Speaker pays tribute to 1919 riots, yet is unhappy about ‘immature’ December protests

In Sette Giugno speech, Anglu Farrugia justifies precautionary measures against protestors

Protestors surrounded Owen Bonnici's ministerial car outside Parliament
Protestors surrounded Owen Bonnici's ministerial car outside Parliament

Speaker of the House Anglu Farrugia made an about-turn in his Sette Giugno speech, first paying tribute to the 1919 events that sparked the riots against the British colonisers, and then complaining about the ‘immaturity’ of the December 2019 protestors who were spurred on into action by an unprecedented political crisis.

The arrest of Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech, now charged as the alleged mastermind of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, spurred an unforeseen political crisis that forced the resignation of Joseph Muscat as prime minister, as well as his chief of staff Keith Schembri, widely believed to be implicated in the assassination.

Protests in Valletta in November and December 2019 became the enduring image of the political crisis, as people demanded justice for Caruana Galizia.

But Farrugia, a former Labour deputy leader, claimed the protestors had broken the law while carrying out their protests.

“There could have been more mature behaviour last November and December, when a number of protests and demonstrations were being organised by groups of people in the vicinity of the Parliament building.

“I would like to state, without any hesitation, that these persons had every right to protest, but with the same conviction I state that during such protests nobody has the right to break the law in respect of the institution embodying parliamentary democracy.”

Farrugia was referring to instances of heckling and egg-throwing at MPs as they exited the House of Representatives, as well as physically preventing the ministerial vehicle of the justice minister from leaving Parliament square.

“Everybody acknowledges that the Members of Parliament, the representatives of our people, who are elected democratically by the same people, deserve to be protected when carrying out their duties...

“There were instances in which some individuals, who were protesting in front of Parliament, carried out offences against MPs and also caused damages to their vehicles. It is for these reasons that the Chair was compelled to take the necessary measures in the precincts of the Parliament building in order to protect and guarantee unhindered access to the Members of Parliament, as it is legally required to do.”

Farrugia said that his measures to keep protestors away were “difficult decisions, but I believe that the circumstances required such decisions.”

Farrugia also suggested that certain MPs – undoubtedly Opposition members – “tried to give a different interpretation to these actions”, that is the Speaker’s precautions to secure the House from protestors, “and attribute ulterior motives to the measures that the Chair was compelled to take in order to protect the same Members of Parliament.”

Earlier in his speech commemorating the Sette Giugno 1919, Farrugia referred to the struggle against the British Government for Malta to be given its first self-government Constitution.

“We see [Nationalist Party leader] Nerik Mizzi fighting with all his might and without fear; we see him not shying away from criticising the British authorities during his testimony before the Comission set upto prepare a report on the 1919 riots. We see him placing the blame for the damages that occurred during the riots squarely on the British Wheat Commission where he contended that the said Commission was endorsing higher prices purposely to decrease bread consumption. His anger was so acute that he referred to the British rule as a ‘Harsh Military Regime’.”

Earlier in his speech commemorating the Sette Giugno 1919, Farrugia referred to the struggle against the British Government for Malta to be given its first self-government Constitution.

“We see [Nationalist Party leader] Nerik Mizzi fighting with all his might and without fear; we see him not shying away from criticising the British authorities during his testimony before the Comission set upto prepare a report on the 1919 riots. We see him placing the blame for the damages that occurred during the riots squarely on the British Wheat Commission where he contended that the said Commission was endorsing higher prices purposely to decrease bread consumption. His anger was so acute that he referred to the British rule as a ‘Harsh Military Regime’.”

Farrugia said Mizzi’s actions complemented that of the left-wing intellectual Manwel Dimech “who inspired the people with his ideas and writings on workers’ rights, social reforms, right to education for all and the importance of the Maltese language.”

Dimech, like Mizzi after him, was exiled from Malta by order of the British Government in 1914.

The Governor at that time, Lord Plumer, had requested the Police Commissioner to provide him with the list of persons that had been arrested, accused and sentenced following the Sette Giugno riots. Some 114 individuals were handed down prison sentences, with 24 persons held in prison for some time and another 90, including 42 women, indicted for of stealing a number of items during and in the days following the Sette Giugno riots.

But the riots also lef to the introduction of self-government in 1921 and the first Amery Constitution that gave the Maltese the right to elect represenatives to the state legislature.

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