Piratesof Penzance

22 August 2014 Pirates of Penzance

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A wettish day. We go and see the Pirates of Penzance with Astrid and Not Michael

Scrabble: I win, but get just under 400. perhaps Mary will win tomorrow.

108 Games Mary win 57 John 52


Albert Reynolds – obituary

Albert Reynolds was a former pet food manufacturer who, as Irish Taoiseach, coaxed the IRA towards a ceasefire

John Major and Albert Reynolds addressing a press conference prior to announcing the 1993 Downing Street Declaration

John Major and Albert Reynolds addressing a press conference prior to announcing the 1993 Downing Street Declaration  Photo: AFP/GETTY

12:02PM BST 21 Aug 2014


Albert Reynolds, the former Irish Taoiseach, who has died aged 81, was the driving force behind the 1993 Downing Street Declaration which paved the way for a (short-lived but significant) IRA ceasefire in August 1994 .

The IRA truce could not have happened without Reynolds. He had none of the ideological and political baggage of his predecessor, Charles Haughey, and as a result he was able to coax, cajole and threaten the Republican movement into the laying-down of its arms. At the same time he established a businesslike and friendly relationship with the British Prime Minister, John Major.

Reynolds was willing to take huge risks and put his political credibility on the line. When his deputy and coalition partner, the Labour leader Dick Spring, joined him to work on the Downing Street Declaration, he was shocked to learn of the extent of negotiations with the IRA. Spring was anxious to keep his distance, so Reynolds pushed on alone. When the Irish Dáil gave Reynolds a standing ovation for his part in bringing about the ceasefire, Spring acknowledged Reynolds’s achievement by insisting he break the teetotal habit of a lifetime and celebrate the occasion with champagne. But the bonhomie was short lived.

Reynolds in 1994 with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and SDLP leader John Hume (REUTERS)

Spring had made his name in the 1980s with scathing attacks on Reynolds’s party Fianna Fáil, berating it for corruption and cronyism. He had an easy target in Charles Haughey, but he did not spare Reynolds when he took over in 1992.

Reynolds had inherited a coalition administration with the Progressive Democrats, but brought it down after less than a year. In the election that followed, Fianna Fáil lost many seats, and Reynolds seemed destined for oblivion until Spring, the big winner at the polls, astonished everyone by indicating that he would consider a coalition. In February 1993 the first modern Fianna Fáil-Labour government was formed.

Spring laid down tough conditions for his support and the party gained plum ministries. There was talk of an end to the culture of quiet deals in smoke-filled rooms that had characterised Fianna Fáil administrations from the de Valera era. Reynolds said it was his ambition to be remembered as the leader who “let in the light” on Irish society. This was interpreted as a pledge to preside over a more open government with a more liberal stance on social issues. To an extent, he succeeded in bringing his party some way along this road. Homosexuality was decriminalised; contraceptives were made more easily available; and a referendum guaranteeing women the right to travel to Britain to have abortions was passed.

But the partnership with Labour began to show signs of strain when Reynolds embarked on a series of actions which suggested that he had no intention of abandoning Fianna Fáil’s old ways. He declared an amnesty for tax-dodgers, and the Reynolds family’s pet food firm was found to have benefited from a passports-for-investment deal with a Saudi Arabian family of Lebanese extraction.

Then there was a scandal in which Reynolds, in his previous incarnation as Minister for Industry and Commerce, was found to have acted in a manner not consistent with the national interest in the allocation of $100 million-worth of credit insurance to the beef tycoon Larry Goodman in respect of exports to Iraq. The fact that Reynolds seemed prepared to issue state-funded export insurance — effectively subsidising the Goodman business empire — when the country was economically in deep trouble, caused disquiet, as did the fact that Reynolds’s Attorney General, Harry Whelehan, had obtained an injunction from the Supreme Court to prevent a tribunal which was examining the affair from gaining access to cabinet papers.

The tribunal’s report, published in summer 1994, stated pointedly that it had been unable to come to any conclusions about the ultimate political motives for Reynolds’s decisions, which had resulted in the government exposing the state to liabilities of £100 million even though “the benefits arising from such exports were illusory rather than real”. Yet immediately on receipt of the report, and before it could be published, Reynolds claimed, wrongly, that it had vindicated him.

The gradual revelation of these dealings created mistrust between the coalition partners which gathered momentum when, in September 1994, Reynolds put Whelehan forward for the vacant post of President of the High Court, the Republic’s second most senior legal position. Apart from his role in the beef scandal, Whelehan, an ultraconservative Fianna Fáil appointee and a staunch Roman Catholic, had incurred the wrath of progressives in 1991 when, on learning that a 14-year-old rape victim intended to travel to England for an abortion, he obtained an injunction preventing her from doing so. The girl later miscarried, but the furore refused to die down.

At first it looked as though the question of the appointment would be fudged as the two parties agreed to review the procedures governing judicial appointments. But the truce broke apart over the case of Father Brendan Smyth.

Smyth was a Northern Irish Catholic priest and compulsive paedophile who had been assaulting children since the 1950s. In April 1993 the RUC sought his extradition from the Republic to face charges in Belfast. The extradition warrants languished in Whelehan’s office for seven months. Eventually Smyth voluntarily returned to Belfast, where in June 1994 he was jailed for four years.

The case attracted little public interest until two Ulster Television documentaries exposed the saga of how the Catholic Church and the Irish authorities had dealt with the case over the years. Smyth had been shunted round posts in Ireland, Britain and America. Each time he was sent to a parish, whispers of scandal would begin to emerge. Each time, he would be sent back to Ireland, and then posted off elsewhere. Over four decades, the Church authorities treated his behaviour as an internal affair rather than as a criminal matter.

Coming on top of the revelation in 1992 that the Bishop of Galway, Eamonn Casey, had fathered a son and had used Church funds to pay for his upkeep, the documentaries were explosive; and there were suggestions that Whelehan had failed to process the extradition warrants in order to protect the Church. At one point the head of the Church in Ireland, Cardinal Cathal Daly, was forced to go on television to denounce suggestions that he had tried to interfere with Smyth’s prosecution.

Reynolds, unsettled by the controversy, asked Whelehan to furnish a full account of the Smyth case to all cabinet ministers. Few, even on the Fianna Fáil side, were impressed; but Reynolds was apparently determined to press ahead and, ignoring (or possibly underestimating) the seriousness of the opposition, forced through Whelehan’s appointment. After three days of accusation and counteraccusation, in November 1994 Spring and his colleagues resigned from the coalition and Reynolds was forced to bow to the inevitable, bringing Whelehan down with him. The following day Fianna Fáil elected Reynolds’s Minister of Finance, Bertie Ahern, as its new leader.

In a damning political obituary, the Irish Times described Reynolds as a “political bully behind a smiling face who showed a cynical indifference to those principles of public office which did not suit his purposes and whose actions, once in power, belied so much of the high principle he enunciated in his campaign to get there”. Public life, the paper concluded, “will not be greatly the poorer for his departure from office”.

History may be a little kinder, however. It is an irony that the very qualities which got Reynolds into such trouble in the domestic arena also helped him to bring about the IRA ceasefire — his willingness to take risks, to back his own hunches and to cut a deal using the tough negotiating skills of a marketplace fixer.

Albert Reynolds shares a joke with the Reverend Ian Paisley, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, in 2007 (PA)

The youngest of four children of an undertaker, Albert Reynolds was born at Rooskey, Co Roscommon, on November 3 1932 and educated on a scholarship at Summerhill College in Co Sligo. His parents could not afford to send him to university, and he became a railway clerk.

In the late 1950s he and his brother started a chain of halls — “ballrooms of romance” — where thousands of teenagers would gather to meet and dance. After selling out his interest in the mid-1960s, he embarked on a series of ventures — a bacon factory, a salmon and lobster exporting business — before setting up a pet food company, C&D foods. He went on to win contracts with the big British supermarkets, and proved adept at finding the small print in EU regulations that enabled him to qualify for grants.

