8June2014 Relaxing

No jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage torelax and sort some books

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


Gerard Benson – obituary

Gerard Benson was a poet who brought Hardy and Milton, Auden and Yeats to the London Underground

Gerard Benson, Poems on the Underground

Gerard Benson with one of the Poems on the Underground

6:11PM BST 08 Jun 2014

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Gerard Benson, who has died aged 83, spent his life bringing poetry into Britain’s public spaces.

“Poetry has been hijacked by professors and locked up by libraries,” Benson despaired. In response, he held writing workshops in hospitals and prisons and was a strident member of the Barrow Poets — a transient group whose anarchic programme of readings brought poetry into pubs and village halls during the Sixties.

His belief in poetry as a crowd-pleaser was vindicated when, in 1986, he helped the American author Judith Chernaik launch Poems On The Underground. Benson, Chernaik and the poet Cicely Herbert chose five poems, or excerpts, to be displayed across 3,000 advertising spaces in carriages throughout London’s Underground service.

The scheme was a huge success — and continues today — as bundled, battered and bruised commuters were soothed by whistle-stop balms from Hardy and Milton, Auden and Yeats.

Gerard John Benson was born on April 9 1931 at Golders Green, London, into difficult circumstances. His mother, a young Irish teacher, gave him up for fostering, leading to a decade housed with a family of Christian fundamentalists, a period Benson recalled as riven by “an absence of love”.

During the war he was evacuated to Norfolk, and on his return to London found a new family waiting in the guise of his “Auntie Eileen” and her husband, the Romanian composer Francis Chagrin.

An adolescence steeped in culture beckoned. However, Benson could not settle. Clashes with teachers and Eileen resulted in counselling. His National Service — as a coder in Gibraltar — brought a respite from these troubles, but as a civilian he drifted through a series of unsuitable jobs (including clerk and porter).

A teacher-training course at the Central School of Speech and Drama put an end to this peripatetic professional journey. For 20 years he taught diction and verse-delivery at the school. His involvement with the Barrow Poets (who originally sold verse from a street barrow) during the Sixties drew on his love of live performance. One American newspaper suggested that their recitals were “as offbeat as the Beatles when they started life in a Liverpool cellar” and helped bring poetry into the mainstream.

However, nothing could have prepared Benson for the popularity of Poetry on the Underground. For selections, which were refreshed every four months, he drew material from a broad array of periods and styles and from poets from across the globe (Pablo Neruda proved a particular favourite). The constraints were more practical — with the posters’ modest scale (approximately 24in by 11in), and an average Tube trip lasting just 13 minutes, brevity was paramount (epic Norse verse was unlikely to get an airing).

Travellers loved the poems so much that reprints were required to replace stolen posters; and a collection, 100 Poems on the Underground (1992), became a surprise bestseller. The idea soon travelled beyond London. “When the boss of the New York bus and train system saw it, he started Poetry In Motion over there,” recalled Benson. “I went over to the launch and did a reading at Grand Central Station.”

Benson published 10 volumes of poetry, including To Catch an Elephant (2002); Omba Bolomba (2005); and A Good Time (2013). Poems on the Underground: A New Edition, which he edited with Chernaik and Herbert, appeared in 2012. He was made Bradford’s poet laureate (in 2008), and his autobiography, Memoir of A Jobbing Poet, will be published later this year.

Shortly before his death Benson recorded a selection of his poems for the BBC’s poetry archive, starting with a sonnet entitled Beginning which captured an existential, and personal, tally of life’s offerings: “Adventure, sorrow, puzzlement, delight were waiting”.

Benson married three times, lastly, in 1984, to Catherine Griffiths, a fellow poet, who survives him with a daughter of his second marriage. A son predeceased him.

Gerard Benson, born April 9 1931, died April 28 2014


Wheels on or off? Nigel Farage speaks to the media after the declaration of the Newark byelection, 6 June 2014. Photograph: Luke Macgregor/Reuters

The revelation of 800 babies buried in unmarked graves in Galway is horrifying (Unearth the grim truth, 5 June). But this was not unique. Bristol Radical History Group has established that 3,300 babies and others were buried unmarked in an old cemetery behind the Eastville workhouse. Death records from 1855 to 1895 establish that these burials happened, and human bones were found in the 1970s. We are pressing for a memorial.
Dr Di Parkin
Bristol Radical History Group

• Car spotted with English flag (Letters, 7 June), Ramshill Road in Scarborough, 7 June. Ukip reassured.
Pete Lavender

• Carlsberg may be Danish (Letters, 7 June) but as one of the biggest brewers in England, at least they’re here, which is more than Saint George ever was.
Rev Cllr Steve Parish
Ex-chaplain, Carlsberg-Tetley, Warrington

• There is a peculiar media insistence that Hadrian’s Wall is synonymous with the Scottish border (Lego anger at no vote stunt puts another brick in Hadrian’s Wall, 7 June). Most of Northumberland is north of the wall. Why must we be cast into a kind of stateless limbo?
David Wedderburn
Haltwhistle, Northumberland

• Given Nigel Farage’s propensity for posing with a pint, surely his juggernaut should now be referred to as a jug o’ nought (Result puts the brakes on Farage’s juggernaut, 7 June)?
David Reed

Ehab Badawy claims that Egypt has “crossed the democratic rubicon” in the recent presidential election (Letters, 3 June). What kind of democracy condemns hundreds of people to death in a trial lasting minutes based on the uncorroborated “evidence” of a police officer? What kind of democracy locks up activists such as Alexandrian lawyer Mahienour el-Masry and her colleagues for two years because they stood in the street with placards calling for the murderers of Khaled Said to be brought to justice? What kind of democracy locks up journalists such as al-Jazeera photographer Abdullah al-Shami without trial? Or detains people like Mohamed Sultan, who has been in jail for months because the police wanted to arrest his father?

Ahdaf Soueif (Egypt’s revolution won’t be undone, 30 May) is right to point to the shallowness of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s love affair with the Egyptian people. For all the new military regime’s attempts to fabricate a populist facade, it is clear these are the same generals and police chiefs who ruled under Mubarak. She is also right to emphasise the courage and resilience of the activists who oppose al-Sisi.

