13 September 2014 Meg

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A sunny but cool day. Meg comes to do books

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast wt down gammon for tea and her back pain is still there.


Lord Bannside – obituary

Lord Bannside was, as Ian Paisley, the firebrand leader of Protestant oppositon to a united Ireland

Dr Ian Paisley, the former Democratic Unionist Party leader, has died aged 88

Dr Ian Paisley, the former Democratic Unionist Party leader Photo: PA

1:54PM BST 12 Sep 2014


Lord Bannside, who has died aged 88, was better known as the Reverend Ian Paisley, a towering figure who founded Northern Ireland’s Free Presbyterian Church and Democratic Unionist Party.

He took an uncompromising sectarian line before, during and after the “Troubles” — for the outbreak of which he bore some responsibility — yet ended his political life as First Minister sharing power with his old enemy, Sinn Fein.

Paisley was often dismissed by commentators outside the Province as a bigot and a buffoon. His political career was repeatedly written off, yet by its end he had outmanoeuvred his moderate Unionist rivals to become Ulster’s elder statesman, the spokesman for a majority of Unionists and undisputed leader of the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Few could have imagined such an outcome in the Sixties, when the young, uncouth firebrand first led working-class Protestants in vociferous opposition to the genteel Unionism of Terence O’Neill, then prime minister of Northern Ireland.

His fiery blend of sectarian preaching and political oratory, which drew heavily on the book of Revelation and the spicier parts of the Old Testament, proved highly potent during the 1974 Ulster Workers’ Strike, when Loyalists — enraged by plans for an all-Ireland dimension to their government — brought down the power-sharing administration established under the Sunningdale Agreement.

At the core of Paisley’s being was a visceral loathing of the Roman Catholic Church, which would have done credit to a 17th-century Ranter. He liked to whip his audiences into a frenzy with his rhetoric about “Old Red Socks” (the Pope); the “great whore… with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication” (the Roman Catholic Church); and about those who “breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin” (its adherents).

He once tried to ban a school production of The Sound of Music because crucifixes were to be carried on stage. As an MEP, he described the EU as a “beast ridden by the Harlot Catholic Church” and part of a plot against Protestantism.

Woe betide the Catholic who incurred Paisley’s wrath: “Priest Murphy,” he apostrophised a cleric who objected in 1958 to his holding meetings in Ballymoney Town Hall, “speak for your own bloodthirsty, persecuting, intolerant, blaspheming, political-religious papacy, but do not dare to be a spokesman of free Ulster men.”

Ian Paisley addressing a meeting in Belfast in 1972 (GETTY)

In Paisley’s version, the story of Ulster was a long catalogue of betrayal by Unionists and Westminster politicians. True Unionists were obliged to fight for themselves: “Come ye out from among them and be separate” had been the dominant biblical text of his childhood and was the essence of his message to his flock. For more than 40 years the self-styled “Voice of Protestant Ulster” articulated the instinctive fears of its grassroots that compromise and conciliation would lead inexorably to a united Ireland. To them, Paisley had saved the Province from this terrible fate.

The inflammatory force of Paisley’s rhetoric was intensified by his physical presence. At 6ft 4in and burly until his later years, he was “the Big Man” to his supporters. Yet he possessed both humour and warmth. As an MP at Westminster and Strasbourg, and later as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, he scrupulously served his Catholic constituents as faithfully as his Protestant ones.

In the European Parliament, he cooperated amiably on Northern Ireland matters with his fellow Euro-MP, the nationalist John Hume. “I am anti-Roman Catholic,” he told his supporters, “but God being my judge, I love the poor dupes who are ground down under that system.”

In fact, Paisley held views on abortion and divorce and on the arrogance of the English political class that differed little from those of his Catholic counterparts. When in 1968 he met the Nationalist Bernadette Devlin at a secret tea party, they found themselves in broad agreement about the common grievances of the Protestant and Catholic working classes.

But there was never any hope of uniting in a common cause, for — as Paisley told Devlin — in the last analysis he would rather be British than fair. And since loyalty to the Union and to the Protestant religion were inextricably intertwined in Paisley’s mind, he persisted in his divisive fulminations about the Catholic Church.

Paisley’s anachronistic quality fascinated and appalled English observers, who seemed rarely to speak his name without the precursor “that dreadful man”. In Northern Ireland, however, the view of Paisley — among both Protestants and Catholics — was more complex. In his earlier years, his tireless exploitation of inflammatory rhetoric seriously damaged the image of Unionism abroad, and drove frightened Catholics closer to the IRA. The IRA leader Daithi O Conaill, asked about a rumour that there were plans to assassinate Paisley, replied that it would never happen: “Paisley is the best recruiting sergeant we’ve got.”

Ian Paisley at a rally in Belfast (CAMERA PRESS)

Moreover, while Paisley condemned Loyalist attacks on Catholics throughout his career, in the Eighties he flirted with the prospect of Protestant “people’s militias” and once conveyed journalists to a hillside in Co Antrim at night to witness 500 men in military formation brandishing firearms licences. Loyalist paramilitaries criticised him for inciting them to violence, then distancing himself when it occurred.

The bulk of Unionists felt alienated from the rigidity of Paisley’s massive certainties. But when any whiff of compromise was in the air, his intransigence became a reassurance to people unable to break free from their history. He remained the most popular man in Ulster politics, topping the poll in every European Parliament election from 1979 to 1999.

In the 2003 Assembly elections, Unionists rejected the moderate Unionism of David Trimble and voted for Paisley and his party, not because they cared about his views on the Sabbath, but because they believed Paisley would not “sell out” to the Republic or Sinn Fein.

Ian Richard Kyle Paisley, the younger of two sons, was born on April 6 1926 in the Catholic section of Armagh. His father, whose family was descended on both sides from early 17th-century Scottish settlers at Sixmilecross, Co Tyrone, had served in Carson’s Ulster Volunteer Force during the 1912-13 Home Rule crisis. Later, James Paisley became a drapery store assistant and Baptist pastor who formed his own breakaway church at Ballymena, where Ian attended the Model School and the Technical High School.

In 1942 Paisley enrolled in the Barry School of Evangelism of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, a small sect that had broken with the mother Church in the 17th century. He was ordained by his father in 1946 and appointed minister at the Ravenhill Evangelical Mission Church in Belfast. He became active in the National Union of Protestants, which campaigned for the election of fundamentalist Loyalists to the Stormont Parliament.

In 1951 Paisley was invited to conduct a mission at Crossgar, Co Down, where his uninhibited preaching split the congregation; in consequence he founded the Free Presbyterian Church, with himself as moderator: “We in Crossgar,” he declared, “are going back to the old standards and to preach the faith of our fathers.” Despite the opening in Belfast in 1969 of Martyr’s Memorial, one of the largest modern Protestant churches in Europe, the Free Presbyterian Church remained a minority faith with no more than 10,000 followers by 1981.

Ian Paisley (PA)

The foundation of his Church handicapped Paisley’s political career in that it was never recognised by the Orange movement. Paisley had joined the Orange Order after the war, and by 1951 was chaplain of two of its lodges. But the Orange Grand Lodge refused to recognise his ministry, and he made himself unpopular by launching an attack on a Grand Master who would not condemn the advertising of alcohol. Though he remained in demand as a preacher, Paisley finally left the Order in 1962 in protest at the attendance of the Lord Mayor of Belfast at a Requiem Mass.

Paisley’s dedication to the Lord never inhibited his appetite for publicity. In 1958 he denounced the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret for “committing spiritual fornication with the anti-Christ” by visiting Pope John XXIII. In 1962 he handed out Protestant pamphlets in St Peter’s Square and accused the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, of “slobbering on his slippers” when he met the Pope. In 1963, after John XXIII’s death, he expressed his satisfaction that “this Romish man of sin is now in Hell”.

Also in 1962, Paisley resigned from Ulster Protestant Action, which strove to keep jobs in Protestant hands and resist the “dark sinister shadow” of Dublin, to “concentrate on Church affairs”. But during the 1964 general election he provoked riots by objecting to an Irish tricolor outside the Republican headquarters in Belfast and sloganising against an ice cream shop of “Italian Papists on the Shankhill Road”.

