Mercedes and Meg

25 September 2014 Mercedes and Meg

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day. Mercedes and perhaps the last we will see of Meg.

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


Dowager Duchess of Devonshire – obituary

The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire was the devoted chatelaine of Chatsworth and the last of the Mitford sisters

The Duchess at Chatsworth in 2005

The Duchess at Chatsworth in 2005 Photo: REX

3:32PM BST 24 Sep 2014


The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, who has died aged 94, was the youngest and last of the celebrated Mitford sisters, and the chatelaine of Chatsworth, the “Palace of the Peak” in Derbyshire, which from the 1950s onwards she made into both a glorious public spectacle and, really for the first time, a consummately stylish private home.

She was born Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford on March 31 1920, the sixth daughter of the eccentric 2nd Lord Redesdale, well-known to readers of Nancy Mitford’s novels as “Uncle Matthew”. “Debo” (as she was always known) was repeatedly assured throughout her childhood by her eldest sister Nancy that “everybody cried when you were born” on account of her being yet another girl.

The Mitford family in 1933 with Debo on bottom right

Debo took refuge in quaintly odd pursuits. Another sister, Jessica (“Decca”) Mitford, described her spending “silent hours in the chicken house learning to do an exact imitation of the look of pained concentration that comes over a hen’s face when it is laying an egg, and each morning she methodically checked over and listed in a notebook the stillbirths reported in the vital statistics columns of The Times”.

As the youngest in a family of seven, Debo was constantly and mercilessly teased, despite the bellowing championship of her father. She was passionately fond of the country and country pursuits, and did not suffer from the brilliant, restless boredom so well-documented by her sisters. None of the girls was sent to school, as their father thought education for girls unnecessary; a succession of governesses was employed, one of whom, Miss Pratt, had her charges playing Racing Demon daily from 9am until lunchtime.

Debo on her way to Ascot in 1938 (TOPHAM PICTUREPOINT)

As a girl Debo was a fine skater, and was invited to join the British junior team; but the idea was vetoed by her mother. As an adolescent she witnessed several scandals surrounding her sisters — Diana’s divorce and remarriage, Jessica’s elopement, Unity’s involvement with Hitler — as well as the disintegration of her parents’ marriage.

She was famous for having chanted as a child, in moments of distress: “One day he’ll come along, the Duke I love.” When she married Lord Andrew Cavendish in 1941, however, he was a mere second son. Debo wrote to her sister, Diana Mosley, then in Holloway prison: “I expect we shall be terrificly [sic] poor but think how nice to have as many dear dogs and things as one likes without anyone to say they must get off the furniture.”

Debo remained surrounded by dogs for the rest of her life. In The House: A Portrait of Chatsworth (1982), the delightful and bestselling book she wrote, in between doing a lot of sums to illustrate that 365 ordinary-sized residences could fit into The House, with its 7,873 panes of glass and 53 lavatories, the Duchess took care to inform the reader: “It’s a terrible place to house-train a puppy.”

The Duke and Duchess on their wedding day in 1941 (RAYMONDS)

In 1944 Andrew’s elder brother was killed in action, and in 1950 the 10th Duke unexpectedly died. The Devonshires were left with 80 per cent death duties which took 17 years to settle. In 1959 they moved to Chatsworth, uninhabited since before the war.

When she had first seen the house after the war she had thought it “sad, dark, cold and dirty. It wasn’t like a house at all, but more like a barracks.” It had not been redecorated for decades, and during the war had been home to a girls’ boarding school.

But Debo embraced her role of chatelaine gaily, as she set about redecorating the house. “Debo has become the sort of English duchess who doesn’t feel the cold,” reported Nancy, disconsolately.

The Duchess was both beautiful and deceptively literate, although exceptionally modest. Lucian Freud painted her when she was 34, and Debo used to delight in the story of how an old woman was heard remarking, as she stood before the painting: “That’s the Dowager Duchess. It was taken the year before she died.” When the painting was completed, Freud allowed the Duke and Duchess to see it at his studio. “Someone else was already there,” she later recalled. “Andrew looked long at the picture until the other man asked, ‘Who is that?’ ‘It’s my wife.’ ‘Well, thank God it’s not mine’.”

She also sat for Annigoni, to whom she found herself apologising for her face: “I know it’s not the sort you like.” The artist replied, not very graciously: “Oh well, it doesn’t matter, it’s not your fault.”

The Duchess kept aloof from her family’s literary and political pursuits. She visited her Fascist sister Diana in prison, and her Communist sister Decca in California, keeping a light touch with both.

After visiting Decca and doing the rounds of her Communist friends, Debo sent Decca a photograph of herself and her husband, dressed in their ducal robes for a coronation, garlanded with orders, chains and jewels, staring stonily ahead. Beneath the photo she wrote: “Andrew and me being active.”

Nancy used to address letters to her sister “Nine, Duchess of Devonshire”, her contention being that Debo never developed beyond the mental age of nine. Certainly the Duchess always maintained that she never read books and that her favourite reading matter was the British goatkeepers’ monthly journal, Fancy Fowl magazine and Beatrix Potter.

The epigraph in her book The House is taken from Hobbes, who was tutor to the 2nd and 3rd Dukes of Devonshire: “Reading is a pernicious habit. It destroys all originality of sentiment.”

The Duchess at Chatsworth in 2003 (CAMERA PRESS)

Chatsworth, however, was always filled with literati, and Patrick Leigh Fermor, a great friend, was determined that Debo was a closet reader, who sneaked books the way alcoholics sneak whisky. As a writer, she was a natural storyteller with a knack for the telling phrase and a delight in human eccentricities.

Certainly The House is a wonderfully rich and beautifully written work. It is organised around a Handbook of Chatsworth written in 1844 in the form of a letter from the “Bachelor Duke” (the 6th) to his sister and is full of very funny accounts of the foibles of earlier dukes and duchesses. Among other stories, it chronicles the war waged against woodworm by the wife of the 9th Duke (the former Lady Evelyn Fitzmaurice). Believing concussion to be the answer, the formidable beldame kept a little hammer in her bag to bang the furniture where they lurked.

The Duchess showed acute commercial flair in raising money for the Chatsworth estate, making a nonsense of her sister Nancy’s generalisation in Noblesse Oblige that aristocrats are no good at making money. She presided over the bread, cake, jam and chutney industries which grew up to feed the farm shop, which was described by the late Hugh Massingberd in The Daily Telegraph as “every greedy child’s idea of what a shop should be”.

Although the house had been open to the public ever since it was built, it was not until 1947 that the revenue from visitors went towards its upkeep. In 1973 the Duchess set up the Farmyard at Chatsworth, “to explain to the children that food is produced by farmers who also look after the land and that the two functions are inextricably mixed”. A little boy from Sheffield watched the milking, then told the Duchess: “It’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ll never drink milk again.”

Visitors to Chatsworth are able to buy items such as souvenirs, books, porcelain, knitwear, while the Farm Shop sells estate produce. A mail order business was established, along with cafés, restaurants and a commercial catering business.

Chatsworth Carpenters was an especially successful venture. The Duchess, in her gardener’s apron, was for many years a familiar sight at the Chelsea Flower Show, where she was to be seen busily selling furniture fit for a stately home to the owners of small town gardens.

The 11th Duke once observed: “My wife is far more important to Chatsworth than I am.” He added: “She is on the bossy side, of course; but I’ve always liked that in a woman.” She dealt heroically with her husband’s philandering nature and his weakness for alcohol, and the marriage was a happy one.

