11 August 2014 Rain

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

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


Zohra Sehgal – obituary

Zohra Sehgal was an actress who helped to bring a burnish to Bollywood and a sparkle to The Jewel in the Crown

Zohra Sehgal

Zohra Sehgal Photo: REX

8:11PM BST 10 Aug 2014


Zohra Sehgal, who has died aged 102, was a Bollywood actress who made her name internationally in films such as My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), Bend It Like Beckham (2002) and Bhaji on the Beach (1993).

She spent 25 years of her life in Britain, where she made her breakthrough with her portrayal of Daphne Manners’s “Aunt” Lili, Lady Chatterjee, in The Jewel in the Crown (1984) the BBC’s adaptation of Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet.

Lili Chatterjee is a Rajput noblewoman, the widow of a prominent Bengali industrialist and a leading figure in Indian society in the town of Mayapore. It is at a party at her home that Daphne (Susan Wooldridge) meets Hari Kumar (Art Malik), setting in motion the tragic course of events that shape the story, played out against the background of the last years of the British Raj and the Partition riots that followed.

Lady Chatterjee’s sympathy for Kumar, the young English-public-school-educated Indian out of place in his own country, is mixed with a strong element of disapproval of his developing relationship with Daphne — a sentiment related to something they both share: identities that blur the accepted social and ethnic divides.

Zohra Sehgal in The Jewel in the Crown (REX/ITV)

Zohra Sehgal was more than 70 years old when she played the role, and perhaps the subtlety of her portrayal owed something to the fact that throughout her own life she had steadfastly resisted the religious and cultural straitjackets that others sought to impose upon her.

The third of seven children, she was born Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtaz-ullah Khan on April 27 1912 into a well-to-do Pathan family in Saharanpur, in what is now the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Although she was brought up, near Dehradun, in the Sunni Muslim tradition and lost the sight in one eye as an infant, she was determined from the outset to live life on her own terms.

“I saw my older sister, who was married off early, going through an unhappy marriage, and I told my father: ‘I don’t want to get married,’ ” she recalled. Her father was equally horrified when she announced that she might become a pilot.

In 1917 she was sent to boarding school in Lahore, after which, in 1930, she donned a burka and set off for Europe by road — crossing Iran, Syria, Palestine and Egypt — with her uncle, who had moved to Edinburgh to pursue a career in Medicine. There was a tacit understanding that she would marry his son, then an undergraduate at Oxford. Instead, she got off at Dresden where, though she had never danced, she was admitted to the Mary Wigman’s ballet school, a centre of new, expressionist dance in Weimar Germany. She stayed there for the next three years, living in the house of a German countess.

On her return to India, Zohra was sent to Queen Mary’s Girls College, Lahore, where strict purdah was observed, though such restrictions did not prevent her being inspired, by her many British women teachers, with the idea of women having careers.

In Dresden she had seen a performance of the dance troupe of Uday Shankar, brother of the sitar player Ravi Shankar. Uday was a pioneer of modern dance in India, fusing European and Indian classical and tribal dance traditions. He promised her a job and, after leaving school, she cast aside her burka and joined his troupe on a tour of Japan. For the next eight years she toured the world as one of Shankar’s principal dancers, and in 1940 became a teacher at his dance institute in Almora.

In 1942 she defied family disapproval and married Kameshwar Sehgal, a scientist, fellow dancer and Hindu eight years her junior. After the school in Almora closed down, she and her husband founded a cultural centre in Lahore, where they tried to promote understanding between Muslims and Hindus; but growing tensions in the run-up to Partition forced them to move to Bombay. There, in 1945, Zohra joined the Prithvi Theatre, a travelling company founded the previous year by Prithviraj Kapoor, the patriarch of the Kapoor acting dynasty, touring with them for 14 years.

She made her film debut in 1946, appearing in the Hindi film Dharti Ke Lal (Children of the Earth), the first venture of the film director Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, which was acclaimed for its searing depiction of the 1943 Bengal famine. Her second picture, Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar (1946, Lowly City), a pioneering work of social realism, became the first Indian film to gain international recognition after it shared the top prize at the first Cannes Film Festival.

Partition in 1947 split her family, with many members migrating to Pakistan — among them her sister Uzra, who would herself become known as an actress. Zohra was shocked. “I hated Pakistan. We all thought it was just a small thing,” she recalled.

In 1959 her husband committed suicide, leaving her to bring up their daughter and son on her own. After his death she moved to Delhi, where she taught dance to a Hindustani theatre group. In 1962, however, she won a drama scholarship to travel to Britain.

In her memoir Stages: The Art and Adventures of Zohra Sehgal (1996), she wrote about how, after her scholarship ended, she struggled to make ends meet as a dresser at the Old Vic, while taking small parts in the theatre and on television. In 1964 she appeared in a BBC adaptation of a Kipling story, The Rescue of Pluffles, and the same year made the first of two appearances, alongside William Hartnell, in Doctor Who (she would become the longest-lived actress ever to appear in the series).

In the 1970s, as the BBC began to grapple with multiculturalism, she began presenting programmes aimed at new migrants, and appeared in the 1977 serial Padosi (Hindustani for Neighbours). Her role as a former courtesan in James Ivory’s docudrama The Courtesans of Bombay (1982) helped to pave the way for her role in The Jewel in the Crown.

When Zohra Sehgal had first arrived in Britain, “it was such that if we were sitting in the bus, the British did not sit next to us. Unconsciously in the minds of white people, there was a hesitation. But after Jewel in the Crown, they would ask permission: ‘Lady Lili Chatterjee, may we sit next to you?’ Children would run up and ask for my autograph.”

In the 1980s she became a reliable fixture on many British Asian television productions, including Channel 4’s comedy series, Tandoori Nights (1985-87).

She was in her 80s by the time she moved back to India, but she went on to revive her career, playing salty old matriarchs in Hindi films, most notably in Cheeni Kum (2007), in which she played the mother of the Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan.

Zohra Sehgal in Bhaji on the Beach in 1993 (ALLSTAR/SPORTSPHOTOLTD/FILM 4)

She continued to appear in English language films, often as the traditional Indian grandmother struggling to come to terms with a modern, alien culture as her children and grandchildren abandon the old ways. She was the disapproving elderly member of a party from a Birmingham women’s centre who gradually relaxes during an outing to Blackpool in Bhaji on the Beach, and a fun-loving grandmother in Bend It Like Beckham.

Zohra Sehgal, who described herself as “agnostic” (“Religion is only a book”) was known for her mischievous sense of humour. One friend recalled her claiming that she had to go home early from some outing because “My parrot’s waiting for me” — though everyone knew she never had a parrot (only a dog called Short Circuit). Asked in an interview last year what she had enjoyed most in life, the 101 year-old replied: “Sex! Sex! And more sex!”

Zohra Sehgal in Saawariya (2007)

She was nonplussed when her daughter Kiran, an Indian classical dancer, published her own memoir of her mother under the title Zohra Sehgal: Fatty. “I tell them, you see me now when I’m old and ugly, you should have seen me when I was young and ugly,” she said.

