A bronze monument to former President and veteran politician Agatha Barbara was inaugurated at her hometown Zabbar yesterday.

Ms Barbara, who died in February four years ago aged 78, was Malta's only woman to serve as President after decades as a Labour MP. She also held several ministerial portfolios, notably education, social policy and labour.

Although well known for her temperament and poor punctuality, Ms Barbara was loved by Labourites, especially after having been jailed for just over a month for picketing in the national strike of 1958 and for the education and social reforms she presided over in Mintoff-led governments.

The monument, in Sanctuary Street, is the work of sculptor Anton Agius. The life-size work, mounted on a high pedestal, shows the President standing with an arm resting on a piece of furniture.

Yesterday's ceremony was presided over by President Eddie Fenech Adami who described Ms Barbara as a woman who left her mark in Malta's recent history.

She was elected for the first time in 1947, becoming the first woman to become an MP and was successful in every election she contested until 1981. She was also the first female minister and served as President between 1982 and 1987.

Dr Fenech Adami said that one had to be courageous 60 years ago to contest elections, find support and dedicate oneself to one's beliefs. It had been a time of profound and radical change and Ms Barbara had given her service with full dedication in line with her beliefs.

He said that soon after he was elected to Parliament he shadowed the Social Affairs Ministry, which was the responsibility of Ms Barbara, for nearly six years in the 1970s and he could remember the constructive debates on the sector because it was something on which the two sides could find things which united them.

Dr Fenech Adami said that when he became leader of the opposition in 1977, he had more direct contact with Ms Barbara and before a visit to Australia she had sent for him and advised him on how he should speak with the Maltese there. Her advice, the President said, had been useful. He had also visited her brother and was welcomed in his home in Canberra.

He had yet more direct contact with her when she became President. Times were difficult and she had called him to embark on a dialogue, which had eventually borne fruit. (This was the time after the 1981 elections when the Nationalist Party under Dr Fenech Adami had won a majority of votes but not a majority of parliamentary seats).

Parish priest Sebastian Caruana blessed the monument.

The two bands of Zabbar, known for their rivalry at festa time, united in a mass band for the occasion.

Those present included former Presidents Censu Tabone, Ugo Mifsud Bonnici and Guido de Marco, opposition leader Alfred Sant, Parliamentary Secretary Francis Agius and Zabbar mayor Domenic Agius, among others. At the end of the ceremony the dignitaries, family members and the public laid flowers at the foot of the monument.

The monument was built on the initiative of the MLP's Zabbar committee which convened a committee grouping all organisations and political parties in Zabbar.

The sheet covering the monument was removed by unknown persons on Saturday night and a box containing a dead kitten was left at the foot of the monument. It was removed before the inauguration ceremony and the monument was covered once more.

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