The next year Paisley headed the opposition to the meeting in Belfast of O’Neill and the Taoiseach, Sean Lemass: “No Mass, No Lemass” read the placards, and “IRA murderer welcomed at Stormont”. In 1966 Paisley’s appeal for a “renewal of the spirit of Carson” resulted in the re-formation of the UVF, which is said to have carried out bomb attacks designed to look like IRA outrages, though Paisley was never directly implicated.

In July 1966, after several attempts, Paisley achieved a modest martyrdom by getting sent to jail for three months after insulting Presbyterian dignitaries for their “Romanising tendencies”. While inside he wrote an “exposition” on St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, which won him an honorary doctorate from Bob Jones University in South Carolina; he took up the title of “Doctor” with enthusiasm.

Out of prison, Paisley agitated against O’Neill with a renewed intensity, attracting an eclectic range of followers including the pederast John McKeague (despite Paisley’s later campaign to “save Ulster from Sodomy”). O’Neill compared the rise of Paisley to the rise of Hitler, doing Paisley little harm with his more enthusiastic followers.

The foundation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1967, and signs of the IRA’s resurrection, intensified Protestant alarm. In October 1968 Paisley reacted to a civil rights march planned for Armagh by forcibly occupying the city centre. Three months later Loyalist thugs ambushed a civil rights march between Belfast and Derry at Burntollet Bridge, and at the end of January 1969 Paisley was sentenced to another three months in prison for his part in the Armagh fracas.

But it was O’Neill who suffered the consequences. On his release from prison, Paisley pressed him close at Bannside in elections for Stormont. When, that April, O’Neill agreed to universal suffrage in local elections his government began to fall apart, and a series of explosions in Belfast blew him out of office.

The province descended into near anarchy, and in August British troops were sent in to restore order. The British government’s hopes that support for Paisley was not widespread were dashed the next year when, on O’Neill’s elevation to the peerage, Paisley won his seat and went on to take North Antrim at the June 1970 Westminster election.

Paisley turned his fire first on James Chichester-Clark, who had succeeded O’Neill as Prime Minister, and then on his successor, Brian Faulkner. When Faulkner, with the support of Edward Heath’s government, resorted to the catastrophic policy of internment, Paisley denounced it as “the best bonus the IRA ever received”.

The imposition of direct rule in 1972 and the Provisional IRA’s bombing of the Four Step Inn in the Shankill Road gave Paisley the boost he needed to make the final break with moderate Unionism. He established the DUP to unite religious and political fundamentalism, institutionalising the split in Unionism that had long been inherent in his activities.

In March 1973, after a White Paper proposed a new Ulster assembly in which Catholic nationalists would be proportionately represented, Paisley got himself elected to the new body by promising to wreck it. He was as good as his word. The following January, a month after the establishment of a power-sharing executive under Faulkner, Paisley and his followers paralysed proceedings by occupying the seats reserved for it. It took eight policemen to remove him from the chamber. In May, a general strike of Protestant workers brought about the collapse of the executive and a return to direct rule.

Paisley’s rejection of any kind of power-sharing guaranteed political deadlock for the rest of the decade, and in 1979 his intransigence was vindicated when he topped the poll in the first European elections. His tactics were to list the number of Catholics in each member state and present himself as the Protestant champion who would cleanse the Romish “whorehouse” of Strasbourg.

He professed great hopes of the incoming Margaret Thatcher; so when she initiated talks with the Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, on “possible new institutional structures”, he was appalled. “Every man in Ulster,” Paisley bawled, “is now to declare himself whether he is on the side of the lying, treachery and betrayal of the British government, or whether he stands ready to defend, to the last drop of blood, his British and Irish heritage.”

Paisley could not prevent the signing of the 1985 Hillsborough Agreement, under which an Anglo-Irish conference was set up. Unable to sway the two governments, he turned his tactical gifts to undermining their potential allies in the official Ulster Unionists (UUP) under James Molyneaux.

At first Paisley and Molyneaux were united in opposing the Anglo-Irish Agreement and signed a joint declaration to the effect that “Ulster says No”. In 1986 they called a Loyalist strike that ended in a wave of violence. “Mrs Thatcher,” bellowed Paisley, “has declared war on the Ulster people. I have news for the Prime Minister. God is in his heaven. The day of glory for Margaret Thatcher is over. The day when she was hailed in robes of glory has passed. The robing of this woman is going to be the robes of shame, for God will take her in hand.”

That February, in the midst of this abuse, Mrs Thatcher invited Molyneaux and Paisley to Downing Street for a “chat”. It was typical of Paisley that when he emerged, he professed himself impressed by her sincerity — only to revert to polemics when he got home. As unrest escalated, the pact with Molyneaux came under increasing strain. By 1989 the UUP had agreed a policy of forging better relations with the Republic and the pact was broken.

Paisley’s tactics of alternating negotiation and walkout continued to obstruct progress under Mrs Thatcher’s successor John Major. In 1990, and again in 1992, Paisley agreed to join inter-party and inter-government talks, only to quit in protest at what he saw as the Republic’s territorial ambitions in the Province. The Downing Street Declaration of 1993 brought predictable accusations from Paisley that a “secret deal” had been done with the IRA. “You have sold Ulster,” he told Major, “to buy off the fiendish Republican scum.”

After the IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries declared a ceasefire in 1995, however, the British government sensed the tide turning in its favour; and when Paisley went to see Major he got a less friendly reception. Their brief conversation ended with Paisley being summarily ejected from Downing Street.

In deciding to go over the heads of the DUP and negotiate with the UUP under Molyneaux and later David Trimble, Major banked on Paisley misreading the public mood in the Province. And when in 1998, under the new Labour government, the people of Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly in favour of ratifying the “Good Friday” Peace accord, it seemed the tide had turned decisively.

But it was too soon to dismiss Paisley, who took every opportunity to stir up Protestant fears of plots and secret deals, aided by the IRA’s endless procrastination over decommissioning . Devolved government was tried, and collapsed, four times, sitting for 30 months in total. As they felt the ground slipping from under them, the language of Trimble’s UUP and David Hume’s SDLP became more immoderate, but they were out-outraged by Paisley’s DUP and Gerry Adams’s Sinn Fein.

In the 1998 Assembly elections, hopes at Westminster for a poor showing by the DUP were confounded when the party came within an ace of toppling Trimble’s UUP as the largest party. The DUP took two seats in the power-sharing executive (Paisley, like the leaders of the SDLP and Sinn Fein, chose not to become a minister), but its ministers refused to attend meetings of the Executive Committee (cabinet) in protest at Sinn Fein’s participation. The Executive was suspended after the IRA was found to be using Sinn Fein’s Stormont office to track potential targets.

Ian Paisley (REX)

In the 2003 Assembly elections, the DUP overtook the UUP, achieving 30 seats to the UUP’s 27, and in the 2005 general election it very nearly wiped out the UUP, taking nine seats to the UUP’s one.

In October 2005 Paisley was sworn of the Privy Council, an honour to which he became entitled as leader of the fourth largest political party in the British Parliament.

Paisley was disarmingly honest about the strategy that had served him so well since his arrival on the political scene: “I may be in the driving seat, but I don’t necessarily have to drive,” he said. “I can sit in that seat with a poker and give Tony Blair a poke in the ribs, but I don’t need to come up with any formula or solutions. The government created this mess and the onus is on Blair to come up with the solution.”

Having established himself as both the key and the main obstacle to any return to power-sharing, Paisley continued to conduct his adversarial Punch and Judy show with Gerry Adams. Yet there were signs that he was mellowing, which coincided with a bout of serious illness in 2004; that autumn he travelled to Dublin for an amicable meeting with the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.

When, in September 2005, a group under the Canadian General John de Chastelain confirmed that the IRA had finally decommissioned its arsenal, Paisley refused to accept their verdict, insisting: “You can’t build the bridge of trust with the scaffolding of lies and underhand deals.” And in July 2006 he told a rally in Portrush that Sinn Fein would join the government of Northern Ireland “over our dead bodies”.

Yet that October Paisley was party to the St Andrew’s Agreement — involving both the British and Irish governments — in which all parties agreed to fresh Assembly elections and a resumption of power-sharing in return for Sinn Fein accepting the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The elections confirmed him as leader of the province’s largest party, and on May 8 2007, at the age of 81, he took office as First Minister, with Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, a self-confessed former IRA commander, his deputy. Power-sharing was resumed with remarkably few difficulties, Paisley and McGuinness even attending events together until Paisley stepped down as First Minister on June 5 2008, handing over to Peter Robinson, who would prove more intransigent.

Paisley retired as an MP at the 2010 election, being created a life peer as Lord Bannside , and in 2011 he stood down from the Assembly. That November he gave up the leadership of the Church he had headed for two-thirds of his life, retiring from the pulpit in January 2012. Yet he continued to insist: “I’ll not be changing. I will go to the grave with the convictions I have.”

Ian Paisley married, in 1956, Eileen Cassells. They had two sons, Kyle, a churchman, and Ian, MP for North Antrim and a former DUP assemblyman, and a daughter, Rhonda, a former Belfast councillor and television presenter.

Lord Bannside, born April 6 1926, died September 12 2014


Gary Kempston Illustration by Gary Kempston

Your editorial (Literacy: helping all children, 12 September) is a re-run of the well-wishing and hand-wringing we’ve heard many times before. The question of helping children to read has to involve (among other things) two key matters: availability of a wide range of reading matter that appeals to the children involved; children’s freedom of choice – the “right to browse”, as I call it. Central to this is the provision of books in local and school libraries with qualified staff on hand.

In the neglected Ofsted report Moving English Forward (2012) there was the recommendation that every school should develop a policy on “reading for enjoyment for all”. This has the potential of opening a nationwide discussion about how best to enable all children to read for pleasure. This was not only overlooked by the last education secretary, it was explicitly rejected by the then schools minister when I asked him if this government would be implementing this recommendation. He said that this government’s policy was to avoid interfering in what schools do. I don’t think he was experimenting with irony with that. Three years later, the present secretary of state has that recommendation sitting in front of her. Instead of rolling out homilies about getting grandparents to read to their children, she should go back to her own inspectors’ report and do what they suggest.
Michael Rosen

• Patrick Wintour (Report, 8 September) writes that the UK has the second most unequal level of children’s reading in the EU but, as the English Spelling Society points out on its website: “Italian children who start school at six have repeatedly been found to be able to read and spell most words one year later, whereas English children take 10 years to achieve an adult standard of spelling (Schonell & Schonell 1950; Vernon 1969, 1977; Thorstad 1991).” Is the need for spelling reform going to be complacently ignored much longer by English people who seem incapable of understanding that other peoples look on their treasured institutions (such as an antiquated spelling system) with disdain and disapproval?
DBC Reed

• The closure of public libraries across the country or their divestment from local authority control to volunteers (raising fears as to their sustainability) will surely impact on the success of the children’s reading initiative. I sincerely hope Save the Children UK will acknowledge this, as the success of its project depends upon it. Political leaders are currently allowing the public library service to be dismantled piece by piece, turning a blind eye to children being denied ready access to free books and the expert assistance of library staff.  It is imperative that Save the Children and The National Literacy Trust do not follow suit. They must lobby government for a change of direction, so that their efforts to achieve improved literacy in the country can be realised and not ring hollow.
Shirley Burnham
Swindon, Wiltshire

• Any initiative to improve literacy levels is to be welcomed. I do hope however that the campaign will understand that the key to getting children reading is first to engage them in wanting to read. Literacy levels have remained stubbornly stuck despite a plethora of government initiatives, such as the literacy hour, because children are introduced to the mechanics of reading and writing too early. It is the love of story and the development of language that is needed in the early stages. At our school we find that children learn more quickly and without stress when one introduces reading and writing at age six rather than four, especially when matched with a curriculum steeped in the wonder of storytelling. Good SEN intervention is also needed for some children.

A recent inspection report concurred with our own assessment that by age 11 our children had equalled or exceeded reading levels of children who started learning to read much earlier. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are also more likely to be stressed and therefore adding the pressure of learning to read before they are ready is not going to work, however many hours you put into it.
Frances Russell
Greenwich Steiner School

• Having spent a working life helping Hackney infants, deprived or not, in learning to read, I welcome the launch of the Read On. Get On campaign. But however worthwhile the aim of “galvanising the nation so parents, grandparents and volunteers play their part in teaching children to read” I fear it will prove no more useful than a sticking plaster unless our wealthy but unequal society can also be galvanised to radically reverse the trend to ever-greater levels of economic inequality, which correlate so clearly with children’s unequal reading levels.
Peter Walford

You generally refer to Cameron, May, Gove etc as Conservatives or “the Conservative party”. This may still be appropriate for the formal tone of your news articles. But for your comment pages, editorials and diary column, please adopt the phrase “the effing Tories” (Poll boost for no campaign as PM flies in, 11 September) as standard.
Dominic Rayner

• Following on from Alison Harris’s letter (6 September) on the fate of British war horses left in France at the end of the first world war, in the village in the Creuse where my mother-in-law came from the story was told of the peasant who bought a former British army horse for work in the fields. The trouble was that the horse didn’t understand French.
Robert Nowell
New Barnet, Hertfordshire

The Emmy Awards 2014 - Los Angeles The BBC drama series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch (r) and Martin Freeman, scooped seven Emmys at the recent awards ceremony. Photograph: BBC/PA Wire

As one who has been a producer and commissioning executive on both sides of the Atlantic for more than 30 years, I thought it would be helpful to provide some context for Charlotte Higgins’s recent reporting on the BBC’s drama output (The BBC Report: Fit for purpose, 21 August). When I was president of HBO Films, I was invited to give the annual Bafta keynote address in 2006. My theme was how, in the early days of HBO, we had co-opted all the best practices of British television and how producers and broadcasters around the world looked to BBC drama as the benchmark by which they judged themselves in terms of “the quality of their work, diversity and richness of their talent”. This remains as true today as it did then. BBC dramas earned 21 Emmy nominations this year – more drama nominations than any of the four US broadcast networks. At the awards ceremony in Hollywood, the BBC stole the night with seven Emmys for Sherlock, beating the six for the final season of the highly regarded Breaking Bad.

One of the themes underpinning Higgins’s thesis is that the range of BBC drama does not live up to the best of American television drama. She mentions as examples Breaking Bad, The Wire and House of Cards. However, the truth is that in Britain we see only a tiny selection of what is produced in America and these series are the exception not the rule. They are not representative of the majority of American television drama. The irony, of course, is that House of Cards was inspired by a BBC series of the same name and to argue that the current BBC drama slate doesn’t include a drama like The Sopranos is, in fairness, something that could be said of any broadcaster or cable company in the UK and the US. BBC dramas like Sherlock, Luther and Top of the Lake stand shoulder to shoulder with the finest American series. The BBC’s The Honourable Woman is currently playing in the US and has received remarkable reviews. The New York Times wrote: “This is a BBC series that is excellent … British actors and writers still have so much unrivalled training and talent that they easily sweep up the best projects. The star of The Honourable Woman is an American actress, but throughout the series British brains and guile get the job done.”

