IAR makes progress on animal welfare in Malta
The last six months have been crucial for animal welfare and wildlife in Malta. As one of the ten candidate countries for accession to the European Union, Malta has had to work hard to come into line with other countries.
During November and December the environmental and animal welfare chapters of the Animal Welfare Act were discussed with various sectors in Brussels, and finally agreement was reached on both issues. Thanks to the EU, for the first time ever we have animal welfare legislation. International Animal Rescue (Malta), along with some other groups from the Coalition for Animal Welfare, have been lobbying for new legislation for the past ten years or so. The new laws are a landmark therefore animal welfare. Although the law passed all its stages in the Maltese parliament, it cannot yet function properly because we still need some legal notice to be issued. One of the issues which International Animal Rescue is working on is representation on the Animal Welfare Council. IAR (Malta), as one of the groups within the coalition, is working hard to be represented on this council. If we succeed this will be one of our biggest achievements this year. For the first time animals in Malta will have rights.
The second issue, which was very hotly debated both in Malta and in Brussels, was the hunting issue in Malta. Prior to the talks with Brussels, the government chose to have talks with Birdlife Malta and one of the hunters’ federations. All the other groups from both sides were ignored. This working committee did not achieve its objectives and had a lot of problems. IAR (Malta) decided to take up the issue in Brussels, backed by Eurogroup for animal welfare. This Brussels-based group helped IAR (Malta) to make its voice heard in Brussels.
During last year IAR (Malta) had several meetings with key figures to push its case. We were supported by MEPs from Britain, Germany, Luxemburg and Holland. We also presented our case to the Commissioner for the Environment, Madame Wallstorm and even to Commissioner Gunter Van Heugen who was responsible for the EU enlargement. The Malta Government managed to get special concessions for the hunters which other countries do not have, such as the spring shooting of turtledoves and quail. They also managed to get a temporary concession on songbirds. The government is bound to ensure that enforcement takes place and protected species are not killed: they must send a report to the EU every year. IAR (Malta) has already made it clear to the authorities that it will also draw up a report and send it to the EU through the Eurogroup. IAR has observer status in this international group.
Following this delicate period between February and April, we had a referendum in Malta that confirmed that the Maltese want to become members. This result was confirmed in April during an election when the party supporting the EU won the election. From now on, while Malta is working to become a member in May 2004, IAR (Malta) will be lobbying on behalf of the animals.
Enforcement In our opinion, the most effective way to save the birds in Malta is through better enforcement. As we reported in the last issue of Animal Tracks, IAR replaced a 90 horse-power engine on a rubber dinghy used by the Administrative Law Enforcement section of the police with a 225 horse-power engine. The dinghy is used to combat illegal hunting at sea. The dinghy was donated by IAR some years ago. Thanks to the intervention of IAR (Malta), two other powerful engines were also donated by two German groups. These are now fixed to two speedboats that IAR provided for the police. The government is purchasing a number of other boats. So thankfully, enforcement at sea is now under control owing to the hard work by the police and the equipment donated by IAR. The ALE is one of the best sections within the Police Force. IAR works hand in hand with them and they get good results. If additional personnel are detailed with the section then the results will continue to improve. An inspector and 20 men currently run the section. During meetings with the Commissioner of Police IAR insisted that in order to improve the situation the police in the village sub-depots must also be encouraged to take action against illegal hunting.