13 February 2014 Hangover

I go all the way around the park listening to the Navy Lark. Our heroes are in trouble, again. Troutbridge has to escort a Russian destroyer Priceless.

Awful hangover but some work done on the attic sold a book.

Scrabbletoday I win but under 400, perhaps Mary will win tomorrow




Lady Sainsbury, who has died aged 101, was, with her husband Sir Robert Sainsbury, a well-known sponsor and patron of the arts; in 1973 the couple gave the bulk of their collection to the University of East Anglia in Norwich, commissioned the then little-known architect Norman Foster — a personal friend — to design an art gallery on the campus, and worked with him to produce the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, which opened in 1978.

Lisa Sainsbury and her husband were pioneering collectors in many fields. Guided by an instinctive emotional response to sculptural form, they provided financial support and friendship for Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon at a time when the artists were largely unknown. They also shared an appreciation of non-western art and antiquities, amassing a collection of figurative work, sculpture, pottery and textiles from cultures ranging from Ancient Greece to tribal Africa and from the Americas to contemporary Japan. When the Sainsbury Centre opened, what it revealed to the public was not only a private collection of the best artists of the 20th century but also a redefinition of what art might be.

Lisa Sainsbury developed a particular interest in studio ceramics. Beginning with the purchase of a vase by Lucie Rie in the 1950s, she amassed a considerable collection of more than 400 modern pots, including whole bodies of work by Hans Coper, Rie and Rupert Spira. The Lisa Sainsbury Ceramic Collection is now regarded as a showcase of modern British studio ceramics.

The Sainsburys’ initial gift to UEA featured several hundred works, but they continued to acquire for the university and to make endowments for running costs and for new departments, including the Sainsbury Research Unit for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas and the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures. The institute was funded by the sale in 1998 (for £4,291,500) of their first joint art purchase, the Portrait of Baranowski by Modigliani, which they had acquired in 1937 for £1,000. The centre’s library was named in Lady Sainsbury’s honour in recognition of her enthusiasm for the project.

Extraordinarily, even though their collection contained works by Francis Bacon, alongside Degas, Picasso, Modigliani, Moore and Giacometti, for many years the Sainsburys set themselves an annual purchasing budget of just £1,000, rising to £2,000 in the mid 1950s. Spotting talent early meant they bought cheaply. Giacometti drawings were purchased for £5 apiece; a Picasso sketch for £85. Their 13 Bacons, now worth many millions of pounds, cost a total of just £8,000. “People forget how unknown it was possible for people to be,” Lisa Sainsbury observed.

Yet they never bought to make a profit. “You should think of it as if you were spending the money on a party. That was my husband’s great view,” Lisa Sainsbury recalled. “Don’t think of art as an investment. If things do become valuable, you’re jolly lucky.”

Lisa Ingeborg Van den Bergh was born in England on March 3 1912, the daughter of Simon Van den Bergh, a professor of philosophy at the University of Paris. The Van den Berghs were a notable Dutch-Jewish margarine-manufacturing dynasty and Lisa and her future husband were second cousins through Robert Sainsbury’s mother Mabel (née Van den Bergh). His grandfather, John Sainsbury (1844–1928), was the founder of the family food-retailing empire.

Lisa was brought up in cultivated circles in Paris, Geneva and London, though she once confessed that before her marriage she had little interest in art: “As a girl my father dragged us round museums and told us what we had to like and what we shouldn’t and that put me off for a while. But when he was very old, my father said: ‘I’ve read an article about Soutine and I think he’s someone you and Bob should buy’. I said, as a matter of fact, you eat with us regularly and there’s been a Soutine in the dining room all this time.”

Robert Sainsbury had already begun collecting when the couple married at a London registry office in 1937. Shortly after their marriage they moved into No 5, Smith Square, Westminster, their home until 1994, when they moved to Dulwich. Until the 1970s they also kept a house at Bucklebury in Berkshire.

During the Second World War, Robert Sainsbury coordinated the company’s food supply activities as part of the war effort, while Lisa, with their eldest daughter Elizabeth, sailed to Canada, where in 1940 she gave birth to a son, David (now Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the former science minister). Leaving the children with friends, Lisa returned to London to work as a medical social worker at St Thomas’ Hospital. Another daughter, Celia, was born in 1945, followed by Annabel in 1948.

From 1937 Bob and Lisa, as they were known in the art world, began what he referred to as a “joint unplanned voyage of discovery” in the world of art. For 30 years, with his elder brother Alan, Robert would steer Sainsbury’s from a local grocer into a supermarket giant. In the process, they became one of Britain’s richest families. Robert became chairman of the company in 1967, but it was for his services to the arts that he was knighted the same year. As well as buying art he took up a number of posts at museums and art galleries both in Britain and abroad.

Becoming friends with the artists they supported was always one of the Sainsburys’ greatest pleasures. Henry Moore was godfather to their son David; Alberto Giacometti drew Elizabeth and David; Francis Bacon (whose bank account Robert guaranteed ) did three portraits of Lisa Sainsbury, who recalled that: “It was most enjoyable sitting for him — if you survived the paint. He lived in complete squalor and there was paint everywhere.”

However Lisa admitted that to begin with many of their friends were baffled by the Sainsburys’ taste for Bacon’s screaming popes, howling dogs and haunted, tortured human figures. “People were wildly anti-Bacon. They would say, ‘How can you live with this awful man, it has put me off my food.’” It amused the couple that by the 1970s some of the same people who had criticised them for buying ghastly monstrosities were now lauding them for their taste and perspicacity.

In later life, however, Lisa confessed that she herself had much the same negative reaction to artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin: “Bob and I used to wonder if we were getting too old. But we decided no, it was just sensationalism.”

The UEA was not the only beneficiary of the Sainsburys’ generosity. They made major donations to hospitals and to Kew Gardens, where they funded a orchid conservation project. Lisa Sainsbury was particularly interested in the hospice movement. She established her own charitable foundation to train nurses to help the dying deal with ethnic, religious and spiritual issues and supported many hospices, including St Christopher’s, the world’s first purpose-built hospice, established in 1967 by her friend, Cicely (later Dame Cicely) Saunders.

Lady Sainsbury was awarded an honorary degree by the UEA in 1990 and an honorary fellowship in 2003. The same year she was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, in recognition of her lifelong contribution to the promotion of Japanese culture in Britain.

Lady Sainsbury is survived by her son and two daughters. Her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, predeceased her.

Lady Sainsbury, born March 3 1912, died February 6 2014




The recommencement of talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots is encouraging (Report, 11 February). It is time, long after the Greek Cypriot Coup in 1974, that a settlement is reached. The economy of Greek Cyprus has been undermined and the political instability in Turkey is not helpful to the Turkish Cypriots.

It is stated that the discovery of oil and gas reserves has strengthened the negotiating hand of Greek Cypriots but there is an equally important asset which will be to the advantage of Turkish Cypriots. That is the piped supply of fresh water from Turkey to Northern Cyprus. This could be helpful to Greek Cyprus which has had to import water by boats from Greece.

