10 July2014 Sweeping

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park. I sweep the drive and water the potatoes

ScrabbleMary wins, but gets under 400. perhaps Iwill win tomorrow.


Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe – obituary

Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe, was the daughter of a marquess who resisted an attempt by her husband to evict her from his 100-room ducal seat

Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe

Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe Photo: REX FEATURES

6:17PM BST 09 Jul 2014


Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe, who has died aged 99, showed courage and tenacity when in 1953 she resisted a six-week campaign by her husband, the 9th Duke, to evict her from Floors Castle, his 100-room ducal seat overlooking the Tweed, near Kelso.

He brought the action under Scottish common law which, at that time, laid down that a wife lived in her husband’s house only “by licence”. The Duke gave no reason for wanting to turf his wife out of the family home. The marital dispute was eventually settled out of court and the Duchess departed for London. In December that year she was granted a divorce on account of her husband’s adultery.

Floors Castle (ALAMY)

Mary Roxburghe had withstood the seige without telephone, electric light or gas. The Duke had ordered the water be turned off, too, but the edict was rescinded after a neighbour, the Earl of Home (as the future Prime Minister was then styled) advised her to warn the insurance company of the fire risk. Other sympathetic neighbours, including Lord Haig, surreptitiously supplied her with food, paraffin lamps and candles for six weeks.

But not everyone took her part. At another border estate, Bowhill, the then Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch were divided in their allegiance. The Duchess sympathised with Mary Roxburghe, but her husband, an aristocrat of the old school, plumped for the duke.

Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe in 1953 (REX FEATURES)

Lady Mary Evelyn Hungerford Crewe-Milnes was born on March 23 1915, the only daughter by the second marriage of the first and last Marquess of Crewe to Lady Peggy Primrose. She was named after her godmother, Queen Mary.

Both her parents came from colourful families. Crewe was the son of Monckton Milnes, created Lord Houghton, an MP, man of letters, raconteur, patron of the arts and owner of a fine library containing, as the Complete Peerage demurely put it, “books by no means virginibus puerisque” [ie not “for girls and boys”]. Lord Crewe, who inherited his father’s barony in 1885, was subsequently created an earl (1895) and a marquess (1911). As a Liberal statesman he held several important offices, among them Viceroy of Ireland, Secretary of State for India and the Colonies; Lord President of the Council and Ambassador to France.

The splendour of his career, however, was punctuated by an amiable recklessness in money matters, and in 1904 he was said to have amassed debts of £600,000 (nearly £64 million today) as a result of extravagance and speculation, not least on the racecourse.

Lady Crewe was a daughter of the 5th Earl of Rosebery, Liberal Prime Minister in 1894-95, by Hannah Rothschild, daughter of Baron Mayer de Rothschild, who built Mentmore. She entertained with panache and cast the net of friendship widely. Some found her formidable.

Born into the purple of high office and beautiful possessions, Mary Crewe-Milnes was brought up at Crewe Hall, a huge Jacobean pile rebuilt by Barry, on the outskirts of the Cheshire railway town — and at Crewe House, Curzon Street, one of the last great mansions of Mayfair.

In 1935 she was married in Westminster Abbey to the 9th Duke of Roxburghe — “Bobo” to his intimates — a Scottish landowner of more than 80,000 acres, and perhaps the best shot in the kingdom.

In 1937 the Duchess’s imposing stature and dark good looks were again seen to advantage in the Abbey at the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. With the Duchesses of Buccleuch, Norfolk and Rutland, she carried the new Queen’s train.

Mary Roxburghe showed enterprise in the early months of the war by joining a party of “illicit wives” who had wangled passages to the Middle East to be with their Army husbands. Peter Coats, the garden designer and ADC to General Wavell, noted in April 1940: “Palestine is more like Ladies’ Day at Ascot than ever. Actually, I disapprove of them being here, just because they can pull strings and have the fare. But as they are all friends, I can’t work against them.”

A few weeks later the ever-obliging ADC extricated the Duchess from her car, marooned near Jerusalem in a herd of goats.

After her divorce, Mary Roxburghe spent much of her life at 15, Hyde Park Gardens, a large and elegantly furnished flat overlooking the park. She worked for many charities and was President of the National Union of Townswomen’s Guilds. She also became an enthusiastic member of the Royal Society of Literature, and was for many years a devoted patron of the Royal Ballet.

Mary Roxburghe entertained young and old alike with the same attention to detail and Rothschild cuisine as had her parents. She was well-informed on the politics and diplomacy of the day, showing no aversion to gossip. She loved bridge, too.

From her mother, who died in 1967, she inherited West Horsley Place, a spacious 16th century house and estate near Leatherhead, Surrey, where a well-developed aesthetic sense prompted her to allow only the more comely breeds of cattle to graze on her Elysian pastures.

She took a philosophic view of the worldly goods with which she was endowed. When informed in 1983 that Crewe House, sold by her father in 1937 for £90,000, was on the market again for £50 million, she was unimpressed. “I will bear the news with fortitude,” she said.

There were no children of her marriage.

Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe, born March 23 1915, died July 2 2014


The development of novel biomarkers to identify patients at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia is encouraging and will hopefully translate into tests that can be used clinically (Blood test breakthrough in search for Alzheimer’s cure, 8 July). However, the diagnosis and treatment of dementia is multifaceted and there are a number of areas that require urgent attention now. Though there is no cure for dementia, current treatments can slow the progression of the disease, even if only for six months. Clearly more research is needed to develop better treatments, but current treatments are associated with modest improvements in cognition and function that are invaluable to patients and their families. It is important that as research progresses so too do our clinical services, incorporating equitable access to drug treatments and specialist input.

The care that patients with dementia require cuts across traditional speciality boundaries. Effective care requires collaborative working between a number of disciplines including general practice, geriatric medicine, psychiatry and social services. On the ground, a number of changes need to take place including raising awareness of the condition among non-specialists, incorporating general medical experience into psychiatric training and ensuring patients’ records can be transferred between different care settings. Some of these changes can be implemented relatively quickly and others will take longer. However, to be implemented successfully, skills and attitudes will need to change among care professionals and there will need to be political/financial support. In these times of austerity it is important that the practicalities of caring for people with dementia are not lost.
Dr KD Jethwa
Former academic clinical fellow in psychiatry, University of Warwick 

• The publication of research that could enable a test to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s far earlier than presently possible is extremely welcome, particularly as the burden of the disease will rise across the world in the future. However, there is still much to be done to improve the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, particularly in the UK, as access to early and accurate diagnosis and treatment can vary greatly. A recent international survey, commissioned by GE Healthcare among physicians and patients, found that 50% of Alzheimer’s patients in the UK have to wait for up to three months for an MRI scan, an essential element in the diagnosis of dementia. This compares with 10% in the US and 15% in Germany. For PET scans, increasingly important for diagnosing neurological disorders, 44% of UK patients wait more than three months, compared with 6.5% in Germany and 12% in France.

