Photo above: Bermuda Premier, Michael Dunkley.
HAMILTON, Bermuda, Mar 17, (CMC) – The One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) government, shaken by a five-day protest and resignation of a cabinet minister, has pledged to withdraw its controversial Pathways to Status Bill.
Premier Michael Dunkley announced, tonight, that an agreement had been reached to end the “disruption and distress across the island”.
To massive cheers from protesters outside the House of Assembly, the Reverend Nicholas Tweed, spokesman for the pressure group, the People’s Campaign, read from a letter from the government, stating: “The government will withdraw the bill.”
It came moments after Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU) President, Chris Furbert, told the crowd: “We have an agreement but it’s for you to decide if it’s sufficient. We believe it is. I believe we’ve delivered what we were asked to deliver.”
Members of the crowd raised their hands in agreement after Tweed, an African Methodist Episcopal church minister, gave details of the government’s proposal.
A consultative working group for the bill has also been promised.
The protests began, last Friday, and continued on Monday, with bus and ferry services, as well as garbage collection was cancelled.
MPs, who were shut out of the House by a nine-hour blockade on Monday, when protesters formed a human ring around the building, will return to parliament on Monday, Dunkley said.
Dunkley earlier had to deal with the resignation of Tourism and Transport Minister, Shawn Crockwell, who quit, on Wednesday night, after launching a stinging attack on the OBA under Dunkley’s leadership but promised to stay with the party as a backbencher.
He said, their lack of understanding of the black community had resulted in the tense demonstrations and industrial activity of the past week over the proposed Pathways to Status initiative under which foreigners who have lived in Bermuda for 15 years would be able to apply for permanent residency, and permanent residents who have lived here for 20 years would be able to apply for Bermudian status (citizenship), enabling them to vote in elections.
Premier Dunkley accepted Crockwell’s resignation “with regret” and temporarily appointed Grant Gibbons as acting Minister of Tourism and Transport in addition to his Economic Development portfolio.
The Premier said, he would appoint a full-time minister to replace Crockwell, MP for Southampton West Central, in “short order”.
The first stage of the new bill, to be tabled on May 13, will deal with children who were born in Bermuda or arrived at an early age, Tweed told the crowd.
The second stage will deal with permanent resident certificate holders of 15 years, and will be debated in the summer session. The third stage will deal with status (citizenship) after 20 years, during the new session in the House in November.
Tweed also said, efforts would be made to improve training opportunities for Bermudians, telling the crowd: “All sides are committed to working for the betterment of Bermuda.”
Opposition Progressive Labour Party (PLP) MP, Walton Brown, said: “This agreement gives us everything we’ve been calling for in the last month. We will shape that consultative committee. All the power is with the people.”
Furbert told the crowd: “We are where we need to be.”
He promised them: “We’re certainly not going to be giving the country away.
“Let’s not tear apart all the good work that we’ve done over the last five days. Put your suggestions in so we can protect who we need to protect: the children. All I hope for, going forward, is for the government to finally start listening to the people — and hearing what the people are saying.”
Furbert thanked the people for sacrificing a week’s wages, saying, he has asked the Premier if it can be counted as paid vacation time.
Announcing that a resolution had been reached over the controversial Pathways to Status initiative, Dunkley said, in a statement: “Earlier today, I sent a letter to Bermuda Industrial Union president, Chris Furbert, outlining a plan to end the impasse that has caused disruption and distress across the island.
“The letter was the product of days of constructive dialogue between government representatives, Furbert and his union colleagues, as well as input from the wider community.
“I am happy to report that agreement has been reached on a way forward, and that the impasse will end. Members of Parliament will return to work on Monday. Public services will resume, and business activities affected by the withdrawal of labour will return to normal.
“To achieve this agreement, the government will enable further community input into the various elements of the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act. The bill itself will be removed from the House of Assembly’s order paper.
“Consultative working groups, comprising key stakeholders, will be set up to discuss the various elements of the bill and to make recommendations. The principles of the original bill will form the basis of their terms of reference.
“The working groups are to submit their input to a fixed schedule that will allow parliament to consider immigration reforms in stages through the current session to the start of the next one in November. The agreement accepted this afternoon by Furbert and his colleagues will see us press the re-set button on the immigration reform schedule, setting the stage for wider input into the specific reform proposals.
“This is a good result to emerge from days of disruption.
“The process to this point has been difficult, but it has also been constructive and enlightening.
“What has emerged is better community understanding of an issue that is critical to individual lives, our collective future and the meaning of our island home. What has also emerged is a determination to more closely connect public input with the work of government as it develops. We’re going to get back to the business of the people, working to restore security and prosperity for all Bermudians.”