In 1977 he was elected to the Dáil for Fianna Fáil and was one of a small group of deputies who campaigned for Charles Haughey to take over the party leadership. Two years later, with Haughey in power, Reynolds was rewarded with the Post and Telegraphs ministry, then the Transport portfolio. In 1981 he was the minister responsible when an ex-Trappist monk hijacked an Aer Lingus plane over France, demanding that the Pope reveal the Third Secret of Fatima. The incident was resolved with no injuries.

Fianna Fáil lost power in 1981 but regained it the following year, Reynolds returning to government as Minister for Industry and Energy. The party lost power again in late 1982 but returned in 1987, when Reynolds was appointed Minister for Industry and Commerce. The following year he took over as finance minister on the departure of Ray MacSharry for Brussels. After the 1989 general election, Reynolds led the Fianna Fáil team which negotiated a coalition deal with the Progressive Democrats.

Reynolds forged a reputation as an innovator, but he was mocked for his rural roots by the more cosmopolitan Haughey, who referred to Reynolds and his supporters as the “Country and Western wing” of the party. He was never allowed to forget an occasion when, as minister for posts and telegraphs, he had been persuaded to dress up as a cowboy on television and croon: “Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone”.

As pressure on Haughey’s leadership began to mount in the early 1990s, Reynolds let it be known publicly that he would be a contender for the succession. In 1991 his support for a motion of no confidence in Haughey led to his being sacked from the government after the motion was defeated. But Haughey’s victory was short-lived. A row concerning telephone-tapping proved to be the final straw. In February 1992 Reynolds ousted his old patron and became leader of Fianna Fáil, and Taoiseach.

Reynolds was sensitive to attacks on his integrity, and despite the general consensus among Irish journalists about his dishonesty he was highly successful in fighting for his good name, pocketing some £200,000 in libel damages in various actions between 1992 and 1994. His elegant Dublin home was said to be known as “Litigation Lodge”. However, in 1996, when a British jury decided by a majority of 10-1 that allegations in The Sunday Times that he had misled the Dáil by withholding information from a critical file about the competence of Harry Whelehan were untrue, they awarded him zero damages, later amended by the judge to 1p. Later the Court of Appeal decided that he should get a new trial, but the matter was settled out of court.

In 1997 Reynolds’s successor, Bertie Ahern, encouraged him to stand for the Presidency of Ireland and offered him the position of peace envoy in Northern Ireland, but thought better of the latter idea due to poor election results in Reynolds’s constituency and a change in the political situation in Northern Ireland. Subsequently, in a meeting of ministers, Ahern gave a typically ambiguous speech which seemed to encourage his cabinet to support the presidential claims of a rival candidate, Mary McAleese, who went on to win the office. Reynolds felt humiliated by Ahern and retired from politics at the 2002 general election.

Like many of his compatriots, Reynolds enjoyed a day at the races and, though teetotal, was said always to be the last man to leave the bar.

He married Kathleen Coen, with whom he had two sons and five daughters.

Albert Reynolds, born November 3 1932, died August 21 2014


Taxpayers may be outraged to find themselves picking up the bill of £224m because an arbitration tribunal found against the government in its dispute with Raytheon over an e-borders contract (Taxpayer to pick up £224m bill for fiasco of e-borders contract, 19 August). This sum will be peanuts compared to what we will be shelling out if the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) under negotiation between the EU and US includes the mechanism of investor state dispute settlement (ISDS). For example, the inclusion of ISDS in an agreement between the US and Ecuador allowed a trade tribunal to order the Ecuadorian government to pay a total of $2.3bn to the US company Occidental for cancelling their contract to produce oil in the Amazon.
Jan Savage

• Does the borders contract foreshadow the business practices proposed in TTIP? It is difficult to know, as TTIP appears to be a well-kept secret. To what is the body politic subscribing in this trade agreement? The Guardian article does not make it clear who or what is the tribunal that awarded the damages to Raytheon. You note in the article that Raytheon “remains committed to partnering with the UK government on key defence, national security and commercial pursuits”. As a UK taxpayer, I would urge the government to have nothing more to do with this company.
Meg Hitchcock

• £224m of public funds and all that seems controversial about this news is which political party is to be blamed for the mess. This binding arbitration tribunal, whose ruling is taking us to the cleaners, wouldn’t be one of the ad hoc, commercially appointed, corporate-lawyer judged, secret tribunals of the investor-state dispute settlements kind, would it? The ones that TTIP will free up to deregulate all public services and allow corporations to demand punitive fines from a state that interferes with their profiteering? Isn’t that a tad more controversial and newsworthy than which party to blame?

The EU has received 150,000 submissions from citizens of 18 EU countries challenging TTIP and the aim is to raise 1 million from at least seven countries, which would then trigger a formal procedure requiring the European commission to address these concerns. Could this be what Adam Tooze meant by “the talks are in trouble” (Europe is not fixed, 18 August)? And isn’t it about time the Guardian got involved in this democratic movement?
John Airs

• We need a new way of presenting money spent or wasted by the government. A figure should be maintained that represents the average lifetime tax contribution of each member of the population, and government costs or losses should be expressed in units of individual lifetime tax contributions – ILTCs. This would put a personal element into the costs, such as “That’s 10 times my lifetime tax payments”.

The powers that be might be more careful if they were able to see the dwindling effective taxpayer base consequent on reckless expenditure. Incidentally, I estimate my own ILTC (at age 73) to be in the region of £250,000, making the total of the two figures above just under 1,000 ILTCs. A thousand people’s contributions binned.
Ian King
Westbury on Severn, Gloucestershire

• One approach to introducing new IT projects is to adopt the Pragmatic Autumn method. Begin (assuming Scotland remains in the UK) in the leastpopulated areas, Shetland and Orkney, and proceed south, ironing out the difficulties along the way. This allows the Scots and Northern Irish to benefit first from improvements in return for accepting a few glitches while it’s sorted out. By the time the project arrives at the English south coast and the Isles of Scilly, not only should all the systems work, but a great deal of expertise will have been created, thus containing a lot of learning costs.
John Starbuck
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

• We have just had a great time at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The IT organisation was fast, efficient and user-friendly – no mean feat with 3,000-plus shows at more than 400 venues. How about the government asking the organisers for help to rescue its IT fiascos?
Elaine Yeo
Enfield, Middlesex

• Yet another example of the efficiency of the private sector trumping that of the public sector, in this instance by £224m, even when the former fails to deliver. Why did I ever doubt David Cameron’s perspicacity?
Martin Morse


After your recent report on the diseased chickens, we now learn that the government report on the causes of last year’s horsemeat scandal has been shelved (Horsemeat scandal report was shelved, 16 August). Meanwhile, has anyone been brought to justice – the importers, the processors, the quality control experts employed by the supermarkets and the supermarkets themselves?

Whether or not government controls over food production are adequate, it should not absolve the major retail suppliers from their own responsibility for consumer protection – after all, it’s their names that appear on the labels.

I write because my wife is at last recovering from a campylobacter infection, which after the usual sickness and diarrhoea brought about the collapse of the nervous system in her limbs. She cannot attribute this specifically to horsemeat in lasagne or a supermarket chicken, but she can testify to the suffering. Press on with your clean food campaign.
David Redway

• I was struck by the comment by a government spokesperson that “it is normal for ministers to set policy and for others to enforce it – in this case, the FSA”. When the Food Standards Agency was set up, in the light of ministers’ abysmal record of setting food policy during the BSE crisis, the whole point was to remove this policy responsibility from ministers in order to better protect the consumer. Section 6 of the Food Standards Act 1999  states that the agency “has the function of developing policies … relating to matters connected with food safety or other interests of consumers in relation to food”.

Perhaps the government spokesperson might want to think again. The failure of the government to recognise that food safety is too important to be left to ministers lies at the heart of the confusion in a number of government departments about division of responsibility when food scares erupt.

