17June2014 Arrival

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park. Off to clean the spare bedroom for our guests, the arrive!

No Scrabble, we feed our delightful guests and of to bed.


Sir Robert Porter – obituary

Sir Robert Porter was the Minister for Home Affairs at the outbreak of Ulster’s ‘Troubles’ who summoned British troops

Robert Porter, Minister for Home Affairs, Northern Ireland, in 1970

Robert Porter, Minister for Home Affairs, Northern Ireland, in 1970 Photo: THE TELEGRAPH

7:10PM BST 16 Jun 2014


Sir Robert Porter, who has died aged 90, was Northern Ireland’s Minister for Home Affairs when the “Troubles” erupted in 1969. He persuaded James Callaghan, then Home Secretary, to send in British troops and personally authorised the first use of CS gas on rioters in the United Kingdom — after testing it on himself.

Porter held the toughest and most high-profile portfolio in James Chichester-Clark’s Unionist Cabinet as protests at discrimination against Catholics led that summer to sectarian conflict on the streets of Belfast and Derry. A soft-spoken barrister and the most liberal member of that government, he was anxious to avoid violence. Indeed he worked for an end to religious discrimination in public life, and on his resignation received an appreciative personal letter from Cardinal Conway.

Weeks after his selection by Unionists in Lagan Valley to represent them at Stormont, for example, Porter attended the funeral of a Catholic judge. Ian Paisley’s Protestant Telegraph thundered: “Mr Porter is well known for his attacks on Protestants.” And the young Peter Robinson — now the Province’s First Minister — accused Porter as Home Affairs Minister of “a sell-out against Republicans and Socialists”.

Nevertheless, Porter had his sticking points. He said before violence erupted that Ulster’s Catholics could do themselves a lot of good by honouring the Queen and as things fell apart confided that the “civil rights” protesters had taxed his sympathy.

Robert Wilson Porter was born in Londonderry on December 23 1923. From Foyle College he enrolled at Queen’s University Belfast, then in 1943 joined the RAF. He trained as a pilot in South Africa, and on his return qualified as a flight engineer on Lancasters.

Demobilised in 1946, Porter completed his LLB . Graduating in 1949, he was called to the Northern Ireland Bar the next year. After lecturing at Queen’s, he went into practice. From 1963 he was counsel to the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, assisting in the prosecution of murder cases, and in 1965 he took Silk.

Porter was a key supporter of the moderate Ulster Unionist leader Capt Terence O’Neill. In November 1966 he was elected to Stormont in a by-election for one of the Queen’s University seats, campaigning against religious discrimination. With the abolition of the university franchise, he was selected for Lagan Valley, being returned unopposed in February 1969 after the nomination of his Paisleyite opponent was rejected as invalid.

On January 9 1969 O’Neill appointed him to the new post of Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs “during the present emergency”. Three weeks later, on the resignation of several ministers led by Brian Faulkner, O’Neill promoted Porter to Minister of Health and Social Services.

Then, on March 12, Porter replaced William Long as Minister for Home Affairs, also joining the Northern Ireland Privy Council. His first challenge was to push through a Public Order Bill; attacked by Nationalists because it outlawed sit-down demonstrations and the carrying of offensive weapons, it in fact replaced a more draconian measure. O’Neill went that May, Chichester-Clark replacing him. Porter stayed at Home Affairs, and from mid-July events spiralled out of control.

On August 2, with riots in Belfast, the Stormont Cabinet debated calling in troops in support of the civil power. Porter asked for London to be notified, and the reply astounded him: the situation would have to deteriorate before troops could be sent, as deploying them on the streets would amount to a takeover of the government. In the event, Direct rule was not imposed until 1972; in the meantime Callaghan and Wilson agreed a declaration stressing no change in Ulster’s constitutional position, in return for Stormont carrying out reforms.

Porter appealed for “dignity and restraint” on the eve of the Apprentice Boys’ march through Derry. Serious rioting with 125 police casualties degenerated into the three-day “Battle of the Bogside”. Porter took a whiff of CS, then ordered its use.

On August 14 he asked the Home Office to contact the GOC to commit troops. They were first deployed in Belfast the next day, to protect Catholics from attacks by Loyalists. Porter banned all public processions except for the Salvation Army; the Paisleyites accused him of “treachery”.

The spiralling violence further strained party unity, and at the start of 1970 Porter had to deny that he was about to resign. Much of the trouble came from hardliners around William Craig; Porter urged them to quit the party, but they stayed — accusing him of tolerating Catholic “No go” areas — and were expelled.

In April 1970 Porter again met Callaghan, and asked for 1,500 police from the mainland. Labour lost the June general election, and the Conservative Reggie Maudling sent 1,500 more troops instead.

Robert Porter presenting the Government Coat of Arms to Lt Colonel John Hazlett in 1970 (MCCAUSLAND)

Porter insisted that his aim was to restore “ordinary civil policing” to the Bogside and the Creggan, but he came under ever greater pressure from Unionists who wanted to rearm the RUC. After six nights of rioting in Belfast, he criticised community leaders for doing nothing to stop it. The violence was eventually halted by floods, to which Porter also had to lead the response.

On August 26 1970 — days after attending the funeral of the first police officer murdered in the Troubles — Porter resigned. The final straw was the imposition of a military curfew on the Falls Road in Belfast without his being consulted.

Porter was knighted in 1971, and that May gave evidence to Lord Scarman’s inquiry into the riots. He said deploying the Army had prevented sectarian violence getting even worse, and revealed that he had been shown the IRA’s political and military plans.

Still a Stormont MP, Porter distanced himself from his party as Ulster polarised and resigned from the Orange Order after his local lodge supported a provocative Loyalist rally. With O’Neill, he dissociated himself from a party statement ruling out any constitutional change. His constituency executive voted 38-28 to demand his resignation, and Porter responded that June by resigning from the Unionist party. In 1973 he resigned his seat and joined the moderate Alliance Party.

From 1975 Porter was senior prosecutor at Belfast Crown Court, leading in the six-month trial (then Ulster’s longest) of a 26-strong UVF gang which had terrorised east Antrim with murders, bombings and armed robberies.

He went on to serve as a County Court judge, Recorder of Londonderry and Recorder of Belfast, retiring in 1995.

Robert Porter married, in 1953, Margaret Lynas. She and one of their daughters predeceased him, and he is survived by their son and another daughter.

Sir Robert Porter, born December 23 1923, died May 25 2014


I am an anthropology teacher in a west London comprehensive school, and in the midst of Trojan Horse issues in Birmingham I ask myself: what are British values? What do I teach my students to reflect them? I enter my year 13 anthropology class and look around. It’s made up of students whose parents are from Morocco, Pakistan, India, Kenya and Mauritius; there is not a single purely English student. I am Croatian and a refugee from the Balkans conflict who came here in 1992. So, the whole classroom is, or was, immigrant. Perhaps the makeup of my school is specific to its location. All of my students are second- or third-generation immigrants or refugees. However, they are British kids who listen to all of the popular music, follow the fashion of teenagers and have the same issues as any other British teenager. But this is what makes it beautiful for me. This is, for me, what British values are: freedom to express this multiculturalism.

