Blog 24 Jan 21It is very difficult to start this week’s Blog on a positive footing, especially after two tragic deaths on the island in the past seven days. Last weekend the Isle of Man Constabulary reported a domestic incident in the North of the island where a woman’s body was discovered early on Sunday morning.

I am certainly not going to speculate on the incident other than to say that on Monday afternoon a 21-year-old man appeared in Court charged with murdering his mother and attempting to murder his father – it really is tragic news for the whole island, which has always been considered a very safe place to live.

Murder on the Isle of Man is also very very rare. I may be wrong but I think the last person charged with murder on the island related to the incident that happened in December 2013 in Castletown.

The second incident resulted in the tragic death of 21-year-old cyclist, Luke McNicholas who was involved in a collision with a car last Saturday afternoon, and again, with an investigation still ongoing, I won’t comment any further.

I can only offer my sincere condolences to the families involved in both incidents.

Let’s move on to other things. Not much to report from last weekend other than I continued to work through the Tynwald Order Papers and responded to various emails and messages, but it was a relatively straightforward and easy weekend. As for the greenhouse, well everything is almost done except for the final piece of glass that unfortunately shattered when we tried to put it in place, which was frustrating, especially when Ellen and I were left covered in glass – and it was the very last piece of glass…

Anyway, hopefully a new piece of glass has been ordered and a massive thank you to Kirby Garden Centre for all their help, I couldn’t recommend them more highly if anyone is looking for a new greenhouse.

On Monday I was in the office well before 7am, in order to print off various reports and documents that I would need during the week. Once home I started to go through the correspondence relating to a couple of planning appeals in the west of the island. These decisions always take up a considerable amount of time, in order to go through the officer’s report, any objections and then the inspector’s report etc.

As I have already mentioned previously, planning is contentious due to the fact that there is always a winner and a loser. It is definitely one of the most difficult roles to undertake, and I think every single MHK should look at at least one planning appeal, because it does give you an understanding of the minefield you have to walk through when making these difficult decisions.

Fortunately when I am asked to make these decisions on behalf of the Department I do have officers on hand along with an independent planning expert who can help answer any questions or concerns I have before making that final decision.

I then needed to go through various documents from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, especially a report from the UK Parliament on the measures taken by the UK in respect of Covid-19.

Last year I agreed to take part in a working group to look at the effects of Covid-19 and its impact, along with the responses from various Parliaments across the Commonwealth. A massive thank you to Kieran and Jonathan in our Tynwald office for ensuring that the Isle of Man’s response to “Borders: Residence, Travel and Tourism” was submitted well before Christmas.

I also managed to read a fascinating report from the UK Parliament outlining some of their concerns around travel, scrutiny, regulations economic recovery, but more importantly on mental health.

Initial reports suggest a sharp rise in the level of depression, anxiety and loneliness as a result of self isolation, along with financial hardship as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic. A UK survey of around 2,221 UK adults found that around one in four people had experienced the feelings of loneliness, and surprisingly young people were four times more likely to have experienced loneliness.

There was also evidence of people drinking more and regular gamblers betting more during “lockdown” periods. There has also been a massive increase in domestic abuse, not just in the UK but also here on the Isle of Man.

Looking back in the weeks, months and years to follow I do wonder what the long term effects on our society will be as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Anyway, after returning several missed calls from constituents I then dialled into the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association working group meeting, which was a general catch up ahead of a number of presentations that will be made over the next few months by the delegates. This was followed by a joint meeting between DOI and the DfE tourism team relating to the Landlords Registration Bill.

From around 16.00 I continued to go through the Tynwald Order Paper until around 20.30. At the media briefing on Monday evening the Health Minister, David Ashford, MHK confirmed a further four cases of Covid-19, which brought the total active cases to 53 on the Isle of Man at the moment.

An early start on Tuesday in order to prepare for this month’s Tynwald sitting, which was being done virtually once again due to the “lockdown”. I was at the kitchen table before 8am just to go through the question paper and a couple of reports, in order to make some notes.

At 10.30am the virtual sitting of Tynwald got underway with a couple of urgent questions and this was followed by 33 oral questions, but we only reached question 10 by lunchtime at 13.00. I guess the one good thing about working from home is that I can actually take a lunch break, which I don’t normally do.

Back to the virtual Chamber at 14.30 to continue with the question paper, but unfortunately there were a number of technical issues that resulted in the sitting being suspended for almost an hour and a half. The sitting reconvened at 16.30, but we still only reached question 16 in the allotted time.

We eventually proceeded through the Order Paper and some of the key highlights included Tynwald voting in favour of the Misuse of Drugs (Cannabis) Regulations 2002. This means that it is now possible in the Isle of Man to cultivate cannabis and extract controlled substances from cannabis and to make products derived from these extracts, but activities will be fully regulated and subject to licensing etc.

