This year’s Tynwald Day certainly had me going through the history books given the fact that the event had to be scaled back significantly due to the outbreak of Covid-19.
For anyone reading my Blog who is not familiar with Tynwald Day, it is our National Day of celebration, which is traditionally held on 5th July. However if it falls on a Saturday or a Sunday then those celebrations are moved to the following Monday.
This meant that this year’s Tynwald Day was being held on Monday (6th), but as I have already mentioned it would be a very different Tynwald Day in so many ways, and I guess in time it will be remembered as the Tynwald Day that was almost cancelled…..
The Tynwald Day ceremony at St John’s is normally part of a wider programme of events including Beat Retreat, the President’s Dinner, the Tynwald Garden Party and the service in the Royal Chapel and the procession onto Tynwald Hill, all of which had be cancelled due to Covid-19.
Looking back through various articles I discovered that the Tynwald Day celebrations in 1918 were actually cancelled after a general strike was called by Union Leaders. This particular period of Manx history would be recorded as one of the longest struggles between the Governor and the representative Chamber, both in the matter of abstract political rights and privilege.
Lord Raglan was appointed the Governor of the Isle of Man in 1902 and held the position until he resigned in December 1918. At the time, Lord Raglan had almost uncontrolled powers that enabled him to effectively block what he considered injudicious measures, and it was reported that although he had considerable social graces, he was deeply unpopular amongst ordinary Manx people because of his resistance to reform.
On 5th July 1916 Tynwald Day Lord Raglan was welcomed by three large cards that were displayed saying “We want a new Governor”, “Taxation of Wealth”, No Food Taxes”, “Revenue from the Camps for War Distress”, “Redress, Retrenchment and Reform”, along with being “sodded” by a clump of grass thrown from the crowd,
The demonstrations on Tynwald Day 1917 were a little more peaceful before the general strike in 1918, which cancelled the celebrations altogether. One of those people demonstrating at the time was journalist Samuel Norris who would later on become MHK, MLC and a fearless leader of the Manx Democracy.
Personally, I have always taken a moment when sitting on Tynwald Hill on 5th July each year since 2016 just to simply reflect on the battles, the struggles and the sacrifices that the people of this island have made over the years, in order to give all island residents a vote and more importantly a voice, but also to enable ordinary people just like me to be able to take my seat on Tynwald Hill each year.
Even in 2020, a Tynwald Day protest can still send out an extremely powerful message, and we don’t have to look too far into history to remember the events of 1991 when Alan Shea appeared at the foot of Tynwald Hill wearing a striped uniform of a concentration camp victim to highlight the plight of gay people in the Isle of Man.
Even under this administration, who can forget the pro-choice campaigners holding a silent protest dressed as Handmaids on Tynwald Day in 2017? The picture of the Governor walking by the Handmaidens tells an interesting story, and I do wonder if he fully understood the message being sent.
Anyway, more on this year’s Tynwald Day in a moment, but I had best just acknowledge that some of those words quoted above have been taken from the “Manx Note Book”, the Tynwald website and the i-museum, for which I am very grateful.
With no Tynwald celebrations I was able to take a few hours off over the weekend, so I spent the time in the shed building a new log-store, which was about 7ft wide and very heavy. The new garden archway I was building a few weeks ago is now finished, I just need some good weather to put it in the garden.
As for the rest of my week, it was an early start on Monday as I needed to catch up with a few things before heading down to St John’s just after 9am. Once there I walked around the field and spoke to various Tynwald colleagues, but it felt so very different with no military on display, no grandstand, no fair, and no more than a handful of people standing in the field, and the number of people attending the event would only grow to around 150 to 200 for the actual ceremony on the Hill.
I did a quick Manx Radio interview and instead of going to the robing room prior to the church service, which is the normal tradition, I had to take my seat on the Hill for 10.15am. After His Excellency laid a wreath at the National War Memorial there was a small procession to Tynwald Hill, which included the Sword of State, His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor and his Private Secretary, a single Manx Flag, the President of Tynwald, the Speaker of the House of Keys, the Lord Bishop, the First Deemster and Clerk of the Rolls, and the Clerk of Tynwald – and that was it this year.
With no friends or family allowed this year it was disappointing for me personally because my younger brother was due to return to the Isle of Man this year after 15 years. His two girls, who have never been to the Isle of Man, would have been my guests this year, as well as my wife Ellen and my mum, who are always proud to see me walking onto the Hill each year – let’s hope it can happen next year.
Once the ceremony on the Hill finished we went in the Royal Chapel for a sitting of Tynwald Court, which included the Captioning of the Acts. I also have to mention the spontaneous applause that the Chief Minister and the Health Minister received when walking back to the Chapel from the small crowd witnessing the event, a moment that I doubt they will forget in the years to come.
The Chapel seemed very quiet with no audience, no guests or no choir, just Tynwald Members, which concluded with a group photo outside. Once the formal ceremony concluded, a number of Tynwald Members went back to Tynwald Hill to support Douglas South MHK Bill Malarkey’s wife, Pamela who placed some of Bill’s ashes on the Hill, which was a very powerful moment for his Tynwald colleagues.
