Inspector Banks

27 July 2014 Banks

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

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


Peter Whelan – obituary

Peter Whelan was a dramatist who examined the melancholy life of Shakespeare’s daughter in his hit play ‘The Herbal Bed’

Peter Whelan in 1997

Peter Whelan in 1997 Photo: JONATHAN EELES

6:01PM BST 27 Jul 2014


Peter Whelan, who has died aged 82, was a dramatist who always ploughed his own furrow; indifferent to fashion, he wrote solidly-crafted, thoughtful plays, usually set in the past, of the sort that stimulate reflection and live in the memory.

His best known work, The Herbal Bed (1996), was a beautiful, moving play about the unhappy marriage of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna. The idea came to Whelan when, while working at Stratford, he wandered into Hall’s Croft, the home of John Hall, her Puritan doctor husband. Susanna was publicly accused by a neighbour of adultery with a local haberdasher and having “the runynge of the reynes” (gonorrhoea); and she brought a charge of defamation against her slanderer in the diocesan court at Worcester.

Peter Whelan in 1997 (JONATHAN EELES)

From these spare facts Whelan created a marvellously rich play that was part study of a marital crisis, part courtroom drama and part fascinating evocation of Shakespeare himself.

At a time when public attention in the run-up to the 1997 general election was focusing on the sexual peccadilloes of Tory politicians, the play’s focus on the conflict between public and private morality had contemporary resonance. Yet Whelan, a “dyed in the wool socialist” and republican, never put his own beliefs before his characters. He himself described the play as a work which came close to “what being human is about — the survival of our relationships and the lies that honest people tell”.

Starring Joseph Fiennes, Teresa Banham and David Tennant, The Herbal Bed played to sell-out audiences at The Other Place, Stratford, before transferring to the Barbican Pit. It won Whelan the Lloyds Bank Playwright of the Year award and transferred on again to the Duchess Theatre, where it enjoyed a six-month run, helping to nail the myth that only big names can succeed in the West End.

Yet, apart from a thriller which he co-authored in the 1970s, it was the only one of Whelan’s plays to make the transition. While he continued to be revered by the theatre-going cognoscenti, notching up a total of seven plays for the RSC, for most of his career as a writer he was forced, out of financial necessity, to hold down a job in advertising.

With typically wry humour, Whelan described himself as “the Jeffrey Archer of the subsidised theatre”.

The son of a lithographic artist, Peter Whelan was born at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, on October 3 1931 and brought up at Bucknall, Stoke-on-Trent.

After education at Hanley High School, National Service in the Army in post-war Berlin and Keele University, where he read English and Philosophy, he took a series of short-lived jobs before beginning a career as an advertising copywriter.

Whelan had wanted to write plays since the age of 15, and was always conscious that advertising was not what he wanted to be doing (though he was pleased with his campaign for a Northern beer: “Wherever you may wander, there’s no taste like Stones”). He had to continue with his job to support his wife and family, finally retiring only in his 60s.

Whelan started writing plays seriously in his forties with his friend and advertising colleague Leslie Darbon. Their Double Edge, a political thriller, played at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1978 with Margaret Lockwood in the lead.

However, Whelan found his own voice only when his first solo historical play, Captain Swing, was produced at The Other Place by the RSC in 1978. Starring Zoe Wanamaker and Alan Rickman, and set during the agrarian unrest of the early 19th century, the play took its name from the pseudonymous author of poison pen letters sent to the gentry as farm labourers rioted against the introduction of new threshing machines. It was a huge critical success, transferring to the RSC’s then London base, the Warehouse in Covent Garden.

Whelan followed up with another hit, The Accrington Pals (RSC, 1981), a searingly moving exploration of the human relationships surrounding a battalion of volunteers from the Lancashire town, most of whom were killed in a single day during the Battle of the Somme.

Whelan’s retirement from advertising in the 1990s freed him to become a full-time writer. The Bright and Bold Design (RSC, 1991), loosely inspired by the life of the ceramic artist Clarice Cliff, drew on his roots in the Staffordshire Potteries. The School of Night (RSC, 1992) was an intellectual thriller focusing on the murder of Christopher Marlowe, whose atheism and alleged homosexuality draws the attention of the Elizabethan secret police.

Peter Whelan being awarded Playwright of the Year in 1997 with Sir Richard Attenborough (RICHARD YOUNG/REX)

Divine Right (Birmingham Rep, 1996) was an ambitious piece of futuristic drama which imagined the arrival of republicanism in Britain, following the Prince of Wales’s renunciation of the throne in favour of his eldest son. Though the play was predictably denounced by a couple of Tory MPs, it revealed Whelan’s gift for tenderness towards his characters. His portrayal of a troubled young Prince, like Henry V disguising himself and setting off on a tour of England, was done with human sympathy, and Whelan was subsequently surprised to be invited to spend a weekend at Sandringham, hosted by Prince Charles.

Sadly, Whelan’s final production, The Earthly Paradise (Almeida Theatre, 2004) which explored the triangular relationship between Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, and Morris’s wife, Jane Burden, was something of a disappointment to his admirers, The Daily Telegraph’s critic Charles Spencer describing it as little more than a “dutiful biographical trudge”.

Whelan also did occasional work for television, writing the script for The Trial of Lord Lucan, a documentary drama about the fugitive peer, shown on ITV in 1994.

In 1958 Peter Whelan married Frangcon Price, who survives him with their daughter and two sons.

Peter Whelan, born October 3 1931, died July 3 2014


You rightly point out that it has taken a new generation to advance the campaign against female genital mutilation (Report, 26 July). In the vanguard of the pioneers of that movement is Louise Panton, who was a young producer during my editorship of Forty Minutes (1981-85). Her 1983 film, based in Khartoum, Sudan, was called Female Circumcision and was transmitted on BBC 2 on 3 March 1983. Up to that point the subject had been buried in embarrassed silence. Not least in the BBC, which came near to dropping it on the day of transmission on grounds of delicacy. We were told that portrayal of female genitalia on BBC TV was banned. Louise objected strongly and the film was only saved at the eleventh hour by a piece of case-law plucked from the sky by head of programmes Brian Wenham. Realising female genitalia had to be shown because that was what the programme was about, he devised a compromise. The portrayal of female genitalia could be shown, but only if it was in “an educational context”. On the day of transmission the film was returned to the film editor. As FGM was about to be shown, the film froze to a still- frame and a hastily drawn diagram of the mutilated area was inserted. This was as close to the reality of FGM as was then permitted. The moving film picture later resumed.

