29 September 2014 Sunday

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

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


Dannie Abse – obituary

Dannie Abse was a poet and doctor who brought an instinctive blend of clarity, care and conviction to both callings

Dannie Abse in 2013

Dannie Abse in 2013 Photo: Clara Molden

6:58PM BST 28 Sep 2014


Dannie Abse, who has died aged 91, was a poet, novelist, playwright and doctor whose blend of myth, clinical clarity and political conviction did much to revitalise poetry after the Second World War.

The academic Daniel Hoffman catalogued Abse’s contradictions, saying that he was “British/Jewish, English/Welsh, seeker/sceptic, bourgeois/bohemian, poet/doctor”. More neatly, Abse saw himself as “way out in the centre” and, scientist that he was, explained this precisely. While others argued that poets should consider their subjects first, and their readers second, Abse mocked their stance by writing, “where’s the avant-garde when the procession / runs continuously in a closed circle?” If he was writing about Auschwitz, Soho, Ezra Pound or tumours, he would say so.

He would examine his feelings about Britain almost instinctively, so that a poem about a train station is called “Not Adlestrop”, to register his distance from Edward Thomas’s Georgian lyric about that station; and a poem about anti-Semitism, is written in a brisk and British ballad form. Wales was dear to him but, although he admired Dylan Thomas’s poetry, he was quick to ditch him as an influence. (On a visit to New York, Abse became fed up with being told how much he wrote, sounded and looked like Thomas, and was able to assert that he didn’t.)

His careers as poet and doctor were intertwined, although it is possible to read his work and understand why he did not become a surgeon. Of his initial failures in the pathology exams, he wrote, “there were times when I wanted to run away from the desolation of suffering and death.” “Lunch with a Pathologist” shows a properly poetic squeamishness at too much talk of tissues and decomposition. But in later poems, such as “Carnal Knowledge”, he allowed himself more room to consider the link between the corpses he had dissected as a student and their inner humanity. He once said that if someone is next door to Icarus when he falls, “it’s a doctor’s response if he goes next door; it’s a poet’s response if he makes a poem out of it. And if he’s a poet and a doctor, he must do both.”

Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff on September 22, 1923, to Rudolf and Kate (née Shepherd). His father ran cinemas, which he part-owned, in South Wales. Dannie was the youngest of four children. Of his siblings, Wilfred Abse would distinguish himself as a psychiatrist, and Leo Abse became the MP who broke the record for putting the most laws into the statute books (including the decriminalisation of homosexuality).

Dannie, whom the others saw as the athlete in the family, would acknowledge that it was Leo who made his poetry more political, by bringing home poems that were “not about celandines, and not about skylarks, but about the war in Spain”. It was the poetry of that conflict that first made him see the potential of poetry to be a force for change.

As if to add to the oddities that contributed to his upbringing, he went to St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott, Cardiff, run by Christian Brothers. His sporting skills made him popular there. After a brief time at Cardiff University, he studied medicine at King’s College, London, and Westminster Hospital. He would recall that he spent more time playing football than studying, and later learned that he might not have made the college’s First Eleven had the captain realised that he was Jewish. Abse continued to write poetry, and was encouraged by some warm words from Edmund Blunden, whom he had cornered after a reading. Abse’s life at this time is the subject of his two autobiographical novels, Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve (1954) and O. Jones, O. Jones (1970), as well as a warm and self-deprecating memoir, A Poet in the Family (1974).

Dannie Abse at Dylan Thomas’s boathouse, Laugharne, in 2003 (PAUL GOGARTY)

Towards the end of the war, he joined a group of medical students who volunteered to help when there was a shortage of doctors. When others were sent to help at a camp abandoned by the Germans, he was omitted from the selection. He later discovered that this was Belsen. He wrote: “Auschwitz has made me more of a Jew than Moses did.”

It was at this time that his first book was published. Even Abse’s admirers consider After Every Green Thing (1949) to be emotionally overwrought, ringing with the loud music of Dylan Thomas; Abse felt this at the time, and later said that most of the poems in it were “linguistically florid and faulty”. The poems lacked political urgency, he felt, because the shocks of Hiroshima and Auschwitz led briefly to the irrelevance of “the gesturing poem, the platform poem”.

He quickly became a recognisable figure at poetry readings, and was in the audience in 1951 when Emmanuel Litvinoff read his blistering riposte to TS Eliot’s poem, “Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar”. Abse sat just in front of Eliot, having shaken his hand, and heard Eliot when he leant forward to say, “It’s a good poem, a very good poem.” At this time Abse began editing a roneoed magazine called Poetry and Poverty, as a response to the more formal and intimate writing from poets such as Thom Gunn, Donald Davie and Philip Larkin. The project briefly lost funding when its wealthy South African backer complained that it was not Marxist enough.

Abse’s father had been funding Dannie’s medical studies, but his career as a cinema entrepreneur ended when he had to sell a failing picture house in the slums of Newport. He greeted the news that his son had finally passed his exams with the words, “About bloody time.” Shortly afterwards, the young poet joined the RAF. During his service as a medic he inadvertently enraged an abusive Wing Commander. Abse’s revenge came when his tormentor arrived for a routine medical inspection, and he was able to ask the officer repeatedly, “Have you ever had syphilis?” A shamed silence followed.

Abse’s next medical posting led him to become a chest specialist. He continued to work as a doctor until 1989 (although from 1973-4 he was Senior Fellow of Humanities at Princeton University), and when he retired he devoted himself full-time to writing, performing and editing. He continued to read his poems with the passion that he found so lacking from the poetry scene that he had encountered in the late 1940s. He produced anthologies with his wife Joan (née Mercer), an art historian he met when she was a librarian at the Financial Times. The couple settled in Golders Green (next door to Bob Monkhouse).

Joan was killed in a car crash, in 2005, which Danny survived. The loss led to a powerful sequence of elegies, Two for Joy: Scenes from a Married Life (2010). His final volume, Speak, Old Parrot, was published last year. “This veteran flier can still sing and swoop,” declared one reviewer. His collected poems will be published in January 2015.

Abse was appointed CBE in 2012.

In his late poem “Valediction” he delivered a wry paean to a life immersed in Welsh and Yiddish lore, love and political activism: “In this exile called old age / I live between nostalgia and rage. / This is the land of fools and fear. / Thanks be. I’m lucky to be here.”

He is survived by his three children, Keren, Susanna and David.

