The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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Protest against the rampant take-up of public space in St George’s Square, Victoria

Saturday, 15 June 2024, 15:25 Last update: about 1 month ago

Today, St. George’s Basilica, cultural societies like Soċjetà Filarmonika La Stella and il-Ħaġar museum (Belt Victoria Foundation), joined forces with activists from Moviment Graffitti, Għawdix, Din l-Art Ħelwa - Għawdex and Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar for a Press Conference in St. George’s Square in Rabat, Gozo to speak up against the tables and chairs land grab in the square. Present at this Press Conference were also a number of newly elected councillors of the Rabat Local Council, members of St. George’s parish and residents — all of whom are fed up with the rampant abuse by commercial establishments that have completely taken over the square.

The Archpriest of St. George’s Basilica, Can. Joseph Curmi, a prominent face at the Press Conference, has long been vocal about how the square has been turned into a maze of tables, chairs, tents and other structures put outside by the establishments. The various attempts at dialogue with the responsible authorities, including the Lands Authority, the Malta Tourism Authority, and the Planning Authority, have led to nowhere because the authorities keep shrugging off responsibility. Enforcement is virtually non-existent.

The situation in St. George’s Square has deteriorated to the point that all four entrances to it are blocked, and access to the square is becoming increasingly difficult. The sight of the square — which was pedestrianized to be enjoyed by the people — completely occupied by tables, chairs and tents, is provoking anger in people because it has come to symbolise the triumph of commercial interests over people and the community.

Beyond the issue of the lack of safe public access to the square, the abuse that is being allowed to go unchecked in St. George’s Square is also disrupting weddings, funerals and celebration of the local feast. The Archpriest stressed that it is unacceptable that public land is being abused in this way while citizens who want to organise weddings and funerals are being forced to obtain a permit for the removal of the tables and chairs — and often still ending up having to navigate the numerous obstacles in the square on the day of the wedding or funeral. The Soċjetà Filarmonika La Stella had also appealed to the authorities to maintain order and rein in on the abuse in the square so that the local feast celebration is not disrupted, but the authorities continue to shirk their duty.

Moviment Graffitti highlighted how the situation in St. George’s Square is symptomatic of the lack of balance between business interests and the rights of the people. The sight of our pavements, squares and streets taken over by tables and chairs has become all too common across Malta and Gozo. In a context where public land continues to be handed over to private interests at the expense of the common good, it is increasingly worrying how public spaces such as squares, pavements and streets are also becoming inaccessible to people to cater for business interests.

Factors such as the theft of public spaces, business interests being allowed to trample over the rights of residents, and the lack of action by the authorities led to groups of residents from Sliema, Valletta, Marsaxlokk, Cottonera, St. Paul’s Bay, Mellieħa, Marsaskala and now also Rabat, Gozo, to join forces in the “Il-Bankini taċ-Ċittadini” campaign to defend what is rightfully theirs and take back public spaces.

The residents, together with Moviment Graffitti and FAA, drafted a document with a number of demands and proposals aimed at addressing the take-up of public spaces from commercial establishments. The demands were sent to the Prime Minister and the Ministers responsible, but despite the Prime Minister’s recent declaration that the tables and chairs issue needs to be addressed, the residents are still waiting for an answer.


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