Despite living in a house overflowing with masterpieces by such artists as Rembrandt, Veronese, Murillo, Poussin and Reynolds, the Duchess always maintained that Beatrix Potter was her favourite artist, and Miss Potter’s enchanted world may indeed be the key to appreciating the genius loci of Chatsworth.

The Duchess with a herd of British Limousin cows on the Chatsworth estate (ANDREW CROWLEY)

The Duchess was an ardent conservationist of vernacular architecture and was president of the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust. She also chaired the Tarmac Construction Group and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

Her devotion to making Chatsworth a viable financial concern was well rewarded in 1981 when a charitable trust, capitalised by the sale of certain treasures, was established to preserve The House for posterity.

In 2001 the Duchess published Counting My Chickens… and other home thoughts, a collection of sharply observed musings on Chatsworth, gardening, poultry, dry stone walling, bottled water, the United States, Ireland, the Today programme, the Turner Prize and other topics. On the modern fashion for hiring business consultants, she wryly observed: “He arrives from London, first class on the train… Most probably he has never been this far north, so the geography and the ways of the locals have to be explained, all taking his valuable time. After a suitable pause of a few weeks (he is very busy being consulted) a beautiful book arrives, telling you what you spent the day telling him.”

After her husband’s death in 2004 she published a poignant tribute in Memories of Andrew Devonshire (2007). Other publications included In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor (2008); Home to Roost … and Other Peckings (2009), a collection of occasional writings; and Wait for Me!… Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister (2010). She was also a contributor to The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph. Her last book, All in One Basket, which brought together two earlier volumes of occasional writings, was published in 2011.

The Duchess claimed to buy most of her clothes at agricultural shows, adding: “After agricultural shows, Marks & Spencer is the place to go shopping, and then Paris. Nothing in between seems to be much good.”

Her dislikes included magpies; women who want to join men’s clubs; hotel coat-hangers; and drivers who slow down to go over cattle grids. She regretted the passing of brogues, the custom of mourning, telegrams, the 1662 Prayer Book, pinafores for little boys and Elvis Presley (“the greatest entertainer ever to walk on a stage”).

In 2003 she published The Chatsworth Cookery Book, introducing it with the words: “I haven’t cooked since the war.”

Debo Devonshire was appointed DCVO in 1999.

She is survived by her son Stoker, the 12th Duke of Devonshire, and by two daughters.

Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, born March 31 1920, died September 24 2014


Ed Miliband, leader of Britain's opposition Party leader Ed Miliband at Labour’s conference in Manchester. ‘As Ian Martin says: “Labour’s message to the electorate is clear – austerity is the new reality.'” writes Dave Nellist. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

It was heartening to hear Ed Miliband say in his speech that tackling climate change is a passion of his and that solving it could be a massive job-generating opportunity (Report, 24 September). The inevitable question of how to pay for this can be tackled by writing to Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England. He is on record as saying that if the government requested it, then the next round of QE could be used to buy assets other than government debt. Miliband said that the Green Investment Bank would be used to fund green economic activity and so Labour should allow it to issue bonds that could then be bought by the Bank using “Green QE”. Similarly, local authorities could issue bonds to build new energy-efficient public homes funded by “Housing QE”.

The Bank has already pumped £375bn of QE into the economy, but with little tangible benefit to the majority. Imagine the galvanising effect on the real economy of every city and town if a £50bn programme of infrastructural QE became the next government’s priority. This could make every building in the UK energy-tight and build enough highly insulated new homes to tackle the housing crisis. It would provide a secure career structure for those involved for the next 10 years and beyond, massive numbers of adequately paid apprenticeships and jobs for the self employed, a market for local small businesses, and reduced energy bills for all. Such a nationwide programme would generate tax revenue to help tackle the deficit, but in an economically and socially constructive way. Best of all it would not be categorised as increased public funding, since QE spending has not and would not be counted as government expenditure.
Colin Hines
Convener, Green New Deal Group

• Ian Martin (I can’t remember a more spineless opposition, 24 September) sums up the feeling of millions of working-class people. Millions are desperate to get rid of the current government, yet at the same time depressed because they don’t believe a Labour government would mark a real change. As Ian says: “Labour’s message to the electorate is clear – austerity is the new reality.”

To get rid of the Tories many, like Ian is clearly considering doing, will vote Labour in the general election next year. Others will abstain from the elections in disgust, or even vote for the rightwing stockbrokers of Ukip to express their anger. One clear result from Scotland is proof that it is not “apathy”, but disillusionment with the diet of pro-big-business, pro-austerity parties on offer, that is responsible for falling election turnouts. But trade unionists and socialists cannot continue to accept a choice between parties whose policies are so similar you can barely get a fag-paper between them. That only leaves the road open to Ukip and its ilk. That is why the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC – to which Ian refers) was co-founded by the late Bob Crow to begin to build an electoral voice for working-class people.  In May 2014, TUSC fielded 560 local election candidates in nearly 90 towns and cities, in the widest socialist challenge to Labour for 60 years. In May 2015 – for both the general and the local elections – we are going to up our game, aiming to stand even more widely, to ensure austerity is not unchallenged at the ballot box.
Dave Nellist
Chair, TUSC

• Ian Martin highlights the dramatic change that followed the coalition legislating the five-year parliament. By removing the opportunity to force a general election at any time following a government defeat, for example when the government lost the vote on alterations to the “bedroom tax”, this government has removed the incentive for persuasive, adversarial discussion in the house as the government can rely on the “five-year rule” to override the opposition. There is no longer the tense, adversarial atmosphere that used to exist and so we get the impression that the opposition is “spineless”.
David Hurry
Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex

• Ian Martin’s “spineless opposition” has a good deal more to offer to my constituents in a hard-pressed ward in Newcastle’s West End than he allows. From the scrapping of the bedroom tax to rescuing the NHS, new social and council house building to dealing with the problems of the private rented sector, better training and job creation, and above all fairer funding for local council services slashed by the Tory/Lib Dem government, a Labour government will make a huge difference. The author of The Thick of It may not recognise it; the people who live in the thick of it will if Labour wins next May.
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords

• Smoking costs the NHS between £2.7bn and £5.2bn a year, and Mr Miliband wants to add a windfall tax to the £9.5bn annual excise revenue to help fund the NHS. Obesity cost the NHS £16bn in 2007, but I hear no calls from him to tax the supermarkets that sell us the processed food that makes us fat, or calls for taxes (or at least reduced subsidies) on the sugar that goes into them. The link between sugar and obesity is now as clear as the link between tobacco and cancer. The time to act on obesity is now, and taxing those who cause us harm would be a popular and sensible policy.
Richard Cooper
Chichester, West Sussex

• Owen Jones (Memo to Miliband: Britain’s social order is bankrupt, 22 September) rightly points out that, since the start of the recession, the richest 1,000 people in the country have doubled their wealth to £519bn, as much as the annual earnings of two-thirds of the British workforce, but it is even worse than that. We now have more billionaires per capita than any other country and London has more billionaires than any other world city. We have more million-earning bankers than the rest of Europe combined. FTSE 100 chief executives are being paid an average of £4.7m a year, almost £13,000 a day, and get 170 times as much as the average worker. And the richest five families in the country have as much wealth as the poorest 20% of the population.

