I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate A Price of Araby comes to visitPriceless

Mary in hospital brief visit she has had a relapse

No Scrabbletoday, Perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Nicholas Brooks – obituary

Nicholas Brooks was a historian who described the extraordinary treasure of the Staffordshire Hoard as ‘bling for a king’

Nicholas Brooks

Nicholas Brooks Photo: Dean and Chapter of Canterbury

7:14PM BST 17 Apr 2014


Nicholas Brooks, who has died aged 73, was a historian and archaeologist whose understanding of Anglo-Saxon Britain shed light on a myriad of mysteries unearthed in England’s fields and parish archives.

For nearly two decades (1985-2004) he held the chair of Medieval History at Birmingham University (later Professor Emeritus). Whether in investigations of the tantalising tomes that make up the Canterbury charters or the Staffordshire Hoard — the largest ever find of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver – Brooks brought an infectious enthusiasm and a profound learning.

These qualities were particularly evident in his expert deconstruction of the findings in Staffordshire (in his role as a founder member of the Staffordshire Hoard Research Project Advisory Panel in 2010). There he displayed exceptionally rare knowledge of the political, ecclesiastical and military manoeuvrings in the kingdom of Mercia — a Midlands realm which dominated for three centuries (between AD 600 and 900), spreading across the valley of the river Trent and its tributaries. The hoard was found in the vicinity of Tamworth, the site of a Mercian royal seat.

The extraordinary “wealth deposit” was uncovered in 2009 in a field near the village of Hammerwich, Staffordshire, by a metal detectorist (one the many enthusiasts who scan the farms and meadows of Britain in the hope of such a discovery). In all, nearly 3,500 items were excavated: pommel caps, helmet fragments, hilts and other sword ornaments amongst them. Brooks’s paper on the find and its social context, “The Staffordshire Hoard and the Mercian Royal Court”, was an exercise in getting beyond the glitter to the grubby medieval truth. “This paper will concentrate on interpreting the character of the hoard,” he proposed. And that character was, he claimed, one of status-bearing and testosterone-fuelled posturing. “First of all, this is a hoard predominantly of gold,” he explained. “Secondly, this is a hoard for male display — bling for warrior companions of the king.”

Items from the Staffordshire Hoard

Nicholas Peter Brooks was born on January 14 1941, into a medical family at Virginia Water, Surrey. His father, WDW Brooks, was a consultant clinician at St Mary’s Hospital, London, and his mother, Phyllis, was a physician’s daughter. Nicholas was educated at Winchester before going up to Magdalen College, Oxford, to read History, graduating in 1961. From an early age, Brooks was fascinated by the medieval history of Britain, having spent summers in a holiday cottage in Kent that sat on the route of Watling Street, the ancient road on which Britons travelled between Canterbury and St Albans.

Kent, and in particular Anglo-Saxon Canterbury, was to remain at the heart of Brooks’s life and work. His Oxford DPhil was on the Canterbury Charters, completed in 1969 and published in 1984 as The Early History of the Church of Canterbury. He later analysed the part played by Kentishmen in the Peasants’ Revolt in the 14th century.

He joined St Andrews University in 1964 and stayed for 19 years before taking the post of Professor of Medieval History at Birmingham. While he explained the role of gold in Anglo-Saxon society in relation to the Staffordshire Hoard — recent theories suggest that the gold was a spoil of war — with the Canterbury Charters he immersed himself in the machinations and trade-offs between lay benefactors and the church in the centuries immediately preceding the Norman Conquest: who gave what, where and, of course, why. It is a record of piety at a price, one which was to make Canterbury one of the richest churches in the land.

Items from the Staffordshire Hoard

In 1978 Brooks was made general editor of Studies in the Early History of Britain (Leicester University Press) and later Studies in Early Medieval Britain (Ashgate Publishers). Under his stewardship 30 studies were published. Four of these he edited (or co-edited) personally: Latin and the Vernacular Languages in Early Medieval Britain (1982); St Oswald of Worcester (1996); St Wulfstan and his World (2005); and Early Medieval Studies in Memory of Patrick Wormald (2009). He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1989.

Although he retired in 2004, Brooks continued to provide counsel to research students and oversee the Anglo-Saxon charters project. Last year the complete edition of the 185 Canterbury Charters was published, including diplomatic and historical commentary on each document in the archive.

Nicholas Brooks at the publication of the Canterbury Charters in 2013

In 2008 a group of his former students published a festschrift in his honour : Myth, Rulership, Church and Charters.

Nicholas Brooks is survived by his wife, Chlöe, whom he met at St Andrews and married in 1967, and their daughter and son.

Nicholas Brooks, born January 14 1941, died February 2 2014


We were not surprised that Scotland Yard concluded there was no evidence of fraud at Tower Hamlets council (Report, 17 April). Senior officers reached this conclusion after examining files handed over by communities secretary Eric Pickles following a Panorama programme condemned as having racial overtones, not least by a whistleblowing member of the production team. The programme alleged that directly elected mayor Lutfur Rahman was channelling disproportionate grant funding into Bengali-run organisations, but such organisations only received 8% of funding, despite these communities making up a third of the population. It called the mayor unaccountable, despite the fact he has answered more questions in council and attended more scrutiny committees than any other borough mayor.

It is no coincidence that Britain’s first and only black elected mayor has been the focus of endless accusation. None of the ensuing investigations has found evidence to substantiate the claims of a corrupt administration mired in Islamic extremism. But this has not stopped the allegations being repeated by rightwing journalists and irresponsible local politicians seeking electoral gain in running down the borough and a breakdown in community relations. Enough is enough. Tower Hamlets is a high-performing council, winning numerous national awards and accolades in recent years. Despite fighting unparalleled levels of deprivation, its school results are among the best in London. It has not closed a single library, youth club or children’s centre. It has reinstated the education maintenance allowance scrapped by the coalition, provided bursaries for poor university students and delivered more new homes than any other council nationwide.

The upcoming mayoral election should be fought on policy and not muckraking that threatens to do lasting damage to the community spirit on which this diverse borough prides itself.
Ken Livingstone, Simon Woolley Director, Operation Black Vote, Mohammad Taj President, TUC, Christine Shawcroft Labour party national executive, Steve Turner Assistant general secretary, Unite, Leon Silver President, East London Central Synagogue

It’s unsurprising that the Department for Work and Pensions will not tell Polly Toynbee how many charities have agreed to host placements for the misnamed Help to Work scheme (Comment, 15 April). Many voluntary groups share her outrage at the cruelty and inefficiency of this scheme, which will force people to work full-time for six months for no wage. As a network of people working in the voluntary sector, we are well aware that this scheme is the latest example of charities and community groups being co-opted to do the government’s dirty work. This seems to be what the “big society” is all about. It’s vital that charities and community groups are not fooled into being part of a scheme that will see them exploiting the very people they exist to serve. Unemployed people need genuine jobs that pay a living wage and voluntary groups need volunteers who have freely chosen to give their time. The Help to Work scheme offers neither real jobs nor real volunteering, but very real exploitation.
Andy Benson
Co-convenor, National Coalition for Independent Action

