23 July 2014 Books

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

Scrabble Mary wins, but gets under 400. perhaps I will win tomorrow.


The Very Reverend Dom Philip Jebb – obituary

Dom Philip Jebb was a charismatic headmaster of Downside who took a firm line with schoolboy revolutionaries

Dom Philip Jebb

Dom Philip Jebb

6:02PM BST 22 Jul 2014


Dom Philip Jebb, who has died aged 81, was a charismatic headmaster of Downside School during the 1980s, when the spirit of student rebellion ran strong and the school threatened to become ungovernable.

Many boys at Downside no longer went regularly to Mass; their hair grew down their shoulders; they jibbed at school uniform, smoked in their bedrooms and smouldered at any rules they considered oppressive. The introduction of a school council with pupil representatives did little to ease tension.

When Jebb took over in 1980, after serving as deputy head, there was an immediate tightening of the rules and an inevitable reaction. Several hundred pyjama-clad boys held a noisy late-night protest in the quad, bawling abuse and ringing the school bell. But the demonstration lasted only 10 minutes. There had always been rumbles of protests about a new head, Jebb told the press, adding that there would be no retribution.

Downside Abbey and School (ALAMY)

But he showed an iron resolve when some boys, returning from lunch on a day out, borrowed a digger they found on the side of road. It was a time of fear about IRA terrorists, and one of the boys — the son of a well-known actor — put on a thick Irish brogue when the police drove up. Arriving back at school in a squad car, he and his companions found the headmaster drumming his fingers on the arms of the throne in the hall, waiting to dish out a fearsome dressing-down.

Jebb ended a four-year experiment with girl pupils, saying that unmarried monks were unsuited to coping with their problems. When Labour made undefined threats against private schools, he warned that the Downside community could return to the Continent, where it had spent almost 200 years before being driven out by the French Revolution.

Anthony Jebb, as he was baptised, was born in Staffordshire on August 14 1932, the son of a prep school master who took his wife and four children to live with his father-in-law, the writer Hilaire Belloc, in Sussex. The boy was close to his grandfather, who was frail, gruff and frequently grumpy. On one occasion Belloc shouted from his bedroom that he could not move, which brought in the family to discover that he had inserted both feet into one trouser leg. Nevertheless he could still demonstrate a remarkable store of knowledge, and his grandson developed a fascination with the past, to the extent that he longed to be a venerable old man.

In 1940 the rural peace of Sussex was disturbed by the Battle of Britain being fought overhead. While his father made Molotov cocktails to greet the expected German invaders, Ant scoured the night skies with a telescope and found a severed hand beside a crashed German bomber. On being sent to Downside, aged 10, he arrived at Bath station just after it had been obliterated by a raid, and in his first year at the school he found himself just yards from a cricket pavilion when a training aircraft crashed nearby, killing nine boys. The incident haunted him ever after, but he retained a high-spirited thirst for new experience, once volunteering to box against a larger boy in the hope of experiencing being knocked out.

On entering the monastery at 18, Ant took the religious name Philip (that of his older brother, an architect), and plunged into the discovery of prayer, ranging from delirious joy to black depression.“This is marvellous,” an older monk told him. “I wish I were with you in this.”

After ordination Jebb taught at Worth Priory for a year, then read Classics at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he was an enthusiastic archaeologist and as a good club fencer, became a member of “The Cambridge Cutthroats” fencing team, whose team outfit featured a black motorcycle jacket.

Jebb (right) executing a horizontal fleche against the future Olympian Richard Cohen

On returning to Downside he had hopes of a scholarly career, and edited Missale de Lesnes, a medieval manuscript published by the Henry Bradshaw Society; but he found that intense study brought on severe migraines. Instead, he took on a local parish, taught Classics and RE in the school, and ran the fencing club, which was to produce the Olympic champion Richard Cohen.

Soon appointed a housemaster, he had a brush with the spirit world when two boys playing with an Ouija board late at night suddenly felt an atmosphere of evil. When they woke him he first thought they were joking, but on learning that they were not, he burst into the room shouting: “In the name of God begone!” From then on the boys involved would not go to bed without a special blessing every night, and a crucifix was placed on the wall of the room.

On stepping down as headmaster in 1991, Jebb was disappointed not to be chosen as abbot; but he made a wise deputy as prior, was the annalist for the English Benedictine Congregation and played a key role in organising the new monastic library, including a wide-ranging collection of postcards. “Never throw anything away,” he would say. “Even laundry bills might be interesting one day.”

In addition he was a chaplain to the Order of Malta, which took pupils to tend the sick at Lourdes, and an assistant chaplain to Shepton Mallet military prison. He was much in demand as a profound and witty preacher.

Though a reluctant author, Jebb wrote and contributed to works on education, widowhood and grieving, and spent many hours on the phone talking to the sorrowful and the bereaved.

Delighted to be appointed Cathedral Prior of Bath, a titular office going back to the pre-Reformation Church, Jebb liked to tell new monks on retreat that they were joining the most marvellous group of men since the Twelve Apostles.

Dom Philip Jebb, born August 14 1932, died June 8 2014


A member of the Palestinian Selam family of Khan Yunis, Gaza, is rescued from under the wreckage of their house, which was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge on 21 July 2014. One person from the Selam family was killed and eight were wounded. Photo: Belal Khaled/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

It is a sad reflection on the parlous state of the domestic opposition that a spokesman for the Israeli Labor party can conceive of criticism of overwhelming force in self-defence only as a demand for more dead Israelis (A thirst for Israeli blood, 21 July). By Hilik Bar’s logic, there is no limit to the number of Palestinian women and children who may have to die or suffer horrible injuries in pursuit of an objective that is unachievable by military means. The thought that proportionality might involve a reduction in Palestinian fatalities never occurs to him. In addition to this shocking lack of empathy, his blinkered “context” only reaches as far as the current round of rocket attacks, while completely ignoring the consequences of a 47-year occupation. Now that Ed Miliband has joined those publicly critical of the land invasion of Gaza, which has added greatly to the toll of death and destruction, Hilik Bar would do well to recognise that patience with an untenable status quo, even of erstwhile sympathisers, is beginning to run out.
Dr Anthony Isaacs

•  The shooting down of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine (Report, 22 July) appeared for a while to have distracted world attention from the potentially greater tragedy unfolding in Gaza. There is a connection between the two events. Hamas is firing rockets indiscriminately at Israel‘s population centres, including its international airport. If just one of those missiles were to strike an aircraft, innocent passengers from all over the world, not just Israelis, would become victims of Hamas’s lethal war against Israel. The international community has a responsibility to help Israel and other governments put a stop to the criminally irresponsible firing of missiles at inadmissible targets – including civil air space whether over Donetsk or Tel Aviv.
David Stone
Emeritus professor, University of Glasgow

•  It is, to say the least, ironic that Hilik Bar imagines how the UK would react to rockets rained down by terrorists from the Isle of Man. He seems to have forgotten that a violent conflict lasting about 30 years raged in Northern Ireland with considerable extraterritorial assistance from within the territories of the Republic of Ireland and the United States. Mercifully, whatever mistakes and wrongs committed by the British government, there was nothing like the wanton overreaction to which the Israeli government has frequently resorted. The Republic of Ireland was not subject to air raids or temporary occupation. By contrast, this summer the murder of three young Israeli men has resulted in all-out war after the Israeli government resorted to brutal reprisals rather than restricting themselves to the routes of calm criminal investigation or international diplomacy. The point about proportionality is not that there should be matching death rates but rather that disproportionate escalation to extreme violence is self-defeating and will simply generate further similar violence in the future.
Felix Thompson
Duffield, Derbyshire

•  If the British had bombed and mortared houses in Catholic districts of Northern Ireland to kill hundreds of innocent supporters of Sinn Féin and their children, and tried to justify it on the basis that it was trying to stop IRA terrorism, there would have been a world outcry, not least from the US. But because Arabs have no constituency in the west, and people who criticise Israel are deemed to be antisemites, all we get is mealy-mouthed “on the one hand, on the other hand” editorial hand-wringing, even from the Guardian, whose writers are surely more aware of the iniquities of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians than more rightwing papers.

It is time for the world to unite against Israel, a rogue state whose actions in the Middle East over the past seven decades have caused suffering and injustice over a longer period than any other so-called democratic state.
Karl Sabbagh
Author, Palestine: A Personal History

•  While writing of the critics of Israel’s disproportionate response to the Hamas rockets, Hilik Bar could have instanced an example very close to home. In our struggle against Nazi Germany, the Germans bombed and damaged some of our major cities. We responded by totally devastating almost every one of theirs, causing hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. This massive disproportionate response was supported overwhelmingly and enthusiastically by the British public. The only way to ensure there is no disproportionate response is not to attack in the first place.
Paul Miller

•  Hilik Bar, the subtext is not about proportionality of deaths but about the question of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut and its consequences.