Yet, since the start of the recession, average incomes have fallen by 10% after inflation is taken into account, the number of adults in poverty has risen to 8.7 million and the number of children in poverty has risen to 4.1 million. A third of households are living below the breadline and a million people are forced to use food banks every year. And, according to the OECD, our poorest fifth of households are among the most economically deprived in western Europe and have levels of deprivation which are more on a par with a number of eastern European countries. These attacks on working people and those unable to work must be resisted, and a mass turnout for the “Britain needs a pay rise” demonstration, which the TUC is organising in London on 18 October, is now more important than ever.
Richard Lynch

• I’m a retired Tory party activist but also a long-time reader of the Guardian, a paper that strives for accuracy and intelligently challenges my prejudices. So I’ve little time for Ed Miliband, but John Crace’s offensive and ill-directed mockery of his alleged pronunciation (Sketch, 24 September) leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth. Miliband speaks an ordinary and clearly pronounced educated English. Crace’s diatribe appears facing a headline “Playground insults from the right”. How apt.
Eugene Byrne

Film still from The Riot Club, loosely based on the Bullingdon boys Film still from The Riot Club, loosely based on the Bullingdon boys. Val Harding writes: ‘We should concentrate on the sexual, physical and emotional abuse perpetrated in private schools.’ Photograph: Nicola Dove

Rather than debating the peripheral issues of elite education such as what you should call a toilet (Too posh to push off, G2, 22 September) we should concentrate on the real issues such as the sexual, physical and emotional abuse perpetrated in private schools, in particular at boarding schools. Recently Alex Renton (Observer, 4 May) highlighted the fact that there are 130 private schools that have been or are now subject to allegations. In the public sector there would be an outcry. In the private sector the truth only comes to light gradually.

Stuart Jeffries is right in saying the posh will always be with us, degrading our lives, unless we abolish private schools. We should try to achieve this sooner rather than later by highlighting what is really degrading and abusive rather than wasting space on how toffs speak.
Val Harding

• It was crass and stupid of Stuart Jeffries to cite Edward St Aubyn’s Melrose novels alongside Made in Chelsea, and to dismiss them as commodities which “reduce us to voyeurs of a pimped-up grotesquerie of toffs behaving badly”. I realise that, like many of your contributors, Jeffries probably does not care about literature, only social justice; so to point out that the novels are wonderful would have little effect. Given the circumstances in which they were written, though, Jeffries’s comment shows the sort of moral fecklessness he likes to find in his class enemies. Might he not want to avoid that?
Benjamin Slingo
St John’s College, Cambridge

• Although I watch neither programme, others have told me that my 11-year-old granddaughter’s definition of posh was spot-on. After a few days at her new secondary school last year, she reported that her new classmates were much posher than those at her prior school. When I asked for an example, her response was: “These girls watch The Great British Bake Off, but in my old school they watched The X Factor.”
Joe Locker

• You write (Toff speak, G2, 22 September) that “hoi polloi” is Greek for “the plebs”. This is incorrect – it is Greek for “the many”.
Jennifer Coates
Emeritus professor of English language and linguistics, University of Roehampton

Woman in doctor's surgery ‘Obstacles to primary care can only exacerbate cancer related inequalities’. Photograph: Burger/Phanie Agency/Rex Features

Late diagnosis may well be due to poor judgment by doctors and late presentation by patients themselves in some cases (Cancer is diagnosed late in almost half of patients, 22 September). However, in all too many parts of our inner cities, the problem is as likely to be getting to see a GP at all.

Our recent survey of GP capacity in Haringey showed shocking results. The borough is 116,000 GP appointments per year short of the NHS England requirement, most of this deficit being in disadvantaged Tottenham, with patients continuing to report extreme difficulty in obtaining an appointment, and GPs under great pressure.

Such obstacles to access to primary care can only exacerbate the inequalities in mortality and morbidity already apparent in the area, many of which are cancer-related.

Prompt access to quality primary care for all must be a first step in tackling these grim statistics on cancer survival rates. And when seeing such headlines, we should always ask which half are most likely to be diagnosed late and why.
Sharon Grant
Chair, Healthwatch Haringey

A woman holds a banner that reads ‘Enough! Now is our turn’ during a protest in 2012 against austerity measures in Portugal. However, ‘in no other European country was there such an overwhelming consensus on austerity,’ writes Pedro Estêvão. Photograph: Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty

Taken out of context, João Magueijo’s book is indeed a collection of unpleasant – if not outright offensive – stereotypes about Britain and the British. Resentful comments by Guardian readers are understandable. Yet I think your article (Who said Britons were drunk, dirty and deplorable?, 20 September) misses the point of the book and fails to capture the context of its success in Portugal.

I think Magueijo’s book is not so much a cheap xenophobic picture of the British but rather a satire on ever-present and deeply ingrained self-images of Portugal in Portuguese public discourse. Magueijo himself pointed in the interview to Lord Byron’s disdainful accounts of Portugal in the early years of the 19th century, which are typical of the socio- and ethnocentric travel writing of the time. But I doubt the way in which the Portuguese cultural elites took these images to heart is so typical. The most talented Portuguese writer of the late 19th century, Eça de Queiroz, often referred in his novels to idealised accounts of Britain as either an Oxonian paradise or a futuristic benign utopia, as rhetorical counterpart to a hopelessly decadent Portuguese society. That, say, the mass of the population in British urban centres were mired in squalor at that time was a fact never worth mentioning in his works.

This idealisation of Britain remains a constant trope in Portuguese literature and arts to this day. In fact it is not just Britain that is held at such absurd lofty heights by Portuguese artists. Take the example of João Canijo, an excellent contemporary Portuguese cinema director. In an interview given in 2010, he could be heard deploring the unrepentant “ignorance” of the Portuguese when compared to what happened in France, where, he claimed, even young delinquents were fully knowledgable about the works of Jean Racine.

In time, this discourse seeped into political discourse. Politicians and pundits alike rush to point how the Portuguese should be in awe of the media-darling country of the day – say, Singapore and Ireland, if you are a right-winger campaigning for labour and financial deregulation, Finland if you are a left-winger emphasising the role of education on economic and social development – and how Portugal’s problems would vanish at once if we just had the courage turn the country upside down to copy them.

These types of comparisons are of lesser importance – role-model countries come and go at great pace these days – and not exclusive to Portugal. But they can have far more sinister overtones. And none more so than in the current context of deep economic crisis. Indeed, they paved the way for a very convenient narrative in which recession was not caused by the shockwaves of the bursting of a colossal global financial bubble, but was the result of perennial flaws of the Portuguese national character finally catching up with us. In this framework, the Portuguese were allegedly lazy, risk-averse losers tanning in the sun who were living beyond their means and thus totally dependent on an inefficient welfare state and on the goodwill of honest bankers – and were duly punished by market forces after 2010.

What is more astonishing is how this bordering-on-racist narrative was taken as self-evident and reproduced by the Portuguese media and by the current Portuguese government. This despite every bit of hard data pointing to its falseness. The fact that Portuguese work significantly more hours and for significantly lower wages than the OECD average, and that most of the growth in Portuguese families’ indebtedness in the past 20 years is explained by the acquisition of housing in a deregulated housing market, is overlooked. So too are the tremendous achievements of the Portuguese welfare state in health and, more recently, in education and the fight against poverty, despite having far less resources than most of its European counterparts. Yet I would venture that in no other European country was there such an overwhelming consensus on austerity – and the idealisation of other countries as opposed to the alleged rottenness of Portugal played a key role in legitimising that.

This is why I think Magueijo’s book struck a chord in Portugal. He is simply turning a deep-seated rhetorical trope on its head. What if, for once, instead of the age-old practice of comparing the worst there is in Portugal to the best that can be found abroad, we switched roles? For him, Britain just happened to be the perfect subject for this exercise: a country with which he is familiar and which is revered by Portugal’s political, economic and artistic elites. It is the latter that the joke is on, not on the British.
Pedro Estêvão
Lisbon, Portugal

Agatha Christie ‘In 1982, of 350 plays in UK theatres, only 30 were by women and 25 of those were by Agatha Christie’ (pictured). Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images

I read your article (23 August) regarding the gender imbalance in our theatres with a mounting sense of deja vu. In 1982 I was involved in an event called Women Live. Statistics that year showed that, of 350 plays in UK theatres, only 30 were by women and 25 of those were by, you guessed it, Agatha Christie. That year my play Watching Foxes was produced in the studio at the Bristol Old Vic. In 1987 my play Self Portrait was produced in the studio at Theatr Clwyd, and subsequently on the main stage at Derby Playhouse, then later at the Orange Tree Richmond, all directed by the great Annie Castledine. All played to packed houses. Nevertheless Variations, published in Methuen Plays by Women 9 in 1991, has had 10 student productions both in England and abroad, but has never been produced professionally.

My work consistently places women centre stage. My women are proactive: they are not tragic victims, dutiful wives, maids or whores. After 35 years working as a professional playwright, I am still writing. But most of my recent and planned work is now for radio. I am by no means a cynic. Indeed I would consider myself an idealist and an eternal optimist. I wish every success to the Advance Symposium, and passionately hope I may at last see positive change in my lifetime.
Sheila Yeger
Almondsbury, Gloucestershire

Scottish independence referendum The Queen and the Conservatives … a purr-fect match? Photograph: Chris Jackson/PA

The problem with buskers in Bath is not just an abbey problem – amplified music is destroying the ambience of much of the city’s historic centre (Report, 24 September). During a walk earlier in the year we were driven out of the centre by the amplification of what we might well have stopped to listen to, had it not been so loud. Buskers have been around since Roman times, as of course has Bath. In 462BC the Law of the Twelve Tables made it a crime to sing about or make parodies of the government or its officials in public places and the penalty was death. Let’s hope Bath council can sort this matter out in a more civilised way.
Judith Hunt
Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight

• England 10, Montenegro nil. Aggregate score in qualifiying for the World Cup 52-1 (Scotland face play-off but England finish with 10-0 win, 18 September). If this were the men’s team, this remarkable result would be front-page news in the main paper. But it’s the women, so it’s tucked away in a single column in the middle of the Sport section. So much for the Guardian’s feminist credentials!
Margaret Jacobi

• Ofsted says it does not routinely collect comprehensive data on those flawed inspections and to provide it would be too expensive (Ofsted tight-lipped about ‘flawed’ inspections, 23 September). I wonder if they would accept this kind of excuse from a school?
Ann Burgess

• It has never been made so clear that the followers of Margaret Thatcher cannot distinguish between fact and fiction (In defence of Hilary Mantel and fiction, G2, 23 September).
Fred Cairns

• Some weeks ago I used these pages to advance my thesis that dogs vote Labour, cats vote Conservative (Letters, 4 August).Bafflingly, there were some objections to this. On Tuesday we heard that the Queen purred down the line at Cameron (Report, 24 September). I rest my case.
Jonathan Myerson



Sir, I object to your use of the term “ritual” slaughter when writing about how religious communities dispatch animals for food (report, Sept 23) . There is no “ritual” involved in the act of shechita, the Jewish humane method of slaughtering animals, any more than in the conventional industrialised methods of slaughter.
Henry Grunwald, QC
Chairman of Shechita UK

Sir, Draining blood from an animal without stunning might have been necessary to prevent disease in the past, but modern farming and science highlight how this is unnecessary. I can’t imagine a Creator who would want any animal to suffer.
Justin Richards
Hitchin, Herts

Sir, You are suggesting the deployment of ground troops to drive out the terrorists from the zone of conflict in Iraq and Syria (“Action, At Last”, leading article, Sept 24). However, one must consider the repercussions which are likely to ensue if British Army boots are on Iraqi soil. The root of the problem goes back to the US-UK invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam from power without any structural plan towards postwar stabilisation. This resulted in an inept and weak government unable to bridge the chasm between sectarian factions.

As a direct consequence, we witnessed the emergence of indigenous terrorism in this country. It is counterfactual to argue but the present problem with Isis could have been averted if the US had taken direct action when President Assad’s armed forces were committing genocide of their own people.

Instead of direct military intervention, the West should assist and encourage the Arab nations to take concerted military action against Isis for the sake of their own security.
Sam Banik

London N10

Sir, On April 27, 1916, Gertrude Bell — the great British Arabist still held in affection by many Arabs — summed up the chaotic results of contemporary British Middle Eastern policy thus: “Muddle through! Why yes so we do — wading through blood and tears that need never have been shed.” Very little has changed in 100 years. When the vote is taken in Westminster, I hope and pray that our MPs will not “muddle through” into the lobbies, but will consider the alternative of not making war, not joining in and continuing to seek for reconciliation — which is after all our only enduring objective.
Mark Dunn
Wildham Stoughton, W Sussex

Sir, Is it not droll that Tony Blair, the Middle Eastern peace envoy, having made no positive contribution to anything, now wants British troops on the ground in Iraq again? What a crazy state of affairs. Will he send his children?
Frank Elliott
Johnston, Pembrokeshire

Sir, Rather than protecting British citizens abroad from jihadists, the MoD plans (“Britain may deploy armed drones to Iraq”, Sept 24) will undoubtedly have the opposite effect, as well as increasing the threat of terrorism here in the UK. Kurt Volker, former US permanent representative to Nato, argues that drone strikes “allow our opponents to cast us as a distant, high-tech, amoral purveyor of death”.
Chris Cole
Drone Wars UK, Oxford

Sir, I have some reservations about Israel’s policy towards Gaza. But, given that the so-called Islamic State has not (yet) attacked the UK, our government’s willingness to join in bombing raids in Syria and Iraq does illustrate its two-faced attitude in respect of its criticism of Israel’s defence against rockets from Hamas terrorists.
Ivor Davies
London N12

Sir, Mr Cameron may like to consider that Isis is more of a threat to the UK from its presence within the UK than its presence in Syria and Iraq. However, this reality might not appeal to his hubris.
Brian Edmonds
Farnham, Surrey

Sir, You report (“Real tweet might be vital clue”, Sept 24) that analysts are using background sounds from an Isis video to work out where it might have been filmed. Have we
forgotten the lessons of the Second World War on the importance of secrecy?
Thomas Morris
London N1

Sir, We would be better off attacking those Arab countries that supply Isis with arms. Then we should go after those countries stupidly supplying these Arab countries passing weaponry to Isis, namely Britain and the US. I believe this is known as reductio ad absurdum.
David Lee
Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey

Sir, I write regarding your leader on Anglo/German cultural traditions (“Grand Alliance”, Sept 23). Germany has been a colossus as a purveyor of classical music. As a member of the London Symphony Chorus, I joined the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Chorus in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Proms. We were placed so as to have a member of the German chorus on each side as we sang the words of brotherhood and hope for the future.

Yes, it is time to repay the compliment to German culture.
Ian Fletcher
London EC2

Sir, The Germans have to be given credit for creating the Beatles’ look, and for giving Kraftwerk to the world. I am, however, struggling to forgive them for 99 Red Balloons.
Neale James Potts
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs

Sir, We have lived in our London “mansion” (a modest suburban terraced house) for 35 years and we are a Labour tax target simply because of house price inflation (“Labour will levy £2m mansion tax to fund NHS”, Sept 23). What may drive us out of the family home is cheap Labour politics of envy. Our alternative could involve buying half a dozen small buy-to-lets outside the southeast. So, an expensive, larger but less socially valid house comes on to the market and six houses needed for first-time buyers are taken off it. How can this be good policy?
Andrew Botterill
London NW11

Sir, The alternative to a mansion tax is to increase the number of council tax bands, which would be much less emotive. Where I live, the top band starts with houses of £1.2 million yet owners of genuine mansions valued at up to £10 million pay the same as those in £1.2 million houses. Changing tax bands would be regarded as fairer than both the existing system or an abitrary new mansion tax.
Peter Butlin
Weybridge, Surrey

Sir, As a lower-rate income tax payer and an octogenarian house-owner, I am concerned as to how I shall pay the mansion tax on our house, which we bought 40 years ago for £70,500.
Susan Morgan
London W6

Sir, “Gordon Brown raised national insurance by 1 per cent in 2002” (front page report, Sept 23). He raised it from 10 per cent to 11 per cent. That was a 10 per cent increase and nobody noticed; very clever.
Rodney Preece
East Meon, Hants

Sir, Political short-termism used to be an acceptable expedient but in the hands of people whose only horizon is the next day’s headlines it is plain, destructive stupidity.
Richard Bellman
Sutton Scotney, Hants

Sir, Mansion tax? The more urgent policy is to build more homes.
Stuart Law
CEO, Assetz, Stockport, Cheshire​

Sir, Jan Zajac (letters, Sept 23) reminds us of Bob Dylan’s wit. At
a press conference at London’s South Bank to announce the film Hearts Of Fire (1987), an earnest journalist inquired whether Dylan might be bored by filming on location, Dylan looked down on the journalist and after brief consideration, mumbled: “I don’t know, will you be there?”
John Millar
Perceton, Ayrshire

Sir, I am reminded of the great US singer-songwriter, Don McLean. When questioned about his 1971 hit, “just what does American Pie mean?” McLean replied: “It means I never have to work again.” Fortunately for many of us, he continued to do so.
Graham Tritt
Ware, Herts

Sir, I write regarding your leader on Anglo/German cultural traditions (“Grand Alliance”, Sept 23). Germany has been a colossus as a purveyor of classical music. As a member of the London Symphony Chorus, I joined the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Chorus in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Proms. We were placed so as to have a member of the German chorus on each side as we sang the words of brotherhood and hope for the future.

Yes, it is time to repay the compliment to German culture.
Ian Fletcher
London EC2

Sir, The Germans have to be given credit for creating the Beatles’ look, and for giving Kraftwerk to the world. I am, however, struggling to forgive them for 99 Red Balloons.
Neale James Potts
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs


Photo: Alamy

6:57AM BST 24 Sep 2014


SIR – Figures reported by researchers from University College London show that almost half of children are not ready for school at the age of five. This raises many questions about what is happening during those early years.

A study I carried out in 2005 with the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology indicated that 48 per cent of children in the sample were not ready for school in terms of physical development and there was a correlation between motor skills and educational performance.

We must improve our understanding and assessment of how the child’s physical development is nurtured within the context of early interaction with the environment and social engagement. There must also be improved communication between the domains of medicine and education.

Sally Goddard Blythe

SIR – As a police sergeant in Croydon, Surrey, I worked closely with many head teachers. One excellent head of a well-run school once explained to me that his school didn’t receive the recognition it deserved through SAT results because its first priority was to bring pupils up to the level of education expected for their age; many had little or no knowledge of literacy or numeracy and most were unable to identify colours.

Most alarming was the lack of social skills and inability to interact harmoniously with fellow pupils or accept direction from teachers. Time was spent addressing these issues before tackling the curriculum.

I do not believe it was coincidence that many of these pupils came to my attention in later years following their involvement in crime and anti-social behaviour.

Clifford Baxter
Wareham, Dorset

The fight against Isil

SIR – It beggars belief that Tony Blair is advising we send troops to Iraq. The Isil problem needs to be resolved by Muslim countries, perhaps with air support and logistical assistance.

Sending troops in would simply open a new can of worms, and we haven’t yet closed the ones Blair himself left open.

Alan Kibblewhite
Blandford Forum, Dorset

SIR – The prospect of yet another bombing campaign shows how out of touch our leaders are. Economic sanctions against Isil will have far more effect, but East and West need to speak with one voice.

David Ross
Tiverton, Devon

They were the Few

SIR – It is perhaps a pity that Miranda Prynne, writing of the Few, failed to mention specifically the role played by the New Zealanders, Poles and Czechoslovaks.

The Battle of Britain’s highest scorer was the Czech Josef Frantisek. He flew in the battle’s top scoring unit, the Polish 303 Squadron. New Zealanders provided the highest number of pilots from Britain’s Dominions.

In numbers of non-British airmen in the battle they were only exceeded by the Poles.

Michael Olizar
London SW15

Footballers’ school days

SIR – Although Lord Grade (Letters, September 19) may be right about the lack of public school boys at Chelsea, Manchester United and Everton, Frank Lampard (ex-Chelsea, now Manchester City) did go to Brentwood School.

The apocryphal tale goes that when told by the headmaster that he had been offered a place at Cambridge, the young Lampard declined, saying he had already been offered a place at West Ham.

Stephen Beaumont
Leiston, Suffolk

The bottom line

SIR – Those who buy “white boys’ shirts” (Letters, September 22) might like to know that once upon a time Marks & Spencer sold “casual bottoms”.

I think they were referring to trousers.

Mel Smith
Tamworth, Staffordshire

GPs’ use of antibiotics

SIR – It is sad to see the popular myth that antibiotics are used as a way of ending a consultation being repeated. Over many years as a local prescribing adviser I never found substantive evidence for this.

It is, however, important to consider an individual doctor’s attitude towards taking risks in diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, when a patient presents with the early stages of a respiratory disease, there is no way of predicting from the history and examination alone whether it is likely to become serious.

The NHS needs to prioritise the development of simple tests that could be carried out in a GP surgery and give a swift indication as to whether an infection is likely to require antibiotics. This would solve the problem far more effectively than naming and shaming frequent prescribers.

Dr Robert Walker
Workington, Cumbria

Window into France

SIR – For a taster of the glorious stained glass windows in the Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, you need go no further than South Kensington.

The Medieval and Renaissance galleries of the Victoria & Albert museum have one of the original windows on display there.

Mary Moore
Croydon, Surrey

Reading rekindled

SIR – Clive Pilley (Letters, September 22) is fortunate to be able to read a paperback bought by his father in 1959.

Thanks to my Kindle and its ability to change the font size I too am able to continue reading.

Lesley Scott
Swindon, Wiltshire

Saving your bacon

SIR – Alan Self need not worry about the expiry date of his bacon (Letters, September 22). After opening I press the top of the packet back down to keep out most of the air, and then put the packet in a suitably shaped plastic container.

It keeps for two weeks this way.

