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Hon. Mary Lawrence, JP

Published 5th June 2009, 12:26pm

The new Speaker of the House, the Hon. Mary Lawrence, JP, told Members: "There will be times when we shall not see eye to eye, but I am sure that in the interest of good governance, we shall work together with mutual respect and due regard for the very essence of parliamentary democracy."

Speaking from the Chair for the first time after assuming office on Wednesday, 27 May, Mrs Lawrence said she was deeply honoured and humbled at the trust placed in her.

Mrs Lawrence made clear that she will ensure that dignity and fairness are maintained even as controversial issues are debated, saying, "I am not here to create division."

"The voice of the minority in a democracy must be protected, but so too must the authority of the majority remain unimpeded in its conduct of the country's business," she said.

She also stressed that, while she would be mindful of Members' right to debate, she would not tolerate personal attacks on one another or abuse of their parliamentary privileges against members of the public.

The new Speaker paid tribute to the five previous Speakers from 1991 to present - the Hon. Sybil Ione McLaughlin, MBE, JP, National Hero; the late Capt. Mabry S. Kirkconnell MBE, JP; the Hon. Juliana O'Connor Connolly, JP (who is now an elected MLA representing Cayman Brac and Little Cayman and the Minister for District Administration, Works and Gender Affairs); Mr Linford Pierson, OBE, JP; and her immediate predecessor, Ms Edna Moyle, JP, former Deputy Clerk of the Assembly and former long-serving Member for the district of North Side.

She noted that she is the first Speaker to be elected by the MLAs from among persons outside the House. Amendments to the Constitution in 1993 enables the House to elect a Speaker either from within the elected membership or from outside the House. The first Speaker, Mrs McLaughlin, who was also not an MLA, was appointed to the office by proclamation by the then Governor, Mr Alan Scott, CVO, CBE, in 1991.

The Speaker also lauded the diligent service of the Legislative Assembly staff over the years, notably Clerk of the LA Wendy Lauer (28 years service), the Deputy Clerk Sharon Smith (36 years) and Assistant Clerk Nana Bothwell (27 years).

(The full text of Mrs Lawrence's speech follows.)


Speech by the Hon Mary J. Lawrence JP, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly at the Swearing-in Ceremony of the new Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly and its Speaker on 27 May 2009

Please be seated. The Legislative Assembly of the Cayman Islands is now in session.

Before I proceed to the Order of Business, I crave the indulgence of this Honourable House to say a few words.

I am extremely honoured to take the Chair as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly on this historical occasion. I am humbled by the great trust that has been placed in me and the wealth of kindness shown to me since my nomination was announced, and I pray that I shall be able to fulfil in the days and years to come the tremendous responsibility and authority this position holds, with all the dignity and fairness necessary for the promotion of parliamentary democracy and good governance in our beloved Cayman Islands.

I stand today where five persons have stood before me, three of whom have been women, a precedent I hope will carry over into other areas of our society, and today I want to pay tribute to them.

In a departure from procedure and for the sake of those present, or listening, I have chosen to name them: The Honourable Sybil McLaughlin, our National hero and the first holder of this position; the late Capt. Mabry Kirkconnell, MLA from the Brac, Mr. Linford Pierson former MLA and Executive Council Member from George Town, Ms Julianna O'Connor Conolly, also from the Brac who has been returned yet again to represent her people, and Ms Edna Moyle, former Clerk of this Assembly and former long-serving member from the district of North Side.

To them we owe a debt of gratitude for their significant contribution to the development of Parliamentary Democracy in the Cayman Islands.

They have steered this Assembly through the good times and the not-so-good times in our history, and with the exception of the late Capt. Mabry Kirkconnell, continue to set an example of service to community and country for us all.

I pay special tribute today to the Honourable Sybil McLaughlin, National Hero, who established the framework for the position of Speaker, within our Assembly, researching and ensuring that Best Practice and Procedures were in place, and recording them, so that those who followed after her, had a solid foundation, with firmly established precedents, on which to stand.

To her we owe a debt of gratitude, not just for her role and contribution as the First speaker, but her years of service as the first Clerk of the Assembly, and indeed, the first woman in the entire Commonwealth to hold that Office.

I pay tribute today too to the staff she set in place during her tenure which serves this Assembly today: Clerk of the Assembly Ms. Wendy Lauer, with 28 years of service, Deputy Clerk, Mrs. Sharon Smith with 36 years of service, and Assistant Clerk Ms Nana Bothwell with 27 years of service.

Their continuity in these unique positions has greatly contributed to the smooth running of this Assembly and I look forward to the honour of working with them.

