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‘Very good, very good’

By SEAN DOUGLAS Saturday, January 11 2014

click on pic to zoom in
SAN Fernando East MP Patrick Manning...
SAN Fernando East MP Patrick Manning...

SAN Fernando East MP Patrick Manning left the Lower House about 14 minutes before the tea-break even as Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley was on his feet speaking, leading observers to ask whether this early exit was a snub to Rowley or simply a sensible step to “beat the crowd”.

At 4.16 pm, he suddenly rose, bowed once to his Opposition colleagues, mainly St Ann’s East MP Joanne Thomas and Arouca/Maloney MP Alicia Hospedales, then bowed to the whole House, summoned his aides, and hobbled out of the chamber.

When Newsday asked how he was, he replied, “Fine, fine. Enjoy your day.” Asked how he felt to be back in Parliament, he replied, “Very good, very good.”

In the tea-break, Rowley did not talk to reporters.

Manning, the former Prime Minister (1991 to 1996, and 2001 to 2010) has been absent from the House for over a year as he recuperated from a debilitating stroke.

Evidence of the stroke was still very apparent as Manning bravely walked with a strong left leg but with an impaired right leg which he had to slightly pull along by the strength of the left leg. Noticeably all acts done manually by Manning had to be done using his left hand — writing, unwrapping a sweetie, and shaking hands with well-wishers. When he walked he used his stronger left hand to clasp his lesser-used right hand. His new neighbour, an elated Hospedales, helped him open an envelope.

She helped him write a note to Opposition Chief Whip, Marlene Mc Donald, probably to signal his early exit.

La Brea MP Fitzgerald Jeffrey, stood near a seated Manning, probably for advice on his (Jeffrey’s) upcoming motion on the Petrotrin oil-spill.

Manning did not talk to media when he arrived at Parliament. As he disembarked from the car he lingered a while, perhaps dangerously, on the curb of the busy Wrightson Road. Upon seeing him, a group of supporters let out a large cheer. The supporters were mostly women, mostly clad in red jerseys and mostly from San Fernando East.

Although power-dressed in an all-black business suit, Manning showed the signs of his health ordeal, looking thin and impaired in his stride, but not using a walking-stick.

His supporters keenly greeted him, in a melee. One woman shouted, “They can’t keep a good man down!”. Another woman loudly hailed him, “Shepherd!”

Manning kissed and greeted many of his supporters.

With a small entourage he took the lift to go upstairs, where he sat for several minutes on a sofa outside the parliamentary chamber, relaxing with aides with whom he shared the odd laugh, and greeting one or two persons. Sport Minister Anil Roberts and Labour Minister Errol Mc Leod each passed by in turn, each uttering a general greeting aloud but not really connecting with Manning nor pausing to shake his hand.

At 1.30 pm, Manning entered the chamber to be greeted by the loud pounding of desks by Opposition MPs, and a low tapping of desks by some Government MPs.

Speaker Wade Mark formally welcomed back Manning, who in turn rose and nodded respectfully at Mark. Government Chief Whip, Dr Roodal Moonilal, welcomed back Manning as his own personal local MP. Citing a phrase recently coined by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley ahead of his upcoming re-election bid as PNM leader, Moonilal quipped at Manning’s return, “I think we will all agree, ‘It’s Showtime!’” Manning supporters sat in the public gallery.

After the sitting, a slightly smiling Manning used the lift to go to the ground floor with his wife and a handful of aides.

He did not take any media questions, simply wishing reporters, “Enjoy your day”, and replying to a persistent TV reporter’s questions with the phrase, “All is well, all is well. Thank you very much. All is well.” Yet in it all there was a light moment when he was initially waiting on his car after the sitting, when a voluptuous young woman walked past the TV reporter and Manning smiled encouragingly at the young man and quipped, “That’s for you”, evoking good-natured laughter all around.

As Manning and his small entourage left Tower D and slowly walked westward on Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, he warmly greeted a policeman outside the Hyatt Regency hotel at the entrance to Dock Road, and was honked by a couple passing by in an SUV. Manning shook hands with Newsday senior photographer Azlan Mohammed who welcomed him back, and entered the front passenger seat of a silver Hyundai car, then gave a wave and a polite nod to the Newsday reporter.

The sitting itself was uneventful for Manning, welcomed back in the addresses of the Speaker, Rowley and Roberts who peppered his speech on the Bail Bill with references to the past deeds and present prospects of the “San Fernando East” MP. Roberts hit Manning, saying if someone is fit enough to shop in Port-of-Spain, be in the back of a truck and campaign in the Local Government Elections, then he is fit enough to be in Parliament. “It’s not about ‘showtime’, take a picture and get into the front-page,” hit Roberts. Earlier, a happy Point Fortin MP Paula Gopee-Scoon told reporters, “He’s been through a lot health-wise. God is good that he is here today, and I am happy for him.” Asked if the return has deeper political implications, she replied, “I can’t say, but I’m happy he is back.” Yet earlier she said she was upset at becoming a back-bench MP.

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