Grief must run its full course

To suppress the manifestation of national grief for Daphne Caruana Galizia, would not only be an affront to ordinary human decency. It would also be recklessly dangerous

A sizeable crowd attended a vigil four months to the day Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered
A sizeable crowd attended a vigil four months to the day Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered

It is distressing that we have come to a point where even some of the most fundamental norms of decency seem to have been laid aside in the name of political antagonism.

The ongoing controversy surrounding a spontaneous shrine to honour murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is something that should not have reared its ugly head. Yesterday marked the fourth month since that fateful October 16 afternoon. Four months is not a long time to grieve one’s loss. The spirit of mourning must be allowed to take its full course. Whatever one’s opinions on the persona of the departed, let us not forget that shrines of this nature are a spontaneous declaration of public sorrow, and as such they serve their purpose to the living, not to the dead.

By the same token, they cannot be regarded with the same cold, clinical eye as an ‘official’ monument that requires planning permits and formal approval. In this case, we are not even discussing a physical structure: the shrine consists only of flowers, cards and candles.

Nonetheless, for four months it has served as a reminder of the assassination of a journalist – which was also a profound shock to the nation, from which we have not yet had time to fully recover – and as such, petty political considerations must, at this stage, be put aside. Enough people felt moved and distressed to erect a shrine to Caruana Galizia’s memory. They have a right to a national focal point for their sentiments: sentiments which are, after all, only human.

Attempts to forcibly erase this feeling
 of collective sorrow are therefore all ill-advised and counter-productive. The public must be free to claim its right to demand justice from the State; they are entitled 
to air their doubts about the motives and mandating forces behind the assassination; above all, the public must be free to spontaneously mourn this death.

The Valletta Labour local councillor’s motion to remove the shrine goes totally against the spirit of this organic movement of people who want to pay tribute to Daphne Caruana Galizia. Worse still, it displayed absolutely no regard for the feelings of those who are in mourning so soon after her death. No amount of resentment directed at the object of their feelings – however justified, in whoever’s view – can excuse such a shocking oversight.

In this case, we must also take note of the context. Just as the mourners’ demands
for a shrine are understandable, we must be cognisant that this sentiment is not widely shared. This is understandable, too. Daphne Caruana Galizia was a divisive figure, whose work in journalism often fell in a very tight spot between excellent exposés and poison-pen ad hominem attacks. This division is still reflected in a large part of the population after her death, roughly divided across the same partisan lines she herself embraced in life.

There is therefore also a question of civic responsibility involved. In this atmosphere, the political temperature is too high, and the situation too tense and volatile, to take liberties with people’s most basic emotions. To suppress this manifestation of national grief now, would not only be an affront to ordinary human decency. It would also be recklessly dangerous.

Health and safety is not a game

On the subject of ‘reckless danger’: this week more details emerged from the ongoing case prompted by the 2015 ‘Paqpaqli ghall-Istrina’ tragedy, in which a supercar crashed into spectators, injuring several, at a charity event. Members of the organising committee and the supercar driver, Briton Paul Bailey, have been charged with involuntarily causing grievous bodily harm, as well causing damage to various motor vehicles, through imprudence, carelessness and non-observance of regulations.

‘Paqpaqli ghall-Istrina’ falls under the aegis of the Malta Community Chest Fund, which in turns lies within the remit of the Office of the President of the Republic.

Without entering into too much detail, it is fast becoming clear that such events are taking place in an entire vacuum of rules, with nobody willing to take responsibility for their actions afterwards. Unfortunately, this is becoming altogether too frequent a pattern, and it is by no means limited to MCCF events. Too often have our national standards of health and safety been the subject of complaints. From this perspective, the only difference in this particular case is that it illustrates how this unfortunate trend spirals all the way to the very top of the ladder.

Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea

If nothing else, the Paqpaqli incident should have prompted – and should still prompt – a general upgrading of our national approach to health and safety issues. Is existing legislation sufficient? Is it properly implemented? Is the regulatory authority – the OHSA – and other affiliated departments – civil protection, etc. – sufficiently trained and equipped?

Bickering over Presidential responsibility, in this case, will not answer those questions. It would help, however, if the Office of the Presidency displayed greater, not lesser, commitment to health and safety.

Perhaps more than any other, then, MCCF events should be guided by proper laws, and be overseen by OHSA officials, and carry clear demands for risk assessment studies, security officers, and contingency strategies. Otherwise, we only risk seeing another tragedy happening in future.