Covid-19, the Local Authority Elections, a new President of Tynwald and a very long final sitting of Tynwald this week before I can finally turn my focus to the House of Keys General Election on Thursday 23rd September.
So I guess you won’t be surprised when I say that this week’s blog is long, so feel free to grab a coffee first…
With regards to Covid-19, the number of active cases here on the Isle of Man has continued to increase this week and by Tuesday evening the figure stood at 1,104 with three people in Nobles Hospital.
Unfortunately, those figures continued to increase throughout the week and by Wednesday evening the number of confirmed cases on the island stood at 1348, but that figure would increase by a further 409 to 1757 when the latest figures were released on Thursday.
The number of people in hospital also increased from 4 to 5 on Thursday with one person in the intensive care unit, which is very sad news for the island.
More on Covid-19 in a moment.
As for my own activities this week, the island continues to enjoy some fantastic weather, but unfortunately it is just a little too hot at times. Most of the weekend was spent working on the Tynwald Order Paper and the Supplementary Order Papers ahead of a very busy final sitting of Tynwald for this administration.
I did also take a considerable amount of calls on Saturday from concerned constituents in respect of keeping children safe, especially when they haven’t been offered the vaccine yet, along with various complaints regarding the 111 helpline, which simply couldn’t cope with the volume of calls at certain times this week.
I also managed to help one constituent who was in the UK with two children, one of them visiting Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. A massive thank you to the 111 helpline team once again for their help in bringing the family home and for arranging tests for the children upon arrival.
As for Monday most of the day was taken up with Tynwald business as I desperately tried to get through all the information, reports and documents this month.
Just before 15.00 we had a DOI policy and strategy meeting that looked at the department’s Mid Rent scheme, along with taking a closer look at the Isle of Man Ferry Terminal in Liverpool ahead of the Minister making a request for further funding from Tynwald to complete the project.
Late on Monday afternoon various emails were exchanged amongst Tynwald members and the House of Keys Speaker and Deputy President of Tynwald, Juan Watterson after he advised members that this month’s Tynwald sitting would be held remotely after the sudden increase in the number of active cases of Covid-19 on the island recently.
Fortunately, the Speaker had a change of heart after various Tynwald members raised their concerns around this particular decision, especially when the Manx community are being advised that we are meant to be living with this virus.
In the end the Speaker and the Tynwald Clerk agreed to introduce a hybrid option, which meant that members could sit either in the chamber or attend remotely. The Chief Minister and the Cabinet Office also advised that they had made available to Tynwald members various lateral flow tests for each sitting.
Those concerns raised by members were fully validated after several constituents contacted me on Monday evening to voice their outrage at what appeared to be double standards.
That said, I do fully understand why the Deputy President / Speaker made the initial decision, and anyone who has been to the Tynwald chamber will fully understand that ventilation is far from ideal, especially when there are very few windows and very little ventilation actually in Tynwald Court, plus you could be sitting in the chamber for up to 10 hours a day.
Again, Monday evening was spent on preparing for the Tynwald sitting until around 21.00.
As for Tuesday I was in the office just after 6am for what was going to be a very long final sitting of Tynwald for this administration. The early part of the morning was spent continuing to get ready for the sitting, but just before 8am I collected my lateral flow tests.
This was the first time I have actually undertaken a Covid-19 test and it definitely wasn’t a very pleasant experience, but fortunately the test was negative….
At 10.30am we headed down to the Chamber for this month’s Tynwald sitting, which started with the election of a new Tynwald President. There were two very strong candidates standing for elections, the current speaker of the House of Keys, Juan Watterson and the DfE Minister Laurence Skelly, MHK.
In the end Tynwald voted for Mr Skelly 20 votes to 12 votes with just one spoiled paper, which might have been my colleague Jason Moorhouse, MHK.
We then had two emergency questions relating to Covid-19 and people who are unable to vote in the Local Elections on Thursday due to testing positive for Covid-19. This was followed by the normal question time that took the sitting up to almost 16.00.
During the lunchtime break we had a DOI presentation from Minister Baker on the Isle of Man Ferry Terminal in Liverpool ahead of the department having to make a request for an extra £13.8 million, which means that the original budget of around £38 million to build the new ferry terminal Liverpool will now cost around £52 million.
Politically I am very concerned by the level of costs in respect of the project, and I think many people across the island share those concerns. Since joining the Department of Infrastructure I have continued to question the costs for getting this project out of the ground, because the costs for actually building the Ferry Terminal should be relatively straightforward.
That said, the island desperately needs a new ferry terminal in Liverpool, in order to help the island’s tourism recover as quickly as possible, but not at any cost…..
After lunch we continued to work though the question paper, but we only managed to reach 28 out of 45 questions in the allotted time. This was followed by various statements on Climate Change Plan, Concessionary Travel Scheme and on the Auditor General selection process.
The DOI Minister then moved a supplementary capital motion before the Home Affairs Minister, Graham Creegan, MHK presented the Chief Constable’s Annual Report 2020/21, but the debate only reached the Minister’s opening remarks before finishing at 20.00.
Unfortunately, I missed the last hour of the sitting, because the President of Tynwald gave me permission to leave at 19.00 in order to attend the Onchan local election public meeting that was being held at the Elim Church in Onchan. Eight candidates were looking to fill the seven seats available, but I was surprised that there were less than 50 people that actually attended the venue.
