Updated - See FKNK, Coalition reactions below - The referendum on the abolition of spring hunting will be held on April 11, Times of Malta has learnt.
The announcement of the date comes as a surprise as it implies there could be no spring hunting season this year. Last year, the season opened on April 12.
Dr Muscat said the spring season will not open if the people voted to ban spring hunting.
Earlier today, the Coalition Against Spring Hunting noted that the referendum may be held between April 9 and July 9 and said the date chosen should be such as to give enough time for constructive debate and discussion so that voters could make an informed decision and that the outcome would be decisive for Malta.
The Prime Minister told a press conference that April 11 was three months away, which was more than adequate for the campaign and much longer than recent electoral campaigns. It was better to hold the referendum as early as possible than take up a whole six months when the country had more important issues to focus on. It would also not have been wise to hold the referendum during the actual Spring hunting season.
The President had 10 days to decide on setting the referendum date following the decision by the Constitutional Court yesterday that enabled the referendum.
FKNK IN STRONG REACTION
In a reaction to the referendum announcement today, the FKNK hunters' federation said minority groups’ interests were being threatened
"The abrogative referendum is not about the legal practice of spring hunting. The Maltese people, all of whom form part of a minority group or other within the Maltese society, should be warned that following the hunter, it will be their turn. This has already been stated publicly by the instigators of the action that has led to the referendum, when they said that this hunting issue is only the beginning, out of a series of other similar actions that will follow," the federation said.
The FKNK said it was prepared to face the referendum challenge and it would shortly be issuing directives and directions.
The federation said it was disappointed that apart from Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon, no member from the Maltese parliament felt the need to consider the Petition of over 104,000 signatures of Maltese citizens, that the FKNK had submitted in opposition to the referendum.
It said the parties represented in Parliament needed to keep in mind that the result of the referendum could only abrogate the Framework Legal Notice that was enacted to facilitate the enactment of a further Legal Notice that had to be enacted each time that derogation was applied to permit spring hunting.
Whatever the result of the referendum, no one can take away the right that the State of Malta and any Maltese Government enjoys as a Member State of the European Union, that whenever it wants, it can apply derogation to permit spring hunting, the same right enjoyed by all other EU Member States- FKNK
"Thus, whatever the result of the referendum, no one can take away the right that the State of Malta and any Maltese Government enjoys as a Member State of the European Union, that whenever it wants, it can apply derogation to permit spring hunting, the same right enjoyed by all other EU Member States."
The FKNK insisted that the referendum was not about spring hunting, but it was an anti-democratic and unscrupulous action by a handful of Maltese from minority groups in the Maltese society, who, in the FKNK’s opinion, were abusing the Referenda Act, and who ironically, sought to abolish a tradition of another Maltese minority group within the Maltese society.
"This action is therefore, no more than a very dangerous attack, originated by a few persons from a minority group, with a hidden agenda, also political, who have instilled social hatred and who are never satisfied, and who consequently want to abusively abolish the legal interest, the right as well as the privilege, enjoyed by another sector within the Maltese society, which sector is itself also a minority.
"These extremists want to extinguish the life of a group of persons from a minority group, simply because they do not enjoy the same fortune themselves, or to maybe reach some personal ambition, that more often than not is a political or financial one. It is opportune to remind, at this stage, that when spring hunting was suspended in the years 2008, 2009 and 2010, some of the FKNK members went to the extremity of taking away their own lives."
The FKNK urged hunters and trappers to be united to win this 'battle'.
COALITION WELCOMES REFERENDUM DATE
The Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting (CASH) said it welcomed the Prime Minister's announcement of the date for the referendum.
This is the chance for the public to vote for a better future for Malta, for our countryside, our people and, of course, for birds.- Coalition
"Saturday 11th April 2015 will be a historic day for the people of Malta. This is the chance for the public to vote for a better future for Malta, for our countryside, our people and, of course, for birds," coalition coordinator Romina Tolu said.
"With the referendum taking place before the date that the spring hunting season would normally open, people have the opportunity to stop it from happening this year. This would allow countless birds to safely fly over Malta on their way to mainland Europe to breed and for everyone to enjoy their countryside without the fear of being bullied and intimidated by aggressive hunters.”
The coalition said it would launch its campaign early next week, as soon as the government confirmed the referendum question. "Over the next three months we will campaign to ensure that everyone who wants to see positive change on our islands knows which way to vote on 11th April" Ms Tolu said.