The government should give the agency its independence back so that it can get on with the task of protecting consumers in relation to food without political interference from johnny-come-lately ministers.
Mike Pender

• Michael Mosley’s Horizon television programme Should I Eat Meat? (Last night’s TV, 19 August) should greatly alarm the British public.

Despite trying to remain impartial throughout, the programme showed in no uncertain terms that meat consumption levels in the UK are unhealthy, especially those of processed red meat such as bacon and sausages.

Repeated scientific studies have shown that processed red meat is linked to bowel cancer, the second most fatal form of cancer in the UK, which costs the NHS £1.1bn each year.

Yet the government and health bodies have consistently failed to address this pressing public health issue for fear of upsetting the meat-eating British public. Even now processed red meat is served in hospitals to people who were made ill by it in the first place.

Processed red meat must be tackled in the same way as tobacco, through health warnings and making it socially unacceptable, for while we are killing animals to make these products, they are killing us as well.
Ben Martin
Animal Aid

William Pitt the Younger, as painted by John Hoppner (detail): 'We might as well issue stamps with p

That Nelson’s 1795 letter is “full of the tell-tale signs of under-confidence: petulant, boastful and chippy” is anything but the revelation that Kathryn Hughes (How a letter from Admiral Nelson offers hope to us mere mortals, 18 August) claims for it. In practically everything he wrote, Nelson revealed himself as a man convinced of his own superiority and rectitude, while the idea he had “little idea” that he was “destined for greatness” is merely bizarre. Before practically every battle he fought, he said, or wrote, that he would either end up a hero or (even more boastfully) buried in Westminster Abbey. He was a post captain at 20, reckless with his own and his sailors’ lives, petulantly contemptuous of orders he disagreed with (although they were often very sound) and insanely brave. Long before 1795 he had reiterated his certainty of achieving glory. Dying was a reasonable price.
Jan Needle

• It is unfortunate that Royal Mail has honoured William Pitt the Younger by featuring him as one of eight British prime ministers on a set of stamps (Report, 12 August). Pitt opposed attempts to abolish the slave trade and discrimination against Roman Catholics; he suspended habeas corpus; he used agents provocateurs to spy on groups calling for parliamentary reform – a practice that was once seen as un-British but now unfortunately has the support of the major parties; he got up a fake panic about plots against the constitution and launched treason trials against moderate reformers, people like John Horne Tooke, with whom he had been associated 10 years earlier in calls for reform. If those trials had been successful it is quite likely that the second prime minister commemorated in the series of stamps, Charles Grey, the great reformer, would have been hanged by Pitt for treason. Why, then, are we commemorating a coward and a tyrant? We might as well issue stamps picturing Robert Mugabe.
Stirling Smith

John Rennie Mackintosh: little-known architectural gem near Helensburgh.   E.O. Hopp /Corbis

Esther Freud’s article about her Suffolk home and its connection to Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Magazine, 16 August) was only slightly marred by her assertion that the Glasgow School of Art was Mackintosh’s “first and last project”. Among Mackintosh’s few remaining architectural jewels, I can commend in particular Hill House, the Helensburgh family home he designed for the publisher Walter Blackie. The exteriors and interiors he and his wife Margaret MacDonald produced are absolutely stunning.

My visit to the house, on a summer’s day, inspired not just a poem but a supernatural experience of my own: in the upstairs dressing room designed for Blackie, I suddenly found myself transported back down to the front room, a dazzling cube of light where, I subsequently discovered, the father of the house used to gaze out the window in the same way that I had pictured myself doing.
Andrew C Ferguson
Glenrothes, Fife

In response to your leader on the University of London and the Warburg Institute (Editorial, 10 August) and the news story (10 August) and letters (11 August) on the same subject, several misleading statements need to be addressed.

The University of London wants to make absolutely clear that we have never recommended that the Warburg Institute’s unique collection be merged with another collection, absorbed elsewhere or relocated. The university is aware that some interest groups are alluding to such actions, as demonstrated by the change.org petition. However, these claims are wholly unfounded. The university has always accepted that there is a legally binding 1944 trust deed, but maintains that it is unclear in what it covers. We have not sought to challenge the deed and we did not seek the current legal procedure.

The university, the Warburg Institute advisory council and the attorney general agreed that the university should undertake the role of claimant. The attorney general indicated that a court hearing was his preferred course of action to resolve the dispute and the university accepts this view.

The Warburg Institute is part of the university’s School of Advanced Study. Under the university’s stewardship, over the past 70 years, the Warburg collection has grown from the original 80,000 volumes to the 350,000 in the collection today. Since taking up the post of dean and chief executive of the school, I have been wholly supportive of the institute’s academic plans and activities, as I am sure the current director, Professor Peter Mack, would agree. I think it would be a courtesy to the court if we all now paused while awaiting the judge’s decision.
Roger Kain
Dean and chief executive, School of Advanced Study, University of London

goldfish common carp celestial

Equality of status certainly has its hidden subtleties that need challenging (Mothers to be named on marriage record, 19 August). At my daughter’s wedding in Mexico to a Mexican chap, the celebrant called me to one side just before the ceremony and said: “When I ask you who gives this woman, please reply, ‘Her mother and I do.’” It was a wonderful moment. It had never occurred to me and opened my eyes. Vicars, priests, registrars, please note.
Adrian Smith

• What a pity the otherwise excellent Patrick Barkham chose the usual stereotypes of beards, anoraks and twitchers to sum up visitors to the 26th annual British Birdwatching Fair (Report, 18 August). In the past couple of years, the most exciting trend has been the flocking to Birdfair of young people from organisations such as A Focus on Nature and New Generation Birders, who Patrick seems to have missed. Without these youngsters, the future of our wildlife is as good as doomed, so next time I suggest he ignores us oldies and has a chat with them instead.
Stephen Moss
(Guardian birdwatch columnist, aged 54¼), Mark, Somerset

• Irish figs are pretty good too (In praise of… English figs, 18 August). North Belfast, 500ft above sea level, but yet another bountiful harvest of figs. The olives, too, are coming on well. The kiwis, alas, have yet to flower, and the avocado is struggling a little.
Peter Emerson

• Our modest semi is backed by a long garden which meets with 10 – yes, 10 – neighbours’ gardens. I keep a shovel and every day scrape up the mess deposited among our vegetables and return to sender (Letters, 21 August). Soon, our daughter’s golden retriever is coming. She’ll spend her time running round our garden, gently asserting herself by barking and leaving her scent behind. How I look forward to her visit.
Margaret Baker
Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire

• Good news that Tom Locke’s ducks are highly skilled in the use of web applications (Letters, 19 August). My fish tend to struggle with the net.
Peter McKinney
Brentwood, Essex


The gruesome murder of James Foley is a progression from the routine beheadings of Alawites, Sunni and Christian supporters of the government in Syria by the Islamist rebels which we in the West have condoned by our silence.

The ideological well-spring of Isis remains the doctrine attributed to Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, as now practised in Saudi Arabia, where beheading as a “Sharia” punishment is a standard practice and discrimination against women and intolerance of other religions are state policy.

No amount of bombing can stem this tide of barbarism in the name of Islam that has possessed a section of Muslim youths all over the world so long as we continue to coddle the oil-drenched sheikhs of Arabia.

M A Qavi, London SE26

James Foley represented an oft-derided profession which, in exponents such as him, unflinchingly risks its lives every day and in every corner of the world to expose the truth and expose evils for what they are. By doing this, photojournalists like Foley make themselves an anathema to the murderous God-forsaken dissolutes who took his life.

His death will have served a purpose, because it will galvanise governments to act in order to protect others who would, had they the choice, flee the terrors into which he so bravely strode. Thus the loss of his life will very probably save those of tens of thousands of likewise-innocent people.

In his final moments, James Foley would have known that. His job was, after all, to understand and report cause and effect. Let’s not let him down.

