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Colonel fears no conscription will weaken island’s defences

All lined up: Royal Bermuda Regiment soldiers march along Front Street in Hamilton during the Remembrance Day Parade in 2016(Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A former senior military officer said yesterday he feared the Government’s decision to end conscription would weaken the island’s defence force.

Lieutenant-Colonel Allan Rance, leader of the Nine Colonels, a pressure group of former Commanding Officers of the Royal Bermuda Regiment, said he believed the “vast majority” of former officers and Non-Commissioned Officers would view the Defence Amendment Act “with great concern”.

Colonel Rance said: “Obviously, we’re going to hope it succeeds, but we think that there are some pretty big risks here that it may not.”

He said the group would continue to act as a “friend and advocate” for the Regiment and “hold the minister’s feet to the fire”.

Colonel Rance added: “If we see it failing, we’ll point that out too, publicly. If at the end of the day it all goes well, wonderful, but if the strength does fall off, as we think it may, we will ask the hard questions of the Government of the day.

“They will have created the problem. They will have to fix it.”

Colonel Rance was speaking after Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, piloted a Bill to end conscription through the House of Assembly last Friday.

The former CO of the Regiment said he felt the decision to end conscription was based on “false premises”.

Colonel Rance dismissed arguments from anti-conscription campaigner Larry Marshall and group Bermudians Against the Draft that conscription was a violation of human rights.

Colonel Rance said: “Those claims have all been rejected in the courts when there have been challenges made to the law, but people have bought into it. In a sense, the Government’s been duped.”

Colonel Rance said the Nine Colonels were also concerned about the Regiment’s ability to fill its ranks using volunteers alone.

He added the RBR would have to compete with other organisations, including the Bermuda Police Service and the Bermuda Fire & Rescue Service, for recruits.

Colonel Rance said: “There are only so many people to go around and we are a small community at the end of the day.”

He added that plans to downsize and restructure the RBR were “implicitly recognising” the risk.

Colonel Rance explained: “When you downsize, you don’t need as many people to begin with. You’re trying to solve the equation from the demand side as much from the supply side in this case.”

He said he believed downsizing was being done to cut operational costs so extra cash could be used to attract volunteers.

Colonel Rance said he thought the move would work in the short term.

He added: “What I think is going to happen in the longer term is the inducements to make better offers to compete in the job market will have to lead to higher costs if they want to attract top-class talent.”

Colonel Rance said the group was also concerned about plans for an RBR Coast Guard to assume responsibility for policing Bermuda’s waters.

Mr Caines told the House of Assembly the Coast Guard was expected to take over Marine Police duties in April 2020.

Colonel Rance said: “What we’re concerned about is that it could turn into a fantasy without adequate funding.

“The minister knows this, and he will have to work very hard to make sure the funding is available.”