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No more living National Heroes under new Bill

Bermuda’s National Heroes

New legislation would stop living Bermudians being made national heroes and allow the removal of anyone bringing the role into dispute.

The proposed changes, if approved by the House and Senate, would only allow posthumous nominations for the honour, rendering Sir John Swan the first and last living national hero.

The amendments would also open the door for the honour to be revoked if it was determined that someone named a national hero had engaged in a manner that would bring the honour into disrepute.

However, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport said last night that the mechanism for removal had “nothing to do with politics”, and that any other view would be “incorrect and unfortunate”.

She said the National Hero honour was “a lifetime honour” once given, and those named would remain “a National Hero for ever”.

A “rare exception” to the rule would be in cases where “a significant failing or tarnishing of a Hero’s legacy surfaces belatedly”.

The National Heroes Bill 2024, tabled in the Senate this week, is intended to create a “statutory scheme” for the conferment of the honour of national hero for those who have provided exceptional and outstanding service to Bermuda.

Under the Bill, a Naming and Recognition Committee would be established to investigate potential recipients and ways to celebrate them through “tokens of recognition”.

“Tokens” mentioned in the legislation include renaming parks, buildings or places, as well as the commissioning of statues, monuments or plaques.

The seven-member committee would include a committee head, three members recommended by the minister, one member recommended by the Opposition Leader and two members of the general public recommended by the head of the committee.

The nomination process would begin with an announcement from the minister on or before October 1 this year and every ten years thereafter.

Members of the public would be allowed to nominate candidates who possessed Bermuda status at the time of their death or who were enslaved on the island.

The committee would then review the candidates and make recommendations on which should receive the honour.

Ministry clarifies new procedure for National Heroes

Striking a National Hero from Bermuda’s list would come after “rare” situations where a significant blemish on the record was investigated by the naming and recognition committee, followed by a recommendation to Cabinet.

A ministry spokeswoman said setting it as a posthumous award was “in keeping with the overall tenor of the new Act, which was brought forward to ensure that the selection of a National Hero is driven by established standards and attributes, rather than influenced by any set of current events or political circumstances that may not stand the test of time”.

She added: “Furthermore, it should be noted that the Bill specifically confirms the status of those existing national heroes, and as such names Sir John Swan, thus confirming his designation in the new law.

“Public confidence in the National Hero selection process is essential to successfully maintain the order of the heroes as a symbol of exceptional excellence selected for the purpose of engendering national pride.”

The national heroes scheme was launched in 2008, with the first National Heroes Day holiday held on October 13 that year.

At the time, it was announced that national heroes would be identified by a panel of five MPs and senators under set criteria, including making a significant and lasting contribution to Bermuda, enriching the lives of others and possessing a legacy that would stand the test of time.

Dame Lois Browne-Evans, a barrier-breaking lawyer, politician and civil rights advocate, was the first to receive the honour.

In 2009, the holiday was moved to June to replace the King’s Birthday Holiday.

Dame Lois remained the only national hero until 2011 when she was joined by Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon, a founding father of Bermuda’s labour movement; Pauulu Kamarakafego, a civil-rights leader and political activist; and Sir Henry Tucker, the founding father of Bermuda’s international business sector.

Mary Prince, a Bermudian-born slave and abolitionist, who played a critical role in the end of slavery in British colonies, was honoured in 2012

Gladys Misick Morrell, a champion for the island’s suffrage movement, joined the distinguished list in 2015, alongside Sir Edward Trenton “ET” Richards, the island’s first Black premier.

Sir John, another former premier and the only living person to receive the honour, was named a national hero in 2016.

Michael Dunkley, the premier at the time, defended the decision to nominate a living candidate.

“In this case, Cabinet believes it is fully appropriate and I fully support it,” he said.

“National Heroes should come from the ranks of the living and those who have moved on to a greater reward.”

No new National Heroes have been named in the past eight years.

However, Owen Darrell, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, announced in advance of National Heroes Day celebrations last month that the public would be asked to nominate another National Hero this year.

Mr Darrell said at the time: “We are proud to celebrate the achievements of our National Heroes as many will be encouraged to reflect on the history and contributions of eight exceptional Bermudians.

“Their legacies have had a lasting impact on the cultural, political and business landscape of our island inspiring generations of people.”

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Published July 08, 2024 at 7:59 am (Updated July 08, 2024 at 8:33 am)

No more living National Heroes under new Bill

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