Paul Dunwell, Bedford

A Scot, but Britain is my nation too

As a native of Scotland , I am proud to call myself a Scot. I am also British by birth, having been born to a Scots mother and an English father in Glasgow (which lies within the old British Kingdom of Strathclyde), during a time when all the people of this island were united in a real struggle for freedom.

My problem is this: in the event of the majority of my fellow citizens behaving like the hero of Burns’ “Tam o’ Shanter” (who “tint [lost] his reason a’ thegither”), by voting “yes” for independence, do I lose my official British nationality? If so, to whom would I apply to regain it? Or, as with so many of the institutions which we share and take for granted, would this too be consigned to a historical footnote?

Of course the economic arguments will matter, but Better Together should not dismiss the value of national identity to their side of the debate.

Colin Crampton, Elderslie, Renfrewshire

The No campaign keep calling for the Scottish Government to produce a figure of the cost of independence, knowing full well that such a figure can never be produced without detailed discussions with the UK Government. The No campaign keep doing this to try to create as much uncertainty as possible in the minds of the Scottish voters.

There are many imponderables. How much will an independent Scotland inherit of the UK’s £120bn assets? What will Scotland’s share be of the national debt? How much will Scotland save in no longer having to pay for the House of Lords, Whitehall departments, and the refurbishment of the House of Commons?

How much will Scotland save in no longer having to pay its share of UK armaments, including Trident? What will be the cost of Scotland setting up the necessary government departments for running an independent country?

Regarding the last item, valiant attempts to find answers were made by Professor Dunleavy of the London School of Economics. He concluded: “A main reason why costs numbers are currently hard to estimate is that Whitehall has been completely forbidden by ministers from calculating any detailed transition costs for Scotland, in case some numbers get written down that could be copied and then used to undermine the Better Together campaign. Civil servants have been banned from even discussing any of the transition details with Scottish Government staff.”

John S Jappy, Urray, Muir of Ord, Highland

Why house builders drag their feet

I find it extremely strange that we have horror stories of a shortage of housing and house prices going up when developers are still coming back to planners saying their approved planning applications are not viable unless they get out of their affordable housing obligations. Clearly, if house prices are going up and up developers can afford to fulfil their obligations.

The other thing I find astonishing about these stories is the number of sites in Leeds that have had planning permission for some considerable time, yet when developers are asked why they are not being built on they turn round and say there is no demand. I know that in the current economic situation the buoyancy of the economy differs from one place to another, but in Leeds we have a strong and active economy.

It therefore seems to me that this is a serious case of land banking by developers, hence restricting supply and giving them an excuse to claim that more land should be released for development. It is quite clear to me that this is happening because developers do not wish to build on brownfield sites; they wish to develop greenfield sites where they will make much more profit.

Councillor David Blackburn, Leader of the Green Group, Leeds City Council

The lies Americans believe about the NHS

I am not at all surprised by Dr Jen Gunter’s surprise at finding that the British NHS gave her son good medical treatment (16 August).

As a regular visitor to the US, where I have many friends and relatives, I have been asked, “Have you had your death interview yet?” and was not believed when I explained that all over-70s were not being medically assessed to decide whether or not they should receive any NHS health care in the event of illness.

I was told that the NHS is too poor to do any medical research and that the UK is entirely dependent on US research. This from an obstetrician who was at that moment using a technique developed in a London hospital.

I was told in early 2010 that when the Conservatives were elected in the forthcoming elections – and they would be – they would throw the NHS open to American health and insurance companies and the NHS would thus be privatised. And that’s happening, isn’t it?

I also know of a Green Card applicant who was forced to undergo and pay for an expensive course of injections because the examining doctor said that the BCG inoculation did not exist and, in any case, the NHS could not possibly afford to protect such a large cohort, and that the applicant was a liar. This despite a letter from her English GP listing all her various inoculations.

The people making these statements had “read it in a newspaper” or “seen a programme about it on TV”.

Gill Ledsham, Windsor

‘Hard’ and ‘soft’  a-level subjects

Dr Giles Hooper judges the “hardness” of an A-level subject on the pass rate (letter, 20 August).

As an engineer, I realise that anyone educated in one of these “hard” subjects would not rush to conclusions without gathering, examining and analysing all the relevant evidence, as there could easily be other reasons for this outcome. Perhaps most of the less academic students were directed towards the “softer” subjects. I don’t know; and neither does he.

Ian Quayle, Fownhope, Herefordshire

‘They’re only doing that to please voters’

Eleanor Jarvis speculates that the reason for the Coalition’s free school lunch policy is “an election carrot to voters” (letter, 21 August).

Governments are on a hiding to nothing. If they take a tough decision in the interest of the country’s future, they are excoriated; if they try to make improvements to society, they do so merely as an attempt to secure re-election. Who would be a politician in such an age of cynicism?

Nigel Scott, London N22

Appeal for help with the non-crisis in jails

So Chris Grayling wants to assure us that there is no crisis in the prison service? That will be welcome news to all the retired prison officers who recently received letters inviting them to sign up to the “Prison Service Reserve” on short-term contracts. I wonder what he needs  them for?

Mark Pilbeam, Newport, Isle of Wight

Magritte, Brel, Simenon and …

That’s another famous Belgian, then – the last Neanderthal (“Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed”, 21 August).

David Crawford, Bromley, Kent


The proposed replacement for a crucial Commons post is drawing fire from all sides

Sir, The Speaker’s preference for the next clerk of the House of Commons was not in fact selected “by a panel of MPs” as you report (“Former ministers pile pressure on Bercow over choice of clerk”, Aug 21), but by a panel entirely of the Speaker’s own choosing, and which did not comprise solely MPs.

It is inexplicable that all three of the deputy Speakers, who like the Speaker himself are also elected by the House, and have the most relevant experience, were excluded.

Speaker Bercow has championed many reforms and improvements during his period as Speaker. He should be the first to agree that his recommendation should be subject to a pre-appointment hearing by a select committee. On June 30, 2014, in his Michael Ryle Memorial lecture, he argued for “the right of select committees to report on a set of designated appointments and to take the matter to the floor of the House of Commons if they believed that a certain nomination was seriously mistaken.”

The Speaker should therefore welcome this course of action in respect of the appointment of the clerk of the House.

The present parliamentary and health service ombudsman, and the comptroller and auditor general, also officers of the House of Commons, were both subject to pre-appointment hearings. The post of clerk of the House is of far more constitutional significance than these. The manner of the clerk’s appointment must underline his or her independence from the patronage of any individual or interest. This is why it is a crown appointment, and being so, the responsibility for advising the crown on the appointment, and therefore for satisfying himself on the means of selection of the name, remains solely with the prime minister.

A select committee could hold such a hearing and report to the House within a few days of the House’s return. MPs are not therefore pressing the prime minister to “intervene”, merely to delay forwarding any name to the Palace until the House has an opportunity to express its view.

Bernard Jenkin, MP
Chairman, public administration select committee
House of Commons
London SW1

Sir, Perhaps the extraordinary decision to appoint an unqualified person to be clerk of the Commons is half right?

The House needs an experienced chief executive to oversee its business affairs, and the clerks would be the first to admit that they have little experience. The solution is simple: appoint an experienced chief executive and retain the vital position of clerk of the House to oversee its procedures.

Sir Peter Jennings
Chilmark, Wilts

Sir, In his book, Who Goes Home? Sir Robert Rogers, outgoing clerk of the House engaged in combat with Mr Bercow, cites a 1313 statute banning armour from both Houses. Should it be repealed at once to permit a wider range of methods to settle the dispute over the choice of Sir Robert’s successor? He also quotes an 18th-century predecessor who ruled that the Commons should be prepared to consider all expedients to ensure that business was “not subject to the momentary caprice of the Speaker”.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

Critics of Israeli foreign policy dismiss accusations of antisemitism – but can they do one without the other?

Sir, I am helping to pay for medical supplies for children in Gaza, injured by Israeli bombing. Meanwhile, I understand, outraged British Jews cancel their subscriptions to the Jewish Chronicle for running the DEC appeal for humanitarian aid. What is going on?