The sharing of water and gas reserves should increase cross-border co-operation in the island. The most important element in any settlement must be the guarantee of safety and security for the Turkish Cypriot minority.
John Kilclooney
House of Lords




George Monbiot (Orwell’s heroism? Today he’d be guilty of terrorism, 11 February) seems to equate British members of the mid-30s International Brigades with those Britons currently fighting in Syria against the Assad government. However, the International Brigaders were resisting a putsch by fascist Francoists (supported by Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy) against the legitimately elected Spanish Republican government. Despite the lack of a democratically elected regime in Syria prior to the present civil war, it is quite unclear to me why the anti-Assad uprising in Homs was immediately assumed by the west to be the onset of a democratic revolution for the Syrian people. Will the west never learn from its recent disastrous intervention in Libya – and earlier “liberation” of Iraq – that such actions may not bring about democracy, but on the contrary often worsen the plight of inhabitants living under autocratic regimes?
Bryan Bowes

• George Monbiot appears a little confused. As he observes, Orwell, Lee – and thousands of others – fought in defence of Spain’s legitimate government. I’m fairly certain that those arrested on return from Syria would have been acting there against the legitimate government.
David Lewin

• George Monbiot’s question about “Allied effort in the second world war: how much was known, how much could have been done?” indeed should haunt us still in relation to current horrors. Based on first-hand evidence smuggled out of German-occupied Poland by Jan Karski, the foreign minister of the Polish government in exile, Count Raczynski, was able on December 10 1942, to present a note to the UN entitled “the mass extermination of Jews in German-occupied Poland”, which left in no doubt what was being undertaken. In early 1943, Karski met with Anthony Eden and later with Roosevelt and others in the US administration, but with limited effect: Felix Frankfurter simply couldn’t believe that what Karski was describing could be true. Disbelief is perhaps forgivable; turning a blind eye is not. And those British nationals who have been drawn to the struggle against Assad and his murderous regime in Syria could face a maximum sentence of life in prison if they live to tell the tale and return to these shores? How good it is to be British.
Bruce Ross-Smith

• I agree with George Monbiot that the Terrorism Act only applies to some terrorist, not all. Anyone motivated by solidarity or ideology to violently remove a foreign head of state risks arrest and a very long term of imprisonment when they return to UK. However, the provisions of the act do not seem to apply to anyone whose motivation is purely mercenary, as in the case of the attempted coup in 2004 against the government of Equatorial Guinea. The coup’s leader and planner who stood to make millions – a business associate of Mark Thatcher as it happens – was not arrested or harassed by the law on his return to UK and is still at liberty.
John Lloyd

• In the autumn of 2006 we were part of a group assisting Palestinian farmers in the West Bank with their olive harvest.  We were lodged in Bethlehem. During our stay we witnessed a shocking incident. A wedding party in the town was surrounded and attacked by Israeli soldiers. The man they were hunting escaped but in the course of the attack a 70-year-old woman was shot dead and a teenager died later in hospital from a bullet in the head. After the attack, the wedding home and the house next door belonging to relatives were both destroyed. We were told this action would have been perpetrated by a special unit of the Israeli Defence Force charged with hunting and killing anyone the authorities believed to be a “terrorist”. Within days of returning to the UK, we read a report in the Guardian about young British Jewish Zionists who volunteered for training and service in the unit whose activities we had only just witnessed. The article was written in largely approving terms. On the face of it, under the Terrorist Act 2006, such volunteers could be seen to be guilty of fighting abroad with a “political, ideological, religious or racial motive”. What is the Crown Prosecution Service head of counter-terrorism, Sue Hemming, doing about that?
John and Gwen Backwell


Chris Huhne is right that the UK must leave behind old imperialistic worldviews, but we must go further (Comment, 10 February): even thinking in terms of “the UK” and “them” can blind us to better ways of doing business. In financial and professional services, the world is not driven by nations but by markets. London is an open marketplace, functioning as a dynamic hub for the people and businesses in and near it. This is now a world in which your next top client could easily be a Chinese entrepreneur whom you meet in Lagos and who bases herself in Johannesburg – and we must have a mindset that can cope with this. London’s role as a world-leading financial centre developed precisely because it is a place from which you can construct such links. That’s why Edinburgh, Taipei and New Delhi were among my first business visits this year, and why I will soon be visiting Abu Dhabi, Jeddah and Bahrain, followed by Istanbul, Milan and São Paulo. I think of them all as postcodes in the Square Mile.
Fiona Woolf
Lord mayor of the City of London

• Just does what Chris Huhne mean by “winning the war that matters”? Does he mean we are at war with Vietnam or any country that has its own culture, religion, politics and mentality? Or does he mean we are in a continual war with anyone who disagrees with us? As one who has travelled abroad extensively, often leading groups of secondary school students from this country, I find his suggestion alarming. Our expeditions were always designed to improve our understanding and respect for other countries and people, not wage “war” on them. Perhaps Huhne reveals something about the DNA of many politicians who see the point of political life as an unrelenting struggle to raise one’s own worldview to the detriment other people with a different perspective.
Lee Porter
Bridport, Dorset

Following Britain’s first ever snow sports medal at a Winter Olympics, Sean Ingle (Sport, 10 February) questions whether the funding of our winter sports provides the public with a return that offers value for money. It is only right that expenditure from the public purse (in this case the National Lottery) is open to scrutiny, and that is why UK Sport and the British Olympic Association have set rigorous Olympic qualification standards for both Summer and Winter Games. While there will inevitably be Team GB athletes who finish in the lower half of their events, the vast majority attain highly credible levels of performance which can also – as in case of Jenny Jones – result in a medal.

When the news has been dominated by storms, the smiles and sunshine from Sochi have surely raised our collective spirit. But this on its own is not enough. Dry ski slopes, indoor snow domes and skateboard parks across the country will no doubt see an influx of young people keen to try a new sport. As the Games progress, Team GB will almost certainly win more medals, and we’ll find increasing numbers of people inspired to try something new. Surely we should not return to the “amateur” days, when we just turned up and hoped for the best, but instead take a professional, targeted approach, where athletes’ funding is based on performance, and the results inspire a nation.

