|Report from Tristan Government UK Representative Chris Bates|
Chris prepared the following report to present to the Tristan Association Annual Gathering on 6th April. Unfortunately there was not time in the busy afternoon schedule for him to deliver it so we publish it here, particularly for the attention of Tristan Association members.
Thank you for inviting me to tell you something of my work over the last year as the Tristan Government's Representative in the UK. The past 12 months have, by any standards, been extraordinary.
A primary part of the job is to raise awareness of Tristan: that it exists, that its people have a distinct way of life and a philosophy and – I have always believed – much to teach the rest of the world. They can only do that of course, if the rest of the world knows about them, so a substantial part of my work is devoted trying to make sure it does.
Working closely with the Administrator on Tristan, the Desk Officer at the Foreign Office and fellow UK representatives in the UK Overseas Territories Association, it has been possible to get know some of the MPs, members of the House of Lords, civil servants both here and in the EC and other decision makers, whose work and influence impact on the quality of life on Tristan. By being present at meetings, by putting forward the views of the Tristan Council, then it has proved possible to make people aware that Tristan exists and that it has distinct and identifiable issues, concerns and needs.
Thus, at the conclusion of the last Joint Ministerial Conference of the Overseas Territories in London, I was able to discuss with the Prime Minister in Number Ten Downing Street, the most outstanding needs of Tristan (that a new or revamped hospital and a new or greatly strengthened harbour are essential). I found him very well informed on Tristan, as I did, the new Minister for the Overseas Territories, Mark Simmonds, the MP for Boston and Skegness.
I'd enjoyed a friendly relationship with his predecessor, Henry Bellingham, MP for North West Norfolk, who clearly had great liking for Tristan and was well informed about the island. Inevitably, ministers and officials change and it's encouraging that the knowledge and – not too strong a word – admiration, for the people of Tristan, is passed on.
Tristan is now represented at great occasions of state such as the State Opening of Parliament, the Commonwealth Observance Service at Westminster Abbey and is invited to meetings of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Overseas Territories. It all helps to ensure that the voice of Tristan is heard among those of better resourced, professionally represented Territories.
Certainly the highlight was to be able to pass to Prince Charles, in person, in Buckingham Palace, the loyal greetings of the Tristan Islanders and their congratulations to his mother on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee. Tristan's flag was flown on one of the vessels in the Royal Squadron in the Flotilla on the Thames – the Sapele.
Tristan was represented in the Service of Thanksgiving in St Paul's Cathedral and subsequent reception with members of the Royal Family; at the Concert outside Buckingham Palace and at the lunch given in Her Majesty's honour by the Foreign Secretary. I don't think I need to say what an honour it was to represent Tristan on such great and historic occasions – but the real pleasure lay in knowing that Tristan was not overlooked, that it was at the heart of the celebrations.
Indeed, it was the Chief Islander of Tristan, Ian Lavarello, whose voice was heard, on the day of the Queen's Jubilee Concert and the lighting of the beacons, on BBC Radio 4's flagship news programme – “The World At One” – being interviewed about Tristan lighting its own Jubilee beacon – of course, the most remote one in the world – filled with cut down vegetation from invasive species of plants. It was the islanders' initiative and it perfectly told the story of their commitment to their environment and prompted the presenter to observe after speaking to Ian: “What a splendid title to go around with: Chief Islander of Tristan da Cunha”.
Not all the work is so public of course. Much time has been devoted to setting up the training scheme in the Isle of Man in which vocational training is being given to islanders with responsibilities crucial to the economy and future of the community: Iris and Martin Green are there at the moment and Warren Glass is due next month. I'd like to say a public thank you here to the many Manx people who have made this possible, including our members Ken and Fran Rogers whose warmth of welcome is remarkable.
I've been particularly pleased to be able to help the Tourism Development Officer, Dawn Repetto, source new items for sale in the island's gift shop and develop marketing of Tristan knitwear – and again I'd like say “thank you” in public to someone who has helped and worked with Dawn and her colleagues – the fashion journalist and marketing expert from the on line retailer, Dead Good Undies, Jane Garner, without whose patience and expertise it would have been difficult to make such progress.
Which really brings me to the main point: the job in the last six years has taken me from Greenland to New Caledonia, from Réunion, Ascension and Cayman to the heart of the EC and EU in Brussels; backwards and forwards to London and many other places. In every case, everyone I meet is fascinated by Tristan and the way of life of its people and they really do their best to be positive and helpful. That goodwill is the most valuable resource and asset for the islanders.
And in conclusion, I very much to want to pay tribute to the outgoing Administrator of Tristan, Sean Burns (and his wife, Marina) and to the Desk Officer at the Foreign Office, Ian Cramman (who we share with Pitcairn). He too will move to another posting this year but not before he gets the chance to visit Tristan and meet the people with whose lives he has been so closely bound up for three years. To all of them, to St. Helena's UK Representative Kedell Worboys, who is constantly supportive; to the Governor, Mark Capes without whose support this would not be possible; to our friends in the RSPB and conservation worldwide; to Richard Grundy and Michael Swales and the membership of this organisation; to my wife Julie whose patience with my Tristan duties makes them possible – your support is invaluable beyond words: a very big Thank You. Thank you.