Michael Smith

London SW18

Sir, Apropos the replies to Dominic Kirkham’s letter (Aug 20) I cannot say whether West Bank settlements are illegal, but they are increasingly counterproductive because they gradually destroy the possibility of a two-state solution and the hopes of the Palestinian people.

Israel needs to decide what it wants: a two-state solution with Jerusalem as joint capital, which involves stopping new settlements and removing existing ones, or a greater Israel stretching from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan. It cannot have both.

Chris Procter

Harrogate, N Yorks

Sir, Kay Bagon asserts that 1.5 million Israeli Arabs have full rights (letter Aug 20). More than 60 laws enacted since 1948 discriminate against Arab citizens. There is discrimination against those who have not served in the armed forces, both by employers and by government; and 6.25 per cent of the budget is allocated to Arab schools, although they cater for 25 per cent of the children.

The Rev A Graham Hellier

Marden, Herefordshire

Sir, Dominic Kirkham tries to deconstruct Lord Sacks’s perceptive observation that opposition to the acts of the state of Israel is now a cloak for long-suppressed but apparently ineradicable antisemitism. He says that the real cause of the concern and hatred we have seen is “Israel’s belligerence, aggressive colonisation and indifference to international law”.

If this were true, we would see boycotts of Russian goods, attacks on Russian Orthodox churches, pickets of shops which sell caviar and nesting dolls and shouting-down of Russian lecturers by enraged students.

Jeffrey Littman

London NW4

British jihadists seem to enjoy tacit support among Britisdh Muslims – unless there is evidence to the contrary

Sir, I welcome Mohammed Shafiq’s condemnation of the atrocities committed in the name of all Islam (letter, Aug 21), but I am concerned by the lack of outrage by “mainstream” British Muslims: no collective letters signed by imams, no demonstrations stating firmly “not in our name”. If it is true that jihadis enjoy tacit support from their fellow Muslims in the UK, I ponder why more of us do not seem to be similarly unnerved.

Thomas Crockett

London W9

Sir, The alarm at young men coming back to the UK from waging jihad may be misplaced. Once they have discovered the natural boundaries of the new caliphate and butchered the religious minorities, surely then, having proved their courage in the name of Islam, they will wish to take on the Israeli Defence Force.

IA Smith

Biddestone, Wilts

Is David Cameron waiting for a humanitarian disaster to justify sending the troops back to Iraq?

Sir, May I suggest that the legal basis for armed intervention in Iraq, in the absence of a Security Council resolution specifically authorising it, needs spelling out by the government. Hence the urgency to recall Parliament to discuss the options.

The prime minister says that we should avoid sending armies “to fight or occupy”. Recent experience supports his wariness for such action. However, he argues that “the threat in the Middle East cannot simply be removed by air strikes alone” and proposes the use of “our military prowess” and the provision of equipment to the Kurdish troops.

Does this offend the UN Charter and particularly Article 2 (4) which prohibits the intentional use of force except for self-defence, or with the authority of the Security Council? As attorney general (1997-99) I authorised the use of force in Kosovo, despite the absence of such specific authority. Are we coming to a Kosovo moment? And is this what the Prime Minister has in mind?

I set out three conditions for agreeing the bombing raids. First, there has to be convincing evidence of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale requiring immediate action and urgent relief. Second, there was no practical alternative to the use of force; and third, the proposed force was proportionate to the aim of humanitarian relief and was strictly limited in time and scope to this aim — ie, it was the minimum necessary to achieve this aim.

I firmly believe that customary international law must evolve to be sufficiently embracing to deal with an overwhelming humanitarian crisis. Since the vote on Iraq, a convention is being established that parliamentary consent is required before we engage in armed conflict.

Should it not be explained to parliament what the Prime Minister is proposing?

Lord Morris of Aberavon, QC

Attorney General 1997-99.

House of Lords

The striking bird of prey may have been re-introduced in many places but it was always living in Wales

Sir, Describing the red kite as a
re-introduced alien species may apply to some areas but here in West Wales they’re native, have never been away and are considered indispensable for the clearance of small foetid carrion.

Red kites rarely take live prey — the sole exception is triggered by the arrival at a farm gate of mowing machinery, which has these clever birds immediately grouping in numbers above the cut hay so as to feast on the broken rats and smaller rodents left behind.

Roger Baker

Llangadog, Carmarthenshire


Bell ringers perform on Palm Sunday at Santa Marta de la Mesa Church in Utrera, Spain Photo: GETTY IMAGES

6:58AM BST 21 Aug 2014


SIR – I feel a clunking sadness whenever I hear of church bells being regarded as a noisy nuisance.

Thirty years ago I lived next to a village church with a carillon that rang a superb tune, which increased slightly in length every 15 minutes, culminating on the hour with several bars of music plus the number of chimes for the hour being tolled.

At the time I had two young children and – ignoring the odd night when one awoke to the sound of the quarter-past tune and wondered “Quarter past what?” – we all learnt to sleep through it.

Felicity Foulis Brown
Bramley, Hampshire

Care Minister Norman Lamb has said that care home residents should be allowed to have their own furniture Photo: PHOTOLIBRARY

6:59AM BST 21 Aug 2014


SIR – We agree with Norman Lamb, the care minister, that it is incredibly important that care homes are homely, but the real issue is being swept under the carpet.

Funding must be addressed if we are to ensure appropriate care for the elderly well into the future. It must be fair to care providers and individuals, enabling people to make the right care choice based on their needs, rather than on what they can afford.

Natasha Singarayer
Chief Executive, The Abbeyfield Society
St Albans, Hertfordshire

SIR – The Government’s latest recommendations that a home-from-home environment be provided for people in care is completely unrealistic and will put more pressure on an already creaking area of social care.

Recent governments have effectively forced local authorities to dispose of their own facilities and encouraged the private sector to fill the ever-increasing gap in provision. The Coalition has drastically reduced funding and rushed a new Care Act into force, which will only create more problems.

I am amazed that anyone would want to invest their time and money in running a care home under present conditions. The Government would be well advised to lay off the criticism and support these people.

D A Watson

SIR – The concept of personalising the care-home environment is no new phenomenon. Reminiscence sparked by familiar objects has proved helpful as a tool to support people with dementia.

However, more pressing issues for the residential care sector are the funding cap and impact of the Dilnot reforms. Mr Lamb’s comments are a prime example of how the Government is out of touch with what really matters to the public and to care providers.

Leon Smith
Executive Vice President, Nightingale Hammerson
London SW12

Family-friendly policy

SIR – The most effective way for the political parties to improve the quality of family life is to call an immediate halt to their Dutch auction on universal institutional child care, and to introduce a radical new child benefit system for families earning under (say) £75,000 a year.

This would make a massive difference to the quality of family life at a stroke.

Dr Richard House
Stroud, Gloucestershire

SIR – Contrary to Clifford Baxter’s view on families (Letters, August 20), all modern states, and Britain in particular, have an interest in securing the next generation of workers.

In a world of unfunded state pension schemes, the state depends on future generations being sufficiently large and sufficiently high-earning for them to pay my (and presumably Mr Baxter’s) pension out of their contributions.

Ian Johnson
Cirencester, Gloucestershire

A spy at the top

SIR – Your obituary of Chapman Pincher stated that his allegation that Sir Roger Hollis, the former director general of MI5, was a Soviet spy throughout his security service career, was discredited.

On the contrary, anyone who reads Pincher’s magnum opus Treachery (2011) can have no doubt that Hollis was a traitor.

The Establishment continues to dismiss the allegation to excuse its historic folly, just as it defended Kim Philby until there could no longer be any doubt about his guilt – and then let him escape.

M J Clayton
Ipswich, Suffolk

Targeting the audience

SIR – Sarah Crompton opposes the use of mobile phones in art galleries, but at the opera they have already destroyed the atmosphere.