• I work as a volunteer adviser helping people with employment problems. One reason for the apparent growth in the number of self-employed is the latest ruse by employment agencies to scam the unemployed – signing them up as self-employed. The agency even helps the worker to “save” for their future tax bill by deducting an amount from each pay packet – all for a small admin fee. The agency gets the use of a large wad of money that would otherwise be paid to HMRC, with no need for sick pay, holiday pay or pay in lieu of notice, and no need to be confined by employment legislation. Many of the workers only realise they have been “self-employed” when they get a tax return to complete.
Denis Compton
Address supplied

What a joy to see 17-year-old Rachael Farrington (Letters, 17 April) so interested in politics. To avoid becoming disillusioned, don’t rely on government. With the help of your school, organise a mock election for the European elections on 22 May and invite local candidates to a debate. This will help clarify the issues and, if you contact the local press, get publicity for your school and the candidates. You should also get a politically minded teacher to take a group of interested sixth formers to an episode of BBC Question Time when it comes to your area. Good luck, Rachael.
Stan Labovitch
Windsor, Berkshire

• Michael Sargent (Letters, 17 March) is right to notice the foreign property buyer problem affecting electoral rolls. Luckily Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea saw this ages ago and sold off social housing or forcibly moved such tenants out of the area. Sorted. Catch up!
Kit Jackson

• If John Hall (Letters, 17 April) is concerned about subsidised rail travel, perhaps he might care to look into the cost of subsidising personal motor transport. If we had to pay for motor transport infrastructure and pollution via our petrol prices, he would not be able to get on a train for the queues.
Duncan Grimmond
Harrogate, North Yorkshire

• At last, someone else who recognises the danger of the public feeding of red kites (Country diary, 16 April). I wrote to the RSPB 10 years ago pointing out the dangers and received a dusty reply. This magnificent raptor is indeed becoming a speculator of suburbia. There have been dozens of sightings around Bristol this year including right above my own house. They need to be respected as a beautiful but wild bird.
Laurence Garner

• Re Silvio Berlusconi doing community service in a care home for the elderly (Report, 16 April): can we now expect him to be organising bingo bingo parties?
Gareth Williams

• My daughter and I in separate cars, lost near St Just in Cornwall, each blaming the other, arrived at a sign post which said Carfury and Ding Dong (Letters, 17 April).
Joy Gunter
Porthleven, Cornwall

The United Nations secretary general’s 2014 report on Western Sahara calls for “sustained, independent and impartial monitoring of human rights” in the region. But despite reports of torture and violence systematically used by Morocco to repress the Saharawi poeple, the UK, US, and France remain reluctant to allow this (Rights fears as Moroccan editor faces trial, 28 October 2013). This week the drafting of a UN resolution on Western Sahara begins and there will be an opportunity to mandate the UN peacekeeping mission there actively to monitor human rights violations. Monitoring is vital because it will act as a strong deterrent.

It is time for the UK to put its commitment to human rights into practice and press for monitoring in the UN security council, instead of bowing to Moroccan pressure and staying silent.
Andrew Noakes Western Sahara Action Forum, John Gurr Western Sahara Campaign, John Hilary War on Want, Joanna Allan Western Sahara Resource Watch

Before the prime minister proclaimed his born-again Christianity (I’m evangelical about Christianity – Cameron, 17 April), did he reconnect with verses 44 and 45 of chapter 2 of Acts of the Apostles? In present day language these describe the early Christians as having all things in common and as selling their possessions and distributing them to all men and women according to their need. They are arguably the two most important verses in the Bible because they tell Christians how to live rather than what to believe. They are as relevant to governments as to individuals, and so it is reasonable to apply them in judging a government led by a self-proclaimed Christian.

Cameron’s government has miles to go to even match up to these precepts. Making the poor poorer through savage benefit cuts but sitting supinely by while bankers coin millions, savaging public services and failing to take proper care of the environment are but three illustrations. There are many more. It would be unwise for Cameron to revisit Christianity until he can show he is running his government in the direction of these verses.
Robin Wendt

• Once again, our PM pontificates and as a consequence issues divisive statements, this time on Christianity. The assumption is that those who follow an organised religion, essentially Christianity, make a contribution to society, but members of the secular community cannot. This is nonsense, and in my own case, as a non-observant Jew, I have spent over 50 years in voluntary work, getting more out than I have put in. I know many others in the same position who have contributed far more than I have.

I do not feel the need to belong to any secular society, and have the greatest respect for those who follow a religion. If Britain wishes to call itself a Christian country, so be it. It has no influence whatsoever on what I and countless others contribute. However, I do firmly believe that a strong moral code takes priority over quasi-religious observance, recognising that both can be apparent. Cameron should remember his own words, “we are all in it together” – not just those who attend religious observance on the occasional event.
Leon Rogers

David Cameron does not understand the harm he does by dismissing “secular neutrality”. There are religious minorities all over the world, including besieged Christians, who are desperate to worship freely in a secular, neutral state. What right does he have to speak up for them when he denies the very concept?
Richard Gilyead
Saffron Walden, Essex

• David Cameron supports Christianity as it helps people “to have a moral code”. I’ve just returned from our church cafe in Easterhouse, Glasgow. The packed hall included those whose benefits are insufficient for a decent lifestyle, in debt, subject to the bedroom tax, on minimum wage or less. The cafe provides drinks and fruit free, cooked snacks are cheap but free to those who have no money. Our Christian moral code is to alleviate the poverty and inequality deliberately increased by the government. Somewhat different from Cameron’s code.
Bob Holman

• First Cameron announces that he is “evangelical about Christianity”, then his government tells us they are poised to predict how long each individual will live (Report, 17 April). Oh dear, didn’t we learn anything from our experience of a previous prime minister who appeared to believe he had a direct line to God?
Fred Litten
Croydon, Surrey

• Richard Leakey, in The Making of Mankind, describes burials in Shanidar from 60,000 years ago. Among them were some whose remains revealed that for long periods in their lives they had been incapable of supporting themselves. Clearly that Neanderthal society had some sort of health service, providing benefits sufficient to live without working. I wonder if they had a Tory party?
Bill Hyde
Offham, Kent

• Cameron tells us it is his Christian faith “that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives”. Having seen the nature of the difference he makes, I – as one quite happy to embrace the designation “militant atheist” – would like to thank Dave for this unexpected gift of ammunition.
Paul Bream
Wallsend, Tyne and Wear

• “Disraeli converted to Christianity”is a bit misleading, with its implication this was a political action in adult life. In fact his father became an Anglican when Disraeli was 12, and he grew up as an Anglican.
Kevin McGrath
Harlow, Essex

Meghnad Desai (Letters, 15 April) plays down the crimes committed by Narendra Modi and suggests that others, too, are sinners in the realm of communal violence. The Indian electorate, he says, knows all of this and should be allowed to choose without external critical comment. Desai sits as a Labour peer and in the past has not been so restrained, recording his willingness to go to war against human rights violations. Now he seems not to wish to speak out against them.
Gurminder K Bhambra
University of Warwick
John Holmwood
University of Nottingham

•  Meghnad Desai writes a history of riots in post-independence India evacuated of almost all political responsibility. It is regrettable that the failure to hold previous culprits for extremist violence to account is represented only as tragedy, and not as a responsibility to which all politicians must rise.

