According to the Legal Notice 87 of 2014, hunters are required by law to immediately report their catch via SMS on the numbers specified in their special licence. The licence will be issued by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit within the Parliamentary Secretariat for Animal Rights to all eligible applicants as per procedure established by law. It is a non-transferrable licence which only permits the hunting of turtle doves and quails. Only the holders of a valid Carnet de Chasse are eligible to apply for the licence.
Hunting to be allowed on Sundays and public holidays for first time in seven years
In a statement this evening, BirdLife accused the government of amending the law at the behest of the hunting lobby to allow hunting on Sundays and public holidays for the first time in seven years.
The organisation said that hunting on Sundays and public holidays was prohibited in previous years by the framework legislation governing spring hunting derogations, which was agreed with the European Commission in 2010.
“The government has made several changes to the legislation governing the spring hunting season unilaterally without these changes even being discussed by the Ornis Committee,” BirdLife Malta conservation manager Nicholas Barbara said.
The Ornis Committee, he said, had recommended the opening of a spring hunting season with the same conditions as last year. But changes were made to reflect the hunters’ demands made directly to the government.
The changes went against the purpose of the framework legislation which was to try to ensure that the spring hunting derogation is controlled, limited and sustainable, Birdlife said. The legislation was also altered to give hunters extra time to apply for licences, removing one of the last remaining restrictions that limited the number of licences issued for hunting in spring.
“Allowing hunting on Sundays and public holidays also deprives every non-hunting Maltese citizen, resident and visiting tourist of the only opportunity they previously had to enjoy the countryside during these three weeks in spring when wildlife on the islands is arguably at its most spectacular, thanks to the migration of hundreds of species of birds on their way to breed in Europe,” Birdlife said.
Referendum petition to ban spring hunting in Malta
Meanwhile, the twelve organisation strong Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting (CASH), which is collecting signatures to organise a referendum to ban spring hunting in Malta, is aiming to link it to another election to reduce the expenditure associated with holding such a vote, The Malta Independent reported.
The most viable option, therefore, would be to hold the referendum on the same date of next year’s local elections: it is far too late to combine it with May’s European election. The next available date after March 2016 would be the next round of local council elections in 2017.
The campaign to hold a referendum on spring hunting kicked off last summer and is being organised by the CASH coalition, which includes Alternattiva Demokratika, BirdLife Malta, the Coalition for Animal Rights, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Gaia Foundation, Greenhouse Malta, International Animal Rescue Malta, Moviment Graffiti, Nature Trust and the Ramblers Association of Malta.
According to the Referenda Act, an abrogative referendum may be held if it is backed by 10% of the electorate – which translates to over 33,000 people at present – but no attempt to organise one has been successful so far.
But CASH has managed to collect over 40,000 signatures, and is presently in the process of vetting the signatures collected. The signatures are expected to be presented shortly.
According to AD deputy chairman Carmel Cacopardo, the main difficulty the coalition faces is of a technical nature, as the presentation of the signatures itself establishes a deadline in which the referendum would have to be held. He said that the coalition did not want the referendum to be organised on its own, pointing out that holding a nationwide ballot costs millions.
Linking the referendum to another election could arguably provide another benefit to the organisers, as it could help boost turnout.
Polls suggest that a majority oppose spring hunting, but opponents – which would include practising hunters – are perhaps more likely to turn up to vote. Additionally, the turnout must exceed 50% of eligible voters for the referendum to be deemed valid.
Local elections are typically held in early March, and if the referendum is tied to next year’s local elections, this year’s spring hunting season could prove to be the last.
Government and Opposition not backing referendum
The coalition’s efforts appear to have worried the Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK), which is adamant that the proposed referendum is anti-democratic in nature as it sought to curtail the rights of a minority.
In reply, it has launched a petition of its own, calling on parliament to amend the Referenda Act to protect “minority interests” from being subject to a referendum.
The FKNK has found direct political support in the form of Labour Party European election candidate Cyrus Engerer, who personally collected over 1,600 signatures for the petition.
The Labour Party itself – and, by association, the government – also appears to be sympathetic to their cause, as has been confirmed by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in last week’s edition of TVM show Xarabank, which hosted a debate which also involved Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil and Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Arnold Cassola.
The prime minister said he felt that the referendum was causing needless division, and also said that he did not believe that prohibition was the solution to any issue. He dismissed comparisons to the referenda on divorce and on EU membership, and also said that a spring hunting referendum would set a “very dangerous” precedent.
Dr Busuttil appeared highly reluctant to take a stance on the referendum, limiting himself to stating that it would not have taken place had Dr Muscat not given hunters the impression that they would receive any concession they asked for. The PN leader also refused to address Dr Muscat’s assertion that he was indicating that he would vote for spring hunting to remain, stating simply that his party would explain its stance when the time is right.
However, Dr Busuttil had declared, last November, that the PN was not in favour of a referendum, favouring itself a short and controlled spring hunting season.
Dr Muscat, however, made his position clear on Xarabank: “I am in favour of spring hunting, it is part of the electoral manifesto and it is my position,” he maintained. Many within the studio audience broke into applause, before being silenced by presenter Peppi Azzopardi, since such applause had been prohibited by the Broadcasting Authority.
Resisting the referendum
A referendum demanded by electors does not need the approval of parliament or of the government, so if enough signatures are collected, the positions taken by political parties are somewhat irrelevant at this stage. That does not mean, however, that a referendum would automatically be held.
Any registered voter may file an application requesting the Constitutional Court to declare that the referendum should not take place, without the need to show any personal interest in support of their action. Applications may be filed within three months of the publication of a notice, on the Government Gazette, indicating the number of valid and invalid signatures and whether enough valid signatures were collected.
When contacted, CASH spokesman Christian Debono said that such an application was to be expected, but he also added that there should be no valid reasons to stop the referendum from being held.
According to the Referenda Act, the Constitutional Court may only declare that a referendum should not take place on four grounds, including an insufficient number of valid signatures, and if a second referendum on the same provision is sought less than two years after the first, unsuccessful, one.
The other two reasons concern the limitations of the Referenda Act: electors cannot call for referenda which affect provisions of particular laws – including the Constitution, the General Elections Act and any fiscal legislation – and neither can they call for referenda which render any other law incompatible with any provisions of the Constitution or of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Banning spring hunting would not affect any laws which cannot be abrogated through referenda but the FKNK’s statements suggest it believes that it would violate its members’ rights. However, no provision in the Constitution or in the ECHR appears to explicitly apply to hunting.
Whether enough valid signatures have been collected still needs to be determined, but the FKNK has already declared that some of the signatures have been collected in dubious circumstances, and has also accused the coalition of deceiving the public in its campaign.
Mr Debono, however, is adamant that there is no valid reason to stop the referendum, and insisted that the FKNK’s decision to launch its own petition showed that the hunters’ lobby has come to a similar conclusion.
As it turns out, the FKNK petition cannot be used to force a referendum: the provisions within the Referenda Act governing abrogative referenda cannot themselves be subject to one.
Mr Debono dismissed claims that hunters could be considered a protected minority, stating that hunting was not a right, but a privilege granted through a licence.
He also insisted that the FKNK’s campaigning was deceptive, pointing out that the coalition was not seeking a complete ban on hunting, but only on spring hunting, which takes place as many species of migratory birds fly over Malta to reach their breeding grounds.
Both Mr Debono and Mr Cacopardo noted that the coalition was adopting a wait-and-see approach when asked if they were concerned about possible campaigning by Labour and the PN, with the former expressing his hope that the democratic process would ultimately prevail.
Mr Cacopardo noted that the two parties’ position has always been to endear themselves to hunters, and one still had to determine how far they were willing to do so – and whether they would realise that there are other voters who are opposed to spring hunting.
While polls indicate that most people are against spring hunting, he stressed that turnout will be crucial, and recognised that the situation may change considerably in either direction.
Government’s Press Release text
The full text of the Government Press Release is as follows:
NOTICE OF DEROGATION FOR SPRING HUNTING 2014 FOR TURTLE DOVE AND QUAIL
Reference Number: PR140551, Press Release Issue Date: Mar 21, 2014
Upon recommendation by the Malta Ornis Committee and following consideration of the applicable legal and conservation parameters, the Government has today published a Legal Notice declaring the opening of a 2014 Spring Hunting Season for Turtle Dove and Quail (LN 87 of 2014).
By means of this Legal Notice, the 2014 Spring Hunting Season will be open from Saturday 12th April 2014 to Wednesday 30th April 2014, both dates included.
The Wild Birds Regulation Unit within the Parliamentary Secretariat for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights will issue a Special 2014 Spring Hunting Licence to all eligible applicants as per procedure established by law. This non-transferrable licence only permits the hunting of Turtle Dove and Quail and no other species. No hunting shall be permitted without this Special Spring Hunting License. Only the holders of a valid Carnet de Chasse għall-Kaċċa tal-Għasafar / Fenek Selvaġġ (Frar 2014 – Jannar 2015) are eligible to apply for the 2014 Special Spring Hunting Licence.
Eligible persons may apply for this Special Licence from Monday 24th March to Saturday 29th March 2014 at any MaltaPost branch during office hours. No applications will be accepted after this period. Applicants are required to present their Identity Card and a valid Carnet de Chasse għall-Kaċċa tal-Għasafar / Fenek Selvaġġ (Frar 2014 – Jannar 2015) booklet with their application. Persons applying on behalf of a licensed hunter will also need to present their ID card together with applicant’s ID card or Driving Licence (or in case the applicant is abroad, a copy of any one of these identification documents) to Maltapost staff.
The national hunting bag limit for this season has been established at 11,000 Turtle Doves and 5,000 Quail. Furthermore, hunters are not to exceed the daily bag limit of two (2) birds (Turtle Dove and/or Quail) and a seasonal bag limit of four (4) birds (Turtle Dove and/or Quail) per hunter. Hunters are required by law to immediately report their catch via SMS on the numbers specified in the Special License. The Carnet de Chasse għall-Kaċċa tal-Għasafar / Fenek Selvaġġ (Frar 2014 – Jannar 2015) should also be duly filled in before leaving the hunting area. If no birds are hunted, the applicant is still required to write down the date and 0 or X in the Carnet de Chasse. Hunting shall only be permitted during the dates of the season from two hours before sunrise until 2 pm between Monday and Friday, whilst on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays hunting will only be permitted from two hours before sunrise until noon. Anyone caught breaching the regulations shall be subject to criminal prosecution according to law and to increased penalties introduced in October 2013.
Compliance with the relevant provisions of national legislation relating to the granting of the 2014 Spring Hunting Licence during the season will be closely monitored and supervised. It is in the interest of hunting organisations and of individual hunters to ensure that no illegal hunting takes place since this will jeopardise future hunting derogations. Infringements will not be tolerated and convicted offenders will face increased penalties stipulated in the law.
[Sources: www.timesofmalta.com and www.independent.com.mt]