The survey found that up to 20% of patients with progressive neurological disorders, including dementia, face the possibility of receiving incorrect treatment while waiting for their diagnosis. Meanwhile, their condition can continue to deteriorate, and the patient is exposed to the unnecessary anxiety and stress of not knowing. Two-thirds of those surveyed said it was worse not to know what condition they had than to receive a confirmatory diagnosis.

Access to early and accurate diagnostic tools is essential with neurological diseases, affording the potential of both better clinical outcomes and an improved quality of life. With the prevalence of dementia on the increase, more effective diagnosis and management is crucial. We hope that the potential of this research can be built upon to produce an efficient test for Alzheimer’s.
Karl Blight
General manager, GE Healthcare Northern Europe

• Recent advances in brain imaging have taught us a lot about how the brain, rather than the mind, works (Arguments over brain simulation come to a head, 7 July). Philosophers have failed over the centuries to explain the relationship between brain and mind, and scientists have avoided getting involved in such conjectures, resulting in the “new age phrenology” we now see. An IT project purporting to simulate the activity of an entire human brain is not only premature, on account of its naive assumptions about complexity, but, unless the simulation results in an emergent property such as self-determination, it is doomed to failure. And since no one can imagine how such a property could be programmed to emerge, any such emergence would remain as much a mystery as that of consciousness itself: the very problem that the project is designed to help solve.
Dr Allan Dodds
Clinical neuropsychologist, Nottingham

In your report (US academic barred from China after speaking out over detained scholar, 7 July), Tania Branigan writes that I “smuggled a famed dissident into the US embassy during the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests of 1989” and for many years have been “banned from visiting” China. The ban is true enough but I must object stoutly to the word “smuggled”.

I accompanied Fang Lizhi and Li Shuxian when they entered the United States embassy on 5 June 1989, the day after the Beijing massacre. There is nothing in Chinese law, US law, or any law that prohibits a Chinese citizen from walking into an American embassy or prohibits an American citizen from accompanying them.

Use of the word smuggled, which suggests a crime, hands way too much legitimacy to a regime that wants the preferences of authoritarians to count as law.
Perry Link
Taipei, Taiwan

An Ethiopian man waves an Ethiopian flag. The country ‘is engaged in an ultimately successful struggle to eradicate poverty’. Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters

Ethiopia‘s resettlement programme operates on a voluntary basis. The prime objectives are to help farmers increase their yields and provide them with social services, which can be better delivered in a community setting. The programme has brought schools, healthcare, clean water and roads to hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians, as confirmed by the International Development Group operating in Ethiopia. Minor problems were encountered during the early stages of the implementation process, but these were squarely addressed.

Your piece (Britain is supporting a dictatorship, 7 July) harks back to the Ethiopia of 30 years ago, yet totally dismisses the manifest achievements made over the last 20 years or so. Ethiopia has become food self-sufficient at national level and its pro-poor development strategy has brought strong economic growth and millions of jobs. Ethiopia is one of few developing countries that will achieve most, if not all, of the millennium development goals. The resettlement programme has played its part. Donors, UN organisations and civil society confirm that the programme has improved livelihoods and that human rights have been respected in the course of the programme’s implementation.

Ethiopia remains one of the few developing countries that fully satisfies the value-for-money principle which underlies all British government development programme funding. Advocacy groups, such as Human Rights Watch, continuously engage in fault-finding missions. We appeal to the Guardian not to be part of a campaign to tarnish the image of a country that is engaged in a protracted but ultimately successful struggle to eradicate poverty.
Berhanu Kebede
Ambassador of Ethiopia

• How is it that David Smith made no mention of the villagisation policy during the appalling regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam? In 1991, after Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe, I saw people remove the poles and thatch of their houses from the “villagised villages” back to the land they had worked before the wretched upheaval. Julius Nyerere tried something similar in 1970s Tanzaniawith (I believe) Israeli advisers to copy the kibbutz model. It did not succeed because the people did not want it.
Robin Le Mare
Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria

Fiona Millar (Education, 8 July) misrepresents the government’s position on competition between schools and teaching methods. She speculates that our schools simply drill pupils with facts to pass exams, ignoring their wider social and character development. She suggests that the growth of new approaches such as “growth mindset” is a response to this. But it is very often our flagship free schools which are making use of these innovative methods. Dixons Trinity academy, a free school in Bradford recently rated outstanding by Ofsted, uses that method. Over 20% of free schools inspected have been judged outstanding. And far from forcing headteachers to compete against each other, devoid of any support, we are encouraging them to work together and indeed the growth in academies has led to a boom in the number of schools working in partnership. Academies are leading the way, as cooperation and collaboration is written into their funding agreements. This approach has led to a revolution in school-led support, with teachers spreading their expertise, pooling resources and developing school policies to benefit pupils from across their communities.

Chains of two or more schools continue to grow – from almost 900 in 2012 to 1,600 in 2013 and 2,200 today. We are also focusing them geographically, in regional school clusters. Over the last year we have created more than 250 new academy sponsors, which are now building these closely-knit regional links in which schools thrive. And our expert regional school commissioners, supported by boards of outstanding headteachers from the local area, will further help schools work together, as well as providing support and intervention where needed. The strength of this approach is backed by a growing body of evidence and today we will publish further studies which show how academy schools working in partnership tend to outperform their local authority counterparts. So Ms Millar is right to say schools are organising themselves into partnerships and federations. However, this is being done with the active encouragement and support of a Government which has always advocated the benefits of headteachers working together, free from bureaucratic council control.
John Nash
Schools minister 

Easy availability of arms is fuelling conflicts in Africa. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA

1. Tackle foreign governments arming Africans

When are we going to take the provision and movement of arms in Africa seriously?

Western arms manufacturers as well as African leaders, need to accept they are partly responsibile for the proliferation of conflict. Once we take away the threat of heavily armed men and boys we may alleviate hunger, displacement, sexual violence against women etc. How do Malian nomads get access to rocket launchers? This a global problem and one the west cannot ignore just because their ‘defence’ companies will lose contracts. African leaders can question the morality of western arms manufacturers and dealers.

R Harris

2. Irresponsible leadership

African leaders should realise they are public servants and it is their duty to listen to the people and provide them the basic needs. They should cut excessive personal expenditure, change their lifestyle and be more accessible. Leaders are using taxpayers money, and are paid by hardworking citizens. They shouldn’t be arrogant and treat citizen requests as burdens. It is their money and they have a right to tell the leaders how they feel and what should be done. Most of the African leaders are ruthless, arrogant, and greedy for power. They should curb their wasteful spending and cut drastically on public expenditure, especially their lavish benefits and salaries.