The principal difference between Narendra Modi and the previous government figures Desai mentions is that Modi is standing for the highest public office with current connections to an openly extremist organisation, and with a history of extremism.
Dr Shamira A Meghani
University of Leeds
Dr Bhabani Shankar Nayak
Glasgow School of Business and Society
Dr Leena Kumarappan
London Metropolitan University
Dr Akhil Katyal
Shiv Nadar University, India
R K Dasgupta
University of the Arts
Dr Murad Banaji
University of Portsmouth
Dr Rahul Rao
School of Oriental and African Studies

• Meghnad Desai responds to Priyamvada Gopal’s criticisms of Modi (Britain can’t simply shrug off this Hindu extremist, 14 April) by listing atrocities that took place under the watch of the Congress party. But criticism of Modi need not imply support for Congress; that’s an old diversionary tactic. Surely the orchestrated killing of more than 700 people deserves more than Desai’s defeatist observations that “Hindu/Muslim riots are a tragic part of Indian history” and that the partition is to blame for the problems Indian Muslims face today. Riots don’t just happen, and the violence in 2002 was not inevitable. There is also a deep legacy that he ignores of coexistence between Hindu and Muslim forms of music, food, literature and worship in the subcontinent.
Ashwini Tambe
University of Maryland

•  The nationwide massacre of Sikhs in 1984 occurred under a Congress government and those responsible should be held to account in a court of law (many of us in the UK have been fighting for exactly that outcome). But that violence and the fact of partition do not excuse the pogroms that occurred in Gujarat in 2002 nor Narendra Modi’s role in fomenting them.

Modi’s entire political career has been devoted to the cause of the fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its affiliates. He was centrally involved in the deeply divisive Hindu supremacist campaigns of previous decades, including the infamous chariot “pilgrimage” from Gujarat to Ayodhya in 1990 that aimed to “retake” the 16th-century Babri mosque, claiming it was the birthplace of the Hindu deity Ram. This campaign led to considerable violence throughout India and the destruction of the mosque by Hindu nationalists in 1992.

In 1991 Modi was a key organiser in the RSS and VHP’s Ekta (“Hindu unity”) pilgrimage aimed at reclaiming India as “Hindu” and in the process terrorising minorities. In this role, Modi organised the “saffron army” of youth from the RSS and the extremely violent Bajrang Dal. Similarly, Modi was involved in the organisation of another far-right “pilgrimage” campaign in 1997 from Bombay to Delhi which was aimed at making minorities accept a secondary status under Hindu supremacist ideology.

The Gujarat pogroms are not going to be forgotten. Nor is the murder of BJP politician Haren Pandya who accused Modi of involvement in the 2002 carnage, or the brutal murders of Ehsan Jafri MP and many others.
Professor Chetan Bhatt
London School of Economics

I was shocked to see an image of an “evil Jew” caricature in your review of the Glasgow International Festival (In at the deep end at Glasgow international festival, 7 April). I hastened to find out what you had to say about the image, or about the artwork from which the image was taken. Astoundingly, there was nothing: no comment on the image, not even a mention of the piece from which it was taken.

So I looked up the artist’s work: it turns out the whole animated video is available to watch online, and the artist himself (Jordan Wolfson, a young Jewish artist from New York) has commented in interviews (also available online) that the caricature is taken from an anonymous drawing he found when he Googled “evil Jew” or “Shylock”. In an interesting twist, he took the drawing to his animators and “asked them to try for the look and emotional appeal of, for example, Shrek”.

The result is an uncanny and fascinating play with an offensive stereotyped image, where the animation jolts us back and forth between strongly positive and strongly negative visceral reactions.

None of this information made it into your discussion of Wolfson’s oeuvre, which dealt solely with other pieces. Yet you printed the offensive stereotyped image, an image that taken out of context suggests an antisemitic perspective rather than a critique of the same. Is this the enlightened perspective of the Guardian today?
Steve Potter


I find David Cameron’s attempt to claim religious authority for his hard-right agenda distasteful in the extreme (“We all benefit from living in a Christian country, says Cameron,”  17 April).

Many clerics of all faiths have denounced the deliberate destitution of the already poor by arbitrary withdrawal of benefits for weeks on end at the whim of overworked DWP clerks, because of draconian tightening of eligibility criteria by his government. Increasing numbers of poor people are facing eviction and homelessness because of his policies. The poor in our inner cities and buy-to-let slums are starting to starve, driven to food banks in despair.

The pious Mr Cameron feels no need to govern in the interest of areas like the de-industrialised North, the broken pit villages, the communities abandoned by global capitalism. He thinks the powerless and penniless should somehow make their own salvation, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and becoming entrepreneurs, handbag designers and hedge fund managers, with government intervention limited to threats of imprisonment and enforced poverty.

His concern is directed entirely towards the already well-off, motivating them to succeed by lowering taxes and relieving them of regulatory burdens, allowing them to shelter their wealth from the Revenue and pass it down the generations, entrenching the socially corrosive inequality that shames our nation.

The Prime Minister should govern for everyone, especially the poor and powerless. That is the mark of a real Christian. Co-opting the church to provide cover for class war is a despicable act, from which the truly religious would recoil in horror.

John Boulton, Edgware, Middlesex

The threefold increase in food handouts juxtaposed in your spread (16 April) with the 17 per cent increase in London house prices, both over the past year, comes in the wake of Chris Grayling’s decision that prisoners should be denied free access to books of their choice a couple of weeks ago, and the decision of Theresa May’s Home Office last week to deny Oliver Cameron the kidney of his non-British sister.

Together they tell us the meaning of David Cameron’s Big Society and the Tory slogan “We are all in it together”. No wonder so many Scots would prefer to live in a probably not poorer but undoubtedly fairer social democratic country.

David McDowall, Richmond, Surrey

So Cameron is now evangelical. Well, talking to the poor is certainly a lot cheaper than feeding them.

Martin London, Henllan, DenbighshireCardiff academics speak their mind

I was at the meeting of Cardiff University’s Court on 10 April (“Academics block Griff Rhys Jones as Chancellor”, 15 April), and no one at that meeting said anything critical about Mr Rhys Jones. No one expressed resentment at a senior academic being replaced by a comedian. The discussion, heated at times, was entirely concerned with the question of why our current Chancellor, Sir Martin Evans, had not been asked to continue.

There is however another story. Academics at Cardiff University, in Senate, in the University’s Council and at Court, are much more willing than they used to be to put forward views, to challenge decisions, to hold the executive to account and to exercise what Rowan Williams characterised as “moral vigour” in debate. The days of “rubber stamping” are over, and this is surely a good thing.

James Whitley, Professor of Mediterranean Archaeology, Cardiff University

School discipline needs legal backing

The cat has scratched through the bag and we know what we knew in our hearts of hearts: the biggest pressure on schools is the irksome pupil body (letter, 15 April).

I would not like to return to the days when teachers could beat the living daylights out of you, but I think disciplinary procedures of a disagreeable sort should be agreed upon by headteachers and parents, and adhered to.

