7June2014 Out

No jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get to the Co Op!

Scrabbletoday, I win the game, and gets just under 400 perhaps Marywill win tomorrow


Francis Disney – obituary

Francis Disney was a prison officer who chronicled a thrilling Somerset tale of executions, riots and redemption

Francis Disney at the walls of HMP Shepton Mallet

Francis Disney at the walls of HMP Shepton Mallet

6:05PM BST 06 Jun 2014

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Francis Disney, who has died aged 83, was a prison librarian at HMP Shepton Mallet, and delved into its 400-year history to produce an immensely colourful account of riots, reprobates and redemption.

Disney found that Shepton Mallet’s prison, which sits at the heart of the sedate Somerset town, was the source of murky and marvellous material. It had seen numerous jail breaks (some more successful than others); incarcerated the Kray Twins; put down a major uprising by inmates in the Fifties; and survived a fire, in 1904, during which prisoners, wardens and firemen manned the hoses together (and no one attempted to abscond). It also earned a grisly reputation for wartime executions, carried out by Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint — the infamous uncle-and-nephew team of hangmen.

Entrance to Shepton Mallet illustrated in Francis Disney’s history

During his 15 years as an officer behind the 75ft-high stone walls at Shepton Mallet prison, Disney became fascinated by its gruesome past: “I was a prison librarian here and my office was in the room used by the Americans for executions [During the Second World War it served as an American military prison]. Sixteen people were killed by hanging in that room. I never used to feel scared by any ghosts, though. If these walls could only talk, it would be with the voices of people under persecution.”

Francis John Disney was born on October 24 1930 in Exeter, where his father was a taxi driver and his mother a seamstress. He attended the city’s John Stocker School before taking up an apprenticeship in motor engineering with British Railways.

After his National Service (1952-54) he continued working as a motor mechanic, first for Devon County Council and then the RAC. He joined the Prison Service in 1965, training at Leyhill before being stationed at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight. He also served at Aylesbury Young Offenders Prison and Bedford Prison.

During his time at Shepton Mallet (1975-90), Disney oversaw inmates sentenced to short terms of up to four years. “I enjoyed my time there,” he recalled. “Most of the human race are OK, except for the crime they have done. There are few evil people. I suppose I have only met four or five evil people who would have murdered their mother and thought nothing of it.” He considered the prison a microcosm of society with its “happy side and the sad side, and the dangerous side as well”.

In 1984 he secured the Queen’s permission to write Heritage of a Prison: HMP Shepton Mallet, 1610-1985, for which he delivered a pacy narrative. “My writings are told in the vein of a story and I have left out most of the mundane statistics,” he stated. The first edition sold out (two further reprints followed, including a revised edition in 1992). Disney traced the prison’s history through the public records and the very fabric of the building. “We started looking through the past and uncovering all kinds of things,” he recalled about his investigations. “Staircases that led to nowhere and windows that had been bricked up.”

Built on cornfields, the prison (also known as Cornhill) opened in 1610 under King James I’s order that each county keep a “House of Correction”. Disney noted that “conditions were very, very unsavoury” as it filled with rogues and prostitutes. “This resulted in outbreaks of the dreaded disease of Gaol-fever,” he noted, as inmates succumbed to “promiscuous mixing and the purchase of favours”.

The 20th century also provided Disney with plenty of eyebrow-raising anecdotes . When two prisoners working outside to tend the local churchyard broke into a house they received a Queen’s pardon of seven days because they had seen a distraught pensioner trapped inside. Less benign was the prison chaplain’s copy of The Secret of Happiness by the evangelist Billy Graham — it held a hacksaw in its hollowed-out pages. And it was behind Shepton Mallet’s bars in the Fifties that Reggie and Ronnie Kray — serving time for avoiding National Service — first met Charlie Richardson, who would become their rival in the gangland wars a decade later.

Copy of Billy Graham’s The Secret of Happiness with a hacksaw hidden inside

Disney suggested that the prison’s controversial role as a US military jail — or “glass house” — during the Second World War had been the inspiration for EM Nathanson’s The Dirty Dozen. There were 18 executions of American servicemen (sentenced to death for murder or rape) at Shepton Mallet during the war years. Three prisoners were by executed by firing squad, the rest by hanging.

The hangings were carried out by the Pierrepoints, who were obliged to abide by American protocol. In the British way of doing things, the death sentence was carried out within seconds of the condemned man being led from his cell. But America required the prisoner, even at the gallows, to hear the list of charges against him. “The part of the routine which I found it hardest to acclimatise myself to was the, to me, sickening interval between my introduction to the prisoner and his death,” noted Albert Pierrepoint in his memoirs, Home Office Executioner.

A more heart-warming wartime role was given to the prison’s unoccupied women’s wing, which stored treasures — including the original manuscript volumes of The Domesday Book — from the archives of the Public Records Office, which was at risk during the Blitz.

Disney helped to set up the prison’s museum, gave lectures on its history and provided tours before its closure in April 2013 — an event he found discombobulating. “I know every inch of this building. Seeing it being decommissioned is very strange and emotional.” Shepton Mallet was, he maintained, more than a correction facility: “A prison is not normally considered a valuable. I do question this. Shepton Mallet Prison is of value. It is of architectural value; it has been of value to society in many areas and continues to be of value to Shepton Mallet town.”

HMP Shepton Mallet at the time of its closure (JAY WILLIAMS)

All proceeds from his book and lectures went to a local cancer charity in memory of his former colleague, John Izatts, who had helped Disney with his research.

In 1991 Disney was awarded a BEM (in recognition of his charity work) and the Imperial Service Medal.

Francis Disney married, in 1960, Linda West, who survives him with their two sons and a daughter.

Francis Disney, born October 24 1930, died May 20 2014


This part of Lennie Goodings’ homage to Maya Angelou took my breath away with pride: “So it was that 15 years after the first US publication, we published I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in a Virago paperback. Maya appeared on Afternoon Plus. It was a heartfelt, bold interview and Maya talked about the part in her book where she is raped at eight and how she became mute until literature coaxed her back into speaking. The TV switchboards were jammed; the reviews and features that followed were stunning. Maya beamed straight into British hearts” (Review, 31 May). Then I thought, ouch! How could a woman leave out the name of the interviewer? The female interviewer. Women still remain underrepresented on screen and so I have always felt the need to name names to help redress the imbalance. Maya became a lovely friend after we met at that interview. But it was great what Lennie wrote about her.
Mavis Nicholson (the interviewer)
Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, Powys

Harry Leslie Smith’s account of his sister’s death in 1926 and his eulogy to the NHS moved many readers. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

I was born in 1937, and when I was a month old my father collapsed in Stratford High Road with pneumonia and pleurisy. When he was sufficiently recovered, he spent some weeks convalescing, during that time my mother had no income and the last of my parents’ money went on paying for an ambulance to bring him home.

Later I remember my father when he was working as an orthopaedic technician, getting off his pushbike, and having heard about the new NHS, greeting my mother with the words “Thank goodness, we shall never have to worry about getting sick again” (What happened to the world my generation built?, G2, 5 June)

So my generation is healthier and living longer thanks to the care we have received throughout our lives from a service run by dedicated clinicians and not run for profit by the cheapest provider. We have heard so much about the excessive “cost” of the NHS, but this belies the truth that in England we spend less per capita on health than most other developed countries.

