2 Febuary 2015 Courses

A quiet day 2 books sold nothing much happens, I get on with my courses.


Geraldine McEwan Miss Marple

Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple. Photo: ITV/REX FEATURES

Geraldine McEwan, who has died aged 82, was an actress of immense versatility, as comfortable depicting the sly and steely as she was the sweet or silly. Whether she was playing a sadistic nun on film (The Magdalene Sisters) or a spry Miss Marple on television, she embraced each part with empathy and vigour.

Petite – and often sporting elfin hair styles – her appearance belied her ability to invoke momentous emotion (often bubbling just beneath a character’s surface). “The actress of the year 1969 was Geraldine McEwan,” wrote The Daily Telegraph ’s chief drama critic, “Putting aside, if possible, her beauty and her riveting theatricality, consider simply the versatility of this extraordinary actress’s rendering of different women .” Barber called her stage presence “a thing divine”.

Over a career spanning six decades, her work in the theatre brought critical acclaim, along with two Evening Standard best actress awards – for The Rivals and The Way of the World (both at the National Theatre, 1983 and 1995 respectively). However, it was with two contrasting television roles, during the 1980s and 1990s, that she came to the attention of a wider public.

She demonstrated perfect comic timing as Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas, the foil to Prunella Scales’s Miss Elizabeth Mapp in Mapp and Lucia (1985-1986), based on E F Benson’s whimsical novels set in Tilling (a thinly disguise Rye in East Sussex). A few years later she explored the cold hand of maternal love as Jeanette Winterson’s fictionalised mother in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1990).

In later life she was perhaps best known for her performances in the title role for Agatha Christie’s Marple, a modern reboot of Christie’s much-loved mysteries. The series was a success but not to everyone’s taste. The productions married an all-star cast – Richard E Grant, Dan Stevens, Ian Richardson, Timothy Dalton, Joan Collins and Herbert Lom – with an incongruously jaunty soundtrack and quirky camera angles. Even plots were changed: lesbian affairs were inserted into two storylines and Miss Marple was given a romantic backstory. “I think Marple is a sort of heightened reality,” said Geraldine McEwan tactfully.

“The word ‘adaptation’ should be used rather loosely here as almost every useful detail of the novel has been altered,” commented one critic about McEwan’s final episode, Nemesis, “a point which tends to rile Christie purists but has actually been useful in giving these telemovies a fresh air and, on more than one occasion, an entirely different murderer.”

Likewise, McEwan’s Marple was a markedly different protagonist to that of previous screen incarnations. Eschewing the matronly delivery of Margaret Rutherford and the intellectual authority of Joan Hickson, McEwan’s spinsterish sleuth practically fizzed with impish glee at the murky goings-on in St Mary Mead (“Balls,” exclaims Marple at one point). “I find her quite inspiring,” said Geraldine McEwan, “She has tremendous vitality and, of course, this incredible, diamond-sharp brain.”

Geraldine McEwan in the 1950s (Associated Newspapers)

Geraldine McKeown was born on May 9 1932 in Old Windsor into a family of Irish descent (her maternal grandfather was from Kilkenny, her paternal grandfather came from Belfast). Her father, Donald, was a printers’ compositor; her mother Norah (née Burns) encouraged young Geraldine’s early love of theatre. “During the war, my mother used to take me to the local repertory theatre on a Monday night,” she recalled, “and we used to get two seats for the price of one, for ninepence, in the gods.”

She attended Windsor County Girls’ School on a scholarship. She was prodigiously good at maths yet discovered her future profession during elocution lessons. “The teacher gave me a speech by Lady Macbeth to learn, which might seem pretty inappropriate for the age of 10,” she recalled. “It was like being given a crock of gold. I just instinctively understood it all and I thought it was just wonderful.”

She made her stage debut, aged 14, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Theatre Royal at Windsor (where she was an assistant stage manager). After a period with the Windsor Repertory Company in the late-1940s she made her first West End appearance at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1951 (in the comedy Who Goes There!) before an 18-month run in For Better, For Worse at the Comedy Theatre. She saw the negative side of stardom playing opposite Dirk Bogarde in Summertime (Apollo, 1955), witnessing at first hand Bogarde’s unhappy reaction to the screaming crowds of female fans.

During the late-1950s and early-1960s she performed at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, playing Ophelia opposite Ian Bannen in Hamlet and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing (with Christopher Plummer), and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961.

In 1965 she appeared at the Wimbledon Theatre opposite Kenneth Williams and Ian McShane in the original staging of Joe Orton’s Loot. It was a flop (although was successfully revived the following year).

More successful were her collaborations with mainstays of British theatre, such as Laurence Olivier (in Dance of Death at the Old Vic), and both John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson in a London production of The School for Scandal, which travelled to New York in 1963, providing her with her Broadway debut.

McEwan in 1974 (Victor Blackman / Getty Images)

On television she appeared as the titular teacher in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1978), a part made famous on film by Maggie Smith – Muriel Spark declared McEwan’s performance to be the finer. “I’ve spent all my life playing roles that illustrious people have played before me,” said Geraldine McEwan. She won the first of her Evening Standard awards playing Mrs Malaprop in the comedy of manners The Rivals in 1983 and, five years later, directed Kenneth Branagh in As You Like It, giving her stage directions from the front row of the Phoenix Theatre.

For the adaptation of Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, she delivered a performance of quiet menace as Winterson’s fictionalised mother. “Her mother was still alive,” recalled Geraldine McEwan, “And when we had the first reading, I said to Jeanette, ‘I feel very responsible playing this part, and she said to me, ‘Take no notice of that whatsoever.’ ”

As noted in The New York Times, she was “chillingly convincing” as the oppressive Pentecostal evangelist who relentlessly steers her daughter (Charlotte Coleman) away from the “breeding grounds” of sin. She won a best actress Bafta for her performance.

In the wake of her win she appeared in the BBC sitcom Mulberry and accepted supporting parts in blockbusters films such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). She found richer fare on the stage, delighting audiences in 1995 as Lady Wishfort in a revival of William Congreve’s Restoration comedy The Way of the World. “Geraldine McEwan (in the performance of the night and her career) comes on looking like an ostrich which has mysteriously been crammed into a tambourine lined with fresh flowers,” wrote Sheridan Morley in The Spectator.

Her roles continued to defy typecasting. Her gentle touch brought a dash of class to the romantic comedy film The Love Letter (1999), in which she played a lesbian of a certain age living quietly in the New England town of Loblolly-by-the-Sea.

In 2002, she took on a role as difficult as the mother in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. In Peter Mullan’s The Magdalene Sisters she was icy as Sister Bridget, the malevolent nun who abuses young “fallen women” in the infamous Magdalene laundries overseen by Roman Catholic orders in Ireland during the 1960s.

The performance illustrated her talent for finding the heart in seemingly heartless characters. “I found her a sad woman,” she said, “basically intelligent, incredibly cruel to these girls, but ultimately a sad woman.”

She played Miss Marple from 2004 to 2007, when she handed over the knitting needles, summer hats and spectacles to Julia McKenzie (the series ended in 2013).

Geraldine McEwan delighted in her late success on screen. “People are always saying that as you get older as an actor, particularly women, it’s hard to get work, but as far as I’m concerned the past few years have been terrific.”

It was rumoured that she had turned down both an OBE (in 1986) and a damehood (in 2002), although she did not confirm the reports.

Geraldine McEwan married, in 1953, Hugh Cruttwell, who she had met at the Theatre Royal in Windsor as a teenager. Cruttwell was the principal of Rada from 1965 to 1984. He died in 2002. Geraldine McEwan is survived by their son and daughter.

Geraldine McEwan, born May 9 1932, died January 30 2015



Prime Minister's Questions
‘The Guardian should impartially assess the performance of the coalition and oppo­sition policies in partnership with respec­ted research providers and academics’ … Labour leader Ed Miliband in the House of Commons during prime minister’s questions.

From reading your editorial on the use of statistics in political debate (30 January) your readers might have come away with the impression that no numbers in the public arena can be trusted. They would be wrong. Of course statistics will be abused in the runup to an election. But the underlying quality of UK statistics (such as our census, our health statistics or even the new figures on wellbeing) is very high. And they quietly play an important role to help inform lots of day-to-day decisions: Where do we need new transport links? Who is at risk of flooding? Which medicines might work?

So the numbers are generally in a good state. But you are right to be concerned with how we can improve the quality of public debate using statistics. Three things would help. To ensure transparency, government should publish the evidence base for any new policy. To build trust, we should end pre-release access to official statistics, whereby ministers can see the numbers before the rest of us. And to build capability, politicians and other decision-makers in Whitehall should take a short course in statistics, which we’d be more than happy to provide.
Hetan Shah (@HetanShah)
Executive director, Royal Statistical Society

In an editorial, the Guardian shrugs its shoulders and decides in defeatist fashion that ideology trumps evidence. The reason? A belief that facts have become mere fodder for battering political opponents and baffling the public.