Israelis do not have to die to gain sympathy. They simply have to question why the Palestinians’ democratically elected representatives are waging a concerted and murderous attack on the entire Israeli population, when they fire their rockets from a tiny patch of Palestinian land in Israel. Of course Israel has the right to defend itself; other countries deal with terrorism in more measured ways; Spain and Eta, the UK and the IRA. Neither country bombed the organisations because they were asking for change.

Israel needs to believe that their rights for existence will always be asserted by the UN, America and its allies. The Palestinians are merely asserting their rights before they are ground out of existence in their own country.
Anna Tognarelli
Marple, Greater Manchester

•  In 1948, aged 12 in Pretoria, I joined Habonim, a Zionist youth organisation modelled on the scouts. A year or so later, a Zionist speaker came to address us. He told us that the Zionist aim was a Jewish home covering the whole of Palestine and South Lebanon up to the Litani river and also Mount Hermon. “What about the people living there now?” I asked. They would leave, he replied, just as the Arabs had left Israel. Even the Boers hadn’t gone so far as to expel the Natives from South Africa, I said, and left Habonim. Seen in that light, Israeli policy of invasion and annexation has had a consistent flow, interrupted only by defeat by Hezbollah in South Lebanon. Hilik Bar’s description of a “thirst for Israeli blood” to outsiders looks much more like a thirst for Palestinian blood for the offence of being there at all. Israel could have a ceasefire by agreeing to lift its illegal blockade of Gaza. Do not those who suffer such aggression have a right to resist? Where is the line between resistance and terrorism?
Michael Sterne
Sarisbury Green, Hampshire

• Your leading article (A futile war, July 22) mentions the benefits of having the PLO back in charge of Gaza rather than Hamas, but it fails to point out that the opposite move is more likely. It was Israeli intransigence when the PLO was in control there earlier that created the formation of Hamas in 1987 as an outcome of Palestinian frustration with what was seen as the “moderation” of the PLO. Similarly today, if Hamas cannot deliver real progress towards a Palestinian state, it is likely to be superseded by even more extreme jihadis, probably associated with Hizbollah as in Lebanon. After all, every civilian death in Gaza is another catalyst for recruitment to the jihadi ranks.
Michael Meadowcroft

• Please allow me to ask a simple question: why has Hamas chosen to spend its energy and resources on building extensive tunnels to attack Israel rather than on bomb shelters for the Gazan population?
Russell Barash
Elstree, Hertfordshire

Tony Blair was in the fortunate position of being able to exercise individual empowerment and net himself £20m (Forget Labour’s old ideas, Blair tells party, 22 July). For most people this was not, and never will be, an option. For them collective action and a state committed to redressing the worst inequalities of the market remains the best hope of gaining some limited control over their lives, whether in wage rates, housing or health. This is surely the real lesson for the Labour party.
Michael Leigh

• Good to see that now Tony Blair has achieved all his objectives as Middle East peace envoy, he can turn his attention back to British politics.
David Gerrard
Hove, East Sussex

• Is it simply too optimistic to hope that David Cameron’s announcement on prosecuting parents who fail to protect their daughters from FGM (Report, 22 July) might lead to a recognition that all genital mutilation is unwelcome, regardless of gender? For if circumcision is not genital mutilation, what is it exactly? Am I missing something? (Besides, of course, my much lamented and unnecessarily removed circa 1954 foreskin.)
Dave Hepworth
Bakewell, Derbyshire

• Tom Clark reports (Rise and fall of the ideologue, 21 July) that Gove was fond of quoting Voltaire in French in cabinet meetings. I wondered if Candide was a favourite: “Dans ce pays-ci il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral, pour encourager les autres“?
Phil Ward
Holbeton, Devon

• Does Anne Roberts (Letters, 22 July) really think that if the Scots do vote for independence their politicians will be any different to those at Westminster?
Jim Waight

• Emo Williams fails to grasp the etymology of the name Edinburgh. The Edin bit was retained from the previous Brythonic Celtic name Din Eidyn. It pre-dates the post-Roman Germanic invasions of Britain and thus cannot have originated with the (very Germanic) name Edwin.
Sotirios Hatjoullis

Hilik Bar (A thirst for Israeli blood, 21 July) reduces the charge against Israel to killing too many Palestinians. The story is more complicated. The government of Israel, having provoked the firing of rockets by its rampage through the West Bank, is now using that response as the pretext for an overwhelming assault on Gaza. People are dying, and for what?

We are academics and intellectuals from round the world. We have been asked by colleagues in Gaza to urge Israeli academics to make their voices heard in Israel and abroad against what the Israeli government is inflicting on the Gaza population. More than 600 people have been killed in Gaza by the IDF. Most of these people are children, women and the elderly. The Gaza infrastructure, already in tatters, is now further undermined, and the population is in the worst situation imaginable, getting worse by the minute. These atrocities can only lead to further deterioration of the already dangerous situation.

We call on Israeli academics and intellectuals to join their voices in an open protest against these war crimes by the Israeli government. We urge them to answer the call of their Gazan colleagues and make their voices heard in opposition to the war crimes committed in their names. We are heartened that 65 of them have already come forward and signed the following statement:

“The signatories to this statement, all academics at Israeli universities, wish it to be known that they utterly deplore the aggressive military strategy being deployed by the Israeli government. The slaughter of large numbers of wholly innocent people is placing yet more barriers of blood in the way of the negotiated agreement which is the only alternative to the occupation and endless oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel must agree to an immediate ceasefire, and start negotiating in good faith for the end of the occupation and settlements, through a just peace agreement. Dissent in Israel now carries a high price.”

We are glad to stand in solidarity with them in taking this conscientious stand.
Etienne Balibar, Patrick Bateson, John Berger, Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Richard Falk, Naomi Klein, Ahdaf Soeuif, Marina Warner, Haim Bresheeth, Jonathan Rosenhead
A full list of more than 1,200 signatories is at

• Since 2008 the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) has been supporting two new children’s libraries in the Gaza Strip. IBBY is an international organisation of people dedicated to children’s literacy and literature and to the promotion of international understanding through children’s books.

Last year, an IBBY delegation was able to visit Gaza for the first time. In Beit Hanoun the children spoke about hearing the drones overhead and of the people they knew who had been killed or injured in Israeli air strikes.

It is impossible to imagine what it is like for young people just to live from day to day in Gaza under such constant pressure. IBBY UK and the many writers and illustrators for young people, lecturers, teachers, librarians and storytellers who have signed this letter call on the British government to influence the government of Israel to cease its present assault and to lift its blockade of Gaza and its occupation of other Palestinian territory and to work in good faith towards a lasting peace in the region.
Pam Dix chair of IBBY UK, Anne Fine author and former children’s laureate, Michael Rosen author and former children’s laureate, Philip Pullman author, Jackie Kay, Debjani Chatterjee poet, Anne Marley librarian , Alan Gibbons author, Gillian Cross author, Bali Rai author, Beverley Naidoo author, Bernard Ashley author, Rina Vergano playwright, Candy Gourlay author, Elizabeth Laird author, Jane Ray illustrator Helen Cowcher illustrator, Jeremy Strong author, Matthew Kay filmmaker, Kerry Mason and Fen Coles Letterbox Library, Julia Jarman author, Linda Newbery author, Lynne Reid Banks author, Catherine Johnson author, Nicholas Tucker author, Piet Grobler illustrator and lecturer, Rose Impey author, Prodeepta Das photographer, Vivien French author, Sophie Hallam, Mary Hoffman author, Chris Stephenson, Carol Thompson illustrator, Pamela Lewis, Ferelith Hordon librarian and editor, Charles Forrest, Val Edgar author, Margaret Bateson-Hill author and storyteller, Rachel Johnson, Mary Green author, Margaret Chamberlain illustrator, Nicki Cornwell author, Evelyn Arizpe lecturer, Anne Harding librarian and lecturer, Ann Lazim librarian, Anna McQuinn author and publisher,Laura Cecil literary agent, Nicola Collins, Tricia Adams librarian, Pat Pinsent author and lecturer, Clive Barnes librarian, Lesley Delaney, Alexandra Strick book consultant, Rebecca Butler student, John Newman bookseller, Enid Stephenson, Eve Tandoi student, Jean Burke, Karen Argent teacher and lecturer, Nikki Marsh, Ollie Alden, Beth Cox book consultant, Sheila Ray librarian and lecturer, Shirley Hobson, Zoe Toft book consultant, Sarah Lawrence, Diana Kimpton author, Kay Waddilove, Anne Walker, Susan Bailes, Bridget Carrington, Sue Mansfield librarian, and Marion Brettle


Thanks, Guardian, for helping solve the riddle of why more houses are not built in spite of large numbers of people in housing need and houses fetching record prices (Tesco unlocks its landbank to build 4,000 homes, 19 July). (pPausing to query how it is that Tesco are so sure to get permission to build houses on land earmarked for retail development and whether the houses will actually be built and when, we refer to the Barker Review of Housing Supply interim report in 2003 where just seven named corporate housebuilders held landbanks of land surplus to their present or imminent requirement equivalent to 732,000 (unbuilt) new houses. Compare the total new house completions achieved in England in 2013 of 109,370.

