Blinds, Rice and Gout

14 November 2014 Blinds, Rice and Gout

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A Very busy day Peter Rice appears doing some hinges upstairs, the Blinds man appears and fixes the blinds, and finally I am stricken with gout.

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


Professsor Donald Cameron Watt – obituary

Professsor Donald Cameron Watt was an academic, author and historian who analysed the origins of the Second World War and edited Mein Kampf

Professsor Donald Cameron Watt

Professsor Donald Cameron Watt

5:52PM GMT 13 Nov 2014


Professsor Donald Cameron Watt, who has died aged 86, was a historian noted for his independence of mind and wide-ranging interests; his study of the origins of the Second World War, How War Came (1989), the fruit of decades of research, won him the Wolfson Prize for history in 1990, was selected by the New York Times as its History Book of the Year and was praised by Lord Bullock (the historian Alan Bullock) as the one book to read on how the war came about.

Cameron Watt taught at the London School of Economics for nearly 40 years, heading the International History department and holding the Stevenson chair of International History from 1981 to 1993. During this period he inspired a generation of students, many of whom would go on to become prominent contemporary historians in their own right.

In addition he edited the Survey of International Affairs at Chatham House from 1962 to 1971, served as official historian in the Cabinet Office from 1978 and was a sought-after conference speaker.

Donald Cameron Watt was born on May 17 1928 at Rugby School, where his father was then a housemaster. He himself was educated at the school and, after National Service in the Intelligence Corps as a member of the British occupation forces in Austria, won a scholarship to Oriel College, Oxford, where he read PPE, edited Oxford Poetry and took a First in 1951.

Cameron Watt was a gifted musician who had been a boy chorister at King’s College School, Cambridge, and after leaving Oxford he considered taking up a career as a professional opera singer. Instead, driven by a desire to find out why the Europe of his childhood had fallen into ruinous war in 1939, he joined a team led by Sir John Wheeler-Bennett which screened and edited for publication the captured archives of the German Foreign Ministry.

In 1954 he joined the International History department at the LSE where he was encouraged by Professor W N Medlicott to pursue his studies of the causes of the war. He was promoted to a readership in 1966, was appointed professor in 1971 and finally took the Stevenson chair in 1981 along with the leadership of the International History Department.

There, among other things, he founded an LSE programme on the Law of the Sea, anticipating by many years the need for governments to study transnational and environmental issues in the area of offshore resources.

Cameron Watt was a stout defender of the historian’s right to be given access to all the evidence. As official Cabinet historian, he had been expected to produce a volume on the establishment of the Ministry of Defence, but he never completed the book because officials were unable, or disinclined, to provide the documentation he needed.

In addition to How War Came, he wrote or edited a further 25 books, including the first edition of Mein Kampf to be published in Britain after the war. In Too Serious a Business (1975) he proposed that the Second World War arose out of a breakdown within European society as a whole; in Succeeding John Bull (1984) he explored Britain’s replacement by the United States as the primary world economic and political power. He was also a frequent contributor to The Daily Telegraph.

An outgoing, gregarious man, known for his stock of gaudy ties, Cameron Watt had an almost magical ability to summarise with great accuracy the conclusions of presentations throughout which he had given every appearance of being asleep. From particularly tedious administrative meetings he would often emerge clutching origami animals or beautifully-drawn treasure maps.

In 1990 he was elected a fellow of the British Academy, and in 1998 an honorary fellow of Oriel.

In 1951 he married Marianne Grau, who died in 1962. Later that year he married Felicia Stanley, who died in 1997. A son by his first marriage survives him.

Professor Donald Cameron Watt, born May 17 1928, died October 30 2014


Sigmund Freud ‘Recent findings suggest that what we do and what we think influence brain chemistry but also the structures of our brains. This line of approach wouldn’t have surprised Freud in the least.’ Sigmund Freud leaves Victoria Station after his arrival in London on 6 June 1938. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

How clever of Juliette Jowit to pinpoint the error in the thinking of all us NHS and social care professionals beavering away in the psychosocial approaches to “mental illness” all these decades (The NHS can no longer act as if minds don’t matter, 10 November). Stone me, mental illness isn’t a “mental” thing at all – it’s simply a physical illness, “the physical basis” of which “is clear”. So our current epidemic of depression has nothing to do with loneliness, unrealistic competitive expectations, huge differences in wealth, obsessive focus on material gain, racism, sexism, homophobia, bullying, xenophobia, childhood abuse or other trauma – no, none of that stuff. As Dr Cantopher apparently assures us, it’s simply “a deficiency of two chemicals”. The answer: drugs. Simples. So however screwed up, spiritually barren and mean our society, those without the deficiency, drug-corrected or otherwise, would bounce out of bed every morning, blissfully unconcerned about all the social crap, and eager to get on with creating more wealth.

Well, if Cantopher were to draw fluid from the spinal cords of depressed people, and eve (again, pretty logical)n if he were to find such a deficiency, it wouldn’t prove a thing. The whole chicken-and-egg thing about “mental illness” is very far from clear. Recent – neurobiological – findings suggest that what we do and what we think influence brain chemistry (not much of a surprise there, I think) but also the structures of our brains. This line of approach wouldn’t have surprised Freud in the least, and Jowit is right in thinking he might feel somewhat vindicated. And that great bete noire of biological psychiatry Thomas Szasz made exactly the point she makes: “the concept of mental illness is unnecessary and misleading”, and if you believe that a person is suffering from a disease of the brain “it would be better … to say that and not something else”. Of course, he had hold of the opposite end of the stick from Jowit.

No, mental illness isn’t like diabetes. (Why is the comparison always diabetes?) There are moral, political, economic, social, spiritual aspects to it. Those things are beyond the scope of any National Health Service.
Mike Kaye

• In reading Jon Ronson’s interesting article (Why didn’t we see it coming?, 8 November), I was disappointed by the unnecessary inclusion of a simplistic and somewhat misleading summary of principles of the Mental Health Act 1983 alongside it (Psychopaths and the law around the world). I was particularly concerned that comments about personality disorders being deemed untreatable perpetuate a damaging and inaccurate view held historically within the field of mental health, increasingly considered by professionals to be a myth. Such comments especially neglect the developing evidence base demonstrating the effectiveness of psychological therapies in ameliorating the emotional suffering of, and difficulties presented by, many individuals who receive such diagnoses. Let us hope that, through ongoing research and clinical innovation, these unhelpful perspectives on recovery are put to bed for good.
Nathan Kitchenham
Clinical psychologist working in forensic services, London

• Your guide to the legal status of psychopathy in the UK is wildly out of date. The 1983 Mental Health Act that you cite did require those suffering from “personality disorder” to be deemed “treatable” to be detained against their will. There was no such requirement for “mental illness”. However, this act was amended in 2007 specifically to remove the “treatability” clause. The act no longer has the terms personality disorder or mental illness in it. There is only one broad category of “mental disorder”, and the requirement is for “appropriate treatment to be available”. These weasel words were introduced primarily to allow for the detention and treatment of individuals with “dangerous severe personality disorder”.

