The man of the moment | Bernard Grech

Since submitting his nomination to the PN leadership, family lawyer Dr BERNARD GRECH has become a household name. But who is Bernard Grech? And what does he plan to do if elected?

Bernard Grech
Bernard Grech

Your decision to contest for the PN leadership makes you ‘the man of the moment’. But let me ask a very simple question: do you really know what you’re going in for? Are you aware of the sheer weight of your decision?

As you know, there is still a due diligence process under way; and only when that process is concluded, can the PN’s Electoral Commission decide which candidates can actually enter the race.

But yes, I decided to contest. And the reason I put myself forward is to offer a service. This way, the ‘tesserati’ will have the possibility of either choosing Bernard Grech to provide this service, or not.

As for whether ‘I know what I’m going in for’, however… I can’t say I know everything; on the contrary, I depart from the premise that I know nothing. But I believe, and acknowledge, that this is a tough nut to crack. And in all my life I have never held back from tough challenges. I have always looked upon them with humility; but I have always said: ‘If there’s something I can do about it, I’ll do it’…

You have been named as a possible contender for many years; yet you only took the plunge now. Are you the type who takes long to decide? If so, how will that impact the decisions you might take as a possible future prime minister?

I’m the type of person who will consider everything before taking a decision. The reality, however, is that I never really planned to take this step.

My only plan – or rather, dream – was to be able to make a political contribution; to speak my mind about politics, without anyone stopping me, or interfering in any way. And that is what I have always done: at least, from 2012 onwards. I have been invited on all political stations, as well as by the independent media; and I gave my own opinion, as requested, without anyone ever setting my agenda.

You could, perhaps, say that I was part of ‘civil society’, before the words were given a clearer definition. And that is how I wanted it to be. What I have always wanted is that those who want to speak about politics, can do so without being automatically labelled as being part of one party or another. In that sense, I am totally against tribalism in politics.

Your anti-tribalism stance is undeniably a breath of fresh air; nonetheless, there has to be a difference between the parties, for people to eventually choose between them. How do you interpret the difference? What, for instance, makes you – Bernard Grech – a Nationalist?

I have always believed - and still do – that all political parties in this country have done good things. They have caused harm as well; and we should learn from those mistakes. But in no way am I saying that I am a Nationalist because the Nationalist Party has always been better than the Labour Party. Both have made positive contributions.

But I can’t not also add that I believe – as is written in the party statute – that the individual human being has to be at the centre of politics. If there ever was a difference between the two parties, today it is that while people do remain at the centre of [the PN’s] politics… for the Labour Party, money has become the centre. Everything is decided on the basis of money; on the basis of votes.

So I intend to continue promoting the idea – for this is not a new proposal – that the individual has to be once again placed at the forefront; and that, in all decisions, people have to be at the centre of the decision-making process. This does not mean ignoring money, or ignoring the economy; because at the end of the day, you need a healthy economy to help people move forward…

And yet, in 2013 and 2017 the Labour Party won elections with the largest majorities this country has ever seen. How could this even be possible, if the PL – as you suggest – ‘didn’t place people at the heart of their policies’? Clearly, something doesn’t add up…

Let me explain the difference: the Labour Party, as you say, did place people at the heart of its politics. We know, for instance, how much good it did when it came to civil rights. But people are not there to be exploited; to have a carrot dangled in front of them, in the form of certain rights that need to be introduced from time to time… only for the government to use those political ideas to get what it wants; so that the people in government, and their friends, become rich.

People should not be just the point of departure; but also the point of arrival. This is why I believe that a political party should only be the means to an end.

Apart from your political views, you are widely known to be a firm believer and a practising Catholic. How important is that to you, in your political formation?

First of all, I am not a saint; and I do not want to give the impression that I am a saint, either. I am a sinner like everyone else. I have made mistakes in my life, and I will keep making mistakes. And when the time comes, it is important that we all ask forgiveness for all our mistakes.

But the reality is that I see nothing wrong… on the contrary, I am proud to say that I profess the Christian faith. It doesn’t mean that I take an absolutist approach to religion, however. I do ask questions; I have my doubts; and I ask for advice, where necessary.

