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Updated: PL apologises to Mario Galea

Mr Galea speaks to Cynthia Busuttil. Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

Updated Monday morning -

Opposition leader Joseph Muscat has apologised for a comment made by Labour whip Joe Mizzi about Parliamentary Secretary Mario Galea.

Speaking during a television programme last week, Mr Mizzi had remarked that given that Mr Galea was unwell, “the PN should not have allowed him to drink whisky” before Parliament voted on the controversial Delimara power station extension.

Mr Galea ended up making a mistake on that vote, triggering uproar in the House and an Opposition walk-out after a Nationalist claim that Labour MP Justyne Caruana made a similar mistake.

Mr Mizzi had apologised privately to Mr Galea as did Dr Muscat who urged the Labour whip not to repeat it. But the parliamentary secretary, speaking to The Sunday Times, called for a public apology from the PL.

Asked for a reaction to Mr Galea’s request, Dr Muscat told The Times yesterday: “As Mario Galea said in his interview (in The Sunday Times), I told him privately that I take exception to such comments (by Joe Mizzi). Since then Mr Mizzi has apologised to Mr Galea. I am repeating the apology publicly on behalf of the party.”

However, Dr Muscat also reiterated his call on both Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and deputy Prime Minister Tonio Borg to apologise “for lying” about Labour MP Justyne Caruana.

“So far they haven’t done so privately, let alone publicly,” Dr Muscat said.

In his remarks to The Sunday Times, Mr Galea had called Labour Party officials to make a public apology if they really had genuine regrets over remarks that he has a drink problem.

Mr Galea insisted his treatment for depression was not hindering his government duties, especially in the wake of his voting error during the controversial Delimara power station extension debate.

“I consider Labour whip Joe Mizzi to be a friend. When he made the claim on TV that I was drinking before the vote I called him and he told me he regretted making that comment.”

Days later, during a funeral, Dr Muscat told Mr Galea he took exception to Mr Mizzi’s comment and that he had urged the Labour MP never to repeat it in public.

“My 13-year-old daughter wrote to (Mr) Mizzi to tell him she was hurt, and he wrote back a nice letter of apology.

“Now I’m told Justyne Caruana made a similar (drinking) claim on One TV... When we’re together we’re apologising to each other and then at the first opportunity they repeat the claim in public. If they really mean the apology they should do it in public as well.”

Meanwhile, Mr Galea said he was also hurt by comments made by Labour MP Karmenu Vella who had accused the parliamentary secretary in Parliament of crashing his official car – after police had established that Mr Galea’s former personal driver was the culprit.

“Mr Vella also apologised to me personally... but why not in public?”

Mr Galea admitted he has been undergoing treatment for depression for about six months, taking anti-depressants at bedtime together with a sleeping tablet.

Despite the evident physical repercussions brought about by his condition, Mr Galea insisted he was on the mend and was following a fitness regime.

There are 33,000 cases of depression a year in Malta and only some 28 per cent seek treatment. The others refuse to go because of the stigma associated with it, he said.

Mr Galea, a nurse by profession, accused the Labour Party of being insensitive.

“I think they have contributed to the stigma on mental health. You don’t call someone names if he suffers from a heart problem.”

Still, Mr Galea, who has mental healthcare under his portfolio, is quick to list his secretariat’s achievements in the past few months to prove he was fit for office. His projects included the completion of two wards at Mount Carmel Hospital and the John Paul II ward scheduled to open today week, the closure of Zammit Clapp hospital, while steering a successful swine flu campaign.

He also insisted his offer to the Prime Minister to resign after the parliamentary debacle was genuine. Not only did Lawrence Gonzi turn down the resignation but the entire PN parliamentary group wrote to him expressing their support.

“I’ve been in Parliament for 18 years and I’ve never made a mistake. The way we vote in Malta is chaotic. The role call – dictating MPs to reply after their name is called out – is ridiculous.

“On May 6, I had been working since the morning. When my name was called out I was tired and distracted and replied ‘yes’. When they started laughing I immediately rectified my mistake. I was down and I wanted the ground to open up.”

Mr Galea said Labour MPs should have realised right away it was a genuine mistake because he had never written or spoken out against the power station project.

If there is a more crucial vote, like the budget, can he guarantee that he would vote in favour of the government?

“I believe they have a guarantee – knowing that I voted at least 15 times in favour of the budget in the past,” was his immediate reply.

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