Are we really so lacking in manners that we have to be reminded not to film the evening (Ariodante, Aix-en-Provence)? I have also witnessed a fellow patron following the story on Wikipedia (Figaro, Covent Garden), and another using the backlit screen to read advertisements in the programme (David et Jonathas, Aix-en-Provence).

One effort to remonstrate with my neighbour (Figaro, Turin) led him to take a swipe at me. I had merely pointed out that we were not watching Juventus.

Laurence Spigel
London N10

Wasps in transit

SIR – We have a wasps’ nest in our garden this year for the first time. Why they have felt it necessary to migrate from Ann Brooke-Smith’s plum trees in Hertfordshire to Cornwall (Letters, August 19) is beyond me.

I have been stung several times and if Mrs Brooke-Smith would like to come and collect them my wife and I would be very grateful.

Keith Robertson
St Agnes, Cornwall

SIR – Where are the blighters?

In a hole in my lawn (courtesy of a badger), which I have just trodden on.

Melanie Byrom
Chalton, Hampshire

SIR – What I want to know is, where have all the plums gone? This year we have been blessed with just seven.

Ron Kirby
Dorchester, Dorset

Unfair rail fare rises

SIR – Once again we are facing an increase in the price of rail tickets, but my experience indicates that procedures for ensuring that all passengers have paid their fare seem quite lax.

Even in some major city stations there are no automatic barriers to ensure that passengers cannot leave the station without a valid ticket. Ticket collectors can’t possibly run checks on all passengers surging out of a station in rush hour.

Perhaps there should be more random inspections on lines where a high degree of fare-dodging has been identified, thus mitigating the need for fare increases.

Richard Munday
Kenilworth, Warwickshire

Cannabis for the dying

SIR – Cannabis should be available on prescription as part of palliative care.

The care of terminally ill patients aims to provide relief from pain and other distressing symptoms. For many years this relief was understood by doctors to be hugely important, both for patients and for their families.

But now, thanks to political interference, really adequate pain relief is getting harder to access. Patients know this and dread what may come in their final days.

What an awful situation we have arrived at, through our cowardice.

Linda Hughes
Newton Abbot, Devon

Selling kosher food

SIR – The removal of kosher produce from public display at Sainsbury’s in Holborn last Saturday for fear of disruption by the “free Gaza” demonstration should hardly have been a problem for Jews, because they are prohibited from shopping or even carrying money on their Sabbath, which falls on a Saturday.

If anything, the open sale of kosher produce on the Sabbath should cause more offence.

Andrew Beckman
London NW2

Something fishy

SIR – If Paul Wooding (report, August 19) can face prosecution for swallowing four small live fish as a pub dare, am I at similar risk every time I swallow a live oyster?

David Cadisch
Barnet, Hertfordshire

Religious leaders call for crimes against humanity to be stopped and punished

Members of the Iraqi Emergency Response Brigade patrol the streets of Ramadi in the Anbar province

Members of the Iraqi Emergency Response Brigade patrol the streets of Ramadi in the Anbar province Photo: AFP

7:00AM BST 21 Aug 2014


SIR – What we are witnessing in northern Iraq today is a tragedy of historic proportions in which thousands of innocent people are at immediate risk of death for no other reason than their religious beliefs. Freedom of religion and belief, a right set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is being denied in the most gross and systemic way possible through the attempted extermination of religious minorities. There is no justification for the violation of this inalienable human right.

Such violations as are currently taking place are crimes against humanity that must be both stopped and punished. The culture of impunity within which these dehumanising atrocities have been committed needs to be challenged most vigorously. Given that Iraq is not a state party to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Government must now work towards a United Nations Security Council resolution that refers this matter to the ICC for investigation and, where necessary, prosecution. The international community must send a clear signal to those who are committing such atrocities that they will be held accountable for their actions.

These violations are, however, sadly part of a global pattern of increased hostility in society towards freedom of religion or belief, together with government restrictions of them. Governments, international institutions and non-governmental organisations need to recognise this wider crisis and commit the necessary time, energy and resources to ensure greater respect for this fundamental freedom and forestall further tragedies.
The Rt Rev Dr Christopher Cocksworth
Bishop of Coventry, Church of England’s Lead Bishop on Foreign Affairs
Dayan (Judge) Ivan Binstock
Court of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
Ayatollah Dr Sayed Fazel Milani
Imam al-Khoei Islamic Centre, London
Ramesh Pattni
Secretary General, Hindu Forum of Britain
Commissioner Clive Adams
Territorial Commander, Salvation Army
His Grace Bishop Angaelos
General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom
The Rt Rev Richard Atkinson
Bishop of Bedford
Malcolm M Deboo
President, Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe
His Eminence Gregorios
Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner
Senior Rabbi, The Movement for Reform Judaism
The Rt Revd Declan Lang
Bishop of Clifton
Chairman, International Affairs Department, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
Moulana Mohammad Shahid Raza
Principal Imam, Leicester Central Mosque
Dr Shuja Shafi
Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain
Lord Singh of Wimbledon
Vice-Chairman, All Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion and Belief

SIR – David Cameron rejoices in both the building of two expensive aircraft carriers in Scotland and our military prowess. The containment of the caliphate in Iraq will owe little to the former but much to the latter; expansion of our special forces and military intelligence assets would seem a high priority to deal with the threat.

Tim Deane
Tisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – The murder of James Foley, the journalist, has highlighted how cruelly exposed we are after the recent reductions in the size of the Army. The situation now is grave and certain to get worse.

The Army has shown itself to be matchless in its recent deployments but it has been badly let down by politicians and by those paid to plan for the future. We need more rapidly employable and well-equipped regular infantry battalions.

Martyn Thomas

Irish Times:

A chara, – Ivana Bacik (“Abortion law must change to avert more tragic cases”, August 20th) writes, “The woman herself, and the baby delivered prematurely, have been failed terribly by our laws.”

So, if the baby had been aborted and not lived, the baby would have been better served by our laws?

“However, it is clear that this appalling case is a direct result of the 1983 Eighth Amendment.” Surely the case is a direct result of the rape which the woman suffered. The Eighth Amendment is a way to try to deal with the very difficult situation which arises.

“Our law portrays women as vessels, forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.” No. Our law portrays the baby, as yet unborn, as having a right to life and vindicates that right where possible.

“Since the passing of the 1983 amendment, more than 150,000 women have made that journey [abroad for an abortion].” Every single year now, around 200,000 people are charged under road traffic legislation. By the same logic, our road traffic legislation is far more draconian.

“The adoption of article 40.3.3 has not prevented one crisis pregnancy.” Article 40.3.3 was never intended to prevent any crisis pregnancy. It was intended to help us know how best to protect the lives involved when such a crisis pregnancy occurs.

“The tragic death in October 2012 of Savita Halappanavar, which highlighted the urgent need to provide clarity on the carrying out of life-saving abortions.” The official inquiries into the tragic death of Savita Halappanaavar highlighted the need for better clinical management in cases of sepsis.

“One thing is clear: if we do not change the law, we will see more tragic cases.” Whether we change the law or not, we will still have more tragic cases.

The law can be improved for the protection of life in pregnancy, but it can never reduce or eliminate tragic cases. – Is mise,


Blackthorn Court


Dublin 16.

Sir, – As long as Article 40.3.3 – guaranteeing the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn – remains in our Constitution, women will be treated as mere vessels before the law.

Women in Ireland should be trusted with the power to exercise decisions over their own bodies.– Yours, etc,


Waterloo Lane,

Dublin 4 .

Sir, – Martyn Turner’s cartoon (Opinion, August 20th) depicted a boxing ring with the members of the church, judiciary and politicians in one corner, squaring up to a lone woman in the opposite corner. Perhaps to complete the picture a very much alive baby should have been shown in the middle. – Yours, etc,


Knockroe Lodge,


Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole (“160,000 reasons to take action on abortion”, Opinion, August 19th) neglects to address the issue of abortion in his article chastising us for neglecting to address the issue of abortion.

