Protesters drive message home in second demonstration
Scores of demonstrators representing taxi drivers, farmers, fishermen and holiday home landlords took to the streets again yesterday to protest against the Government’s “failure to listen”.
The group met at Warwick Workmen’s Club on Cobbs Hill Road before driving to Hamilton in a procession made up of dozens of vehicles, escorted by police motorbike riders.
Driving on to Court Street, the protesters blasted their horns as they passed Veritas Place, where this morning’s sitting of the House of Assembly was taking place.
David Burt, the Premier, did not emerge from the parliamentary chamber to meet the motorcade, but opposition MPs Susan Jackson and Craig Cannonier stepped outside and waved to protesters in a show of support.
Today’s demonstration followed a similar protest last week in which about 100 representatives from the same groups gathered on Kindley Field Road to express their anger at the Government.
Taxi drivers have pointed out repeatedly that they have not had a rate increase in almost ten years, while fishermen are concerned at plans to ban commercial fishing in 20 per cent of Bermuda waters.
Landlords who rent out properties to tourists have expressed anger at a new tax on holiday rental earnings, while some school groups have also criticised an overhaul of the education system.
Organisers admitted that yesterday’s event was less well attended than last week’s, but insisted that they were still determined to have their voices heard.
David Dumont, taxi driver: “The cheapest thing about Bermuda is the taxi ride to and from the airport. Look at taxi rates around the world. Our rates are one of the cheapest in the region, yet our expenses are one of the highest in the region. And our increases can’t be retroactive like it is for government workers or anyone else because you can’t crawl money back from people.”
William Tucker, taxi driver: “When it comes to the taxi industry in Bermuda, 80 per cent of our income comes from US dollars. Hotels are allowed to increase the prices of their beds and the Premier doesn’t do anything. We don’t have to vote and I think the Premier is going to lose votes over this because he just isn’t listening to people. We aren’t going to vote for nobody else, but we aren’t going to vote for them either.”
Barclay Carmichael, taxi driver: “The interest rate has doubled five times in the last couple of years and we have not been. It’s unconscionable that others have had a rate increase, like seniors on their pensions, and ours haven’t for ten years.”
Allan Bean, president of the Fishermen’s Association of Bermuda: “As the great Ottiwell Simmons said, united we stand, divided we will surely fall. It’s important that all the affected industries and other organisations come together and stay together in order to get the Government to listen to the people. At the moment it appears to be going in one ear and out of the other. Listen to the people and respect us.”
Before the motorcade pulled on to Middle Road and snaked its way into Hamilton, Dennis Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Taxi Owners and Operators Association, told the gathering: “We are all gathered here today to deal with this government. Over the past they have been doing good and all of a sudden they’ve lost their way.
“It’s affecting not just the taxi industry, it’s affecting the whole island and we all need to come together and put a stop to it.
“Let our voices be heard. I hope this will send a message to the Government that we are not here to be played with.“
Ellen-Kate Horton, of the education reform pressure group West End Warriors, which is opposing the closure of West End Primary School, said: “We know the groups that are here and we know that we need to support one another.
“I know we have gone it alone as West End Warriors and I’m saying now that we’re in this together.”
As the motorcade drove past Veritas Place, Ms Jackson, the One Bermuda Alliance spokeswoman on transport and education, said it was important for lawmakers to listen to people’s concerns.
She said: “Certainly I believe in a democratic right to express any dissatisfaction and the fact that we have a community that have concerns and are making their voices heard and so it’s very important for us as members of Parliament to listen and to make sure that we as public servants listen to and understand the ailments of the community and see what we can do to find solutions.
“We all have the need and the desire to be happy and prosperous on this island and we really have to listen and work with each other on order to gain that. That’s the vision. That’s the goal.”
Mr Cannonier, the OBA’s spokesman on public works and tourism, described the protest as “significant”.
He said: “I think the assessment of the groups is pretty consistent with things that we see going on. Not only do we have the taxis protesting and the fishermen and the farmers, you also have the teachers protesting as well.
“So the consistency of the protesters is across the board. The challenge we have is that I believe the Government is awol — absent without listening.
“You can have consultation but you need to listen, and that is an art. You can hear, but are you listening? I think that this protest is to say that they believe the Government is not listening.
“This is significant because this is a labour government who has labour industries upset with them and something significant has to happen — and it starts with listening.”