Dunkley condemns protest ‘tactics’

  • dunkley press conference

  • Michael Dunkley, the Premier, addresses reporters at a press conference (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Michael Dunkley, the Premier, addresses reporters at a press conference (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Michael Dunkley claimed yesterday that the “tactics” used by those who organised last Friday’s protest outside Parliament were “not acceptable in Bermuda” and urged reporters to investigate further.

The Premier told a press conference: “I believe that what happened on Friday was a concerted, organised effort, taking in tactics that are not acceptable in Bermuda, and I would hope that the media would uncover some of those tactics and do the job that you typically would like to do.

“I think there were many demonstrators who came with a good intent to share their point, but I think there were other demonstrators who were rallied there, who knew exactly what they were getting into and they were advised how to act, how to conduct themselves and those type of tactics. I am surprised the media is not investigating fully.”

The remarks came in response to a question about whether any of the lessons he said were learnt after the Pathways to Status protests in March had been applied on Friday.

Mr Dunkley would not comment any further on the tactics he referred to, but added: “I have seen e-mails going around. I have followed them to some extent.”

ZBM reported earlier this week on an e-mail shared on social media which was said to have been sent to demonstrators, giving guidance on how to behave during a protest. No information was given on who allegedly sent the message.

Mr Dunkley was asked why he did not speak in person to the demonstrators who gathered and locked arms outside Sessions House on December 2 to prevent MPs from debating a controversial redevelopment plan for the airport.

Revealing he was in his office at Cabinet from 7.30am, he said he first became aware that MPs were being barred from entering the House of Assembly when Deputy Premier Bob Richards could not get inside after 8am.

“I considered through the morning to go out there but it was advised to me that it wouldn’t be the appropriate thing to do,” said the Premier. “The crowd was not listening. The people there were not really listening to what was taking place.

“When members of Parliament asked to walk in and they are told ‘no’ or ‘turn around’ then it makes little sense to go out there and do what you have to do. All through the process of any government initiative, I have always made myself very open to sit down and talk to people about these things and that’s not going to change.

“But I don’t think it would have been fruitful to go out and talk to the people at that time.

“Let’s be very frank about this, those people were there for a purpose and they were not interested in my humble opinion and dialogue at that time.”

Pressed on who advised him to stay away, he said: “I take advice from many different people.” Asked if the police told him not to attend for safety reasons, he repeated that he took advice from many but said he left his office for some fresh air about 11.45am.

Mr Dunkley said: “I could have gone out there. I could have gone out there and said some things but at that time people were there to demonstrate, they were not there to listen. My door has never been closed to listen to people.”

He added: “Go out there, be part of the demonstration, listen to it, be subjected to verbal abuse — that’s really not worth it. That’s not progress.”

Earlier yesterday, Randy Horton, the Speaker of the House, announced that Parliament would not sit today and had been adjourned until February 3.

Mr Dunkley said he had met with the Leader of the Opposition and the Speaker and agreed upon the decision.

“We will use this time to calm, to heal and, of course, to reflect on the meaning of this season that we enter,” he said.

The Premier revealed he could not see the scenes unfolding outside the House from his office but was shaken upon discovering what had taken place, as were his One Bermuda Alliance colleagues.

He spoke of the tensions on display, adding: “As a responsible government, we must take every tangible step to cool those tensions.”

Explaining why MPs would not meet at the House today, he said: “There’s too much angst in the community. I live, I breathe, I walk in this community and so does everyone in Bermuda. And so I feel that pain. The decision might not be accepted by some in the community but this is the right decision at this time.”

The leader of the country was quizzed about whether he had advance knowledge of the police decision to send officers in riot helmets who used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

The Progressive Labour Party claimed on Wednesday the public continued to be “kept in the dark” as to who was told beforehand that the police support unit — or PSU — was to be deployed at the scene.

The Commissioner of Police has said no one outside the Bermuda Police Service knew of the decision. Mr Dunkley said he had no discussions with the Commissioner on the evening of December 1, after the protest was announced, and was not privy to the plan before the officers arrived at the scene at about 1.15pm.

Asked how the shutting down of Parliament by a small sector of the population could be prevented again, he said: “Those questions should be answered by the Commissioner and by the Governor, who has direct responsibility.”

Mr Dunkley said the airport deal remained on the order paper of the House and would be there still on February 3. “We are going to continue to work and get a better understanding [of the Bill],” he said.

In his prepared remarks, the Premier said the airport deal was a “creative” approach to get a new airport and create jobs without adding to Bermuda’s debt, referencing projects under the PLP which led to multimillion-dollar cost overruns.

He urged Bermudians to respect the rule of law and “rise out of the divisive rhetoric that seeks only to define us by difference and not by commonalities”.

“This isn’t a time for finger pointing. It’s a time to join hands. It is an opportunity to heal those things that divide our island.”

In a statement yesterday afternoon, David Burt, the leader of the Progressive Labour Party, said issues regarding the airport legislation and the clash between police and protesters need to be resolved before Parliament resumes.

“The PLP reiterates our call for a full, independent, public inquiry into why riot police were sent to confront peaceful protesters,” he said.

He said questions remain surrounding rumours that the Premier and members of his Cabinet “were aware of such planned deployment and did nothing to stop it”.

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Published Dec 9, 2016 at 12:01 am (Updated Dec 9, 2016 at 1:37 pm)

Dunkley condemns protest ‘tactics’

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