The BBC’s licence fee allows Ben Stephenson and his team of commissioning editors to strive for “high artistic ambitions” (to quote from Higgins) protected in part from the dictates of the commercial marketplace. The BBC drama department’s scale and diversity of output, its support of writers like Hugo Blick or new talent like Jack and Harry Williams, and its ability to make decisions based on creative merit rather than just financial imperatives is unique in the television landscape worldwide. It is something we should cherish and protect. In conclusion, as the executive producer of the upcoming television adaption of Wolf Hall, I would like to clarify that the BBC commissioned the six-hour mini-series long before it was produced for the stage.
Colin Callender
New York

London Fashion Week is a glittering showcase for the fashion industry (Report, 12 September). But fashion’s dark side is kept in the shadows. The event promotes the creativity of the UK’s fashion industry, but is silent over the millions of workers who produce clothes for high-street chains. The British Fashion Council would rather we all forget about those who often work long hours, on poverty pay, in unsafe conditions to produce the clothes we love. We can love fashion, but hate sweatshops and want a fashion week that lives up to its responsibility to all the workers who make the fashion we buy. The time has come for London Fashion Week to mention the garment workers.
Owen Espley Senior campaigner War on Want
Simeon Mitchell Deputy chief executive All We Can

I wish you would stop treating the Scottish referendum like a horse race in a betting shop, focusing only on poll after poll after poll (No campaign holds on to lead with less than a week to go, 12 September). It isn’t just about what Alex Salmond says. It’s about England and Westminster ignoring the whole thing until the last minute, and then threatening to punish Scotland for daring to be democratic. It’s about the disaster in the making for the Labour party of joining in with Cameron instead of drafting intelligent proposals with key people in Scotland that would address the change so many people are desperate for, and not just for Scotland but with all of us, for the whole country. This is about the demand for democratic change and participation in making change happen. Independence will succeed if the mass of the Scottish people currently involved in the debate take it forward by organising themselves and becoming engaged in the development and implementation of good policy and practice and governance.

Suzanne Moore’s column (11 September, G2) on Scotland should have been included on your Comment pages. It’s the best you’ve carried on the subject so far. But what has really been missing is commentary from people from all social classes and backgrounds, and from the social welfare, health, education, science, agricultural, economic and government sectors, talking about what they want change to look like in an independent or a more devolved Scotland.
Marge Berer

• It’s absolutely up to Scotland to decide on their own future, but if they vote yes, please can the rest of the UK have a referendum to decide if we want to share our currency with another sovereign state. That’s not an issue for them to decide.
Juliet Cairns


An important feature of the Scottish referendum is how relatively civilised debate has been. Nearly all the struggles to change the integrity of a nation state throughout history and up to the present day have been horribly violent, marked by terrorism, repression, guerilla or civil warfare. Regardless of Yes versus No, I suggest that nearly all involved can feel proud of the current debate.

Still, complacency would be unwise. Whatever happens on Thursday, difficult times are ahead. It is to be hoped that people and institutions will refrain from panic or reprisals (economic, for example),  for we know from world history that stress can easily lead to violence and violence can easily escalate.

The times require a  spirit of cooperation.

Alan Cottey

Norwich, Norfolk


What has left me astonished by this campaign has been the dog-in-the-manger attitude so frequently expressed south of the border, including in your correspondence columns.

Better Together has repeatedly warned about the dangers of separation in ways that sound like threats.

What a contrast with the SNP’s repeated statement that in the event of independence it would look to England as its best and closest friend.

Why could not Better Together muster the same grace, to promise that whatever the outcome, the remainder of the UK would work with Scotland to ensure future success for all four countries?

David McDowall

London TW10


Protect the NHS from the privateers

I agree wholeheartedly with Dr Staten (10 September), whose letter I read sitting in Meyrick ward of the Whittington hospital, north London. The reason I was sitting there was that on Monday my husband collapsed. The ambulance arrived with seven minutes: his condition was stabilised by the paramedics before a drive to A&E at a speed and with a skill that a racing driver would have envied.

They had radioed ahead and the resuscitation team was waiting. My husband then had a further cardiac arrest. One of the paramedics took me into a side room, gave me tea and tissues and all the necessary information. That team worked on him for most of the night and today he is out of intensive care and being coaxed to recovery. And he is 92 years old.

The NHS is something to be proud of – perhaps the only thing in our greedy and meretricious society. We allow it to be sold off to money-grubbing privateers at our peril.

Betty Cairns

London N22


Dr Staten tells of how he has seen NHS morale fall in the six years since he qualified. Having qualified in 1971, I have seen much greater change.

Patients today have much greater expectations than of yore. You can’t blame them – more treatments are available and they are bound to want the best for themselves and their families. But ours is a society in which people know their rights. Some waste time and money by not turning up for appointments; some are abusive, disruptive, or even physically threatening.

Politicians make great promises. But we have reached the point where all our resources could be poured into healthcare if we chose, leaving nothing for education, defence, policing etc. There is a pretence that by meddling with management structures the NHS can be enabled to continue to improve on a shoe-string. It can’t. Obviously choices have to be made about what can be funded. Our leaders should be honest, and say so.

We all, as potential patients, should remember that with rights go responsibilities. It is our duty to be moderate in our demands, to live healthily and contribute to the avoidance of waste.

And politicians should tell the truth. Either we pay higher taxes for better services, or lower our expectations.

Susan Alexander

Frampton Cotterell,  South Gloucestershire

It is a shame the inflammatory front page question (“Ashya King makes it to Prague – but will the pioneering treatment he receives ever make it to Britain?”, 9 September) was unanswered until the final paragraphs of page 11. Proton therapy centres at UCLH in London and the Christie in Manchester are due in 2018 and will replace the existing overseas referral programme.

Gregory Smyth

London SM5


A rose by any other name?

Peter Jones (10 September) points out that “billions of people have expanded their cultural horizons despite not studying Latin”. While the botanical taxonomy system created by Linnaeus provides an accurate way of naming plants for horticulturalists, it means little to many others. In a public-spirited exercise the RHS website gives the taxonomic name and usually one common name which is helpful to the ordinary gardener.

As a garden tour guide at a National Trust property, I have for many years attempted, without success, to get the Trust to change its policy of taxonomic names only and have replacement labels made with the RHS common name added as secondary information. Including such a label on all plants in public gardens could enhance the educational value of a visit for many garden enthusiasts.

While admiring the brilliant red autumn foliage of a shrub labelled Euonymus alatus, the addition of “Winged spindle” would surely make the experience more memorable.

Peter Erridge

East Grinstead, East Sussex


British railways are a success story

I write in response to James Moore’s claim that “rail privatisation has been a disaster” (10 September).British railways have been transformed over the past 15 years into the safest and fastest-growing in Europe, boosting national productivity by £10bn a year and generating £3.9bn a year in tax, offsetting nearly all of the £4bn government funding.

East Coast is not the only operator to make net payments to government. Train companies have increased the money paid to government to reinvest into more and better services from £390m in 1997-98 to £1.96bn in 2012-13. At the same time, average operator profits have fallen in real terms to £250m.

A recent report by IPPR concurred: “With more rail passengers than at any time since the 1920s, operators paying a net premium to government and… subsidy decreasing… GB rail is on balance a policy success.”

Michael Roberts

Director General,  Rail Delivery Group, London EC1


Would Scotland have voted for greater devolved powers had they been offered?

Sir, Jenni Russell (Opinion, Sept 11) says it was “not obvious” to No 10 that agreeing to Alex Salmond’s request for a devo-max option on the referendum ballot would help to save the Union. But to many people in Scotland at the time it was — blindingly — and the current scramble to belatedly offer devo-max proves that we were right.

It was also obvious that, four years into a cost-cutting Tory government, many in Scotland would have a strong desire to vote for change. Devo-max would have allowed people to vote for that change while also voting to keep the Union.

If No 10 had realised that the referendum was more about listening to the aspirations of the Scottish people rather than a political game to “diss the SNP”, we would not now be at risk of destroying Britain almost by accident.

Dr Bendor Grosvenor


Sir, Philip Collins (Sept 12) derides Britishness. There are many like me who define themselves as “British”. I could hardly be anything else; my DNA is 85 per cent Celt, 10 per cent Viking, 5 per cent Anglo-Saxon. My forebears were Scots Irish before the Scots decamped to Britain, then Scots in Scotland, then Scots Irish as they moved to Ireland. From there my great-grandfather moved to Wales and then Lancashire, where I was born. I now live in Yorkshire. All these places have a part of my heart. Am I just a mongrel or British; I choose the latter.

Sir, The article by Philip Collins reminded me of my mother’s position. She left Prague just before the Nazis arrived and studied in Paris. Coming to London on holiday a week before war was declared, she wanted to return to Paris but was, mercifully, prevented from doing so.

She married an Englishman and, applying for a job at a bank, gave her nationality as English. The comment was: “You may be British, but you will never be English.”

Trisha Ray

Maidenhead, Berks

Sir, What has happened to democracy? There has been the sudden pledge by all three main parties for extensive extra powers for Scotland (“Money Talks”, leader, Sept 12), but if the Scottish vote is “no” then Scotland remains part of the UK. In such circumstances, how do we know if the majority of UK voters do indeed want such powers to be devolved? Those proposals were not in the main parties’ manifestos, so surely a UK-wide referendum should be called.

Peter Cave

London W1

Sir, Peter Forrest (letter, Sept 12) is correct to mention the Darién scheme and the bailing out of the bankrupt Scottish nobility. However, far from being an act of philanthropy it was a clever insurance payment that benefited England too.

Reference is made even now, misty-eyed, to the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France, an alliance in which Scotland often ended up on the losing side. By paying off the Scottish nobility and incorporating them into government, the English parliament greatly reduced the risk of yet another futile second front being opened up by some Jacobite hotheads encouraged by France. England could then wage war against France in Europe without having to look north for a threat from there. French encouragement to insurrection stopped only after the rising of 1745.

R Bain

Boturich, West Dunbartonshire

Sir, The abandonment of Westminster for Scotland amid problems in the Middle East by our leaders is not without precedent. At Whitsun in 1306, Edward I knighted 267 men, including his ill-fated heir, and held the famous lavish Feast of the Swans before setting out to sort out Scotland. “Longshanks”, standing 6ft 6in tall at the end of the hall, vowed over two swans on a golden platter to avenge the recent injuries done by Robert the Bruce, after which he swore to head off to the Holy Land to “fight the infidel”.

He never made it — it was his swansong.

His Hon Judge Simon Brown, QC

Stevington, Beds

Sir, As we are spending a solid amount of time at my school covering Henry VIII’s wars against Scotland to control it in the 16th century, it fills me with frustration that the English are literally just letting Scotland decide if they want to leave. It’s all very modern and progressive of course, but how can it be so casually decided in a vote without us even fighting for the United Kingdom, which we only managed to achieve a few centuries ago with a massive amount of effort.

Rachel Korn (age 17)

London NW4

Sir, The benefits to the UK of moving to Central European Time have been well documented: reduced carbon emissions through people leaving lights and heating off in the evening, fewer road accidents, and a boost to tourism with the longer summer evenings. If Scotland does vote “yes”, the case for the remainder of the UK to move to a different time zone (Janice Turner, Sept 11) would be very strong indeed.

Tim Palmer

Peasemore, Berks

Sir, In the event of a “yes” vote the protective shield over the UK that has been so successfully maintained by UK security services (primarily MI5, MI6 and GCHQ) since 7/7 would be withdrawn from Scotland. MI5 officers would leave the Scottish counter terrorist hubs, taking with them their equipment, expertise and access to the vast reservoir of intelligence held on their databases.

Chris Hobbs

(Retired Metropolitan Police officer)

London W7

Sir, The split in the attitude of academics to independence (Sept 11) is not altogether surprising. Academics from science, maths and engineering disciplines (“no” voters) are more likely to apply evidence-based reasoning and rational thinking to their deliberations rather than the emotive, irrational instincts of their arts and humanities colleagues (“yes” voters).

Dr George Philliskirk

Burton on Trent, Staffs

Sir, If the Scottish sciences are voting “no” and the arts “yes”, where does this leave the philosophers?

Alf Manders

Alcester, Warks

Sloppy and lazy? No, young people who are passionate about making the world a better place

Sir, You report that schools turn out teenagers who are “sloppy, lazy and not up to the job” (Sept 11). In my experience they produce talented young people who are passionate about making the world a better place but who need time, guidance and support to grow into the polished professionals that businesses increasingly expect today.

For some young people the best place to learn about the world of work will never be more time in school. An alternative path can be volunteering and, in particular, a year of full-time voluntary service. The act of “giving back” not only empowers young people and builds confidence but the experience, alongside valuable training, builds exactly the personal and professional skills that businesses are looking for.

Sophie Livingstone

Chief executive, City Year UK

Sir, The problem with schoolchildren dressing sloppily may be down to the odd inclusion of the tie in many uniforms. Almost no one likes wearing one, as evidenced by the speed at which it is ripped off as soon as possible. It is impractical, uncomfortable and dangerous where there is machinery around, and it carries bacteria. Ditch the tie, for adults too, and we may discover that smart dressing is possible without it; there is a middle sartorial way between the extremes of suit and tie or jeans and T-shirt.

Dr Hillary J Shaw

Newport, Shropshire

No fully experimental study on songbird predation has ever been carried out — for fear of what it might find…

Sir, Dr Sir Christopher Lever’s claim (letter, Sept 10) that numerous scientific papers show that predators have no impact on songbirds does not stand up to scrutiny.

The last RSPB review of predation in 2007 only found four out of 254 papers on this subject and they have subsequently been discredited. The University of Reading found in 2011 that no fully experimental study on songbird predation has ever been carried out in the UK.

The shameful truth is that nobody wants to conduct research on songbird predation for fear of finding that we would have to do something about it.

Clive Sherwood

Trustee, Songbird Survival

Diss, Norfolk


The piece of paper found inside one soldier’s knitted sock led to a proposal of marriage

Sir, A relative of mine married the knitter of some socks he received during the Second World War, having found her address on a piece of paper in one of them.

Whether it was a rolled-up ball of brown paper (“Wartime socks”, letter, Sept 11), I don’t know.

Barbara Bligh


The composer’s Fifth Symphony is the Morse equivalent of V, and was broadcast to raise morale during WW2

Sir, It was Courtney Stevens, of Magdalen College, Oxford, who recognised the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (letters, Sept 11 & 12) as the Morse equivalent of V, and consequently the music was broadcast to raise morale and give hope to the occupied countries in the Second World War. The music was played at his memorial service in the college chapel in 1970.

JM Carder

Anstruther, Fife


SIR – The tragic incident of the helicopter crashing into a crane in Vauxhall last year was an accident waiting to happen. For too long, our national and local planning authorities have acted independently of each other, allowing developers to have a field day building high-rise buildings, wind turbines and other obstructions to aviation.

The complexities of flying operations and the Rules of the Air legislation, as well as the general lack of technical knowledge on the part of planners, have led to hazards being approved and only an accident in the heart of London has brought the problem out into the open.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has recommended that the impartial Civil Aviation Authority be given powers to intervene before planning approval is granted for obstacles that may form a hazard to aviation. This needs to be acted upon immediately to avoid further tragedies under similar circumstances.

Dr Michael A Fopp
Chairman, Air Safety Trust
London WC1

Presents in the post

SIR – Having had a New Zealand pen pal for the past 53 years, I can reassure Geraldine Guthrie (Letters, September 6) that the Post Office does still offer a cheap postage rate to New Zealand. This is now known as “international economy”.

However, New Zealand does not offer a cheap rate to here, so my pal and I have decided not to send presents any more.

Katherine Sweet
Warmley, Gloucestershire

Claim to fame

SIR – Having recently completed a solo two-year tour of the world (including North Korea), I was interested to discover that there are three, and only three, British institutions that are universally known, enjoyed and respected by all countries. These are: the Royal family, Premier League football and Mr Bean.

Matthew Sample
London E14

Sharks vs toasters

SIR – Apropos the report that “Sharks kill more men than women” (Letters, September 6), I once saw a billboard ad that stated that toasters kill more people than sharks.

Intrigued, I searched online: an environment forum on the Reuters website stated that, in 2007, faulty toasters killed 791 people worldwide; sharks, only nine; and 592 people were killed by chairs.

But here’s the real twist: people kill thousands of sharks annually – so women doubtless kill more sharks than men.

Hugh Beynon
Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire

Answering back

SIR – Ruth Morgan (Letters, September 9) is not alone in being concerned at everyday items giving her instructions. Upon arriving at the showroom to collect a new car recently, I was nonplussed to find it covered with a sheet that declared: “I’m ready to go home now.”

I was rather worried that it might not like its new home and refuse to go in.