Just one named corporate housebuilder, Wilson Bowden, whose annual output in 2002 was 4,164 houses, held a landbank sufficient to supply more than the whole national new house build, or 33 years’ supply of their own requirements at their then annual rate of build. Wimpey held 16 years’ supply and Persimmon 19 years’ supply. Barker explained landbanks: “housebuilders are primarily rewarded for obtaining valuable land rather than responding to consumer needs”, which, translated from Whitehallese, means that they make greater profit on the rise in value of undeveloped land than they do from building houses on it.

But it is not only housebuilders who block development by holding landbanks. Barker reported that Legal & General held a landbank equivalent to 79,000 housing units. Although it was unpermissioned land, Barker explained that a housebuilder might hope to have it included in a local development plan. Near Dorchester, in 1994 the Duchy of Cornwall was granted permission to build some 8,000 new houses on land that was formerly Poundbury farm and Middle farm. Twenty years later, many of the houses have yet to be built.

Now, added to housebuilders who won’t build and insurance companies (pension funds?) who don’t build, we have giant corporate retailers and traditional landowners – and who else? – withholding the only land earmarked for building houses. It is ironic that self-builders reported to the Office of Fair Trading Homebuilding (sic) Survey 2008 that finding land was their greatest perceived difficulty. The British housing market is broken. It’s not a game but real-life monopoly in which the landbankers always win.
James Armstrong
(Contributor to the Barker review and to the OFT Homebuilding Survey), Dorchester

Angus Roxburgh (Comment, 22 July) describes the “rebels” in eastern Ukraine as “drunken, gun-toting hotheads”. Some facts are in order. Ukraine’s democratically elected President Yanukovich was overthrown in a western-backed and largely fascist-led coup. In response the people of Donetsk and Luhansk, who had supported Yanukovich, held referendums for independence on 11 May. With turnouts of 75% in both Donetsk and Luhansk they voted for independence from Ukraine with 89% and 96% respectively of the vote. The response was an intensification of the military assault from Kiev.

In a subsequent presidential election from which millions abstained Petro Poroshenko won with a turnout of less than 45%. Since that time Donetsk and Luhansk have been pounded by the military, with more than 500 deaths, 1,400 injured and 165,000 refugees. Those who have resisted this onslaught are called “terrorists” by the Kiev regime, and “drunken hotheads” by Angus Roxburgh.
Neil Harvey

Dear Michael,

Hearty congratulations to you on becoming the new chief executive of the Global Reporting Initiative. Your selection among an exceptionally strong group of candidates bodes well for both GRI and the future of corporate transparency worldwide.

Ernst Ligteringen’s departure after a dozen years of exemplary leadership is a pivotal juncture rich in opportunities in a world dramatically different from 1997 when Bob Massie and I co-founded GRI. At that moment, we committed to a vision whose time we believed had come. We sensed that the ingredients common to all major social innovations – shared grievance, propitious timing, and bold leadership – were present and ready to fuel a major shift in corporate transparency. With collaboration from companies, investors, NGOs, labour groups and multilaterals in GRI’s early years, we were able to lay the foundation for the GRI that you will lead in the coming years.

GRI faces a spectrum of challenges in preserving its position at the vanguard of sustainability reporting. As you well know from your work as an entrepreneur, an organisation that stands still is an organisation that will not thrive in the long-term. GRI’s reconstituted governance is an example of adaptation in the face of a changing landscape in which sustainability reporting, in little more than a decade, has shifted from the extraordinary to the exceptional to the expected. Now, the challenge of raising the number of GRI reporters from thousands to tens of thousands demands a new generation of innovation, executed in a way that ensures that its original higher purpose – contributing to a just and sustainable global future – remains intact. Reporting has been, and always will be, a means to an end, not an end in itself. Disclosure is one among many necessary, but not sufficient conditions, for catalysing transformational change.

In collaboration with the Board, you undoubtedly are developing a strategy to guide GRI’s operations in the coming decade. From my outsider perspective, I hope that these deliberations include a number of critical questions: First, how to bring sustainability reporting to the hundreds of thousands of private companies worldwide to complement GRI’s strength with publicly-listed firms. Second, how to further advance customisation of reporting to address the diversity of materiality issues for both report preparers and report users such that no organisation can rightfully claim irrelevance, complexity or burden as an excuse not to report. Third, how to accelerate GRI reporting from “soft law” to “hard law” through integration in government policy, law and regulation.

Fourth, how to more closely and constructively collaborate with kindred disclosure initiatives to address market fatigue and confusion with disparate – and potentially complementary – initiatives. GRI’s memorandum of understanding (MoU) with IRRC (pdf) is a step in the right direction. Like any MoU, it’s not only what’s in writing that matters – it’s the concrete actions that follow that give any MoU real meaning. GRI’s efforts to cooperate with the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) should continue. The focus of the SASB – investor, US and sectoral – complements GRI’s multi-user, global and universal indicators strengths. Imagine the impact of harmonising these two initiatives in driving reporting excellence and uptake worldwide. Win-win arrangements are within reach.

And lastly, how to ensure that sustainability context – the integration of thresholds and limits into environmental and social disclosures – remains a high priority in GRI’s methodological innovation. The collective gains resulting from incremental improvements in environmental and social performance must be measured against the realities of finite constraints in terms of ecological limits and social norms if true sustainability is to be achieved.

Sustainability reporting and the transparency it promotes remains a work in progress, and always will be. New sustainability issues continuously emerge in a dynamic, rapidly changing world. In the early 2000’s, GRI identified HIV-AIDs as a material issue in mining and other extractive industries, a position met with raised eyebrows that soon gave way to broad acceptance by both reporters and report users. Now, privacy, livable wages, “dark pools” in financial markets and other emergent issues merit the same level of attention as carbon emissions, occupational health and safety, board diversity and other issues regarded as mainstream. The “mainstream” does not stand still; it continues to widen.

I wish you great success in leading GRI into its next phase. In a perilous world, its role as movement builder, thought leader and social entrepreneur is needed more than ever. With restructured and streamlined governance, an enduring commitment to innovation and collaboration, and reducing barriers to scaling the number of reports by orders of magnitude, GRI’s will continue to play the role of game changer that its founding fathers envisioned.


Allen White

Power struggle continues

Thank you for your comprehensive leader, Dusty scrolls of freedom (11 July). Over the past 10 years, the perpetual Magna Carta has periodically been on my mind whenever corruption and power grabbers make the news. Where in 1215, the aristocracy was successfully striving against King John for influence and power, with some crumbs eventually arriving at the mortals’ tables, over the past 10 years, particularly, corporations, their executives and billionaires, have been very successful in grabbing and securing influence and power.

Both in 1215 and today, taxation played an important role. Since serfs and slaves are gone, we plain mortals have legal rights that must continue to be protected by our judiciary against corporations, their executives and billionaires, as well as fallen politicians.
Axel Brock-Miller
Langford, British Columbia, Canada

The power of conscience

I am indebted to RR Reno, the editor of the American magazine First Things (January 2013), for this comment on nihilism by the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz: “A true opium for the people is a belief in nothingness after death – the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murder we are not going to be judged.”

It came back to me after I finished the enthralling coverage of the lengthy phone-hacking trial (4 July): first-class journalism, indeed, and a restrained but substantial contribution to public perception of the British justice system at work. Regardless of the final outcome, hemmed in as it was by legal chicanery of a high order made possible by limitless funding, a dubious lot were put on public display in a manner that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. In that sense, justice in an imperfect world was well served.

It may also be that, willy-nilly, like those of us who believe in a God and a moral universe, they have been or will be brought at some point to contemplate, even for a moment, the prospect of ultimate justice sitting there as a chink in their armour. That other fine poet, Will Shakespeare, had things to say about conscience doing things to people that others could not.
Bill Finn
St Paul, Alberta, Canada

Bureaucracy, India-style

Your article on Indian bureaucracy (Modi’s new broom, 11 July) reminds me of a story I heard in Kerala, in southern India, when I was working there many years ago. A government office wrote to its headquarters in Delhi asking permission to destroy some of its redundant files, complaining of the lack of storage space, that many of the files, because of old age, were virtually illegible etc.