What an insult to the public. True, there is an arms race in the use of evidence and statistics in political debate. But this is wonderful. The popularity of More or Less, the interest in our annual British Social Attitudes survey, the Guardian’s datablog and the fact that the newspapers are filled with many more statistics than bare breasts all reflect the reality that the public loves understanding our society through the use of stats. So rather than retreating to praising evidence-free ideology, the Guardian should celebrate statistics as a fundamental part of our democracy.

Even so, a few small things would make a big difference: civil servants should challenge ministers who cynically misuse statistics; the BBC should promote More or Less to BBC1; and the Guardian should impartially assess the performance of the coalition and opposition policies in partnership with respected research providers and academics.
Penny Young (@PennyYNatCen)
Chief executive, NatCen Social Research

The issue of politicians misrepresenting statistics is not new, but we should not totally discount the valuable role that evidence and statistics play in public debate. No doubt that in the buildup to the general election, the left and right will both use statistics to their own advantage and people may not know which to trust. “The circus”, as you put it, may move on but we – Full Fact, the Alliance for Useful Evidence, the Conversation, and Evidence Matters – and the thousands of our supporters we’re already working with will challenge the misuse of evidence, and help the electorate hold politicians to account. In a healthy democracy, we should flag up errors in facts, statistics and evidence and debate their usefulness.

Values, beliefs and politics are – and should – be paramount in most areas of government. But these need to be accompanied by rigorous and independent interrogation of statistics and claims.
Will Moy Director, Full Fact, Jonathan Breckon Head, Alliance for Useful Evidence, Stephen Khan Editor, The Conversation UK, Prateek Buch Policy director, Evidence Matters

Your editorial seems to be a product of frustration with the deliberate misuse of statistical evidence by political parties and the genuine difficulties of producing simple measures of complex issues such as how to measure school outcomes.

However, it is not hard to think of the chaos that would result in not attempting to construct careful measures both to design policy and to assess policy outcomes. An example might be useful.

At the outbreak of the Troubles in Northern Ireland the issue of religious employment discrimination was at the heart of the problem. No significant information was available on the extent of the problem or its results. Steady policy intervention, designed to promote fair employment, especially from the end of the 1980s, placed empirical evidence at the heart of the intervention. Employers were required to measure their religious employment profiles against relevant catchment areas and to report regularly to the regulatory authority. Large-scale surveys and the population census allowed a measure of how the individual actions of employers added up to social change. Of course, there were disputes about the interpretation of the data but the outcome was the gradual removal of employment discrimination as a systematic source of grievance and this, I would contend, prepared the ground for the “peace process”.
Emeritus professor Bob Osborne
Ulster University

File photo of the Pfizer's world headquarters in New York
‘Let us keep in mind the $19bn made by the two companies – UK-based GSK and Pfizer – solely on sales of a vaccine that protects children against pneumonia, a condition that kills 1 million children every year,’ writes Kate Elder of MSF. Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Bill Gates claims that criticising pharmaceutical companies for charging high prices for vaccines will deter them from developing the medicines needed to fight diseases in poor countries (Report, 26 January). Let us keep in mind the $19bn made by the two companies – UK-based GSK and Pfizer – solely on sales of a vaccine that protects children against pneumonia, a condition that kills 1 million children every year.

Mr Gates wrongly claims that MSF has called for vaccines to be available for free. We have in fact called on GSK and Pfizer to reduce the price to $5 per child. This is half of the current cost, which we are worried is unaffordable for many countries. An Indian manufacturer has already indicated that it could make the vaccine for $6, so we believe our call is perfectly reasonable.

Mr Gates also says that MSF doesn’t “actually know anything about the costs” of the vaccine’s production. The pharmaceutical industry shrouds its vaccine production costs in secrecy, despite our repeated calls for them to open the books. MSF has asked the Gates Foundation for its more detailed cost information on the pneumonia vaccine for years, to no avail; we urge the Gates Foundation to publicly share this information.
Kate Elder
Vaccines policy adviser at MSF Access Campaign

• The creation of children using DNA from three parents in order to prevent genetic defects (Nobel laureates join scientists worldwide to urge MPs to permit ‘three-parent’ IVF, 31 January) is described by some as “playing God”. This is wrong. If you believe in such a being, the process would be better described as “correcting God”.
John Illingworth
Bradford, West Yorkshire

Jeeves (played here by Stephen Fry) would never fawn to Bertie Wooster (Hugh Laurie). Photograph: ITV/Rex Features

Bruce Holman (Letters, 30 January) is a little wayward in his Latin. Culus is strictly the anus – quite rare, and only in the singular, in classical Latin, but no doubt medieval monks had more occasion to refer to it, because it survives in French cul, and English cul-de-sac, for which the more fastidious French prefer the expression rue sans issue. The kickable zone is generally referred to as either nates or clunes, almost invariably in the plural. In neither case would the term need pedantic Latinising.
Charles Baily

Why not just kick them in their ba?
Bill Willoughby
St Ives, Cambridgeshire

I delight in informing amazed American visitors to Syon House, home of the dukes of Northumberland, that the first duke’s illegitimate son, James Smithson (nee Macie), left his fortune to found The Smithsonian Institution (Smithsonian museum plans London offshoot, 29 January). Whatever next? That baseball was invented in England?
Patrick Russell
Seasonal room guide, Syon House

Has Giles Fraser read any PG Wodehouse? He describes clerics as “fawning Jeeves-like courtiers who prefer dressing up to speaking out” (Loose canon, 31 January). Jeeves is not fawning or obsequious: he rules Bertie Wooster with an iron hand and is never afraid to speak out.
Siobhan McGovern

My mother regularly sent me to school on a gin and orange in the 1960s on the first day of my period (Letters, 30 January). Worked a treat. The only time she refused was the day of my English O-level, with the consequence that I passed out in the middle of the exam.
Mary Smith
Bearsted, Kent





Boris Johnson has mocked would-be jihadis and extreme Islamists, claiming that MI5 monitoring of their internet use reveals they access pornography as well as extremist sites. He suggests they are “sexually frustrated”.

Johnson is in error. Young men of this kind watch pornography, not because they can’t get access to women’s bodies (often they can and in the most appalling ways), but because they follow an ideology which holds females in contempt, considering them flawed and subordinate beings.

Sexual exploitation and extreme violence towards girls and women, especially those seeking work, independence or an education, are centrally important to the operation of IS, Boko Haram, Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Just as extremist websites promote hatred and violence towards the Shia, Jews, apostates, Yazidis and Christians, secular  on-line pornography reinforces sexual contempt and violence towards women.

Any British male who admires, or has fought alongside, organisations such as this, which assassinate educated females, torture, stone and behead women and sell young girls in their thousands into sexual slavery, must pose a real and continuing risk to the females around them, here in the UK, no less than abroad.

Jean Calder


Jokes could be made but there is a serious point to be made about Boris Johnson’s “wankers” comment in respect of people associated with violence around various kinds of Islamic fundamentalism.

Masturbation is a healthy, normal, safe and hopefully enjoyable thing to do and not something that should feature as a term of political abuse.

Keith Flett
London N17


Isis will stand firm as long as its enemies fail to find a common plan, says Patrick Cockburn (29 January), without suggesting what that plan might be.

If an organisation like Isis threatened to gain any ground in the UK the British Army would be sent out to eradicate it immediately. The Syrian army should be doing the same job in their own country.

They cannot do so because, in addition to fighting Isis they are fighting a deadly proxy war with America and its regional allies, in which the death toll of the Syrian army may be approaching 100,000 by now.

More people seem to be coming round to the idea that the overthrow of the Assad regime is no longer a realistic policy (never mind the morality of it). America should give up the idea of deposing Assad and cut off support for all rebel groups.

In tandem with that, it should work with Russia to bring heavy pressure to bear on Assad to ensure that human rights abuses are brought to an end. Then the Syrian army, with help if necessary, can quickly eradicate Isis from Syria, making them much easier to deal with in Iraq.

Is there any other way?

Brendan O’Brien
London N21


Little has changed since Churchill

Churchill’s death and funeral took place in 1965, during a decade of great social change, so they say (I was there). Remember the barricades in Paris in 1968? The creativity in music? Some of the great clothing styles?

But what has changed? The ruling elite are still from the same class and educational background. The Establishment still protects itself by any means possible. Access to health care is hugely variable by social class, and some illnesses are still more prevalent in social classes four and five. Money  still equals influence. Depressing, really.

