Angela Estwick said she was fully prepared to give the annual St Patrick’s Lecture on Tuesday but was not given the opportunity to do so.
Estwick, who is the director of policy and planning in the Office of the Premier said she received a call from Deputy Governor Lyndell Simpson a few hours before the lecture stating she had received a complaint that her presentation would be addressing government policy.
St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations in Montserrat: Cultural Development or Cultural Irresponsibility was the topic of the lecture, organised by the University of the West Indies Open Campus.
Estwick said contrary to other news reports and other public discussions, she had not been ill or too busy to make the presentation.
The DG, she said was concerned that given Estwick’s official designation her lecture would contravene General Orders which frowns on civil servants speaking out against the government.
“I asked how was that determined given that no one knew the contents,” she told Discover Montserrat. “I offered that she or the Attorney General’s office vet the speech to appease the concerned and allow me to continue. However, the offer was not taken up.” Estwick then suggested a postponement to allow for vetting. The decision was made by the chairperson Gracelyn Cassell of the UWI Open Campus to call off the lecture. An interactive discussion was held instead.
Former premier Reuben T. Meade said “Intellectual and academic discourse cannot be vetted. This is a UWI lecture and the Resident Tutor cannot be told by any other authority that a citizen of Montserrat has been deprived of her constitutional right to free speech. Our unwillingness to fight for our rights is celebrated throughout this week called St. Patrick’s week. The Resident Tutor must not be petrified of the house slave because she has the backing of UWI. She must name the authority or be held responsible for the late cancellation.”
Members of the public who were in attendance and others who were waiting to view via live stream said the cancellation of the lecture based on government interference was blatant censorship and felt like a modern day 1768 betrayal.
Montserrat celebrates St Patrick’s Day not primarily to honour its Irish heritage but to remember the nine slaves killed after a failed uprising on March 17, 1768. It is believed that a fellow slave chose to sell out the group who planned to fight for their freedom while the slave owners were celebrating.
Estwick was later advised by the Governor that according to the revised General Orders there was a requirement that the Governor vet any presentations to ensure they did not speak counter to government policy.
New member of the Opposition Dr Samuel Joseph said “Freedom of expression and association is a sacrosanct principal of democracy. We have to review the antiquated system that discourages civil servants from active political participation. It’s ridiculous, and the British changed their system ages ago. Why are we clinging on to a colonial relic?”