A referendum on divorce will be held in the next six months after Parliament will spend the coming months debating the Bill moved by Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Labour MP Evarist Bartolo, according to PN sources.

The PN’s executive council met for three hours last night at the party headquarters in Pietà after a morning of crossfire between Telecommunications and Transport Minister Austin Gatt, a former PN general secretary, who declared he is vehemently against divorce, and Dr Pullicino Orlando.

During the meeting, the youngest and newest member of the PN backbench, Karl Gouder, gave an impassioned speech in favour of divorce in what is said to have been a “tense” moment.

It was also decided the party would vote on a resolution that will speak generally about the party’s stand on the family but leave one free to vote as one wishes.

The roadmap Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi promised in the past weeks was also decided upon. The Bill will be discussed in Parliament possibly as early as next month and a referendum will be held midsummer.

No one objected to Dr Gonzi’s proposal.

PN general secretary Paul Borg Olivier and Family Minister Dolores Cristina are also said to have spoken during the meeting.

In a Talking Point on The Times yesterday, Dr Gatt said he would resign from Parliament if the PN were to decide to back divorce. Dr Pullicino Orlando reacted saying such comments were “not conducive to a serene debate”.

In his article, Dr Gatt said divorce, like separation, was not a value.

“The values the PN is actively discussing in its highest structures are the well-being of the Maltese family and Maltese society and whether or not divorce helps in achieving those values.”

He concluded that while the party should remain lay and open to all, it would be ridiculous to ask him to vote for divorce as a Catholic, so if such a decision were taken, he would resign from Parliament. Dr Pullicino Orlando said Dr Gatt “totally” failed to rebut one single argument and instead used “unspecified statistics” to argue that Malta was not in the mess some “would like us to be”.

Criticising Dr Gatt’s “trademark style” and labelling his arguments as a “passionate knee-jerk” reaction, Dr Pullicino Orlando said his arguments were not conducive to a serene debate.

“He claims that, as a Catholic, he will not vote for divorce. Does that mean he will vote against the will of the electorate, as expressed in a referendum, if the situation arises in Parliament? While stating that the party is big enough to encompass one and all he goes on to contradict himself by threatening to resign if the party takes a decision he is against,” Dr Pullicino Orlando said.

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