An Opposition motion calling on the government to withdraw its support for the underground extension of the museum of St John's Co-Cathedral was called off this evening after the project was dropped.

Opposition leader Joseph Muscat at the start of this evening's Parliamentary sitting said that in view of the government announcement that the project was being dropped, the Opposition felt there was no need for the debate since its purpose had been achieved. He however asked Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi to explain his position.

Dr Gonzi said the project was discussed with Archbishop Paul Cremona yesterday and again over the phone today. They had expressed their concern over how the situation had developed and decided to direct the government and Church representatives on the St John's Co-Cathedral Foundation to stop the plans for the project.

Dr Muscat said the Opposition was withdrawing its motion because its purpose had been achieved (applause).

He said the Opposition welcomed the decision, but could not fail to note that the government was finally acknowledging its authority over the foundation, after having previously insisted that the foundation was independent. Certainly, this was a case of better late than never.

Dr Muscat noted that in the DOI statement this afternoon, it was said that the Archbishop had expressed his concern over the project. The Prime Minister, therefore, had not. The DOI statement also said that the decision to stop the project was taken so that the people would not be divided.

The people, Dr Muscat said, were never divided - they were united against the project. The only division was in the PN parliamentary group.

This, Dr Muscat said, was a victory for the Opposition on behalf of the people. Common sense had prevailed, and he hoped the government would now move on to discuss and revise its plans for the rebuilding of the Opera House site.

The Prime Minister's decision was not one based on conviction, but on convenience, Dr Muscat said.

Replying, Dr Gonzi said the foundation was independent. It consisted of representatives of the government and the church in view of the old controversy over whether St John's Co-Cathedral belonged to the state or the Church. The government, therefore, could not decide for it.

Furthermore, he pointed out, his ministerial responsibilities included MEPA, which was the authority tasked with studying and deciding on projects such as this, and he had therefore been careful not to express himself and not to influence the authority (interruptions).

Dr Gonzi said there were a danger that this project would divide the people and he had decided, not for the first time, to review a decision in the national interest.

Dr Muscat said the MLP's position had been described as 'dilettantesque' by the PN secretary but he was now happy that the government had come around to the MLP's thinking.

See also:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090211/local/st-johns-museum-project-to-be-dropped

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