Sir Ian was in the island at the invitation of Seigneur Major Christopher Beaumont to open officially La Seigneurie’s amphitheatre, designed by Mr Beaumont as a venue for performances.
Sir Ian paid tribute to Mr Beaumont’s contribution as an ‘energetic and engaged’ Seigneur. ‘I hope the community is standing full square behind what you are trying to achieve. I certainly am,’ he said.
The Lt-Governor then took the opportunity to address the political situation in Sark, having previously said he wished to guide all parties towards a dialogue.
Before last year’s elections, Chief Pleas had 28 members, but following that poll, various resignations and the failure of subsequent by-elections to produce more than one candidate, it has been reduced to 18 and this number is now set to be its full complement.
Sir Ian told his audience that as a representative of the Crown he had a role to play ahead of these of these elections to bring their importance to everyone’s attention.
‘Sark is facing some serious challenges,’ he said, ‘and it is my duty to make sure everyone understands the significance of December’s elections.’
The lack of candidates at the last election and the by-elections was a cause for concern.
‘This apparent democratic “indifference” places a real question mark over Sark’s long-term appetite to govern itself,’ said Sir Ian.
‘This December’s election will be a real litmus test of long-term viability.’
The island needed a full-strength government in order to have the necessary energy and capacity to deliver, he continued.
And Sark needed its government to be ready to deal with the challenge of Brexit in March.
Were Chief Pleas to emerge from the election further depleted, it would almost inevitably lead to the reduction of the island’s autonomy and freedom of action since it would be forced to rely on others to deliver key services.
It was important that more people stood for election and were prepared to shoulder the burden of government. ‘Democracy is not a spectator sport,’ said Sir Ian.
‘It requires “full on” audience participation. Sark needs a Chief Pleas that represents all sectors of the community.’
He said that those who had been vociferous about Chief Pleas but not taken part needed to stand for election, while those in government needed to mount a campaign to engage with all factions and encourage their participation in government.
He added that commentators needed to focus on building a narrative of contribution and collaboration.
‘End the politics of exclusion, excuses and evasion; begin the politics of contribution, collaboration and compromise.’
He went on to say that Sark was held in great affection by many people, in the Bailiwick and in the Channel Islands generally, but also by the Crown.
A forthcoming visit by Lord Keen of Elie, Lords spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, was ‘an important opportunity’.
He concluded with a comment in keeping with his nautical background.
‘Sark has been sitting a bit low in the water recently. The next four months and the forthcoming election represent a real opportunity to make it a lot more seaworthy for any storms ahead.’