In 2012, she was happy to be photographed at her 100th birthday party, grinning toothily and brandishing a knife over the cake in the manner of Norman Bates.

Her children survive her.

Zohra Sehgal, born April 27 1912, died July 10 2014


I hope that no reader would disagree with your editorial (9 August) that attacks in western Europe on Jewish schools, shops and synagogues indicate “vile and contemptible racism” which “cannot be excused by reference to Israeli military behaviour”. But there are two issues which the editorial and Hadley Freeman (Please don’t tell me what I should think about Israel, 9 August) both ignore. One is that Palestinian civil society has called for a boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel as the best nonviolent way to oppose the occupation; the other is that the Israeli government requires touring arts companies to act as ambassadors for Israel and funds them accordingly.

These are the issues which Tricycle theatre was presumably trying to weigh up when it made its decision about the funding by the Israeli embassy of the Jewish film festival, in the middle of a brutal assault by Israel on Gaza. How you support the call for BDS is not straightforward – refuse to buy any Israeli goods, or just those from the settlements? – but you shouldn’t slate Tricycle for at least trying. The wider context is that Israel practises, and has done since 1948, “vile and contemptible racism” towards the Palestinians – in Israel itself, through the occupation, and in its refusal to recognise justice for the refugees. Israel may be “the Holocaust’s happy ending”, as Hadley says, but it is built on and sustained by terrible injustice. Perhaps the best summary is Edward Said’s, who said that the Palestinians are victims of victims. How to do something to help move towards a just outcome for both Israelis and Palestinians, based on human rights and equality for all, is one of the great issues of our time, and Tricycle in its small and perhaps fumbling way was at least trying to address it. It’s wrong to conflate their decisions with the fire-bombing of synagogues.
Richard Barnes
Windermere, Cumbria

• Excellent article by Dorian Lynskey on the artistic boycott of Israel (7 August). The idea that “art is intrinsically political” and so gives its practitioners the right to preach to others is not one which truly great artists would adopt or lesser folk should take notice of. I happen to think that Israel’s policy has been misguided for a long time and two wrongs do not a right make. But I have to ask when Sinead O’Connor and fellow boycotters are going to express concern about the enormously greater human suffering caused by the Syrian government and Isis, not to mention Islamic extremists in Nigeria and North Africa? Or to condemn the antisemitism reported by Jon Henley and your correspondents the same day (8 August)? It may make them feel good, but the treason of the would-be thinking classes is all too alive and ill. Might they start the day by reading the Hamas charter and deciding if it merits a boycott, too.
Jonathan Fenby

• It is sad to see someone normally as astute as Hadley Freeman criticise those of us who have called for a boycott of Israeli theatre groups and cultural activities in protest at the horrific violence being inflicted on the people of Gaza by the Israeli government and army (2,000 dead, more than 10,000 injured at the last count – a figure nowhere mentioned in Hadley’s piece). It is even sadder to see her repeat the old slander that such calls in response to the barbarous action of the Israeli government somehow involve being soft on, or even encouraging, antisemitism (“Watch yourself Europe, some of your roots are showing”).

As she must be aware, the Israeli government, like the South African apartheid government before it, is only too willing to use the cover of cultural activities to try to legitimise and normalise its brutal oppression of another people. Far from being a knee-jerk reaction, the recent call for a boycott of the theatre group Incubator at the Edinburgh Festival by a large group of people including national poet Liz Lochead, the writer Alasdair Gray and the group Scottish Jews for a Just Peace was a carefully considered and proportionate response to a group which is funded by the Israeli state. No one is telling Hadley what to think. The fact, however, that so many Jews around the world (including a small number of very courageous Israelis) have been prepared to stand up and say “not in my name” strengthens, not weakens, opposition to rising antisemitism across Europe.
Professor Iain Ferguson

• Heartfelt thanks to the Guardian for bringing sanity into this increasingly frightening situation for all Jews throughout Europe. With this kind of support from the British media we can perhaps hope that the madness of previous centuries will not be allowed to rise again and our growing fears for our children and grandchildren might prove unfounded. Racism in any form and by any name is unacceptable and cannot be explained away or disguised by the leftwing “intelligentsia” any more than by the rightwing neo-Nazis. As you rightly point out, this has nothing to do with politics, and one’s opinion on the Middle East is a totally separate issue. Having read your editorial today I can feel happy once again that my grandparents chose this country for refuge from persecution in eastern Europea hundred years ago and am reassured that here reason and tolerance will again prevail.
Helen Mordsley

• As members of Independent Jewish Voices, we support the Tricycle theatre’s decision not to accept Israeli embassy funding for the Jewish film festival and we reject accusations that this decision is in any way antisemitic. The Tricycle is taking a principled stand regarding a bloody conflict, for which they should be applauded. In addition, by offering to make up the shortfall of monies that would have come from the Israeli embassy, the Tricycle has demonstrated its continued support for the festival, which it has hosted in Kilburn for the past eight years.
Merav Pinchassoff, Prof Adam Fagan, Dr Nadia Valman, Prof Jacqueline Rose, Lady Ellen Dahrendorf, Emma Clyne, Dr Anthony Isaacs and Ann Jungman
Independent Jewish Voices steering group

• Whatever the facts about the rise in antisemitism in Europe – and it is clearly taking place – there are two points that must be made about Jon Henley’s article. First, in his eagerness to list as many incidents as possible, he conflates antisemitism with anti-Israel protests, by including the burning of an Israeli flag and hostility to an Israeli football team, which are not, by definition, antisemitic. Second, in talking about anti-Jewish protests, he fails to mention the fact that in recent years Israel has vigorously promoted itself as “the Jewish state”, even insisting that the Palestinians recognise it as such, although its population is 20% Palestinian Arab. Israel and Jews can hardly complain that the actions of the self-identified Jewish state are sometimes criticised as Jewish actions.
Karl Sabbagh
Author, Palestine: A Personal History

The advances by Isis across parts of northern Iraq are blowback from US intervention in Iraq and the Middle East in general (Report, 9 August). Isis has been able to move across areas so quickly because of the lack of justice for various groups in Iraq and Syria and some old remnants of Saddam’s regime wanting influence again through a temporary alliance with a jihadist grouping. Western reporting has been alarmist and stereotypical of any group which is opposed to US and western interests. The temporary gains by Isis would fade very quickly if Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq were brought into serious discussion about the future of the area. In Syria, all western powers should stop intervening at will. This may lead to its disintegration, but this may be the only realistic future. The Palestinian catastrophe must be addressed. Alternatively Obama can drop bombs and hope for the best; I think his predecessors tried this.
Derek Fraser

• Religion is the cause and not the symptom of this nightmare in Iraq (This nightmare is not a holy war but an unholy mess, 9 August). When these people say they want an Islamic caliphate they actually mean it. The fact that there happen to be power vacuums is good fortune. Military strategy is not to be confused with overriding motives.
Henry Bradshaw

• What a blessing it is that Messrs Bush and Blair brought lasting peace and democracy to Iraq.
Ross Johnson
Worthing, West Sussex