Muhammad Reza Ebrahim

Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

3. Create an education fund

I believe there should be a special fund for African nations that could increas investment in primary and secondary education. A formula could be worked out whereby the economic situation of the country, the nature of the increased spending in primary and secondary education, could result in a proportionately matching external support. Quality education will improve incomes and democracy.

As scientists attending the 64th annual scientific meeting of the British Society for Research on Ageing, we’d like to respond to George Monbiot’s article (An elixir of life, if shared unequally, would be poison, 8 July). His concerns about the impact of our work appear to be: 1) population ageing is a problem only of the rich; 2) the cost of interventions that lengthen healthy lifespan will be “astronomical”; 3) such interventions will (a) strengthen tyranny, (b) create a “geriatric underclass” and (c) exacerbate social inequality.

These impressions do not result from conversation with the scientific mainstream. Nonetheless, we respond: 1) ageing is a global problem. It ruins the quality of life of older people in both rich and poor countries. It is selling the poor of the world short to pretend that only the rich grow old. 2) Interventions that extend healthy lifespan will be cheap. A compound potentially efficacious in treating mild cognitive impairment is currently available on the NHS for about £10 a day. The care cost to the NHS for these people is currently about £60 a day. It is the promotion of health, not the extension of life, that is the goal of our field.

3) With regard to dystopian visions, we suggest the following: a) The “1,000-year Reich” was not ruled over by a 1,000-year fuhrer. The man responsible for its depravities put a bullet in his head. This is how dictators will always meet their end. A treatment that improves later life health will no more change this than did penicillin. b) A “geriatric underclass” already exists. By 85 virtually no one is in perfect health. This is a social blight. However, we hope that our work plays a small but significant part in bettering things. c) Scientific progress helps the poor. Denying the desirability of developing treatment because they throw into sharp relief the old political problem “who deserves what and why?” is perverse.

As biogerontologists, we believe that no one deserves a wretched old age.
Professor Richard Faragher
University of Brighton
Professor Helen Griffith
Chair, British Society for Research on Ageing, Aston University
Professor Brian Kennedy
Buck Institute, USA and Editor in chief, Aging Cell
Professor Janet Lord
MRC-ARUK Centre for musculoskeletal ageing, University of Birmingham. Editor in chief, Longevity & Healthspan
Professor David Gems
University of London
Professor Peter Adams
University of Glasgow and Editor in chief, Aging Cell
Professor Valery Krizhanovsky
Weizmann Institute, Israel
Professor Claire Stewart
Liverpool John Moore’s University
Professor Anne McArdle


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is to be commended for exposing the Tories’ sleaze (7 July). Their hypocrisy when attacking Labour for trade union financial support, while at the same time running these murky, private fund-raising gatherings of multimillionaire supporters, is breathtaking. Their methods of raising these huge sums are hidden behind the closed doors of “gentlemen’s” clubs, in return for God knows what favours.

We have seen politics descend to the pits in the recent past, and this government seems determined to drag it down even further. This Tory party is all about looking after their wealthy mates in the City – the very group who were instrumental in bringing the country to its knees – while making the blameless poor pay for the City’s recklessness.

David Cameron and his ministers are always banging on about transparency and openness, but it seems that much of their dealing is done in secret, safely away from the prying eyes of the electorate, with people whose only qualification appears to be great wealth, and a desire to exact advantage from their huge and sly support of the Tories. Disraeli and Churchill must indeed be spinning in their graves!

W P Moore, Norwich

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown mentions the Tory fundraiser attended by Russian millionaires, rich Arabs, eastern European magnates and home-grown hedge-fund gamblers. Such frequent occasions raise this somehow never-asked question: if our politicians are supposed to represent the interests of the British nation – and I am unaware of any controversy on that issue – then whyever are they permitted to accept donations from people who are not British taxpayers?

If political parties – of whatever colour – are selling influence to offshore interests and tax-avoiders then there is an undeniable conflict of interests.

If the electorate is ever again to have any faith in our political system, the political funding must be utterly transparent, with  no suggestion of the protection of interests elsewhere.

Surely the time has come to demand that there is no representation without taxation.

Julian Self, Milton Keynes


What about Brazil’s real problems?

My eyes could not believe what they were seeing as I watched the Germans dismantle and humiliate the Brazilians on their own turf in the World Cup semi-final. At the end players and fans alike were sobbing and there was utter dejection and despair.

Anyone who didn’t feel some sympathy for the Brazilians must have a heart of stone. However, maybe now Brazil will reflect and realise that there are more important things in the world than football, and hopefully the politicians will address the circumstances of the majority of ordinary Brazilians, who have not benefited from economic growth in the country.

Liam McParland, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire


We are coming to the end of the most exciting and eventful World Cup for many years, yet you choose to print three whingeing letters bemoaning various aspects of “the beautiful game” (8 July).

Football has always been a physical game; a golden age of pure football never existed. Such legendary names as Harry Cripps of Millwall and “Chopper” Harris of Chelsea, not to mention Norman “Bites yer legs” Hunter of the Leeds team of the 1970s, make the point well enough.

Yes, we do see a lot of niggling in the penalty area now, but only because about 40 cameras are trained on every movement a player makes. Do you think  such things didn’t  happen before?

Paul Street, Leeds

My sympathies are with your correspondents (letters, 8 July) who have complained that the 2014 World Cup has shown football at its worst.

Taking the biscuit for bad sportsmanship has to be the Netherlands for replacing their goalkeeper, who had been in place for 120 minutes against Costa Rica, with the substitute Tim Krul for the penalty shoot-out. It appeared to me that it had been planned for Krul to intimidate and harass those taking penalties against him.

Chris Sexton, Crowthorne, Berkshire


Tim Krul dragged football to new depths by his gamesmanship against Costa Rica during their penalty shoot-out with the Netherlands. Krul gave one of the best examples in years of the current win-at-all-costs approach prevalent in football. The Costa Rican goalkeeper set a better example by simply pitting his skill as a goalkeeper against the skill of the penalty-taker.

Stuart Russell, Cirencester


Niqab: a question of liberty

Mary Dejevsky’s article “The French ban on the niqab has been upheld. Quite right too” (4 July) favours the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and argues for the need “to observe the prevailing social norms”.

She then offers a number of comparisons to the wearing of a niqab that prove she does not understand the issue. Almost all of her examples pertain to acts of aggression that contravene individual liberty. She advocates infringing upon the liberty of others in order to promote a vague idea of what constitutes national identity.

Throughout the article two key questions were never answered: why should the state have the right to impose a subjective idea of cultural identity on its citizens; and how is the state justified in using force to achieve this goal?

If the ideas advocated by Dejevsky were implemented it would only breed hostility towards the Islamic community. Furthermore it goes against the very principle of cultural tolerance.