Margaret Bentley

SIR – No, Mr Self, don’t give up eating bacon: give up reading bacon packets.

G P Diss
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire

Autumn days when the grass is jewelled: a dog enjoys a misty autumn walk in Exeter Photo: Benjamin Rutherford / Alamy

6:58AM BST 24 Sep 2014


SIR – On Sunday the Met Office told us to get out the spare blankets and prepare to wrap up warm as temperatures would be dropping below freezing in the coming week.

The next day headlines reported that the warm weather was to last beyond mid-October, with no sign of a cool-down.

What am I supposed to believe – or should I just look out of the window and check for frost or sun?

Jean Birch
Rayleigh, Essex

SIR – Has anyone noticed the rampant spread of bracken along hedgerows, killing off blackberry, hawthorn and sloe bushes – valuable autumn food for birds?

Beth Wilson
Wirksworth, Derbyshire

SIR – Soon, with winter coming, I won’t have music imposed on me from neighbours’ gardens. Peace at last.

Carol Thompson
Shepperton, Middlesex

Devolution: does England need its own parliament? Photo: ALAMY

7:00AM BST 24 Sep 2014


SIR – The precipitate drive towards regional devolution will revive the opportunities for extreme political groups to hijack the democratic process to serve their own ends. Derek Hatton’s Liverpool in the Eighties exemplified such dangers.

What is more, once regions are given greater power over finance we will see another layer of expensive bureaucracy established to burden the taxpayer. Does anyone imagine that central government will reduce its expenditure to compensate?

Bob Dennell
Banstead, Surrey

SIR – Next year sees the 750th anniversary of the de Montfort Parliament, the first gathering in England that can be truly called a parliament.

That year would therefore seem to be an auspicious one for the inauguration of a “New English Parliament”.

As Simon de Montfort is linked with Leicester, a site in the Midlands would seem appropriate for this parliament. It might also provide an added argument in favour of HS2.

Richard R Long

SIR – The Prime Minister’s appointment of William Hague to mastermind English devolution is just about the last straw for many Conservatives who are fed up with David Cameron’s inability to deliver on his constitutional obligations.

Mr Hague made a hash of the Foreign Office, despite being highly intelligent and a superb orator. Anyone who has studied Mr Hague’s political career knows that no progress on constitutional reform will be made under his supervision.

Timothy Stroud
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – Over the past 35 years, Scots have been given three referendums to approve changes to the British constitution.

Yet it seems that the English are to be told what changes will be made to address the West Lothian Question with no referendum at all.

John L D Booth
Letchworth, Hertfordshire

SIR – There would be little need for more devolution of powers, regional governments and so on if our MPs spent more time paying attention to their constituents and less time playing politics in their Westminster retreat.

Simon Aston
Chesham, Buckinghamshire

SIR – If the political parties are serious about constitutional reform, they need to prioritise.

An argument put forward against MPs being excluded from some votes in the Commons was that the division lobbies could not cope. First priority would therefore be to build a modern chamber with electronic voting. MPs’ voting buttons could be disabled when they were not allowed to vote on (say) a Scottish or Welsh matter.

The existing Houses of Parliament could then be saved from subsidence and given over to tourism and offices for MPs.

Simon Meares
Forest Row, East Sussex

SIR – As your fashion correspondent points out (September 20), Vivienne Westwood has had a great deal of success with her fashion line “Anglomania”.

Since she has now declared that she hates the English, can we look forward to the imminent launch of her new line “Anglophobia”?

Helen George
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – Having won more medals than most countries at the 2012 Olympic Games, and now restored to its rightful place as county cricket champions, for one region of the UK, devolution’s time has surely come.

Home rule for Yorkshire!

Mike Davison
Holywell, Huntingdonshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Let me see if I understand this correctly.

Fine Gael’s Deirdre Clune wins a seat in the European Parliament and according to what is considered normal in the la- la land of Irish politics, her seat “must” be filled by someone from Fine Gael, and for whatever reason Fine Gael has decided that person will be John McNulty. The vacancy he is filling is on the cultural panel, and to qualify Mr McNulty must be a part of the cultural panel quangohood so he can be “elected” by his peers, and to allow him to join the quangohood it just so happens by a happy stroke of luck there’s a vacancy on the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma).

What are the chances?

Then Minister for the Arts Heather Humphreys has the brass neck to say that none of it had anything to do with her.

The new Minister immediately reverts to the typical blanket defence of her department (so much for change) and justifies her actions by claiming she had no involvement in picking the Fine Gael candidate for the Seanad, which may be true. But she is the Minister who signed off on the appointment of a Fine Gael Seanad candidate to a vacancy at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, which in turns allows that Fine Gael candidate to be “elected” to the Seanad.

It is beyond contemptible to try to argue that it was a coincidence that the department chose to offer the appointment to Mr McNulty, who didn’t even apply for it, and that there was no interference from Fine Gael in the appointment process.

If there was ever any doubt about whether Fine Gael is the new Fianna Fáil, Ms Humphreys has removed all doubt. – Yours, etc,


Canary Wharf,


Sir, – A selectively elected and somewhat personally appointed body, the Seanad, objects to the selective appointment of an individual to the board of Imma. Now that’s “art”. – Yours, etc,


Monalea Park,


Dublin 24.

Sir, – You report (“Minister looks at religion rule in schools”, September 24th) that a Government advisory group recommended in 2012 that rule 68 regarding religious teaching in national schools should be deleted “as soon as possible”. I read that Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, some two years later, has asked her officials “to consider how best to progress the particular recommendation relating to rule 68 in the context of the ongoing implementation of the forum report recommendations” – a dead cert for a “Yes Minister” gong, I’d wager! Could Ms O’Sullivan or Ruairí Quinn, her predecessor, not find that elusive “delete” key? – Yours, etc,


Front Street East,

Toronto, Ontario.

Sir, – Regarding the role of religion in Irish schools, I am delighted to see that the Minister for Education is considering amending the archaic rule 68, which grants religion a primary role in Irish education. Even better would be to remove the rule entirely. In a pluralistic, democratic society, the law should protect all citizens from the “tyranny of the majority”. There is no justification for any one religion to dominate the public school system and permeate the entire curriculum, especially when so few options are available to parents of different religions or no religion.

If parents want their child to receive instruction in their particular religion, this can be carried out at home or in Sunday schools or other forums outside of the public education system, as in other countries. This simple solution does not discriminate against anyone or infringe on anyone’s rights to religious belief – on the contrary, it offers protection to all religions, and to non-believers, by not promoting any one. Public schools should be places of education, not indoctrination. – Yours, etc,


Elner Court,

Portmarnock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Let us invent the game of Centenary Monopoly. Go straight to 2017, don’t pass GPO, and don’t collect misty-eyed accounts of exalted rebellion. John Bruton can roll the first dice. – Yours, etc,


Mount Argus Court,

Harold’s Cross,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Tim O’Halloran (September 24th) refers twice to “Sinn Féin’s defeat of conscription” and describes it as “perhaps that party’s greatest gift to the people of Ireland”. Does Mr O’Halloran have any evidence for his contention that it was Sinn Féin alone that prevented the introduction of conscription? He ignores the fact that the Irish Party and Mr Redmond opposed conscription in Ireland throughout the war and were instrumental in defeating each attempt to introduce it through legislation at Westminster.

