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Premier labels union criticism irresponsible

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Fighting back: Michael Dunkley, the Premier, has hit back against comments from Mike Charles, general secretary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Michael Dunkley has accused a union leader of “irresponsible” comments about this year’s Throne Speech.

The Premier said during a live online question- and-answer session with readers of The Royal Gazette that he did not think Mike Charles, general secretary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, had read the speech before branding it a “bunch of platitudes”.

He said: “There’s some good stuff in there; you can’t just dismiss it.”

His comments came as he responded to a question from a reader about whether he sent his own children to public school.

Mr Dunkley replied no, adding that his daughters, now grown up, went to Saltus before attending school abroad, a decision driven by a desire for them to have the best education they could get.

“It’s a good political question,” he said. “They should ask every politician that, but I don’t think it comes into the equation. Where you send your children to school is a family decision.”

He added: “It should be the aspiration of every child to go on and get a further degree.”

He insisted that if he had school-age children now he would consider sending them to public school, despite acknowledging that it had “its challenges”.

Pointing to this year’s graduates from the Berkeley Institute, the majority of whom were going on to higher education abroad, he said: “You can get a good education in the public system here.

“We complain about stuff sometimes because we like to complain about stuff. Let’s not make any excuses about public or private. Let’s drive it. You need to have family and friends to help drive the children.”

Turning to Mr Charles’s remarks about the Throne Speech, which includes a pledge for a strategic plan on education, he said: “We have to hold everybody in the system accountable.

“I’m going to push the envelope a bit far here this morning. I consider those [Mr Charles’s] comments irresponsible.”

Education was just one of the topics raised by readers in the 40-minute Facebook Live session with the Premier on Thursday, which focused on Throne Speech initiatives.

Another reader asked Mr Dunkley if he thought there ought to be reparations for the island’s black population for the wrongs of the past.

The Premier said: “Reparations is a subject that has come up from time to time but it’s not something that’s high on the radar in Bermuda at the present time.”

He said he would rather the community at large had a discussion to understand what it meant before he would commit one way or another.

Asked if distributing reparations would be the fair and just thing to do, Mr Dunkey replied: “The jury is out on that.”

The Throne Speech promises to introduce absentee voting before the next general election for students abroad and those getting medical treatment overseas.

A reader asked why that was not being extended to all Bermudians who were resident overseas; Mr Dunkley replied that locals on the island would need to be consulted before that happened.

To extend the franchise in that way would be to considerably expand the voter base, he said, and it was vital to ensure all potential consequences, including unintentional ones, were carefully considered.

Other topics under discussion during the chat included public access to information legislation, which was enacted in April 2015.

“We’ll have to improve as we move along,” he said, admitting that some information officers tasked with handling Pati requests were struggling to do so in a timely manner.

“It’s easy to ask a question,” he said. “Some of the questions require detailed research.”

The One Bermuda Alliance leader told readers that climate change was on the Government’s agenda, although not mentioned directly in the Throne Speech.

But he acknowledged public “doubt” about the emissions control testing being done for TCD.

“We are taking emissions testing but we are not using them in the appropriate way,” he said, adding that the island had set targets to meet.

• To hear the full 40-minute interview, click on the audio above or visit The Royal Gazette’s Facebook page.