Letter: Minister denies volcano isle blunder

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Sir: Clare Short's pronouncements on the government and people of Montserrat have been insulting and patronising ("Volcano island gives Short shrift", 25 August).

Those who know Montserratians know that they are a proud people, self- reliant and hard-working, proud that we who are the descendants of British slavery, the product of British neglect, have by our own efforts built Montserrat into the thriving community it was before this terrible disaster. We withstand hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts. How dare she, who lives in a country where people complain if the temperature rises above 70 or there is a flake of snow, accuse Montserratians of whingeing?

Britain ruled over us for nearly 400 years. There was little on Montserrat to show for British rule before the advent of universal suffrage for the local people and the formation of a local government. There was no airport, no radio station, no proper electricity - nothing except a few wooden colonial buildings. Montserrat is British, and we expect the same care and consideration that would be applied if there were a nuclear accident in Birmingham.

I visited Montserrat in April this year and found living conditions worse that anything I have seen before. I saw no evidence of substantial funds being employed, no evidence of a cohesive plan for Montserrat.

Britain should declare a state of emergency and assume direct rule. It could then decide whether Montserrat could remain a viable entity with two-thirds of the island, with its most valuable amenities, uninhabitable. If the answer is yes, then the north of the island must be properly developed. The British Government would not be expected to meet all the cost, but they must provide the plan and the infrastructure, and leave the enterprising people to do the rest.

If it is decided that the island is not viable, then the situation must be properly explained to the people. All the inhabitants should be given proper British passports which would allow them to come here, in the final analysis. And, yes, a proper assistance package must be worked out to allow the people to get established in their new environment.

The people on Montserrat have lost so much; the last thing they deserve is for someone who represents the "mother country" to hurl insults at them as if they were enemies rather than loyal citizens. Perhaps Ms Short should reconsider her position.


London NW6

The writer is a former general secretary of Moppa, a London-based Montserratian organisation