And look at the current choices we have politically: Cameron or Miliband to “lead” us. Such charisma, such leadership qualities, such depth of character. Jeez!

R Kimble


Exactly half a century ago, I was in the crowd at the Vetch Field in Swansea for an FA Cup 4th round tie between Swansea Town (as they were then called) and Huddersfield.

The minute’s silence for Winston Churchill was punctuated by a local fan shouting “Murderer! Remember Tonypandy!” at the top of his voice. It was a reference to the still unproven allegation that Churchill as Home Secretary ordered troops to fire on striking Rhondda coal miners. The scandalised “hushing” noise from 99 per cent of the rest of us had to be heard to be believed.

Now, with the distance of 50 years, I cannot help admiring that lone voice for his bravery.  How he got out of that stadium alive is still a mystery to me.

Dai Woosnam

I have become concerned that the British in general and the media in particular are so obsessed with the past, specially the 20th-century European wars and their consequences.

Dwelling on the past is unhealthy, it hampers the future and leads to isolationism. The Second World War ended 70 years ago! The past belongs in the history books.

D Sawtell
Tydd St Giles, Cambridgeshire


End the Long injustice of Diego Garcia

On 31 January The Independent rightly gave prominence to reports that Diego Garcia, a British territory, was used as part of the notorious CIA “rendition” programme. The true extent of the Diego Garcia’s role in rendition may never be entirely known. We do, however, know that the original inhabitants of Diego Garcia, and the other Chagos Islands, have suffered 40 years of disgusting human rights abuse at the hands of British and American governments.

The Chagossian people were expelled from their homes in the early 1970s so that the US could construct the now infamous military base on Diego Garcia. They were abandoned on the docks of Mauritius and the Seychelles with no support. As a result, many fell into cycles of debt and poverty.

The agreement which allows the US to use Diego Garcia expires in 2016 and is being renegotiated. When the original agreement was signed, the UK got a secret £11m (worth around £200m today) discount on the Polaris nuclear weapons. Any extension is also likely to have a financial element, and this could support the rebuilding of Chagossian society on the islands.

Meanwhile, a draft version of a Government-commissioned feasibility report into Chagossian return indicates resettlement could be successful in environmental, economic, social and legal terms. The Government has pledged to make a final decision before the election.

To end human rights abuse in what is officially called the British Indian Ocean Territory, we need to tell Parliament to seize this unique opportunity and support Chagossians’ long campaign for justice.

Stefan Donnelly
Chairperson, UK Chagos Support Association Committee
London SE16


Spectacular scenery, tardy trains

Simon Calder tells us that Scotland’s railways, particularly those in the Highlands, have been voted the nation’s best (28 January).

That is in contrast to Scotland’s trains, happily no longer to be run by First Group, which according to the Friends of the Far North Line now enjoy slower journeys and more delays and cancellations than in 2006,  which itself was worse than 2000.

True, the scenery you enjoy from the window of your slow-moving or stationary train from Wick to Inverness is second to none. So too the delightful stations, the friendly staff and one or two of the fares selected carefully from the Byzantine choice available.

Much of this is blamed on poor signalling, lack of passing loops and various infrastructure shortcomings, all of which could be put right at a stroke for a fraction of the money being spent in London. But with fares and overcrowding so bad in the suburbs of Westminster, it is difficult to see that changing any time soon.

Sam Kendon


A party for the workers

A leaflet through the door tells me that a Labour government would aim for “a recovery that works for working people” and “a recovery that puts working people first”.

To target just one section of the voting public is an unusual tactic. Who speaks now for the unemployed and the pensioner?

Gyles Cooper
London N10


So, 100 days till polling day. The choices to form a government are austerity, austerity lite, or a coalition of either. What a stark choice – no wonder the polls show the voter has no idea what is worse.

Paul Raybould


The chicken and pineapple diet

John Walsh (“I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer”, 29 January) should look up “chicken and pineapple” online and see how many recipes there are before dismissing it out of hand.

Chris Elvidge


Sir, There is speculation that the Labour party may propose reducing university tuition fees in England from £9,000 to £6,000. Were this to happen, at least £10bn of additional public funding would need to be found and ring-fenced over the course of the next parliament to close the gap. Given the many pressures on public finances, and with all political parties committed to further public spending cuts, it is implausible that any incoming government would be able to do this. The result would be cuts to universities that would damage the economy, affect the quality of students’ education, and set back work on widening access to higher education.

Any move to limit the number of students attending universities as a way of reducing costs would remove opportunities for young people and those seeking to return to education, and act as a barrier to economic growth.

Applications to universities are now at a record high and the proportion of applicants from lower socioeconomic groups has risen. Given that fees are not paid until after a student graduates and is earning over £21,000, simply cutting the headline fee provides most benefit to higher-earning graduates. A better way of supporting students, especially those from poorer backgrounds, would be for the government to provide greater financial support for living costs.

Universities UK has consistently argued that our student funding system must be sustainable and support affordable, high-quality higher education. Any evolution of the current system in England should ensure value for money for students, prevent students from poorer backgrounds from being deterred from study, and be financially sustainable for both universities and government.

Cutting the fee cap does not help poorer students and risks the quality of education for all.
Professor Sir Christopher Snowden

President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, University of Surrey
And the English members of the Universities UK board:
Professor Janet Beer, Vice-Chancellor, University of Liverpool and Vice-President of Universities UK
Professor Simon Gaskell
, Principal and President, Queen Mary, University of London
Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell DBE
, Vice-Chancellor, University of Bath
Professor Sir Steve Smith
, Vice-Chancellor, University of Exeter
Professor Sir David Eastwood
, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of Birmingham
Professor Steve West
, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, University of the West of England, Bristol
Professor Michael Gunn, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Staffordshire University
Professor Julian Crampton, Vice-Chancellor, University of Brighton
Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor, University of Reading
Professor Dame Julia Goodfellow DBE, Vice-Chancellor, University of Kent
Professor Sir Eric Thomas
, Vice-Chancellor, University of Bristol
Professor Paul O’Prey
, Vice-Chancellor, University of Roehampton
Professor Graham Henderson CBE
, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Teesside University
Professor David Latchman CBE
, Master, Birkbeck, University of London
Professor Barry Ife CBE
, Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Professor Julia Buckingham, Vice-Chancellor, Brunel University
Professor Chris Brink, Vice-Chancellor, Newcastle University
Professor Dame Julia King DBE
, Vice-Chancellor, Aston University
Professor Nick Petford
, Vice-Chancellor, The University of Northampton

Sir, Greg Hurst’s article (“Higher fees fail to deter students from poor areas’’, (Jan, 30) highlighted the impressive rise in university applications from poorer students. While this is encouraging, young people from deprived areas are still not competing on a level playing field. Students from fee-paying schools are twice as likely to attend Russell Group universities and five times as likely to attend Oxbridge. What’s needed to accelerate change is a greater involvement from businesses in state schools, so that young people can benefit from role models and regular mentoring. Charities such as Future First, which we support, are creating alumni networks in state schools to counter the advantage of old-boy networks that are so entrenched in the UK’s most prestigious schools. Better educational opportunities for all is in everybody’s interest.
Mark Boleat
City of London Corporation

Sir, The performance tables published by the education department last week are misleading and fail to paint an accurate picture of the achievements of England’s 16-year-olds.

Based on GCSE results in a minimum of five subjects graded A* to C, the tables include some (but, strangely, not all) IGCSE examinations. The education secretary has attempted to justify this by describing IGCSEs as “less challenging” than GCSEs. On the contrary, many leading independent schools choose to offer the IGCSE qualifications because they offer greater academic rigour.

Not so very long ago, the government was actively encouraging schools to pursue IGCSEs on the basis that they were more academically challenging.
Mrs SE Marks
Headmistress, Withington Girls’ School, Manchester

Sir, I understand there is concern that a large proportion of student loans will never be repaid. When I went to university in the 1950s all my fees were paid by the state. Today, there should be less concern as the treasury will be somewhat better off than then as at least some of its money will be repaid.
DR Michael Bott
Kirkella, East Yorks

Sir, The government is increasing some court fees by more than 600 per cent this April, spelling disaster for access to justice. We fear that the cost of litigation will increase, people will be priced out of the courts and small businesses will be saddled with debts that they are unable to recover.

The increases risk damaging the UK’s reputation as a global leader in commercial dispute resolution. Our competitors in New York and Singapore will seem much more attractive to those making commercial claims.

Most of our warnings to the government in its 2013 consultation have not been heeded. Worse still, the government held a private consultation in December 2014 to which none of our organisations or members were allowed to respond.

