You might be one of the thousands who intend to keep away from Saturday’s poll because you think the shooting of birds during spring doesn’t affect you. That’s certainly more understandable than voting Yes because you simply want to be in line with your party leader. But there are so many reasons to show that voting No in Saturday’s referendum could be the most important decision since EU accession in 2003. So, please take five minutes of your time to read this. Feel free to contradict me in the comments section below.
1. Spring hunting is banned across the EU. Punto e basta! The Nationalist and Labour governments have simply applied for a so-called derogation (exception) we have to justify each year. The argument used to validate spring hunting is based on figures for birds shot down in autumn provided by... the hunters themselves!
2. It costs the country money. Enforcement officers who should be deployed to other more important assignments are wasting their time and taxpayers’ money by monitoring hunters and the protected birds themselves. That’s not to mention the waste of government/ official entities’ administrative time and money trying to justify the unjustifiable.
3. Birds are breeding during spring. They use Malta as a resting place before continuing on their journey to their breeding habitats. Studies show the two species hunted down in spring have diminished so much in number in Europe that they need protection if they are to continue reproducing.
4. Civil society’s voice matters more than politicians’. A minority has blackmailed and threatened politicians at gunpoint for way too long. A win for the No vote would send a clear message to leaders of both political parties they can no longer satisfy a vested interest without also risking the loss of votes of the vast majority. This is the first time that politicians do not have the final word. Remember the divorce referendum decision still had to be rubber-stamped by Parliament.
5. Malta is too small. I might like fast cars (I don't) but there’s no space to race vehicles in Malta's public roads because that would compromise safety. It’s as simple as that. I might like hunting but you’re always going to be in the vicinity of a family enjoying their spring treat in the ever-disappearing countryside we have.
6. Hunters are adequately served. Before you fall for the antics, you’d be surprised to know that hunters are allowed to hunt for five months - yes that’s right - between September and January. That’s almost half the year! Saturday’s referendum will not touch that ‘tradition’ and there’s no intention to.
7. The practice harms tourism. When was the last time you read a story in the foreign press which highlighted the spring hunting season for all the wrong reasons? Malta’s economy relies on tourism far more than the sight of men brandishing guns.
8. The Yes campaign was an exercise in deceit. Let’s forget the fact that the hunters’ campaign did away with the sight of weapons and dead birds and instead portrayed the lobby as philanthropists who donate blood and build schools in Africa. What was really upsetting was hearing the spurious argument that other minority sports, hobbies and activities could be threatened or prejudiced by future attempts to have an abrogative referendum.
9. Access to the countryside. I remember a peculiar altercation with a hunter at Wied l-Għomor in San Ġwann 20 years ago who decided to fire a warning shot in my direction after he decided to empty his barrel metres away from me. I went to report the incident to the St Julian’s police station and with a resigned look, the officer replied: “heqq, int idek f’idek u hu ghandu senter” (Not much to do, he’s armed and you’re not). It’s dangerous when might becomes right. So many years on, nothing much has changed.
10. The consequences. This is the most important point. There will be repercussions if the Yes vote wins because it actually transcends the welfare of birds. A Yes vote will give a government which sees the environment as nothing more than a cash cow a carte blanche to run roughshod. And it will give a lobby which has resorted to bullying tactics a right to ask for more concessions.
Ultimately, Saturday’s referendum is not a class issue as some hunters/politicians are promoting it. There are many decent, law-abiding hunters but there are several others that take the contemptuous mantra “if it flies, it dies” literally. As the Yes lobby rightly said, this is really about striking a balance.
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