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EDITORIAL - Happy for O'Connor, Daly, but ...

Published:Friday | August 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM

We are pleased that Dennis Daly and his close collaborator, Flo O'Connor, are on this year's National Honours list and gratified that our strong advocacy may have contributed to their selection. We regret, though, that the award to Mr Daly is posthumous. He died five weeks ago.

But there can be no question that Mr Daly and Ms O'Connor are deserving of honour for their pioneering work in the promotion of human rights in Jamaica. Indeed, Dennis Daly was a founder, in the 1960s, of the Jamaican Council for Human Rights (JCHR) and for more than four decades was the pre-eminent voice in the advocacy of the right of citizens, especially on behalf of the poor and powerless in Jamaica's inner-city communities.

Indeed, as we observed in these columns nearly five years ago, when we first suggested official recognition of their work, Mr Daly, as the JCHR's chairman, and Ms O'Connor, as the executive director, often faced derision and ridicule for insisting on adherence to law and due process for young men who came in conflict with the law. They helped pave the way for the kind of advocacy that is sometimes taken for granted today.

The recognition of Mr Daly and Ms O'Connor, we feel, provides an opportunity for reflection on, and overhaul of, the process by which National Honours are conferred. Theirs didn't come easy. And that is as it should be.

We, of course, make no judgement on the merits of this year's selectees, most of whom, especially those to be inducted into the higher orders of the Societies of Honours, are likely to be thoroughly deserving. We, nonetheless, fear the erosion of the prestige of the National Honours if the list of recipients remains as long as it has become over many years and the criteria for selection are less than robust.

In other words, a National Honour should be highly coveted and the route to it extremely difficult.

It is against that backdrop that we repeat our June 30 suggestion for a review of the existing regime and establishing a new protocol for the award of National Honours. We suggest that this work take place after the October formal bestowing of this year's honours, so as to prevent any questioning of the worth of, or casting any aspersions on, deserving recipients.

Transparent criteria

Among our suggestions is for a tight cap on the number of annual admissions to each society of honour, with robust, and mostly measurable and transparent criteria being set for membership. In a sense, the approach could roughly resemble that used for membership to the Order of Merit (OM), which has a cap on the number of living members. Further, should there not be any perceived deserving recipient for a given year, there should be no award in the specific category of service.

Additionally, a deliberate effort should be made to lift the prestige of the perceived lower echelon awards to allow for the rationalisation of membership of the higher societies, entry into which should be based on demonstrable excellence in one's field, marked, in part, by consensus among the awardee's peers.

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