Detention after lunch, without appeal from parents. Community service, to be undertaken at school and at home. Expulsion. A parent may appeal but must go with  the decision of the headteacher.

The whole thing should be backed by a law in which undermining the school is a civil offence, pursuable at a small claims court, with criminal charges for those evading the sanctions awarded.

Spare the children and parents, and watch another unskilled, uncouth generation fall on to the street.

Cole Davis, London NW2

While I agree with some of what Rosie Millard had to say (16 April) about a 10-hour school day, I have to challenge her statement: “The classrooms are out of bounds and the teachers have all gone home.”

In my last five years of teaching in a large primary school I didn’t know any teacher who left school before 6pm. We could be seen leaving the building alongside the after-school-club staff as the caretaker came round jangling his keys to lock up the building.

Ann Bird, Sheffield

How to house MPs without scandal

With the clangs of yet another MP housing scam still ringing in our ears, let’s take a look at how a less dysfunctional country handles the issue of accommodating their MPs.

Just across the water is Denmark, pretty similar to the UK, or so you’d imagine. There are 179 MPs. The total budget for providing accommodation for them all is £541,700, plus a bunch of apartments provided by the state for MPs to live in, free of charge.

The apartments are an investment, owned by the good citizens of Denmark – who never stop complaining that the flats are far too luxurious. So absolutely no speculative shenanigans for Danish MPs.

And still there seems to be no shortage of candidates coming forward for election. Could it really be that, in Denmark, people still want to represent their fellow citizens for reasons other than money?

Kirsten de Keyser, London N6

Dyslexic people really can do degrees

I appreciate that Matthew Norman’s column is written tongue-in-cheek, but must take issue with the assumptions about dyslexics revealed in his comments about MP Charlotte Leslie (14 April). Being dyslexic clearly makes reading and writing more or less challenging for the individual but it is in no way the insurmountable obstacle to academic achievement suggested.

Many schools and universities spend a great deal of time, effort and money supporting students with learning disabilities, including dyslexia. With support they are perfectly capable of completing “literate” degrees and holding down careers entailing vast quantities of reading and writing.

A dyslexic friend is a barrister, and having completed a degree at Oxford now enjoys practical and ongoing support from her chambers. My own dyslexic daughter is studying archaeology and anthropology at university. And, yes, she can spell the name of her chosen subject.

Please don’t make jibes about politicians at the expense of people who have made considerable efforts to get to grips with their learning disabilities and are not cowed by the challenges.

Kathy Moyse, Cobham, Surrey

‘Green’ gas is just a distraction

Vernon Yarker (Letters, 16 April) tries to justify shale gas as a bridging technology to genuinely low carbon or zero-carbon renewables. He is probably unaware that the gas industry has been using this argument for over 30 years, so it is high time that we reached the other side of the bridge. Fracking in the UK will simply divert money from renewables and result in another 30 years of “locked-in” fossil-fuel dependency. By that time, as the IPCC emphasises, we will be beyond the point of no return.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

Gay ‘catastrophe’ in Africa

The Archbishop of Canterbury is quoted as saying that gay marriage could be “catastrophic” for Christians in Africa. What is catastrophic in Africa is the power of Christianity, influential in the imprisonment, molestation and killing, even, of gays. Inevitably gay marriage must be against the teaching of a church which refuses, point blank, to learn.

Peter Forster, London N4

History of holes in the road

Andy McSmith (11 April) and C R Atkinson (15 April) raise the issue of potholes in our roads. They are well behind the curve. That acerbic social and political commentator John Lennon drew our attention to the problem back in 1967 when he sang of, “four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire”. Like the poor, potholes are always with us.

Nigel Scott, London N22


A UN special rapporteur has denounced the shocking levels of sexism in Britain

Sir, The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Rashida Manjoo, has been reported as saying “Britain is world’s worst for sexism” (Apr 16). As a charity which works to eradicate violence against women in nearly 40 countries, ActionAid is shocked that this is the case, but from our experience the inequality Ms Manjoo is describing is, sadly, the norm for most women globally.

Ms Manjoo makes an important link between austerity measures, poverty and sexism. It is no surprise that in Africa, according to a recent UN study, nearly one in two women experience sexual violence, a proportion closely followed by south-east Asia.

Sexism and the violence that accompanies it need serious global attention and action, considering the 96 per cent of women who have undergone female genital mutilation in Egypt, or the systematic use of rape in the Congo. Or even how in Pakistan and India girls have a 30 to 50 per cent higher chance of dying before they turn 5 than boys. It’s important to focus on empowering women and girls globally, and building the political will, legal and government capacity to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls wherever it happens.

Janet Convery


Sir, I read with interest your article today on the UN inspector Rashida Manjoo’s report. I am surprised at not only the tone of the report but also at its contents. The idea that Britain, multicultural as it is, has been found to be the most sexist country in the world is understandably shocking.

One has to wonder where this UN inspector ranks countries where women are obliged by law to remain fully covered, are deprived of schooling and are given away as child brides to old men. What exactly is her agenda?

Jo-Anna Stitt

Boroughbridge, N Yorks

Sir, I was sorry to see Anna Maxted’s column littered with examples of everyday sexism (“How to give your child a work-life balance”, April 14). Surely the editorial policies that bring us the great Caitlin Moran should also save subscribers from having to read twee articles that insist on addressing “mothers” over “parents” when it comes to childcare advice. Ditto references to a mother “feeding the child herself” — does this mean “breastfeeding”, and if so, whose sensitivities is the author trying to protect?

Celia Richardson

London N7

Sir, How ironic that the Home Office should dismiss as “Marxist” the report on housing benefit of one UN rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik, while refusing Professor Manjoo access to Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre.

David Reissner

Elstree, Herts

The operator of a food bank in Oxford says their popularity is not the fault of the present government’s policies

Sir, You report (Apr 16) that Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust, and 36 Anglican bishops are pressing the government to “tackle food poverty” — the implication being that the policies of the present government are largely responsible for the rising demand for emergency food.

My wife and I have run the Community Emergency Food-bank (CEF) in Oxford for the past six years and since we began we have provided food for over 11,000 people. CEF is independent of both Trussell Trust and FareShare.

The reason for the rise in the number of claimants is complicated, and to seek to blame the government and welfare reform is simplistic.

In the unlikely event that the provision of welfare benefits was to be substantially increased, the need for food banks would continue unabated because no government of any stripe could create a system of relief that caters for the many human dramas — prison, gambling, drugs, desertion, gaps in benefit provision often created by changing circumstances, sudden job loss, and unforeseen misfortune, that afflict families.

The need for food provision was just as urgent under the previous Labour government as it is under the present administration.

Further, the publicity about food banks means that people and referral agencies now know about the service, hence the marked increase in applicants. In fact the provision of food is a very efficient way of distributing emergency aid. It cannot be smoked, drunk or gambled away.

Tom Benyon

Bladon, Oxon

The operator of a food bank in Oxford says their popularity is not the fault of the present government’s policies

Sir, You report (Apr 16) that Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust, and 36 Anglican bishops are pressing the government to “tackle food poverty” — the implication being that the policies of the present government are largely responsible for the rising demand for emergency food.