Jean M Christian
Twitchen, Shropshire

SIR – Whenever I see a bus displaying a sign that reads, “Sorry. I’m not in service”, I want to put a sticker on it that reads, “Never mind”.

Colin A Mercer
Lower Earley, Berkshire

The First Minister’s aspirations for defending an independent Scotland are ill-considered

Sweet talk: Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, champions his cause

Sweet talk: Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, champions his cause Photo: Getty Images

7:00AM BST 12 Sep 2014


SIR – The first duty of any government is the defence and security of its people.

As a former First Sea Lord, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff and Flag Officer Scotland, let me warn my fellow Scots, who believe that their security will not be impaired through independence, that Alex Salmond is clearly not well-versed in such matters.

Leaving aside the matter of the strategic deterrent, Mr Salmond’s aspirations for the conventional defence of Scotland are ill-considered and incredibly naive.

Furthermore, his plans would undermine the military strength of the United Kingdom as a whole.

Admiral Sir Jock Slater
Droxford, Hampshire

SIR – When all the dust has settled and the United Kingdom, as I hope, continues to have its Scottish wing, the proposed changes to its devolved status will need to be implemented.

The result will be a United Kingdom approaching a true federal system, perhaps the best form of democracy. England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will each have well-devolved assemblies running their countries in an enterprising federal fashion.

A UK government at Westminster should then be supported by all. If the angst and fury of the current scene results in such a conclusion, then perhaps we can say that it was not in vain.

A T Brookes
Charlwood, Surrey

SIR – My father fought for the United Kingdom in the Second World War. He joined Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in the first week that war broke out. He was 18 years old and had grown up in a poor area of Dundee.

He was evacuated from Dunkirk, and his regiment was put on home duties for a while in Retford, Nottinghamshire. He met my mother when he was put on sentry duty in the wood that bordered the bottom of her parents’ garden.

I and my five siblings grew up in England, but we have visited Scotland and been interested in Scottish culture and history all our lives. We do not want our parent nations to be divorced.

Mollie McCabe
Gorleston, Norfolk

SIR – Being born and bred in the Kingdom of Fife – and proud of it – and having been resident in Cheshire for more than 30 years, I take it as an insult that Alex Salmond decrees those Scots who support the No vote to be unpatriotic. We are patriotic and are proud of our heritage. We are also proud to be part of the United Kingdom.

Bill Arthur
Congleton, Cheshire

SIR – If Scotland votes for independence, will we in the rest of the UK be able to have British Summer Time all year?

Angela Bareford
Woking, Surrey

SIR – Will it now be kilts and Jimmy hats for Cameron, Clegg and Miliband at next week’s Prime Minister’s Questions?

Christian Dymond
Great Corby, Cumberland

SIR – Your correspondent demanding a vote in the forthcoming Scottish referendum (Letters, September 9) on the basis that it affects the whole Union would presumably be happy if the other 27 nations of the European Union were to be given a vote, should what remains of the UK get the chance to leave in 2017?

Chris McCulloch
Fareham, Hampshire

SIR – As the English have clearly rejected currency union with the European Union, why on earth would they be prepared to accept it with Scotland if it votes to leave?

Charles Gallannaugh
Waldron, East Sussex

SIR – Ian Smee asks (Letters, September 11), “What will Nigel Farage call his party if there is no United Kingdom?” A good question, which perhaps is more easily answered than that which would confront the Royal Bank of Scotland if it moved to England.

Richard Shaw
Dunstable, Bedfordshire

SIR – So Scotland would lose RBS and Lloyds. That’s good for Scotland. Those banks have been huge liabilities to the taxpayer, and still are.

Brian Gilbert
Hampton, Middlesex

SIR – Please inform Mr Salmond that I have solved his currency problem: bitcoins.

Geoffrey Crabtree
Hucking, Kent

SIR – It is shocking to learn that the Scots, who are renowned for their prudence and pragmatism, should be on the verge of leaving a successful union, spurred on by semi-mythical medieval memories.

NH Conrad
Tandridge, Surrey

SIR – If Scotland votes for independence, David Cameron should be lauded, not vilified. I cannot see a single positive for England if Scotland remains in the UK.

Scotland is addicted to welfare, over-subsidised by the English taxpayer and over-represented in Westminster.

It adds nothing to the United Kingdom except oil, the taxes from which are now outweighed by the subsidies it receives.

Only Labour wins from Scotland saying No. England has everything to gain from Scotland saying Yes.

Andrew Nicholas
Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire

SIR – Whatever the result, one outcome of this referendum will be a divided Scotland. A regrettable achievement for Mr Salmond.

Dr John Lunn
Hedgerley, Buckinghamshire

SIR – As a Scottish moderate voter likely to vote No, I wonder whether, in the event of a No result, voters should be given time to see how the devolution process is implemented, up to the point where the devolution powers are completely clear.

A further referendum would then be scheduled to allow voters the opportunity of a Yes or No vote on whether to go ahead with independence, in the light of the information then available.

This might prolong the agony for a relatively short amount of time, but on the other hand avoids the risk of a precipitous Yes vote and the unknown associated risks.

Robert Reid

SIR – It would be wrong for the English to blame themselves, their Prime Minister or the leaders of the Better Together campaign if Scotland were to vote Yes on September 18. The Scots demanded a referendum and had to be given one. It was clear from the start that those desiring independence would not listen to the reasons given by the English as to why they should stay.

They think that they would be better off as a separate country, and they may be about to find out whether that is true.

David Harris
London SW13

SIR – John Swinney, the SNP finance minister, said that the people of Scotland were fed up being governed by a party they had not elected.

I know how he feels. I endured 13 years of government by New Labour, a party which I and the majority of voters had not endorsed. That is called democracy in the United Kingdom, but presumably it will be different in an independent Scotland!

Brian Pegnall
Falmouth, Cornwall

SIR – Following a Yes vote and subsequent independence, Scottish residents would be excluded from playing the National Lottery, which is limited to residents of the UK and the Isle of Man. They probably should not be too concerned about this in that, by voting Yes, they are making the biggest gamble of all, with similarly low prospects of a winning result.

Keith Brewer
Farnham, Surrey

SIR – In the event of a Yes vote, which football league would Berwick Rangers play in?

Colin Walker

SIR – If Scotland says Yes, how quickly can we dump Northern Ireland, Wales and Cornwall as well?

Robert Warner
Ramsbury, Wiltshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Lloyds and RBS have weighed into the Scottish independence debate with their threats to move their headquarters to London if the referendum is passed. Certainly this is precisely the sort of move “hard-headed” No voters would have feared and will likely increase their turnout. But will it also swell the ranks of the undecided voters voting Yes because they resent being dictated to by the banks? It will be a sad day for Scotland – and for democracy everywhere – if it turns out the banks had the final say on Scottish independence.

These banks deserve to be entirely wrong-footed by the rest of the UK leaving the EU following Scottish independence and losing their access to EU markets as a result. No doubt that would have them scurrying back to Scotland proclaiming they are Scottish after all.

What price democracy? – Yours, etc,


Red Lane,


Co Wicklow.

Sir, – British prime minister David Cameron identifies himself with the United Kingdom (Front Page, September 11th) in terms of “I care more about my country than I care about my party”. Hogwash! He is an Englishman by geography, race and culture. The UK is an historical legal construct of which he is the head of government, but it is loose talk and spurious affiliation to refer to it as “my country”! – Yours, etc,


Marley Avenue,


Dublin 16.

Sir, – The Irish Times used the word “toff” to describe Scottish aristocracy (“Scottish toffs begin to sweat as referendum counts down”, Front Page, September 12th). Toff is generally seen as a pejorative term to describe the upper classes. Unless The Irish Times feels it has been wronged by the Scottish aristocracy, I see no need for the derision. If your readers wanted judgemental reporting, they would stick to the redtops. Why not simply use the word “aristocracy ” and allow your readers to decide whether or not this is a bad thing? – Yours, etc,


Athlumney Wood,



Co Meath.

