2014: Chairman's Report




FALKLAND ISLANDS ASSOCIATION (FIA)

ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

TUESDAY, 9 DECEMBER 2014

REPORT FROM THE CHAIRMAN



It has been a busy year for the Association's Executive Committee.

First, I must pay respect to the memory of Ronnie Spafford, a Vice-President of the Association, who died in October last. A keen philatelist and conservationist, who led many tours to the Islands, he was passionate about the Falklands. He joined the Association in the mid-1970s to prevent moves by the then British Government to come to some accommodation over sovereignty with the Argentines. He played an active role in defending the rights of the Islanders during the 1982 conflict and continued afterwards as a member of the FIA Executive Committee, ending up as its chairman in 1989-92. As a Vice-President, he remained active in all the Association's affairs until his untimely death. The Association was well represented at his funeral. We mourn his passing.

Yesterday, the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields was filled with those attending the special commemorative service, organised by the FIA, to remember those who lost their lives at the naval Battles of Coronel (1 November 1914) and the Falkland Islands (8 December 1914) between German and British navy squadrons one hundred years ago. It was a deeply moving service, not least for the descendants of those who fought â€" and it was good that representatives of both sides could come together to reflect on the events of the time and on the enormous loss of life (over 3,500 sailors, officers and men) incurred in these first major naval engagements between Germany and Britain of the 1st World War.

Events of this nature involve considerable planning and organisational effort. We owe a significant vote of thanks to those who made it such a success, particularly our Hon. Secretary who carried the main organisational burden notwithstanding the debilitating nature of his medical treatments. I also want to acknowledge the initiative of Robin Wager, who suggested at the outset that we should ‘think big' and set us off on the right track. Well over 400 people attended and the congregation raised over £1,200 for SSAFA and the Bundeswehr Service Relief organisation.

The Association has also revamped its website, after an initial false start with a company that could not devote sufficient time to the project. I hope that you will agree that the new site is a considerable improvement. We want it to be an important historical resource and reference point. For this, we are indebted to Cindy Buxton for enabling us to carry all the Association's Newsletters in readily accessible form. We now have a Twitter site and, next year, will set up a Facebook page, with the help of a small committee in the Falklands. But to be successful any website must sustain the interest and involvement of its visitors. We would welcome suggestions for its continued expansion and improvement.

The Committee's work is done by a small group of volunteers who give up their time and commitment to the Association's objectives. I pay tribute to the current Committee but it needs reinforcement. I hope that later you will agree to the election of three new members. But please do not stand back if you would like to join us and can bring necessary skills to bear.

I should also like to acknowledge the continued support of the Falkland Islands Government; without their annual subvention, our financial position would be much less secure.

Our financial position is healthy but we have had to adjust the cost of our membership slightly upwards, the first such adjustment for many years. We are grateful that over a third of our members have committed themselves to the new rates as from 1 April 2015. We encourage all others to sign up before then. Those who indicate that they wish to access the Association Newsletter via the website rather than having a hard copy sent to them will save themselves and the Association money. But hard copies will of course continue to be sent to members who prefer it that way.

On the political front, the FIA's main purpose is, of course, to help protect the Falkland Islanders' right to self-determination, as enshrined in the UN Charter. The wishes of the Islanders were made clear in the referendum of March 2013 when they voted overwhelmingly to remain as a British Overseas Territory. That has all-party endorsement at Westminster and the full support of the UK Government. Whilst this continues â€" and there is nothing to suggest that the UK elections next year will change that â€" the role of the FIA is that much easier, unlike the situation in the 1970s when the UK Government was willing to consider alternative constitutional options including the eventual transfer of sovereignty to Argentina.

The Argentine position is much more difficult. It has to engage with the UK Government, since it does not acknowledge any right of the Islanders to have a say in their future. Yet the UK Government is reassuringly firm in holding to its position that there can be no dialogue without the consent and involvement of the Falkland Islands Government. Yet the Argentine Government offers absolutely no incentive to the Islanders to accept a closer relationship with them. The Argentine Constitution was amended, post-1982, to include their claim to full sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. Any discussion can therefore be only about the full transfer of sovereignty, not the peaceful co-existence and mutual co-operation that the UK and Falkland Islands Governments would like. The Kirchner regime has revoked nearly all of the co-operative agreements with the Argentine Government in the 1990s. Conditions in Argentina are no attraction for the Islanders. The Argentine economy is struggling; social conditions are tense; and the nature of Argentine politics is quite distinct. In contrast, the Islands' economic outlook is healthy and they have full control over their own affairs. Argentina would not give them that.

Despite its efforts, Argentina has yet to mobilise international opinion (and certainly not public opinion in the UK) that would force a change in UK policy. Quite frankly, many international representatives, even if they have formally to support the Argentine demand for ‘dialogue', will merely yawn and go through the motions. Argentina's international reputation does not inspire wholehearted and committed support. Its efforts to generate such support and to put pressure on the Islanders, even if they are active and occasionally annoying, can nevertheless be managed. But, of course, Kirchner's manoeuvrings still have to be closely watched as do the sometimes remarkably ham-fisted antics of Argentina's Ambassador in London.

So, it would be unwise for the Association to become complacent. We must persevere in correcting the inaccuracies of Argentine propaganda and seeking to show the life of the Islanders in their true light â€" prosperous, successful and free. Again, Argentina would not give them that.

I wish you all a happy Christmas and the best for 2015.