The Malta Independent 16 December 2019, Monday

Politics, Hunting and vote-buying

Malta Independent Wednesday, 10 October 2012, 00:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

Defending the indefensible is the job of the General Secretary of the

so-called Federation for Hunting and Conservation (sic)

In a revealing letter from him published a few days ago in The Times, he charged the German-based campaigning group, the Committee Against Bird Slaughter with, among other things, “arrogance, disrespect and disregard of legislation, privacy, data protection and private property in Malta” which “knew no limit”.... “The local authorities” seem “to have no power to prevent CABS from breaching laws and regulations”. He does not adduce any evidence to support these assertions, unless he is still harking back to the hilarious use of a model aircraft last spring to film hunters’ illegal activities in flagrante. Although I do note there has since been one isolated case of a CABS member being arrested for trespassing on private property.

Then, working himself up into a really xenophobic fizz and raising himself up onto what he thinks is the moral high ground, he declared: “CABS personnel descend on our island and are free to roam our countryside, be this private or state-owned, to play policemen.” Culminating with a nationalist call to arms: “Today, one sees a CABS member overseeing the Maltese countryside from atop the historic building of Nadur Tower, limits of Rabat. From up there this person must believe to be (sic) another foreign ruler of Malta, like the Grand Masters of the Order of St John who ruled the islands from 1530 to 1798, and who had in fact erected Nadur Tower.”

Reading the letter, one didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the laboured history lesson and the implication that Malta was once again under the foreign yoke. The General Secretary of the hunting federation seems to forget that Malta is a free country where members of the European Union and other foreign visitors are free to roam. Indeed, that a sizeable part of Malta’s economy is dependent on the goodwill and economic input of these visitors roaming our country seems also to escape him. He chooses to overlook that as a member of the European Union the Maltese government signed up to adherence to a wide range of environmental and other regulations, among which is the EU Birds Directive. It is therefore the duty of any EU citizen, whether Maltese, German, British or Dutch, to report if it is transgressed (as it clearly has been ever since the start of the autumn hunting season and last spring).

A few days ago I found myself being interviewed by German television and a journalist writing for Der Spiegel about “the traditional sport of hunting in Malta”. Why, I was asked, does civil society not do more about the issue and why is the government so willing to make concessions to hunters? I tried to explain that hunting was indeed a traditional sport and, yes, historically, regrettably there had also always been a tradition of illegal hunting. It was, sadly, a part of the culture. In order to save Malta’s blushes, I also pointed out that it was a dying sport and this was due to the excellent work being done in the schools by such organisations as Nature Trust (through its eco-Schools project) and Bird Life, and that the majority of Maltese if they were given a free vote on the issue would ban it or, at a minimum, control it more tightly in line with the EU Birds Directive.

CABS is an outstandingly effective German-based campaigning group which was set up almost 40 years ago to put pressure on those European countries, such as Cyprus, Malta, Italy, Greece and others, where migrating birds are illegally hunted and caught. It plays an important part in European civic society. Its members, who come out regularly to Malta to report on contraventions of the EU Bird Directives, are fearless and utterly objective in their dedication to the job. They have put up with the most extraordinary abuse as the pictures shown on German RTL television last spring of Maltese hunters and trappers spitting, snarling, swearing, insulting and physically threatening and actually assaulting their members vividly showed. I note that one CABS member was assaulted only last week.

For the General Secretary of the hunting federation to object to CABS’ reporting of illegalities on the grounds that they are composed of foreigners totally undermines his oft-repeated mantra that “we condemn the acts of such hunters. They are doing us a lot of harm by giving law-abiding hunters a bad name”. In that case, why doesn’t he accept the CABS reports in the spirit in which they are intended and investigate them, instead of casting xenophobic aspersions on their admirable intentions? Or is his concern to stop hunting and trapping illegalities simply political posturing for public consumption only?

The season for hunters and politicians to play politics is upon us. Reports of promises being made by the Labour Party to amend the current framework legislation to allow hunters to shoot up to 120,000 quail and 79,000 turtle doves in the spring season (instead of the current, I believe, 2,500 quail and 9,000 turtle doves) seem borne out by the transcript of an interview with Mr Perici Calascione in The Times. Not to be outdone, the Nationalist government has just given a derogation for the trapping of 5,000 song thrush and 1,150 golden plover this autumn despite the fact that trapping is banned in the EU and that the government could find itself on the receiving end of another formal contravention warning.

The hunting and trapping lobby are entering into a Dutch auction with the two parties. To their credit, Alternattiva is adamantly against any concessions to the hunters, and most emphatically against any concessions on trapping, which Malta had (dishonestly and misleadingly it turns out?) undertaken to phase out on accession to the EU.

It is easy to say a plague on both Labour and Nationalist Party houses, but regrettably what they do and what they promise matters to all of us. The right course for Malta – legally, morally (how can any government connive at the slaughter and capture of these beautiful species?) and in its own self-interest – which both parties should embrace, is to conform to the spirit of agreements made on accession, and specifically to the letter of the EU Birds Directive.

Instead, we are left with castigating them for their spinelessness in failing to face down any request for concessions from the hunting lobbies. There are some subjects – hunting, racism, attitudes to illegal immigration, illegal boat-houses – where both parties should seek to occupy the moral high ground together, instead of grubbing about pandering for votes to satisfy particular lobby groups. By all means, let hunters enjoy their crude sport if they must, but at least ensure that it is done within what the EU sensibly lays down.

Martin Scicluna is the

Director General of Malta’s only independent think-tank,

the Today Public Policy Institute.

He writes here in his personal capacity

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