Dannie Abse, born September 22 1923, died September 28 2014


Many of the quotes in the interview with Dominic Grieve (27 September) were a cause of sadness and regret to me that such a man had been forced out of his post. But the saddest point was the quote: “The party is still a coalition of people who have a sense of historical continuity. We’re not here to smash up things we’ve inherited.” How can an intelligent and principled man continue to hold such a belief when all the evidence is in complete opposition to it? Does he think that shrinking of the state, favourable treatment for the rich and privatisation of publicly owned resources (such as our schools and the NHS), is “historical continuity”? I can only compare his delusion to that of members of the Labour party who still believe that their party’s policies represent the wishes and needs of those who have been their traditional supporters.
John Davis

• Is the greater sinner the ageing Tory minister who foolishly believed a young blonde woman was attracted to him, or the journalist who deliberately set out to entrap him with explicit conversations and photographs built around a tissue of lies?
Paul Traynor

• We’ve now had three self-indulgent Tory MPs pointlessly resign and stand for re-election – David Davis in 2008, and this month Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless. Maybe they would think again if they had to bear the £125,000 cost to the taxpayer of a by-election.
David Shilling
Knutsford, Cheshire

• For Cameron to lose one MP to Ukip was unfortunate, but to lose a second MP was Reckless.
John Daramy
Chesterfield, Derbyshire

With the background of the current turmoil in the Middle East, the news that the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has, at the UN general assembly, declared the US-led peace process dead (Report, 27 September), the prospects of a two-state solution look more remote than ever. This makes ever more pressing the urgency of buttressing the Palestinian Authority, reinforced, as it has been, by a concordat between Fatah and Hamas. So British recognition of the state of Palestine, joining 134 of the 193 member states of the UN, in an initiative advocated by Vincent Fean (until recently our consul-general in Jerusalem) would be a very welcome move, which ought to influence US policy in this regard, a sine qua non for the international pressure needed to bear down on Israel. That President Obama is sympathetic is evident from his recent reiteration to the UN general assembly of his commitment to the two-state principle; a reminder of what he said in his speech in Cairo in 2009 during his first term: “….it is undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslim and Christian – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they have endured the pain of dislocation … They endure the daily humiliations, large and small, of occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.”

But Oliver Miles says “it would be idle to look for public agreement since the administration’s hands are tied by Congress” (Comment, 27 September). With the utmost temerity I question this. Although the US constitution does not explicitly grant presidents the power to recognise foreign governments, it is generally accepted that they have this power as a consequence of their constitutional authority to send and receive ambassadors, and presidents have successfully claimed exclusive authority to decide which foreign governments will be recognised. This being so, at this advanced stage of his second presidency, would it be far-fetched to expect President Obama to show grit, and honour with action the fine words he spoke five years ago?
Benedict Birnberg

Amberley Castle in spring, flying England flag of Saint George, West Sussex England UK. Flag of Saint George flies at Amberley Castle, West Sussex. Photograph: Alamy

Vernon Bogdanor (Why English votes for English laws is a kneejerk absurdity, 25 September) is right to argue that the English votes for English laws proposal is a diversion. It is just one part of a much bigger jigsaw. The way to fix the “English question” does not lie within Westminster. The fantastic democratic adventure in Scotland shows that we can end the culture of over-centralisation and empower local people to make their own decisions on local issues. Local government can and should be the vehicle for English devolution if it can be finally freed from the chains of Whitehall with a radical shift of powers from the centre.

Of course, I agree that democratic change cannot be drawn up on the back of a fag packet in a matter of days. But there is a wealth of thinking and reports about English devolution that belie this description. Our Magna Carta is approaching its 800th anniversary and we must make sure any constitutional reform has support not just from all parties but also from the people so that it can be a lasting democratic settlement for the UK. The political and constitutional reform committee, which I chair, published a report, Codifying the relationship between central and local government, which set out in detail how to achieve local devolution back in 2013, and has published a report on the possibility of a written constitution, A new Magna Carta? earlier this summer.

The referendum has given us momentum for real constitutional change now. It is our responsibility to the people of Britain that we ensure this is not lost in party politics or further delay.
Graham Allen MP
Labour, Nottingham North

• “An explosion in a jigsaw factory,” was how the map of Germany in the 19th century was described by author Simon Winder. It was thus a surprise that Bogdanor suggested that localities are the key to English devolution. German civic fragmentation endured into the Weimar constitution but was no block to the rise of the centralism that accompanied Hitler. By 1952 the new Federal Republic of Germany consisted of 10 comparable Lander with real powers. British constitutional lawyers played a major role in giving Germany a stable government. Surely now our leaders and their advisers must show similar imagination and not hark back to this or that proud civic history. That the electorate in the north-east rejected a regional assembly with limited powers, in 2004, is insufficient evidence for careful consideration of a regional approach to English devolution in an otherwise impossibly asymmetric federal Britain.
Iain Mackintosh

• English votes for English laws is indeed nonsense. As well as the complex financial interactions within so much new legislation, well described by Bogdanor, the procedural complexities would be ridiculous. Most large, new bills cover the whole of the UK, with different clauses applying to different countries and combinations of countries. The recently passed 232 page-long Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act has sections and schedules that variously extend to England and Wales only; to England and Wales and Scotland; to England and Wales and Northern Ireland; and to all four countries. Some bills even have clauses that only apply to Scotland.

Second-reading debates and votes in the Commons would have to involve all MPs. Would there then be different subsets of MPs at committee stage? Or different ones able to vote on amendments at report, each wearing an appropriate badge for the benefit of tellers? The principle could not be applied in the House of Lords where almost all members are “UK peers” wherever they live. The idea is scurrilous and potentially quite dangerous rightwing populism.
Tony Greaves
Lib Dem, House of Lords

• Methinks Bogdanor protests too much. The Scottish referendum result has achieved where Guy Fawkes failed: it has blown up the British constitution. I don’t think it’s that difficult in seeing how the pieces can now best fit together at nil extra cost to taxpayers. Four country assemblies, and a senate in place of the House of Lords, should meet in existing institutions, although I would hope the English assembly would meet in different parts of the country depending on what English business it was deciding upon. Where Bogdanor is right is in the hard work that would have to follow in making any framework robust enough to deliver a new structure of government. Move one is to agree the new constitutional structure and then Vernon’s hard work begins.
Frank Field MP
Labour, Birkenhead

• Bogdanor claims that “a bifurcated government is a logical absurdity”. But under its constitution for over 200 years, the US has had a bifurcated government: divided into two branches. The president’s responsibilities differ from those of Congress – and indeed those of the Senate from those of the House of Representatives. This causes problems but no one before Bogdanor – who as a professor of government might have been expected to know better – has claimed it is an “absurdity”. He taught Cameron at Oxford, which may explain the prime minister’s occasional errors.
Richard Jameson
Guildford, Surrey

All eight letters (27 September) about the air strikes against Islamic State (Isis) that you printed were opposed to them. Most of us who have been inclined to support them would concede it is possible for intelligent, fair-minded people to take such a view. What is shocking, however, is that not one of these opponents of air strikes faced up to the corollary of their position: that they would have been content to accept the high probability of the massacre and barbaric ill-treatment of thousands of people if air strikes were not stemming the Isis advance. In their vituperation, they also failed to recognise that it was not just “Bullingdon Boy” Cameron having his “Falklands moment”, but the great majority of all the main parties who backed air strikes. Why do they assume that in backing air strikes (not ‘indiscriminate bombing’ as asserted) all these MPs must have done so out of a “warmongering” appetite for ‘England’s self-aggrandisement’ rather than from a conscientious view of the best course of action?
Edmund Gray


Philip Hammond’s declaration to the media (26 September) that the terrifying rise of Isis is the fault of President Assad of Syria is not only mendacious but deceives the public into believing that there is a single cause for complex and volatile situations, such as those prevailing in the Middle East now and historically.

