The Government’s chief of staff, Lionel “Max” Hurst, says that Friday’s by-invitation-only ceremony in the Lower House of Parliament was designed by the Department of the Legislature and had nothing to do with the Cabinet.
However, former Speaker of the House D.Gisele Isaac says she finds Hurst’s statement to be, quite literally, incredible.
On Wednesday, February 15, the newly elected Members of Parliament on the Opposition Bench received a communication from the Acting Clerk, who advised that they were being allowed only 10 guests – by the enclosed invitations – to witness their taking of the oath.
This took the MPs by surprise since it was the first time such restrictions were being imposed on the Lower House. Over the decades, gallery seats have taken by supporters on a first-come-first-served basis.
Commenting during the proceedings, which were televised on State media, Hurst noted that one MP said he was expecting 60 of his constituents at the ceremony. For one parliamentarian to command that many seats, he said, would have disenfranchised others.
However, although he was compelled to admit that the gallery had a good number of vacant seats – while other supporters were not even allowed through the Parliament gates – Hurst said the decision to restrict attendance was justified.
He claims it prevented chaos and exploitation of the parliamentary proceedings.
Meanwhile, former House Speaker D.Gisele Isaac is scoffing at Hurst’s claim that the invitation-only idea was the brainchild of the Clerk to Parliament.
Isaac, who appeared on Observer A.M. today, says the House is governed by the Speaker, whose tenure ran until he was reelected today, and Sir Gerald Watt has already admitted the new policy was not his. In fact, she says, Watt directed the Opposition Leader, on Thursday, to take his complaint to Attorney-General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin.
She is also affronted by Hurst’s implication that allowing the public to fill the gallery would have resulted in poor behaviour and political confusion.
“I think Max Hurst is quite out of order,” Isaac says. “When has he ever seen the swearing-in ceremony descend into chaos? Who is he accusing of not knowing how to conduct themselves in the gallery?”
In her 10 years presiding over the House, including the swearing-in ceremony, Isaac says she has witnessed nothing but exuberance from the gallery. And to imply otherwise – “now that the Opposition bench is at highest number ever” – is nothing but an insult on Hurst’s part, she says, adding that “evil thinks as evil does.”
In the meantime, the Police were out in their numbers, manning the gates to ensure that only those with invitations were allowed inside the Parliament building.
Reports are that metal detectors were used to search the guests, while dogs from the K-9 Unit had been deployed earlier, reportedly as part of the police’s safety protocols.