However, the film ended with moving pictures of two small girls who were to undergo FGM. Their agonised screams, recorded as the procedure was carried out were overlaid as the film came to a close, and the end credits rolled. This disturbing sequence horrifies and haunts those who saw and heard it to this day. An early day motion was passed in parliament the day after transmission. A direct result was the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act, which came into effect in July 1985, and was later revised in 2003 as the Female Genital Mutilation Act. This programme has never been repeated. In 1991 Louise Panton made another film for Forty Minutes about young teenagers in Britain speaking out to try and prevent their younger sisters being cut. The teenagers had to speak out anonymously; today they can openly campaign. Progress has been slow but palpable, at least.
Roger Mills

Ed Milliband, as Polly Toynbee says (25 July), is making it clear he’s about principle and not posturing and this is what we desperately need. He does not have a soundbite for every occasion, but his speeches are well researched and he communicates them well. Reading Polly’s list of his policies is encouraging, but it does not include returning the NHS to true public ownership which I think would come top of the  list for most citizens in the UK and would be a real vote winner.
Rachel Rogers
Garstang, Lancashire

• Ed Miliband has a face which would fit comfortably in any Jewish home in the UK. Could all the fuss be a question of institutional anti-semitism?
Harry Landis

• Another hot day and yet another picture of people punting in Cambridge (25 July). My wife and I are keeping a tally. We love Cambridge (we met there), but this is getting silly. There are other places where your photographers might get good pictures of people enjoying themselves in the sun even, perish the thought, somewhere up north. How about trying City Park, Bradford, Millennium Square, Leeds, or the Stray in Harrogate next time you’re illustrating a “phew, what a scorcher“ story?
Colin Philpott
Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

• So the Guardian is advertising (24 July) five conversations with eminent writers, and being a champion of a wider Britain, they are being held in London, London, London, London and London. How about something for your readers in Perth and Derry, Aberystwyth, Preston and even Worcester?
Robert Carr
Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire

As members of the National Council of Imams and Rabbis we are extremely concerned at the escalation and continuation of hostilities between Israel and Gaza. We are deeply saddened by the violence, hatred, suffering and loss of life. We acknowledge the grief and pain they cause. We call on wise leadership to strive for a ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table to work towards a sustained peace and two-state solution.

With regard to our shared responsibilities here in Britain, it is particularly important that we do not allow what happens elsewhere in the world to affect the cooperation and understanding we have built up between the Muslim and Jewish communities in this country. We seek to replace fear and prejudice with knowledge and understanding and in this way work together for a more peaceful world. May it be God’s will that peace prevail.
Qari Muhammad Asim imam, Makkah mosque, Leeds, Dayan Ivan Binstock rabbi, St John’s Wood United synagogue, London, Sheikh Muhammad Ismail imam, Birmingham Central mosque, Jonathan Wittenberg rabbi, New North London Masorti synagogue, Colin Eimer rabbi, Sha’arei Tsedek North London Reform synagogue, Imam Asim Hafiz Islamic adviser to the chief of the defence staff, Abdullah Hasan imam, Masjid Khadijah and Islamic Centre, Peterborough, Dr Margaret Jacobi rabbi, Birmingham Progressive synagogue, Sheikh Ezzat Khalifa imam, London Central mosque, Jason Kleiman rabbi, Bet Hamidrash Hagadol synagogue, Leeds, David Lister rabbi, Edgware United synagogue, London, Ian Morris rabbi, Sinai synagogue, Leeds, Mokhtar Osman imam, York Way mosque, London, Shahid Raza imam, Central mosque, Leicester, Danny Rich chief executive of Liberal Judaism UK, Mohammad Shafiq imam, Darul Ummah Jamme mosque, London, Reuven Silverman rabbi, Manchester Reform synagogue, Daniel Smith rabbi, Edgware Reform synagogue, London, Alexandra Wright rabbi, Liberal Jewish Synagogue, London, Mufti AK Barkatullah Islamic Sharia Council, Leyton

• I am not sure if outrage outweighs grief at witnessing the escalating human destruction in Gaza (Israeli strike kills 15 at UN school used as refuge, 25 July). When did slaughtering civilians you illegally occupy and daily humiliate become the new “self defence”? Would a British government be so crazed as to illegally occupy its next-door neighbour for 50 years, deny its history, steal its resources, move settlers into choice locations while caging the ousted “natives” within remaining sealed remnants, then bomb them for firing (relative to Israel’s awesome arsenal) garden-shed rockets?

Violence by either party cannot be condoned. There are no “sides”: we mourn each victim. But every law of human decency, war and international law is being broken in the killing of civilians in Gaza. A Palestinian boy wrote on Facebook, “We have nothing left to lose. Now I would rather die with my family under the rubble of our house than have a humiliating truce. No justice, no peace.” Those who maintain a strangling siege reap reprisal. Those who turned Gaza into an overcrowded, impoverished internment camp should not be surprised that they tunnel underneath the earth, just as imprisoned Jewish people and British soldiers did during the war. What right have those who have, for 47 years, indiscriminately crossed the green line, expropriating land and constantly harming civilians in raids, shootings and settlements, to raise their hands and speak of Palestinian terrorism? The occupation has turned Israel into a colonial power and colonialism brutalises not only the occupied but the occupier as well. What is happening is a tragedy for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

London and Washington give almost iron-clad support for Israel and US vetoes at the UN shield Israel from prosecution for war crimes and the occupation. Public anger is steadily growing at the impotence of political and judicial systems, locally and globally, to enforce justice, equality and human rights. Unless Israel is called to account, we fail the helpless civilians of Gaza and encourage all those with a militaristic mindset that they can perpetuate a violent modus operandi.
Catherine Thick
Equity & Peace

• In your editorial (26 July) you state that “unless the deeper causes of the problem which is Gaza are addressed by Israel, the US and the international community, a ceasefire will mean very little”. You obviously absolve Hamas from any need to address this problem. But the Hamas charter shows that much of this dire situation flows from its ideology. It states that peace initiatives are all contrary to its beliefs. Israel may well need to rethink its policies but there can be no peace without a drastic change in Hamas’s objectives.
Paul Miller

• “Before the current round of violence, the West Bank had been relatively quiet for years,” writes Jonathan Freedland (Israel’s fears are real, but this war is utterly self-defeating, 26 July). According to B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights centre, 90 West Bank Palestinians were killed, 16 of them children, by the IDF or by settlers between January 2009 and May 2014. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there have been 2,100 settler attacks since 2006, involving beatings, shootings, vandalising schools, homes, mosques, churches and destroying olive groves. According to Amnesty International, between January 2011 and December 2013, Israeli violence resulted in injuries to 1,500 Palestinian children. “Relatively quiet” for whom?.
Leon Rosselson
Wembley, Middlesex

• Jonathan Freedland expresses the emotional impasse. The “but” lies in the argument, used last week by David Cameron: “What would we in Britain do if we were subject to rocket fire from across our border?” It looks convincing as grounds for Israel’s actions. But what would we in Britain do if a large chunk of our land – proportionate to the West Bank – had been taken by a foreign power, built upon and our people repressed? The question answers itself and provides the way forward.

