Monthly flights between St Helena and Ascension Island have been negotiated, after months of discontent over the vital link being excluded from the original deal with winning contractor Comair. Each month, of the the airline’s Saturday flights from Johannesburg will land at St Helena and then continue on to Ascension for an overnight stop, before a return flight on the same route. Executive councillor Lawson Henry had led angry calls for a way to be found for Saints working on Ascension and the Falklands to be able to fly home without expensive detours of many thousands of miles. Ascension Island Government acknowledge support from Governor Mark Capes and Enterprise St Helena in applying pressure for the link to be provided.
The British government has been asked how people and supplies will be transported between St Helena and other islands in the South Atlantic after the RMS St Helena is withdrawn from service in 2016.
But no clear answer has emerged in response to a written question in the House of Lords by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Jones of Cheltenham – one of the figures behind the revival of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on St Helena.
His question was:
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the future reliability of inter-island links in the South Atlantic for the transport of imports and exports and the mobility of labour in the South Atlantic British Overseas Territories after the St Helena airport is operational and the RMS St Helena ceases to operate.”
Baroness Warsi (Conservative) has replied:
“We are working closely with the St Helena and Ascension authorities as plans are developed for the transportation of supplies and passengers domestically among the islands after the introduction of air access to St Helena.
“These plans are progressing although work remains to be done in the run up to the opening of the airport and the withdrawal of the Royal Mail Ship St Helena service.”
Ascension Island has issued a special £2 coin to mark the passing of Baroness Thatcher, the former UK prime minister who sent a task force to the South Atlantic to wrest the Falklands from Argentine invaders.
Wideawake Airfield on Ascension briefly became the world’s busiest airport during the conflict, with aircraft parked wing-to-wing in every available space.
A set of four stamps was also issued on 14 June 2013 – Liberation Day in the Falklands, marking the 31st anniversary of the Argentinian surrender.
As Mrs Thatcher, she stopped over on Ascension and visited The Residency – home of the island’s administrator – en route to visit the Falklands after the victory.
The Coin Update website reports that 10,000 of the silver coins have been issued by Pobjoy Mint, along with an unlimited number of nickel coins.
Kedell Worboys, St Helena’s representative in the UK, has been representing the territory at a service in Westminster Abbey (4 June 2013) to mark the 60th anniversary of the Coronation of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. Sukey Cameron of the Falkland Islands has also been at the service.
The Falklands look set to get their own version of Bradley’s Camp, the temporary housing being used for airport workers on St Helena. Mercopress reports that a developer is being asked to build two 200-bed blocks of accommodation in Stanley, ready for an expected influx of oil industry workers. Read more
Suggestions that the capital of the Falklands should change its name from Stanley to Port Margaret, or even Port Margaret Thatcher, have been treated with scorn by the islands’ newspaper, Penguin News.
“Once the laughter had died down,” it said, “we began to consider the suggestion more seriously and some pragmatic factors began to emerge, like the sheer cost and annoyance that such a move would involve.
“For starters, anything that is currently printed with the word Stanley, from business cards to milestones, would have to be re-printed, or re-chiselled. Would UK MP Tobias Ellwood, who considers such a move appropriate, be prepared to meet the costs involved? I doubt it.”
The paper said the suggestion showed that sections of the British press and political establishment seemed to regard the Falkland Islands as “some kind of quaint toy town to be re-named, re-painted, or perhaps abandoned to the back of the cupboard, according to their whim”.
A “great injustice” Margaret Thatcher perpetrated on the people of St Helena has been largely overlooked in coverage of her death.
Saints were denied their right of free access to the UK for nearly two decades, along with people of Tristan da Cunha, Ascension and most other British overseas territories.
A Falklands councillor, Mike Summers, has praised Baroness thatcher for transforming the fortunes of his islands after the 1982 invasion by Argentina.
He notes that she restored the Falkland islanders’ British citizenship, without mentioning that her government had taken it away in the first place – or that St Helena, with at least as good a claim to be British, was overlooked.
When full UK nationality was finally restored by the Labour government on 21 May 2002, on the 500th anniversary of St Helena’s discovery, Governor David Hollamby did not hold back.
Wearing full ceremonial rig for a speech at the annual St Helena’s Day celebrations, he declared: “St Helenians suffered a great injustice when the British Nationality Act of 1981 effectively reduced all the British dependent territories to second-class citizens.”
The legislation was passed to protect Britain from a wave of immigrants before the handover of Hong Kong to China, said the Daily Telegraph in 2002.
But “the baby was thrown out with the bath water,” said Mr Hollamby. Many Saints were all-but imprisoned on their own island, unable to lift themselves out of poverty.
Ironically, one of the few places they were able to travel to freely was the Falkland Islands. Many parents left their children behind to work at RAF Mount Pleasant in menial jobs.
Saints faced obstacles whenever they travelled to other countries because immigration officials were often reluctant to recognise the crude passports issued in St Helena.
In the 1990s, The Bishop of St Helena’s Commission on Citizenship was set up to campaign for an end to islanders’ status as British Overseas Territory Citizens. It was co-chaired by Nicholas Turner, the vicar of Ascension, and Cathy Hopkins – now the Speaker of St Helena’s legislature.
