Government of Montserrat

HON PREMIER DONALDSON ROMEO’S NATIONAL AWARDS SPEECH 2019

Good evening and welcome to all; especially to our visitors, young and old, from near and far who have come to join with us for this our 2019 National St Patrick’s celebration.  Like tonight’s celebrations we have a chance to enjoy ourselves together, with a wide variety of events and activities for young and old alike; events which highlight our rich national heritage and talents as a people.

Premier Donaldson Romeo

Before I start, I would like us to stand and observe a minutes silence as we recognise the recent passing of a Montserrat Icon the Rt Honourable, professor, Dr George Irish who was recently laid to rest.

Citizens and friends of Montserrat, we are gathered here tonight because every society, every nation, needs heroes – past, present and future.

That is why tonight, even as we enjoy our cultural celebrations, we also remember and celebrate our national heroes, the Most Excellent William Bramble and the the Most Excellent Robert W “Marse Bob” Griffith who as it so happened, passed away on St Patricks Day 1996, 23 years ago.  We also remember and celebrate our National Hero and cultural Icon the Most Excellent  Alphonsus Arrow Cassell and many others, sung and unsung.

Yes, Heroes and heroines of the past continue to inspire us.

As just mentioned, there are those that the history books celebrate: they challenged Massa during and after slavery, fought for fair wages and decent working conditions, set the foundations for solid public services, fought for scholarships  and training for locals,  opened the way for freedoms with their blood, sweat, and tears; freedoms  we now take for granted.

Then there were the anonymous, everyday heroes and heroines: who broke their backs in cane fields and cotton fields to earn an honest living,  brought up whole families on, as Mars Ham of Salem used to say, “pick pitiata and sprat and as sometimes not even dat”. They scrimped and saved to send their children to school stiff starched and ironed, faithfully looked after aging parents and handicapped relatives, taught generations of children to read, trained choirs, dancers and theatre groups, passed on ancient wisdom, lived out their faith, opened their homes and hearts to total strangers, taught us manners and behaviour, and set the tone for the friendliness that is the trademark of Montserrat today.

Today’s heroes – or rather, tonight’s heroines, reassure us that the Montserrat spirit of excellence, of giving and of caring is not dead: they  excel in health care and administration, guiding and mentoring, law and banking, public service and teaching, prison ministry and preaching, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  For, between them they have won dozens of prestigious awards.

But, what impresses me most of all about them are certain words that keep coming back when their names are mentioned. They are “courage and determination, integrity and faith”; the very qualities that I believe today and tomorrow’s heroes and heroines of Montserrat and the world will need.

For, we are facing a future in which we will be forced as a nation to make difficult decisions.

Will we choose to have the spirit of Balaam, who was called to curse God’s people in exchange for money? He knew it was wrong, but the cash spoke so loudly that he could no longer hear the voice of conscience. The gold shone so brightly that it blinded him to the angel of death in his path.

Or, will we have the courage and determination, integrity and faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who when ordered by the king of Babylon to bow down to his golden image, stood firm and faithful to principle, whatever the consequences?

These young heroes knew that with God, in sticking to what they believed they could not loose.

Just like St Patrick, who was kidnapped into slavery and sought his freedom, our enslaved ancestors rose up on St Patrick’s day in 1768; 251 years ago.  They, along with all of our and earth’s heroes have set an example in the enduring fight for freedom.

The time has come, even as we celebrate St Patrick’s, for us as a people to do likewise, standing together as one united people. As I speak tonight, we have an opportunity, yes each and every citizen, resident and friend of Montserrat, at home and abroad, to take a stand together that will be revered and remembered by all generations to come.

I thank tonight’s heroines with all my heart for their sterling example. And, I will close with an adaptation of a well-known quotation:

“The greatest need of Montserrat is to keep producing men and women of integrity – more heroes and heroines who will not be bought or sold; who in their inmost souls are true and honest; who do not fear to call wrong doing by its right name; whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; and who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.”

Congratulations awardees and may God continue to bless Montserrat.