On 5 June we handed in a petition to the Egyptian embassy in London. It was signed by over 5,600 people and called for a halt to the death sentences against the regime’s opponents. We were joined by trade unionists, lawyers, students and activists in demanding the release of all political prisoners, including Mahienour el-Masry, Abdullah al-Shami and Mohamed Sultan. We are determined to continue to mobilise international solidarity with all those in Egypt who still hold to the goals of the January 2011 revolution: for bread, freedom and social justice.
John McDonnell MP, Brian Richardson Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Andy Reid Egypt Solidarity Initiative, Nadine el-Enany, Mika Minio-Paluello

George Szirtes (Poetry is felt, not fathomed, 3 June) seems unaware that his oddly elitist dismissal of “the People” (twice), and their alleged inability to “get” a “difficult” Eliot or Auden, seem to validate Jeremy Paxman‘s concerns (Today’s poets write mostly for each other, says Paxman, 2 June) and to do a disservice to poetry itself as a relevant communicative art form.

By dragging in – while pretending to dismiss – the outdated modern versus traditional dichotomy, he manages to imply that the very “comprehensibility” of a Betjeman, Larkin or Wendy Cope leaves them in some way lacking in his more obscurantist poetic stakes. He makes no mention of arguably the greatest of recent poets – Seamus Heaney and Tony Harrison – whose life’s work in poetry has been very much about how to extend the reach of the “stolen” language of poetry to those disfranchised by background or neglect.

The real charge about the direction of much contemporary poetry is the neglect by many poets of the pressing realities, as well as the mysteries of unprecedented events, around us – which were the very stuff of life to countless generations of great poets from Homer and Virgil, through Shelley and Byron and latterly Heaney, Harrison and Walcott, all of whom and many more managed not to “slam down [words] like dominoes”. Why this “disengagement” should be happening is the subject of a long and serious transatlantic debate accessible on my own and others’ websites.
Ralph Windle
Witney, Oxfordshire

•  Jeremy Paxman’s lament that contemporary poets “now seem to be talking to other poets” and that poetry “has connived at its own irrelevance” is depressingly familiar. These are the kind of statements that have characterised traditionalist reactions to advanced or unfamiliar arts in all periods – in particular music, painting and sculpture. It isn’t only that, as Michael Symmons Roberts points out, “we have lost the sense that poetry sits halfway between prose and music” (I would argue that the recent surge of interest in prose poetry adds another dimension to that sense) and that we need education to counter this loss, but that the reader needs to be open to how poetry achieves its effects: the resonance provided by the lingering or striking image, the play of language, the sound of the musical phrase, the division of thoughts into lines, and the register of the poem on the page. Such openness requires patience as well as developing the ability to absorb and respond to strategies, which in turn requires time and exposure to poetry, not only education. Our bite-size culture doesn’t seem hospitable to the effort required.
Robert Vas Dias

•  As a German-born British citizen I have always admired the eminently public role played in this country by that most “difficult” and “elitist” form of literature, poetry. For example, which German newspaper would be comparable to the Guardian in running a regular poetry section in its review columns, illustrated by an art form so closely connected with its poetic tradition, ie wood engravings (or at least images resembling that noble genre)? Not to mention the public office of the poet laureate. Hence, Jeremy Paxman’s view strikes me as preposterous. And where else but in Britain would such a pronouncement be published on the front page of an internationally acclaimed newspaper?
Professor Martina Lauster

•  Seamus Heaney explicitly sought a voice that would be understood in the farming community from which he came, and other poets such as Carol Ann Duffy or Simon Armitage are likewise concerned with accessibility. Conversely, Dylan Thomas remains stubbornly popular – although much of his verse is difficult to understand. Maybe poetry is not a dominant form because it is rather resistant to merchandising. Few poems get made into films or printed on T-shirts; that is hard for poets but perhaps not for poetry. Your paper is full of stories about Fifa bribery – that’s where cultural forms end up when they’re thoroughly merchandised and exploited.
Alan Horne
Poynton, Cheshire

•  If Jeremy Paxman feels that poetry today is often written for other poets, and does not engage with “ordinary people”, then perhaps he’s looking in the wrong places (such as poetry competitions). If he were to seek out poetry written by ordinary people who are poets, he would discover Britain has a vibrant poetry culture, full of work relevant to people’s lives. Superb writers such as Attila the Stockbroker, Elvis McGonagall and Racker Donnelly perform regularly around the country, and of course Adrian Mitchell‘s books are all still in print.
Peter Ostrowski
Wickford, Essex

•  If poets want to engage with ordinary people, perhaps they could consider dispensing with the p-word altogether? My own work tackles topics such as public breastfeeding, the rise of Ukip and the merits of dry shampoo, but whenever I say I’m a poet, people think I’m going to start banging on about daffodils and nightingales, so I now use the term “rhymer” to describe myself.
Ettrick Scott
Ovingham, Northumberland

•  If the poetry judge Michael Symmons Roberts’ idea of “the public” is “people who would be embarrassed not to have read the latest Martin Amis” then he is clearly thinking of a different public than the one to which Jeremy Paxman refers.
Julie Baber
Woollard, Somerset

•  Mr Paxman will be delighted to hear that henceforth I shall write exclusively for “ordinary” people and look forward to sales of my books going through the roof as Ukip voters queue to buy my poetry.
Geraldine Monk

•  George Szirtes’s eloquent defence of the function of poetry in the context of Jeremy Paxman’s comments reminded me of Auden’s similar sentiment in memory of WB Yeats: “For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives / In the valley of its making where executives / Would never want to tamper”
Francis O’Neill
Keighley, West Yorkshire

Rosemary Tonks in 1969.

Rosemary Tonks in 1969. Photograph: Associated Newspapers/Rex

I first met Rosemary Tonks at the Group poetry meetings held in the 1970s at Edward Lucie-Smith’s Chelsea house. She immediately gave the impression of a coiled spring waiting and needing to be unsprung. Surrounded by the voices of conventional wisdom, she manifested the loner’s stare into, and the need to speak of, the indescribable future before it was too late. As she wrote in one of her poems included in her first book Notes on Cafes and Bedrooms:

I knew the poet’s rag-soft eyelid was
the gutter’s fee
For the way down to life. I had
My lodgings in that quarter of the city
Like a cat’s ear full of cankered
Where November wraps the loiterer as
spiders do their joints.

I was apprenticed to the moth bred
from my clothes…

This Rimbaud-esque deliberation precisely coincided with my instincts at the time. It also led the critic Al Alvarez to spread the word and alert the unsuspecting to the fact that Rosemary had “a real talent of an edgy, bristling kind”. She was indeed a one-off job of singular memorability.

In her second book of poetry, Iliad of Broken Sentences, her publisher wrote, with exquisite accuracy: “The deserts of the Middle East are again equated with city life … to its anguish, its enraged excitement, its great lonely joys.” All three definitively marked her out as a modern visionary.


