Ascension : PUBLIC CONSULTATION - Ascension Island Council Submitted by The Islander (Jacqui Ellick) 09.02.2006 (Article Archived on 09.03.2006)
Leading up to the election of the second Island Council there were calls for councillors to have more consultation and dialogue with the public and increase the flow of information on Council business
Leading up to the election of the second Island Council there were calls for councillors to have more consultation and dialogue with the public and increase the flow of information on Council business.During just 13 weeks in office the Councillors have made a special effort to improve communication between the Electorate and their Councillors.
We will briefly recap for the benefit of anyone who may disagree:
The monthly Island Council Meetings now starts at , purposely an hour later for the convenience of the Public to attend.
The newly elected Councillors took the oath of office on the 23 November 2005.On the 30 November the Island Council met an FCO Team and was informed of the UK Government’s intention not to offer right of abode or the right to purchase property on Ascension.The meeting was opened to the General Public and any member of the public had the opportunity to participate.As the UK Government had been encouraging public expectation in quite the opposite direction for more than 3 years, clearly there was now huge public disappointment on hearing the FCO announcement.
On the 15 December 05, with HE Governor Clancy present, the Island Council held its second Council Meeting and the Agenda Item was: Follow up of FCO Meeting with Island Council; the Councillors presented a copy of the letter to Lord Triesman detailing their initial concerns to the FCO announcement.At on the 15 December the Councillors held a Public Meeting in the Georgetown Cinema Hall.This meeting was very well attended and members of the Public took the opportunity to voice their views and opinions on the recent FCO announcement.After much debate and discussion on the best way forward in addressing the major issues, the following requests were made to the Councillors:
Seek professional legal opinion on the UK Government’s U-turn.
Use the local and International media to highlight the issue and promote our cause.
Bring the treatment of the people of Ascension by the FCO to the attention of British Members of Parliament directly or through former residents of Ascension now residing in the United Kingdom.
It is encouraging to see that through these efforts, the people of Ascension have received overwhelming support from within Britain and beyond.
On the 20 January 06 Councillors received official confirmation from Lord Triesman that the right of abode and the establishment of the right to purchase property will not be developed.
The third Council Meeting was held on the 26 January and the matters addressed were summarised and reported in the Islander by a local Reporter.
A Public Meeting was held at the Two Boats Club on 31 January and this was advertised in the Islander “to involve Ascension taxpayers in debate on the future of Ascension Island”.At this meeting Councillors took the opportunity to launch a Public Opinion Poll.All taxpayers are encouraged to fill in the document and return it, ASAP, to one of their Councillors.
At the Public Meeting on the 15 December 05, Major Jackson USAF agreed to a request by the Councillors to hold a Meeting at the US Base.The date and time will be advertised in the near future and the meeting will be opened to the Public.Subject to approval, the Councillors also intend to have a public meeting at Travellers RAF Camp.
Members of the Public are invited to make known their opinions, on all the various local issues, directly to your Councillors or are encouraged to do so through the local media.
In direct response to the points raised by Russell Yon in last week’s Islander:first of all thank you for your comments, the Island Council can only respond to the wishes of the electorate if the electorate makes those wishes known.Although much of the talk has been about right of abode or the ability to purchase land or premises, those who attended the public meeting with the FCO will know that the issue goes much deeper than this.From the outset of democracy in 2002 in the Strategic Plan for Ascension Island the mission statement starts off by saying “the development of a family island....”There are many people on Ascension who should, but never will, have the option of an accompanied contract.The implications for this are quite harsh for both men and women and in particular parents. The choice facing many St Helenians is either stay on St Helena with no job or a low paid job or try and improve your lot by seeking overseas employment.However, for those on single contracts (the majority of which are in support of the two military bases) the option to have partners and children is a difficult one.Either one or other of the parents must give up work to care for the child 700 miles away or the child must be sent to live with friends or relations 700 miles away.Either way the child is denied one or both parents for 12 months at a time and the parents are denied personal involvement as their children grow and develop.A recent visit to St Helena by a DfID consultant has highlighted the plight and severe social impact these displaced children have.The figures are somewhere in the region of 180 children currently being ‘fostered’.The recent U turn by the FCO will deny Ascension Islanders the right to even rent property should they so wish in order to live together with families.We know that many Saints build/buy houses on St Helena with a view to retiring there but 40 years is a long time to wait for a normal family life.
The bottom line is that it should be about choice.Those that have invested in local business need some security of tenure, those who wish a family life should be allowed to pursue it without this entailing loss of employment and above all, everyone should have the opportunity to make these important decisions for themselves and not have needless restrictions and limitations forced upon them by UK Government officials who are not similarly constrained by the same rules and controls they impose on others.