Robert Dunne, Dublin


I too enjoyed Mary Dejevsky’s article, and welcome the support of the European Court of Human Rights for the French ban on face-covering. I wish our own government would respond similarly.

I find the niqab as worrying and intimidating as I would a person wearing a balaclava, motorcycle helmet or hoodie over their face in the street. The ECHR have cleverly separated the two issues, so the ban on face-covering is not a criticism of the Muslim religion, but an upholding of, yes, European norms.

Robin Barrett (letter, 7 July) recognises that he now can no longer shop with a full-face helmet on, so why should we accept other intimidating forms of face-covering in public?

Janette Davies, Bath


Democracy in Azerbaijan

We feel obliged to react to some groundless claims in relation to the human rights situation in Azerbaijan (“Zaha Hadid is architect of controversy after her building glorifying dictator wins prize”, 1 July).

We should make it clear that all fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and assembly, are guaranteed constitutionally in the country. It is a completely distorted reality to call the country a dictatorship; it is, rather, a young democracy with an independence of just over 20 years.

The establishment of a mature democratic society is a conscious and strategic choice of the leadership and people of Azerbaijan, and significant achievements have been made on this path. Azerbaijan’s active participation in the work of key European democracy and human rights watchdogs such as the Council of Europe and the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe is a testament to its strong commitment to strengthening democracy and human rights.

We are aware that there is a long way to further strengthen and solidify democracy in Azerbaijan, the priority that the current government will determinedly pursue in the years ahead.

The Heydar Aliyev Centre, designed by Dame Zaha Hadid, is an architectural masterpiece and will continue to win well-deserved prizes. Baku proudly hosts this great work; attempts to cast shadow on it will fail.

Polad Mammadov, Second Secretary, Embassy of Azerbaijan, London W8

A more urgent inquiry

As the people who allegedly operated a paedophile ring inside Westminster during the 1970s and 1980s are all, presumably, older and nearer their graves than Tony Blair, can we assume the findings of the latest inquiry will be published before those of the Chilcot inquiry?

Chris Newman, Felliscliffe, North Yorkshire


Fashion statement

Margaret Lyons, asks: “Why do we need to know that Theresa May made her statement ‘in a sombre all-black trouser suit’?” (letter, 9 July). Simple really: it adds a bit of interest.

Ron Dawson, Winterborne Stickland, Dorset

(Written wearing a pair of flip-flops, blue denim jeans and a grey T-shirt)


Yes Minister: is Sir Humphrey Appleby, right, or Jim Hacker running the show? BBC

Published at 12:01AM, July 10 2014

Politicians claim that Sir Humphrey Appleby is running the show, but the reality is different

Sir, For most of those involved in the selection of senior leaders, the document that has so offended a number of ministers and ex-ministers will be unremarkable (“Ambitious civil servants taught to say ‘No, minister’ ”, July 8). It may be that people like to think that everything in a department is run, day to day, by the minister but this is a fiction; albeit one many politicians like to promote. Ministers can change in a heartbeat and a new agenda becomes the order of the day. A permanent secretary has to ensure the department can handle sudden change, which is only possible through long-term planning.

However, the role goes beyond managing the department; it is the role of adviser, counsellor and accounting officer, accountable to parliament for spending taxpayers’ money. What seems like a fantastic idea for the minister can have far-reaching policy and financial consequences for the department.

If, as some seek to prove, Sir Humphrey is alive and well in the corridors of power, it must also be recognised that the hapless minister Jim Hacker is equally enduring. Perhaps it’s time to put both stereotypes to bed.

Dave Penman

General secretary, FDA

Sir, I feel that Rachel Sylvester (“Our civil servants must not be the masters”, July 8) has missed the point of the Civil Service position. She quite rightly states that a democratic system allows us to boot out failed politicians after they have made disastrous errors, but forgets that the country will suffer from these errors until the next general election.

I would far rather have a permanent secretary who is able to whisper in a minister’s ear “that is a very brave decision, minister” (Sir Humphrey Appleby), rather than one who merely acquiesces to whatever is proposed.

Martin Wright

Chinnor, Oxon

Sir, I read “Our civil servants must not be the masters” with horror, but probably not for the reason that your columnist Rachel Sylvester was hoping. I am eternally grateful for the continuity that “the Sir Humphrey” brigade bring to the British government. Regardless of who wins the election, they are seen by many as the welcome source of sanity who prevent excessive swings in policy that would end up destroying the pillars of our system such as the NHS, education, benefits and taxes.

The only way of controlling these excessive and destructive left/right swings would be to have coalition governments, but the electorate voted “No” in 2011 to proportional representation, which would almost certainly have delivered more coalitions.

Peter Gardner

Wyre Piddle, Worcs

Sir, Rachel Sylvester has chosen a particularly unfortunate example to illustrate her account of the battle between ministers and civil servants. There used to be a central purchasing body called HM Stationery Office. A previous Conservative administration privatised it. When the party of government doesn’t know its own mind, the civil servant has to make the decisions.

Andrew Round

Backwell, Somerset

Sir, Lord Alanbrooke’s war diaries may be the best textbook for civil servants (letter, July 8) but (apart from Yes Minister and Y es Prime Minister) the best guide for ministers must surely be Gerald Kaufman’s How to be a Minister (1980). As the back-cover blurb to the 1997 edition states, “It is the most authoritative guide to the processes of government ever published as well as being uproariously funny, with an almost never-ending stream of witty one-liners and joyous and/or scurrilous anecdotes.”

How many of David Cameron’s ministers have read it, I wonder?

David Lamming

Boxford, Suffolk

In our neck of the woods we refer to pork pies as ‘Growlers’, and eat them during our card game

Sir, I read with alarm the assertion by Oliver Kamm (July 8) that pies have been rendered redundant. In our neck of the woods we refer to pork pies as “Growlers”. I and various other blokes meet each Wednesday evening at one another’s houses to play bridge in the winter months. The highlight is at 10pm, when there is a break of play and the host produces Growlers and a bottle of red wine. Not surprisingly we call ourselves “The Growlers”, and when we meet it is for a Growl.

Michael Barton

Heswall, Wirral

Not cricket? Here are a few other games for the Governor of the Bank of England to consider

Sir, The letter (July 8) on all-inclusive sports suitable for Governor’s Day reminded me of the 1914 sports day programme for the girls’ school later attended by my sisters in the 1930s. Events included flat, skipping, high jump (seniors only), long jump (juniors only), chariot, three-legged, balls, flag (for teams), obstacle, potato, and consolation. There was even a 120-yard handicap for the more athletic pupils. Even in the 1930s, long jump was considered unsuitable for young ladies at that school. However, they were allowed to tuck their gym tunics into their knickers while doing the high jump, which gave a cheap thrill to any brothers watching.

DB Jenkin

Pyrford, Surrey

Germany destroyed Brazil in the first World Cup semi-final. How could the Fink Tank get it so wrong?