Your D-Day report’s front-page headline (7 June) asked what lessons we have learnt in the intervening 70 years, then concentrated on the Ukraine. The European elections suggested a problem far closer to home – and that the victors and the liberated of the Second World War have greater difficulty learning some lessons than the losers.

Voters in many of the European democracies turned to unashamedly populist parties. These parties are exploiting anger, hatred and intolerance, the spawning grounds for xenophobia and racism.

They preach contempt of the established political parties; hark back to their perceived glories of nationalism; demonise immigrants and minority groups; and rail against long-term attempts at international cooperation such as the EU. Ring any bells from the 1930s?

Meanwhile, the two European Axis powers, Germany and Italy, cast their votes predominantly for the mainstream parties – despite, in Italy’s case, previous support for a colourful populist party. Coincidence? Perhaps – or maybe a keener desire to avoid the mistakes of history.

Rod Chapman, Sarlat, France

One minute it’s the continuing First World War commemorations, the next it’s the anniversary of D-Day and the Second World War. When will it stop? To celebrate heroic fighting is one thing, but war itself should never be celebrated. Neither should those who took us there.

Readers may not have seen these facts in the recent coverage: Winston Churchill was against D-Day. He was far more interested in holding on to our empire, and especially our trade routes to India via the Mediterranean. That’s why between Dunkirk and D-Day, the British barely engaged the German military on land at all.

Russia, in effect, won the Second World War, by sacrificing millions of troops and gutting Hitler’s forces. Stalin urged the allies to open a western front years earlier, and it was only when President Roosevelt agreed, and Churchill was outvoted, that D-Day went ahead.

Germany’s leaders let loose a military that created havoc throughout much of Europe, but Britain and its allies then committed atrocities of their own.

We are told that D-Day led to decades of peace. Tell that to the Vietnamese, Koreans, Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, Panamanians, Cubans, Egyptians, Chileans, Palestinians and Nicaraguans.

Colin Crilly, London SW17


It seems that you do not know – or want to forget – history when you head your editorial “We should remember it was an alliance of East and West that made victory possible” (7 June).

You seem to have forgotten these facts:

In 1939 Stalin made an agreement with Hitler that when Hitler marched into the front door of Poland, Russia would march into the back door of Poland – how many innocent Polish people died has never been certified. And after the war, in 1945, Russia under Stalin occupied many countries – until they were freed in the 1990s.

So the Russia of the past cannot hold its head high as your editorial seems to suggest, and the West must be concerned about what is the aim of the present leadership of Russia.

Michael Moss, Ickenham, London


Gove is the reason I am quitting teaching

We in the teaching profession are accused of denying “working-class children access to anything stretching or ambitious”. What angers us so much is that Michael Gove has not consulted the profession adequately.

We teach mixed-ability children from all backgrounds. For able children, we choose challenging texts. By choosing different texts and resources, we work hard to engage the interest of less able children who may have learning difficulties or problems with motivation and commitment. Examination boards have also worked hard to develop materials that are accessible to a full range of students and to which they can relate.

I have loved teaching English. I have chosen different ways to enable students to achieve A* grades and those of lesser ability to exceed expectations. Gove’s reforms will make it impossible for me to enthuse, motivate and inspire my students. I will now be leaving the profession and I will be using my transferable skills elsewhere where they will be valued more highly.

Martha Patrick, London SE13


Tory Education ministers Michael Gove and Elizabeth Truss seem to  be changing the UK national curriculum purely to ensure that the nation’s children are fit for the workplace.

If that’s their plan, then they need to start teaching about employment rights and trade unions, too.

Jo Rust, King’s Lynn, Norfolk

If Michael Gove wants to “drain the swamp”, then why doesn’t his department insist on all pupils being taught evolution, cosmology and palaeontology?

The answer, of course, is that too many people have a vested interest in maintaining ignorance. We need to ensure that all pupils leave school knowing that “faith” is not a sensible way of understanding the world.

Peter Foxton, Buckhurst Hill, Essex

Don’t surrender the flag to bullies

Charles Garth (letter, 7 June) advocates putting an Islamic symbol such as the crescent on the flag of St George in order to include those of the Muslim faith in England in the national football cause.

Why exclude Hindus, Sikhs and our Chinese communities? Perhaps they are not threatening enough and do not scare him and, unlike bullies in all walks of life, they do not require placating by the weak and afraid.

Michael R Gordon, Bewdley, Worcestershire

Charles Garth suggests that we include a crescent in the English flag to keep Muslims happy.

But far from being an expression of a multicultural society, this would only give rise to charges of favouritism from other minorities who would feel discriminated against.

So I suggest that in the other three quarters we add the Petrine cross keys for Roman Catholics, the kirpan for Sikhs, and the wheel of Ashoka for Hindus and Buddhists.

Alternatively, we could just have a black and white flag with a pink border to show we are neither racists nor homophobic and definitely have nothing against Taoists. Who could possibly disagree?

Dominic Kirkham, Manchester

An Islamic crescent in the top left corner of the flag of St George?

According to Muslim culture, that would signify an alignment with the values of the flag. Surely any Muslim flying such a flag would be identified as an apostate and executed?

David Rose, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands

Let’s have a campaign to save Ingrams

I was greatly distressed by Richard Ingrams’ employment problems at The Oldie. I have appreciated his “awkwardness” over the years and the good it has done.

The UK has a maturing workforce, and accommodations should be made for this and other matters. I suggest that being “one of God’s great squad of awkward Englishmen” is a disability under the 2010 Equality Act. The matter should be taken to an employment tribunal. To raise the £900 or so required to support this action, an Awkwardnessballs Fund should be initiated. I will be one of the first to contribute.

Aidan Challen, Cambridge


Secret courts are a sign of defeat

Britain faced up to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union without sacrificing our system of justice. It beggars belief that we need to sacrifice it now for fear of the Big Bad Terrorist.

A bunch of medieval loonies is no threat to us; support open British justice and leave secret trials to the faint hearts and totalitarians.

Barry Tighe, Woodford Green, London


When is a WAG not a WAG?

With the imminent arrival of the World Cup, I am confident that we will be inundated with salacious gossip about the camp followers, normally known as WAGs. While this acronym works when describing groups of these vacuous entities, please do not fall into the trap that many of the red-tops  do of describing one such person as a WAG. While that person might be a wife and girlfriend, that would in itself merit a different story in the scandal-seeking press.

