By Caribbean News Now contributor
ROAD TOWN, BVI -- British Virgin Islands opposition leader Ralph O'Neal on Tuesday announced his intention to retire from political life and, in turn, the public service.
In a statement on Wednesday, Premier Dr Orlando Smith recognized on behalf of the government and people of the BVI the invaluable contributions O’Neal has made to the development of the territory.
“I have had the opportunity to work with him both as a government leader and leader of the opposition. We agreed, disagreed, dialogued and debated several issues with one common goal in mind -- to ensure the advancement of these Virgin Islands and our people,” Smith said.
Educated at Oxford University, where he studied economics, O'Neal formerly served as chief minister (when the office was so titled) and also as premier of the BVI. He was the first person to be appointed to the newly titled office of premier in 2007 under the newly-adopted constitution after leading the Virgin Islands Party (VIP) to a landslide victory in the 2007 general election. He relinquished that position in November 2011 after the VIP lost its majority following the 2011 general election. His present term as leader of the opposition is his third, more than any other BVI politician.
His combined 12 years as head of the elected government is the second longest in the BVI, behind only Lavity Stoutt, a man whom he succeeded when the latter died in office in 1995.
O'Neal is the longest serving elected politician in BVI history having served in the House of Assembly and Legislative Council for over 38 years. He has held a seat in the Legislature continuously since 1 September 1975. His ten election victories rank second only to Stoutt in the territory's political history.
“The breadth of his institutional knowledge of the public service is remarkable. I have told Honourable O'Neal a few times before that I look forward to reading his memoir, chronicling his role in, and knowledge of the history and development of these Virgin Islands,” Smith said.
“On behalf of my government and the people of these Virgin Islands, I express my gratitude for his commitment to these Virgin Islands. We thank Honourable O'Neal for his unwavering public service commitment and pray that God will continue to bless him during his retirement,” he concluded.