Much of the above, former minister with the Integration with Britain Party (IWBP) Joe Caruana tells me, is due to the fact of his Maltese heritage. He claims he has always had an eye for a business opportunity, a potential gap in the market, as was the case during the period of the closed frontier. He was struck by the fact he could eat calamares (squid) in the UK and could not find a tapas bar offering that same item here! In no time at all, a Mac fisheries franchise was acquired and many types of frozen fish were imported on board the popular vessels of the Mc Andrew Line which many will remember berthing in the ‘pockets’ at North Mole once a week, “We did very well and ran the business for eight or ten years supplying hotels, restaurants, bars, shops etc.” But yes, he did in fact study to become a draughtsman working for the air ministry in Gibraltar and subsequently transferring to the UK… “That’s right, and whilst there I studied engineering in the London Polytechnic and became a specialist in industrial tool design. Through contacts I intended moving to Texas but ended up in Canada for 12 years.”
Joe was in the industrial diamond drilling business designing tools. His was a success story and he ended up running his own business that took him around the world. “There again I could see the potential niche and soon after starting work at the firm that employed me, I told my bosses we could do better by designing bigger parts which would increase our income tenfold at least. They took my idea on board and in the end I was rewarded. We were making drilling bits for Shell, BP, Exxon, Amco and all the other big oil companies. I went into sales for the company and then set up my own business – United Diamond Drilling Services – which was very successful, but after a few years the recession hit, I sold up, and came back to Gib!”
Joe reluctantly agreed to attend a party meeting. The rest is history.
During his time in Canada however, the ‘political bug’ (which had truly taken root in the 60s and evidently still lingers), bit Joe, who joined Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal Party acquiring an appetite for local politics. Also whilst in Canada Joe learned of rehabilitation centres for drug and alcohol addicts and brought over the idea with a view to starting one here, and he did. But Gibraltar, being the close community it is and dealing with a sensitive issue, was not the ideal place (at that time) to establish a centre, so Camp Emmanuelle was set up in the hinterland which ran very successfully for a number of years. I remember going out there for GBC television and interviewing Joe and some of his clients out en ‘el campo’ where the centre was based. Later, Nazareth House was started up here by him – also where Narcotics Anonymous and Family Support Group meetings were held and are still held every week including AA meetings, “Yes and we’ve also got the Soup Kitchen there and I still do a little one to one counselling from time to time when required.”
However, Joe has somehow found time to relax and for a number of years now has been writing and painting. He’s sold paintings worldwide and writing has been something he’s really indulged in and so far, has written five books. The autobiographical Spirit of the Phoenician, a true murder on the Rock story – When the Hangman Came, a historical novel – The Iron Knight of Malta, a biography on a former Gibraltar Chief Minister – The Life and Times of Sir Robert Peliza and, recently published, a biography on one of the closest people in his life – Eyes Set on Heaven is all about the late Bishop Charles Caruana, or ‘Father Caruana’ as he was dearly referred to by almost everyone on the Rock. The book is now on sale.
“I believe having representation in the British Parliament is important.”
Politically however, Joe Caruana’s love affair with politics began in the late 60s. The same Bob Peliza invited him to join the IWBP and Joe reluctantly agreed to attend a party meeting. The rest is history: the IWBP won the election and governed between 1969 and 1972. Minister Caruana took charge of Medical Services and Public Works and claimed credit for building the Health Centre and setting up the medical scheme – the Primary Care Centre, as we know it today – and began the Sponsored Patients scheme. As Public Works Minister, Joe was responsible for Varyll Begg Estate, the Tower Blocks, St Anne’s School, the Holiday Inn and a number of other projects – all under three years! “That’s correct.” Joe assures, “We were in office just short of three years and through unfortunate circumstances and through a fluke in the world of politics including under estimating the workings of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London (FCO), we weren’t re-elected…” Joe’s biography on Sir Robert tells all!
So you see, forever busy Joe has still to this day at 81, not sat on his laurels. He’s continued with his pastimes and what many would term as the ‘unsavoury world of local politics’. “I’ve always believed in integration with Britain in some shape or form but over time, and as we enjoy a high level of self government, I’ve been concentrating on endeavouring to have representation in the House of Commons by having our own elected MP. I believe having representation in the British Parliament is important. I lead the Gibraltar in Westminster Movement and recently delivered, with other members of our group, a petition signed by 14,300 individuals (the biggest ever) to No. 10 Downing Street. I feel it’s a worthwhile battle and perhaps we can achieve that, so I intend to keep trying.” He simply put it to me in these words: “You see, I’m still very much a political animal!”
Joe Louis Caruana MBE has clearly spent many years at it and never seems to tire. Joe doesn’t allow himself to get bored and with local politics continuing to be as fiery as ever (or more), maybe he’ll tackle another novel on that very subject. But would he like to enter the political fray once more? “I’d love to.” He quickly responds. “But I’ve now begun my journey through my 80s and hopefully beyond, so I don’t think so… I wouldn’t hesitate though!”