Both the UK and US governments were repeatedly warned that the illegal invasion of Iraq would lead to Muslim anger and resentment, and that the invasion could lead to the fragmentation of Iraq into distinct ethnic factions.

Further contributing errors that have led to the radicalisation of many Sunnis were the disbanding of the Iraqi army and police force, which drew most of its officers from Saddam’s Batha’aist party, and the installation of a predominantly Shia government backed by the West that became intent on levelling scores with the Sunni population.

Thus, the Western powers that orchestrated the invasion in 2003 have directly created the conditions in which groups like Isis are able to surface and attract the disillusioned.

Moreover, it is strongly suspected that Isis has received funding from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two leading Western allies in the region whose human-rights records are extremely dubious. Hammond et al ignore history at their peril.

Anna Romano
Worksop, Nottinghamshire

I thought that the point of the Chilcot Inquiry was to cast light on the desirability and efficacy of military intervention in the Middle East. In view of the Government’s enthusiasm for returning to air strikes, is it not time that at least the Executive Summary of the report is released?

Michael Godwin

You report Cameron “making absolutely sure the Labour opposition would support him…” (report, 27 September) so the “debate” in the Commons was a complete sham. It was another deal done by boys in back rooms.

I can’t imagine why Middle Eastern countries don’t want our “democracy”.

Simon Allen
London N2

The vote for a new war in Iraq taken in the Commons on 26 September was narrowly focused in terms of geography and the extent of deployment. However as the usual warmongers have made clear, there is another angle clearly flagged by Mr Cameron in the debate. Namely that the military action may well go on for some years. In reality Britain is reverting to the kind of imperial-warfare state it was in the late 19th century when Britain was always at war with someone.

Keith Flett
London N17

At last the American government has found the perfect formula for war without end. Invade and bomb Middle East states. This creates jihadists who must be got rid of. So bomb the jihadist. This creates more jihadists who must also be bombed and so on. The military/industrial complex is in business in perpetuity. Endless peace by waging endless war as forecast by Gore Vidal has now come to pass.

Jim McCluskey
Twickenham, Middlesex

Miliband’s arrogance got him into trouble

In assessing a prospective parliamentary candidate’s suitability, the selection committee will list things that they expect the applicants to be able to do and the making of speeches will be near the top. If one of the candidates misses out two key elements of his/her presentation then they will be out of the door forthwith.

Amol Rajan’s assessment of Ed Miliband (27 September) failed to grasp the fact that Ed is not a rookie politician but the leader of the opposition and has aspirations to be prime minister. The electorate does not take kindly to those who are incompetent at what should be one of their key skills.

By attempting to speak for over an hour without the safety net of either notes or a prompt, Miliband displayed an arrogant and misguided belief in his own competence which is solely to blame for his subsequent discomfort at the hands of the press.

John Orton

Ed Miliband forgetting to deliver parts of his speech to Labour conference perfectly illustrates the problem inherent with news embargoes. They are fine when everything goes according to plan, but they tempt fate. If Mr Miliband prefers to speak extemporaneously, it would be preferable for Labour spin doctors to refrain from releasing advance copies of speeches that might not be delivered. In doing so they are handing the media a stick to beat him with.

The BBC is a particularly annoying misuser of embargoed speeches, forever telling us what a politician is going to say, before they say it. I am quite content to find out what people have said after they have said it.

Nigel Scott
London N22

How to deal with boorish groping

Rosie Millard (27 September) is absolutely right when she says that Dave Lee Travis (and other bottom/breast squeezers) don’t deserve to go to jail. And perhaps they don’t require police attention.

But woven into her article is the casual misogynist idea that women who are subjected to a minor sexual assault (and yes, groping is a sexual assault) should just ignore it and move on. It’s the whole “know your place” notion all over again.

So how to deal with this unwanted and disrespectful attention without the police? Well, the last man who pinched my bottom, was pushed away (by me) with such force that he stumbled back with a look of complete shock. Pointing right in his face I snarled, “Don’t you DARE touch me”. He walked off, obviously unable to handle someone who would actually stand up to him.

Women – don’t ignore it, fight for yourself and your dignity. It can be an empowering moment.

Beth Richardson

I agree with Rosie Millard that it would have been madness to send Dave Lee Travis to jail, and share her concerns about the motives of the woman who took him to court years after the offence to procure this guilty verdict. But if you are going to grope people you do run the risk of some of them turning out to be furious, litigious, or bonkers.

Simon Bentley

Rosie Millard’s suggestion that women who get their breasts squeezed and their bottoms pinched should “get over it” as “part of life” is disturbing. It reads too much like a blasé acceptance of the unacceptable, and is in danger of normalising the disrespectful culture she goes on to describe. It helps no one to use euphemisms such as “bohemian” to describe behaviours and attitudes which are, simply, offensive.

Clare Jackson
Newcastle upon Tyne

The mysteries of corporate accounting

Andreas Whittam Smith says the current Tesco scandal really shocked him (25 September). Well, as a qualified accountant, I can tell him that such errors are all too predictable.

The problem is that the International Financial Reporting System (IFRS), which replaced UK GAAP, is about as imprudent as it gets. This system allows assets to be inflated and certain liabilities to be hidden. The Income Statement now includes unearned income. So Income Statements and Balance Sheets are now relatively worthless documents; only the Cash Flow Statement offers a reasonable clue as to what is going on. The fact is that accounts no longer represent actual transactions, but instead are based on economic theory.

The problem is that our government does not know how to dismantle IFRS and so attempts to demonstrate it is doing something by setting up organisations such as the toothless Financial Conduct Authority.

So investors should no longer rely on published accounts unless they can read between the lines.

Malcolm Howard FCMA
Banstead, Surrey

Tesco’s chairman has pronounced that things are always unnoticed until they have been noticed. Is he Donald Rumsfeld – of the “known unknowns” fame – in disguise?

Ramji Abinashi
Amersham, Bucks

Who decides what is or isn’t art?

Regarding Nathan Sawaya’s Art of the Brick show (27 September), Jay Merrick states that it is both “dumb and eerily thought-provoking”, and “most of Sawaya’s pieces are not art”.

If appalling unmade beds can be deemed “art” then why not Lego sculptures?