As an MHK and ex Commissioner I fully appreciate how difficult public meetings can be, so I won’t comment on the individual performance of the candidates, but there were a couple of good contributions.
I finally got home close to 22.30 after a long day…
Back into the office before 8am to get ready for Tynwald and to catch up with any outstanding correspondence etc, along with returning a few missed calls. Just before 10.30am we headed down to the Tynwald chamber for day two of this month’s sitting that started with the continuing debate on the Chief Constable’s Annual Report.
It is an excellent report, which I would recommend people to read, especially parents with children on the island.
We had two reports from the Social Affairs Policy Review Committee, and one of those reports was a follow up report around mental health and suicide on the Isle of Man, which was also highlighted in the Chief Constable’s annual return.
The report and its recommended were accepted, along with a key amendment around providing immediate and long term aftercare of family affected by attempted or completed suicide on the island.
This was followed by a debate on a report from the Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee on the regulation of safety and quality of cow’s milk on the island.
The debate started before and continued into the afternoon session of the Tynwald session. At lunchtime there was a presentation on “Can a green economy power itself?”, but I had to cut the presentation short, in order to return several calls before getting back to the chamber.
Back to the chamber at 14.30 to debate a report from the Constitutional and Legal Affairs and Justice Committee relating to the role of the Attorney General, and after the tea break there was a long and heated debate on the Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee report into the Meat Plant.
The President of Tynwald had to intervene on several occasions asking members to withdraw various comments and to mind their language during a very difficult debate that clearly split opinion in the chamber amongst the members.
The sitting finished for around 20.00 still part way through the motion relating to the meat plant. Once home I still needed to catch up with a couple of things, along with calling the DEFA and DOI ministers before finishing at 21.15.
On Thursday I was up just after 6am to look through a few department papers, before heading to the Onchan Community Centre with Ellen just before 8am in order to cast our votes in the Onchan Local Authority Elections.
Straight into the office before 8.30am and into a short DEFA team meeting before logging into the Visit Isle of Man Agency meeting at 9.30am, but I was only able to stay online for around 40 minutes.
From there it was straight down to the Tynwald chamber for day three of this month’s very long sitting that continued with the debate on the Isle of Man Meat Plant, but not before a few firm words from the President of Tynwald in respect of members’ comments and language from the previous day.
Once that debate finished we moved onto reports relating to Adverse Possession and Poverty, which again were two excellent documents. Just after 13.00 I needed to drive into Onchan to attend the annual Onchan Primary School year 6 leavers event, which was being held outside year.
Unfortunately, that coincided with the island having its hottest day of the year, which meant that I needed a cold shower and a change of shirt and suit before going back to the Tynwald Chamber at 15.00 to continue with day three of this month’s sitting.
I managed to get to the chamber just in time for the vital vote on the excellent Poverty Committee report, which had a number of recommendations that were supported by the Court. We then went through the Supplementary Papers, which were somewhat problematic, especially around the timing of one of those papers. We continued to work through the order paper until 20.10, but still a lot of work to get through.
This meant that Tynwald would have to go into a fourth day, the first time in over 20 years.
Once home I caught up with a couple of missed calls before tuning into Manx Radio, in order to follow the Local Authority election results across the island. This meant that I didn’t get to bed until well after midnight, because the Onchan District Commissioners result was the last one to be called.
I was back in the office just before 7am to catch up with other work before Tynwald Court reconvene at 9.30am to continue going through the order paper until around 13.00, but things went a little pear shaped from that juncture….
We were in the middle of item 53, which was on “Chief Executive Officers of Public Bodies” out of 58 items that appeared on the order paper. Instead of breaking for lunch and then continuing with the debate, the Council of Ministers moved an amendment that stopped the order paper, and then only to discuss the new Covid-19 emergency regulations.
It really was a very strange set of circumstances to witness in the chamber.
With no meetings or briefings on Friday lunchtime I was able to grab some lunch before returning a number of calls. Back to the chamber at 14.30 for what was meant to be a relatively short final session on the latest Public Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Amendments) Regulations 2021.
Unfortunately, the final Covid-19 Regulations turned into a three hour heated debate amongst the members where no quarter was given as 21 members took the opportunity to make a final speech on a very difficult topic.
In the end the new Covid-19 regulations were supported by Tynwald members and the sitting eventually finished at 18.10 after the Deputy President, Juan Wattterson paid tribute to various members who are stepping away from political life, along with the Tynwald Clerk, Roger Phillips – more on those people next week.
So that is it – our final sitting of Tynwald is done… what an incredible opportunity and what a journey it has been over the last five years. Fair to say that it was a sad moment in many ways, especially when the future is unknown at this time.
I left the office at 18.30 and from there it was a rush to get home, showered, changed and get to the Laxey Pavilion as quickly as possible, in order to attend the retirement party for Roger Phillips.
A fantastic evening despite the fact that most Tynwald members attending the party looked shattered after four long days in the chamber, but still a wonderful evening and we got home for around 22.00.
As for the latest Covid-19 figures, we ended the week with an additional 224 active cases of Covid-19 on the island, which brought the total to 1,981 with six people in hospital, one unfortunately intensive care.
Just one final blog next week before I focus on my 2021 House of Keys General Election.