Tynwald also supported the recommendations from the Social Affairs Policy Review Committee in respect of Grandparents’ Rights. This means that grandparents and other extended family members can apply to the Courts to gain access to grandchildren in the future.

There were also a number of questions and a discussion around the island’s housing strategy before the sitting finished at 20.45, but I still needed to deal with a couple of tourism items before finishing at around 21.30.

Straight back into the kitchen for 8am on Wednesday to prepare for the second day of this month’s virtual Tynwald sitting. In advance of the sitting I needed to catch up with correspondence and a few phone calls etc.

Tynwald started at 10.30am with a motion by Chris Thomas, MHK on Coronavirus, which turned into an excellent debate that lasted more than two hours. This was followed by a personal statement by my colleague Mr Thomas on the UK-EU Trade and Co-Operation Agreement.

We then had a debate on the Telecommunications, but more importantly the Development Orders, which have concerned me as an MHK since around 2013. As I mentioned in my speech, the telecommunication companies on the island do appear to get two bites of the cherry: if they can’t obtain a development order then they can still go through the planning process.

I still argue strongly that ALL new telecommunication structures should be subject to a full application, but any replacement of equipment or structures (like for like) could be permitted under Development Orders.

During the lunchtime break I needed to return various phone calls and correspondence before dialling into the Tynwald members briefing by the DHSC and the Chief Minister on the latest information on Covid-19, which got underway at 13.45.

Back into the virtual Tynwald Chamber at 14.30 to continue with the debate on Telecommunications and the rest of the Order Paper before the sitting finally finished just before 16.00. From there it was straight onto the phone to pick up on various enquiries, which took more than an hour to get through.

Once I had also caught up with emails I was able to watch some of the Inauguration address by Joe Biden who was being sworn in as the 46th President of the United States of America.

The previous President Donald Trump did not attend the event. Instead he boarded a plane early in the morning and headed to Florida, but he vowed to “be back in some form”…..

Unfortunately, the 2021 inauguration also became a casualty of Covid-19 with no crowds allowed, along with twenty five thousand troops on the streets of Washington DC after the events in the Capitol Building recently.

The event also featured some high-profile individuals, but I think most people thought that 22-year-old Amanda Gorman stole the show with her poem “The Hill We Climb”, which was breath-taking.

Amanda was named the first ever national youth poet laureate in 2017, and her five-minute performance was very powerful and very fitting for the occasion – her message definitely inspired a nation.

After tea I needed to go through the Visit Isle of Man Executive Agency pack before finishing at around 19.30.

On Thursday I went into the office before 7am in order to pick up some documentation and a couple of reports, but I was back home before 9am.

I then dialled into the Visit Isle of Man Executive Agency meeting, which had a full agenda including a presentation by Blue Sail. There was also a long discussion on the economic “lockdown” and the current vaccination programme, which is continuing to hit the island’s tourism sector.

An excellent meeting in many ways, but I know the industry is desperately wanting to see an exit strategy, in order to try and capture some tourism activities in 2021. Unlike many other jurisdictions the Isle of Man has been in a state of almost complete external lockdown since March last year, and it is going to be difficult to get things back to normal.

The meeting finished at around 12.25, and from there it was straight into a DfE political meeting, in order to obtain the latest update on Covid-19 and to feed information back into the department on behalf of Constituents.

The next hour or so was spent on the phone or responding to correspondence. At 15.00 the DOI political members were meant to have the first of a couple of legislation sessions, in order to go through the Landlords Registration Bill line by line, but the session was cancelled late in the day. Hopefully it can be re-scheduled for next week.

Fortunately, I already had the MNH agenda pack with me so I was able to go through the information before the meeting that got underway from 15.00, despite me giving my initial apologies. That said, I had to come out of the MNH meeting at 17.00, in order to dial into a DfE motorsport meeting, which lasted around an hour.

I was hoping to re-join the MNH meeting but I needed to return a number of urgent calls, which took me up to around 19.00.

At the media briefing on Thursday evening the Chief Minister Howard Quayle, MHK confirmed that some of the restrictions around the island’s second internal lockdown will be eased on Saturday, but some of the more positive changes will only happen from 1st February.

It has only been three weeks, but it does feel a long three weeks for businesses and families, and as an MHK I have probably responded to more phone calls and messages in the last couple of weeks than in the first two months during the original lockdown last year.

Although there are no plans to change border controls at this stage, we are at last seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. From a tourism and travel point of view, we might be able see some restrictions lifted towards the end of May 2021, so I have everything crossed to see that happening.

As for the latest Covid-19 information, there were no new cases on Thursday evening but we still have 48 active cases, with one person in hospital.

A change of pace on Friday after most of my meetings were cancelled or re-arranged, so I had plenty of time to catch up with some reading and work on a few projects. The only meeting to remain was a general catch up in DOI, along with taking various calls throughout the day.

As for the weekend I am hoping to be able to spend some time cutting up some tree branches in the garden, but I have been asked to do a few things on behalf of the DOI, which will take a few hours.