At first there was no reply; finally, after about six months, the answer arrived. “Your request”, it said, “has received our sympathetic consideration. Permission to destroy the files is hereby granted, subject, however, to one condition: namely, that you will first make and store two photostat copies of each file. Hoping this will solve your problems, we remain etc”.

This may not be a true story, but it reflects on prevailing attitudes to the Delhi bureaucracy already held 40 years ago.
Wolf Scott
Geneva, Switzerland

Animals and antibiotics

So, yet another report tells us that, due to increased drug resistance to antibiotics, “modern medicine goes out the window” (11 July) and, yet again, no coverage is given to the fact that the routine feeding of antibiotics to animals in intensive farming is a major contributor to the development of resistance. While I agree that new antibiotics need to be developed and prescription to humans should be far more selective, the quickest gain would be to ban their routine use in farming.

Without routine feeding of antibiotics, most intensive farming operations would need to close down and we would find ourselves returning to a situation where cattle graze on meadows and fallow fields. But would this be such a bad thing?

Yes, meat prices would shoot up but this would mean that: a) when we do eat meat, it would be of far higher quality; b) that by eating less meat we would be healthier; c) that animals live far more humane lives and; d) that huge swaths of tropical forest would not need to be cut down to produce the millions of tonnes of animal feed needed to feed those suffering, overbred, highly medicated animals.
Alan Mitcham
Cologne, Germany

Appeal of the strongman

What can we learn from the present political situation in countries where corrupt leaders have been overthrown by revolution from within or by an outside agency? In Iraq, Libya, Egypt and of course the ongoing situation in Syria, we see chaos, instability, mass destruction and the murder of innocents (18 July). Surely the majority of the people in these countries must be looking back to the happier times before the revolution.

These chaotic situations have come about by removing, or attempting to remove, the presiding regime or leader. To an outsider, it is evident that the countries involved are far worse off than they were before the revolution.

The question has to be asked: perhaps a country like Iraq or Egypt needs a strong man like Saddam Hussein or Hosni Mubarak to impose a measure of stability, even if it might involve a considerable degree of repression. Is the western version of democracy appropriate in these countries? The answer is certainly not yet and possibly never. Democracy is only possible after a long political process that might stretch over centuries and cannot be imposed on a country riven by sectarian divisions simply because democracy is a nice idea.

This is not to suggest that strongman leaders such as Muammar Gaddafi, Mubarak and Saddam are indispensable – but possibly necessary at given moments in a country’s evolution towards a more democratic model.
Titus Foster
Shoreham, UK

The problem of gender

The sex of the new sloth baby will not be known as there are no external differences between males and females (Shortcuts, 30 May). What confusion if this were true of human infants. What colour clothes to buy the baby, whether to buy it a doll or a truck, whether to tell the baby what a pretty little thing it is or what a big strong boy.

Whatever would we do? We would be completely flummoxed – no gender – horrors! We would have to let it grow up to be whatever it wanted to be and whoever it actually is as a person. One thing we would surely not do is dress the baby in a frock, just in case it later turned out to be a boy. What could be worse? Dressing a boy in a frock like a girl: The biggest possible insult.
Susan Grimsdell
Auckland, New Zealand


• The story asking why there are fewer bank robbers these days (11 July) didn’t touch on two things a real bank robber told me: it is very expensive to plan and pull off a robbery (stolen cars, accommodation and meals before and after, false identification, passing the money and so on). Non-robbers also have no idea that a typical robbery would only gross about $80,000 and they have no idea how heavy a hockey bag full of banknotes is. Plus, it’s pretty hard to hide.
D B Scott
Cambridge, Ontario, ​Canada

• Since it is now over three years since the south of Sudan ceased to be part of the biggest country in Africa, and became an independent country, is it not possible for the Guardian to find a map which shows this recent reality? In the article West Africa Ebola now ‘out of control’(11 July), the small map intended to indicate all the national boundaries on the continent showed the the unmistakable shape of the old Sudan, pre-9 July 2011. Can we be sure that the facts in the article are correct, if the presentation is so sloppy?
Kate Begley
Shields, UK

Re Steven Poole’s review of In the Interests of Safety (4 July). At an airport in Paris I had three 200g tins of pâté confiscated at security. They told me that I was allowed 150g each only, but if the containers had been glass (!) it would have been OK. There were three bins for disposal, one marked sharp objects, one aerosols and one pâté.
E Slack
L’Isle Jourdain, France

• Jenny Diski, in her review of the book Thrive (18 July), seems to conflate unhappiness, a normal and ubiquitous mood, with depression, a fairly well-defined illness. Big Pharma would love that.
Paul Mestitz

Geelong, Victoria, Australia

Please send letters to


Why can’t the countryside be governed by the people who actually understand it?” asks the headline on Nigel Farage’s column of 19 July. I know that Ukip harks back to “the good old days”, but isn’t the 18th century going a bit far?

The people who understand the countryside are those who earn their living there by producing our food. If Nigel Farage wanted to get an idea of the countryside he should have gone to any of the big regional agricultural shows and spoken to productive members of rural society.

Instead he went as a guest of the Country Landowners’ Association to the annual Game Fair held at Blenheim Palace – an event for the country’s wealthiest elite and gun-toting City types, to whom the countryside is a noisy playground, an onshore tax-haven and a conduit through which they can expropriate vast amounts of EU agricultural subsidy in the form of the “single farm payment”.

In the rest of the EU these payments go almost entirely to working family farms. In the UK they are snaffled away by those who own the land, either by claiming the subsidy before renting the land to those who work it, or by forcing up rents to such a level that all of the subsidy goes to the landowner.

It is shocking for Mr Farage to say that Ukip would limit the EU payment going to any individual; the EU has been trying to do this for years , thwarted by the ultra-rich British establishment, his hosts at Blenheim, lobbying the UK government against any limit.

Aidan Harrison
Rothbury, Northumberland

I visited a small farm which is in an EU “stewardship” scheme. There were hares everywhere on the wide field margins. If I were a hare, I wouldn’t vote for Nigel Farage.

Alison Brackenbury
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

MH17 reveals gaping hole in air safety

Media coverage since the loss of MH17 seems to focus on the rights and wrongs of the various criminals involved, but to me as an engineer the terrible loss of 298 persons is a result of the failure of a system, the air transport system that is tasked with keeping us all safe.

No aircraft had any business overflying Ukraine in the last few weeks as evidence mounted that weapons being used were a growing threat to civil aviation. The weak link in the chain seems to me to be that a country is responsible for certifying its own airspace, when there are reasons of national pride and competence, not to mention over-flight fees, that could cloud local officials’ judgement.

There will always be the Putins of the world but the airline industry, by addressing this gaping hole in our air transport protocols, will go farther to prevent further atrocities than any amount of moral indignation.

John Holdsworth
London E14


Yes, McVey should keep quiet

So poor Esther McVey will sit at Cameron’s Cabinet table but will not be allowed to speak (Matthew Norman, 21 July). No surprise there.

She has in recent months visited the school where two of my nieces go, to inspire the young female sixth-form students. She showed a clear lack of interest in them or their concerns for their uncertain job future. But they noticed her distinct interest in the press cameras that were in the same room, so much so that the students renamed her “Esther McMe”.

One 17-year-old said Esther would do well to take the cotton wool out of her ears and shove it in her mouth. Perhaps Cameron had the same thought?

Anna Christie


Pictures of the victims of war

I agree with Robert Fisk (21 July) about the censoring of news pictures from war zones, and especially from Gaza. The coy phrase “some viewers may find the pictures disturbing” is in itself disturbing to most thoughtful people.

If pictures were on our TV screens showing a parent running in terror carrying her child with a limb torn off or half its face blown away, instead of the sanitised pictures of wrapped bodies on the way to burial, how long would public outrage be contained?

After a few days of censored pictures and action shots of long-range guns or helicopter gunships the public switch off; we have seen it all before. Let the world see the real effect of high explosive on human bodies, not its affect on piles of concrete rubble, and the outrage would demand it stop immediately.

Gary Kirk
Burnley, Lancashire

I find Robert Fisk’s suggestion that we should be shown the uncensored pictures of dead bodies in war zones most unsavoury. It affronts the very essence of a civilised society.

If it were to prevent war I could understand, but it won’t. Instead it will create even more hatred and a craving for revenge, which, in the Middle East, will recruit yet more bloodthirsty jihadis.

