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While welcoming bid for consensus, Govt and GSD clash on mental health

Johnny Bugeja

The GSD and the Gibraltar Government clashed yesterday as a call for cross-party consensus on the sensitive issue of mental health turned into a bitter exchange of accusation and counter-accusation.

At the heart of the spat was a joint initiative by the GSD and Together Gibraltar earlier this week on a parliamentary motion calling for a cross-party strategy on mental health and the establishment of a select committee.

The Government, while welcoming consensus, questioned the GSD’s past commitment on this issue, flagging a 2016 motion agreed by the government and TG but which the GSD did not support.

Yesterday, the GSD called on the government to cooperate with the Opposition and “send a positive signal” to the community instead of “ranting defensively” about the past.

But the Government hit back, urging the GSD to “practice what they preach” and cooperate on improving mental health, while at the same time reminding the party of “the disgraceful state” of the KGV while it was in office.

Both sides repeatedly spoke of the importance of politicians working together on this issue, even while lashing out at the same time.

For the GSD, the Government’s reaction was an attempt to distract from the core matter by raising a 2016 motion that was debated when the current Leader of the Opposition, Keith Azopardi, was not in Parliament.

“As parliamentarians, the Opposition has decided to work together on mental health and asked the Government to also do so, in the hope that at this difficult time we would send a message to the entire community that this issue transcended party politics,” Mr Azopardi said.

“Our incentive has been one of good faith and in doing so we were hoping that the Chief Minister and his Government would join us in this and not respond with defensiveness as this completely goes against what we are trying to achieve.”

The Opposition had also raised the fact that Chief Minister Fabian Picardo had not responded to a draft of the Opposition motion sent to him 12 months ago.

Mr Picardo said the GSD and TG should have raised that lack of response in Parliament rather than through the press.

But the GSD said the Chief Minister had been reminded several months after he was first sent the draft motion, and that he had had 12 months to consider his position.

“To turn the issue into blaming Mr Azopardi for not chasing him repeatedly because he had not responded positively to the proposal or the reminder is a complete red herring,” the party said.

“The Chief Minister needs to concentrate on the issue in hand which is about whether he wishes to support the establishment of a Select Committee on Mental Health.”

“There is still time for him to do so when the motion is taken in Parliament.”

“He should consider that issue and not indulge in side-shows. The subject of mental health affects too many people and the quality of life of too many families for that.”

The response from Mr Picardo was swift and pulled no punches.

“I do hope that the GSD will want to practice what they preach and cooperate with the Government’s many initiatives on mental health,” the Chief Minister said.

“The fact is that Mr Azopardi was Minister for Health and he did nothing about the disgraceful state of the old KGV.”

“On reflection, he will no doubt be ashamed of himself for that.”

“We invested in a new KGV only to be criticised by the GSD for doing so.”

“We have taken other action already also to tackle issues in respect of this sensitive area. We will continue to do so.”

“We agreed a motion in 2016 with Ms Hassan Nahon which the GSD then did not want to support.”

“Now, given his inaction on the old KGV and their failure to collaborate in 2016, the GSD seem to have changed the position radically and they want to work together with us on this.”

“They have clearly seen they have missed the boat on this and now want to rush to action in a sensitive area which requires careful thought and consideration and not rash policy making.”

Mr Picardo said that a select committee of Parliament would not resolve “the real issues” that people have.

“I nonetheless welcome that the GSD are now waking up to this issue and look forward, finally, to GSD support for the many GSLP Liberal policies we will give effect to in this area under the leadership of Samantha Sacramento,” he added.

“We’ll be happy to leave the empty words and the political tactics to the GSD and we’ll continue with real action and investment in this area.”

“That’s what those who suffer from mental health issues and their families want and expect from us.”

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