Of course those promulgating this myth often have vested interests in the private companies, often foreign, that are gathering like vultures in the hope of the fat profits they hope to make from our illnesses and health needs.

The politicians behind these insidious plans are intent on dismantling a service which was, before they interfered, the envy of the world. But then they are far too young to remember life before the NHS, and if things get really grim they can afford to pay for private care.
Mabel Taylor
Knutsford, Cheshire

Gary Kempston illustration Illustration: Gary Kempston

• The answer to Harry Leslie Smith’s question is that Conservative MPs, such as Oliver Letwin and John Redwood, got their hands on it. When working for Rothschild bank’s international privatisation department, they laid plans for the Health and Social Care Act which were fleshed out in the Adam Smith Institute’s report, The Health of Nations, in 1988, the same year Old Etonian Letwin published his book Privatising the World. In 2004, Letwin, then Tory shadow chancellor, invited businessmen to his West Dorset constituency, encouraging them to work together to win contracts for a new PFI local hospital. According to one participant, Letwin told his audience that within five years of a Conservative victory “the NHS will not exist any more“.

Letwin, now minister of government policy, has overseen both health secretarys’ work since the 2010 election. The bill widens the door, opened by New Labour, to NHS privatisation, closure of hospital services, selling off hospital land to create a service funded, not from general taxation but by individual payments to insurance companies. As Harry puts it: ” … the NHS stripped down like a derelict house …”

As Michael Portillo said: “They [the Tories] did not believe they could win an election if they told you what they were going to do [to the NHS]…”
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

• My father was born in the workhouse infirmary in Colchester in 1900. My mother’s family fled from the terrible poverty of Glasgow’s Gorbals to London in 1904. I was fortunate to spend my early life in a country where conditions improved. I am only 79, but I remember when the Labour party defended the weak the sick and the poor. I pray that the two Eds, Miliband and Balls, read Harry’s touching story of his sister Marion’s life and death.
John Munson
Maidstone, Kent

• Dear Harry, thank you for reminding us of the awful conditions that the NHS replaced. Rarely have I been so moved by an article in the Guardian. The piece by Harry Leslie Smith, so beautifully written, should be sent to every MP and member of the House of Lords who voted for the Health and Social Care Act so that they can realise the enormity of what they have done.
Ann Lynch
Skipton, North Yorkshire

• I am in my 70th year, rather than the 91 years of Harry, but I too despair at the dismantling of the welfare state that meant so much to working-class people. How is it that the elderly can forget so easily and vote for political parties, which now includes the Labour party, who want to privatise all the services that working-class people depend on?
Colin Lewis
Blackwood, Gwent

• Three words stood out for me: “taxation benefits everyone”. Discuss.
Mike Pender

• Harry Leslie Smith’s eulogy to the NHS measures the levels of improvement in society following the second world war and the opportunities that have been missed. The NHS did not create an equal society, but it gave access to healthcare irrespective of means to pay and made strides in medicine which were available to everyone. It became a model to aspire to. The NHS as a public service has saved or ameliorated countless lives throughout most of Harry’s life. The solution to the rising cost is raising contributions, not selling it off. If we were a more equal society, there wouldn’t be a problem.
Dr Graham Ullathorne
Chesterfield, Derbyshire

• My mother is 89 and lost the sight in one eye as a child because her parents could not afford any treatment. I was born in 1945 and survived pneumonia and rheumatic fever as a young child because of the NHS. Harry Leslie Smith’s wonderful lament made me weep.
Andrew McCulloch
Collingham, Nottinghamshire

• Best piece of writing I’ve seen in years. Mr Gove should make it compulsory reading in all schools.
Rosemary Adams
Hunmanby, North Yorkshire

• How ironic that at a time we are commemorating the outbreak of the first world war and the D-day landings of 1944, we are betraying the hopes and aspirations of the generations involved. They wanted a better future for their children and grandchildren, one which removed the fear of illness, poverty and lack of opportunity. We, their children and grandchildren, should be deeply ashamed of our wilful destruction of their legacy.
Carole Rowe
Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire

‘The former prime minister gave a passionate, persuasive and often quite funny defence of the UK.’ Photograph: Rex Features

Michael Billington should have made his way along to a packed Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket on Tuesday evening (Angry and unlovable, is this the real Gordon Brown?, 6 June), where the former prime minister gave a passionate, persuasive and often quite funny defence of the United Kingdom. He always was and still is highly popular in Scotland.
Ronnie McGowan

• The shoebox flat rented out after 16 hours (Report, 4 June) looks positively spacious compared to the university-managed student accommodation where my daughter lives in east London. Her rent is £175 per week for a 12 metre-squared room. It is becoming increasingly difficult for students to study and live in London unless they have part-time jobs and/or financial support from their parents and other sources.
Carole Vartan
Marple, Stockport

• As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-day (Operation Overlord) (D-day remembered, 6 June), let us not forget the second invasion of southern France (Operation Dragoon) on 15 August 1944. That equally important theatre of operations completed the liberation of France within three months of Overlord.
Dominic Shelmerdine

• When I lived in Oxford in the 1980s, we knew Noilly Prat as Noisy Prat (Letters, 6 June), because the person drinking it usually was one.
Tom Locke
Burntisland, Fife

• Are you using aversion therapy to stop me drinking beer (Pulling in the votes, 5 June)? First of all there was that Farage photograph with a tankard of Greene King’s I was hoping to be drinking IPA from just such a tankard tomorrow.IPA. Then, you have Boris pulling a pint of GK’s Abbot Ale. Incidentally, did Farage notice that behind him, there was an the insult to the country he is supposed to defend? There were several St George’s flags with the word Carlsberg written on them. I believe this is still a Danish brewer, though they do own Tetley and Scottish & Newcastle.
John Fisher
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

• The football World Cup is almost upon us and yet I have not yet seen one car “sporting” the English flag – is this just a local phenomenon or more widespread? Should Ukip be worried?
Doug Sandle

Jean-Claude Juncker with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. who is pushing his candidacy to become EU commission president. Photograph: Pool/Getty Images

When proposing a candidate for the EU commission president, the Lisbon treaty instructs the European council to “take into account the elections to the European parliament” and states that the commission president “shall be elected by the European parliament” (Report, 28 May). When the EU governments added these words to the treaty, it was widely seen as a significant break from the past, as from now on the choice of the most powerful executive office in the EU would be done in a more open and democratic way. We find it disingenuous to claim, as some heads of government have done, that these treaty changes have no meaning. They believe that as heads of states and governments they have the right to choose the president of the commission and the European parliament should ratify. In this interpretation, the parliament can veto, but not take initiatives.

The alternative view, taken by the main political parties before the European elections, claims that the council must take into account the outcome of the elections. European citizens, therefore, have a word to say about who leads the European commission, which alone makes proposals for European laws. The first approach has contributed to the perception that distant “Brussels” takes decisions over which citizens have no control. The second approach aims to return sovereignty to the citizens of Europe. It seeks to balance the excessive power of the council by the democratically elected European parliament.