The last thing we need is more voyeuristic pornography on our television screens.

Stan Labovitch

Wrong place for a statue of Gandhi

The proposal to erect a statue to Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square is a stunt worthy of Tony Blair’s spin machine. It shows a lack of understanding of history and is a blatant tool of diplomacy.

Gandhi is certainly worth commemorating: he was a great man and a key figure in promoting non-violence. However, this is not the way to commemorate him or the place to do it.

Gandhi was primarily interested in moral and ethical issues, not in participating in parliamentary democracy. He led the Congress boycott of the 1920 elections, which began a process of devolution of powers within a parliamentary system, allowing responsibility in certain subjects to Indian ministers. Thereafter, he was involved more in obstructing constitutional change than promoting it, culminating in his call for mass civil disobedience at the moment when the Japanese invasion in 1942 was threatening India.

There is already a very fine statue to Gandhi in Tavistock Square, London, now known by many as “Pea   ce Park”. Parliament Square, standing near his arch-critic Winston Churchill, is inappropriate.

Gandhi is too often used as a convenient icon, whilst neglecting his real messages. A much better commemoration of the Mahatma would be the provision of scholarships for overseas students in law (Gandhi’s chosen subject), human rights, and business ethics.

Philip Woods
London W5


An appointment with shameless commerce

My GP surgery have just installed an on-line appointments system and, guess what, it cost them nothing. Wonderful! Except of course it isn’t.

If I had known it was a freebie before I used it I would not have touched it with a barge-pole, because one of the things which you learn is that free sites are not to be trusted.

I got a load of trouble in the shape of pop-up adverts. My computer started to look like the Blackpool sea front. That people think they have the right to put stuff I do not want and cannot easily remove on my computer without my permission makes me fume. It cost me £50 to get MacAfee to do it for me.

I understand that the suppliers of the service are completely unapologetic. They say “That’s how we make our money”  and “people can get pop-up blockers”. Understood, but I resent the onus being put on me to pay keep out stuff I do not want. I know I have to do this with “cowboy” sites, which I do by simply ignoring them, but I do not expect to have to put up with this from my doctor!

It doesn’t give you much confidence in business morality which, in my view, is rapidly going downhill. I do not want the Health Service joining in this decline.

Dudley Dean
Maresfield, East Sussex


Assisted dying is all about choice

It was very difficult to read Robyn Appleton’s description of his father’s final hours (letter, 19 July) without emotion. On the face of it, the letter made a powerful case for perseverance with the status quo regarding assisted suicide.

However it brought into focus the critical issue here. Were the law to change in favour of Lord Falconer’s private member’s Bill, Mr Appleton’s father would still have had the option to see out his life in pain or to choose to end it all, albeit assisted. As things stand, those of us who would welcome the choice will still have no such option.

Philip Stephenson


Superbugs on  the rampage

In your report “Shock find of superbugs in river alarms scientists” (19 July) sewage-treatment plants are described as giant “mixing vessels” where antibiotic resistance can spread between microbes. With increasing outbreaks of ebola virus in West Africa, and smallpox being regenerated in laboratories, is this nature’s WMD?

Mike Loveland
London SE1


Discussion between atheists and the faithful seems never to bring the participants closer

Sir, As a deeply sceptical and God-fearing agnostic I was bemused by Matt Ridley’s attack on the “faith virus” of religion (July 21). When will those in the vanguard of muscular atheism realise that it takes just as much faith to believe in nothing as it does to believe in something? Both are equally implausible and incomprehensible explanations of why we are here and in this regard at least atheism is no more than just another religion; alongside the usual suspects and newer pretenders including humanism and environmentalism. The faith virus takes many forms but is peculiarly resistant to self-diagnosis.

Paul Kohler
Head of the School of Law, SOAS

Sir, I hope that many Christians will take a long hard look at their beliefs after reading, among other salient points, that religious foundation free schools are more vulnerable to religious fundamentalism than non-faith schools. That the UK is listed with Estonia, Israel and Ireland in allowing religious selection in schools is frankly embarrassing.

Richard Perkins

Sir, I am all in favour of alliances between Christians and gentle, tolerant humanists like Matt Ridley. but if his description of Anglicanism as a virus or infection is a good example of humanist tolerance I doubt if the alliances will last long.

Philip McCarthy
Bebington, Merseyside

Sir, Matt Ridley is right. Schools should not have the power to turn away pupils simply because they or their parents have the “wrong” beliefs, particularly when a survey in November 2012 found that 73 per cent of British adults agree. The Cantle Report also found that faith schools with religiously selective admissions are automatically a source of ethnic division in their local communities. In our increasingly pluralistic society, how can we justify continuing to divide children in their formative years along religious, and hence ethnic, lines? The easiest and fairest solution is the secularisation of our education system: the abolition of religiously motivated admissions policies, collective worship and ideally faith schools in general.

Juhani Taylor
Swindon, Wilts

Sir, I question Matt Ridley’s view that “humanists are showing no sign of turning intolerant”. I have to assume that he has not read any of the works by notable atheists in recent years. Those that I have read, including that by Richard Dawkins, all take an aggressive, abusive and dismissive attitude to belief and faith, which they clearly do not understand, nor more importantly wish to understand, and frequently demean and belittle those who do have belief and faith. Is this not intolerant?

Mr Ridley himself uses the phrase “faith virus” and makes a point about communist regimes enforcing “a worship of their leaders with all the techniques and fervour of religion”, missing the point that this was (and in North Korea remains) brainwashing propaganda underpinned by violence, torture, show trials and labour camps.

As a Christian, I respect and indeed would defend Ridley’s right to freedom of thought, expression and yes belief. May I ask why he doesn’t respect mine?

Andrew Carr
Dartford, Kent

Sir, Your cartoon (“You’ll have had your tea”, July 21) has got it wrong if the café is meant to be in Glasgow.

When you visit in Glasgow, the first words you hear are “Come away in and have something to eat”; in Edinburgh “You’ll have had your tea”; and in Aberdeen you will find that the table is groaning with food — and the prices are all very reasonable.

Charles McLay


Sir, The hospitality of Glaswegians is legendary, and to associate us with a less than friendly welcome to visitors, attributed to Edinburgh, deserves nothing less than a “Glasgow Kiss”. That may defeat my first assertion, however.

Kate Hollywood


Sir, One of the golden orfe in our pond in Hampshire (I can’t recall whether it was Naff Orfe or Push Orfe) developed a nasty white growth, and I reluctantly decided to catch it in case it affected the other fish in the pond. It proved far too wary to be caught in a net, and I wondered about the problem until one day I saw it basking in the sun very close to the surface of the water. So I took out my trusty .22 air rifle, and after much difficulty recalling my school certificate physics and the laws of refraction, I took careful aim and fired. I luckily got it right, because the fish just gently rolled over, quite dead, and my wife’s protestations about draining the pond subsided.

H. Rigg

Porlock, Somerset

Sirs, Your letters about shooting fish remind me of a tale told by a friend. When he was a youngster he was shooting rabbits by the side of the Tweed. One day he saw a large salmon in the water. A quick look round — nobody watching — he fired both barrels at once at the fish. The salmon was completely unharmed by this, of course, but it surfaced long enough for my friend to land it and dispatch it. He broke his gun, put the barrel and salmon into the gun bag, wrapped the stock in his anorak and went home with his catch on the bus.

Bernard Airlie

Biggar, Lanarkshire

Sir, What is it with your writers and regional accents? Andrew Billen complains of “impenetrable
northern” (is that generic?) in a TV review; Robert Crampton in recent travels couldn’t understand a Cornishman; and so on, passim. Perhaps you — to use your favoured metropolitan collective pronoun — spend too much time in a monoculture.

Despite living in the southeast, I have no trouble understanding the locals elsewhere, apart from perhaps Sarf Lunnun. Oh, and middle-class subtext in the home counties . . .

J Roger Knight


Sir, I found the comment “once you get past the impenetrable northern accents” by your TV reviewer to be offensive and the typically condescending view of people who inhabit the world inside the M25. I can assure you there are impenetrable accents emanating south of Watford.

W Jopson

Haslingden, Lancs


SIR – The move to mass-medicate, using statins for prevention (Letters, July 19), is not without its cost to the individual.

Travel insurance policies generally allow for one medication to be taken, for existing medical conditions, without consequences to the price or cover of the policy. If the large numbers now covered under this exemption started also to take statins, just in case, then they would find themselves having to purchase more expensive cover.

