Apology accepted, but…

NEW YORK, United States — Montego Bay Deputy Mayor Richard Vernon earned himself a reprieve from bitter criticisms in the Jamaican Diaspora for calling members “cowards” and “unpatriotic”. However, his reticent party leaders were not spared.

Governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leaders, notably Foreign Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith and her junior minister Leslie Campbell, who has direct responsibility for Diaspora matters, have maintained radio silence since the August 11, 2022, outburst from Vernon that outraged migrants.

By comparison, JLP leader and Prime Minister Andrew Holness has been holding the People’s National Party (PNP) Member of Parliament Lothian Cousins’ feet to the fire for his tirade against the business sector, alleging it supported the JLP and didn’t want the PNP in power because the Opposition party was for the people.

Vernon endured almost two weeks of blistering criticism from Diaspora members until his Friday, August 26 apology in this newspaper, in which he said: “My most sincere apologies for the unfortunate… use of the word cowards.”

The young but quickly rising politician said his description of cowards and unpatriotic was meant for “those who have turned their backs on Jamaica and refused to contribute to our development”.

“However, I must concede that whether people turn their backs on Jamaica or not — as I said in my unscripted speech — it was a poor choice of word. I was out of order to describe their actions as cowardly, and for that I apologise,” said the deputy mayor.

Diaspora members immediately welcomed the apology, with Dr Rupert A Francis of the Florida-based non-profit Jamaican Men of Florida saying he was happy that the deputy mayor saw it fit to issue a public apology for his comment.

“He is a young man who seems to have much to contribute to the development of the country, but who obviously made a serious error of judgement in his comments of August 11. Even though the Diaspora remains hurt, it is hoped that the deputy mayor can find a way to reach out and let us work together,” he added. In her response, the long-standing president of the Jamaica Progressive League Sadie Campbell said that it was “good that Mr Vernon has acknowledge the mistake he made, and has apologised”.

“It is now up to him to demonstrate that he has learnt a crucial lesson from this and seek to engage the Diaspora for the good of our country,” Campbell urged.

Dr Karren Dunkley of the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council for the north-east said, “Deputy Mayor Richard Vernon appears to have offered a sincere apology in good faith for his recent remarks. In instances such as this it is crucial that we extend grace.”

She added that the “Diaspora will continue to work with our brothers and sisters at home on behalf of Jamaica’s national development,” at the same time warning that leaders must always recognise “the intent versus the impact of our words and actions”.

However, her counterpart in the southern US, Dr Allan Cunningham, said: “While the narrative outlines an intended apology, I am not convinced of its sincerity. Jamaicans at home and abroad must recognise the impact of the Diaspora on national development.

“Arguments that divide us have no place in our current environment, especially as we celebrate our 60th anniversary of Independence. I hope this is a teachable exercise that will provide him and others with an opportunity to examine the partnership between Jamaica and its Diaspora.”

Another influential activist for Jamaica, Irwine Clare Sr, said he, too, was not totally impressed with the deputy mayor’s apology. “It is now up to the deputy to prove he is sincere by reaching out to Diaspora organisations and let’s work together,” he said.

Patrick Beckford, the New Jersey-based former head of the Diaspora for the north-east United States, said: “We have all said things in the past which we realise in retrospect that we could have articulated better. The hope now is that he can put this behind him soon.”

Rick Nugent, president of the Maryland Association of Jamaica, sees the apology as “a good move on the mayor’s part”, and one “I hope will open a new round of dialogue on a shared commitment between the Diaspora and our people back home”.

Clare, along with Dr Francis, remained critical of the fact that no senior Government official — neither Johnson Smith, nor Campbell — had issued any statement on the matter. Both said they found the silence on the matter, at that level, “disappointing”.

Generated by Feedzy