Compulsory treatment of personality disorder (then called “psychopathic disorder”) was only introduced into the 1959 Mental Health Act against vigorous resistance. Psychiatrists at the time did not want the power and responsibility of detaining individuals for whom they believed they had no effective treatments. The “treatability” clause was added to sugar the pill. Other, wiser jurisdictions have recognised this mistake. Rather than widen the net as we did in 2007, they have excluded personality disorders from detention under their mental health acts.
Tom Burns
Emeritus professor of social psychiatry, University of Oxford

• In the last few days there have been reports of three tragedies involving people who lost their lives because mental health and other services failed to adequately treat severely ill patients. The cases of Deyan Deyanov (Care failings betrayed us, say murder victim’s family, 12 November), Matthew Williams (Review into oversight of cannibal killer after jail, 10 November) and Peter Holboll (Son with paranoid schizophrenia admits killing Tamara Holboll,, 3 November) inevitably hit the headlines and wrongly link mental illness to violence, which can only fuel stigma.

They also reveal the failure to take psychotic illness seriously and to respond to the concerns and requests for help from families. What is even more unforgivable, and does not require resources or inquiries, is the failure to extend fundamental courtesy to the families of victims in their quest for the truth.

If mental health services continue to be unable to treat safely those very few cases of patients with severe illness and a history of violence, how can they provide for the majority of mentally ill people who pose no risk to anyone but themselves? Surely services have a duty of care to protect the lives of their patients and the public.
Marjorie Wallace
Chief executive, Sane

George Clooney George Clooney … not yet tidy enough to play Alan Johnson. Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

I had the great pleasure of meeting Alan Johnson last week at a literature festival. In front of a packed audience he reiterated his support for Ed Miliband and his decision not to return to frontline politics. Here is a man totally at ease in his own skin. He is authentic Labour and comes across as a thoroughly decent bloke. I asked him, when he signed my book, if a film was made of his very interesting and varied life, who would he like to play him. Quick as a flash: “George Clooney if he tidies himself up,” came the reply. Now here is a politician who doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Judith Daniels
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

• I have followed with interest the debate on overt and structural racism in football (Report, Sport, 11 November). Whereas progress has been made but far more needs to be done, I have far more concerns about racism in flat and National Hunt racing. When was the last time an Asian or African-Caribbean person was seen on a horse at a racetrack in Britain? There are no trainers, stable hands or journalists either.
Peter Thomas
Hastoe, Hertfordshire

• For the record, there are 10 districts in Greater Manchester (not nine, Letters, 12 November) including Bury, which held a referendum for an elected mayor in 2008. The idea was rejected by 5,000 votes on a turnout of 18%.
Bob Hargreaves
Summerseat, Bury

• So one of the companies aiming to buy Canary Wharf with the Qataris is called Brookfield (Report, Financial, 8 November). Is there something The Archers’ producers should be telling us?
Marian Nyman
Whitstable, Kent

• Stephen Moss’s otherwise delightful and most informative profile of Sir Nicholas Winton (G2, 10 November) failed to mention a more local tribute to the great Sir Nicholas Winton. Since September 2010, Platform 3 at Maidenhead station has been decorated with a bench that includes a bronzesculpture of Sir Nicholas reading a book containing the names of the children he saved and the trains used to evacuate them.
Quentin Falk
Little Marlow, Buckinghamshire

• Never mind sparrows – they still have Woolworths in New Zealand (Letters, 11 November)?
Henry Malt
Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

Don't walk sign, US ‘Police didn’t seem to understand the idea of exploring the locality on foot purely for pleasure.’ Photograph: Tony Edenden

Well done, Ben Okri. Reading your piece (King for a day: My reign will be a walk in the park, 8 November) I felt like I was listening to myself. The pleasures of walking are greater than in any other form of activity – whether brisk walking to get to a specific destination quickly, long-distance walking for exercise, or a saunter to the local park (or just to the local). His experience of walking in the US is exactly as happened to me. Stopped twice by police who didn’t seem to understand the idea of exploring the locality on foot purely for pleasure, they then circled the area several times to keep an eye on what I was up to. It seems Churchill only got it half right. We are separated by more than a common language.
Sean McCarthy
Cork, Ireland

Former BBC reporter and documentary film-maker Olenka Frenkiel Former BBC reporter and documentary film-maker Olenka Frenkiel, whose experiences ‘provide yet another frustrating reminder of the dismissive way women are treated in broadcasting’. Photograph: Teri Pengilley

We need more women like Olenka Frenkiel to speak publicly about what amounts to institutionalised discrimination against older women in professions (The BBC: I saw guys my age thriving. Women were gone…, 8 November). That an award-winning journalist should be treated by the BBC in the way she has described is disgraceful.

Although your editorial in the same edition focused mainly on ageism and older women “not looking the part” in our visual world (which of course is true), I suspect – as acknowledged by Penny Marshall (Report,, 5 November) – that the real root of the problem lies in men keeping top jobs for themselves.

As a criminal barrister for over 20 years I have witnessed how women in my profession are too often sidelined as their careers progress. One of the most obvious ways this happens at the criminal bar is that senior women are increasingly instructed on sexual abuse cases (often to the exclusion of little else), while men get murders, lucrative frauds and many of the high-profile cases. I agree that the BBC has a special duty to lead the way on gender imbalance, and Tony Hall’s announcement that, by 2015, 50% of breakfast presenters on local radio should be women is a good first step. However, it does little to solve the problem of older women and top jobs.
Mary McKeone

• Olenka Frenkiel’s experiences provide yet another frustrating reminder of the dismissive way women are treated in broadcasting. I have just written my third letter of complaint to the BBC over the last 18 months about the paucity of women panellists on Question Time. Last week, four out of the five panellists were male.

I was informed in response to my previous complaints that “programme contributors are appointed on the basis of their experience and talent”. Can they seriously expect us to believe that they continue to be unable to find enough sufficiently experienced and talented women to address this gender imbalance? Your editorial rightly emphasises the duty of the BBC to lead the way on gender equality in broadcasting. The BBC needs to recognise that the time for excuses is long past.
Dr Edie Friedman

• It is a sad fact that it is not just in journalism that older women are being pushed out. I am a 51-year-old primary school teacher now working as a supply teacher. Olenka Frenkiel talks of women being encouraged to sign a gagging clause and of not doing so herself (Why I rejected gagging clause – BBC journalist, 8 November). Teaching unions give the impression that there is no choice but to be gagged. The unions seem to not be interested in the situation faced by older women. I go to many different schools now and rarely meet other teachers as old as myself. Older teachers are more expensive but we do not take maternity leave or time off with sick children. We are also more experienced.

Perhaps Olenka could undertake some research into the fate of older women. Could she start with the statistics for women leaving work with gagging clauses?
Mary Daykin
Chorley, Lancashire

• BBC, what are you thinking? As a licence payer I demand that you commission Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode forthwith (Everybody thinks we’d be great on TV – apart from channel controllers, Media, 10 November). White, middle-class, middle-aged males with large protuberances of self-regard are clearly in short supply.
Karen Peploe
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

IPSO protest Alan Moses, chairman of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, the new press self-regulation body, encounters Hacked Off campaigners who say Ipso is not independent enough. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA

You report (New press watchdog Ipso needs clearer rules, says chairman, 10 November) that Alan Moses believes simpler rules will make his organisation “fair and independent”. There is now a public test to determine whether any press self-regulator is fair and independent – and Moses will find that he needs to do more than simplifying a few rules to pass it.

