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Lister apologises for Commissiong comments

The Speaker of the House of Assembly admitted last night that he was perhaps wrong to allow comments from a Progressive Labour Party backbencher, who claimed that Bermuda's longest-serving premier “tap-danced” for the “most reactionary and racist elements” in society.

Dennis Lister pointed out that Sir John Swan gave a lot of time to the country and hoped that he and his fellow MPs could set examples that encouraged respect.

It came a week after Rolfe Commissiong said of the former premier: “I mean, you're 83 years old but you're still doing the tap dance for the most reactionary, racist elements in Bermuda's society.”

Michael Dunkley, a One Bermuda Alliance MP, said last night he was “aghast” when the remarks were made in the House.

After the Opposition member took his seat, Mr Commissiong appeared to start repeating his earlier comments but was stopped by the Speaker.

Mr Lister said: “Maybe I was wrong last week for letting you go as far as you did go, maybe I was wrong, so I'm going to state it publicly.

“But let's not go down there again, taking out somebody who has given a lot for this country whether we agree with his politics or not; that's not for us to take on at this time.

“One day, hopefully, we're going to be that 83-year-old guy who has given a lot of time to this country.

“We'd like to know that we've set an example how we want people to respect us after we've served our time.”

Mr Dunkley earlier told the House: “When I heard the comment last week by the honourable member referring to Sir John Swan ... I was aghast, for a number of reasons.”

He said: “Sir John Swan is the longest-serving premier in the history of Bermuda, Sir John Swan is a national hero, our only living national hero.

“Sir John Swan has worked very hard for this community for many years.”

Mr Dunkley added: “Of course he's not immune, no one is immune from criticism, but the way we criticise, the way we make a point doesn't have to be outright blatantly disrespectful.

“Anyone is owed that level of respect, certainly our only living national hero because if we don't we make a mockery of everything we stand for up here.”

Mr Dunkley said that making a comment about being 83 years old was “a slap in the face to seniors”.

He added: “The Sir John Swan that I know will not tap-dance for anybody.”

Mr Dunkley called for MPs to show respect and “take it out of the personal attacks”.

Mr Commissiong's earlier comments focused on two broadcast interviews with Sir John, who led the country from 1982 to 1995.

He claimed that the former United Bermuda Party premier had suggested that white Bermudians “didn't lynch black Bermudians”.

Mr Commissiong also told MPs he was paraphrasing remarks on the topic of immigration from Sir John, who had suggested “we need to open up” and referred to “rich, white people”.

The PLP member said, after the House adjourned last night: “The question is does Mr Dunkley agree with the statements that John Swan made that were so insulting to black Bermudians?

“His comments about the age of John Swan were irrelevant.”

Mr Commissiong said both of his parents, in their late eightiess, were “deeply offended” by the remarks.

Speaker of the House Dennis Lister (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published May 18, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated May 18, 2019 at 9:32 pm)

Lister apologises for Commissiong comments

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