In the spirit of the new treaty, Europe’s party families have nominated candidates for the commission president before the election. The candidates fought a rigorous campaign, criss-crossing the continent. There were several live TV debates between the candidates and the media have covered the candidates’ campaigns. And, crucially, the candidates have argued about the direction of the EU. In short, this was the birth of democratic politics in the EU. We acknowledge that the system is not perfect. Nevertheless, this was an encouraging start, and in time this process has the potential to enable European citizens to engage with EU level politics far more than they have been able to do up to now.

We hence urge the heads of government not to kill this new democracy process at its birth. We urge the members of the European parliament to rally around the candidate who got most seats. The European People’s party has emerged from the elections as the largest group. The European council should therefore now propose the candidate of the EPP: Jean-Claude Juncker. This would follow the spirit of the new treaty and also be consistent with the way the chief executive is chosen in most of our national constitutions: where after an election the president or monarch invites the candidate of the largest party to have the first go at demonstrating that he or she has the support of a majority. Proposing someone other than Juncker would be a refusal to recognise the changes in the treaty. It would also further undermine the shaky democratic credentials of the EU, and play into the hands of the Eurosceptics across the continent.
Prof Dr Stefan Collignon, Prof Simon Hix, Prof Dr Roberto Castaldi, Prof Dr Jürgen Habermas, Mr Costas Simitis former prime minister, Greece, Prof Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi, Prof Tony Giddens, Prof Dr Claus Offe, Prof Dr Ullrich Beck, Prof Paul deGrauwe, Prof Dr Gianfranco Pasquino, Prof Dr Hans-Werner, Prof Christian Lequene, Mr Brian Unwin former president, European Investment Bank Prof Dr Antonio Padoa Schioppa, Prof Dr Sebastian Dullien, Professor Ulrich Preuss, Prof Dr Nadia Urbinati, Daniela Schwarzer Director, German Marshall Fund, Dr Ettore Greco, Director, Istituto Affari Internazionali, Prof Dr Lucio Levi, Dr Enrico Calossi, Coordinator of the Observatory on Political Parties and Representation, European University Institute Prof Dr Massimilano Guderzo, Daniela Schwarzer Director, German Marshall Fund, Flavio Brugnoli Director, Centre for Studies on Federalism, Dr Giuseppe Martinico, Prof Dr Francesco Gui, Prof Jerónimo Maillo, Graham Bishop, Prof Dr Bernard Steunenberg, Prof Dr Gustav Horn, Graham Avery, Prof Dr Karl Kaise, Paul Jaeger Associé, Russell Reynolds Associates, John Loughlin Director, von Hugel Institute, Prof Dr Leila Simona, Dr Francisco Pereiro Coutinho, Prof Steven Hasleler, Prof Dr Mario Telò, Prof Dr Piero Graglia, Bertrand de Maigret, Prof Stephanie Novak, Annabelle Laferrere, LSE, Dr Matej Avbelj, Prof Constanca Urbano de Sousa, Pedro Gouveia e Melo, Dr Matej Avbelj, Prof Dr Gianluigi Palombella, Prof Armando Marques Guedes, Carlos Botelho Moniz Lawyer, Portugese Society of European law, Brendan Donnelly Director, Federal Trust, UK, Dr Henning Meyer

• Surely a fatal objection to Juncker becoming president of the European commission is that he is a former prime minister of Luxembourg, which vies with the Republic of Ireland as the biggest tax stealer in the EU. For example, Ian Griffiths described in detail how Amazon and Luxembourg deprive the UK of rightful tax payments (Report, 4 April) .

It is incredible that the EU didn’t deal with the tax-stealing problem decades ago. Instead it has expanded geographically and the European commission has expanded its activities outside its competence while letting the tax problem grow. The EC needs to come up with proposals for fixing it now – Juncker is not the person to lead it in this effort.
John Wilson


At a party recently with friends, all similar to myself (early fifties, working-class background, professional graduates, Labour voters), I confessed that I had voted Lib Dem at the last election, and one by one the others did too.

We did so for the same reasons. We saw the Lib Dem promises as a more left-wing manifesto than that offered by the Labour Party. We could not see anyone in the Labour Party who was like us.

My great-grandfather died canvassing for the emerging Labour Party. He wanted representation. His MP was rich and lived elsewhere. He wanted someone to stand up and complain about his poverty, about his zero-hours contract on the docks and about the desperate prospects for his children.

The result was that my grandparents were represented by Bessie Braddock, a local woman whom they could trust would stand up for them.

My parents had Eric Heffer who worked on  the building sites with my dad.

I had Terry Fields, a workers’ MP on a worker’s wage. Who will my son have? The rumour is Euan Blair: rich and from elsewhere, typical of the modern Labour MP – looks and sounds good on TV but no idea of what it is like to struggle.

So I have been disenfranchised. I will never vote Lib Dem again. Like my friends, I was conned. I will never vote Ukip but can see why people do. They appear “real”.

I haven’t left the Labour Party, the Labour Party has been taken from me and my people by middle-class people who thought they knew what was good for us.

We have come full circle. My graduate children are working in coffee shops and bars on zero-hours contracts with no rights, each with a personal debt that is bigger than my mortgage at their age and no effective trade union to stand up for them.

Meanwhile the rich get richer. How did that happen after 13 years of a Labour government?

We need to throw this lot out and start all over again.

Tony Packwood, Liverpool


While I applaud the Labour Party’s promise to educate our young people on the importance of voting (“Labour’s class action to raise voting rates”, 6 June), it will be of little use unless trust in our political process is restored.

The electorate needs to be assured that casting a vote is more than just a choice between varying degrees of evil.

A promise of a law to allow constituents to recall an MP would be a good first step to achieving greater confidence that politicians will represent the will of the people, not their own self-interest.

Pete Rowberry, Saxmundham, Suffolk


Let the grass grow – to feed the sparrows

Charlie Smith in Dulwich (letter, 4 June) rightly welcomes the chirp of his sparrows, and I believe he’s correct in his observation that numbers appear to be rising. There has been an almost universal decline.

Wales has proved to be the exception. Maybe it’s the continuation of traditional farming practices; we are not entirely sure.

The RSPB is one of the many organisations investigating the decline of the house sparrow. No one has yet established the cause or, more probably, causes, of their dramatic drop in numbers. However, we do know that a lack of the right food and a lack of nesting places are contributory factors.

Young sparrows need plenty of protein, and older sparrows crave carbohydrate. The demise of the sparrow reflects the paucity of insects and seed in the environment, so get messy outdoors and let the grass literally grow under your feet and go to seed.

We have anecdotal evidence within London that the chirpy Cockney sparrow is starting to rally. Great effort is being made by ourselves, local authorities, organisations such as London Underground and other conservation NGOs to restore natural food availability in the capital.

Sparrows, bats, bees and butterflies will benefit, and the colours and sounds of nature will enrich Londoners’ lives.

As for The Independent’s offer of a reward for whoever reveals what’s behind the population collapse of the house sparrow, I suspect it will remain unclaimed, as we are now aware that there is a hugely complex web of factors driving a downwards trend of as much as 60 per cent of our UK wildlife.