Sir, It is fortunate I didn’t place a bet on the World Cup semi-final between Brazil and Germany following Daniel Finkelstein’s Fink Tank predictions (July 8). He gave Brazil a 79.8 per cent chance of prevailing. Did he not factor in the suspension of Brazil’s Silva and the absence of Neymar? Perhaps, like many managers who get it so wrong, he will be considering his position.

John Bretherton

West Wickham, Kent

Paul Simons, the Times weatherman, ‘is mistaken’ to link the red hair gene with Celtic identity

Sir, Paul Simons (Weather Eye, July 9) is surely mistaken when he links the red hair gene with Celtic identity. There is no evidence for the belief that a nation of Celts ever migrated to the British Isles either. The flame-haired natives that the Romans saw were Ancient Britons, and modern historians now accept that these people were the ancestors of all the people of the British Isles.

What the evidence does show is that later invasions by others, notably the English, had remarkably little impact on the ethnicity of the bulk of the whole population of these islands and, with the possible exception of the Nordic islanders of the north and west, we are all British.

Robert Veitch


Being undecided on the issue of women bishops ‘cannot be an option’ for next Monday’s vote

Sir, Dr Phillip Rice (letter, July 8) refers to abstaining in the vote over women bishops as “honourable”. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is high time the Anglican church made a firm decision, and it is incumbent upon the laity and others to make up their minds by voting either “Yes” or “No”. Being undecided cannot be an option. Many women have been ordained, and make excellent ministers, so women bishops should be the natural result. Otherwise, why ordain women?

Embrace the future, or wither.

Stephen Knight

Rhoscolyn, Anglesey


SIR – I can put Mr Slater (Letters, July 8) in touch with any number of mosques where both he and his wife can be assured of a very warm welcome and detailed explanation of “what goes on”.

As it is the holy month of Ramadan, they can enjoy a sumptuous meal (on the house) after sunset, when Muslims break their fast. Lack of Arabic, I promise, is no constraint to the welcome they will receive.

Roohi Durrani
Tadworth, Surrey

SIR – A short while ago I noticed a battered white Transit van parked in our church car park. There was so sign of the driver, so, fearing intruders, I went into the church.

The driver, a Muslim, was kneeling at the altar saying his prayers. When I spoke with him he said that he did this regularly, as our church was also a house of God and there was no mosque nearby.

Duncan Brown
Ascot, Berkshire

SIR – Many mosques, both here and abroad, welcome visitors. Certainly, Putra Mosque in Putrajaya, Malaysia, and Sultan Mosque in Singapore are open to everyone. They even provide clothing and headgear if you come unsuitably dressed.

When my niece and I said we were practising Christians, we were warmly welcomed and shown verses from the Koran displayed outside, promoting peace and harmony.

Valerie O’Neill
Worth, West Sussex

Miliband of brothers

SIR – Peter Oborne says that any fair-minded person would accept that Ed Miliband is a “decent, patriotic, trustworthy and honourable man”. Has he forgotten the circumstances under which Ed gained the Labour Party leadership at the expense of his own brother?

P W Bonsell
Redhill, Nottinghamshire

Saved by the set

SIR – For her 60th birthday, I took my wife to see her favourite opera, La bohème, at the Met in New York (Letters, July 8).

The singing, as you would expect, was superb, but even more impressive was the staging by Franco Zeffirelli. It was so good that it made her forget that I had got the year wrong: she was only 59.

Leonard Glynn

EU enforcer

SIR – Lord Pearson is right to point out that the European Commission enjoys the monopoly to propose all EU legislation. It is also the sole enforcer of all EU law, and can impose massive fines as well. The scandal is that this unelected body discharges all these functions to the exclusion of our elected Parliament, subject only to the federalist judgments of the Luxembourg court. And whoever the Prime Minister appoints as our next Commissioner, subject to Jean-Claude Juncker’s approval, will have to swear allegiance to the EU and to ignore our national interest.

Ian Milne
Chairman, Global Britain
London N1

Bed-sharing risks

SIR – Anna Maxted argues that “Sharing a bed with your baby shouldn’t mean sleepless nights”.

Sadly, five babies succumb to sudden infant death syndrome (Sids) every week in Britain. We still don’t know why babies die of Sids, but research has identified key risk factors. We welcome the draft guidelines from Nice that highlight research linking co-sleeping and Sids.

These guidelines are not meant to shame parents, but to enable them to make an informed decision about co-sleeping. Some of these risks, such as sharing sofas or beds with babies when combined with smoking, alcohol and drug-taking, are so high that both the Lullaby Trust and the NHS have issued strong advice against them for many years. It is important not to confuse co-sleeping Sids deaths with those caused by smothering. If we were to include these tragic deaths, then the figure of five a week would be even higher.

Francine Bates
Chief Executive, The Lullaby Trust
London SW1

Fussy tortoises

SIR – Ray Smart needs ideas for feeding his tortoise (Letters, July 8). My neighbours give their tortoise cooked French beans, which he has thrived on for many years.

Hilary Turner
Epsom, Surrey

SIR – Timmy, our tortoise, would stick his head into half a tomato and munch on a lettuce leaf or two, but would only finish off with a Jacob’s Cream Cracker. Ordinary supermarket crackers were left untouched.

Malcolm McCoskery
Buckhurst Hill, Essex

A white ensign alone denotes Her Majesty’s Ship

SIR – Lord Parmoor asks why “HMS” was painted on the new aircraft carrier (Letters, July 7). During my days in the Royal Navy, most ships’ names were displayed either side of the stern without HMS. It is obvious to most people that a ship flying the white ensign belongs to Her Majesty.

But why is the ship’s badge no longer displayed on the front of the bridge?

Alan Clayton
Kirkby Malzeard, North Yorkshire

SIR – Most people do not know what HMS stands for. I am always hearing references to “the” HMS Nonsuch. On that subject: the Met Office should know that it is Salisbury Plain, not “the” Salisbury Plain.

John Newbury
Warminster, Wiltshire

SIR – While we await dodgy American F35s for our new aircraft carrier, perhaps we should consider something more familiar to our Queen and Duke: the Fairey Swordfish biplane.

This could carry a torpedo, eight 60lb rockets under the wings, and eco-friendly bicycles strapped to the wing struts. With some modern electronics, it could carry cruise missiles and assorted weaponry.

If the Swordfish confused German gunners on the Bismarck, it might also confuse modern air-defence systems.

During royal fly-pasts, while other aircraft roar over Buckingham Palace, the Swordfish could land on the Mall, fold its wings, and squeeze into a garden party.

Alastair Henderson
London W14

SIR – The new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has a top deck the size of three football pitches. With no planes to land on them, why doesn’t the Royal Navy host the football World Cup 2018, and take matches to all continents of the world? That would be a real World Cup.

