Moving on in every sense … 

This week’s session of the House served as a helpful reminder of how human issues can transcend parliamentary concerns. In the bubble of local politics, it can be easy to lose perspective on issues that can truly matter. The tributes we paid in the House were all great levelers that made us momentarily forget about the grinding nature of local parliamentary affairs.
 Last week’s incident outside Westminster Palace showed us how the fickle finger of fate can sometimes be manipulated by evil forces. Once again – as indeed it was in 1605 – the UK Parliament came under attack, a symbol of the modern democracy we enjoy being threatened by fear and violence. As in Guy Fawkes’ time, the conspiracy failed, although this time, sadly, there were casualties. Both sides of the House paid tribute to the robustness of democracy, and to the heroism of the City of London and the individuals who tragically lost their lives. As aghast as I was to see the news, I was encouraged by how quickly the city seemed to recover, with the House of Commons convening for business the very next day in a defiant demonstration of how terror will never defeat the values which we hold dear. The courage of PC Keith Palmer and our collective sympathy towards Aysha Frade, Kurt Cochran and Leslie Rhodes are a further example of our solidarity in maintaining our common humanity in the face of such misguided and futile malevolence. In my speech, I also called for caution in our global response, to ensure that we do not unfairly judge other races, religions or cultures by the actions of individuals who claim to represent their cause. Instead, we will continue to preserve a united front, to show those who believe they can rupture this humanity through terrorist acts that they will never succeed, as shown by the tremendous example set by the people and city of London. I personally found delivering my speech a therapeutic experience, and, despite the awful circumstances, I was pleased to have an opportunity to articulate my thoughts in an attempt to make sense of what took place.

 This message of togetherness is one I also stressed in response to the triggering of Article 50 by Prime Minister Theresa May. As expected as the news was, the reality of our departure from the European Union alongside the United Kingdom is one that made all our anxieties about this re-surface. Gibraltar never voted for Brexit, but the process has now started, and we must continue fighting for the best deal possible, one that does not overlook our interests among the UK’s wider strategy. I was encouraged to hear the Chief Minister’s reassurances about the process, and have offered him and his Government my full support in shepherding Gibraltar through these uncertain times. This unity is of paramount importance, and I repeated my readiness to start discussions as part of the Brexit Select Committee. This will be a challenging period in our history, and it is up to all of us elected politicians to ensure that Mr Picardo’s optimism ends up being justified.

 The House also paid tribute to former Leader of the Opposition Maurice Xiberras. I reminded the House of Mr Xiberras’ long association with my father, having also formed part of that important early generation that shaped Gibraltar’s political future. While Mr Xiberras and my father disagreed on many issues, I nonetheless drew the House’s attention to the respect Sir Joshua had for his adversary. Mr Xiberras made many significant contributions to our politics, not least by being part of the Strasbourg talks, and I shared the House’s condolences to Mr Xiberras’ family on their sad loss.

 Other issues that dominated this parliamentary session revolved around legislation surrounding taxis, taxation, revenge porn, grooming offences and the appointment of a new Mayor and Deputy Mayor. This shows the wide variety of issues that come our way in local politics, a sure sign that, despite moments of terrible sadness and confusion, life goes on.

 And that is just as it should be.

Medicinal Cannabis, Loans and Dog Shows 

I am so sorry I have not blogged for a while. MP duties mean that my days are not long enough. Between seeing constituents, preparing for monthly sessions of Parliament and pushing out press statements when there are issues of public importance that need fanning out -and then there is that issue of four kids in four different schools😊, I honestly find it hard to blog at the end of a long day sometimes, much as I like to update you on a forum like this one. So apologies there….

Now getting down to recent business, I have been very pleased to see how the medical cannabis debate has captured the imagination of many over the past few weeks. From the Viewpoint discussion to this week’s events in Parliament, it has been encouraging to see the community engaged with the issue, and I feel I have learnt a great deal from the many representations that have been made to me from various sides of the debate. Mature democracies should be having these exchanges, and we should be proud of how they have been handled throughout.

Much of the research I have come across – and I feel very fortunate to have been pointed in the direction of academic studies, video documentaries, testimonies and scientific conclusions to support all the different arguments – has drawn attention to the potential of the cannabis plant as part of pain-relieving treatment. Many in the scientific community agree with this interpretation, and there is a sense of frustration among medical professionals that this research is being hindered by the impartial practices of pharmaceutical companies and by an undeserved stigma associated with medicinal cannabis. Indeed, many countries across the world have embraced this potential and are conducting research that has led to a range of beneficial treatment products being developed. Nations such as Canada and Israel are leading the charge in this field, and their citizens are benefiting from their findings.