The test is laid out in the royal charter on press self-regulation and based on criteria set out by Lord Justice Leveson after his painstaking public inquiry into press standards. Approved by every single party in parliament and overwhelmingly supported by the public, it is applied by a new body that is itself impeccably independent both of politicians and of the industry.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation satisfies only 12 of the 38 Leveson report criteria. Notably, it is not remotely independent of the industry: indeed, it is effectively owned by the big national newspaper companies. Simpler rules will not change that. As the Leveson inquiry found, those big companies do not want an independent self-regulator. That is why they designed Ipso as it is and that is why they refuse to submit it for assessment by the charter body.

Alan Moses claims to have “offered support for the victims”. Might I suggest that perhaps a good start would be for him to reply to the letter that I, along with 29 other victims of press abuse, sent to him on 8 September. We asked him how he was going to turn the organisation he has chosen to chair into the sort of effective and independent watchdog that Leveson and the public demanded.

His lack of response speaks far more loudly to us than his recent speech to the industry. Neither he nor his sham regulator, in anything like its current form, has our trust or support.
Chris Jefferies

Paul Kingsnorth Paul Kingsnorth, the author of The Wake. Photograph: Gary Calton

I congratulate Paul Kingsnorth on the literary award for his innovative novel The Wake (A novel approach to the use of Old English, 10 November), but seriously question his environmental activism. Kingsnorth’s Dark Mountain project, described as “a network of artists, writers and thinkers who basically see the world as being doomed – ecologically and economically”, is hardly the message we need to hear in the week following the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change setting out the challenging, but achievable, targets for control of carbon release and temperature rise; in fact, for our Earth’s survival.

This despairing doomsday scenario emerges clearly in Kingsnorth’s recent review of two books (The four degrees, London Review of Books, 23 October). The first, George Marshall’s Don’t Even Think About It, is heavily influenced by US psychologists, Dan Kahan and Daniel Kahneman, who clearly share the pessimistic doomsday scenario. The second, Naomi Klein’s deeply researched This Changes Everything: Capitalism v The Climate, is peremptorily dismissed by Kingsnorth as “an American liberal wishlist”. The climate-change threat is the ultimate challenge to human creativity and capacity for change. This is no time for our creative elites to be opting for despairing nihilism. Realism with optimism is the Arts Social Action way.
Ralph Windle
Arts Social Action, Witney, Oxfordshire

• The G20 countries’ handout of $88bn a year in fossil-fuel subsidies is appalling (Report, 11 November). The new report’s recognition that investments through RBS and UK Export Finance are UK subsidies is particularly important. But we need to go even further. The support of the government for frontier oil drilling also includes diplomatic and military intervention on behalf of oil companies. The Foreign Office maintained a consulate in Basra whose job largely consisted of supporting UK oil companies, with three diplomats on staff and a £6.5m budget. High-profile UK political figures appear on request of oil companies for deal signing, such as Chris Huhne attending the signing ceremony during BPs first attempt to broker a deal with Russia’s Rosneft.

If these forms of support don’t add hugely to the figures governments spend on supporting fossil fuels, they certainly add billions to oil companies’ balance sheets through enabling major deals. Moreover, according to our calculations, if the UK’s tax regime was modelled on Norway’s, the country’s budget would have received an extra £74bn due to windfall profits on oil in the years 2002-08. We need not just to stop handing out tax breaks to oil companies, but to change the taxation regime in the first place, instead of catering to oil companies’ every whim.
Anna Galkina


The levying of fines on banks by the world’s regulators, including our Financial Conduct Authority, is a measure of those regulators’ impotence. Banks are merely a protective vessel inside which bad behaviour can take place that ought to be proscribed as criminal. To fine the vessels for bad behaviour is collective punishment levied upon the taxpayer, honest employees, customer and shareholders. 

The cause of the continuing banking crises is that it is not a profession. The professions of law, medicine, clergy, architecture and teaching are the least prone to corruption. This is not a coincidence. It is because the members of these professions have a code of practice to which they must personally adhere or be excluded from practising it. Failure to do so results in personal sanctions.

The bankers (famously) privatised the profits and socialised the losses, leaving the banks and taxpayers to pick up the blame and the tab. The latest forex and Libor scandals prove that nothing has changed and will not do so until criminal responsibility accrues to the criminals and not to everyone else who just happens to be hanging about nearby.

It may grate and be counter-intuitive, but bankers need to be made a profession.

Bill Summers
Sturminster Newton

That the City will feel no shame about the latest scandal is a given. Can I therefore propose a simple piece of legislation? Enact a corporate governance bill which states that any major bank transaction is carried out with the explicit assumption that the board is both aware of it and approves it. If that transaction is found to be illegal, both board members and traders involved will be subject to asset seizure. This will include, but may not be limited to, bank accounts, cars, homes and helicopters.

One hopes that would focus minds and spur the boards to take a little more interest in what their employees are up to.

Alan Gent
Cheadle, Cheshire

British, and other, bankers involved in the forex scandal would do well to heed the words of a committee of the House of Lords: “The best banking system may be defeated by imperfect management; and, on the other hand, the evils of an imperfect banking system may be greatly mitigated, if not overcome, by prudence, caution and resolution.”

This is taken from the report of the committee of the House of Lords on the Causes of Commercial Distress, 1848. It would seem that some things never change.

David Hearn
Wallasey, Merseyside

‘Philae’ and the search for life

The successful landing of Philae on comet  67P/C-G was an epoch-making technological achievement and everyone involved in this project deserves unqualified congratulation. However, the much-publicised scientific goals of this project fall well short of public expectations.

We should not be content with the boast that Philae will search for water in the comet – we know it is there already. What is most exciting is the search for life. For several decades the late Sir Fred Hoyle and I developed the theory that comets are responsible for the origins of life, and in recent years evidence in support of this theory has grown to the point of being compelling. Discovery of life in comet 67P/C-G would transform science, and would make billions of euros of taxpayers’ money well spent.

Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe 
Director, Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology
University of Buckingham


The wonderful achievement of landing a module on a comet will provide scientists with material for writing papers for many years, but its benefit to the man in the street is likely to be more questionable.

On the day in 1959 that I was conscripted into the Army and issued with a uniform, the quartermaster sergeant wryly commented: “They spend effin’ millions firin’ effin’ rockets to the effin’ moon but I can’t ’ave a bleedin’ electric fire in ’ere!”

David Morrison
Belford, Northumberland

After a 10-year journey Rosetta sent a message home from 300 million miles away. This morning after a five-minute walk I was unable to call home on my mobile phone from a quarter of a mile away as there is insufficient signal strength.

Peter Knapp
Vale of Glamorgan


Raped women are wars’ forgotten victims

So, the poppies are being packed up at the Tower and those on people’s coats disappear but in this momentous centenary year, with seemingly every angle of war examined, there was not a single commemoration for the women and girls raped as a direct consequence of both world wars.