The government has made its decision on scant evidence. We urge it to reconsider.
Andrew Caplen

President, Law Society
Alistair Macdonald QC

Chairman, Bar Council
Frances Edwards

President, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives
Nick Parsons

President, Forum of Insurance Lawyers
John Spencer

President, Association of Personal Injury Lawyers
Penelope Reed QC

Chairwoman, Chancery Bar Association

Sir, Universities are not receiving any new powers in the Counterterrorism and Security Bill (letter, Jan 28). They will not be forced or given any new powers to ban extremist speakers. In no way is the government dictating who they invite on to their campuses and what they should be saying. The guidance to the bill makes clear that it deals with terrorism, not the highly subjective concept of “extremism”.

The bill places a duty on universities to “have regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. Most of our higher education institutions already take great care to do this, and the bill will make it law.
Dr Vince Cable

Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Sir, You have highlighted the RAF Museum’s recovery of the Second World War P-40 Kittyhawk accidentally discovered in the southern Egyptian desert (news, Jan 30). The aircraft was lost during the First Battle of El Alamein when the Desert Air Force flew continuous sorties to halt Rommel’s advance. Losses were severe. The Kittyhawk’s pilot, Flight Sergeant Denis Copping, is commemorated on the El Alamein Memorial — together with more than 3,000 Commonwealth airmen with no known grave.

The decision by the RAF Museum’s trustees to save the Kittyhawk is to be applauded. Before they could intervene, the aircraft suffered more damage in three months than the previous 70 years. A small team dismantled the airframe (in difficult conditions that restricted working to the hours of darkness) and carefully, but unsuccessfully, searched the desert for signs of the pilot.

Discussions continue on how best to exhibit this unique artifact. It may be that a joint exhibition will be forthcoming, but as your editorial recently pointed out, such objects represent the “Treasure of Nations” and should be shared rather than hidden away. If the museum had not acted, the Kittyhawk would have been lost, together with the opportunity to honour the thousands of airmen from many nations who fell defending Egypt. Our challenge is to seize this opportunity and ensure that the aircraft and it’s pilot do not slip from our view yet again.
Air-Vice Marshal Peter Dye

Director-general, RAF Museum (2009-2014)


The gates of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, Poland, circa 1965. The sign above them is 'Arbeit Macht Frei' - 'Work Makes You Free'.

The gates of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland Photo: Keystone/GettyImages

SIR – As chair of the ad hoc committee that successfully campaigned for a memorial plaque to Szmul Zygielbojm, the Polish Jewish anti-fascist martyr, it was gratifying to read David Blair’s account of Zygielbojm’s unheeded efforts to rouse the allies to exceptional action to save the Jews from extermination.

That year, Zygielbojm also conveyed this information in BBC broadcasts and told a packed Labour Party meeting in Westminster how 40,000 Jews incarcerated in the Chelmno extermination camp in Poland were murdered over a period of weeks in mobile gas chambers.

Mr Blair records that Zygielbojm took his own life, as he learnt of the final destruction of the Warsaw ghetto resistance. But that tragedy was compounded by another. British and American diplomats held the Bermuda Conference, where they ruled out the possibility of taking in Jewish refugees from Nazism. This double blow convinced Zygielbojm that there was just one final protest he could make.

His suicide letters, addressed to political leaders and close friends, plus one apologising to his landlady for the distress he would have caused her, made it plain that this was an act of protest, not resignation.

When the Zygielbojm Memorial Committee unveiled the plaque in 1996, together with the Polish Ambassador and members of Zygielbojm’s surviving family, we wanted to recall his story but also ensure that it lived in the present, where failures to believe the accounts of refugees or to offer them sanctuary compound the tragedies they are suffering.

David Rosenberg
London N19

SIR – Jews, who make up just 0.2 per cent of the world population, have won 22 per cent of Nobel Peace prizes. Their brilliance in all subjects benefits mankind world-wide.

Those who criticise and even attack Jews would be wise to reflect on their wonderful achievements and contributions.

Barbara Dowling
London SW19

SIR – I am an Orthodox Jew, as well as a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a working woman. I was born in Hampstead and have lived most of my life in London, but a few weeks ago I was made to feel unwelcome in my own country when a man found my mere presence so offensive that he suggested the Nazis had not done their work efficiently enough.

I tried to dismiss the incident, but after the attack in Paris no Jews feel as secure as they did a fortnight ago. The very politicians who seem intent on increasing the tensions between Jews and Arabs in Israel are ruling over societies that do not protect their own Jews.

I love Britain, I love the freedom of expression it affords me, the freedom to work hard and become successful and the freedom to practise my own faith. And yet, last week I hesitated to walk into a kosher supermarket.

Ann Ochi
London NW3

SIR – At grammar school in the Fifties I was regularly greeted with insults about my “big nose”. In the Sixties, while I was attending Reading University, one student informed me that “Jews are the cause of all the world’s troubles”, and in the Seventies I was confronted in Brighton by two young Muslims who sought to attack my support for Israel’s existence as a state.

I later married and my wife and I have seen our three sons grow into capable young men, all contributing to British society. The Jewish community in this country has been pressurised, insulted and hurt, but it remains determined to overcome this and to continue to contribute.

That is what Jewish people are really like.

Robert Weissman
London E18

SIR – As older members of the British and international Jewish community will no doubt be all too aware, and as in the words of the late Irish intellectual, Conor Cruise O’Brien, “anti-Semitism is a light sleeper”.

Greg Waggett
Clare, Suffolk

Keeping homes warmer for less

SIR – As members and supporters of the Energy Bill Revolution alliance, we are calling upon party leaders to make a commitment in their election manifestos to use infrastructure funds to invest in a more ambitious and effective energy efficiency programme.

High energy bills are causing suffering for millions of families across Britain, especially those on low incomes. Britain has some of the least energy efficient homes in Europe.

It is time for a bold new approach. The next government should make home energy efficiency a priority in order to slash energy bills, provide a lasting solution to fuel poverty, bring down carbon emissions, reduce winter deaths and NHS costs and add £13.9 billion to the UK economy annually by 2030.

No other infrastructure investment can achieve such a powerful combination of economic, social and environmental benefits.

Caroline Abrahams
Charity Director, Age UK

John Sinfield
Managing Director, Knauf Insulation Northern Europe

Brian Berry
CEO, Federation of Master Builders

Ed Matthew
Director, Energy Bill Revolution

Kevin O’Byrne

Gillian Drakeford
Country Manager, IKEA

Javed Khan
CEO, Barnardo’s

Mark Goldring
CEO, Oxfam

Richard Halderthay
Director of Communications, Saint – Gobain

Matt Barlow
UK Chief Executive, Christians Against Poverty

Richard Burnley
Managing Director Insulation Britain and Ireland, Kingspan

Peter Grigg
Director of Campaigns, Policy and Research, The Children’s Society

Neil Marshall
CEO, National Insulation Association

Jenny Saunders
Executive Director, National Energy Action

Rob Lambe
Managing Director, Willmott Dixon

Dave Prentis
General Secretary, Unison

Alan Long
Executive Director, Mears Group

Andy Atkins
Executive Director, Friends of the Earth

Paul King
CEO, UK Green Building Council

John Sauven
Executive Director, Greenpeace

Bill Rumble
Chief Commercial Officer, Mark Group

David Nussbaum

Tom Burke
Chair, E3G

Neal Lawson
Chair, Compass

Paul Maplethorpe
National Chair, Carbon Action Network

Dr Joanne Wade
Director, Association for the Conservation of Energy

Heidi Proven
Executive Director, 10:10

Jacky Peacock
Executive Director, Advice4Renters

Keith Exford
Affinity Sutton

Ian Thomas
Age Cymru

Duane Farrell
Strategy Director, Age NI

Brian Sloan
Age Scotland

Sarah Butler-Sloss
Founder Director, Ashden

Sara Llewellin
Barrow Cadbury Trust

Stephen Robertson
The Big Issue Foundation

Robert Taylor
Lead Organiser, Camden Federation of Private Tenants

Simon Roberts
CEO, Centre for Sustainable Energy

Rachel Stancliffe
Director, The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare

Jackie Brock
CEO, Children in Scotland

Jonathan Johns
Director, Climate Change Matters

Ramsay Dunning
General Manager, Co-operative Energy

Dr Tim Jones
CEO, Community Energy Plus

Paul Elllis
CEO, Ecology Building Society

Nigel Farren
Managing Director, Energise London

Kenny Griffith
Head Of Partnerships, Energylinx

Matthew Farrow
Director, Environmental Industries Commission

Matt Wrack
General Secretary, Fire Brigades Union

Dr Sally Uren
CEO, Forum for the Future

Matthew Crighton
Chair, Friends of the Earth Scotland

Alexander Hilton
Director, Generation Rent

Peter Walls
CEO, Gentoo

Gary Smith
National Secretary, GMB

Juliet Davenport
CEO and Founder Good Energy

Margaret Charnley
Chair, The Greenhouse Trust

Katie Nurcombe
Trade Association Director, INCA

Dave Robson
Managing Director, InstaGroup

Cllr Claudia Webbe
Executive Member for Environment & Transport, Islington Council