This is why I felt that the decision to approve the use of Sativex for medical purposes, while welcome, did not go far enough in taking advantage of the qualities of the cannabis plant. It is why I recommended the possibility of other products being developed and provided, with Gibraltar licensing the use of these under its own jurisdictional powers. I also proposed that an educational summit be held locally in order to train doctors and other medical professionals and make them aware of the benefits of other alternatives. This would have led to a strictly controlled and regulated medical cannabis programme, one that would have fully exploited these benefits for the good of local patients. It is these patients that I feel we have now let down by instead adopting an unimaginative and unambitious approach that ignores both the significant developments in the science and the call from doctors and patients alike. My proposals could have led to Gibraltar making significant contributions to the study of these compounds, and I cannot but help but see the end result as a wasted opportunity.

I am confident that this debate will resurface over the next few years as attitudes towards medicinal cannabis start to change, both locally and internationally. In the meantime, I am sure that those who now finally have access to Sativex – largely as a result of the common-sense arguments put forward in these discussions – will benefit greatly from it, but I lament the fact that patients suffering from other conditions, and whose symptoms could be alleviated by several other cannabinoid products, will have to continue waiting for these opportunities. We may have taken a small step forward, but there is still a long way to go before we will be able to fully embrace these advancements in modern medicine.

Another recent development in my business in Parliament came when I had the opportunity to question the Government on the issue of outstanding student loan payments. I was shocked to recently discover that some Gibraltarian students have been receiving communications from the UK Student Loans Company chasing up unpaid funds. I raised the issue in Parliament earlier this month, with the Government seeming surprised by this development and being unable to offer a thorough explanation. It later transpired that in fact the Government of Gibraltar owe the UK Student Loans Company a staggering £2million so I look forward to detailed answers about this from Government, including their intentions for payment. And no, the UK Student Loans Company doesn’t care whether it was the GSD’s fault or not, they just want their money back! So please Government of Gibraltar, can we just settle this debt already so that we can end this mayhem between the UK Student Loan Company and our graduates who have been unnecessarily dragged into this bizarre situation?

Then there’s “dogshowgate”. The unfortunate and highly publicised spat between Minister Samantha Sacramento and my former GSD colleague Lawrence Llamas has obviously not escaped my attention. I am saddened to see that relationships between these two individuals – and the two main parties in general – seem to be so strained. The electorate can surely not be very impressed by the political class when they see these exchanges dominating the headlines between people they have elected. I hope that both Ms Sacramento and Mr Llamas will be able to put this ugly episode behind them and focus on both restoring the image of the House and on serving Gibraltar’s best interests.

Other business this week has involved issues as diverse as giving hospital-bound patients more opportunities and facilities to go outdoors, matters regarding Public Health, and conferring the Medallion of Honour to George Holding, one of Gibraltar’s staunchest American supporters. This, of course, followed debates on the £300 million mortgage on Government estates, which by the way, I was briefed on at Number 6 with the company directors, government advisers and the Chief Minister who delivered a presentation on the deal. If you are interested in my summary on this loan, watch here on minute 29.

Staffing and performance issues at the GHA were also subject of discussion, as well as tensions between two of our main unions. The uncertainty surrounding Master Service, and, in particular, the concerning plight of its 130 employees, has also made the headlines. I raised in Parliament how worried I am about these individuals, especially in these insecure times. I hope the matter will be resolved quickly with no impact on these workers.

These issues are likely to dominate local politics over the next few weeks, although our attentions may be shifted at the end of March to whether Prime Minister Theresa May’s intention to trigger Article 50 goes ahead. Whatever the case, I look forward to continuing to protect Gibraltar’s interests by holding the Government to account on matters in which I may feel they are mistaken, while offering my steadfast support where it is warranted.

Have a great weekend!


Merry Christmas, Happy Hanuka,Farewell dear Momy and Wrap up on Parliament

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-13-51-43This last parliamentary session of the year was tinged with great sadness. Momy Levy will always be fondly remembered by the community as a staunch British Gibraltarian, a man who showed steadfast commitment to the office of Mayor, and whose personality touched the lives of many. But, to me, he was also a much beloved cousin, and I have many lovely memories of the times I spent in his home. My father in particular had a great deal of affection for his nephew, and our family is humbled by the very kind comments that have been made since his sad passing. There is no doubt that Gibraltar will be a sadder place without him, but I trust that his example will linger for a long time and that remembering him will continue to bring smiles to our faces.