If something makes you stop and stare in wonder while the world carries on around you, I’d call that a great piece of art.

Emilie Lamplough
Trowbridge, Wiltshire

The wonder of windmills

As a lover of traditional windmills, I’d like to respond to the inclusion of Old Buckenham mill in the list of least popular tourist attractions during the past year (Travel, 27 September). For various reasons the mill is, at present, only open five days a year; had it been more the visitor total would have been a good deal higher. If you do want to visit windmills, check out this one – it’s great!

Guy Blythman
Shepperton, Middlesex


Sir, I have just unearthed a copy of The Times of August 21, 1998, with the headline “US strikes back at terrorists” and featuring a large picture on the front page of a certain Osama bin Laden. Perhaps current politicians and leader writers should reflect on the success of that exercise. Should one not learn from experience? As Albert Einstein said: “When you stop learning, you start dying.”
Peter Keen

Sir, You are right to say that it will be ineffective to try to tackle insurgents in Iraq without involvement in Syria (“The Case for Action”, Sept 26). It is also unlikely that the ideology behind an Islamic state will disappear. The UK could find itself drawn into a major conflagration that could drag on for decades. MPs felt they had to say yes to be seen to act, but history will probably judge this a tragic mistake.
Elizabeth Oakley
Dursley, Glos

Sir, It is a pity that we haven’t the same courage to avoid conflict as we do to encourage it. No doubt innocent people will be killed, building more resentment on our streets.
DJ Wathen
Evesham, Worcs

Sir, Six aged British Tornados joining in the bombing of Islamic State is no more than a token contribution to a token intervention. Recalling parliament to make that decision was gesture politics. If we have nothing to offer we ought to keep out for the time being.
Captain TJ Hosker RN
Rugby, Warwicks

Sir, Will public and parliamentary support stay with the government if one or more Tornado aircraft are shot down, and their crews lost? The Tornado, although capable, is probably the oldest in-service aircraft being used against these targets. Its vulnerability to sophisticated air defence systems is possibly a reason why David Cameron is reluctant at this time to join in strikes in Syria.
Adrian Burt
Hook, Hants

Sir, The assertion that an attack by the UK on Isis in Iraq, Syria or anywhere else would be unlawful under international law is nonsense. Isis is not a state, it is an international conspiracy of gangsters. It is the duty of all members of the UN to seek them out and destroy them. The sanction of the security council is no more necessary for this than it is for us to attack Somali pirates.
Malcolm Bishop, QC
London EC1

Sir, The overwhelming weight of history shows that adversity only strengthens the other side’s resolve, for instance during the London blitz of 1940-41 and Gandhi’s resistance to British rule in India to name but two. The Roman Empire eventually realised that the exercise of overweening force was counterproductive and, instead of sending vast armies to subdue rebellious regions, ultimately turned to Christianity to do the same job — with much more effective results. It is not too late for our leaders to appreciate that, while they may command the latest military technology, only a hearts and minds victory will provide a lasting solution. That is the real problem that all governments of good faith should now be addressing.
Don Porter
Sherborne, Dorset

Sir, After twice being caned for playground fighting in wartime Britain, I learnt that fights were easier to start than to end on favourable terms.
John Pincham
Stoke D’Abernon, Surrey

Sir, Matthew Parris (Opinion, Sept 27) forgets that for evil to flourish it is sufficient that good men do nothing.
Colin Hazell
Colchester, Essex

Sir, It was distasteful for you to herald the “battle” for the Ryder Cup as “. . . when two tribes go to war.” Sport has an unhealthy obsession with the military, as witnessed by the appalling decision to have the Victoria Cross emblem appearing on England’s rugby shirts. Sport is wonderful, but men hitting balls into holes with sticks has nothing to do with the awful reality of war.
Peter Bainbridge
St Helens, Lancs

Sir, My favourite description for an accountant (letters, Sept 26) was from George Carman, QC, defending the comedian Ken Dodd in his trial for tax evasion.

After the jury had heard evidence from, among others, accountants, Carman summed up: “Some accountants are comedians but comedians are never accountants.”
Ian Cherry
Preston, Lancs

Sir, Nature Notes (Sept 25) points out the popularity of flowering ivy with insects. I can confirm this since I passed a patch of ivy and the buzzing was so loud that I thought I’d disturbed a swarm of bees. Fortunately, they were interested in the ivy not me. But where have they been all summer? It has been a record season for blossom and blooms but there has been scarcely a honey bee in my garden or allotment.
Eric Johns
Swanage, Dorset

Sir, Your letter (Sept 27) about the evocative names of the pre-numerical telephone exchanges certainly resonated with many Northolt people whose exchange was VIKing for most mysterious reasons relating to the local team playing a friendship football tournament in Norway immediately after the last war.

The presence of Viking primary school and Viking community centre still confuses visitors who assume that we are nostalgic for the days of Scandinavian raiders on the Brent.
Steve Pound
MP, Ealing North


Isil poses far more of a threat to Sunni regimes than it does to the West

About 500 Shiite volunteers from Tal Afar attend a combat training session at a military camp in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala in central Iraq to join the fight against jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group which led a sweeping offensive in June that overran much of the country's Sunni Arab heartland.

About 500 Shiite volunteers from Tal Afar attend a combat training session at a military camp in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala in central Iraq to join the fight against jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group Photo: MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images

6:57AM BST 28 Sep 2014


SIR – Isil poses far more of a threat to Middle East Sunni regimes than it does to the West.

Let them deal with the threat. They are not short of the military wherewithal. Our involvement should be restricted to telling the Qataris and Saudis to stop playing the destructive sectarian card against “apostate” Shiites.

This would require the West to swallow its pride and acknowledge that Assad, Hezbollah and Iran are not our enemies.

Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

SIR – Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to America, argues cogently and courageously against Islamic extremism, but his wide-ranging list of terrorist groups notably fails to mention Hamas, whose barbaric actions and outrageous covenant – publicly available on the internet – clearly show it to have morals and aims on a par with Isil. Hamas is funded by both Qatar and Iran.

Dr Ardon Lyon
Templecombe, Somerset

Bankers’ bonuses

SIR – The cant continues over bonuses for bankers.

A bonus is something extra given for providing something extra. It would therefore make sense for the public, who are paying the bonuses, to be informed of the level of provision at which anything above is held to be extra to the bankers’ obligations, why that level was chosen and how the bonuses are structured above it.

Stanley Eckersley
Pudsey, West Yorkshire

Distant barking

SIR – Your report on “barking dogs” at Sudbury (September 21) reminds me of the Basingstoke Canal pumping system.

When the system was switched on to pump water from the first to the sixth lock, we had reports of barking dogs. On investigation, the air being pushed upwards on the start-up of the pump was lifting the manhole cover intermittently.

We drilled three-inch holes to let the air out on start up.

L E Haworth
Woking, Surrey

Boys should listen to Emma Watson

SIR – I watched Emma Watson’s UN speech and agreed with everything she said, so I was disappointed by how ignorant some of the other boys in my class were about it (I attend an independent, all-boys school).

We are lucky to live in a western country where women can speak out against stereotypes. Feminism is not about man-hating or female supremacy. It is, by definition, the opposite. It’s pretty simple really: if you believe in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes, then you’re a feminist.

By using words such as “girly” or “manly” we inadvertently buy into gender stereotyping. We play with toys designed for our gender, we go to segregated schools, we play different sports based on gender, and yet it takes some effort for many people to acknowledge the existence of gender inequality and the injustice it entails for both sexes.

If we want equality, it will take more effort than paying women the same as men, or giving women equal opportunities. We must all make an active decision to change our language. We must stop pressuring each other to fit stereotypes which more often than not leaves us feeling repressed and unable to express ourselves. We must not let gender define us.

Ed Holtom
St Albans, Hertfordshire

Pupils misbehaving

SIR – Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments attacking head teachers for bad pupil behaviour is not conducive to finding solutions.

Misbehaviour in the classroom is a real problem which must be addressed to help improve education standards, but what is the Government doing to support teachers dealing with a range of abilities, ballooning class sizes and longer hours?

The application of consistent behaviour policy and cooperation between teachers and parents is vital in tackling pupil behaviour, but teachers also need continuing professional development and the support of their head teachers, who in turn must be backed up by properly trained governors.

Julian Stanley
Chief Executive, Teacher Support Network Group
London N5

Unjust mansion tax

SIR – The mansion tax is unfair on people who have remained in their homes for a number of years. I bought my flat in what was a slum part of Pimlico 50 years ago for £5,000 and my family later purchased another for £23,000. The combined market value for these properties is now over £2 million.

Why can’t we adopt the French system whereby a house or flat automatically carries a tax but this is tapered year on year? This yields a heavy tax from those buying for profit but does not penalise the long-term resident.

Harry Stone
London SW1

Ukulele fit for a queen

SIR – The ukulele may be a “curious musical confection” (Simkins’s World, September 21) but it is nothing new.

Instruments that shared the size, shape, tuning and playing technique of ukuleles were fashionable in Tudor London from about 1545, when they were known as gitterns.

Queen Elizabeth received a set of three as a gift in 1559. There is a fine depiction of one in marquetry of about 1567 at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire.

Professor Christopher Page
Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

Peers on the Tube

SIR – Charles Foster (Letters, September 21) rightly gives the cost of Tube fares for Baroness Hanham’s journey from Westminster to Waterloo.

Additionally, for £30 for one year or £70 for three, she could purchase a Senior Railcard, which would give her a third off these and all other rail fares. I would have no objection to that going on to her expenses claim.

John Newbury
Warminster, Wiltshire

SIR – If Baroness Hanham paid an average of £25 for taxi journeys from the Houses of Parliament to Waterloo, she is either being ripped off by drivers or over-tipping.

A taxi from my club in St James’s to Waterloo, a longer distance, averages £10-15.

Chris Harding
Parkstone, Dorset

Mediocre monarch

SIR — Richard III “the best king of England” (Letters, September 21)? Have I missed something?

Try as I might, I can think of nothing worthwhile accomplished during his mercifully short reign, the best result of which was the arrival of the Tudor dynasty.

Karin Proudfoot
Fawkham, Kent

Save Burma from the curse of the package tourist

Allowing tourists to overrun the country will see it go the same way as Thailand and Bali

Cultural preservation: a Buddhist monk at the entrance of the Maha Wizaya Pagoda in Yangon, Burma

Cultural preservation: a Buddhist monk at the entrance of the Maha Wizaya Pagoda in Yangon, Burma  Photo: ALAMY

6:59AM BST 28 Sep 2014


SIR – Having worked in the airline industry for 40 years, I find myself slightly concerned at the current focus on Burma as a destination for tourists.

We should take heed of what happened to Thailand and Bali after the package tour groups began to arrive in 747s and drunken tourists, totally ignorant of the ways of life in these places, came to disrupt the calm atmosphere. Poor Burma can hardly escape a dreadful influx of thrill-seekers who care not a jot about the temples of Bagan.

James Munro
Anères, Hautes-Pyrénées, France

Devolution should not mean paying for yet more politicians

There is no good reason to create further parliamentary posts in order to populate devolved parliaments

St George’s flag is a racist symbol says a quarter of the English

Devolution: is a separate English parliament the answer to the West Lothian Question? Photo: ALAMY

7:00AM BST 28 Sep 2014


SIR – It need not be difficult for David Cameron to achieve his ambition of English votes for English laws without exceeding the number of existing parliamentarians in the United Kingdom.

The House of Commons should continue to debate UK issues, with MPs representing non-English constituencies vacating the chamber during debates on English matters. The leadership during the English debates would depend on which party held sway in England, which may differ from that for the whole UK.

To satisfy the bloated Scottish parliament and assemblies of Wales and Northern Ireland their members could consist of their existing Westminster MPs plus additional regional members.

Bruce Denness
Whitwell, Isle of Wight

SIR – We now need a complete rethink of our constitutional arrangements, to give the same consideration to other parts of the UK as are given to Scotland.

There are currently nearly 1,000 MPs and representatives in the devolved assemblies. A small country such as ours doesn’t need any more paid politicians.

MPs should also sit in their own nation’s assemblies alongside an appropriate number of additional members to provide proportional representation, thus creating common links between the centre and the devolved.

English MPs could then be left to debate and vote on English legislation in Westminster.

Michael Staples
Seaford, East Sussex

SIR – It may be true that the vast majority of people in Scotland desire greater devolution, but that is not what they voted for in the referendum.

If the clamour for devolution in England results in the creation of just one more politician paid for by the taxpayers it will be regrettable.

David Chapman
Kirkby Lonsdale, Lancashire

SIR – I would like to offer up a two-part solution to the West Lothian Question.

First, turn the House of Commons into a new English parliament, composed solely of English MPs, to vote solely on English domestic law. In the political hierarchy, this English parliament would sit directly alongside the existing Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies.

Secondly, turn the House of Lords into a wholly elected upper chamber of members from across the UK. This chamber would hold sway on non-devolved matters, such as defence and foreign policy, and debate UK-wide issues.

Dr Mark Campbell-Roddis
Dunblane, Perthshire

SIR – How very kind of the Scots to vote for English devolution.

P J Bryant
Wisbech, Cambridgeshire

SIR – There is an egregious injustice which must be rectified in any reconsideration of the constitution and the means by which we are governed.

If we are not to endure the disaster of “a Labour government we won’t vote for” the reform of constituency boundaries, which was so shamefully impeded by the Liberal Democrats, must now be carried out.