We, as teachers, are responsible for creating an environment with no judgments. Yes, all of us in my anthropology class have hybrid identities. My students and I perhaps eat food at home with spices from our original countries, or watch satellite soap programmes from our native countries, but when we are in my classroom we have something in common that allows us to communicate. Is this a British value? Why does it have to be labelled British? I am proud to live in this country and share norms and values that we all agree upon.

Teaching anthropology is easier with all of these different cultures in my classroom. We reflect and question the beliefs, values and norms that we are brought up with. Soon we realise there are simple values that apply, whatever cultural background you come from. They are respect, love and compassion. If these are British values, then I teach them to whoever my students happen to be.
Tomislav Maric
Teacher of humanities, Heston community school

•  My grandparents all arrived in the UK at the turn of the last century, two of them fleeing from oppressive conditions in western Ukraine. Today, in my local French cafe, I have begun to learn what it means to be British (David Cameron joins calls for promoting ‘British values’ in schools,, 15 June). Following a strong recommendation from my prime minister, who heads a British institution he requires me to respect, I have started citizenship lessons with a reading of the Magna Carta.

I find the archaic language difficult to understand but I can make out some of the meaning. It is an agreement between a king and wealthy landowners or feudal barons, all of whom are men. They give freedoms to other men they recognise as humans like themselves but not to slaves or serfs. They are careful to limit the wealth and influence of women: by controlling marriage, particularly of widows, and ensuring women have no legal redress against wrongs done to them, except in the case of the murder of a husband. I suspect that since these circumstances are limited it is unlikely that women’s views will be heard in these cases either. I know I’m meant to see the Magna Carta as an expression of British values but I feel that I may have to find a different code on which to base my ethics. Now, where was that reference to sharia law?
Tony Booth

• David Cameron has said that he wants the Magna Carta to be taught to children of all backgrounds as part of his fightback against extremism. Clause 39 of the Magna Carta reads: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.” Perhaps Mr Cameron should first consider a revision class on the principles of the Magna Carta for his cabinet members who promote secret trials, the use of secret evidence and terrorism preventative investigation measures, and the deprivation of the citizenship of British nationals while abroad, all of which appear to flagrantly violate clause 39. It would seem that many in government have also forgotten what it means to be “British”.
Fahad Ansari

•  Owen Jones’s argument that there are a range of values in our society, depending on where we are coming from, was a valid one (Sorry, prime minister, but your history is not mine, 16 June). His values are socialist, as are mine, but he failed to recognise that the historical examples he chose came from Christian origins. The values of John Ball, the Levellers, the Diggers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs (whom he didn’t name) and the Chartists all spring from Christian faith. It is, of course, the true radical faith from which also emerged black theology, feminist theology and Latin American liberation theology, and is based on the fundamental Hebrew/Christian value that all human beings are equal in God’s sight.

Hence as a “Christian country”, which the prime minister seems to think we are, you cannot have values that allow the rich to grow richer, year by year, while their sisters and brothers are forced to depend on food banks. You cannot treat people who happen to be from a different country, a different ethnicity or even a different faith as second class. The poor shall not pay the costs of the mistakes of the powerful. You must not pay wages that people can’t afford to live on. You must have health, education and social care systems that are collective, without privilege, and meet equally the needs of all. Owen needs to study history in greater depth, to know more of where he is coming from, and the prime minister needs to study history.
Rev David Haslam

• In case Mr Cameron is unaware, asserting Britishness is just not British.
Andrew Berkerey

• As recent events have shown and as the Ray Honeyford affair demonstrated 30 years ago (Was the 1980s Bradford headteacher who criticised multiculturalism right?, 14 June), religion, politics, nationality and education constitute a dangerous and potent mix. There are no problem-free answers to how far schools should meet the aspirations of British parents who want a strong religious dimension in the education of their children. The current status quo is unsustainable; it was a fudge concocted in 1944 to appease the established churches and now long past its sell-by date. If it is retained in its current fragile state, there is no justification for obstructing those wishing to establish a large number of Islamic state schools; their fellow Anglican, Catholic or Jewish citizens have long since enjoyed that privilege. But therein lie dangers to social cohesion. The religious nettle is stinging and needs to be grasped. But that requires political will which was lacking 70 years ago. Perhaps the findings of the Opinium poll in the Observer, reporting almost three-fifths of respondents against state funding of faith schools, will give politicians the mandate and the courage to consider overturning that 70-year-old settlement in favour of a secularised school system which promotes universal humanitarian values.
Professor Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria

The US ambassador to the UN has condemned “in the strongest possible terms” Sudan’s relentless campaign of ethnic cleansing against its own citizens in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states (US says government has bombed civilians, 14 June). However, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, indicted for genocide in Darfur, is unlikely to care about US hyperbole which is anyway too little, too late. Bashir’s forces have been systematically killing non-Arab and non-Muslim civilians for three years without a serious response from the US or the UN. Moreover, security council resolutions punishing Sudan for ethnic cleansing in Darfur have yet to be enforced. Bashir, who came to power in a coup 25 years ago, knows he will face no consequences from the international community. Targeting his personal finances with sanctions (approved by the security council years ago but never enacted) would have more impact than more hot air at the UN.
Olivia Warham
Director, Waging Peace

• My brother-out-law teaches drumming in schools across the north-west (Letters, 14 June). He can testify not just to its contribution to musical learning (you can’t sing or play without rhythm) but also to skills that are essential both to musicianship and life – collaboration, listening, that sort of thing. Mind you, he’s great on the percussion jokes. For example: “What do you call someone who hangs out with musicians?” “A drummer.”
Liz Fuller

• Fay Schopen’s succinct and insightful summary of what its like to be a post-breast-cancer “victim” (Pizza. not punishment, 16 June) only lacks the dreaded phrase, often from people who know little about you, of “have you had the all-clear yet?” I have stopped answering, I just give them an icy stare.
Jenny Dennis
Harrogate, North Yorkshire

• While we Anglophones titter at Pschitt, Bum, Bimbo bread, Bonka et al (Letters, 16 June), one wonders what the non-English-speaking French tourist would make of Oxford Street in January, when nearly every shop window declares the store to be “sale”.
Jimmy Hibbert

• And the instructions inside food parcels (Letters, 14 June) should surely read “Wolf All”.
Graham Bennett
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

I am concerned at the increasing number of criminal prosecutions for “offensive” speech. Susanna Rustin makes a valuable distinction in her article (Nobody’s hero, 14 June): those who use social media to submit anonymous violent threats (such as those Caroline Criado-Perez recently had to endure) need and deserve to be treated as criminals. However, it now seems to be the rule that merely causing sufficient offence on social media can be enough to get the perpetrator a jail term.