The correct acronym for a singleton of the species should be derived from the phrase “wife or girlfriend”, but I do understand that this might cause difficulties with a large proportion of your readership. Perhaps you might be tempted to ignore stories about these people altogether – and just report real news.

John Broughton, Broad Haven, Pembrokeshire


Sir, I last wrote to you in 1991 just after the death of my 16-month-old daughter Jemima. She would have been 24 today. At the time the NHS was getting a bashing in the press and I wanted to acknowledge the amazing care my daughter and I had received from her nurses and doctors.

What no one knew at the time, however, was the cause of her death. It was not a virus as was thought — she had presented with croup and ended up on life support as doctors tried to battle a virus which they believed had attacked her heart — but her reaction to the sedative that she had been given on the best advice. As I understand it, the sedative had been used successfully on heart patients at Great Ormond Street and it was thought it would be equally effective on patients with upper tracheal infections. The drug hadn’t been previously used in this capacity. Five babies lost their lives.

The cause became apparent some months after my daughter had died. The issue I have always had is the way in which I found out. My mother called me at work, telling me to come home and not turn the car radio on or listen to the news. As we waited for the 6pm news she told me there was something on it about my daughter, and indeed there was an item about five children who had died in a similar way.

A hospital spokeswoman was at pains to reassure everyone that this couldn’t happen to them as they had located the source of the problem and the drug wouldn’t be used again. The problem was this had happened to us and no one had had the courtesy to tell us before the public.

The case of the baby that died of septicaemia has brought this back to me (“Infant dies, 14 poisoned ‘by hospital food drips”, June 5). My heart goes out to the baby’s family. The death of a child has a lasting impact on the family, particularly on siblings. I don’t think my son has ever come to terms with the loss of his sister. He was nearly 3 at the time but it affected him in ways we didn’t understand then. There was no support available for him to process his grief and guilt. I am pleased that this is offered now and I would urge any parent to find help for their children, however young, in these circumstances.

In our case a legal test case was brought by one of the families, and a verdict of death by misadventure was recorded. As I have since found out — mainly having watched the unfolding of the Hillsborough case where a similar verdict was initially recorded — this does not mean that it was an accident, which was what we took it to mean, but that there wasn’t enough evidence to decide who was at fault.

Since I discovered this the verdict has always angered me, not because I wanted compensation — the idea of money as compensation for the loss of my child appals me — but I would have liked to know where the responsibility lay and to receive an apology. It would have helped with my healing process and that of my son.

I hope this letter will highlight the impact on the family of tragedies such as this, in the hope that their plight does not get lost amid the arguments about blame, drug company profits and medical reputations.

The family of the child that has died and those families that have had to anxiously watch their sick children suffer more are the ones who have suffered the greatest loss.
I hope this is acknowledged and that they receive the support they need.

Caroline Gilmartin

London W12


Sir, I share your concern at Mr Justice Nicol’s unprecedented decision to hold a complete criminal trial in secret (Leader, June 6). Equally worrying is the reasons for his decision cannot be reported and, until the decision was challenged by the media in the Court of Appeal, the public were not even to be allowed to know that such a trial was to take place.

Terrorism charges cannot justify this departure from our tradition of transparent justice. It is worth recalling the words of Lord Hoffmann in 2004 when the government sought to justify a derogation from the right to personal liberty guaranteed by article 5(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights on the ground that, after 9/11 in the US, there was a “public emergency threatening the life of the nation”.

Lord Hoffmann concluded: “The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory.”

To hold a secret trial would, equally, be to give the terrorists a victory: the Court of Appeal should not give it to them.

David Lamming

Boxford, Suffolk

Sir, You find it worrying that a trial should be held in secret. I find it worrying that you, in ignorance of the facts, believe that your opinion on how the trial should be conducted should carry more weight than that of a judge who is in possession of the facts.

Henry Haslam


The inhabitants of the Chagos Islands are still not allowed to return to their Indian Ocean home

Sir, On June 10, 2004, Privy Council orders deprived Chagossians of the right to return to their homeland, the Chagos Islands. The orders bypassed parliament, overturned a high court judgment and a ministerial decision to proceed with a feasibility study. As High Commissioner to Mauritius at the time, I warned the FCO that such an undemocratic device would land the UK in costly legal actions and international opprobrium.

The Chagos Islands APPG (all-party parliamentary group) has pressed for a settlement of this Cold War legacy and for a resettlement feasibility study, now in progress. The study will report by January, in time before the election for ministers to make decisions about the islands.

The legacy of the last government was a contested marine protected area surrounding the Islands. This government can do better by removing a blot on the UK’s human rights record.

David Snoxell

Coordinator, Chagos Islands APPG, High Wycombe, Bucks

Soviet spivs seem to have had a lively trade in objects claiming an association with the last tsar of Russia

Sir, I was surprised by John Miller’s account (Lives remembered, June 6) of Victor Sukhodrev showing him a piece of wood said to have come from the cellar door of the house where Tsar Nicholas II was shot.

In about 1980 the Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky also placed into my hands a piece of wooden tracery from a door that he said he had rescued from Ipatiev House after Yeltsin — then the local communist party boss — had ordered its demolition.

I wonder whether some Soviet spivs, like medieval pedlars of saints’ bones and fragments of the true Cross, were then doing a lively trade in pieces of the last thing that the tsar and his family saw before their murder.

Michael Binyon

London SW17

Portable digital technology is a challenge to the old-fashioned organisation of taxis and hire cars

Sir, This week London is going to halt when angry cabbies protest about the Uber car service. They say Uber is taking their work but does not have to respect the same regulations.

Since Uber and Hailo appeared people have begun to realise that the private hire and taxi industry has enormous potential. As a trade, we should embrace these changes and accept that global taxi brands are coming. I think Uber is wrong in seeking to eliminate the taxi operator altogether, rather than working with existing networks. Private operators already have two thirds of the market and providing an excellent service.

Uber may be the Goliath of the taxi industry but the market is gearing up to meet the challenge head on. We live in dynamic times.

Chris Jordan


Michael Caine, in his first major role as Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, defends Rorke’s Drift in ‘Zulu’ (1964)  Photo: REX FEATURES

6:58AM BST 08 Jun 2014

Comments54 Comments

SIR – The nobility and bravery of the Zulu in war is not in question but many “facts” about the British in the Zulu War surely are.

My great-great-grandfather was a civil surgeon who volunteered his services in the Zulu War. The Zulu were surprised to discover that the British doctors treated all of the wounded equally. By contrast, the Zulu took no prisoners and killed the wounded – men, women and children alike.