Among the sadness, I was particularly keen to raise a number of important issues regarding the new Calpe House building and the survey process that was carried out prior to its acquisition. The discovery of asbestos in the building calls this survey into question, particularly given the money now being invested in resolving the issue. I believe that there are some irregularities in this process, and I called on the Government to carry out an investigation into the affair. My call was rather flippantly dismissed by Minister Bossano, who accused me of raising the issue simply to attract attention. In this, he is not very mistaken, as my intention was actually to attract attention to these irregularities and to a rather confused situation that needs answers. Sadly, the Government did not seem willing to provide these at this stage.

The Government also seemed unwilling to provide answers to questions about the significant pay rise that has been awarded to the post of Chief Secretary and Principal Auditor. The GSD Opposition rightly presented a motion seeking some of these answers but, as tends to often be the case, this was countered with references to the GSD’s time in office. Like many Gibraltarians, I find these replies tiresome and lacking in the substance of addressing the issue at hand. I called on the Government to clearly explain the reasons behind these pay rises (which may be entirely justified) but, again, they were not forthcoming in giving these details.

These challenges to the Government supplement others I have recently made and fly in the face of the accusations of ‘cheerleading’ that have been made by the GSD and some of their not-so-secret supporters over the past week. The undeniable fact is that my record over the last few months demonstrates a commitment to opposing the Government on issues that I feel are important, rather than blindly disagreeing with a party line. My objections to the Single-Sex Marriage Act, for example, revealed how some members of the GSD clearly felt that their own leader was lacking conviction in the issue, with three of them siding with my argument (perhaps Mr Hammond has forgotten this seeing as he was not present at such an important event). Likewise, my intervention over the Mental Health Act not only led to the Government removing their propagandist bluster and their cringe-worthy asides on the GSD’s record (as lamentable as it might have been), but also to a pragmatic and sensible approach that will force the Government to act rather than pay lip-service to vague proposals. Mental Health was an issue I had actually previously raised in Parliament, and it was encouraging to see the GSD follow my lead, an act they repeated when drawing attention to morale in the GHA. This proves that the GSD’s claim does not stand to scrutiny and, instead, they should ponder on why no one seems to be cheerleading them.

After all this discussion and debate, a deafening hush will now be descending on Parliament as we embrace the festive season that is quickly coming upon us. By happy coincidence, the Jewish feast of Chanuka this year starts on the same day as Christmas Eve. Christian and Jewish Gibraltarians will be celebrating their particular traditions at the same time, all only a couple of weeks after the Muslim community celebrated Milad un Nabi. This is a true measure of the diversity of our home, with people coming together to observe the birth of their Christ or of their Prophet, or the liberation of their nation from the Greeks, or simply the traditions their families have followed for generations, all wrapped up in a Pagan time of re-birth. Whatever we celebrate, though, we will all make a point of doing so with our families.

For this is what this period is all about. Whether you believe in one God, or many, or none at all, this is a time for family. It is when we remember those no longer with us, and welcome our latest additions. It is when we eat and drink amidst the unity of those we hold most dear. It is when we give and receive, our gifts bound in an unconditional love for those with whom we share our lives. And, above all, it is a time for togetherness.

So, wherever you celebrate, and whatever you do, I wish you all the merriest of Christmases, the happiest of Chanukas, the cheeriest of festive seasons, and the most wonderful of times with your loved ones.

Marlene x

How I Cut and Pasted my Way into Constructive Opposition

image-1-pngToo often, Parliament seems to resemble little more than rival factions of football fans trying to outdo the other across a stadium. We have got far too used to chants of “the GSLP this” and “the GSD that” and “sixteen years of office” and “the promised new dawn” – the typical cries that lead to inward groans among the people we were elected to represent. Important issues of politics and conscience tend to be sharply divided along party lines, an almost cult-like devotion firmly entrenched in partisanship. Gibraltarians are fed up of this behaviour and rightly expect more from their parliamentarians. It should not have to be like this.