Richard Robinson
Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire

SIR – The British Museum Reading Room would be the perfect place for an exhibition on the history of libraries, both public and private, as well as that of the people who used them and, indeed, still do.

Many 20th-century writers, scholars and scientists – for example, the mathematician Jacob Bronowski – acknowledged the importance of public libraries to their education. From the library at Alexandria, via the chained libraries of medieval cathedrals, through to the Library of Birmingham, which opened last year, surely this is a story to be told. What more appropriate place to tell it?

Anne Jones

SIR – You report that those over 75 are being denied knee replacement surgery, possibly due to budgetary constraints. There are, however, other explanations.

More than 20 years ago I published a paper showing no increased mortality after knee replacement among those under 70, but a small rise after 75. Since then, the sophistication of pre-operative preparation and post-operative care has improved. But consultants at hospitals are often rated, sometimes publicly, on their death rates for specific operations. In a culture dominated by lay managers, the risk of operating on patients in their eighties (who suffer constant pain), may understandably be considered a risk not worth taking.

Jonathan Noble FRCS
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

SIR – The findings from the Royal College of Surgeons and Age UK highlight the challenges that Britain’s elderly population faces when trying to access NHS services.

Sadly, the inequity does not exist solely within NHS surgical services, but is part of a growing trend. For instance, many old people are treated on hospital wards that do not meet recommended staffing ratio standards.

Looking beyond health to the housing sector, just 2 per cent of the country’s housing stock is designated for retirees, despite the growing elderly population.

The reality is that older people now and in the future face serious challenges in the midst of local authority funding cuts and demographic change. Rather than the piecemeal reforms being undertaken by the Government, we need, as a matter of urgency, a Minister for Older People.

Jane Ashcroft CBE
Chief Executive, Anchor
London NW1

SIR – Those of us in Oxford with painful knees are all too aware of age discrimination in the NHS.

Apparently, for more than a year local GPs have been unable to refer patients over 55 for MRI scans unless they have already had an X-ray – even though this will not reveal soft tissue damage. We live in a city with a world-famous orthopaedic hospital, yet cannot get treatment. It seems that many of the hoops one now has to jump through are mere delaying tactics.

Alison Scarlett

SIR – It makes me angry to hear of such changing NHS attitudes, especially as 10 years ago, when I retired from the NHS as an orthopaedic surgeon, none of this was happening.

The age of a patient is relatively irrelevant as far as major treatments are concerned.

My oldest patient for a total hip replacement was 99 years old, did the Telegraph crossword every morning, and was out of hospital in five days.

Most importantly, he was relieved of debilitating pain and restored to independence, as were most of our patients for hip and knee joint replacement surgery. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of this type of surgery.

John Dinley FRCS
Broadstone, Dorset

SIR – My husband is 78. Last week, he suffered a heart attack in the early hours of the morning and was admitted to hospital. The cardiologist saw him the same day and was surprised at his levels of overall fitness, which were consistent with someone 15 years younger.

We were told that surgery is not normally considered for anyone over 75, but because my husband could well live another 10 to 15 years, he would receive an angiogram to be followed by surgery. Apparently, heart attacks in the over-75s are normally treated with medication.

The care he received at both St Mary’s Hospital and Queen Alexandra Hospital Portsmouth was superb, and we are very grateful to them and to the paramedics who initially treated him.

P A Lacey
Ventnor, Isle of Wight

Irish Times:

Sir , – No-one involved in the Garth Brooks fiasco comes out of it looking well. Although the economic boost from the concerts would have being concentrated in Dublin, a €50 million injection into the economy was not to be sniffed at. There are undoubtedly many people across the country that were affected by the affair. However, while many people would initially blame the residents’ associations, I feel that many other people and organisations had a part to play in this big mess.

As positive of a force as it is in Irish society, the GAA was in the wrong when it failed to seek consultation with the residents about the extra concerts – especially if it involved breaking a promise to limit the number of summer concerts in Croke Park to three a year.

The organiser, Aiken Promotions, should have had the sense to seek a licence for the extra concerts – after all, it was not every day that they would get 400,000 tickets sold, and one would have thought that they should have checked to see if they could get approval for it beforehand.

Dublin City Council showed more than a bit of incompetence by leaving it until the 11th hour before deciding to announce that only three of the concerts would have been allowed. It would have been much better if it announced that much sooner than it did, and allowed more time for a solution to be reached.

Garth Brooks also has to take some blame for deciding to pull out of the three concerts that were approved, and to refuse a compromise offered to hold a fourth on another night. If he had not taken such a bull-headed approach, there may well have been no controversy to speak of.

Finally, the fact that Dublin’s councillors were overruled in their attempt to reverse the council’s restrictions shows how toothless local government really is, when unelected bureaucrats have more power in local administration than elected representatives of the local communities they are meant to represent. If there had been an elected executive mayor with the responsibility to find (and power to implement) a solution, the outcome could have being much better for all concerned. – Yours, etc,




Co Leitrim.

Sir – It seems we will miss out on five nights of classic Garth Brooks. Perhaps the three afternoons of classic Joe Duffy that are sure to follow will go some way to making up for it. Every cloud and all that. – Yours, etc,


Tudor Road,


Dublin 6.

A chara, – So there it is. All five Garth Brooks concerts cancelled, the economy out an estimated €50 million, hundreds of thousands of disappointed fans and Ireland is left looking like a laughing stock. It is embarrassing and disappointing.

There are many parties that have to shoulder some of the blame but to my mind the two parties that are most at fault are those few hundred residents that objected, and Dublin City Council.

Claims of fraudulent objections being submitted makes it even more frustrating that this small group has got its way. I hope the claims are being followed up by An Garda Síochána.

To hear that Dublin City Council had offered to licence four shows but not the last one strikes me as nothing more than a combination of stubbornness and arrogance. It seems to me that they just didn’t want to be seen to be “caving in” to common sense so they stood their ground on the last show. – Is mise,


Lismore Road ,


Dublin 12.

A chara, – We finally have the answer – no bread really is better than half a loaf, – Is mise,


Mountjoy Parade,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – What do you get when you play a country and western song backwards in Ireland? You get the dog back, you get the truck back, you get the house back but you don’t get Garth Brooks back. – Yours, etc,


Mill Street,


Co Mayo.

Sir, – How many Irish people do you need to have a concert? Some to make a song and dance, one to call the tune, and the rest to whistle down the wind. – Yours, etc,


Lyons Cross,

Ballydubh Upper,

Co Waterford.

Sir, – This whole Garth Brooks concerts debacle could have been avoided if we listened to the former taoiseach and built the Bertie Bowl. – Yours, etc,


Wood House,


Co Meath.

