A meeting can be held at a private location but if it is advertised as open to the public, then it is a public event, National Security Minister Gary Griffith said yesterday.
“If it is a political meeting, most political meetings that are advertised as open to the public, then it becomes a public meeting, and the responsibility of the Police Service to ensure the safety and security of all persons who attend a political meeting,” Griffith told the Express in a telephone interview.
On Sunday, acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams said the Police Service does not police private events, unless requested and paid for the service.
Griffith said Williams was correct and not speaking about political meetings.
What the Commissioner spoke about was private meetings, he said, but if it is open to the public, it automatically becomes a police matter and a matter for State concern.
“It can be held at a private location, but if it’s open to the public, it becomes a public meeting. So you can have small political meetings that are cottage meetings and that is different, but this meeting (at Himalaya Club), I cannot see this meeting as being a private meeting if persons external to who were supporters of that meeting turned up and did what they had to do. It meant it really was a public meeting.
“So if you rent a town hall or school, that is a private facility, but a public meeting means it is open to the public and if that happens, we should and cannot allow persons to go there and try to disrupt a public meeting and potentially act as a catalyst for political violence,” Griffith said.
On Thursday night, at a meeting convened at Himalaya Club, Barataria, by Barrington “Skippy” Thomas, political activist and former adviser to sacked minister of the people Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh, hecklers allegedly supporting the Government stormed the venue, interrupting Thomas as he delivered his speech.
“What happened in Himalaya was the first and last time it would happen because if that continues and we turn a blind eye to it...,” Grifith stated.
“We are not going to have a situation where political parties can have meetings and have a type of harassment by individuals. It started off with the situation in Parliament (last month), and now it has gone one step ahead. That is the last time this is going to happen, and we are going to have a long, hot summer for the next year of political meetings, and I want to ensure we have the proper security system in place to ensure each and every political party, people who support political parties, can feel comfortable and not have people deliberately turning up to incite political violence because that has never happened in the country and will not happen on my watch.”
And Griffith added he agreed “wholeheartedly” with Archbishop of Port of Spain Fr Joseph Harris, who in his Easter homily on Sunday likened the country’s quest for transformation to someone who is thirsty, yet “seeking water from a cracked cistern that provides no water”.