As the US seems to be the only actor with clout, an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank under American and UN supervision and with US guarantees to Israel to defend her borders should be security enough. Only the US could do it. Without this radical solution it’s hard to see how Israelis will ever sleep peacefully in their beds or Palestinians begin to recover from the deep hatred they must feel for Israel’s land-snatch. I cannot know the answer in Gaza, but settling the West Bank problem must be the start.
Richard Payne

• Your editorial seeking to identify the roots of violence in Gaza claimed that the “chain of causation” leads to Ariel Sharon. It comes as no surprise that your interpretation of history has a wicked, devious Israeli deceive a nation of simple honest Palestinians, who wanted nothing better than to live in peace with their neighbours.

You say that “Israel left Gaza institutionalised”. But the first acts of the leaders of that “institutionalised state” were to destroy the houses of the settlers at a time of desperate housing shortage and tear down the market garden economy left by the settlers. They preferred to have their people living on aid, rather than be economically independent. The roots of violence in Gaza are to be found in the fantasy that Israel must be and will be destroyed. The chain of causation leads directly to Riyadh, Tehran, Doha and the other Islamic states that feed this fantasy and thereby mislead the Palestinians.
Gunter Lawson

• Thank you for your highly informative editorial on Gaza. However, you conclude that Gaza is an intractable problem. If western governments put as much pressure on Israel to come to a just settlement with the Palestinians as they are putting on Vladimir Putin on Ukraine, it may not be intractable.
John Haworth
Blackburn, Lancashire

• Jonathan Freedland’s perceptive article suggests that the current war between Israel and Gaza is self-defeating. He observes that “it was the discovery of the tunnels that prompted the ground offensive”. On the same day your correspondents note that the Hamas leader “has insisted on an end to the siege of Gaza… The gap between the two sides is wide.” One way to bridge this gap would be to station UN observers on the border inside Gaza with the equipment to monitor underground tunnels and rockets, and at the border crossings to ensure the siege is ended.

The UN could then organise fresh elections in Gaza and the West Bank to mandate representatives for peace talks to ensure that the cycle of violence does not resume. Renewable energy technologies offer a new dynamic for the negotiations. Fundamentally the conflict is about who owns the land. The UN could own solar panels and wind turbines that would harness the wind, sunlight and atmospheric water above the disputed areas and in Gaza. They could ensure the electricity and water would be for the economic benefit of both Israel and Palestine.
Emeritus Professor Keith Barnham


As a respected commentator, Mary Dejevsky is always welcome at the Institute for Government, not as she describes us (18 July) the “Institution of Government”. The distinction is important, since we are an independent organisation trying to improve how the country is governed.

We know that the Civil Service can be very inward-looking. That is partly why the Institute exists – to bring fresh thinking into Whitehall. It would be wrong to draw the conclusion that our events don’t help build bridges between those on the outside of government and those on the inside. We hosted Iain Rennie, the State Service Commissioner of New Zealand, precisely because he can provide some of that fresh thinking. We have a broad range of event series that bring outsiders in to challenge how government works, such as our women leaders and big thinkers series.

We are very concerned with the impact of public services on the people who use them. Our new report on policy implementation showed why politicians and civil servants need to focus on how policies are to be delivered. We will continue to challenge leaders in politics and the Civil Service to look outwards to improve their internal processes.

Peter Riddell, Director, Institute for Government, London SW1

Great hotel in the great war

I was delighted to read the article about the newly refurbished Majestic Hotel in Paris (26 July), since I have recently been looking into the history of this building myself.

My husband is the keeper of First World War medals awarded to his great uncle, Thomas Ashby. While trying to find out more about the history of this gentleman, I discovered a document signed by the mayor of the 16th arrondissement. The mayor records the death of Thomas Ashby of the King’s Royal Rifles on 25 September 1914, giving the place of his death as 19 Avenue Kléber.

Your article mentions the use of the hotel at 19 Avenue Kléber by the British delegation who negotiated the Versailles Treaty in 1919, but I wonder if there is any record of this building being used by the British Army for casualties during the first few weeks of the war? If this was the case this hotel may be of interest to others in this year of the 100th anniversary of the war.

Gail Chandler, Kirklevington, North Yorkshire

Gaza atrocities traduce Judaism

Well said Mira Bar-Hillel for having the courage to challenge Jewish leadership and communities for their shameful silence on the Gaza atrocities (26 July). One of the most disturbing aspects of the current offensive is the way that belligerent Zionism has traduced Judaism in the eyes of the world.

The essence of this great prophetic religion, with its belief in a benign ethical monotheism and demand for universal justice, was summed up by the greatest of the teachers of Israel, Rabbi Hillel, in the words “Do to others as you would have them do to you” – a far cry from the earlier savagery of “an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth”.

Even the founding fathers of Israel, such as Martin Buber, envisaged a different sort of state, characterised by peace and co-operation. How this ideal has been betrayed by the new fundamentalist zealots! After the Six Day War Rabbi Blue rather sadly opined to me: “The Jews always wanted  to be a nation like other nations; now they have shown they are!”

As we now watch artillery being fired into civilian areas, we see a nation acting worse than other nations.

Dominic Kirkham, Manchester

Mira Bar-Hillel  informs us that she will “not go Israel again while this regime is in place”. The word regime being defined as “method of government” and Israel being a democracy, one hopes that she may be imposing a lifetime ban. Perhaps she prefers the regimes like those in Iraq, Iran or even Syria (200,000  mostly civilian, deaths there in the last two years). But perhaps, on reflection, they too must face up to life without a visit from her.

David Isenberg, London N12

Christopher Sterling highlights the Gaza “kill ratio” as “hundreds to one” and therefore not finely balanced (letter, 26 July).

Of course Israel could have altered this ratio by simply opting not to shoot down some of the thousands of rockets being fired into Israeli communities. Alternatively, Hamas could have altered the ratio by building bomb shelters for Palestinians, by not firing missiles from civilian areas, or by not attacking Israeli towns in the first place.

To end the blockade put in place to prevent – or at least limit – all this would be to invite yet more of the same from Hamas. This is a terrorist organisation committed to the abolition of the Middle East’s only Jewish state – an ambition they share with many of the undemocratic nations that routinely vote against Israel at the UN.

Keith Gilmour, Glasgow

Does anyone with a modicum of knowledge on Palestine believe Hamas can destroy mighty Israel? Hamas’s rockets largely fall on waste ground or are destroyed mid-air. Yet Israel does not waste a moment to remind the world that Hamas are hell-bent on Israel’s destruction.

Mustafa Haqqani, Lymm, Cheshire

On the day before Professor John Newsinger’s letter (26 July) was published, deploring Ed Miliband’s failure to speak out on the crisis in Gaza, Mr Miliband made a speech which opened with a very clear statement of his views.

This part of his speech has not been widely reported, because the media concentrated on his remarks about not being from central casting, but the text can be read on Labour’s website. Professor Newsinger could not have known that the Labour leader was going to make this speech, but I wanted him to know that he can now congratulate him.

