BY Daniel Harkins | May 3 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

2-MASON

MSP calls on government to give councils more powers to tackle Orange walks

A Glasgow MSP has called on the Scottish Government to give more powers to councils to reduce the number of Orange walks.

John Mason MSP, who is a Baptist, said that while marches and demonstrations have their place in a democratic society, there are currently too many Orange walks in Glasgow.

Mr Mason is the MSP for the Glasgow Shettleston constituency, which includes St Alphonsus Church outside of which the parish priest Canon Tom White was attacked as an Orange walk marched past the church in July last year.

 

More powers

At the time, Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken called on the government to provide more powers, with a council spokesperson saying the local authority did not have the power to blanket block the conduct—for instance, the routes—of a public procession and that it is not permitted to take into account the number of parades undertaken by any particular organisation.

During First Minster’s Questions on Thursday April 25, Mr Mason asked Nicola Sturgeon if ‘she thinks that the current legal arrangements’ around Orange walks are satisfactory, or ‘does Glasgow City Council need more powers to reduce or restrict such marches?’

 

Canon White

The First Minister replied that she was ‘appalled’ at the attack on Canon White and that nobody should be ‘a target for hatred simply because of their Faith.’

She added: “We are always happy to talk to councils about the range of powers that are at their disposal. We have faith in Police Scotland to ensure the safety of members of the public and people who participate in marches.

“Police Scotland works closely with councils to ensure that adequate safety measures are in place, and will take appropriate and proportionate action in the event that problems arise.”

 

Excessive marches

Mr Mason subsequently told the SCO that while he thinks ‘we should all have freedom to demonstrate,’ he believes there are too many of the ‘same kind of march,’ adding that he’d ‘like to see the council have slightly stronger powers.’

“There’s a lack of clarity on the powers the council has. In some of these cases you can get legal opinion but unless someone actually takes them to court its difficult to know what powers the council actually has.

“I think the council would quite like stronger and clarified powers,” he said.

“I do accept of course that we live in a democratic society and the last thing I’d want to do is clamp down on demonstrations.

“But the TUC for example has an anti-racism march once a year and that’s fine—you don’t need one every week.

“There’s a wider question of whether you should allow marches whose motivation is hatred of any group, but that is quite a tricky area and a longer term question.

“In the short to medium term the number of marches is the first thing we need to tackle—the idea that you can have 180 marches, supposedly from different organisations but they are all with the same theme.”

 

Criticism

Some on social media, including Call it Out, which campaigns against anti-Catholicism, criticised the First Minster’s response to Mr Mason, for failing to give ‘proper consideration to the concerns of the Catholic community.’

Comparisons were made with a more fulsome response the First Minister gave during the same parliamentary session to a question about anti-Muslim sentiment from MSP Anas Sarwar.

However, Mr Mason said he was satisfied with the response.

“I think she was pretty clear that people should not be persecuted for their faith.

“It’s up to people to interpret [the response] but at the time I certainly didn’t think I’d received a less sympathetic answer than Anas Sarwar,” he said.

 

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