BY Ian Dunn | August 26 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

6-PETER-KEARNEY

Charity targets bigotry in workplaces

Church welcomes Nil by Mouth’s focus away from football; MSP calls for delay in new bill

The Catholic Church has backed a plan by a leading anti-sectarianism charity to tackle bigotry in the workplace that has also been welcomed by businesses.

Nil by Mouth said it intends to bring its anti-sectarian workshops to civil servants, banks, legal firms, local authorities, and smaller businesses in an effort to dismiss the idea that ‘Scotland’s shame’ is confined to the football terraces.

The bigger picture

Peter Kearney, director of the Catholic Media Office, said it was a welcome change of direction in the battle against sectarianism.

“Any change of emphasis by anti-sectarian organisations, which reflects the fact that over ten years of such programmes we have seen sectarian offences rise, is to be welcomed,” he said. “Clearly, football, which accounts for around 15 per cent of convictions for religious aggravated crimes, is not at the heart of this problem.

“Sadly, sectarianism is often a euphemism for anti-Catholicism, which has existed in Scotland for over 450 years.”

Mr Kearney said the failure to repeal the anti-Catholic Act of Settlement remained a major stumbling block in efforts to rid Scotland of bigotry. “Ultimately, as long as the blatantly discriminatory Act of Settlement remains on the statute books, anti-Catholic bigotry will be legitimised,” he said.

Workshops

Nil by Mouth is hopeful that introducing its workshops into the Scottish workplaces will have a real impact.  David Scott, Nil By Mouth’s spokesman, said the workshops challenge sectarian attitudes in the workplace and give employers guidance on how to identify and deal with any problems of religious bigotry,

“It is too comfortable and convenient to see sectarian behaviour as something confined to football, heavy industry or something people engage in when they are drunk,” he said. “The truth is that it cuts right the way across Scottish society, as much in our boardrooms as it is in our building sites.

Mr Scott went on to say he believes there is a real demand for the charity to be involved in this area. “Over the years we have received a growing number of requests for advice and assistance from employers and staff, across a range of professions,” he said. “In some instances we have spoken with employers who haven’t acknowledged or been aware they have a problem when in fact some of their staff have told us in confidence that there was.

“The programme will be available free of charge and we are writing to public and private-sector employers, chambers of commerce, trade unions, the FSB, charities, banks and financial institutions encouraging them to sign up.”

Business support

Both the Federation of Small Business (FSB) and Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said they were interested in working with Nil by Mouth on the programme.

Colin Boreland, of the FSB, said  it could make a difference although the problem was not as prevalent as it once was “We’ll be speaking with Nil by Mouth to discuss the format, get businesses through the door and make it relevant to them,” he said.

David Lonsdale, CBI Scotland’s assistant director, said many companies would be interested.

A spokesman also said the Scottish Government was interested in the initiative.

Legislation

The Scottish Government’s planned anti-sectarianism legislation took a further blow this week when a former assistant chief constable of Strathclyde said it might not be necessary and should be delayed by at least a year.

Graeme Pearson, Labour list MSP for the South of Scotland region, said he was currently unconvinced that new anti-sectarianism legislation was needed right now.

“We should use the current legislation and wait another year before thinking about new legislation,” he said. “That would also give the clubs an opportunity to fix the problem.”

Mr Kearney said it is ‘never a good idea to act in haste,’ adding ‘a pause to consider seems very sensible.’

Aidan Neil QC, a leading human rights lawyer, also backed calls for a delay.

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