Letters: Titian's great painting

Sir: As a member of the Royal Society of Arts and a keen supporter of Britain's artistic heritage I have been following with growing concern the drama surrounding the possible sale of a Titian based in the National Gallery to a private collector or overseas gallery.

It appears that the nation is about to lose one of its great art treasures. Titian's stunning Portrait of a Young Man, which has been on long-term loan to the National Gallery, is a unique, internationally acknowledged masterpiece by one of the greatest painters of the Renaissance. Reports suggest that the owner offered it first to the National Gallery, at a significant discount to the estimated market value. But after two years of negotiation, it seems that there is still an unbridgeable gap between what the National Gallery is able to offer and what the owner is able to accept.

To preserve Britain's cultural heritage we have to ensure that we are able to protect, and even continue to build our public collections. The National Gallery has to compete in a world art market that has grown increasingly expensive in recent years, but here we have a British-based treasure available to the nation at a fraction of the open market value. There are many pressing claims on the public purse and on Lottery funding. It's just possible that there may be a generous benefactor who could make up the difference. Failing that, I do urge the National Gallery to make every possible effort to save this great painting for the people of this country, and the Heritage Lottery Fund to ensure that the necessary vital financial support is there.

I understand that there is money available for precisely this kind of rare opportunity, and this is an expenditure which will be delivering dividends for generations to come.

ANDREW LOVE MP

(EDMONTON, LAB) HOUSE OF COMMONS

Riots show an Ulster stuck in the past

Sir: Seen from across the water in England, the latest outburst of violence in Northern Ireland looks incomprehensible. But what is even worse is the whingeing self-justification of some of the Orangemen and Unionists, who seem to be using the very same excuses for the mayhem as were used by the IRA before they understood that they had more to gain through the political process. This can only lead to an endless cycle of destruction. The fact that these people also call themselves "loyalists" is insulting to the rest of Britain, because they are not loyal to anything we care about.

The only way forward for Northern Ireland is eventual unification with the rest of Ireland. The Unionist sector of society has to recognise that it is a false "majority" - in the context of Ireland, it is a minority and should now face that fact. In any case, as a diverse, open, vibrant part of new Europe, the Irish Republic should hold no fears for the North.

Once the final heave takes place, a greater prosperity will follow and Britain and Ireland can get on with being the natural economic and social partners they would be if it were not for the medieval attitudes of a small hard core of people trapped in the past.

MIKE BARRETT

LONDON SW4

Sir: As an Irish Republican who does not support Sinn Fein or the IRA, I found Bruce Anderson's use of the terms "Catholics" and "Protestants" in his analysis of Irish history and recent events lazy and simplistic ("If the violence was Catholic, you would try to understand the anger behind it", 12 September). Modern militant Republicanism and Constitutional Nationalism were both founded by Irish Protestants, Wolfe Tone and Charles Stewart Parnell respectively. Irish Republicanisms central aim is the creation of an egalitarian society regardless of creed, colour or race.

The six counties' position within the UK has been copperfastened by the Good Friday agreement, until such time as a majority democratically decide otherwise. This has been enshrined in the Irish constitution. The status of the North of Ireland is not under threat. The Provisional IRA are in the process of disbanding and disarming and seek a political partnership with their Unionist neighbours.

The causes of the recent riots can only be explained through an understanding of Unionism and its leadership style. Unionism created a sectarian society where economic and political discrimination were used to reinforce itself. This was capped by annual or bi-annual drunken swaggers through Catholic communities in order to enhance the feeling of power and privilege within the working class Unionist community. This was the quid pro quo for loyalty to the Unionist ruling class. Potential loyal Catholic citizens were turned into disgruntled and rebellious Nationalists; that rebellion occurred in 1969.

The forces of globalisation and the pragmatic reforms of successive British governments have eroded that position of power and privilege. Unionist leaders have failed to prepare their constituents for these changes. Unionism has never advanced beyond the mantra of "No Surrender". Instead of the language of peace and reconciliation Unionist leaders attempt to outdo each other with belligerent speeches and insist that all will be as it was.

It is little wonder that an ill-educated and inarticulate Unionist working class is angry. They have be abandoned by their leaders and are striving to understand the new dispensation in their society. Irish Republicanism must, and will, reach out to this community and offer them partnership and peace.

ANDREW KELLY

DUBLIN

Sir: As much as I dislike taking issue with a namesake (Peter Day, Letters, 13 September) I have to correct the misunderstanding of the history, particularly as I recently completed a dissertation on the Orange Order in Liverpool, which will also be the topic of my M Phil.

William of Orange was no more a foreign king than most of the others; he had a claim to the English crown through his mother. He was invited to take the throne in 1688 following the birth of a son to James II, which threatened a Catholic succession. Having landed at Tor Bay his army was unopposed on the march to London. James fled to France.

William was the first King of England who vowed to maintain the Protestant religion as part of his coronation oath, a pledge repeated by monarchs to this day. The strength of feeling expressed in Ulster today over the issue of religion would have been familiar to most English people from 1688 until the early 20th century.

Whether or not the Orange Order should refocus their parades away from triumphalism and toward cultural heritage is an open question, particularly in view of the success the Apprentice Boys of Derry have achieved in negotiations with the Catholic majority. The current levels of violence have been prompted by a rerouting: how much violence does one imagine a ban would provoke?

PETER DAY

LONDON SE27

Sir: Perhaps Mr Blair could ask President Bush for his help in clearing up the Northern Ireland problems after they have finished clearing up Iraq?

YVETTE SFAKIANOS

SALISBURY

Iraq needs UN to keep the peace

Sir: Your ominous leader (15 September) warns that the "chasm of civil war" in Iraq is widening by the day. If full-blown hostilities across the sectarian divide were to break out it might not be too alarmist to foresee incidents of ethnic cleansing in hitherto mixed communities.

Given the gravity of the situation I should like the British Prime Minister to propose a new United Nations resolution which would authorise the sending of a peace-keeping force to the region, as a matter of urgency. This would surely be a good deal more to the point than the current posturings by heads of state on the arcane question of UN reforms.

The world community needs to act, dispassionately but resolutely, while there is still time, to prevent a bloodbath. Such a disaster would likely see the destruction of Iraq's historic treasures, to say nothing of the threat posed to world oil supplies should this fragile country fall into chaos. Mr Blair should capitalise on his special relationship with Mr Bush to persuade his American friends to join him in this humanitarian mission, despite that country's traditional reservations in such matters.

MALCOLM ROSS

LITTLEHEMPSTON, DEVON

Sir: This week's World Summit was supposed to the make the UN the kind of organisation that would never again fail to prevent conflicts like Rwanda. Hope for a radical outcome had been diminishing for some time, but the final result remains a disappointment.

Agreement to create a Peacebuilding Commission and recognising the Responsibility to Protect are welcome - although a more ambitious agreement empowering the Commission to prevent conflict and urging members of the Security Council not to use the veto in cases of genocide would have made a more powerful impact on human security.

More incredible is the complete failure by world leaders to include any language on disarmament, of both conventional weapons and small arms and light weapons. This is a massive backwards step and a glaring disappointment that will hinder the UN's responsibility to secure stability and development for all. We hope and expect the UK Government will continue to push for an international agreement to an arms trade treaty.

CLAIRE HICKSON

SAFERWORLD, LONDON N1

'Balance' between terror and torture

Sir: Charles Clarke, in his speech to the European Parliament, (Podium, 8 September) talks of the right to be protected from torture being considered side by side with the right to be protected from terrorism. He says that it is difficult to get the balance right.

If he sees a difficulty - and if this really is the choice - then clearly he is committed either to asserting that people should not always be protected from torture or that people ought not always to be protected from terrorism. So, would you please make it clear which are you going for, Mr Clarke?

PETER CAVE

LONDON W1

Sir: I'm ever so glad that Charles Clarke is protecting my civil right to not be blown up. There are a number of approaches that we can take in order to minimise the risk of being blown up.

We could, for example, vow to never again launch a war of aggression based on lies that resulted in lots of foreign people being blown up. We could stop hosting arms fairs in East London that offer all manner of goodies that can be used to blow people up.

Alternatively, we could transform Britain into a totalitarian fascist police state where dodgy-looking foreigners can be executed on the basis of suspicion. That'll learn 'em.

ROBERT TARBUCK

LONDON N19

Sir: As an employer of over 100 people in central London, including in Russell Square, I would rather Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5, restrict our freedom a little than have them blown apart in their office or on their way to work.

Your correspondent in Holbeach St Marks, in Lincolnshire, (letter, 12 September) possibly sits in a more comfortable place to defend the rights of all, including those whom he would wish to protect whilst they plan their next attack on the lives of my friends and colleagues.

GARETH MARR

COOKHAM, BERKSHIRE

Burden of sin in the cinema

Sir: Charles Thomas (letters, 14 September) states "We are all sinners, and ... the only difference between Christians and those of other faiths or no faith is that Christians have accepted the free gift given by Christ."

The trouble is that we must accept that we are sinners before we can accept the gift offered by Christ. This is hardly a free gift then, is it? I consider myself neither a sinner nor a Christian, and to accept the label of sinner I must bear the weight of guilt for my own existence. The price is way too high, and I will be inclined to hurl my popcorn at the screen when I see the Alpha Course ads.

JOHN PEDERSEN

TOTNES, DEVON

Negligent president

Sir: If owners of an old people's home can be charged with "negligent homicide" for not removing people from the path of the rising waters in New Orleans, can George Bush not be indicted on exactly the same grounds?

ANDREW HUDSON

BANSTEAD, SURREY

British and English

Sir: For someone who is both anti-imperialist and anti-racist to be both imperialist and racist in her arguments about Englishness is quite an achievement. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's approval of a British identity (12 September) fails to recognise its imperialist origins: it was promulgated and sustained by empire and foreign war. When it comes to thinking about Englishness she insultingly and ridiculously stereotypes what it means to be English and assumes that only white people can be English. Relax, Yasmin - you too could be English.

RAY SNAITH

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE

Victory celebration

Sir: Hearty congratulations to England's cricketers for wresting the Ashes back from the withered grip of the Australians. Was it wise though for the Prime Minister to receive the England team at 10 Downing Street? After all, by their own admission, this was a group of young men who had spent the entire night binge-drinking. Aren't you supposed to be clamping down on these sort of people Mr Blair, not cosying up to them?

DEREK COLLETT

CHARLBURY, OXFORDSHIRE

Fall of the curtain

Sir: The opening of the article "On the trail of the Iron Curtain" (14 September) states: "It is almost half a century since Winston Churchill declared in dramatic style that an 'Iron Curtain' had fallen across Europe". No it is not. Churchill's speech was delivered in Fulton, Missouri, on 5 March 1946.

PHILIP NORTON

PROFESSOR OF GOVERNMENT UNIVERSITY OF HULL

Feline linguist

Sir: The letter from Betty Brass about her parents' dog (14 September) inspires me to write. I am a professional translator working in a variety of mainstream European languages.

My cat has long since understood the word "fish", irksome when I mention it in connection with my own dinner rather than hers! I then began to refer to it in French, then Italian and, finally, Spanish. I decided against German - too similar to the English. It has all been in vain! I now have a trilingual cat - at least in matters of feline gastronomy!

SIMON DALGLEISH

LONDON W6

Comments