Kevin Courtney Deputy general secretary, NUT, Paul Mackney Former general secretary, UCU, Sam Fairbairn National secretary, People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Romayne Phoenix Co-chair, People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Salma Yaqoob, John Rees Counterfire, John Pilger Journalist and film-maker, Francesca Martinez Comedian and campaigner, Zita Holborne National co-chair, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, PCS NEC, Kate Hudson General secretary, CND, Chris Nineham Vice-chair, STWC, Andrew Burgin Left Unity, Mark Barrett People’s Assemblies Network and Occupy, Clare Solomon People’s Assembly, Rachel Newton Secretary, Greece Solidarity Campaign, James Meadway Senior economist, NEF, Barbara Jacobson Barnet Alliance for Public Services, Richard Milner Coventry People’s Assembly, Roy Bailey Folk singer, Andrew Murray Deputy president, Stop the War Coalition

• I have never missed the late Simon Hoggart more than in the aftermath of Tony’s Benn’s death. It’s difficult to imagine anyone better to puncture of the bubble of hagiography filling much of Saturday’s coverage (the main obit and Michael White being honourable exceptions).

It’s hard to know whether Simon would have taken more delight pointing out how wrong Benn was on so many issues (nationalisation, the EU, Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Mao, Labour‘s election loss in ’83, the miners’ strike and many others) or in reminiscing about how Benn’s extreme vanity blinded him to the damage he did to Labour in the 1980s. Perhaps it would simply have been enough to remember how much Benn hated those (like Simon himself) who saw through the cheap and easy platitudes that characterised his later career.
Dr John McGowan
Lewes, East Sussex

• I was disappointed by the mealy-mouthed obituary of Tony Benn by Professor Brian Brivati. I was surprised you chose him to write such an important political obituary, as he is a member of the misnamed “Progress group” and a friend of leading New Labour so-called liberal international interventionists.

Prof Brivati asserts that from the mid-1970s onwards, Benn had nothing new to say as a political thinker. This is certainly contestable. One example will suffice to demonstrate this inaccuracy.

Tony Benn, who once was responsible for the British nuclear power programme, first when he when he was technology minister in the late 1960s, and later after he was “demoted” (in Brivati’s interpretation), was asked a few years ago by the Times if he had made any political mistakes in his life. He responded: “Nuclear power. I was told, when I was in charge of it, that atomic energy was cheap, safe and peaceful. It isn’t.”

A serious problem for today’s politics is that both coalition ministers and their Labour opponents have not learned from Benn’s conversion on the road to energy sustainability, and support new nuclear.
Dr David Lowry
Environmental policy and research consultant

• Your online report on the death of Tony Benn (14 March) attributed his defeat in the 1981 Labour deputy leadership to a late voting shift by a key union. I presume that this is a reference to NUPE, which in fact followed the clear verdict of a ballot of its members. Had Labour’s largest union, the TGWU, showed similar respect for its members, Denis Healey would have won overwhelmingly.

Benn’s achievements and personality have attracted many tributes, but his campaign in 1981 was one of the most selfish and unprincipled in British political history. Its defeat saved Labour from extinction.
Richard Heller
Chief of staff to Denis Healey 1981-83

• Leaving a CND demo in the early 80s, a Telegraph-reading friend remarked to me: “You know, I used to be against everything Tony Benn stood for, until I heard him speak.”
John Launder
Skipton, North Yorkshire

 

Tony Benn was one of those rare politicians who genuinely did make history, when he renounced his peerage in 1963. His diaries are an important historical record, unparalleled in post-1945 British politics. His legacy, though in part, should be to inspire current and future politicians to have the same sense of the importance and context of history as he had. Too few do.
Dr Keith Flett
London Socialist Historians Group

•  The Speaker should set up an annual Tony Benn lecture in tribute to a great parliamentarian. Its purpose should be to promote the democratic process, accountability and participation, and inspire young and old to engage in their community and in national debates.
Paresh Motla
Thame, Oxfordshire

• Both Brian Brivati (Obituary, 15 March) and Michael White (Loved or loathed, 15 March) repeat the claim that Tony Benn supported the building of Concorde as this would provide jobs for his constituents. Concorde was built at Filton in north Bristol, miles from Benn’s Bristol South East constituency.
Lynda Hall
London

• The idea that you have to be a revolutionary radical to oppose the hydrogen bomb and war, implied in both your editorial (15 March) and obituary on Tony Benn, is depressing and, I hope, mistakes public opinion.
Harry Davis
Thames Ditton, Surrey

• When Tony Benn and Margaret Thatcher encounter one another in some celestial corridor, one can only hope that Simon Hoggart is there to record it.
Paul Roper
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire“He encouraged us” is a pretty good epitaph for Tony Benn. He certainly encouraged me, and I only met him once, back in the 1980s. At the House of Commons, after a tedious meeting where I had asked a question, I found myself walking down the stairs beside him and he asked me “What do you do?” – as if I was the most important person in the world. I told him a little about our work on improving US-Soviet relations through youth exchanges and musicals – but how hard it was with Soviet and US bureaucracy. “Keep going!” he said, fixing me with his zealous smile: “Think how many young people believe in peace now that you have touched them…” I did keep going – and, a year later, we brought the first Soviet youth and rock stars to the US. Three years after that, the Berlin Wall came down. Thank you, Tony Benn!
David Woollcombe
Founder and president, Peace Child International

•  Tony Benn was an enthusiastic supporter of the co-operative movement because he believed that unregulated capitalism could never be the basis of a just society. In 1975, as chairman of the Industrial Common Ownership Movement, the national body at that time of employee-owned co-operative businesses, I invited him to be guest speaker at our AGM. He arrived with a bulky tape recorder which he placed prominently on the table. “I am often misquoted by the press,” he said, and I noticed two rather furtive-looking men in belted raincoats at the back of the hall. He gave a rousing speech, but I noticed that the tape was not running. “Oh,” he said, “I never turn it on. Too expensive in batteries. Putting it on the table does the trick.”

I do not think his support for co-operatives would waver because of the current troubles of just one large co-operative. Neither should the rest of us waver.
Roger Sawtell
Northampton

•  None of the tributes to Tony Benn have given attention to his daughter Melissa. She did much of the caring of him during his long illness. Tony had promised a comment on my biography of Keir Hardie but, after an operation, was too ill to read it. So she read the manuscript to him. Melissa – he sent her to comprehensive school – has become a novelist, Guardian writer and opponent of academy schools. Thanks, Tony, for your political life, but also for Melissa.
Bob Holman
Glasgow

 

 

It’s a shame that in an article of over 1,600 words Owen Jones couldn’t bring himself to seriously discuss the political projects that Bob Crow was actually involved in (‘Don’t mourn. Organise’, 15 March). But perhaps that fits a narrative Owen wishes to promote, that there is no future for any electoral politics outside Labour. Bob, however, saw the creation of a new political voice for working people, rooted in the organisations and communities of the working class, as an essential aspect of the struggle against austerity.

For the past four years we had worked together building the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), in a project officially backed by the RMT itself. TUSC will stand hundreds of anti-austerity candidates in this May’s local elections in the biggest left-of-Labour challenge since the second world war.

Despite a number of approaches, Tony Benn didn’t agree with an electoral challenge to Labour (though he did appear in the 2009 electoral broadcast for No2EU).

I think he should have left the Labour party, which had so clearly left him, but unfortunately he disagreed. In his latter years Tony was more a prisoner in New Labour, reduced to smuggling out notes through the bars. The socialist policies he stood for were killed off by successive Labour leaders from Neil Kinnock onwards, but they still exist in new projects, like TUSC and No2EU, co-founded by Bob Crow.
Dave Nellist
National chair, TUSC

• I admire Owen Jones’s optimism about the state of the British left, but cannot share his positive prognosis. After a week that saw the demise of two giants of the labour movement, Bob Crow and Tony Benn, and the hefty clobbering of another, the Co-op, it is hard to see how the left can regroup and fight the seeping market forces and individualism overwhelming this so-called progressive liberal democracy.

All three were/are bastions of core labour principles – solidarity, working people’s rights and collective action. As the vultures descend on the Co-op, the attack on it by a senior Labour party figure (Co-op shambles exposed, 15 March) only underlines the schism within the movement.

For post-Thatcher generations, a skeletal welfare state, zero-hours contracts and dwindling trade union membership are becoming the norm. Where is the vision, the leadership, the passionate Benn-esque oratory promoting the values of social justice, fairness and respect for human rights? Let’s heed Benn’s chosen epitaph, “he encouraged us”, before the right twists it into another nail in the coffin of the left.
Clare Woodford
Manchester

 

 

 

 

Independent:

 

Congratulations to Amol Rajan for his warm and clearly heartfelt personal eulogy to Tony Benn. It was a shame that it was overshadowed by the mean-spirited editorial of the same day (15 March).

It has been crystal clear to the ovine minds of most commentators for three decades now that Benn “got it wrong”. After all, Thatcher won three elections and her dream of market greed and selfishness rules, now and for ever more.

Well, actually no. There has been a shift away from Benn’s vision of compassionate collectivism towards our present world order created to service the whimsical greed of the global plutocracy. However, anyone whose future horizons stretch further than the bridge of their nose will realise that the world continues to change.

The market model of exponential growth and unfettered licence to pillage the biosphere is tearing itself apart by its own excess. Climate change is just one aspect of environmental crisis. We will need environmentalism to survive and environmentalism will need redistributive socialism  in order to work.

In other words, Benn’s compassionate collectivism will become a necessity. Far from a relic of the past, he will be recognised as the prophet of the future and one of the greatest figures of the 20th century.

Steve Edwards, Wivelsfield Green, East Sussex

I cringed as I heard Tony Benn telling the shop-floor workers at BAe Filton that he was about to return to France in an attempt to convince the French to carry on to the next stage of the Concorde project; knowing that it had already been agreed!  When I mentioned this to him later, he said it was good for morale that they knew he was on their side; after which he somehow avoided eye contact.

Brian Christley, Abergele, Conwy

I am sure that Tony Benn would regard as a compliment the malevolence hurled at his memory, because it emanates from those who stand for the greatest possible gap between rich and poor, life governed exclusively by market forces which have no ethics, and constant and interminable growth at the expense of the survival of our planet.

Tony Benn was actually advocating Christian values in politics. I am not talking about churches, though thank God the bishops have taken up the cause of those left hungry in this wealthy country while the rich are cossetted with tax cuts, but about the ethics of Christianity.

I’m sure he didn’t see himself in this light. He was simply talking about justice, equality, making a positive contribution to the world instead of grabbing from it the maximum you can.

Eileen Noakes, Totnes, Devon

Crimea takeover: the US can’t talk

As John Kerry berates the Russian intervention in Crimea, after an unelected government took control of Ukraine, he should be reminded of America’s Monroe Doctrine and the Clark Memorandum.

These policies sanctioned both covert and military US intervention anywhere in the Caribbean basin, where US interests were regarded as being eroded or threatened. The US participated in the overthrow of the Arbenz Regime in Guatemala in 1954, recruited the 1,500 Cuban refugees for the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, trained and supplied the Salvadorean death squads from 1964-84 and in the 1980s supported the Contras in Nicaragua against the elected Sandinista government. In 1983, the US invaded Grenada to overthrow the pro-communist government and in 1989 invaded Panama.

