Who’s the bigger fool?

The original decision to allow hunting at Majjistral Park was taken without any consultation, but it is patently pointless to ‘consult’ people if you have no intention of actually listening to their point of view

The Majjistral Park
The Majjistral Park

It says something about the state of your country in general, when the only thing the two sides of its Parliament can ever seem to agree on is a decision which exposes schoolchildren to danger.

Not just once, but twice. And not just schoolchildren, either. Anyone at all who visits the so-called ‘Majjistral Nature and History Park’ in Xaghra l-Hamra, limits of Mellieha, has since its inception in 2008 been exposed (at certain hours of the day) to all the risks we associate with accidentally wandering into a hunting reserve.

That includes anything from being accidentally shot, to being (very deliberately) harassed, intimated and/or assaulted. (Note: it also involves the near certainty of hearing some of the most imaginative blasphemy known to man in any language... but let’s be fair: that’s also true of ‘accidentally wandering’ pretty much anywhere in this country...).

And OK, both those scenarios may be on the extreme side... but not by all that much. People (mostly other hunters) have been accidentally shot before... and the harassment/intimidation scenario is actually a common experience among ramblers and birdwatchers alike: look under ‘CABS’ for further details. 

Harassment and intimidation scenario is a common experience among ramblers and birdwatchers

Even without those considerations, however: I mean, come on. The Majjistral Park admits school visits every other day of the week. That was the whole point from the very outset: it is intended to serve an educational purpose. And for reasons which should be too darn obvious to even mention – I mean, do I even have to say it? - it is simply unconscionable to permit the same park to be overrun by men wielding guns, at a time when it also full of children.

Outrageous. Egregious, even. Heck, I’m running out of synonyms here. Look: it’s just a really, really, REALLY bad idea. (And trust me: I know a really, really, REALLY bad idea when I see one. I get enough of them myself...)

But oh look: this really bad idea seems to be about the only thing our two mutually antagonistic parties can ever reach consensus about. And I don’t know what annoys me more: the fact that neither Labour and Nationalist Parties seems to see any contradiction whatsoever between a ‘nature park’ and a ‘hunting reserve’... or that they genuinely think they can fob their way out of this one by simply calling for ‘more consultation’.

Either way: both Labour and PN had agreed, back in 2008, to permit hunting to take place at Majjistral (originally until 9 am); in 2013, both agreed to extend those hours to 10 am; and now, in 2017, they have both tacitly agreed to extending those hours even further. Last October, they were extended to noon... and just this week, the PN hammered the last nail into the coffin of any reversal of that absurd decision, by amending a motion (tabled by PD’s Godfrey Farrugia) to halt the earlier extension.

And yes, you guessed it. The watered-down motion – approved by all MPs except the PD’s Godfrey and Marlene Farrugia - now calls for ‘more consultation’.  Exactly what this is supposed to mean is anyone’s guess. Off the top of my head I can come up with at least three reasons why, in practice, it doesn’t mean anything at all.

One: the original decision to allow hunting, and later to extend the hours, was taken without any consultation anyway (unless you count ‘consultation’ with the hunting lobby itself, to the exclusion of all other parties – not least, the remaining 440,000 or so of the Maltese population, for whose benefit this park was supposedly opened). Perhaps I’m a stickler for grammar... but you cannot have ‘more’ of something, when you had none of that something to begin with.

Two, it is patently pointless to ‘consult’ people, if you have no intention of actually listening to their point of view. Though ‘unconsulted’ in any formal way, all environmental NGOs have already – and very emphatically – come out against both the decision to allow hunting to begin with, and also both previous extensions.

The only thing the two sides of Parliament can ever seem to agree on is a decision which exposes schoolchildren to danger

The park management itself fought against these decisions tooth and nail. These entities have already made their position abundantly clear– which position is highly unlikely to have changed in any detail since then – and they were routinely ignored, as usual. So what could possibly come out of ‘more consultation’ at this stage, other than further entrenchment into existing, entrenched positions?

Three: why bother with ‘consultation’ at all, over a decision which has in any case already been taken? The new hunting hours have been in force since October 27th, you know. The whole point of Godfrey Farrugia’s original motion was to put a stop to this lunacy once and for all. Not to just talk about it a little more.

In practice, then, this vacuous ‘call for consultation’ is nothing but a sop to disguise the total derailment of the original intention. They don’t want ‘consultation’. They want the situation to remain exactly as is, without the meddling interference of busybodies like Godfrey Farrugia.

This raises a couple of questions that go well beyond the actual issue of hunting in the Majjistral park. (See? I didn’t single out those two dissenters for nothing). We call our national Parliament a ‘House of Representatives’... but who do its members really ‘represent’, anyway?

It is not exactly an easy question to answer, even if you stick only to the official version of events. Take the Farrugias, for instance. Both Godfrey and Marlene are members of the ‘Partit Demokratiku’: yet they were actually elected on the Nationalist Party ticket... as part of a ‘coalition’ that has only this week been declared defunct.

There is no question that they form part of the parliamentary ‘Opposition’, in the broader sense; but the question of which party they represent is something else entirely.

But that’s only when you look at things from a certain angle. From another angle, there is equally no question that they are the ONLY Opposition to be found anywhere in Parliament today. Certainly on this one issue... which does not seem to enjoy anything that can remotely be described as ‘nationwide support’.

I may be wrong – as I was in the hunting referendum – but my gut feeling tells me that most sensible people in this country (quite possibly including several hunters) do not approve of this madness at all, regardless where they may fall in the political spectrum. And if they ever are ‘consulted’, some may even find better (and more imaginative) synonyms for ‘really really REALLY bad’ than yours truly.

How, then, is this view currently represented only by those two, solitary Opposition MPs... who, in turn, do not seem to represent anyone at all, in any direct way? And above all, why is it not represented by the Opposition as a whole?

The question is particularly relevant to this case, because the PN – at grassroots level, if not also structurally – is clearly divided on the hunting issue. A breakdown of the referendum data overwhelmingly indicates that opposition to spring hunting was most prevalent in traditionally Nationalist districts (with the hugely pivotal exception of Gozo)... so it’s not even as though the Nationalist party is trying to pander to its own faithful here.

So who do these political parties represent in parliament? Not just the PN... because the same basic observation counts for Labour, too, though it tends to manifest itself in different ways. And not just in this issue, either... but in all cases, and at all times. If the answer isn’t ‘the people who elected them to parliament in the first place’... then what the hell is it, and how the hell can it possibly be justified?

Please note I’m not expecting answers from the political parties themselves. For once, this is an area where they’re more or less honest about things. They represent only their own interests – and no one else’s – and it looks like they no longer care how obvious they make it, either.

No, I expect an answer from all the voters who sustain this travesty of a political system through their partisan support... especially the dyed-in-the-wool specimens, who seem to genuinely believe there even is a difference between these two self-serving parties at all (still less a difference worth actually fighting for...)

So before you all rush to blame our irresponsible politicians, if some poor kid or other gets blinded in one eye by lead pellets in the near future... ask yourselves who’s really responsible for all this irresponsibility. Or as a certain Jedi knight put it, in another galaxy long long ago: ‘Who’s the bigger fool: the fool, or the fool who follows him?’

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