Joseph Muscat extends olive branch to police

After criticising police heavy-handedness in handling environmental protestors, Joseph Muscat thanks officers for their work and hints at displeasure over court decision to grant bail to youngster who almost killed police officer

Joseph Muscat addressed Labour supporters at the One complex in Marsa
Joseph Muscat addressed Labour supporters at the One complex in Marsa

Joseph Muscat extended an olive branch to the police after recent critical comments on the behaviour of officers during an environmental protest were received badly in the corps.

The Prime Minister dedicated part of his Sunday speech to thank police officers for stepping up security in various localities following appeals he made recently.

Muscat appeared to try and patch up things with the boys and girls in blue after being critical of the behaviour of some police officers during an environmental protest at the Planning Authority earlier this month.

READ ALSO: Prime Minister critical of police ‘heavy-handedness’ during environmental protest

Muscat had expressed his disappointment at how police officers handled environmental activists, describing their actions as heavy-handed. His reaction was received critically by police unions, insisting it was demoralising for officers.

But on Sunday morning, Muscat insisted on thanking the police for their work and also hinted at his disagreement with a court decision this week to grant bail to Liam Debono.

Debono, 17, stands accused of the attempted murder of police officer Simon Schembri after running him down earlier this year. The court of appeal last week granted Debono bail, something that had been repeatedly denied by the magistrate’s court.

The court decision did not go down too well among the general population and police officers.

While Muscat desisted from commenting directly on the case, he strongly hinted that he disagreed with the decision.

“While I have a big temptation to comment on certain court decisions this week, I cannot and do not want to because my duty as Prime Minister is to defend and support the country’s independent institutions always… the rule of law dictates that I cannot tell the courts what to decide but I tell the police that we are with you; we stand shoulder to shoulder with you,” Muscat said.

Migration and Mintoff’s name

The Prime Minister started his speech by talking about migration and what he described as “a schism” developing in Europe between those who wanted to find common solutions and those who felt going it alone was better.

He insisted that he shouldered responsibility for the decision to “be part of the solution and not part of the problem”, with reference to Malta’s efforts over the summer to resolve several situations involving migrant rescues.

In the most recent case, Malta accepted to take in 58 rescued migrants from the NGO ship Aquarius after an agreement was reached to redistribute the people among several EU countries.

Muscat said he understood the concerns raised by people but cautioned against those who opted to ride on people’s fears by resorting to “marches and flag waving”. The reference was to a demonstration held in Hamrun recently by the Maltese Patriots Movement.

READ ALSO: Moviment Patrijotti Maltin to contest local council elections

He then reminded his audience that shortly after being elected to government in 1971, then prime minister Dom Mintoff had responded positively to UN demands for countries to accept people expelled by an African country.

The reference was to the 1972 crisis when Uganda expelled Asians from the country. Malta had been one of several countries to accept some 300 people.

“To those who use Dom Mintoff’s name; to those who wave flags; let us understand what flag we are waving… next month we will recall the day when Malta had lifted its hand in the UN to accept migrants expelled from an African country,” Muscat said, adding he was attracted to the Labour Party as a young child because of the values it stood for.

Mintoff’s slogan ‘Malta l-ewwel qabel kollox’ is often quoted by those clamouring against migration.

The Prime Minister asked on supporters to understand what the party’s values were. “What attracted me to this movement as a child were the principles of equality, social justice and the history of this party,” Muscat told his audience.

Free buses for all

Moving on to transport, the Prime Minister said the scheme to offer free school transport to all students had been successful in reducing the amount of traffic. But he insisted it also had a cultural aspect in that a generation of children would learn to use collective transport to get around.

As for the government’s long term transport plan, Muscat said the final aim would be to have free public transport for all.

“That is our aim but before going there we need to improve the road infrastructure, something we are doing and is possible because the economy is doing well,” he said.

The Prime Minister was speaking at the One complex in Marsa where the party is collecting funds for the purchase of an outside broadcasting unit that can transmit in 4k technology.