John Nandris
Merton, Oxfordshire

SIR – Janet Daley makes a compelling case for the privacy of the polling booth. This is why the misguided relaxations of the rules for postal votes must be reversed as part of the constitutional review.

Postal voting increases potential for error and fraud and postal voters lose out on the final few days of debate. Our polling stations are open long enough and are sufficiently numerous for anyone making a reasonable effort to be able to find the time to go out and vote.

Postal votes should be reserved for those for whom they are absolutely necessary.

David Mannering
Langley Burrell, Wiltshire

SIR – In comparing the effect of Alex Salmond’s fantasy approach to the detail of Scottish independence with Ukip’s lack of a detailed European Union withdrawal plan, Christopher Booker misses the point.

An independent Scotland would have had no economic power to compel England to do things Salmond’s way.

Britain is one of the world’s major economic, cultural, and political forces. As the main export market for the rest of the EU, we are essential to the survival of the French and German political elites. If we leave the EU, France and Germany will dance to our tune.

John Sheridan Smith

SIR – The argument for Britain leaving the EU is entirely different from the argument for Scottish independence.

The UK has its own currency, central bank, banking system, government revenue, welfare system, national health system, human rights legislation and Armed Forces – in fact it has everything necessary for a prosperous, independent sovereign state.

Stanislas Yassukovich
Oppède, Vaucluse, France

SIR – I cannot agree with E G Nisbet’s comments about “Westminster prattle” being played on Radio 4 before the shipping forecast.

I, for one, like to hear it at the break of day, not least because it covers the Scottish and Welsh assemblies too.

The well-constructed bulletin is also broadcast late at night for those who prefer not to wait until the morning.

Malcolm Watson
Welford, Berkshire

SIR – One of your correspondents suggested that “the zip that is Hadrian’s Wall can be undone”, allowing Scotland to drift off on its own.

Is he therefore suggesting that England cede Northumberland and part of Cumbria to the Scots as a parting gift?

David Hurrell
Alnwick, Northumberland

Irish Times:

Sir, – We are among the members of a diverse group of 23 non-partisan individuals who have just returned from a visit to the West Bank. Prior to our visit we had seen the terrible scenes of the bombing of Gaza on our television screens but nothing prepared us for the shocking reality of the daily lives of Palestinians in the West Bank.

During the trip we met with many groups and individuals from Palestinian and Israeli civil society. We were struck by the incessant restriction of movement of Palestinians – numerous stories of men and women unable to pass freely between Bethlehem and Jerusalem (about 10km apart) because they could not obtain a permit to enter Jerusalem. On one occasion, our guide, who was Christian, had to vacate our bus at a checkpoint simply because he was Palestinian when our route brought us through an Israeli settlement.

Many people told us about the refusal to grant building permits to Palestinians, the systematic demolition of houses and the non-recognition of their right to live in their own property, despite proof of legal title.

Reports of widespread discriminatory arrests and detention of Palestinian children were well documented – in some cases children were held in solitary confinement for up to 29 days.

In our meeting with the Irish representative to the Palestinian Authority, we were informed of the ongoing financial assistance provided by Ireland to the people of the West Bank and Gaza. However, we are dismayed by Ireland’s apparent failure to take a principled position in relation to the occupation of Palestine and the daily violation of human rights in the West Bank.

Many of the people we met emphasised the urgency of a resolution to this situation. Time is running out, and the daily situation of Palestinians in the West Bank is deteriorating with the escalating consolidation of Israeli settlements. It is our hope that Ireland will play a significant role in the international community, speaking out against the unlawful actions and human rights abuses which we witnessed so frequently during our visit. – Yours, etc,


Charleston Road,

Ranelagh,Dublin 6;


Prospect Road,

Dublin 9.

Sir, – Having contributed, along with my past employer, to a pension scheme, it is now really riling to see this savings pot being raided repeatedly at the behest of individuals who are accruing several State pensions, and all this with little or no fuss.

The excuse that the original contributions were tax exempt does not hold water as the pension, what’s left of it, will be fully taxable on the way out (and now subject to USC as well). It would really make one consider the advisability of keeping any savings onshore because, having got away with this, attacking deposits next can’t be too far away. What has happened to the “grey army”? Why no protests? This was brought in as an emergency measure but, as there has been very little hissing by the goose, the Minister continues to pluck. – Yours, etc,


Fenagh, Co Carlow.

A chara, – It is hard to imagine that the current tea-cup tempest over Rule 68 of “Rules for National Schools” is anything other than yet another attempt to stir up controversy in relation to our denominational educational system (“Change in ‘archaic’ rule on religious teaching sought”, September 24th).

For example, the rule in question states that religious instruction is a “fundamental part of the school course”. This is entirely reasonable in a school with a religious ethos; and if anyone can point to an example of one with a secular ethos being written up by a departmental inspector for failing to comply, I would be interested to hear of it. Those who express concerns about the impact this might have on children from families whose ethos differs from that of the school they attend need to read further along in the document. Rule 69 expressly states that no child has to attend religious instruction their parent or guardian does not approve of; and also guarantees that provision be made for the child to be absent from school at reasonable times to receive instruction elsewhere of which they do approve.

The language of the “Rules” may at times seem a little quaint, and indeed dated; that is merely a reflection of the times in which they were written. But for so elderly a document, it seems commendably committed to flexibly making provision for those of differing views and backgrounds.

It is a pity that those who see discrimination everywhere, while seeking to foist a one-size-fits-all system of education upon the nation that accords with their own pet preferences, do not have an equally flexible approach to accommodating diversity. – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – In 1811 Henry Grattan submitted his opinion to an inquiry into Irish primary education that religion “should be taught, but that no particular description of it should form a part of their education”. Two centuries later, isn’t it past time that our current parliamentarians acted on Grattan’s advice? – Yours, etc,


Dublin Institute

of Technology,

Kevin Street,

Dublin 8.

A chara, – Prof David McConnell claims (September 24th) that “Science has been taking the place of faith for many people for thousands of years from Cicero to Galileo, Kant, Darwin and Einstein”. This is surely a somewhat questionable claim. All of these great thinkers, including Einstein, believed in one way or another in a reality beyond the natural world that empirical science explores.

Had Prof McConnell used the terms “reason” instead of “science” and “religion” instead of “faith”, then the sentence would have made some sense. In other words, “reason has taken the place of religion since Cicero, etc”. And there is a certain truth in this assertion.

Religion is the complex of values and rites that surround the nodal experiences of life, such as birth, marriage, death, and the inauguration of political authorities; it is not to be identified with faith, which also finds expression in and through such rites. It was the ancient Greek philosophers who discovered the fullness of reason, ie its ability to grasp the existence of that which transcends the empirical world. (Cicero got his inspiration from them.) This discovery was by means of a critique of both the religion they had inherited and the narrowing of reason to rationalism by their contemporaries, the Sophists.

