Divorce has made it back to Parliament's agenda, only if the Private Member's Bill is not ignored like its predecessor 14 years ago.
The divorce Bill presented by Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando is likely to suffer the same fate of a similar proposal in 1996 by Joe Brincat, which was never put on the agenda for discussion, according to the former Labour MP and former Justice Minister.
The last time divorce was brought up in Parliament in a meaningful way was just before the 1996 election when Dr Brincat, who had temporarily fallen out with the Labour Party, presented a Private Member's Bill to introduce divorce.
"The Bill was never put on Parliament's agenda by the Nationalist government and I suspect the same will happen this time around, more so because the matter was raised by a government backbencher," Dr Brincat said yesterday.
Insisting the issue was one of conscience, he said it was a "headache" for the Prime Minister because every government expected its MPs to toe the Administration's line.
Hazarding a prediction of Dr Pullicino Orlando's political future within a party still headed by a "strong Christian Democrat leadership", Dr Brincat said the MP would gradually be "squeezed out".
However, if the Bill ever made it to the vote, Dr Brincat did not believe it would pass because of resistance from some opposition MPs.
"Funnily enough, the Bill will be voted down because at least two Labour MPs have publicly stated they will vote against divorce," he said.
For former Nationalist minister Michael Falzon it still had to be seen whether the Bill enjoyed a parliamentary majority. However, he welcomed the initiative and described Dr Pullicino Orlando as a courageous MP.
"I hope the Bill will be approved but, whatever the outcome of the vote, it will eliminate the issue from the next election," Mr Falzon said.
Asked whether the Bill faced the same prospect as that presented by Dr Brincat 14 years ago, Mr Falzon insisted it would be "a mistake" if the government ignored it and did not give enough time in Parliament for the matter to be debated.
Just over a year ago, an independent think-tank said divorce legislation had become an "urgent necessity and laws to regularise cohabiting couples were no substitute".
The report, penned by Martin Scicluna for the Today Public Policy Institute, proposed the introduction of divorce to grant legally-separated couples the right to re-marry.
Like Dr Pullicino Orlando's proposal, it had also suggested the Irish divorce model through which couples would be able to file for divorce after having been separated for at least four years.
The report was the first of its kind to argue the case for divorce since 1998 when a government commission, set up by then Prime Minister Alfred Sant, had suggested the introduction of divorce legislation.
The suggestions by that commission never made it to Parliament in the form of a Bill after the government faced internal opposition from various MPs on its side.
The long divorce debate
1975: A Labour government introduces civil marriage but not divorce. However, Maltese courts can recognise a divorce obtained abroad.
1984: The Labour Party's women's section approves a motion for the introduction of divorce and seeks to present it at the party's annual general conference. It is withdrawn after pressure from the party's leadership not to aggravate the situation with the Church that was already tense because of the Church schools dispute.
1989: The newly set up party Alternattiva Demokratika makes divorce a central plank of its political programme and includes the proposal in every electoral manifesto since.
1996: Former Labour MP Joe Brincat, who at the time was estranged from his party, presents a Private Member's Bill for the introduction of divorce for couples who have been separated for five years. The Bill is never discussed.
1998: The Commission for the Future of the Family, set up by Prime Minister Alfred Sant, proposes the introduction of divorce through a parliamentary free vote. No Bill is ever presented as the government faces mounting internal pressure on the matter.
2008: Labour's newly elected leader Joseph Muscat says he will take it on himself to introduce a Private Member's Bill on divorce once his party is in government and Social Policy Minister John Dalli tells The Times it is about time the country starts a serious discussion on the matter.
2010: Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando presents a Private Member's Bill introducing divorce based on the Irish model. His action follows Alternattiva Demokratika's petitioning of all MPs to debate divorce.
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