Sir, – As with the country’s economic crises, the Garth Brooks fiasco was caused ultimately by a national tendency for people to completely lose the run of themselves. It would now appear that the same collective shortcoming is to be applied to generating hysterical over-reaction to the consequences of the cancellation. Embarrassing certainly, disappointing and inconvenient for many, but international reputational damage? Cancelled concerts hardly rank at the top of the list of reasons why Ireland’s reputation might have suffered in recent times. Get over it. – Yours, etc,


Adair Park,


Co Tyrone.

Sir, – The best little country in the world in which not to do business. – Yours, etc,



Ballinascarthy, Co Cork.

Sir, – There’s no-show like a Garth show. – Yours, etc,


Belton Terrace,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – What a bad day for Brazilian Garth Brooks fans in Dublin. – Yours, etc,




Co Dublin.

Sir, – John A Murphy (“Why we should be wary of Sinn Féin in government”, Opinion & Analysis, July 9th) rightly criticises Sinn Féin for its refusal to refer to Northern Ireland by its correct title.

However, in the same issue of The Irish Times, I see references to the “North’s Equality Commission” (page 5) and the “North’s First Minister” (page 7). – Yours, etc,


Dunraven Downs,

Blackrock Road,


Sir, – John A Murphy suggests that “we are all republicans now”. Things may be slightly more complex than this allows. Has John Bruton’s latest pro-Redmondite broadside not shown that there are still one or two home rulers knocking around as well? – Yours, etc,


Springlawn Close,

Blanchardstown, Dublin 15.

Sir, – John A Murphy in his bizarre attack on Sinn Féin informs us that the correct usage and legal form for the name of the 26-county state is the “Republic of Ireland”. The name is Éire or Ireland. Use of the informal “South” or “26 Counties” is entirely practical so as to differentiate between Ireland the island and Ireland the state.

The only time the term “Republic of Ireland” is used to describe the state is when the national soccer team plays Fifa-administered competitions or friendlies. Up until 1953 both national soccer teams on the island played using the name “Ireland”. Fifa instructed the football governing bodies in both jurisdictions to cease using the name “Ireland” as it was causing confusion. All other national organisations, sporting or otherwise, operate under the correct name “Ireland”. – Yours, etc,


Priory Road,


Sir, – Whatever the history that led to the privatisation of Dublin waste collection, and which seems to have motivated some recent correspondence, Fintan O’Toole (“Trashing the concept of a public service”, Opinion & Analysis, July 8th) touches on a fundamental question on the economics and running of a society.

Public services are, as the name suggests, services provided by publicly funded agencies to ensure that the basic requirements a society requires are provided for in an efficient manner.

Due to issues alluded to by Eddie Molloy (“Accountability needs brickbat of punishment”, Opinion & Analysis, July 4th) there are some issues in the governance and running of public services which can completely undermine their provision and allow the cheerleaders of privatisation to make persuasive calls for the sell-off of services.

Since the vultures of privatisation were unleashed more than 30 years ago there has been a huge sell-off of public services across Europe. This has resulted in a huge curtailment of services no longer seen as profitable and a race to the bottom in the context of pay and conditions of workers.

Public services such as waste management, public transport, health, welfare and education should remain in public hands to allow all citizens an equal foothold in society.

However, the provision of these services by public bodies needs serious reform in relation to work practices, including application of new technology, and accountability.

In the current climate, where governments tend to bow to market demands, public services need to demonstrate that they can provide essential services efficiently, but governments also need to recognise that provision of services can never be seen in the context of profit but only in the context of social dividend.

The case of the Greyhound workers provides a sobering illustration of the unsuitability of privatisation of public services and the workers deserve our support. – Yours, etc,


Linden Avenue,



Sir, – Cllr Dermot Lacey’s attempt (July 9th) to blame the transfer of Dublin waste collection service to Greyhound on those who campaigned against bin charges (an accusation also made by Pat Rabbitte in the Dáil) is utterly pathetic.

Those of us who fought the charges claimed that once charges were introduced, a pathway to privatisation would be created. There could be no privatisation as long as bins remained a public service paid for from taxation – the way it had been for nearly 100 years before.

Mr Lacey claims that our opposition to bin charges gave the city manager an excuse to use his powers under the Waste Management Act to transfer the service to Greyhound.

But his own party, Labour, has been in government for three years. It has not introduced legislation to return key decision-making powers to elected members of local authorities.

The real cause of the disastrous policy of privatisation is that the main establishment parties of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour have supported both bin charges and the transfer of powers at local level to unelected officials. – Yours, etc,


People Before Profit,


Sarsfield Road,


Dublin 10.

Sir, – I look forward to you publishing letters in a decade or so from Labour politicians – if there are any – claiming that the reason Irish Water was privatised was due to the campaign to oppose the payment of a charge for the service. – Yours, etc,


Ceannt Fort,

Mount Brown,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – Conor Farrell (July 8th) writes, “Surely those who wish to mark [Good Friday] in the Christian calendar can refrain from alcohol themselves without needing to impose a law banning it for both themselves and everyone else?”

Of course they can, and I don’t think the law should impose any religious duty or prohibition upon any one.

However, I suggest that the ban of alcohol on Good Friday is well worth keeping for cultural reasons.

In a globalised world where so many societies seem like replicas of each other, shouldn’t we cherish such little differences? And isn’t there something uninspiring about a society where everything is available all of the time?

The human spirit cries out for seasons and limits – and, yes, even for taboos.

I am all in favour of the Good Friday alcohol ban precisely because it makes no sense – that is, no utilitarian, rationalistic, obvious sense.

This trivial hardship is well worth holding on to, because it reminds us that we are a nation and not simply an aggregation of individuals. – Yours, etc,



Sillogue Gardens,


Dublin 11.

Sir, – Discussions concerning the inclusion of illicit activities (such as illegal drugs and prostitution) in measures of GDP (“Revised figures show economy grew by 2.7 per cent in first quarter”, July 3rd) raise questions about the basis for the inclusion or exclusion of elements in this measure.

The continued exclusion of unpaid domestic work in the home undervalues the contribution of women (who continue to do the bulk of this work). It was estimated in 1990 that its exclusion reduced GDP by 25 to 40 per cent. The arbitrariness of this is illustrated by the fact that if a man marries his housekeeper, GDP declines. Can the difficulties of including this be any greater than those involved in assessing illegal activities?

If not, why not include unpaid domestic work in the home in measures of GDP? – Yours, etc,


Professor of Sociology

and Social Policy,

University of Limerick.

Sir, – If Germany win the World Cup, will Angela Merkel give us a day off? – Yours, etc,


Ardagh Park Gardens,


Co Dublin.

Sir, –It’s good to know that the Irish soccer team are as good as Brazil. – Yours, etc,




Co Louth.

