21July2014 Sorting

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage toget round the park. A very damp day

ScrabbleIwins, but gets under 400. perhaps Marywill win tomorrow.


Escapologist known as ‘the British Houdini’ whose flaming rope act left audiences aghast

The escapologist Alan Alan

Alan Alan giving a pre-escape interview in 1957

5:41PM BST 19 Jul 2014


ALAN ALAN, who has died aged 87, was an escapologist famous for his “burning rope routine” and known as “the British Houdini”.

Alan devised his trademark burning-rope act in the early Fifties, when he was just starting out in the escapology game. It involved him being trussed up in a straitjacket, or cords, or chains, and dangled on a petrol-soaked rope upside-down from a crane — most famously high above the Thames. The rope would then be lit.

Audiences watched aghast as Alan wriggled and wormed his way out of his shackles before the rope gave way to the flames. A section of his rope was wrapped in thick wadding, the extra fibre adding valuable time for him to get free.

“Alan issues a challenge,” declared a Pathé reporter watching the act in London in 1950. “He undertakes to free himself in less time than it takes to tie him. Just to make it more interesting he does it 60ft in the air. Easy as falling off a log, he says, but give us the log to fall off any time.”

The act was a particularly perilous reinvention of a routine pioneered by Houdini, and nearly got Alan killed on several occasions. In 1950, for example, he came crashing down on to the stage of the Pavilion Theatre in Liverpool when the rope snapped. But as his fame spread across the world, he only heightened the dangers. Before long his hands were clasped in Darby cuffs and he was left hanging over cages of lions or rows of pointed swords.

Alan Rabinowitz was born on November 30 1926. In boyhood he was awestruck by the famous Danish showman, Dante the Magician, and in his teenage years he developed a magic and escape stage act. Alan was then taken on tour by the promoter Reggie Dennis (who gave him the stage name Alan Alan) and played alongside comedy and novelty acts including Morecambe and Wise and a young Des O’Connor.

Alan began his career as a serious escapologist much as he carried it through: by trying to upstage Houdini. In 1949, he staged “Houdini II Buried Alive”. Performed for Pathé News, Alan replicated a 1915 stunt in which Houdini had been buried alive in a grave, leaving precious little time to dig himself out. Houdini had lost consciousness as his hands broke the surface. Alan did not even get that far; his assistants had compacted the earth too tightly and he had to be dug out only moments from death. The rolling cameras and resulting column inches, however, helped to make his name.

Throughout his career Alan refined, adapted and repeated his flaming rope act, playing arenas, theatres and circuses. He also staged open-air crowd-pleasers for the passing public: in 1978 he swung and squirmed 100ft above the Thames as amazed drivers passed over Tower Bridge.

In 1959, Alan entertained prisoners at London’s Wormwood Scrubs prison — demonstrating how to get out of a set of handcuffs, slip a knot and wriggle free from chains. “It all depends on applying the knowledge at the right time,” he said. “When I do my work I have the right kind of incentive — cash. I can stay cool. A prisoner would be too emotional when it came to the point.”

In the late Fifties he managed Tommy Cooper’s magic shop in London, where the comedian’s wife Gwen was the driving force. “Gwen, big woman, prone to picture hats,” recalled Alan. “How she managed to keep Tommy under control – after a few drinks he must have been a hell of a handful.”

In later life, Alan became the proprietor, with Joe Elman, of his own shop — the Magic Spot in Southampton Row. A treasure trove of tricks and props, its walls were stacked with row upon row of wooden drawers, each one carrying its own curious contents: stink bombs, jet-flying cigarettes, palming coins, linking rings, flashing bow ties, glowing fangs, rocket balloons and sneezing powder. It was a dusty palace of peculiarities in which Alan, dapperly decked out in a three-piece suit, enjoyed entertaining his customers.

One visitor, in 1984, was Michael Palin. “I stopped at Alan Alan’s Magic Shop in Southampton Row, where I was served by a small, neat, besuited gentleman with an arrow through his head,” wrote Palin . “Quickly and efficiently he demonstrated an extraordinary variety of bangs, squirts, farts and electric shocks as if he were selling nothing more exciting than a coal scuttle. Little children watched in awe as their fathers idly toyed with a pack of sexy playing cards only to receive a sharp electric shock from the pack.”

Alan also mentored a number of aspiring magicians, including a young Michael Vincent, who would later become a Magic Circle Magician of the Year. “There really hasn’t been an escapologist who had a flair for the dramatics like Houdini other than Alan. In some cases I think Alan had the edge,” stated Vincent.

In addition to his great escapes, Alan also invented a number of clever close-up tricks, including the “Decimated Coin” — in which a coin appears to shatter into pieces — and the “Sharpshooter” card effect, in which a gunshot appears to hit a chosen card from a pack. In the late 1970s he returned to the rope, guest-starring on The David Copperfield Show. Copperfield described him as “someone I’ve idolised since I was a boy”.

By this stage Alan was a small, wiry man with a frenetic “cheeky chappy” stage persona that reminded many of the actor Norman Wisdom. While the burly American security guards on Copperfield’s stage towered over him, winding chains around his frame, Alan joked, hopped and spun around them.

In 1983 he played Houdini in the television film Parade of Stars, a re-creation of the vaudeville circuit of the early 20th century.

Magic’s modern visage — with its slick television personalities and camera tricks — sometimes baffled him. When David Blaine staged his own Tower Bridge stunt in 2003 — hanging 30ft in the air in a Plexiglas box for 44 days without food or water, Alan was sceptical. “I give him 10 days,” said Alan. “The box will mysteriously fall into the river and it will appear that Blaine has been swept away with the tide. He will turn up triumphantly half an hour later in Hyde Park.” In a rather more prosaic climax, a weakened and thin Blaine simply emerged from his stretch and was driven off to hospital.

The Magic Spot closed in 1996. In 2006 Alan was awarded the Maskelyn Award by the Magic Circle for services to British magic.

Alan Alan never married. He is survived by a brother.

Alan Alan, born November 30 1926, died July 4 2014


The Guardian has a long tradition of defending the rights of individual citizens within a free society, especially, in the last year, the right of privacy in an environment of unauthorised surveillance. I was appalled, therefore, by the editorial in response to Lord Falconer’s bill on assisted dying (18 July). First, the law against killing someone is not absolute; killing is frequently a duty for those in the forces and sometimes for the police. More important, in pontificating on the “moral landscape”, it asserts that “better end-of -life care can help”. Not always. For those with pancreatic cancer, for example, the terminal stages can reach beyond the effectiveness of even the finest palliative care and impose suffering which would be illegal in a laboratory rat, and would lead to disciplinary action if permitted by a vet.

The wishes of the electorate have long been clear: 70%-80% have shown in a succession of polls that they wish for the law to change with appropriate safeguards. Most tellingly, last year’s YouGov poll (Report, 1 May 2013) showed that even among religious believers (including Anglicans, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Methodists and Pentecostals), a majority favoured such a change. It is not simply life which needs to be cherished, even when its quality has vanished, but the twice blessed quality of mercy.
Professor AR Michell
Upper Cleveley, Oxfordshire

• How is it that none of the people who have lately objected so eloquently in your columns to assisted dying seems interested in knowing what happens in the – now quite numerous – places where it has already been introduced? In Switzerland or Oregon, for instance, does this change actually have the fearful consequences for personal relations they predict? If it does, what methods have been found best for limiting those consequences?

This issue really is not a straightforward yes-or-no question, not a matter of creating “a new moral landscape”. It calls for a sensitive response to a real clash of values. The moral landscape actually changes all the time in any case simply because of changes in the world – such as shifts in modern medicine – and because we come to think differently about conflicts of ideals.

It is quite true that we have lately come to value freedom of choice very highly, often too highly in relation to other values. But there are surely situations where that freedom does rightly take precedence, cases where there is something odious about being controlled by other people – something that would not be tolerated in other aspects of modern life. These cases are few and, I think, easily recognised. I have seen reports that, once assisted dying is allowed, demand for it goes down rather then up. It was the freedom that mattered. Terry Pratchett has said that, if he knew he could go when he wanted to, he might be willing to put up with things a great deal longer. Is this actually an unreasonable demand?
Mary Midgley
Newcastle upon Tyne

• The law against killing someone is not absolute. We kill in wars, we’ve killed witches and slaves; humans have forever found a reason to end the lives of others. And where are the statistics to support the view that most of us do not live or die alone? Where is it written that the value of life is something that cannot “be assessed independently of family and friends, or of wider society”? Of course it can.

The importance of the right to choose to die, within the stringent rules proposed by this bill, deserves a rational response, not a leader laced with false and illogical arguments. Also, if the law changes, no one who is terminally ill will be forced to die: all it will offer is the right to choose so to do. Thus, persons such as this leader writer will never be affected by this possible change in the law, at all.
Carmen Callil

•  The Guardian has come out against assisted dying using the argument, among others, that so few people benefit in Oregon (a steady rate of 0.2% of deaths) that it is not worth “the moral change”. At the same time other opponents argue that this will lead to an ever increasing number of assisted deaths. Both arguments can’t be correct. In fact, neither is. The rate may be a steady 0.2% in Oregon, where the same law has been in place for 17 years, but many more than 0.2% benefit. One in 50 people there talk to their doctors about the possibility, but only 1 in 500 take advantage of it. That means thousands of patients and their families are comforted by the existence of an option that only a very few actually need. There is no evidence after 17 years that palliative care has suffered, nor that vulnerable people are at risk, and the Oregon Hospice Association withdrew its legal challenge to the legislation.

We have 17 years of experience in Oregon to inform this debate. Those facing bad deaths, and despite reassurances some still do, deserve legislation based on facts not supposition.
Dr Jacky Davis

• Giles Fraser doesn’t like people making choices. Two weeks ago (Loose canon, 5 July), his argument against assisted dying was that capitalism hinges on choice, so choice is obviously a bad thing, so people must not be allowed to choose assisted dying. His latest argument (Loose canon, 19 July) is that many valuable things in life – “perhaps the most important” – such as being loved, are not things that we can control by choice, so we shouldn’t try “to limit our exposure to that which is beyond our control”, so we should not choose to avoid, by an assisted death, whatever onslaughts the process of dying may throw at us.

One would have thought that the rational response to the fact that many good things are not directly things we can choose to enjoy was to cultivate patience and fortitude in regard to the things where no choice of ours could ever alter the situation, while not disdaining choice where it can save us from suffering that serves no good purpose whatever.

He should remember, too, that to be denied a choice in matters where choice could affect the outcome is usually to be subject to – perhaps to be the victim of – someone else’s choice. If it continues to be the case that some people die in unassuageable pain and distress because they are not allowed to choose assisted dying, Giles Fraser can reflect that this may be in part because he chose to oppose assisted dying. His choice is more equal than other people’s.
Paul Brownsey
Lecturer in philosophy (retired), Glasgow University

• What wise and meaningful words from Giles Fraser on Saturday on the subject of assisted dying. Without a hint of tendentious hectoring, he highlights the terrifying inadequacies of the desire for autonomy, for control over our own destinies – the fact that it does away with our need for love.
Joe Unsworth
Newcastle upon Tyne

• Giles Fraser explains that part of the religious resistance to assisted dying is based on romantic love of the greater being that comes to affirm your worth when you feel unworthy of such love. Much like the unconditional love of a mother for a newborn. When I gave birth under “induced” circumstances I was terrified and took out a stopwatch when the team snipped my waters. “Why?” the registrar asked. “Because I want to see how well psychological time matches real time under stress,” I said. The real reason was that I needed to feel some control of the process – as part of the team not the autonomous leader. The team took this in good part and it worked, we were all the happier for it.

Having the means to end my dying in extreme pain and discomfort does not put me in control (if that were the case I would choose to return to full, healthy life) but allows me to be part of the process of my own death. To refuse this is to reduce the sufferer to the status of a victim under torture, with loved ones helpless bystanders.
Pat McKenna

• I fail to be convinced by John Inge’s argument (A precious end to life, 18 July) and am slightly uneasy as to how he presents it. As with all the opponents of the bill on assisted dying, he is concerned “for the weakest and most vulnerable in our society”. John Inge’s wife was in terrible pain and could have easily been made to feel a burden to him and others and chosen to end her life. It could equally be argued, however, that the “weakest and most vulnerable” could be coerced into living for the sake of others when they want to die a peaceful, painless death.

As for his point that, had assisted dying been legal, they “might never have had the opportunity to enjoy the precious months together”, I would suggest that as in most cases we do not know when the “last few months” will be, we should endeavour to make every moments of our lives with our loved ones precious.
Christiane Goaziou
Wotton Under Edge, Gloucestershire

• John Inge argues that had assisted dying been legal when his wife, Denise, was diagnosed with cancer or suffering the dreadful effects of her chemo it would have been “tempting” for him to suggest that it would be “for the best” and this would have deprived his wife of the “precious time” allowed by a short period of respite before her death.

Perhaps, but does this that mean others in a similar situation should be denied the right to make this choice: a choice to enabling “a precious end to life” by a different route. For some, assisted dying will provide an opportunity to end their lives in the way they wish, a little prematurely certainly, but peacefully, avoiding severe mental and physical deterioration and the accompanying agonies. Knowing assisted dying is a choice they can make may indeed enable the terminally ill to “live more freely and fully” during the final days of their lives, as did Denise.

John Inge’s wife found a way through suffering and dying that worked well for her but this does not give him the right to deny others a different path.
Ann Hislop

In 1983 a Korean Airlines flight from New York City to Seoul via Anchorage was shot down. Although many suspected the Soviet Union, it initially denied any knowledge of the incident. Eight years later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world finally learned about the tampering and suppressing of evidence by the Soviet Union that delayed a thorough investigation into the crash.

While there has as yet been no concrete evidence to reveal whom to blame for the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 (Murder in the sky: missile destroys jet and kills 298, 18 July), one thing remains certain. The bereaved deserve an immediate, transparent investigation followed by appropriate compensation. Demanding answers from Russia is one thing; answering the call from the bereaved for a full investigation of the tragedy is another. Responding to the latter is justice best served.
Siyoung Choi
Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea

• Whoever was responsible for “mistakenly” shooting down the Malaysian airliner, they are unlikely to share the fate of Will Rogers III, captain of the USS Vincennes when it shot down an Iranian Airbus in 1988 because it was thought to be a warplane. Rogers faced no court martial, the deaths of hundreds go unanswered by justice, and Rogers was given a medal.
Alistair Richardson

• I wonder if Vladimir Putin is still the world leader that Nigel Farage admires most (Report, 31 March)?
David Walker

The Imperial War Museum has always questioned the impact of war and the £40m refurbishment programme is to be welcomed (Museum’s new look at a century of warfare, 17 July). However, readers may not be aware that as IWM London reopens, the country’s only peace museum is in serious financial difficulty. Ironically we currently have more work with schools, colleges and community groups than we can cope with and have developed a business plan which will enable us to be self-financing within three years, but in the meantime we need £60,000 if we are to continue our work beyond the autumn. Readers can find out more at
David Kennedy
Trustee, The Peace Museum, Bradford

• John Marjoram (Letters, 17 July) seeks more detailed poll reporting as “helpful and for political transparency”. Personally I would prefer to see the findings accompanied by the margin of error, which might assist us in putting in perspective the conclusions drawn from them by “experts”.
George Redman

• A tunnel has a beginning and an end. Why is it necessary for Israel to launch a ground offensive into densely populated Gaza (Report, 18 July) to destroy the tunnels when the other end is on the Israeli side?
Mary Wightman
Carnforth, Lancashire

• Surely, on the day after his departure as education secretary, the squeezy stress figure of Michael Gove should have been reduced in price (Advert on page 21, G2, 16 July)?
Jennifer Henley

Yvonne Robert’s article “A feminist party? Perfect. Provided it didn’t last too long“, (Comment), chimed with a relatively recent experience in Northern Ireland – the North of Ireland, or whatever you call it yourself. Indeed I am surprised that she failed to reference the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition. As some of your readers might remember, this was a political coalition (deliberately not named as a party) that drew its membership from women from both nationalist/republican and unionist/loyalist traditions. It modelled its intent by having a leadership-share arrangement; one from each of the main communal backgrounds. The coalition knew that it would never hold the position as minister of agriculture (or indeed any other ministry), so rather than having detailed policies on suckling calves it worked to three principles – social/political inclusion, equality and human rights. All the political positions that were adopted – many of them controversial – were discussed and filtered through the lens of these principles.

The coalition made a contribution to political debate over a 10-year period before its graceful exit back into civil society activism. There is still much to be done to ensure the adequate and appropriate representation of women in electoral politics in both Northern Ireland and across the United Kingdom, but there are examples that politics can be done differently. A first step might be acknowledging the fact that politics is about more than the management of the state, it’s about meeting the challenge of developing a relationship between representative and participative democracy.

Avila Kilmurray


For many years I have been trying to make the point that women must have the bold support of male feminists. Male feminists such as myself have no wish to take over or dominate the debate; women know what is best for them. But it is absurd to think that the feminist movement is by its nature exclusively female.

I am not prepared simply to see women allowed into certain archaic male roles. We must have women determining the structures, ethics, and the very philosophy of our society, having been forcibly denied this for at least 30 centuries. We must fight this together – and conquer.

Ian Flintoff


As Yvonne Roberts so amply demonstrated, the problem with defining feminism as “individual flourishing” is that it takes no account of the cultural pervasiveness of gender stereotyping. You have only to look at the weekly macho ritual baying, personal attacks and point scoring of prime minister’s questions and the dismissive hostility to Harriet Harman’s serious analysis of the difficulties capable women have in political life. Why should it be considered such a compliment that the women likely to be promoted are not to be afraid to say testicles in the House of Commons? Do we promote men because they are unafraid of saying vagina on the floor of the House?

Of course we need more women in high political office to change political culture and make it more relevant to the issues faced by so many women on a daily basis. But we also need to change popular culture, including films, books, magazines and television, so the norm is not for women to be in support roles to their active men folk, attractive but essentially passive, or the exception who stands out as an oddity.

But bringing about changes in popular culture is as difficult as achieving true political change. I was a first-wave feminist when we had to fight such strange causes as to have our own chequebooks if we had a joint account with our husbands and not be dismissed as intellectually, emotionally and physically inferior. But it depresses me how little we have really achieved since the 1960s and 1970s. We need to celebrate women taking initiatives, taking charge and carrying out all types of roles without excluding men, but we also need to show women’s perspective on the world as opposed to just men’s.

Thirza Rochester

Exmouth, Devon


Zoë Harcombe states that the obesity epidemic started when we followed the “wrong” kind of dietary advice (“Gastric bands are as useful as a plaster on a severed artery”, 13 July). I think the simpler explanation is that more food is being processed, and more food is being offered where previously it wasn’t.

Councils and local authorities have allowed a proliferation of fast-food outlets, often within yards of each other. There used to be planning laws which stated that similar trades could not operate in close proximity, these have been so relaxed that there are often six or seven outlets within the same block, many remaining open all day capitalising on the after-school trade. Cinemas sell popcorn in buckets and sugary drinks by the litre. Most hospitals are replete with vending machines that offer nothing other than unhealthy snacks and drinks, often to patients who are there because of their intake of such.

There’ll be no change from the food manufacturers, the Government is too weak to enforce that and councils will keep allowing fast-food outlets, they want the business rates. But there can be very little sympathy for the NHS “struggling” with the increasing “obesity epidemic” when it’s contributing to it.

Geoff Hulme

Altrincham, Cheshire

Joan Smith’s rant about Harriet Harman’s failure to become deputy prime minister seems to assume women have the right to promotion simply because they are female (13 July). Harman claims victim status which is something we can all do. I would like to welcome you to the world of the single, white, middle-aged male where I get used as a cash cow to pay taxes for all the supposed hard-working families while getting very little in the way of benefits. Women still get their pensions earlier than men. Is Smith complaining about that? Are any women refusing to accept it early in solidarity with men?

Rob Edwards

Harrogate, Yorkshire

John Rentoul (13 July) thinks voters “will shy away from Miliband”. But people cast their ballot for the party rather than its leader, and those who’ve suffered from the Coalition’s austerity programme will want to see Cameron ousted. Rentoul says Neil Kinnock’s unpopularity in 1992 led to Labour’s defeat, but I recall Edward Heath beating Harold Wilson in 1970 and Margaret Thatcher defeating James Callaghan in 1979. Both times the outgoing prime ministers were more popular than their successors. Personality isn’t everything.

Tim Mickleburgh

Grimsby, Lincolnshire

John Rentoul obviously thinks Miliband losing would be a good thing. I’m not sure who he envisages forming the next government, but if it is the likes of Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Chris Grayling, I can see why he keeps quiet.

Keith Flett

London N17

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TIPP) could give authorities the right to sue governments over laws designed to protect workers and the environment (“Protesters fear trade deal will ‘carve open’ health service” 13 July). An understanding of how this deal could violate human rights led the public out en-masse last weekend in opposition to the treaty.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb

Green Party Group, London Assembl


The relentless delegation of screening, examination and treatment is neither good practice nor a cost-effective use of resources

Sir, The role of high street health specialists — pharmacists, optometrists, dentists, hearing experts, chiropodists and others — should not be undervalued (letter, July 17). However, the relentless delegation of screening, examination and treatment that should be performed by doctors is neither good practice nor a cost-effective use of resources.

In my speciality, ophthalmology, outsourcing of care for several medical eye conditions to high street optometrists has resulted in fragmentation of care, and multiplication of demands with the net result that patients are visiting several places for the same condition and costing the NHS a lot more than should be the case.

Most worrying is the impact it is having on the training and experience of our junior doctors.

Nikhil Kaushik

Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon


Sir, Your correspondents hypothesise that other sources of healthcare advice in the community would redirect a proportion of less serious enquiries away from GPs and thereby relieve some of the pressures on the NHS.

There is no evidence to support this. The past 15 years have seen an explosion of information from the internet, and an increase in the involvement of pharmacies, walk-in-centres, paramedics and other health professionals. Consultation rates in GP surgeries have almost doubled over the same period.

There are three keys to understanding this. The first is that the buck stops with GPs. The information offered on every packet of medication, self-care advice sheet or guidance for non-doctors, will finish by suggesting that the GP should be contacted for advice in the event of any further questions. My emergency surgeries are full of people who have already sought advice from another source and are “just coming to double-check that this is correct”.

The second point is that information per se always raises more questions than it answers. For every explanation there is always a subsidiary point that might need to be clarified. Einstein noted that “as the circle of light increases, so does the circumference of darkness”.

The final point is that quicker access to services reduces rather than enhances the ability of people to learn about the natural history of minor complaints.

Paradoxically, if information and advice were less available, more people would realise that not only do most symptoms resolve on their own, but that waiting a little helps to differentiate accurately those rarer times when symptoms are more serious.

Our health service is overburdened by a toxic mixture of too much information, epidemic levels of health anxiety, and too great an intolerance of minor symptoms. More well-intentioned advice from other primary care agencies in the high street will only make things worse.

Dr Yealand Kalfayan


It is wasteful to use parliamentary time to enact legislation, which will not change the law, purely for public relations purposes

Sir, We are surprised by the Conservative Party’s proposal to legislate to reassert the power of the Queen in Parliament to legislate inconsistently with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

Such legislation would have no legal effect, since the Queen in Parliament already has that power, and nothing enacted in national law can affect the responsibilities of the European Court of Human Rights in international law. It seems wasteful to use parliamentary time to enact legislation, which will not change the law, purely for public relations purposes.

Christine Bell, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Edinburgh

John Bell, Professor of Law, University of Cambridge

Michael Freeman, Professor of English Law, University College London

Paul Craig, Professor in English Law, University of Oxford

Simon Deakin, Professor of Law, University of Cambridge

Mark Elliott, Reader in Public Law, University of Cambridge

David Feldman, Rouse Ball Professor of English Law, University of Cambridge

The PM’s choice of the eurosceptic Lord Hill for European Commissioner is, at best foolish and, at worst, intentionally hostile

Sir, The combination of power-grabbing manoeuvres by cabals in the European Parliament with (a) flight by the vast majority of members of the European Council from their treaty responsibilities as regards the choice of president of the European Commission, and the consequent appointment of someone almost universally regarded as not well suited for the job; (b) the highly politicised process of distribution of portfolios among a mini-assembly of nationally orientated commissioners, responsible for discharging key functions in the management of the Union originally regarded as necessitating a small, coherent collegiate body, owing no national or political allegiances; and (c) the prospect of persistent, debilitating tension between creditors and debtors in the Eurozone — this combination has all but deprived the institutions of the European Union of the capacity to chart a credible collective course, let alone to inspire confidence in their tenacity in pursuing it.

Sir Peter Marshall

London W8

Sir, The prime minister’s choice of the eurosceptic Lord Hill for Britain’s European Commissioner — our most eminent representational figure in the EU — is, at best foolish and, at worst, intentionally hostile. Moreover, why send a man who three weeks ago said he has no desire for the position? Surely Mr Cameron could have found somebody who wanted the job.

What the Commission really needs is someone who recognises the great social, economic and climate crises we are facing and is prepared to act for the people, not another business lobbyist prepared to act for David Cameron and the City of London.

Jean Lambert

Keith Taylor

Molly Scott Cato

Green MEPs for, respectively, London, South East and South West

It is a great disappointment that the new attorney general and solicitor general have such limited legal experience

Sir, Last week’s government changes showed that Mr Cameron is as cavalier in ignoring historic precedent as was Mr Blair. The law officers of the crown, the attorney general and the solicitor general, are the legal advisers to the government. As such they are always senior barristers of QC status.

Now we have two appointments not of QCs, but of junior members of the bar, who have both apparently had modest practices in the criminal courts. How are they to advise on the many questions of national and international law which arise? Furthermore the attorney general is by long tradition considered the leader of the English and Welsh bar. Are the ranks of QCs and other counsel of long experience in civil law expected to defer to this man?

It is bad enough to have a Lord Chancellor who is not a lawyer, but these new appointments are an insult to the legal profession.

Kenneth Stern

London W2

A mounted Gunner from The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery bore sweltering conditions with great poise and discipline

Sir, You published a photograph (July 18) of a “guardswoman” outside Buckingham Palace not welcoming the heat. She is not a guardswoman but a mounted Gunner from The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery which currently provides the Queen’s Life Guard. This soldier was on guard at Horse Guards in Whitehall. I saw her at about 2pm on the day of the photograph. Her poise and discipline were impeccable, as was that of her mount and her colleagues all of whom were plagued by armies of ghastly tourists, buzzing around them like flies. She may not have welcomed it, but she stuck it out like a soldier. Credit, I think where it is due.

Nick Bailey

Upton Lovell, Wilts


SIR – You report that government ministers are considering removing allowances from hundreds of thousands of benefit claimants if they refuse to undergo treatment for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

The IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) programme was implemented to provide talking therapies to such individuals. However, budgetary constraints have resulted in a decidedly threadbare service.

Individuals may wait up to 18 months to see a counsellor or therapist, and to keep costs down the least expensive therapists (i.e. most inexperienced) are generally employed.

Therapy sessions are usually limited to a maximum of six, irrespective of whether or not the client has shown any improvement, and the measured outcomes are very poor to say the least. The work is also highly unpopular among the therapists,

and overworked GPs are largely unwilling to get involved.

Many working in the mental health field regard the IAPT initiative as a failed experiment. The idea that “hundreds of thousands” of benefit claimants will be able to find appropriate therapy in the current system is a complete fantasy.

Dr Tom Goodfellow
Pailton, Warwickshire

Prepared for Islamists

SIR – The inescapable logic that flows from Janet Daley’s article, reinforced by Martin Maloney’s letter in the same edition, is that the British mainland needs to be prepared – both in manpower and intelligence resources – for long-term internal security operations. These might be similar to those in Northern Ireland in the last quarter of the previous century, but on a significantly larger scale.

William Pender
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – Ron Kirby asks if we should “challenge anyone who looks at all suspicious” to show that we are not complacent about the terrorist threat. The answer to that has to be a resounding “No”.

Who are we, members of the general public, to decide what is “suspicious”, when those in authority seem to be even more clueless?

John Newbury
Warminster, Wiltshire

Are you being served?

SIR – I fully agree with the leaders from the drinks industry (Letters, July 13) who want Parliament to introduce a specific offence of assaulting a worker selling alcohol.

However, the industry should also acknowledge that drinkers can become impatient and frustrated if they think they are receiving poor service.

The major pub chains are usually the worst offenders. A large proportion of bar staff, including managers and supervisors, cannot pour a pint of Guinness, lose track of who is next and don’t prioritise properly between their various tasks. A better trained work force would improve the experience for everybody.

Clive Pilley
Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex

Online banking

SIR – Now we can do most of our banking without going near a branch, or having cash, chequebooks or even credit/debit cards to hand. Hallelujah!

But the central role that computers now play in banking brings with it new opportunities for criminal activity. The banking scene today resembles the Wild West. Cybercriminals are way ahead of the game, and there are more opportunities open to them than there ever were when Captain Mainwaring and his cohorts talked about requests for loans over coffee and biscuits.

Guy Parker
Braunton, Devon

SIR – The letter about the difficulties of elderly people with online banking brought to mind my grandmother, who in the early 20th century was a letter writer in the East End of London. The many elderly and less secularly educated Jews would bring letters from their families abroad to be read to them and ask for replies to be written (my grandmother could read and write seven languages). There was always a queue outside her house in Great Garden Street near Whitechapel.

There now appears to be a need for internet users who can deal with the financial matters that elderly people cannot manage. They would have to be licensed and approved by a suitable authority; or, they could be employed by the banks.

Julius Kosky
Edgware, Middlesex

High-flying women

SIR – The latter-day Amelia Earhart may be the first American woman to fly around the globe in a single-engine aircraft, but a British woman, Sheila Scott, flew around the world in a single-engine aircraft in 1966, covering about 31,000 miles in 189 hours.

Polly Vacher, another British woman, did something similar in 2001. Both these women also made epic solo flights via the poles, in aircraft much less sophisticated than today’s.

Professor Michael Bagshaw
Crowthorne, Berkshire

A Chalet fit for a spy

SIR – As an habitué of the Chalet restaurant from 1966 until its closing, I was fascinated to read of the proprietors’ famous clientele.

But I have read nowhere of their neighbours, the long-since vanished Morlands tobacconists, suppliers of my Gitanes in my youth, and purveyors of the handmade cigarettes with three gold bands to 007 James Bond. I am sure Mr Bond would have been a consumer of the Chalet’s excellent coffee to accompany his Turkish blend tobacco.

Simon Edsor
London SW1

We need a permanent infrastructure body

SIR – Britain has a poor record in identifying, planning and delivering major infrastructure projects. A protracted decision-making process has led to policy reversals in key areas such as energy and transport. We need to end this short-term, damaging culture, which undermines business investment in Britain.

We do not have the necessary machinery in place to anticipate the infrastructure we will need in the future. The forthcoming manifestos of the main political parties must address this, as forever playing catch-up does not support sustainable growth.

Britain needs a permanent, independent body tasked with looking at our future infrastructure requirements. This body would provide a trusted process through which political parties, the public, employers, unions and other stakeholders could propose solutions. It would also enable these proposals to be thoroughly assessed and analysed on a level, non-political, playing field.

Such a body must be accountable to Parliament, not to the Government, in order to provide the independence necessary to produce impartial analysis. However, the final decision on projects would only be taken by the government of the day.

Terry Scuoler
Chief Executive, EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation
Adam Marshall
Executive Director of Policy, British Chambers of Commerce
Frances O’Grady
General Secretary, TUC
John Holland-Kaye
Chief Executive, Heathrow Airport
Steven Costello
Director, Heathrow Hub
Stewart Wingate
Chief Executive, Gatwick Airport
Paul Kehoe
Chief Executive, Birmingham Airport
Darren Caplan
Chief Executive, Airport Operators Association
Geoff Dunning
Chief Executive, Road Haulage Association
Stephen Tetlow
Chief Executive, Institution of Mechanical Engineers
Rob Oliver
Chief Executive, Construction Equipment Association
Graeme Philp
Chief Executive, GAMBICA
Stuart Fell
Chairman, Metal Assemblies
Steve McQuillan
Chief Executive, Avingtrans
Colin Thornton
Managing Director, AIM Aviation

Comfort letters

SIR –Tony Blair’s approval of “comfort letters” to terrorist fugitives was a bribe, and an unnecessary one, as the IRA campaign of violence was winding down anyway.

For the sake of the victims of the bombings and shootings, the former prime minister should cease evading the issue and appear in person at Westminster to explain the secret part of the IRA deal still kept under wraps.

James Reiden
Pitlochry, Perthshire

Floating an idea

SIR – In the aircraft carrier “HMS White Elephant” (Christopher Booker, Opinion), we may have found a replacement for the Royal Yacht Britannia. Moored at Greenwich, surely little could be more British than a floating palace, with garden parties on the flight deck. She would last at least three reigns.

John Wilson
Billesdon, Leicestershire

Battersea’s ‘table legs’ need restoring, not replacing

The chimneys of Battersea Power Station are a crucial part of our Art Deco heritage

The noble chimneys of Battersea Power Station, south-west London, loom large over the Holi One festival

The noble chimneys of Battersea Power Station, south-west London, loom large over the Holi One festival  Photo: Alamy

6:59AM BST 20 Jul 2014


SIR – Against the wisdom of numerous experts in the history and conservation of architecture, and astonishingly for any lover of our Art Deco heritage, the world-famous chimneys of Battersea Power Station face imminent destruction at the hands of a Malaysian-backed developer.

A “muncher” is poised to gobble up Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s iconic table legs and convert them to landfill. Even worse, they are to be replaced, if money allows, by modern fakes, complete with hideous viewing platforms and tourist lifts.

This is surely the worst act of vandalism since the summary demolition of the Firestone factory in West London in 1980. Only in 2005, a site survey confirmed that the Battersea chimneys were essentially sound, excepting some minor water damage.

The four chimneys have stood nobly, without the merest hint of a wobble, for the best part of six decades. They deserve loving restoration, not destruction.

Dr Anthony Rodriguez
Staines-upon-Thames, Middlesex

SIR – I sincerely endorse your leading article on Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill.

