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Cayman's Deputy Premier Speaks

Deputy Premier the Hon. Juliana O'Connor-Connolly following her 6 November swearing in.

When she started out in representational politics almost 14 years, few could have imagined that the former teacher and attorney-at-law would one day inscribe an indelible mark in Cayman's history books.

But on 6 November 2009, Sister Islands MLA Juliana O'Connor Connolly, JP was sworn in as the Islands' first Deputy Premier, alongside the Hon. McKeeva Bush, OBE, JP who became the first Premier; and the Hon. Donovan Ebanks, MBE the country's first Deputy Governor.

"As a woman, and a woman from the Sister islands, to be called on in that capacity humbles me tremendously. I am indeed challenged by the level of respect and confidence accorded me by my colleagues.

"I have assured them that I will at all times work most diligently to ensure the protection of these Islands," she said.

The historic nature of her appointment is not lost on Mrs. O'Connor-Connolly who has represented the Sister Islands in the Legislative Assembly throughout her political career.

"I think for the two smaller islands to have a minister is already a major achievement. But to become the first DP is most gratifying for my constituents.

"It sends a clear and profound message to them that this government wishes to embrace Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. Further, they are assured that the Sister Islands have been brought within the inner circle of government where they can be confident that their needs will not be forgotten," she explained.

And while her rise to high office is impressive, uncharted territory is nothing strange to the DP who points to several barriers she has surmounted.

"I was the first physical education (PE) teacher in Cayman in an era when it was not appropriate for a woman to be teaching PE. I was one of only two female attorneys from Cayman Brac in my day, and I also graduated from Saint Leo University, Florida with the highest GPA at a time when few people could even point to Cayman on a map."

"This year (2009) is 50 years since women were granted the right to vote and it is remarkable that not only do we have a new Constitution but our first Deputy Premier is a woman," she said.

It is easy to mistake her quiet demeanour as a lack of experience and savvy, but Mrs. O'Connor-Connolly feels she has much to offer in the Deputy Premier position.

"I am probably being subjective, but what I think I first and foremost bring to the table is the fact that I am a Christian. My colleagues accordingly know that I will be honest; I will operate with integrity and I will always take a holistic approach to what I believe will be in the best interest of the entire Cayman Islands," she observed.

As one who has practised her faith since the age of 11, she also sees her daily prayer for the Premier and her colleagues in government as a critical function. She explained that her faith has taught her many valuable principles. "It's allowed me to make wise choices and it has instilled in me the neighbourly principle of loving all with whom I come into contact.

"I have learned that leading a wholesome, healthy life is still the best way to go, and more importantly, that you must entertain the stranger, assist the widow and care for those who need a helping hand," she said.

The Deputy Premier also puts her teaching and legal skills to good use. "I find that both are vital in politics. As a teacher I learned the art of communicating with people, regardless of their status in life. As an attorney, I can look at things analytically and give much credence to details.

Her work as DP has added to her already heavy ministerial responsibilities, but she embraces the role with pride and a sense of duty.

"I believe that my primary role is to be there for the Premier, to render advice when necessary -- honest and frank advice, not necessarily what he wants to hear -- but always what I believe to be in the best interests at the time," said Mrs. O'Connor-Connolly.

"Also of course, when the Premier travels-to carry the message that Cayman is a responsible international financial centre, that we are in the business of recovery, and that we are a resilient people-I am here to hold the reins with my colleagues until he returns."

Moving forward requires a balancing act between ministerial responsibilities and those of the DP. However, Mrs. O'Connor-Connolly still aims to place strong emphasis on social justice and equality in the Islands, while focusing on human capital development.

"I feel that a crucial area in Cayman that is yet to change concerns societal class and racial barriers. As we Caymanians continue the process of nation-building, we need to spend more time respecting and encouraging each other. At the end of the day, we ought to be one people," she said.

According to the DP, another key step in achieving social justice is "ensuring that everyone who comes here receives equal opportunities to earn. We should remember that there was a time when Caymanians had to go overseas in order to get where we are today.

"I am a firm believer in taking care of every step of the ladder, because you never know when you are going to slip back down," she said.

Gender Affairs is also high on her agenda. "We are approaching gender affairs from a holistic stance. It is not my intent to only protect women and carve out a niche for them. Men are suffering too; boys are falling behind in their education and are becoming involved in gangs," Mrs. O'Connor-Connolly said.

"I am also a strong advocate of investing in human capital. So while many of my areas are technical, I do work to see how we can introduce policies that encompass the human element.

"The Pride Cleanup is a good example. When I drive in East End I feel a sense of satisfaction when I see the roadways and people working to improve our surroundings. We are putting them to work and doing ourselves some good at the same time," she stated.

However, the Sister Islands and agriculture and are perhaps closest to her heart, the former because that community elected her and the latter because she is an avid farmer. Explaining that it has been a juggling exercise to closely manage capital expenditure without micro-managing the Sister Islands, Mrs. O'Connor-Connolly said:

"I do try to set my schedule to hold a weekly Brac Clinic, in order to meet needs there. And I do have wonderful ministry staff members who know that if a call comes from my constituency, it is to be answered."

Regarding agriculture, the Minister disclosed her plan to promote backyard farming in Cayman next year. She said that Ivan and Paloma had convinced her of the need for self-sustainability.

"Cayman's arable land is limited, but if each backyard farmed a little corner, the total cultivation would mount. I am a firm believer in 'eat what we grow and grow what we eat'."

Meanwhile, the DP also looks forward to construction starting on the new Doppler radar to fill the void in the Islands' radar coverage. She is also focused on the potential of Lands and Survey's new 3-D aerial photography equipment which will look at storm surge possibilities and provide data to the MET Office.

Other interests include ensuring that Radio Cayman is fully equipped to provide continuous coverage throughout the entire Cayman Islands, and supporting and equipping DEH, whose work, she feels, often goes unrecognised.

For now though, the country's first Deputy Premier was preparing to travel to London, to join the Premier at the Overseas Territories Consultative Council.

(GIS)

For further information contact: Prudence Barnes