Sir, – Mr Cameron, Mr Milliband, please. A little decorum. No need to panic. Take your lead from us. If you don’t get the result you want, have a second, third and, dare I say it, a fourth referendum until you get the desired result. Works very well over here! – Yours, etc,


Hillcrest Court,



Sir, – J Anthony Gaughan (September 12th), commenting on the Scottish referendum, whereby Scotland can embrace or reject independence at the stroke of a pen, claims the securing of Irish independence was at a very high price – “the wasteful and tragic shedding of blood”.

In the general election of 1918 and the setting up of the first Dáil Éireann in 1919, in a wholly constitutional and parliamentary decision without a drop of blood spilled, the Irish Parliamentary Party was swept from power by an electorate that espoused separatism and emphatically rejected not just home rule but British rule also. This decision rendered British rule in Ireland unlawful. The subsequent “wasteful and tragic shedding of blood” which followed was a result of British rejection of the democratic demands of the Irish people. – Yours, etc,


Templeville Road,


Dublin 6W.

Sir, – If David Cameron can raise the saltire over 10 Downing Street (on whose authority I do not know), why cannot English nationalists raise the flag of England alongside the saltire in Edinburgh?

Obviously not without the explicit permission of Alex Salmond, battling valiantly against the Royal Bank of Scotland, Asda, Lord Prescott and his combined England/Scotland football team, heartbroken Dave Cameron (Eton), nice Boris Johnson (Eton), nice Nick Clegg (Westminster), the BBC, etc.

Even The Bruce might have been daunted. – Yours, etc,



Trinity College,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Being married to a good Scots lass, I have been following that country’s referendum debate with some interest for the last two years. The levels of dissimulation, disinformation and outright lying is something which only those of us old enough to remember Pravda can appreciate. However, the one chestnut which really should have been broken off the string by now is that hoary old one that Scotland ending the union would result in permanent Tory governments in Whitehall.

Quite apart from it not being Scotland’s problem, it’s simply claptrap. In the entire history of the party, only once, in 1964, was a Labour government dependent on Scottish MPs to make up the numbers, and that government lasted only 18 months in any event. Tony Blair won three general elections on the backs of purely English majorities, and no other Labour government has ever needed Scottish votes to take power.

There is, of course, another assumption underlying this supposition of permanent Tory majority – that a Labour government would somehow be different.

The Scots, I think, are increasingly falling out of love with that idea, which is possibly why Scottish membership of that party has fallen to an estimated 5,000 or so, compared to the SNP’s 25,000. I say “estimated” because the Labour Party in Scotland has repeatedly refused to reveal its membership numbers.

Perhaps it fears that by doing so, it would destroy that other myth that Scotland is somehow the property of the Labour Party. If so, it is wise. – Yours, etc,


Harmonstown Road,


Dublin 5.

Sir, – If not now, when? – Yours, etc,


Clybaun Heights,



Sir, – So Ian Paisley has passed away. A man who for most of his life never accepted no for an answer and was a born leader has been levelled in death.

He was an astute politician always, making sure to keep his supporters on board. He initially opposed the Belfast Agreement and led his party to become the biggest unionist party in Northern Ireland. However, his friendship with his “chuckle brother” Martin McGuinness alienated him from his supporters. He had to resign the leadership of the church he founded, the Free Presbyterian Church and his own party, the Democratic Unionist Party. While he epitomised intransigence for most of his life, he realised in the end that solutions can only be worked out by talking and compromise. – Yours, etc,


Lower Salthill,


Sir, – Less said the better about a dangerous demagogue whose frequent rants must undoubtedly have provoked much violence. Requiescat in pace might be enough said! – Yours, etc,


Crosthwaite Park South,

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Late in his career , like Adams and McGuinness, Paisley realised that tolerance, dialogue and discussion were indeed possible and desirable; their united participation in a powersharing government proves that almost their entire careers were abject failures. It is to be sincerely hoped that society in Ireland, north and south, will develop in such a way that another Paisley will not be possible or tolerated. – Yours, etc,


Newtown Road,

Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole (“Why Ireland never faced up to the issue of abortion”, Opinion & Analysis, August 26th) mentioned me and others involved in Plac (Pro Life Amendment Campaign) in unflattering terms.

If Catholic you are “sectarian” and if holding views on other issues, intolerant, in Fintan’s book. On a minor point, the Knights of St Columbanus played no part in Plac. Contrary to Fintan’s assertions, Plac was launched, not by the “head” of the Knights but by the late Cornelius O’Leary, professor of politics at Queen’s University, Belfast.

In the list of Plac supporters, Fintan omits its 12 patrons, six professors of obstetrics and gynaecology and six other obstetricians, including masters of maternity hospitals. In 1983, well over 1,000 GPs signed up support for the amendment. Indeed, it is beyond argument that the medical profession itself was the mainspring of the Plac campaign and also in defeating the amendment on the “substantive issue” in 1992.

The founding groups, whether Catholic or not, had national memberships which facilitated constituency organisation. It was estimated that over 17,000 dedicated people were engaged in leafleting and lobbying for the amendment in the last weeks of the campaign.

Despite Fintan’s assertions, I was never the éminence grise of the Plac campaign. To undermine the credibility of those involved, Fintan brought in other issues many of them peripheral and inaccurately described. The Dalkey School Project, the Rape Crisis Centre, etc, etc.

The case against the Irish Family Planning Association 40 years ago was taken by the State. Afterwards I was attacked in your pages by an Irish Times journalist, now deceased, who was also a founder director of the IFPA. I strongly defended my action in your paper at that time.

The Supreme Court misread the clear words of the Constitution in 1992. It allowed abortion for threatened suicide although no psychiatrist can predict suicide. There are also many studies showing that abortion itself can be a cause of suicide. The Finnish studies show that women having abortions are six or seven times more likely to commit suicide than women who give birth! – Yours, etc,


C/O The Second

Look Project,

Merrion Square,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – While I agreed with much of Mary Feely’s comments on water charges (“Prospect of water charges leaving me high and dry”, Opinion & Analysis, September 10th), I am slightly bemused by her concluding remark that she is waiting to exact revenge at the next election. As the barrage of taxes grows each year, who exactly does a law-abiding taxpayer vote for to represent their interests? If not “the current lot”, it can hardly be “the last lot” nor indeed “the other lot”. I have spent the last five years wondering does any party now represent the approximately 1.5 million taxpayers on low or middle incomes; and I still see no satisfactory answer. Now if that is not the definition of a gap in the market, I must surely be missing something. – Yours, etc,


Orwell Gardens,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – Water meters are being installed at a rate of two a minute (News, September 12th), but not, alas, two a penny. – Yours, etc,


Gledswood Avenue,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – Brian Boyd (“How to make sure nobody steals your naked selfies”, September 5th) suggests that one way to avoid your pictures being leaked is to “stop taking naked photos of yourself”. While I understand the sentiment behind his remark, I disagree with including this as a method of self-protection. Surely if we shouldn’t take intimate photos of ourselves if we don’t want them to be widely distributed, then we should simply not own anything if we want to avoid being robbed? Curiously, I have never heard this suggested by home security experts. Placing the blame on the victim of the crime, the one who took the photos, meant for private viewing only, rather than on the perpetrator of the crime (because it is a crime), is certainly unfair and counterproductive. A better suggestion for improving internet security? Stop invading people’s privacy. – Yours, etc,


Dartry Park,


Dublin 6.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole (“Brendan Behan – playwright, novelist, terrorist”, Weekend, September 6th) refers to Brendan Behan, rather disparagingly, as a “child soldier” when he was involved in and imprisoned for taking part in an IRA bombing campaign in Britain in 1939. At that time, and for years afterwards, the majority of Irish boys had to leave school at 14. Jobs were few and far between and many had to emigrate to make a living.

I remember that during the 1950s young men wishing to join the FCA would falsely declare their age as 17, although they were only 14 or 15. Indeed, I knew one such who was a corporal by the time he was of the correct minimum age to join. These young men were not “child soldiers”. They knew what they were doing and were inspired by a desire to fight and, if necessary, die for their country. – Yours, etc,


Essenwood Road,


South Africa.

