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To find an archived article, simply click on Index and scroll the subject titles, or do a Ctrl-F search
Unpublished and Published [P!] 
Letters to the Press in 2007
For letters and cybercomments in other years, click on
or 2008 or 2009 or 2010 or 2011 or 2012 or 2013

December  2007
bulletWhy Cuba Beats Caredoc
bulletAid and Corruption in Africa
bulletThat Missing Canoeist
bulletAl Gore Eschews Debate

November  2007
bullet Israel and the Palestinians P!
bulletDublin Bus Dispute
bulletDebate on Hospital Services
bullet Pay Rises for Top Politicians P!
bulletChange in Drink Driving Limits P!

October  2007
bulletThe Fun of Living in Castro's Cuba
bulletEU Reform Treaty Referendum
bulletDog-whistling Floor Space
bulletUS Optimism on Iraq Conflict P!
bulletJust Stop the Attacks
bulletControversy over Shannon P!

September  2007
bullet Why did the IRFU extend Eddie O'Sullivan's Contract?
bulletCapitalism and Climate Change

August  2007
bullet Sectarian Racist Sexist Heterphobic Police Associations

From North Pole to West Bank


Time for a coup d'état


Role of Shannon in Iraq War P!


Shannon's Role in Iraq War P!

July 2007

Roma on the M50 Roundabout P!


Channel 4 and Climate Change


Non-Recognition of Israel by Hamas


Twelfth of July Bonfires P!


Jesus and Social Radicalism


Scooter Libby's Conviction

June 2007

Americans are Defending Iraqi and Afghani Democracy


High Rises for Dublin


Unskilled Labour Flown into Africa


Paisley Remarks on Gays (2)


Debt, Aid and Development (2)


Debt, Aid and Development P!


Paisley Remarks on Gays P!

May 2007

Liberating EU Financial Markets


Drab Reviews of Tomes on Religion


Palestinians have no historical claim to Israel


Tony Blair as a judge of Bertie's character


Low Carbon Through Demographic Suicide P!


Enda Kenny's Mystery Makeover P!


Drugs are Much Cheaper Elsewhere in the EU

April 2007

Raymond Deane on Palestine and Israel


Public and Private Healthcare


Boris Yeltsin's Funeral


Having It Both Ways with the Church


Celebritification of Kidnapped British Sailors and Marines


Britain Grovels to Iranian Kidnappers

March 2007

Advertising and Drink Problems


Enhancing or Degrading Irish Society


Carbon Emissions and Climate


Morality and Multinationals


Giving Girls a Fair Chance (2)


Giving Girls a Fair Chance P!


Syria and Iran

February 2007

Likelihood of Attack on Iran P!


Geordan Murphy Punished


Food Price Rise Warnings


Krauthammer's View of Iraq P!


Make Those SUV Gas Guzzlers Pay


Harry Belafonte

January 2007

Geordan Murphy Punished


Tony Killeen's Responsibility


Enda Kenny's Makeover


Occupied” “Palestinian Territories


Repatriation of EU Immigrants


Civil vs Mechanical Engineers


Execution of Saddam Hussein P!

To Top of index

December 2007
To the Irish Times on 20th December 2007

Why Cuba Beats Caredoc

Madam, - Dervla Murphy describes how the efficient Cuban medical system thankfully saved her from dying of hyperexia (heat stroke), but concludes with the appalling cry
Viva Fidel! (Letters, December 20th). 

If she is so fond of the Communist prison-state and a dictator whose regime has killed over 73,000 of his countrymen, perhaps she should take up residence in Cuba. - Yours etc,

Source of 73,000 killed by the Castro regime:


R J Rummel, “Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900”


To Top of index

To the Irish Times on 18th December 2007

Aid and Corruption in Africa

Madam, - It is understandable that Joe Manning, as Sierra Leone's Honorary Consul to Ireland, should want the flow of Irish taxpayers' aid-money to continue to flow into the coffers of the governments of Sierra Leone and elsewhere (Letters, December 18th). 

However, he speaks in contradiction. 

The main cause of poverty in Africa is bad government and we cannot cure this by ignoring it or working around it, he writes.  Setting aside for the moment the massive role of Western trade protectionism in perpetuating developing-world poverty, his answer that bad governments will somehow improve if you give them (Irish aid) money makes no sense whatsoever. 

Aid should be directed at those who need it, and that does not include bad governments.  That was the point of David Adams' article, as well as earlier letters by GOAL's John O'Shea. 

As for bad governance, this is best addressed by removing the bad governors and fostering democracy.  But, of course, very few care sufficiently about bad governance and the misery it causes to encourage such a solution. - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 7th December 2007

The canoeing ministerThat Missing Canoeist

Madam, - Everyone has been wondering where John Darwin, the canoeist missing from Hartlepool, has been hiding out for the past five years (World and Breaking News, December 6th). 

The authorities needed look no farther than westward across the water.  As photographs makes abundantly clear, he merely changed his name to Dermot Ahern and masqueraded as Ireland's foreign minister.  That probably also explains the Panama connection. - Yours etc,

To Top of index

To the Irish Times on 3rd December 2007

Al Gore Eschews Debate

Madam, - So former US Vice-President Al Gore has been and gone to Ireland, where at a conference in Dublin he spoke on climate change to 400 Irish and international company executives and investors as well as Green party ministers (Ireland, December 3rd).  You note, significantly, that  all media apart from official photographers were barred from attending his address, and there is no suggestion that climate-change dissenters were admitted either. 

Is it not extraordinary that this prominent Oscar-winning Nobel-laureate is so insecure that he has never - never - publicly debated his views on climate change with anyone of a contrary view, and that he is well known for carefully screening his audiences?  Why does he appear to be so insecure about the "science" behind his claims?  Can it be that he, like many of us, doesn't really believe all the ballyhoo? - Yours etc,

To Top of index

November 2007
Published in the Irish Times on 21st November 2007

Israel and the Palestinians P!

Madam, - Raymond Deane of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign once again attempts to portray Israel's self-defence actions, such as the separation barrier, as unwarranted acts of aggression (November 19th). And, typically, he refuses to address the issue in David M. Abrahamson's letter of November 14th, to which he purports to be responding.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be resolved at a stroke. The Palestinians merely have to stop attacking Israel, which would immediately open the way to constructive negotiations. Unfortunately, as we have so often seen, it won't work the other way round.

Anyone who advocates or defends continued attacks by Palestinians on Israel cannot also want a peaceful, just outcome. - Yours, etc,

To Top of index

To the Irish Times on 13th November 2007

Dublin Bus Dispute

Madam, - I have no idea what the Dublin Bus dispute is about.  Something to do with additional routes (employees and unions generally welcome expansion because it means more jobs) and extra hours (ditto, unless unpaid).  But to strike in order to disrupt bus services is a ridiculous way for the drivers to argue their case as it can only alienate the general public - being their stranded customers. 

The strikers would be far wiser to run an efficient service but refuse to accept fares.  With the cash spigot closed off, nothing will get the attention of management faster whilst garnering the enthusiastic support of passengers. - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 9th November 2007

Debate on Hospital Services

Madam, - Dr John Barton's pride that obstetric patients recently voted our small hospital [ie Portiuncula] number one for obstetric care in the country is intriguing (Letters, November 9th).  How did the patients know?  Did, for example, each woman produce ten babies in ten different hospitals so that informed judgements could be made?  And if so why?  Would they not wish to patronise the number one hospital for each of their infants? - Yours etc,

To Top of index

Published in the Irish Times on 9th November 2007

Pay Rises for Top Politicians P!
Because He's Worth It

Madam, - At first, I was as aghast as everyone else at Bertie Ahern's self-awarded 14 per cent increase, bringing his annual salary to an eye-popping €310,000. But then I asked myself what were the most important deliverables of any government to its people. They are first security, then prosperity. By contrast, the rest is either details or trivia.

In terms of security, Ireland over Mr Ahern's decade has neither been invaded nor suffered terrorist attack. And though the crime rate has risen, it still stands comparison with other countries.

