‘We are as European as we were yesterday, but today we recognised it’ – Deborah Schembri

“We are as European as we were yesterday … but today we’ve recognised what we are,” Moviment Iva chairperson Deborah Schembri said.

Following the referendum result, Schembri, together with Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Labour MP Evarist Bartolo and Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Michael Briguglio, addressed the media – but it was Schembri who stole the show.

“There’s a good majority of the Maltese who are saying ‘Yes’ for the introduction of divorce,” Schembri said, adding she was extremely happy that the Maltese have once again proved they are “altruistic” and care about the suffering of others.

“Even though it’s an obvious win for the ‘Yes’, I don’t believe those who voted ‘No’ have lost in any way.”

“All through the campaign we have been saying how the ‘yes’ incorporates the ‘no’, but the ‘no’ doesn’t incorporate the ‘yes’ and this is why the Yes had to win.”

She added that “if it were not for the work done by Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Evarist Bartolo, today we wouldn’t be here and people would not have been given the opportunity to have a say on the subject.”

She added that she also felt “sorry” at times for how the whole campaign evolved – “something which we expressed before”.

Commenting on the Church’s role in the campaign, Schembri said there were instances where the behaviour was not “fitting”. Referring to the statement issued by the Church in which it “apologised”, Schembri said that “as a Catholic, one should not combine the action of an institution with one’s belief.”

She also urged those who felt hurt not to let the Church have a detrimental effect on their belief.

A visibly ecstatic Schembri was at a loss for words as she described “it is only now that I’m getting excited”.

With regard to the future of Moviment Iva, Schembri said it will definitely last until divorce is passed as legislation, but for the future nothing is confirmed as yet. The movement said it had received several messages urging them against dissolving the group.

Asked whether they expect the bill to be amended, Schembri said that all along they had been calling for suggestions but no one came forward.

“Now I hope for a constructive debate in Parliament and most importantly that they adhere to the main points as listed in the referendum question.”

Schembri added that it is not unusual that amendments are suggested before a law is passed, “as it is part of the normal process”.

Asked how does she expect MPs to vote in parliament, Schembri said she always believed they should follow their conscience. “But they are there as representatives of the people. I do not expect those who are against divorce to vote ‘yes’, but at least I believe they should abstain.”

Asked whether she is considering a future in politics – which her fellow members supported with a cheer – Schembri reiterated her mantra, “I like to keep my options my open”.

“It would be nice if I could do something to help other people. But never in my wildest dreams did I think I would go out for politics … so I don’t know,” she said.

Pressed on whether she intends to reinstate her practising licence at the Ecclesiastic Tribunal, Schembri said she doesn’t believe the Church will change its decision.

“I feel hurt by their decision and I also believe they are breaching one of the fundamental human rights of a person.” Schembri said the Church-State agreement impedes a person from choosing the lawyer which ones wants, if the Church decides that the lawyer is not fit to work at the Ecclesiastic Tribunal.

She added that she doesn’t know whether “the apology was meant for me too or whether it was for everyone but me.”

“I feel hurt by the way the Church acted – it didn’t even approach me or draw my attention to what it was going to do.”

Labour MP and co-founder of Moviment Iva Evarist Bartolo pointed out that once again, “David” has won against “Goliath”.

“One of our themes was the story of David and Goliath – and today David has won again. And that’s a big message to both political parties. Over the years we have seen that to win a campaign one has to have a lot of money, spinning, billboards and image construction.

“We didn’t have any of these things. But for the simple reason that we were in touch and are connected to what to the needs of the people, we won.”

Bartolo added that he hopes that this message get across to the political parties.

Schembri also thanked all those who in any way contributed to the movement, and pointed out that most of the work was done on a voluntary basis, including leaflets, T-shirts, billboards etc – “we had no extraordinary backing of any type but simply human resources who truly believed in the cause.”

On his part Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando – whose private members’ bill precipitated the whole issue in 2010 – evaded any speculation about his immediate political future.

“I haven’t taken any decisions. The general elections are two years away. Like Deborah says, I like to keep my options open,” Pullicino Orlando said.