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Government Apologises To Victims Of Coral Gardens

Government Apologises To Victims Of Coral Gardens
Prime Minister the Most Hon. Andrew Holness delivers statement in the House of Representatives on April 4.
(Media Credit: R. Fraser)

KINGSTON (JIS) -- The Government has formally apologised to the victims of the State-inflicted violence that occurred in the Coral Gardens Community in April 1963. In addition, a trust fund of no less than $10 million will be established for the benefit of survivors of the Coral Gardens incident. “In this regard, I will work alongside the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service and all relevant stakeholders to ensure that this fund is set up properly and with due regard for the needs of those it is meant to benefit,” Prime Minister the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, said as he gave the apology during a statement to the House of Representatives on April 4. “Today, without equivocation, we apologise for what occurred in Coral Gardens. We express our regret and sorrow for this chapter in our national life that was characterised by brutality, injustice and repression, which was wrong and should never be repeated,” Mr Holness emphasised.

“We cannot restore life and we may not be able to restore property that was destroyed, and we certainly may not be able to heal those that have suffered, but it is important that the State acknowledge when a wrong was done and commit sincerely and solemnly not to allow these wrongs to happen again,” he added.

The Prime Minister had announced that the Government would issue an apology, during his contribution to the 2017/18 Budget Debate in the House of Representatives on March 21.

In 2015, the Public Defender, in a report, recommended an apology in the Coral Gardens incident, in which several civilians and a policeman were killed and numerous Rastafarians were detained, arrested, beaten and forcibly trimmed by agents of the State.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Holness said the Government will continue to strive to ensure that unjust incidents and discriminatory actions, such as occurred at Coral Gardens, are never allowed to happen again.

“Whilst I know that this cannot erase the brutality, oppression and injustice which was meted out during that tragedy, I am comforted by the willingness of the members of the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society to keep the dialogue going. I am happy to have finally reached the point where we can discuss concrete and tangible actions which can ease some of the heavy burdens that survivors and the community have faced,” he said.

Mr. Holness noted that the Public Defender is to be asked to continue the work that her office began, in terms of locating survivors and gathering important background social information about them and their families, in consultation with the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society and the Member of Parliament for that area.

He said the Public Defender’s Office will utilise the list of survivors provided by the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society as the base for continuing the work.

The Coral Gardens Benevolent Society will also be given advice and assisted in accessing resources and benefits for its members that are already available through a number of avenues.

Also, in keeping with the principle of cultural preservation, six lots at the property at Pinnacle in St Catherine will be declared by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) as a protected heritage site and will be developed as a Rastafari Heritage and Cultural Centre.

For his part, Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Peter Phillips, welcomed the move by the Government to recognise and apologise for the incident.