Patients surprise doctors all the time in the course of their illnesses, and their suffering may well cloud their judgment even if they appear to be wholly rational. A patient once asked me to “give me something, you know” as she battled against breast cancer. I declined, and she lived in reasonable comfort for a further year or more with the aid of excellent palliative care. She later thanked me for not doing as she had requested.

This Bill proposes that two doctors should sign a pro forma which states their professional opinions that the patient requesting assisted suicide is in a clear state of mind and has six months or less to live. Which doctors? Presumably they might be the clinician responsible for caring for the patient and another not professionally involved, who would not know the patient, to avoid collusion. The action of the first betrays his position and the second can hardly assess a state of mind in just an inevitably brief interview.

A similar arrangement applies with the signing of forms legitimising abortion, and we all know how that system is abused. How does this Bill insure against an unscrupulous relative attempting to bribe the two doctors with promises of a share in an anticipated large inheritance?

It is very sad that a previous Archbishop of Canterbury should have given support to this Bill. The proposal is euthanasia by the back door, as your leading article suggests. Disregarding any religious beliefs, it is a dangerous precedent.

T A Harrison FRCS
Child Okeford, Dorset

SIR – My mother, aged 98, was saved by modern medicine only to waste away and die 14 months later, bedridden and in physical and mental pain. The same happened to my grandmother, aged 85, and to my great-grandmother.

I know that they did not wish to suffer in this way, and I don’t want to, either, when the time comes. Lord Falconer’s Bill does not go far enough.

Those who advocate better palliative care know nothing of the reality to which they wish to condemn others. When my life becomes a burden to me, it will be time to die rather than lingering and suffering the indignity of further existence. The Most Rev Desmond Tutu and Lord Carey understand this. They are brave to state their position so unequivocally.

Yvonne A Frith
Brimfield, Herefordshire

SIR – You quite rightly cite Holland and Belgium as examples of where legalising assisted suicide will lead.

It is hard not to compare this prospect with the 200,000 abortions now carried out in this country annually, which the 1967 Abortion Act was never intended to sanction. It may be convenient for society to turn a blind eye to the abuse of the abortion laws and to make it easier for patients to commit suicide. That doesn’t make it right.

Tim Coles
Carlton, Bedfordshire

SIR – In defending the existing legal protections for vulnerable people, Lord Carlile of Berriew makes a crucial point – Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill, supposedly based on choice, ignores the realities of life as well as death.

No choice is made in a vacuum. Many elderly and disabled people live alone or fear to ask those closest to them for help. They even fear to “trouble” those who are paid to help them.

Strangely, the progressive answer to most social problems – raising self-esteem – has not been applied to this problem. Instead, Lord Falconer would lower the self-esteem of the sick even further by substantiating their private fears that their lives are not worth living. The Bill may apply only to the terminally ill, but there is a likelihood of “mission creep”.

We should heed the example of Holland and Belgium, but also that of abortion, which was lauded as the “right to choose”. The reality for many women is that in the absence of support from those closest to them, they feel they have no choice.

Ann Farmer
Woodford Green, Essex

Irish Times:

Sir, – Jimmy Deenihan has been appointed Minister of State for the diaspora. This can be viewed as further evidence of a recent and improving trend in the State’s relationship with the Irish abroad.

In the past 15 years alone, a dedicated “Irish Abroad Unit” has been established within the Department of Foreign Affairs, and exists alongside the Global Irish Economic Forum, the Global Irish Network, and immigration centres in Canada and Australia. These initiatives join the State’s Emigrant Support Programme, which funds almost 200 community organisations in over 20 countries, in a continued effort to recognise and invest in our citizens overseas.

Mr Deenihan himself has a long history of interest in this area. It is, as the Taoiseach put it, his “niche”. In a Dáil debate 23 years ago, he supported a Labour Party Bill that, if passed, would have allowed Irish citizens to retain voting rights in Ireland for a period of 15 years after emigrating. Debating that Bill in March 1991, he said: “Our emigrants have the potential to make a major contribution to our country. Many of them have been very successful in the various countries to which they emigrated and made contributions in different ways to life in those countries. By attracting their interest, giving them recognition and a feeling they have a role to play and a contribution to make in our country, we can only enhance our reputation as a caring nation.”

Mr Deenihan’s first order of business is likely to be issuing a response to last September’s constitutional convention, which ruled overwhelmingly in favour of allowing Irish citizens abroad to participate in Irish presidential elections.

The vast majority of modern democracies – over 130 states worldwide – have enacted provisions that count and account for their citizens overseas. Mr Deenihan, with a specifically developed portfolio and an proven interest in the diaspora, has an opportunity to modernise our attitude towards migration, citizenship, and the intersection of the two. – Yours, etc,


Rue Wayenberg,

Ixelles, Brussels;


Rue de l’Amiral Roussin,


A chara, – Further to the appointment of Ministers with responsibility for the Gaeltacht, our Taoiseach would be well advised to recall the words of Nelson Mandela, “If you speak to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head. If you speak to him in his own language, it goes to his heart.” – Is mise,


Gort an tSeagail,

Achadh an Iúir,

Contae an Chábháin.

A chara, – Having a Minister of State who is responsible for Irish-language matters but who does not speak Irish sends out a poor message and will ensure snide remarks about Ireland.

The Irish state cannot be neutral about the Irish language. It is the only state that can support the Irish language.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny should rectify this situation immediately by appointing himself an tAire Gaeltachta and make it a priority that Irish is properly supported by the State. – Is mise,


Rue Tony Dutreux,



Sir, – There was a minor controversy last year when the newly designed Irish passports began to be issued, and several people remarked on the background design of one of the pages, which incorporated images of musical instruments associated with Ireland. Those included were the accordion, banjo and bodhrán, relatively recent introductions to Irish music. The instruments that have won a global audience for Irish music, in former and in modern times – the harp and the uilleann pipes – were left out, and their absence was remarked upon and criticised by Kevin Conneff of The Chieftains, among others.

Now “Official Ireland” has done it again. A set of stamps was issued by An Post in May as part of the Europe-wide Europa series, on the theme “national musical instruments”.

The An Post website tells us that the stamps feature the harp, “the classic Irish musical instrument”, and the bodhrán, “the most popular”.

It is difficult to know how to respond. Difficult indeed not to feel that one’s leg is being pulled! The harp is indeed Ireland’s “classic musical instrument”, and the Irish harp attracted the attention and admiration of foreign observers for 700 years, from Norman times up to the beginning of the 19th century, when the unique Irish wire-strung harp ceased to be played. Examples of this instrument survive, the Trinity College harp, for instance, or Denis Hempson’s harp which is to be seen in the Guinness Storehouse.

Unfortunately the stamp designers chose to depict, not the kind of harp that was celebrated for centuries, but a 19th-century instrument – one that does not deliver the sound that entranced Europe for centuries.

As for the bodhrán being “the most popular instrument” in Irish music, I can only suggest that the question be put to the people who actually play the music, on pipes, harp, fiddle, flute, box, concertina, whistle or banjo.