Sorry to end on such a negative note, but we are all doing too little too late to sustain our green and pleasant land.

Tim Webb, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds , London SW1

There seems no shortage of sparrows in this area of the North York Moors. We have two sparrow families nesting in the house tiles and at least two more families in next door’s hedge. And many other villagers have reported plenty of sparrow activity.

We regularly, breakfast time and early evening, have at least six to eight on the feeding station, and another 10 waiting their turn on the fence. They make a lot of noise, but we spend many happy hours watching them.

Christine Wainwright, Goathland, Yorkshire


New flag needed for today’s England

Soon we will see England flags fluttering proudly from cars as our heroic football team sets out in Brazil to bring the World Cup back to the home of football.

But in this outburst of commendable patriotism, we must not forget that peace-loving Muslims living among us could well be offended by the flag of St George. Not only is it associated with the bloodthirsty Crusaders as they raped, murdered and pillaged their way to the Holy Land, but in recent times the flag has also been hijacked by far-right political parties.

Therefore, to avoid stirring up racial resentment, to make the flag more inclusive and to show we are a truly multicultural society, might it not be appropriate to incorporate an Islamic symbol such as a crescent into the top left corner?

Then Muslims could happily join in cheering Steven Gerrard and the lads. Come on, England!

Charles Garth, Ampthill, Bedfordshire


Yes, we boomers  were lucky

I was born in 1944 and I regard myself both as a baby boomer and lucky. Jane Jakeman (letter, 6 June) got it right when she argued that pre-Thatcher we voted for a decent equitable society, where employers were encouraged to look after their staff, rather than screw them to the deck, as many do now.

It is correct that only 10 per cent went to university, but many of us, including me, were taught at a polytechnic, where the employer paid our tuition fee and paid for day release

When we left school we found there were plenty of jobs; we needed only basic qualifications to get them. Nurses learnt their trade in real hospitals dealing with real people, and while they were not well paid, they were at least earning while they were learning. Nowadays, they practice on dummies while at university, have learnt nothing about life and graduate with huge debts.

Students today leave university to find their are few decent jobs to compensate them for all their efforts, and while many will not earn enough to repay their student loan, it is a millstone round their neck. We were, indeed, a lucky generation. Today’s young people will only be able to survive if they went to a top university or have parents able to pay off their student loan.

Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey


Democracy is being undermined

Congratulations are in order: in unveiling proposals whereby frackers will not need to seek the permission of those residing above ground before drilling beneath them, David Cameron has become the first Prime Minister in history both figuratively and literally to undermine the democratic processes of this country.

Julian Self, Wolverton, Milton Keynes


Now ‘now then’ needs to be reclaimed, then

Now then, sir. It’s disappointing that “Now then” reminds Lin Hawkins (letter, 6 June) of Jimmy Savile. It didn’t occur to me for a minute that it would, and if it is a common view, then remedial action is imperative. The battle to reclaim “Now then” from the clutches of Savile starts now. Reight?

Mark Redhead, Oxford

“Now then” may have Lin Hawkins thinking of Jimmy Savile, but I will always associate it with Fred Trueman. In cardigan and tie, smoking his pipe and pint in hand, he would open each episode of the 1970s Yorkshire TV series Indoor League with a brusque “Na’ then” as he introduced the viewer to the serious business of darts, bar billiards and arm wrestling.

Bill Cook, London N11

‘Honour’ and ‘killing’ have no connection

Please stop the use of the disgusting phrase “honour killing”. This euphemism suggests a justification for what is simply plain, misogynistic murder.

Ken Fletcher, Liuzhou, China


Getty Images

Published at 5:00PM, June 6 2014

The commemorations are seen by many as a reminder that freedom does not come easily

Sir, As we commemorate the D-Day landings, may I put in a word for the others who fought in the war. My father volunteered in 1939 and was in the British Expeditionary Force. Rescued from Dunkirk he took part in the famous opening barrage at El Alamein. Later he fought at Monte Cassino. After the war he was spat at in the street because he didn’t take part in the D-Day landings. This, of course, was Churchill’s fault as he downplayed the war in Italy so that the Eighth Army became the “Forgotten Army”. Let us not make the same mistake now, and take the opportunity to pay tribute to all those who fought for our freedom.

Dennis J Hickey

Southport, Merseyside

Sir, 70 years ago today, my father Jack, an RE officer, having spent many months in the military operations directorate at the War Office working on plans for the Normandy landings, dropped two ranks to volunteer for front-line service. On D-Day he landed on Juno beach in a Canadian LST, part of the first wave. He was awarded a DSO for bravery. He was one of the lucky ones. He survived.

I and so many of my generation are eternally grateful to all those thousands who gave their lives for our freedom. Every day I pass his photograph watching over me from the hall table. Every day I thank them all and so should we.

Andrew Hamilton

West Camel Somerset

Sir, On June 6, 1954, in my parish church, I heard one of the most vivid sermons in my life. The preacher started his sermon “Ten years ago today thousands of young men stormed ashore on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe.”

Ten years after D-Day memories were still fresh and it was just but a year after the Korean War, so everyone was well aware of the cost of defending freedom. The passion and expression of the sermon rightly encapsulated the country’s belief that freedom does not come easily and was well worth the fight.

I hope that this weekend at least one priest rekindles that passion with a sermon based on D-Day. It would be a timely acknowledgement of the bravery of the thousands who “stormed ashore on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe”.

Ian Proud

London W5

Sir, Before D-Day my grandfather lent his house to an assembly of US commanders, including Henry Stimson, US Secretary of War, General Marshall, Chief of Staff US Army, Admiral King, Commander in Chief US Naval Fleet, and General Arnold, Commander US Army Airborne, as they made the final preparations for the landings. The generals wrote to him, most movingly, after D-Day, of their stay and of the tranquillity of his garden amid the pressure of those last few days. The meeting was so secret I have seen no reference to it outside my grandfather’s papers.

The choice of location was not entirely random: Stimson had been a house guest in 1943, when my grandfather was appointed director of the construction of the Mulberry harbours used in the invasion.

The harbour breakwaters, the Phoenix units, can still be seen at Arromanches. They are a unique memorial, commemorating not suffering or destruction but audacity and British brilliance. They are long overdue for recognition as a UN World Heritage Site.

Simon Gibson

Eastleach, Glos

When you forget your passport you can still steal back into the UK – if you are carrying the right bits of paper

Sir, When Finchley Cricket Club went on tour to Holland in the 1980s one of our party forgot his passport and was allowed to travel freely, there and back, by showing the UK and Dutch officials his name on a label that his mother had sewn into the waistband of his cricket trousers.

Terry Wilton

Wavendon, Milton Keynes

Sir, A colleague once used a National Trust card to clear UK passport control. The card never leaves my wallet in case of similar emergencies.

Antony Hurden

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Sir, Arriving for lunch at the Reichstag, we found that passports were required for entry. After five, rather long, minutes we were admitted on the strength of our North-West Leicestershire old–age bus passes.

