New goals on bigotry
Publication Date: 2011-03-25
Church calls for fresh approach to tackling sectarianism after anti-Catholic chanting blighted League Cup final tie
The Church is calling for a new plan to tackle sectarianism after what was billed as a ‘showpiece’ League Cup final between Celtic and Rangers was marred by sustained anti-Catholic chanting in spite of renewed pleas for an end to bigoted behaviour.
Peter Kearney, director of the Catholic Media Office, said the current approach to the problem, an issue that has become known as ‘Scotland’s shame,’ was ‘putting the cart before the horse.’
Better behaviour call
Before last weekend’s Hampden final Cardinal Keith O’Brien and the Right Rev John Christie, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, issued a joint call urging fans not to ‘disgrace the good name of Scotland’ by engaging in ‘violence, abuse and bigotry.’ In spite of the church leaders’ plea, however, Rangers fans were heard singing sectarian songs throughout Sunday’s game, including the notorious ‘Famine song.’
Joe Bradley, editor of the Celtic Minded series of books, said the continued singing of the Famine song showed Scotland has not moved on from sectarianism.
“Obviously such songs have a long history in Scottish football,” he told the SCO this week. “These particular ones seemed to have disappeared in recent years from football’s public stage, but Sunday shows that they remain part of anti-Catholic and anti-Irish popular culture.
“The lack of subsequent appropriate and erudite comment on the part of many in Scotland, not least of all politicians, the police and football authorities, reflects a society struggling with ethnic and religious diversity and with a lack of in-depth knowledge and understanding with regards ethnic and religious prejudice and bigotry in this country.”
Socialist politician George Galloway told Irish journalist Phil Mac Giolla Bhain that he had been appalled at the chanting from the Rangers support.
“The Famine song, just one of the hate anthems that assaulted us from the TV, has been ruled as racist by an eminent judge,” Mr Galloway said. “The police, who praised the fans and the comparatively low number of arrests, clearly stood back and allowed the sectarian and racist abuse.”
Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, however, has claimed the game, which was played after the recent government summit on sectarianism, had been a ‘showpiece final.’
“This was the showpiece final everyone wanted to see, and it was a great advert for Scottish football,” he said. “The players, management and fans contributed to a memorable occasion, and I urge that their positive example inside the ground is replicated outside it over the course of the evening and beyond.”
First Minister Alex Salmond convened the recent summit between Celtic, Rangers and the police after the previous match between Celtic and Rangers saw a number of arrests and three red cards on the pitch.
A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution service told the SCO that solicitor general Frank Mulholland, with the backing of Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini, recently recommended a number of measures to the Scottish Government regarding sectarianism, including increased maximum sentences for sectarian offences (from six months to five years); penalising people who use the internet to post sectarian abuse and the release of the breakdown of how and where sectarian offences were occurring in Scotland. The Scottish Government still has to legislate on these issues.
Peter Kearney, who has been calling for these figures to be made public for the past five years, said that information must be released so it can inform anti-sectarianism policy going forward.
“At the moment we don’t know the details of who is at risk of sectarian attack,” he said. “In 2006, which is the last figures we have, it showed Catholics were five times as much at risk. But we don’t have this data for the present day and we need it to find a solution.”
Mr Kearney also said that organisations like Nil by Mouth, which received a share of £500,000 in funding the recent anti-sectarian summit, were taking the wrong approach to the problem.
“The current approach to sectarianism by giving funding to Nil by Mouth and others is like putting the cart before the horse,” he said. “We need to analyse the data first and then use that analysis to develop solutions. Right now we have it the other way around. Anti-sectarianism funding has to be informed by the Crown Office statistics so we can move away from one size fits all approach.”
Mr Kearney did welcome the recommendation that online sectarian abuse could also become a criminal offence with a lengthy sentence.
“The Prosecutor’s approach to sectarianism must cover all types of sectarian offence whether on line or in person,” he said. “It’s a welcome move in that any change sends out a clear signal that religious hatred will not be tolerated.”