The history of the Speaker in Parliament is one steeped in tradition and precedents, and owes its origin to the reign of Mary 1; with the first Speaker being appointed in 1377.

The office of Speaker was first mooted in the Cayman Islands (Constitution) Order 1972 in subsection (2) of section 32 of Schedule 2 but was not introduced into the framework of the Assembly until the 15th February 1991.

At that time, the Honourable Sybil McLaughlin was appointed by Proclamation, to the position by His Excellency the Governor, Mr. Alan Scott CVO, CBE, with the full approval of the House.

Amendments were made to the 1972 Constitution Order in 1993 to allow for the Election of the Speaker by the elected members of the Assembly, from among themselves OR from persons qualified to be elected members from outside the Assembly.

The four successive holders of the position however, came from within the elected membership of the House.

This is the FIRST time the Elected members of this Assembly have exercise their powers under the Cayman Islands Constitution Amendment Order 1993, to nominate and elect a Speaker from outside its membership.

I am extremely honoured to have been elected today with the full support of all members of this Honourable House - not just on behalf of myself, but my district of Bodden Town, where recorded history shows many "firsts" in the establishment of appointed, and elected government, the courts, education and religion - all pillars of the solid foundation on which the stability and success of our beloved country is founded.

I shall endeavour at all times to be worthy of the great trust you have placed in me today.

There will be times when we shall not see eye to eye, but I am sure that in the interest of good governance, we shall work together with mutual respect and due regard for the very essence of Parliamentary democracy.

I am not here to create division but to ensure that dignity and fairness are maintained, even as controversial issues are debated.

The voice of the minority in a democracy must be protected, but so too must the authority of the majority remain unimpeded in its conduct of the country's business; for only in mutual respect for each other, will we pay due honour to the people of the Cayman Islands who have placed their collective trust in this Assembly to execute its several offices.

The Speaker is called upon to apply the Rules of Procedure and Established Precedents to the best of his/her ability with perfect impartiality.

There are strong guidelines for the operation of this Assembly - laid down over centuries by our predecessors, and tested and tried by generations of Parliamentarians wherever Parliamentary Democracy is practiced.

In our meetings which will follow over the next several days, we will sit together and review them, both to refresh the memory of the experienced members, and to draw them to the attention of the new members, who I urge to familiarise yourselves with the packets provided for you by the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly.

I do not need to remind you that our country is experiencing difficult times as we face the forces from outside our borders who would seek to put us down, but I would be remiss in my duties if I failed to also remind you that Rome fell from within.

It is time to put aside our differences and unite as a people to build a better Cayman. While this Chair will ever be mindful of the rights of members to exercise the cut and thrust of debate in their deliberations, I can assure you there will be little tolerance for personal attacks within these Chambers, or abuse of parliamentary privileges against members of the hapless public.

Members will be encouraged to serve their constituents with the class and statesmanship expected of them in their elected office by the people who put them there, and in accordance with the dignity of this Honourable House.

This Assembly is the face of the Caymanian people to world.

With the coming into effect of the newly-accepted Cayman Islands Constitution Order 2009, and the additional empowerment granted to the members of this Legislative Assembly under that Order, it behoves us all to be aware that powers granted to the elected membership, are granted by the people with the view that this Assembly will serve THEM.

It behoves us all at this time too, particularly in view of our professed Christian heritage, to remember that all power comes from God and is equated with service to your fellowman, as in the example set by His Son.

In conclusion, I would like to share with you, the words of the late Capt. Rayal Bodden, spoken on September 29th 1971 as he laid the cornerstone for this building in which we meet today.

Let them serve as a reminder of the great heritage passed on to us by our forefathers -- a heritage they expect us to keep in trust for the generations to come.

And I quote:

"From Parliament springs the preservation of democratic principles and fundamental human rights. Parliament is governed by traditionally accepted procedures, which no government dare attempt to disregard.

"I hope that many of our young people who are here today will spend more time thinking about the Parliamentarian's true role in effectively preserving fundamental human rights and peace and true government of this territory.

"I hope that this building will see and be the centre of many illustrious Caymanian Parliamentarians, from among these present members, and those of our youths who will step forward to take their rightful place.

"May it be our Parliamentarians' earnest desire to maintain and cherish these important principles -

"That people have the right and the opportunity to express their wishes peacefully through regular general elections, that there should be freedom of speech, freedom of publication, freedom of opposition, and the independence of the judiciary".

End of quote.

May God bless us all as we work together to build our country on these tried and true precepts. May He grant wisdom and understanding to the Honourable members of this Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly, and may He continue to bless the Cayman Islands and its people in the days and years to come.

I thank you.