Kevin Cottrell
Buckland, Oxfordshire

SIR – The eminent physicians writing on Saturday’s Letters page are correct that it is for patients to choose whether they adopt statins as medication in place of lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, they overlook the fundamental point that the relevant information is deliberately withheld from patients, and indeed from the GPs to whom they would naturally turn for advice.

The pharmaceutical companies are allowed to refrain from publishing virtually all their trials data. What are the side effects of statins? No one is allowed to know, so we have to go on hearsay.

I work on the assumption that if the companies had nothing to hide, they wouldn’t hide it.

David R Lewis
Purley, Surrey

Sounds of summer

SIR – Helen Brown, in her choice of summer songs, has left out the most iconic of all: Mungo Jerry’s In the Summertime.

Robert Clarke
Kilmore, Argyll

The Major

SIR – Years ago, a colleague and I travelled throughout England on business. At noon we kept our eyes open for a good-looking pub (Letters, July 21). The routine was always the same. My colleague would say: “Morning, mine host, two pints of your best bitter, please. Has the Major been in yet?”

Only about 20 per cent of the time did the landlord reply that the pub didn’t have a Major. Four times out of five the landlord would say one of the following: “It’s a bit early for him.” “You’ve just missed him.” “He’s on holiday.” “He’s in the gents.” “He is round the back, hiding from his wife.” Or: “He is over there.”

We met many nice majors over the years.

John Ashworth
Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire

Trusting grown-ups

SIR – John C Powell (Letters, July 21) laments that a man can no longer offer a lift to a strange woman without fearing an accusation of sexual assault.

The difference between the Britain of half a century ago and today is that general belief in the moral and social responsibility (then called “respectability”) of ordinary people in the street was axiomatic and almost invariably justified.

When, at the age of seven in the late Fifties, I started to walk the mile or so from home to my London day school, my mother gave me the simple instruction: “If you get lost or find yourself in any kind of trouble, ask a grown-up for help.”

All my friends were given the same advice. On the few occasions when we did go astray we were looked after (and if necessary admonished) by strangers with the same care as we received from neighbours or teachers. It is difficult to imagine responsible parents giving similar guidance to their children today.

Charles Jackson
Hyssington, Montgomery

Culture wars

SIR – The call by the Earl of Clancarty and 97 other signatories (Letters, July 21) for the overdue ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict could not be more timely, with current events in the Middle East and in Ukraine.

Some might argue that in the heat of armed conflict, no one will think twice about protecting a few old stones. But they miss the point. Protecting cultural property is not just about preventing the looting of artefacts and destruction of sites; it is also about protecting what these physical things represent – the intangible heritage and heart of long-standing communities.

What better way of using some of the spare time of this Parliament than to ratify a convention to which the rest of the civilised world has already committed?

Professor Peter Stone
Head of School of Arts and Cultures
Newcastle University

Dial N for Nobody

SIR – I have a problem when I telephone a business. I use a Seventies GPO telephone, plan 706, with a rotary dial. When asked to press a number for the department I want, I have to wait until someone speaks to me.

Sometimes this never happens and I am then at a loss of what to do.

Stephen Woodbridge-Smith
Tavistock, Devon

The curse of neighbours’ trampolines

SIR – Oh how I agree with Jacky Maggs (Letters, July 21) about trampolines in neighbours’ gardens! Our neighbours have screaming, trampolining children, and when these are too tired to do any more to spoil the day, their parents plus friends go on into the night to shriek with laughter over a nice, chilled, al fresco bottle of wine.

Felicity Foulis Brown
Bramley, Hampshire

SIR – When I moved here, my neighbour told me not to let my children play in the garden, but send them to the park. I replied that we had bought a house with a big garden so the children could play in it.

Thirty years later, a family with three young children lives next door. The children really enjoy their trampoline. I like to hear the noise, laughter and screaming of children playing. Some people as they get older seem to forget they were ever children themselves.

Geraldine Thompson
Petts Wood, Kent

SIR – We ended up moving across the country to avoid the noise emanating from our neighbour’s garden after they bought a 20ft-wide trampoline for their three children. It wasn’t their children so much, but the 15 or so “friends” deposited daily in the school holidays, while the yummy-mummies were having coffee and a chat.

Marion Martin
Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire

The turbines are coming: now it’s Rye Harbour, East Sussex; next a wind farm off Brighton  Photo: alamy

6:59AM BST 22 Jul 2014


SIR – The development of 175 wind turbines off the Sussex coast (, July 21), which will ruin views, has now been approved in an act of vandalism by Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary. The news slipped out when attention was on the government reshuffle.

Among the objectors were the National Trust and the South Downs National Park Authority. There is no opportunity for appealing against this decision. People will wish they had paid more attention during the planning inquiry. I hope they will at least remember the politicians, both local and national, who failed to oppose this expensive fiasco and that they will take their revenge at the ballot box.

In the meantime I advise anyone who is thinking of visiting Brighton to do so sooner rather than later.

Tony Saunders
Brighton, East Sussex

SIR – I wonder if the Energy Secretary spoke to the Defence Secretary before agreeing to site 175 wind turbines off the south coast.

It would not be too difficult for a band of so-called freedom fighters to organise half a dozen rigid rib craft with a 50 knot engine on the rear and half a ton of explosives on the front for a raid.

Roy Deal
Locks Heath, Hampshire

The inability of national governments to get to grips with the MH17 disaster is distressing

Dealing with Russia in the wake of the destruction of the Malaysia Airlines flight

 A pro-Russia rebel guards a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash on July 21, 2014 in Torez

A pro-Russia rebel guards a train containing the bodies of victims of the MH17 crash in Torez Photo: Getty

7:00AM BST 22 Jul 2014


SIR – I am not certain which is more distressing: the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, or the inability of governments throughout the world to take any action over it.

Simon Graley
Brinkworth, Wiltshire

SIR – President Vladimir Putin of Russia blamed Ukraine for the downing of flight MH17 “because the tragedy happened over its territory”. The West blames Putin, for his support of the insurgency in south-east Ukraine with arms and possibly men, and is contemplating more damaging sanctions against Russia.

The West needs to tread with care. The more damaging the sanctions, the less Putin has to lose by invading and occupying part, or even the whole, of Ukraine upon the pretext of restoring peace to that country and making its airspace safe.

The Rev His Honour Peter Morrell
Nassington, Northamptonshire

SIR – This tragedy brings to mind the Katyn forest massacre in the Second World War, with which Russia strongly denied any implication for decades.

The old Communist rule book advised reacting to any such incidents by diverting attention away from the immediate issue and side-tracking with partly irrelevant comments.

Mr Putin’s lack of vigorous action suggests that he has a guilty conscience.

A A B Wood
Storeton Parva, Wirral

SIR – I don’t recall Britain blaming the Irish Taoiseach every time the IRA or INLA committed an atrocity. Why are we doing it to Russia?

Rev Philip Foster
Hemingford Abbots, Huntingdonshire

SIR – Following the act of war by Russian proxies last week, the French government must now halt the sale to Russia of the two Mistral-class assault ships (one of them named, with tragic irony, Sevastapol).

The 300 Russian sailors who arrived on June 29 in Saint-Nazaire, France, to receive training, should also now fly straight back to Russia.

Simon Gaul

SIR – It’s all very well putting sanctions on individuals, but more appropriate sanctions are needed that will affect the economy of everyday Russians and let them know what’s going on.

A good start would be immediately to stop all European and American cruise liners calling at any Russian or Crimean port. Places such as St Petersburg would soon be up in arms at the effect it would have on their economy.

Robert Nicholls
Kidderminster, Worcestershire

SIR – Is it not time to reconsider whether Russia should be hosting the next football World Cup? There were already some questions arising at the time it was chosen, and subsequent events have cast further doubts on how appropriate this is.

Peter Banister
Taunton, Somerset

SIR – Baroness Ashton and Herman Van Rompuy poked a stick into a wasps’ nest by encouraging Ukraine to try to join the EU without maintaining friendly relations with Russia. That is not to absolve Mr Putin and his terrorist friends, who deserve the blame for shooting down MH17, but a tiny bit of responsibility lies with those running the EU.

George Herrick
Pendleton, Lancashire

SIR – Before it turns into a casus belli, can we be certain that this catastrophe is the result of a surface-to-air missile, given this it is the second Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 to suffer an unexplained fate?

Alasdair Macleod
Sidmouth, Devon

Irish Times:

Sir, – As Stephen Collins (July 19th) rightly points out, Mary Lou McDonald’s recent claim that the IRA campaign in Northern Ireland was “inevitable” must be challenged.