In the film, Michael Caine’s character may utter disparaging remarks about “cowardly blacks”, as mentioned in your report, but if he had done so in real life he would have been in contravention of the British Army’s Local General Orders. These stated: “Officers must make earnest and constant efforts to prevent [native] drivers and leaders being beaten or ill-treated or the slightest injustice being done to them.”

The truth is that over half the 17,000 soldiers fighting under the British flag in the Zulu War were black African, 1,000 of whom were Zulu dissidents. Why would they choose to fight for the wicked British imperialists?

In 1879 many of the Africans who made up the majority of the population of the state of Natal had been driven from Zululand as a result of Zulu expansion and were therefore bitterly anti-Zulu.

In seeking volunteers from the black community of Edendale near Pietermaritzburg, a local leader is recorded as saying: “We have sat under the shadow of the Great White Queen for many years in security and peace. We are her children and in this time of great peril she sends to us to help her against our common foe. We all know the cruelty and the power of the Zulu King.”

Nicholas Young
London W13

SIR – It was depressingly predictable that a voluntary agreement has led to food manufacturers doing very little to reduce the sugar content in their best-selling items. We need the Government to take firm action.

There is no point in only blaming individuals for their unhealthy diets, when food companies spend billions of pounds trying to persuade us to eat and drink things that are bad for us. And with diabetes alone costing the NHS £10 billion a year, sugar-related diseases affect us all.

People have the right to make their own choices, but why do we allow firms to pressure us into making the wrong ones? For the sake of our physical health and the nation’s financial health, I believe that it is now time to ban the advertising of sugary drinks, processed food, takeaways, alcohol and confectionery.

Richard Mountford
Tonbridge, Kent

Leaving the EU

SIR – The comment from the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, John Cridland, that both large and small businesses consider membership of the EU to be in Britain’s national interest is exactly the narrow thinking that annoys many ordinary people.

Voters rejected the Tories because they, the voters, are concerned about the moral and social aspects of our nation, not just its economic prospects.

Jonathan Longstaff
Woodford Green, Essex

SIR – If not Jean-Claude Juncker for president of the European Commission, then who? Is there a candidate who is not an arch federalist? I suspect not.

Frank Tomlin
Billericay, Essex

SIR – Oh, for a return to those halcyon days when fog in the English Channel meant that Europe was cut off.

John Ley-Morgan
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

Threat from Syria

SIR – As a British Muslim, I would like to express my deep concern at the tepid way in which the Government is responding to the very real threat posed to Britain by individuals travelling to Syria to participate in militancy.

There are numerous videos on the internet featuring individuals with notably British accents boasting about their violent activities in that country.

Commentary by analysts suggests that many of these individuals are likely to be involved in very serious criminal acts such as torture and murder.

Indoctrinated with radical Wahhabism and trained as militants, these individuals pose an extremely high risk to the security of our country upon their return.

S W Hussain
Bradford, West Yorkshire

Pensions farce

SIR – Yet again the Government tinkers with private-sector pensions, this time enabling workers to place their pensions in a “mega-fund”. This is highly questionable, and still risky.

Meanwhile, the private-sector taxpayer contributes substantially to the generous unfunded public-sector pension schemes which are entirely risk-free and propped up by the Government’s borrowing.

Private and public-sector pensions are a farce.

Bill Parish
Bromley, Kent

Crisis? What crisis?

SIR – Can someone explain why we have a “housing crisis” when between 1970 and 2012, 9.5 million new homes were built and yet the population increased by only 8.3 million. Did we go on a demolition spree at the same time?

What we should be looking at is why the cost of buying a new average-sized house has moved so far beyond average salaries. In 1970 I bought a three-bedroom detached house with garage and central heating for £4,000. My salary was £1,600 a year.

Nigel Wiggins
Briston, Norfolk

Putin and the Prince

SIR – Vladimir Putin’s aide accused the Prince of Wales of “historical ignorance”. We all know that Prince Charles received a brilliant education.

As for President Putin, I have read all of his statements in newspapers and on television for the past 20 years, and found no sign of historical knowledge.

He presumably knows a little geography, however – of Crimea.

Oleg Gordievsky
London WC1

SIR – Last week, Prince Charles called for “a fundamental transformation of global capitalism”, in order to fight global warming.

The following day, he flew to Romania in a private jet, so that he could spend a few days on holiday there.

Is it any wonder nobody takes him seriously?

Paul Homewood
Stocksbridge, West Yorkshire

Magpies – the biggest threat to songbirds

SIR – Until the domestic cat learns to fly it is always going to be an inefficient predator of flying creatures (Letters, June 1).

The greatest threat to all avian species comes from other relatives, such as the family corvidae, especially magpies. They are extremely active this time of year, raiding nests and taking fledglings while other magpies distract the distraught mother. Recently I watched in horror as magpies picked off several newly hatched mallard ducklings on their first outing from my duckhouse, too swiftly for me to intervene.

Magpies in particular have now reached epidemic proportions in Britain and should be classed as vermin, to be controlled by whatever means available.

Bob Harrison
Ashford, Kent

SIR – Last year a pair of rare tree sparrows nested in my neighbours’ garden. Magpies took all the fledglings. This year they have killed one of the newly arrived adult birds. Their arrival in our village has been devastating.

Felicity McWeeney
Hartburn, Northumberland

Well met

SIR – Regarding Kate Fox’s assessment that we no longer know how to greet a stranger, I am not sure that I am too perturbed by this – as long as I am not confronted by “Hi there” or “Hiyah”.

Paul Sargeantson
Watlington, Oxfordshire

SIR – What is the matter with “Hello” unless the formal “How do you do” is necessary? I prefer “Good day”, though it may be slightly old-fashioned.

Anthony Messenger
Windsor, Berkshire

SIR – The words of greeting are much less important than a look in the eye, a firm handshake and a smile of welcome. If it looks like a kiss is being proffered, I welcome that, too.

Tony Parrack
London SW20

SIR – Most of my friends feel that one must shake hands when saying “How do you do?”. Since so many people now carry bacteria on their hands, it often feels safer to dodge the handshake and to bestow a kiss on the person’s cheek instead.

Ron Kirby
Dorchester, Dorset

SIR – Personally, I never kiss men, and for ladies, the number of kisses depends on the attractiveness of the recipient and how many kisses she will tolerate before thumping me.

J P Briggs
Petersfield, Hampshire

SIR – As a Ugandan-born British citizen who ran away from the toxic politics of tribe, clan and religion, I was attracted to come to Britain mainly because of its issue-based politics and attendant social stability.