Bookshop shelves

While it is always good to see reviews of the quality of writing in forthcoming novels (Legends of the fall, Review, 9 August), the material quality of the books themselves rarely get a mention. It cannot escape reviewers notice that, whilst the cover price goes up, the physical quality of new novels is pathetically poor. The cheapest paper and cheapest bindings are used, leaving the reader with an item that will not survive in pristine form for very long. Collectors of first editions will return to their shelves in a couple of years to find the pages yellow and the bindings brittle. It seems a shame that while the quality of the writing will last, the books themselves may not.
Guy Cooper
Scarthin Books, Cromford, Derbyshire

• Twenty-two life peers have been appointed (Report, 9 August). If they all attend for 100 days a year and claim their daily allowance, travelling expenses etc, the cost to the taxpayer will be in the region of £750.000. The prime minister, when proposing to reduce the size of the Commons, claimed he was wanting to reduce the cost of politics.
Councillor Brian Selby

• My cat is a true socialist (Letters, 9 August). He believes in claws four.
Veronica Porter

• Our retired greyhound is the only one in the household to have private health insurance.
Sarah Reed
Bourne, Lincolnshire

• War (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Gaza, Ukraine etc), famine (Sudan etc) and death (Ebola) – is this the run-up to the Apocalypse?
Michael Miller


From the perspective of international human rights law, all countries have the same legal obligations to protect the human rights of their citizens, irrespective of their mode of governance.

Democracies do a vastly better job of doing so than any other form of government. Indeed, as a democracy, Israel does provide strong protections of a wide range of civil and political liberties, such as freedom of religion, expression and assembly, protection of the rights of women, and democratic participation along with social and economic rights.

Archie Bland (7 August) argues that a higher standard of behaviour is expected of Israel. This is wrong legally and wrong morally.

Low expectations of non-democratic countries enable dictatorships that systematically and egregiously violate the rights of their citizens to thrive. Individuals living in such repressive states are only likely to have realistic hope for change in their societies when the same universal standard of human rights is demanded of their leaders and countries as is of democracies.

Not to do so is to consider those individuals, many of whom have clamoured for freedom in the Arab Spring revolts, as less rights-bearing and less deserving of freedom than those living in democracies.

Noam Schimmel, New College, Oxford

Andrew Brown (letter, 9 August) asks whether those calling for an arms ban on Israel will also be asking for a similar ban on all the Gulf states funding Islamist extremism, including Saudi Arabia.

Abso-bally-lutely! It’s human rights abuses we object to, whoever they are carried out by. That and the hypocrisy of our government, which promotes arms sales then wrings its hands when the arms are used.

Come and join us on the demos, Mr Brown.

Bill Linton, London N13

I was petitioning in Dalston, east London, for Gaza recently, when an elderly lady stopped to sign the petition to lift the blockade and for sanctions against Israel.

An agitated young man in a kippah rushed up and started repeatedly screaming “You should be ashamed of yourself!” at her before he stormed off.

“Ignore him,” she said calmly. “He’s my grandson.”

Not every Jewish person is a Zionist – even in the same family. It’s not anti-Semitic to be anti-Zionist.

Sasha Simic, London N16

Children in an art gallery

Unlike Sharman Steel’s seven-year-old pupil (letter, 9 August) I never wanted to be Jackson Pollock, but after a teenage school visit to the Tate I felt moved by Turner’s sea pieces, and never got over it.

A couple of years ago, in the Prado in Madrid, I stood among a crowd of school children before Velázquez’s Las Meninas – some of the children sitting, some lying on the floor, some in wheelchairs, some vocally cogent, some with “special educational needs”.

These Spanish kids were acting as well as they could the parts of the figures in the painting: the royal couple; the small blonde princess; the maids of honour; the two dwarf attendants; the brush-wielding painter.

I was grateful to be not just in front of a great work of art but in the presence of children being wonderfully affected by it.

Anthony Bailey, Mersea Island, Essex

Blair’s debt to the people of Iraq

In response to the many criticisms on his illegal war in Iraq, Tony Blair has always responded that history will vindicate him.

History is unfolding in the most cruel fashion imaginable in Iraq now, not at all in a manner that he had foolishly imagined.

I suggest that Tony Blair should have the guts to  emerge from his hideout to contribute some of his many millions towards humanitarian aid in Iraq. This would be but a drop of conscience money.

And he should also use his oft-touted comfortable special relationship with George W Bush to urge his accomplice to do likewise.

Rosa Wei-Ling Chang, Sheffield

President Obama is careful to cite the fact that the Iraqi authorities requested US assistance by way of air strikes in their fight against Isis, going on to point out: “When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.”

Perhaps Hamas should pick up the telephone and sound him out about Gaza.

Jeremy Redman, London SE6

Secrets of success in business

With regard to business secrets (letter, 8 August), the best advice I ever received was from a retired retailer: “Empty shelves don’t sell; there’s no such thing as bad stock, only stock that’s too expensive; and if you’ve got a manager who puts most of the takings in the till, praise the Lord!”

Roger Hewell, Holcombe Somerset

Referendum squabbles baffle young Scots

We have had a fascinating two weeks in Scotland, travelling right up to the north of the Outer Hebrides. We took a straw poll as we went, asking people how they were going to vote next month. Of 17 we asked, the numbers of answers “Yes”/ “No”/ “Don’t Know” were 3/7/7.

Only men said “Yes”. Several of our contacts were business owners, and they all said how independence was an impediment that they simply did not want. An IT consultant said he would lose 50 per cent of his business overnight, and, correspondingly, 50 per cent of his employees.

But we were struck again and again by the “Don’t Knows”, many of whom were young people, who were genuinely frightened for their futures, and who simply don’t know enough about the issues.

They said they needed simple, unbiased information so that they could understand how they will be affected. We were in Scotland the night of the first televised debate, and what a disaster we found it.

It may be so important to Alex Salmond that Alistair Darling does, or does not, agree with David Cameron, but I could not help thinking that, so far as the young people we met were concerned, this is simply not what they need to know.

How hard it is for them to make a cool, logical decision if their politicians simply shout at each other. What a wasted opportunity.

Gillian Perkins, Cambridge

I fully understand your anxiety at the possibility of Scotland choosing to be independent and breaking up the Union. But there is a consequence which you have not yet considered. The SNP is determined to remove Trident from the Clyde soon after Scotland becomes independent. What would that mean ?

The Ministry of Defence would inform Westminster that the cost of creating a new facility for storing and servicing Trident submarines and missiles would be enormous – and politically difficult. Who wants that in their backyard?

The choice would be:  (a) cancelling huge projects for new railways, new cities and technology innovation,  reducing the size of the Army, Navy and RAF even more than already planned; or (b) blame Alex Salmond and abandon Trident as the basis of British national defence. A face-saving presence of a few nuclear weapons on airfields could be comforting to the right wing.

This would be a bitter pill to swallow for any Tory government, but privately many would be relieved. A surprising number of retired generals and admirals  have never liked our present policy of having an unusable weapon in a modern world where the greatest danger may come from within cities in the UK. The Treasury would rejoice at the release of billions of pounds for stimulating the economy.