And, this week, for a tiny moment, at least, it wasn’t. The debate on mental health services that led to me proposing an amendment to Roy Clinton’s motion (which, in itself, also generated a counter-motion from Neil Costa) saw the Government show a genuine willingness to listen to and cooperate with an Opposition member, brushing aside partisan propaganda in order to reach a satisfactory solution that should benefit those affected by this important issue. While it was unfortunate that the GSD refused to join us in voting in favour of this compromise, the episode nonetheless reflected that, when presented with constructive, well-researched and potentially beneficial ideas, the Government was willing to forgo its bluster for something far more pragmatic. It is not common for a Government to vote in favour of an amendment proposed by an Opposition member (with the rest of the Opposition voting against), but it represents what good diplomatic democracy should be.

I was initially encouraged to see the GSD draw attention to the issue of mental health services – a topic which I raised in Parliament last month – and I was impressed by the commitment and conviction shown by Mr. Clinton, whom I admire and whose friendship I value. However, I found the proposed motion to be somewhat toothless. To my mind, the motion failed to engage fully with some of the salient specific needs of individuals affected by mental health matters – service users, families and professionals – and it would have let the Government off the hook too easily by allowing them to pay lip-service to the issue without challenging them on specific fronts. Given government majority, the motion was never going to pass, and it was no surprise to see Minister Costa present his own counter-motion, one that trumpeted the Government’s achievements and criticised the GSD’s record in this field during their time in office. Both these moves lacked pragmatic substance and keeping it as it was would have done a disservice to the needs of those affected by mental health issues.

I, in turn, decided to propose an amendment of my own, one that, I felt, addressed these needs more directly by calling the Government to act on specific areas for improvement as highlighted to me by professionals in the field. These included asking the Government to consider making data relating to mental health issues publicly available, to looking into more thoroughly implementing a structured, multi-agency approach to mental health care (similar to the Care Programme Approach used in the UK), to explore the possibility of establishing a bespoke, school-based mental health support programme to deal with issues affecting children and adolescents, and to adopt a direct and dedicated ‘crisis-line’ system for patients and their families. These represent clear-cut strategies that are aimed to improve the service. I felt that this reflected a more positive style of Opposition, one that not only identifies gaps in the system, but suggests ways in which these can be filled. It also acknowledges the reality that, after years of under-investment, there have been notable strides in the area of mental health over the past five years – this is an undeniable fact that one must not be blind to. However, the service has to keep improving, and it is my job as an Opposition member to point the Government in the right direction and to hold them to account should developments not be forthcoming.

I was gratified to see the Government willing to consider my views and to support my amendment by making compromises on theirs. I took this as a recognition of the value of the proposals I was putting forward. The physical final version of the eventual composite amendment is literally there in black and white for all to see. Time constraints meant that after much deliberation, the new amendment took the shape of a reconstructed A4 sheet full of staples and hand written deletions, with my main points literally pasted over those Government statements that needlessly, in my view, slammed GSD records and highlighted further ‘new dawn achievements’. I hoped this compromise would help reach out to the support of my colleagues on the Opposition benches. Sadly, this was not to be.

I found all this to be a healthy and positive way of doing Parliamentary business. It showed that Government and Opposition members can work together in a purposeful manner through common sense, logical argument and a genuine desire to help people, one that transcends party politics. It is a style of Opposition that I prefer, and, for the good of the community’s confidence in what we do in the House, I fervently hope that it will catch on.

I have also noted that this last week saw the first anniversary of my election as a Member of Parliament. It has been a tumultuous year, one that has gone from the excitement of having achieved a platform that meant I could somehow emulate my father’s life mission of helping people, through a period of soul-searching that led to my resignation as a member of the GSD. Having worked as an independent member over the past few months, I feel that I have found my place in Parliament, and I am proud of the contributions I have made to debates such as single-sex marriage, co-education, security in our schools, the GHA, and, now, mental health. I am looking at my second year in Parliament with great excitement, and I hope that those who voted for Marlene Hassan Nahon a year ago are feeling that this vote was worthwhile.


Now…what’s next?