No tune was ever played on a bodhrán, although the late lamented Sliabh Luachra fiddle player Paudie Gleeson raised many a smile with his yarn about the man in his district who “knew all the tunes”. The punchline was that this musical genius turned out to be a bodhrán player.

Those who hold and play the music continue to be slighted. There are national institutions that would readily provide any advice or information required – the Irish Traditional Music Archive, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and ourselves, to name only the most well-known. All that designers have to do is ask. – Yours, etc,



Na Píobairí Uilleann,

15 Henrietta Street,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – My mother is 90 years old and is recovering from a major operation in Tallaght Hospital. She has recovered sufficiently to go home with a homecare package but the HSE has cut the funding for this. My mother is in a surgical ward whose resources would be far better used for patients that need the care of a surgical team. The expense of this bed must far outweigh the expense of having a carer come in for a couple of hours a day. This would be for a short period until she could manage to look after herself as she had been doing prior to her operation. Is this the way the HSE is saving money? – Yours, etc,


Columbanus Road,

Dundrum, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Whenever the European Parliament gains more influence, commentators complain that is has “seized” or “grabbed” power, as though it had mounted an undemocratic coup or putsch.

They ignore the fact that the European Parliament is the only directly elected institution at the European level. Increasing its influence strengthens its capability to exercise democratic control over the activities of councils and commissions. Even the European Court of Justice will learn, like the US Supreme Court, to “keep an eye on the last election”.

If the European Parliament is to fulfil its potential, however, voters need to interest themselves in the work of their MEPs, and to keep constant pressure on them just as they (should) do on the members of their national parliaments. – Yours, etc,


Avenue Louise,


A chara, – Barbara Nolan (July 16th) cites an estimate that the Transatlantic Free Trade Area would benefit the EU economy by €119 billion – or €545 per person – but without including the necessary caveats from Joseph Francois’ report on the matter. The figures quoted are the upper estimates and are envisioned as realistic by 2027. Perhaps the public would be better informed if the negotiations were more open and transparent. – Is mise,



North Circular Road,


Dublin 7.

Sir, – Further to Simon Carswell’s “The highs and lows of legalised marijuana” (July 12th), which examined the legal status of the drug in the US, it is clear that the days when politicians could get away with confusing the drug war’s tremendous collateral damage with a comparatively harmless plant are coming to an end. If the goal of marijuana prohibition is to subsidise violent drug cartels and open a gateway to the harder drugs they sell, prohibition is a grand success. The drug war distorts supply and demand dynamics so that big money grows on little trees. If the goal is to deter use, marijuana prohibition is a catastrophic failure.

Consider the experience of the former land of the free and current record holder in citizens incarcerated. The United States has almost double the rate of marijuana use as the Netherlands, where marijuana is legally available. The criminalisation of people who prefer marijuana to martinis has no basis in science. The war on marijuana consumers is a failed cultural inquisition, not an evidence-based public health campaign. Ireland should follow the lead of Colorado and Washington state. It’s time to stop the pointless arrests and instead tax legal marijuana. – Yours, etc,


Common Sense

for Drug Policy,

PO Box 59181,

Washington, DC.

Sir, – Imagine this scenario. I am living in the United States and I buy a ticket to a Garth Brooks concert “subject to licence”. The licence was granted for the date shown on my ticket and the singer simply decided not to perform. The same situation applied to 240,000 other customers. Would those customers quietly accept this? Or would there instead be a class action lawsuit to bring the performer to his senses?

I am sure that Mr Brooks is relieved to be getting off so lightly from his long-abandoned Irish fans, otherwise more than his heart would be crushed. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – Our planning laws have been drawn up by members of the Oireachtas. These laws require council officials to make difficult decisions that balance different interests. Rather than publicly criticising officials for their decision-making, Oireachtas members should focus on amending the laws if they feel that they can be improved.– Yours, etc,




Co Dublin.

Sir, – I have avoided participating in the various campaigns on this issue; clean water costs money to supply, and deserves economical use. Metering is basically a good idea, as it discourages waste. I have, however, been appalled by the way metering policy has been imposed, with intrusive installation of an inaccessible meter at what must be a high cost. Has no-one system-analysed the options?

My initial concept was an accessible, legible meter at the house entry-point, usually the hallway, enabling a householder to keep tabs on house-water use easily. This idea of accessible house-based metering was rejected in favour of ripping up the footpath and installing a meter readable by the householder only with difficulty, if at all.

The reason given was that leakage in the in-pipe is a householder responsibility. This seems to me to be a high-cost solution to a low-cost problem.

It should be possible for a meter on a branch of the main system to keep track of the consumption in a group of houses served by the branch. This could be matched statistically with the consumption as recorded in the houses. A discrepancy would imply a leak. During a dry spell, portable instrumentation could be used to detect leak water locations, and the leak repaired. If the leak is in a house-feed pipe, the user would be charged a fee.

Would it perhaps be possible to pilot a system like this, in some area as yet unserviced, and keep an eye on the comparative costs, and user acceptance? – Yours, etc,


Rathmines Park,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – The re-emergence of “property ladder anxiety” is an unwelcome development. It appears to result from relentless price-hyping by the media, the presence of a wealthy investor class and the limited availability of houses in major cities. A strategic decision needs to be made by Government to encourage an increase in the availability of family homes. A reasonably simple approach would be to reduce capital gains tax from the currently (prohibitive) 33 per cent to 12.5 per cent for a limited period of time (for example, 18 months) on investment properties sold to owner occupiers. This would result in the liberation of many current rental houses to families, and would help level the playing field between cash buyers and those seeking mortgage finance. – Yours, etc,


Barna, Co Galwa

Sir, – As a reader of The Irish Times for the past 30 years, I am deeply concerned at your apparent attempt to undermine the asylum seeker accommodation system.

You have published three articles by various contributors, each setting out why the system should be abandoned while ignoring the reason it was introduced in the first place. In addition, you have published seven letters from readers criticising the system.

I have searched in vain for any article or letter from a contributor supporting the system.– Yours, etc,



Fr Russell Road, Limerick.

Sir, – “Buttevant’s ancient horse fair attracts eager crowd” (July 15th) states that a local historian claims Napoleon’s white Arabian horse Marengo was bought at Cahirmee fair. In fact the horse was born in Egypt and obtained by the emperor during his Egyptian campaign. Marengo was captured after the Battle of Waterloo and died in England some years later.

The article also finishes with the statement that the Duke of Wellington’s equally famous horse, Copenhagen, was “purchased at Cahirmee about 1810”. Wellington’s horse was first owned by Lord Grosvenor and named after the eponymous battle at which both Grosvenor and Wellington were brigade commanders. Grosvenor’s mare was in foal with Copenhagen at the Battle of Copenhagen and the foal was later raced, to little avail, before being purchased by another officer in the Peninsular War. The horse then passed into Wellington’s hands and stayed so until its death, when it was buried on Wellington’s Hampshire estate.

