18 December 2013 Milk

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Its Pertwee against Pertwee and one of them has to give in Priceless.

Potter around go to t the Co Op

Scrabbletoday Mary wins though we don’t finish, but both of us under 400, Perhaps I will win tomorrow.




Anne Russell, who has died aged 90, worked at Bletchley Park in the Second World War before driving ambulances for the Free French during the Allied thrust into Germany; subsequently she was employed by the Deuxième Bureau — French Military Intelligence — in the Indo-China campaign.

Aged just 17, Anne began working as a decoding clerk at Bletchley Park, the government code and cipher centre in Buckinghamshire. Alan Turing was in the next room and used to secure his mug to the radiator with two padlocks.

She subsequently became an ambulance driver for the Free French Forces and, in autumn 1944, joined the 9th Colonial Infantry Division. She took part in the Alsace campaign, the forced crossing of the Rhine and the advance through the Black Forest.

On one occasion, while she was driving under enemy fire, a shell went right through the canvas sides of the vehicle without exploding. On another, impatient to catch up with the convoy after delivering a casualty to hospital, she took a shortcut through back roads and arrived in a German town before the Allies, much to their surprise. In recognition of her bravery, she was twice awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Anne Swinton Lee, the daughter of an Army officer, was born at Brayton Hall, Aspatria, Cumbria, on June 13 1923. Both her parents were good riders, and country life and horses were an important part of her childhood. One of her vivid memories was of her grandfather going out hunting one morning and his horse bringing him back dead in the saddle in the evening.

She was educated at St Ethelburga’s, a Roman Catholic boarding school near York, where the teachers, she said, “were stout women in black tights who played cricket”.

After the war in North-West Europe, Anne Russell was demobilised; but many of the close friends she had made while serving in France were being sent to French Indo-China, and she persuaded her CO to let her sign up as a volunteer. One of a handful of women on the troopship bound for Saigon, she suffered badly from seasickness on the month-long voyage.

At Colombo, she and a girlfriend sneaked into the town in defiance of orders not to go ashore. As punishment they were confined to their cabin – but after protests from men on board who had been taken to safety in their ambulances this sanction was lifted.

Anne came to believe that the war in French Indo-China was not an honourable conflict and became demoralised. After a ruling that women were no longer permitted to drive ambulances, she was recruited to the Deuxième Bureau.

One of her tasks was giving English lessons to the girlfriend of a rebel leader in the hope that she might glean information about his whereabouts. She learned nothing about the rebel but found herself being given “Free Indo-China” pamphlets. These were subsequently discovered in the back of her Jeep and she had an uncomfortable time explaining this to the French authorities.

She returned to England but found it hard to settle and worked as a freelance writer for a number of publications before finding more stable employment with the Evening Standard. Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton were among those she interviewed.

She became assistant editor of the National Coal Board’s magazine Coal and, for a spell, headed up the Board’s film section. After her marriage in 1954 to Martin Russell, a banker, she lived with him in London, where they were entertaining and generous hosts.

Anne Russell had an adventurous sense of taste and combined her husband’s large collection of Ceylonese paintings, Persian carpets and Buddha statues with more classical Russell family busts, traditional English furniture and book collections.

In the 1980s they moved to a cottage in Dorset, where she continued to live after her husband’s death until a fall in 2010 brought an end to her cherished independence.

As well as her husband, one of Anne Russell’s sons predeceased her. She is survived by a son and two daughters.

Anne Russell, born June 13 1923, died November 25 2013




In your report on John McCain’s speech in Kiev supporting the anti-government protesters (16 December) there is no suggestion that he might be sticking his nose in where it’s not wanted. Imagine if next year he addressed pro-independence rallies in Scotland and urged them to assert their own interests and rid themselves of the oppressive regime holding them back, concluding in his Kiev style: “People of Scotland, this is your moment. The free world is with you, America is with you, I am with you.” No doubt William Hague would call it “inappropriate”. It’s also inappropriate, not to say outrageous, in Kiev, where the people (as in Scotland) have to sort out their own future and don’t need the input of an American senator with an anti-Russia bias to help them.
Anthony Kearney

• Could someone check whether Mikhail Gorbachev said anything about “mission accomplished” when Soviet troops left Afghanistan in 1989 (Troops will leave Afghanistan next year with ‘mission accomplished’ – Cameron, 17 December)?
David Gerrard
Hove, East Sussex


Paul Fisher (Letters, 12 December) rightly commends John Paul’s sterling role in the biomechanics of hip replacement. Precision engineering also played an important role. My father, Ernest Sutton, who ran the engineering workshop at the University of Hong Kong in the 1960s, produced some of the early prototypes for replacement joints, working alongside the surgeons as part of the team. My brother and I were fascinated by his desk, which was covered with human bones, from which he modelled the new joints.
Helen Keats
Shorwell, Isle of Wight

• Your leader comment on early diagnosis of dementia (12 December) misses the point. If someone knows of their diagnosis, they can make a will and lasting power of attorney, so that their wishes can be followed. Once their dementia has progressed to the point at which they no longer have capacity, they have lost this freedom.
Annette Ray
Tunbridge Wells

• One name missing from recent correspondence about supporters of the anti-apartheid struggle (Letters, 16 December) is that of the late Labour MP Fenner Brockway. I knew Fenner well and we were always very aware of the political priority which he gave to the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles.
Pauline Davidson
Sonning Common, Oxfordshire

• So North Korea has removed embarrassing material from the internet (North Korea news agency deletes archives, 17 December). Just following the Tory example (Tories delete a decade from their website, 13 November).
Peter Mitchell

•  So Birgitte Nyborg (of BBC4’s Borgen) can take a new party from ground zero to a position of influence in less than a year. We have a year and a half to do the same. Anyone up for the challenge?
Tony Ambrose

• Re the poetry of bluebottles (Letters, 17 December), I prefer Raymond Chandler’s description of one in The Little Sister as “shining and blue-green and full of sin”.
Mary Lawrence
Farnborough, Hampshire


The supreme court decision establishing Scientology as a recognised religion in the UK (Scientologists win fight to marry in own church, 12 December) reopens questions about the perks given by the state.

Offering religious organisations special treatment forces the state to determine which groups receive that benefit, and so to define what constitutes a religion. But the lack of a true religion means there is no metric to determine this by. Unless we want government to wade in on thorny theological issues, self-identification is the most reasonable definition.

Say hello to the slippery slope. Should Buckingham Palace be registered for the solemnisation of marriages for those who believe Prince Philip is a divine being? Should we slash business rates on facilities used by the Universe People to contact extraterrestrial civilisations? How about the group dedicated to reversing the effects of past-life trauma patterns, ie the Church of Scientology? It isn’t for the state to say which of these are proper religions and which are a bunch of crackpots. Instead, religions should be treated under the law like any other civic group.
Alex Csicsek

•  Lord Toulson’s description of religion is one that believers and non-believers can surely live with, and also satisfies the law; local government minister Brandon Lewis worries about what it means if churches such as Scientology will no longer have to pay business rates. Perhaps now is the time to consider why the government invites some churches into privileged advisory roles and why it is unlikely to invite Scientologists to do so. Here’s an opportunity for the government to tell us where it stands on “mankind’s place in the universe and relationship with the infinite”. Only then can it tackle the vexed question of business rate relief.
Colin Challen

•  If a sect as controversial as Scientology can claim legal parity with mainstream religions, virtually any organisation can claim to be a religion and therefore eligible for charitable status, tax relief etc. The only way to avoid this would be to move towards a fully secular state, with the abolition of faith schools, removal of charitable status from religion etc.
Chris Peeler
Wendover, Buckinghamshire



I am disappointed at the cold and self-interested tone of your editorial on Ireland exiting the bailout (14 December). While Irish politicians will talk up the exit, there will be no celebrations for the majority of the population as the hardships are too close to home. There was a self-satisfaction in the editorial’s observations that the UK was not part of the euro and was able to manage its own crisis independently of the eurozone. I would love to see some acknowledgment of the role that the City of London played in Ireland‘s crisis and how the infamous Irish guarantee in September 2008 essentially bailed out British investors. Recent data from our central bank revealed that it was Britain, not Germany (as long suspected), that stood to lose most if Irish banks failed. It seems that the bond holders and investors who broke out the champagne when the Irish bank guarantee was announced were in London, not Berlin or New York, as previously imagined.
Valerie Cannon
Dublin, Republic of Ireland


David Thomson is too quick to dismiss Peter O’Toole‘s film career from 1965 to 1975 as “producing dismay” (Obituary, 16 December); though the films listed did largely represent underachievements for many participants, they still generally work as TV fodder. Significantly, in Man of La Mancha, O’Toole was able to give one of the vanishingly few authentic performances of The Impossible Dream, film enabling him to be shaky and quiet where theatre requires the performer to boom all the way to the back rows. Under Milk Wood took on robustly the challenge of adding visuals to a play of voices, not least the presence of O’Toole’s blind sea captain with the wrecked face suggesting a world of memory behind the dead eyes.
Bryn Hughes
Wrexham, North Wales

•  I hesitate to disagree with as eminent a critic as David Thompson. But his description of the Audrey Hepburn/Peter O’Toole film How to Steal a Million as a dud is surely an idiosyncratic view. This entertaining and amusing film is one of my favourite romantic comedies.
George Bate
Wantage, Oxfordshire

•  I was pleased to read that O’Toole’s favourite play was Waiting for Godot. The 1957 Bristol production, in which he played Vladimir, was my introduction to how theatre can shock and awe.
Anne Corbett

• Your leader (In praise of… hellraisers, 17 December) is countered by Sophie Heawood’s Comment article (A hellraising hangover, 17 December), showing the damage caused by such behaviour. O’Toole played such a hellraiser (perhaps based upon Errol Flynn) in My Favourite Year. Let’s hope that generations of O’Toole fans do not contribute to the increasing alcohol-related hospital admissions by glamorising his example.
Chris Jeffries
Cheadle Hulme


A two-page spread on depression, written exclusively from the point of view of health professionals, leaves me feeling usurped, silenced and turned into a problem that needs fixing (Antidepressant use rises in rich nations, OECD finds, 29 November). Surely the many of us who inhabit this territory, this particular way of being human, are the experts?

One of the difficulties with any discussion about depression is the word itself, which lumps together conditions as distinct as a bad hair day, existential sorrow and life-threatening biochemical meltdown. Exogenous depression, caused by stressful life events, requires a very different approach to my own endogenous variety, where neurotransmitters that are innately awry shape temperaments characterised not so much by unhappiness as by a lack of robustness, and by anxiety. Artists, mystics, prophets, introverts and canaries in the mine cluster at this part of the human spectrum.

I don’t find mainstream medicine particularly helpful at any stage of the cycle except as a source of baseline chemicals; I’m both immensely grateful to the support offered by SSRIs and sleeping pills, and think they’re almost as primitive as straitjackets. Cognitive behaviour therapy seems to me trivial and ineffective.

In my case, the chronic flares into the acute every couple of years, and I fall headlong into my own black hole. It’s both pathology and an underworld journey as rigorous and transformative as Persephone struggling through Hades. But if instead of resisting, I can surrender to – even trust – descent and disintegration, there are gifts and insights here, great stars in the darkness.
Annie March
West Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

The death of Mandela

The death of Madiba highlights the pitiful lack of strength in UK domestic politics (13 December). We have no one to match his integrity, honesty, strength of purpose or ideals. No sense of nation building or commitment. All our so-called leaders play what I can only term “supermarket politics” – a pound off here, two for the price of one, buy now, pay later … but not one real original idea, not one true intelligible goal, not one comment that isn’t loaded with fatuous criticism of everyone else, following some strange party dogma to satisfy the “shareholders”.

Next election I’m voting Asda. Might as well.
Peter Hoare
Ashwicken, UK

• If indeed comedy is tragedy plus time, then never has it been more manifest as we witness those from political parties and organisations – at one time quite happy to see Nelson Mandela incarcerated on Robben Island – now lauding him for the wisdom and bravery they at one time were happy to see snuffed out.
Dave Robinson
Newstead, Tasmania, Australia

Pope Francis is trying

Pope Francis does seem to be trying to make amends (Reply, 6 December). The Catholic hierarchy has a lot to answer for. Many of them condoned and ignored the behaviour of errant priests – by transferring them to different parishes, different countries and thus allowing the priests to continue with their deviant behaviour.

As regards the Irish government’s liability – eg the Irish taxpayers – that is entirely the fault of the government in 2002. Both the Irish ministers for finance and education entered a binding agreement with the religious orders to limit their indemnity to €128m ($176m). The British government did not. Perhaps they didn’t realise the extent of the problem and were sure it wouldn’t be their money anyway – it’s a bit similar to the present situation of the Irish taxpayer bailing out the bondholders.

Regarding the Magdalene Laundries: the girls there were victims but the church was not responsible for that. Frequently these girls had been raped by a father, a brother, an uncle or friend, and if made pregnant were considered a disgrace to their families, hence they were dumped into these laundries. Yes, they were often treated badly by the nuns there, but why did the male perpetrators get away?
Gemma Hensey
Westport, Ireland

Media must play a role

I sympathise with Remi Adekoya’s problem regarding Africa’s media image (6 December). We lived in Nigeria during the 50s as independence was being prepared. The University of London had the good sense to set up universities in African colonies on the brink of independence: Ghana (then known as the Gold Coast), Nigeria and Uganda. These were affiliate colleges of the University of London, which awarded the degrees.

At the time of Nigerian independence in 1960, we lived in Leeds with an extended family of overseas postgraduate students, mostly Africans. At one point we had an American who joined the household. He could not believe it when two of them went together to register at the University of Leeds: the Nigerian, with a BA from the University College of Ibadan, was immediately admitted for postgraduate studies whereas the white American was told to do a year’s preparation, as the degrees from his liberal arts college were not of a high enough standard.

Adekoya speaks of the need for Africans in Europe to overperform to earn respect; many women have experienced the same thing at a senior level. Discrimination is everywhere and has to be fought against: the media has a major role to play.
Pat Stapleton
Beaumont du Ventoux, France

It’s not really democracy

David Runciman is ruminating about democracy versus non-democracy, but loses my attention like most longish articles tend to do in Guardian Weekly, as they say little, mixed with falsities (29 November). Democracies win wars: who would have won the second world war without the Soviet Union? They survive economic disasters: would they have survived the 1929 one without the investment in military hardware for the next war? How could he define democracy at the time of the first world war: what percentage of people actually voted then? Had the population open access to information to make decisions?

First, let’s define it. Having the right to vote doesn’t mean democracy is established. Do the voters have the power to decide what policies are executed?

So, the problem is not with democracy: it is that our system is not actually democratic. If politicians are instantly recallable when they do other than what they were elected to do, when they are not part of the privileged elite that owns the economy, then we might start to use the democratic label.
Eva Durant
Kiskassa, Hungary

Monroe Doctrine outmoded

Federico Finchelstein and Pablo Piccato are right to see the 1823 Monroe Doctrine as redundant (29 November). The original manifesto promised US protection for the independent republics recently freed from the Spanish Latin American empire.

However, what was very relevant throughout the 20th century from a US perspective is the December 1904 (Theodore) Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which announced a shift in policy from one of protecting the Latin American republics from external interference to protecting those same republics against internal disorder. The corollary notes: “Any country [in Latin America] whose people conduct themselves well can count on our hearty friendship … Chronic wrongdoing or an impotence which results in the general loosening of the ties of civilised society, may, in America, as elsewhere ultimately require intervention by some civilised nation, and in the western hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence to the exercise of an international police power.”

John Kerry says that the “era of the Monroe Doctrine is over”. The limited purpose of the doctrine was officially over in 1904, and as Finchelstein and Piccato argue was over in practice long before then.
Eric Nellis
Richmond, British Columbia, Canada

Not all meat is created equal

I was disappointed to read another article that tars all meat with the same environmental impact brush (George Monbiot, 6 December).

All meat is not created equal in this regard. The best contrary example of this is here in Australia.

The only native animal that breeds like rabbits during unusually wet years when there is plentiful new green grass in otherwise arid regions is, of course, the kangaroo.

South Australia led the nation in 1980 by officially endorsing kangaroo consumption by Australia’s invaders from Europe. There’s even a buzzword for it: kangatarianism, referring to a practice of eating no meat except kangaroo due to environmental impact considerations.
Rob Dickinson
Mitcham, South Australia

Hypocrisy over poppies

There is more than one level of hypocrisy in Britain’s failed attempt to eradicate poppy production in Afghanistan (Where the poppies blow, 22 November). First, it was Britain’s 18th-century “freedom of commerce” policies, particularly the freedom to dump opium from British India on to Chinese markets, that first turned the poppy into a viable cash crop, to the great benefit of the British East India Company. Second, it was under Taliban rule that poppy cultivation was most successfully combated across Afghanistan, to the point where it had fallen to an almost negligible level by 2001.

Oh, but they were the bad guys.
Eric Ross
Ifrane, Morocco


• What joy over the years my husband and I had doing Araucaria crosswords (6 December). I was often the icebreaker, cracking a way in via a biblical or Shakespearean quote, while he was spot-on with answers requiring deduction or cricket expertise; current idioms such as ” drop-dead gorgeous” flummoxed him.

I once sent Araucaria a drawing of all the monkeys prostrating themselves before a monkey puzzle tree.
Ellaine Mabbutt
Berry, NSW, Australia





Robert Fisk is right to question the centenary commemoration of the First World War (16 December). As soon as the idea of an official commemoration was mooted, the fear was that politicians would compete to convince voters that their patriotism was greater than that of the others, and their emotions more sincere, and the Prime Minister has set the ball rolling with his description of the war as “epic”. What next? Boris Johnson dressed in khaki re-enacting a charge across no man’s land in the gardens of Buckingham Palace?

Cameron also spoke of a “commemoration that, like the Diamond Jubilee celebrations this year, says something about who we are as a people. Remembrance must be the hallmark of our commemorations”. Like the Jubilee celebrations! I`m surprised he didn’t announce the creation of a First World War theme park. No doubt there will be celebrities cashing in, with remembrance records, television series and books.

If remembrance is to be the “hallmark”, what exactly is it we should be remembering? Of course, we should annually acknowledge those who gave up everything in their belief their country needed them, but if Cameron and Co have their way, the acknowledgement next year will be more like a national circus of jingoism.

Should we be remembering the huge failure of governments to prevent a continent drifting into a needless war, or their willingness to send millions to their deaths. We should certainly remember the role the press played in confirming the feelings of superiority already engendered by the “history” taught in British elementary schools at the start of the century.

Commemoration will transform into celebration, remembrance into commercialised recollection, and the whole affair looks like it will, fortunately, be seen for what it is, electioneering masquerading as respect for the victims. Labour leaders need to be wary of falling into this “celebration” trap.

Bernie Evans


Robert Fisk may be interested to know that there was one significant British anti-war novelist during the First World War. His name was Hugh de Selincourt. His novels are out of print now, but I hope some enterprising publisher reprints the most effective of them in time for the centenary.

His anti-war novel, A Soldier of Life, was published in 1916, while his masterpiece, The Sacrifice, a novella, was also published during the war (available in Nine Tales from Amazon). De Selincourt sent A Soldier of Life to his friend Lieutenant Max Plowman, while he was at the Front, and it clearly influenced Plowman in his decision to refuse further military orders, which led to his court martial.

No other British anti-war writer ever influenced a particular soldier to repudiate his part in the war, while the war was in progress. That alone would make de Selincourt unique.

De Selincourt is particularly good in his devastating pastiches of the war-mongering sermons of the Anglican clergy.

Malcolm Pittock


Scars on the minds  of Syria’s children

As Syria moves towards a fourth year of suffering, not only are children facing the immediate threats of starvation and freezing winter conditions (“The biggest emergency in the UN’s history”, 17 December), countless numbers are also enduring sustained and devastating psychological damage that could scar them for life.

Children are witnessing horrific violence, with many seeing family members killed in front of them. Others have lost their homes and had their education severed, with nearly 3 million Syrian children forced to drop out of school because of the conflict.

Organisations like UNICEF need immediate and unconditional humanitarian access to children trapped by fighting inside Syria without vital emergency supplies, psychological support and schooling. Aid is not just about saving lives, but also about giving children, and Syria, the chance of a future.

Anita Tiessen

Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF UK, London EC1

MPs: worthy or worthless

Ipsa’s chairman, Sir Ian Kennedy, thinks the public are in favour of a pay rise for MPs (report, 13 December): what members of the public has he been consulting – bankers perhaps?

The basis for such an over-generous pay rise was apparently to bring MPs’ pay into line with other professions. But anyone can become an MP. They don’t have to undergo years of training and exams, such as teachers, doctors and nurses endure, in order to gain a qualification.

Nor does Sir Ian’s reasoning that the pay rise will balance all the other proposed reforms persuade me. Other people have to pay for evening meals, and for very expensive season tickets in order to travel to work.

Resettlement payments would only be available to those MPs who contest their seats and lose? No; they have been sacked by the electorate for not being good enough at their job. If anyone pays them for resettlement, it should be the parties they represent, not the taxpayer.

But as so few citizens are now paid-up members of any political party there would be no money for that.

Lesley Docksey

Buckland Newton, Dorset


Being a Member of Parliament is one of the most demanding and responsible jobs in a free society. There is no reason why MPs should not be paid a salary commensurate with their duties.

If we want to encourage talented and conscientious people to seek this high public office we should stop denigrating MPs, allow them reasonable privacy, and pay them properly.

It is unbecoming of a Prime Minister, with significant personal wealth, to lead opposition in a threatening way to an independent verdict on fair reward. It should not just be the rich who can afford to represent constituents but those from poor backgrounds as well.

Anthony Slack

Rochdale, Greater Manchester 

Great National Theatre disasters

The article about the National Theatre (“Not all right on the night”, 2 December) reminds me of an incident I witnessed at the National over 30 years ago.

In a scene during a production of Shaw’s Man and Superman, a green mat was placed on stage to represent the lawn of a country house. This had a wire attached at the back in order for it to be pulled off stage quickly at the end of the scene.

A couple of characters were discussing travelling to Spain in a new motor car and a group came from the house to inspect the car. As the group ran off, one of them tripped over the wire. The performance was halted a few minutes while it was checked that she was all right.

The very next line, after the performance was restarted, was: “About this trip.”  It brought the house down.

Paul Dormer

Guildford, Surrey

O’Toole’s version of Lawrence

Peter O’Toole’s performance in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia may have been terrific acting and may have  rocketed him to stardom (Obituary, 16 December), but it was a complete traducement of the historical T E Lawrence.

O’Toole portrays Lawrence as a neurotic, boastful, effeminate, egomaniacal, bloodthirsty exhibitionist, shrill, show-offy and histrionic, whereas there is nothing in the actual records of Lawrence’s exploits in Arabia to suggest he was anything like this.

As one small example, take that absurd early scene where O’Toole’s Lawrence plays about with matches. I don’t know whether Lean, scriptwriter Robert Bolt or O’Toole himself invented this, but it is quite unhistorical and out of Lawrence’s true character.

Lawrence’s brother, A W Lawrence, said of the film on its release: “I should not have recognised my brother”, and also spoke of its “character assassination”.

Graham Chainey


How to make F1 less dull

An effective way of making Formula One more competitive would be a rule that every trophy a driver wins must be carried in his car for the rest of the season. Let’s see Vettel on pole in the Red Bull furniture removal van.

F B Dickens


Odd twin left over

You report that a study showing the importance of genetics in academic achievement (12 December) involved “11,117 identical and non-identical twins”. That would be five thousand, five hundred and fifty-eight and a half pairs.

David Ridge

London N19

Christmas messages

The senders of de-personalised Christmas newsletters are under the misapprehension that their efforts will be read with interest or enjoyment. How can we give them a reality check?

Richard Walker





Sir, You report Sir Michael Wilshaw’s accusation that the surviving grammar schools are failing to improve social mobility because they are “stuffed full of middle-class kids” (report, Dec 16).

He may be right, as only 164 of the original 1,200-plus grammar schools have survived Tony Crosland’s policy to destroy them. Our remaining grammars are mainly situated in counties that had the determination, foresight and resources to defy government, such as Buckinghamshire and Kent, or where a combination of strong governors, head teachers and parents took their school into the private sector, as with Kirkham Grammar School, established in 1492 to provide free education to 30 boys of the parish, and still doing so very successfully for more than 450 boys (including me) by the early 1960s.

My free education enabled me to build a career in one of the professions (I am a chartered surveyor), which for entry then required five 0-levels, and not a degree as it does today; two of my friends, whose father was employed as a janitor for the gas board, won places at Oxford and the LSE; another gained a place at the Royal College of Music; another to read history at Durham. All of them were working-class boys and the first in their families to go to university.

Grammar schools were then undoubtedly meritocratic, providing social mobility ladders for bright children from poor backgrounds to secure a better job and a better life.

It is a national tragedy that over the past 50 years millions of children have been denied the opportunity that my generation had. The damage to the meritocratic development of our society, and to our economic prosperity over the past half century, is incalculable.

Anthony H. Ratcliffe, FRICS

London W1

Sir, Sir Michael Wilshaw’s claim that many of the remaining grammar schools are “stuffed full of middle-class kids” is astonishing. Before they were swept away, many grammar schools were stuffed full of working-class children. Today these children cannot afford to afford to live in the catchment areas that feed the better comprehensives, and are thus denied the academic education that their forbears received before grammar schools were abolished.

What price social mobility now?

Don Shaw

Retired Visiting Professor in Drama, University of Derby

Sir, It is ironic that Sir Michael Wilshaw thinks that grammar schools are doing nothing to improve social mobility. Grammar schools were once one of the great engines of social mobility. From 1964 to 1997, all British Prime Ministers were grammar school-educated. Since 1997 they have mainly been public school-educated.

If Mr Wilshaw seeks the reason why social mobility in this country has stalled, I suggest that some of the complex reasons for this lie in the target-driven culture of the whole education service, where competing agendas and constantly moving goalposts have left many in education bewildered about what their priorities are supposed to be.

Many of us joke that although we may have “hit the target”, have we in fact missed the point?

Dr Jane Oliver

(Educational Consultant)

Caterham, Surrey



Successful prosecutions for trafficking need the co-operation and evidence of the people who have been trafficked

Sir, The draft Modern Slavery Bill published on Monday will — if enacted — consolidate and clarify the existing criminal law, which is confusing. The Bill is primarily about punishing the perpetrators, but successful prosecutions need the co-operation and evidence of the people who have been trafficked. The Bill does not address this.

The assistance and protection needs of victims of trafficking must therefore also be addressed, not only to conform with the UK’s obligations under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings and the 2011 EU Anti-trafficking Directive, but to promote effective prosecution of alleged traffickers. This can happen only if the victims are first identified as such and not treated as criminals (which they may appear to be if they have been involved in illicit activities).

Earlier this year the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings published recommendations for legislators and prosecutors (of which I was a co-author) on the non-punishment of victims of trafficking with regard to offences they have committed in the course, or as a consequence, of being trafficked, on the basis that they are not responsible for their actions. The need for prosecutors to understand this is acknowledged in the strategic response that precedes the draft Bill.

It is crucial for the welfare of victims that they be identified as such, not mistaken for suspected criminals, and given the full benefits and help to which they are entitled.

Professsor Ryszard Piotrowicz

Member, Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, and Department of Law and Criminology, Aberystwyth University

This young reporter took a long, twisting journey across Ireland in search of an interview with the great actor

Sir, You say that Peter O’Toole’s film career began in 1959 with The Savage Innocents (Kate Muir, Arts, Dec 16).

In 1956 when Peter was staying with me for a few days he said that if you look carefully at the sailors at the top of the brow in The Cruel Sea (1953) waiting — I think for the Captain to come aboard — you will spot him there.

Richard Need

Cheam, Surrey

Sir, When I was a young reporter I was sent to interview Peter O’Toole about his reported support for the IRA. That he lived somewhere near Galway was all we knew. Off we set, flew from Manchester to Shannon, drove to Galway, ventured to several pubs where he was meant to be a regular and was directed to the wilds of Connemara. After many false turns — there were at least one butcher and a publican called Peter O’Toole — we finally came to the crest of a small hill overlooking the Atlantic. Just before the shore, a low lying stone-built cottage. It had taken two days of travelling and enquiring after the great man’s whereabouts. I walked up the long drive, knocked on the door and explained my business to the aide who opened it. He said: “Why don’t you f*** off.”

Richard Holledge

London W14


Sometimes the realities of exposing wrongdoing or improper conduct are offputting and difficult to manage

Sir, It is very difficult to reconcile the “obligation on officers to report improper conduct and wrongdoing by colleagues”, as stipulated by the recently introduced code of ethics for police officers, with the treatment meted out to PC James Patrick for apparently doing just that in exposing the manipulation of crime statistics (“Met silences the PC who exposed ‘fiddled figures’”, Dec 14).

John Kenny

(Metropolitan Police officer, 1965-95)

Acle, Norfolk



The reporting of the latest Calls to the Bar has caused this reader some concern — another 500 lawyers?

Sir, “Lawyers, not the press, are the biggest invaders of our privacy” says the headline on the Opinion piece by Libby Purves (Dec 16). Turn to page 51. Another 500 of them called to the Bar. And that’s only Michaelmas Term. Lord help us.

Allen Brown

Headcorn, Kent





SIR – I am sympathetic towards Ken Mould, who was fined £1,000 at Stafford magistrates’ court for ignoring a council order to remove the ivy that entirely covered his house.

I think the house looked better when it was covered in ivy. And what business is it of the council’s if Mr Mould allows plants to grow up the walls of his house? I am sure that potential buyers wanting to move into a similar, adjacent property would not reconsider because of the ivy growth.

Michael Cleary


SIR – I spent several days as a reporter at Stephen Ward’s committal hearing prior to his being sent for trial.

Mervyn Griffith-Jones, the prosecuting counsel, produced a series of young women who went into the witness box to say they had been “picked up” by Ward in the West End. After two or three of these, the magistrate asked Mr Griffith-Jones what the relevance of their evidence was. He said that it showed that Ward was “an immoral man” and “therefore more likely” to be guilty of the offence with which he was charged.

I cannot recall ever hearing a more irregular legal argument but the magistrate – though clearly uneasy – said he would allow one more such witness but no more. Perhaps he was influenced by the eminence of counsel. It should be remembered that Griffith-Jones was the prosecuting lawyer in the Lady Chatterley obscenity trial.

I heard that the judge’s summing up in the trial at the Old Bailey was so biased that Ward’s counsel told his solicitor to advise Ward not to worry. If convicted, he could not fail to be acquitted on appeal. Sadly for Ward, this message never reached him.

Peter Smith
Ingatestone, Essex

SIR – Lord Lexden’s suggestion that documents relating to the Stephen Ward trial be thrown open is welcome.

A former colleague of mine in the Metropolitan CID accompanied the senior investigating officer, who was at least a detective chief superintendent, to the first interview with the 3rd Viscount Astor, and filled his pocket book with questions and answers about the parties at Cliveden, Lord Astor’s country home.

A subsequent visit to take a full written statement was declined on advice from Lord Astor’s solicitor. Such a witness would not be called by the prosecution as he would be deemed unreliable and vulnerable to cross-examination. Any evidence he could have given would have been offered to the defence, but my memory is that the peer did not give evidence at all.

A case of living off immoral earnings was always investigated by a uniformed officer, very often in plain clothes, but never conducted by a senior CID officer.

None of my colleagues believed that Ward was guilty. Never before had we known a suspect to be so charged where there was the slightest evidence that even a small part of his income was legitimately earned.

Hugh Toomer
Petersfield, Hampshire

SIR – Lord Lloyd-Webber, in his musical, Stephen Ward, is to be congratulated on his splendid stand against the dire miscarriage of justice meted out to the late Stephen Ward 50 years ago. Bravo!

Sir Hugh Leggatt
Vevey, Switzerland

SIR – The exceptional task undertaken by Royal Marine units in Afghanistan supports the immediate release of Marine A, who was given a life sentence for killing a wounded Taliban fighter.

The Royal Marines have completed nearly 15,000 individual six-month tours of duty; tours of duty that have demanded extraordinary feats of human endeavour, day in, day out. The service and sacrifice of the corps’ personnel has been truly exceptional and has been rightly recognised with 206 national-level gallantry and meritorious service awards.

This equates to 13 per cent of all the medals awarded in the campaign so far, and an incredible 25 per cent of all the Conspicuous Gallantry Crosses and Military Crosses.

I trust that the appeal judges will look at the corps’ record and release the man back to his family. The fact that he was thrown out of the corps with dishonour will remain a burden for him for the rest of his life.

Derek Densham
Totnes, Devon

SIR – Surely, it would have been an advantage if the Judge Advocate General had visited Afghanistan before he gave a life sentence to Marine A. He should have been on a patrol in Helmand Province and maybe seen the horrors of marines’ and soldiers’ body parts hung in trees to enable him to understand better the pressures our gallant servicemen and women are under on the battlefield.

Clearly Sergeant Alexander Blackman is remorseful and very much regrets what he did in the heat of the moment. I hope many more than the current 40,000 will sign the Downing Street petition asking that the sentence be annulled.

Edward Wilkinson
Bakewell, Derbyshire

SIR – Gen Sir Nick Houghton, the head of the Armed Forces, offers no support to Marine A, only condemnation.

Thank goodness I’ve retired from the Army if this is the modern version of leadership.

John Horsfall
Marlborough, Wiltshire

NHS consultants

SIR – The plea by your consultant surgeon correspondents that team care is the only way to restore high-quality outcomes in the NHS is entirely laudable. However, the authors have mostly been in influential positions either in their Royal Colleges and even in the NHS’s managerial structures. Did they speak out forcefully when the European working time directive, which in many cases halved the experience of new consultants, was introduced?

In Ireland and many Continental countries, the directive was taken with a pinch of salt and young surgeons got on with their training. Here, hospital medical directors allowed the rules to be slavishly adhered to.

What did the authors of the letter say when NHS trusts idiotically banned consultants from cross-referring their patients within hospitals, a process promoting speed and efficiency of diagnosis and treatment?

And what resistance did these senior surgeons mount when the NHS directed GPs to refer patients generically rather than to the clinician known to be the best locally for a given condition? In the absence of such resistance, it is hardly surprising that NHS administrators desperate to make savings have encouraged the consigning of patients to nameless responsibility.

Your correspondents berate the NHS for “taking away their teams and splitting up partnerships”, but how much did they sit and watch from their Royal Colleges at the inception of the process? It is ironic that it has taken disastrous damage to a surgeon and countless episodes of death and injury to members of the public to highlight this, only one aspect of the decline in our national health care.

Peter Mahaffey FRCS
Cardington, Bedfordshire

Paying for care

SIR – If the chaotic inflation in house prices over the past 30 years is to have any good effect, it is in providing capital for care in old age for those lucky enough to have been able to buy their own homes. That the elderly rich should take from the state in their declining years, without being required to sell up and pay their way, is surely anathema to every Conservative principle.

Rev Richard Haggis

Digital radio switch

SIR – The suggestion that the proposed switch-over to digital radio would force people to spend £50 on buying a new radio is short of the mark. Most households have at least two FM radios plus one in a car: a replacement cost of at least £150.

John Huelin
Woodstock, Oxfordshire

SIR – I have both digital and analogue radios, sometimes both broadcasting at the same time. When the BBC switches off its analogue services, the irritating delay of several seconds between the different signals will be a thing of the past, but, for now, which set of pips are the correct ones to set my clocks to?

Graham Bond
Matching Green, Essex

Shop and a drop

SIR – Recent letters reminded me of working in Harrods in the mid Seventies. A flight of stairs led down from the ground floor to The Green Man, a beautifully furnished bar looked after by a superb Irish barman called Jimmy. This really was a relaxing way to shop.

Terence Irwin
Northallerton, North Yorkshire

Grammar schools

SIR – If new grammar schools were to be opened in deprived Labour-controlled areas, where they are most needed and where, of course, they were most enthusiastically abolished, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, would find that they would not be “stuffed full” of middle-class children.

In wealthy middle-class areas it does not much matter what type of school prevails: parental pressure, involvement, culture and aspiration will keep them up to the mark. It is in poor areas where children of above-average ability would most benefit from an escape route from the educationally stultifying influence of their badly behaved, less able and disproportionately influential peers.

An exceptional headmaster may be able to go some way towards addressing this problem but, by definition, most heads are not exceptional, so in “bog standard” comprehensives the educationally able languish with their potential unfulfilled, to their and the nation’s detriment.

Max Sawyer
Stamford, Lincolnshire

Living in Ireland

SIR – I found John Simpson’s article on living in Ireland to be condescending towards the Irish people. His claims that Dublin previously had no class and that Ireland was a “backwater” of Europe are laughable.

As someone who has lived in Mr Simpson’s previous address of Chelsea, south-west London, and seen the hollow shows of excessive grandeur that are the norm there, I can understand why he has decided to move to the beautiful enclave of Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin.

However, this article presents a patronising view of Ireland and its people, one that, unfortunately, a small proportion of English people hold to this day.

Jack Drea

Independent shops

SIR – If Les Sharp cannot buy scrag-end of lamb at Waitrose then the answer is simple: visit a butcher.

There are many lines that supermarkets do not stock, and products that they will not order on request. Support your local shops before the supermarkets drive them out of existence; for then, any speciality will be an impossibility.

Chris Harding
Parkstone, Dorset




Irish Times:


Sir, – Olivia Kelly (Front page, December 17th) reports on Dublin City Council manager Owen Keegan’s concerns about the proposed agreement with Irish Water.

This agreement apparently obliges Dublin Council to provide water services to Irish Water for the next 12 years. Surely, if this new company, Irish Water, is being set up to manage the collection, purification, and delivery of water across the country then it should do precisely what it “says on the tin”.

Irish Water should be taking total control of all water-related assets/liabilities, staff, pension funds, and HR functions, and if any council is out of pocket it should be compensated by the exchequer.

Finally, there is no point in spending taxpayers’ money purifying water when approximately 40 per cent leaks into the ground. Therefore, before any water meters are installed, the water collection and delivery systems will have to be upgraded. Otherwise, these systems will continue to limp along, and the only difference in the future will be Irish Water will blame the councils, and the councils will blame Irish Water. – Yours, etc,


Ardagh Close,


Sir, – Senator Paul Coghlan (Home News, December 16th) is publishing a Bill obliging out-of-town retailers to charge for parking. The stated objective of this Bill is to level the playing pitch between town retailers and out-of-town centres.

The likely consequence of this Bill is a reduction in overall economic activity rather than the hoped for redirection of footfall to urban and town areas. Lessons should have been learnt from the demise of areas such as Dún Laoghaire where parking restrictions and charges resulted in the closure of businesses and subsequent job losses.

This Bill will also turn out-of-town centres into ghost estates and result in job losses. Senator Coghlan fails to recognise the fact that it is often free parking that attracts customers to spend time in any retail centre and spend money on impulse purchases and leisure activities such as cinemas and restaurants.

The solution is to introduce a fair and reasonable parking system in all retail areas to increase footfall rather than to introduce further punitive charges that encourage potential customers to stay at home.

Mr Coghlan fails to recognise that out-of-town centres employ a large number of staff who could lose their jobs if footfall declined. He also fails to recognise that many elderly, lonely or cash-strapped people visit large retail centres to pass the time in a warm and convivial environment where they can socialise for free or the price of a cup of tea. This Bill is nothing but another resource-gathering tax by another name. It will cost the economy more than it benefits it. – Yours, etc,


Stonepark Abbey,


Sir, – Denis Costello (December 16th) seems to take issue with recent comments by Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore that it may be possible to reduce income tax as the economy recovers.

Unlike Mr Costello, I am sure the many thousands of hard-pressed families who have borne the brunt of the recession over the past few years either through job losses, emigration or a drop in income would welcome such any such move by Government.

Lifting the burden of taxation on households would enable those people, whose sacrifices and hard work made this week’s bailout exit possible, to share in the gains of economic recovery. It would also reward in real terms the resilience and patience of the Irish people in helping to turn the economy around.

I think the Tánaiste’s acknowledgment that we should do what we can to ease the pressure on those families who have been under much distress as a direct result of what happened to the economy, is something that should be welcomed. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – Paul Gillespie’s article (“Much regional variation in performance of European populist right parties”, World View, December 15th) undermines certain received truths surrounding the populist right and the present crisis. He cites the EU Democracy Observatory conference, which “heard how economic voting has punished incumbent governments held responsible for the crisis and rewarded opposition parties”, but uses the examples of Finland and the Netherlands to show how voters of the populist right are motivated by fear of potential economic decline rather than the actual effects of the existing crisis. This is an evidence-based nuance often overlooked in media commentary.

However, research by the Brussels-based Foundation for European Progressive Studies, the Italian Centro per la Riforma dello Stato and Italianieuropei runs contrary to Mr Gillespie’s contention that right-wing populists “need to be engaged by established parties, stimulating greater debate and voter choice”.

The historical experience has been that right-wing populists, in fact, undermine public debate and weaken liberal democratic practice. He describes the French Front National as exceptional but its rise can be traced to mainstream engagement since the 1980s. This has simultaneously increased the salience of Eurosceptic and xenophobic issues in the French public sphere in a trend also evident in Austria, the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Flames of hatred in Athens rise from “opportunity structures” allowed to smoulder by the mainstream parties since the Junta. In the UK, Conservative Party attempts to “engage” with the UKIP narrative on immigration are dragging the whole political system through the gutter. The wiser approach would be for mainstream parties to engage honestly with their citizens, and the fears they hold, rather than with the harbingers of undemocratic chaos who would play on such fears. – Yours, etc,


Policy Adviser,

Foundation for European


Sir, – According to Associated Press reports, 13 people were killed and 22 others injured when a US drone attack hit a convoy going to a wedding party in the province of al-Bayda in Yemen, on December 12th. This was less than three days after President Obama gave his lofty address at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. AP also reported that a drone strike killed 12 villagers in a similar procession in the same province last year.

In 2012 a New York Times report revealed, “Every week or so, more than 100 members of the [US] government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.”

Such targeted assassinations are often carried out by CIA drones, so do not come under the laws of war, nor is the US at war with Yemen. Even the killing of suspected militants in this manner is in breach of international and national laws. The reckless killing of civilians in such attacks arguably amounts to a war crime. – Yours, etc,





Sir, – Cantillon (December 14th) reported the sale of the first tranche of Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) loans. It noted some of the original borrowers have bought their own debt back! This is at a massive discount funded by the taxpayer. In my memory we were assured at the set-up of Nama that this is exactly what would not happen.

One of the beneficiaries of this largesse from the taxpayer is Denis O’Brien. It is ironic that he was one of the luminaries at Farmleigh and also is a wealthy tax exile from Ireland. Of course, he is not alone in benefiting from all this gifting from the taxpayers. Will there be a liability to gift tax? What a failure of democracy and capitalism. Why did we bother setting up an expensive structure such as Nama when we could have written down the debt at the outset? – Yours, etc,


Trimleston Drive,


First published: Wed, Dec 18, 2013, 01:07


A chara, – As the second last of 403 elected mayors of Kilkenny, I warmly welcome the findings of the Forum on the Establishment of the Office of Directly Elected Mayor of Dublin (Home News, December 16th). What a pity this is about to be put to the people of Dublin in a plebiscite when less than 100 miles down the road a 1,000-year-old city council is being abolished without any reference to its citizens and for virtually no savings. Democracy for the current capital but none for the medieval capital! – Is mise,





Sir, – Dr Kenny Denny of UCD tells us (December 14th) that international ranking in Pisa tests are “mildly interesting” and a “fetish” concern. The variation in performance within Ireland and its causes is more interesting he tells us.

The Pisa reports compare those variations within Ireland with those of competitor countries. In particular the 2012 Pisa report shows again that the proportion of high achievers in mathematics in Ireland remains lower than the OECD average and much lower than many competitor countries.

If Dr Denny reads the economic literature he will discover the strong correlation between national economic progress and comparative performance in cognitive tests such as PISA. He will also discover its correlation with the proportion of high achievers in such tests.

PISA reports valuably give the socio-economic and other contexts of national achievement and international comparison. – Yours, etc,


The Court,


Raheny, Dublin 5.

Sir, – Dr Kevin Denny (December 14th) asserts that the OECD Pisa assessment is constructed such as the overall average is set at 500 on each administration and that Pisa cannot measure absolute change in performance. He is incorrect.

Each cycle of Pisa links performance back to earlier cycles, through the administration of common (link) questions. Performance in a given cycle within each country is then adjusted to reflect changes in performance on the link questions since the previous cycle. An overall average of 500 was set for reading in 2000, maths in 2003 and science in 2006. Performance in subsequent cycles is benchmarked against these years, and differences in performance between cycles can be interpreted as reflecting absolute changes in performance. Hence, we have interpreted the strong increase in performance in science among Ireland’s 15-year-olds in Pisa 2012 as reflecting improved student learning since 2006, most likely brought about by changes in curriculum and associated changes in teaching.

Such inferences cannot be made if performance on State examinations improves (for example, an increase in A grades), since changes to prescribed texts, examination questions and marking schemes from year to year may be as influential as changes in teaching and learning. – Yours, etc,



Educational Research


St Patrick’s College,

Drumcondra, Dublin 9.



Sir, – Vincent Browne (Opinion, December 4th) and Padraig Yeates (December 9th) are both correct when they agree that it has been the political culture of Murphy rather than Larkin that has dominated Ireland since the 26-county Civil War.

However, it is necessary to correct the assumption implicit in their analyses that this was due to Murphy’s victory in the actual Dublin Lockout. In fact, though his alliance could claim to have won, their achievement was like that of Pyrrhus when he defeated the Romans: a victory that cost almost as much as a defeat.

This was shown when, two years later, Murphy urged the Dublin Chamber of Commerce to finish the job and his peers didn’t want to know.

What prevented the workers from doing as the Romans did to Pyrrhus in the end was due to the over-cautious strategy of their leaders after 1916. It would seem as if the present generation of their leaders has still to learn that lesson. – Yours, etc,


Killester Avenue,


Sir, – Sensible people surely realise that all the fuss created to mark the bailout exit was simply an exercise to court popularity by the Government.

After all, nothing has changed; the national debt continues to grow, the rich still become richer and the poor, poorer. Our Taoiseach congratulates himself and his Government on their “achievement” and lauds the taxpayers for their patience and fortitude; while our President appeals to us to donate more to an ever-growing number of poor and homeless people.

Nothing has changed. – Yours, etc,





Sir, – I wonder how many people are offended – as I am – by the smart alecs who refer to Christmas as “Chrimbo”. By trying to demean the core of Christian belief they merely demean themselves. – Yours, etc,


St Helen’s Road,





Irish Independent:


Pope Francis: will reinvigorate the church by bringing its flaws to light – 17 December 2013

* There has been some inappropriate interpretation of the efforts of Pope Francis to bring the leadership of the church down to earth, in some cases seeing his efforts as an opportunity to reinforce traditional teaching.

Also in this section

Letters: Twerkers of the world — get lost

Giving ideas to ‘her indoors’

Letters: Mandela saw the ties that bind us

Pope Francis’s thoughts run much deeper. His misgivings about how the church is led are not so much concerned with teaching but about mending weaknesses in the church’s capacity to learn.

It seems to me to make more sense to think of teaching not as a noun, referring to a body of doctrines, but as a verb pointing to a certain activity concerned with illuminating minds. The onus is on the teacher to bring about learning in a way that engages the intelligence of the learners.

Sadly, weak leadership in the Irish church has generated blind complacency in the face of a crying need for inspiring direction. It is sad, too, to see church leaders showing a lack of faith in the capacity of the priests and people to detect what is right and fitting for us as humans. Thankfully, the goodwill of the Irish knows no bounds, whilst revealing a sensitive nose for what is authentic and sincere.

The colonisation of human thoughtfulness and imagination by the sometimes restricted perspective of our bishops has constituted a significant disservice to the church.

The Pope is not interested in re-branding the church, but in releasing the intelligence of the clergy and people; the days of censoring and silencing are over.

What Pope Francis is attempting to do is reshape the way leadership operates in the church, to halt the further amplification of the church’s perceived irrelevance.

The Pope makes a challenging appeal to us not to be driven by the fear of going astray but by the avoidance of suffocation by institutional structures and procedures. His is a call to redirect and refocus our moral indignation on the plight of the poor and the marginalised; compassion should always trump conformity.




* We exited the bailout and the Government predictably did a limp lap of honour. No champagne corks popping, or fireworks, though, and thank God for that.

The heroes of the past three years are those who took the pain, and silently bit down hard on the bullet.

This often meant not turning on the central heating as the ice gathered on the window pane; sometimes it meant sleeping over several nights on trolleys in hospitals; for others it meant the loss of vital carer hours, the sole comfort elderly people might have over a long week in isolation.

And I also think of the mothers and fathers who accompanied their children to airports around the country to wave them off.

They had not reared them for other countries to benefit, but needs must. Now they keep contact through the use of Skype and email. But that’s not the same — you can’t hug someone on the hard shoulder of the “information super highway.”

If that all sounds a bit Dickensian, and ‘Bah! Humbug!’, then I am sorry, especially in the run-up to the season of Goodwill.

I don’t want to do Enda down; he and the Government have done well.

When they took over and saw the books for the first time, they might have been forgiven for pulling the blankets over their heads and taking to the bed themselves.

We have endured, and prevailed with the gentle spirit and courage that is the watermark of the Irish character, let’s be grateful for that.

But do not let us forget the silent sacrifices endured by so many whose daily struggles are never celebrated, and seldom even acknowledged.




* Now that the Oireachtas has managed to shed some light on the business practices of the Central Remedial Clinic, and the troika has departed these shores — to the accompaniment of a political fanfare only matched in our history by that which followed Saint Patrick‘s driving of the snakes out — might I submit that the Oireachtas now turn its attention to the issue of bringing the bankers before the Oireachtas to explain how they caused the troika to come here in the first place?




* Finance Minister Michael Noonan has been quoted as saying “We can’t go mad again” in relation to our economic crisis. One wonders which “we” he refers to?

Is it the “we” who brought this country to its knees through inept banking, and rampant property speculation or is it the “we” who were forced to buy family homes at hugely inflated prices, and are at present paying mortgages they can barely afford?

Or is it those who have been crippled by incessant tax hikes and freezing of increments and those that can barely heat and run their homes due to ever increasing fuel prices, social welfare cuts, household and property taxes? The assumption by much of the media and politicians appears to be that the Irish people as a whole caused this crisis and that we were living well beyond our means.

Now that we all have been good girls and boys and are ‘post bailout’, I can assure Mr Noonan that I did not go mad nor do I intend to go mad, but I certainly am ‘fuming’.




* Enda Kenny has told the people that exiting the bailout sends a powerful signal internationally; that now is not the time to change direction and that the future will be about employment generating enterprise, not personal deal-making.

Apart from the fortitude and patience of the people, the most glaring signal to emerge over the past decade is the impunity with which outrageous levels of white-collar crime and flagrant corruption can be perpetrated and the obscene amounts of wealth accumulated by services providers as a result of the collapse.

Not one individual has been tried and punished in a criminal court for this economic treason.

And public trust in so many ‘pillars of society’ has been gored beyond remediation.

Reform of the self-regulated legal service professions has been demanded for well over a decade. But the legal services bill still hunkers like an impotent ghost cowering in a haunted warehouse.

The Taoiseach needs to offer more than ‘prudent budgetary policies’ if his ambition is to be taken more seriously than a cheerleader.

He is governing a society, not just an economy, and he needs to urgently send society a signal to that effect.




* I respectfully wish to register the strongest complaint in relation to the advertisement shown on the back of yesterday’s newspaper by the RSA.

“Beware of cyclists” to my mind, as both a motorist and a keen cyclist, sends out a completely inaccurate message to the general public and most importantly “motorists” about the presence of cyclists on our roads.

It is negative in its wording and if I might suggest to the powers that be that a very simple change to that wording would go much further towards reducing accidents and, most importantly, fatalities on our roads.

Why not try the following, “Be aware of cyclists”? It sounds much more positive to all parties involved, don’t you think?





Irish Independent


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: