BY Peter Diamond | August 24 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Justice secretary assures Catholics over attempts to define sectarianism

There will be consultation with the Catholic Church and community before any action is taken to define sectarianism in Scotland, the justice secretary Humza Yousaf said as he condemned anti-Catholic hate crime.

A working group set up by the government to define sectarianism was met with criticism from the Church and MSPs, after the SCO revealed the seven-member group had no representative from the Catholic community and includes a member who once mocked priests as ‘actors in fancy dress.’

Now, following a ‘productive’ meeting between the Church and new justice secretary Humza Yousaf, assurances have been given to the Church and wider Catholic community that their voices will be heard in a consultation before any final decision on legislation will be made.

A meeting between Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, Scottish Catholic parliamentary officer Anthony Horan and Mr Yousaf (above) took place on August 3.

The meeting was arranged following the physical and verbal assault of Canon Tom White as an Orange Walk passed St Alphonsus’ Church in Glasgow on July 7.

Following the meeting, Mr Yousaf said: “My meeting with Archbishop Tartaglia and Mr Horan was very productive and I am keen to continue our dialogue in the same positive and constructive manner in future.

“I have been at the sharp end of bigoted abuse and know how deeply it impacts on those individuals targeted as well as their families and wider communities. I believe all forms of abusive behaviour are unacceptable, including anti-Catholic hatred.

“That is why we are committed to developing consolidated hate crime legislation to support communities in naming hatred when they see it and allowing it to be dealt with effectively in law.

“Before taking any decisions on the establishment of a legal definition of ‘sectarianism,’ I am committed to carrying out a full and open consultation on the findings of the working group who are due to report to me on this matter shortly. I am keen to ensure both the Catholic Church and members of the Catholic community participate in the consultation to ensure all views and experiences inform my decision on whether we take this forward.”

Following the meeting Glasgow Archdiocese said they were left heartened by the justice secretary’s approach.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese said: “We are glad that the issue of anti-Catholic hate crime is now being taken seriously by the authorities.

“We have been heartened by our engagements with the minister and the police and we sense they ‘get’ the issue in possibly a new way.

“The Catholic people of this city—and indeed the wider public—cannot be subjected to intimidation and menace as they go about their lawful business. The Church will work with the authorities to explore suitable ways forward.”

Responding to Mr Yousaf’s comments, Labour MSP James Kelly, who has repeatedly called on the government to include Catholic representatives on the working group to define sectarianism, said: “After months of the SNP excluding the Catholic community from its attempts to define sectarianism this commitment from Humza Yousaf should be welcomed.

“The process of repealing the Football Act laid bare the fact the Catholic community is not listened to, and that the issues faced by members of the Catholic Church are not understood by government

“It is a welcome development that the new justice secretary is taking this issue more seriously than the ministers who preceded him.

“It is imperative that any future consultation has formal representation from the Catholic Church and members of the Catholic community. Anything less will be a great insult to all those who have been let down by this dissatisfactory process so far.”

Catholics make up half of all victims of religiously aggravated hate crime attacks in Scotland, despite making up just16 per cent of the population.

A spokesperson for the Church in Scotland said: “Archbishop Tartaglia and Anthony Horan had a positive meeting with the cabinet secretary for justice to discuss issues relating to anti-Catholicism.

“Following recent events, the Church welcomes the minister’s commitment to take effective steps to secure the safety and wellbeing of Catholics, who make up 16 per cent of the population.”

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