Work starts to put over Tristan’s case for November Ministerial Meeting
Report from Tristan Government’s UK Representative Chris Bates
Tristan da Cunha has begun work with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the other UK Overseas Territories at the suggestion of the Minister for Overseas Territories, Mark Simmonds MP, in preparation for the 2013 Joint Ministerial Council in London.
If that sounds dry and dusty, it's not: it's where Tristan (or those representing the island) talk in detail with the Minister and his colleagues and civil servants representing other UK Government Departments. It's an opportunity to work through with honesty and in great detail, the concerns, hopes and ambitions of the islanders and try to match them with the realities faced by those responsible for the whole range of what the Her Majesty's Government has to do.
Not an easy balancing act and at last year's Conference, Tristan's UK Representative, Chris Bates, urged the Minister and officials to start planning much, much earlier; so that remoter territories' communities could play a more involved role and prepare in detail.
Taking Tristan at its word, the Minister has already been in touch with Chief Islander Ian Lavarello and on Tuesday 16 th April, Chris began the planning preparations in the FCO.
Working to the Island Council's brief, he put the case for fewer topics to be discussed, but in greater detail. Specifically, these included a commitment to growth and jobs, pointing out that the difficulties of landing cruise passengers and finding berths for independent travellers mitigate against Tristan's ambitions to develop tourism; that there are real obstacles within international agreements to Tristan trading with third countries, saying the conference needs to address these complexities of international trade (not just with the EU). One suggestion Ian asked Chris to advance was that of professional advice and assistance from the UK in encouraging and developing new income streams and businesses for the island.
(The communiqué issued after the 2012 conference agreed “to support the development of entrepreneurship and growth of small businesses in the Overseas Territories”. Such a development might have considerable consequences for the wider community on Tristan and the structure of the island's economy – but it seems, there can be -funds made available from the UK Government for this to be explored by a seconded specialist working with communities).
The preparations will also flag up concerns on Tristan about poaching by illegal long liners, noting that the island now has EU funding for a fishing project designed to curb IUU fishing (Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated). There's also EU funding in place for a pilot project on renewable energy – something Chris has pointed out on which other territories such as the Falklands and Montserrat appear to be notably ahead of Tristan.
The meeting in November will look at developing support from the EU and Commonwealth and while Tristan has benefited from substantial EDF funding from the EU (a significant factor in Tristan's development of its infrastructure) the island has little if any opportunity to engage with the Commonwealth. The Council's note for the meeting raised the question of how exchanges with countries such as Canada and Australia (which could lead to real benefits for Tristan) could be instigated and financed and to explore the possibility of links with smaller territories such as Norfolk Island or the Bahamas.
The November meeting will discuss creating better Government in territories (something already occurring in Tristan's case with the Isle of Man training scheme financed by the UK Government) and ways of improving sporting facilities, more effective disaster planning, improving health and education.
Chris observed after the meeting: “Tristan's contribution was wholly positive: with serious discussions now under way for replacing the Camogli Hospital, major refurbishment of St. Mary's School under way through funding from EDF-9 funds and minds focussed on how the shortcomings of the harbour will be dealt with on a long term basis – not just an expensive patch-up. I felt we were able to demonstrate that the Minister's faith in our ability to make good use of what the British Government and the EU are investing in Tristan is well placed. There will be a lot more detailed meetings before this year's conference and I know Tristan's positive approach at these conferences works greatly to its advantage”.
Tristan represented at Lady Thatcher's Funeral
From Tristan Government UK Representative Chris Bates
Tristan da Cunha was represented at the funeral service held in St Paul's Cathedral for the Rt. Hon. The Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, on Wednesday 17th April.
Chief Islander Ian Lavarello agreed that Tristan's UK Representative Chris Bates should accept the invitation to represent the islanders at the funeral, which was attended by Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh and 2,000 guests. Chris took his place with representatives of the other UK Overseas Territories, the Commonwealth countries, international organisations and with members of the Diplomatic Corps.
He said: “I was very conscious of Richard Grundy's vivid description from his time as the island expat teacher of the joy felt on Tristan, when the British Forces defeated the Argentinean invaders of the Falkland Islands at the time of Margaret Thatcher's premiership. That made the service even more personal and poignant for me: I was conscious of what she had meant to people in the congregation – someone who was not just a politician, but a powerful force for change in their countries and their communities”.
Chris added: “To file out of St Paul's into the Spring sunshine in the company of people such as Henry Kissinger, with the world's most influential statesmen of the last half century from around the world and also, the entire UK cabinet, and prime ministers past and present, after such an emotionally charged, perfectly balanced service, was a truly unforgettable experience. I felt it was an honour for Tristan to be among that congregation and knew that the islanders' thoughts and sympathies would be with Lady Thatcher's family and friends and those whose lives she had touched”.
|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.