Co-education and Sounding offs; Union Demonstrations and Mazal Tovs 

Parliament kicked off this week with an animated debate regarding the issue of co-education. This was in response to the motion presented by the GSD Opposition urging a detailed study into the possibility of a co-educational future for our secondary schools. Bizarrely, even though most Members of Parliament seemed to be in favour of the sentiment of the motion, a three-hour discussion ensued, with the Government presenting an amendment that offered little change to the GSD’s motion.
As someone who very much agrees with the possibility of co-education being explored further, I supported the amendment, not least because the objectives it presented seemed clearer and more purposeful than the ones on the original motion. I look forward to hearing back from the working party that has been established and see how realistic over-turning what I feel is a forty-year old error of judgment will be.
However, what does concern me is that the issue of co-education will detract from matters which are even more important to the day-to-day management of schools and teaching of lessons. While less crowd-pleasing and headline-grabbing, these urgent issues are far more pressing within our education system: they include buildings and maintenance, of course, but also resources and funding, teacher accountability, teacher morale and attendance, curriculum provision, issues with human resources, parental support, staff training, extended service incentives and a closer relationship between the Department of Education and a more pro-active social services structure. These more accurately represent the real challenges faced by teachers and students alike, and while I welcome the ideology behind this bill, I feel that a similar focus should be given to these priorities. Otherwise, a cosmetic change will only lead to another mistake, one which, again, may take generations to reverse.

 On the subject of issues going back generations, I have also seen that, once again, some of my father’s former political rivals have continued their attempts to discredit his reputation through the Chronicle’s letter pages. With references to clandestine secret papers and allegations of ‘he-said-this-he-said-that’, these tiresome communications – which seem aimed more towards promoting a book than making a coherent political point – are nothing more than classless attempts to tarnish a man who passed away almost twenty years ago. When I was younger, and perhaps feeling less secure about my father’s political legacy, I would have been incensed by these comments, and my instinct was to fight back, no doubt much to the childlike glee of these gentlemen. But now, knowing full well how fondly my father is remembered in our community and how steadfast their affections are towards the Father of the Gibraltarians, my anger has turned to pity. I feel sorry for these gentlemen for the burden of bitterness that they have evidently carried for many years; I sympathise with their irrelevance; and I hope that they will soon find the inner peace and dignity that will one day let them leave my father’s memory be.

UNITE the Union held a demonstration yesterday on the concerns about the cuts in MOD jobs and the way things have been managed or in this case, ‘mismanaged’. The union’s concerns go beyond the offer of a Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme package to the existing Local Entry Civilians workforce and the fear is that moves could be made to force compulsory redundancies. Other concerns include the uncertainties surrounding what arrangements are being made for the take over of whatever duties will be remain outstanding once the VERS are dropped from the workforce. The Unions have accused the MOD of a fait accompli in what was meant to be a ‘consultation’ process on such a crucial issue, something which will no doubt have a huge impact on Gibraltar’s economy at such a delicate time. Furthermore, this uncertainty reflects a total lack of responsibility on the part of the MOD and the UK Government, one which, in my view, Gibraltar does not deserve given our steadfast support of the MOD over the decades. Because of this, I reserved myself from attending a social event yesterday evening with the Armed Forces Minister which I was invited to, as a mark of discontent with the less than unsatisfactory manner in which the UK Government have gone about these redundancies and whatever potential “shrinkage” they may have in mind for our civilians.

 As busy and exciting as the week has been, the highlight was definitely the celebration of my son Joey’s Bar Mitzvah. This wonderful occasion brought together all my dearest friends and family members in a spirit of festivity, and it was a joy to unwind from Parliament in such a special event. But as I watched my son deliver his reading as he took his first steps towards spiritual manhood, or my daughter Rachel deliver an amusing speech that showed her clear affection for her sibling, or Eve proudly showing off her drumming skills, or my youngest Noa being fussed over by all, it really placed in context the importance of what we must aspire to in Parliament: if only for our children, it is essential that we get decisions right.

 So, on that note: what’s next?  