My wife and I have run the Community Emergency Food-bank (CEF) in Oxford for the past six years and since we began we have provided food for over 11,000 people. CEF is independent of both Trussell Trust and FareShare.

The reason for the rise in the number of claimants is complicated, and to seek to blame the government and welfare reform is simplistic.

In the unlikely event that the provision of welfare benefits was to be substantially increased, the need for food banks would continue unabated because no government of any stripe could create a system of relief that caters for the many human dramas — prison, gambling, drugs, desertion, gaps in benefit provision often created by changing circumstances, sudden job loss, and unforeseen misfortune, that afflict families.

The need for food provision was just as urgent under the previous Labour government as it is under the present administration.

Further, the publicity about food banks means that people and referral agencies now know about the service, hence the marked increase in applicants. In fact the provision of food is a very efficient way of distributing emergency aid. It cannot be smoked, drunk or gambled away.

Tom Benyon

A reader hints that some of our leader writers are indulging in what he regards as language of an inappropriate register

Sir, The word “shtick” appears in your leader (Apr 15). I am glad to say I do not know what it means.

His Honour Michael Walker


Under the Equality Act employers may no longer give a bad reference to a former employee, so that’s not much use

Sir, According to your Law Report (Apr 15), the Equality Act means that employers cannot give a “bad” reference to former employees.

Surely if this is the case then no references written will have any use, as no prospective employer will know if a “good” reference is true or was written under this pressure.

Jennifer Habib

Berkhamsted, Herefordshire

Timber is getting forbiddingly expensive because of the government’s attempts to encourage green energy generation

Sir, Having provided logs in the Welsh Marches area for over 50 years, since the days when customers had wood-fired stoves, I find that the cost of wood has risen sharply. This is a result of the government’s preoccupation with the use of wood as fuel. In the haste to turn everything of an organic origin into “green energy” (ie, trees, waste food, corn, straw, miscanthus, etc), we shall soon have to import all the timber products that are now produced in Britain from British forestry by British workers.

The subsidies ensure that wood is burnt rather than made into furniture and building materials.

This is, of course, quite unsustainable, because due to green subsidies, demand for wood as a fuel exceeds supply by a factor of four, and it is now cheaper to burn coal on domestic fires that once were fuelled by sawmill offcuts.

WF Kerswell

Church Stretton, Shropshire


SIR – I have only felt obliged to follow the convention of leaving the bottom waistcoat button undone because of the cut of British waistcoats, which taper away at the bottom.

I bought my “office suit” when stuck in Amsterdam. Its waistcoat has a straight cut, with the edges meeting each side, allowing all the buttons to be done up properly.

Mike Hutchinson
Meonstoke, Hampshire

SIR – My researches suggest that the fad for leaving the last button of one’s waistcoat undone developed in the Twenties at Eton or Oxford. As I attended neither, I have eschewed this habit.

Julian Waters
London WC2

SIR – May I suggest that the problem reported by Sean Lang – of the midriff and the bottom of the tie spilling out between waistcoat and waistband when he is sitting (Letters, April 15) – is that his trousers are too low?

James Borradaile
Blandford Forum, Dorset

SIR – The problem is that most people today – especially those hiring wedding outfits – don’t know that waistcoats should only be worn with trousers loosely fitted around the waist and supported by braces.

The bottom of the waistcoat and the top of the trousers then move up and down in unison.

Trevor Burrage
Oxted, Surrey

SIR – Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is entirely correct to appoint someone with background knowledge of radical Islamic movements to investigate the alleged plot to impose Muslim control on various schools.

There are three reasons for this. First, the matter should be handled centrally, since any such plot would be spread across many local authorities.

Secondly, if such a plot exists, it would almost certainly originate with radical Islamic factions – ordinary Muslims are unlikely to try to organise such a thing.

Thirdly, it is a very important matter and we must beware of turning a blind eye for fear of offending one group or another.

The British constitution guarantees the freedom of religion. At a trivial level this means that every individual is free to believe whatever he chooses, but more significantly it prohibits the Government imposing any religion on its people. That prohibition applies to any institution funded or overseen by the Government.

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If early reports are to be believed, the schools being subverted under the “Trojan horse” blueprint (report, April 14) not only inculcate Islamic religion, principles and propaganda on their pupils but also teach them to lie about what is happening in order to hide these activities.

Kenneth Hynes
London N7

SIR – Peter Clarke knows what evidence is and how organisations can be effectively managed. He showed that in the past as a senior police officer. He is an ideal choice to lead a review into what has happened to some schools in Birmingham.

Charles Hill
Richmond, Surrey

Fare jumping

SIR – At Hitchin station, I regularly see the athletically and criminally inclined vaulting the fence between platform and car park.

While this mass exodus is effected, no fewer than three First Capital Connect employees stand 50 yards away at the automatic ticket barriers, chatting amiably.

Train companies could discourage fare-dodging without spending a penny extra, by deploying platform staff with some thought.

Richard Light
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

Hospital bed shortage

SIR – Highest contributor to overseas aid; second-lowest number of hospital beds per capita in Europe. Discuss.

Stephen Roberts
Catcott, Somerset

Shame about the dinner

SIR – Dinner parties are my idea of hell on earth. The last I gave, seven years ago, was a disaster. The food was dreadful and the guests didn’t converse. I only had one thank-you letter, from someone clearly at a loss, who said how much she admired my tablecloth.

Shirley Copps
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Gold ring test

SIR – I don’t know about using a gold ring to test for bad food (Letters, April 15), but it was common practice 40 years ago to put one’s wedding ring on a string and pass it over the stomach of one’s pregnant wife. The nature of the swings would reveal the sex and number of the children one would have. I don’t recall a sign for “Discard”.

Roger Ellis
Surbiton, Surrey

Westminster behaviour

SIR – I write as chairman of Sarah Wollaston’s constituency association and on behalf of local party members, to emphasise the local support that she enjoyed before we read her article and after.

We too are shocked that fellow MPs should criticise Dr Wollaston for supporting those Commons workers who made allegations against Nigel Evans MP.

Sir Ian Kennedy, the chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, said recently (in the context of expenses) that “MPs marking their own homework always ends in scandal”, and it seems this lesson is not being learnt by some when it comes to behavioural issues.

To ignore the allegations that led to the prosecution would have been disgraceful, and it is quite evident that in other walks of life ignoring “inappropriate behaviour” has had terrible long-term consequences.

It may or may not be the case that the Crown Prosecution Service needs reform, but that is a separate issue. Above all, Totnes constituents expect the behaviour of their MP, and everyone else’s, to be exemplary, and we know that in this and all respects, we are well served by Dr Wollaston.

Rupert Hancock
Totnes Constituency Conservative Association
Totnes, Devon

Cost of living

SIR – It is heartening to read that the “cost of living crisis is over”, as wage growth is overtaking inflation. But for me, as a public-sector worker in London, the crisis is continuing. My salary is under £20,000 and I have had no pay rise for eight years. I have at least two years before I will see even a pound a week increase.

When will the proceeds of growth filter down to those of us at the bottom?

