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‘The sole purpose of the protest was to unlawfully stop legislation from being passed’ – Bob Richards

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Bob Richards, the former Minister of Finance (File photograph)

A new government administration keen to prove its ability to jump-start an economy left moribund after the recession of 2008 came to the public with a major infrastructure proposal in 2014.

Communications staff for Bob Richards, the finance minister, would not reveal to the media the substance of his announcement on the morning of November 10 in the Cabinet Office.

When Mr Richards announced a deal to build a new terminal for Bermuda’s airport, he called it “one of the most important capital projects ever undertaken on our island shores”.

The airport looked to be a One Bermuda Alliance trophy, along with the coming 2017 America’s Cup.

The party had narrowly won power in 2012 with a promise to right the economic ship.

A glittering terminal, including the island’s first jetways, could stand as “the brand that Bermuda presents to the world”, Mr Richards said in announcing the deal with Canadian Commercial Corporation.

It also entailed no further government borrowing.

But by December 2, 2016, legislation for the new terminal had been delayed twice from coming up for debate.

Mr Richards had pushed back against demands from the Progressive Labour Party to table the entire agreement in the House of Assembly.

Some details were confidential, Mr Richards insisted.

The parliamentary session of December 2, 2016 was eventually set for a vote after the OBA shared schedules for the development agreement with MPs.

It had been withheld because of non-disclosure agreements.

Pictures that morning show Mr Richards blocked from the grounds of Sessions House by a cordon of protesters.

It culminated in confrontation shortly after 1pm.

A protester wipes her eyes after being pepper sprayed by police outside the House of Assembly (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Shocked demonstrators were pepper-sprayed during a failed attempt to clear the gates.

But Mr Richards told The Royal Gazette he had anticipated trouble that morning – he had contacted police in advance for an escort.

“I called a police officer who had provided protection for me in some tense meetings.

“I said I would feel more comfortable escorted into Parliament.”

On December 2, Mr Richards’s wife dropped him off near Parliament at about 7.40am.

Police greatly outnumbered the protesters still beginning to gather.

“They had the whole thing in hand,” Mr Richards said.

“I could have gotten in easily. There were union guys at the corner. They saw me and didn’t do anything.

“My instructions were to wait for the police officer to escort me into Parliament. He was due to arrive around 8am, so I went up to my office.”

The Ministry of Finance, in the Government Administration Building, overlooked the scene on Parliament Street.

Mr Richards said: “I could see everything that was going on at the gates.”

By the time he headed back down at 8am, protesters had spotted other OBA MPs.

Mr Richards could not get past the men now blocking the gate, and his hoped-for escort was not on the scene.

“I asked them politely, then a bit more forcefully.

“Police told them it was unlawful, and they stood their ground.

“I wasn’t going to get into a fight. I hung around for five minutes and went back to my office.”

Mr Richards added that police “gave up without a fight”.

“They were totally unprepared. The only reason I didn’t go in earlier was because a police officer had promised to escort me at 8am.”

He conceded protesters would still have shut down Parliament because a quorum of MPs to debate the legislation quickly became impossible.

Mr Richards maintained police should have anticipated the blockade.

Shoulder-to-shoulder: members of the Bermuda Industrial Union march on Front Street to the Sessions House grounds to protest the One Bermuda Alliance government's plans for immigration reform, the Pathways To Status in March 2016 (File photograph)

Earlier that year, in March, protesters shut off Parliament in opposition to the OBA’s sweeping plans for immigration reforms.

Mr Richards said: “It was a tactic. It worked.

“In March, nobody would have countenanced it. It was unprecedented. Barricading Parliament and preventing MPs from doing their duty was not something that ever happened before.

“But it didn’t take a genius to see that what worked in March would work then.”

As the day wore on, other government MPs, turned back from Parliament, waited inside the Ministry of Finance.

Mr Richards said he received a midday call from Michael Dunkley, the Premier, and the group left before the confrontation.

The group quietly headed over to Reid Street, where the Premier’s office was then located.

Mr Richards insisted the narrative that Randy Horton, the Speaker of the House, came under pressure from government heads was “totally wrong”.

“There was no pressure on the Speaker. It was a normal day’s process.

“I wanted it to go ahead. The Premier wanted it to go ahead. At one time, in my presence, the Premier was discussing it on the phone with the Speaker.

“The decision is the Speaker’s.”

He added: “I think he was loath to cancel that day. I know him personally. We went to school together. The Speaker took his time to make his final decision.”

Later that afternoon, Mr Richards joined the Premier and Jeff Baron, the national security minister, at Government House.

They went over events with Ginny Ferson, the Acting Governor.

Mr Richards said Michael DeSilva, the police commissioner, was there at the meeting, with Paul Wright, the deputy commissioner.

What followed was “a frank exchange of views” in which Mr Richards spoke “very sharply” on what he saw as police shortcomings.

“We had a right to be in the House,” he told TheRoyalGazette in an interview last month.

“The sole purpose of the protest was to unlawfully stop legislation from being passed. Not to make an abstract point. It was to overrule parliamentary process.”