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Furbert sends members back to work

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The House of Assembly shortly before 7am today (Photograph by David Skinner)

Union president Chris Furbert sent members back to work this morning, as anticipated protests about the proposed building of a new airport took a dramatic twist.

Mr Furbert lashed out at the public for their lack of support as the Bermuda Industrial Union tried to block the One Bermuda Alliance’s plans for the new terminal.

Between 150 and 200 people had showed up at Union Square this morning, in response to the Mr Furbert’s rallying cry yesterday.

Mr Furbert told the crowd that union members had been behind the struggle and they will not bear the burden any more.

It comes as MPs prepare to debate two pieces of legislation paving the way for the building of a new airport, which has been vigorously opposed by the Progressive Labour Party and the People’s Campaign.

From the early hours today, police have been in place outside Sessions House, with sections barricaded to ensure MPs can get into the building during the early part of the day. One Bermuda Alliance MPs were said to be inside the building from about 5am.

Mr Furbert said of the OBA politicians: “They have been there since 5am. That’s to avoid being in confrontation with the people. Someone called me and told me that, so I made some phone calls and I confirmed that the OBA members are already in the House.

“What kind of Government is supposed to be leading the people’s business like that? What are they hiding?”

And addressing a crowd outside the BIU headquarters, Mr Furbert lamented that only 150 to 200 people had come this morning to demonstrate.

“I blame the people, because no matter how many times they do this we simply go and kick the can down the road.”

He said that while the union has worked hard for the people, they cannot do it alone and he would not send his people on a mission doomed for failure.

“There are a lot of people who are not going to be happy,” he said. “We tried, we tried and we tried and that’s all we can do. We cannot ask the minority to carry the majority forward.”

While he said that general members of the public are free to demonstrate at the House, he urged all union members to return to work, saying that if they chose to stay and protest they would be on their own.

Mr Furbert said that regardless of the party, MPs should be doing the people’s business.

He dismissed the Blue Ribbon Panel’s approval of the airport project, along with that of several bodies including the Chamber of Commerce, who have voiced support for the airport redevelopment saying all of the bodies support the OBA.

Outside BIU headquarters, speakers had been set up and music was being played, ahead of an anticipated gathering.

The Bermuda Government had warned public services could face disruption at 6am, but by late morning it announced buses and ferries were running as normal.

This live blog has now closed. Follow The Royal Gazette’s website for major breaking stories this evening as MPs prepare to vote on the Airport Authority Act and the Airport Redevelopment Concession Act.

3.30pm: The first debate on two pieces of airport legislation is now under way.

3.20pm: The motion to defer the debate has been defeated. MPs vote on the PLP’s motion, with Mr Horton ruling that the nays will prevail.

3.05pm: Mr Richards, rising for his allotted 20 minutes, tells Parliament that “myself and my colleagues have been the best stewards of the public purse that this country has seen in a long time”, charging that the Opposition’s record had been “abysmal”.

The finance minister accuses the PLP of giving “nary a whimper” in October when he approved a $660 million loan for ten years: “nearly double the size of this airport transaction”.

“We have counter parties to this transaction. Everything that has been released by myself, either voluntarily or at the request or demand of the Opposition, we have had to have the permission of our counter parties.”

Mr Richards points out that the Government was under non-disclosure agreements, citing similar restrictions on information for the hospital’s acute care wing.

“The request is not for financial information for this transaction. That is not it at all,” Mr Richards says, saying the model applied to a private company referred to as Project Co, properly named Bermuda Skyport Corporation, which has “no Bermuda Government ownership, none whatsoever”.

The minister says the Government had gone “the extra 100 miles” in giving information, likening the financial model to the tools of the trade of financial analysts and not the property of the Government.

2.50pm: Mr Scott says privilege extends to “informing members with documentation or calling witnesses so that they can make rational, intelligent, meaningful decisions” for the effective discharge of collective functions, adding that Mr Richards had thereby breached parliamentary rules.

“Members of the Legislature are here for singular purposes: to make good law, effective law, and we can’t do that without being informed about what we are debating,” Mr Scott says.

2.45pm: Mr Scott accuses Mr Richards of refusing to share “vital information” in the form of the Project Agreement before December 2, and a further breach of privilege for not including the finance model for today’s debate.