Although Tower Hamlets is a mixed borough, with “45 per cent white and 32 per cent Bangladeshi”, it is unlikely to be an accident that of the 18 councillors elected last week, “all are Bangladeshi”.

This will harden the attitudes of racist people who see immigrants as a threat to their way of life, fuelling their fears that non-whites are becoming a dominant group in London.

Ethnic minority communities must work with the authorities and put in place robust procedures to prevent what happened in Tower Hamlets from occurring in other boroughs. Ghetto politics, in which a particular community appears to unfairly influence the outcome of an election, must not be allowed to happen.

Sam Akaki
London W3

SIR – The reported electoral machinations in Tower Hamlets should not surprise us.

All this sort of thing requires is a determined leader of a strong immigrant community to organise, by fair means or foul, the support of members of the same ethnic or cultural persuasion. This is par for the course in many countries, paricularly on the sub-continent.

Our system is not difficult to manipulate either. It must be improved and elections better supervised if this threat to our democracy is not to creep on to the national scene.

Malcolm Allen
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

SIR – Andrew Gilligan reports on the intimidation of vote-counting officials in Tower Hamlets.

Recently in India some 500 million votes were counted electronically and no incidents were reported. The results were declared within 24 hours and a new government was elected.

I suggest that we import these electronic voting machines from India for our next general election so that there is no suggestion of interference with counting votes.

H N R Murthy
Basingstoke, Hampshire

SIR – Muslim extremism has been on the rise in Tower Hamlets for several years now. Its targets have included women who dress in Western attire, the gay community and businesses that sell alcohol.

The vast majority of Muslims in this country (and elsewhere) are decent people, quite happy to live among and alongside non-Muslims. But, unfortunately, the poisonous activities of the few are having a negative effect on how the rest of us view the Muslim community as a whole.

Muslim leaders in Tower Hamlets need to be more pro-active in rooting out and identifying to the authorities the rotten apples in their midst.

The Government and the police, for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities, have been pussyfooting around for too long instead of taking action against those whose avowed aim is the destruction of our culture.

Robert Readman
Bournemouth, Dorset

SIR – If our mainstream political parties want to know why so many people in Britain have voted Ukip, they only have to read stories about voting improprieties in Tower Hamlets and the Islamisation of schools in the Birmingham area and they will have part of the answer.

What has gone on in Tower Hamlets is the sort of thing we expect in lawless and undemocratic countries, not in the capital of Britain.

The Electoral Commission appears to be doing nothing. Why haven’t the police been called in? Why isn’t the Government doing anything?

Jeannie Harvey
Chislehurst, Kent

SIR – The Department for International Development provides 56 pages of advice and vast sums of money for election assistance and monitoring around the world. Would it be too much trouble for someone to pop round to Tower Hamlets?

Gill Chant

Irish Times:

Sir, – Over 70 years ago my mother found herself seeking refuge in a mother-and-baby home, St Patrick’s on the Navan Road, having been evicted by her father. She refused to give her baby up for adoption and remained in the home with her baby for a time, breast-feeding and taking care of her baby.

There was an outbreak of gastroenteritis while my mother was there and many of the babies succumbed and died. My sister survived. My mother asked the nuns if my sister could be quarantined but they refused. She approached the doctor one day on his rounds and explained that her baby was healthy and could she be quarantined and he agreed.He also asked her if she would breast-feed some of the other babies. She did. My mother later married and she is now 94. My sister is the mainstay of our family. – Yours, etc,



Salrock, Renvyle,

Co Galway.

Sir, – The recent publication of Echo’s Bones by Samuel Beckett has been hailed as a commendable achievement by Denis Donoghue (“Samuel Beckett’s forgotten story”, Weekend Review, May 24th). I feel that in fairness to Samuel Beckett, who was a dear friend, a contrary view needs to be expressed.

Denis Donoghue has recounted the history of Echo’s Bones in detail. Briefly, Beckett’s first collection of short stories, More Pricks than Kicks, was accepted for publication by Chatto & Windus in 1933. Charles Prentice, the senior partner at the publisher, suggested to Beckett that the work might benefit from an additional climatic vignette. This was not a simple request as the protagonist, Belacqua, had been very decisively killed off in the penultimate chapter, “Yellow”, when the physicians tending to his minor ailment in a Dublin nursing home “had clean forgotten to auscultate him!” and he is assuredly laid to rest in final chapter, which unequivocally declares Belacqua “dead and buried”. Nonetheless, Beckett obliged his publisher with an additional story entitled Echo’s Bones in which he fantasises about the goings-on of Belacqua et al in a less-than-convincing phantasmagorical after-life. Prentice was horrified and wrote to Beckett warning that not alone would the story “lose the book a great many readers”, but he regarded it moreover as “a nightmare” that gave him “the jim-jams”. He even explained his rejection with a frankness that is refreshing: “People will shudder and be puzzled and confused; and they won’t be keen on analysing the shudder.”

The young writer was offended by this rebuttal – initially, that is – and he nicknamed his publisher “Shatupon And Windup”. However, having thought about it, he was glad to see More Pricks than Kicks published as originally submitted and he then discarded the text of the rejected chapter and transferred the title to the poem Echo’s Bones, which is an exquisite expression of the dilemma that was then facing him as an artist searching for his means of expression. This should be affirmation enough that Beckett did not wish to see the title of the poem confused with the earlier story, but even more telling in this regard is the fact that all along the years since 1933, Beckett never sought to have the rejected additional chapter included in More Pricks than Kicks on the occasions when that book was several times reprinted or published elsewhere.

In my many discussions with Beckett on the publication of Dream of Fair to Middling Women, which he described as “the chest” into which he threw his “wild thoughts”, and which he agreed should be published “some little time” after his death, he never ever mentioned Echo’s Bones as a work in need of similar consideration.

There has been laudatory comment on the achievement of Mark Nixon, who edited the publication of Echo’s Bones, both by Donoghue and other reviewers, such as John Banville (New Statesman April 28th) but this is, with respect, an irrelevant observation. The issue is simply this: does the essay, Echo’s Bones, merit publication as a writing befitting one of the greatest literary figures of this century?

Banville, in fairness, while acknowledging the literary scholarship, which he finds “in its way more fascinating, and certainly more enlightening, than the story the intricacies of which it aims to unravel” does recognise the banality of the piece: “Most readers” he writes, “will find it tiresome or infuriating or both.” It is difficult to reconcile this assessment with Donoghue’s bland acceptance of its literary merit in that he fails to see what made the prescient “Prentice shudder”. Regrettably, the publication of Echo’s Bones would also make its author shudder. – Yours, etc,


Clifton Terrace,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – I am a teacher superintending the Junior Certificate State examinations, which the Minister for Education wishes to abolish.