Nothing for the women and girls gang-raped by the advancing Red Army in 1945, not only “enemy” women (who had the least political impact within Nazi Germany). Rape, including gang-rape to and beyond death by the Red Army, was indiscriminate and inflicted on women of Allies and Jewish women who had survived the Holocaust.

No thought for the women who raised children or those who were a constant daily reminder of the appalling assaults, which plenty of women committed suicide to avoid.

There were white poppies for peace and purple poppies for animal casualties. When will there be a commemoration for women raped and sexually exploited as a direct consequence of war?

Clare B Dimyon

Paul Donovan (letter, 13 November) regrets that the “better world” soldiers of the First World War died for has not come to pass. In answer, let me quote from this vivid picture of Edwardian Britain by a former editor of The Independent.

“Every town had places where the children were literally shoeless and where people were withering (not growing fatter) from malnutrition… Child prostitutes were readily available on busy streets… For the poor there was no state welfare, just charity relief or the threat of the dreaded workhouse.” (Andrew Marr, The Making of Modern Britain).

The modern world is not perfect, but it is a whole lot better than before 1914.

John Dakin
Toddington, Bedfordshire


We can all do our bit for the planet

The argument of Nick Marler (letter, 12 November), that whatever we do in Britain about carbon emissions won’t save the planet because Britain is so small, is fallacious in a most fundamental way.

It is certainly true also that whatever the inhabitants of his street do, it will have even less effect, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t each do our bit.

Each time we as individuals walk or cycle instead of using the car, or desist from flying thousands of miles for a holiday, we will reduce the burden that will be borne by future generations, whatever collectivity we feel we belong to.

Dennis Leachman

Fracking does not solve our problems

Oliver Wright clearly thinks that he has steered a reasonable course between the proponents of fracking and the protestors (Inside Whitehall, 13 November) but ignores the fact that shale gas is just another fossil fuel. The question he needs to ask is not whether Greenpeace is more or less persuasive than Cuadrilla, but how he reconciles the exploitation of unconventional gas and oil with the future survival of the planet.

We already have three times more fossil fuels in proven reserves than we can safely use, so why does the UK Government insist on fracking when renewables offer the only sane solution to our current predicament? He should also recognise that fracking companies in the US have not been prosecuted for air and water pollution because the Bush administration granted them exemptions from the relevant legislation.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges, Bucks

Monstering means they’re scared of Ed

The “monstering” of Ed Miliband by the right-wing press, no doubt orchestrated by the two Aussies, Lynton Crosby and Rupert Murdoch, can only lead people to one conclusion. The Tory Party is petrified that Ed Miliband will become Prime Minister on 7 May 2015. They’re scared the NHS will be saved from privatisation by stealth, hard-working families will get a fair deal and the Conservative Party will be sent packing by the British public.

Duncan Anderson
East Halton, Lincolnshire

Ed Miliband should do a “Captain Oates” and allow someone else with a fighting chance to be installed in time for the next election. In 1983, Canada’s hapless leader, Joe Clark, stood down, thus allowing Brian Mulroney to succeed him in time for electoral success the following year.

Dominic Shelmerdine
London SW3

In the light of his determined pursuit of fairness and justice, do we see in Ed Miliband the next president of Fifa (“FA braced for Fifa criticism”, November 13)?

Godfrey H Holmes
East Riding


Vernon Bogdanor ‘is wrong to suggest that the McKay Commission recommendations could result in deadlock’

Sir, Vernon Bogdanor (“English votes for English laws is a hopeless proposal,” Thunderer, Nov 10) is incorrect to suggest that the McKay Commission recommendations could result in deadlock, and so lead to the wrangling that can occur between a US president and Congress.

The commission’s principal recommendation was for a general principle: that where legislation has a separate and distinct effect for England, it should normally require the consent of a majority of MPs from England. That exactly corresponds to the principles already governing the relationship between the UK parliament and the devolved legislatures.

Supplementary procedural recommendations were also made for ensuring that MPs from England can express their views on the legislation before other MPs vote on it. The issue would then be whether circumstances justify overruling English opinion, rather than about the detail of the legislation. The extra transparency would demonstrate that English opinion had a voice, and inevitably inhibit the use of the power to override it.

Professor Bogdanor is also incorrect when he suggests that budget issues give MPs from outside England an interest in legislation implementing expenditure reductions for England. That assumes that the tail wags the dog. In practice, expenditure budgets are decided first and detailed policy is developed within budgetary constraints, not vice versa.

Professor Bogdanor wants a written constitution. It could be produced only by compromises between conflicting political ambitions. The resulting fudge would leave politically controversial issues to be resolved in the courts, rather than by political debate. That would be undesirable because it would reduce democratic accountability and make essential but controversial change slower, and much more difficult.

Impartial judges cannot be expected to exercise the leadership needed to make controversial political decisions stick; and the value the law puts on predictability creates an inevitable partiality for the status quo.

Sir Stephen Laws, QC
(Member of the McKay Commission 2012-13) Westbere, Kent

Sir, The debate on English devolution is at risk of confusing executive devolution and the devolution of legislative powers: they are not the same or interdependent. The chancellor wants to see the former rolled out to city regions incrementally. The prime minister wants to see English votes for English laws on a national basis. Vernon Bogdanor suggests that splitting legislative responsibility will generate two governments: one for the UK and one for England, and that the grand committee solution will be a hostage to fortune.

Pre-1998 Scottish bills were debated at second reading in a Scottish grand committee. That led neither to confrontation with government nor the creation of two de facto governments. At an executive level a considerable amount of autonomy was vested in the Scotland Office in Edinburgh.

The Osborne/Cameron solution can be made to work.

Jonathan Teasdale
Haywards Heath, W Sussex

Sir, Vernon Bogdanor uses the West Lothian question to make a case for drawing up a British constitution. This would doubtless involve years of rather boring negotiation between technocrats and pedants, following which our great great grandchildren would be encumbered by a set of rules and rights designed to work in the world as we find it today.

The advantage of our present “constitution by precedent” is that it is fluid. If the US were building its constitution today, it is unlikely that the right of all men to bear arms would be included. It is by having a constitution that Americans are lumbered with it.

Rob Allison
Stoke d’Abernon, Surrey

Why not plant real poppies in the grass moat of the Tower of London as a permanent — and transient — memorial?

Sir, My aunt, on discovering that my wife and I had bought a Tower poppy, said: “That’s Joe’s poppy, then.” Joseph Leeson was indeed one of those 888,246 British and Commwealth soldiers who died in the Great War. I had not thought of it that way, but she is right. Had Joe lived he would no doubt have had children and grandchildren to love, and I would have dozens more cousins to know.

As it is, we have his poppy.

Victor Launert

Matlock Bath, Derbys

Sir, The Tower of London is surrounded by a grass moat in which the ceramic poppies have been planted. Would it be possible to plant poppy seeds there so that real poppies could bloom every year? The remembrance would thus be both permanent and transient, as nature is.

Michelle Garrett

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Sir, Anna Whitworth (letter and report, Nov 13) should appeal against her parking ticket, using as her defence her observance of George V’s proclamation of November 7, 1919.