Abortion raises difficult ethical questions for any society, not least whether the foetus should have a right to life; whether that right should extend all the way back to conception; whether a right to life for the foetus should impose a duty on the mother to bear the burden of an unwanted pregnancy.

His article talks about the numbers that have had abortions, highlighting the relevance of the issue, and its deep resonance in society. Rather than going on to discuss the underlying ethical issues, he then attacks the Catholic Church. Much of the commentary is reduced to rhetorical flourishes that conflate the church with the past, and the past with savagery.

To religious devotees, or anti-religious contrarians, the position of the Catholic Church on abortion may be a deciding factor; but for the non-religious it is not of interest. Church bashing is not an argument for or against the issue. He avoids any mention of ethical questions in relation to the foetus, and thus dismisses such questions as irrelevant.

The reader is left with a vague sense that vast historical and institutional wrongs could be redressed by legislating for abortion.

Instead of attempting to compel women to carry out unwanted pregnancies, pro-life advocates might try forcing their pro-choice opponents to argue on the issues, if they wish to promote the rights of the unborn. – Yours, etc,


Templeville Road,


Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole, who has probably never attended a pro-life rally in his life, nor had a serious conversation with a pro-life activist, nor listened to a distraught woman who regrets her abortion every day of her life, sits in his ivory tower and calls his opponents names.

Nice work if you can get it, but he would be well advised to stay away from the statistics.

His latest mistake is to describe 160,000 abortions over a 35-year period as being “close to one in 10 of the female population aged between 14 and 64”. That is to compare 35 years of abortions with one year of population, and is not a valid comparison.

The figures he quotes represent about 4,500 abortions a year, and that is about one-third of 1 per cent of the female population in those age groups in a year. – Yours, etc,



Co Waterford.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole refers to 160,000 women who had abortions in England. Let’s not overlook the 160,000 men who impregnated them. – Yours, etc,


Sycamore Road,


Sir, – Being interested in the plight of women in Ireland who find themselves faced with the dilemma of an unwanted pregnancy in any circumstances and particularly in the case where a criminal assault on a woman’s body results in impregnation, I am dismayed to see the four male to one female ratio of letters published on your letters page on Wednesday. In fact out of a total of 17 letters on the entire page, three were from women. I wonder are fewer women buying The Irish Times and submitting letters these days or have they been stunned into silence at witnessing once again the treatment of one of their sex?

Have we not accepted as a nation that women who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy have the right to be given the necessary information to consider all available options? Is it not long past the time that financial support be made available when the choice a woman makes involves travelling abroad for a medical procedure not available to them in Ireland? – Yours, etc,


Lombard Street West,

South Circular Road,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – I was surprised by Desmond FitzGerald’s assertion (August 21st) that the Constitution, enacted by Irish men and women in 1937, lacks the simplicity of the US or French constitutions “which have both stood the test of time”.

The US constitution, enacted by state assemblies elected on restricted franchises in 1791 only became clear in 1864, after its significance was tested in a great civil war, which had erupted in 1861 a mere 70 years after its enactment.

France adopted its first Constitution in 1791 and adopted a further 15 since, though its second, in 1793, never came into effect. Its longest lasting, from 1875 to 1940, did not allow women to vote. Apparently the secularists who held power deemed women to be under the influence of the Catholic Church, and thus incapable of making rational choices at the polls. – Yours, etc,


Palmers Green,


Sir, – It is about time that our media realised that the unborn baby is a person.

The article written by Dr Ruth Cullen (“Advocates of abortion ignoring a little truth”, Opinion, August 21st) brings out the truth of abortion and the efforts of the pro-choice advocates to ignore the rights of the baby. I congratulate you for publishing the article. – Yours, etc,


Chalfont Road,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Barry Walsh (August 20th) foresees “a further round of apologies in the Dáil by a future set of political leaders years or decades down the line” concerning Ireland’s recent insufficient abortion legislation. I await the first round of such apologies from our current political leaders, most of whom sat on their hands in the Dáil throughout the 20 or so years since the X case, doing precisely nothing to vindicate the constitutional rights of Irish women.

Shame on those “leaders”. Shame on their indolence. Shame on their complacency. And shame on the ongoing cowardice that prevents them from providing what the women of Ireland desperately need: safe, legal rights to abortion on demand – now. – Yours, etc,


Gill Street,



Sir, – As a former news editor on Shannonside Radio, I had occasion to have interviewed the late Albert Reynolds literally hundreds of times over the years and he was a decent man. Whether the interview was about a pot-holed road in the Ballymahon area, the world financial crisis, or the Northern Ireland peace process, he never once turned us down. He was always a perfect gentleman.

Other people can argue about his legacy, his achievements, his mistakes, and his place in Irish political history, but to us he was the man from Rooskey who happened to become the leader of Fianna Fáil and taoiseach and who never forgot where he came from. May he rest in peace. – Yours, etc,


Antogher Road,


Sir, – Some words of Jesus come to mind: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” May Albert Reynolds rest in peace. – Yours, etc,


Stamer Street,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – In 2008 Cork conferred the freedom of the city on the late taoiseach Albert Reynolds. This was an honour richly deserved and a somewhat belated acknowledgement of Mr Reynolds’s brave and significant role in the Northern Ireland peace process, a role much criticised at the time and largely ignored today.

Mr Reynolds faced down those who opposed his decision to speak to all protagonists in the conflict, and as a result of this decision paved the way for the peace process we enjoy today. The joint Downing Street declaration issued in 1993 by Mr Reynolds and the then British prime minister John Major, which was instrumental in securing the IRA ceasefire and the subsequent Belfast Agreement, was a tribute to Albert Reynolds’s unshakeable belief in totally inclusive all-party talks.

I believe that Mr Reynolds, jointly with John Hume and David Trimble, should have been a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998. The decision to exclude Mr Reynolds was regrettable. Mr Reynolds’s significant, but undervalued, achievements as taoiseach will ensure his place in history long after some other holders of that office have been forgotten. – Yours, etc,


Templeville Road,


Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Those of us who patronise the southside towpath on the Grand Canal between Locks 33 (Belmont) and 34 (Clononey) – and, I believe, elsewhere – would willingly accept the rejected hard-surface towpath proposed for the Barrow (“Olivia O’Leary leads campaign to save grassy towpath”, August 19th).

It would mean that we could walk the stretch in all weathers and not just when the sun has dried out sufficiently the marshy bits, often further cut up by four-wheel-drive vehicles, most of them on unofficial business. It might discourage waterways operatives from leaving rotting canal undergrowth on the bank during their occasional purges. It might even encourage them to find somewhere else to dump the dredged muck from canal deepening efforts, with its resulting proliferation of noxious weeds.

It might prompt them to replace indiscriminate strimming along the banks with more careful mowing of the broader surface. And it would certainly lighten the grim countenances of the occasional cycling tourists we meet, who cannot believe the condition of what has been promoted as a world-class natural resource and attraction. – Yours, etc,


Ballyshane Cottage,

Shannon Harbour,

via Birr, Co Offaly.

A chara, – In the last 18 months we’ve had the Teachers’ Union of Ireland voting to boycott Israel even while its members work in colleges maintaining academic links with China and Russia. We’ve seen students at NUI Galway take a similar decision while ignoring their college’s research ties with the Saudi oil company Aramco. Meanwhile, there have been large protests outside the embassy of Israel over its restrictions on Gaza but not so much as one voice or placard raised in anger at the Egyptian embassy despite that country’s blockade on the territory.

Only those who themselves are urging a boycott of Israel can truly account for their own motives but I know double-standards when I see them. – Is mise,



College Street,


Sir, – Dr Kevin McCarthy (August 20th) outrageously compares what he calls “a boycott of all things Israeli” with “1930s Berlin” and the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses.

This is a strawman argument, framing the call for a cultural boycott of the Israeli state in terms never used by its advocates.

The only “things Israeli” susceptible to boycott under the stringent terms laid down by the Palestinian Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel are events wholly or partly financed by the Israeli state, which has openly declared that it “see[s] no difference between propaganda and culture”.

The persistent attempts to blur this distinction by Israel’s advocates amounts to blurring the distinction between Jews worldwide and a rogue state that claims to represent them.

Clearly this is the same obfuscation practised by those “masked thugs intimidating customers attempting to enter Jewish businesses”, of whom Dr McCarthy writes. Surely he should hold himself to higher standards. – Yours, etc,


Cultural Liaison,


Solidarity Campaign,

Capel Street,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – Wolfgang Münchau (“Draghi running out of legal ways to fix the euro”, Business Opinion, August 18th) misses the point that the EU and the euro were not set up for the benefit of the citizens – the decent taxpaying workers – of Europe any more than Cern, the international space station or quangos. All those organisations, and many others, exist solely for the good of the many thousands of bureaucrats who muddle round inside them without any clear targets, no written statement as to how their efforts will benefit the people who pay their salaries, nor any accountability for getting everything wrong. Discussing such people, let alone trying to improve their performance, is as pointless as sitting in a lukewarm bath waiting for it to get hot again. – Yours, etc,


Kevin Street,


Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I’ve just read Kevin Courtney’s article on the best 99 ice cream in Ireland (August 21st). The winner by a scoop was McGreevy’s of Westport. I agree with the selection. Westport was recently voted the best town to live in, has the best 99, the best record for winning the Tidy Towns competition and is the starting point for the best greenway in Ireland.

This is an example of local people working together to bring out the best of everything. Life is too short not to put quality into everything you do – and it shows in Westport. – Yours, etc,


Mill Street,


Co Mayo.

Sir, – I recently stayed in a five-star hotel in Co Kilkenny, and being health conscious, decided to pass on the full Irish breakfast, so instead opted for the “catch of the day”, which turned out to be kippers.

I was afraid to ask if they had been caught locally. – Yours, etc,




Co Clare.

Irish Independent:

In relation to Cardinal Sean Brady‘s role in not dealing with the serial child sex abuser Fr Brendan Smyth and the swearing of two sexually abused teenagers to secrecy, I agree with Philip O’Neill (Letters, Irish Independent, August 19) that “what he did was inexcusable”.

But what does Mr O’Neill mean when he says “but [this was] driven by the belief that the hand of God guided that institution in all it did”?

This is dangerous territory. The God card does not give wrong-doers a pass. It is not even a fig leaf. Examples of humans doing wrong in the “belief that the hand of God guided that institution in all it did” are manifold throughout history. One need only look to Islamic State, who claim to be fulfilling the will of Allah in Iraq and Syria.

Does the fact that an immoral act is done in the belief that God is guiding those responsible make it any less immoral? To say that, “In reality, he was a fallible leader in a fallible church” is at best euphemistic and misleading.

To my knowledge, the facts are as follows. In 1975, a 14-year-old boy named Brendan Boland was questioned by the then Fr John Brady, a canon lawyer, and the then Dundalk parish priest Monsignor Francis Donnelly, in relation to allegations he had made about a Fr Brendan Smyth. At the end of the inquiry, Brendan said he was handed a bible and made to swear and sign an oath of secrecy.

According to Brendan, the other signature on the oath was that of Fr Brady and the questions and his answers were taken down in handwritten notes by the same Fr Brady. Brendan gave the names and addresses of five or six other children who he said had been abused by Fr Smyth. Neither the children’s parents nor gardai were contacted.

According to Brendan, Fr Brady then approached another child and questioned him; again without informing his parents or gardai.

This child was also sworn to secrecy. In 1994 – nearly two decades after Brendan was sworn to secrecy – Fr Smyth was arrested in Northern Ireland. There is a word for what Cardinal Brady did and did not do. You will not find it in the lexicon of canon law. That word is wrong.

It is for the victims of Fr Brendan Smyth to forgive him or not, but it is an insult to them that Fr (Cardinal) Brady did not resign before now. Instead he was promoted to Cardinal and Primate of All Ireland. He will be a Cardinal for life and will get to vote in papal elections until he turns 80.

Rob Sadlier, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin

Tribute to a true visionary

Albert Reynolds was a unique man. He was a humble leader who achieved one of the greatest political goals ever on this island. On the North, while others froze, he saw and then seized the chance.

He secured a historic ceasefire by putting his own head in a political noose.

He won headlines all around the world with the success of the ceasefire. He was a unifier and a pacifier. With a handshake and an open mind he got into the heads of unionists and Republicans and he saw light and common ground where others saw darkness, division and the blindness of the ghetto.

“Who is afraid of peace?” he asked. It was an excellent question.

He found peace in this world, and I have no doubt he will do so in the next.

Thank you, Albert, for your courage strength and vision.

TG O’Brien, Dalkey, Co Dublin

Mayo in need of inspiration

Mayo will have to dig deep to beat an impressive Kerry team in Sunday’s semi-final in Croke Park.

Perhaps they will be inspired not only by the presence of the Taoiseach in Croke Park, but also by the memory of the Connaught Rangers, in Gallipoli, who inspired the original naming of Hill 16 as Hill 60.

In my view, Hill 16 confers on the Dubs a great advantage.

Dr Gerald Morgan, The Chaucer Hub, Trinity College, Dublin 2

Irish jihadis and loyalty to State

The report in the Irish Independent on August 21 that as many as 30 jihadi fighters are using Ireland as a base for furtive activities in the Middle East is a matter of profound concern.

Applicants granted naturalised citizenship must, inter alia, be of good character; must intend in good faith to continue to reside in the State after naturalisation and must make a declaration of fidelity to the nation and to this State to faithfully observe its laws and respect its democratic values.

This report begs questions about the adequacy and robustness of the Garda and intelligence vetting of those applying for citizenship, and under what circumstances can naturalised Irish citizenship be revoked if activities are discovered that are seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of Ireland and the conditions under which citizenship is granted.

Ireland was one of 60 members who ratified, in 1973, the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

But individuals who have a right to apply for a passport in another country would not be stateless if Irish citizenship were to be withdrawn from them.

Citizenship is a privilege that comes with responsibilities, duties and obligations. Being a naturalised Irish person must not be reduced to a whimsical flag of convenience whose solemn obligation can be disregarded.

Myles Duffy, Glenageary, Co Dublin

Scotland’s golden goose

Claims that Scotland is being subsidised by England has encouraged me to vote “No” in the independence referendum. Canny Scots should grab every penny we can. The debate can be re-visited in 20 years or so, when the UK is bankrupt, or earlier if the English kick us out of the Union first!

John Eoin Douglas, Edinburgh, Scotland

Protests over abortion laws

* Let’s get one thing very straight. The woman at the centre of our latest abortion controversy was not “refused a termination”. Her pregnancy was very much terminated, such that she had ceased to be pregnant by the end of the operation. The fact, however, that a baby not dying in the process has given rise to people protesting is not just immoral or unethical, or the real injustice in all this, it’s damn well inhumane.

Killian Foley-Walsh, Kilkenny

* Desmond Fitzgerald (Letters, Irish Independent, August 21) while referring to constitutional change regarding issues such as abortion, says: “These are issues that should be removed and dealt with by legislation that reflects the popular will of the people at any given point in time and can be changed accordingly.”

However, that effectively means leaving it to our legislators to reflect the “popular will of the people”. That can only be achieved through referenda which may result in changes to the Constitution.

He continues, saying to those who oppose abortion: “… that doesn’t give you the right to deny another woman her right to make her own decision if she finds herself with a crisis pregnancy.”

That is all very well but, when there is another life (the unborn) at stake, then it is only correct that we as a nation should have an input. With the availability and practice of abortion increasing, we have become desensitised to what is actually taking place: the taking of human life. I am sympathetic to the plight of pregnant women who are distressed. May I suggest they first reflect upon the life they are carrying inside.

John Bellew, Dunleer, Co Louth, Co. Louth

Irish Independent

INFLUENCE: Enda Kenny is a 'political son' of Liam Cosgrave. Photo credit: Matt Walsh

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