A chara, – Brendan Behan was nearly 17 years of age when he was arrested in Liverpool with his bomb-making equipment in December 1939. His self-authorised mission had elements of farce. The ill-advised bombing campaign had come to an end. Stephen Hayes had replaced Sean Russell as chief of staff of the IRA. The fact that Behan’s 77-year-old “granny” had received a three-year jail sentence in July 1939 for possession of explosives in Birmingham may well have impelled his solo run.

His trial judge lamented that he would have to sentence him to borstal detention because of his age – had he been two months older he would been eligible for a maximum of 14 years of penal servitude. Behan was lucky. He was even luckier to be assigned to a new-style borstal in Hollesley Bay under the enlightened governor, Cyril Joyce.

Fintan refers to Behan as “a child soldier” but he was far removed from the unfortunate children in, say, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. He was that same age as Sean Lemass in the GPO and a year younger than Kevin Barry.

The enlightened regime in Hollesley Bay owed everything to penal reform and nothing to an inspired plan to rehabilitate aspiring bombers. Behan was the only politically motivated inmate there. – Yours, etc,



Bóthar Bhinn Éadair,

Baile Atha Cliath 5.

Sir, – Micheál Ó Fearghail (September 11th) is correct in his defence of the constitutional rights of parents to choose how their children are educated, including through home schooling. Unfortunately for his case, Article 42 goes on to declare that “The State shall . . . require in view of actual conditions that the children receive a certain minimum education”.

This is important because, separate from the rights of the parents, the child has the right to an education. – Yours, etc,


Coolamber Park,

Knocklyon, Dublin 16.

Sir, – As a teenager travelling home with my father, he always stopped at Cross Guns Bridge, Dublin, and shouted out the passenger window to the paper seller, “Full box Herald”. On arriving home and finding the “box” not to be “full”, he’d throw a fit, knowing well he’d got the “early edition” instead of the “latest edition”. Fond memories. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – While purchasing an Evening Press outside Clerys on a 1960s Christmas Eve, I remarked to the vendor that the newspaper was very thin. “Waddya want, mister?” he glared. “The Book of Kells?” – Yours, etc,


Lower Dodder Road,

Rathfarnham, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Three mentions of Sir Humphrey in your letter pages this week. Is this a record? – Yours, etc,


Ashfield Road,


Dublin 6.

Irish Independent:

Dr Al Qutob (Letters, September 11) says that “Most of the pillars of Western civilization were built up in Muslim Spain” during the Middle Ages. This is nonsense. It is true that Al-Andalus, the Muslim region of Spain was, for a few centuries, more advanced than the rest of Europe, especially in science and medicine, but Arab civilization has been pretty much stagnant for the last 700 years. It is maudlin political correctness to say that Islam helped to shape Europe.

Europe‘s civilization was essentially formed by three things. Firstly, ancient Greece and Rome, which gave Europe its concepts of law, politics and government, architecture, literature and military organization. Secondly, Christianity, which gave Europe its sense of spirituality, collective worship, individual conscience, and the all-important idea of separation of Church and State, which is so sadly lacking in Islam. Thirdly, the Enlightenment and modern science, which has given Europe progress, development, individual liberty and social improvement.

Dr Al Qutob mentions Britain and Jordan today as fine examples of multicultural diversity. What he ignores is that Britain is in cultural chaos, consumed by identity crisis. As for Jordan – the last stable, fairly secular Arab country in the chaos of that wider region – the only reason its diverse communities aren’t killing each other is because the country is held together by the iron fist of secular autocracy.

Frank Giles, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4


Songs of praise

The arrival of our new Primate of All Ireland in-waiting has been a real coup for the credibility of the church. However, his remarkable likeness to the singing priest, Fr Ray Kelly, leads me to wonder whether there has been a serious clerical error.

I am convinced that Archbishop Eamon Martin and Father Ray Kelly are one and the same person. What clinched it for me was the realisation that the new archbishop was described as being musically gifted. His talent for music was reluctantly acknowledged by Rome, as Vatican authorities were warned that the new archbishop was likely to break into song at the most solemn liturgical moments.

The church should come clean, as the current understandable deception cannot be maintained. So far, Fr Kelly’s parishioners have been extraordinarily loyal to the church in pretending that their musically-gifted priest is still with them. A recording of his impromptu rendition of his adaptation of Leonard Cohen‘s Hallelujah is played regularly in his church so that passers-by assume he is still in post.

The philosopher Nietzsche’s had a longing for a God who could dance – he would surely see the appointment of a singing-and-dancing archbishop as the first step in the right direction.

Cardinal Brady was gracious in welcoming his “Londonderry heir”, immediately triggering a spontaneous rendition of Danny Boy from his successor; the congregation of Armagh cathedral raising the rafters as they joined in enthusiastically.

It is my earnest hope that all future appointments to senior posts in the church will require at least a modicum of singing and dancing talent. However, I see no need for them to go viral on YouTube, though clearly it would enhance their prospects of appointment, as is the case in Armagh.

The new archbishop is seen by Rome as a safe pair of feet, and so is not likely to be out of step.

Philip O’Neill, Oxford, England


What about another union?

Whether the Scottish people vote to become independent or to stay part of the UK, it will be interesting to see which political leader goes blue in the face afterwards. Should Scotland decide to go it alone and if Wales got bitten by the leaving bug, we could end up with England, on its own, being just 25 square kilometres bigger than Ireland.

We have more in common with the English than we might care to admit, so perhaps a sort of benign union could be contemplated. And England could bail us out from time to time, like when we were granted €9 billion by British Prime Minister David Cameron after our economy sank without trace.

Robert Sullivan, Bantry, Co Cork


State must tackle homelessness

News that there are now 150 homeless people on the streets of Dublin is disturbing.

Anyone walking the capital’s streets will have noticed the number of huddled figures in doorways are increasing. Gandhi said that we must not look upon a beggar as an obstacle to generosity.

The problem in Ireland is that the state has developed a myopia in the area of homelessness and therefore does not trouble itself to look at them at all.

With winter on the way and freezing nights in prospect, those of us fortunate enough to have somewhere warm and dry to rest our heads should not forget those who now lie in our lanes and alleys and shiver in cold and fear. Rising rents, unemployment, family breakdown, drink and drug-dependency can affect anyone. Most of us do not realise how fortunate we are. Because someone is down on their luck does not make them a non-person to be discarded by society.

It is time our government took the plight of our street citizens seriously.

The incredible work of people like Brother Kevin Crowley and Peter McVerry shows what can be achieved with a pure heart and clear thinking.

W Harpur, Dalkey, Co Dublin


Debt deal deserves praise

Colette Browne suggests that the proposed early repayment of Ireland’s loans from the IMF would “represent an another humiliation for Ireland at hands of the EU” (September 10). Amid exasperated references to “seismic shifts”, “snake oil” and “spin merchants”, Ms Browne suggests the proposed debt restructuring is a “failure” and that Irish politicians should not “collude in this charade”.

The article is a cynical attack on what is a pragmatic and sensible piece of policy-making by the Government. Two arguments in the article merit a specific rebuttal.

First, Ms Browne states that Ireland “shouldered 43 per cent of the net cost of the banking crisis across all 27 EU member states – €41bn out of €96.2bn”. The only citation we are given for this overall figure is a general reference to the Eurostat statistical agency. The figure of €96.2 billion is, in fact, significantly short of the overall EU bill.

The European Commission has found that between October 1, 2008 and October 1, 2013, the overall volume of aid used for capital support (recapitalization and asset relief measures) amounted to €591.9 billion. These figures are on the European Commission’s Competition website.

Second, Ms Browne asks “what legal or moral compulsion is on Ireland to honour in full debt incurred by Irish banks when there was no State involvement?”

The answer is that the Irish state was directly involved in the conduct of Irish banks in the years preceding the crisis.

The Irish state was responsible for the direct regulation of Irish banks and allowed the Irish banking sector to inflate beyond reasonable measures.

By allowing the Irish banks to continue in their practices, the Government effectively gave its imprimatur to their business model and thus bears a significant responsibility for the crash that followed.

Peter Malone, Mirabel Road, London

Irish Independent

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