This called for a two-minute silence at 11am on November 11: “All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”

Nigel À Brassard

London W1

Harold Wilson actually preferred to smoke cigars – lighting a pipe was more a tactical decision

Sir, Away from the public eye, Harold Wilson preferred cigars (letter, Nov 12). The pipe enhanced his “common man” credentials but its main purpose was tactical. When faced with a tricky question he would bring out the pipe, tamp the tobacco and light it slowly — thus buying himself at least 30 seconds in which to compose his answer.

Malcolm Oliver


Our leading article on the first book of Latin crosswords prompted this erudite reply

Domine, Tempora licet mutentur, sed ut scripseras (Id. Nov.), lingua Latina perennior perdurat. magnopere igitur delectabar te tam eleganter Aenigmata ista nobis proposuisse. mirabar tamen aliquantulo te cum nos ut “cari lectores” adlocutum tum in proxima sententia verbo singulari “videbis” usum esse. o Tempora, o mores!

Dr Lindsay GH Hall

Theale, Berks

Winged collars were all the rage from the invention of the DJ in 1886 until the Second World War

Sir, Neville Peel (letter, Nov 12) quotes the late Philip Howard’s assertion that wing collars were not worn with dinner jackets in England. Wrong. They were de rigueur from the time of the invention of the DJ by members of the Tuxedo Club at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York in 1886 until the Second World War.

Antony Stanley Clarke

Mosterton, Dorset

Sir, Given all the correspondence about detachable collars, it must have been easy to miss the starched shirt fronts in Downton Abbey: Mr Moseley wore his done up the wrong way — like a lady’s blouse — throughout the last series.

Malcolm Watson

Welford, Berks

Nicky Morgan is plain wrong in her views about the arts — as world events this week make clear

Sir, In a week in which we reflect upon past wars and face the threat of new ones, is it not obvious that history, languages and other disciplines that help us to understand and communicate with the rest of the world are among the most vital?

Nicky Morgan’s ill-informed, biased and crudely utilitarian view of education (“Stop studying arts if you want a good job”, report, Nov 11, and letter, Nov 13) demonstrates that she is not fit to hold the post of secretary of state for education.

Dr Alexandra Wilson

Abingdon, Oxon


What humanities graduates bring to the economy; the Lusitania disaster; tests for bowel cancer risk; Freya the cat in exile; p-picking up penguins


Nicky Morgan is wrong to discourage pupils from aspiring to achieve in the areas to which they are best suited Photo: Alamy

7:00AM GMT 13 Nov 2014


SIR – The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, needs educating. Far from barring able students from worthwhile careers, arts and humanities degrees produce adaptable and entrepreneurial professionals across a wide range of industries.

Forty-five years of teaching the history of art has taught me that someone with an arts degree can do almost anything: serve in the Armed Forces, train racehorses, start up IT companies, create and successfully run their own businesses, enter banking and finance, go into law or find employment in the publishing, heritage, museums and art market sectors, which contribute enormous sums for this country’s economy. Arts and humanities graduates enjoy a wider genuine education in, and understanding of, the liberal arts, which a civilised and cultured nation needs.

Mrs Morgan is wrong to discourage pupils from aspiring to achieve in the areas to which they are best suited. Aren’t they just as much a part of the “knowledge economy”?

Michael J H Liversidge
Emeritus Dean, University of Bristol

SIR – Our economy needs arts graduates as much as it does graduates of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In Britain the creative industries alone are worth more than £36 billion a year. They account for around £1 in every £10 of the country’s exports and employ 1.5 million people.

Students should not be forced into one particular area. They should be encouraged to develop skills in various disciplines so that they become well-rounded citizens, ready for the changing world of work.

Professor Christina Slade
Vice Chancellor, Bath Spa University
Newton St Loe, Somerset

SIR – Nicky Morgan is right to highlight the need for more of Britain’s young people to go into science and engineering. Alongside the urgency to meet the competitive demands of an ever more technological world, we still have much work to do addressing the gender balance.

From a young age, students need access to excellent careers advice. Girls in particular need compelling role models in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Jane Lunnon
Head, Wimbledon High School
London SW19

SIR – My husband, who has a PhD in engineering, was asked by an Oxford-educated solicitor whether he wore a suit to work.

Engineers have no standing in Britain, unlike in Europe. With attitudes such as this, who is going to turn the situation around? Obviously not the Oxbridge elite, who think an engineer is someone with an oily rag hanging out of dungarees.

Margaret Stamper
Darlington, Co Durham

Fit for a king

SIR – The Gold exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery is not the first time that the Bronze Age Rillaton Cup, discovered in a burial mound on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall in 1837, has been shown at a royal residence.

Because it had been found on royal land, the cup was sent to King William IV, and in the 1850s Prince Albert displayed it in his family museum at Osborne, Isle of Wight. But by the reign of George V, it had mysteriously disappeared from view.

On the King’s death in 1936, worried archaeologists made discreet inquiries. One of them showed an engraving of the cup to Queen Mary, who realised that it was sitting on her late husband’s dressing table: he had kept his collar studs in it. The new King, Edward VIII, agreed to lend the cup to the British Museum.

The fate of the collar studs is unknown.

Simon Welfare
Tarland, Aberdeenshire

Honouring civilians lost aboard the Lusitania

Wartime tragedy: the ocean liner was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland

SIR – In recent weeks we have rightly been reminded of those in our Armed Forces who have fallen in wars over the past century. But we must also honour those civilians who lost their lives or were severely traumatised during these conflicts.

May 7 next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania – a catastrophe in which some 1,200 civilians lost their lives. The last known survivor, Audrey Lawson-Johnston, lived in the village of Melchbourne until her death in January 2011.

We should mark the centenary with a national day of remembrance in honour of the civilian casualties.

Michael Jefferson
Melchbourne, Bedfordshire

Coverage of extremists

SIR – BBC News has acknowledged an Ofcom ruling over the appropriate context and scheduling of a report on Newsbeat featuring an interview with a British man fighting for the so-called Islamic State.

BBC News, in common with national newspapers and other broadcasters, has a duty to explore, interpret and analyse both domestic and international news for our audiences. Inevitably, this means occasionally broadcasting opinions which most people would find uncomfortable or offensive.

We should not shy away from tackling difficult issues on behalf of our audiences.

Louisa Compton
Editor, Newsbeat
London W1A

Bowel cancer risk

SIR – More than 1,000 cases of bowel cancer a year are attributable to Lynch syndrome (LS). This is an inherited condition that predisposes individuals to bowel and other cancers, with a lifetime risk of around 70 per cent.

Yet in Britain we have identified fewer than 5 per cent of families with LS. The family of Stephen Sutton, the fundraiser who was diagnosed with bowel cancer and whose father has LS, was one of them. It is a consistently under-diagnosed condition.

Both the Royal College of Pathologists and the British Society of Gastroenterology recommend testing everyone with bowel cancer under the age of 50 at diagnosis to help us to identify family members who may carry LS and be at risk of bowel cancer. We urge all hospitals across Britain to implement this guidance.

This testing would mean people at risk could access surveillance programmes for regular colonoscopies, helping to detect bowel cancer early but also preventing it.

Patient groups such as Bowel Cancer UK are in support. A recent NHS study found that LS testing at diagnosis for everyone under 50 with bowel cancer would be cost-effective enough for approval by Nice.

