Jailhouse Rock!

Image: The National Trust wants to preserve the old prison site.

IF it wasn’t so serious, one could think that the continued squaring-off between the Government and the national Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) over what to do about an old prison building was a tragicomedy of sorts.

The government believes it is exercising its right as an elected entity to take actions it deems necessary in the national interest. The NGOs, on the other hand, believe the government is breaking the law by not engaging in consultation.

The Government does not feel it has to consult the National trust (or any other body, for that matter). The National trust however points to legal requirements that it be consulted before any building of historic importance is demolished.

The Government is convinced it has the right to undertake any development it deems to be in the people’s interest. The Trust is so sure it is right that it took the Government to court.

The court process continues – as is the public debate.

The Trust, the Archaeological and Historical Society (A&H) and a whole range of NGOs are holding tight to the argument that the old Royal Gaol (Jail), formerly Her Majesty’s Prison, has historic value and should not be demolished.

The Government argues, however, that the abandoned old jailhouse is unfit for human habitation and it’s only doing what the previous administrations did not after a Labour government decided it had outlived its usefulness.

The Trust and those with it insist the building’s historicity is more valuable than its intended replacement, while the Government’s supporters argue there’s nothing to be proud about a building constructed with ‘slave labour’ and which a previous Labour administration has described as a ‘Black Hole of Culcutta’.

The Government says it wants to demolish the old jailhouse to build a new courthouse — and better facilities for the police. But a former Prime Minister, who is also a seasoned lawyer, argues that it is unthinkable that anyone would want to build a new courthouse on the remains of an old prison.

And so the debate continues…

But in all of this, neither side seems to have given thought to sufficiently explaining their respective positions to all and sundry. Those opposing the demolition have been publishing lots of statements, while those supporting the government’s move accuse the opponents as being political, hypocritical – or both. Yet, the average person is still not too clear what all the fuss is all about.

Fact is, the vast majority of Saint Lucians have never seen inside a prison and with the vast majority of Saint Lucians alive born after 1979, very few alive today who have been to Her Majesty’s Prison – whether as an inmate, on remand or as a visitor – will support the old dilapidated dungeon being kept alive.

The argument about the historicity of the old Royal Jail does not seem to have won the level of support it needs outside those making it. But the argument that the government may be breaking the law by not consulting the Trust has gained ground among those who don’t know what the law says and whether it applies in this case – which the courts will decide.

The hemming and hawing continues over the future of the old jailhouse while the silent majority awaits the court’s final decision.

In the meantime, those old enough to remember are quietly humming the popular song by Elvis Presley, aptly entitled ‘Jailhouse Rock!’

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