Above all, blame the Scots! Does that possibility have some attractions in the real world?

Ainslie Walton, Glasgow

Let those on both sides of the Border who seem to fear dire consequences, should Scotland vote Yes in a few weeks’ time, rest at ease. Those who are our neighbours now will still be our neighbours, with no reason for estrangement.

Those who wish to reclaim Scotland’s identity as a fully self-governing nation do indeed believe we will be “better together”, but as independent fellow members of the various international bodies to which nationhood would entitle us, including the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the European Union.

We will still have many common interests with our neighbours: rather than be weakened by division, let us consider the possibility that, yes, when it really matters, two voices will be stronger than one.

Aonghas Macneacail, Carlops, Peeblesshire

The “No” campaign has benefited greatly by celebs from elsewhere in the UK saying, “Please stay.” So should Alex Salmond be drumming up support for the “Yes” campaign by finding another group to say: “Please go”?

Roger Allen, Nottingham

TimesSir, Melanie Phillips misses the point (“You’re not getting the real truth about Gaza”, Aug 4). Ever since the start of the Israeli incursion into Gaza, we knew Hamas would use UN schools, hospitals and flats to hide and fire its weapons. It’s also safe to assume that Gazans have been killed by Hamas rockets and that Hamas manipulates public opinion. However, these are the very facts that Israel’s defence strategy must take into account when responding. Can a country with an intelligence service as skilled and resourceful as Israel’s not find, in 2014, a better way of disabling those attacking it with rockets and through tunnels than shelling guilty and innocent alike?

Professor Anthony Glees
University of Buckingham

Sir, Melanie Phillips wrote that “Israel has stuck to every ceasefire; Hamas has broken every one”. How chastening it must be for her to read your headline the next day: “Israel admits it broke Gaza truce”.

John Samuel
Coulton N Yorks

Sir, Melanie Phillips supports a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine in theory, because she believes the West Bank would turn into an Islamist Iranian proxy state overnight, but she does not support an independent Palestine. I think that she should be more worried about Isis than Iran — and neither Hamas nor Iran support Isis. Israel has been illegally expanding its territories ever since 1948, firstly by occupying Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights in 1967, and by the spread of settlements across the West Bank. Cynically, Israel plans to continue building houses in the Arab areas that it illegally occupies and it continues to imprison Gazans in concentration camp conditions. Melanie Phillips chastises some of our politicians for condemning the Israeli slaughter of Gazan civilians, simply on the alleged basis that Hamas is deliberately sacrificing its civilians.

That policy will lead to a new generation of what she and Israel may call terrorists, but others freedom fighters.

Richard Waughman

Sir, What Melanie Phillips says about Gaza and Hamas may be true, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. Until Israel’s leadership stops bullying its neighbours and illegally trying to take over the final 20 per cent of Palestine, ie, the West Bank, there will be no peace, as it is not in Israel’s interests. Palestinians will only recognise Israel if it withdraws to its 1948/1967 borders, in accordance with several UN resolutions ignored by Israel, backed by the US.

J Swift
Crawley, Sussex

Sir, There are many parallels between the plight of the Palestinians and that of black South Africans under apartheid, the main one being that a whole people were made to feel second class and with very limited rights and next to no hope. In South Africa the response to the Sharpeville Riots — when 69 people were shot — seemed to mark a turning point when world opinion began to think that things had to change. Will the attacks on Gaza — in which 1,700 have been killed — mark a similar turning point?

Robin Woodd
Hemel Hempstead, Herts

Sir, Those lining up to condemn Israel should recall who danced in celebration when Londoners were slaughtered on their streets by Islamic extremists.

Kenneth Herman
Somerton, Somerset

Sir, It not fair to describe UK foreign policy towards the Middle East — and Israel in particular, which faces a threat from a terrorist group bent on its destruction — as “morally indefensible”. However, Baroness Warsi’s resignation highlights the dilemmas which abound in this area, and not all on the Western side. I do not think it politically impossible for the UK to back Israel’s efforts to defend itself, but be able still to say that decisions which target a known Hamas threat of an individual or weapons store with the certainty or extreme risk that deaths of civilians, especially children, will result, are wrong. Subsequent claims that Hamas is solely responsible for such consequences compounds an inexplicable moral judgement, and leaves high ground, absurdly, for the terrorist.

I tried over the past four years to advise Israelis and the Palestinian Authority that unless the chance of a second-term US president to revive the Middle East peace process was taken seriously, sooner or later something would happen which would run out of control. I also told both that support for them without progress was wearying among friends.

Gaza will not be settled without an overall agreement. The efforts and restraint of President Abbas and the West Bank, despite imperfections in the PA, deserves recognition; Hamas’s few remaining friends must tell it its war is over, and both Palestinians and Israel must make the concessions they knows they have to make to secure the peace, security and prosperity its own children have died for. It is not too late. But it soon will be.

Alistair Burt, MP
Minister for the Middle East 2010-13

Sir, As Islamic nations embrace their own battles against militant Islamic terrorist groups, it is perhaps a good thing that Baroness Warsi has resigned from our government. Their fight could easily become ours, given the terrorist group’s methods of infiltration and attack. Britain needs to know that our government is united in its resolve to resist terrorist tactics, in whatever form it takes, wherever that might be. Although we may march on the streets of Britain in support of Hamas, with little understanding of what the word ‘Palestine ‘ really means, Arab nations do not share our sympathy.

Barbara Etchells
Horsham, W Sussex


Sir, Baroness Warsi was right to resign. For at least part of her tenure as a Minister for Foreign Affairs, the UK gave large sums, via the EU, to Gaza for the benefit of its citizens. Her department should accept some responsibility for how that money was spent, not on roads, buildings or hospitals, but on building tunnels for the purpose of entering and attacking Israel.

Barrington Black
London NW3

Is it time to address the whole subject of state education properly and in depth?

Sir, The retiring head master of Eton describes our failing education system as “Victorian” (“Our relentless exam system deserves to fail”, August 7). He could better have described it as Thatcherian.

Everything we have now was constructed some 30 years ago without any debate as to the purpose of state provision. Should it be to service the needs of industry and commerce, or to foster personal growth? What is the place of spiritual awareness in a national system, when the RE syllabus is designed locally? What about the transmission of the culture to the next generation, which has only now come to the fore, and when no one knows what “British” values are? If personal and social relationships are to be emphasised, why were primary school governors allowed to decide whether sex education should take place? Cookery was replaced by food technology, which involved almost no production of food. The curriculums for English and maths have been scrapped and completely rewritten at least three times. Ofsted inspection of an average primary school used to involve half a dozen inspectors for a week; now it’s a couple, for a day or two. Course work in GCSEs is out, to be replaced by end of course exams. Our cumbersome special educational needs provision was devised by a committee led by Lady Warnock. She later described their deliberations as “naive to the point of idiocy”. A new system will be in place in a couple of months

Subsequent ministers have tinkered with bits and pieces, but aren’t around to answer for their results, as the average shelf life of that postholder is in the region of two and a half years.