Of course, £13.5m is a lot of money to support our Winter athletes. It might also buy you a moderately decent Premier League footballer. Personally, I know which one provides better value.
Professor John Brewer
Chair, British Ski and Snowboard

• We feel privileged to have been included in the remaining 2,999,697 viewers who enjoyed the coverage of Jenny Jones’s epic success, as opposed to the 303 viewers who complained (BBC chides ‘over-excited’ Sochi commentators, 11 February). We watched the final, nervously, with her family and friends in Downend, Bristol – not a complaint between us. What fun that trio were.
Jenny Hime
Clevedon, Somerset


Dying zoos often breed giraffes and other “exotic” animals in captivity and create babies in an effort to keep drawing in paying visitors – yet often there’s nowhere to put the offspring as they grow (Copenhagen zoo defends killing of healthy giraffe, 11 February). A zoo is just an animal prison dating back to a time when only intrepid explorers had seen animals from other continents. This death should be a wake-up call for anyone who still harbours the illusion that zoos serve any purpose beyond incarcerating intelligent animals for profit. Giraffes rarely die of old age in captivity, and had Marius not been euthanised this week, he would have lived out his short life as a living exhibit, stranded in a cold climate, thousands of miles away from his true home. Breeding programmes serve no true conservation purpose because giraffes and other animals born in zoos are rarely, if ever, returned to their natural habitats. They are treated as baby-makers, while giving the public a false sense that something wonderful has happened. Peta urges everyone who genuinely cares about giraffes and all the other individuals serving life sentences in zoos to avoid these places and instead donate to campaigns that actually protect animals in their native habitats.
Ben Williamson
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Perhaps Chris Packham is a little naive in asking “why was this animal born in the first place if it was destined to be unwanted” (G2, 11 February). Times are hard, lions are expensive to feed, so why not grow your own? Everyone should understand where food comes from. If school trips included visits to factory farms for animals and poultry, followed by a jaunt to the abattoir, I suspect demand for meat would fall dramatically. Then we could afford to rear and slaughter our animals more humanely. Humanely? There’s a funny word. Discuss.
Elizabeth Hill

Did no one ask Copenhagen zoo this question: if the aim is to avoid inbreeding, why not just castrate Marius?
W Stephen Gilbert
Corsham, Wiltshire

The public execution of Marius and his equally public consumption by lions does rather make Danish noir crime on BBC4 easier to understand, psychologically.
Ken Baldry

It’s funny we condemn Marius’s death while daily inflicting violence and death on chickens, pigs, cows, sheep and fish. We also terribly exploit dairy cows and egg-laying hens before sending them to the same slaughter house.
Mark Richards

So, Prince William had to go to Spain to find some deer to shoot (Report, 9 February). Had he done a little research, he could have saved the air fare, and performed a useful function closer to home. The deer population of north-east Somerset could be justifiably classed as a pest species. For three or four years they have been stripping fruit trees and destroying vegetable plots with impunity. Even the staunchest defenders of the deer population admit that numbers are out of control, and it doesn’t seem to be anyone’s job to address the matter. William wouldn’t need a guide to search them out for him. We can see them from the kitchen window in the middle of the day. He’s welcome to sit here with a cup of tea, and blast away at them to his heart’s content.
Mike Scott


George Clooney, star of new film The Monuments Men, says the UK should return the Parthenon marbles to Greece, their (alleged) rightful owner (Report, 10 February). As The Monuments Men allegedly has the US taking all the credit, yet again, for the work of UK personnel, could we please ask the US to return to us the part we played in the second world war?
Robert Sanderson
Managing director, Nottingham Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall

• Many thanks for your feature on Britain’s 100 years of war (12 February). It is a marvellous educational resource but would have benefited from a redesign so all information could fit on one side of the spread, thus making a perfect wallchart.
Toby Wood

• Let’s dance indeed (Letters, 12 February). I couldn’t agree more. As a supply teacher, whenever I had to cover PE classes, I always did dance. Without fail, students, male and female, responded enthusiastically. Everyone got involved. They loved it. No moans, groans or strops. Just hip-hop and don’t stop, Miss!
Pat Ferguson

• WH Auden’s advice on the conclusion of Tolkien’s Return of the King (Report, 12 February) was not his only view on the matter. In Alan Bennett’s wonderful play The Habit of Art, Auden’s reply to being told that his Prof Tolkien had written another book was: “Really? More fucking elves, I suppose.”
Hugh Lloyd
Wirral, Merseyside

• I am amazed that no enterprising businessman has thought (or so it seems) to import the removable door seal panels that Venetians use when they are subject to regular flooding at aqua alta. They would bring so much more comfort to those regularly threatened householders in Britain than piles of sandbags.
Helen Keating
Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries and Galloway

• It’s a bit rich David Cameron condemning parents who smoke with their kids in cars (Report, 10 February). At least they remembered to put their kids in the car.
Mick McKeown
Windermere, Cumbria






Now David Cameron announces that “money is no object” in curing the problems caused by the floods. I doubt that will convince this government of the simple laws of cause and effect.

Cut public-sector funding for the Environment Agency and flood controls, and there are floods that cause massive damage to homes and businesses.

Cut the number of doctors and nurses and waiting times increase and care suffers.

Cut the numbers of tax collectors and tax dodging increases.

Cut funding for local authorities and the social fabric begins to unravel – social care, libraries, leisure centres, highway maintenance.

Privatise utilities and the cost escalates so that profits can be paid to shareholders.

Public-sector workers are called in when emergencies happen, such as the Army providing security for the Olympics. They succeed without the need for shareholder payouts.

And still ministers say that the only way forward is to cut more public-sector funding and jobs. Except, of course, when floods affect the Tory shires. Then it is “no expense spared”.

Andrea Titterington

Preston, Lancashire


One factor contributing to the flooding crisis which seems to have been forgotten is the excessive drainage carried out in the latter half of the past century. In the 1980s I worked in Dumfriesshire and virtually every bog, marsh and wetland in that county had been or was in the process of being drained. This was not just in the lowland arable areas but right up into the hills.

These wetland areas behaved like a giant sponge, soaking up large amounts of rain and releasing the water slowly over a longer period of time. Once these wetlands are drained the water runs off straight away into the river valleys below and is a major cause of flooding.

This policy of draining everywhere was pursued vigorously by the old Ministry of Agriculture, egged on by the National Farmers Union and the Internal Drainage Boards, and funded by large grants from the taxpayer.

These actions were replicated throughout the land. Drainage in the upland catchment areas of the River Severn is now seriously contributing to flooding in towns such as Bridgenorth, Worcester and Tewkesbury.

Here in the relative flatlands of East Anglia it has been evident for some years that we are alternating between periods of excessive rainfall and droughts lasting several months. There are farmers even in this region who believe that too much drainage has been carried out, with the fields unable to grow crops during the drought periods without expensive irrigation.

There is no easy solution to the flooding in the Somerset Levels, and dredging the rivers is not going to solve the problem on its own. If any long-term solution can be found it needs to include measures to increase the water-holding capacity of the higher ground above the Levels.

Malcolm Wright

Pakenham, Suffolk

I wonder where all those new homes that Labour claims it will build, if elected, are going to be placed.

Many developers will not touch any land that is likely to flood, knowing that resales will prove difficult. Lenders are now much more cautious. Insurance will be harder to find. I predict a massive slowing down in the property market, and prices will drop, apart from existing homes on high ground well away from rivers and clifftops.

Richard F Grant

Burley, Hampshire

In the scorching summer of 1976 Jim Callaghan, the Prime Minister, appointed a minister for drought, and the heavens opened days later. David Cameron should now appoint a minister for floods and deliverance could be just around the corner.

Dominic Shelmerdine

London W8


Legalising drugs would save lives

Hooray for Ian Birrell (“At least someone’s talking sense on drugs”, 10 February) for raising again the vital (and I mean vital, given the deaths that the criminalisation of drugs causes) question of the legalisation and regulation of drugs.