One can thoroughly deplore the comments made (as I would), while still defending the right to make them. Freedom of speech must mean freedom to be offensive, otherwise we only have the dubious “freedom” to make socially approved comments. The former director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, has rightly called for parliament to reassess this issue. I would suggest a clear distinction between serious threats to an individual (which should continue to be criminalised) and simply causing offence (which should not be). Blurring that line reduces the freedom of us all.
Dr Martin Treacy

•  I am all for free speech and the right to be offensive, but when free speech is abused it is right to take action. Jake Newsome posted this about the murdered schoolteacher Ann Maguire on Facebook: “I’m glad that teacher got stabbed up, he shoulda pissed on her too.” Would those who defend Newsome’s right to free speech – and who object to the six-week prison sentence he has received – argue the same point if he had written the same about Stephen Lawrence?

You should always look at the context of how something was said. This wasn’t said to make a point, it was said in order to cause distress. Hate speech is hate speech, and it should make no difference whether it is racist, homophobic or in this case misogynistic.
Will Barton

• Is the non-bigoted Rod Liddle interviewed by Simon Hattenstone (Citizen Liddle, Weekend, 14 June) the same Rod Liddle who offered the following gems in the Sun’s jingoistic supplement last week: “Obviously, the best thing about being English is not being French. Or Belgian. Can you imagine that? Waking up every morning to the realisation that you’re Belgian? You’d go out of your mind.” And: “Apparently, the Romanians are just as proud of being Romanian as we are of being English. I know, hard to imagine. But it’s true.”
Roger Harrison

•  As a student socialist activist in Middlesbrough in the late 1970s I well remember Rod Liddle, who was even younger than me. The Teesside left, which pre-Thatcher was heavily based on industrial workers, was just getting used to students who came from a rather different background. Liddle, as Simon Hattenstone’s interview makes clear, made a journey to the right and holds some, at best, unpleasant views. Those who recall the youthful Liddle might shake their heads, but it is in a sense a failure of the left that someone like him, without question a talented individual, allowed the lure of the establishment to change him, rather than keeping on trying to change the world.
Keith Flett


I’m getting fed up with all this tub-thumping about “British values”. It is right that we should be instilling respect for moral values among our children, but these values are espoused by every civilised and democratic nation.

As someone with many friends and relatives of a variety of nationalities, I am offended on their behalf by the idea that my values might be superior to theirs simply because I am British.

I’m afraid this discussion smacks of a very British characteristic for which we are well known worldwide – arrogance.

Francis Kirkham

Crediton, Devon

Ramji Abinashi (letter, 14 June) wonders if jealousy is a British value. Thanks to the tabloid press, it probably is.

The class system in this country is now characterised by aggressive inverse snobbery, and posh-bashing seems to have become a socially acceptable pastime.

The Posh Ones often respond to this with irony, self-deprecating humour and estuary accents. All terribly confusing for  first-generation immigrants like me!

Saraswati Narayan

Knaresborough, North Yorkshire


It’s a tough world outside the UK

In her thoughtful article (12 June) JK Rowling tactfully omitted  the disaster which overtook the Scottish people when they last attempted to compete commercially with the established mercantile power (the East India Company and others).

I refer to the abortive attempt to open a trading establishment on the isthmus of Panama known as the Darien expedition. John Prebble in his book The Darien Disaster gives a clear account of this fiasco. Agencies throughout the world were instructed to refuse any help to the settlers, and the attempt nearly bankrupted the nation.

The “pro” movement should be warned!

Sir Alastair Stewart

Little Baddow, Essex

I take issue with John Rentoul (12 June) when he says there was no alternative to restricting the franchise for the independence referendum to current residents of Scotland.

As he says himself, he could play sport for Scotland on the basis of his mother being half Scottish. I have not heard anyone claiming that only “pure-bred Scots” should have a right to vote, but a system which allowed a vote to those who were themselves born in Scotland, or had a Scottish-born parent or grandparent, as well as to those currently resident, would seem to be reasonable.

Compilation of the register would be time-consuming but hardly beyond the wit of man and the capacity of modern technology.

A Flores

London SW15


Schools don’t need ‘faith’

Why do we have “faith” schools in the 21st century? What correlation is there between a child’s “faith” and the learning of, say, maths or French?

Weren’t schools originally instituted by churches simply because they had the means and organisation to do so in the absence of any government-funded  system? Since that imperative has long gone, why is there any rationale for schools now to be funded or run on the basis of allegiance to a “faith”?

Get rid of them altogether; the Pandora’s box that Mr Gove has opened with his ludicrous “free schools” project will unleash forces that will make what’s (allegedly) been going on in Birmingham look mild.

Antony Randle

London NW10


How Mick Jagger should feel

A woman dictating how a man should behave, with no insight into his emotions? Surely not!

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (16 June) lashes Mick Jagger for “apparently throwing himself into the arms” of a 27-year-old ballerina. She turns the screw, with a line about how he should think about how his children will feel seeing him with a younger woman.

We may think we have seen it all before, but none of us really knows what another individual feels or is going through at such a time. Shouldn’t grown-up children be happy if their father is even just getting through the day after such a horrible tragedy?

Tina Rowe

Ilchester, Somerset


First green shoots spotted on the A34

Hopefully I have detected a sign of the end of the recession: a marked increase in the truck-driver World Cup. That is, the slower-than-thou, rolling roadblock, they-shall-not-pass overtaking game. On the positive side, if the principles of physics do change and pulling out of a slipstream results in an increase of speed then this world first will have been detected right here – on the very lovely A34.

Alan Hallsworth

Waterlooville, Hampshire


Greetings from Wiltshire

When introduced to my wife-to-be’s family in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, in the 1970s, I was greeted with an “Ow bist?” Having recently taken up Anglo Saxon I now realise that I was being addressed in pre-1066 style – “bist” meaning “are” in Anglo-Saxon.

John E Orton



Don’t just let Iraq slide into the abyss

The gruesome beheading of Iraqi soldiers shows beyond doubt the viciousness of extremists. Is it enough to sit in the comfort of our homes in the west, ponder how misbegotten the whole Iraqi folly has become and condemn the terrorists who are defaming Islam?

King Abdallah of Jordan was among the first to warn that if Iraq did not settle quickly into a cohesive polity that represents the aspirations of its people and brings stability and security, without Iran’s interference, then the Israeli-Palestinian issue would no longer be the principal recruiting sergeant for jihadism.

Iran’s clout over the Shia-led government in Iraq, its patronage of Hezbollah, Hamas and Assad’s Baathist regime were bound to ignite religious rivalries.

