Updated | Extended Majjistral Park hunting hours untouched as government and opposition agree on amended motion

Government and opposition MPs vote in favour of watered-down motion on Majjistral Park hunting hours, only Democratic Party MPs Godfrey Farrugia and Marlene Farrugia vote against

The opposition's amended motion on Majjistral Park hunting hours was approved in parliament this evening, as all government and opposition MPs present voted in favour, with only Democratic Party MPs Godfrey Farrugia and Marlene Farrugia voting against.

The motion, which went through with 62 in favour, and two against, after Godfrey Farrugia called for a division, was a diluted amendment of the motion to retract the extended hours originally proposed by Farrugia. The calling of a division meant that MPs had to declare their vote. 

Government MP Silvio Grixti, energy minister Joe Mizzi, and opposition MP Edwin Vassallo were not present for the vote.

There had this morning been cross-party consensus in Parliament over the government's decision to extend hunting hours at the Majjistral Park in Mellieha, with the government side agreeing with the position taken by the Nationalist Party.

The PN proposed its own amendment to the motion that stopped short of censuring the government and instead called for a consultation process.

The amendment was approved this morning, and this evening's vote was on the amended motion.

Democratic Party MPs, as expected, voted against the watered-down motion, which does not ask for the retraction of the hunting hours extension.

Sources close to the PN had indicated that some within the parliamentary group might have considered voting with the Democratic Party, against the party line. Sister newspaper Illum reported Monday morning that some PN MPs had a meeting with the PD MPs at the Phoenicia Hotel in Floriana before the debate.

However, after all, all present PN MPs toed the party line and voted for the diluted motion.

The government earlier agreed with the PN amendment for more consultation regarding Majjistral Park’s hunting hours.

The hours for hunting and trapping were extended in September, October and November from 10am to 12.30pm, except for Wednesday and public holiday, when the time remained at 10am.

Nationalist MPs David Aguis, Robert Cutajar and Robert Arrigo proposed that there should be consultation, because the members of the Majjistral board which consisted of Nature Trust, Gaia Foundation and Din L-Art Helwa had objected to the extended hours.

In December and January, hunting hours would remain unchanged until 10am. For trappers, the time was extended to 2.30pm for the whole of the open season.

PD's proposal

By law, the Environment Minister and authorities should have called for a public consultation before emending the hunting hours at Majjistral Park, Godfrey Farrugia said.

While there are two other hunting zones that could be used for hunting in Mellieha alone, Majjistral Park is the only protected zone managed in Mellieha, and is the only park where people can experience nature at its finest, Farrugia insisted.

Farrugia said that people should be able to enjoy the park, and the excessive hunting hours hinders this. Unfortunately, the new legal motive will extend hunting hours until 12.30pm, every day except Wednesdays, this “during the finest time of the year, when families can experience Malta’s pure nature”.

Farrugia said that while they agreed with the tradition of hunting birds and rabbits, citizens should also be able to enjoy the park, and so, this amendment would not reduce hunters’ rights, but offer the experience of nature to citizens and tourists alike.

Farrugia went on to say that it does not make sense to financially invest in the land if it was just being used for hunting, but rather should be invested so that it could be enjoyed by the entire nation.

Farrugia said it was unsafe to have hunters and citizens at the park at the same time. In November alone, there where 21 school visits at the Park. “Who will take responsibility when an accident takes place?” Farrugia Asked. “Are we waiting for a situation similar to paqpaqli take place?”

“This is a vote in favour of nature,” Farrugia concluded. “This legal notice should have never come to its publication in the first place.”

Herrera sticks to his guns

Environment Minister Jose Herrera said he did not believe the new hunting hours should be changed. He said the law was clear that there were times when a minister could produce legal notices without public consultation, and so the decision was not illegal.

Herrera however said he was open to more consultation about the issue. “Until now, there have been no individual complaints by citizens or schools to this amendment,” he said. 

Although it was said that the extending of hours would hinder visits, Herrera asked how, why and when, as no actual reasons to the motion were given. He said that people who wanted to visit the park could do so at any time on Wednesdays, Sundays and Public Holidays in tranquillity, as well as on any day after hunting hours.

Herrera said that there are a total of 23 parks in which there are hunting restrictions.

“The government needs to listen to various opinions which are often not in agreement,” Herrera said. “However, the government needs to take a decision.”

He said that the government does not agree that the extended hours should be changed but believed that if in the future there was a reason to do so, it would take the necessary decisions.

“There is only hypothetical criticism, no actual criticism,” he said. “Nothing has happened so far.”

He said that no parent organisation or school who complained that the extended hours interfered with visits. If this was to happen, the minister said he would take action and provide a solution to the issue.

Environmentalist groups’ reactions to the motion

Following this evening's government and opposition vote in favour of the motion, BirdLife Malta said that: "What happened today takes the country back to the status quo on environment as both major political parties did not have the courage to put the national interest before that of their party."

BirdLife had previously expressed their lack of confidence in MPs from either sideof the house.

The NGO had objected to the extended hours, claiming there had not been a public consultation beforehand.

NGOs Din l-Art Helwa, Nature Trust Malta and the Gaia Foundation, making up the Majjistral Park Federation, said yesterday that they hoped common sense would prevail in parliament and all that MPs would uphold the motion put forward by Godfrey Farrugia to revoke the legal notice with the new hunting hours.

They sent a letter to each member of Parliament asking them to support the proposal to reverse the recent Hunting Hours Legal Notice.

Din L-Art Helwa said that Majjistral was the first National Nature and History Park set up by the Maltese government, and “In this crowded overbuilt island it is crucial to have some space where one could feel beauty, admire spectacular views, hear the sound of nature and breath fresh air.”

The Majjistral Board, made up of the Mellieha local Council, Government representatives and the three representatives of the Heritage Parks Federation who manage the Park (Din L-Art Helwa, Nature Trust and Gaia) had unanimously voted against the extension of the hunting times.

“DLH urges members to vote in favour of the environment, to vote in favour of conserving our heritage and making it accessible to all. This is the third time hunters will encroach on public land, having been successful in their previous two attempts, said DLH”

The Hunters Federation (FKNK), on the other hand said they do believe in the Parliamentary members, as they are certain that they would hold their principles seriously, and have always taken care of Maltese and Gozitan citizens.