Mr Scott says it had been the Opposition’s realistic expectation that the details would have been included when the agreement was released.

2.40pm: Shadow Attorney-General Michael Scott issues a formal complaint, calling for the airport debate to be deferred until the agreement’s financial model is disclosed to the House.

The motion is against Bob Richards, the Minister of Finance. Randy Horton, the Speaker, says both will now give 20-minute presentations to the House.

Mr Horton says the motion had been provided to Mr Richards last night as the minister impugned, although Trevor Moniz, the Attorney-General, protests that the OBA side has yet to receive the document.

Mr Scott begins his motion by citing a breach of House privilege in Mr Richards’s role as Minister of Finance.

Noon: A handful of mostly elderly protesters share their thoughts with this newspaper. Francis Breary, retiree and former manager at Hamilton Princess Hotel, says: “We are here today to let the people in the house know that there are still concerned people. The people here are the older generation. We fought to make this country what it is.”

Ross Furbert, a former government employee in the Department of Health and BIU supporter, says: “People are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Some people said to me what’s the use, they are going to do what they want to do anyway: 18 people are going to tell us it [the airport] is the best deal.”

11.40am: Michael Dunkley gives the House details about activities that took place on December 2, when protests over the airport debate caused the legislation to be delayed until today, and led to demonstrators being controversially pepper-sprayed by police.

The Premier says he had six phone conversations with the Commissioner of Police on that day, regarding the ability of MPs to get into the House.

“Police operations are in the remit of the Commissioner and that’s where it stands,” says the Premier, who has insisted no tactical options were discussed by himself with members of the Bermuda Police Service.

Today, Mr Dunkley further states that he did not have conversations with anyone else within the Bermuda Police Service.

11.20am: Bus and ferry services are operating as normal today, the Ministry of Tourism and Transport advises.

11am: About 20 members of the public are in the gallery as normal House activities continue. Another small group remains outside, on Parliament Street.

10.05am: OBA MP Sylvan Richards formally apologises for his comments in the House of Assembly last week.

“For my comments last week, I would like to apologise to you, the House and the member from Constituency 24,” Mr Richards says to Speaker Randy Horton.

Meanwhile outside, police take down barriers outside the House.

10am: The session in the House begins, with all OBA MPs present in the Chamber, including Michael Dunkley, who had faced potential travel difficulties because of grounded flights in the United States yesterday. The Premier has announced on Instagram that he made his flight last night. Most PLP MPs are also present.

9.30am: It is all quiet outside the House of Assembly, with one police officer saying: “This is it, hopefully.”

9.15am: Mr Furbert addresses the crowd outside BIU headquarters and sends union members back to work.

9am: A large crowd of people emerge from the BIU entrance, where a podium has been set up.

8.55am: General council members are called into the building at the BIU.

8.45am: Numbers continue to swell outside the BUI with close to 100 people, and a small handful of police officers, now waiting for the next step.

8.15am: A slow trickle of union members begin to arrive at Union Square.

8am: Buses and ferries appear to be running as normal.

7.45am: Speakers are set up and music is being played outside BIU headquarters, ahead of a meeting called by president Chris Furbert.

7am: A route to the House entrance remains clear, with dozens of police officers in place, but hardly any members of the public have arrived at the grounds of Session House.

6am: Government warns of potential disruption to public services as a result of a planned morning meeting for the Bermuda Industrial Union.

5am: One Bermuda Alliance MPs reportedly enter the Parliament building, five hours before the session is due to begin.

Midnight: Police take their positions outside the House of Assembly, with barricades in place to ensure MPs can enter Parliament for today’s session, which will include a debate on legislation paving the way for the building of a new airport.

On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on a story that we deem might inflame sensitivities or discontinue them when the discourse is lowered by commenters to unacceptable standards. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

Crowds begin to gather outside Bermuda Industrial Union Headquarters in Union Square at 9am today (Photograph by Owain Johnston-Barnes)
Members of the public on the street opposite Sessions House at 9.45am today, shortly before the morning's House of Assembly session began (Photograph by David Skinner)
Police remove the barriers from Parliament Street at about 10am (Photograph by David Skinner)