In November 2013 John Kerry announced to the Organization of American States that the Monroe doctrine was now dead, which is, of course, correct because the US has seized upon 9/11 to undertake global intervention,  anywhere that it is in US interests so to do.

Patrick Lavender, Kilkhampton, Cornwall

Steve Kerensky (letter, 14March) is mistaken when he accepts Alexey Pishchulin’s assertion that Donetsk was founded by Alexander II in 1869.

In 1869 the Welsh entrepreneur and steel maker John Hughes chose the site to establish an steel-making complex and industrial settlement that became known as Yuzovka (Hughesovka). The original Welsh settlers left before 1917 but the city Hughes founded became the principal centre of steel-making in the region. The expanding city was renamed Stalino in 1924 and eventually Donetsk in 1961.

The transfer of industrial technology between countries was a well-established practice during the 19th century and resulted in the benefits of the Industrial Revolution being felt across Europe.

David Morgans, Colchester, Essex

Gender-selective abortion

While the case of “Samira” (“I had to terminate my pregnancies because I was carrying girls”, 15 March) is awful in its own right, even more concerning is that it highlights two further problems inherent in some communities all over the world.

The first is the injustice that the power to make such decisions in a marriage should be so greatly biased in the husband’s favour. The second is that “Samira” already has “children”, as opposed to an existing child.

The problem of the burgeoning global population is as great as, if not more so than, the threat to the wellbeing of our planet from the profligate use of fossil fuels.

The solution to all these problems is the global emancipation of women and the granting to them of control over their own fertility. Let’s hope it happens sooner rather  than later.

Liz Pearce, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire

Seabird research runs out of money

I would like to explain the position regarding the guillemot monitoring programme on Skomer Island (Nature Studies, 4 March).

We stepped in to pay for this research six years ago when the funding was under threat and signed a long-term agreement to secure that research. That agreement will come to an end in April.

We informed the University of Sheffield at least a year ago that, due to pressures on public sector budgets, it was highly unlikely that we would be in a position to extend this funding. We also took into consideration that the population of guillemots on the islands had been steadily increasing over  that time.

Since then we have worked with the University and the Wildlife Trust to try and identify another funding stream that would help them with this work.

We continue to fund monitoring of sea birds, including the guillemot, on Skomer and Skokholm, through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee as part of the UK-wide Seabird Monitoring Programme. We are also in the process of consulting on plans to extend the protection for seabirds at key places such as Skomer and Skokholm. This will mean that not only the islands themselves will be protected, but also the seas that surround them.

The storms which hit Wales this winter were the most devastating for decades. Alongside our work to repair the damage to defences, we are now assessing the impact on important wildlife habitats and species. One of our priorities is to make the natural environment more resilient to extreme weather events.

Emyr Roberts, Chief Executive, Natural Resources Wales, Cardiff

A lot of unhealthy policemen

You published on 11 January a letter from me under the heading, “Met’s history of sick leave” which made the serious allegation that the Metropolitan Police Service, during the 1980s and 1990s, deliberately adopted a lax approach to the management of sick leave in order to camouflage the significant number of flawed officers who were allowed to retire on medical grounds which entailed lengthy periods of sick leave prior to the retirement.

Despite its seriousness this letter was greeted with sullen silence by the Scotland Yard hierarchy.

It now transpires that the former Metropolitan Police detective sergeant John Davidson, who has been publicly accused of playing a corrupt role in the investigation into the death of Stephen Lawrence, retired on the grounds of ill-health to run a bar on the Spanish island of Menorca.

The number of officers who have featured in  several high-profile police scandals over the past 20-odd years and who have been pensioned off on medical grounds is beginning to constitute a statistical anomaly which surely merits an in-depth inquiry by the media in the public interest.

John Kenny, Acle, Norfolk

Decadence for all tastes

Commenting on your car reports from the Geneva Motor Show, Yvonne Ruge (letter, 15 March) observes that practicality is an also-ran to showing-off. Likewise the fancy-dress parades that constitute any fashion week, be it Paris, Milan or London. One is reminded of the Roman banquets where the chefs had to devise ever more bizarre concoctions to titillate over-indulged and jaded palates.

S Lawton, Kirklington, Oxfordshire

 

 

Times:

 

 

Sir, On March 13 there was a three-hour debate on the floor of the House of Commons on a motion calling for the ending of the badger cull. A division was called, and the motion was carried against the Government’s wishes by 219 votes to one. Obviously knowing that they would lose the vote, the
government whips had sent their MPs home. Nevertheless, despite the weight of parliamentary opinion clearly being in favour, the Government has made clear that it is ignoring the vote.

This raises a big constitutional issue about the workings of Parliament, especially on such a high-profile matter as the badger cull where the motion clearly reflected the strong and widespread public opposition to it. The Government has simply arbitrarily ruled that it will only be bound by votes lost on its own business, thus negating the whole purpose of motions put forward to give voice to public opinion.

The elected Back-Bench Business Committee (BBBC) was introduced three years ago precisely to allow this. The incoming Conservative Government then sought to marginalise these BBBC debates by allocating time for them on Thursdays, when most MPs have left Westminster (because there were no more government votes). Now, when there is a vote on a BBBC motion and the Government loses, it simply disregards it.

This has now happened about 20 times, including when my own motion calling for an inquiry into the impact of the welfare reforms on poverty was voted on two months ago and the Government lost by 125 votes to two. Again last year the Government lost the vote after a hard-fought Commons debate on a motion calling on it to demand a reduction in the EU budget in Brussels, but then ignored it.

Zac Goldsmith, MP, won a Commons vote on his Bill on the recall of MPs where, on the basis of prescribed criteria, a constituency vote had authorised recall, but again the Government ignored it.

And if the recommendation of a small annual sample of key select committee reports were debated and voted on on the floor of the house — a much-needed reform — that too should not be negated by the Government simply ignoring a positive vote. What is clearly needed now is a new constitutional convention that when the Government loses a Commons vote on non-governmental business, the motion should be referred to the Lords for ratification, and if ratified, the Government should then be required to return to the House within a reasonable period (say three months) with proposals to meet the will of the House — and the public opinion which that represents — as expressed in the vote.

Michael Meacher, MP

Former Minister of the Environment & chairman, parliamentary group on reform of procedure, House of Commons

 

Sir, It’s no surprise that heads are rolling at Russell Group universities (Mar 14). This self-congratulatory body has been resting on its laurels too long, having executed a successful PR campaign, claiming that its universities are better than the rest. In my son’s first year at a RG university, lecturers routinely fail to turn up to teach, to reschedule or even apologise to the students who pay their salaries. The department allows it and does precious little for its students. His friends at other RG universities report the same.

Connie Ball

Hampton, Middx

 

Sir, As business people concerned about the impact that Brussels regulation and red tape has on companies in the UK, we believe it is wrong to suggest that an EU referendum commitment produces “uncertainty” for business.

All the major business groupings, including Business for Britain, are in complete support of the plan to reform the EU to make it more competitive, deregulated, and open for global trade. However, we believe that, going by past efforts to achieve this goal, the Prime Minister’s decision to set a timetable for renegotiation, with an in/out referendum at the end, is the correct approach.

Ruling out the possibility of a referendum unless there is a transfer of powers, while simultaneously trying to avoid any power transfer from Brussels — as Ed Miliband has done — may in fact produce greater uncertainty for business.

With the high likelihood of further economic and political integration in the eurozone in the near future, we believe business would appreciate greater clarity from the Labour leader about the circumstances under which he would call a referendum and his priorities for Britain’s EU membership.

Alan Halsall, Silver Cross; John Mills, JML; Daniel Hodson, LIFFE; Matthew Elliott, TaxPayers’ Alliance; Neville Baxter, RH Development; Harriet Bridgeman, The Bridgeman Art Library; Dr Peter Cruddas, CMC Markets; Robert Hiscox, Hiscox; John Hoerner, Tesco Central European Clothing; Brian Kingham, Reliance Security Group; Jon Moynihan, Ipex Capital

 

Sir, How good it is to hear of a major supermarket correcting its grammar (“Grammar schoolboy gives Tesco a telling off”, Mar 14). However, it still does not correct “10 items or less”.

I must point out, albeit reluctantly, that there is august precedent for the double superlative. Coverdale’s translation of the Psalter in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer gives Ps xiii, 6: “Yea, I will praise the Name of the Lord most Highest.”

Michael Brooks

Bedford

Sir, Slogans and the like would lose a lot in terms of impact if they slavishly obeyed strict grammar rules. And if Shakespeare uses the double superlative, in Mark Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar when he refers to “the most unkindest cut of all” (Pedant, Mar 15), why shouldn’t a supermarket?

Nigel Patterson

Maidenhead, Berks

Sir, When Tesco introduced its “finest” brand some years ago, I was tempted by a gâteau filled with “delicious chocolate mouse” (printed on every side of the package). I observed thrilled grins on the faces of numerous employees, and also “you have made my day” as I rose through the chain of management with my discovery. My pure reward? The “mouse” delicacy disappeared instantly from all stores.

Sandra McCourt

Holme on Swale, N Yorks

 

Sir, It was April 1943, when at my school in Dartford we sang Glorious things of thee are spoken at morning assembly (letters, Mar 14). Shortly after, the headmaster had a visit from the local police sergeant. He was seriously concerned, having been told that the German national anthem had been heard coming from the school, on Hitler’s birthday.

Robert Seaney

Hawkhurst, Kent

Sir, I note with dismay your report (Mar 14) of a holiday company offering to pay the fine incurred by clients who take their children, without permission, out of school for a holiday. This is quite wrong. The charge has been imposed to discourage parents from disrupting their children’s education. Firms encouraging us to break the law should be avoided at all costs.

Sally Pearson

Kingston, Devon

 

 

 

Telegraph:

 

SIR – From The Archive recalls that James Worrell, a witness to John F Kennedy’s assassination, definitely heard four shots, not three as the FBI claimed had been fired.

Three expended shells were found at Lee Harvey Oswald’s sniper’s position. His second or third shot (it is unclear which), entered Kennedy’s neck, exited his throat, then passed through Senator Connally’s body and knee. The final shot, recalled by Worrell as the fourth, entered the back of Kennedy’s head and blew a piece the size of a hand out of the right hand side of his skull, ejecting some of his brain upwards. It could not have been fired from Oswald’s position because he was sited behind, to the right and very high up.

Stanley Eckersley
Pudsey, West Yorkshire

SIR – Last week’s From the Archive quotes one of my reports from Dallas in The Sunday Telegraph in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. I was there covering the trial of Jack Ruby, who had killed Oswald.

During the trial, Ruby, who had pleaded insanity, would pass notes to his defence counsel, Melvin Belli. I still have one of them, given to me by Belli during one of many chats over glasses of whisky in his hotel room. It reads: “Ask the nurse about the flowers.” Belli told me it made no sense and had no relevance to any evidence. He suggested it was a further illustration of Ruby’s mental instability. But the jury took less than three hours to determine that Ruby was sane when he shot Oswald and the sentence was death in the electric chair.