In November 1915, when it first arose as a serious prospect, John Redmond wrote to Herbert Asquith, the British prime minister, to say that “the enforcement of conscription in Ireland is an impossibility . . . [and] if a Conscription Bill be introduced, the Irish Party will be forced to oppose it as vigorously as possible at every stage”.

John Dillon, his deputy leader, on the floor of the House of Commons went so far as to describe compulsory military service as “Prussianism” and the selling out of the very principles of democratic freedom which Britain was fighting the war to protect. Through their parliamentary efforts in December of that year they secured a personal pledge from Asquith that conscription would not be extended to Ireland.

Throughout 1916 Edward Carson, an ardent supporter of Irish conscription, gained increasing influence over a divided British cabinet, threatening to put the issue back on the agenda. This prompted further manoeuvring by Redmond, culminating in a motion of censure against the government which he proposed in October. His Commons speech on the motion included a sustained and detailed attack on the conduct of the War Office and was credited with once again forestalling any attempt to extend conscription. And again in May 1917, the new prime minster David Lloyd George baulked at attempting to force conscription on Ireland because he feared defeat in the Commons at the hands of a combination of the Irish Party, the Conservatives, Labour, and many in his own Liberal party.

As the latter incident shows, Redmond’s parliamentary successes on this issue were made possible by the Irish Party’s assiduous courting of Liberal and Labour support throughout England over the previous decade in the name of home rule, which gave them leverage over the government which extended far beyond their own ranks.

So I suppose the question is, who is more likely to have prevented the introduction of conscription in Ireland? Was it the Irish Party, which had 73 MPs at Westminster, the ear of the British government, and a network of supportive English and Scottish MPs from other parties when the issue arose in the House of Commons? Or was it Sinn Féin, which throughout this period was a small isolationist party with no elected representation?

While Sinn Féin was very successful at fomenting public opposition to conscription at home in Ireland, it is fanciful in the extreme to suggest that this had anything but a residual impact on those in London who were attempting to introduce the policy.

As if denying all of this wasn’t enough, Mr O’Halloran seems to go further by implying that Redmond’s support for voluntary recruitment meant that, by extension, he actually supported conscription. In fact, as all of the available evidence shows, he saw continued voluntary recruitment in Ireland as a vital means of staving off conscription, since the dramatic fall-off in volunteers from late 1915 onwards was being used by Carson and others as a justification for its introduction. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 3.

Sir, – I continue to be amazed at the President’s forays into policy matters. He recently made reference to debates that took place in Dáil Éireann on the subject of Nama and housing while he was a TD. Now he is taking sideswipes at “those who advocate acquiescent fortitude” as we take the “road to recovery” and goes on to to meddle in pre-budget submissions (“Irish society should draw up ‘new ethical principles’, says President”, September 22nd).

I am inclined to think that he is making a veiled (or maybe not so veiled) reference to the Government of the day and this is surely beyond his remit. Our media outlets appear reluctant to make any criticism of him, and we should surely know what happens when we put any person or institution on a pedestal. – Yours, etc,




Co Tipperary.

Sir, – The attention given by The Irish Times to the shocking state of provision of speech and language therapy in recent days is welcome (“Child speech therapy services ‘a lottery’, says report”, September 22nd).

However, the problem is, unfortunately, the tip of a very large iceberg. My GP recently told me that there is no psychologist in our area to assess children with learning or behavioural difficulties. Not a long waiting list, not pressure on resources, simply no-one in post. Many parents will make huge sacrifices to pay for the assessment and treatment their children need.

But many other parents will not be able to access the large amounts of money that such assessments cost – mostly low-income families, thus putting at-risk children potentially at further lifetime risk.

There is a clear correlation between undiagnosed (and therefore untreated) learning disabilities and poor mental health, with all that implies for individuals, families and society at large.

It really is time that we took action and pledged to ensure that all children get the supports that they need. – Yours, etc,


Caragh Road,

Dublin 7.

A chara, – Further to Eamonn McCann’s column “Sinn Féin version of Troubles should not go unchallenged” (Opinion & Analysis, September 18th), in my interview with the BBC I said that the IRA, like many before them in Ireland and internationally who sought to bring about political change, broke the law. That is self-evident.

Mr McCann bases his entire column on his false claim that I had in fact stated the opposite, ie that the IRA had been “law abiding”.

In the BBC interview I also pointed out that what is important now is that we are living in different times, not least because of the political changes that republicans were central to bringing about. These include a new policing and justice dispensation in the North.

Finally, I stand over my remarks that republicans across this island, including the hundreds of thousands of citizens who vote for Sinn Féin are, and have always been, law-abiding people. – Is mise,


Teach Laighean,

Baile Átha Cliath 2.

Sir, – The letter by representatives of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland and the Licensed Vintners’ Association (September 24th) asks us to “take, for example, last St Patrick’s Day, when a slab of beer – 24 cans – was available for €24” in a supermarket.

Just as we’ve started to discuss the national addiction in a mature way, vested interest groups (whose usual mantra is “please consume alcohol responsibly” or some variation on same) ask readers to take the example of a slab of 24 cans of beer on St Patrick’s Day for the purposes of their argument.

The popularity of boozing in the local pub seems to be on the decline, but there are plenty of opportunities for Irish pubs that move with the times. If pubs cannot compete with the supermarkets on the price of alcohol, then maybe it’s time they considered doing what other businesses do and diversify.

Irish pubs have an abundance of wonderful ingredients and food products on their doorsteps. Decent pub lunches or dinners are not products a supermarket offers.

Many pubs that offer these are thriving, while providing jobs, making Ireland more attractive to tourists and changing our focus when it comes to socialising for the better in the process.

Let’s not take St Patrick’s Day and a slab of 24 cans of beer as an example. – Yours, etc,


Stocking Avenue,

Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.

Sir, – The Rev Patrick G Burke (September 23rd), commenting on Donald Clarke’s article (September 20th) on the place of science in general culture, asked whether The Irish Times had made “a sly nod towards the notion that for some science has taken the place of faith?” His doubt was prompted by the Clarke article being published under the heading “Religion and Belief”.

Science has been taking the place of faith for many people for thousands of years from Cicero to Galileo, Kant, Darwin and Einstein. Science is now for many people the best source of reliable knowledge about the natural world. This knowledge about our beautiful world and cosmos, however puzzling and incomplete, provides them with a more secure basis for understanding life in this world, the only life we know, than the “myths and dogmas of traditional religions”. Science, especially after Darwin, has been one of the main sources of confidence and inspiration for humanists, who believe that we have derived good ethical principles “guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience” without any reliance on supernatural advice.

About 100,000 people will attend weddings, funerals and naming ceremonies led by humanist celebrants in 2014. A humanist participated in the inauguration ceremony of President Michael D Higgins, at his invitation. In a few years more weddings will be celebrated outside than inside a church, synagogue or mosque. More than a quarter of a million people reported that they were agnostic, atheist or had no religion in the 2011 census, a fourfold increase on 1991.

Rev Burke and some of your readers might like to find out more about humanism by attending the 21st anniversary conference of the Humanist Association of Ireland in Galway from October 11th to 12th. – Yours, etc,


Honorary President,

Humanist Association

of Ireland,

Grove Lawn,

Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Further to Padraig S Doyle’s letter (September 24th), while Vincent de Paul himself may not have handled the logistics of the UCD conference that President Michael D Higgins used to launch a new phase in his ethics initiative aimed at civic society, I would be loath to scoff at the notion that the saint’s spirit of compassion might not have contributed to the event.