Bobby Smith
Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire

Cost of killing

SIR – In Britain at War (Court & Social page, April 16) a section entitled “Killing a German” reported an American statistician’s calculation that in the Second World War up to 1944, the cost of killing each enemy soldier was £12,500, up from 3s 9d in the time of Caesar.

Has any Ministry of Defence official calculated the cost to Britain of each Taliban fighter killed in the past 10 years?

Paul Rutherford
Bishops Sutton, Hampshire

University is not the default for school-leavers

SIR – The value of a degree has fallen by a third over the past five years, despite the ever-increasing cost of going to university. This shows the importance of the decision facing many of today’s school-leavers.

With tuition fees increasing to £9,000 a year, and the average starting salary for graduates in professional employment having dropped by 11 per cent between 2007 and 2012, young people must consider the return on their investment.

University should no longer be regarded as the default option for individuals who are unsure which career they want to pursue. The future economy depends on the next generation making informed decisions on how to begin their careers.

Practical experience is highly regarded by most employers, and an apprenticeship is an ideal way to develop this while being paid at the same time. As your report indicates, many large organisations now hire school-leavers and help them to gain professional qualifications while they work.

There are no universally right or wrong options, but, as the co-founder of, I would say that what school-leavers require above all else is support, information and relevant advice on careers.

Hattie Wrixon
London EC1

SIR – Admiral Sir George Zambellas, the First Sea Lord, hits the bull’s eye concerning the point of the referendum for Scottish independence. The arguments about which currency to use, membership of the EU, the use of oil revenues and so on are irrelevant when the defence of the realm is at stake.

If the interests and assets of the United Kingdom are not secure in this turbulent world, then the rest is meaningless.

Jonathan Brett Young
Lairg, Sutherland

SIR – It is totally inappropriate for the First Sea Lord to interfere in a partial fashion in the contentious Scottish referendum.

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His job is to defend the nation. If the nation changes its composition due to a democratic referendum, that is still his job. If a split in the United Kingdom makes the logistics of such defence more difficult, he has to deal with it, not try to pre-empt its outcome by an illegitimate intervention.

The retired defence and intelligence chiefs who wrote to Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister, arguing that his plan to remove the Trident nuclear submarine system would be “unacceptable for Nato”, are guilty of a perverse judgment.

Nato has 28 member nations, only three of which have nuclear weapons: the United Sates, Britain and France. All British and French nuclear weapons are on their own territory; only the United States has deployed some of its nuclear stockpile abroad, in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. So 20 of the 28 Nato nations have no nuclear weapons on their territories. Is that also unacceptable to our retired military and intelligence leaders? If not, why pick on Scotland?

Dr David Lowry
Stoneleigh, Surrey

SIR – Sir George Zambellas drew attention to the loss of jobs at Faslane and other military bases that Scottish independence would likely cause, and to its adverse effect on UK security. How many jobs in Glasgow would also be lost by the move south of the Army Personnel Centre, which is responsible for the administration of the Army’s pay, pensions and records?

Alex Salmond says that the rest of the United Kingdom would cooperate with Scotland in defence matters. How does he know, when Nato would take a dim view of the exit from his country of our joint nuclear deterrent? The rest of the United Kingdom would decide on relations with a newly independent Scotland, not the SNP.

M R C Pallott
Rainton, North Yorkshire

SIR – Many Royal Navy officers who are Scottish, sons of Scots or born in Scotland will now feel free to comment, following the First Sea Lord’s politically questionable piece for The Daily Telegraph. In memory of their predecessors’ highly effective Royal Scottish Navy, I sincerely hope they do.

Chris Watson
Lumut, Perak, Malaysia

Irish Times:

Sir, – As Prof Ferriter states, allegiances and loyalties that prevailed in Ireland 100 years ago were complex and multi-layered. Might I suggest that, rather than distort history, as he fears, the presence of a royal representative at the 1916 commemorations might serve to honour the soldiers of the Irish regiments which, prior to deployment of reinforcements from England, were charged with suppression of the rebellion? In his capacity as colonel of the Irish Guards, and thus representative of the service of generations of Irishmen in the crown forces, even unto the present day, the photogenic young Duke of Cambridge, accompanied by his delightful wife, would be eminently suitable.

Historical hypothesis is a fraught area, but it is difficult to conjecture that any form of Irish “freedom” would in the context of the time have resulted in an entity that diverged significantly from the economic, intellectual and cultural sterility that characterised the Free State. To paraphrase Bismarck, one might ask if the entire violent enterprise was worth the bones of a single “volunteer”, or, indeed, those of the civilians killed? Yours, etc,


Harbour Plaza,


Hong Kong

Sir, – If ever an event needed the calming effect of a royal presence it must surely be the rapidly approaching Easter Rising commemorations. The real fun and games will kick off when we get that bit closer to D-Day and myriad nationalist groups begin jockeying for pole position. I can assure Prof John A Murphy (Letters, April 16th) that historical accuracy and reasoned debate will count for nothing when the bands start playing and speeches are littered with sanitised accounts of selfless devotion to the “cause”.

Once again, the winners here will be Sinn Féin and its many offshoots. After all, they can claim a certain legitimacy as the true heirs of the 1916 leadership. Yours, etc,


The Demesne,


Dublin 5

Sir, – An Taoiseach is “very pleased” to hear the queen’s declaration that her family and government would “stand alongside” Ireland during the upcoming commemorations (April 10th). He is, I would suggest, a little premature in believing that this translates into a prospective royal presence at the 2016 GPO ceremony.

The GPO commemoration pays tribute to all those who died in the cause of Irish freedom and that is its sole purpose. One can presume that the Queen does not assume inclusion in its guest list yet to be announced. Ministers would work with “authentic historians” before deciding what events the royal family will attend, An Taoiseach assures us. He and his Ministers might also consider working with descendants of those executed in 1916 to establish their views on this unprecedented proposal. After all they occupy their present positions as a direct result of that supreme sacrifice. Yours, etc,



Oxford Road,

Dublin 6

Sir, – Felix M Larkin (Letters, April 17th) has offered us an admirable and succinct tutorial in the high politics of British governments and Irish political movements in the years between 1910 and 1922.

He clearly identifies the genesis for the physical force movement of the period as residing within the Ulster Volunteer Force and unionist opposition to home rule. We should not ignore, however, the fact that it suited certain factions within the Irish revoluntionary movement to have the Ulster unionists doing what they did.

And as Irish history is an endless circularity, I’m not sure that nationalist Ireland hadn’t learnt, long before the UVF had ever been thought of, that British politicians, at the last, would only really understand force.

Nevertheless, in 1914 the fact was that home rule, in some shape or form for most of the island, was going to happen after the war; moreover, it had been conceded with barely a shot being fired.

The 1916 rebellion changed the rules of engagement, however, and retrospectively validated the Ulster unionists’ pre-war actions – just as the 1918 election was represented as providing post-validation for the rebellion. Yours, etc,


Rathasker Heights,


Co Kildare

Sir, – Declan Kiberd’s likening of Anglo-Irish relations to “the narcissism of small differences” has elicited letters strongly in support and strongly against.