Taxis, heels, etc 

It was a whirlwind few days in Parliament last week. After the exultation of the ground-breaking Same-Sex Marriage Bill, our attentions turned to perhaps less momentous but by no means less important affairs that affect the smooth running of our community. These issues might be less headline-grabbing, but they reflect the everyday concerns of many Gibraltarians, so it is only right that we give these the appropriate attention.
On Thursday, I had the opportunity to challenge Minister Paul Balban on the matter of the taxi service. With the Chamber of Commerce’s recent criticism of the service – an opinion frequently shared by many members of the general public – it was important that the Minister faced these questions. While the Minister recognised that he was less than satisfied with the current levels of service – not a very glowing endorsement – he failed to give many details about how he plans to improve matters, outrightly dismissing the prospect of introducing more licenses. Given the important role that the taxi service plays in terms of delivering a positive experience for tourists, as well as in encouraging locals to not use their cars (and the environmental and parking implications of this), I urge the Minister to not blind himself to these criticisms and to heed our suggestions in order to solve a seemingly perennial problem.
I then had the opportunity to question Minister Balban about the perilous state of some of the paving in Main Street. Wearers of high heels know only too well how tricky it can be to negotiate your way through town while avoiding areas where the cobblestones have stilleto-sized gaps, presenting dangerous hazards. While this might seem trivial to the unaffected, there are many Health & Safety implications, including the very real possibility of a nasty accident one day. I was promised in the House that the filling of the cobblestone gaps will be completed within this electoral term as per manifesto commitment. Again, I hope that this will be resolved, preferably before we all have to resort to a nasty trip up.
Thursday also saw me engage in dialogue in Parliament with Minister Joe Bossano for the first time. At the beginning of our brief exchange, I reminded him of the many debates he held with my father, and expressed the hope that this new generation of Bossano / Hassan dialogue will feature the same level of mutual respect. Mr Bossano’s reaction left me in no doubt whatsoever of the affection which he still holds for his former rival, for which I am very grateful.
Another exciting debate at Parliament was prompted by the proposal of a Bill to establish a Consultative Council in Gibraltar. This initiative would see some of our nation’s finest political minds – including former Chief Ministers and their Deputies – gathered around a table to advise the current Chief Minister on issues of national importance. It would be irresponsible to deny Gibraltar this privilege, so I felt the right thing to do would be to support the Bill, but I did express some legitimate concerns about how the Council’s oath of secrecy would impact on active MP’s – particularly members of the Opposition – who might be invited to form part of the body. Would it be wrong for a Leader of the Opposition or ordinary MP to form part of a council where an oath of secrecy must be taken? My dilemma with this is that as great as our collective responsibility is to the Chief Minister and his Government, our responsibility to the electorate is greater, and I therefore remain unconvinced about being privy to information that may be in the public interest if this had the effect of compromising my ability to publicly hold the Government to account, which is precisely what I have been elected to do. To me, this would represent a conflict both of interests and of conscience. The people of Gibraltar need to be confident that their Opposition representatives can act without having any hands tied by a justified need for secrecy and discretion. I feel that, in this scenario, the duties and responsibilities to which the electorate binds me could be curtailed, preventing me from fulfilling this role with honesty and sincerity.
However, on assurance by the Chief Minister that the Bill gives members the option to remove themselves from the Council or to refuse to join it, leaving it up to the conscience of the individual invited to decide, I am satisfied that in principle the council will be a fruitful incentive, especially in the times we are living.

This productive week in the House was tinged with sadness, though, with the news of the passing of David Hoare. David was a fantastic personality and, throughout his many years as a radio broadcaster, his was the voice that many Gibraltarians chose to listen to, and it will be forever associated with many important events, most notably the full opening of the frontier in 1985. His wit and charm were second to none, and the many tributes on social media clearly indicate that, both as a broadcaster and as an Anglican reverend, David touched the lives of many. Our community will feel his loss deeply.

This session of Parliament is by no means over, and we still have some exciting issues to discuss throughout the weeks ahead. Being a Parliamentarian means that every day is different, and you get to listen to powerful arguments and to passionate exchanges of ideas. It really is quite a privilege.

But, for now……what’s next?

Why I feel the Single-Sex Marriage Bill does not go far enough

Parliament can be an exciting place. There is an exhilaration to being in a chamber with a group of intelligent individuals who are all making passionate arguments for the good of our community. Exchanging ideas is always a worthwhile experience and is a mark of an advanced democracy. Naturally, there are times when we disagree, but that does not devalue the principles which we parliamentarians try our best to espouse. 

Today was a fascinating day in Parliament. It is unusual to see unanimous agreement on a Bill, especially one that has proved as controversial as Same-Sex Marriage. It is highly encouraging that as a nation we have now come so far as to entitle members of our community to privileges which they were previously denied. I am proud to have served in a Parliament that voted in favour of such a momentous piece of legislation.

 Where there was disagreement, however, was in some of the technicalities of the Bill. In giving government workers the right to refuse to carry out their professional responsibilities due to religious objections, I felt that the Bill did not go far enough in addressing some of the inequalities in our society. This clause effectively gives these workers a license to discriminate, something which, in my opinion, blunts the Bill’s very purpose. I guess I was hoping for a more genuine commitment to ending these disparities, and I am saddened by the mixed messages this House seems to be sending.

 I understand the religious arguments, although I do not agree with them, and it is my view that these should not be allowed to supercede fundamental human rights. Religion, after all, is a man-made construct, whereas sexual orientation is not. A person is not born of faith, but is born of a sexual orientation, and I think that makes certain freedoms a birthright. The Chief Minister eloquently argued that the Constitution grants the freedom to object on religious grounds. Perhaps, if this is the case, the Constitution needs to be re-assessed, and I look forward to giving my thoughts on the matter at the next meeting of the Select Committee for Constitutional Reform.

People do not choose to be gay. What people do choose, however, is to have views that do not belong in a place of work. Beliefs change and develop over time, but Governments should lead the way in this. Today, while the Government showed brave leadership in presenting this Bill to the House, I cannot help but feel a little bit short-changed. 

The Chief Minister insisted on calling this ‘marriage’ rather than ‘same-sex marriage’ in recognition of a perceived equality between the two. The reality, however, is that as long as officials may be exempted to perform their duties because they disagree with this notion, then I am afraid that we cannot be justified in calling them the same. And while Parliament’s collective conscience might rest easier tonight, I still think there might be a few uneasy nights while this issue is alive.

 However, I have made my arguments and my representations, and democracy has spoken. Therefore, we should embrace what today means: a significant recognition of equal rights and an important step in our maturation as a fair and just democracy. If today was about doing the right thing, then we have done mostly right, and as long as we keep on heading in this direction, I am confident that the final remaining vestiges of inequality will eventually disappear from our statute books, and I look forward to continuing making these arguments in order to make this a reality.

 Finally, while I would like to thank all my Parliamentary colleagues for their patience in allowing me to present this amendment, and to congratulate them for their role in this important event, I would particularly like to convey my gratitude to Elliott Phillips, Lawrence Llamas and Roy Clinton, all of whom chose to stand with me in presenting this objection to the Bill. I admire these gentlemen for their moral courage and fortitude in voting with their conscience, and I thank them for their friendship and support.

 So…what’s next? 😀

Reflections, and the Week Ahead

evolution.pngAnyone who follows Parliament (and lets face it, there are not many out there who have the time to sit for endless hours following procedures which sadly, to many come across as “disengaging”) might be a little confused as to how and why we have been sitting practically weekly since early September, when we are supposed to have monthly sessions of questions and answers.

What’s happened is that up until last week, we were actually still on the “June” session, which encompassed the Budget session, and due to the BREXIT result and government commitments as a consequence, never ended basically.

The June session effectively lasted four months, including a summer break, a divorce from the European Union and the proverbial “sweargate” session in Parliament, which, thankfully came to a peaceful end.

In all this time, Gibraltar has been coming to terms with this upcoming divorce while elected representatives have been carving out ways in which to remain profitable and viable as a self-sufficient community in the face of our amputation from the European Union.

I never worry or panic about big moments like this. As Gibraltarians we have weathered so much worse, and in the end, I have no doubt that we shall reinvent ourselves to come off stronger and better than ever. I just know it. Here is the thing though…

There is little that we can decide upon until we really know the game plan from the UK, so anyone who comes out with big solutions or even “end game” ideas is at best naïve, and at worst, trying to be politically opportunistic at a time when we all need to put our heads together as a community to show the type of unity that will be the main ingredient which will carry us through. No amount of dissing opponents about their tactics in the open media will bring anything good at a time like this, it will only weaken our stance and make us look like amateur game players at this vital crossroads in our political history.

This is why I welcomed the Brexit Select Committee in Parliament. It will be a place where all concerned parties, political and otherwise, can come together and think of ways and strategies to navigate through this time TOGETHER, and I for one, welcome this move and look forward to debating in a manner which will be constructive across the floor.

In the meantime, Roy Clinton tabled a motion in Parliament calling for the return to the Public Accounts Committee, something which the Chief Minister was not partial to and something which brought about a new revelation, that of a loan which apparently was made to an ex GSD Minister and never repaid. I’m always up for transparency, but I am sorry, and said as much in a press release in the days that followed, that it had to come up during an important discussion about the value or otherwise of a Public Accounts Committee.

Having lost my father at a young age, I’m a sucker for stories about him, so was warmed to hear Clinton quoting him when his government the AACR set up a Public Accounts Committee back in the 80s. Sir Joshua was quoted as having said, “we have nothing to hide”, a mantra which I carry with me in my political heart. However, the Chief Minister then alerted the House that the AACR had only had a Public Accounts Committee for one term of office, meaning that really, a tried and tested committee that didn’t remain, could be a sign that, it just didn’t work, and this made me question the need for one in the first place, and took me back to the idea I proposed in Parliament during my budget speech asking for an “Autumn Statement” instead, as is annually seen in Westminster where the Chancellor presents an update on the budget.

