Senate president wants apology for 1976 SOE

Call made on 43rd anniversary of controversial state of emergency

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, June 20, 2019

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NORMALLY, Jamaica's Senate and House of Representatives pay tribute to former members who have served in either or both Houses with a litany of praises for service and wishes for resting in peace beyond mortality.

But yesterday President of the Senate Thomas Tavares-Finson, a blue blood “Labourite” whose uncle, David Clement Tavares, was the most likely candidate to succeed the late Sir Donald Sangster after his untimely death in 1967, turned Gordon House 'upside down' with a passionate call for the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) to apologise to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) for instituting the 1976 state of emergency.

The emergency, which lasted June 19, 1976 to June 5, 1977, celebrated its 43rd anniversary on the day both Houses of Parliament shared a joint sitting at Gordon House to recall its longest-serving member, former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, who died on his birthday, May 28, this year.

But, while other members on both sides of the House chose to recall Seaga's contribution to the economic and social transformation of Jamaican, Tavares-Finson focused on the political violence Seaga and the JLP faced in the 1970s, especially under the state of emergency in which several likely candidates, organisers and activists were detained at Up Park Camp and held there for approximately one year.

“Today is not the day to highlight the abuses of the state of emergency which lasted until June 1977 and saw the detention of over 600 persons. Suffice to say, the declaration of the state of emergency is now accepted as being a stain on the national fabric of this country,” Tavares Finson said.

“Those who sing Seaga's encomiums today, those who praise his resilient spirit, his commitment to democracy and the people of Jamaica, should apologise to the people of Jamaica for the injustices wrought on them by the 1976 state of emergency,” Tavares-Finson said.

“An apology is owed to the people of this country, an apology is owed to the members of the Jamaica Labour Party, many of whom were detained in Up Park Camp for over a year,” he stated.

He added that there was also the need for apologies to “persons whose lives were destroyed by the detention”, including Cabinet Minister Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, Speaker of the House of Representatives Pearnel Charles, and late former MP Ferdinand Yap. They were detained at Up Park Camp during the period of the emergency, which included the 1976 general election which was won by the Michael Manley-led PNP.

“Offer this apology, remove this stain from the national fabric of the country, do this in tribute to Edward Phillip George Seaga,” the Senate president insisted.

Tavares-Finson laced his comments with some hilarious responses from Seaga when they were faced with violent opposition, including his use of the phrase “if you hear the shot that means you're not dead yet”.

He told the Jamaica Observer, following the meeting, that he had been moved to make the statement, because yesterday was the anniversary of the state of emergency.

“It was the anniversary and I thought the country needed to know, needed to be reminded,” he said.

Asked whether he was concerned about the reaction of the Opposition, he responded, “That's their problem”.

Tavares-Finson, who has served in the Senate since being nominated by Seaga at the age of 27 in 1980 after the JLP landslide, making him one of the youngest person to enter the Parliament, has since served a total of 22 years in the Upper House.

He faced the polls three times, first in 1980 against former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in South Western St Andrew when he had to be escorted to the nomination centre in a Jamaica Defence Force armoured vehicle, and in St Catherine Southern where he lost a close election to Hugh Small (PNP) by less than 500 votes and in North Central St Andrew in 1993 lost to Karl Samuda who ran on a PNP ticket.

He also represents the JLP on the Electoral Commission of Jamaica.

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