The phrase was coined by Sigmund Freud (as der Narzissmus der kleinen Differenzen ) in a 1917 paper “ The Taboo of Virginity ” to emphasise that we express our strongest emotions towards those who resemble us most rather than those who differ from us. Freud developed the idea further in a 1930 lecture “ Civilisation and its Discontents ”, applying it to the rivalries between Spaniards and Portuguese and between North Germans and South Germans. He saw this narcissistic phenomenon as a useful safety valve for the hostility felt by near-identical communities with adjoining territories. Yours, etc,



Vienna 1040

Sir, – The discussion of an invitation to British royalty to attend the commemoration of the 1916 Rising should surely extend to the surviving senior members of the Hohenzollern dynasty. After all, the leaders of that Rising spoke in their proclamation of their “gallant allies in Europe”, and this would include the Kaiser and the German imperial general staff. Yours, etc,




Dublin 5

Sir, – Thanks to Eamonn McCann for his alternative perspective on the recent presidential visit to Britain. What a welcome antidote it was to the craven “gush and mush ” we have read from other commentators. Yours, etc,


Dalkey Park,


Co Dublin

Sir, – I usually enjoy Martyn Turner’s cartoons but that in the paper of April 16th, while bigoted and nasty, was also spectacularly unfunny. The entire readership is aware of your paper’s longstanding anti-religious stance but this cartoon marks a new low. It is a great pity that the same zeal for anti-religious comment, so prevalent in your newspaper, is not applied to critical analysis of current government scandals. Perhaps your paper’s deference to the Labour Party is preventing such analysis and criticism. Yours, etc,




Co Dublin

Sir, – As a reader of your paper for 55 years I am disappointed that you allowed the publication of the offensive Turner cartoon on April 16th. Its publication was an error of judgement and warrants an apology to the priests of Ireland and to your readers. Yours, etc,


Taylors Hill.

Sir, – Martyn Turner’s cartoon of April 16th was a new low in Irish journalism. When I saw it I was immediately reminded of the 19th-century cartoonist Thomas Nast and his sectarian cartoons. The Irish Times is doing its best to win the race to the bottom in Irish print journalism. Yours, etc,


University Road,



Sir, – Perhaps Martyn Turner’s cartoon (April 16th) was a bit below the cincture but he’s a satirical cartoonist. It’s his job to be offensive! Yours, etc,


Beacon Hill,


Sir – Desmond FitzGerald, in his letter denigrating Palestinian “apologists”, makes the intentional mistake common to Zionists of conflating historical Palestine with Jordan in an attempt to delegitimise Palestinian identity. It is a trait typical of colonialists that after they steal your land they tell you that it was never yours in the first place.

Palestine has existed as an historical region separate to Jordan/Transjordan since biblical times and unlike Jordan has been called just that during Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, British & Israeli occupations. It will continue to be called Palestine after the current occupation ends and no amount of historical revisionism from Mr FitzGerald and Mr Meleady will change that. Yours, etc,


Priory Road,

London N8

Sir, – I’ve just won a small wager with myself – to the effect that any recitation of the facts and/or criticism of Israeli policies (however mild and accurate) would very soon be characterised as “anti-Semitic rant” (Letters, April 17th). My bet was, of course, a sure thing! Yours, etc,



Co Kilkenny

Sir, – I believe that Caroline Morse of the Huffington Post website (report, April 17th), and the many Irish commentators in agreement with her, are only thinking about Temple Bar Square rather than the entire Temple Bar area.

Temple Bar Square is certainly guilty of being a ripoff tourist trap, but the wider area of Temple Bar is still not without character. Meeting House Square, the outdoor room complete with foldaway stage and cinema screen, is a marvelous piece of urban planning, and has a fantastic Saturday food market.

Temple Bar Square aside, you cannot throw a stone without hitting some sort of cultural institution, all of which create a vibe in the area that is not centred around binge drinking.

I must concede to Ms Morse, however, that any tourists who are here to sample our famous pub culture will have a more authentic experience in almost any other part of this island. Yours, etc,




Co Meath

Sir – Temple Bar is accurately described by Frank McDonald as a collection of sordid gin palaces connected by vomit-carpeted streets, shoe box apartments ill-suited to any sort of stable human habitation, and the constant screech of amplified oirish muzak; the creation of all of which has been facilitated by the transfer of large sums of public money to private individuals. But come on Frank, what planet are you living on? Far from being a failure, such a development is, in an Irish context, a howling success. Yours, etc,


Barnhill Avenue,


Sir, — Joseph O’Connor has written recently in your paper of the “heroes … forgotten by Official Ireland and Official Britain” (“Older legacy fades by popular demand”, April 4th) in reference to the tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors, doctors, nurses, etc, who never expected to be remembered. Yet what of their heroes, the contemporaries they were not allowed to celebrate?

I have been putting together biographies of some of those who enjoyed fame here before the emergence of “Irish-Ireland” between the 1880s and the 1920s saw them written down or out of history altogether: men and women who fell between two stools – not Irish enough to be remembered in their homeland, and not British enough to be imperial heroes.

There was William J Lawrence, a self-taught Protestant Northerner who was forced to find a living in America, where he became a Harvard professor and the toast of the nation’s Ivy League universities. Austin Clarke and TS Eliot berated Ireland for their failure to acknowledge him as the “supreme authority” in his field of Shakespearean studies. Lawrence spent his last decades exiled from the Dublin he loved and died “poor and disappointed” in London.

Joe O’Gorman, a fiery former plumber, trade unionist and comedian from Dublin, fought for tolerable conditions for tens of thousands of workers by organising the “Music Hall War”, a 1907 strike. Although encouraged by friends like Jim Larkin and TP O’Connor MP to stand for parliament for Labour, O’Gorman stayed on the stage but suffered blackballing by every music hall in Britain for being a Larkinite. As the “Uncrowned King of British Music Hall” he starred on Broadway and the London Palladium, and was part of the first modern cross-talking duo, subsequently copied by such acts as Laurel and Hardy and Morecambe and Wise.

Or Mary Connolly, a Dorset Street tenement girl, whose patrons – Ballsbridge doctors, Belfast dockers and James Joyce’s voice coach – helped her become one of the highest-grossing acts in British music hall and variety theatre in the years after the first World War. Although she single-handedly saved the Olympia theatre from bankruptcy and the wrecker’s ball, having taken the soup of the British stage she died forgotten, and her final burial place is unknown.

Or two ex-British soldiers, John King from Moy, Co Tyrone, and Robert O’Hara Burke of Galway, who to this day remain among Australia’s greatest heroes but are virtually unknown in Ireland. King was the only survivor of the Burke and Wills expedition that became the first to cross Australia – it was the Victorian equivalent of the moon landing.