I think this would be a good comprise don’t you agree Mr. Picardo?

Meanwhile, across the pond, the US Presidential elections is taking up quite a bit of airtime on TV. With the Trump allegations of sexual misconduct, his awful hair and Hilary professing to be the only safe alternative despite all those dubious emails…let’s see where that all ends up shall we?

And now to the week which follows. One of the most important and significant human rights Bills in our time will be debated and voted on, in favour of equal marriage. It is going to be one of those moments in our history where our elected representatives will put their money where their mouths are and hopefully “do the right thing”.

Politics is so much more than locker-room banter, tax returns and bizarre requests for drug tests don’t you think?


Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

“It’s sad, so sad, it’s a sad, sad situation

And it’s getting more and more absurd”

–Elton John


Listen to the Clip Here:

I haven’t yet made up my mind whether this week’s incident in Parliament (and I’m sure I don’t need to set out the context) is a comedy, or a tragedy.

On the one hand, it is comical to suggest, as the Government has done, that a Minister in Parliament should be excused for verbally abusing a fellow MP with profane language, just because his ‘microphone was turned off’.

And on the other hand, it is tragic that the said Minister is a Minister for Education and Justice, and is supposed to be setting an example not just to schoolchildren and tomorrow’s generation, but to those that his government introduced the anti-bullying at work legislation for.

To see that such a Minister resorted to deflection tactics in order to divert attention away from his unstatesmanlike behaviour in Parliament last week when he used profane language in response to my questions is beyond regrettable. Any emotional intelligence would have informed the Minister that it is not up to him, as author of these actions, to dictate how the person at the wrong end of them should react. To do so simply perpetuates the culture of victim-shaming that is causing so much distress in this world, a culture which the Government itself claims to be committed to changing. Mr Licudi’s actions, and the Government condoning them, give this claim little traction.

While I get that on a technical level, I may have misunderstood Mr Licudi’s original remarks, it does not give him the right to engage in this behaviour and then flippantly dismiss the prospect of an apology. And then, to add insult to injury, to suggest that ‘aside comments’ are common and even acceptable in the House is, if false, a feeble attempt to justify his language and, if true, an awful indictment on the deterioration of standards in this fine institution.

The bottom line is that if Mr Licudi feels it is acceptable for no-one less than the Minister of Education to use swear words in Parliament, then he is perfectly entitled to continue to refuse to apologise, but it says a lot about the little esteem he seems to hold for the privilege the people of Gibraltar have afforded him.

At this stage, I look forward to receiving a response to my complaint to the Speaker of the House and then get back to the business of ascertaining progress on the issue of school lunches.

In the meantime, I will do my best to brace myself for any patronising invectives that will no doubt follow from the Minister.

More and more absurd indeed.

Happy National Day! 

Since National Day became a fixture on our calendar, it has become an occasion to celebrate the strong unity among the people who call this Rock our home. This is a unity which we have shown to the world on many occasions. We showed it in the 1967 Referendum, which this day marks as its anniversary. We showed it in 2002. We showed it more recently in the EU Referendum. We have shown it in the Estadio Algarve, and we have shown it at many events where our flag has flown proudly. And, of course, we show it on this day every year, where we all take to our streets in red and white and remind the world of the strong bond of Gibraltarianism that is evident in this corner of the continent. It is a unity which has been challenged on many occasions but which has remained steadfast and robust for over three hundred years.
But as well as celebrating this harmony, National Day should also be an opportunity to honour our differences. In the time since Admiral Rooke’s forces first landed on our Rock, Gibraltar has become a cosmopolitan community of different races, ethnicities, nationalities, religions, ages and classes, all of which have bonded to make our home a better place. Ours is a community where distinct personalities and populations can always come together in a spirit of peace and friendship and, in a time when so much fear is shown towards difference, it is important that we celebrate our pluralistic society with pride. Our red and white is, in reality, made up of a much wider palette of hues, all of them reflecting the uniqueness that makes us Gibraltarian. 

Let us enjoy celebrating our National Day. Let us enjoy celebrating our identity and, above all, let us enjoy celebrating the united people that we are. 
Happy National Day.