David Bell, Standon, Hertfordshire

Whitehall goes political

You report (25 July) that a Department of Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: “Spending on council tax benefit doubled under Labour. Welfare reform is vital to tackle Labour’s budget deficit.” Has the Civil Service now given up entirely the principle of being non-political?

Gyles Cooper, London N10

Saltires in the sky

During this current spell of hot weather, I would be interested to know how much Alex Salmond is paying the airlines to use their vapour trails to portray the image of the Saltire in the skies over Great Britain. Surely this is giving the “Yes” campaign an unfair advantage?

Grant Serpell, Maidenhead, Berkshire

No thanks to Cameron and his Big Society

“If it wasn’t for the churches in this city, homeless people would be dead on the streets from cold and hunger.” I quote 53-year-old Albert, a chronic alcoholic and street drinker.

I have clocked up 28 hours’ voluntary work this week. I’m 65 and should be sitting knitting, but I can’t because of David Cameron. I came home this morning after two hours of hot, exhausting work on our allotments, where my group grows food to cook one night a week to feed up to 100 people.

We work in partnership with other churches in our city to try to provide a free meal somewhere each day, and last winter we managed to raise enough funds to keep a night shelter open from March to September, providing a bed, warmth, a meal and breakfast.

We advocate for our guests, we work with them to gain the help they need to get out of their pits of despair. Not a penny comes from Cameron’s Big Society, and no, we didn’t do it in response to Mr Cameron’s “brilliant” idea. We’ve always done this, in some cases for decades. Don’t let Mr Cameron dare to take the credit!

Our guests are alcoholics, addicts of gambling and drugs, the mentally ill, street girls who can’t break from their pimps because of their addictions, sufferers of prolonged abuse, people evicted because of the bedroom tax. When you are gripped by these problems there is no longer anywhere to go, because Mr Cameron’s spending cuts have taken the help away, and this is so in every town across the country. This isn’t down to poor financial decision-making by councils, it’s down to David Cameron.

He and his colleagues from the Big Society should feel ashamed and disgusted  with themselves at the way public money has been squandered and not gone where it should have gone: to hard-working Brits doing what they should be funding (“Cameron’s Big Society in tatters”, 26 July). The next time those responsible meet to go through their valueless agenda, while sipping expensive mineral waters, someone should remind them that the value of the chair each is sitting on would probably fund my group for a week.

Judith Flack, Derby


Sir, Good to have a clear, incisive military mind brought to bear on the Middle-East question, as typified by Colonel Kemp (“Hamas human shields are to blame, not Israel,” July 25). Unfortunately, he is wrong.

The analogy with the V1 and Peenemünde completely neglects a vital difference. Britain had absolutely no defence against the rocket which had killed over 1,000 London citizens before its production was interdicted — yes, at the cost of civilian lives. Israel has a total defence capability against the rockets fired at them from Gaza, and plenty of time and capacity to plan for more sophisticated ones should they be supplied. Mercifully, very, very few Israeli citizens have so far been killed by these missiles.

As for the analogy with Northern Ireland, it’s a fair one but begs two simple but vital questions. Why did Israel pull out of Gaza in the first place? What it is doing is equivalent to Britain fully withdrawing from Northern Ireland in the 1970s, then every so often bombing Belfast and killing numerous civilians whenever the IRA raised its game.

And, secondly, why don’t the Israelis reoccupy the territory and fight the same sort of war we had to against the IRA?

Both Colonel Kemp and I will agree that such a course of action will save lives and reputations, and might lead to a successful peace negotiation.

Drew Clode
London N8

Sir, Colonel Kemp displays a degree of naivety when he compares the Gaza crisis with a Second World War situation. He says that Gaza is a separate state but forgets that in the war Britain and Germany both had massive armies, navies and air forces. Gaza has none. The Israelis have the missile shield, the Palestinians have none.

The restrictions on Gazans are so severe that they have nowhere to go. To claim that the 700 or so Palestinians who have been killed have all been part of a human shield is shameful. Finally, he believes that the killing of innocent civilians can be justified as in the 732 who died in the raid on Peenemünde.

Dr Fareed Ahmad
London SW18

Sir, Tens of thousands of innocent civilian women and children died in the two Gulf wars. We called it “collateral damage”. One stray bomb hit a Baghdad shelter, killing hundreds of civilians. Our soldiers who were killed or wounded were called, rightly, “heroes”.

Fast forward to the Gaza conflict: the Israeli defence force sends warnings by phone and fires dummy warning missiles — this was not done by the Allies in the Gulf wars. Israel is accused of “war crimes” for the hundreds of civilians tragically killed. Its soldiers are demonised.

Isn’t the tragic reality that civilians die in wars? So why is Israel, which at least has a tangible threat to repel, unlike the spurious threats that prompted the second Gulf War, being judged more harshly?

Lawrence Lever
London NW3

Sir, Your cartoon (Peter Brookes, July 25) supports Israel’s claims that the only reason that it has killed so many women and children in Gaza is that they are being used as human shields. Even children playing on a beach. Now a Red Crescent hospital is bombed and the Israelis claim Hamas did it. I despair . . . .

Susan Cahill
Bracknell, Berks

Sir, I disagree with Philip Collins about purpose and importance of the Commonwealth (Opinion, July 25).

Of course it is right to encourage countries to improve their human rights records (and in extreme cases to remove their membership), but the point of the Commonwealth is that it is a body of nations which share a common language and historical link rather than being an organisation with a political programme.

Nor is sport, however enjoyable, the end of the story. Collins concedes that it is much easier and cheaper to do business in the Commonwealth, but that is only one of the many useful links between Commonwealth countries.

Other areas include educational and technical development and parliamentary liaison (something I have been involved in in Africa and elsewhere) in which the more developed countries like Canada and India, as well as Britain, play a significant role. In the present climate of international turmoil we need all the useful networks that exist. The Commonwealth remains an important forum of that type.

Sir Malcolm Jack
London N19

Sir, Philip Collins is right to say that the Commonwealth is at a turning point but wrong to suggest that this unique association of 53 nations is only about governments.

What matters more than anything else is the contact between people, professional bodies and the private sector which has emerged in this post-imperial age based on a common history and language.

In the modern digital age the prospect of a kaleidoscope of links can develop dramatically through businesses, schools, universities, medical groups, environmentalists, sports, arts and so on.

The members represent over a quarter of the globe with a cross-section of big and small countries, rich and poor, consisting of all faiths and ethnic groups across the world.

The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, with the accompanying arts and music events, is about contact and better understanding between all the different countries and peoples of the Commonwealth.

In a world full of conflict and bloodshed, surely it is better to try to bridge differences in understanding through talking rather than fighting? As Churchill said, “Jaw jaw is better than war war.”

Britain can only benefit if, as an equal partner in the Commonwealth, governments and people find ways to resolve our differences through contact and dialogue.

