After forty years in the service of the Falkland Islands, Sukey Cameron, the Falklands Representative in London is to retire in October. The Penguin News chatted with Ms Cameron about her long and distinguished career.
You started in 1979 with the Falkland Islands Association (a Falklands lobbyist group) in London; what motivated you to join the FIA and what kind of work did you undertake at the beginning?
I had worked in the FIA office for a few weeks, on a temporary basis, in early 1978, filling in for Leif Pollard who had left the office to return to the Islands. Around the beginning of 1979 the Director of the office, Air Commodore Brian Frow, wrote to me to ask if I would join the office, as Executive Secretary, on a permanent basis. At that stage the only full time staff were the Director and myself.
The office (just one room) was located around the corner from where Falkland House is now, in Greycoat Place.
The work was somewhat similar to what we do now, only on a much smaller basis obviously. Lobbying Parliament, media work, dealing with general enquiries and finding ways to promote the Islands. We were also promoting the recommendations of the Shackleton report to develop the Islands and provided the ‘secretariat’ for the South Atlantic Fisheries Committee, whose objective was to get the UK fishing industry interested in fishing around the Islands.
What do you remember about the iconic time when you handed a petition in to Number 10 Downing Street? Do you still have that t-shirt (see pic)?
We were involved in a major campaign to get the British Nationality Act of 1981 amended to include Falkland Islanders as full British Citizens and the petition was a result of that work. We did a number of media events but the handing in of the petition was the one that attracted the most attention. The Act was eventually amended in 1983. Sadly the T shirt has been consigned to history!
The 70s were a tense time for the Falklands and in 1979 when you joined the FIA things were moving towards a climax with the war in 1982 – did you feel a war was inevitable? What sort of work did you undertake during the time the Falklands was occupied by Argentine forces?
I am not sure I thought that a war was inevitable but I was deeply concerned that the attitude of the British Government at the time and believed that the threatened withdrawal of HMS Endurance would result in some sort of a compromise over our sovereignty, which would not have been acceptable to us.
However, I do remember clearly saying to a reporter, at the time the Argentines went into South Georgia, that I was concerned, if no action was taken, the Islands would be next – little did I realize that it would be quite so soon! Once the invasion had taken place we were supported by a large number of volunteers, the office really was the centre of attention and manned 24 hours a day; my late brother, Alastair, came over from his job in Germany with a bottle of gin and two hundred cigarettes to help for the duration, sadly the war lasted much longer than the gin and cigarettes did.
We worked closely with the MoD – providing them with contacts, photographs and general information; we lobbied Parliament to ensure MPs supported our position; we worked closely with the media providing an almost continuous stream of interviewees for them; provided a point of contact for Islanders in the UK, Islanders who left at the start of the invasion (including, of course, the then Governor, Rex Hunt); provided support for the two Councilors who were here, the late John Cheek and Bill Luxton. We were often contacted by the families of members of the Task Force and we received a huge amount of support from the general public.
In 1983 you joined the FIG office – how did things change with that move. How did the emphasis change in terms of what the Falklands needed to do next?
After the Liberation, the Councilors made the decision that they wished to open an official office here in London. Sir Rex Hunt invited me for a drink at the Albert Pub on Victoria Street and asked if I would consider joining the staff – I don’t recall hesitating in my reply! The first Representative was the late Adrian Monk and the work of the office was really to support the ‘reconstruction’ of the Islands; to assist people wanting to move to the Islands; to help find people and companies to undertake the much needed work. There was still work to be done in Parliament and also with the media – some rather negative stories about the Islands started appearing in the press that we had to counteract.
Ultimately you became Representative – your workload must have been heavy – tell us about the highlights of your time as Representative.
Workload is certainly very high and it is not a ‘9 to 5’ job at all; in addition to the office based work there are many events to attend outside the office as well. There have been many highlights during my time as Representative, being involved in the organization of the first ‘Dependent Territories (as we were then) Forum’ in 1993, which led to the formation of the UK Overseas Territories Association, and a further conference in 1998, which led to the setting up of the relationship between the Overseas Territories and HMG as it is today.
Being involved in the organizing of, and attendance at, the 25th Anniversary of the Falklands War in 2007 was really special, seeing the Islands take ‘centre stage’ in a series of events, including a business Forum and the National Commemoration on Horse Guards Parade was fantastic.
The escorting the FIG visits of MPs to the Islands has always been really rewarding, especially as they come back as such firm friends and supporters of the Islands. I have really enjoyed our attendance at the Party Conferences over the years and also when we showcased the Falklands at the various agricultural shows around the country – all very hard work but very rewarding. It has also been an honor to represent the Islands at many Government and Royal events.
How important is the role of Representative to the Falkland Islands Government?
I believe it is extremely important; having a voice in the UK is vital and having someone to represent the Islands, at a whole range of meetings and events making sure the Falklands viewpoint is known, especially with Parliament, HMG and the media and this work is, of course, backed up by the team in the office.
What type of person do you need to be to do the job? Is being a Falkland Islander absolutely necessary? Is an emotional connection important or could it just be a professional one?
The first two questions are really for FIG to answer but personally, I would say that you need to be outgoing, able to converse with a wide range of people and certainly, being a Falkland Islander has really helped me in convincing people of our case. I am not sure that anyone could do the job without having an emotional connection with the Islands as the role really takes over your life, I believe that you have to be passionate about the Islands in order to engage with people – even privately, in my social life, if I am out for drink or dinner and someone says “So, what do you do?” Once you start to talk about the Islands people are interested, so even when you are not ‘at work’ you will still be talking about the Islands. You might be the only contact some people ever have with the Islands so it is vital to make a good impression.
Prior to the concept of elected Representatives undertaking PR duties overseas it was largely left down to you and PR companies – how important to the Falklands is it that MLAs and others take the Falklands story overseas?
I think it is vitally important but the overseas visits obviously have to be balanced with their Assembly duties in the Islands. With only eight elected Members I know it can be difficult to cover all the overseas trips that it would be useful for them to make, however, being able to directly present the Islands’ position as an elected representative of the Islanders, is extremely important. I also believe that the initiative to include members of the community in the public diplomacy program is an excellent one.
I would finish by saying that my decision to leave at the end of October was not an easy one, perhaps one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make; I have loved the job and am very grateful for the support and hard work of my colleagues, both past and present. (Penguin News)
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After living in London for 40 years? Well, it's possible; you did go back to Patagonia.Jan 29th, 2019 - 10:22 pm 0
And I should think Teslyn Barker is too busy being an MLA, or whatever they call them.
Two questions of interest..., not asked by Penguin News...Jan 29th, 2019 - 03:22 pm -1
1) Is Sukey returning to her beloved windblown Islands to enjoy her pensioner-ette time...?
2) Is Teslyn not the best person to replace her in London...?