What I see each day are educated young women and men of 16 sitting a series of differentiated, fair, demanding, objective, standardised exams.

They have worked for three years and prepared for these exams so they are likely to retain a lot of the literacy, numeracy, science, skills and knowledge that they have acquired.

They wish to be graded nationally on their work in recognised courses of study that are not only valuable for their personal development but lay the foundation for many Leaving Certificate subjects as well.

To these young adults this is not a “low-stakes exam” but a benchmark of accountability that will help them and their families make sound subject choices and, for some, career choices.

The beauty of this system is the broad acceptance that their results are won solely on merit and are not based on any kind of “influence”, that pervasive Irish vice.

I am, like the correctors, paid to uphold the integrity of the exam. What the Minister proposes, to save money, is scrapping this exam, which will deprive these young adults of credible national recognition of their abilities. The fewer State exams, the less State accountability.

Aside from detaching the foundation from beneath the Leaving Certificate, no parent or employer can trust or believe from now on that one school’s marks are the same as another’s.

How can we trust the integrity of marks that may now be influenced by a school’s own desire to protect itself, to hide its faults, such as poor management or teaching? The very same arguments for publishing league tables of schools – openness, transparency and accountability – apply here.

What a dangerous disservice to our young people and our country.

I look forward to the Minister filling out a change-of-mind slip. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – After having spent more than 20 years teaching Leaving Certificate English, and seeing my last son from the class of 2014 go through the honours English paper, I am more than ever intensely frustrated with the exam and with the media commentary on same.

Older readers will remember Honours Paper 1 (Language), which included literary essays from such lusciously named writers as Lamb, Bacon, and Hazlitt. For many, this was the only exposure young readers got to quality essay writing. No modern essayists replaced them. Students today (and their parents) can be heard saying “Sure you can’t prepare for Paper 1”. Is this a desirable “learning outcome” after a two-year course, which marks the completion of one’s secondary education?

Paper 2 (Literature) is where I have a real problem. This is a game of poetry roulette. Bookmakers should get in on it! A terrifying guessing game occurs each year, which I believe could be greatly remedied by the inclusion of printed poems, such as in the Ordinary Level English Paper and indeed in the honours Irish literature paper. In the UK’s A-level and GCSE exams, students may bring their poetry anthology into the exam hall and I quote, “Copies of the poetry anthology taken into the examination room must be clean: that is, free from annotation.”

Here are the roulette rules! There are eight poets each year on the course and four questions. As a minimum students must study at least five poets – say 40 poems. Some gamblers only do the female poets; others only do the Irish poets. Is gambling part of the hidden curriculum?

Then there is the rote or quote learning that ensues. I regularly encountered students who knew quotes verbatim but didn’t know what they meant! Part of the problem is their minds are so addled with trying to memorise quotes that, forgive the pun, they lose the plot.

The current system encourages the rote-learning of quotes, to the detriment of enjoying literature. If the poems were printed on the exam paper or students could reference a clean anthology, an examiner could quickly distinguish the real students who know and enjoy the syllabus from the gamblers.

If I set the paper, I would just offer one to two poets each year out of the eight. The students would have to prepare almost all the poets in advance. Hello poetry. Goodbye roulette. If we simply made this one change, we might see students actually enjoy poetry. It is awful to hear students say after the exam “Thank God, I’ll never have to learn that again!” as they throw their poetry book aside for the bonfire they are planning.

Is this another “learning outcome” the Department of Education envisaged? – Yours, etc,



Iona Road,


Sir, – The Rev Patrick G Burke defends the right of parents to educate their children in a manner that accords with their (the parents, that is) religious beliefs (Letters, 29th May). It is high time that this right was seriously examined.

Beliefs of any kind should be adopted by the believer only after careful reflection – they should certainly not be foisted on innocent children who are in no position to make up their own minds on such matters. In any case, what exactly do parents believe in anyway? The vigorous defence of denominational education seems misplaced when one considers the empty pews in churches of all Christian denominations. How many parents could recite the Ten Commandments, list the Seven Deadly Sins, or explain the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception?

Some years ago, corporal punishment was rightly excised from our school system. Why is brainwashing still accepted? – Yours, etc,



Philipsburgh Avenue,

Sir, – John Bellew (May 26th) criticises Eamon de Valera’s decision to chart a neutral course during the second World War when millions of innocent Europeans were being slaughtered by the Nazis.

He asks how this was morally justified, and reinforces his critique of Irish neutrality by suggesting that the Irish State would have been immediately invaded if Operation Sea Lion had come to pass.

This may very well have been true; however, his argument does not acknowledge either the internal Fianna Fáil issue of dealing with a hard-core irredentist cohort that still demanded a united Ireland, or the fact that thousands of Irish families were still ideologically divided, less than two decades after the Civil War.

Neutrality was the only sure way to avoid repeating this tragedy.

This position was forcefully supported by the State’s only Jewish TD, Robert Briscoe, who despite personally believing that an Allied victory was imperative if even a small number of his European co-religionists were to be saved, understood that as long as an English presence remained in Ulster, it was politically impossible to join an English-led war effort.

Briscoe loyally supported de Valera’s stance, and instead attempted to rescue his fellow Jews by ardently embracing the New Zionist Organisation’s attempt to break the British blockade of Palestine. – Yours, etc,


School of History,

University College Cork.

Sir, – The Belfast Agreement ensures that every trifling proposal must get the consent of both tribes before it can be implemented. However, incomprehensibly, when it comes to the most momentous proposal of all, the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, an overall simple majority will suffice. This means that after a 50 per cent plus one vote for Irish unity, one million unionists could be frog-marched into a united Ireland without a single unionist voting for it. So the root cause of the conflict remains the never-ending threat by nationalists to subsume, subjugate or colonise the unionist people in a united Ireland.

Until we lift this threat and declare that a united Ireland is off the agenda until a majority of unionists request it, there can never be real peace between the two tribes who share this island. – Yours, etc,


Silchester Park,


Sir, – While waiting at Port Laoise railway station recently, I noticed the following errors in the Irish version of the “No Smoking” notice in the ticket hall: “Ianrod Eireann” for “Iarnród Éireann” and “Offig Ticéid” for “Oifig Ticéad”.

What is the point of this sloppiness, and why do we tolerate it?