Lord Luce
House of Lords

Sir, The Department of Energy & Climate Change’s report Life cycle impacts of biomass electricity in 2020 provoked some wry smiles (Biomass power plants ‘less green’, July 25). Its findings were neatly summarised on the Today programme: “Taxpayers may have been subsidising power stations to burn wood in a way that creates more carbon emissions than burning coal.”

In 2010 the Wood Panel Industries Federation submitted a report to DECC which, in essence, made this same point. We have long argued that support for the expansion of the wood basket and promotion of wood products which extend the life of carbon already sequestered by the growing tree would give a substantially better carbon return than sending harvested wood that is suitable for product manufacture, directly to the incinerator.

Only at the end of its useful economic and biological life should wood be burned for power generation. We hope that the new energy minister will take heed as he gets to know his brief.

Alastair Kerr
Wood Panel Industries Federation
Grantham, Lincs


SIR – As the world recoils from the horrific murder of everyone on board Flight MH17, the majority of people would like to see the most extreme sanctions possible imposed on Russia.

Perhaps there should be restrictions on the movement of Russians within the EU. Could they also be prevented from buying property?

I know this would penalise innocent people as well as the guilty; but 298 have already paid the ultimate price.

Norah Brown
Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, Ireland

SIR – Some people in Ukraine have not been getting the press they deserve. I refer to those searching for, gathering and bagging the human remains of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from the wreckage area.

Of course the crash site has been contaminated. This is a country being torn apart by civil war. Even in a sophisticated country in peacetime, an air disaster on this scale would pose a huge logistical problem.

It being the height of summer, the remains needed to be found, sorted and bagged quickly. I cannot think of a more daunting, repugnant but necessary job. Some Ukrainians did help and I think that these good folk should be acknowledged.

Richard Seyd
Farnborough, Hampshire

Cabinet reshuffle

SIR – The sacking of Owen Paterson demonstrates a huge error of judgment by Downing Street.

Mr Paterson’s grasp of the situation when the Somerset Levels flooded last winter was firm and effective. His insistence on a 20-year plan for the area ensured that all the parties involved achieved a consensus of opinion on what should be done.

Part of this plan was to set up a Somerset Rivers Board. This board is to consist of farmers, conservationists, county and district councils. The aim is to build a barrage at the mouth of the river Parrett within 10 years.

Our new Secretary of State Elizabeth Truss should be given an opportunity to steer this important government department. In the meantime, the farmers, home and business owners on the Levels are counting down to next winter. Each day of inactivity brings us one step closer to disaster. Mr Paterson’s knack of keeping his own finger on the pulse of the relevant issues will be missed across the whole country.

Edwin White
Chairman, Somerset Levels Relief Fund
Easton Wells, Somerset

SIR – The deficiencies of the Cabinet reshuffle and the decline in the Conservatives’ opinion poll ratings mirror the misfortunes of England’s cricket team.

In both cases any change in leadership is met with “Who would take his place?” and “There isn’t anyone else out there”. But how do they know? You cannot tell what someone will bring to the leadership role until you give him/her the chance. And you should never keep a leader who is failing to deliver, simply because you are uncertain about the prospects of a successor.

David Saunders
Sidmouth, Devon

Wartime spirit

SIR – I’m sure many of my generation feel as I do when mental health schemes feature in the papers.

As a child growing up during the Second World War, anxiety was wondering where the next bomb would fall. Depression was the hole it made; tension was something to do with my mother’s knitting; and stress was to do with the strength of the washing line. The only “counsellors” I had heard of were local councillors.

Isn’t it amazing that we grew up to be normal?

Sheila Williams
Sunningdale, Berkshire

Tweet of the day

SIR – One evening last week my smoke alarm started tweeting.

At half-past four the next morning I teetered on a chair at the top of the stairs, opened the casing of the alarm and attempted to dig the battery out of its niche. I should have had three hands: two to deal with the battery and one to cling to the top of the chair. If this contraption must be at the top of the stairs, why must it be attached to the ceiling and not the wall of the landing?

Come dawn the thing was still tweeting. I was not happy.

Elizabeth Prince
Littlehampton, West Sussex

Last orders please

SIR – Clive Pilley thinks that bar staff need better training.

On the contrary, the greatest obstacle to better service has always been the swarm of barflies who will not move away from the counter after being served, so that others have to push their way through.

Norman Baker
Tonbridge, Kent

Round the houses

SIR – Can anyone explain the route that Andrew Marr takes to get to the television centre on a Sunday morning?

One shot shows him driving south over Westminster Bridge, but shortly after he is apparently going round Piccadilly Circus.

Diana Goetz
Salisbury, Wiltshire

Christianity under Mosul’s Islamic State

SIR – You reported that the new Islamic State in Mosul is demanding payment of a special tax (jizya) by Christians.

Harsh penalties on Christians for avoidance of this tax were traditional in Sunni Islam. In 1576, in Ottoman Turkey, tax strikes broke out in Albania and west Macedonia, so the Sultan issued a firman that disobedient Christians should have their wealth seized, their houses burned down and their wives and children taken into slavery.

The Sultan was being merciful on that occasion, for in 1583, another such order stated that “according to Sharia the disobedient are to be killed.”

Dr M R Palairet

SIR – I conducted a service at Murmansk in northern Russia recently, for surviving Royal and Merchant Navy seamen who took part in the Arctic convoys during the Second World War.

Among the memorial stones in the British Military Cemetery at Murmansk I found a poignant trio of graves: a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim lay buried side by side. Three men of different religions and nations, united in a common cause to bring relief from suffering.

Religion ought to enable us to discover who we are, where we come from and what our end will be, directing our lives to serve all who share our precious gift of life, our common humanity.

Canon Alan Hughes
Wark, Northumberland

Blair’s legacy

SIR – Tony Blair’s former political secretary John McTernan generously praised his old employer’s achievements but made little mention of the disastrous legacy he left the country.

This includes escalating crime rates, plummeting education standards, the state of the NHS and increasing national debt. Then there was the financial meltdown – apparently not foreseen by anyone in government.

Mr McTernan also credits Mr Blair with democracy in Iraq, yet five pages on in the Sunday Telegraph a report says that the central government “has lost control of vast areas of territory”.

Bill Parish
Bromley, Kent

A tight squeeze

SIR – I would be fascinated to know how John Wilson’s idea of mooring HMS Queen Elizabeth at Greenwich would be achieved.

Measuring 128ft at waterline and 230ft at its widest point, the beam is too large for the Panama Canal, so it would not fit through the Thames Barrier.

John Brandon
Tonbridge, Kent

SIR – Michael Simkins’ 1963 Italian phrase book was almost certainly more handy in its time than some of the genre.

On holiday in Greece several years ago, my mother set out with a team of friends to explore the surrounding mountain area.

Under the increasingly hot sun, one of their party began to complain of feeling unwell, and by the time they had crossed the midway point on their trek, he was virtually unconscious. While the others stayed behind to nurse him, my mother struck out in search of aid.