In the 1970s James Callaghan’s great debate sought to address the whole issue of the philosophy of the state education system, to little apparent effect. Is now the time to try again?

David Brown

Pontefract, W Yorks

Sir, It’s ironic that employers and the CBI should be calling for “rounded and grounded young people”. What do they think schools are intent on providing for the labour force but exactly that? Since we are all in such striking agreement about what matters, it cannot be beyond us to dismantle the unhelpful emphasis on a limited and unimaginative exam system. The Times could take an influential first step by refraining from publishing exam performance tables this summer and instead cover some of the worthwhile projects young people have been involved in during the long break. The academic year could begin with a healthy rebalancing of priorities.

Clarissa Farr

High Mistress

St Paul’s Girls’ School, London

Sir, The Victorian era is far too many-sided to be used by the head master of Eton, supported by Jenni Russell to characterise the defects of our educational system. Indeed, if we take the varying views on English education adopted by the German educationist Dr Ludwig Wiese.

In the 1850s we find the good doctor complaining of the “reign of caprice and chaos” with the English terrified of bureaucracy and authoritative state guidance. By the 1870s Dr Wiese is calling as it were for a good Prussian top-down authoritarian regime in the schools. Surely he would have admired Mr Gove’s reforms?

Peter Wood

Stainton, Cumbria

We remember those who died in the war, but what about the crippled and the maimed who lived on in pain?

Sir, Amid the heartfelt tributes to the fallen of the First World War over the past weeks, there is another group that we should honour too.

They did grow old as we that were left grew old, Age did weary them and the years condemn — they returned, many maimed and crippled for life. I remember our grandfather, gassed as a teenager and his lungs partially destroyed, gasping for breath for his remaining 50 years.

Pat Notley

Hunston Suffolk

Prostate screening could be better and cheaper, but cancer screening in general is never 100 per cent reliable

Sir, I took the prostate screening test (Aug 7) when enrolling with a GP. It showed high PSA levels, and I was referred to a consultant who offered a biopsy. This carries some risk and can miss a tumour, so I opted instead for a better test, PCA3, which is carried out on a urine sample and so is simple and risk free. It does not claim to be 100 per cent accurate but is believed to be an improvement over the PSA test. It is not available from the NHS so I had it privately. It indicated a low probability of cancer, which was confirmed by an MRI scan. The scan did indicate an enlarged prostate, not a major problem. I would ask why is this test not available from the NHS?

I was also invited to take part in a colon cancer screening programme and provided samples for several years, all negative. One year following the last sample I was diagnosed with colon cancer and had surgery to remove a large tumour. Six months of chemotherapy failed to prevent a secondary tumour, but my surgeon is reasonably confident that this too can be removed, which should effect a cure. I have seen little about the effectiveness of this screening programme, which in my case failed to give the essential early indication. I await more surgery.

Jeff Puttick

As night follows day, so reports of bumper harvests are followed by intimations of doom and despair

Sir, Your report (Aug 8) on the early, heavy harvest is accurate but gives an erroneous impression that farmers will enjoy a bumper financial reward. Yields will be good, but prices have dropped dramatically in the past year — prices for the main cereal crops have almost halved since the peak in December 2012. Costs of production have remained static or, as a result of the blackgrass problem, have risen, so an average lowland farm producing 1,200 tonnes of cereals is likely to see net profits falling by over £40,000. Livestock prices are also down and the traditional “down corn, up horn” model is not evident. Farmers are often accused of “crying wolf” but on this occasion it is justified.

David Missen

Themelthorpe, Norfolk

Baby-boomer generation should not add to its faults the bad habit of appropriating the achievements of other eras

Sir, Deborah Ross (“Scumbag baby boomer? That’s me”, Aug 8) claims achievements for the baby boomers which should be credited to people born well outside her 1945-65 window. The pill to Gregory Pincus (b 1903), the internet to Bob Kahn (b 1938), the mobile phone, as Ms Ross notes, to Martin Cooper (b 1928), IVF to Sir Robert Edwards (b 1935). Even comprehensive schools, introduced as Ms Ross says in 1965, were brought in by Anthony Crosland (b. 1918) when even the oldest baby boomer was barely out of education themselves. Should we add shameless attempts to grab others’ achievements to the list of “scumbag” baby boomers’ sins?

Thomas Barry

Tunbridge Wells, Kent


SIR – The Mayor of London is considering standing as an MP, intending, if elected, to do both jobs. The mayoral post has a salary of £137,579; while the parliamentary salary is £67,060.

These posts should be full-time, serving the constituents. If they can be done on a part-time basis, presumably half of each salary should be returned?

Steve Mitchell
Rothley, Leicestershire

SIR – If David Cameron, or any other prime minister, can do his job and be an MP as well, what is the problem with Boris being Mayor of London and an MP?

David McIntosh
Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire

SIR – One of the reasons people voted for Boris Johnson for Mayor of London was his promise that he would not, unlike Ken Livingstone, take on another job during his term of office.

Edward Huxley
Thorpe, Surrey

SIR – Boris Johnson has some odd ideas on marriage but otherwise he is that unusual combination of intellectual heavyweight and popular performer. His bumbling, dishevelled persona hides a clarity of thought and genuine Conservative principles which seem totally absent in the present Tory leadership.

Ironically it is David Cameron whose electoral prospects could improve by the presence of someone who differs so much from himself.

Rodney Atkinson
Stocksfield, Northumberland

SIR – When Boris Johnson returns to Parliament next year and the inevitable leadership challenge follows soon after, it will be the blond Goliath who prevails over David.

Dominic Shelmerdine
London SW3

SIR – If Boris Johnson has ambitions to become Prime Minister one day, he should buy a comb and start using it now.

Ted Shorter
Hildenborough, Kent

Nato and the EU

SIR – Following Nato’s apparent hibernation, during which time strife came to Gaza, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and Libya, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe’s statement of resolve and preparedness from the heart of Belgium’s old battlefields is reassuring (Letters, August 3).

Whether the 28 nations’ politicians can match that determination remains to be seen. The events of 1989 promised almost to negate the alliance’s raison d’être. Yet despite much talk of developing a European Union military capability, response to subsequent crises fell largely to Nato.

Recent meddling in Ukraine did nothing to boost faith in an EU long on bluster but wholly lacking in Shape’s “decades of integration of core defence staff”. Indeed, the EU’s pursuit of unelected, central power seems the antithesis of independence and those shared values which our formerly sovereign states paid so dearly to guard.

Robert Stephenson
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Grey’s reputation

SIR – Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary in 1914, was a man who hated war. He should not be described as “one of the architects of the disaster” of the First World War.

Germany was intent on marching through Belgium, whose integrity had been guaranteed by large European states, including Britain. Grey believed that Britain should honour this guarantee, if only for her own reputation, and the Cabinet agreed.

As for Grey’s “repellent belief in his own decency”, what is repellent in believing one has acted decently? He was certainly aware of the talks between General Wilson and the French military for the better organisation of British troops to be sent to France, but always insisted that the Cabinet must be informed before any action was taken. He in no way committed Britain to enter the war.