As for prosperity, the Celtic Tiger has been flying for a decade, outstripping nearly everyone in Europe and elsewhere. Across the world it has become a model to be emulated. Its economic boom and feel-good factor are everywhere to be seen and felt. And for this, surely Mr Ahern and his ministers can claim a modicum of credit and deserve some reward. They have helped shape the environment and conditions that fostered the extraordinary growth.

So although Mr Ahern's new salary makes him better paid than any other executive leader in the developed world, it should be linked to the GDP-per-person that he has delivered, as this is a very good indicator of the population's average income, the one thing most of us care most about. And on this comparison, he is not greedy at all.

He collects 10 times Ireland's GDP per person, which is comparable to Australia's John Howard. But Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy are each paid 12 times their respective GDP figures.

At the top end of the scale is Singapore's Lee Hsien Loong, who is paid a whopping 60 times. And at the bottom? George Bush with a factor of only nine.

So maybe we shouldn't be griping about Bertie's rise after all. Because he's worth it. - Yours, etc,

TONY (not a member of Fianna Fáil)

This letter, and the figures it contains, are derived from my contemporaneous post,
Bertie: Because He's Worth It

Back to index

Published in the Irish Times on 3rd November 2007

Change in Drink Driving Limits P!

Madam, - Both Prof Joe Barry and Dr Declan Bedford call for the lowering of the blood-alcohol level to below the current 0.8 mg per 100 ml (Letters, November 1st), in the belief that this will reduce road deaths. 

Yet no-one has ever produced any evidence that reducing this figure to the Continental level of 0.5 has any beneficial effect. 

In the case of the very few bits of research that would appear to support such a contention, lowering the limit has been accompanied by much enhanced enforcement. 

It is the latter that makes the difference. 

Elsewhere you report that Since random breath testing was introduced in July last year there has been a 20 per cent reduction in deaths on Irish roads [Ireland, November 1st].

Moreover, media reports of road deaths caused by alcohol almost always quote drivers as being several times over the limit, not marginally so. 

Not until Gardaí are prepared, with their breathalysers, to systematically ambush drivers in large numbers as they drive away from pubs, clubs and restaurants late at night across the country will there be an appreciable reduction in drink-driving and its associated casualties. 

Of course, this will also deal a mortal blow to many such establishments by frightening away customers and create outrage among a large swathe of drivers who vote. 

That's why it is so much easier to make a gesture like reducing the current blood-alcohol level.  It sounds good but achieves nothing and doesn't much scare the vintners or anyone else. - Yours, etc

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October 2007
To the Irish Times on 29th October 2007

The Fun of Living in Castro's Cuba

Madam, - For Barry Walsh it is amusing that President Bush should call for Cubans to throw off the shackles of Communism (Letters, October 29th). 

Perhaps he would not find it quite so funny were he himself forced to live for the past 48 years in Fidel Castro's brutal prison state that had killed 73,000 of his countrymen in pursuit of the most evil ideology ever created by mankind, one which during the last century caused the deaths of a further 136 million people in the China of Mao Tse Tung and the Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin.  - Yours etc,

Source of 73,000 killed by the Castro regime:


R J Rummel, “Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900”


A chart is available to illustrate deaths caused by 20th Century tyrants, from which 136 million statistic is derived.  The sources of the chart are:


“Mao: The Unknown Story”, by Jung Chang and John Halliday (2005)  



From the chart, deaths caused by


Lenin = 6.9m


Stalin = 24.5m


Post-Stalin Russia = 5m


Mao Tse Tung = 100m

Thus Total = 136.4 million

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To the Irish Times on 20th October 2007

EU Reform Treaty Referendum

Madam, - The Reform Treaty is a vote for climate change, a vote for environmental policies, a vote for the Common Agricultural Policy, a vote for social Europe, that is a vote for the reform treaty says Bertie Ahern to convince the Irish to vote yes in a referendum (Front page, October 20th).  This is of course the document which he has already told us is 90% the same as the Constitutional Treaty (Ireland, June 25th) soundly rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

Unwittingly, however, Mr Ahern succinctly lists all the reasons to vote no this time around! - Yours etc,

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To The Economist, 20th October 2007

Dog-whistling Floor Space

Sir, - Yasser Arafat used to say one thing in Arabic to please his robust Middle Eastern audiences and quite the opposite in English to placate delicate Westerners.  Some politicians prefer the dog-whistle technique to speak different messages to different listeners. 

Are you doing something similar over a Planned Parenthood facility in Aurora, Illinois? (Creative Construction, October 13th)?  You say it occupies just 22,000 square feet, presumably for the benefit of your angry red-state readers who think this is already too large, but three times bigger - 6,700 square metres - for your more liberal, metric-speaking Europeans. - Yours etc,

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Published in the Irish Times on 18th October 2007

US Optimism on Iraq Conflict P!

Madam, - As the millionth brave American soldier passes through Shannon, you can almost taste the despair in Brendan Butler's letter (October 17th [key words transcribed here]) on having read some rare positive tidings from Iraq, namely that Al Qaeda seems to be on the retreat (World News, October 16th). 

Harking back to George Bush's (in)famous visit in 2003 to an aircraft-carrier which flew a banner saying Mission Accomplished, he writes as if he fervently hopes that the latest good news will be similarly confounded, infrastructure further destroyed, civilian deaths continue, the war remain unwinnable. 

It seems strange to yearn for failure in a difficult yet honourable venture by the multinational force led by the US, which - at the behest of the legitimate, constitutional, democratic government of Iraq - fights under a unanimous mandate from the United Nations Security Council under Resolution 1723. - Yours etc,

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To the Sunday Times on 11th October 2007

Just Stop the Attacks

Sir, - Brenda Power is perfectly correct when she points out that if criminals in Ireland want to stop getting shot and harassed by the Gardaí they should simply stop breaking the law (Armed criminals forfeit a right to complain, October 7th, p 1-16, no URL available). 

This same principle contains the seed of a solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict.  All that is required is that the Palestinians stop attacking Israel and that war is over, and both sides can live in peace.  It's that simple.  Unfortunately, it won't work the other way round. - Yours etc,

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Published in the Irish Times on 8th October 2007

Controversy over Shannon P!

Madam, - Instead of incessantly bleating that "Government", in the best traditions of a Communist state, should solve its Shannon-Heathrow problem, Tony Kinnane (October 5th), Chairman of the Shannon Action Group, should actually take some, er, action.

He and his colleagues are all businessmen so they should know something about business. Aer Lingus has gone: nothing is going to change that. So get one or more competitors in. That's what businessmen do when faced with a supply shortage. Find competitors that can offer lucrative connectivity via Heathrow, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt. Incentivise them with offers they can't refuse.

Make them squabble and compete among themselves for the riches to be had from the Shannon connectivity that the western business seaboard says it needs so desperately and is willing to pay for. Make Aer Lingus rue its decision.

The Shannon story to date is a testament to a local business community grown lazy and complacent over the years through decades of hand-outs and market distortions (particularly the infamous stop-over) imposed on long-suffering Irish taxpayers for no return. It needs to start taking some dynamic responsibility for its own future. - Yours, etc,

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September 2007
To the Irish Times on 23rd September 2007

Why did the IRFU extend Eddie O'Sullivan's Contract?

Madam, - The IRFU needs to explain why it extended by four whole years Eddie O´Sullivan´s contract as Ireland manager immediately BEFORE the Rugby World Cup began.  His and his team´s abject failure in the competition illustrates the IRFU´s folly. - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 7th September 2007

Capitalism and Climate Change

Madam, - Eugene Tannam is quite correct to blame climate change entirely on perfidious capitalism (Letters, September 7th).  But we in the West are so utterly immersed and embroiled in capitalism that we are beyond repair.  Not so for others.  Thus, the only way to solve climate change is for the West to immediately cease all trade and investment in China and India in particular, with a view to terminating their capitalistic efforts and forcing their 2½ billion people back to the abject poverty which has been their lot for millennia.  The climate would (perhaps) stop changing and Mr Tannam, at least, would be happily vindicated. - Yours etc

Back to index

August 2007
To the Irish Times on 25th August 2007

Sectarian Racist Sexist Heterphobic Police Associations

Madam, - The London Metropolitan Police Sikh Association thinks An Garda Síochána is racist for refusing to allow its uniformed members to wear turbans (Ireland, August 21st). 

