Updated | Hunters want change in referendum law after BirdLife moots new attempt to stop spring hunting

BirdLife’s referendum threat to abolish spring hunting has irked hunters, who insist the government should consider their 104,000-signature petition to change referendum law

Hunters marching in Valletta in 2014 when they presented Parliament with a petition to change the referendum law
Hunters marching in Valletta in 2014 when they presented Parliament with a petition to change the referendum law

The FKNK has accused bird conservation group BirdLife of wanting the State to spend €6 million in taxpayers’ money to hold another referendum to abolish spring hunting.

The hunters’ organisation said on Thursday that people had rejected BirdLife’s attempt in a 2015 abrogative referendum to ban spring hunting.

“The government should not spend more than €6 million to hold another referendum on a subject, which a majority of Maltese already voted on in 2015,” FKNK CEO Lino Farrugia said.

BirdLife intimated during a press conference on Wednesday that it had pressure from its supporters to start collecting signatures for a second referendum to ban spring hunting. In 2015 an absolute majority of voters chose to retain spring hunting.

BirdLife was reacting to the spring hunting season dates for quail proposed by the Ornis Committee, a hunting advisory body, earlier this week.

The Ornis recommendations

  • Spring hunting season between 5 April and 25 April
  • A seasonal bag limit of 5,000 quail
  • A daily individual bag limit of five birds
  • An individual seasonal bag limit of 10 quail

BirdLife is critical of the proposed dates after the season was moved forward into April, which the organisation believes is just a ruse to allow hunters to shoot on turtle doves. It is illegal to hunt turtle doves in spring after a moratorium was introduced in 2016.

However, the FKNK was not amused with BirdLife’s reaction, insisting that the government should “seriously consider” a petition collected four years ago to amend the referendum law.

The petition signed by 104,000 people called for changes to the Referenda Act in such a way as to block efforts to hold referendums on minority issues. The petition was presented to Parliament in June 2014 but has been gathering dust ever since.

On the proposed spring hunting season for this year, Farrugia said a proposal by the Environment and Resources Authority to have a season between 15 March and 4 April did not make sense because it did not coincide with the quail migration.

On BirdLife’s claim that the new season dates are just a ruse, Farrugia insisted it was a fact that quail and turtle dove migration coincided with each other.

“The season will only open for quails and so it will be illegal to hunt any other bird species,” Farrugia said.

It is up to the Environment Minister to issue the relevant legal notice setting the spring hunting dates after considering the Ornis recommendation.

BirdLife reaction

In a reaction, BirdLife said the government was ignoring its own agency, the Environment and Resources Authority, to introduce measures that will destroy wildlife and nature.

“This is national heritage – it is only fair that as an NGO we think of the next level. Public consultation through a referendum is a democratic right,” the conservationist NGO said.

“The attempt to stifle this democratic tool is perhaps a small reflection of why in 2018 we still uphold practices which are banned from other modern societies. No measure of intimidation including the spate in social media attacks on BirdLife Malta officials will stop BirdLife Malta from pointing out that the Muscat Administration is not interested in wildlife protection.”

The hunting referendum took place during the local council elections, a cost incurred naturally in the country’s democratic process. The finance minister had stated that the cost for the referendum was €4.6 million, not €6 million.

BirdLife Malta contends that the figure is inflated. “Come what may democracy does not have a price tag,” BirdLife said.

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