While she is right that nationalists in Northern Ireland experienced blatant injustices and discrimination, this in no way legitimises the armed response of the IRA. In fact, opposition to those injustices was led not by the IRA but by the leaders of the peaceful and democratic civil rights movement. As a result of their work, major reforms were achieved in housing allocation, employment, the electoral franchise and policing. They also negotiated the reform of the governance of the Northern Ireland state in the Sunningdale Agreement of 1974, which included power-sharing between unionists and nationalists and the establishment of all-island institutions.

The IRA, however, completely rejected this agreement and demonised those democrats who negotiated it. Instead, they embarked on their own “long war”, with the stated aim of making Northern Ireland ungovernable under a crude “Brits Out” strategy – without reference to reform, civil rights, or ending discrimination and injustice. This caused thousands of deaths and countless atrocities and saw Northern Ireland caught in a bitter sectarian conflict between the IRA, loyalist paramilitaries and British security forces.

Only when the IRA belatedly came to the conclusion that they could not win did they begin to seek a way out. This came at the expense of many lives and a deeply divided society in Northern Ireland that remains divided in the more peaceful era enjoyed today.

Sinn Féin leaders have received credit for finding a way out of the bloody cul-de-sac into which the IRA should never have gone. Their party has entered the political mainstream and achieved success. But any credit is tarnished when they try to rewrite history and claim that the IRA campaign was in any way justified.



Co Derry

Sir, – Gerry Adams, in his recent response to Prof John A Murphy, seems to have missed his most important point, which was that nationalists in general should “face up to the unpalatable historical truth that some form of partition … was necessary to deal with the two conflicting nations in Ireland”.

Similarly, some form of “partition” is necessary to deal with the same two conflicting nations in Northern Ireland. But not according to Prof Murphy: “At this stage in Northern Ireland, surely what is needed most is a long period of peaceful community relations and the slow building of reconciliation.” But he had actually dismissed this kind of talk from Gerry Adams: “But this is no more than aspirational waffle … Orange has shown no interest in any ‘accommodation’ with Green.”

To quote unionist columnist Alex Kane, writing in the News Letter: “Or – and I did say we had a choice – we keep going as we are and accept the most difficult truth of all: which is that we really don’t like each other, don’t want to work together and won’t ever have a common agenda or purpose. I suspect the latter represents the unvarnished truth of our situation.”

What we need to understand and accept is that the Ulster Protestant people do not want to be part of a united Ireland, full stop. The main “republican ideal” is to coerce those people into a united Ireland by force of numbers. To quote Gerry Adams, “a peaceful path to Irish unity”. – Is mise,


Teach Clifton,

North Queen Street,


Sir, — As many Irish speakers have stated, the Gaelic language is the first offical language of the State and our native tongue.

If that is the case, why do we need a Department of the Gaeltacht when we don’t have a Department of English? Why are there Irish language schools for Irish people, when the English language schools are only used by foreigners? If Irish is becoming more popular, how come the Gaeltacht has not increased in size since it was created?

Why do we have Údarás na Gaeltachta, which wastes half its €17.5 million funding on administration? How many multinational companies set up in Ireland because of our Irish speakers? Why do our schoolchildren spend so much time on two subjects, Irish and religion, which are of minimal use in getting a job, contribute nothing to the economy or exchequer, and in relation to which most children leave school knowing as much about them as when they started.

Why does the website of An Coimisinéir Teanga focus on Irish language rights, when the Official Languages Act 2003 instructs him to protect the rights of both languages? And why do Irish language activists continually ask for public services through Irish and then not use them? Case in point, for Census 2011, of the 1,662,253 forms submitted, only 7,806, or 0.47 per cent, were the Irish version. – Yours, etc,




Co Dublin

A chara, – Aidan Doyle’s assertion that native speakers of Irish prefer to use English with State bodies is misleading. If services through Irish weren’t provided so grudgingly and without question there would be no issue. For no practical reason, many of us have had to wait for extended periods and even produce solicitors’ letters to avail of these services. It would be a terrible mistake to change the constitutional status of Irish as this is our defence against a Government that, in spite of its rhetoric, is doing everything to discourage us from speaking our language. – Le meas,


Cearnóg an Ghraeigh,

Baile Átha Cliath 8

Sir,- I am pleased to hear that the Minister for the Gaeltacht, Joe McHugh, has to brush up on his Irish (your editorial, of 19th July 19th).

I hope, however, that he will be realistic and also speak English freely, as he would in any other European country when he has a problem with the local language. I am pleased, since at last the majority of Irish speakers (the ones not fluent in the language) will have a rep familiar with our difficulties, one who might hopefully face the realities that we labour under, such as – the gross imbalance between funding of creative writing in Irish and expenditure on translating official documents; the need to boot the language high priests to allow freedom of expression and modernisation in old-fashioned grammar such as prefixes – which are the bane of students and writers. That would be rebalancing his portfolio, which after all includes Irish culture. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16

Sir, – If and when Joe McHugh attains “fluency in the State’s first official language” (your editorial “A tongue-tied Minister”, July 19th), might he be tempted to show off his newly acquired skill by communicating solely through the medium of Irish while in the Dáil chamber?

If so, I feel such a course of action would be bound to shame the majority of our “linguistically challenged” Deputies currently ensconced in the lower house to enroll into (subsidised?) Irish language classes during the long winter months. Ní faide gob na gé ná gob an ghandail. – Yours, etc,


Beacon Hill,


Co Dublin

A chara, – Bíonn go leor daoine ag fail lochtanna orthu siúd a bhaineann triall as an chuid Gaeilge atá acu. Níl taithí ar bith eile níos comhachtaí chun stop a chur le scaipeadh na dteangan. Ní feictear an friothgníomh céanna le daoine nach bhfuil Béarla foirfe acu pé Éireannaigh iad nó eachtrannach. Ba choir dúinn fáilte a chur roimh éinne atá sásta an iarracht a dhéanamh má theastaíonn uainn an teanga a scaipeadh níos forleithne. (Níl aon amhras orm ach go bhfuil lochtanna ag baint leis an litir seo feasta!) – Is mise,



Co Kildare.

Sirs, – I refer to the article “Denis O’Brien ‘is on the wrong side of history’, says Viber chief” written by Mark Paul (Business This Week, July 18th). Unfortunately, your piece seems to focus upon the misleading and self-serving version of events presently being advanced on Viber’s behalf. In so doing, some fundamental facts are omitted and thus the piece lacks balance.

Viber entered into a written agreement with Digicel, but is now refusing to pay for the services provided under that agreement. The article also fails to highlight that it is illegal in many markets in the Caribbean (most notably in Jamaica and Haiti) to deliberately circumvent the facilities of licensed network operators.

Indeed, in many of these markets, a very significant portion of the revenue earned from international incoming traffic is passed to local governments in the form of Universal Service Funds and other government-imposed levies. This bypass deliberately deprives both licenced operators and governments of significant revenues whilst earning windfall sums for parties that have invested nothing in the region but who seek to make a quick buck on the back of significant capital investment made by others.

The issue is not about being on the wrong side of history; it is about being on the right side of the law. Mr Paul also fails to inform your readers that Digicel’s primary competitor in the region, Cable and Wireless, has taken similar action and has also blocked certain VoIP operators in the region, including Viber. – Yours, etc,


Director of International


Digicel Group Limited,



Sir, – Frank Flannery (“Flannery criticises FG election efforts”, July 22nd) is too critical. Voters supported Fine Gael at the last general election primarily to bring back financial stability to the country. Since that time, it has comprehensively delivered on that objective. Ten-year bond yields currently oscillate around 2.5 per cent, exceeding what would have been reasonable expectations three years ago. The party put in place a target of 100,000 jobs created by 2016, and that target has since become a realistic one.

It is true that the voters did not reward the party at the last local elections. Such a decline in support was, on the whole, unjustified. The tradition of complaining about the Government has become so deeply ingrained in Irish society that it has become almost automatic. Whichever party takes on the difficult task of government after the next election will face similar criticism after a short-lived political “honeymoon”. Mr Flannery’s comments do not sufficiently reflect that reality. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14

Sir, – Tim Dennehy (Letters, July 21st) notes that The Irish Times has not published any expressions of opinion supporting the direct provision system for asylum seekers. He is correct, perhaps because to support direct provision is to defend the indefensible. Supporting it justifies an unjustifiable situation for those men, women and children forced to live in reprehensible conditions, day after day, year after year in a brutal limbo.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights hearings last week made it clear that the Government supports and defends direct provision. Countless letters and articles have apparently not yet demonstrated to it the vast and overwhelming depravity of it.

So we’ll keep writing. – Yours, etc,


Anne Street North,

Dublin 7

A chara, – To answer concerns raised by Breda O’Brien about certain social media sites (Opinion & Analysis, July 19th) Declan Kelly lashes into the Roman Catholic Church (Letters, July 22nd).