I was a GP for 25 years in  a market town in Wiltshire (population 7,000), where illegal drugs caused the death of four young patients of mine who would be alive today if their drug-taking had been seen as part of a public health problem rather than a criminal act. Extrapolate those figures to the population of the UK and we are talking about an epidemic.

But come on Ian, have the courage of your convictions. Nowhere in your article did you mention the word “heroin”. Was that because it’s an injectable and therefore in a class of its own and we should therefore keep it illegal? I hope not.

Dr Nick Maurice

Marlborough,  Wiltshire

Following the sad death of Philip Seymour Hoffman from, apparently, a heroin overdose, Kaleem Aftab claims that “the moral stigma of being seen to be on drugs has been hugely diminished” (“Hollywood’s drug addiction”, 4 February). Unfortunately nothing could be farther from the truth for those dependent on drugs, and their families.

In the first national survey of stigma towards those with drug dependency problems, the UK Drug Policy Commission found that 58 per cent of people think a lack of self-discipline and willpower is one of the main causes of drug dependence. But only 15 per cent think this about mental illness.

Only 5 per cent of people think that people with a mental illness “don’t deserve our sympathy”. But 22 per cent took this view towards those with drug dependence.

Regrettably, we also found that the attitudesof  professionals coming into contact with those seeking to address their problems were often experienced as stigmatising by those on the receiving end.

Stigma acts as a barrier to people accessing treatment services  and undermines their long-term recovery.

Roger Howard

Former Chief Executive, UK Drug Policy Commission, Crowborough, East Sussex


Bacteria produce a work of art

There is nothing new about microbial art (report, 10 February). Alexander Fleming produced “germ paintings” using different pigmented bacteria a century ago. No less an art critic than Queen Mary told him that she did not see the point of them, when shown his portrait of a guardsman.

Yet it was the artist’s eye, the imaginative approach to both science and art, that made the bacteriologist Fleming receptive to a chance observation of a fungus contaminating one of his Petri dishes and inhibiting the growth of the bacteria in it. That observation, which led to the discovery of penicillin, owed much to the cross-fertilisation of art and science in Fleming’s mental make-up.

“Bacteriographs”, as they are called, in your picture of Stephen Fry, are not so trivial as they sound. They can lead to great breakthroughs. In the contemporary debate on education, we also need to break down walls between art and the humanities to produce well-rounded citizens. Art and science are not incompatible and can feed into each other.

Kevin Brown

London W3

Help for disabled on the Tube

Disabled people will be provided with more assistance from our staff than ever before under our proposals to improve customer service on the London Underground (“Why do you walk funny?”, 11 February).

We will bring staff out from behind inaccessible offices and plate glass screens at stations, and base more people than ever at ticket machines and gate lines and on platforms, where they will be visible and available to help. The “turn up and go” service we offer on the Tube will also be extended to our London Overground service.

In parallel, we will continue to make the Underground even more accessible through upgrades of major stations and a whole range of other action, including many more manual boarding ramps.

Mike Brown

Managing Director, London Underground, London SW1

Dreams of avarice at Barclays

Antony Jenkins persists in the belief that vast bonuses are essential to acquiring top talent. Everyone outside this rapacious industry knows that these bankers would have luxurious lives even if their pay and bonuses were halved. He must realise that a recruitment policy geared to attracting staff whose primary motivation is greed will never foster the ethical business that he says is his goal.

Chris Shaw

Stockport, Greater Manchester

High drama, low body count

So Hitchcock never killed anybody?  (“David Hare slams the mounting body count in TV dramas”, 12 February.) I must have dreamt that bit about a shower.

Martin Slater






Sir, Trevor Phillips and Chuka Umunna have re-invented the wheel with regard to lack of non-white and female representation and lack of diverse contribution in the boards beneficial to the companies (“Labour threatens all-white FTSE boards with quotas”, Feb 10).

With regard to female representation, many FTSE boards are trying to implement Lord Davies’ recommendation of 25 per cent female members on the board. This issue is raised in almost every annual general meeting. So far as non-whites on the boards are concerned, this issue is also a hot topic in AGMs but the chairmen’s response is that the member of the boards are chosen on merit.

Last week I attended the AGM of Compass, a catering company in the FTSE 100 at QE2 Conference centre. I saw an all-white board of ten with only one woman, defying Lord Davies’ recommendation. In response to my question, the retiring chairman Sir Roy Gardner said that they could not find meritorious female and non-white persons to become members of the board.

Based on my participation in various AGMs I find that cultures of old-boy network, sexism, racism and inherent prejudice play a great role in the composition of the FTSE 100 boards. In such a situation how will a quota system work when Lord Davies’ recommendation of 25 per cent female members in the board is yet to be implemented in most FTSE 100 companies?

Sunil Kumar Pal

London NW8

Sir, I get very tired of the Leader of the Opposition’s condescending attitude to women in implying that the Tories have a low view of women because there are so few on the front benches. I feel pretty sure that any woman in politics who really wanted to be in the Government, and had the ability to do so, would be there; but the fact is that women are generally more family minded and less driven in reaching for such positions than men, and I, for one, would not ever want to have any token woman parachuted on to the front bench just because of her gender. While I am delighted that we have some very good and capable women in senior positions, it would not bother me at all if there were no women on the front bench, provided that ministers are properly selected on merit, ability and appetite for the job.

There seems generally to be a fear that women are being denied the opportunity to be high flyers, and while there may be some areas in which it is not easy for women who want to rise to the top of their profession to do so, I do not see that this is true of politics. Indeed most of the women who have recently resigned as MPs seem to have done so for family reasons.

It is irritating that if we as women are not achieving the same high status (as society perceives it) as men, we are somehow regarded as under-performing or else being held back. I would suggest that in the main, while we would be perfectly capable of being high achievers if we put our minds to it, we simply do not want to make the sacrifices involved because we have different priorities from men, and find fulfilment in different things. Where there are women in politics who really aspire to reach the top, let them do so on their own merits, and let’s not have all this condescending nonsense that there must be a certain number of women in Government to prove that we are being fair to the fairer sex.

Charis Cavaghan-Pack




Sir, After several decades in which the meteorological community has focused on modelling and remote sensing, the chief scientist of the Met Office still claims, “We have the data. We just need to get on and perform the analysis.”

Other researchers acknowledge that satellite-borne instruments cannot probe the deep circulation that drives our global climate (report, Feb 10). The solution, civilian research vessels, complemented by specialist warships for access to some sea areas, does not come cheap, but the costs are insignificant beside those of clearing up damage arising from inadequate warning times.

There are also other ways of addressing the gap in data. The deployment of expendable oceanographic probes is a long-standing though unsung contribution of Admiral Zambellas’ ships and aircraft (report, Feb 10). The necessary equipment might also be extended to the merchant vessels in the Voluntary Observing Fleets.

Captain M. K. Barritt RN

(Hydrographer of the Navy 2001-03)

Bishop’s Wood, Somerset


Sir, It is overdue for organisations such as the Environmental Agency to be run by trained professionals. What we have at the moment must make us a laughing stock of countries like the Netherlands and Germany. Top performing civil engineers should be taking the most senior management roles. After all, the definition of civil engineering is “the art of directing the great sources of power in Nature for the use and convenience of Man”.

The subject of hydraulics is one of three main key topics within civil engineering. It is time that a top civil engineer leads and manages the whole of the work for the Environmental Agency.

Dr Peter Broughton, FREng

Camberley, Surrey

Sir, I welcome the fact that the trade unions have agreed to discuss our plans to modernise the Underground (leader, Feb 12). This is what we have been urging since November, and it’s regrettable that they were determined to disrupt London through strike action before they were willing to do so. The only thing that has changed is we have agreed to an extended period of consultation to April, and we would have agreed to this at any time. Our plans remain — they will see staff brought from ticket offices and back rooms to make them more visible where customers need them most: in ticket halls, on gate lines and on platforms.

Stations will remain staffed and controlled at all times, including throughout the night when we introduce a 24 hour service at weekends in 2015. We will also have prominent Visitor Information Centres at major stations to sell tickets and provide travel advice.

Mike Brown

London Underground


Sir, Several people are credited with saying “You never told me he was that good” when they first heard Jimi Hendrix — including, apparently, a visibly shocked Eric Clapton — but one can only surmise how Slowhand must feel to see that while Hendrix rightly heads your list of 20 best guitarists there is no place for him at all. You even draw attention to the omission, no doubt to stress that this is no oversight!

Where too are Carlos Santana, David Gilmour and Mark Knopfler in a list that contains a number of more prosaic practitioners?

Similarly, your list of 20 best bands, while placing the Beatles in their undisputed top position, omits Queen, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, the Eagles and U2 and while including, among others, Dexys Midnight Runners, the Shangri-Las and even the Monkees.

The subject is highly subjective but the Eagles, perhaps, have the greatest cause to feel doubly slighted as when it comes to the missing best line from your list of 20 top lyrics surely you can check out any list you like but you can never leave out that immortal line from Hotel California?

Richard Byham

Great Notley, Essex






SIR – The Rev Arun Arora, director of communications for the Church Commissioners, claims that it is unsustainable for the Bishop of Bath and Wells to live in an increasingly busy tourist attraction.

But the visitors’ areas of the Palace at Wells are remote from the Bishop’s living quarters. If the commissioners had sought the views of those who have lived or worked in this environment they would have been assured that visitors do not diminish their quality of life.

Air Vice-Marshal Michael Robinson
Southover, Dorset

SIR – Many properties open to the public have visitor numbers far in excess of the 61,000 at Wells – Chatsworth, for example. However, the owners manage to live happily “above the shop”. Privacy can be had simply by closing a door or two.

Jill Barter
South Petherton, Somerset

SIR – Wasn’t the opinion of the incoming Bishop sought? It is he, not the Church Commissioners, who will be filling the position. He might have found the Palace, imbued as it is with centuries of sanctity, to be exactly the right place from which to conduct his ministry.

Michael Clegg
Market Drayton, Shropshire

When the direction of the stripes proves crucial

SIR – The RAF tie is cut on “reverse bias” which means that the stripes drop from “high right” when worn, not from “high left” or “from the heart down”. The majority of regimental and club ties are cut from the heart down. The tie of the RAF is not. So the Prince of Wales cannot have been wearing that tie when visiting Somerset.

Victor Murrell
Pleshey, Essex

SIR – As an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania, I wear a tie constantly mistaken for that of the Brigade of Guards. American stripes generally go the opposite way to the British.

John Whalley
Longridge, Lancashire

SIR – Men often wear a tie to show a connection with the Armed Forces. Women play a vital role in the Forces. Do they wear an equivalent, or is it a man thing?

Bernard Powell
Southport, Lancashire

SIR – I was in the queue for a drink at the MCC when I was asked what my striped blazer represented. My questioner seemed disappointed when I told him it was just a blazer. I have since tried to think of amusing replies in case I am asked again.

Patrick Wroe
Felixstowe, Suffolk

SIR – When I was a junior banker in the City in the Seventies, my immediate boss, probably unwittingly ahead of the recycling trend, always wrote notes to his staff on his used paper collars.

Brian Carte
Oxshott, Surrey

SIR – The late Speaker of the House of Commons, George Thomas, was confronted by a Member who asked him why he was wearing an Old Etonian tie.

He replied, in his richest Welsh accent, “That is strange. I bought it in the Tonypandy Co-op.”

William Petch
London SW20


SIR – Professor Robin Clark calls for developments in science to be applied to art. If sound science is underused by the art trade, even more questionable “scientific studies” have been used for many years to offer assurances that picture-cleaners’ solvents have been a safe method of stripping varnishes and repaint from old pictures.

As the current issue of the journal of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works makes clear, the understanding in the art and museum world since the Sixties of how solvents work has been seriously flawed scientifically. Because important intermolecular interactions have been ignored, the theoretical model used cannot predict, as assumed, the action of solvents on the underlying original paint.

Michael Daley
Director, ArtWatch UK
Barnet, Hertfordshire

Something old…

SIR – The fabric from my wedding gown was used for an altar frontal for the Lady chapel in the parish church. Its golden anniversary is in March.

Barbara Hooke
High Littleton, Somerset

SIR – When my daughter gave birth to triplet girls 10 years ago, I used her heavily beaded bodice to make bonnets, and her beautiful satin skirt to make christening gowns for all of them.

Veronica Wilson
Highworth, Wiltshire

SIR – It is not true that all wedding dresses are worn only once. I wore my wedding dress on our 25th, 40th and 50th wedding anniversaries.

Freda Poole
Farley Hill, Berkshire

Smoking in cars

SIR – Would the ban on smoking in cars carrying children include convertibles? Probably. Shivering in a gale at Peterborough station recently, I was amused to hear a stern warning that smoking anywhere in the station or on the platforms was prohibited by law.

Graham Creedy
Stamford, Lincolnshire

SIR – It is absurd for us to consider making it illegal for someone to smoke in a car when children are present unless we also make it illegal for a pregnant woman to smoke.

Donald Oliver
Exeter, Devon

SIR – I decided to give up smoking in my car when I accidentally set fire to my shirt.

Les Bratt
Cleeve Prior, Worcestershire

Cleaning up expenses

SIR – Sir Ian Kennedy, chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, informs us that payment to cleaners of MPs’ flats is not allowed as an expense. Why not?

The rule simply discourages the employment of cleaners, who pay income tax on their modest wages. The situation was highlighted by an MP using an illegal immigrant for this labour. That is immoral.

Chris Harding
Parkstone, Dorset

Electric cat food

SIR – I have a state-of-the-art, electric tin opener. It whizzes round and soon does its job. But cannot pet food be bought in ring-pull tins?

Nora Jackson
Uttoxeter, Staffordshire


SIR – Lord Smith of Finsbury, the chairman of the Environment Agency, blames people for buying houses on flood plains. But it is the planners who should take the blame.

Peter Logan
Wigton, Cumberland

SIR – A friend worked in the water industry, beginning with Thames Conservancy and, going through all its incarnations, finished up in the Environment Agency, from which he has now retired. I have lost count of the number of times he has come back from meetings with planning inspectors about new developments; has advised against building on flood plains; and had his objections overruled.

I asked him what he thought about the floods. He said: “What did they expect? ‘Flood plain’ is what it says on the tin.”

Colin Fox
Wantage, Oxfordshire

SIR – I agree with Lord Smith. If you don’t want to get flooded, don’t live next to a river or on a flood plain.

Richard Sharples
Wilpshire, Lancashire

SIR – When Lord Smith says, to people flooded out, that they knew the risks when buying a house there, he ignores the fact that many such houses are centuries old.

Stephen Bywater
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

SIR – Thousands of people are criticised for “choosing” to live on flood plains. I live in an area surrounded by water meadows, from Kenilworth to Bickenhill, and every winter roads and fields flood. This is the area directly across which the Government plans to construct HS2.

Christine Philp
Balsall Common, Warwickshire

SIR – I find nothing in Lord Smith’s curriculum vitae that suggests that he is qualified to lead the Environment Agency.

I cannot see how he maintains he has no responsibility for what is happening on the Somerset Levels and elsewhere. He is in charge and it has happened on his watch.

While his staff may be doing all that they can, the policies that have led to the current flooding were made under his leadership.

Rodney Vigne
London SW3

SIR – I have lived on the banks of the river Darent for 25 years. The emphasis of the agencies entrusted with care of the river has changed from protecting people against the environment to the reverse.

The National Rivers Authority had a well-funded flood-defence programme. Gangs of workers who knew the river cleared the channel every year.

Its successor, the Environment Agency, reduced spending on flood defence and discontinued regular maintenance. The priority now is for environmental impact analyses, which might argue the cause of invertebrates but do little for humans.

Dr Huw Alban Davies
Otford, Kent

SIR – I was heartened to see troops quickly employed to help residents in the wave of flooding in the Thames Valley. Then I realised the Defence Secretary was the local MP. Here in Somerset the arrival of the troops took a darn sight longer.

Cllr Alan Gloak
Glastonbury, Somerset

SIR – Sam Notaro tried to protect his home in Moorland, Somerset, by building a mud wall around it, but it is reported that this was delayed by the Environment Agency’s saying that he had to apply for permission, and this would take six weeks. That says it all.

Dr John Rees
Sidmouth, Devon

SIR – What is going to happen when the water recedes? The ground will then be too wet for planting. What is going to help the farmers get over this wet winter?

Robert Elder

SIR – I am appalled by people heaping blame on the Environment Agency and Lord Smith. The enormity of these floods suggests that they are a punishment from God.

Others have been castigated for suggesting a link with the legalisation of gay marriage or our silence at the plight of the most downtrodden in our society: the elderly, the unemployed or pitiful women and children falling victims to genital mutilation and other sexual violence.

Have we forgotten that it was God who wiped out every living creature on earth except Noah and his followers in the ark?

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
London NW2



Irish Times:


Sir, – Millions of heterosexual married Catholics worldwide are not married in the eyes of their church because they have not been married in accord with church law. Which is perfectly okay, of course: membership is voluntary and Catholics should know what they are subscribing to. It’s a moot point as to whether the church law can be called “homophobic” or not: in practice, Catholic law is discriminatory against homosexuals.

The secular state doesn’t have that freedom; it must avoid the pitfalls of discrimination against any grouping. The consensus in most democratic countries has been moving for years towards non-discrimination against homosexuals, including homosexual marriage. Where’s the big problem? Let the churches legislate in any way they choose for their members; the state must legislate for its citizens. Those who know their scriptures will know that the Biblical Jesus said something similar, albeit a different context.

In spite of constitutional changes in the 1970s, Ireland still has some way to go in becoming a secular state. In that sense, the current debate is a constructive and productive one. – Yours, etc,




Immenstadt / Allgäu,


Sir, – Fintan O’Toole (Opinion, February 11th) recounted an experience of being “accused” in print of owning a BMW; while tempted to sue, he tells us he ultimately rejected the impulse. Although not explicitly comparing his experience to that of John Waters and Breda O’Brien, the allusion is pretty clear. My question, does he seriously think being accused of owning a BMW is comparable to being accused of homophobia on live television?

Further, as we now know that the first remedy sought by Waters was an apology and retraction from RTÉ (“Waters challenges RTÉ statement on Panti row” Social Affairs, February 7th), in what way is his implied criticism relevant? – Yours, etc,


Dun na Carriage,

Salthill, Galway.

Sir, – At best, the main reasons for opposing same-sex marriage seem to have emerged from a concern for any children who may become part of that union.

Legal arguments about inheritance and traditional quasi-religious views on parenthood are offered as points of debate on the issue.

However, these concerns fly in the face of our experience as a nation. Groups of men and women, brothers and nuns, have provided same-sex parenthood for countless Irish children (orphaned or abandoned by heterosexual parents). Boarding schools, run by men only or women only, have been stalwart substitutes for the natural home environment for children who are also placed in their care by heterosexual parents, with many of these institutions still in receipt of State funding.

The sudden anxiety about the moral definition of marriage here is no genuine reason, that, with proper attention paid to legal matters of inheritance, two gay people could not provide a supportive home environment for any child; and a heterosexual marriage is also no guarantee of a harmonious upbringing. Perhaps it would be more “acceptable” if the partnership of a gay man and a gay woman brought up a child?

So it all boils down to a pretentious circuitous argument like Jonathan Swift’s egg war in Gulliver’s Travels, or it is simply a Trojan horse for the repression of difference? – Yours, etc,



Monalea Park,

Firhouse, Dublin 24.

A chara, – Which of these two statements might be considered homophobic?

I believe in the inalienable right of a child to be reared by his/her genetic parents.

I believe in the inalienable right of an adult to procure and raise a child.

What would a child make of this, I wonder. – Is mise,


Carraig Ard,

Fort Lorenzo,


Sir, – Emily Neenan (February 11th) suggests that those who wish to avoid being outed as homophobic may do so merely by refraining from espousing homophobic views. I believe the current controversy in relation to this matter has arisen precisely because those so named did not air, and do not hold, such views. Is it possible that the right to make such accusations rests solely with those making them, without any right of appeal by those who feel unjustly labelled? – Yours, etc,


Forest Hills,

Knocknacarra, Galway.

Sir, – Kay Chalmers’s letter (February 11th) on the reasons why there should be a ban on Dubliners marrying, has stoked memories from my own family’s past. My paternal grandmother occasionally left off from her household chores in Marino, Dublin, to confide in me as a young boy her wonderment that none of her children seemed to support same-city marriage.

None of her eight children born in the Rotunda married anyone else born in the Rotunda, or even the Coombe or Holles Street. Instead, they married human beings born in California, Limerick, Leitrim, Kerry, Roscommon, Waterford and Wicklow. My granny was a loving woman and I think that while she would have supported same-sex marriage between Dubliners, she would have understood Dubliners who ventured outside the Pale to find a partner, just as long as they were happy. – Yours, etc,


Chemin Briquet,

Geneva, Switzerland.