But most importantly, the youth remain victims of poverty and high unemployment. Decades of western colonialism to conquer oil reservoirs have contributed to this sad saga.

The region is plunging into the abyss. We cannot afford to see this mayhem spreading into Jordan, the last oasis of tranquillity in this volatile region. We have a moral obligation to stand up and end the enduring turmoil Bush and Blair created.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London NW2


This is by nature of an appeal, on behalf of the British people, to all governments, despots, international organisations and borderline religious fanatics everywhere: please, please do not give any more money or attention to our quondam Prime Minister, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, or to any foundations which he claims to represent.

Yes, it is true that in a moment of misjudged euphoria we entrusted him with the governance of our nation, but we all make mistakes. We even, for a while, gave him the benefit of the doubt as his latent messianism and obsession with wealth meshed so conveniently with a foreign audience far removed from his erstwhile electors.

It may seem to all you jolly dictators, oligarchs, kleptocrats and god-botherers that you have acquired an invaluable asset on the international stage, a master of media, a man who really does dance with the devil. But the artist formerly known as “Tony” is now an increasingly desperate case, requiring sympathy rather than cash.

Delusional to the last,  he will offer himself as spokesman for ever more desperate crusades. But for your revoltingly well-upholstered sakes, and ours, just say no.

Christopher Dawes

London W11

Boris Johnson is right to tell Blair to put a sock in it. Iraq is a mess caused by Bush and Blair’s illegal invasion, and those who supported that war ought to be thoroughly ashamed.

It’s simple: our war broke the chains that held the country together. Under Saddam Hussein’s secular regime Sunnis and Shia did not fight each other. Al-Qa’ida did not exist in Iraq until we invaded and they came there to fight us, and that’s the legacy our irresponsible war has left.

Our foreign policy needs to be reversed. We ought to support both the Iraqi and Syrian governments fighting Isis and bring Iran in from the cold before al-Qa’ida takes over the entire Middle East.

Mark Holt


Along with the hundreds of thousands who died in the catastrophic Blair/Bush Iraq war, tens of thousands are now likely to perish in weeks of bloodletting.

Whatever Blair says – and he is surely becoming a laughing-stock – this is a direct  result of the UK/US lack of post-war planning – and most particularly of not incorporating the Iraqi officer corps, army and civil servants into a new western-shaped Iraq.

Let us no longer be fooled by smooth-talking evangelicals who won’t or can’t take responsibility for their bloody mistakes.

Stefan Wickham


Sir, Richard Ford drew attention to what is happening in prisons across England and Wales (“Crisis in Britain’s jails”, June 14). It is all too easy to be unaware of problems in this least visible, and most neglected, of our public services. As HM Chief Inspector of Prisons has warned, the prison service is currently facing serious challenges: rapidly rising numbers, massive budget cuts, significantly reduced staffing levels, major difficulties with recruitment and staff sickness, and a disturbing increase both in serious assaults and deaths by suicide in custody.

Justice ministers are reliant, it seems, on a few exceptional operational managers to make use of every inch of space and pull together a group of former prison staff “reservists”. To avert a crisis, the Justice Secretary must steady the unmanageable pace and scale of change he is driving in the penal system, eschew tough, punitive rhetoric and rein back inflation in sentencing.

Ministers should avoid introducing any more vexatious measures in our prisons that inflame tensions such as the ban on parcels and books, more time in cells and reduced family visits. Instead they should determine to promote effective community solutions to crime where offenders must make amends to victims, expedite liaison and diversion services for people with mental health needs, learning disabilities or addictions and put prison back where it belongs as a constructive place of last resort in a balanced justice system.

Over-use of imprisonment while slashing prison budgets, introducing harsher regimes and warehousing ever greater numbers overseen by fewer staff is no way to transform rehabilitation, reduce re-offending or indeed to value a decent, civilised prison service.

Juliet Lyon

Director, Prison Reform Trust Sir, If the Minister of Justice does not take drastic action to address the understaffing and overcrowding in our prisons, I fear that the safety of all those employed, and those serving sentences, will be at risk.

On April 11, 2014, I accompanied Chris Grayling on a visit to HMP Northumberland. (On March 29, 2014, some inmates had taken over a wing.) The Secretary of State and I differed over the root causes of the unrest, however. He attributed the disturbance to the prisoners being forced to work longer days. I concluded that the disturbance was due to prisoners being locked up for longer, and so having less opportunity to work and learn.

This has been caused by severe staff cuts: there are now not enough prison officers to escort prisoners to and from their activities.

I was grateful for the support Mr Grayling gave to the Oswin Project, a small charity I founded to source employment for those leaving prison in the North East. But I was saddened by his position — and urge him to hear what prisoners and prison officers are telling him.

The Rev Fiona Sample

Director of the Oswin Project

Morpeth, Northumberland

Sir, A significant number of those held in prison suffer from mental health difficulties of one sort or another; prison is the last place they should be. Until the government addresses properly the funding of the mental health services, the prison population will only increase, and conditions continue to deteriorate.

KB Carter

Edgbaston, Birmingham

It was not entirely unusual for In Memoriam notices to appear in The Times for many years

Sir, Your report on Lt Druce Robert Brandt (“Fallen soldier lived on in The Times for 50 years”, June 14) tells how he might otherwise have been long forgotten had it not been for the annual memorial notices.

It was not entirely unusual for In Memoriam notices to appear for many years. Your own sports editor, Richard Henry Powell, who fell in May 1915, was so remembered until 1974, two years after the death of his widow. Brandt’s obituary appeared in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack for 1916 because he had played eight matches for Oxford University. He had been in the Harrow XI for three years, the almanack noting that he was “a very good batsman and wicketkeeper”.

As an MCC member, his name is on the club’s roll of honour at Lord’s. But is it not time that all the 289 men who played first-cricket and fell in the Great War were honoured on a national cricket memorial?

Andrew Renshaw

Editor, Wisden on the Great War

Winchfield, Hants

Her Majesty’s Pleasure was an indeterminate term of detention for those of unsound mind – like MPs…

Sir, Christopher Farish (letter, June 16) claims that in 2011 a small percentage of MPs were held “at Her Majesty’s Pleasure”. Using this term to describe any spell of imprisonment appears to be becoming more frequent. Her Majesty’s Pleasure was once used to describe an indeterminate term of detention reserved for those convicted criminals deemed to be of unsound mind and a danger to the public, where a fixed date for release was considered unsafe but the possibility of cure and release should not be denied.

Initially I thought transmuting this term to refer specifically to MPs was inappropriate, but on reflection . . .