That's a bit rich coming from an overtly sectarian association open only to Sikhs.  Of course it's not alone.  Britain is also home to the similarly sectarian Association of Muslim Police, Christian Police Association and Jewish Police Association, as well as numerous overtly racist associations for black policemen (eg the Metropolitan Black Police Association), the overtly sexist British Association for Women in Policing, and several overtly heterophobic associations such as the Gay Police Association, all of them open only to favoured groupings. 

What is blatantly missing is a Straight White Christian Male Police Association.  That's because this would represent the one group against which it is always permissible to level discrimination but intolerable to raise a defence. - Yours etc, Tony (Straight White Christian Male)

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To the Irish Times on 13th August 2007

From North Pole to West Bank

Madam, - If the Russians get away with their claim to a million square kilometres of hitherto stateless real estate beneath the Arctic on the basis of planting their titanium flag on the seabed, and the UN eventually ratifies it, this could set an interesting precedent (Laying Claim to the Arctic, Opinion, August 13th). 

For the world contains other chunks of stateless land that could be similarly up for grabs by UN member nations.  For example, would not a Star of David, titanium or otherwise, then be sufficient to resolve sovereignty over the West Bank? 

The Palestinians would do well to conclude a two-state deal quickly before Russian antics snitch the prize from under them. - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Independent on 9th August 2007

Time for a coup d'état

Sir, - Out of Ireland's adult population of 3.4 million, not all of whom are drivers, there are - as Kevin Myers astutely points out (August 7th) - no fewer than 400,000 provisional licence holders, and no political party has attempted to change this arrangement. 

The reason is that those people are voters who constitute a potential bloc of some 12%, which renders the problem utterly intractable for a democratic society.  For you can be sure they will be galvanised to vote into oblivion any politicians or parties daring to threaten in a serious way this bloc's unique privilege of driving without proven competence. 

It seems to me, therefore, that the only solution is a coup d'état to install a benign but stern dictator with vision and drive, who will unilaterally fix this and similar problems (eg drink-driving) with no mandate from anyone but our magnificent generals, and who would then, his/her job done, graciously hand back power to democrats and a grateful, forelock-hugging populace. 

Where can I find an application form? - Yours etc,

This letter is based on a post from last April,
Problems - When Huge - Become Democratically Insoluble

Back to index

Published in the Irish Times on 4th August 2007

Role of Shannon in Iraq War P!

Madam, - In their attack on my views, your correspondents Fr Declan Deane and Martin Noone seem to have thrown logic out of the window (Letters, August 3rd).   

Firstly, if the original invasion of Iraq was illegal and immoral because it did not have UN support, then the current war is legal and moral because it is scrupulously in line with a UN mandate, Resolution 1723.  They cannot have it both ways. 

Secondly, even if (which I would deny) additional Iraqi civilian deaths were the result of the pre-war America-enforced UN no-fly zones and sanctions, rather than of Saddam's non-compliance with the numerous mandatory UN resolutions which prompted them, where's the relevance?  That phase is long over.  America today is attempting, however ineptly, to protect innocent Iraqi civilians against insurgents and jihadists.  Why would your correspondents, and for that matter Archbishop Neill, Patricia McKenna and other Greens feel this is somehow wrong?   They seem to prefer that the insurgents and jihadists prevail. 

Thirdly, Mr Noone dismisses Iraq as a constitutional democracy merely because it is new and struggling.  How is this an argument for abandoning it?  If the war is too difficult to win, as many Americans and others now seem to believe, then by all means run away, emulating America in Vietnam and the USSR in Afghanistan.  But don't pretend that what US and other Coalition forces are doing today in Iraq is not in a noble cause.  - Yours etc,

Fr Deane and Mr Noone were responding to
my letter below of 1st August 2007

See the full exchange on this subject here

Back to index

Published in the Irish Times on 1st August 2007

Shannon's Role in Iraq War P!

Madam, - How shocking that Green Party luminaries including former MEP Patricia McKenna (July 31st) should hold the United Nations in such evident disdain that they wish Ireland to cease co-operating with the implementation of one of its most prominent resolutions. They similarly have such little regard for one of the Arab world's few constitutional democracies that they likewise would wish to impede its legitimate Government's desire for foreign assistance in trying to bring security to its beleaguered people.

The multinational force in Iraq, led by the Americans, is operating in accordance with last November's UN Resolution 1723, valid until the end of this year, which the Security Council approved unanimously at the request of the Iraqi prime minister.

Furthermore, critics should remind themselves that it is insurgents and jihadists, not the Americans, who are doing their best to kill innocent Iraqi children, women and men. The multinational forces are trying to protect them, in light of the 72[*] per cent of Iraqi adults who voted in December 2005 - in the face of enormous intimidation - for a new, democratic Iraq.

Ireland should be proud of its small contribution in making Shannon available to the brave American soldiers as they try to help the Iraqis. Ms McKenna and her cohorts should be ashamed of their obstructionism and the additional loss of Iraqi life this could entail were they successful in thwarting the Americans. - Yours, etc,

[*]According to the CIA, there are 16,651,180 Iraqis over the age of 14 years. 
The 12m who voted represent 72% of this. 
In fact since the voting age is 18 not 15, the actual percentage is even higher than 72%.

See the full exchange on this subject here

Back to index

July 2007
Published in the Irish Times on 25th July 2007 P!

Roma on the M50 Roundabout

Madam, - It is strange that among the many who demand the Irish Government provide the Roma camping out on the M50 Roundabout with shelter and food, none seemed to have opened up their own homes to take them in. Isn't charity supposed to begin at home? When was it completely outsourced to the State? - Yours, etc,

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To the Irish Times on 18th July 2007

Channel 4 and Climate Change

Madam, - Don't believe the tabloid rubbish that you hear on Channel 4, which has raised doubts that climate change is down to humans' activities. There is an overwhelming consensus that we are driving it.  So said John Sweeney of the NUI Maynooth, one of the scientists who contributed to the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (Ireland, July 18th). 

Presumably Channel 4's “The Great Global Warming Swindle” broadcast last March and still viewable on Youtube is the programme he declines to name.

Backed up by copious evidence and endorsed by many eminent scientists, this set out, most cogently, an alternative set of causes for climate change rather than human activity.  The programme effectively attributed climate change to sunspot variations, with which earth temperatures closely correlate, and demonstrated that CO2 fluctuations follow and are a consequence of temperature changes, not the other way round.  In any case, compared with the CO2 emissions of oceans, rotting vegetation, animal excretions and volcanoes, those resulting from human activity are miniscule and irrelevant. 

One would have expected Mr Sweeney to refute with rational argument the conclusions put forward by the programme rather than just disparage them as tabloid rubbish.  Unless he is unable to.  It is not true that the overwhelming scientific consensus is with him; there is considerable dissent among scientists. - Yours etc.

The entire programme can be viewed,
in eight ten-minute clips, on Youtube, starting here

On the same theme, see also previous (unpublished) letter and blogpost.
Back to index

To the Irish Times on 17th July 2007

Non-Recognition of Israel by Hamas

Madam, - Your editorial of July 17th criticises, the ill-considered conditions laid down to ensure Hamas recognises the state of Israel.  Does the Irish Times now support the non-recognition of a democratic state created by fiat of the United Nations, preferring the stance adopted by an organization whose founding covenant commits it to the obliteration of that state? - Yours etc,

The relative sentence in the covenant reads,
Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it,
just as it obliterated others before it

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Published in the Irish Times on 14th July 2007 P!