From the start, Christian thinkers found their allies in the Greek philosophers (and so recognised the importance of Cicero and preserved his texts for posterity). Christian faith, like that of the Old Testament prophets, also involved a profound critique of religion as mere ritual. The irony is that the Humanist Association of Ireland is developing into an ersatz religion by providing alternative rituals for birth, marriage, and death – and being represented at the inauguration of the President.

Reason – our capacity for truth – is, in its fullness, one that has not lost its capacity for wonder, and so is open to the transcendent. By comparison, the rationalism of the modern scientific mentality assumes, with no convincing evidence, that nothing exists apart from the empirical realm. Reason, in short, needs faith to keep it open to the beyond – just as faith needs reason, if it is not to narrow its vision and degenerate into mere ritualism or, worse, fanaticism. Reason in its fullness is therefore critical of a merely ritualistic religion, including that offered by the new atheist church in Ireland or by the Catholic Church, should it allow itself to be reduced to simply being a provider of rites of passage for its own community – to the detriment of that faith which moves mountains and, more challengingly, opens minds. – Is mise,



Professor Emeritus

of Theology,

Maynooth, Co Kildare.

Sir, – Those who seek to justify the 1916 Rising at the expense of the 1914 Home Rule Bill make a number of mistakes.

First, they trot out the line that the Ulster Volunteers were armed to the teeth and would never have allowed the Home Rule Bill to be implemented, and yet those same Ulster Volunteers didn’t stop the Home Rule Bill being passed at Westminster and becoming the law of the land. Once it was the law of the land there is no reason to doubt the British government would have implemented it, just as it implemented all the other major reforms that were passed at Westminster.

Second, 1916 apologists refuse to acknowledge why exactly the majority of Ulster people were opposed to home rule in the first place. It was because they were fearful for their religious freedoms and business interests, which as the history of the Free State proved, they were quite right to fear.

Third, the real crux of the debate about 1916 is not so much the Rising itself – the Proclamation could have been read out anywhere, be it the new Irish parliament proposed under home rule or at a council meeting, for all the relevance it has ever had to the lives of real people – but rather the chain of events it created. Was the Rising worth the War of Independence it caused, or the Civil War, or the decades of economic and social stagnation, the loss of hundreds of thousands of people to emigration, the social damage inflicted by a Catholic theocracy?

What did we get by 1922 that we wouldn’t have got by 1922 under home rule?

When people are reluctant to worship at the altar of 1916, they raise issues of guilt that make those who do so feel uncomfortable, and it is well known that Irish people far prefer to wallow in denial than face reality. As we approach 2016, it has to be asked what exactly is it we are celebrating? Are we celebrating the avoidable deaths of the War of Independence, or the bitterness caused by the Civil War, the effects of which are still with us, or the fact that the Rising created the partition of the island and ensured that there would never be a united island under one government, the very opposite of its claimed goal?

People who say it doesn’t matter today need to be reminded that the reason Ireland lost its economic sovereignty in 2010 and is currently still in an economic cul-de-sac is directly linked back to the type of politics that was created in Ireland after independence, with cronyism and localism dominating the decision-making process and an almost violent reaction to anyone who points out flaws or who offers a different opinion to the one agreed on by the cute hoors. This mentality is still evident in the Garda and public sector because it’s the mentality that still applies all across the political class who still in 2014 fight every effort at transparency tooth and nail.

If we are ever to learn from our past mistakes, to avoid repeating them, we have to have the guts to face up to debating our past.

In 1914 we had home rule for the entire island, based on inputs from both traditions but those in the nationalist tradition squandered the chance to create a country based on the best of both traditions and instead inflicted two countries based on the worst of each tradition. It is perfectly reasonable to question the type of country we have evolved into, what shaped it and why, and what do we need to change for the future. Challenging the myth of 1916 is part of that process. – Yours, etc,


Canary Wharf,


A chara, – Further to Frank McNally’s acknowledgement of the progress of Na Piobairí Uilleann (An Irishman’s Diary, September 24th), he is not quite correct in his analysis of the dramatic change in the fortunes of “piper hibernicus”.

On June 8th, 1900, the Dublin Pipers’ Club was founded. Two pipers who helped to set up the first meeting and who both worked in Dublin Corporation were Eamonn Ceannt and Pat Nally. Pat Nally, pipemaker and acknowledged expert piper, is said to have chaired the first meeting. Nally also wrote a tutor for the pipes. Ceannt, of 1916 fame, who received his first lessons on the pipes from Nally, was years later to entertain Pope Pius X in Rome. Another piper of note at that time was Tom Rowsome.

Pat Nally was a Gaelic scholar, a member of the Gaelic League when it was set up in 1893, and a founder member of the Celtic Literary Society. Nally was known to entertain Gaelic League members with tunes from his pipes at their meetings whose attendance would have included PH Pearse and Douglas Hyde. Along with Eoin MacNeill and Edward Martyn, the philanthropic landowner, he attended the “Mod” in Oban, Scotland, in 1898. This was the great Scottish Gaelic festival. Nally, representing the Gaelic League, was given a rousing reception when he played Irish airs on his uilleann pipes. The festival was attended by 3,000 Scotch Gaelic delegates from Scotland and beyond.

The Píob Mhór – bagpipes or war pipes – were part of the Irish landscape several hundred years before the uilleann pipes were in use. Pat Nally was also considered the foremost authority on the war pipes at that time, and he attended the annual Oireachtas cultural festivals as an authority on Irish dance.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, Nally was undoubtedly an inspirational figure in the cultural life of Dublin, as was his brother Tom Nally (playwright of Spancil of Death fame). His first cousin with the same name was the martyred patriot PW Nally, after whom the Nally Stand in Croke Park was called.

Pat Nally died in 1911 at the early age of 43 years at his home in Dublin. His colleague Eamonn Ceannt was shot in Kilmainham Jail in 1916.

Now in my more mature years and as a former bagpiper of over 20 years – whose father played the pipes for over 40 years and with an uilleann piper son – I am very conscious of those who played important roles in the musical and cultural life of our country. – Is mise,


Sycamore Drive,


Dublin 16.

A chara, – While I can fully understand Stephen Kearon’s pleasure at the remembrance accorded to his great-uncles by the opening of the World War One Memorial Park at Woodenbridge (September 23rd), as a fellow Wicklow man I cannot share his retrospective endorsement of John Redmond’s call to Irishmen to join the British Forces. In our rush to make amends to these long-forgotten local men, it is important that we remember the context in which they were recruited into the British forces.

The celebrated left-wing republican George Gilmore (1898–1985) was in no doubt that the thousands of Irish Protestants and Catholics who answered the call were all equally duped by their British imperial overlords, assisted on the unionist side by Carson and on the nationalist side by Redmond.

