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Dr Sonel Rowley-Stewart

KEVON FELMINE

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After sharing that he was a troubled parent on March 24, two days after shutting Trinidad and Tobago’s borders with a daughter stuck in New York, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is now insulted by the insinuation that she was given preference to return home for Christmas.

It was just December 5 when Rowley told journalists that he was holding out hope that Dr Sonel Rowley-Stewart would be among those nationals who would be allowed to return home during the holiday period.

However, news of her repatriation last week brought criticism on social media from users who said the Ministry of National Security had granted her an exemption to return home in time for Christmas because of her father, while thousands of other people waiting since March are begging to return home.

During yesterday’s COVID-19 media conference at the Diplomatic Centre, Port-of-Spain, Rowley said he expected the negative reaction surrounding Rowley-Stewart’s repatriation.

He professed his love for T&T but said he was disgusted by the behaviour of some citizens.

“I, for one, am not prepared to be guided by their level of behaviour. Everybody knows from day one, and I have said it from this platform, I am a father of a daughter who lives in New York, in the middle of New York, when New York was the centre of the worse of COVID,” Rowley said.

“I live with that every night, every day as I manage Trinidad & Tobago’s affairs. It is not a talk, it is a feeling and I am insulted at this stage for some nameless, faceless social media creature to be causing you to be talking to me about my daughter getting to the head of the line.

“No, it was not the head of the line; it was the end of the iguana tail. She came home on the last flight that could have brought her home in time for Christmas.”

Rowley-Stewart is a child psychologist while her husband, Stephan, works with international investment bankers Goldman Sachs.

The Prime Minister also denied that Rowley-Stewart got any favours, nor did she jump the queue. He confessed that she desperately wanted to return to T&T to be with her family during the year but had to stay in New York.

As a father, Rowley said he watched the COVID-19 statistics in New York, where Rowley-Stewart took the train, Uber rides and mixed with people in the hospital where she works.

Now that she is home, Rowley said it was only yesterday that he saw her close up.

“So all those who feel they have a story on that, you are on your own with that,” Rowley said.

Also addressing the issue, National Security Minister Stuart Young said he had no conversation with the Prime Minister concerning his daughter’s exemption.

Young said Rowley-Stewart applied for an exemption on November 11 and joined the queue like other applicants.

“Persons who were looking to come home for Christmas got their exemptions way before her and the rest is history. But there was absolutely no conversation with me by the Prime Minister requesting anything at any point in time,” Young said.

Government closed T&T’s borders on March 22 to control the spread of the virus, which emerged five weeks prior. Young said as of December 23, the ministry had received 17, 211 exemption applications to return to T&T, of which 9,557 were granted. He said there were people who got exemptions to leave the country during the closed border period who are now seeking to return. This includes students who left for foreign universities last August. While there were citizens who left the country recently for medical treatment, Young said the ministry still has its prioritisation procedure and is doing the best it can.