Mind you, this sort of thing is not limited to Port Laoise, nor necessarily to Irish. At Port Laoise also there is an English notice nearby which speaks of passengers not being “renumerated” in the event of loss of their luggage.

And Athlone bus station is described as “Staisun” in one Irish notice, and just near it, in a notice repeated at each bus bay, is a pavement area reserved for “Pedrestrians”.

Those responsible for these things ought to hang their heads in shame. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – “Anything but soccer” will be the cry in many households for weeks to come. As the Labour leadership contest is already fizzling out, perhaps readers might suggest some distractions.– Yours, etc,






Sir, – You may be pleased to know that my two young nephews were fighting over who would keep the “World Cup 2014” supplement (June 4th). The solution? I bought another copy. – Yours, etc,


Stamer Street,

Dublin 8.

Irish Independent:

Monday 9 June 2014

Letters: War poisons everyone who participates, including us

Published 09/06/2014|02:30

Winston Churchill: was against D-Day and voted down by Allies. PA

One minute it’s the continuing World War I commemorations, the next it’s the anniversary of D-Day, and World War II. When will it stop? To celebrate heroic fighting is one thing, but war itself should never be celebrated. Neither should those who took us there.

It is interesting to see how certain people are trying to re-write history, especially World War I. And, after all, history is written by the victors. So let me just fill your readers in on a few facts about D-Day that they might not have seen in the recent coverage.

Winston Churchill was against D-Day. He was far more interested in holding on to the empire, and especially trade routes to India via the Mediterranean Sea. That’s why between Dunkirk (1940) and D-Day (1944), the British barely engaged the German military on land at all. Russia, in effect, won World War II by sacrificing millions of troops and gutting Hitler’s forces. Stalin urged the allies to open a Western front years earlier, and it was only when President Roosevelt agreed, and Churchill was outvoted, that D-Day went ahead.

In World War II, Germany’s leaders let loose a military that created havoc throughout much of Europe, but then Britain and her allies committed atrocities of our own. We bombed many thousands of innocent civilians in Germany and other occupied countries. The US dropped two unnecessary atomic bombs, and on another occasion, in a single night, killed 100,000 people by bombing Tokyo. War poisons everyone who participates, including us.

Lastly, I heard that D-Day led to decades of peace. Tell that to the Vietnamese, Koreans, Iraqis, Afghans, Libyans, Panamanians, Palestinians and Nicaraguans. I’m sure there’s more.





This week has seen some remarkable claims. That the Normandy landings comprised the greatest amphibious assault ever conducted. That this assault in 1944 broke through “Hitler’s wall” (Barack Obama). That this “Allied invasion” secured freedom for us all from the yoke of Nazi tyranny.

In 1941, the largest invasion force ever assembled was unleashed. This horror machine comprised three million highly trained German soldiers (that’s about the size of the entire population of Ireland at the time), 2,500 aircraft (put them side to side and you could walk across their wings for over 150 miles), 3,000 battle tanks and 7,000 artillery batteries, all spanning an invasion front of 1,000 miles. That’s the distance from the Canadian border to the middle of Texas.

In three years, this juggernaut was gone. Chewed up by the people and Red Army of Russia. Twelve weeks of further horror saw the prestigious Wehrmacht Sixth Army, along with 22 German generals, surrender at Stalingrad. The Russian death toll: over 20 million.

And yet we are expected to believe that American forces, who comprised a mere 30pc of the Normandy invasion, have saved us all from Nazism, a shattered and destroyed imperial project that was wrecked by Russia long before June 6, 1944. A Russia which doesn’t even get a mention as an ‘ally’ in the European bloodbath of the 1940s.

Russia defeated Hitler and freed Europe. . . and nobody else. And while a few skirmishes, heroic as they were insignificant in the outcome of this debacle, 100,000 Russians died per week for four years as opposed to a paltry 9,000 who died on D-Day and the weeks following. . . about a third who died on the roads of America in the same year.

From Paris to Brandenburg to St Petersburg, European soil covers rivers of blood and the skulls of millions, and most of them are Russian.





Martina Devlin is right to conclude that, despite the harrowing discovery of human remains in religious institutions, we must guard against the scourge of absolutism. Perhaps before we pour our disgruntlement on blameless religions, or governments who had shown spinelessness and professional immaturity in dealing with such tragedies, we should blame societies who at times condemned unmarried mothers or children born out of wedlock to neglect, ostracism and abandonment.

No religion has a monopoly on ethical, moral and noble mores. Religions espouse compassion, peace, justice and love. The more we distance ourselves from religious doctrines, the more we become ruthless, indifferent and void. And while it’s true that the recent European elections have propelled parties of racist agendas (disguised under the anorak of free speech) to the European parliament, such results should not be seen as a change of discourse in European societies towards minorities. Europe, which witnessed the most horrendous massacre in contemporary history, the Holocaust, has become defined by its religious and cultural diversity, peaceful coexistence and tolerance. It has always been a shelter for thousands of persecuted people, be they Jews, Muslims, gypsies et cetera and will continue to remain so.





Many are jumping on the bandwagon of condemnation of nuns for the alleged scandals of mother and child homes from the comfortable Irish society of 2014.

Ireland in 1925 and for many subsequent years was more akin to a third world country, a very impoverished state still suffering from a devastating civil war. A grateful cash-strapped government was happy to have a corps of willing Irishwomen called ‘nuns’ willing to work for free, taking over the dreaded workhouses and doing the ‘dirty’ work of the nation. Single forced adoptions? Adoptions were forced on unfortunate single mothers because there were no social services for them and Christian (?) families would not bear the public shame of caring for a daughter who had a child born out of wedlock.





What a benign title, ‘mother and baby home’, conjuring warmth and love. However, those homes were essentially stores for warehousing what was seen as a problem.

Irish society from the foundation of the State onwards can now be seen as sick and tortured, angst- and guilt-ridden, played out on a Catholic-driven alliance between State and church.

The mothers, babies and nuns have become the lightning rod for our compassion and anger. But to remove the stain on the Irish psyche, the focus needs to be broadened. Ireland and its citizens had massive issues around sexuality.

Why the furtiveness? Who set the agenda: church, State, men, patriarchy? This blackness around sexuality and women has manifested itself time and time again. Twinned with child sexual abuse, it’s clear that a massive problem existed and continues to blister.

Domestically it has sundered the nation. Internationally and principally, in Australia, Britain and the US, the number of Irish names that have surfaced regarding sexual abuse is frightening. Unless a broad and transparent inquiry is undertaken on what put the nation on this path, incidents like Tuam will arise ad finitum as the blame game continues.



Irish Independent


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