The rescue attempt ran into difficulty when, rummaging through her phrase book for something applicable to the present emergency, she could only find the Greek for “Please help me: I’ve gone blind”.

Fortunately the stricken party member recovered soon afterwards of his own accord.

Mary Morgan
London SW1

SIR – My father was issued with a French booklet when he served in the cavalry in the First World War. Maybe he found a use for my favourite entry: “Show us the road to X. Direct us correctly or you will be shot.”

Helen Tucker
Heslington, East Yorkshire

SIR – George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has announced that all prospective pensioners will be entitled tofree, impartial, face-to-face adviceon the choices available. Subsequent details as to who will deliver this proposal do not address the real crux of the issue, which is how it is to be delivered.

There cannot possibly be enough people with the relevant skills in the Pensions Advisory Service and Citizens Advice Bureau to give free, impartial guidance to all. The only way to deliver this advice efficiently and cost effectively is online, and not face-to-face as promised; but there is no real detail as to how this might work, or how advice can be tailored to individuals’ requirements through such a generic portal.

This is a great idea but if it is not executed well, that is all it will remain. Any failure to finalise the details quickly is a big gamble for the Government, just before the general election.

Michael Whitfield
CEO, Thomsons Online Benefits
London SW1

SIR – News of the reformed pensions scheme leaves me with a profound sense of foreboding.

Can a clause be inserted into the legislation that will prevent Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, should they get into power, doing to the scheme what Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did in the late Nineties? At the time of the latter pair’s arrival on the scene Britain’s was the best pension scheme in the world.

Andrew Martin
Rowton, Chesire

SIR – The argument of Ros Altmann, the pension expert and “business champion for older workers”, for delaying retirement seemed to be predicated on financial need rather than the Government’s belief that working until the age of 75 is a worthwhile aspiration.

Retirement is about choice based on vocational satisfaction and affordability. The former is outside the control of Government, but the latter is not. Were saving both a more attractive proposition and self-provision more strongly required, then the choice could be based on better criteria and the burden on the state reduced.

Retirement is a negative word, implying a relinquishment of an active and rewarding lifestyle. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Policies that encourage financial preparation throughout one’s working life would be far more beneficial than constantly raising the age at which a person is entitled to a state pension.

A parallel initiative requiring the Government to create a financial policy that accumulates ring-fenced pension funds rather than meeting requirement annually from revenue would also do much to reduce the burden on the state.

Charles Holden
Lymington, Hampshire

SIR – It is curious how government policy regarding the pension age is so regressive. We are told that our children will have to work until the age of 70 before being eligible for the state pension. This is the same age as when it was introduced by Lloyd George more than 100 years ago.

When I began teaching in 1973 we were told that if teachers worked until 65 their life expectancy was another 18 months, but that if they retired at 60 they could expect 12 more years to enjoy their pension.

By requiring teachers to go on until their late 60s, presumably we can look forward to exhausted staff receiving the blame for a decline in the quality of education. Then, when they do eventually get to retire, they will very likely do the decent thing and die within a short space of time. At least the Exchequer will be happy.

John de Waal
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – The Treasury has described a pension pot worth £310,000 as “very large”. At the age many in the public sector retire, the annuity rate available would not put a pensioner into higher rate tax even including earnings-related top-ups such as Serps and its successor S2P.

Andrew Smith
Epping Essex

Irish Times:

Sir, – It is not enough to express horror at so many innocent lives having been lost during the latest round of violence in Gaza and Israel. We must instead ask how we can break the cycle that leads to this slaughter.

The people of Gaza live in what is often referred to as “the world’s largest open air prison”. Almost two million people live in an area 40km long and 10km wide, 80 per cent of whom are classified by the United Nations as refugees. Eight out of every 10 residents of Gaza are reliant on the international community for support.

In the West Bank, the Israeli military is in control of 60 per cent of the land. There are now more than 500,000 Israeli settlers living in over 200 settlements. In order to facilitate these settlements, land is confiscated from Palestinians. According to the UN, in 2013 alone, 1,513 Palestinians, including 731 children, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were affected by the demolition of homes and other structures.

The occupation of the West Bank has created a discriminatory regime with two populations living separately in the same territory under two different systems of law. While settlers enjoy all the rights of Israeli citizens, Palestinians are subject to military law.

Despite these flagrant breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law, the Israeli government refuses to comprehend Palestinian grievances. Prime minister Netanyahu speaks of “quiet for quiet”. We support his desire for peace and security for Israeli citizens, but we also recognise that it is neither realistic nor acceptable to plan a future based on peace for Israelis and the daily reality of blockades, military law and occupation for Palestinians.

We are witnessing the third major Israeli military offensive in Gaza in six years. The current unjust status quo has sadly led to rocket attacks into Israel and cyclical military action on Gaza. Both sides claim to be responding to the other’s aggression. Without a structural change to the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, it is inevitable that this cycle will continue.

The Irish Government, along with its European partners, must play an active role in breaking this cycle. Until we are prepared to do more than issue empty words of condemnation, the cycle of violence will continue.

We call on the Government to affirm its commitment to a long-term political solution based on a full adherence to international human rights and humanitarian law by both Palestinians and Israelis.

In recently issued advice to Irish citizens and businesses, the Government noted: “Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible.”

Recognising this, we call on the Government to ban all trade with illegal Israeli settlements, thus reducing the economic incentive for Israel to continue to confiscate land from Palestinians in the West Bank.

Working towards a long-term political solution based on peace and justice is the only way to ensure the security of Palestinians and Israelis.

It is a fallacy to think that cyclical military invasions of Gaza will bring security to Israel. This policy will only lead to more violence and death on both sides. Yours, etc,


executive director, Trócaire,


chief executive officer,

Christian Aid Ireland,



Social Justice Ireland,


general secretary,

Irish Council of

Trade Unions,


general president, SIPTU,


School of English,

University College Cork,


School of Social Justice,

University College Dublin,


Department of English,

NUI Maynooth,


School of Applied Language

and Intercultural Studies,

Dublin City University,


School of



School of English,

Drama & Film,

University College Dublin,


International Peace Studies,

Trinity College Dublin,


International Peace

Studies Programme,

Trinity College Dublin,


Department of Sociology,

Trinity College Dublin,


deputy principal.

Ballyfermot College

of Further Education,


Department of History,

St Mary’s University College,



Department of Sociology,

University of Limerick,


School of Communications,

Dublin City University,


Faculty of Humanities

and Social Sciences,

Dublin City University


chairperson, Sadaka –

The Ireland Palestine


Sir, – If truth is the first casualty of war, the second is surely realism. B Devlin (Letters, July 26th) calls for the deployment of a UN force in Gaza charged with the elimination of rocket fire and other forms of aggression that originate there.

Leaving aside the implied apportioning of blame, a number of questions should be answered before the idea of a UN force is abandoned.

