Former Labour minister Joe Micallef Stafrace, who was one of the first to face the controversial Archbishop’s interdiction in the 1960s, has passed away. 

He was 87.

Micallef Stafrace was elected to the House of Representatives in 1962, 1966 and 1971, when Dom Mintoff became prime minister.

He was appointed Minister for Industry, Agriculture and Tourism.

In the 1960s, the 28-year-old lawyer and an aspiring politician, Micallef Stafrace had been planning to marry his childhood love Yvonne.

As he was determined to accede to his partner’s wish to tie the knot at the Rabat parish church, he sought a private meeting with Archbishop Michael Gonzi in the hope of convincing him to change his mind.

But his role as editor of the Labour bi-weekly Is-Sebħ proved to be a major hurdle and the archbishop insisted he could only get married in the sacristy. 

In 2019, Micallef Stafrace had heaped praise on Archbishop Charles Scicluna after the latter blessed the graves of interdicted Labour supporters.

He had said this was the boldest step ever taken by the Church to heal the wounds of the politico-religious dispute of the 1960s.

A traffic expert, Micallef Stafrace also lectured press law at the University of Malta.

He has also served as the chairperson of the Broadcasting Authority.

Prime Minister Robert Abela saluted Micallef Stafrace in posts on Facebook and Twitter.

He described him as one of the main exponents of the 1971 cabinet who implemented crucial changes for Malta to become what it is today.

"He left his personal mark in journalism and passed on his knowledge to many students. He lived and worked during difficult political times but always remained true to his socialist principles. His love for the Labour Party and the country will never be forgotten."

Opposition leader Bernard Grech also paid tribute on Twitter.

In a statement, the Labour Party described Micallef Stafrace as "a patriot" who loved freedom of expression and worked for the country’s freedom. He was a politician and journalist "of great ability", it said.

The PL said that during difficult times when one suffered because of his beliefs, Micallef Stafrace had not been afraid and fought for his and the workers’ ideals.

He faced prison for publishing a caricature.

But in spite of all the challenges he faced, he remained strong in his democratic principles he always loved and worked for.
 
As an editor, a lawyer and a lecturer at the university, he always expressed himself strongly but respectfully, the PL said.

In another statement, the Institute of Maltese Journalists also expressed condolences.

It said that a former editor, Micallef Stafrace was still writing in newspapers until early this month. He was balanced in his writings, which were never intended to harm anyone.

The government and the PN also expressed condolences.

In a statement, the PN said Micallef Stafrace will be remembered as a gentleman. 

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