Mervyn Kirk
Director, Isothane

Richard Lee
Managing Director, Jablite

Phil Barton
CEO, Keep Britain Tidy

Naomi Kingsley
CEO, London Rebuilding Society

Eithne Rynne
CEO, London Voluntary Service Council

Chris Church
Chair, Low Carbon Communities Network

Helen Reid
CEO, Low Carbon West Oxford

Crispin Dunn-Meynell
General Secretary, MIMA

Dom Weinberg
Policy Manager, National Council for Voluntary Youth Services

Dot Gibson
General Secretary, National Pensioners Convention

Colum McGuire
Vice President, National Union of Students

Stewart Wallis
Executive Director, New Economics Foundation

Robin Lawer
CEO Northwards Housing

Jeremy Hawksley
Director General, OFTEC

Alistair Wardrope
National Coordinator, People and Plant

Rick Crane
Founder, Peopleriver

Mike Shamash
Director, The Peoples Power

Stephen Battersby
Chair Pro-housing Alliance

Nina Skorupska
CEO, Renewable Energy Association

Carol Mathews
Group Chief Executive, Riverside

Nev Wilshire
CEO, Save Britain Money

Catherine Connolly
Managing Director, Schneider Electric

Andrew Eagles
Managing Director, Sustainable Homes

Sally Hunt
General Secretary, University and College Union

Kate Stewart
Interim Chief Executive, UK Community Foundations

Paul Lincoln
CEO, UK Health Forum

Louisa Casson
Co-Director, UK Youth Climate Coalition

Andrew Herbert
CEO, YES energy Solutions

Cathy Debenham
Director, YouGen

Churchill and Europe

SIR – The dispute over Churchill’s views on Europe could easily be resolved by reading the great man’s own words.

In his 1946 speech in Zurich he said: “Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America, and, I trust, Soviet Russia – for then indeed all would be well – must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live.” He clearly saw us as being no more a part of the new Europe than its other “friends and sponsors”.

Elsewhere he said that if we had to choose between Europe and the open seas, we would choose the open seas. That is the choice facing us now, rather than the false choice of Europe or Little England put before us by Messrs Miliband and Clegg.

Derek James
London E16

Police crisis

SIR – This government has presided over the loss of over 16,000 police officers, the closure of police stations, reduced frontline supervision and the decimation of highly successful Safer Neighbourhoods policing teams. This has led to more work being done by fewer officers and a rise in sickness rates.

Morale is low. The perception is that the Home Secretary, Theresa May, does not value the police. Messages from Sir Thomas Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, that police can do “more with less” and “work smarter” are used as a prelude to more budget cuts.

At a time of heightened security I am in no doubt that there is a crisis facing our police.

Clifford Baxter
Wareham, Dorset

Another step towards faceless cigarette branding

Fit for a president: before his political career took off, Ronald Reagan was the face of Chesterfield cigarettes (The Advertising Archives)

SIR – Our local shop has installed opaque doors on its cigarette display cabinets in line with recent legislation, so the packets cannot be seen.

The Government now seems intent on going further and requiring that cigarettes be distributed in plain packets in an apparent attempt to create the impression that cigarettes no longer exist.

When a government legislates to prohibit visible product branding the result is that it encourages hidden consumption and purchase. It also allows the counterfeit market to flourish as purchasers cannot be sure they are getting the genuine product or even that it is safe, as is the case in the sale of many illicit alcoholic and pharmaceutical products.

One must also consider what will happen if we do eventually reach the stage where tobacco is no longer available at all. What replacement tax will then be imposed to make up for the lost revenue?

Keith Taylor
Peterchurch, Herefordshire

SIR – The Government’s plan to introduce a plain packaging law by May, thus stripping branding rights from companies, sets a very bad precedent.

If the government stripped BP of the right to use its sunflower logo or forced Coca-Cola to sell its beverages in unbranded bottles, the public outcry would be deafening. Unfortunately, response to the threat to take the same extreme measures against cigarette companies has been much more muted.

Edward Peter Stringham
Lubbock, Texas

Plus-size women

SIR – On Woman’s Hour last week there was an interview with a woman producing a new magazine for “plus-size” women. She defined plus-size in the world of fashion as size 12 and over.

While most young male models are as skinny as their female counterparts, would anyone seriously contend that a man with a collar size over 14 in and a chest over, say, 38 in was “plus-size”?

Planet Fashion has much to answer for.

Sally Lawton
Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

Getting on the ladder

SIR – In the early Sixties a small rural district council in West Sussex was suffering a shortage of council housing, so it decided to build 14 three-bedroom semis specifically for those council tenants who wanted to buy their own homes.

Applicants had to put down a deposit of £100 against a purchase price of £3,200, and prove sufficient income to support the mortgage. Back then one needed to be a “thousand-a-year” man.

Peter Dyer
Ashington, West Sussex

Time of death

SIR – When it comes to on-screen professional inaccuracies (“Broadchurch is not alone in getting people’s jobs wrong”), my chief brickbat is for actors who, after a momentary touch on someone’s neck, say: “He’s dead.”

Dr E L Hepburn
Guildford, Surrey

Wolf’s Army

SIR – The confusion arising from the similarity between Mark Rylance, who plays Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall, and Kenneth Connor is compounded somewhat by the close resemblance of Jonathan Pryce’s Cardinal Wolsey to Corporal Fraser of Dad’s Army fame.

Wallace Wolf Fields

Church support for mental health

SIR – Churches are places where the most marginalised people in society are welcomed. Many churches work with their local communities, helping people to deal with financial problems, unemployment, family breakdown and bereavements. As such they regularly encounter people struggling with emotional and mental health problems.

With one in four people experiencing a mental health issue each year, it is crucial that we are better equipped to understand and support these people. The creation of resources – such as the online Mental Health Access Pack compiled by Livability and Premier Mind and Soul, designed to increase mental health literacy within our churches – is a good start.

Bishop Charles Moth
Liaison Bishop for Mental Health

Dave Webber
CEO, Livability

Dr Kate Middleton
Director, Premier Mind and Soul

Rev Will Van der Hart
Pastoral Chaplain at Holy Trinity Brompton

Baroness Valerie Howarth of Breckland
Senior Vice President of Livability

Katharine Welby-Roberts
Mental Health Associate, Livability

Dr Rob Waller
Consultant Psychiatrist

Jonathan Clark
Director for Premier Life

Professor the Baroness Hollins of Wimbledon and Grenoside

Jane Smith
CEO of Anorexia & Bulimia Care

Rachel Welch
Project Director of Selfharm UK

Mark Russell
CEO of Church Army

Honourable honours

SIR – Is it too much to ask that the name of Pauline Cafferkey (“Ebola nurse makes full recovery”) and other brave members of the medical profession appear in the next honours list, at the expense of the usual parade of bureaucratic safe-seat warmers?

Peter Wyton
Longlevens, Gloucestershire

Country living

SIR – Andrew Brown believes his children are best entertained in the London suburbs and asks how they would possibly “while away the hours in the countryside”.

My children have happy memories of secret dens, swimming in the brook, the 14-mile school run with three other families jammed into the car all singing the multiplication tables, rabbiting and ratting, and sleepovers in barns and trailers.

Their “home” friends still meet in the pub at Christmas with husbands, wives and children in tow. All of the activities that brought them together can still be done today – although perhaps not in south west London, without sitting in a traffic jam for half an hour first.

Caroline Coke
Slapton, Towcester

Inn the know

SIR – Some years back I was privy to some confidential and highly sensitive information concerning the Duke of York.

I can only assume this was the reason for my being barred and subsequently having to frequent the nearby Red Lion.

John Axon
Herne Bay, Kent



Globe and Mail:


The world is failing these refugee children

Gordon Brown, former British prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer, is United Nations special envoy for global education.

In an ideal world, whenever children needed help, they would get it. When girls and boys were forced from their homes or classrooms because of war, natural disaster or other crises, the international community would formulate a plan within days to ensure their immediate well-being. And such plans would include not only life-saving interventions, but also havens of psychological support and learning that protect opportunity and hope. Such places exist. They are called schools.

Unfortunately, ours is far from an ideal world. When children need help, days turn into weeks and months. Hundreds of desperate children become thousands and eventually millions. Hope gives way to prolonged misery – not for a few months or even a year, but on average for more than a decade. They are shut out of schools, locked out of opportunity and condemned to live in unbearable conditions – subject to child labour or forced begging, sold into marriage, trafficked, conscripted into gangs or recruited by extremists.