Debate in this country is going to become fairly simple, but very boring and rather pointless, if instead of actually addressing issues that come up we instead employ a one-size-fits-all response along the lines of “Forget about that – just look at the Catholic Church.” – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny

Sir, – I am a proud Cork man and Irish man. I am of average weight (or less); I am not an alcoholic or a drug addict; I do not own any apartments in Bulgaria or anywhere else. In this I am typical of most citizens of this country.

Fintan O’Toole (“We Irish are unable to think about the future”, July 22nd) seems to be addicted to gross generalisations and lazy self-loathing on our collective behalf. Arbitrary generalisations about a nation, or any other subset of humanity, offend me, as they do any right-thinking person. Mr O’Toole should desist from this practice. – Yours, etc,


Salmon View Terrace,


Sir, – Gerry Adams (July 22nd) states that “The citizens of Gaza may hear of the Irish parliament extending solidarity to them.”

The trouble is that the “citizens of Gaza” include Hamas, who may feel that the Dáil gesture denotes unquestioning support for their militant behaviour. It may not be seen as “something that represents the feeling of a huge number of Irish people – that is peace in the Middle East?”

Mr Adams, of all people, should know that the first step to achieving peace anywhere is to cease military activity that is clearly failing in its objective and to seek unconditional dialogue.

If Ireland wants to position itself as a peacemaker, it must first be careful not to be seen as taking sides. This should not preclude us from deploring the lethal consequences on both sides of armed conflict. – Yours, etc,


Bromley Court,

Sir, – I note with some alarm the award of €70,000 to a born again Christian dismissed from his position for repeatedly failing to respect the rights of others to a religion-free workplace.

The equality officer in this case would, I am sure, equally find in favour of myself as an atheist had I formally complained about a colleague behaving in this manner and the management had subsequently failed to prevent his (entirely inappropriate) behaviour.

What can an employer do, caught between two such positions, when the person charged with hearing a case like this shows such a lamentable lack of common sense or judgement?

I should have thought that any equality officer worth the title would have had no difficulties in telling those of any particular creed or faith (or lack of it!) to leave it where it belongs in a modern workplace – at the door. Yours, etc,



Dublin 8

Sir,   – I’m gobsmacked by your report (“Council worker unfairly sacked over his faith”, July 22nd).  Next time I visit my council office, in the event of the official I deal with being an evangelical Christian, a scientologist or a salafist,  am I obliged to put up with advocacy, or even proselytising, as part of the transaction?  Even though I only want a parking permit?   Ye Gods!   – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin

Sir, – Ronan O’Brien (“Redmond’s role in story of State should be recognised”, July 21st) describes “a constitutional triumvirate that dominated Irish politics for a century”.

Really it was a string quartet, and one with an obvious first violin. Sure, O’Connell, Parnell and Redmond were the most significant politicians. But there was also ecclesiastical dominance, personified in particular by Cardinal Paul Cullen (1852-78).

The Catholic bishops were on the happy side of every election in Ireland from 1832 until 1880, including 1859, when they backed the British Conservative Party then led by the Earl of Derby and Benjamin Disraeli. – Yours, etc,




Co Roscommon

Sir, – Brian Maye’s account of WG Grace as a cricketer (Irishman’s Diary, July 22nd) also mentions his qualification as a medical doctor. He may have been a great cricketer but he was my grandmother’s not-so-great physician – she was an invalid most of her life. – Yours, etc,





Irish Independent:

* I attended Croke Park last Sunday where I watched a wonderful minor Leinster final between Dublin and Kildare.

I then watched a one-sided Leinster senior final where it was all over bar the shouting by half time.

It was not what I expected.

Yes, Dublin are indeed a class act. Yet there are TV, radio and newspaper pundits who still labour on about this team not yet being tested as if to say that there are better teams out there who will finally take the scalp of the All-Ireland champions.

There are some who go so far as to say that Dublin’s superiority is no help to the other teams in Leinster or to any of the other provinces.

It might be no harm to remind these whimpering pundits that the mighty Kerry won the All-Ireland no less than 14 times from 1975 onwards, while the wonderful Kilkenny hurlers have lifted the championship nine times since 2000.

I don’t recall any moaning when either of these teams dominated their respective games.

They forced other teams to step up to their class.

They made other teams realise that it can be done, only if the will is there and it is allied to help and encouragement from the county boards.

Everyone secretly wants to see the matador gored no matter how great he may be.

And for a long time the world of boxing wanted to see Cassius Clay, later the great Muhammad Ali, being defeated until they finally grudgingly bowed to his superiority.

And so it goes on and on. It’s called human nature – or to be more precise, the secret wish of the begrudger.

To all of the aforementioned, bow your heads now and ask for forgiveness before the time comes when this great Dublin team have long since retired and you will probably whisper between the slugs from your pint: “Ah yeah, that Dublin team was great alright.”




* I realise that we are a dying breed – by which I mean those who can remember the newspaper reports from the late 1940s when the Stern Gang, the Irgun Guerrillas and, to a lesser extent, Haganah were establishing the Jewish homeland as promised in the Balfour Declaration.

With the Arabs trying to keep their land from Jewish immigrants (legal and illegal), the French police were saving London when they stopped a group from the Stern Gang who were planning an aerial bombardment.

The retaliation was similar to today, more noisy but less effective.

Some years ago Geoffrey Wheatcroft wrote an interesting article in ‘The Daily Telegraph’, drawing attention to how much of the Earth’s troubles derive from the Old Testament, inter-Jewish, inter-Christian and inter-Islam factions and the three main bodies carrying out Crusades and Jihads.

I feel Christians are now moving towards the message of Christ through ecumenism but the other two are still in the mire, believing in a vengeful, unforgiving and self-righteous God. For their sakes, I hope when they finally meet him he is not.




* I have just read the Ian O’Doherty piece on Israel and was slightly shocked by his take on the situation in Gaza, with him believing that we are being fed lies by the media and receiving incorrect information. What the facts tell us is that France and Britain organised there to be an area for European Jews to live in Palestine over a century ago.

What the facts tell us is that the UN partitioned Palestine in 1947 to allow the creation of Israel, which the Israelis subsequently ignored and have since proceeded to invade and cross over international lines to give themselves a larger area to control. They have destroyed a nation and pushed people to live in a cramped open-air prison.

How is that not an occupation? How is that not reminiscent of ‘lebensraum’?




* Two hundred and ninety-eight lives were lost when a civilian airliner was shot down by a missile available to only the most advanced armies in the world and fired from an area controlled by Ukrainian rebels.

Such weapons had previously been used to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft. Whether it was operated by insurgents, Russian “advisers”, or regular Russian troops, is almost immaterial. Putin and the Russian federation are ultimately responsible. And yet European leaders do little but wring their hands and complain about the chaotic crash scene investigation and the recovery of bodies.

No one expects European leaders to go to war with a nuclear power like Russia over such a provocation – but the repeated mincing of words by Obama and his NATO allies is embarrassing.

Well might Putin obfuscate until the outcry dies down. But isn’t it about time that the EU took some concerted action? How about a strategic EU energy policy and plan to reduce all dependence on Russian gas within 10 years to zero by building a European super-grid powered from largely sustainable sources?

Irish and Scottish wind, wave and tidal turbines allied to eastern European and Mediterranean solar farms could make up a huge amount of the energy deficit created by a progressive reduction in Russian energy imports, whilst at the same time providing a much-needed boost to investment across the EU.




* Irony always springs to mind when I hear RTE personnel asking questions about high salaries, especially when you know that the questioners are themselves earning very high salaries – in some cases, for the minimum of time and effort.

It would be in the public interest to have the whole organisation opened up to scrutiny by the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee on behalf of the licence payer.

One of the questions that could be put to them would be on their position as an equal opportunity employer. And the whole area of expenditure and expenses as well as salaries and fees.




* Angela Kerins says she suffered an ‘ordeal’ under questioning by PAC. Poor baby. After eight years of living it large as a very well paid CEO, she had to answer some questions about the taxpayers’ money.

I’ve spent 12 years working for Rehab, on about 15pc of what she earned annually.

Am I asked regularly what I am doing? Of course.

Do I have to constantly prove my effectiveness? Yes.

Is my spending planned, checked and verified? All the time.

Like me, Angela knows the work, knows the sector, knows who the money is coming from and exactly what will be asked of her.

Like any member of staff, she had a spotlight shone on her – at the intensity suitable for her abilities and paygrade. Unlike the thousands still working (and working very well) for Rehab, she chose to resign.



Irish Independent


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: