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Former Labour minister Joe Grima dead at 80

Minister during Mintoff years, broadcaster who switched to PN and then was wooed back to Labour under Muscat, was controversial figure

matthew_vella jurgen
Matthew Vella / Jurgen Balzan
3 February 2017, 5:00pm
Joe Grima was a former Labour minister
Joe Grima was a former Labour minister
Broadcaster and former Labour minister Joe Grima has died at the age of 80, after enduring years of illness, a day short of turning 81

Grima was appointed industry and commerce ministry in 1981. He then became tourism minister in 1983 under Dom Mintoff and later Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, and in the last years had served as Malta's representative to the WTO.

Born in 1936 in Zejtun, Grima started off as a reporter at The Times of Malta where he occupied the post of sub-editor. In the late 1950s he worked at the emigrants and refugees commission before joining the Rediffusion Company in 1961.

During his long career at the national broadcaster, Grima, a BBC-qualified producer, also served as head of programmes. Later, he was also appointed chief executive at the Broadcasting Authority. But inside the BA, the enduring image of him having punched Tony Mallia, who would later leave the authority to become editor with the PN's newspapers, also marred his career.

Grima first entered the political fray in 1976 and was elected to Parliament thanks to a casual election for a seat vacated by the infamous Labour minister Lorry Sant. Before being appointed minister in 1981, Grima was Mintoff's special envoy for Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Following the 1981 perverted electoral result - in which Labour remained in power despite winning less votes than the PN - Grima vehemently defended Labour's right to hang on to power.

In the run-up to the 1987 election, Mintoff wanted to steer constitutional changes to guarantee the party with the largest amount of votes a majority of seats. Grima was the only person to vote against Mintoff, when the latter proposed such changes to the party's executive. However, Grima then voted in favour when the changes were discussed in parliament.

After retiring from politics in 1992, he founded a private radio station known as Live FM, which he graced with his incisive talk shows and his nostalgic narratives of the Mintoff years.

Grima was inimical to PN leader Eddie Fenech Adami, but after the former minister broke ranks with Labour in 1996, he would later make a public apology. Although being one of the staunchest critics of the Nationalist Party, he hosted a show on Net TV for almost seven years, openly supporting his former nemesis Eddie Fenech Adami.

Grima bizarrely became a darling of the PN spin machine, with his TV shows on Net Television allowing him to dig his teeth in Alfred Sant's New Labour. His split from Labour was borne out of Grima's sour relationship with Sant.

Yet, after Sant's resignation and Joseph Muscat's election in 2008, Grima was once again welcomed back to the Labour Party, hosting a television show on Labour's One Television and being a noisy and indomitable critic of his original enemy - the Nationalist Party.

Grima returned to the fold on the invitation of Labour leader Joseph Muscat. But his return was short lived. Following Dom Mintoff's death in 2012, Grima angrily reacted to an obituary penned by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, published on the Catholic Herald. Writing on his Facebook wall, Grima told Fr Lucie-Smith to 'fuck off'' and that he should have 'paedophile' priests to 'show [him] the ropes'. An unrelenting Grima not only failed to apologise but a few days later he referred to former EU Permanent Representative Richard Cachia Caruana as 'Rich il-puff'.

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.
jurgen
Jurgen Balzan joined MaltaToday in 2011, specialising in politics, foreig...