This, in fact, is what religion is all about. I feel I have an advantage, in the sense that I look upon the Bible – and don’t get the wrong impression; it’s not as though I read it every day - but to me, the Bible, and especially the Gospel, is a manual that can be referred to when in doubt. You can agree with it, or disagree; but it’s there… and I acknowledge it.

You say that you’re not an ‘absolutist’: however, during the divorce referendum campaign you were one of the first to appear on TV arguing against the introduction of divorce. Wasn’t that an absolutist stance to take, at the time?

In 2011, I was actually one of the last people who started talking about that issue. I wasn’t part of the official campaign; and it was only in the last few weeks that I was asked to express my opinion on the subject. I had my own opinion; I had no problem expressing that opinion.

But with the introduction of divorce, as far as I am concerned the case was closed.  From that point on, I eventually found myself facing people who needed to resort to divorce proceedings; and I had no problem helping them in that regard. As you know, I work as a family lawyer; so inevitably, such cases came to be an integral part of my profession.

But the moment the decision was taken by means of a referendum, the chapter was closed.

Nonetheless, there are other issues today which are also viewed as matters of unmovable political principle... such as abortion. You yourself are certainly not in favour of abortion; but when you were asked about it in an interview, you said that you ‘can’t close the door to discussion’. How do you explain that answer?

It pleases me to note that you are so certain, and emphatic, that I am not in favour of abortion. I am sure that everyone agrees that human life has a value; and therefore – even because of my Christian beliefs - I certainly cannot be in favour of the killing of a life.

Let us not forget that even the PN statute also specifies that life must be defended ‘from conception until death’. So I have no problem stating that I, as Bernard Grech, am against abortion.

But when we say this, and just stop there… it means that we are either unwilling to listen, or simply not paying attention, to the people who really are passing through that trauma.

So yes: I am ready to listen to those people. Because if we ignore those people, we cannot improve their situation. We cannot really defend life. To me, it is hypocritical to say ‘I am against abortion’, when we know that there are people who are going abroad to have abortions in other countries.  To be ‘against abortion’ is only a matter of make-believe, when we all know that abortions are happening anyway.

This is another reason why it is so important to place the individual human being at the centre of politics. We have to listen to the people who are experiencing those circumstances - the mother, the father, and even the extended family – if we are going to truly implement policies, and strengthen services, so that the people involved get the help they need.

It is all well and good to talk about ‘putting people at the heart of politics’… but translating those words into actions in another matter. How, for instance, do you intend to implement that vision when it comes to an issue like immigration? What, in fact, is your position on this issue?

I think I’ve already answered that, in principle. You cannot, on the one hand, claim to want to defend human life from conception until death; but then, when it comes to immigration, argue that we should let these people drown. We cannot be hypocrites. We either believe in the value of life, or not.

But then, if we are going to put people at the forefront of politics… even those who are living in fear in their own homes are people. Or those who may feel uncomfortable going to certain places: for instance, elderly residents in certain villages or localities, who may be afraid to go to mass, or to go out shopping. These are people, too. That is why it is so important to strike a balance.

But we have to also bear in mind that, for the last seven years, we have had a Labour government that was actually inviting immigrants into the country. It was almost begging immigrants to come here; because ‘immigrants’ are not only those who cross the Mediterranean by boat. They also come from Bulgaria and the rest of the EU; or from non-EU countries such as India, Pakistan or Bangladesh; and these were all invited to Malta, to boost the economy by increasing the population.

And in some cases, they were needed because of labour shortages in certain areas. But it doesn’t mean that today, to solve the problem, we have to get rid of those people: because a sudden reduction in numbers will collapse the economy.

The situation today, however, is that unfortunately – even because of COVID-19 – national consumption has gone down; and as a result, many of these people are now increasingly perceived to be redundant: either because they’re unemployed, or because they’re seen loitering here and there… so they end up creating problems within our communities.

But the solution is not to just discard those people, or somehow ‘get rid of them’. Human beings are human beings… whether they are black or white. I will not hold back from saying this: people are described as ‘racist’ because they look no further than the colour of a person’s skin. But when we identify others this way, it doesn’t mean we are necessarily ‘racist’. The important thing is that we do not allow skin colour to become a barrier.

At the end of the day, everyone has the same colour of blood running in their veins. Everyone is human; and everyone has a right to dignity.