Ruby later won an appeal for a retrial (though not on the issue of insanity) but died in prison before it could be held.

Frank Taylor
London NW6

 

SIR – On June 29 2008, Tony Benn wrote in his diary: “The Sunday Telegraph had a whole page of ‘national treasures’ nominated by their readers. I was chosen as a national treasure for the Magna Carta Award. If I’m a national treasure in the Telegraph, something’s gone wrong.”

Being a modest man, he didn’t understand the huge respect he had from across the party divide. This is because he was not just a socialist; he was a democrat and a libertarian. That is why he opposed the EU and the erosion of civil liberties, working with the Tory MP David Davis to oppose detention without trial. He was appalled by war, having fought in the Second World War, and devoted his political career to the pursuit of peace.

Tony Benn was a conviction politician who argued his corner with honesty, clarity and unfailing courtesy. If he has taught us one thing it is that politicians need to have the courage of their convictions if they are ever to win public trust.

Richard Cotton
London NW1

Benefit of marriage

SIR – We are pleased that the Government has made clear that the 2014 Finance Bill will make provision for transferable allowances for some married couples and, crucially, that they will benefit financially from April 2015.

This comes not a moment too soon. Marriage is a public good with clear benefits both in terms of adult and child wellbeing. However, it is vital to understand that the proposed allowances will not provide, as some have suggested, a fiscal incentive for couples to marry. Instead they will erode the current fiscal incentive for them not to marry. Although the Prime Minister’s proposal falls a long way short of creating a level playing field for those wanting to marry, the partially transferable allowance does represent an important development.

We look forward to seeing delivery of this landmark reform in the Budget but we need to go further. There is an urgent need for the Government to move to a fully transferable allowance for married couples. The benefit of marriage to society does not depend on one’s tax code.

Rt Rev Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester, Lord McColl of Dulwich, Jim Dobbin MP (Lab), John Glen MP (Con), Sir Gerald Howarth MP(Con), Stewart Jackson MP (Con), Jeremy Lefroy MP (Con), Sir Edward Leigh MP (Con), Tim Loughton MP (Con), Jim Shannon MP (Unionist), Fiona Bruce MP (Con), Nola Leach, Dr Samantha Callan, Kathy Gyngell, Harry Benson,Jill Kirby

Inspector Blight

SIR – Sir Michael Pitt’s defence of Paul Griffiths, or “Inspector Blight” was based on the inspector’s professional judgment, his interpretation of policies, and his taking into consideration local opinion. As quantitative evidence and comparisons with other inspectors’ reports show, it is precisely these three points on which Mr Griffiths’ approach to planning appeals is called into question.

Dr Philip Sullivan
Frolesworth, Leicestershire

SIR – In defending the work of planning inspectors, Sir Michael Pitt writes that “the local communities’ views were carefully considered and balanced against other planning considerations”.

In my experience as chairman of planning on Sunningdale Parish Council, this was seldom the case. In two-day hearings, local objectors were allowed five or 10 minutes’ speaking time and were ill-equipped to counter the legal big guns employed by developers eager to get their way.

Duncan Rayner
Sunningdale, Berkshire

Euro vision

SIR – Like Nick Clegg, I am Anglo-Dutch and love Europe – but like many moderate people I believe the EU is increasingly resembling an Orwellian superstate.

Politicians who support the expansion of the EU pretend to command a virtuous higher ground motivated by spreading peace, love and understanding. We should consider that some may be driven by self-interest and rewards within the organisation. The few historically powerful European countries are now outnumbered in the EU by globally insignificant nations possibly harbouring a sense of inferiority. The most aggressive expansionists (the Portuguese José Manuel Barroso, the Belgian Herman Van Rompuy and the Hungarian László Andor) seem determined to subsume their countries into something much grander.

Marc Versloot
London SW18

SIR – Christopher Booker refers to the EU as “an organisation set up to put an end to nationalism”.

Only a nation can have enough internal cohesion for democracy to be a possible form of government. Consequently, if the EU succeeds in abolishing nationalism, democracy goes too. Without democracy, there can be no freedom and without freedom, there will be war.

John Strange
Worthing, West Sussex

Casualty costs

SIR – I was shocked, though not really surprised, to read (report, March 9) that schemes have been tried to give paramedics financial inducements not to send patients to casualty departments.

I remember when the decision was taken by a fully trained doctor in general practice. We were able to make important professional decisions free from any financial consideration.

Dr Brian Wright
Gosport, Hampshire

Coles to Dorchester

SIR – I was pleased to see Cecil Coles remembered as one of the British composers whose life was so tragically cut short by the First World War.

Peter McKenzie mentions Coles’ orchestral work Behind the Lines. This is a very moving piece and it will in fact be performed on May 24 at Dorchester Abbey as part of the annual English Music Festival, in a concert which honours other British composers whose lives were affected by this terrible conflict.

Nick Walker
Chairman, English Music Festival
Haddenham, Buckinghamshire

Diet scaremongers

SIR – When will those who try to scare the living daylights out of us about our diets and lifestyles realise that the more they preach at people, the less notice anybody will take?

Dr Michael Barley
Hove, East Sussex

Immunity for Bloody Sunday soldiers

SIR – Professor Neil Mitchellwrites that “Peace requires an unpunished terrorist, not an unpunished soldier”. I profoundly disagree.

The state has an obligation, underpinned by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to ensure that an effective legislative and administrative framework is in place to protect life. This includes an effective criminal justice system which brings those who commit crimes to justice, thus providing deterrence against threats to life.

If, as seems to have happened, this principle of the first order of importance has been sacrificed in relation to holding terrorists to account – terrorists who killed and maimed civilian and soldier alike – then I can see no reason why we should seek to maintain it against the small number of soldiers who are alleged to have overstepped the mark while deployed to protect society from those same terrorists. To proceed otherwise seems the antithesis of justice and equal treatment before the law.

Andrew Warnock QC
London WC2

SIR – Professor Mitchell states that “prison for old soldiers seems pointless” but claims that prosecuting them may ascertain the responsibility of their superior officers.

Is it realistic to expect clear evidence to come to light in time, given that it will be several more years before prosecutions can be brought against these men who in general are older than the soldiers directly involved? Can it be justifiable to put those soldiers through the trauma of court proceedings and of having their identities revealed?

How will such proceedings be funded and dealt with fairly while the Justice Secretary is decimating the legal aid system? Equivalence and immunity is the fair and sensible course.

Ian Horton
Allestree, Derbyshire

Best puns in Britain?

SIR – Leicestershire probably has the best punning business names of any county: The Codfather, a fish and chip shop; Plankety Plank, carpenters; The Tree Amigoes, tree surgeons; and Mr Bit, window cleaners.

Rutland has Wok This Way, a Chinese Takeaway, and Dentith & Dentith, a dental practice.

Ray C Noble
Leicester

SIR – I recall a builder’s van in the York area displaying the name William Bonney. I am unsure if the tradesman knew that this was an alias of Billy the Kid, the notorious cowboy.

Nigel Mitchell
Strensall, North Yorkshire

 

SIR – You report that Norman Lamb, the care minister, “was now convinced that ‘the state should not stand in the way’ of people determined to end their life, as long as strict safeguards were in place”.

The state has not stood in the way of people wishing to end their own lives for many decades. What the Bill proposes is very different: that the state arbitrates, sanctions and assists in that suicide. The state, most likely via doctors, will act as judge, jury and (literally) executioner for those seeking an early death.

It is doubtful that strict safeguards can be found. In America, there is good evidence that the Death with Dignity Act in the state of Oregon may fail to protect some patients whose choices are influenced by depression, while Vermont has explicitly built diminishing safeguards into its laws. People do not oppose assisted suicide simply to be obstructive, but because it has very serious implications for social attitudes and, crucially, patient safety.

Edward Davies
London SW18

SIR – The theoretical horrors advanced by the lobbyists who argue against assisted suicide and for palliative care do not appear to have materialised in those civilised countries which permit assisted suicide. All we would need to do is adopt those countries’ criteria. Doctors in those countries do not actively get involved in killing patients, they simply ascertain that the criteria have been met. Others then provide the means.

In this country, by contrast, doctors have been actively involved in the deaths of patients: those on the Liverpool Care Pathway. This could involve depriving patients of water so that they die of thirst after much distress in about nine days.

Alex Woods
Liverpool

SIR – The advocates of Lord Falconer’s Bill insist that strict safeguards will apply: namely, two doctors’ signatures. This was the safeguard offered in 1967 regarding abortion. We now have doctors rubber-stamping abortion papers for women they have never seen, and offering abortion for any reason, including gender.

As a disabled person I feel safer under a law that protects my right to life than a law with safeguards that depend on the mood of the moment – which could be discarded once we got used to killing the vulnerable.

Ann Farmer
Woodford Green, Essex

SIR – Terminally ill people who are suffering greatly should have the choice of an assisted death if they so wish. Many people would enjoy their lives more without the fear that in the future they might die a slow and undignified death. Some close relatives say they remain traumatised after seeing their terminally ill loved-ones suffer so much.

Doctors intervene in all stages of life – as with IVF and heart transplants – so why shouldn’t they bring about a peaceful death if that is what a patient requests and the necessary safeguards are in place? This would prevent some terminally ill people committing suicide at an earlier stage because they know they won’t be physically capable of doing it later on.

There are not enough hospices and some people don’t wish to go into one. Many hospitals do not have the expertise in pain relief and end-of-life care that hospices have.

Julie Robinson
London SW6

SIR – You report that “David Cameron and Nick Clegg have both voiced opposition to changing the law.” If such legislation were passed through the provision of government time, as opposed to being left to a Private Member’s Bill, then these two, and the two Coalition parties, would have to take the responsibility for its passage.

This would be particularly dangerous for the Conservative Party. If such a Bill were passed by the Commons on Labour and Lib Dem votes, with more Tory MPs voting against it than for it, then the Conservative Party and its leaders would find themselves in a very difficult position.

J Alan Smith
Epping, Essex

 

 

 

Irish Times:

 

Sir, – Ireland’s overseas aid is among the best in the world in terms of value for money and overall quality. More importantly, our aid is effective.

We have been long recognised as a small but critically important player internationally and our commitment to reaching the UN target of investing 0.7 per cent of national income in overseas development by 2015 had been evidence of that leadership.

The announcement, therefore, that Government has dropped the 2015 deadline was disappointing, although given the scale of cuts to the overseas aid budget since 2008, it was not entirely unexpected.

These are tough economic times and there are tough decisions to make.

However, to ensure the continued credibility of our hard-won reputation, we need now a new date for achieving the long-standing commitment and call on the Minister for Trade and Development to set out how and when Ireland is going to reach the UN target of 0.7 per cent.

Irish overseas aid funding makes a crucial difference to the lives of millions of marginalised people. It is an issue of life and death for people living in extreme poverty across the developing world.

This is why Ireland’s continued commitment is so important. That is why we need a new deadline and a realistic timetable. And by Ireland producing that plan and sticking to it, we encourage others to do the same. We may be a small country but this is an important role that we can and should continue to play on the world stage. – Yours, etc,

ÉAMONN MEEHAN,

Executive Director,

Trócaire,

DOMINIC MacSORLEY,

Chief Executive Officer,

 

 

Sir, – The concerns arising from the Garda Inspectorate penalty points report should be addressed vigorously and speedily by the Government.

