Joseph Muscat, Hermann Schiavone condemn ‘harassment’ against Julia Farrugia Portelli

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said it was “unacceptable” for MPs to be insulted after the Democratic Party - in a post on its Facebook page - described parliamentary secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli as a 'village escort' • PD MP Marlene Farrugia said that the PD is an example to other parties since it retracted the comment • PN condemn insult

Monday's altercation in Parliament and the subsequent insult directed towards Julia Farrugia Portelli by the Democratic Party was this evening condemned by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Nationalist Party MP Hermann Schiavone.

Speaking in Parliament in the second reading of the bill proposing changes to the IVF law, Muscat said that the debate - in itself already heated because of the subject matter - had taken an "unacceptable" turn.

He said that many people had deeply-rooted emotions, both in favour and against the amendments, but he said that a "total intolerance for freedom of expression" had been shown in the House on Monday.

He was referring to a loud altercation between members of the PD and parliamentary secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli, which led to PD MP Godfrey Farrugia being evicted from the Chamber.

Read also: Godfrey Farrugia to lead inquiry into PD's 'village escort' insult to Labour MP

The incident took a further twist on Tuesday when, in a post on its Facebook page, the PD referred to Farrugia Portelli as a “village escort”.

The party has since apologised and retracted the comment.

A level of debate is to be expected in Parliament, Muscat said, including comments being passed while a member is speaking. “This is normal since we are not in a convent... But this escalated in an intolerable way on social media,” Muscat said.

Farrugia Portelli is not the first to be “harassed” in an “unacceptable” way, Muscat said, identifying Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar who is often insulted, in Parliament and beyond, “whenever she speaks on things which are inconvenient".

“I am not going to offer my solidarity to Farrugia Portelli, as she doesn’t need my solidarity,” Muscat said, adding that the MP had handled the matter very well.

In a Facebook post of her own, Farrugia Portelli rose above the insults, saying only she was proud of her roots and that she would continue to work against elitism of any sort.

Nationalist MP Hermann Schiavone, elected on the same district as the parliamentary secretary, also expressed solidary with her, saying that the PN condemned any attacks on MPs.

Marlene Farrugia says PD's action is an example to other parties

Speaking in Parliament, PD MP Marlene Farrugia said that the PD not only retracted the comment but asked for an apology – something which she said the Labour Party never did when its officials hurled threats insults towards her.

"The PD, as small as it is, gave an example to the other two parties," Farrugia said, "as when an unauthorised comment was released, it was removed and an apology was issued."

"The Labour Party never asked me for an apology for what its officials did to me or said against me," Farrugia said, citing an incident where former Labour Minister and MP Joe Debono Grech made threatening remarks towards her during an argument in Parliament last year.

Debono Grech had told Farrugia that he would come for her and beat her after she called him a "simpleton" and accused him of being corrupt. A month later, Debono Grech was given the National Order of Merit.

In Parliament on Wednesday, Farrugia said that not only did the Speaker fail to throw Debono Grech out of the House – as he did with PD MP Godfrey Farrugia on Monday – but that no action as taken and Debono Grech was subsequently given the award.

Speaker Anglu Farrugia interjected to say that he was not the presiding Speaker at the time.

PN reacts

In a press release, the Nationalist Party condemn what they described as "sexist" comments against Farrugia Portelli by PD on social media.

Moments after the statement was released, Farrugia Portelli said that PN MP Robert Cutajar, while condemning the insult against her, told her that she does have the "tendency to erupt". 

Farrugia Portelli said that with this comment, the PN had "reached a new low". She also criticised the fact that it took the PN two days to release the statement. 

Cutajar said that no such insult ever came from the Nationalist Opposition.