Horses and tall tales often go together. – Yours, etc,




A chara, – Like Prof Bert G Hornback (July 14th), I also “don’t want to walk down the vulgar, noisy Grafton Street”, with its music music everywhere, and nary a note to savour. Busking can be delightful, but when it is amplified and competing and clashing with itself and the ever-present muzak from the shops, it turns into muz-eeeeeek. – Is mise,


Tower Avenue,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – Limerick has many claims to fame, but it was not the birthplace of “the glamorous and dangerous Lola Montez” (An Irishman’s Diary, July 16th).

The adventuress and exotic dancer, whose affair with the king of Bavaria (grandfather of the even madder “Mad King Ludwig”) led to his downfall, was actually born in Grange, Co Sligo, between Ben Bulben and the Atlantic Ocean. – Yours, etc,


Cnoc an Stollaire,

Gaoth Dobhair, Co Donegal.

Sir, – I see John A Murphy (July 18th) has challenged Gerry Adams to a public debate. Will tickets be readily available, or will it be “subject to licence”? – Yours, etc,



Grange, Cork.

Sir, – I am producing a monograph of my paintings with Gandon Editions for 2015, and I would be so grateful if any of your readers, who may have my paintings, would be able to send me images of paintings that I made quite a long time ago. ( – Yours, etc,


Shankill Castle,


Co Kilkenny.

Irish Independent:

* Some time ago I had the chance to read an excellent piece written to commemorate the “death” of common sense which, I think you’ll agree, is very apt given that we live in the age of ubiquitous reality television and increasingly intrusive social media yet complain about government surveillance. We might then also mourn the passing of another age-old companion: realism. In my opinion, this long-time check on fantasy and delusion is sadly ‘knocking on heaven’s door’.

Several instances of this have been seen over the past few weeks and months but I would like to single out the British reaction to the MH17 disaster and US foreign policy towards the Ukraine crisis as being exceptional. In the wake of the downing of Malaysia Airlines‘ Flight 17, the international community is expected to do something to bring the perpetrators to some kind of justice. And rightly so. Those who commit such acts should be punished. But the politics of the situation in eastern Ukraine are taking precedence over law. No European state wants to annoy Russia. Yet governments are still desperate to be seen to be “doing something”.

US foreign policy on Ukraine is remarkably toothless. To put it simply, they are letting a bully get away with tearing up a state based on ethnic lines – something that most enlightened liberals would tell us no evolved state should do. A forceful response, perhaps the deployment of peacekeepers to the region would be a welcome sign of US resolve. Instead we have been treated to appeasement. Appeasement only makes the aggressor more aggressive.

Yet I do not think we in this country should get too cocky. Our history is saturated with examples of people who engaged in what common sense would state were stupid rebellions, determined to die romantic martyrs deaths with no thought given to a realistic prolonged struggle. The only one who bucked that trend was Michael Collins and he won.



* No truer words were expressed than those in the Irish Independent editorial (July 19) in response to the callous destruction of flight MH17. The absence of real leadership, genuine moral courage, or even a shared sense of humanity is sadly lacking across the globe among those who ought to abundantly demonstrate these qualities.

Regrettably, the bland and anaemic statement from our own Foreign Minister, Charles Flanagan, offered little to inspire. He remarked that Ireland “fully supports calls for a full, independent, investigation” to establish the cause of the destruction of MH17, without any elaboration. He advised that he is continuing to “monitor the situation closely through our embassies in Prague and The Hague“. But he did not state that he was actually going to do anything in response to this grotesque atrocity.

Are his remarks really the best possible expression of Ireland’s leadership, values, moral courage and shared sense of humanity in response to such a grievous attack on humanity by anonymous, camouflaged cowards? If so, our foreign policy has not advanced from the era of the ‘Skibbereen Eagle’, which, from time to time, admonished the British prime minister, the Russian emperor and the German emperor and reminded them that the Eagle ‘had its eye on you’.

The difference that ministers make is judged by what they do and accomplish; not by passive gestures and empty rhetoric.



* The recent comments of Senator Ned O’Sullivan should be put in a historical context.

The O’Sullivan name is said to be inherited from an ancestor, whose wounds in an ancient battle left him with only one eye.

The Irish for one eye is: suil amhain from which the name O’Sullivan is derived. However, the truth about how this injury was obtained is more prosaic. He was pecked in one eye by a seagull – a Dublin seagull! The Irish for seagull is Faoilean. Ever since, there has been enmity between the Dub O’Faoileans (seagulls), and the Kerry O’Sullivans (one-eyed Kerrymen). The accusation that a Dublin seagull stole a child’s lollipop, which was made on the floor of the Seanad, was a new low (oh the calumny!) in this long-running feud.

No detail was given as to the nature of the lollipop. Was it red, orange or yellow? Was it strawberry, raspberry or orange flavoured? The description of the child is also vague. Was it male or female? Did the child have flaxen, raven-coloured or red hair? Why haven’t the guards been told? Perhaps the reason for the lack of detail in his account is that one of Ned’s eyes ain’t so good. Ned also complained that the seagulls were making a racket on the roof of his apartment. One can only infer from this that Kerry seagulls are quite different. They do not engage in unseemly squawking and cackling as those Dub seagulls do. No, they engage with each other in soft melodic Kerry tweets.

No doubt the good senator has been overcome with homesickness for his native Kerry where the seagulls are more convivial company.



* Seamus French wonders why nobody has been held accountable for the current economic crisis (Letters, July 19). Has he not heard that Fianna Fail were decimated at General Election 2011? Does he not know that the flawless hindsight brigade decided Fianna Fail wrecked the economy and bankrupted the country?

We love a scapegoat in Ireland and Fianna Fail fitted the role perfectly. Labour as we all know is the scape-goat for having the neck to enter government to continue the harsh economic corrective measures started by Fianna Fail after the 2008 collapse.

Remember two reports provided in recent months. One was that €30bn had been borrowed on the equity of homes and €50bn borrowed by SMEs (50pc impaired) during the period we call the Celtic Tiger. These jaw-dropping reports spread the need for accountability a lot wider than the scapegoats we have already selected as our outlet for venom.



* Eamonn Meehan’s condemnation of Israel is full of inaccuracies (Letters, July 18). For one thing Israel is not “occupying” Gaza; it left Gaza in 2005. Over the years Gaza has received massive amounts of international aid but much of this has been dissipated through corruption by Hamas and on rocket sites for terrorist operations against Israel.

It is a sad state of affairs that a so-called human rights organisation like Trocaire never bothers to criticise Hamas for its treatment of Palestinians: its murder and torture of other Palestinians, and its oppression of Christians and women who are second-class citizens.

Israel is not “collectively punishing” Gaza as Mr Meehan suggests. Israel is fighting in Gaza solely and purely because Hamas is in control of Gaza and is in a state of war with Israel. It is Hamas which is inflicting collective punishment on the civilians of Gaza by using Palestinian civilians in Gaza as human shields. It is Hamas which began this latest conflict, it is Hamas which rejected a ceasefire brokered by Egypt on Tuesday, and it is Hamas which pointlessly keeps this conflict going.


Irish Independent


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