What has happened in recent years in South Sudan, northern Nigeria and Iraq – and in Jordan, and Lebanon, where hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee children are being denied the chance to return to school – makes an overwhelming case for a new humanitarian fund for education in emergencies. What has happened during the Ebola crisis in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone – where schools serving five million children remain closed or have not reopened quickly enough – makes this case, too. Yemen and Chad are likely to be next.

In all of these countries and situations, children’s future depends on whether we, the international community, act. The Millennium Development Goals commit the international community to achieve the target of universal primary education by the end of 2015. But the official out-of-school figure currently stands at 58 million. And after being out of school for a year or more, children are unlikely to return.

There is a huge gap in our array of solutions. In 2014, education received just 1 per cent of humanitarian funds, leaving millions of children and young people on the streets or idle in camps. And there is no mechanism to pay for the education of refugee children or those affected by disaster.

To be sure, there are organizations – the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Unicef and many other groups – that, working together, perform heroically. And organizations such as the Global Partnership for Education, Sheikha Mozah’s Educate a Child foundation and the Global Business Coalition for Education also contribute in times of emergency. But that woefully small 1 per cent figure means that the world simply does not have enough to ensure that more than a fraction of affected children get help.

The solution must be based on a simple humane principle: No child should be denied opportunity simply because adults are unable to work together. That means establishing an emergency education system that enables adequate funding to be released to UN agencies and operational NGOs at the onset of a crisis – not years later.

What has been happening in Lebanon over the past two years is a case in point. Today, there are 465,000 Syrian child refugees. The Lebanese government has volunteered to accept refugee children into the country’s schools by introducing a second afternoon session and enlisting teachers and school directors to take on the extra workload. Complicating the situation, officials have had to persuade a divided country, already worried about the influx of refugees (which has added 20 per cent to the country’s population). But few refugee children have enrolled.

Unicef and the UN refugee agency have devised a plan with the Lebanese government to implement this program, but the international community has failed to help. Only $100-million (U.S.) has been pledged, but $163-million is still needed. The Global Partnership for Education and other organizations want to do more, but their mandate does not permit them to provide assistance to middle-income countries like Lebanon.

Something is very wrong with this picture. Lebanon’s government has a plan that requires no new schools or infrastructure, making it one of the most cost-effective solutions to a refugee crisis imaginable. But, still, the money is lacking.

In South Sudan, the same thing is happening. In northern Nigeria, where countless attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram have underscored the need for a full safe-schools program, the money to deliver it simply is not there. And in Pakistan, last month’s massacre in Peshawar massacre has revealed how much more must be done to protect schools and children’s future.

Given such crises, the world can no longer afford to do without a humanitarian fund for education during emergencies. I hope to announce the establishment of such a fund at the Oslo Summit on Education for Development in July.

Education, it is said, cannot wait. Passing the hat when a crisis erupts is not the solution. In 2015, we must do more.


Jan. 31: This week’s Talking Point – aboriginal rights and a child’s life; plus letters to the editor

Two aboriginal girls have leukemia. In each case, the parents halt chemo to treat them with traditional native medicine. One, Makayla Sault, dies. A hospital goes to court to try to restart chemo for the other, J.J. Instead, a judge rules aboriginal rights trump the near-certainty of a cure with chemo. The Globe is urging that the decision be appealed. Readers, print and digital, respond


In the poignant stories of Makayla Sault and J.J., and their acute leukemia, one great irony stands out (Death By Native Rights – editorial, Jan. 24). One of the key chemotherapy agents that is injected to cure childhood leukemia is a Canadian discovery, carefully extracted from the rosy periwinkle, Catharanthus roseus – a plant that had long been used as traditional folk medicine in Jamaica, India, China and elsewhere. This sad irony signals a massive breakdown in communication between the different groups of people who care deeply for these children and strive to help them.

Jacalyn Duffin, Hannah Chair of the History of Medicine, Queen’s University


Let’s not make this an aboriginal issue. This story is about a human right to live and die as we wish. Cancer “survivors” are only patients who are still alive after five years, never mind that they spent much of the time in the painful hell brought on by chemo. Never mind that many times, their life is diminished forever.

Good for them if they found the strength and will to go through that. But I applaud the Sault family for having had the courage to stand up to doctors, and make the choice that best suits them and their spiritual values, whatever they are.

Parents who feed junk food daily to their children and keep them glued to a screen are much more dangerous to their kids and a liability to society than this loving mother who moved Heaven and Earth to stay with her child, offered her a gentler form of healing and gave her comfort and kindness to the very end. The family as a whole made an informed decision, which we should try very hard to respect, and not just because they are aboriginals.

Veronique Ponce, Toronto


The decision you quite properly criticize in your editorial gives a bad name to aboriginal rights. For some, it will just confirm prejudices. Had this error-laden provincial court decision in the J.J. case proceeded to a superior court, it would almost certainly have been reversed. It failed to meet the legal standard of the Supreme Court decision, Van der Peet, on which the judge relied, the standard for an aboriginal right being that the “activity must be an element of a practice, custom or tradition integral to the distinctive culture …[from] the precontact period.” As you note, vitamin drips and cold laser therapy hardly met that standard.

John Edmond, Ottawa


Bravo to The Globe and Mail for calling on the Ontario government to appeal last November’s court ruling that gave aboriginal parents the right to pull J.J. from chemotherapy. Aboriginal rights are, and should always be, a fundamental value in Canadian society. But so, too, is the right to life.

There is no easy answer to the question of when the state should be able to mandate medical treatment over the wishes of parents. This matter should be heard by higher level courts in this country in the interests of furthering the debate and finding the right balance. That balance was clearly not found by the one judge who heard the case.

James Johnson, MD, Toronto


If people can refuse transfusions, then this is no different.

Tracy Lynn Tobin, Vancouver


As a former child-welfare social worker and now a hospital social worker, I’d like to ask: How is it that the community expects a child-protection agency to force chemotherapy on a child against her and her parents’ wishes?

I think we can all agree that chemotherapy is not the same as a blood transfusion. Does the Brant Family and Children’s Services simply get a supervision order, thus legally compelling parents to take a child to the hospital, and the child to accept chemo against her will?

What if the treatment results in an untimely death or long-term physical impairment? What if the supervision order is not effective? Does the Brant Family and Children’s Services simply apprehend the child, place her in foster care, strap her into a car, and force chemo against her will?

How does all of this impact the child emotionally? Does any child have any right to refuse treatment, regardless of whether they are native or non-native? Does the community think it is easy for social workers to apprehend a child to force chemotherapy? And what about the effect on the foster parent who has to care for the ill child?

This issue is not as simple as your editorial suggests. The family refused traditional Western medicine to accept another form of non-traditional Western “medicine.” I can certainly see the hospital’s need to ensure that it has done, and has attempted to make sure that it has done everything in its power to ensure that the child who was under its care received the best treatment possible. The hospital’s doctors have informed, explained and provided the outcomes of the proposed therapy. They have done their job.

In the view of most people, the family is seen as making a bad decision. This is simply a narrow and emotional response without the aid of a broader lens. In the end, it’s the family that has to grieve their decisions and the death of their child. This is not just a native issue, it is a human-rights decision.

Trish Johnston, Hamilton


ON REFLECTION Letters to the editor

Oil and taxes

The recent drop in oil prices has given our governments an opportunity.

Restore the federal GST to 7 per cent, with the increase used for dedicated funding: 1 per cent to pay for infrastructure projects (badly needed), the other 1 per cent to pay down the debt (also badly needed).

And introduce a new gas tax of five to 10 cents per litre. Gas will still be far cheaper than we’ve been used to paying.

Our leaders need to lead, not just implement what they think will buy them votes next election.

John Miller, Victoria


Food and taxes

Re Tax Junk Food (Jan. 29): Letter writer Mary Lapner wants to tax junk food and increase the already high taxes on gasoline to fight obesity and make us all healthier.

She conveniently ignores one simple fact – the money that I earn belongs to me and not the government.

I am tired of “nanny staters” and social engineers constantly looking for reasons to impose new taxes.

Wayne McVittie, Stouffville, Ont.


Foes, friends, terror

Re CSIS To Be Given New Anti-Terror Powers (Jan. 30): As we stand on the verge of ever-increasing intrusions on our privacy and freedoms in the name of defeating terrorism, I cannot help thinking that the way to defeat your enemy is by making him your friend.

Every enemy we kill creates more enemies. Remember the idea of winning hearts and minds? It’s a damn good one.

And now, of course, I wonder whether this opinion will make me worthy of suspicion and heightened surveillance.