For example, would both sides accept such a force? Could the UN Security Council agree to create it? Would the entire Gaza Strip have to be occupied to enforce the mandate? How many troops would be needed? Who would pay for them? Which UN members have the military capability to provided suitably trained and equipped personnel? Which of these countries would be acceptable to the belligerents? How long would the force have to remain in place?

If this renders the idea of a UN force doubtful, we can at least be sure of two things. First, the UN is not fit for its primary purpose of maintaining world peace. And second, no Irish troops would be part of any Gaza peace-keeping force – it is much easier to volunteer other nations’ soldiers for dangerous missions. Yours, etc,


Philipsburgh Avenue,

Dublin 3

Sir, – References in your Letters pages in recent days have compared body counts in Israel and in Gaza, as if there were some league table of death that would justify certain actions. This is an odious and morally bankrupt position. The deliberate taking of human life is, and always will be, an affront to humanity. It is incumbent on all parties to make peace, not war. Partisan screaming from the secure bunker of our own country is of no help in this regard. – Yours, etc,


Lough Atalia Grove,


Sir, – Might I suggest a possible solution to the crisis in Gaza? Israel should declare that it will withdraw to its pre-1967 borders over a 15- to 20-year period in stages every two to three years, a process that will be stalled, or reversed, if any missiles or other terrorist actions are directed at it.

All concerned nations should guarantee the security of the original Israeli state. Hamas and the Palestinians, and other regional powers, should declare their acceptance of Israel as a free, independent state and commit to full support of the peace plan. The United Nations should then oversee and police the agreement until its final conclusion. – Yours, etc,


Las Dunas Park,



Sir, – If there was such a thing in history as a charge of “criminal misjudgement”, then surely John Redmond must be a prime suspect. Redmond stands indicted for the central role he played in sending tens of thousands of innocent young Irishmen into yet another useless and grotesquely violent imperial war. This was done, it would seem, on foot of a vague promise of home rule – what Roger Casement reputedly called “a promissory note payable only after death”. By contrast, Redmond’s great predecessor, Parnell, had years before shown that he recognised and, more importantly, was prepared to yield to and support the growing separatist and anti-imperial movement, the “march of a nation”, if such were the will of the Irish people.

The real “war to end all wars” was about to unfold in John Redmond’s own land: the 1916-21 Irish War of Independence. For most of the island, the outcome of this infinitely less violent event ended the empire’s practice of recruiting young, mainly impoverished, Irishmen as fodder for its endless colonial wars. (Recent research by eminent historian Orlando Figes reveals that in my native parish of Aghada in Co Cork, as many as one in every three men lost their lives in the all but forgotten Crimean War. In fact, post-Famine Irish recruits made up a full one-third of the entire British army engaged in that particular disaster.) By contrast, since independence, Irish soldiers have carved out an enviable reputation for themselves as a universally respected peacekeeping force within the UN.

Whatever the intention behind the newly-issued first World War postage stamps, I think most will agree that the choice of images and text merely serves to underline the manipulative nature and the very bad judgment of that particular pro-war lobby.

In contrast to Redmond and others, and with commendable good judgement, the Irish Labour and Trade Union Congress published the following address to the women of Ireland, on the eve of the war:“ … a war for the aggrandisement of the capitalist class has been declared … it is you who will suffer most by this foreign war. It is the sons you reared at your bosom that will be sent to be mangled by shot and torn by shell, it is your fathers, husbands and brothers, whose corpses will pave the way to glory for an Empire, which despises you.” – Yours, etc,


Ashfield Park,

Dublin 6W

A chara, – I cannot but be astounded by the anti-Irish language letter-writers featured over the last week. It seems there is a huge focus on the cost of Irish culture and very little on the value. “Billions of educational hours wasted” on Irish language education, said John O Loughlin (July 24th).

If you think education is a waste you should try ignorance: ignorance of the 200 per cent increase in gaelscoileanna in the last 20 years; ignorance of the huge demand for total immersion as gaeilge; ignorance of the fact that an Ghaeilge inherently carries with it the richness of the social and cultural heritage of our past. The detractors seem to wish to destroy this living link to the past, who we are and where we come from and break the chain the our historical lineage. Should the Book of Kells be binned? Should Newgrange be knocked?. These “curiosities”, like an Ghaeilge, produce no immediate fiscal reward and could be seen as merely a drain on the public purse; ignorance of the the fact that citizens of other nations can easily speak their own native language as well as perfect English. In Ireland monoglots abound. However in Holland, Denmark and Sweden residents have the capacity to speak their own native language. Why can’t we? Maybe those Irish who feel a deep-rooted inferiority might learn a lesson from these proud, uncolonised, unconquered nations. Is féidir linn! – Mise le meas


Garrán Stigh Lorcáin,

Contae BAC

Sir, – Having read Alex Brummer’s book Bad Banks, concerning the UK bank scandal, it occurred to me that it may be too late for the Dáil inquiry into our banking collapse.

Brummer argues that a repetition of the property price crash in Britain and elsewhere is inevitable, basically because governments have proven that they simply cannot cope with banks and because most of those who oversaw reckless lending in the past are still in place.

He goes on to say that there has been no revolution in banking practice. All of which raises the question as to whether the Dáil banking enquiry should be focused on the future. The dogs in the street know what happened in the past. Besides, a witch-hunt now would be just that, with no one likely to go to jail. At the heart of good banks, Brummer concludes, must be good people.

A revolution in selection and training of personnel, therefore, would appear to be what is now required. – Yours, etc,


Walnut Rise,

Dublin 9

Sir, – The assertion by Paddy McEvoy (Letters, July 25th) that the Irish Republic could soon be a member of the Commonwealth should prompt some thought. In the London Times of the same day Philip Collins wrote that it was time to abolish the organisation and he questioned the wisdom of having the queen, who does a very good job, chair it.

It is incontrovertible that many Commonwealth countries are strangers to its original philosophy, which was to bind nations together freely co-operating in the pursuit of peace, justice and liberty.

The human rights record of many members involves the subjugation of women, the criminalisation of homosexuality and the brutalisation of political opponents. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, do you really want to be in an organisation that would have such characters as members? Yours, etc,




Sir, – I have always felt sure that no matter how dominant women become there will still be a role for men because women and girls are afraid of spiders.

Yesterday my four-year-old granddaughter summoned me to the garden because there was a “baby spider” on her dress. I donned my cape and rushed to her rescue, thinking that she would remember my heroism as I sink into doddering incoherence, only to be ordered in her best princess voice “Don’t touch it, it’s cute.”

Finally, at 63, I am beginning to feel a niggle of the role confusion so dear to a certain element of the chattering classes. – Yours, etc,


Hawthorn Park,


Co Dublin

A chara, – I refer to your report (“Hold the back page”, Sports Weekend, July 26th) which stated that “last week at an international hockey match in Belfield the crowd was asked to stand for the Irish national anthem. People obediently stood up and Phil Coulters Ireland’s Call was played to some amusement.”