We must end this postcode lottery.

Dr Kevin Monahan
Consultant Gastroenterologist and General Physician, Family History of Bowel Cancer Clinic, West Middlesex University Hospital
Professor Sue Clark
Chair, Colorectal Section of the British Society of Gastroenterology
Professor John Schofield
Consultant Pathologist, Maidstone Hospital and Kent Cancer Centre
Professor Huw JW Thomas
Consultant Gastroenterologist, Family Cancer Clinic, St Mark’ Hospital, London
Professor Malcolm Dunlop
Colon Cancer Genetics Group and Academic Coloproctology, Head of Colon Cancer Genetics, Institute of Genetics & Molecular Medicine
Professor D Gareth Evans
Professor of Clinical Genetics and Cancer Epidemiology and Consultant Geneticist, University of Manchester
Mark J Arends
Professor of Pathology, University of Edinburgh and Chair of the Lynch / Mismatch Repair Protein Immunocytochemistry Module for NEQAS (National External Quality Assessment Scheme, UK)
Dr Fiona Lalloo
Consultant in clinical genetics, Chair of the UK Cancer Genetics Group
Shirley Victoria Hodgson
Emeritus Professor of Cancer Genetics, St. Georges University of London
Dr Suzy Lishman
President, The Royal College of Pathologists
Professor Ian Tomlinson
Professor of Molecular and Population Genetics, Group Head / PI and Consultant Physician, Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics

The changing fortunes of Britain’s supermarkets

SIR – David Cameron declares that Aldi’s expansion plans are a vote of confidence in the Government’s economic policies.

They could more accurately be seen as a result of this country’s recent economic decline, driving shoppers to look for cheaper ways to feed themselves.

True recovery will be apparent when “hard–working families” begin to return to Waitrose and Sainsbury’s and the food banks close for lack of customers.

Kevin Wright
Harlow, Essex

SIR – Much favourable publicity has been given to Aldi’s plans to open new stores and create 35,000 jobs.

At the same time we are given to understand that Aldi’s success is at the expense of the established retailers such as Tesco. It therefore follows that, in the virtually static retail food market, the jobs “created” by Aldi will be balanced by a similar number of job losses elsewhere. No additional employment will result.

David Leech Balcombe
West Sussex

SIR – Small wonder that many supermarkets are suffering. A family can only consume so much food per week, yet more and more stores keep opening.

Instead of redundant outlets, these sites should have been given over to new housing, relieving the pressure on our precious green countryside.

Margaret Whelband
Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire

SIR – I have never seen a self–service till in a Lidl store. Tesco, on the other hand, seems to have a policy to get customers to use self–service tills whenever possible.

Might this explain, at least in part, why Lidl’s profits are growing?

Edward Harrison
Folkestone, Kent

Cat’s out of the bag

SIR – George Osborne has made a grave political error in dismissing his cat Freya to the countryside.

Cats know who their friends are, and you can be sure Freya will be spreading the message in Kent about the true economic situation in Downing Street.

Tim Melhuish
East Bergholt, Suffolk

In the groove

SIR – I was accused of being among the “dancing dads” of this world (report, November 11), and this led me to take lessons in ballroom and Latin dance.

I now dance just as embarrassingly but with style and aplomb.

Chris Jones
Caerphilly, Glamorgan

Penguins take flight

SIR – I hear that penguins are flying off the shelves at John Lewis.

Shouldn’t David Attenborough be informed?

Gordon Cleugh
Sunderland, Co Durham

Irish Times:

Sir, – I read with amazement and despair of the Government’s plans to mark the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising by a further attempt to expunge from the public mind and from the minds of future generations all actual knowledge of our history (“Rising commemoration launch”, November 13th) . Who on earth concocted the list of amusements and distractions proposed? The only element left out seems to be face-painting. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 1.

Sir, – The Government has released a promotional video for the centenary of the Rising called Ireland Inspires 2016. Containing references to Google, Facebook and Twitter, there are cameo roles featuring David Cameron, Queen Elizabeth and Ian Paisley. There are, however, no images of Patrick Pearse, Thomas Clarke or Constance Markievicz. There are no images of the destruction of Dublin or the prisoners being marched off to Frongoch. If we need to be inclusive, there is also a need to include those who we are remembering. Is Fine Gael aware that Michael Collins was in the GPO in 1916? Has the Labour Party forgotten the name James Connolly?

This video is the worst example of hat-doffing revisionism and is one good reason why we need to act together and do our best at community level to organise our own events in 2016. – Yours, etc,


Templeogue, Dublin 6W.

A chara, – I was delighted to read that Ireland 2016, the programme of events to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising, will have both national and international dimensions (“Relatives to play key role in 2016 Rising commemoration”, November 13th). I despaired, however, when it was reported that “two former taoiseachs” attended the launch. Two former taoisigh. Let’s at least get that right by 2016! – Is mise,


Baile Átha Cliath 7.

Sir, – The decision to hold the commemoration of the 1916 rebellion on March 27th, 2016, seems to me to be a missed opportunity. It continues the tradition of associating the rebellion with the moveable feast of Easter and its consequent association with very significant religious beliefs.

The rebellion happened on April 24th and logic would suggest that it should be commemorated on the anniversary of that date. – Yours, etc,


Santry, Dublin 9.

Sir, – I hope the invitations to relatives to participate in 1916 commemoration events will extend to the relatives of the civilians killed in Dublin during Easter Week 1916, including those of the 40 children killed. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 5.

Sir, – In 2016, we intend to commemorate the events that proclaimed the Irish Republic. A defining characteristic of a republic is that an accident of birth should not entitle anyone to a privileged position in the state. The descendants of participants in the Rising – an accident of birth – are demanding, and being allowed, a privileged position in deciding the programme of commemoration, and to lead the parade that will be the main event. Some of the people so privileged are voicing concern at the possible invitation of other people, whose position in their own country is entirely a result of an accident of birth. Is it any wonder that, though we can’t even grow them, an Irish company holds so dominant a position in the banana industry? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 7 .

A chara, – The Government – specifically the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht – has unveiled the website with details of how 1916 will be commemorated. Superficially, the website appears to also be in Irish.

However, when originally launched it could be seen that the Irish text was apparently generated by inputting the English version into Google Translate. Some superficial improvements have been made since, but it is still far from inspiring for an Irish speaker, except to inspire disappointment and frustration. That this department is the one also responsible for the remaining areas in which Irish is natively spoken adds to the bafflement. Tús maith? – Is mise,


Baile an Chinnéidigh,

Co Chill Mhantáin.

Sir, – The purpose of commemoration is to remember and pay tribute. The Ireland 2016 programme does neither. A 1916 Relatives Centenary Programme is to be launched on Sunday (November 16th) at 3pm at Wynns Hotel, Abbey Street, Dublin. The aim is to include all citizens in a celebration of the lives of the men and women of 1916 who participated in the pivotal event in Irish history that led to our freedom and independence. – Yours, etc,



The 1916 Relatives

Centenary Initiative,

c/o 4 Oxford Road,

Ranelagh, Dublin 6.