In an incident recalled to his friend Proinsias Mac an Bheatha in the early 1980s, and recorded by the latter in his book I dTreo na Gréine (1987), Gilmore told how in 1914 when travelling north by train from Dublin he saw the same British army recruiting poster in Amiens Street station and in Portadown. The only difference was in Dublin the poster showed churches being burnt by the “Huns” and the inscription underneath “Join the army and help to defeat Germany – the one great Protestant power”. In Portadown the same image featured but the inscription read: “Join the army and help to defeat Austria – the one great Catholic power”.

As a republican from a Protestant background, George Gilmore understood more than most the significance of the sectarian divisions in Ireland but he also understood how these could be exploited to support the interests of the British ruling class both at home and in their imperial wars abroad. – Is mise,




Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Stephen Kearon refers to “forgotten heroes of Co Wicklow” in relation to those who fought and some of whom died serving in the British army during the first World War. Merely serving or dying in a war does not constitute heroism. – Yours, etc,


Essenwood Road,


South Africa.

Sir, – Frank McNally (“Alphabet Soup”, An Irishman’s Diary, September 25th) reminds us of some of the endearing language usage of our former leader Bertie Ahern.

A favourite of mine is one quoted in your “This Week They Said” in February 2008. Answering a question about his tax affairs in the Dáil, Mr Ahern said, “It is not correct, and if I said so, I wasn’t correct, so I can’t recall if I did say it, but I did not say, or if I did say it, I didn’t mean to say it, that these issues could not be dealt with until the end of the Mahon tribunal. That is not what Revenue said”. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – While driving on the M3 yesterday evening near Dunboyne my attention was drawn to a large electronic information board warning of “Possible Deer Ahead”.

I am delighted to welcome this new species of deer to our shores. – Yours, etc,


Clonmel, Co Tipperary.

Irish Independent:

The Irish, like the English, have a fine sympathy for the underdog, but believe me, teams like Cork and Tipperary can never be classed as underdogs when it comes to hurling.

But Kilkenny’s record since 2000 has been superlative and has given me, a Cul-Dub from the Forest of Dean, many of my happiest days in sport.

If you think that this language is hyperbolic, just watch the first half of the 2008 final, when Kilkenny beat Waterford (3-30 1-13).

Waterford had a strong team in 2008 and I thought that they might win it. But the performance of Kilkenny that day was virtually flawless in every position on the field.

We must treasure and celebrate excellence of this kind since it comes rarely in any lifetime.

We may think of Kilkenny as we used to think of Real Madrid in 1956-1960, with Henry Shefflin as the Di Stefano but surrounded by brilliant players on all sides. I congratulate Richie Power for two excellent matches against Tipperary. At this level, goals are apt to be decisive in close contests.

In favour of hurling (apart from the merit of the game itself) I would make the following points:

1. All the Kilkenny (Cork and Tipperary) hurlers are from Kilkenny (Cork and Tipperary).

2. No one is paid £59m for turning out.

3. Supporters on opposite sides (in many cases husbands and wives, fathers and sons) do not need to be segregated (an incitement to tribalism and hooliganism).

My only regret is that Ulster is sadly under-represented.

May I suggest a challenge match each year between the All-Ireland winners and a nine-county XV until the Northern counties can get their act together.

Dr Gerald Morgan

Trinity College, Dublin 2

State of our water services

I want to reference the constant complaints and objections over the water charges.

As the former owner of a water services company from 2007 to 2013 that offered engineering/inspection/cleaning services to local authorities, I am someone who has intimate knowledge of the condition of the water infrastructure across the country.

I can tell you that the lack of investment, care and maintenance of the infrastructure over the past 50 years is of breath-taking proportions and is something that reflects very badly on the Irish people.

This is the same right across the country.

In 2007, our company used connections with Swedish and Scottish water companies to offer maintenance programmes that were already in place in more advanced countries.

We found very poor uptake of the cleaning, inspection and repair services and many counties had no interest at all in maintenance, even though they had no maintenance programme at the time.

They simply didn’t have the funding and water services were not as important as other infrastructures.

Because of this, the water pipes across the country are now crumbling and dirty, and the infrastructure itself is falling apart.

Simon O’Connor


Co Kerry

Recovery? What recovery?

As an economist, I would like to ask, what are the criteria used by these economists, statisticians and government agencies in claiming that the Irish economy is now on an upward recovery trend.

Do they call it recovery when half of all small businesses in Ireland are closing down as non-viable concerns, with the consequent loss of jobs, while an ever-increasing number of citizens belonging to the vulnerable and low-income category are being mercilessly squeezed out of decent living standards?

Concetto La Malfa


Dublin 4

Prevention is better than cure

Over the past few years, I have been an avid reader of the Irish Independent, have never missed a single edition and I can say loudly that you have taken the lead in illuminating the myriad aspects of the Ebola outbreak.

I have just returned from my six-week internship programme at the World Health Organisation HQ in Geneva, when massive attention was being paid around the globe to this dreadful disease.

Let me offer my comments on Jason O’Brien’s excellent piece based on my limited experience.

First, as WHO Director General Dr Margaret Chan put it to the ‘New York Times‘: “WHO is not the first responder. Governments should have first priority to take care of the healthcare needs of their people. WHO is a technical organisation”.

Although the comments received the wrath of medical journals, such as ‘Nature’, which considered the massive deployment of 3,000 US military personnel, combined with UN involvement with a Security Council resolution as a damning indictment of WHO, Dr Chan’s comments reflect the reality.

It is true WHO could have done better – based on its pandemic planning and outbreak response to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and the increased awareness of the threat of avian influenza – and that the response should not be left to non-governmental organisations and governments of the poorest countries in the world.

But people should not expect WHO to have a magic wand, or to act as an antidote to all the ills in the world.

Our 21st Century world is globalised, interconnected and interdependent.

It is digitally connected. Social media has increased communications exponentially. People’s mobility through porous borders has also increased in a way never seen before, making efforts to curb the threatening dangers of any disease of potential international concern a cumbersome task.

No matter how many health workers WHO contributes to afflicted countries, the attention should be focused on containment, prevention and on empowering indigenous people with the right knowledge and skills to tackle this smouldering disease.

As an Arab proverb puts it “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London NW2,


Magic of reading will never die

It seems that in this age of advanced technology, teenagers are reading less and less and the teenagers that do read are branded “swots” or “nerds”.

Books provide a healthy escape from the stresses of everyday life as a student.

While many teenagers and young people do read, there are still a large number that should be encouraged to do so.

This could be done by setting up libraries in schools or providing the young people with even one period a week to read.

Oh, if only I had read when a teenager. I’m now 63 and still trying to catch up. I never will; the older you get, the harder it is to keep the concentration going.

So, please teenagers, start reading now. It’s something you will never regret. No technology will replace the magic of reading.

Brian McDevitt

Glenties, Co Donegal

Irish Independent


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