Leading figures on the islands and in the UK were involved, including Dorothy Evans, Lawson Henry, John Clifford, Earl Henry, Owen George, and Trevor Hearl. Tristan da Cunha was included in the case for restitution.
After disruption caused by the breakdown of the RMS St Helena in 1994, the Commission produced a campaign pamphlet with the title, St Helena: The Lost County of England.
It argued that St Helena had been mistakenly classified as a British Colony in an Act of 1833, meaning that it was wrongly caught in the British Nationality Act 150 years later.
“In 1673 King Charles II confirmed by Royal Charter that the Island was to be regarded in perpetuity as a detached part of England, and its inhabitants as among its citizens,” it said. “The Island of St Helena is an outpost of Great Britain. It’s citizens are British, and always have been.”
The introduction to the pamphlet spoke of the “frustration and despair of all islanders at the erosion of their historic rights”.
It went on: “An injustice has occurred. Most notably, Saint Helenians now require entry permits to visit part of their own country.
“A wrong has been done, and the moral demand for justice is common to all who are British, irrespective of colour, sex or creed.”
The paper argued that the loss of citizenship was not just immoral, but was also a religious wrong. And it hinted that the Conservative government itself – by this time headed by John Major – was immoral.
It asked: “Is there or is there not a moral basis to British government? The treatment of the British subjects of St Helena will answer that.”
The document even broached a taboo subject: “Is it racism? This is the nagging fear and shame that never leaves the stage…
“It does sometimes seem to be the case that Saint Helenians have been penalized for the colour of their skin. In particular it is true that Saint Helenians have as good as, or even better, a claim to be British as do the Falkland Islanders, with this one exception, that all the latter are white.”
The fear was dismissed: the British Government would not have used colour as the basis for denying nationality, said the pamphlet; the real factors were more subtle.
Nor was the slave heritage of many Saints a reason to withdraw British status, as some had suggested to the Commission – “often quite forcibly”.
The situation had come about simply because of an “ad hoc” law to deal with Hong Kong, said the pamphlet. “Its political bankruptcy will one day have to be acknowledged, and corrected.”
That acknowledgement came after Tony Blair’s Labour government promised to put matters right in its 1999 White Paper on overseas territories.
But the following year, campaigners took their case to the United Nations to try and force the British government to deliver on its promise.
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality” – but that was precisely what had happened to the Saints and the people of Tristan da Cunha, and most of Britain’s other overseas territories.
The Saints’ case was put to the UN Committee on Decolonisation by Professor Hudson Janisch, a Canadian academic who was a direct descendant of St Helena’s only island-born governor, who had the same name.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said the promise of British passports would be kept: “It will happen. It’s just a matter of time.”
Two years later, on 22 May 2002, the Telegraph reported:
St Helena’s 5,000-strong population on the remote Atlantic island staged a noisy double celebration yesterday marking 500 years since the island was discovered, and the restoration to the islanders of full British citizenship.
A Salvation Army brass band and the bugles and drums of the local Scouts played as Governor David Hollamby, in full ceremonial rig, represented the Queen at a march past.
As church bells rang out and a sun-drenched drizzle broke the heat, Saints – as the islanders call themselves – broke into applause at the news that the Princess Royal would visit in November. Islanders welcomed the news as recognition of their restored status.
Ironically, it was another Labour government that later “betrayed” St Helena, as many saw it, by defaulting on its promise to fund an airport for the island.
And it was a Conservative cabinet minister, Andrew Mitchell, who finally pushed through the airport plan, bringing about the possibility of the kind of prosperity enjoyed by the Falkland islanders.
Baroness Thatcher died on 8 April 2013, at the age of 87.
A story went round that the Falklands capital, “Port Stanley” (as it is incorrectly known to the British media) was to be renamed “Port Margaret” in her honour. It was quickly dismissed by the Falkland Islands Government.
At the Castle in Jamestown, the people of St Helena – British once again, and famously loyal – were invited to sign a Book of Condolence.
“Flags were flown at Malf Mast on Tuesday 9 April,” said a St Helena Government statement, “and will be flown at Half Mast again on Wednesday 17 April, when the funeral ceremony, with full military honours, will take place at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, following a procession from Westminster. The Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, will attend the service.”
Falklands governor Nigel Haywood has completed the Stanley Marathon in a time of 3 hours, 30 minutes and 1 second – on his birthday.
He was nearly three times as fast as chef David Bradley, who predicted he’d be a bit of a plodder on his online fund-raising page:
“I’m doing a marathon in a 45kg bomb disposal suit for Red Nose Day because I’M STUPID!!”
The first male and female islanders to finish were Richard Short and Lindsay Sutcliffe. The race winner was Andrew Van Kints, a pilot from Cheltenham, UK, who finished in under three hours. The fastest woman was Dawn Teed, partner of previous winner Hugh Marsden.
Celebrations have taken place at the Whalebone Arch in Stanley in the wake of the overwhelming (but not surprising) vote in favour of the Falkland Islands remaining a British overseas territory. It is understood that only a small number of St Helenians living on the islands were qualified to take part in the referendum, called in response to pressure from Buenos Aires for them to be handed over to Argentina. Three people voted No.