CN Grist

Castle Donington, Leics

Sir, Spare a thought for those with dual nationality. Shortly before 9/11 I returned to the UK on a visa-less Australian passport, having forgotten to take my UK passport on a trip down under. I was allowed in after producing a copy of Private Eye. Immigration officials agreed it was near-conclusive evidence of Britishness.

Alice Adams

London NW3

A distinguished writer notes the instances of friendliness she found on her recent visit to the great metropolis

Sir, Having lately been bemused by surveys of the relative likeableness of various cities, I made notes during a recent two-day visit to London. Apart from acquaintances, I conversed with 28 strangers — hotel workers, waiters, shop assistants, taxidrivers and a couple of officials. Ten were European foreigners, four were Asians and one was a New Zealander. The only one who did not seem likeable was a very English cabbie, a class of Londoner I generally find delightful, but I was homesick by then and I expect he thought me nasty too.

Jan Morris

Llanystumdwy, Gwynedd

The ceremonial which surrounds the Queen’s speech may strike younger voters as bizarrely irrelevant flummery

Sir, As a council candidate I spent ten minutes on polling day convincing a reluctant 18-year-old to vote for the first time. My pitch about maintaining a thriving democracy did not include reference to any of the following, heard during the coverage of the Queen’s speech: the Lord Privy Seal, the Lord Great Chamberlain, the Lord Chancellor, the Earl Marshal, the George IV diadem, the Speaker’s Chaplain, Sovereign’s Heralds, Trainbearers, Black Rod, the Great Sword of State, the Cap of Maintenance, the Robing Room, the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, the Yeomen of the Guard, the Serjeant-at-Arms, the Pages of Honour, and calls of “hats off strangers”.

John Slinger

Rugby, Warks

Sir, Is there any significance in the fact that in Peter Brookes’s cartoon of the Queen’s speech (June 5) the former Lord Lyon King of Arms is wearing a tabard of the Scottish Royal Arms leading the Sovereign in the procession in the House of Lords?

Thomas Woodcock

Garter King of Arms, College of Arms

London EC4

Richard Dawkins’ suspicion of children’s stories continues to puzzle the champions of creativity and imagination

Sir, Professor Dawkins (June 5) thinks it is “statistically too improbable” for one living creature to turn into another (The Frog Prince). Are the odds any better for billions of atoms to turn naturally by chance into a living cell?

Chris Bow

Stapleford, Cambs

Readers of Brideshead and viewers of the film seek the real-life locations that inspired the novel

Sir, Professor Fawcett (letter, June 3) suggests Madresfield Court as the inspiration for Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Castle. A more obvious candidate is Wardour Castle in Wiltshire, which Waugh would have known through his friendship with Cecil Beaton and the Herberts.

Waugh placed Brideshead in a Wiltshire park with a castle that gave its name to a Georgian successor. It was the seat of a Catholic family and the house contained a famous chapel.

Old Wardour Castle overlooks a lake that points to the new mansion on a nearby hill. The largest Georgian house in Wiltshire, Wardour Castle, has splendid interiors and a spectacular chapel. It too was the home to a Catholic dynasty, the Arundells. I recommend Wardour Old Castle as a picnic spot: strawberries and a bottle of Château Peyraguey would seem appropriate.

Nigel Thomas

Netherstreet, Wilts

Sir, Professor Fawcett deplores the use of the baroque Castle Howard as a visual shorthand for Brideshead, but there was good reason for its use in the TV film. In the novel Charles Ryder says staying at Brideshead signalled the end of his love for the medieval and his “conversion to the baroque”. The Flytes may be based on the inhabitants of Madresfield; the architecture of Brideshead Castle is clearly not.

David Bertram

Teddington, Middx

Sir, I expect Waugh, like other writers, had a variety of sources of inspiration. His description of Brideshead’s central rotunda reminds one of Ickworth and is very far from the Arts and Crafts of Madresfield. The chapel and family are, of course, undoubtedly those of Lady, and the exiled Lord, Lygon.

Neville Peel

Mottram-in-Longdendale, Cheshire


SIR – Allison Pearson accuses baby-boomers of being “too selfish” to volunteer. The “baby boom” is generally considered to have occurred between 1945 and 1965. As the average retirement age is just below 65, surely the majority of baby-boomers are likely to be still in full-time employment.

As a recently retired 63-year-old, I, along with a number of my contemporaries, have recently taken up volunteering for the National Trust, among other organisations.

Pamela McAuley
St Neots, Huntingdonshire

SIR – Allison Pearson says she feels guilty about not volunteering. Yet it doesn’t follow that our generation is selfish.

One of the potential upsides of an ageing society is a larger pool of people with the time to employ their skills and experience in voluntary work. Nor is there reason to panic about the future: much evidence suggests that today’s young people are even more altruistic than past generations.

Volunteering models will change. At the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, where I am executive director of volunteering and development, we are seeing more people undertaking “micro-volunteering” actions, online or through smartphones, for example.

Fortunately, the impulse to altruism is a trait hard-wired into us all.

Justin Davis Smith
London N1

SIR – I look round the committee of the small charity I work for, and we are nearly all over 80, having been involved in charitable ventures for many years. I wonder if it is a coincidence that we were the “lost” generation, who were about 10 when the war started. We were old enough to know what was going on; we accepted the bombing, went without holidays, and were infected by the general feeling of goodwill towards others. Where is the next generation of volunteers to come from?

Ann Flute
Bampton, Oxfordshire

SIR – A lack of National Trust Volunteers? Wonderful. I shall now be able to enjoy the architecture unaccosted.

Paula Brain-Smith
Minehead, Somerset

Plastic’s not my bag

SIR – I was delighted to hear in the Queen’s Speech that the Government plans to tackle the problem of plastic bags with a levy, and so hopefully reduce the amount of plastic going to landfill.

Can it link to this a restriction or ban on the sleeves that are now extensively used to distribute most of the catalogues and junk mail I receive? I have to admit that I do not always separate each mailing into the separate constituents for recycling; it would be far more effective if plastic sleeves were banned or taxed, prompting a change back to paper envelopes.

If this proves more expensive, it may have the added benefit of reducing somewhat the amount of junk mail that arrives on my doorstep every morning.

Richard Dalgleish
Kingsclere, Hampshire

SIR – Has anyone given thought to how many elderly and disabled people have their groceries delivered? It will take the poor delivery men and women far longer to unload each order into people’s kitchens without bags. Plus, how will the frozen and chilled items be separated?

Judy Williams
Lydeard St Lawrence, Somerset

SIR – A two-litre plastic milk bottle weighs five times as much as a plastic bag. Why not set an end date for their use? Milk can be supplied in cardboard boxes, which it should be possible to recycle.

Charles Cooper
Malvern, Worcestershire

SIR – How will history remember this Coalition? As the destroyers of plastic bags.

Morton Morris
London NW2

Music with art

SIR – I went to the National Portrait Gallery recently and was astonished and irritated to find they were pumping loud pop music throughout the gallery. Apparently on Thursday evenings – crassly titled “The Late Shift” – a DJ is hired to spin a variety of tracks.

Art galleries represent one of the few havens of peace available in the modern world. They offer a sublime chance to engage with a beautiful work of original art, often centuries old, at close quarters.

