The renewed outbreak of republican violence is like a recurring tumour, the root cause of which is a pernicious cancer in the nationalist body politic, namely our primeval fixation with a "united Ireland".
As long as we succumb to our territorial instinct and harbour this futile dream every generation will produce some young hotheads prepared to use violence to achieve unity. Of course, like Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and others, they will come to realise, as they approach middle age, that it's simply not possible to force a million Unionists into a "united Ireland". Tragically, by then, they may have destroyed another generation.
Every nationalist desiring a "united Ireland" must accept a share of responsibility for these latest atrocities. All our political parties must expunge such desires from their policies. A "united Ireland" is not our call and must remain off the agenda unless an overwhelming majority of unionists request it.
Glenageary, Co Dublin
One of the most troubling aspects of the upsurge in violence in Northern Ireland is the likelihood of a willing pool of young recruits eager to take up arms. Across our cities and towns, many young men regularly carry and use weapons, whether they are guns or knives; membership of lethal gangs is seen as cool. In Northern Ireland, membership of a dissident republican group will offer the same type of young men the kudos and excitement.
Israel and Jews seen as victims
Thank you for the thoughtful article by Antony Lerman, "Must Jews always see themselves as victims?" (7 March). As a non-Jew, there is one thing I would like to add.
Mr Lerman says: "Jewish leaders and commentators are indignant at the implication that Jews worldwide are responsible for Israel's actions. Don't conflate Jews and Israel, they say." The vast majority of those who campaign for justice for Palestinians and a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestine do not make such a conflation. The people who do are the spokesmen and women of the Israeli administration. To perceived criticism of Israel's actions vis-à-vis Palestinians their response is accusations of anti-Semitism.
How that makes the many Jews who campaign with us feel, I can only begin to imagine.
Buckland Newton, Dorset
I was relieved to read Antony Lerman's article. After off loading a sense of victimhood, the next step for Israelis might be to think about a one-state solution including all of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, one adult-one vote, real democracy (as the west continues to advocate and push for worldwide).
Until things become inclusive there will always be an "us" and "them" division. Wars will be fought, unhappiness of the stateless will never be resolved, lives will be needlessly lost and Jews will not be able to shake off that feeling of victimhood referred to in Lerman's article.
'Anyone can be a teacher'
Truth will out. The Government has protested over the years that it has "enormous respect for the professionalism of teachers", despite feeling it necessary to legislate for everything that goes on in the classroom.
The proposal for unemployed people to be trained as teachers in six months shows that ministers are different from the Tories in their belief that anyone can be turned into a teacher with a minimum of training and experience. What is more their rationale (that this will attract "high-fliers") reveals that they, like so many others, do not believe that such individuals would normally consider becoming teachers.
When I left teaching eight years ago I left a department of eight colleagues where one had a doctorate and three held master's qualifications. Several others, despite having first-class degrees, had somehow found themselves in teaching from the outset! They were also very talented classroom practitioners, and this is not always the case. To equate good academic qualifications with the capacity to be an effective teacher is to misunderstand the nature of the job. I fear that the Government has once again been seduced by the prospect of a "quick fix" based on a misunderstanding of the job and the qualities required.
End violence against women
The Government's consultation on violence against women is not, as Sandra Horley, Chief Executive of Refuge, says, a gimmick (Opinion, 11 March). It is a serious attempt to deal with an insidious and degrading issue, violence, in all its forms, against women. One of the biggest challenges we face is changing the attitudes that condone violence against women. The results of our Mori poll were evidence that there is still a long way to go. That is why I want to encourage a frank debate to bring this often taboo subject into the spotlight.
As I made clear to Sandra on Monday, we are not proposing a register of domestic abusers, because police forces will already be sharing information through the new Police National Database.
What Chief Constable Brian Moore is looking at in his review of police powers is how we use that information to target serial perpetrators of domestic abuse and prevent them from abusing other women.
That is, however, only part of our broader consultation to look at how we can better protect women, and alongside dealing with victims and perpetrators we will be looking at how we can prevent violence happening in the first place.
Violence against women is unacceptable, no matter what the circumstances. We have done a lot so far to increase women's safety, but I want to do more. It would be a shame to undermine a genuine attempt by government to engage the public in this debate, which is one of the most comprehensive consultations ever undertaken, by focusing on the comments made by one individual.
We all share a desire to end violence against women and I look forward to hearing everyone's view once they have considered our proposals.
The proposed database of offenders is not the only gimmick in the government proposals. Banning perpetrators from the home for a fortnight will only lead to an escalation in abuse.
Seventy-seven per cent of abusers use weapons (Metropolitan Police figure, 2001). Men who are capable of attacking their partners with hammers, baseball bats or screwdrivers are hardly going to be chastened by a two-week exclusion from the home. They are much more likely to take revenge.
Victims urgently need police protection and properly funded refuges. They also need a public awareness campaign to counter the frighteningly archaic attitudes revealed by the government survey, such as that one in seven people believe that it is right to hit a woman if she goes out wearing sexy clothes.
Keep the mentally ill out of prison
Johann Hari is right that if we want to reduce crime we need to offer much better care to prisoners with mental health problems ("Crime is going to rise – unless we get liberal", 20 February). Diverting the most seriously ill to hospital is one important step, but it is not the only one. We also need to divert the much larger number of people with less severe but very complex mental health problems away from custody altogether, towards community sentences.
If we invested in a diversion team for every area of England, we could save some £20,000 for each person they divert from prison through reduced crime and better administration of justice.
Short prison sentences do enormous damage to people's lives yet do nothing to reduce their future offending and give no opportunity for proper rehabilitation. By diverting more offenders from short prison sentences to effective support in the community, we will improve not just their lives but those of their families, their victims and their communities.
Programme Director, Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, London SE1
Turning suffering into a poor joke
Janet Street-Porter (11 March) is not the only one who finds the infantile jamboree of Red Nose Day nauseating. It raises vast sums for worthy causes, but at what cost to the dignity of the recipients? The message this celeb-fest sends out is: throw money at Africa's poor and sick, while disengaging your brain.
Take one half-hour TV slot on Friday evening as billed in the Radio Times: "Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant re-imagine The Office as an opera, Denise Van Outen reports on a pair of twins struggling for survival in an African hospital, and Jonathan and Claudia welcome some very special dancers."
Actually, that would be a good joke, if it weren't so sad.
We need answers from the banks
The banking crisis raises the question of due diligence prior to one corporate entity purchasing or merging with another.
I have a vision of consultants sitting around the boardroom table at any one of our troubled banks, presenting their findings and stating that they cannot find any reason why the proposed purchase of Bank X should not proceed. Now that we, the public, own 65 per cent of Lloyds, shouldn't we be asking for the minutes of any such meetings?
Message from a non-existent god
If, by providing us with a God spot, God is trying to prove His existence (letter, 11 March), why is He making it so difficult for us to find Him that most of us in the end give up? Surely, that cannot be His aim, if He exists. Could He have another (ulterior) motive: He does not exist and He is making fools of most of mankind.
H D Shah
Most brain activity – sight, hearing – responds to genuine phenomena. So does mathematical ability, which is more obviously an evolutionary human trait. What is the evidence for Richard Dawkins' demonstrated insensitivity to religious experience not being equivalent to other people's colour-blindness or weak maths?
I wouldn't expect him to believe that mathematical structures don't exist just because I'm not very good at perceiving them.
Check for the BNP
The BNP's hopes of winning a North-West seat in June's euro-elections, and their efforts to set the scene by winning a local by-election in Carlisle, were explored at length in your feature article on 28 February. Castle ward, Carlisle, was held on 5 March by the Liberal Democrats. The BNP came third.
Chris Davies MEP
(Lib Dem, North West)
Hope in hops
Debbie Boote (letter, 9 March) writes about the increasing alcohol content of wines, and the same is true of beer and ale. Duty should be levied not only on alcohol content, but also inversely on the hop content of beer. Hops have soporific qualities; the reduced hop content of lager, which is a drink more favoured by the young, may well explain the increased violence due to alcohol consumption.
Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridgeshire
Rowenna Davis's arguments do not apply just to schools ("Turning schools into prisons isn't the answer", Education & Careers, 5 March). If CCTV, the police and the like make life more negative and less pleasant for children, can't the same feelings be attributed to adults? I am tired of being filmed, and, at railway stations, having my precious thinking-time ruined by bossy announcements telling me not to smoke and to keep my belongings with me at all times.
Tuck your shirt in
Why have we become one of the scruffiest nations? My comments are aimed in particular at men on television who refuse to wear a tie and, worse of all, will not tuck their shirts in. Some politicians seem to have a similar view, as do people in business. Women, on the other hand, thankfully have gone back to looking good, without having to lose their intelligence or femininity.
Richard F Grant
I wonder what Leila Deen's reaction would have been if Peter Mandelson had thrown green custard over her. Litigation, no doubt.