Twelfth of July Bonfires

Madam - On Wednesday night, the eve of the Twelfth, several monumental pyres of tyres were set on fire in Northern Ireland as part of the annual celebrations of the Orange community. 

From the photographs of just one of these massive cones in Co Antrim, you can count the tyres involved and from this estimate the cone's base diameter (23 metres), height (15 metres), volume (2,077 cubic metres) and weight (224 tonnes).  Allowing for steel reinforcement and other materials, some 70 percent of this weight is more or less pure carbon - ie 156 tonnes - which when burnt would have spewed into the night air 575 tonnes of carbon dioxide. 

According to the CarbonNeutral Company, a flight from Belfast to New York produces 0.6 tonnes of CO2 per passenger.  Thus, the environmental damage caused by the celebratory bonfire was the equivalent of flying 958 people to America, or about three aircraft. 

Who would have thought that Orangemen could be so, er, un-Green?  - Yours etc.

This letter is based on my post, Ungreen Orangery

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To the Irish Times on 9th July 2007

Jesus and Social Radicalism

Madam, - Father Tony Flannery (Opinion, June 26th) and his defender Karl Deering (Letters, July 9th) both suffer from the same fundamental misunderstanding of Jesus' position in relation to poverty.  They seem to believe that when Jesus praised the poor, he was in fact praising any economic mechanism provided it would make or keep people poor.  Voluntary alms-giving is one thing, and certainly to be encouraged.  But what amounts to enforced alms-giving through high-tax, socialist, anti-capitalist policies that suffocate enterprise and the job-creation that follows is quite another. Jesus never advocated denying the poor the chance to become richer through hard work. - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 4th July 2007

Scooter Libby's Conviction

Madam, - Scooter Libby is the only person tried, convicted and sentenced in connection with the leaking to the press of the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame, a felony under US law (World, July 4th).  Mr Libby's crime was perjury.  Yet the men who actually perpetrated the leak, Richard Armitage and Karl Rove, are not even brought to trial, nor is the journalist Robert Novak who wrote the story, nor the editor of the Washington Post which published it in 2003

Is this not an extraordinary way to run a justice system?  It perhaps adds some perspective to George Bush's intervention on behalf of Mr Libby. - Yours etc,

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June 2007
To the Irish Times on 28th June 2007

Americans are Defending Iraqi and Afghani Democracy

Madam, - Various tired left-wingers regularly rant in your letters column about America's so-called penchant for torture, invasion, terror, civilian slaughter etc (eg Letters, June 28th).  But may I remind them of a central truth about Iraq and Afghanistan.  It is Islamicists, not Americans, who are initiating and perpetrating the butchery of ordinary people in both those benighted countries, in their violent attempt to overthrow the clearly expressed will of Iraqis and Afghanis for a democratic future, and to institute fascist regimes.  US forces are opposing the Islamicists, and yes both Islamicist fighters and the civilians they hide behind are dying as a result.  Under international law, such civilian deaths are attributed to the militants hiding among them in violation of all civilised norms. 

By all means criticise the Americans for military and administrative incompetence, and suggest constructive improvements.  But if they don't stand up to the Islamicists no-one will, and it will be only a matter of time before this cancer reaches our own shores. 

To object to the Americans' defence of Iraqi and Afghani democracy is to support and provide comfort for the enemy. - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Independent on 27th June 2007

High Rises for Dublin

Sir, -  [Columnist] Kevin Myers is right to extol the virtues of high rise apartments (Comment, 26 June).  City-centre high rises make the land-cost per apartment trivial, since so many people share it, as well as minimising the construction and maintenance costs.   They thus allow for proper, roomy, well appointed, efficiently sound-proofed units to be built. Moreover, the reduced costs coupled with increased availability are also likely to drag down the price of other properties in the city to more sensible levels. 

So, at a stroke,

bulletgood accommodation comes within reach of ordinary working people,
bulletpeople have more leisure time and less stress though shorter commuting,
bulletcongestion and pollution of the city's streets are cut though less commuting,
bulletinternational business competitiveness is enhanced through lower property costs and better lifestyle,
bulletmany, living within the city, within walking or bicycling or easy bussing/tramming distance from work, will conclude they don't need a car at all. 

And the beauty is that it can all be accomplished entirely through the private enterprise of people like Sean Dunne. 

Yes, Dublin's skyline will change, though whether for the worse or better is a matter of personal opinion.  But something has to change and no-one has come up with anything better that does not entail huge cash infusions from the brow-beaten taxpayer (eg building overhead highways, underground railways, “affordable” housing etc).

And if apartment-dwelling is good enough for New York millionaires (few of whom live in houses), it should certainly be good enough for Dubliners. - Yours etc,

This letter is based on a (in retrospect somewhat premature) 2004 blog-post,
Dublin Climbing Skyward - At Last

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To the Sunday Times on 20th June 2007

Unskilled Labour Flown into Africa

Sir, - British entrepreneur Tanya Goodin felt pleased to have brought her 40 employees to Cape Town on a week-long team-building exercise spent constructing school facilities for deprived children (UK firm builds a new kind of hope in Africa, World News, p 1.25, June 17).  Undoubtedly team spirit was much enhanced among her staff, but she deludes herself if she thinks did anything much for Africa.  In a country with 25.5% unemployment and a struggling yet skilled construction sector, she used expensive, unskilled white labour, flown in for just a week, to build a classroom block, lavatories, a playground and basketball court for a mind-blowing £100,000.  Meanwhile, most parents of the school's pupils are, according to your report, unemployed and unable even to feed their children properly. 

There is a growing tendency for such exercises in misplaced philanthropy, not least among young European students who collect money to fly to Africa and carry out building work.  Yet Africa has a surfeit of unused, ultra low cost, manual labour; unskilled Europeans simply deprive locals of a chance to earn some money for their families. 

Ms Goodin and her ilk should think about using their spare cash to employ local labour for their construction projects, which would increase the yield at least ten-fold.   Or else recognize that the main outcome of their efforts is their own satisfaction.  - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 15th June 2007

Paisley Remarks on Gays (2)

Madam, - Ian Paisley Junior said he did not hate gays but was repulsed by what they do.  I would challenge your heterosexual readers to think long and hard (so to speak) about the act of buggery, in all its detail, and then ask themselves, honestly, whether they find it repulsive.  Of course gays probably find heterosexual intercourse similarly repulsive.  The key issue in a free society is that if adults want to carry out repulsive personal acts, voluntarily and in private, others have no right to stop them. But nobody has to pretend that such behaviour is somehow appealing. - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 12th June 2007

Debt, Aid and Development (2)

The letter below was dispatched in reply to this irritated reply to my earlier letter of 12th June -

Madam, - Tony Allwright (June 11th) castigates people of a leftward leaning for their alleged tolerance of tyrannical regimes in the developing world. The fact is that the majority of these regimes are propped up by the West to maintain the continued exploitation of their countries' natural resources. This exploitation mostly is carried out through dubious contracts between the regimes and unscrupulous multinationals, facilitated by Western banks and supported indirectly by our so-called democratic Western governments.

An obvious example is Nigeria, which under the previous military dictatorships negotiated the exploitation of its oil wealth by Shell and others. The result is that in what should be one of the most prosperous of countries there is abject poverty and the country is constantly teetering on the brink of civil war. - Yours, etc,

BARRY WALSH, Church Road, Blackrock, Cork.

Madam, - Barry Walsh trots out standard leftwing fare without much regard to realities (Letters, June 12th).  He lectures us that “unscrupulous” multinationals (such as Shell) exploit natural resources through “dubious” contracts with developing country regimes (eg Nigeria); Western governments are “so-called" democratic; their behaviour results in "abject poverty" in the developing world and perhaps civil war. 
However western multinationals are so open to scrutiny that they dare not be unscrupulous even if they want to because they can never get away with it.  This is not to deny or defend their inevitable mistakes, but to point out that if they are being unscrupulous then every human being must be likewise.  The contracts they sign with foreign regimes are not dubious: they are very precise documents drawn up openly with whatever governing authority the sainted UN recognizes, and in the case of oil and gas, more than 90% of profits flow, by contract, to the host regime.  In Nigeria, for example, at $60 per barrel, costs are $8, the multinationals collect $1, while $51 goes to  the Nigerian government.  Equitable redistribution of such massive patrimony is the responsibility not of the multinational but of the regime, yet without accountability to the people this simply doesn’t happen. 