With a view to a book, I am gathering other biographies and would be delighted to hear from anyone with any “names”, or indeed with any further knowledge of those I have mentioned. Yours, etc,


The Thatched Cottage,

Tirnascobe Road,

Sir, – Further to discussions about moving the Spire and alternative uses for it, a few of suggestions:

1. We could use it to lance future property bubbles;

2. We could use it to inject some life into the domestic economy; or

3. Given the recent protests regarding plans for renewable energy, we could lend it to some local Don Quixote to tilt at windfarms. Yours, etc


Stocking Avenue,


Dublin 16

Sir,- There does exist a precedent for the removal of the Spire. In February 1891, my grand-uncle Adam and a fellow trader in Upper O’Connell Street, publisher Henry Gill, promoted a private member’s Bill to remove Nelson’s Pillar from where the Spire now stands to another less obtrusive position in the street. Their concern was that the pillar prevented free communication between Henry Street and Earl Street, and also that it was a hindrance to the development of trade in the upper end of the street. The Bill was carried by a majority of five, the fifth being Charles Stewart Parnell, who strolled in as the bell rang, knowing nothing of what was going on and voted in favour. Tim Healy MP contributed: “Monuments in a public street are a public nuisance, and I should be prepared to support a Bill not only for the removal of this monument but also for those to O’Connell, Father Mathew and Sir John Gray. If it is desirable to commemorate the memory of the great dead the statutes ought to be placed somewhere where they will not be in the way of the living.” Yours, etc,



Co Mayo

Sir, – Timber!!! Yours, etc,


Glendale Park,

Sir, – Reports of rising tension in Ukraine are worrying, not to say confusing. What is even more worrying, nearer home, is our Government’s apparent willingness to go along with whatever the USA, Germany and Nato want. Ireland is still a neutral state. We should be opposing the drift to war, not accommodating one power bloc against another. Bismarck once said the Balkans were not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. Unfortunately he was not around in 1914. I don’t expect Ireland to produce a Bismarck, but we don’t need a John Redmond either. Yours, etc,


The Links,


Co Dublin

Irish Independent:

The Wednesday after Easter will be the 1,000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf, which is perhaps the only event in Irish history to have a major international significance.

Also in this section

‘What would we do here, if we were a real country?’

Demurring to the monstrous gods of capitalism

Letters: Bible is a collection of metaphors, not a book of evidence

It may be the only major battle that we ever won. An Post has celebrated our having the guts kicked out of us at the Battle of Kinsale with suitable stamps.

Our last surviving innards were displaced at the Battle of the Boyne – more suitable stamps celebrating the launch of more oppression for us.

I eagerly awaited what An Post might do about Clontarf. I had just seen its recent launch of a set of four stamps on contemporary “art” – one of which was of a woman’s head inside a basket. Surely a minority taste!

Recently An Post’s booklet – ‘The Collector’ – arrived. No stamp will mention Clontarf at all. Instead, two stamps will commemorate our “Viking Heritage” … Carlsberg?

We won, for goodness sake. If victories embarrass us and make us uneasy because they are not PC then why not celebrate the O’Brien heritage instead?

I could think of some handsome candidates.

Miceal Ross, Monkstown, Co Dublin


* Children first. It’s a simple concept. Children before tradition. Children before pride. Children before Canon law. Children before doctrine. Children before personal opinion. Children before the reputation of any institution. Children before God. There is no argument. Children first.


* Reading in your paper (Irish Independent, April 17) about a proposal that the Catholic Church should ordain married men is probably the best idea I have heard since somebody decided to stick handlebars on a bike.

I don’t think I am exaggerating when I state that our country is seriously deficient in morality and selflessness. How many of our churches on Sunday mornings are the dwellings of those who consider themselves Christian, but ride the rule of selfishness in their daily lives?

How many of the central figures in Ireland’s recent history of political and corporate corruption attend churches every Sunday because it is what we do as a nation?

I am not a practicing Catholic, but I am an ardent Christian. Most of the wisest advice I have received has been from others, like me, who remember Jesus’s message and don’t treat his memory as another club to join.


* When I think back on the 1950s when we, as young fellas, set off from Cloone, Co Leitrim, for Hyde Park to cheer on our heroes against Galway, or to Breffni Park in Cavan to meet Meath, it makes me sad.

Those of us in the sunset years of life are not able to go to such games and our only enjoyment on such Sundays was to be all set for the throw-in on TV. We often rang each other on Monday mornings to do a Pat Spillane and Colm O’Rourke among ourselves on the games.

Our phone calls had to stop as the Government has taken away any free calls. They have also taken away our free line rental. Of late my mail is polluted with junk from SKY. We ould fellas can’t afford SKY and, as I write these few lines, tears are in my eyes as to why the GAA has let us down.

If I had any sway, I would be asking the footballers of Ireland to revolt.


* Coming up to exam time, a recent conversation with my peers provoked me to write this letter.

As a student sitting my Leaving Cert this year, I believe that it’s an outrage that 25 extra points are offered for only one of the three core subjects – maths, Irish and English.

In particular, I think it is outrageous that these extra points are not offered for our native language.

In recent months, I have observed the number of candidates opting for higher-level Irish in the Leaving Cert decline. The sole reason? Students cannot maintain both higher-level maths and Irish. Which subject will the candidate opt for? The subject that offers the most CAO points.

Has the work of our ancestors, who worked tediously to preserve this ancient language, gone to waste?


* James Plunkett described the Irish people of 1914 as the ‘Risen People’. Bono describes the Irish people of a 100 years later as those who “bailed-out the State” and who were “screwed and fought back with dignity”. The historic and current events show that change can be achieved.

Despite major achievements since 1916, the Declaration of Independence still sets ambitious goals like equal rights and opportunities and the ownership of Ireland to the people of Ireland.

The state visit to the UK has shown the friendship which has developed between our two countries. This friendship, and the Good Friday Agreement, provide a platform to discuss the merits of a United Ireland.

A United Ireland offers economic benefits as the bigger Irish domestic market would make it more attractive for investment – and the North could have an economic policy which suits a small country.

Unionists could have significant influence, as they would form a significant part of the population. The Twelfth could become an all-island celebration, while the Easter Rising could be commemorated to show thankfulness that never again a minority will be divided from the majority.


* I have a good friend who has mixed feelings about Easter.

For Lent he gives up sobriety. He starts drinking on Ash Wednesday and stops on Holy Saturday. He has had a problem with alcohol since his school days. So, years ago, he decided to stay sober except for the days of Lent. He says the pubs treat him like gold during Lent because sometimes he is the only one there.


* Hear, hear to Martina Devlin for her opportune piece (Irish Independent, April 17). Modern policing techniques, allied to fiscal policy, has destroyed the bond between the people and police.

When I was growing up they were affectionately and otherwise known as ‘guards’. The term conveyed both respect and a certain warmth. Today they are just another crisis-infected ‘police force’.

Withdrawn from rural Ireland, undermanned and politicised, the once vaunted guards are at the crossroads visited by the clergy.

The disconnect between the people and police is real. It appears that younger police don’t want to patrol and footslog. It’s not cool or exciting but it is more effective long-term.

In Dunboyne, wider population circa 5,000, a patrol car from Ashbourne passes by. Yes the station opens for one-and-a-half hours per day but no one knows the local bobby because there is none. Meanwhile, with Shell/Shannon just allocate a thousand. Retired dignitaries and Dail politicians, another few hundred.

Perhaps it’s time to redefine the role of gardai and remove it from the secretive enclave of the Justice department and back in the bosom of the people. Then the police might become “guards” again.

Write to Letters to the Editor, Irish Independent, 27/32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1, or e-mail them to

Irish Independent


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