A B Ingledow
Camberley, Surrey

Scottish pipedream

SIR – Apropos this week’s “debate” on Scottish independence, it strikes me that Alex Salmond is propounding a plan not for independence but for a change of dependence, retaining those aspects of the Union that he can’t do without.

Scottish independence is a pipedream, and it’s probably not tobacco in the pipe.

David Thomas
Llandybie, Carmarthenshire

SIR – Of the four nations in the UK, Scotland has contributed far more than its fair share, yet gets back far less than it deserves.

Take oil: it’s mostly in Scottish waters yet oil revenue is spread across the whole of the UK economy.

Ron Pearse
Watford, Hertfordshire

SIR – After 25 years my eldest son has moved out. It was sad but it would have ultimately caused me more pain and expense if he had stayed and I wish him every happiness.

I find myself experiencing similar emotions about Scottish independence.

Jonathan Cox
Sandhurst, Berkshire

Strange journey

SIR – On the subject of strange commuter journeys undertaken by television characters (Letters, August 3), how come Bart and Lisa Simpson go to school on a yellow bus but come home on a skateboard and bicycle?

Rhoda Lewis
London N14

Don’t dictate what to sell in NHS cafés

SIR – The spiralling rate of obesity in this country is of huge concern and has to be addressed in a clinically intelligent manner.

However, as an ex-NHS catering manager, I wish to defend the service offered by many of the high-street quality coffee outlets on NHS premises. They provide an excellent service for patients and their relatives and a welcoming reprieve from the austere facade of a typical hospital.

There is a good argument for increasing the range of healthier options in all catering outlets, but not for arbitrary, Big Brother-style restrictions.

It surely remains the right of individuals to decide whether they wish to have a chocolate muffin or a piece of fruit with their cappuccino as part of a balanced diet.

Billy Cunningham

SIR – Rather than suggesting that NHS managers become food police, Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, would do much better to stick to the simple message that if you are going to choose a sweetened drink, then it is far better to have one made with low-calorie sweeteners.

This would make the biggest difference to public health at minimal cost to the Treasury, with no need for legislation or the diversion of precious NHS resources towards sampling the menus on their premises.

Chris Whitehouse
Totland Bay, Isle of Wight

The wretched of Gaza

SIR – The conflict in Gaza will never be resolved until the basic needs of the Palestinians have been taken into account. These wretched people cannot, year after year, generation after generation, be expected to live and die as displaced persons. Common humanity forbids it.

The problem will only be solved when the Jews, the most intellectually and spiritually gifted people in the world, whose religion is based, above all, on justice, realise that it incumbent on them to take the moral lead. Killing and maiming defenceless women and children is not the answer. Such atrocities simply play into the hands of Hamas.

Edward Celiz
Holt, Norfolk

Give ’em an inch

SIR – During the Commonwealth Games I shuddered to hear the commentator say, about a triple-jump competitor, “That was millimetre-perfect”.

Soon, no doubt, in running events, it will be correct to “go a country kilometre”.

John Buggins
Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire

SIR – Michael Vaughan writes that there is not much wrong with sledging and that it is a useful weapon in the bowler’s armoury.

Why then, if it so much part of the game, is it not clearly audible to the spectators?

Chris Harding
Parkstone, Dorset

SIR – Sledging seems to be the antithesis of sportsmanship. How can abusing your opponents be an acceptable part of sport? Could you imagine tennis players insulting each other when they change ends, or golfers taunting each other between holes? Is this the way to introduce children to sport?

Jane Bubb
Esher, Surrey

SIR – I am grateful to Geoffrey Boycott for his condemnation of sledging. While Michael Vaughan and others try to defend the indefensible, sledging brings nothing but shame and disgrace on the players that indulge in it.

Back in the Fifties, cricketers played with passion without having to resort to cheating by goading and intimidating opponents. The time is long overdue for the cricketing authorities to stamp out this vile behaviour.

John O’Neill
Harrow, Middlesex

SIR – Contrary to the assertion of Frank D J Smith, a retired town planner (Letters, August 3), I believe planners have much to answer for, having dealt with them over 30 years in many local planning authorities.

They usually have no design training and yet impose their own aesthetic views on developments. It can be almost impossible to have a rational discussion with some of them, while others can be obstructive from the beginning.

Clients, particularly those who are less well-funded, often cave in to them to avoid refusal and appeal costs, with appeals being an absolute lottery, dependant upon which inspector is appointed. This often results in poor-quality development – which is what planning policies specifically try to avoid.

The whole planning and appeal process requires a radical overhaul: as it stands, it’s not fit for purpose.

Arthur Bayley
Tyldesley, Lancashire

SIR – Frank D J Smith, a seasoned local authority town planner, blames politicians for meddling in a subject that he feels should be left to the professionals.

This “We know better” attitude is, sadly, rife amongst planning officers in local government. Left unchecked, it will result in town planning being taken out of the democratic process, as well as undermining the Government’s ability to manage economic and social policies across the nation.

The Government is therefore right to seek to counter this both through the National Planning Policy Framework and the recent modifications to permitted development rights.

There is nothing in this legislation permitting design or environmental standards to be compromised. At its most basic, all this legislation does is remove a number of arcane and damaging misconceptions that have spread over the years among local authority planning officers: proof that planning cannot be left to local authority professionals alone.

Richard Thirkell
Groombridge, East Sussex

SIR – In claiming that the nation has changed its attitude to planning thanks to the Government’s NPPF, Brandon Lewis, the new planning minister, would seem to be as naïve as his predecessor, Nick Boles.

The people of the Ribble Valley are under siege from developers seeking approval for speculative schemes, either from the local council or planning inspectors at appeal.

It is the NPPF that is ensuring that they succeed. It is not true that “local people have a bigger say over where housing goes”, as Mr Lewis claims. The Neighbourhood Plan only provides for sites where housing should go over and above the targets being set by the Government and enforced by the Planning Inspectorate. People are tired of being told half-truths or untruths. They are waiting for the election to have their say.

Nick Walker
Whalley, Lancashire

SIR – Alyson Persson (Letters, August 3) need not be quite so depressed about the planning process. If developers, having had plans turned down by the local authority, then appeal and have the decision reversed, this is not the end of the road for the local community.

Here in Shropshire, a group of local residents sought a judicial review when trying to prevent a wind turbine being built in the village. The judge found in our favour. The case was sent back to the Inspectorate for redetermination and the developer’s original appeal was eventually refused. The wind turbine was not built and, so far, the case has contributed to the withdrawal of plans for about 10 other turbines in this beautiful, unspoilt corner of Shropshire.

Pamela Wheeler
Kenley, Shropshire

SIR – Why should Alyson Persson or anyone else be afraid of being accused of Nimbyism? Much of what people do not want in their own back yard could be avoided if everyone were Nimbys. The country might be the better for it.