How jolly indeed. Assuming that our hockey ambassadors rely on public funding in order to pursue their hockey careers and support funding for the Belfield campus is made available out of the public purse perhaps we are owed an explanation as to the basis for the dropping of our national anthem at this event.

Who or what body made this decision and what authority do they have for this disgraceful and shameful misrepresentation on an international stage? Some people may have been amused – others, however, are not so, and at the very least, would like an explanation. – Is mise,


McDowell Avenue,

Ceannt Fort,

Sir, – JD Mangan has a problem with the Germans (Letters, July 26th). He finds fault with the fact that in contrast to Ireland they kept their economy competitive and did not bankrupt their country. In addition, they were able to be in a position to lend what he calls “surplus monies from German banks” to our banks. A problem arose for us, however, when our banks did not use it wisely. Mr Mangan forgets, however, to mention that in addition to keeping their economy competitive German taxpayers were able to contribute “surplus monies” to building Ireland’s roads etc. In an EU of nearly 30 countries with a home market of 500 million people the Germans must be doing something right. – Yours, etc,


Shielmartin Drive,

Dublin 13

Sir, – Two extraordinary contrasts in The Irish Times (July 26th). Breda O’ Brien brilliantly captured the sad reality of contemporary politics while on the previous page Stephen Collins remained caught in the politics of yesteryear. Who would have thought it? I admit, not I. – Yours, etc,


Beech Hill Drive,

Dublin 4

Irish Independent:

After the weekend that wasn’t I just felt that I had to write on what has happened in this country with Garth Brooks.

A country on its knees crying out for work, our young people leaving by the day, an opportunity for over €50m, not to mention the extra work for workers who cannot find full-time employment, I just cannot understand how we can shut down the city for days on end and restrict and disrupt people going to work at a massive expense, for a visit from Queen Elizabeth and also for US President Barack Obama.

This costs money we can not afford, and they could bring in emergency legislation to bail out the bondholders and could not do this to save something that was going to be good for our economy.

I am not a Garth Brooks fan, but could see in the city on the days of the One Direction concerts the shops were packed.

It was like Christmas Eve – how could they let an opportunity like this go?

Legislation could have been changed afterwards to ensure that it could not happen again for the residents.




Language by its very nature is for communicating, speaking and hearing. Academic study of the rules of language is a totally different matter.

Down the years, the Irish education system has killed our language by putting the cart before the horse. I got a degree in Irish but could not speak it until I went abroad. I was shamed into it; I wanted the Filipinos and the Chinese and the Spaniards to know that I was not English. You can learn to speak any language in a matter of weeks, if you have to, or starve.

The plain fact is that Irish does not belong in school at all, certainly not in an Irish school. For example, children should be hearing people talking Irish in the playground from the first day. Connacht Irish is the easiest to pick up and the most natural. But what is the use talking to people who think they know better?

Will it ever change? You must be joking. And it doesn’t matter now anyway because these geniuses buried it long ago. Ta an teanga marbh le fada an la.




A deep pain and fear is embedded in the mental and physical make-up of many Israelis.

The terrible scars of the past may never be healed. The atrocities witnessed have broken the spirits of the strongest, leading people to repeat dreadful crimes. The death of so many innocent women and children in Gaza. The innocent, as always, offered up as a sacrifice to those who pretend to have their best interests at heart.

There are two deeply rooted arguments in this horrendous conflict of which neither side comes out smelling of roses. But it is ironic that a race of people who were systematically tortured and killed in the biggest ethnic cleansing horror of our history have not learnt the lessons of the past. A similar torture is being inflicted on the Palestinians. People who have a right to live life with some kind of dignity.

Weak, poor, living in awful conditions in such a small compressed area. Does this ring a bell? Reminiscent of the Jewish ghettos in World War II. Inflicting through the blockade an impossible situation for the Palestinians to live in.

Now the killing ratio is overwhelming in its systematic forcefulness.




The debate on the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict is totally lacking in historical perspective. The reason Israel exists at all is that Europeans set up a frighteningly efficient set of factories in order to exterminate a whole race of people – the Jews. It is even more frightening that they nearly succeeded.

When the present-day politicians talk about their ‘outrage’ at what is happening near the shores of the eastern Mediterranean, they are ignoring the fact that both the Israelis and the Palestinians are fighting for survival. They are in that position because they are the victims of the extreme abuse of power by Europeans.

Both are condemned to fight it out on the ground for control of a small area of the Middle East because European powers in two world wars ordained it so. Europeans, should, therefore, display bit more introspection in this debate.




Recently, there have been newspaper headlines to the effect that the UN has criticised the state of human rights in Ireland, especially in relation to issues such as abortion. Of course, those like the women who suffered symphysiotomy, or those who suffered under state care should be given the care, respect and compensation that they deserve.

However, is it really the place of the UN to advise Ireland to legalise abortion, even though the pro-life provision in our Constitution was enshrined in a binding referendum?

As far as I know, Malta, a fellow EU member, hasn’t being dragged over the coals over its abortion regime, even though abortion in Malta is banned under all circumstances – unlike in Ireland, where abortion, (the Halappanavar case notwithstanding) is clearly legal in the case where it’s required to save the life of the mother.

Also, is Ireland really unique when it came to its record on women’s rights? Illegitimacy was considered taboo in most countries until the late 20th Century, not just Ireland. The UK also kept unmarried mothers in institutions like the Magdalene laundries until the 1960s, and Sweden not only serialised single mothers, but also performed forced abortions, sometimes up to the 1970s.

And that is only in Europe – need I mention China‘s one-child policy and all that comes with it, or India‘s particularly dreadful record on women’s rights? Unless abortion is the only indication of progress on human rights, it’s hard to argue that Ireland’s record on Human Rights, let alone on women’s rights, merited the dressing-down we got from the UN rights committee.




For some reason, doctors have become the baddies in the healthcare debate – we are greedy and lazy and we will do anything if you pay us enough. It saddens me.

I don’t know any doctors who went into medicine purely for the money. I know many who are working long hours, trying to provide the best care possible for their patients, which is becoming increasingly difficult when you can’t get tests or appointments for them outside the private sector.

There are doctors on the media highlighting the issues their patients are facing. Some politicians are listening, others aren’t. Loading extra work and even more bureaucracy on to an already struggling system is not the answer, however politically popular it may be. We need proper debate that crosses party politics and properly planned, resourced change.




I have always felt sure that no matter how dominant women become, there will be a role for men because women and girls are afraid of spiders. Yesterday my four-year-old granddaughter summoned me to the garden because there was a “baby spider” on her dress.

I donned my cape and rushed to her rescue, thinking that she would remember my heroism as I sink into doddering incoherence, only to be ordered in her best princess voice: “Don’t touch it, it’s cute.”

Finally, at 63, I am beginning to feel a niggle of the role confusion so dear to a certain element of the chattering classes.


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: