Spring hunting has been a contentious issue for many years in the Maltese Islands. Throughout the years both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party have sought to deal with spring hunting through backroom deals with organisations representing the hunting community. Time and again promises to uphold hunters’ privileges have been made by both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party.
Only one political party in Malta, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party, expressed itself clearly and unequivocally against spring hunting. The others boot-licked their way through imaginary exceptions and ineffective enforcement measures.
The current state of affairs is the direct result of government policies which have repeatedly ignored Malta’s obligations. Unfortunately even the Environment Directorate General of the European Union has proven itself to be ineffective in enforcing the provisions of the Birds’ Directive in Malta. Hence the only practical solution to tackle spring hunting is for the Maltese electorate to decide the matter itself as is provided for in the Referenda Act.
The Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting is composed of Ramblers Association of Malta, Nature Trust (Malta), Movement of Organic Agriculture in Malta (MOAM), Moviment Graffiti , International Animal Rescue Malta, Greenhouse Malta, Gaia Foundation,Friends of the Earth Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), Din l-Art Ħelwa,Coalition for Animal Rights, Birdlife Malta and Alternattiva Demokratika. It was formed some eight months ago for one specific purpose: the abolition of spring hunting at the earliest possible date.
Last week, the Coalition submitted a petition to the Electoral Commission calling for an abrogative referendum to end spring hunting on the Maltese islands. The signatures to the petition had to exceed 10% of the registered voters in the latest electoral register, that is 33,418 signatures were required as a minimum.
44,376 persons signed the referendum petition making it the first ever submitted petition requesting an abrogative referendum in the Maltese islands since the Referenda Act was amended in 1996 to introduce the right to call an abrogative referendum. Those who signed the petition have considered it their duty to respond to the Coalition’s invitation because they care. They care about the birds and they care about Malta. They deserve everybody’s appreciation as their commitment is sending one clear message: that voters can decide on spring hunting and in so doing they will clear the mess created by the parliamentary political parties.
This is an historic moment, very important for the protection of biodiversity but also of paramount significance in the development of democracy in the Maltese islands. It was not easy to achieve and cannot be underestimated.
There are various reasons which have motivated voters to sign the petition calling for a referendum to abolish spring hunting.
Spring is breeding time for birds which fly over the Maltese islands on their way back to mainland Europe. Signatories to the referendum petition believe that birds should be able to fly safely over Malta on the way to their breeding grounds.
During the spring hunting season, when nature is at its best, people do not feel at ease in the Maltese countryside as they consider themselves to be under the constant threat of hunters, few in number but convinced just the same that they have a free hand. Access to the countryside during spring is further hampered by public footpaths which are closed to the public so as to facilitate the free access of hunters. The aggressiveness of some hunters has given all their colleagues a bad name.
Spring is a very special time of year when the Maltese countryside invites all to appreciate its abundance of life and colour. Those who have signed the petition feel that they are being impeded from enjoying nature’s gifts. Furthermore, hunting in spring definitely has a negative impact on birds which breed or can breed in the Maltese islands.
A large number of the signatories of the petition believe that the deals (both secret and the not so secret) that the hunting lobby has signed with successive governments to gain more privileges is not how a modern democracy should function. They believe that governments should work in the common interest. This has not been the case so far and the only solution is the utilisation of the referendum as a decision tool. It is only the referendum which will settle matters once and for all.
These birds flying through our airspace in spring do not belong to us. Other countries dedicate a lot of time and resources to ensure that these birds are adequately protected, only to be blasted when they fly through Malta.
We now await the Electoral Commission to verify the petition signatures and hand over the process to the Constitutional Court. This will enable all of the Maltese voters to finally have their voice heard on spring hunting so it can be stopped on these islands once and for all.
published in The Times of Malta, Saturday April 5, 2014