J F Lambert

Irish Times:

Sir, – President Higgins’s comments on his idea of republicanism, in his interview with Stephen Collins (August 5th), deserves a lot more coverage and analysis. It could hardly be more timely as interested parties wave “the flag we republicans claim” in the run-up to 1916 commemorations.

Each faction, from the handful who tried to roar down the President at Glasnevin, to Éirígí, via Sinn Féin to Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party, presents itself as the true, sole inheritor of the title republican. None seems capable of the breadth, depth or generosity of President Higgins’s perspective. He rightly rejects the notion that “nationalist” and “republican” are interchangeable and speaks of a “true republicanism [with] a glowing centre of egalitarianism”.

Most challenging for many of your recent correspondents is his suggestion that it cannot be truly republican “to ignore the deaths, the injuries and the families of the working people of Ireland and Britain who were sucked into” the first World War. His intention to expand on his notion of republicanism gives hope that in the middle of so much vacuous sloganeering and balderdash, there may be room for some reflection – and reassessment. – Yours, etc,


Clarence Mangan Road,

Dublin 8

Sir, – The recent debate between John Bruton, Éamon Ó Cuív and others over how necessary, or otherwise, the 1916 rising was for achieving independence may be focusing on the wrong event.

One of the benefits of the historical analysis that has accompanied recent commemorations of the start of the first World War is that it has allowed events leading up to foundation of the State to be viewed against a wider global backdrop.

In this context it would appear that first World War was the event that killed home rule and led to the violent path to independence. It has to be remembered that the 1916 rising was staged by the IRB and the Irish Citizens Army as a response to Britain going to war with the Central Powers.

Also, another war-related issue, the 1918 conscription crisis, served to undermine home rule and contribute to the rise in support for Sinn Féin and full independence.

Finally, a war-weary Britain probably did not have the stomach for the repressive measures necessary to quell the rebellion associated with the War of Independence and was therefore amenable to granting something that went beyond home rule.

Another noteworthy thing arises from viewing events in this broader context. When the great and the good, along with devout nationalists and possibly some members of the British royal family, gather on O’Connell Street in late April 2016, they will in effect be commemorating another battle of the First World War – in this case one fought on Irish soil. – Yours, etc,


The Friary,


Co Kildare

Sir,– Prof Ian O’Donnell’s article on death row (Opinion & Analysis, August 8th)is erudite, compassionate and enlightened. It is intriguing that prisoners develop coping mechanisms while on death row but, overall, capital punishment is still cruel, unusual and barbaric.

Amnesty International reports that, despite positive moves towards abolition in many parts of the world, the number of reported executions rose by almost 15 per cent in 2013. In that year at least 778 people were executed worldwide. This figure excludes the numbers executed in China, which are estimated to be in the thousands. Almost 80 per cent of reported executions occurred in Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Japan and the US were the only G8 countries to perform executions in 2013. Even in the US, the practice is in decline: Maryland became the 18th abolitionist state in May 2013. Nevertheless, there were 39 executions in the US last year, in Alabama (1), Arizona (2), Florida (7), Georgia (1), Ohio (3), Oklahoma (6), Missouri (2), Virginia (1) and Texas (16).

Our research group at UCD (with Dr Sharon Foley) has demonstrated that, in Texas, execution is usually preceded by over 10 years spent on death row, with strong evidence of prisoners experiencing high levels of psychological suffering. Most have mental illness and virtually all have histories of severe head injury. The suicide rate on death row is up to five times that of the general US male population.

While prisoners who are executed have usually been convicted of exceptionally cruel and unusual crimes, resulting in death and inestimable suffering, it is utterly illogical and morally repugnant to use such cruel and unusual acts as justification for further cruel and unusual acts, such as killing the prisoner. In addition, the possibility of judicial error is as real as it is horrific.

Against this background, recent hand-wringing in the US over what are perceived to be cruel and unusual execution methods appears to be a primitive defence mechanism used to protect human consciences from an even more cruel, unusual and utterly irreducible fact: another human is being killed. – Yours, etc,


Department of

Adult Psychiatry,

University College,


Sir, – Noel Leahy (August 7th) scoffs at the comparison made by David Stewart between Israeli control of the occupied territories and the apartheid system in pre-1992 South Africa.

Mr Leahy obviously is an authority in this area and no doubt knows best. But what other word better describes a situation where two peoples dwell on the same land yet are forcibly segregated from each other, and where one group dominates the other?

When Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu visited the holy lands they immediately recognised the Israeli apartheid system, and called it as such, as have many prominent Israelis, including a former attorney general, scholars, legislators, newspaper editors and representatives of human rights organisations.

Mr Leahy might read Jimmy Carter’s book entitled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, in which the former president also clearly identifies the Israeli apartheid system.

But Mr Leahy might be able to set him straight on this. – Yours, etc,


Kelly’s Bay Moorings,


Co Dublin

Sir, – Observing Saturday’s march to the Israeli embassy, one thing was noticeable by its absence: calls for Hamas to accept a ceasefire. In the last few days Hamas has continued to reject ceasefire proposals and has persisted in firing rockets. By refusing to condemn Hamas these protesters are tacitly endorsing these actions. Ultimately, it is the ordinary people of Gaza who will suffer. Yours, etc,


Lower Rathmines Road,

Dublin 6

Sir, – In the last 12 years, 30 Israelis were killed by missiles from Gaza, while a further 4,000 died on the roads. – Yours, etc,


Cnoc an Stollaire,

Gaoth Dobhair,

Co Donegal

Sir, – Weekend news reports suggested that Brendan Howlin and his Government might begin to reinstate the losses suffered by public sector pensioners since the financial bust. That is probably consistent with the Howlin contention back in 2011 that pensions are a “property right”. However, Mr Howlin and his fellow Ministers showed when they introduced the notorious pensions levy that it was a roperty right only for the public sector.

Many, many private sector workers (me included), who have suffered the impact of the pensions levy, have had to content themselves with a permanent pension reduction – or put it another way they have had to look cheerful while their life savings have been taken from them. Mr Howlin and his friends have kept a deathly silence about this.

Good luck to the public sector pensioners if they get their money reinstated, but Mr Howlin should be assured that private sector pensioners like me will be waiting in the long grass at the next general election. The Grey Revenge could be fierce. – Yours, etc,


Howth Road,

Dublin 5

Sir, – I enjoyed Frank McNally’s Irishman’s Diary (August 8th) on the strangulated speech patterns of teenagers. It is a familiar and frustrating experience for most parents, though one which may now perhaps be put to bed as normal as a result of the research of the University of Texas.

But the behaviour of today’s teenagers seems quite innocuous compared with those of the late fifties and early sixties. Teenage girls in south county Dublin and possibly elsewhere at that time developed their own language, in which they conversed in the presence of boys and were thus able to express their views on the available “talent” to the utter bewilderment of the lads.

From recollection it consisted of inserting an extra syllable in every word and speaking very rapidly. The result was a completely new language unintelligible to the non-adept : if you were a teenage boy in the vicinity of girls you knew to your bewilderment and embarrassment that your attributes were being being discussed and dissected.