The President’s address emphasised the legacy of the man in the quiet work of the St Vincent de Paul Society, of which Mr Higgins said, “Day after day, you seek out the forgotten; you listen to the voices of the voiceless; you support those who have to cope with unemployment, indebtedness, a relationship breakdown, a disability, or loneliness, and sometimes several of these plights at once”.

Whatever about our deserved scepticism about institutional religion and even the notion of an afterlife, this is one “spirit” that we should all want to keep alive. – Yours, etc,


Moyclare Close,

Baldoyle, Dublin 13.

Sir, – I hope this is just one of many letters you receive congratulating Ciara Judge, Emer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow on their outstanding research and its recent recognition (“Irish students win global science competition”, September 23rd). They have offered a magnificent example of humanitarian-inspired research at its best and one that many researchers, in a variety of fields, can aspire to follow. – Yours, etc,


Copeland Avenue,


Dublin 3.

Sir, – I note with astonishment that An Taisce’s policy director (September 23rd) seems unaware of the difference between the fats found in a pizza and the healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats found in oily fish such as farmed salmon. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland clearly recommends that people eat at least one portion of such fish per week. – Yours, etc,


Director of Aquaculture


Bord Iascaigh Mhara,

Crofton Road,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – I recently paid €6.85 for a pint of Carlsberg in Temple Bar on a Monday evening at 7pm. Now that’s a warm welcome to Ireland. – Yours, etc,


Foxrock Wood,

Dublin 18.

Irish Independent:

I have to say that Donegal’s minor and senior football teams deserve the utmost respect for the performance in Pairc an Crocaigh on Sunday last.

Sometimes things do not go according to plan and it’s not anyone’s fault, it doesn’t matter how much time is spent on the drawing board, and for us, Sunday was one of those unfortunate days when the target seemed to be a little further away than normal. Playing Kerry was never going to be a walk in the park, and fair dues to them, they’ve collected the title 37 times since 1903.

To get to Croke Park in the first place is an achievement not to be sniffed at. For anyone who complains about how our players performed or underperformed, one has to remember that there are 30 other counties that would have loved to have had the opportunity to play in an All Ireland final, some will in the future while others may only ever get to dream about it.

Thanks to all the players for taking us on a great journey – the flags and posters lifted everyone’s spirits for months.

Go raibh mile maith ag na lads alig ar an dha foireann.

James Woods, Gort an Choirce, Dun na nGall

Media played its part in the crash

In her letter Mary Sullivan (Irish Independent, September 24)highlights the importance of media in a democracy. What she says reminds us all that media is more than just another vested interest. The power of media in opinion forming and holding the great and the good to account cannot be overstated.

She refers to the Watergate case in the US, the 40th anniversary of which happened recently, which caused a president to resign. She also points out that here in Ireland the media exposed wrongdoings by church and State and is “an important watchdog in protecting our democracy”.

What Ms Sullivan does not mention, however, is that media, like all human institutions, has its own failings. One of the reasons this country became bankrupt is that the members of governments, bank boards, etc were not sufficiently held to account by the Irish media during the boom.

At the moment, far too much of media coverage of current affairs is little more than gossip and personalised abuse, missing the main issues. As a result, it is repeating the mistakes of the boom period, when the single biggest calamity to hit this country – the bankrupting of the State – came on with little or no media warning.

A Leavy, Sutton, Dublin 13


Welcome to quangohood

Let me see if I understand this correctly?

Fine Gael’s Deirdre Clune wins a seat in the European Parliament and according to what is considered normal in the la la land of Irish politics, her Seanad seat ‘must’ be filled by someone from Fine Gael, and for whatever reason Fine Gael has decided that person will be Mr John McNulty.

The vacancy he is filling is on the Cultural Panel, and to qualify Mr McNulty must be a part of the Cultural Panel so he can be ‘elected’ by his peers. And, to allow him to join the quangohood, it just so happens by a happy stroke of luck there’s a vacancy on the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA).

What are the chances? The new Arts Minister, Heather Humphreys, immediately used the typical blanket defence of her department (so much for change) and justified her actions by claiming she had no involvement in picking the Fine Gael candidate for the Seanad, which may be true. But she is the minister who signed off on the appointment of a Fine Gael Seanad candidate to a vacancy at the IMMA, that in turn assists that Fine Gael candidate’s ‘election’ to the Seanad.

Someone in Fine Gael put Mr McNulty’s name forward for the IMMA appointment. It is a tall order to try and argue that it was a coincidence that the department chose to offer the appointment to Mr McNulty, who didn’t even apply for it, and that there was no interference from Fine Gael in the appointment process. If there was ever any doubt about whether Fine Gael is the new Fianna Fail, Ms Humphreys has removed all doubt.

Desmond FitzGerald, Commercial Road, London E14, UK

Of course we sell newspapers

When my late uncle opened an early version of a supermarket on a new housing estate in Drogheda in the mid-1950s, he lost out to the shop next door in the winning of the sole licence to sell newspapers in that catchment area.

Arising from this serious competitive disadvantage, I, as a lad, had the daily task of flying down on my bike to the different newsagents (Schwer’s, Madame Le Worthy’s, Bateson’s, et al) in the centre of the town and buying up evening papers in ones, twos or sometimes threes to minimise suspicious looks. Then, with my booty tied firmly to my bike’s carrier, I hightailed it back to my uncle’s and stuffed each copy into the display board at the entrance to his premises.

Of course Mr Grogan sold newspapers!

Oliver McGrane, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16

Dinner at 11am

David McWilliams rightly recognises the substantial contribution agriculture makes to the Irish economy (Irish Independent September 24). However his implied reference to farmers being “people who have their dinner in the middle of the day” is clearly from the mouth of a white-collar man.

With all respect Mr McWilliams, it may be the middle of your day. Indeed, I know many a farmer who would be aghast if dinner were any later than 11am, given the productivity achieved before many others turn on their computers.

Happy ploughing!

Deirdre Lusby, Galway


Flanagan’s double standards

On September 1, 2014, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said “the invasion of Ukraine is against international law and must stop” (RTE News). He made no reference to the role of NATO as one of the root causes of the Ukraine conflict.

On September 22, the United States and its allies launched air strikes in Syria using warplanes, armed drones and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

On September 23, Mr Flanagan stated on RTE News regarding the bombing in Syria that, “people will not be surprised. With regard to the air attacks, targets need to be particularly precise, and of course innocent civilians need to be spared.”

In contrast with his statement on Ukraine, the minister failed to mention that these air strikes contravene international law, because they do not have UN Security Council approval. His statement that “the air attacks targets need to be particularly precise” suggests that the Irish Government approves of such air strikes as long as they are “particularly precise”, regardless of breaches of international laws.

Edward Horgan, Casteltroy, Limerick

Repeating past mistakes

It seems that governments do not learn from history, and often repeat mistakes. This Friday, David Cameron is planning on recalling the UK parliament, and pushing for a vote to authorise Britain‘s military involvement in Syria and Iraq. In doing so, it will join the US who are already at it.

Many of those militants in the so-called Islamic State were trained by UK armed forces last year, to overthrow the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Much of the weaponry in this now destabilised region was supplied by British and American companies. And if you go back a bit further, those two countries’ forces killed around a million Iraqis following the 2003 illegal invasion.

Name and address with editor

Irish Independent


Leave a Reply

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

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

Google+ photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: