Pullicino Orlando rocks political establishment with unexpected divorce bill

Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando yesterday boldly went where only one member of parliament had been before, and presented his own, unilateral private member’s bill to legislate for divorce


Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando yesterday shook the political establishment when he announced in a statement that he had presented a private member’s bill to legislate in favour of divorce.

He is the second MP in Maltese political history to do so, after former PL deputy leader Joseph Brincat unsuccessfully presented a similar bill in the mid-1990s.

With the political carpet so to speak swept from under his feet, Labour Party leader Joseph Muscat, who pledged he would present the private member’s bill if elected to power, said yesterday he would give his MPs a free vote on the bill.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi will today convene a parliamentary group meeting for Nationalist MPs to discuss Pullicino Orlando’s bill, believed to have been presented without anybody from the PN group being informed.

Nationalist whip David Agius said in a statement that prime minister Lawrence Gonzi  ”believes that discussion inside the PN must be guided by the conviction that the best measures in favour of the family must be taken, particularly those who are most vulnerable.”

Muscat on the other hand said his position in favour of divorce had been consistent, and called for a bi-partisan discussion “that will be rational and studied, above all partisan interests, and that everything is done to protect the interests of all those involved, especially children.”

In a nod to the Church, Muscat also asked that dissenting opinions be taken into consideration. Describing the bill itself as ‘a bolt from the blue’, Archbishop Paul Cremona told RTK at 4pm yesterday that all Catholic MPs should vote against the divorce bill.

On the other hand, Alternattiva Demokratika welcomed the bill. “It is heartening to see that at least one member of parliament has welcomed AD’s proposal for the legalisation of divorce in Malta,” AD chairperson Michael Briguglio said. “We welcome the fact that he has followed up our proposal to draw on Irish divorce legislation. We augur that other parliamentarians follow up the proposals of AD and Pullicino Orlando, especially since AD is the only party with a clear position in favour of legislation on divorce.”

The bill, entitled the Family Law (Divorce Act), aims to dissolve marriages which are irrevocably broken down, “to prevent the greater harm to the common good which is caused by the present local situation in which re-marriage is impossible and unregulated co-habitation is rife,” Pullicino Orlando said.

The Nationalist MP, who is separated from his wife – the Labour MP Marlene Pullicino – said most of his colleagues, himself included, “adhere to the Catholic faith. We cannot, however, allow our religious sentiment to interfere with our obligations towards citizens who wish to regularise their position in society following an irrevocably failed marriage.”

The MP said the bill aims to correct the “injustice suffered by those who wish to re-marry if they wish to do so. It is unjust to marginalise legally separated couples and prevent their further participation in a stable, healthy family environment.”

A further aim is the elimination of the discriminatory situation which arises with regards to couples who cannot seek a divorce overseas. Divorces granted overseas are recognised by the Maltese state.

The MP added that the bill draws heavily on the legislation present in another predominantly Catholic country, Ireland, and makes it possible for couples to file for  divorce only if they have lived apart for at least four years in the preceding five years. “This will ensure that no one files for divorce capriciously or as a result of a spur of the moment decision. It also ensures that all possible avenues for reconciliation have been exhausted before the institution of proceedings.”

“As Mgr. Charles Vella, the founder of the Cana Movement, said: ‘Divorce will not lead to marriages in Malta disintegrating’ and ‘the roles of the Church and the State should not be twinned’.  Pope Benedict said that: ‘It is not the role of the Church to build a just state but that of citizens and politicians’.”

But Archbishop Cremona said that the recognition of overseas divorces could not be used as a way to undermine marriage stability. Cremona said that anything that went against the principle of the indissolubility of marriage “harmed society”, claiming that statistics abroad showed families became unstable wherever there was divorce.

The Archbishop also said the Church was against cohabitation, a clear stand against Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi’s recent efforts to legislate in favour of non-married couples living together.

Cremona refused the notion that a divorce law could be a solution for spouses who were locked in n abusive relationship, arguing that divorce was sought after by people “who want something else”, singling out men looking for new relationships.

Elsewhere, Pullicino Orlando’s motion has been welcomed by Martin Scicluna, chairman of the The Today Public Policy Institute.

“I am delighted that just a year after the publication of the report ‘For Worse, For Better: Remarriage After Legal Separation’, if which I was the lead author, a Member of Parliament has shown the moral courage to put forward a Private Member’s Bill for the long overdue introduction of divorce legislation in Malta,” Scicluna told MaltaToday. “I congratulate Mr Pullicino Orlando for setting an example to his colleagues.”

Some of the mai arguments presented in the MP’s bill in fact echo the TPPI report on several key issues.

“I am particularly gratified to find that Mr Pullicino Orlando has drawn extensively on the arguments advanced in my report and that he has taken as his model Irish divorce legislation as recommended by the report,” Scicluna added. 

“It is especially pleasing that the Member of Parliament comes from the Party which has been notably lacking in confronting one of the greatest social challenges in Malta today. Its stance on cohabitation is hypocritical and simply  an attempt by the government to escape its responsibilities on this issue in the face of the Opposition’s  commitment to introduce the divorce remedy for irretrievably broken marriages.

“This said, my delight is tempered by the knowledge that the Bill is unlikely to find a place in the House of Representative’s legislative programme and may well lead to the issue becoming politicised in a partisan manner and in a way which a concern of such importance - affecting as it does so many thousands of Maltese citizens - should not be. Whatever the outcome, Mr Pullicino Orlando has done his duty as a legislator and struck a blow for justice.”

Thanks JPO that you have the courage to bring on DIVORCE BILL.Those who speaks against it don't know from what Hazzle the vseperated couples are through Thanks again JPO continue your move please for the RIGHTS of those that r suffering MAY GOD BE WITH YOU
mario grillo
Rasputin: please don't be ridiculous.........nobody is following anybody's footsteps. JPO did this out of his own will and please stop pretending that Muscat is anything special in this country!
This is the second time JPO's actions in as many years were in line with Joseph's line of policy. This first was the cancellation of St.John's Cathedral monstrous underground project. At that time Archbishop Paul Cremona also tried to give a helping hand to GonziPaiN without success. Who knows the third time could be fatal for some?
Raymond Zammit
Certain readers are calling divorce a civil right. In most countries of Europe even abortion is called a civil right.
Alfred Theuma
With reference to the 'bolt out of the blue' I was hardly surprised by the motion. The surprise is in fact why it took so long to be forwarded. The Archbishop needs to wake up to reality. I am happily married but this does not mean that all marriages are so. I sympathize with any person who cannot have a fresh legal relationship with another partner. It's about time we get this divorce issue in line with the rest of the world and not let it drag on for ever. Our sense of insecurity( in Malta), our fear of numerous marriage problems and our artificial and expensive approach to marriage are the real reasons we are afraid of divorce. The Archbishop would be rather useful if he were to combat the hype created in the preparation and over celebration of Maltese weddings and concentrate more on the real meaning of marriage. This can also be another ploy to alienate us all to make us forget all the corruption around us. Like the World Cup this gives us all something to argue about whist the fact remains that nothing changes.
Carm Cachia
there is no way that he is did this without Gonzi knowing I'll wait to see what PN has to say, but this is just a game to draw labour out in the open on divorce issue.
Luke Camilleri
Perfect timing for JPO to get his own back on Dr. Gonzi and his Gonzipn for not being given the requested support on his spin valley and not being included in the Ministerial appointment sms sent by Dr. Gonzi after the last general action. Bang on the White Rocks controversy project! Diversive tactics? JPO's way of leaving his mark in history and on Gonzipn. He should have enrolled Where's Everybody for his PR on his Mistra Bay project.....
mark cuschieri
Mark Mallia
He has played this card well ...Respect where it is due ..
good move. The bill will apparently have the support of the great majority of labour votes while JPO will only need to secure some six votes from his side. What is now interesting is if the Nats will have a free vote too.
Phillip Martin Micallef
at least someone with balls!!
Herbert Brincat
now we can be curious to see how the Labour MPs will vote...