They present an opportunity to lose yourself in both the technique of the painter and the subject matter. This intensely visual and internal experience is somewhat corrupted when you’ve got Joy Division, Art Garfunkel or Salt-N-Pepa inescapably in your ear.

If I want to listen to music while I look at art, I can take my iPod. I don’t, because I like to do one thing at a time. Equally, if I happened to go clubbing one evening, I wouldn’t want someone shoving a Holbein under my nose.

Sam Pollard
Beckenham, Kent

Blinded by science

SIR – Richard Dawkins suggests we lose the “statistically improbable” from children’s literature. No King Arthur, Mary Poppins, Ratty, Mole or Badger? No Eeyore or Dumbledore? No Wombles or Matilda? No more going on a bear hunt? It is a bleak and colourless world, indeed, that the professor offers.

Rev Anthony Buckley
London SE22

SIR – In most fairy tales there is an evil person or a spoilsport. Is that Richard Dawkins?

A T Brookes
Charlwood, Surrey

Britain and Sparta

SIR – Boris Johnson engages in typical political sophistry when he suggests our country will fall like Sparta if we do not accept migrants (report, June 5).

Mr Johnson is using flawed logic to justify EU rules over which, by his own admission, we have no control. He should explain to us how, if uncontrolled migration is so good for our country, there are strict immigration restrictions on Commonwealth citizens?

Being against uncontrolled immigration does not mean being anti-immigration, but I would not expect one of the Westminster elite to “get it”.

Terry Lloyd
Darley Abbey, Derbyshire

BBC Russian service

SIR – Andrew Wood, Vladimir Bukovsky and others call for the BBC to revamp its Russian service (Letters, June 2).

The BBC is already a significant source of information in Russia. Audiences for the BBC’s Russian language service are at their highest level since 2000. We reached nearly 14 million people in May 2014, an annual increase of 78 per cent, through BBC Russian online, in addition to BBC content available on partner news websites.

The BBC Russian television bulletin is available on Dozhd TV, with regular BBC updates on another Russian television channel, RBK. Two BBC Russian audio programmes — Pyatiy Etazh (Fifth Floor) and BBSeva –­ are also available for listening online.

BBC Russian is at the forefront of digital innovation in the World Service, and we use the most effective means to make our content available to as many people in Russia as we can. Our presence on social media is growing rapidly, too.

BBC News currently reaches more than a quarter of a billion people around the world, and we aim to increase this number. The Russian service is making a strong contribution to this target.

Behrouz Afagh
Controller, BBC World Service Languages
London W1A

Got the bottle

SIR – My milkman informed me of his imminent retirement and I suggested a few hobbies to keep him occupied: golf, birdwatching, or maybe collecting something. “Like milk bottles?” he replied.

Can readers think of good hobbies for a retiring milkman or other tradesman?

Janet Newis
Sidcup, Kent

SIR – In the past couple of weeks, at least three cars in Orkney have caught fire; one was a write-off. The cause of each fire was a spark or heat in the engine compartment which ignited starlings’ nests.

The other day I removed a starling’s nest from the rear wheel area of my car.

Drivers, beware!

Suzan Woodward
St Margaret’s Hope, Orkney

Follow our coverage of the D-Day commemorations here

SIR – My parents enjoyed several cycling holidays in northern France just after the war. When the local people saw the Union flags on my parents’ saddlebags, the hospitality was overwhelming, and in many cases extended to an invitation into homes and free meals. There was no doubt in my parents’ minds that the local population understood the role Britain had played in D-Day and in the liberation of France.

Visiting Normandy for the 60th anniversary of D-Day, I was pleased to see that this gratitude did not seem to have dissipated. Buildings were decked out with Stars and Stripes, Maple Leaves and Union Flags in equal number, and local children placed flowers on the graves of soldiers unknown to them.

History cannot be learnt only from books, and while this tradition of remembrance continues, the people of northern France will know the facts and, I believe, show their gratitude.

Mike Baker
Fetcham, Surrey

SIR – Michael Smedley (Letters, June 5) laments that only the Americans are remembered by the French for the Normandy landings. It is perhaps just as well.

An estimated 360,000 French civilians were killed during the Second World War, the majority of these during the D-Day invasion and subsequent drive to the German frontier. This is as opposed to around 60,000 British and Commonwealth civilian fatalities.

After the landings, little was done to mitigate French civilian losses or damage to property. It was the mistaken tactic to bomb towns to rubble prior to an infantry advance.

Terence Hollingworth
Blagnac, Haute-Garonne, France

SIR – The American PR machine was not limited to the filming of the D-Day landings. In Operation Market Garden, a push north from the Belgian border up to Arnhem, American reports indicated that the British, having crossed the bridge at Nijmegen, stopped in the late afternoon “and got their teapots out”. In reality, the leading tank, commanded by the future Lord Carrington, was under orders to halt until infantry support caught up with the column.

Michael Cattell
Mollington, Cheshire

SIR – In all the accounts I have read of D-Day, little mention is made of the part played by the bicycle. In the 1944 book “Stand By to Beach!”, there are two photos taken by the Royal Canadian Navy showing troops carrying bicycles ashore. They also feature in a painting by C E Turner, which appeared in the Illustrated London News, of the landing on the Normandy coast.

The bicycle would have been a silent and speedy method of moving inland. Were they solely used by the Canadians, or did the British go by bike as well?

June Green
Bagshot, Surrey

Irish Times:

+A chara, – Our Government has a responsibility to ensure that the Tuam deaths are properly investigated. An Garda Síochána has an opportunity to redeem its battered reputation by seizing this opportunity to carry out a criminal investigation in the name of all the little children who died due to neglect and perhaps worse in Tuam and in most likely other “care homes”. Dare we hope that this occurs?

I and other friends cannot abide this injustice visited upon defenceless little children by church and State. We will be marching from the Department of Children to Dáil Éireann next Wednesday at 7pm. – Is mise,


The Capel Building,

Mary’s Abbey, Dublin 7.

Sir, – The media should be very wary of using the term “septic tank” to describe the structure containing the child burials at St Mary’s mother-and-child home at Tuam. It is offensive and hurtful to all those involved. The structure as described is much more likely to be a shaft burial vault, a common method of burial used in the recent past and still used today in many part of Europe.

In the 19th century, deep brick-lined shafts were constructed and covered with a large slab which often doubled as a flatly laid headstone. These were common in 19th-century urban cemeteries. The stone could be temporarily removed to allow the addition of additional coffined burials to the vault. Such tombs are still used extensively in Mediterranean countries. I recently saw such structures being constructed in a churchyard in Croatia. The shaft was made of concrete blocks, plastered internally and roofed with large concrete slabs.

Many maternity hospitals in Ireland had a communal burial place for stillborn children or those who died soon after birth. These were sometimes in a nearby graveyard but more often in a special area within the grounds of the hospital. It was not a tradition until very recently to return such deceased infants to parents for taking back to family burial places.

Until proved otherwise, the burial structure at Tuam should be described as a communal burial vault. – Yours, etc,


School of Geography,


and Palaeoecology,

University Road,

Queen’s University,


Sir, – In relation to infant deaths in mother-and-baby homes, James Deeny, who was appointed chief medical officer in the 1940s, provided interesting insights in his biography.

With a death rate in Bessborough, Cork, of over 50 per cent (100 out of 180 babies born), Deeny personally inspected the home. He said that, initially, he could find nothing wrong. Then he asked staff to undress the babies.

In his own words, he found “every baby had some purulent infection of the skin and all had green diarrhoea, carefully covered up. There was obviously a staphylococcus infection about. Without any legal authority I closed the place down and sacked the matron, a nun, and also got rid of the medical officer.”

He added, “The deaths had been going on for years. They had done nothing about it, had accepted the situation and were quite complacent about it.”

Bishop Lucey of Cork complained to the papal nuncio. The nuncio complained to de Valera but Deeny’s report made clear that his decision was the right one.

He recorded that with a new matron, medical officer, disinfection and painting, the death rate fell to single figures.

Deeny wrote of his attempts to deal with infant mortality in the wider community too – “it was very difficult. All sorts of vested interests were involved and the in-fighting was terrific. I came in for a lot of ‘stick’ and abuse.” – Yours, etc,


Douglas Road,


Sir, – Where the Catholic Church in Ireland is concerned, a nasty streak of intolerance seems to be emerging. No sooner is there a disclosure about some aspect of church-related matters but politicians and opinion-makers are on their high horses condemning priests, bishops or entire religious congregations in the most emotive and abusive language.

Before a verdict of guilty is pronounced, surely the normal legal process should take place with the evidence being analysed and tested. – Yours, etc,



Tuam, Co Galway.

Sir, – Were the poor little innocents afforded the dignity of a baptism before their premature death or were their distraught young mothers told their babies would be residing in Limbo in perpetuity? – Yours, etc,


Beacon Hill,

Dalkey, Co Dublin.

Sir, – We must not forget that “fallen” women who had children out of wedlock were often denounced and abandoned by their own families and by society at large. This is our heritage.

We may blame the Roman Catholic Church, and indeed they are not blameless, and we may blame the State, which has always exhibited a shocking level of spinelessness when it comes to protecting the children of our nation. However the reality is that these women and children were abandoned by their own families. They were an embarrassment; unloved and unwanted, they had no one to protect them. When we apportion blame as a society, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves. – Yours, etc,


Nordahl Bruns Gate,

Bergen, Norway.

Sir, – Regarding the place of religion in our schools, may I suggest an excellent model from my own life experience? I grew up in South Africa, where unlike our republic, the Catholic Church is a tiny, although well-respected, denomination. My sister and I were trained in the faith at wonderful catechism lessons given on a Saturday morning in our Johannesburg parish.

Parents made an affirmative decision to enrol their children in these little hubs of religious education, and although they technically stole from our weekends, we all had great fun. I completed my first communion and first confession within these groups – which were often led by Irish nuns.

The greatest advantage to this example? It left other children untroubled by religious ideas in school, and fostered a deeper, more enduring community of children as believers in their appropriate zone. – Yours, etc,



Chao do Loureiro,


Sir, – It has been reported that the party emerging from Lucinda Creighton’s Reform Alliance will not apply the whip on issues of conscience (“New political party plans to recruit Independents”, Home News, June 3rd).

In her time in Government, Ms Creighton voted for cuts to single mothers, the sick, the elderly, as well as a raft of regressive taxes. I wonder if these and similar policies shall fall under the remit of “issues of conscience”, or whether, as I fear, moral concerns apply only to the unborn? – Yours, etc,




Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Your editorial of June 6th (“Too early to relax on budgets) makes a positive reference to the willingness of trade unions to persevere in the correction of Ireland’s public finances.

For the record I should make it clear that, while we have from the onset of the crisis recognised the need to rebalance the public finances, we believed that the adjustment should have been scheduled over a longer period. Our reasoning was that growth should have been allowed a greater part in the heavy lifting needed to achieve balance.

The social cost of the austerity policies of the troika has been extreme.

Moreover, the policy has largely failed, as can be seen from the fact that Europe’s growth rate in the first quarter of this year is just 0.2 per cent. The belated action of the ECB to stimulate the euro zone economy and ward off deflation is welcome, but an admission of the failure of austerity nonetheless.

The problem of debt – sovereign, business and personal – remains a significant drag on growth at a domestic level. Deflation poses a major risk in this respect. Europe must be made to honour the commitments given to the Taoiseach at the European Council in June 2012, namely to sever the link between banking and sovereign debt. Unless this is done, growth may not, because of the disastrous policies of the troika, reach a level necessary to allow Ireland achieve debt sustainability in the medium term. – Yours, etc,


General Secretary,

Irish Congress

of Trade Unions,

merging from Lucinda Creighton’s Reform Alliance will not apply the whip on issues of conscience (“New political party plans to recruit Independents”, Home News, June 3rd).

In her time in Government, Ms Creighton voted for cuts to single mothers, the sick, the elderly, as well as a raft of regressive taxes. I wonder if these and similar policies shall fall under the remit of “issues of conscience”, or whether, as I fear, moral concerns apply only to the unborn? – Yours, etc,




Sir, – The return of chaotic scenes to the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), as outlined on this page by Prof Benjamin Wold (June 6th), is completely unacceptable and has no place in a modern and open democracy.

Queues out the door were supposed to be a thing of the past when the bureau underwent extensive and expensive renovation work last year, coupled with the introduction of an appointments system.

While these changes may have been well intentioned, they are not working and are forcing people contributing to the Irish economic recovery to sacrifice a day’s work and disrupt their home life to queue in the open air from 6am for the benefit of paying expensive registration fees.

As a matter of urgency, the Government must act to ensure that the GNIB is given every possible support to clear backlogs, including greater use of regional Garda offices as well as online technology.

The current difficulties are just one symptom of the failure of successive governments to introduce comprehensive immigration reform.

Our immigration system lacks clear rules and guidelines, does not offer clients the protection of the Office of the Ombudsman and is slow to provide protection and supports to vulnerable groups, such as victims of trafficking and domestic violence.

It is time for political leadership to be taken not just on the delivery of services at Burgh Quay but also our entire immigration law. – Yours, etc,


Immigrant Council

of Ireland

Andrew Street,

A chara, – While I’m reluctant to add further to the free publicity that the club “Church” has already garnered by shouting “down with that sort of thing” (“Smart clubbing, unholy nights”, Life Style, June 4th), there is something deeply disturbing not only in the casual sacrilegiousness of the concept, but in the gushing approval it received in the article.

If such mockery were aimed at the sacred beliefs and symbols of Islam or any other faith it would provoke outrage and be declared at least offensive, if not indeed a hate-crime. Why when Christianity is the target should it be encouraged and treated as good clean fun? – Is mise,


The Rectory,

Clogh Road,


Sir, – Further to your editorial “Towards a low-carbon society”, May 31st), while it is the duty of any government (in Ireland or elsewhere) to provide leadership towards achievement of critical climate goals, and while reducing energy demand is a key element of reaching those goals, we are, whether we like it or not, “energy citizens”. The fact that many of us, if not most, appear to be indifferent to climate issues – because the effects are deemed to be temporally or geographically remote, or because we are disengaged, or we are in denial – we have to accept that the effects of a changing climate are occurring now, will only increase in their impact, and we have to take personal responsibility for our actions. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 16.

Sir, – I see a spokesman for Fianna Fáil’s ard chomhairle’s rules and procedures committee stated that, despite the disappointment at the decision of Mary Hanafin to proceed to contest the local election against the wishes of the party’s candidate ratifying process and procedures, they took all “circumstances” into account and now consider the matter closed (“Fianna Fáil drops disciplinary threat against Mary Hanafin”, Home News, June 6th).

Presumably these “circumstances” include helping to win two council seats for Fianna Fáil in Blackrock, Co Dublin? And the lesson for today is break all the rules you want – just make certain you win! – Yours, etc,


Loreto Grange,

Sir, – The media goes into overdrive year after year during the first three weeks of June with an almost pathological obsession with the Leaving Certificate examinations.

This is an unwarranted distraction for students. Such hype and distraction by the media is likely to exacerbate stress levels not only in students but also in parents. At this time, students are under enough stress without magnifying it.

It is also quite deplorable that in this country, when the Leaving Certificate results are published, pride of place is given to the tiny percentage of students who score the maximum number of points – not a word about the majority who get an average score or the students who, despite socio-economic deprivation, linguistic, behavioural and other limiting factors, struggle with the help of dedicated teachers and manage to pass the examination with hard work and perseverance and against all the odds. – Yours, etc,


Moyglare Village,


Co Kildare.

Sir, – Regarding the presence of men dressed up as women at the mini-marathon (June 5th), might it have something to do with the fact that there is no marathon exclusively for men? – Yours, etc,



Naas, Co Kildare.

Sir, – It’s called having a bit of fun, and raising money for a deserving cause in the process. Lighten up! – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6W.

Sir, – As a self-employed person, I pay a percentage of my earnings in PRSI but am entitled to nothing if my business fails and will receive a State pension only marginally greater than a non-contributory pension. I am sick and tired of being told I must provide for myself yet subsidise everyone else. – Yours, etc,


Knocklyon Court,

Templeogue, Dublin 16.

Sir, – In view of their centenary pretensions to the lord mayoralty of Dublin (Front Page, June 6th), perhaps Sinn Féin needs reminding it played no part at all in the 1916 Rising? – Yours, etc,



Douglas Road, Cork.

Irish Independent:

* Every now and then a story comes along which stops one in one’s tracks. A story which makes a person question their belief in the innate decency of man or woman.

That story is the tragedy that was revealed finally to the world by Catherine Corless. Photos can be found online of the children taken while they were “in care” at the mother-and-child home in Tuam. Grim, joyless faces with pained eyes stare hard-faced back at the camera, reminiscent of those children we saw pictures of in Romanian orphanages in the 1980s after the fall of Ceausescu. What desolation was visited upon them that ripped the childlike joy from their eyes and replaced it with a deadman’s stare? How can the final resting place of an innocent child be a tank which was used to store human excrement? Is that what their lives were worth?

This story has been in the public domain to a greater or lesser extent since 1975. People knew there were bodies buried there. Why is it only this week that any awakening of the public consciousness has occurred?

Our Government has a responsibility to ensure this matter is properly investigated. An Garda Siochana has an opportunity to redeem its battered reputation by seizing this opportunity to carry out a criminal investigation in the name of all the little children who died in Tuam and in most likely other “care homes”.

I and other friends cannot abide by this injustice visited upon defenceless little children by church and state.

We will be marching from the Department of Children to Dail Eireann next Wednesday at 7pm to protest, to remember and to call for a full inquiry. A candlelit vigil will be held and mementoes of those little lives (shoes, toys, bibs) will be displayed.

If you have been as touched by this tragedy, please come and join us and don’t let apathy once again concrete over these children’s memory.




* The mass burial of hundreds of children in a septic tank in Tuam, Co Galway, demonstrates yet again that the greatest crime in the eyes of the Irish Catholic Church was to be poor.

This was all about money. If you could not contribute to the church coffers, you had no worth or status in Ireland. These children were untouchables, not worthy of even basic respect. These activities have been known about for years but quite simply the church, local communities and Irish society in general simply did not care. There now needs to be a full forensic excavation of this site and others like it around the country, with a complete osteological examination of all human remains.

The full horror of what happened in the name of the Catholic Church and the hypocritical status-driven obsequious class system that underlined it, is exposed for the world to see.




* Martina Devlin’s article on the Tuam babies (Irish Independent, June 5) was excellent. It managed to be both well balanced and an accurate description of Irish society. She did not narrow the focus to a headline-seeking blame game. Well done.




* Reading Peggy Lee‘s letter (Irish Independent, June 5) with regard to the dreadful Tuam story where she says: “The public must consider the tragedy in the context of the country’s economic and social profile of the time.” I say this: No, Peggy. No particular time in our history should be an excuse for what happened here.

All our shameful history needed to be brought out in the open: corporal punishment, the dreadful industrial schools, the Magdalene laundries, and now this latest report on the remains of 796 babies, who died at a religious-run and state-funded home for unmarried mothers from 1925 to 1961.

We must not separate these dreadful happenings and realise and accept, once and for all, that as a society we have no excuses whatsoever.




* These children’s mass graves . . . Unspeakable horror. It leaves one speechless and disgusted. This society must stop sweeping under the carpet or burying what it does not want to see.

Hopefully, the shock felt by us will not only lead to a short-lived collective cathartic exercise, but will help this culture of the unsaid to move towards more transparency.




* The controversy over babies’ mass graves is causing great grief to many people. The past may be another country, in historical terms, but we inhabit that too. In even more recent times we have had, and still have, mass graves for babies.

They flourished in more recent times as bereaved parents, who were prepared to bring home their first-born baby, received a letter, such as below, and panicked to allow the hospital to perform its cold, private and non-religious task.

Parents regretted their decision forevermore and some never visited the site of the mass grave. Happily things have improved and such letters are no longer the norm. But as you can see, this occurred in 1970.

Dear Mr -,

I regret to inform you that your wife’s baby died/was stillborn on 23.7.’70.

If you wish to make your own arrangements for burial, you should notify Matron’s Office as soon as possible.

If you wish, the burial can be arranged for you by the Hospital Authorities by getting in touch with the Medical Social Worker or with Matron’s Office without delay, otherwise the Hospital Authorities will find it necessary to proceed with arrangements.

The charge is £2.15/- and should be paid to the Accounts Clerk between the hours of 9am and 4.30pm (12.30pm on Saturdays) or a postal order, may be sent to the Accounts Department. We would ask you to instruct us promptly in order to avoid undue distress.




* The recent disclosures about the Tuam babies, unearthed by historian Catherine Corless, brings home to us again the importance of coming to terms with our past. The English historian EH Carr observed that history is a dialogue between the past and present. Here we have a case of the sad facts of our relatively recent past clashing violently with the perceptions we cherish of ourselves in the present.

The task of the historian is a difficult one. In every community there are taboo areas, subjects which are just too close to the bone for many people. But unless we understand and acknowledge where we have come from, how can we decide where our futures should be? In digging beneath the surface in Tuam, Ms Corless has done her own community, and all of us, some service.



Irish Independent


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