Sir, – Attempts to portray the sex trade in Ireland by some of your correspondents as a benign place where independent people “work” in a legitimate, healthy profession is utterly misguided. A major study, of which I am a co-author, Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution: The Experiences of Migrant Women in Ireland (Kelleher Associates, et al, 2009), revealed a highly organised, criminal sex trade in this country in which international traffickers, Irish pimps, prostitution agencies and buyers collaborate in the commercial sexual exploitation of between 800 and 1,000 girls and women. The vast majority are young, vulnerable migrants from impoverished regions of the world, at least 10 per cent of whom have been trafficked to Ireland for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The findings of this research have been further validated by the Garda and an extensive Prime Time investigation by Paul Maguire, which makes it even more surprising that claims are made by some that no independent research exists in Ireland.

This research supports multiple international studies that demonstrate the severe harm and sexually exploitative nature of prostitution sex. – Yours, etc,


Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – In the debate on prostitution and the law, a point that I rarely see discussed, but which I think is worth raising, is that certain groups, either due to disability, health, or some other factors, do not have the same opportunities for sexual contact as your average person does.

This, of course, does not mean that such people should be “entitled” to another person’s body for their own gratification – nor is it desirable that they would permanently replace authentic intimacy with the professional kind – but criminalising those who seek (and offer) sexual services effectively condemns certain groups in society to a life without physical intimacy. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 4.

Sir, – Most, if not all of the letters on this subject seem to exclusively focus on the plight of the woman, and while that is right and understandable, it should not be the only consideration. Men are involved. Consent between adults is not sufficient to make the transaction morally right. Those who follow the natural law tradition may argue that love is an essential ingredient, while any reasonable person of a secular disposition would surely argue that any act which may, even if entered into freely, damage one of the parties or their family members is morally objectionable. – Yours, etc,



Co Meath.

Sir, – I can but marvel at those who claim that a man should be able to buy the use of a woman after a night out, just as easily as he buys a kebab, have the interests of the woman at heart.

Nearly 100 years ago, Dublin had one of the largest red light districts in Europe, the Monto. For the centenary of its closure, do the people of Ireland really want it to be reopened, and parts of Dublin to resemble Amsterdam’s De Wallen?

I have lived in Stockholm and I have lived in Amsterdam. While the Swedish model is not perfect, it is much preferable to the spectacle in Amsterdam. – Yours, etc,


Athlone, Co Westmeath.

Sir, – Having witnessed the devastation which prostitution does to those who engage in it, it is extraordinary to see so many letters in The Irish Times defending the continuation of this devastation and the rush to defend what will be the continued exploitation of women, girls and young boys. Having led an EU-funded project, the Dignity Daphne project, that examined various solutions to discontinue sexual abuse and exploitation transnationally (Lithuania, Scotland, Ireland and the UK, including a field trip to Sweden to meet the high court justice who wrote the 10-year evaluation of their legislation), we concluded that the Swedish model of criminalising the purchase of sex, while also decriminalising those who offer commercial sex, leads to a situation where demand for commercial sexual services are deterred and the accompanying support services to those wishing to escape prostitution allows for a lifeline for the more vulnerable, including those trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Calls to protect the rights of those who want to buy women and young boys for sexual exploitation are misplaced. They are calls to protect the right to buy women and young boys and this means protecting the continuation of harm and hurt. It is interesting to note the high number of migrant women engaged in the sex industry in Ireland. In protecting the human rights of all women to live free from exploitation and sexual violence, it is incumbent on policymakers and legislators to ensure that we are not creating a subset of women whom it is acceptable to purchase. – Yours, etc,


Glasnevin, Dublin 11.

A chara, – Fintan O’Toole, in his article “Signs of a slow slide towards an ungovernable Ireland” (Opinion & Analysis, November 11th), would appear to confuse the notion of the unpredictable with that of the ungovernable. Something big is certainly happening in the Irish political landscape. The basically predictable era of 2½ parties (Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Lab) is being replaced by perhaps 4½ parties (Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Independents and Labour). So the outcome of the next election has become much less predictable.

However, neither this nor the Government’s failure to deliver as yet on a slew of very big projects in the immediate aftermath of stabilising the country’s finances can be read as a slide towards ungovernability. Non-delivery is at worst evidence of poor management and at best evidence of over-ambition in the midst of severe crisis.

The ability of the State to absorb sharp differences and maintain stability, which Mr O’Toole appears to think has atrophied, is still very much in evidence. We are currently witnessing the absorption of Sinn Féin into mainstream politics north and south. This State is now honouring all of its war dead, including those of the first World War. This democracy is one of the few in Europe to have endured unbroken over the past 90 years. It has seen regular changes of government, variously hued coalitions and much healthy protest, usually within the law.

I see no evidence of a slide towards ungovernability either now or after the next election, whose outcome will undoubtedly be exciting but will, as always, produce a coalition governing with the consent of the electorate.

A simple reform that would add to both the stability and predictability of the political process would be the institution of fixed-term mandates for the Oireachtas. This would ensure, as in Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe, continuous if, on occasion, minority government without the artificial tension engendered by the current inherited system, whereby a government can fall and an election be called at any given moment in the lifetime of parliament. – Is mise,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – What a glorious election faces us in 2016, or earlier. It will be about who is the best of a bad lot, who might do the least amount of harm to society. I am filled with dread at having to face those choices on the ballot paper. Enda Kenny welcomed the “democratic revolution” after the last election, but I fear we might be about to have a “democratic coup” and the instability that goes with it. This might be a very good thing; it could hardly be worse. – Yours, etc,



A chara, – Like Michael Austin (November 12th), I too hope that “the effort to condition” him fails but am hopeful that he may come to realise, of his own volition, that other people’s understanding of marriage need not undermine his own. Unlike Mr Austin, however, I do not think that the letter subject heading “Same-sex marriage” is an oxymoron on the basis that the context in which we use language is forever changing – who would now expect one partner in a marriage ceremony to undertake to “honour and obey” the other, whereas not too long ago that was accepted as “the norm”? – Is mise,



Co Clare.

Sir, – Michael Austin(November 12th) takes issue with the “Same-sex marriage” letter subject heading. I take issue with it as well as it should be called marriage equality (which is what the referendum will call it).

Marriage equality seeks to recognise the integrity and commitment of gay people. Opponents ignore the social role that gay parents actually play; 230 gay couples parent, according to the 2011 census.

Separate and unequal is not a status a liberal democracy should champion. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – Conor Farrell (November 12th) seeks an argument against same-sex marriage that is not fundamentally flawed. This of course is the wrong end of the stick. The fundamental question is why has a private relationship between two individuals any place in the Constitution. Its origins are an effort at social engineering based on the premise that the nuclear family is the ideal sub-unit of society. This idea has long since been jettisoned (rightly or wrongly), so the logical step is to remove this anachronism from the Constitution. All other matters can be dealt with by legislation and private contracts and the weapon that marriage has become can be relegated to the past. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 7.

Sir, – The Spanish ambassador (November 12th) states that 90 per cent of Catalans voted for the 1978 Spanish constitution. That may be so, but the majority of Catalans now living did not have a vote in that election. Those who did vote, voted on the specific and stated understanding that the constitution would be a provisional post-Franco instrument subject to major revision. No revision ever took place. In fact, Madrid has consistently blocked every attempt made to rewrite this antiquated and dysfunctional document.

The nation of Catalonia lost its statehood in 1714. It has been a colony of Spain ever since. As with all colonies, Catalonia is treated with utter contempt by its ruler. The only truly democratic course for Madrid would be to allow an official vote on secession in both Catalonia and the Basque Country. – Yours, etc,


Ward’s Hill,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – How wonderful it is to have Frank McDonald enlighten us mere mortals about the new building (“Why I love Dún Laoghaire library”, Saturday, November 8th)! It is not a monstrosity after all, as hundreds of people of the area have been saying, individually and at meetings. No, its “superb finishing” makes it a public building to be proud of. Mr McDonald tells us it is not an ugly, misplaced, concrete hulk in the midst of Victorian Dún Laoghaire, rather it is a “bold addition to the landscape”. He informs us that the bizarre English red brick on the Sandycove side is in sympathy with the town’s Victorian buildings. Wow! So now we know!

Mr McDonald does not delve into the reasons for local outrage at the cost of the building – €36 million, which came from the public purse. Many of Dun Laoghaire’s shops went to the wall as a result of the council’s high rates and car parking charges, which no doubt contributed to the funding of the folly on the seafront. – Yours, etc,


Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – “Modern Ireland in 100 Objects” is followed by “Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks”, already prompting a certain amount of what-about-ery. But how much more of this before it’s time for “Modern Ireland in 100 Gimmicks”, starting with those two? – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – I see that Irish Water took in a big delivery from its wholesaler yesterday. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Irish Independent:

I write after reading Donna Hartnett’s letter in your paper and her situation only serves to remind me that things do not change, only in scale.

You could transfer her situation to thousands of people like myself in the early 1980s and 1990s. We paid 65pc tax on all income above an average wage.

We paid an average of 12pc interest on our then overextended mortgage. Work was, to say the least, hard to come by and harder to keep.

My most vivid memory and fear was that one of my children would need to attend the doctor, as the £25 fee would throw our meagre budget out of kilter.

There were no holidays. To have a night out every three months or so was a luxury. Luckily neither of us smoked, as this was unaffordable.

We, to this day, cannot afford VHI or a pension scheme.

My wife also stopped working due to the high cost of childcare and worked from home as best as she could to supplement our income.

Meanwhile, I worked as often and as long as possible so as to have a comfortable existence .

Every generation believes they have it harder than the previous one, and cannot conceive the struggle of others who have gone before.

I do not see this as a competition of woes but merely recognition of a troubled spirit separated by decades but joined in a universal struggle to provide for our families.

Ray Dunne

Enfield, Co Meath


Healing scars of our past

There is a small country, where, after centuries of oppression from a brutal, foreign colonial power, a generation of educated nationalists and radicals managed to achieve independence for the small, economically underdeveloped nation.

No sooner had the colonial power withdrawn than the country fell into bitter and bloody civil war, one viewed as extraneous and petty by outside forces.

This conflict still leaves a profound mark on the nation’s politics today, with politicians and citizens alike still dividing themselves by loyalties to opposing tribes. Though the country has stabilised since, it finds its politics wracked by widespread corruption, incompetence and stagnation.

Paramilitary groups remain an intimidating presence and the majority of its public have no confidence in public or political institutions. Yes, it could be any post-colonial country in Africa or Latin America. But this is not some distant land to be glimpsed on the nightly news or the sides of a Trocaire box. This is our land. This is Ireland.

President Michael D Higgins has recently been visiting African countries, including South Africa and Malawi, and has been stressing the way in which Ireland shares a history of brutal colonial repression with these nations.

Centuries of oppression and violence has mangled our public and political systems and left people with no confidence in a corrupt and self-serving political class. Yet we refuse to identify ourselves as a post-colonial country in the same way that Bolivia or the Congo do.

Just because we are white, educated and European we assume we cannot be like so many of those struggling developing countries. We believe we cannot heal. We believe it is simply the Irish way to make a mess out of things. But it doesn’t have to be.

The only way we can heal these wounds and become a better functioning nation is by creating a new form of nationalism for a new age. A nationalism not of blood or conflict, but a nationalism of idealism, aspiration and unity. We must gain a new concept of what it means to be Irish, a bloodless civic and cultural nationalism that asks us to transcend our expectations and be better than “good enough”, to show the world and ourselves what we can accomplish in the name of our nation and to heal the scars of our undeniable colonial past.

The nationalism of the soldiers and freedom fighters must end. We have forgiven our colonial masters and cast them out of our house. Now we must take pride in our dwelling and make it a welcoming place to live for all creeds, colours and characters. Our wounds will close up and we will grow into a better, stronger, fairer society.

David O’Donoghue

Lixnaw, Co Kerry


Gender imbalance in teaching

Your edition of November 13 carries a report on the concern being expressed at the gender imbalance in third-level technology and engineering courses where male students are in the majority. This prompts the question: why are gender imbalances perceived as a problem?

Little concern is expressed in the media or anywhere else at the large and growing gender imbalance in the teaching profession, despite some UK research suggesting that this is contributing to the unfavourable academic performance of boys relative to girls, something which itself seems to arouse little concern. Is that because it is a male-related rather than a female-related issue?

Just to illustrate the growth of the gender imbalance in teaching in this country in recent decades, in 1971 the ratio of male to female teachers (primary and secondary combined) was 40:60, which actually represented a slight narrowing of the gap over the previous 10 years – in 1961, the ratio was 38:62.

Forty years later, in 2011, the ratio was 26:74. Breaking down the 2011 figures between secondary and primary teachers, the ratio at secondary level was 32:68 and at primary level it was 14:86. Presumably these imbalances are even larger today. Now, is it nothing more than a coincidence that the growth in the gender imbalance in teaching has coincided with the growth of the academic performance gap between boys and girls, illustrated, year after year, in the Leaving Cert and Junior Cert results?

Hugh Gibney

Athboy, Co Meath


Tears for ‘Easter, 1916’

I watched, and heard Tanaiste Joan Burton mangling Yeats’s beautiful poem ‘Easter, 1916’ in the GPO. I presume the banging on the doors and windows were the ghosts of the volunteers trying to get out.

Declan Foley

Berwick, Australia


Ulster Bank should be paying us

Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for the Central Bank to force Ulster Bank to compensate its customers to the tune of €3.5m rather than imposing a fine of the same amount on it for the inconvenience it caused them?

Michael Gunn

Celbridge, Co Kildare


Rivers run free from tax

Profound words in history are surely coming to pass now. “Only our rivers run free.”

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont, Dublin 9


Free GP care will cause chaos

Despite the fact we still have people badly in need of medical cards, the Government is ploughing ahead with free GP care for all under six, including those whose parents are wealthy. I can understand why the ‘squeezed middle’ welcome it, but will they when they see the reality? Some GPs may accept the contract, others for ethical, workload or financial reasons may not.

Families will have to move practices and as the surgeries that do accept under sixes become busier it will get even harder to have their sick child seen quickly.

They will be driven into overwhelmed, out-of-hours and A&E services which will benefit no one -least of all the child.

Dr Eluned Lawlor

Loughboy Medical Centre, Kilkenny

Irish Independent


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