Our unarmed gardaí are all that stand between the preservation of a reasonable level of safety and security and a breakdown in law and order and the unspeakable horrors that would entail. The misdeeds of a minority of gardaí should not detract in the slightest from the excellent service the force generally has provided over the decades. We hear of scandals affecting clergy, the legal profession, doctors, property developers, bankers . . . the list is a long one, but just as we can’t condemn all involved in these professions, neither should we taint all gardaí. Let us remember the men who gave their lives fighting crime in our name, and the many male and female gardaí injured in the line of duty.

The whistleblowers deserve great credit for exposing behaviour that must have no place within a force that includes the brave men and women who risk life and limb protecting us from those who would kill, rob, rape, defraud and terrorise other human beings.

Equally deserving of praise are the TDs who went out on a limb to highlight the penalty points issue, especially Clare Daly, who I think is one of the most principled politicians ever to enter Dáil Éireann. I believe she is helping to rescue Irish politics from the swamp of sleaze and cute hoorism it has languished in for far too long.

The Garda Síochána will be the better for extracting the bad apples from within its ranks and ending unacceptable practices that, unfairly, give the entire force a bad name. – Yours, etc,

JOHN FITZGERALD,

Lower Coyne Street,

Callan,

Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Am I the only Irish citizen who is bewildered by the indignation and outrage expressed by some of our legislators, supported by a media frenzy, about the abuse of the penalty points system, when surely every dog in the street knew about it and even benefited from such discretion? – Yours, etc,

MG STOREY,

Glencar,

 

Sir, – My grandfather, Dr Séamus Ó Ceallaigh, an obstetrician and early Irish historian, was a close friend of Eoin MacNeill. The meeting to countermand the Easter Rising was held at his house 53 Rathgar Road. His detailed account of that meeting is published in “Gleanings from Ulster History” by Séamus Ó Ceallaigh (Ballinascreen Historical Society, 1994, pp 141-152). This contains details which are not consistent with Michael Parsons’s report “Order cancelling 1916 Rising for auction” (Home News, March 3rd).

That article says that copies of the order were written at Eoin MacNeill’s house “Woodbrook”. In fact it is written on paper headed “Woodtown Park, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin”, which was the house of Eoin MacNeill’s brother, James. It was there, on the morning of Saturday, April 22nd, 1916 (the date of the copy of the order to be auctioned), that MacNeill asked my grandfather if he could “see a couple of people” in his house at 53 Rathgar Road.

It is unclear precisely where all copies of the order were written out. However, my grandfather describes how that evening Arthur Griffith and Eoin MacNeill signed orders in his front room, while a large number of people came and went, “most coming on bicycles, some in cabs, some in motorcars”. These included The O’Rahilly, Thomas MacDonagh, Sean T O’Kelly, as well as the many individuals who were to be the messengers to the counties later on in the night. “There never was a plot or conspiracy attended by more noise or less concealment.”

After midnight, by which time most of the messengers carrying copies of the countermanding orders had left, Eoin MacNeill went into town to get the announcement published in the Sunday Independent . It was then that “he learned that a ship or boat had landed in Kerry and someone on the boat had been captured by the police”.

In other words, contrary to the report, it was only then that the news of Casement’s arrest reached MacNeill, and thus in no way did this inform his decision to countermand the Rising. – Yours, etc,

Dr NIAMH WHITFIELD,

Faroe Road,

London W14.

 

Sir, – The current drive to encourage customers to switch energy supplier to secure lower energy bills has its hidden costs.

Being a business user, I recently switched and did achieve lower prices, but in the process of contacting the various providers for a quotation, one worrying trend emerged – suppliers were asking me to “provide a monetary security deposit” in order to switch.

This deposit has nothing to do with your credit worthiness or credit history, as it an arbitrary cost imposed by the providers on the consumer, since that money sits in their bank accounts and not in yours, for the year.

The regulator, and the Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte, should look at this practice and ask the providers to desist from such an undemocratic and anti-business activity. – Yours, etc,

ACHILLE ORLANDI,

Liberty Square,

Thurles,

 

Sir, – Today, all over the world, people who are Irish, of Irish descent, or who just want to be Irish, are celebrating St Patrick’s Day. We are reminded daily of the more unsavoury elements of ourselves but these should be kept in perspective – there is a bigger picture. We may not enjoy the silly hats, polyester red beards or questionable versions of Danny Boy , but surely on the day that’s in it, we can take time to consider, embrace and enjoy the myriad talents of this blessed nation, past and present. – Yours, etc,

GEOFF SCARGILL,

Loreto Grange,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

 

Sir, – I understand that our rural county councils have as their remit the management and maintenance of our hedgerows and ditches for safety and other reasons.

As our visitors step onto this land for St Patrick’s Day, they will see a real mix of management and brutalising of our hedgerows.

As I walk each day in the hills of north Cork, the damage at the root-and-branch level is an eyesore, and it is obvious that whoever drives the large machine is not “preserving the delicate” in our environment.

I wonder if there is any sense of the richness and diverse life that is supported by the flowers, seeds, berries, leaves and branches that provide nourishment for insects, animals, birds and humans alike in these hedgerows and ditches.

How we treat our hedgerows is a good indication of how we value our environment and ourselves and it is obvious to all our visitors this weekend. – Yours, etc,

MARGARET O’CONNOR,

Church Street,

 

Sir, – The once magnificent Aldborough House on Portland Row, Dublin, was built by Edward Stafford, second Earl of Aldborough and Viscount Amiens. He spared no expense on its lavish interior but it is said he never spent a night within its hallowed walls. Instead it became the home of his estranged second wife. According to the writer Jonah Barrington, she had a tongue of steel “which often cut deeply” but “so keen and polished was the edge of her wit that the patient was never mangled”.

One would like to think that if the good lady were alive today she would have a few choice words for Dublin City Council. – Yours, etc,

ANGELA NOLAN,

Cedar Park,

The Donahies,

 

 

 

A chara, – Donal Flynn (March 10th) suggests that “The whole debate could disappear by the simple action of making Irish a subject of choice in the Leaving Certificate.” While it might satisfy those who dislike the idea of compulsory Irish, it would do nothing for those on the other side who dislike the idea of compulsory English.

It is often the case when people try to avail of State services through Irish that they are met with a patronising attitude, that it is one thing to speak it at home or in school, among friends or at cultural events, but that it is carrying things too far to be bothering those employed in areas such as medicine or the law, or even the Department of Education, with it. –Is mise,

ÉILIS NÍ ANLUAIN-QUILL,

An Pháirc Thiar,

Bré,

Co Chill Mhantáin.

 

A chara, – One cannot but be struck by a recurring theme in recent letters to the editor, namely, many contributors feel that nobody is listening.

Teachers question the plans for the junior cycle, GPs have serious reservations regarding the practicalities of the introduction of free care for the under-sixes, medical educators doubt the value of the HPAT and, perhaps most depressingly of all, parents eager to adopt feel helpless.

A basic truism in mental health is, listen and you will know what the problem is. The examples mentioned prompt the questions, Who is being listened to? Why are relevant parties not being listened to? – Is mise,

Dr MACDARA McCAULEY,

Consultant Psychiatrist,

St Brigid’s Hospital,

 

Sir, – Perhaps the time has come for you to appoint a special Irish Times correspondent to report on the financial and business affairs of charities and not-for-profit organisations.

Plenty of financial statements to review and plenty of corporate governance practices to report, all of which might prove very helpful for the soon to be appointed charity regulator. – Yours, etc,

DAVID McCABE,

Waltham Terrace,

Blackrock,

 

 

Sir, – Our newly found ability to produce everything in abundance with decreasing dependence on human labour could destroy us. We must generate more jobs from less work or capitalism and society will crumble; shorter hours, longer holidays, earlier retirement. Everybody’s dream is the only plausible solution for 21st-century economic problems. The choice is simple; more people working less or fewer people working more. Yet no politician will discuss it. – Yours, etc,

PADRAIC NEARY,

Tubbercurry,

Co Sligo.

 

Irish Independent:

* Since the dawn of time countless people have walked upon this earth.

Also in this section

Wake up you ‘Moby Dicks’

Taxing issues for offshore oil firms

Bono in dreamland

Some have been termed great. Others have quietly and diligently served the human family with no recognition whatsoever.

Some have craved fame and fortune. Others preferred to be the power behind the throne.

However, there is one unmistakable fact. We all come in and we all go out the same way.

No one escapes the ferryman. We all must answer to a higher power, no matter what shape or form is implanted in our subconscious.

Economic currency is of no value in this dimension. People will be judged purely on their merits.

Now, atheists will argue this is all poppycock. Maybe so. No one knows for sure. Life is a gambler’s bet.

However, even if death means lights out, and emptiness thereafter, I would rather depart this vibration in time knowing that I did my best to shine a little ray of light into people’s hearts.

I would prefer to depart this life knowing this, rather than feeling that I tried to own the world for my own gain, and thus chanced losing my hypothetical soul.

ANTHONY WOODS

ENNIS, CO CLARESACRE VERT

* They rode the wave, withstood the storm,

The French ferocious, the Irish calm.

The clash was brutal, chaos reigned,

Each bone-crushing tackle, a face rearranged.

And when the smoke cleared,

And the hoarse crowd was spent

All our prayers were Heaven sent.

In BOD we hoped, and when needs must

The lads delivered on a sacred trust.

From the green fields of France, to Athenry,

There was a moistness in each Irish eye,

When to O’Driscoll we waved goodbye.

He battled giants to earn a crust,

Our dreams he salvaged from the dust.

Till hell freezes over, or gods be men,

We’ll scarcely see his like again.

TG GAVIN

DALKEY, CO DUBLIN

ST PATRICK’S LAMENT

* Today is St Patrick’s Day, and as with the last four St Patrick’s Days, it will be the same as any other in our home.

We could face the crowds in the city and experience the colourful jubilation, but then, because we’d get hungry or thirsty and we would be unable to follow the throngs into coffee shops, pubs, take-aways and restaurants, we would venture home feeling deflated.

We could take a trip to the cinema, by sacrificing a few proper meals in the following week. Anything we do to celebrate with others would result in another low point, of which there have been far too many over these years of recessionary living.

Our little family of two have become modern day outcasts and we are two of many, thrown on the scrap heap of despair, facing one austerity cut after another. We are the survivors, and there is not much laughter in our home. Our treat for Monday is a roast from SuperValu (discounted by 50pc, and the cost supplemented with a coupon) and a roast is a very rare treat in our home.

We are lucky to have this home, (for now) but even here is not a safe space as there is never a day that my hands don’t tremble slightly as I visit the post box, which regularly contains threatening letters. I often wonder if the drafters of these frightening letters care that there are people like me out here, now working out how little food a person can survive on.

This way of living is all relatively new to me. I grew up knowing “that money didn’t grow on trees”, but we never wanted for anything and poverty was only something I saw during my my teenage years when volunteering with St Vincent de Paul. I worked hard from a relatively young age and never for a moment thought that poverty would visit my home. Now, here I am bickering over the smallest thing, because in a poor home, there simply cannot be any waste or accidents.

Because I was 38 when this began, my hopes of meeting the right person and having more children have all but slipped away. Living an austerity induced hermit’s life has this effect. Not only has the recession stolen my time, but it has also made me ill. St Vincent’s public hospital became my second home for a few years.

And it is getting worse. There are many unaffected by this recession and it is my experience that not only are those people’s doors not open to those suffering, but their hearts and minds are not open either. We have had an invisible tsunami of debt-induced poverty, suffering and despair here in Ireland. Indeed, if there had been an actual tsunami, solidarity and compassion – vital characteristics needed for recovery – would have kicked in.

I know how to recover, and I am on that steady road. My health conditions have meant that I needed re-training in order to be qualified and ready for work again. I continually smile through it all, but my heart gets weary from the constant battles and Ireland’s apparently new found “survival of the fittest” mentality.

First and foremost, I have been trying to keep our home away from repossession vultures. A quick glance through the rental market is enough to tell me that repossession will mean homelessness. If, or when, the banks take our home, they intend to sell it at a price for which we could afford the repayments.

This is the repossession story across the country and it all makes no economic sense. Profit seems to be the new god. There is no solidarity in our now divided people. People who are naive enough to think that unemployment is a lifestyle choice also seem to think that they will not be the ones who foot the bill for all this social carnage.

Recovery was, and still is, possible, but we must get our priorities right. Inflicting more poverty on those already suffering, on the sick, the vulnerable, the disabled and the disheartened is not the answer. Morality must take its rightful place alongside economics and politics.

Perhaps we need a modern-day St Patrick to influence the hearts and minds of the Irish people – there still seem to be a few snakes around.

NAME AND ADDRESS WITH EDITOR

WHERE’S THE PRIDE?

* March 17 should be a day of national pride. Shamrocks and green tinsel hang from every shop door as Ireland showcases our unique culture and heritage. However, this week, a darker element of Irish society also comes to light, one that should quickly wipe the smiles from our faces.

Ireland has many achievements of which we as a nation can be proud. Our drinking culture, though, should not be one of them. As people flock to Ireland to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, pubs everywhere have happily refilled pint after pint, of brands sadly too numerous to mention.

Advertisements on billboards, at bus stops and on cars link this “holy day” with alcohol. What have we become?

Clearly, we are a nation consumed by drink. Pub owners eagerly anticipate this festival as it significantly boosts their annual revenue. This day is used as an excuse, as people ignore the obvious side effects of alcohol.

Alcohol is the biggest killer of teenagers in Ireland. Alcohol affects the lives of over 100,000 children annually. Alcohol costs our Government €1.2bn, one tenth of the health budget, every year. This is money we don’t have. Is this a symbol of our pride? I sincerely hope not.

How quickly our society forgets the ‘neknominations’ and the problems that ensued. As a nation, we watched in horror as bright young individuals sadly lost their lives to alcohol. And yet we still continue to fuel the fire that has killed so many.

I may be just a teenager but in the later part of my 17 years I have become aware of many people sadly staggering during parts of the St Patrick’s Day parade, ruining the festivities and fun for others. Is it too much to ask to enjoy St Patrick’s Day without its alcohol associations?

SARAH FITZPATRICK (17)

RATHFARNHAM, CO DUBLIN

Irish Independent

 

 

Quiet day

March 16, 2014

16 March 2014 Quiet day

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again.They have to transport a dangerous cargoPriceless

Cold slightly better sort books and things

Scrabbletoday Iwins but getunder400, Perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.

 

Obituary:

 

Lord Ballyedmond, who has died in a helicopter crash aged 70, founded the largest veterinary pharmaceutical company in the world and became one of the richest people in Northern Ireland; he was also variously reported to be either the first or second person ever to have sat in the upper houses of both the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom.

Edward Enda Haughey (no relation of the former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey) was born on January 5 1944 into a Roman Catholic family and grew up on the family smallholding in Kilcurry, north of Dundalk, Co Louth, on the southern side of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Educated at the Christian Brothers School in Dundalk, Haughey, like many young Irishmen of his generation, emigrated immediately after leaving school, heading for New York where he became a salesman with a pharmaceutical company, working his way up to regional marketing manager.

In the late 1960s, reckoning that Britain and the EEC were about to follow American practice and introduce tougher rules on the manufacturing and dispensing of veterinary antibiotics, he decided to return to Ireland and set up an operation based on these new American norms. In 1968 he duly set up Norbrook Laboratories in Newry, Co Down.

It was the year that Northern Ireland lurched into the headlines with Catholic civil rights marches and Newry was deep in the Province’s turbulent border country. During the ensuing Troubles, Norbrook Laboratories remained a rare beacon of hope in an otherwise gloomy economic scene.

At first Haughey simply imported veterinary products from Holland and relabelled them, but he invested serious money in R&D and the operation expanded swiftly. A major breakthrough came with the patenting of a long-acting antibiotic for animals that offered a cost-saving one-shot therapy — especially welcome for farmers in the United States and Africa with cattle on the prairies.

Over the next 40 years Norbrook Laboratories, which remained family-owned, prospered beyond anything Haughey could have imagined, building a range of drug products which, as he explained, covered “everything from ladies’ poodles to the lion”. The company increased profit margins by making many of its own raw ingredients. It won the Queen’s Award for Export Achievement four times and the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2011. Later the company expanded into developing and marketing human medical products, and became heavily involved in HIV/Aids research in Africa. Now worth £660m, it exports more than 80 per cent of its products worldwide.

Haughey was appointed OBE in 1987, and in 2008 was awarded an honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

Haughey maintained a relatively low profile until the Fianna Fail-led government of Albert Reynolds appointed him first chairman of the newly-established Irish Aviation Authority in 1993. The following year, as he was leaving office, Reynolds appointed him to the Irish upper house, the Seanad. He was reappointed by Bertie Ahern in 1997 and, though he rarely spoke in debates, remained a member of the house until 2004.

Lord Ballyedmond outside one of his homes, Corby Castle in Cumbria (CATERS NEWS AGENCY)

In 2001, however, he emerged, along with Sir Paul Getty and spread-betting magnate Stewart Wheeler, as one of three multi-millionaire contributors to the former Tory leader William Hague’s election war chest, thus finding himself in the curious position of being a supporter of both the Fianna Fail brand of republicanism in Ireland and the British Conservative Party.

In fact, Haughey’s views were strongly, if quietly, pro-Unionist. In the late 1990s he played an important behind-the-scenes role in negotiations in the run-up to the signing of the 1998 Belfast Agreement and in 2004 the Ulster Unionists under David Trimble nominated him to the House of Lords, where he took the title of Lord Ballyedmond of Mourne. But he continued to support the Conservative Party and in 2007 he left the UUP to join the Tories.

According to last year’s Sunday Times “Rich List” Lord Ballyedmond was worth £860m. In addition to his pharmaceutical interests, he became involved in the aviation business, founding Haughey Air, a charter helicopter business and, for a time, owning Carlisle Airport. He also invested in sporting estates and luxury homes in Ireland, North and South, in England and Scotland, and further afield, commuting between his various properties in his helicopter or private jet.

Lord Ballyedmond was killed with three other people when a helicopter came down in thick fog in a field in Gillingham, near Beccles, Norfolk, on Thursday evening. It was reported that the helicopter was flying to Northern Ireland from Gillingham Hall, an estate he had bought in 2005 for £2.25 million.

In 1972 he married Mary Gordon Young, a solicitor, who survives him with their daughter and two sons.

Lord Ballyedmond, born January 5 1944, died March 13 2014

 

Guardian:

Andrew Anthony’s Q&A article on Elizabeth Kolbert and her book, The Sixth Extinction (New Review), makes for interesting and sobering reading, but I am saddened by the view that she is “impressed by what zoos are doing”. If this multimillion-pound business and its deluded supporters are all that stand between wild animals and extinction, we are in a sorry state indeed.

Most of their collections do not consist of endangered species and their animals are seldom returned to the wild. Conversely, as recent press coverage has shown, zoos are prone to “culling” their surplus stocks, to make way for baby animals – to bring in paying customers. Zoos and aquariums are, frankly, stains on our collective conscience.

Sue Berry

Bedlington

Northumberland

Not such a papal blessing

I found your sugary adulation of the pope nauseating (Magazine). Is the Observer a mouthpiece of the Vatican, one of the world’s most corrupt and secretive organisations? Why exactly is this pope so special? Because he flashes a white set of teeth frequently? Has he opened up the Vatican accounts? Has he lifted the ban on contraception? Will he negotiate on women priests? Just because Francis is marginally better than his predecessors does not make him so extra special.

Aroup Chatterjee

London E3

Just give a damn

Catherine Bennett on the NHS reminded me of what I define as the red-tray syndrome (“Wouldn’t it be easier to try a little empathy?“, Comment). This is when practitioners introduce something that gives them a sense of wellbeing that is not necessarily felt by the recipient. Faced with the scandal of elderly patients going hungry because they needed help with feeding, managers in one institution proposed the introduction of colour-coded food trays: red for the most needy. You don’t need old suits, fat suits or zoot suits; neither do you need red trays. You just need to give a damn.

Frank West

Uxbridge

English? Nae thanks

Kevin McKenna on immigration (Scotland edition) clearly perceives racism as a nascent problem in Scotland and “the tendrils of this creeping disease” as only recently arrived there. As a native with a Scottish mother and a father born in England to an Irish father and a mother whose family was Welsh, I have always been aware of the anti-English sentiments of many Scots. So normal is this attitude that people routinely express this resentment without any reaction from others. So I was quite unsurprised by McKenna’s description of the verbal abuse suffered by the African street musician in Glasgow. My Devonian husband, an Aberdonian for more than 50 years, recently held the door of a local shop for an elderly man whose reply to my husband’s friendly “Morning!” was: “English bastard.”

So McKenna thinks “Scotland needs more immigration”. He fails to add the blatant nationalistic subtext – just so long as it’s not from England.

Carolyn Kirton

Aberdeen

Unseen effects of epilepsy

Much as I admire Helen Stephens’s courage in publicly putting forward the case for improving epilepsy services, it is a sad indictment of the NHS that this should be necessary (New Reviewk). Chronic diseases managed largely on an outpatient basis, as is the case with epilepsy, have been the innocent victims too often of the evolving commissioning arrangements of the modern NHS.

It is unfortunate that quite rightly it is best for the patient to be treated out of hospital but the hospital will receive more money for an admission. Epilepsy is common, potentially fatal (three deaths per day) but, above all, life-altering. As Helen said, the fits are a relatively minor feature but it is the effect on lifestyle, learning, emotional state and public perception that are so devastating and insufficiently recognised and supported.

Dr John Trounce

Hove

A vision of the future

No one can deny Steve McQueen’s great achievements, but it was the artist Conrad Atkinson and several others who created a fine art world where it was possible to break away from the flat square canvas or the big bronze slab(“Steve McQueen paves way for artists to break the boundaries“, In Focus). Atkinson’s groundbreaking 1970 exhibition, Strike, about women workers in a west Cumbrian thermometer factory (shortly after Dagenham) and shown in his solo show at the ICA in 1972, broke the boundaries. This was the moment the Arts Council recognised that video was an art form that could be funded in the future.

Margaret Harrison

Burgh by Sands

Carlisle

‘Protection’ racket

If, as Vladimir Putin seems to suggest, it is perfectly acceptable to send troops into another country to “protect” people who speak your language, how long before Polish and Italian tanks garrison Bedford near me, while Pakistani and Bangladeshi special forces parachute into Luton just down the road, and our own brave SAS lads “liberate” the Costa del Sol?

Charles Garth

Ampthill, Bedfordshire

 

 

When CEO Bob Diamond was paid £17m just before leaving Barclays, we considered this to be an obscene amount and stopped banking there after 40 years. We moved our money to the Co-op, attracted primarily by its ethical stance and traditional, speculator-free banking. We continued our support throughout the Paul Flowers debacle and welcomed the pledges made by the new management team and embodied in the “charter”.

Now our personal banking history appears to be repeating itself (“New Co-op storm as board awards bosses huge pay and bonus deals“, News), a view further reinforced by the subsequent resignation this week of Euan Sutherland as CEO of the Co-op Group.

Once again, the usual paltry rationales and justifications for excessive and ludicrous remuneration packages have been trotted out: consistent with salaries in comparable organisations, extraordinary challenges to be faced, past experience and track records of the managers, the going rate for global talent etc.

How very disappointing. Where next for our bank account?

Mick and Viv Beeby

Westbury-on-Trym

Bristol

Outrageous pay seems always justified by reference to remuneration committees as though they are somehow independent, authoritative and knowledgeable. In fact, they consist of a cabal of directors sitting on each other’s committees recommending ridiculously high salaries for each other. They are neither transparent nor accountable and need to be strictly regulated.

Trade unions, which support and protect the rights of working people, are rigidly regulated, while those people running big businesses are allowed to drive companies into the ground for their own aggrandisement. The real threats to the economy are left to regulate themselves and, of course, don’t.

C Terry

London SW18

So the Co-op is no longer a sound bank based on sustainable growth, specialising in ethical investments and sharing its profits equitably between its members but a failing cash cow whose parasitic executive management are draining it of its dwindling financial lifeblood to line their own pockets.

Our only hope is for John Lewis to open a bank so we can all flock to it, and to shop at Waitrose, where hopefully they would have bought up all the farms being sold off by the Co-op. Oh, and maybe all the bankers could go to live together somewhere unreal that mirrors their self-worth – such as Dubai.

Pat McKenna

Cardiff

The reason that the Co-op Group is rewarding its board of directors so handsomely is the same reason that Barclays, Lloyds et al are paying their directors large bonuses with seemingly no heed to the profitability of their companies. It is just because they can.

Apart from some vague remonstration, about fairness, which they have decided to ignore, there is no reason why they should curb their excesses and they are not going to do so.

Charles Cronin

London SW11

Anyone who believes they need the kind of grossly enlarged pay given to senior executives is either completely incompetent in managing their own affairs or just greedy. Either way, they are clearly not people who should be entrusted with responsibility.

Co-op members should show the way by bringing pay for their executives down to reasonable levels. Perhaps a generous figure of £100,000 would be appropriate – far more than many people get in much more responsible jobs.

Kevin McGrath

Harlow

Essex

 

 

 

Independent:

I would never normally support the antics of The Sun, but, whatever the validity of some of the points raised by Stella Duffy (“Dear ‘The Sun’, breast cancer isn’t sexy”, 9 March), I am disappointed that the article failed to distinguish between its gripes with The Sun, and a new approach to increasing breast awareness in young women.

For their “Check ‘em Tuesday” campaign, The Sun is working with a group called CoppaFeel!, an extremely successful website (coppafeel.org) and campaign begun by Kristin Hallenga who was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 23. Her aim was to “get the word out there” in language that more younger women are likely to connect with.

Far from sexualising breast cancer, the aim is to talk to all members of the public, from the widest possible range of backgrounds. We and many other charities and patient groups have adopted the same kind of awareness methods with testicular cancer. Health awareness comes in many guises but one size does not fit all. Well done CoppaFeel! for a new approach that is welcomed by many.

Sue Brand

Germ cell clinical nurse specialist and chair of It’s in the Bag, Supporting Men with Testicular Cancer

I’m puzzled that both barristers and solicitors have held their second court walkout over the cuts in legal aid (“Legal aid cuts force more people to represent themselves”, 9 March), but judges have remained silent. Has our judiciary forgotten that its main role is to ensure justice is achieved in every case? How is this possible with people representing themselves?

Kartar Uppal

West Bromwich, West Midlands

Pippa Lewer (Letters, 9 March) rightly deplores the regional prejudice that irks Northerners so much. I was born in Wakefield and raised in Stockton-on-Tees. I’ve lived in London since 1981. Northerners in London and “back home” have assumed that I “must be rich”, that I probably work in the City, that I own a house and a car and that I can spoil myself visiting London’s top attractions and restaurants. None of which is true.

It’s even been insinuated that I’m a traitor for having left the North-east to study and find work. Such provincialism is just as depressing as Southern ignorance and makes the North-South divide even wider.

Rik Ward

London SE13

Your political editor Jane Merrick sets out six very good reasons why the “Better Together” campaign is failing (9 March).

The principal reason is that the three disparate London-based parties are all only interested in Middle England’s vote. What possible hope do Scotland’s 59 (proposed reduction to 52), or 9 per cent of all MPs, have of getting a fair deal for their constituents against the 91 per cent blinkered, middle England parliamentarians, as at present.

The Scots want a democracy and we want parliamentarians with broad varied backgrounds. When Scotland leads, the other regions will follow. The London clique’s days are numbered.

Ron Wynton

Fortrose, Ross-shire

If the Scottish people can vote for independence, then why cannot those in Crimea be given the chance to vote to become Russian? (“Labour urges Cameron to take tougher action against ‘calculating’ Kremlin”, 9 March.) In proposing sanctions against legitimate Russian aspirations, Douglas Alexander is agitating to turn our lights out, which will guarantee that Labour loses the next election.

Malcolm Howard

Banstead, Surrey

The main barrier to flexibility in the workplace (“Free childcare from 12 months should be our aim”, 9 March) isn’t a lack of legislation. The issue is a cultural one. Employers are often concerned that family-friendly working practices will be an administrative burden. Employees, on the other hand, may worry about the impact on their career. The upcoming extension of the right to request flexible working to all – not just those with children – should go some way to taking away the stigma of requesting flexible working.

However, for a real transformation to occur, the attitudes of employers and employees need to change, not just the laws that govern their relationship.

Andrew Crudge

Solicitor, Thomas Eggar LLP

Southampton, Hampshire

 

 

 

 

Times:

 

Let Ukrainian and Tatar voices be heard in Crimea

SO Crimea’s 58% pro-Russian population wants to be part of Russia (“What would the West fight for?” and “Ukraine’s implosion tears families apart”, Focus, last week). Don’t the Ukrainians and Tatars have a say? The former remember the famine orchestrated by Joseph Stalin that killed more than 5m. He then repopulated these lands with Russians. The Tatars also have cause to loathe this tyrant, who deported them to central Asia — many died of disease and starvation.
Ivan Rakiwskyj Leicester

Poll position

The US government says all Ukraine should vote on whether Crimea should secede. However, only the Scots are voting to decide whether to leave the UK.
Rodney Atkinson, Stocksfield, Northumberland

Toeing whose line?

Ukrainians, it seems, have to choose between the Russian boot and the EU one.
Aidan Convery, Kautokeino, Norway

United front

Why should Crimea not be allowed reunification with Russia? It was only transferred as an autonomous republic from the Soviet Union in 1954. Regular demonstrations by the majority of ethnic Russian residents have culminated in the latest clashes.
John McDowell, Co Antrim

Students must learn to act like customers

I HAVE taken degrees in Britain and America, which makes for an interesting comparison between US and UK universities, especially with the introduction of the fee system (“Surge in student complaints about poor-value universities”, News, last week). British universities need to adjust to the idea that when students are paying £9,000 a year they are customers (as in the US system ) and will demand value and efficiency for their money.

UK universities must also toughen up. In America there are no personal tutors, just advisers who assist with more general matters. If you want help with a class it is up to you to contact the professor, lecturer or research assistant. I have little sympathy for the student who says, “I could disappear for good and none of the academic staff would notice.”

There are thousands of undergraduates at a university — if a student wishes to stand out they need to get to know their professors by visiting them in their offices and asking questions during or after class. At US universities the onus is on individuals to seek help and develop relationships with the staff (just as in the real world).
Emma Hodcroft, Edinburgh

Put free meals on every school’s menu

PILOT projects in schools across Newham in east London and Durham have shown universal free school meals lead to a rapid and marked improvement in academic performance, particularly among the poorest pupils. This is partly because well-nourished children concentrate better (only 1% of packed lunches meet current nutritional standards for school food) and partly because of the wider cultural benefits. Pupils and teachers eating and talking together make a dramatic difference to the ethos and atmosphere of a school.

This is why — whatever political gossip you might read — this policy has such broad cross-party support. Originally a Labour idea, it was brought back into play by Michael Gove and has been carried over the finishing line by the Liberal Democrats. From September all infants can eat well for free.

As head teachers, and as professionals working in the sector, we have seen what a difference this policy will make. We understand the logistical challenges involved. But help is available (schoolfoodplan.com). We would urge heads teachers to take advantage of this state- funded support.
Rachel Chahal, The Oval, Birmingham
Richard Dunne, Ashley C of E Primary
Professor Ashley Adamson, Newcastle University
Jeanette Orrey, Food for Life
Carmel McConnell, Magic Breakfast.

Headteachers
Richard Dunne Ashley CE Primary School, Walton
Louise Nichols Kingsmead and Gayhurst Schools
Sarah Rutty Bankside Primary School, Leeds
Gill Harrison St Oswald’s CE VA Infant & Nursery School
Lindsay Vollans St Michaels Primary School, Bishop Middleham
Carmen Palmer St Richard’s CE Primary School, Ham
Ed Vainker Reach Academy, Feltham
Caroline Owen St Laurence CE Primary School, Derbyshire
Kim Dorian-Kemp High View Primary, Plymouth
Helen Colbert East Sheen Primary School
Rachel Chahal The Oval, Birmingham
Jared Brading Sacred Heart Primary School, Battersea
Tim Baker Charlton Manor Primary School
Simon Barber Carshalton Boys Sports College
Calvin Henry St Marks Primary School, Islington
Simon Mower Chaddlewood Primary School, Plymouth
Sally Quartson Chase Side Primary School, Enfield
Catherine Lester Cheam Fields Primary School
Catherine Langham Abbotsmeade Primary School, Peterborough
Mrs Hilton Little Gonerby CE Infant School, Grantham
Claire Platt Collaton St Mary Primary School
Travis Latham The Federation of George Betts and Shireland Hall

Primary Academies
Paula Cummings Cambo First School, Morpeth
John Lynch High Street Primary School, Plymouth
Karen Holmes St Tudy’s CE Primary School, Bodmin

School Food Plan Expert Panel and others
Professor Ashley Adamson, Public Health Nutrition (Newcastle University)
Myles Bremner, Director, School Food Plan
Rosie Boycott, Chair of London Food Board
Anne Bull, National Chair, Lead Association for Catering in Education
Linda Cregan, Chief Executive, Children’s Food Trust
Henry Dimbleby, Co-author, School Food Plan
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive, Child Poverty Action Group
Libby Grundy, Director, Food for Life Partnership
Judy Hargadon, Former Chief Executive, Children’s Food Trust
Christine Lewis, National Officer for Education, Unison
Carmel McConell, Chief Executive, Magic Breakfast
Professor Theresa Marteau, Director, Behaviour and Health Unit, Cambridge University
Dr Michael Nelson, Public Health Nutrition Research
Jeanette Orrey, Ex-school Cook and co-founder, Food for Life
Sarah Owen, School Cook, Stoke Newington School
Sara Jayne Stanes, Chief Executive, Royal Academy of Culinary Arts
John Vincent, Co-Author, School Food Plan
Stephanie Wood, Founder, School Food Matters
Adam Breakwell, Orleton CE Primary, Shropshire
Jim Wallace, College Road Primary, Plymouth
Steven Badcott, Uplowman Primary, Exeter

Mental health dangerously low on NHS list of priorities

I AM a soon-to-retire mental health professional with 42 years’ experience and work for a large county council in northwest England where the number of beds has been drastically reduced, with further reductions in prospect (“Mother’s pain at lost chance to stop suicide”, News, last week).

Earlier this month I assessed and detained a dangerously unwell man with a history of violence. There was not a single NHS bed in the entire county when I approached the bed- finders at 9am. He was eventually admitted at about 10pm to a unit 20 miles from his home but before then he and I were in the outpatient department for many hours.

A very stretched local police force provided two officers to contain his threatening and intimidatory behaviour. This sort of thing happens on a weekly basis in my catchment area, which means staff often do not get home until the early hours.

The lack of beds is a national disgrace that would not be tolerated in any other branch of the health service and is entirely attributable to a misguided and ill-informed drive to cut costs.
Ron Latchford, Liverpool

Turn off taps for flood insurers

ARE insurers set to become the new bankers in the hate league if their small print penalises flood victims (“A quarter of flood claims face risk of rejection”, Money, last week)? Perhaps naming and shaming would lead to thousands of premium-payers boycotting such firms in solidarity with those whose homes have been ruined by flooding (from whatever cause). George Barnes, Maghull, Merseyside

Legal lifeline

In the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, under which the Environment Agency operates, the definition of a flood is all-embracing and it follows that the ordinary meaning of the term “flood” is intended to encompass groundwater flooding. On that basis it may well be worthwhile for those whose claims are rejected to seek legal advice as to whether or not such clauses are indeed unlawful.
Terry Williams, Environmental Law Consultant, Lincoln

In plain sight

Saying exclusions were hidden in small print is a little disingenuous if they are in the booklet that accompanies the policy.
Terry Farrell, Chichester

Iodine supplements vital to nation’s health

WHILE there have been substantial improvements worldwide in iodine nutrition during the past 20 years or so there is evidence that several sections of the UK population are iodine deficient to a mild or moderate degree. In at least four areas of Britain 50% or more of pregnant women lack adequate iodine nutrition.

This is particularly important as insufficient iodine negatively affects aspects of a baby’s brain and nervous system development, with the result that IQ and educational performance are suboptimal.

As with folic acid it is vital that adequate iodine nutrition is established before conception. There is evidence too that 14 to 15-year-old girls are deficient in iodine, and they are among those likely to become pregnant in a few years’ time.

There is also limited availability of iodised salt in UK because no legislation exists to ensure the compulsory sale of it. As less than 5% of salt available in the UK is iodised, we support the use of supplements containing iodine to particular groups, especially pregnant women. We would not wish to have the same time delay for iodine as there was for folic acid.
Professor John Lazarus, Cardiff University and chairman of United Kingdom Iodine Status Strategy Group, Dr Sarah Bath and Professor Margaret Rayman,University of Surrey, Professor Kate Jolly and Dr Shiao Chan, University of Birmingham, Janis Hickey, British Thyroid Foundation, Dr Alex Stewart, Public Health England, Dr Mark Vanderpump, Royal Free Hospital, Professor Graham Williams, British Thyroid Association

Apology is best medicine for school abuse

THE perception that an apology over past sexual abuse in schools will open “a legal can of worms” is as dangerous as it is misguided (“All I wanted was an apology”, Focus, last week). Insurers need to appreciate that a failure or refusal to apologise is the strongest driver pushing people into protracted costly litigation. An appropriately worded apology can show regret for distress suffered without amounting to an admission of liability.
Paul Randolph, Mediation Course Director, Regent’s University London

Tread carefully

I have a worry about the handling of abuse that took place decades ago. If a master who preyed on boys in the 1950s is still alive, and the evidence is compelling, he deserves to be charged. But how can it be right to sue the school? It is correct that a school should express regret, but I do not see that it should accept liability for incidents that took place under governors and headmasters who may no longer be alive.

The potential damage to what today are decent schools might outweigh the good it would do the victim — and I do not minimise the harm such abuse does.
The Reverend Chancellor, Geoffrey Morris, Narberth, Pembrokeshire

Points

Off track

Surely it is not beyond our capabilities to have a GPS transponder device in all aircraft that relays by satellite in one-minute intervals the position of every plane (“Mystery air crash: terrorist fears”, News, last week).
Nick Jones, Mollans-sur-Ouvèze, France

Volume control

The trial of a new air departure route that has brought misery to the residents of Warnham in West Sussex (“Centuries of calm ruined as Gatwick planes take left turn”, News, last week) illustrates the true effect of concentrating flight paths. The aviation industry often states that it is its intention to reduce the numbers of people affected by noise. While some numbers are reduced, others may get even more flights overhead. Those considering future airspace changes must take note of Warnham. The aviation sector should not consider itself unrestrained by the planning restrictions that protect residents from other noisy industries.
Alan Morriss, Nutley, East Sussex

Tell it like it isn’t

Rod Liddle’s remark about the posh pronunciation of Powell being “Pole” (Comment, last week) reminds me of a few others. When did Ralph become Rafe? Recently Niall — or is it Neil? — Ferguson introduced the military historian Hew Strachan as Hew Strawn. Near me is a road named Ballymageogh. If you ask someone where it is, make sure you say Ballet Ma Juck.
Ian Rea, Dundrum, Co Down

Corrections and clarifications

In the article “The Tories have both motive and opportunity to Taser the police” (Comment, last, week) we incorrectly stated that Sir Paul Stephenson resigned as commissioner of the Metropolitan police service “for accepting favours from a former News of the World executive”. We are happy to make this clear.

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, including online, should be addressed to editor@sunday-times.co.uk or The Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST. In addition, the Press Complaints Commission (complaints@pcc.org.uk or 020 7831 0022) examines formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines (and their websites)

Birthdays

Bernardo Bertolucci, film director, 74; Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, 49; Jenny Eclair, comedian, 54; Erik Estrada, actor, 65; Flavor Flav, rapper, 55; Isabelle Huppert, actress, 61; Jerry Lewis, comedian and actor, 88; Jimmy Nail, singer and actor, 60; Theo Walcott, footballer, 25

Anniversaries

1872 Wanderers FC win first FA Cup; 1912 Lawrence Oates, a member of Scott’s South Pole expedition, leaves his tent to die; 1968 up to 500 Vietnamese villagers killed by US troops at My Lai; 1976 Harold Wilson resigns as PM; 1988 Iraqi planes drop chemical weapons on Kurdish town of Halabja, killing 5,000 people.

 

Telegraph:

 

 

SIR – The unforgettable slogan “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play” was created by Francis Harmar Brown, my copy group head at Masius and Ferguson. As a junior copywriter then named Peter Pfeffer, I assisted him.

Harmar Brown wrote: “A Mars a day helps you work and play”. I added the word “rest” because Mars Ltd wanted three words in its new slogan to echo its previous one: “Mars feeds you goodness three good ways.”

Peter Phillips
Loudwater, Hertfordshire

SIR – A famous slogan from the Fifties was “You’re never alone with a Strand”, to advertise a brand of cigarettes. The television commercial showed a man in raincoat and trilby, alone in a London street and puffing on a Strand.

Although the slogan was much repeated and often parodied, the cigarettes were withdrawn shortly after their launch because of poor sales. No one, it seemed, wanted to smoke a cigarette that made them appear friendless.

Ian Rufus
Barford, Warwickshire

 

SIR – As a Muslim peer who contributed to a recent debate in the House of Lords on the subject of religious slaughter, I have been alarmed at the sudden and rather aggressive publicity surrounding the issue.

The recent comments from John Blackwell, president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, have led to misunderstandings.

Islam strictly forbids the mistreating of animals; there are numerous references throughout the Koran to substantiate this.

The Muslim method of slaughter, known as zabiha, ensures an extremely quick and near-painless death. A properly trained practitioner will cleanly sever the structures at the front of the neck with such speed and precision that blood empties rapidly, from both the body and the brain, and consciousness is lost immediately. Claims that animals are cut and left to bleed slowly to death are untrue.

In other methods, when stunning is used, the animal is paralysed and unable to display signs of pain. Animals can even regain consciousness before the point of slaughter.

We must pay greater attention to the wider welfare of animals throughout their lives, including the conditions in which they are bred, housed and transported.

Lord Sheikh
London SW1

Statin status quo

SIR – Is it possible that there are vested interests in the research concluding that statins have no side effects? I know only three people who have been on statins – I am one of them – and we all experienced debilitating muscle aches despite trying three different statin formulae. All of us experienced no such aches before treatment, and all have recovered fully having stopped taking the drugs. Can we be alone?

Robert M Hurran
Northwood, Middlesex

Airport security

SIR – We checked in for our British Airways flight from Munich to London only 36 hours after the Air Malaysia flight went missing. We were issued (unnoticed by us) with someone else’s boarding pass. Neither German passport control nor security noticed this, and it was only when we were waiting to board that a member of BA’s staff noticed the mistake. It is easy to criticise the Malaysians, but we should also look at security a little closer to home.

Charlie Holden
London NW1

Footballing heroes

SIR – Brigadier John Powell may be interested to hear that Lt Col Bernard Vann VC, MC and Bar, of the Sherwood Foresters, an ordained clergyman, played professional football for Derby County, having previously played with Northampton Town and Burton FC, before the First World War. He was the only ordained clergyman of the Church of England to earn the Victoria Cross in combat. He was killed in action by a sniper on October 3 1918.

Keith Kenworthy
Mansfield, Nottinghamshire

Show her you care

SIR – Sign outside a shop in Norwich: “Mother’s Day is coming, special knife sharpening and mending service available.”

Amanda Howard
Enfield, Middlesex

Crimean referendum

SIR – Crimea will almost certainly vote to go back to Russia. What then? Will America invade and risk a Third World War? The Ukrainians must be left to sort out their own future without provocative interference from the West.

Duncan Rayner
Sunningdale, Berkshire

Alien rhododendrons

SIR – Rick Emerson of Surrey threatens to defend rhododendrons with the nearest garden implement to hand. I regret to inform him that he will find an army of plant lovers on the other side of the battlefield just as ready to use the pruning shears to cut them down.

Rhododendron ponticum is an invasive species, meaning it drowns out native wildlife. The evergreen leaves and blowsy flowers may make useful borders and brighten up golf courses, but nothing lives under the thick canopy.

The species was first introduced by the Victorian plant hunters as an attractive garden flower and useful game cover. But it has now taken over whole tracts of land, including some of our last wilderness areas in Britain.

The European Union has already spent millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money encouraging landowners, including the National Trust, to clear wild land of the species.

Here in the West Highlands, we have been battling for decades to get rid of it so that Scots pine and pine martens can return. Hundreds of people are currently working hard to cut down even more.

No one is suggesting that the iconic rhododendrons of the Royal Botanic Gardens should be destroyed, but I think you will find that none of these institutions are planting more invasive species.

If puce flowers really are your thing, then you can choose from hundreds of new hybrid rhododendrons that are designed not to run wild in the countryside over the next 150 years. Anyone found planting Rhododendron ponticum should be cut down to size with their own secateurs.

Louise Gray
Torridon, Ross-shire

Virgin territory

SIR – I recently bought a bookpublished in 1862. Many of its pages were still uncut.

I have started to read it. It feels a little like desecration.

Stuart Jamieson
Eccleston, Lancashire

Church organists deserve a professional fee

SIR – Caroline Mitchell suggests that organists should play for nothing as an act of benevolence to the community in which they work.

The fundamental flaw with this is that many of those playing in our churches desperately need an income from this skilled role to top up an existing income or pension.

The Church ought to recognise the considerable training and ability of musicians who enhance its liturgies, and should remunerate them accordingly, whether the tax situation is complex or not.

You wouldn’t expect an accountant to give free advice, so why is the profession of musician, which demands a large amount of time and effort, not understood in a similar business way?

Most organists spend hours each week practising. They plan different repertoires for various seasons and often encourage singers in their churches to participate too.

We professional musicians are frequently expected to play for services, weddings and funerals for virtually nothing, and pay our bills on fresh air.

Elizabeth Stratford
Organist and Master of the Choristers, Arundel Cathedral
Littlehampton, West Sussex

SIR – I am reminded of seeing the vicar, some years ago, paying my aunt for playing the organ at a wedding, and saying that she received more than he did for officiating.

My aunt’s reply was that her fee was a £1 for playing and £2 for knowing how.

John Brooks
Preston, Lancashire

 

 

SIR – As a student of politics, I was in the visitors’ gallery on the day that Tony Benn renounced his peerage in order to be a member of the Commons.

I was young and I didn’t really appreciate the significance of the step. I gained realisation over the following years.

I have never agreed with his political views, but I cannot help admiring his sincerity. When I look at Ed Miliband’s intellectual but superficial outpourings, I realise just what is missing from the current Labour Party.

There are too many shallow career politicians around now. Tony Benn will be missed by people of all persuasions.

Mick Ferrie
Mawnan Smith, Cornwall

SIR – I was an assistant chief constable in Bristol in 1976 and responsible for seating the VIPs in the cathedral for the Lord Mayor’s annual service. Tony Benn was a local MP. As he came down the aisle, unsure of his allocated seat, I took him gently by the elbow and ushered him towards it. At the reception later he sought me out to thank me, saying I was the only person ever to move him “to the right”.

David East
Bingham, Nottinghamshire

SIR – Here it comes, a stream of sanctimonious claptrap about Anthony Wedgwood Benn, the greatest prime minister we never had.

Benn tried to form a communist party within the Labour Party. He wanted Britain to leave Nato.

If Michael Foot had won the election in 1983, he would have been usurped as prime minister within weeks by Benn, and Britain today would be part of the old Soviet Union.

Jeff Best
London N14

SIR – Tony Benn: giant.

Gerard Parke-Hatton
Broughton, Lancashire

SIR – I was one of about 300 to hear Tony Benn speak in Norwich a few years ago.

At the end, he asked all present who supported views other than those of him and the Labour Party to raise their hands. About 5 per cent did so, perhaps wondering what they had let themselves in for.

He thanked them in a sincere manner for attending and for being open to hearing the views of someone they knew they would largely not agree with.

Is not this a lesson today’s politicians should learn?

Brian Rayner
Colchester, Essex

SIR – In most images from his long public life, Tony Benn is enveloped in clouds of tobacco smoke from his ever-present pipe.

Oh-so-worthy nanny-groups should note that he reached the great age of 88, despite a lifetime’s exercise of that allegedly fatal addiction.

Graham Hoyle
Baildon, West Yorkshire

 

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

 

Madam – Eoghan Harris (‘Call off carping about Ireland’s Call’, Sunday Independent, March 9, 2014), deserves unstinting commendation for his stalwart defence and praise of Phil Coulter’s alternative all-island anthem Ireland’s Call.

Also in this section

Wake up you ‘Moby Dicks’

Taxing issues for offshore oil firms

Bono in dreamland

This well crafted sporting anthem shines brightly in sharp contrast to the militarist, ultra-nationalist, lugubrious whine of Amhran na bhFiann – blotting out the sunshine and casting its dark shadows of a fascist narrative upon the people. Ireland’s Call, with irresistible epical arousal qualities, soars like an eagle across a clear blue sky, inspiring all decent folk on this island, regardless of which side of the Boyne their ancestors were on, to great heights of passion, valour and belief in the attainment of glory upon the field where the noble game of rugby is played.

Phil Coulter‘s stellar sporting anthem is, of course, profoundly disliked by the dreary fossilised drones (inclusive of the obvious more sinister ones) who hold dear to their sentimental hearts the Fenian nationalist foundation myths in order to imprint legitimacy and meaning upon those shameful years from 1916 to 1923.

How uplifting to watch and listen to men from the Four Provinces of Ireland belt out, with great heart, the infinitely superior chords and lyrics of Ireland’s Call, rather than the few who – in slacked-jawed fashion – attempt to mouth the dispiriting dirge of Amhran na bhFiann.

Well done, Mr Harris, on an inspiring article.

Pierce Martin,

Celbridge, Co Kildare

INCLUSIVENESS OF IRELAND’S CALL

 

Madam – I was interested in Eoghan Harris comments on Ireland’s Call, (Sunday Independent, March 9, 2014).

I am a unionist (small u) and a supporter of all Irish sports teams. Originally when Ireland’s Call appeared, I, like most others, was not emotionally connected. Everything changed when I was lucky enough to coach Ireland’s Men’s Hockey Squad for a period.

At my first international match, standing for Ireland’s Call, when it came to the line ‘the four proud provinces of Ireland,’ I realised I had tears running down my face.

Why? Well, when sung with sincerity, I feel that it shows an acceptance of each other as we are, as people rather than as political identities.

An inclusiveness more meaningful than any type of political unity with no one betraying their beliefs.

David Scott,

Belfast

HISTORY IRELAND LAUNCHED WEBSITE

Madam – Eoghan Harris (Sunday Independent, March 9, 2014), need not be too concerned with any ‘ambivalent’ attitudes on the Decade of Centenaries website.

The site was developed by History Ireland on behalf of the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht as a listings guide and learning resource for the commemorative initiatives relating to the 1912-22 period that will be conducted by the State, cultural and educational institutions, military and local history associations, community groups, and any interested parties in Ireland and abroad (including the authorities and cultural institutions in Britain and Northern Ireland).

Any perusal of the site will see that it is giving due weight to a wide range of traditions in an inclusive and respectful way, and will continue to do so.

We encourage readers to visit http://www.decadeof-centenaries.com.

It may well be of interest.

John Gibney,

History Ireland, Dublin 18

FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL OF RURAL WAY OF LIFE

Madam – As an ardent reader of the Sunday Independent, I read your analysis pages over the “devastation of rural Ireland” and Donal Lynch’s facts and figures. A great piece.

I could not refrain from writing to you on the subject and hope you can find space to put it among your valued columns of letters.

Rural Ireland is being intentionally and systematically destroyed with all that goes with it – we must stand and fight for its survival.

We had three very nasty armed robberies within a half mile of me two years ago and as a result, I called a meeting. We packed the hall and balcony with all the councillors at the top table and so started the effective ‘texting’ system of which there are now 60 groups in operation.

But I can see the gardai soon being told to ignore this to frighten us into the cities and out of rural Ireland.

David Thompson,

Cappamore,

Co Limerick

GALLING TO LISTEN TO ADAMS NOW

Madam – Reading the views and sentiments expressed on the incidents of suicide in Ireland prompted by Ruth Dudley Edward’s article (Sunday Independent, February 16, 2014), it occurs to me as rather odd that for a nation that has invested so much in the welfare of others in foreign fields, there isn’t a single word regarding the welfare of the exiles here in Britain.

As I have repeatedly reminded you, they were the ones who took the full brunt of the backlash of Irish republican violence and politics throughout the last century, while left voiceless, defenceless and powerless with nowhere to turn.

I may tell you how enraging and mortifying it felt for one who had to endure 30 years of IRA terrorism to have to listen to Mr Adams announcing at a Sinn Fein conference that: “It’s good to be Irish in Britain now.”

William Barrett,

Surrey, UK

DEMENTED BY TV3 ‘DEBATE’

Madam – Late on Sunday evening last, after exhausting the contents of the Sunday Independent and, as usual, having silently expressed my opinions on the various stories and articles, I turned to the section which I normally consign to the litter bin without as much as a glance.

I speak of the Living supplement.

There on the back page I found a little gem which echoed my sentiments exactly.

To tell the truth, it was Jim Cogan’s comical sketching of the panel for the ‘People’s Debate’, which really caught my eye.

Well, Declan Lynch really described the first edition of the new Vincent Browne show on TV3 as I have described it on numerous times to people who were lucky enough to have missed it.

I will not dare repeat Declan’s description of the programme, as I would only take from his report. But the programme had received such hype in the build-up, weeks prior to the show, and left one anxiously waiting for a real debate with real people.

As the show progressed, even Vincent seemed to run out of directions to look in search of someone resembling a real person.

He stumbled from one self-perpetuating person to the next and appeared to be about to run screaming from the studio long before we were all released from the boredom by his closing few words.

Thank you, Declan, for releasing me from the feeling that I had imagined the whole thing.

Tony Fagan,

Enniscorthy, Co Wexford

DEFEND WOMEN’S SENSITIVITIES

Madam – Reading Carol Hunt’s column (Sunday Independent, March 9, 2014), one would be forgiven for thinking we were living in 1950 as opposed to 2014.

Apparently I, as a man, will need to start calling out misogyny whenever and wherever I see it.

It’s an epidemic, apparently.

Where and who are these men? I’m finding it hard to tell them apart from the “blokes” who are masquerading as lovely guys.

I hope these fathers, brothers, husbands, partners and sons will listen to reason when I inform them that they are behaving in a misogynist manner.

I also hope that I have an attentive and caring nurse to tend to my wounds when I end up in hospital as a result of my role as protector of women’s sensitivities.

Charles McCarthy,

Dooradoyle, Limerick

Sunday Independent

 

 


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