Brian Newton

Epsom, Surrey

There are equally significant events to Magna Carta in the evolution of British parliamentary democracy

Sir, Singling out Magna Carta to teach British values is not enough (, June 15). There are equally significant events in the evolution of British parliamentary democracy such as the Glorious Revolution, the Reform Acts and the struggle for universal suffrage which have shaped us. These should be included along with the Runnymede charter, great though it is.

Bernard Kingston

Biddenden, Kent

For some people, changing out of their wellies and removing the hay from their hair will never be enough…

Sir, Before an evening out in London, AN Williams (June 16) ensures that he/she has changed out of his/her wellies and removed the hay from his/her hair “so that sophisticated metropolitan types won’t take me for a hick”. Would that it were so simple.

Malcolm Hick

Westbury-sub-Mendip, Somerset

Skylab fell to earth on July 12, 1979. Within hours “fragments” were on sale in Brick Lane…

Sir, More contemporary retail opportunities for tourists are also available (letters, June 12 & 14). On July 12, 1979, I passed a stall in Brick Lane market laden with scrap metal said to be “genuine fragments of Skylab”. They must have been hot, in one sense or another.

Angus Mccallum

Aberlady, East Lothian

It was not entirely unusual for In Memoriam notices to appear in The Times for many years

Sir, Your report on Lt Druce Robert Brandt (“Fallen soldier lived on in The Times for 50 years”, June 14) tells how he might otherwise have been long forgotten had it not been for the annual memorial notices.

It was not entirely unusual for In Memoriam notices to appear for many years. Your own sports editor, Richard Henry Powell, who fell in May 1915, was so remembered until 1974, two years after the death of his widow. Brandt’s obituary appeared in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack for 1916 because he had played eight matches for Oxford University. He had been in the Harrow XI for three years, the almanack noting that he was “a very good batsman and wicketkeeper”.

As an MCC member, his name is on the club’s roll of honour at Lord’s. But is it not time that all the 289 men who played first-cricket and fell in the Great War were honoured on a national cricket memorial?

Andrew Renshaw

Editor, Wisden on the Great War

Winchfield, Hants


SIR – I would urge anyone teetering on the brink of writing a fan letter to overcome their shyness and go ahead. In the Fifties, my schoolfriends and I were fans of the actor Laurence Payne, when he was playing the dashing d’Artagnan on television. Years later, when he published his first crime novel, I wrote to say how much I had enjoyed it.

Reader, I married him.

Judith Payne
Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland

SIR – I was interested to catch Radio 3’s dramatisation on Saturday of a 1964 encounter between T S Eliot and Groucho Marx.

For many years I was a good friend of Valerie Eliot, the poet’s widow, who told me about the real-life version of what happened. Her husband had been a huge fan of Groucho Marx and looked forward to meeting him enormously. In the event, Marx proved to be obsessed with sex, having lately discovered – or invented – it, and he talked of little else.

As a general rule, it is not a good idea to meet one’s heroes.

Peter Scott
Buxton, Derbyshire

SIR – During the summer of 1970 I was a student working in New York City, when I discovered Dustin Hoffman’s telephone number. I dialled, and his secretary got back to me saying that Mr Hoffman would be available for lunch. We ate during a break in filming and he told me that I was the first fan to ring him, since most people assumed he would be too famous to be listed.

Later he made the number ex-directory, as the papers picked up on my “date” with him, prompting a flood of hopeful calls.

Ruth Campbell
Headington, Oxfordshire

Houses popping up

SIR – Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, wants housing development to focus on land already built on, thus “preserving the best of our countryside”.

Communities in South Worcestershire have accepted development on the fringes of their villages, only to see indifferent central planning strategies ride roughshod over their local knowledge.

A village I represent has 500 houses in total. The community accepted a further 90 in an agreed location. The complexities of getting the development plan approved enabled developers to propose a further 200 houses on hitherto undeveloped sites.

Rather than promoting schemes to encourage building on brownfield sites, Mr Pickles would do better to simplify the Planning Inspectorate and speed up the process for adopting development plans.

Cllr Paul Middlebrough (Con)
Leader, Wychavon District Council Pershore, Worcestershire

SIR – I find it ironic that those who demand that new homes must not ruin our “green and pleasant land” will turn a blind eye to the defacement of our once pleasant homes by solar panels.

Brian Christley
Abergele, Denbighshire

Glorious duck

SIR – David Sheppard was the most famous clergyman to play cricket for England (“You’re playing for England, Moeen Ali, not your religion”), but there is a historical connection between churchmen and cricket. One of Sheppard’s predecessors, the first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, was J C Ryle (1816-1900).

Ryle was an early example of the Christian clergy who played cricket in the Victorian era. Those making their mark in the first half of the 20th century included Canon Frank Gillingham (1875-1953), Canon J H Parsons (1890-1981) and the Rev E T Killick (1907-1953).

Sheppard, who played 22 Test matches for England, wrote: “Success comes from God, and so too can failure. If I say my prayers faithfully, this is no guarantee that I shall make a hundred next time I go in to bat. I may make a duck. But I can make a duck or a hundred to the glory of God.”

Zaki Cooper
Trustee, Council of Christians and Jews
London EC4

SIR – Moeen Ali claims his beard is a “label” of his Muslim faith. Was W G Grace by any chance a closet Muslim?

Philip Barber
Havant, Hampshire

Flying visit

SIR – Before retiring in 2004, I was incumbent of a parish with four churches, three of which were infested with bats. It was only when we started burning incense in our worship that the bats took flight. The churches are clear to this day.

Rev Canon Dr Graham Loveluck
Marianglas, Anglesey


SIR – When I was a child 50 years ago, my parents’ car would be covered in dead insects at the end of any trip. Today the sight is unusual.

Have we wiped out so much of the insect population over the years? Or are cars better streamlined, giving the poor arthropod an uplifting experience so that it can live to tell the tale?

S W Twiston Davies
Saint Lawrence, Jersey

Football flags

SIR – Why do so many football supporters find it necessary to emblazon “England” across the centre of a flag which is recognised as being St George’s for England?

Supporters in other countries don’t seem to find it necessary to deface their national flags.

John Weeks
Bridgwater, Somerset

SIR – Given our lack of success in team sports on Saturday, may I suggest in future playing New Zealand at football, Sri Lanka at rugby and Italy at cricket?

Michael Forward

Cancelled passports

SIR – If HM Passport Office is in chaos, think of the situation in an independent Scotland when all UK passports would become invalid overnight.

Pat Thomas
Waddington, Lincolnshire

Neat hedging

SIR – When I worked in Geneva on the setting up of Efta, under the leadership of the brilliant and genial ex-mandarin Frank Figgures, there existed a committee which had the brief and pronounceable name of Hedg.

This was achieved by two stages of acronymisation. Its full expansion was Heads of European Free Trade Association Delegations to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The first stage was the reduction to Efta and Gatt, and in the second stage these in turn became just E and G.

The total number of staff was then 46, housed on a single floor of a modest office block near the Palais des Nations. We could repair there to drink citron pressé on the balcony overlooking Lac Léman and the Alps.

Peter Gerosa
Reigate, Surrey


SIR– Henrietta Boyle says she will wear a toga for her Latin A-level today. This is ill-advised.

The garment was reserved for male citizens, except that it was compulsory for prostitutes. A more suitable garment would be a stola.

Paul Dumbill
Cockermouth, Cumberland

SIR – Nick Foulkes asserts that “suits are meant to be worn with ties”.

A woman in a suit and a white open-necked shirt would be thought adequately dressed for any occasion: a man similarly attired might be described as scruffy.

Steve Field
Wokingham, Berkshire

SIR – As a young mechanic I found my neckwear had caught in the moving cogs of a teleprinter. Luckily, some scissors were to hand. I have worn only bow ties since.

Robert Vincent
Wildhern, Hampshire

SIR – P G Wodehouse had it right.

Wooster: “What do ties matter, Jeeves, at a time like this?”

Jeeves: “There is no time, sir, at which ties do not matter.”

Bob Clough-Parker

SIR – The only nations, it seems, “weighing up military options in Iraq” (report, June 14) are the United States (which will not act) and Britain (which cannot).

Do all other Nato countries, especially Turkey (whose consular officials were reportedly seized), think they may appease the extremists?

With expanded membership and a costly new HQ under construction, just what is the Nato alliance for today?

Robert Stephenson
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

SIR – Why do Arab countries look to the West in times of trouble? We have been supplying Arab states with weapons for decades. Surely they can come to the aid of their brethren.

Sandra Mitchell
London W13

SIR – After a decade in which hundreds of British servicemen have died in two entirely unnecessary wars, and with the Middle East in flames, he wants us to do it again. Will Tony Blair never accept that he could have been wrong?

Lady Coward
Torpoint, Cornwall

SIR – Saddam and his minions slaughtered hundreds of thousands of their own people. Most of the survivors of his systematic sectarian genocide were delighted to see him hang.

Sir Gavin Gilbey Bt
Dornoch, Sutherland

SIR – Those in the Foreign Office and intelligence agencies who opposed the Iraq War in 2003 will not be surprised at events in Iraq, and the potentially disastrous effect they will have on the stability of the Middle East, not to mention the security of Western nations. I write as a former counsellor, serving in the FCO from 1980 to 2008.

While Saddam Hussain was undoubtedly an appalling leader, he posed no threat to Britain and, by opposing groups such as al-Qaeda, actually contributed to Western security. It is the duty of our Government to act in the interests of its own people first, even if this means dealing with regimes we regard as abhorrent. After all, we have good relations with some dreadful governments round the world. And in 1941 we were allied with Stalinist Russia to help defeat the even more awful Nazi Germany.

By removing Saddam with no proper justification or internationally lawful authority, and then failing to construct a stable Iraqi successor-state, we have put our interests and security at great risk.

We have also ensured that the lives of Iraqis in general are today just as bad, if not worse, than they were under Saddam.

Paul Laing
Dereham, Norfolk

SIR – The crisis in the Middle East reminds one of the Crusades. Then we were selling Christianity, now it is democracy, but I fear the outcome will be the same.

Val Dunmore
Coulsdon, Surrey

Irish Times:

Sir, – Whatever their faults, de Valera, Costello, Lemass, Lynch, Cosgrave, Haughey, FitzGerald, Reynolds, Bruton, Ahern or Cowen would never have loaded an Oireachtas joint committee after the formal election of members. They would, of course, have ensured that they had the necessary majority before the election. That is what political savvy is, and, unfortunately, the Taoiseach does not have it. That speaks for itself. – Yours, etc,



Co Donegal.

Sir, – I see Stephen Donnelly has decided to take his ball and run home. Good riddance, Mr Donnelly. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – One would hope that the remaining non-governmental members of the proposed banking inquiry would follow Stephen Donnelly’s example and withdraw from participation. The investigation is now bound to be a travesty. The members on the Coalition side are obviously already beyond embarrassment at the “Kennymandering” of the inquiry. I suppose that, having disbanded local councils and having attempted to dismantle the Seanad, manipulating personnel on an Oireachtas inquiry is small potatoes. – Yours, etc,




Co Dublin.

Sir, – The Government’s decision to effectively take control of the panel to set the terms of reference for the banking inquiry is utterly indefensible. It further undermines Fine Gael’s pre-election pledge to reform antiquated Oireachtas procedures to usher in a new era of transparency and above-board politics.

The inquiry was supposed to transcend party politics, its sole remit being to get at the truth, however painful or embarrassing, of what caused the catastrophic events back in 2008 that almost destroyed our country and wrecked so many lives.

Instead we find that politicians are yet again grasping at the levers of power, seeking advantage and carrying on with the same old “cute hoor” ways that Fine Gael for years loudly accused Fianna Fáil of pursuing.

The inquiry is an extremely important one, given the implications for all of us, and for Ireland’s future, of the banking collapse. To command public confidence and the credibility that is so essential to its ultimate findings, the inquiry cannot afford to be mired in political controversy or perceived to be directly or indirectly influenced by the interests or biases of any one political party.

I’m disappointed in the Taoiseach for standing over the Government’s shambolic handling of such an incredibly sensitive issue. He should have the courage and honesty to put party politics aside on this occasion, reverse the Government majority on the inquiry terms of reference panel, and allow the inquiry to then proceed in a non-partisan way to do its exceptionally challenging job because, let’s face it, truth and party politics don’t mix. – Yours, etc,


Lower Coyne Street,


Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – With regard to the article by Kitty Holland (“Ambulance turnaround times well short of targets”, Front Page, June 9th), in which it was stated ambulances were delayed by up to six hours outside emergency departments, we would like to clarify the circumstances that can keep an ambulance off the road for long periods of time.

To date there have been no issues or unacceptable delays with regard to accepting patients from ambulances into the Temple Street, Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin or Tallaght paediatric emergency departments and the departments have been within their target times.

The issue relates to how the statistics were interpreted in the article. The figures quoted were not in fact for emergency turnaround times but rather figures for all urgent ambulances that transfer children to Temple Street, Crumlin and Tallaght paediatric emergency departments and the length of time that these ambulances are unavailable during that transfer period due to operational requirements, such as when an ambulance is required to transport a newborn baby in an incubator from a maternity hospital to the operating theatre or intensive-care unit in Temple Street or Crumlin emergency departments. In this instance the ambulance crew then has to go back to the maternity hospital and deposit the incubator and collect its ambulance trolley before this ambulance is deemed available.

In “wait and return” situations, an ambulance is required to transport a baby from another hospital for urgent ultrasound or radiology at Temple Street or Crumlin, then the ambulance crew waits in case the baby has to be transferred back, and so again that ambulance is deemed unavailable until a decision about which hospital to admit to is made

This means that the “wait” times referred to in the article are not the times that the ambulance is waiting outside the three paediatric emergency departments but rather the time that the ambulance is unavailable. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive,


Paediatric Emergency

Sir, – Further to Una Mullally’s article (“Getting hot under the collar about ice cream vans”, Opinion & Analysis, June 16th) regarding my recent comments in the Seanad, I feel the need to set the record straight. Obesity is an issue about which I feel very strongly, not just because of the devastating impact it is having on our society, but also because I have struggled with serious weight issues of my own in the past, which thankfully feels like a lifetime ago now.

I brought up the issue of ice cream vans in the Seanad because when a parent from Wexford raised the topic with me, it struck a chord. The omnipresent chime of the ice cream van at this time of year is just one very small example of the pressures facing parents who are trying to keep their children away from sugar-laden treats. Obesity is not a trivial matter and it is certainly not something I would ever attempt to make light of.

I know all too well that it can’t be solved by regulating ice cream vans; that we need more education; that parents must say no; that children need to be more active; and most of all that a so-called nanny state is not in any way progressive.

I have a track record on raising the issue; a fact which can be backed up by a quick scan through my contributions to the Seanad. While I consistently speak about the challenges associated with tackling obesity, the media only sit up and take notice when something which could be construed as trivial, such as ice cream vans, is mentioned. I would welcome more regular coverage of both what I have to say about obesity and indeed about what is said by my colleagues in the Seanad generally, but I will concede that this is rather unlikely.

Despite taking some flak over the last week, I will continue to talk about obesity and to suggest ideas – be they big or small – on how we can go about reducing it. – Yours, etc,



Leinster House,

Kildare Street,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Derek Scally reports that Irish officials are likely to face close questioning from visiting German MPs on various aspects of our financial affairs (“German MPs to play down Irish chances of debt relief”, Business, June 16th).

On what or whose authority will they ask questions and from whence did they derive this authority?

Can Irish TDs now visit Berlin and question German officials about their financial affairs? – Yours, etc,


Fontenoy Street,

Broadstone, Dublin 7.

Sir, – Is there a plot afoot to airbrush Brian Crowley, the Fianna Fáil MEP for the South constituency, out of history? I refer to the recent article “Martin rules out future coalition with either Fine Gael or Sinn Féin” (Oireachtas Report, June 13th).

According to this report, a “four-hour meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party was called to discuss the fallout from the local and European elections, which saw the party become the largest political force on local authorities but fail to win a seat in the European Parliament”.

In the recent European elections, Brian Crowley was comfortably elected on the first count to represent the South constituency with a vote that exceeded the quota by 37 per cent.

An effective vote-management strategy would probably have guaranteed the party two seats in this constituency. If I had any involvement with the Fianna Fáil party, I suppose that I too would feel pretty sore if such a strategy had been implemented and failed dismally, or if a vote management exercise had not even been attempted in the first place. – Yours, etc,


St Lawrence’s Road,

Clontarf, Dublin 3.

Sir, – In his piece on the Netherlands vs Spain match, Emmet Malone doubts the ability of the Spanish players to repeat their feat of four years ago in qualifying from their group having lost their opening match (“Dutch masters leave Spain reeling”, June 13th). Among the reasons he advances is the curse of the ageing process – he points out that “just about every one of them was four years younger then”. Unfortunately he does not identify the interesting exceptions. – Yours, etc,


Temple Villas,

Rathmines, Dublin 6.

Sir, – Well, I survived it last time, but I am now four years older, four years crankier, and four years more intolerant to noise! While not wanting to wish away the summer, I must admit I look forward to July 13th and silence and peace! – Yours, etc,


St Helen’s Road,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Simon O’Connor (June 13th) proposes that pedestrians use cameras on their mobile phones to capture instances of poor road behaviour by cyclists. I would suggest that runners wear heads-up display devices such as Google Glass to capture the dismal behaviour of both cyclists and pedestrians.

Throughout the county of San Mateo in Silicon Valley, there are signs that say, “Share the Road”. The same should apply to the footpaths of Dublin.

Pedestrians in glass houses, and so on. – Yours, etc,


South Circular Road,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – As a pedestrian I write in support of Simon O’Connor regarding cyclists arrogantly breaking the law by crashing red lights and mounting footpaths . I have found that when I point my mobile phone at them it has a deterrent effect as they sometimes dismount from their bikes. I was told by a Garda that I’m not breaking the law by photographing them. However, it’s a pity I can’t send those photos to a Garda website as I’m sure those law-breakers would no longer be happy bikers and my fellow pedestrians could walk with more safety. – Yours, etc,


Shanid Road,

Harold’s Cross, Dublin 6W.

A chara, – If pedestrians were allowed to walk on the roads, the cyclists could have the footpaths all to themselves. – Is mise,


Ellensborough Drive,

Kiltipper Road, Dublin 24.

Sir, – Not surprising but always irritating to see the old line as enunciated by Paul Delaney (June 16th) that “there’s not a whit of difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael”. No difference between the party that drove this State into the worst financial crises in its history and the party that has garnered increasing respect for us on the world stage though fiscal responsibility?

No difference between the party that squandered precious resources like snuff at a wake and the party that is bravely tackling issues such as water infrastructure, etc? Mr Delaney suggests that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are “two sides of the same coin” – not of any currency of which I am aware! – Yours etc,


Loreto Grange,


Co Wicklow.

A chara, – I agree with Aifric Murray (June 16th) that our signs in Irish should be clear and accurate. Just this weekend I came across a road traffic sign at Cladnach, An Cheathrú Rua, which warned motorists of “No road markings” ahead and in Irish “Ná marcáil bóthair” – don’t mark road! Whatever about errors in make-do notices outside pubs for “ceol agus craic” sessions and the like, there is no excuse for public authorities making such asinine mistakes in official signage.

And, adding insult to injury in this case, was its location in the heart of the Gaeltacht.– Is mise,




Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I recently e-mailed the Labour Party head office to ask if non-party members could attend the leadership hustings in Dublin, but received no reply. I then e-mailed Ruairí Quinn directly with the same inquiry (via his website) last week and also received no reply. I then e-mailed Labour head office again, repeating my initial inquiry and expressing disappointment at receiving no reply. Still no response received.

Now I understand why the Labour Party may be experiencing difficulty in “communicating its message” to the electorate. – Yours, etc,


Monkstown Valley,


Sir, – Media reports focus on reviewing the honours-level papers and decide to throw a sentence or two in at the end about the ordinary-level paper. These lines typically consist of the following: “The ordinary-level paper was well received” or “Students were satisfied with the subject at that level”. What sort of message is this sending to the youth of today? Are we merely brushing the efforts of thousands of students under the carpet just because of the level they chose to sit a Leaving Certificate paper at? Just because certain students do not possess the aptitude for complex mathematics or foreign languages they are denied the proper recognition for their work towards sitting an ordinary-level paper.

