The government is putting pressure on the Ornis committee to recommend the re-introduction of finch trapping this autumn – despite the fact it is in breach of rules, Times of Malta has learnt.

“Although we think this is a mistake, the committee is under intense pressure and is actively considering this option even if it may put Malta in a direct clash with Brussels,” the sources said.

Trapping is considered illegal by Brussels and there is already a pending EU infringement against Malta over the issue.

But sources said pressure is being mounted on the committee members to bring back trapping of seven finch species this autumn.

Actively considering this option even if it puts Malta in a direct clash with Brussels

“The government is clearly supporting the hunters lobby on this issue and wants to push this forward,” they said.

Confronted by this information, a government spokesman did not deny the plans but said it will consider what the committee recommends.

The spokesman admitted that a proposal to permit live capturing of seven finches was submitted by the hunters’ federation to the

committee last year and a comprehensive assessment was carried out by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit within the Parliamentary Secretariat for Animal Rights.

“This assessment has now been completed and will be discussed by the committee in due course,” the spokesman said.

Asked whether the government is seriously considering this option, the spokesman said: “The government will consider relevant legal, scientific and technical advice as well as recommendations by the committee.”

This latest development is in line with a slip made by Parliamentary Secretary Roderick Galdes a few months into office.

The government will consider relevant legal, scientific and technical advice as well as what the committee says

Last August, Mr Galdes had said that the government was looking into a “technical loophole” in EU rules that would allow it to present proposals to allow finch trapping.

Although he later clarified his comments stating that he referred to “a crack” in the EU rules and not “a loophole”, the European Commission had told Times of Malta it was not aware of any anomalies in its Birds Directive.

Brussels had made it clear that finch trapping is not allowed under EU rules and before accession Malta had already been given a special transitional period to phase out the trapping of non-huntable song birds (finches) by the end of 2008.

EU officials had recalled that the Commission is still pursuing a 2010 infringement against Malta on the incorrect application of a derogation permitting trapping.

This infringement has been left pending with the next stage being a referral to court.

Bird lovers were seething last week after the government announced it would permit hunting on Sundays and public holidays for the first time in seven years during the forthcoming spring hunting season.

GOVERNMENT'S REPLY

In a reply this morning, the government denied putting pressure on the Ornis committee, let alone "intense pressure".

The committee, it said, was regulated by its own procedure and set its own agenda.

“These allegations are false, and are themselves designed to put the Malta Ornis committee under intense pressure and thus derail committee's work,” the government said.

The Ornis committee was an autonomous body established under Conservation of Wild Birds Regulations to fulfil a set of functions, which include making recommendations to government on the application of derogations through procedure established in the law. Therefore in considering any proposal for a derogation, the committee is exercising its statutory responsibilities, the government said.

The government quoted Ornis Committee chairman Mark Anthony Falzon saying that it was entirely legitimate and proper that finch trapping should be discussed by the Ornis committee now.

“At its sitting of August 20, 2013, Ornis requested Wild Birds Regulation Unit to carry out an assessment of a proposal submitted by the FKNK and agreed to discuss the assessment once it was completed. That is now the case and it is the duty of Ornis to discuss it. Not to do so would be a serious breach of correct procedure. Second, there is no 'intense pressure' on Ornis, from any direction. The Chair is committed to a fair and level-headed discussion; in the event of a vote, members will be as free as always to vote as they deem proper."

The government said it was that the sources quoted by Times of Malta opposed the very notion of Ornis even considering such a proposal, and, instead of debating the matter on purely scientific, legal or technical grounds within the committee, as the legal procedure demands, they resorted to media leaks in an attempt to generate enough spin to prejudice the committee from exercising its legal duties in an objective manner.