I was back home just after lunch and able to take a few hours off before catching up with correspondence and some ongoing work.
On Tuesday I was able to work from home, which was very beneficial as I needed to spend a few hours in the morning going through the DEFA and DfE agenda packs ahead of two Department meetings.
I still had a lot of work to get through relating to my Children’s Champion role, and I still needed to respond to a couple of ongoing consultations, which involves going through various reports and research papers before finishing for 17.00.
In the office before 7.30am, which gave me plenty of time to catch up with some correspondence before heading over to DfE just after 9am for a shorter than expected Minister and Political Members catch up meeting. This was followed by the Department meeting that started with the usual Agency Chair updates and the board meeting.
Unfortunately, I had to leave the meeting slightly early in order to get to the Sea Terminal for a political meeting between all Douglas and Onchan MHK’s and the DOI in respect of traffic management concerns relating to the Promenade, St Ninian’s Cross Roads and Governor’s Dip on the edge of Onchan.
A very constructive and robust meeting with the DOI Minister, Tim Baker, MHK and senior officers in the DOI, in order to discuss and review various options to improve the traffic situation heading into and out of Douglas over the next few months.
If only I realised at the time that the DOI was about to announce the closure of Summerhill Road until September.
One particular MTTV interview on Friday gives the impression that I didn’t attend that actual meeting, which isn’t true…… In fact it was me that asked the DOI Minister to ensure that the invitation to all Douglas MHK’s included the two Members from Onchan.
Straight back to the office to dial into an Agriculture and Lands Directorate DEFA meeting at 13.00, which lasted just over an hour. From there it was over to the Manx Museum for an Economic Recovery Programme presentation by the Treasury Minister and DfE Minister in the company of key industry professionals.
Unfortunately, I can’t give any further details until the Treasury Minister has delivered his budget statement in a couple of weeks, but the support to the tourism sector has already been announced.
Finally got back to the office just after 16.00, in order to catch up with correspondence and phone calls, which I continued to work through at home until around 19.00. Mid afternoon I posted details of the closure of Summerhill Road, Onchan from 15th July to 8th September, which generated hundreds of messages and emails from concerned Onchan residents.
I very much appreciated all the feedback from Constituents, which helped me draft a quick correspondence to the DOI outlining some of those concerns.
At the latest briefing by the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK on Thursday afternoon it was also confirmed that the Manx Borders policy would move from level 5 to level 4 on Monday 20th July, which caught most people out, myself included….
This means that island residents will be able to visit the UK and beyond if they are prepared to self isolate for 14 days on their return, along with obtaining a “Manx Entry Permit” and completing an “Online Form” within 48 hours prior to travelling back to the Isle of Man.
I finally finished for around 21.00.
In the office just before 8am on Thursday and the first job was to go through the Public Sector Housing (General Needs) (Allocation) Policy 2019 in order to help a Constituent, along with a few reports into improving Foster Care ahead of a meeting in the afternoon.
Fortunately there were gaps in my schedule on Thursday and Friday, which gave me plenty of time to get on top of a few tasks that have been sitting on my desk for far too long….
At 10am I walked over to the DfE to a tourism catch up meeting, and towards lunchtime I had two meetings relating to my role as the Children’s Champion. This was followed by a meeting with two of my political colleagues as we review and discussed Foster Care on the Isle of Man, and I am extremely gradual to Ann Corlett, MHK and Kerry Sharpe, MLC for their time.
From there Ann Corlett and I had a meeting with the Director of Services for Children, which gave me an overview of the work being undertaken by the Department at the moment.
I left the office just after 17.00.
First job after getting into the office just before 8am on Friday was to start preparing for the Tynwald sitting later on in the week, which took a couple of hours.
News also broke on Friday morning that my Onchan colleague Julie Edge, MHK had resigned from the Department of Infrastructure, citing the closure of Summerhill and the removal of her Departmental responsibilities relating to Housing and Public Estates as the reasons.
At 10am I had a meeting relating to an ongoing custody dispute, which didn’t really sit within my Children’s Champion role, but I was prepared to look at it as an MHK. A very difficult meeting in many ways, because I had to be very careful not to interfere with an ongoing case, while at the same time trying to ensure that both parties were being treated fairly.
As an MHK this is one area that I genuinely struggle with, because it is very complex and involves a lot of emotion. The meeting lasted almost a couple of hours, and I hope that the outstanding issues can be resolved satisfactorily.
Other than a quick meeting with the DOI Minister, the rest of the day was spent in the office just getting through the workload before heading home around 17.00, but once home I still needed to move a few tonnes of paving slabs that had just been delivered before calling it a day.
As for Covid-19, no active cases which is fantastic news. The island has carried out 7008 tests and the number of confirmed case remains at 336.
As for the weekend, still a lot of work to get through but we might be able to get out for a walk on Sunday if the weather remains dry.