Nigel Bennett, Stratford, Ont.


Lies, damned lies …

Re Damage From Cancelled Census As Bad As Feared, Researchers Say (Jan. 29): “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” is a phrase Mark Twain employed in describing the persuasive power of numbers. “Figures,” he said, “often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself.’

Now that the Canadian government, sorry, Harper government, has eliminated valid statistics as a basis for policy, which option will be used to guide our Prime Minister in policy planning?

Ronald Jewell, Toronto


Irish Times:

A chara, – In the current debate on marriage equality, many No campaigners claim that they are concerned about the rights of children, yet they have not spared a thought for the gay children and teenagers listening to the debate; listening to people tell them that they are not equal citizens and that they never should be equal. Perhaps the No campaigners should consider the detrimental effects that their words can have on the mental health and wellbeing of young people. On a daily basis, these children are told that they are not equal to their classmates, while classmates are told that their gay friends are worth less. This can generate and perpetuate a culture of fear and intolerance in the classroom, of homophobic bullying in the schoolyard, and of hate crimes on the street.

Open and honest debate is an essential part of our democracy, but with it comes responsibility. Let’s remember the child who is listening. It might even be yours. – Is mise,


Lecturer in

Children’s Literature,

School of English,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – The claim that current adoption law shows no preference for a child being adopted by a married man and woman over a single person is false.

Neither the Adoption Act 2010 nor its 1991 forerunner provide for single persons (who are unrelated to the prospective adoptee) having an equal right to adopt as that of married couples. In both Acts the right of a single person to adopt is lesser, being subject to the qualifier “in the particular circumstances”. It is a matter of Oireachtas record that the minister originally responsible for conferring the more limited qualified right to adopt upon single persons did so with only “very exceptional circumstances” in mind. The preference in favour of adoption by married couples indicates respect for a child’s interest in having both a mother and a father.

The forthcoming referendum on marriage will affect adoption law in this regard. If passed, statute law would almost certainly be prohibited from giving preference to a husband and wife applying to adopt a child over two husbands or two wives. Any such statutory preference would contravene the constitutional equality guarantee. Hence adoption law would be required to leave some adoptive children either motherless or fatherless. This would be done deliberately and on behalf of adult equality rather than a child’s best interests. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 2.

Sir, – Surely those truly concerned with “cherishing the children of the nation equally” will want to acknowledge the equal legitimacy of LGBT relationships, thus giving LGBT children role models and showing them that they are as loved and as valuable to us as their heterosexual peers. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – One of the problems that contributed to the property bubble and subsequent crash, apart from the complete abandonment of common sense by the lending banks, was the ability of some purchasers to obtain a mortgage without a deposit or to obtain a deposit either by direct cash gift, or by remortgaging of their own home by parents, to “help” their children get on the property ladder without those children having to demonstrate some financial prudence by saving to get a deposit together themselves.

An appreciation of the true value and difficulty of gathering money together and paying it back did not seem to develop in the minds of many potential purchasers. Money was thrown around like confetti by many, without truly appreciating the real costs of repayment.

However, the proposed 20 per cent deposit requirement is an onerous burden to set for many potential purchasers who are renting. To pay rent and save for a 20 per cent deposit will prove too high a hurdle for many lower and medium-paid workers in the future.

A lower deposit requirement for renters, but one which can prove to have actually been saved over a period of time, would be a far fairer and more effective way of keeping potential purchasers in the real world. Along with the additional proof of paying rent, this would demonstrate the ability of purchasers to manage their own finances and ability to repay, which is far more important than a simple, “no questions asked”, 20 per cent deposit which may have been obtained as a gift from a benefactor.

All deposits, up to whatever minimum is set out by the Central Bank for different categories, including those of people who have been lucky enough to live at home while saving their deposit, should, of course, have to be proven to have been saved as opposed to simply gifted. – Yours, etc,


Bagenalstown, Co Carlow.

Sir, – Now that the Central Bank has acted on mortgages, we should look at the supply side of our housing crisis.

Far too many retired “empty nesters” now have houses too large for their needs closer to the centres of employment, while those younger taxpayers paying for the pensioners’ income commute large distances to where they can find cheaper accommodation for their families.

It is also perverse that we do not levy capital gains tax on the windfall profits gained from selling a house – even when the size of the house and associated site has no bearing on the accommodation needs of the individual or family. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 8.

Sir, – Further to the news of Ireland’s slippage of eight places to 22nd place in the 2014 Euro Health Consumer Index, the devil is in the detail (“Ireland falls in international health service rankings”, January 27th).

The report is funded by an international healthcare corporation whose operations include setting up large primary care centres in the Europe and directly employing medical staff. This is a business model that has recently been proven to reduce the effectiveness of primary care compared to the Irish general practice model of smaller, GP-owned practices where continuity of personalised care is available.

Your editorial (January 28th) notes the multipayer model of universal health insurance (UHI) for funding national healthcare proposed by the Government, despite all the international evidence that it can be expected to increase greatly the proportion of the health budget diverted into administration. When UHI is combined with a fee-per-item payment system, it can also have the perverse effect of increasing inappropriate healthcare. This is due to the asymmetry of information between the healthcare provider and consumer, which facilitates the potential for supplier-induced demand.

The report does make some valid points, such as the unreliability of government-produced healthcare statistics. However, it then quotes an official Irish doctor consultation rate that is lower than the European average. The obvious reason for this is that European healthcare surveys are based on a patient’s four-week memory when Irish surveys utilise a one-year recollection, which is obviously subjected to much greater degradation. It belittles the vast amount of evidence supporting the value of GP gatekeeping as the most cost-effective way to improve the equity of healthcare access, reduce mortality rates, unnecessary emergency and outpatient department attendances, inpatient admissions and even unnecessary pharmaceutical use in favour of a single flawed study that attempts to review the effect of GP gatekeeping exclusively from a macroeconomic perspective. This is a quite clear example of how different levels of analysis yield different views in order to promote unnecessary, billable through insurance, consultant-led healthcare activity.

Another view the report offers is maintaining that outcomes are not that important relative to bureaucratic achievements or ease of access. It’s true that improved health outcomes are also dependent on education, social, employment and environmental changes but Ireland would have been joint third in this important category if we dealt with abortion differently. The marking favours rapid access to any GP rather than maintaining continuity of care, which is a better marker of patient-centred primary care. It also values rapid access to CT scans, when this could perversely promote unnecessary exposures to cancer-inducing radiation. It fairly assesses equitable access as determined by the proportion of healthcare costs not coming directly out of the patient’s pocket. Ireland is quirky on this point because of our medical card system providing free primary care access to the oldest, poorest and sickest 42 per cent of the national population in favour of the wealthier, more educated population. On other equity assessments, Ireland is rated near the best in Europe.

This report raises some valid points, but it also has a clear underlying agenda. – Yours, etc,


Walkinstown, Dublin 12.

Sir, – A recent report from Oxfam showed that the 80 richest individuals on the planet have the same wealth as the poorest 50 per cent (3.5 billion people). In cash terms, their wealth has doubled in the last five years. They predict that by 2016 the wealth of the richest 1 per cent will overtake that of the rest of the world’s population combined. These revelations are both astonishing and galling. I believe that capitalism is the best system to lift people out of poverty but when the gap in wealth has widened to a degree where a handful of individuals control so much, and so many have to survive on so little, then something in the world has surely gone awry. Figures also show that over recent years the very rich have become increasingly adept at finding ways of paying less and less tax and when it comes to lobbying politicians, their positions of influence grant them unfettered access to these policymakers. It seems that the avarice of a few coupled with the obeisance of policymakers is at the core of the problem. The absurdity of avoiding tax in order to amass wealth that is so enormous that it could never possibly be of practical use to the beneficiaries seems to be lost on them. In its report, Oxfam made several recommendations that would help to narrow the wealth gap by means of social and tax reforms. It is up to the world’s politicians to take these suggestions on board, but is anyone listening? – Yours, etc,



Co Louth.

Sir, – Martin Wolf argues persuasively that debt relief for Greece is in the best long-term interest of all countries in the euro zone (“Greek debt and a default of statesmanship”, January 28th). In challenging the “self-righteous nonsense” of those who oppose such relief, he also points out that their alternatives would allow “the euro zone to avoid confronting the moral case for debt relief for other crisis-hit countries, notably Ireland”. It is clear from this that now is the time for our Government to step up to the plate and support the Greek call for debt relief – it is in our own best interest and for the greater good.

Denis Staunton recently made a comprehensive argument proposing that we should support the Greek plan to write down euro debt ( “Why Ireland should support Greek plan to write down euro-zone public debt” January 10th).

In his 2011 report on the banking crisis Klaus Regling identified “groupthink” as one of the key causes; now we are faced with a vital decision which could have major implications for our country’s future wellbeing and the same “groupthink” is manifesting itself among our politicians and financial decision-makers.

What is needed as a matter of urgency is a public discussion on whether Ireland should support the Greek call for debt relief. I believe a discussion on the proposal at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform would be useful. If the proposal is rejected by the Government then I believe Michael Noonan should state the reasons why in a clear and comprehensive manner. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – My late mother – a young Jewish refugee from Europe in Ireland in the late 1930s – managed to escape from meeting the same fate as both her mother and her younger sister at the hands of the Nazis. Had it not been for the help of some kind, decent Irish people who helped her to remain here in safety there is no doubt that she too would have ended up in Auschwitz. My mother used to tell us how – just before she made it to the safety of Ireland – her mother in Berlin would tell her that one day the living would come to envy the dead. Hearing recently in the media some of the horrific experiences of the few remaining living witnesses, I have been struck by how right my poor grandmother was. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – I am an IRFU 10-year ticket holder in the Aviva Stadium, and my 10-year tenure finishes next August.

I understand that the pricing of a 10-year ticket is front-loaded to take into account the expected inflation of ticket prices in the latter part of the 10-year term. However, over the past 10 years, this inflation failed to materialise, making the price per game over the past 10 years very bad value indeed compared to the face value of the tickets. However, that’s the luck of the draw.

Over the past six months, there had been intimations that a rethink about the policy regarding renewals was in train at the IRFU. One change that would have been very welcome was the possibility of offering a shorter-term ticket, say for five years, to loyal but ageing fans. I am in my mid-seventies, so it requires an act of faith to purchase a seat for 2025! This shorter term would also have removed the need to charge a premium price to allow for inflation in the latter five years of a 10-year contract.

However, my latest information is that this concession to the “elder generation” is not to be part of the IRFU’s plans when it finalises its pricing in the next few weeks. Perhaps if enough of my generation contacted the IRFU to request a rethink of this somewhat unfeeling policy, our “grey power” might persuade them to change their minds, in the same way we managed to influence our Government in the recent past! – Yours, etc,


Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I read your report “Theft of statue in Co Derry could be linked to fanatical religion” (January 22nd) and its reference to the “mythological god” of the sea Manannán mac Lir and was left with some confusion. I trust The Irish Times has ample evidence in its possession to differentiate Manannán as a “mythological god” from the other less mythological gods, and particularly those featured in the “Rite & Reason” section of the newspaper. This evidence should be published in full immediately. One would not wish to be led astray and miss out on one’s possible eternal reward simply due to lack of support in a national newspaper for what may turn out to be the correct god.

In the meantime, we atheists shall look at Manannán with equal bemusement as we regard all other unsubstantiated deities. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 22.

Sir, – Further to Paul Howard’s life lessons (January 6th), my father told me two things that you should never do for anyone: tee up their golfball or water their whiskey. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – What a lovely tale Frank McCrossan (January 24th) told regarding bees and the Botanic Gardens!

Lavender provides a terrific source of nectar for bees and can be grown in pots on balconies and windowsills – apparently bees will travel quite long distances to find it! – Yours, etc,


Mount Merrion, Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

Cohabiting couples in Ireland have no automatic right of inheritance on the death of either partner
Cohabiting couples in Ireland have no automatic right of inheritance on the death of either partner

It appears to me that there is much column space dedicated to the search for equality for homosexual couples, including the debate on marriage. I have no particular truck with such campaigns. However, there is a more pressing need that I feel Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald should pay more attention to, as it affects far more people.

  • Go To

What I would like to draw the readers’ attention to is the lack of rights afforded to heterosexual couples who are co-habiting with each other. The recent demise of a close friend, who had been living with his girlfriend/partner for over 12 years, has brought into focus the reality that exists. My friend had bought a house with his partner. She was, for all intents and purposes, his ‘wife’.

This man’s surviving partner is now entitled to precisely nothing from the estate of her dear departed life partner.

I would urge Minister Fitzgerald to re-assess the situation here in Ireland, and at least recognise the ‘common law situation’ which is accepted in the UK. From the figures I could glean, there are approx three times more heterosexual couples affected by this situation than there are homosexual couples. However, I would not want this to be one side pitched against another, in order to gain rights, but it would appear to be more ‘just’ to deal with a problem that affects more people, than to sort out the problems of a minority.

In this day and age, should it really matter if a couple who share their life together are married or not? Should bands of gold make all that difference?

There has been a seismic change in this country over the last few years, with the Church not being as powerful as it once was. Is it not now the time to re-examine the situation here in Ireland and right the wrongs that are being done ?

I would further urge everyone who finds themselves in this position to stand up and fight for this right. If others can do it, and get their topic to the discussion table, then why can’t these couples have their rights seen to as well?

Declan Carty, Sandymount, Dublin 4

The grass is not always greener

Like many young Irish people, I left the homeland. In my case, I moved to Canada nearly two years ago. I started a new life in Toronto. It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I got the job I wanted and fell in love with city and could see my future here.

But things did not go as planned. The new permanent residency system, PR, is like doing your Leaving Cert all over again. You’re rated on points and only the top of the class get to stay. I have made the decision to move to Europe, but I am one of the lucky ones. I have a few months to plan, I don’t have a boyfriend or kids, and no financial debt. Some people are not so lucky.

I want the people of Ireland to see how hard it is. If you are coming over you need to plan from the get-go. I don’t want to put anyone off this beautiful country, but the situation isn’t so black and white.

There is a Facebook group – Irish & Applying for Canadian PR (CEC FSW PNP) – and over the past week people have been posting their heart-breaking stories about whether they can stay or have to go.

Sarah McCaul, Toronto, Canav

World must unite against Isil

The murder of Kenji Goto by Isil must be condemned by all right-thinking people, regardless of race or religious affiliation.

This mass insanity is now one of the greatest evils humanity has witnessed since the 1930s. The scale of this cult is growing, spreading virus-like throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, from Iraq and Syria, to northern Nigeria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, southern Yemen and the Egyptian Sinai. This is a mass psychosis.

No negotiation is possible. There are no aims, political or otherwise, other than the medieval imposition of a ruthless version of Islamic Sharia, where death and the afterlife are glorified and the stated end game is the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of million of people, including all non-believers and all Shia Muslims.

Over a decade after 9/11 the world must now come to terms with the full consequence of the ill-conceived policies and actions of the administration of George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

They succeeded in fermenting civil war between Sunni and Shia Islam, creating the vacuum for this bloodletting to emerge and flourish.

The international community must collectively contain and eliminate this madness as it simply cannot co-exist with any objective measure of what modern humanity represents.

Bernard Guinan, Claremorris, Co Mayo

A lesson from Ireland’s past

The response to the recent abusive taunts hurled at President Michael D Higgins brought into focus selective standards and collective amnesia by some of those critical of his treatment.

It also brought into focus contrasting approaches and repercussions on a controversial issue involving two of our presidents, President Higgins and President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.

In the case of President Higgins, the recent unsavoury episode primarily stemmed from anger over our President signing into law the Irish Water bill without referring it to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality.

President Higgins has represented this country abroad with great dignity, grace and eloquence since assuming office. He has consistently spoken out on human rights issues on the world stage and against the financial and social cost of austerity on ordinary citizens in this country. Yet, when he had an opportunity to challenge an element of that austerity in a concrete way it appears, to some, that he relented.

Some people are of the opinion that he should not have signed it into law regardless of its constitutionality or not, and that in such a situation he had an obvious option open to him.

This is in contrast to President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, who in 1976 was severely undermined and criticised by Minister for Defence Paddy Donegan, who called him a “thundering disgrace”. The reason for the outburst was because President Ó Dálaigh initially refused to sign new anti-terror legislation into law. Before signing it into law he first referred it to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality.

President Ó Dálaigh, based on his principles, felt forced to resign as president due to the horrific way he had been publicly spoken about by the minister. Not only did Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave not ask for the minister’s resignation, he reportedly refused the minister’s offer to resign. The cabinet, consisting of members of Fine Gael and the Labour Party (at the time Michael D Higgins was a Labour Party member of the Seanad) also voted confidence in the minister. That in itself, ought to say a lot about the lack of respect that that government had for the President and the office of the presidency.

Unfortunately, the facts surrounding the scandalous treatment of President Ó Dálaigh appears to be conveniently lost in the memory of those who are critical of the recent treatment of President Higgins.

It is ironic that many in the present Government and Dáil who are vociferous on the issue at the moment were not even born when the office of President was unceremoniously undermined by the government of the day without any reprimand for the government minister involved.

Christy Kelly, Templeglantine, Co Limerick


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