Why are we focusing so much on honour-level students when those at lower levels are just as important? Yes, the honours paper may be more difficult, but those ordinary-level papers are just as much of a struggle to the students that sit them. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – The photograph accompanying the obituary of journalist Alan Bestic (June 14th) showed him with unnamed colleagues in 1947.

The man on the extreme right is clearly Quidnunc columnist Seamus Kelly, with Brian Inglis (author of West Briton and later Granada TV journalist ) beside him. It is possible that the man beside Bestic holding a cigarette is Donald Smyllie, brother of editor Bertie Smyllie, and also an Irish Times sub-editor.

Can any reader identify the man in he middle with glasses, looking amused at what Bestic has just said? (Just to confuse matters the online version of the photograph includes two others, if anyone can and wishes to name them.) – Yours, etc,


Seafield Court,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Further to your cover story “What works for women at work” (Magazine, June 14th), when may we expect to hear from carers, cleaners, lollipop ladies, healthcare assistants, retail staff and others? – Yours, etc,


Rathgar Avenue,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – Further to Pope Francis’s reported doubts over the case for Scottish independence (June 13th), can we now ask if the pope is a unionist? – Yours, etc,


Gleann na gCaorach,

Co Átha Cliath.

Irish Independent:

Once again, Catholic Church bashing has become a national pastime. The appalling news from Tuam has released a plague of self-righteousness, but little by way of illumination. The Church is a very soft target and provides many with a welcome scapegoat for all our troubles.

We all have a lot to answer for but tend to see the world’s ills as the fault of others. Hypocrisy has become an art form honed to perfection, wheeled out when the opportunity arises, and conveniently amplified by the tabloid press.

The fact that what is gratuitously asserted can be gratuitously denied does not get in the way of convenient caricatures of the Catholic Church. Intellectual dishonesty has become the hallmark of some so-called liberal minds.

The notion that we are all basking in the enlightenment set against the dark ages suffered by previous times shows a remarkable ignorance of the past and of the present in which the current living conditions which many endure is an affront to human dignity.

Outrage about the present seems to be in short supply.

Of course, the leadership and management of the Church fell well below the standard required. The bishops were grossly incompetent, misguided and ill-advised but not evil.

There are two kinds of leader, the life giving and the life threatening; the Church was landed with more than its fair share of the latter. The function of leadership is to breathe life into those it serves not to demand obedient subservience.

Hierarchical structures tend to dilute accountability with the result that the leaders only hear what sustains them in their role.

The priests and religious whom I have encountered are as outraged as the rest of us about what was done in their name.

Many of our letter writers, would not have the level of literacy needed to write a letter were it not for the contribution the religious orders have made to the education of our people at the time when the State was unwilling to make that commitment.





The government’s decision to effectively take control of what was to be an all-party non governmental panel to set the terms of reference for the banking inquiry is utterly indefensible. It further undermines Fine Gael‘s pre-election pledge to reform antiquated Oireachtas procedures to usher in a new era of transparency and above board politics.

The inquiry was supposed to transcend party politics, its sole remit being to get at the truth, however painful or embarrassing, of what caused that catastrophic event back in 2008 that almost destroyed our country and wrecked so many lives.

Instead we find that politicians are yet again grasping at the levers of power, seeking advantage and carrying on with the same old cute hoor ways that Fine Gael for years accused Fianna Fail of pursuing.

The inquiry is an extremely important one, given the implications for all of us, and for Ireland’s future, of the banking collapse. To command public confidence and the credibility that is so essential to its ultimate findings the inquiry cannot afford to be mired in political controversy or perceived to be directly or indirectly influenced by the interests or biases of any one political party.

I’m disappointed in the Taoiseach for standing over the government’s shambolic handling of such an incredibly sensitive issue. He should have the courage and honestly to put party politics aside on this occasion, reverse the government majority on the Inquiry Terms of Reference Panel, and allow the inquiry to then proceed in a non partisan way to do its exceptionally challenging job because, let’s face it, truth and party politics don’t mix!





When the decision to establish an Oireachtas Joint Committee to conduct a banking inquiry was announced in April, over 12 months after the expiry of the blanket bank guarantee, we were advised that public confidence would be inspired because the banking inquiry would demonstrate “an example of parliament at its best”, as it would be the first inquiry conducted under new enabling legislation.

The scope of the banking inquiry is so complex that the actual cost of the 2008 blanket bank guarantee was €64.1bn, substantially more than the €16.4bn figure advised by the international experts, for whose advice the last Government paid over €7m in 2008.

Seven weeks have elapsed following the announcement of this inquiry and the initiative is submerged in a quagmire entirely of the Government’s own making that aggravates public confidence and threatens the inquiry’s credibility, perspicacity and public value.

The purpose of this inquiry is to ensure that lightning doesn’t strike twice in the banking sector. Why does the Government not explain why a coalition majority on this inquiry, with or without a political whip, is in the public interest and does not create a widespread perception of bias and hidden agenda?

Given the devastating impact of the banking crisis on everybody, why does the Oireachtas not set out the detailed biographies, educational and specialised professional credentials and competencies of the committee members that defines their expertise to establish the facts behind the policy and administrative failures that caused our banking system and our citizens such appalling distress?






Prepare yourself for the biggest miracle in 2000 years. Thousands of children will be cured of lifelong conditions at the stroke of a Department of Education pen over the summer holidays. Special Needs Assistants were needed to give these children a chance of being educated with their friends in mainstream schools, but now the Government has figured that many thousands are fine, who weren’t fine last year, thus removing the need for a Special Needs Assistant. A miracle of accountancy over compassion, but then again, that seems to be the current Government’s motto.





The gruesome beheading of Iraqi soldiers confirms beyond doubt the viciousness of extremists. However, is it enough to sit in the West, and ponder how misbegotten the whole Iraqi folly has become and condemn the terrorists who are defaming the image of Islam?

King Abdallah of Jordan was among the first to warn that if Iraq did not settle quickly the Israeli-Palestinian issue will no longer retain its status as the recruiting sergeant for Jihadism.

Iran‘s clout over the Shia-led government in Iraq, its historic patronage over Hezbollah, Hamas and Al Assad’s Baathist regime in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Syria, were bound to create a Shiite crescent in the Sunni heartland, and ignite the embers of religious rivalries. But most importantly, socio-economic issues remain the pressing issues for the youth who remain victims of poverty and high unemployment.

The region is plunging into the abyss. We have a moral obligation to stand up and end the enduring immoral and political turmoil Messrs Bush and Blair created in the first place.



Irish Independent


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