A chara, – That’ll teach Pelé not to equalise against the Germans with a fancy bicycle-kick in Escape to Victory. – Is mise,




Sir, – The headline “Proposals to make junior doctors feel more valued in health service” (July 8th) says it all really.

Why anyone would invest many years of study and a huge financial outlay to be called a “junior” doctor for the rest of their working lives is beyond me.

I hope the new Strategic Review Working Group charged with reviewing the training and career structures of these strangely named medical professionals will begin at the beginning and come up with a title that properly reflects their contribution to the health service, and I don’t mean the term “non-consultant hospital doctors”, which is only slightly less demeaning than “junior”.

The HSE spends vast amounts every year on PR, much of which has no positive effect on the public perception of the health service. Maybe they could divert a tiny fraction of that budget towards coming up with a less archaic way of identifying a group of people who, along with nurses, form the backbone of the HSE. – Yours, etc,


Glendasan Drive,

Harbour View,

Wicklow Town.

Sir, – Fixed or rotating casters on supermarket trolleys? All I know is that when I insert my €1 coin in the slot I expect the engine to start. – Yours, etc,


Mount Argus Court,

Harold’s Cross,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Many thanks to Jane Nyhan (July 8th) for her contribution to the shopping trolley debate.

I was, of course, addressing the problem from the perspective of rate of change of angular momentum. I realise now that this is not the full story. As my wife kindly pointed out to me, I have never actually driven one of these things.

I have been directed to perform some experimental work next Saturday, and look forward to publishing my results. – Yours, etc,


Balally Drive,


Dublin 1

Sir, – I should like to express my appreciation for your most interesting series “Countdown to war” and to congratulate everybody involved in the selection and translation of these newspaper articles. – Yours, etc,


Shanganagh Terrace,


Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

* It was over long before the fat man sang, and let me tell you this: there were no winners here, only losers – yes, losers – even if you are a local objector from the Croke Park area. I’ll tell you why.

To deprive innocent, decent people of a night’s enjoyment, which they had paid for with their hard-earned cash, was, in my opinion, wrong.

Wrong because for once you held the trump cards in your hands, you had the power to stop any further concerts in this arena for the next number of years; you had the power to show mercy to young and old who were so looking forward to going to this concert.

Now all you will be remembered for is stopping the party.

As many as 80,000 people will still gather at this place from time to time to watch our national games. Would you prefer if they stayed at home and watched it on TV and to leave Croke Park empty?

You are not alone in making a mistake; the powers that be in Croke Park or the GAA or whoever is responsible for the running of these concerts should hold their heads in shame. They’ve had years to sit with the locals and to make the peace; perhaps they thought that money and power could walk over any problem.

We should never again use the phrase Cead Mile Failte, a hundred, thousand welcomes is right – try selling that to the 400,000 disappointed fans spread all over the world.

I’m sure if Garth Brooks ever sings ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’ again, he’ll add the lyrics ‘I’ll never, never visit Ireland’.

Last word to our elected ones who sit in Leinster House, and I speak to both sides of the house: you changed the law in a matter of hours when you decided to repay money that we the people never borrowed – both sides were guilty of this crime, because it was a crime.




* As a citizen of Ireland, I am absolutely disgusted with the antics of our politicians over the Garth Brooks concert debacle. These same politicians (albeit a different party in power) had no difficulty introducing emergency legislation in allowing a bank guarantee for €80bn overnight without any consultation with the people.

I think maybe Bob Geldof is right, that we are a banana republic, when I read quotes from a senior politician like Joe Costello, “that it is difficult to understand why Mr Brooks made the decision to have no concerts at all, when he was refused only two of the five consecutive concerts sought on the grounds that more than three would be ‘unacceptable’ and unprecedented. His determination to have five or more smacks of petulance and arrogance, with scant regard for his paying fans”.

And councillor Nial Ring is not aware of all the facts when criticising Mr Brooks: “I hold Garth Brooks fully responsible for this debacle. He was happy to do two concerts and the accountants assured him that this would have yielded a nice profit. Then he got three – the icing on the cake. Then four – almost enough profit to pay off our national debt.”

Let me tell you from what I know of Garth Brooks that the man is completely genuine when he says he would not want to disappoint 80,000 or 160,000 fans, and having to choose was like asking him to choose one child over another.

When Mr Aiken’s father died, Mr Brooks flew over here to the funeral unnoticed, without a single picture in the press or any media reaction, because that is the type of person he is, unlike many of these other superstars who do nothing but headline the media day in and out, with nothing but greed and money at the core of the publicity.

This man can make a fortune elsewhere but chose Dublin to kick off this tour in spectacular fashion, showing his undoubted loyalty to the fans here and to the promoter.

The staging of five concerts was a huge logistical problem for all the team involved, two or three was grand, but Mr Brooks did not want to let his fans down and after much consultation allowed a maximum of five. The pressure on the promoter to deliver this was unprecedented even for them, when the concerts were extended to five, but a logistical plan was in place to deliver on the promises, with huge financial penalty clauses in place.

The people involved were fully aware of the threat of the residents in any attempt to protest along the way, which is why they were willing to pay vast sums of money to the communities for disruption caused, but as many of the 23,000 homes along the 2km stretch were divided over the concerts, it was impossible to get an understanding of what compensation was required.

When the dust settles and the summer is long gone, most of the residents will be sorry they didn’t get out on the summer evenings and enjoy the events with the people.

I have often attended BBQs along Clonliffe Road during the GAA games, most of the residents enjoy the craic.

Emergency legislation for one and none for another. Shame on the Government.




* Garth Brooks – do things never change? When I was a little boy I used to play hurling with some friends in our play area. Around this play area were some houses.

Most people were happy to see us out playing and enjoying ourselves.

But there was one resident called Mary. Mary was always complaining about the way we were disturbing her peace. One day I miss-hit the ball and it broke the back window of Mary’s house. My friends and I said we would pay for a new window. She would not listen to us and made a formal complaint to the local guard.

The guard was happy to give us a good telling off but Mary was not and said she would take it further if he did not. The end result was we were banned from playing hurling in our play area. I never became a Henry Shefflin – I still blame Mary.




* The Garth Brooks concert failure demonstrates an arrogance and contempt of ordinary people by powerful decision makers.

That is an exact replica of the arrogance and contempt of ordinary people that was rife among decision makers during the boom and that ended with a bankrupt country.




* Had Dublin City Council, and a certain Mr Keegan, been in charge of US East Coast expansion more than 150 years ago, there never would have been a Wild West. No railroads west of Independence, Missouri. No California gold rush. And definitely no Western music.

And we would have been saved the spectacle of Dublin making a holy show of itself to appease the official begrudger who seems to run the whole show.




* The lovely Imelda May is 40 today. May I wish this very warm, talented, special lady, on behalf of all her many fans in this country and beyond, a very, very happy birthday and many, many more to come.



Irish Independent


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