I can’t recall the syllable which was inserted nor when this form of speech died out but I do know every teenage boy of the era lived in fear of it. Perhaps some of your readers can throw some light on the subject. – Yours, etc,


Westminster Lawns,


Sir, – The Road Safety Authority is currently running an ad campaign on television, asking us, where cyclists are concerned, to “respect their right to the road”.  I would ask that it run a campaign to ask cyclists to “respect the right of pedestrians to the footpath”. – Yours, etc.,


Upper Glenageary Road,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin

Sir, – Your correspondent Eoin Burke-Kennedy (August 8th) is too pessimistic about the dangers for the Irish economy of deflation. While price inflation at 0.3 per cent is running well below the ECB’s “close to but less than 2 per cent” target, this should be seen in the context of real GDP growth in Ireland of nearly 3.5 per cent. Overall, this implies a growth of nominal GDP of nearly 4 per cent.

The big downside with deflation is when nominal income falls, making debt service more burdensome. This is especially true in respect of the impact on the public finances.

Irish price and wage inflation have been significantly lower than in most euro zone economies since the onset of the present crisis, which is exactly what is required to help improve Irish competitiveness.

Given what has been happening to money wages and near zero returns on savings, the present very low inflation has saved many people from even more severe cuts in their real purchasing power. Deflation is much more of a danger to economies with near-zero real growth, such as France and Italy. – Yours, etc,


Willbrook Lawn,

Sir, – In response to the debate on the restoration of Mountjoy Square, there is no question but that the square needs renewal: the question is for whom and by whom.

Mountjoy Square has the potential to attract lots of people and drive social and economic renewal of the north inner city. New approaches in public space renewal have proven to be highly successful at Times Square in New York, the People’s Park in Malmo in Sweden and the Granby pop-up park experiment in Dublin.

Problems in public spaces often occur when they are dominated by single interests (be it heritage values or drug dealing).For a small fraction of the €8.1m and some creative local energy, Mountjoy Square could become the next placemaking success story. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16

Irish Independent:

I refer to your editorial (Irish Independent, August 9) ‘Planning for the end of the ‘Emergency”.

I quote the essence of the message conveyed. “Eventually, the ‘Emergency’ will have to be declared to be over. The bailout has ended, the Troika have departed, economic growth is rising, unemployment is dropping – albeit never at a fast enough rate.

“The country won’t go back to the largesse of the Celtic Tiger era, but a sustainable economic model is the goal. Therefore, ‘Emergency’ measures come up for discussion.”

How can such a statement be made without taking account of the transformation of the whole economic model by extraordinary technological advance? It is what caused the economic upheaval, but it has never been addressed – it has never even been discussed.

The “bailout” has not ended; we just changed the name to “bond sales”, a much more innocuous term for borrowing.

How can economic growth be sustained? Economic growth is producing more – and one of the great problems of the 21st century is that the world already produces way too much.

It is what causes business failure all over the world. Restraint is needed, not growth.

How can unemployment drop? Automation is rampant: work is being eliminated on an unprecedented scale yet we talk of job creation as if work was as vital to production of goods and services as ever. Work is dead; we should rejoice and generate employment from the little that remains.

The present ‘Emergency’ is the failure to recognise the huge transformation at the core of economics – from shortage to abundance and from work to leisure. There will be no end to or escape from the “Emergency” until we realistically discuss these things and adapt to them.

Padraic Neary


Co Sligo

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

◊ If you were to check the DNA of all involved in the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, you will find that they are all cousins, related to Abraham and his sons, Isaac and Ishmael, and his grandsons, Esau and Jacob.

This whole Middle East conflict was caused by family rivalries about land. Sound familiar?

Kevin Devitte


Co Mayo

◊ I wish to congratulate your writer Gerard O’Regan for his very balanced article (Irish Independent, August 9) on the Palestinian question and the current carnage of the Israel-Gaza conflict.

He is right that a state of denial exists at the very heart of Israeli life.

Furthermore, many of us in the Western world are in denial too over the fact that had the British not left the Middle East in a mess in the late ’40s, and had the Palestinians’ case been resolved once and for all with the help of the ever-reluctant USA, we would possibly not have had the likes of Osama bin Laden, 9/11, Hamas and all the rest which proliferate from the persistent marginalisation of people entitled to their own state.

With due respect for the historical plight of the Jews as victims of the Nazi Holocaust, it seems that Israelis have now gone beyond their right to the so-called promised land, with over four million Palestinians living under their thumb.

Concetto La Malfa

Dublin 4

◊ The world doesn’t seem to give a damn about the pain of the unfortunate people of Gaza.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, should be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

What makes it all the more shocking is that the behaviour of Mr Netanyahu’s bellicose, right-wing government has not been condemned by US President Barack Obama and by Britain.

There is no condemnation from the US, or from Europe. Ban Ki-moon is less than useless. The UN is merely a talking shop devoid of morality.

I have no difficulty in understanding Hamas. They are fighting for rights for their people. Gaza is an open-air prison. The people are trapped there. They cannot leave. They have no hope, no dignity, no future for their children.

This carnage and slaughter perpetrated by Israel has taught me so much. It brings home to me just how indifferent the world is to the suffering of the poor people of Gaza.

How many little children have been killed in Gaza? Will the horrible carnage ever end? Will the blockade ever end? Will the unfortunate people of Gaza ever be able to live a life of dignity and self-respect?

Anthony Redmond


Bruton owes debt to 1916 leaders

◊ May I remind John Bruton that the position he held as Taoiseach was due wholly to the sacrifice of the men and women of the 1916 Rising.

Rory O’Callaghan

Dublin 8

Don’t reverse pay cuts

◊ It is alarming to hear ministers liberally using words such as “reversing”, “restoring” or “recovering” in relation to pay cuts.

One of the lessons we learnt from the troika was that we were largely overpaying ourselves.

Having absorbed that lesson, we should move on. Salaries should be considered mainly in terms of productivity and what is affordable, rather than structural adjustments which took place in the past.

John F Jordan.



Being true to yourself

◊ I found the ‘Words of advice’ letter from Brian McDevitt (Irish Independent, August 6) quite insightful.

Living a life true to oneself is something we all struggle with to a greater or lesser extent, as we balance personal and professional commitments and relationships in our lives.

Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, recorded the regrets people had in their dying days. The number one regret was,”I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

For people struggling with being true to themselves, I say, be the person you are meant to be and the only person you can be.

What a precious gift you will bring to the many people you encounter on this wonderful journey called life.

Tommy Roddy



Legalising surrogacy a mistake

◊ I am shocked to learn that Ireland is about to legalise surrogacy. France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal have banned all forms of surrogacy, so why is Ireland entering this legal minefield?

Our airwaves have been saturated in recent years with stories of adopted children searching for their roots – will the children of surrogates be given the information that they have been created perhaps by donor sperm or donor eggs and developed in the body of a stranger?

These children will have problems identifying who they really are.

I have watched couples on television trying to normalise surrogacy and I noted their sense of entitlement, which is a big feature of our present society.

I sincerely hope that there are enough TDs with a backbone to object strenuously and demand an outright ban on surrogacy.

E Murphy



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