Sir, – The debate on same-sex marriage has now wildly digressed to claims of victimhood on both sides. Even the titular nod to pantigate belies the argumentum ad misericordiam that both sides have resorted to. Neither being homophobic nor being accused of being homophobic alters the logic in the slightest and any attempt to claim such so far has been self-victimisation.

It should be pointed out, with the certainty of sounding callous, neither does having been the victim of homophobia give one the right to marry.

It is an irony worthy of Shakespeare that both sides are using the newspapers and television to claim that their freedom of speech is being stifled. Can we get back to the matter at hand?

Should people of the same gender be allowed to marry each other if they choose so freely? – Yours, etc,


Carrickbrack Heath,

Sutton, Dublin 13.

Sir, – Having looked at this issue from a great many angles, I have only found one coherent, secular argument against marriage equality. If and when it becomes a reality, unmarried homosexuals would then be subjected to the dreaded “You’ll be next” when attending weddings. This is an appalling thing to do to any minority. – Yours etc,


Pinewood Crescent,

Glasnevin, Dublin 11.


Sir, – The authors of “Broken promises and delays for Magdalenes” (Opinion, February 6th) make the serious charges of delay, subterfuge and broken promises relating to the implementation of the ex-gratia scheme established by Government for the benefit of women who resided and worked in the Magdalene Laundries. I would like to set the record straight.

Just three months after taking office as Minister, I sought and received, in June 2011, Government approval to establish an interdepartmental group, chaired by (then) Senator Martin McAleese to establish the facts, insofar as was possible, relating to the Laundries.

Senator McAleese’s comprehensive report was published in February 2013 and was followed by an apology by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny to the Magdalene women on behalf of the State. Mr Justice John Quirke was asked by Government to make recommendations on an ex-gratia scheme to be established to meet the needs of the women concerned. He reported in May 2013 and all of his recommendations were accepted by Government in June. A team of civil servants was tasked with devising the most practical and expeditious methods of implementing the recommendations and reported to Government in October 2013.

To date, nine out of Judge Quirke’s 12 recommendations have been or are presently being implemented; two require legislation which is currently under preparation. The remaining recommendation (No 6) relates to longer term issues which will be addressed on completion of the processing of applications to the Scheme (the full Quirke report is available on http://www.justice.ie ).

Among his recommendations, Judge Quirke set out a schedule of payments to be made to the women concerned and, to date, 684 applications have been received and 300 letters of formal offer and a further 32 provisional assessments have been issued; 206 women have accepted the formal offer; and payments totalling over €5.6 million have so far been made.

The authors of the Opinion piece also mention being in touch with many women who feel “confused and anxious” about the scheme’s “opaqueness”. There is a team of nine people in my department whose sole task is to help the women with their applications and answer their queries. This includes, I should add, reassuring women who telephoned subsequent to the February 6th piece, unnecessarily worried, having read it, that they would not receive money due to them under the scheme.

The authors of the Opinion piece seem also to suggest that it is unfair that each woman has to sign a waiver before acceptance into the Scheme but do not mention that it was Judge Quirke himself who recommended that such waiver should form part of the scheme. Moreover, to ensure that the waiver is fully understood, an amount of up to €500 (plus VAT) is provided to pay for independent legal advice for any woman who wishes to seek such advice prior to signing the waiver.

146 applicants currently reside abroad and 90 per cent of these live in the UK. A grant of €250,000 has been made to the UK-based Women Survivors Support Network to provide advice and support to those resident there. A recent letter received by me from Sally Mulready, who has worked for many years with Magdalen women in the UK, states: “We are having an excellent response from the women themselves who appreciate very much that this is a generous settlement and the work to bring their claims to fruition is fast and efficient.”

With regard to the provision of medical services, Judge Quirke does not state that the women should receive private health care. He recommended they should have access to the same range of services as enjoyed by holders of the Health (Amendment) Act 1996 card. The necessary legislation is included on the priority list of the Government Legislation Programme for the spring/summer 2014. Details of exactly what services will be provided, and where and how they will be provided is being determined by the Department of Health.

This Government, unlike its predecessors, responded in a prompt, considered and practical way to the issue of the Magdalene Laundries.

Had I acceded, in 2011, to the demands of various groups who called for a statutory inquiry into the Magdalene Laundries, I have little doubt that a report would still be awaited and the final cost to Irish taxpayers of the inquiry alone, would have exceeded the cost of the ex gratia scheme currently under implementation. – Yours, etc,


Minister for Justice, Equality

and Defence,

St Stephen’s Green,

Dublin 2.


Sir, – Minister for Health James Reilly’s assertion (Letters, February 10th) that everything is on track for a “health service we can all be proud of” sadly depends on many assumptions, most of which are erroneous.

The Minister states, for example, that “Free GP care for the under-sixes will be introduced later this year as the first step towards universal GP care”. Unless Mr Reilly is personally going to treat the hundreds of thousands of children involved, it is difficult to see how he can make this claim and keep a straight face.

In a recent survey, conducted by the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), we found that only 3 per cent of all GPs would definitely be willing to sign up for the enormous increase in workload involved (over a million extra GP visits per year) without any consultation with the GPs who are to provide the service or any increase in the resources provided to general practice.

General practice funding has been reduced by almost 40 per cent in the last three yearrs by Mr Reilly’s FEMPI cuts. As a direct consequence of these cuts, many general practitioners are struggling to run a viable practice. These issues are more than “bumps on the road” as the Minister disparingingly puts it.

The Minister’s claim that one primary care centre is being opened every month is also open to question: If such an investment is there, could he please supply us with the figures as we can find no evidence for this assertion. Even if it were true, it would take a lot more than opening 12 primary care centres a year to provide a proper nationwide service.

The solution for primary care of course, is for the Minister to engage with general practitioners to bring it back from the crisis position in which he has placed it. So far, the Minister has refused to talk to GPs and refused to listen to their very real concerns. Simultaneously he has managed to alienate most sectors of the medical, nursing and allied professions with his mishandling of the growing crisis in the wider healthcare area.

The fact is, the Minister is more adept at promising a better health system for the future than he is at dealing with the serious healthcare issues that are with us now.

How much longer long does the Minister have to remain in office before he admits that the mounting chaos in the health service is a direct result of his inept handling and delusional policies? – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive Officer,

National Association of

General Practitioners,

Kildare Street, Dublin 2.



Sir, – I refer to Simon Carswell’s report “Gay rights activists urge Taoiseach and other not to march” (World News, February 11th). The Irish Gay Rights Org anisation is certainly not alone in its thinking, for various reasons. Many will agree that the best thing the Taoiseach could do is to stay at home in Ireland, for at least this year.

Thus not only will his National LGBT Federation problem be solved but the whole country will be spared the spectacle of the usual exodus of Ministers on junkets under the guise of job creation – an exercise we simply cannot now afford. – Yours, etc,



Cootehill, Co Cavan.


Sir, – In addition to his duties as patron saint of Austria, the martyred Irishman, St Coloman is patron of hanged men, horned cattle and horses – leaving little time to deputise for St Valentine (Martin Murphy, February 12th).

A stone in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna is inscribed: Hic est lapis, super quem effusus est sanguis ex serratione tibiarum S. Colomanni Martyris (This is the stone on which the blood from the sawing of the bones of the martyr, St Coloman, was poured).

The stone is smoothed and burnished by a millennium’s worth of veneration, attesting to the persistence, if not the efficacy, of requests for his intercession.– Yours, etc,





Sir, – Is absence of definitive evidence definitive evidence of absence? – Yours, etc,


Forrest Fields Road,


Swords, Co Dublin.


Sir, – The bugging of GSOC is “disgusting”. – Yours, etc,


Halldene Grove,

Bishopstown, Cork.



Sir, – Róisín Ingle’s Magazine article (February 1st), poignantly focused as it was on the issue of unidentified fatherhood, led to Sarah Ironside (February 4th) thanking your engaging journalist for reminding us that Ann Lovett’s unwelcome pregnancy wasn’t a replication of the immaculate conception.

Doubtless Ms Ironside has the virgin birth of Jesus in mind, and she wouldn’t be alone. However, paternity issues vis-a-vis the Mother of God aren’t in question here. The significance of the immaculate conception is more readily gleaned when visited as gaeilge; Muire gan smál; Mary without stain. It has its origins in 4th- century Augustinian doctrine that sees the rest of us born in original sin. Later it would be decreed that as the chosen Mother of Jesus, Mary herself was conceived/born without original sin, without blemish or stain, immaculate. The phenomenon was delivered to his flock as dogma by Pope Pius IX in 1854, and, as we know, is celebrated on December 8th. – Yours, etc,


Station Road,

Sutton, Dublin 13.




Irish Independent:


* I want to take my hat off to the troika, and our masters in Europe. That is what one does as a mark of respect at funerals, and yesterday as far as I am concerned, the last nail was driven into our coffin regarding our pride as a nation.

Also in this section

Letters: No moral scruples on the balance sheet

Letters: No representation without cuts to taxation

Quinn’s Christianity thesis not the whole story

The hammer blow came with the news that what was once the biggest soup kitchen during the famine has had to reopen its doors in Dublin.

In 1850 a river of broken spirits queued up outside its doors. Now, more than 150 years later, it is back in business – this despite the industrial revolution, the technological advances of the past two decades, and unprecedented wealth and prosperity in the EU.

In our capital city, 1,600 people are homeless – six new homeless people turn up every day. Since last April the number of homeless has risen by 50pc.

The situation is so bad that the volunteers of the Civil Defence have been called in to help.

I am ashamed that the EU, which includes the word ‘union’ in its name, is so ready to wash its hands of us.

How quickly they forget; had Ireland not propped up the German banks there would have been a trans-European tsunami, in financial terms.

Our inept government of the day in its ignorance made the calamitous decision to put our finger in the dyke and save the citadel.

But when the dam burst there was no help. Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan talked the talk in Brussels, they promised us the stars, but all we got was moonbeams from the mandarins in Frankfurt.

There will be no retrospective debt relief – the German Central Bank has said “nein”.

But sure what harm? We have Brother Kevin Crowley feeding the poor. We have the Civil Defence.

And as for the homeless who depend on handouts?

Sure most of them don’t even vote.




* Munster Rugby should think outside of the box when seeking a successor to Rob Penney as head coach of Munster, who is departing at the end of the season (Sport, Feb 11). An outstanding candidate, should he be pursued, is a Munsterman who has experience as a coach at a high level in an environment outside of Ireland, namely Conor O’Shea of Harlequins.

The advantage to Munster of a candidate such as O’Shea is that, as a rugby coach, he puts a huge emphasis on the development of skills. A major reason why Munster Rugby, up until the arrival of Rob Penney, historically employed a very limited style of play was because there had long been a skills deficit as a result of the way rugby has been taught within the province of Munster.

For Irish rugby to continue to improve, the province of Munster needs to continue to inculcate the advanced skills (begun under Rob Penney) required in order for Ireland to take on the best in the world. A prospective head coach who would allow this to happen would be Co Limerick’s (and often claimed by Co Kerry) own Conor O’Shea.




* Columnist Liz O’Donnell wants a publicly provided statue to honour Luke Kelly, the Dubliner, 30 years after his death. Yet the 1916 patriot Padraig Pearse has no statue almost 100 years after his death.

Will your columnist also require statues for Ronnie Drew, and Barney McKenna?




* I was much taken with former Judge Hugh O Flaherty’s contribution (Feb 7) on the matter of judicial appointments and the judges’ submission urging changes in the judicial appointments system. I feel that while it has some merit, the judiciary have largely done themselves no favours in the process and appear to be pulling up the drawbridge behind them!

It is a bit far-fetched for them to say that the system is “demonstrably deficient, and that wide-ranging changes are needed to attract high-calibre applicants”. The thought also strikes me that many of those sitting might not have made it through the new system they now advocate!

The judges have possibly sold themselves short in some of their comments, and neither did they cover themselves in glory in matters of pay at a time when we all suffer. With a downturn in the economy, many solicitors and barristers might still regard bagging a judicial appointment as akin to falling on their feet.




* The Church resurrected the dead Diaconate – a group of men and women nominated to contribute to the building of a repentant and rejoicing community – not an unqualified success. Why not resurrect the dead married priesthood? That would make people sit up and take notice.




* Seeing that Ms Joan Burton and colleagues have decided not to take part in the St Patrick’s Day parades in New York and Boston, perhaps they will remain at home and save the taxpayers some money?




* In reply to Neil Condon (Letters, Feb 10), evidence can indeed be advanced for the existence of God – the existence of the Universe. How could the Universe have come into existence without a First Cause?




* The recent democratic decision by the Swiss people has highlighted yet again the arrogance and hypocrisy that pervades the EU. The response from the EU was almost threatening, with the prospect of Switzerland being the subject of a trade war for its people having the temerity to exercise their democratic rights within their own country.

Switzerland has remained outside the grasp of the EU and is a truly sovereign country, unlike the quasi-sovereignty that we enjoy. Yet the prospect of the Swiss limiting the number of foreign nationals entering their country has irked the powers that be in the EU, to the extent that they may now face ‘consequences’ for voting the ‘wrong way’. Had they been within the clutches of the EU, the Swiss people would merely have been told to vote again until they get it right, so that the facade of European democracy could be maintained.

Following on from the lethal protests in the Ukraine which the EU support, this latest overbearing and intrusive response to the Swiss vote appears to me to indicate that the EU now sees itself as sufficiently powerful that it can extend its influence to sovereign countries outside of its borders.

The emergence of a Eurocrat that wants to ram countries together to form a united Europe has led democracy to be sidestepped, lest the majority of the people decide to reject the notion, as the Irish people know all too well after the referendums on the treaties of Nice and Lisbon.




* It is my belief that true wealth is being of good character. And a good character is an immeasurable wealth.



Irish Independent



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