BY Ian Dunn | October 14 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

6A-ALEX-SALMOND

Dismay at destruction of records

— News of loss of sectarian offences statistics comes after progress at meeting with First Minister

The Catholic Church has expressed dismay at the revelation that statistics on sectarian offences dating back to 2003, including the targets of any abuse, will not be made public as the records have been destroyed.

In spite of this, Bishop Philip Tartaglia of Paisley and Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell believe that the Scottish Government is making progress in other areas in its quest to tackle sectarianism in Scotland. First Minister Alex Salmond has confirmed that his government now plans to ‘place an explicit freedom of expression clause in the second part of the bill.’

Dismay

Members of the Scottish Church—including Cardinal Keith O’Brien and Bishop Tartaglia, who met with Mr Salmond on Friday—have repeatedly requested that the breakdown of figures on sectarian offences be made public.

It emerged this week that most of the data had been destroyed, despite Church officials asking for it since 2006. The only information to be fully analysed and made public will be from 2010.

“It’s deeply unfortunate the Crown Office practice has meant that a true and complete historic picture will never emerge,” Peter Kearney, the director of the Catholic Media Office, said.

Meeting

Bishop Tartaglia met with First Minister Alex Salmond last Friday before the news on the statistics emerged. After their meeting the bishop said that some of his other concerns about the Scottish Government’s Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill had been addressed. He was pleased that the First Minster had promised his government would ‘track and analyse sectarian crime on an on-going basis using all data relating to Section 74 of the Criminal Justice Scotland Act 2003.’

“I am grateful to the First Minister for the opportunity to have raised these matters with him in a personal way,” he said. “I share the concerns of the Scottish Government that sectarianism should be eradicated from Scottish society. Fears that the wide remit of the ‘Offensive Behaviour Bill’ might impinge on the freedom to hold and express otherwise inoffensive views appear to have been recognised and are being addressed.”

Mr Salmond also said it had been a productive meeting.“This legislation was never meant to stop freedom of expression in Scotland,” he said. “It is about bearing down on sectarianism and other offensive behaviour in Scotland, and stopping the expression of bigotry and hatred that the overwhelming majority of people in this country wish to see come to an end.”

Tackling sectarianism

Bishop Devine said that he was pleased that the meeting between Bishop Tartaglia and First Minister Alex Salmond had gone well.

“I am delighted to learn that the meeting between the First Minister and Bishop Tartaglia brought welcome clarification to certain aspects of the Scottish Government’s Offensive Behaviour Bill,” he said. “With such a complex and wide-ranging bill it is hardly surprising that a degree of confusion is likely to arise in the course of public debate.”

Bishop Devine also said he believed Mr Salmond deserved praise for his efforts to tackle bigotry.

“The First Minister is to be congratulated for his painstaking efforts and exemplary initiative to rid Scotland of the evil of sectarianism,” he said. “I wish him Godspeed as he endeavours to prepare legislation to tackle the malignant cancer of sectarianism and in so doing uphold and promote the dignity and honour of Scotland and its people.”

— ian@sconews.co.uk

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