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Under-fire minister hits back on Tweed decision

Home Affairs minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin (File photograph)

Embattled home affairs minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin insisted she holds “no dislike” for the Reverend Nicholas Tweed as she laid bare the background to her “difficult” decision not to renew his work permit.

After a week of protest and industrial action, the minister broke her silence — telling the press that “when information has literally been put out for all to see, it’s important to respond”.

She said that a lack of “truthful disclosure” to questions from the Department of Immigration led to the denial of the application for Mr Tweed, a pastor at St Paul AME Church, known as a firebrand critic of government policy.

“It appears that this entire application process was mired in misinformation,” Ms Gordon-Pamplin told a press conference, in her first public appearance since returning to the island on Wednesday.

“The inconsistencies were substantial and relevant, and the absence of truthful disclosure to a request for information sought by the department rendered the application ineligible for a new work permit.”

Ms Gordon-Pamplin also stated that there was nothing on Mr Tweed’s file showing him to be the adopted son of activist Kingsley Tweed.

Mr Tweed has responded angrily when his paternal links to Kingsley Tweed have been questioned, but has refused to comment when asked by this newspaper if he was legally adopted by him.

The minister detailed a timeline for church authorities’ dealings with the department on behalf of the London-born pastor.

An application for a new permit arrived in July 2016 as the old permit expired, with the minister granting permission for Mr Tweed to continue work.

But issues arose about advertising the post, as well as discrepancies between the pastor’s inconsistent use of the surnames “Genevieve” and “Tweed”.

Church and immigration officials then differed sharply over the terms of his application, which was turned down in October and then appealed.

The department received no clarification of Mr Tweed’s surname, with the final decision delivered on December 28.

The minister spoke after a week-long backlash, in which Ms Gordon-Pamplin has repeatedly been accused of having political motivations against the pastor.

Asked about the denunciation from the People’s Campaign and the Bermuda Industrial Union, the minister said she had been “called everything but a child of God”.

Tuesday’s march on the Cabinet office by Mr Tweed’s supporters culminated in a BIU demand for the pastor’s reinstatement, and the shelving of the Government’s airport project.

It was followed by two days of walkouts by BIU members.

Chris Furbert, president of the BIU, said on Thursday that union members had agreed to return to work — although the contentious issues, which included the use of pepper-spray by police confronting protesters at the House of Assembly, remained “on the table”.

“The important thing is dialogue”, said Ms Gordon-Pamplin, when asked about tensions remaining over the issue.

“Having a decision that is a difficult one such as this is never going to be easy. All we can do is continue to communicate.”

While Mr Tweed has a Bermudian spouse, the minister said he had not presented himself as such, adding: “It’s entirely up to him to produce the information.”

Similarly, on the issue of his Bermudian child, the minister said the onus was on Mr Tweed to “make an application if he believes that he can remain in Bermuda because of the minor child”.

The pastor’s file was referred to her by immigration officials as a result of the late application.

She said: “If I had a preference, the preference would be that the file never had to come to me.

“I was being requested to consider allowing a continuance at work. I looked at the file and saw, from the earlier application, notes from the technical people indicating their concern as to the various deficiencies. When I saw there was a disparity, I made sure that information was required.”

Although Ms Gordon-Pamplin has stated publicly that she left St Paul Church over Mr Tweed’s candid political stance, she insisted she acted “at arm’s length and dispassionately”.

While it had been difficult reviewing church applications that appeared “less than truthful”, she said she based her ultimate decision on the information provided.

Asked about the perception of bias, the minister said she had attended several churches other than St Paul, including Wesley Methodist, her family’s church.

“This is not about me; church is my solace and my comfort place, a place to which I go for my spiritual rejuvenation, and it’s an experience that I guard jealously. As a Christian woman, I go where I feel comfortable that part of my development is being satisfied.”

She added that the Act had no simple option for a minister to recuse themselves.

“At best, a minister can assign an application to an acting minister when he or she goes overseas.”

Also during the press conference, the minister acknowledged the Reverend Betty Furbert-Woolridge was no longer presiding elder at the church.

• This article was amended on Sunday, to remove a line that Ms Gordon-Pamplin had acknowledged Ms Furbert-Woolridge had resigned as presiding elder of the church.

Ms Gordon-Pamplin contacted The Royal Gazette to clarify she has been told Ms Furbert-Woolridge is no longer the presiding elder of St Paul, but she understands she maintains oversight of the other churches. She did not say that Ms Furbert-Woolridge had resigned.