As I said before, only democracy lifts a country’s inhabitants out of poverty and to blame multinationals and western governments is a smokescreen. - Yours etc,

As references, I provided a chart which I prepared
for a November 2006 post entitled
Nigerian Oil Industry in Costly Disarray,
together with the Shell website from which the chart itself was sourced


 I also made a Declaration of Interest to the effect that
I had worked 30 years for Shell, including seven in Nigeria (in the 1970s and 80s).

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Published in the Irish Times on 11th June 2007

Debt, Aid and Development  P!

Madam, - In placing the blame for developing world debt entirely on the lenders with not a word of censure for the illegitimate regimes which actually took out the borrowings, Nessa Ní Chasaide, Co-ordinator of the Debt and Development Coalition Ireland (June 8th), casually refers to the members of the undemocratic G8 club .  Other than perhaps Russia, these are not only the most successful big countries on earth in terms of providing the best for their people, but also totally democratic, and these two characteristics are not unrelated.  The more that left wing groups continue to excuse and tolerate developing world tyrannies, the more the latter will be encouraged to take on debts they will never be able to repay.  Democracy, not debt relief, is what will lift the developing world out of poverty. - Yours etc,

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Published in the Irish Times on 2nd June 2007

Paisley Remarks on Gays P!

Madam, - In quoting Ian Paisley Junior's anti-gay remarks, you used dots to indicate that some words had been left out.  According to the BBC, the omitted words were That doesn’t mean to say that I hate them, meaning homosexuals.  Since this changes the whole tone of the what he said, your omission was dishonest.  Mr Paisley said in effect that he hates not gays but what they do, which is a perfectly respectable position to take.  There's nothing reprehensible in disliking other people's actions. 

His belief that gays can free themselves from being gay, however, demonstrates profound ignorance rather than homophobia. - Yours etc,

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May 2007
To the Irish Independent on 28th May 2007

Liberating EU Financial Markets

Sir, - Though EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy's statement that there may well be a case for creating a passport for mortgage brokers to enable them to sell and provide advice on mortgage products across the member states is very welcome, it is surely phrased the wrong way round (Business, May 28th). 

No-one has ever made a coherent case for preventing the sale of mortgages across member state lines, or for that matter other financial products such as insurance.  It is a scandal that the EU has colluded with national financial institutes to stifle competition in this way, totally contrary to the ethos, and indeed raison d'être, of the EC/EEC/EU. 

To inflate the profits of domestic companies, these restrictions have kept prices unnecessarily high for consumers and without any justification having been presented to populations.  Mr McCreevy is to be commended for finally doing something about it. - Yours etc,

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To the Sunday Times on 23rd May 2007

Drab Reviews of Tomes on Religion

Sir, - You appear to have hired sycophants to review your two religious books.  AN Wilson can find no wrong in Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth, while NR is similarly transfixed[*] by Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion (Culture, p39 and 48, May 20th).  A little bit of healthy scepticism from each would have made their drab reviews more convincing - and entertaining. - Yours etc,

[*] NR's review seems to be available only in the print edition

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To the Irish Times on 22nd May 2007

Palestinians have no historical claim to Israel

Madam - Palestinians had lived in the land of Palestine and cultivated it for thousands of years before the first Jewish tribes invaded that land, writes Dr  Hikmat Ajjuri, Delegate General of the General Delegation of Palestine in Ireland (Opinion, May 18th). 

He is mistaken.  The historical record shows that the chronology of "ownership" of what is now Israel is as follows. 

The Jews got it (via UN Mandate) from the British in 1948,  who took it in 1917 from the Ottomans, who took it in 1517 from the Egypt-based Mamluks, who in 1250 took it from the Ayyubi dynasty (descendants of Saladin, a Kurd ), who in 1187 took it from the Crusaders, who in 1099 took it from the Seljuk Turks, who ruled it in the name of the Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad, which in 750 took it from the Umayyad Caliphate of Damascus, which in 661 inherited it from the Arabs of Arabia, who in 638 took it from the Byzantines, who in 395 inherited it from the Romans, who in 63 BC took it from the last Jewish kingdom, which in 140 BC took it from the Hellenistic Greeks, who under Alexander the Great in 333 BC took it from the Persian empire, which in 639 BC took it from the Babylonian empire, which under Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC took it from the Jews (the Kingdom of Judah), who - as Israelites - took it in the 12th and 13th centuries BC from the Canaanites, who had inhabited the land for thousands of years before they were dispossessed by the Israelites.

There is no evidence that today's Arab Palestinians are descended from the Canaanites who were completely wiped out in ancient times.  Arabs come from Arabia, an entirely separate area. - Yours etc,

Reference: How Strong Is the Arab Claim to Palestine?
by Lawrence Auster,, 30th August 2004

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To the Irish Times on 19th May 2007

Tony Blair as a judge of Bertie's character

Madam, - Tony Blair also considers George W. Bush to be a good man and a world statesman. Doesn't this suggest he is not a very good judge of character?

Yours etc,

Tony Allwright, Co Dublin

This was sent in mockery of a similar letter (but without the above deletions)
sent by Mr Sparkes. 

Bertie is of course Bertie Ahern, Ireland's Taoiseach,
currently seeking an historic third election victory,
and recently praised Tony Blair

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Published in the Sunday Times on 13th May 2007
(Editor's deletions shown)

Low Carbon Through Demographic Suicide P!

BABY BOOM: John Guillebaud, emeritus professor of family planning at University College London thinks “The greatest thing anyone in Britain could do to help the future of the planet would be to have one less child” (Having large families ‘is an eco-crime’, last week [May 6th]).  Britain's self-propagation rate, at just 1.7 babies per woman, is already strongly negative, and he wants to bring this down to 0.7.  What's that song from the 1970s TV series M*A*S*H satirising the Vietnam War?  Oh yes, “Suicide is Painless”.  As in [It would be] demographic suicide., it seems. 

The people who will inherit the professor's brave new low-carbon world will be those who flagrantly disregard his advice.  That is the nature, and irony, of the climate changeology cult. 

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To the Irish Independent on 3rd May 2007 (first letter to this newspaper).
Published on 11th May 2007 as Which is the real Enda? (less editorial deletions shown below)


To the Irish Times on 8th May 2007

Enda Kenny's Mystery Makeover P!

Sir, - I was amazed when no-one seemed to comment or even notice that Enda Kenny [leader of Ireland's main opposition party] underwent a radical makeover last January.

In a flash, his face changed from baby-pink to tough-guy tan, his locks from blond to dark (with just a touch of patrician grey), his eyebrows likewise and reshaped, his hair backswept, almost bouffant, instead of parted on the left, his eyes narrowed to make him look less, well, gullible. Even his voice seemed to have dropped a tone or two. In short, his boyishness was replaced by a measure of urbane gravitas.

Yet in a couple of weeks, the makeover abruptly vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared and we reverted to the blond youngster once more, which is how he appears today.

Except on the latest election posters. Suddenly, all over the country this dark-haired tough guy is staring down at us again, identified as Mr Kenny only by the signature in the lower right corner.

Which is the real Mr Kenny, and which the impostor? Which one will am I supposed to vote for? - Yours etc,

This letter is based on a previous blog post from January 2007,
Enda Kenny's Makeover”, where you can view photos of the two Endas. 

that post was itself the basis of two unpublished letters last January.

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To the Irish Times on 1st May 2007

Drugs are Much Cheaper Elsewhere in the EU

Madam, - Your reporter Jamie Smyth tells us that Pharmaceutical prices are 19 per cent higher than the EU average in the Republic (Ireland, May 1st). What a scandalous figure. Who is doing the research? It's far too low. Here is the result of my own recent survey for a typical month's supply.


Xalacom (for glaucoma) : Ireland €55, Spain €23


Tenormin (for blood pressure): Ireland €16, Spain €3


Premarin (for HRT): Ireland €19, Spain €6


Imigrane (for migraine): Ireland €15, Spain €7


Multivite (for general health): Ireland €5, Spain €1


Total: Ireland €110, Spain €40

Prices in Italy, France and Hungary are similar to Spain's, which are on average some 175% higher in Ireland than in these EU countries. And that's not counting the cost of paying the doctor for a prescription, as many medicines that require a prescription here do not on the Continent.

This is not a victimless situation. One wonders how many people don't take preventive drugs because they can't afford the exorbitant Irish prices, and as a result unnecessarily suffer afflictions in later life.

It explains why the bags of returning Irish residents are often stuffed with, er, drugs. - Yours etc,

This letter is based on a previous blog post from October 2003,
The Crime of Protected Pharmacists in Ireland

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April 2007
To the Irish Times on 30th April 2007

Raymond Deane on Palestine and Israel

Madam, - The amount of air time, the count now up to 112 times since 1997, that you give to Raymond Deane of the Ireland Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and Aosdána for his vitriolic views against democratic Israel, beleaguered on all sides by hostile tyrannies, is astonishing (latest appearance in Letters, April 30th).

Why don't you just give him a permanent column? And here's an idea. Why not also give a permanent column to, say, Seán Gannon of the Irish Friends of Israel, so that both sides of the argument are periodically presented in a balanced, structured fashion.

If one really gave a hoot about the welfare of Palestinians, one would surely be urging and helping them to cut a deal with Israel along the lines of Ehud Barak's 2000 offer. The longer they don't, the worse the deal on offer becomes. But of course this wouldn't apply if one's interest were not the welfare of the Palestinians, but the prolongation and intensification of conflict with the hated Israel. The Palestinians would then be merely the foot soldiers, with the conflict a safe distance away. - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 27th April 2007

Public and Private Healthcare

Madam, - John O'Sullivan is outraged because the (private) Blackrock Clinic was able to give him an immediate hip X-ray whereas the (public) St Michael's in Dun Laoghaire required him to wait three months (Letters, April 27th). The clear message to draw from this is that if the State wishes to provide free services it should simply buy them from private facilities. That way, everyone will be able to get immediate appointments and treatment.

To facilitate this for all citizens across the country, St Michael's and every other State-owned hospital should be sold off to the highest bidders (in the process yielding a tidy sum for the Exchequer), with the buyers taking on the existing workforces under prevailing pay and conditions as part of the deal. The buyers would then be invited to bid their prices for, say, an X-ray, a hip replacement, A&E service, cancer therapy, long-term hospital care, according to pre-defined standards. The government would then award contracts according to the most attractive offers. Those entitled to free government health care would thereafter obtain the same service as private patients. Hospitals and their staff would grow and prosper according to the quality and cost-effectiveness of the treatments they provide.

Under such a scheme, the Health Department would merely have to manage the contracts, settle the invoices and enforce quality standards, using payments and contract termination for this as required, and to rebid the contracts every few years to keep the competition sharp. This is a far simpler job than actually running the hospitals - professional managers would do that.

For there is not a government anywhere that is not hopeless at running a business, whether hospitals or anything else. Their skills lie in governing.

The inevitable result of such radical reform and the vigorous free-market competition it entails would be quality up, staff morale up, costs down, available cash up.

It's time to sell off every hospital to start providing world-class medical care at competitive cost. It's not rocket science.

But does any politician care enough for the wellness of the citizens he/she represents to do so? At this election time, it's a question to put to prospective candidates as they doorstop us. - Yours etc,

Letter based on Sell Off Every Hospital and School, a post from February 2007

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To the Irish Times on 25th April 2007

Boris Yeltsin's Funeral

Madam, - How disappointing that Ireland will be represented at Boris Yeltsin's funeral only by its ambassador to Russia, worthy as Justin Harman undoubtedly is (World, April 25th). 

Surely, for old times sake, former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, as a distinguished elder statesman, could be persuaded to once again stand in silent respect for an absent Mr Yeltsin.  - Yours, etc

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To the Irish Times on 12th April 2007

Having It Both Ways with the Church

Madam, - John T Kavanagh is appalled at Fr Gregory O'Brien's suggestion that only practicing Catholics should get a Catholic funeral (Letters, April 12th). No doubt he also thinks non or ex-members of the local golf club or members who won't pay their subs should be entitled to play a round whenever they want.

I am reminded of the late Robin Cook, Tony Blair's first Foreign Secretary. An avowed atheist, he was nevertheless accorded full Christian obsequies at St Giles Presbyterian Cathedral in Edinburgh in 2005. A eulogy was delivered from the pulpit by his buddy and fellow-atheist the racing buffoon John McCririk, who used the opportunity to lambaste Mr Blair, and a prayer was led, also from the pulpit, by the MP, Mohammed Sawar, a Muslim. Atheism, politics and Islam - all at a Christian funeral! 

This kind of parody, which managed to mock both the Presbyterian church and Cook's own atheism, is what you get when a church has lost its principles.

The Catholic church has not yet done so. If Mr Kavanagh wants a Catholic funeral, I would suggest he become a practicing Catholic. Otherwise perhaps he should turn his attention to Edinburgh.- Yours etc,

This letter is based on a blog post from 2005,
Does Protestantism Stand for Anything?

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To the Irish Times on 9th April 2007

Celebritification of Kidnapped British Sailors and Marines

Madam, - Not content with their instant capitulation during captivity, the 15 British servicemen and servicewoman kidnapped by Iran have now been permitted to sell their stories (World, April 9th). The most disgraceful aspect of this final act of undignified celebritification is that they will be permitted to keep the money. These people are in the pay of the armed forces funded by British taxpayers. Thus any such windfall arising purely out of the circumstances of their employment should accrue to the army and navy, not themselves. - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 4th April 2007

Britain Grovels to Iranian Kidnappers

Madam, - There seems no limit to the depths of grovelling and appeasement to which the British Government seems prepared to sink over their 15 military hostages held by Iran. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett's motherly comfort to the Iranian mullahs will go down in history, “Mr Blair is not talking, or intending to imply, anything about military action ... We are not seeking confrontation. We are seeking to pursue this through diplomatic channels” (World, April 4th). And anyway, why is it not the Secretary of State for Defense dealing with this matter?

Iran used military force to invade a neighbouring country's waters and kidnap a foreign country's military personnel, while incidentally the prisoners' heavily armed mother ship looked benignly on. It is bad enough that the EU, whose citizens they are, and the UN whose mandate they were carrying out, remain supine and almost silent over this flagrant act of war and subsequent breaches of assorted UN conventions on the treatment of prisoners.

But Mrs Beckett's words will have reassured Iran's leadership that it can do whatever it likes with the British hostages, and is welcome to kidnap as many more as it may wish. There were after all no consequences to its similar - though less severe - action in June 2004 when Iran kidnapped eight British servicemen in the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

An unprovoked military attack deserves a ruthless, disproportionate military response, or at least the credible threat of one. No wonder Iran sees no reason for curtailing its nuclear bomb programme, with Israel firmly in its sights. . - Yours, etc.

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March 2007

To the Irish Times on 30th March 2007

Advertising and Drink Problems

Madam, - If, as Dónall O'Keeffe of the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland states (Letters March 30th), there was no causal link between the level of overall alcohol consumption and advertising, you have to wonder why the drinks industry is squandering its shareholders' valuable money on advertising at all.  And, remarkably, it must be the only industry that is apparently not seeking to increase consumption of its products. - Yours, etc.

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To the Irish Times on 29th March 2007

Enhancing or Degrading Irish Society

Madam, - Kathleen Forde lectures us that "we have seen much evidence of the benefits to an insular society of having a greater mix of nationalities in our midst" (Letters, March 29th). 

It would be helpful if she would provide even a shred of such evidence to support her statement.  If injecting other nationalities and cultures does in fact enhance Irish society, it implies that they are in some way superior, since otherwise the mixture would degrade Irish society.  In what ways, therefore, does Ms Forde feel those other nationalities are superior? - Yours, etc.

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To the Irish Times on 16th March 2007

Carbon Emissions and Climate

Madam, - Pat Finnegan, the Co-ordinator of Grian and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, speaks of a much-discredited documentary aired last week on British television” (Letters, March 15th).  Presumably Channel 4's The Great Global Warming Swindle is the programme he fears to name.

His claim that it was able to become much discredited in the space of just seven days that elapsed between its screening and his letter is a remarkable achievement, as is the invisibility of the discrediting.

On the other hand, the programme itself, over 90 minutes, completely demolished, in a most fastidious and well-documented fashion, the entire industry founded on the myth that CO2 caused by human activity is causing climate change.

Employing the same raw data (such as Antarctic ice cores) as for example the IPCC uses, it showed how, throughout millennia and up to the present day, CO2 levels always rise after, not before, temperatures go up, that temperature increases are driven by solar activity such as sun spots, and that the vast bulk of CO2 emissions come from the oceans, in response to temperature. Human activity accounts for only 0.1% of the world's CO2 emissions, and thus efforts to curtail this are meaningless. And harmful.

For the rich world's attempts to force the developing world to favour hugely expensive renewable energy sources over coal, oil and gas place an enormous cost burden on its efforts to grow and provide better lives for its inhabitants. When the rich world does this itself, it also wastes vast quantities of money, but arguably this is affordable. 

However so many wealthy and powerful people in the West have invested so much effort, money and reputation in the climate change myth that they find it unthinkable that they - and the science - are wrong. 

But they are. - Yours etc

On the same theme, see also subsequent (unpublished) letter and blogpost.

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To the Irish Times on 9th March 2007

Morality and Multinationals

Madam, - Seán and Róisin Whelan of Nenagh moan that two Procter & Gamble holding companies, evidently attracted by Ireland's low corporation tax rate of 12.5%, had the temerity to record massive profits of €1.15 billion in 2005, and think as a quid pro quo that P&G should employ more people in Nenagh (Letters, March 9th).  

I would have thought that the Excequer's receipt, in exchange for almost no effort, of €187.5 million in corporation tax was a more than adequate quid pro quo.  Moreover, providing nearly three years notice (to the close of 2009) is a decidely compassionate approach to implementing job losses in Nenagh made necessary by changes in the global economic environment.   One would hope the state will use some of its P&G tax windfall to retrain the 280 displaced workers so they can find new jobs in this country, whose economy remains vibrant largely thanks to its low corporation tax.  And long may those highly profitable P&G holding companies remain here, with or without an operations arm in Nenagh. - Yours etc

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To the Irish Times on 8th March 2007

Giving Girls a Fair Chance (2)

Madam - Alan Barwise offers up a weird defense (Letters, March 8th) for the discrimination of women as mandated in the Koran, which for instance says that a woman is worth half a man (eg 2:282, 4:11, 4:34, 4:176).

Quoting Prof Bernard Lewis, Mr Barwise in effect tells us that women were even worse off fourteen centuries ago before Islam was founded.  Perhaps true, but what's the relevance to a discussion about discrimination in 2007?  And what's Trócaire doing about it with its Lenten campaign?  - Yours, etc,

This rebuttal rebuts Mr Barwise's rebuttal of my earlier letter

Madam, - Tony Allwright (March 6th) may be right to say that today's Islamic world has at least its fair share of gender discrimination, but to attribute that phenomenon to Islam and the Koran is much too simple.

Prof Bernard Lewis, arguably the most distinguished present-day Western scholar of Islam, makes it clear in his book The Middle East (page 210 in my edition) that the coming of Islam brought an enormous improvement to the position of women in Arabia.

Not only did they gain a degree of protection from ill-treatment by their husbands or owners, but the killing of female infants, sanctioned by custom in pre-Islamic Arabia, was outlawed. Women also gained property and other rights which had not previously existed.

The position of women subsequently worsened when the original message of Islam lost its power and was changed under the influence of pre-existing attitudes. - Yours, etc,

ALAN BARWISE, Dalkey, Co Dublin.

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Published in the Irish Times on 6th March 2007

Giving Girls a Fair Chance P!

Madam, - For maximum impact, Trócaire's Lenten campaign against gender inequality should highlight where by far the most egregious inequalities against females are perpetrated:

(a) throughout the billion-strong Islamic world (where the Koran mandates discrimination),
(b) in the selective abortion of millions of female babies across China (with its one-child policy) and India. 

It should then describe how it intends to spend the money collected to attempt to redress this.  Properly focused, this is a truly worthy cause.   - Yours, etc,

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To the Irish Times on 2nd March 2007

Syria and Iran

Madam, - You tell us in your Editorial of March 2nd that Syria and Iran ... have strong interests in preventing the disintegration of Iraq.  No they don't

These totalitarian states are supporting and egging on, respectively, the Sunni and Shi'ite insurgents.  A disintegrated Iraq would create a de-facto Greater Sunni Syria and Greater Shi'ite Iran, and in Iran's case give it control over Iraq's non-Kurdish oil.  For both, the next step would be a similar carve up of Lebanon (and to hell with the Christians there). 

As your correspondent Eamon Gavin rightly inferred (Letters, March 2nd), only the Great Satan is standing in the way of such appalling outcomes and trying to give the Iraqis the democratic nation they so overwhelmingly voted for in 2005. - Yours, etc,

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February 2007

Published in the Irish Times on 26th February 2007

Likelihood of Attack on Iran P!

Madam, - I know of nobody in Washington that is planning military action on Iran. . . There is, as far as I know, no planning going on to make an attack on Iran. So says Tony Blair (World News, February 23rd).

He must be playing with words, wilfully ignorant or else blatantly lying. For it is inconceivable that the Pentagon and/or the CIA (in Virginia not "Washington") are not even making contingency plans for an attack on Iran.

It would be a dereliction of duty. Mr Blair would have been truthful had he merely asserted that no decision about such an attack has been made.

A recent EU document, written by the staff of Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, leads to a conclusion that Iran may need only two more years to produce its first crude nuclear bomb, which happens to be the time remaining to Mr Bush.

Rightly or wrongly, there is every chance that, failing diplomatic progress, Mr Bush - who has indicated in the past that he doesn't want to leave the Iran problem to his successor - will launch an attack on Iran's suspected nuclear sites. With Democrats in control of Congress and the Senate, with his own poll ratings in the doldrums and facing no re-election, he personally has nothing to lose (even if his party does). - Yours, etc,

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To the Irish Times on 21st February 2007

Geordan Murphy Punished

Madam, - The extraordinary omission of the multi-talented Geordan Murphy from Ireland's 22-man rugby team against England (his adopted home) can mean only one thing (Sport, February 21st).

He is finally being punished for his temerity last month in scoring Leicester's game-breaking, heart-stopping try against Munster, which set the scene for the destruction of Thomond Park's impregnable Heineken Cup reputation. Unforgivable! - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 13th February 2007

Food Price Rise Warnings

Madam, - Ibec's Food and Drink Industry Ireland group and the grocers' federation Rgdata warn us of impending food price rises (Ireland, February 13th).  How very thoughtful, but it sounds awfully like a cartel is kicking in to soften up consumers prior to co-ordinated price increases, in order to swell its members' profits in time-honoured fashion. 

Putting aside the legal aspects of cartelisation, one can only hope (or assume) that innovative retailers such as Aldi and Lidl will scoff at the warning while they continue in their cost-cutting ways, thereby sucking in all the customers that their high-price competitors in Ibec and Rgdata will drive away. - Yours etc

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Published in the Irish Times on 8th February 2007

Krauthammer's View of Iraq P!

Madam, - Because Charles Krauthammer supports the freeing of Iraq from Saddam Hussein, Alan Barwise asks, "why does The Irish Times persist in publishing Mr Krauthammer's articles?" (Letters, February 7th).

For the same reason that it publishes a letter from Mr Barwise who patronisingly believes Iraqis are not ready for freedom and deserve only authoritarian rule, such as that of the late Saddam Hussein whose ousting he seems to regrets.

A freedom-lover and a freedom-denier. You are right to provide opposing arguments and let your readers decide. - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 2nd February 2007

Make Those SUV Gas Guzzlers Pay

Madam,- Here's a novel idea to make all those thoughtless owners of gas-guzzling SUVs pay their proper share of the cost of the pollution their trucks produce. Slap a hefty tax on every litre of fuel they buy, so that the more they consume, the more they pollute, the more they pay, while people with smaller cars pay proportionately less.

Oh wait, we already have that. So where's the problem? - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 1st February 2007

Harry Belafonte

Sir, - You shouldn't sanitise Harry Belafonte's views. He didn't just call Condoleeza Rice a house slave ("Belafonte takes on 'tyrant' Bush", News Review, p8, January 28th, available as print-only). He referred to both her and Colin Powell as house niggers because he reckoned they were too close to George Bush for his liking. - Yours etc,

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January 2007
To the Irish Times on 24th January 2007

Tony Killeen's Responsibility

Madam, - Minister of State Tony Killeen's excuse that his office sends out so many letters in his name (200,000 of them) that he cannot be expected to know their contents is disingenuous. In the absence of fraud, he, and only he, is accountable for the contents of every single such letter.  If he chooses to delegate to others the task of writing letters on his behalf and to signing pp over his name, this in no way exonerates him. If - in retrospect - he tells us he doesn't approve of the contents, it merely shows his poor judgement when it comes to delegation.

The fact remains: Mr Killeen is solely responsible for writing inappropriate letters seeking freedom for a convicted child-sex offender and a convicted murderer (Ireland, January 23rd). If his boss, Minister Michéal Martin, fails to get rid of Mr Killeen, he becomes an accessory, which means that the Taoiseach must get rid of Mr Martin. - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 19th January 2007 - not published, therefore ...
To the Sunday Times on 23rd January 2007 - also not published!

Enda Kenny's Makeover

Madam(/Sir), - I am amazed that no-one seems to have noticed or commented on Enda Kenny's recent makeover. In a flash, his face has changed from baby-pink to tough-guy tan, his locks from blond to dark (with just a touch of patrician grey), his eyebrows likewise and reshaped, his hair backswept, almost bouffant, instead of parted on the left, his eyes narrowed to make him look less, well, gullible.  Even his voice seems to have dropped a tone or two. 

In short, his boyishness has been replaced by a measure of urbane gravitas.

Is there an election in the air? - Yours etc,

See my post, Enda Kenny's Makeover,
to view the contrasting photos.

Made a third attempt to get
a similar letter published in May 2007

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To the Irish Times on 16th January 2007

Occupied” “Palestinian Territories

Madam,- Once again, Raymond Deane of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign refers to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Letters, January 16th).  They are neither occupied nor Palestinian. They are in fact disputed, for the sole reason that every time the Palestinians have been offered them as a Palestinian state their leaders have turned the offer down - in 1937, 1948, 1967 and 2000. As such, they are no more Palestinian territories than they are Israeli territories.

Indeed, you can as readily conclude they are occupied by the Palestinians as by the Israelis. - Yours, etc.

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To the Irish Times on 15th January 2007

Repatriation of EU Immigrants

Madam, - I wonder why it cost the government €300,000 to repatriate 646 destitute immigrants to their home countries in Central and Eastern Europe last year (State pays to repatriate 646 destitute immigrants, front page, January 15th). That works out at €464 each, which is more than twice the average one-way fare to the countries concerned. Where did the rest go? - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 5th January 2007

Civil vs Mechanical Engineers

Madam, - UCD lecturer David Browne observes (Letters, January 11th), in relation to Irish pioneer scientist Robert Mallet, that Engineers were generally classified as being either civilian or military 150 years ago (the origin of today's civil and mechanical engineers, respectively)”.

The traditional distinction is more stark. Civil engineers build targets, mechanical engineers build weapons. - Yours etc,

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Published in the Irish Times on 5th January 2007

Execution of Saddam Hussein P!

Madam, - The various letter-writers in recent days decrying Saddam's execution hate to face up to some simple facts.

Iraq - despite the mayhem caused by a small minority - is a constitutional democracy, whose constitution was ratified by the people in 2005, and whose current democratic government is the result of an election just over a year ago in which no fewer than 12 million Iraqis - an astonishing 74 per cent[*] of the country's adults - voted in the face of daunting intimidation. Would that peaceful Europe or America could boast such a turnout.

Moreover, despite the flaws in Saddam's trial, both the prosecution and defence were able to put forward their cases in the full glare of TV. You would be hard put to find another court process in the Middle East which was as open and fair. By contrast, those who think the much vaunted International Criminal Court should have tried him should reflect that it couldn't even keep Slobodan Milosevic alive for his trial.

The result of Saddam's trial was a conviction and hanging. Who are we to arrogantly proclaim that those millions of brave Iraqi voters are wrong, or that they are not competent or worthy of dealing with their own criminals in accordance with their own constitutional law? - Yours, etc,

[*]According to the CIA, there are 16,152,978 Iraqis over the age of 14 years.  12m is 74% of this.  In fact since the voting age is 18 not 15, the actual percentage is even higher than 74%.

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 What I've recently
been reading

The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tol, 2006
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy Tol (2006),
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a household lemon tree as their unifying theme.

But it's not entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
The Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz, 2004

See detailed review


Drowning in Oil - Macondo Blowout
examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. 

BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term technical sustainability.  

Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in Russia.  

The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that had become poisonous and incompetent. 

However the book is gravely compromised by a litany of over 40 technical and stupid errors that display the author's ignorance and carelessness. 

It would be better to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying. 

As for BP, only a wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.

Note: I wrote my own reports on Macondo
May, June, and July 2010


Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:


how the death penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,


the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and


Singapore's enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship

More details on my blog here.


Product Details
This is nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s incredible story of survival in the Far East during World War II.

After recounting a childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen, Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on Germany in 1939.

From then until the Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror. 

After a wretched journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless garrison.

Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in 1941, he is, successively,


part of a death march to Thailand,


a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),


regularly beaten and tortured,


racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,


a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,


shipped to Japan in a stinking, closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,


torpedoed by the Americans and left drifting alone for five days before being picked up,


a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic bomb.

Chronically ill, distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life.  Only in his late 80s is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this unputdownable book.

There are very few first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical document.


Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies
Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies

This is a rattling good tale of the web of corruption within which the American president and his cronies operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.

With 75 page of notes to back up - in best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife. 

Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett, Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book. 

ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine it is.


This much trumpeted sequel to Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment. 

It is really just a collation of amusing little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour and situations.  For example:


Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.


People aren't really altruistic - they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.


Child seats are a waste of money as they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.


Though doctors have known for centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection, they still often fail to do so. 


Monkeys can be taught to use washers as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.

The book has no real message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.

And with a final anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in its tracks.  Weird.


False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics. 

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as


Why does asparagus come from Peru?


Why are pandas so useless?


Why are oil and diamonds more trouble than they are worth?


Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?

It's central thesis is that economic development continues to be impeded in different countries for different historical reasons, even when the original rationale for those impediments no longer obtains.  For instance:


Argentina protects its now largely foreign landowners (eg George Soros)


Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs


The US its cotton industry comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce

The author writes in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to digest. 

However it would benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide natural break-points for the reader. 


Burmese Outpost, by Anthony Irwin
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.

The author was a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to harass Japanese lines of command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of India.   

Irwin is admirably yet brutally frank, in his descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness. 

He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved authority of the British. 

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

Oh, and Irwin describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF Brennan.


Other books here

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