Words are important; well you would expect a journalist and author to believe that.
Words condition the response. Words have baggage. Words are never ever neutral. Never.
I have been thinking about this increasingly since writing the last blog about Eoin Ryan’s visit to Scotland.
The visit had been arranged after Alyn Smith MEP had heard Eoin Ryan raise the issue of the Famine Song controversy in the European parliament.
Ryan had been very precise in the use of this language when raising TFS issue.
This was a problem of racism and, to further press home that point, Ryan had flagged up his long standing interest in combating racism in football across Europe.
Ryan, who is one of the authors of a key European report on football in Europe, stated to the press before his visit to Scotland was that he was heavily involved in the EU white paper on Sport. The Dublin MEP stated that one of the major aims of the White paper was to eliminate racism in sport in Europe and, in particular at football stadia.
When Ryan had been interviewed on RTE’s “Drivetime” radio programme by anchor Mary Wilson she persistently used the term “sectarianism” when describing the Famine Song (TFS).
Ryan was too gallant to correct the RTE lady. However he continued to use the term “racism” as opposed to the inappropriate “sectarianism”.
Alyn Smith’s press officer is Grant Baskerville; he handled the PR for Ryan’s trip.
This is the press release that he sent out:
ATTENTION: NEWS DESKS
SCOTS & IRISH MEPS IN ANTI-SECTARIAN PROGRAMME HOSTED BY SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT
Alyn Smith SNP Member of the European Parliament for Scotland will tomorrow (Thursday) welcome his Irish counterpart, Fine Fail MEP Eoin Ryan to Scotland for top level talks with the Scottish Football Association, Sport Scotland and a host of anti sectarian charities in Glasgow. The pair will then travel to Edinburgh to meet with Minister for Community Safety Fergus Ewing MSP at Holyrood.
The programme has been organised by the Scottish Government, and comes in the wake of Mr Ryan raising the issue of sectarianism in the European Parliament last week in Strasbourg, whereupon Mr Smith invited him to Scotland. The programme will highlight the ongoing work that is taking place by charities, clubs and the Scottish Government to combat the issue and explore EU avenues of support for these efforts.
Alyn Smith said:
“We have a full day in store that covers everything from grassroots to Government Ministers. Eoin is a friend of Scotland, and I am sure that he will be thoroughly impressed with the measures that are being taken by all parties involved, and I’m grateful to the Scottish Government for putting such an impressive programme together so quickly.
“In Scotland, key organisations such as Nil by Mouth and Show Racism the Red Card work hand in hand with the Scottish Government, Scottish FA and most importantly the clubs themselves to tackle sectarianism.
“The Scottish Government are showing real leadership on this issue through a variety of initiatives and funding programmes.
“We have a strong history and commitment of tackling issues like this head on, but we can never be complacent. The sad reality is that when a vocal minority, on any side, behave in an unacceptable manner, it not only reflects poorly on their club, but also their city and their country. We must not allow them to tarnish Scotland’s reputation in Europe.”
Eoin Ryan MEP had raised the issue of anti-Irish racism in Scotland at European parliament level.
He was invited to Scotland to see the sterling work being done on the ground by voluntary bodies and public agencies. However this concern about the racist abuse being directed against the Irish community in Scotland becomes “anti-sectarianism”
This isn’t mere semantics. This goes to the heart of the matter of the denial of the existence of the Irish in Scotland as a distinct people.
This is bizarre given the import TFS, which is telling, people to “go home “ to Ireland, clearly anyone whose home is Ireland Ipso facto, Irish.
It is a logic I cannot argue with. Hence these words are blinking to life in Donegal not Glasgow. However the same people who would sing TFS and taunt those of Irish descent that they should go home to Ireland sneer at the very idea that people born in Scotland can consider themselves Irish even when they travel on Irish passports and have legally verifiable links to Ireland.
I recently attended a St. Patrick’s Day organising committee meeting in Glasgow. I saw some old friends for my time as a teacher with Conradh Na Gaeilge and met some new friends. I said to them, although I couldn’t know their personal circumstance, I didn’t know why they were still in Scotland as this Famine Song surely had crystallised the low esteem in which Ireland and the Irish are still held in Scotland.
No one had an answer for me.
I wish all of them well. They have a huge boulder to push up the hill of anti-Irish sentiment in Scotland that’s for sure.
The “sectarianism not racism” proponents in Scotland implicitly state that there is no Irish community in Scotland.
The facilitators of Eoin Ryan’s fact-finding mission to Scotland were the Scottish Government’s “Equality Unit”.
These equal opportunities folk wanted no media around, but I’m kinda persistent.
Just before the big doors were closing and I was about to be ejected and the meetings commence I spoke briefly with Dave Harmon, Eoin’s press secretary.
I had one chance to put this into his head.
“Dave. The words being used here are crucial. This is Derry/Londonderry. They’re using ‘sectarian’ the word to be used is ‘racism’. “
In Eoin Ryan’s final quote to me that day he acknowledged that some people wanted to call the TFS controversy an issue of sectarianism while others wished to call it racism.
“Whether you call it sectarianism or racism you have to stand up to it.”
The trip and how it was reported, or not reported, crystallised for me the essence of the words used in this controversy and what they mean.
My work on this issue has clearly thrown up a clear demarcation between those who would characterise the TFS controversy as “sectarian” and those who would view it as a manifestation of “racism.”
Since TFS controversy broke here in Ireland in September people in the Irish media have largely viewed TFS as a manifestation of anti-Irish racism.
Not surprisingly Irish people in Scotland considered TFS racist.
The police consider the song to be an arrestable offence under Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 in that singing TFS is likely to cause a “Breach of the Peace aggravated by racial prejudice.”
Show Racism The Red Card, as of October 6th, consider TFS to be racist.
Most reasonable, objective people viewing this controversy would consider TFS to be racist. In Ireland TFS is definitely considered to be racist and anti-Irish.
The issue had been raised months by several TDs in Dail Eireann.
Since Alan Shatter. His party colleague Michael Ring (Fine Gael) Tommy Broughan (Labour) and Joe McHugh (Fine Gael) have all had asked questions of Foreign Minister Micheal Martin about the “Famine Song”.
They all received fairly standard civil service replies to their written questions that the Irish Consulate in Edinburgh was doing a wonderful job etc etc.
It was clear from the civil servant who drafted the answers that they didn’t understand the issue.
Despite being asked by all of these Dail Deputies about “racism” in Scotland directed towards the Irish community they received stock answers about great moved in Scotland to combat “sectarianism”.
Alan Shatter TD had submitted a written Dail question to Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin in Wednesday, 8th October, 2008
“50. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact
that offensive anti-Irish songs were sung by supporters of Glasgow Rangers Football Club
attending the match that took place between Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers on 31
August 2008 and that the singing of such songs is a regular event and has caused both
fear and concern to Irish residents and their children who on occasion visit Glasgow for
such football matches; if he will take an initiative with the relevant authorities in Scotland
in the interest of Irish/Scottish relations to bring this behaviour to an end; and if he will
make a statement on the matter. — Alan Shatter. [33971/08]
I am aware of the concern, and indeed the intimidation, that can arise from slogans and songs during and after Celtic-Rangers matches.
Since its opening in 1998, the Consulate General of Ireland in Edinburgh has maintained a wide-ranging dialogue with the Scottish Government on all relevant issues. In September, for instance, the Consul-General met with senior officials in the Scottish Government to discuss recent incidents of sectarianism. Following from these and other on-going discussions, I am assured that tangible new steps to tackle sectarianism are currently being reviewed by the Scottish Government and I am hopeful that the proposed measures will help to improve the situation. The Consulate General will continue to monitor closely developments in this regard.
The civil service generated response, which formed Micheal Martin’s written; “answer” used the “S” word. Martin praised the anti-sectarian work of the Scottish government and the work of the Irish Consulate in Edinburgh.
When I received the copy of the written answer to Shatter’s question I called one of the Foreign Minister’s press officers.
Michael Lonegran is a sound enough lad and generally well regarded by the press guys working the Leinster House lobby.
I called him and asked why his Minister had not answered Shatter’s question?
“But he did!”
“He was asked about anti-Irish racism in Scotland. He replied about great work being done in the field of anti-sectarianism in Scotland. He was asked about ‘A’ he gave an answer apropos ‘B’. Is that the same?”
There was silence on the phone.
“I’ll get back to you. When is your deadline?
I told him and fair enough there was another standard civil service generated answer the following day that did mention the “R” word.
At the same time Alan Shatter had written to Rangers directly.
He would, however, wait rather longer than was, perhaps, courteous from Rangers Football club for a reply.
We were speaking as he checked his emails.
His letters finally solicited an email from RFC security chief Kenny Scott.
November the 20th-almost two months.
This is probably more sad than sinister. This reeks of Celtic under the old board. Threadbare, shambolic, not able to do their business in an appropriate fashion.
Alan Shatter TD is a member of a foreign parliament who had written to Martin Bain about an issue of great concern to a constituent of Mr. Shatter, an architect form South Dublin who had taken his son to the Celtic Rangers match on august 31st.
Finally in December 2008 Deputy Shatter received a letter from Rangers of which I have a copy.
Dated the 25th November the Dublin TD’s letter had been passed onto Kenny Scott “Head of Security and Operations” at Ibrox.
“Dear Mr. Shatter
Thank you for your letter dated 2 October 2008 and subsequent correspondence dated 5th November 2008 concerning the behaviour of sections of our supporters at the last Old Firm match on 31 August at celtic Park.
Rangers Football Club has repeatedly made clear it’s opposition to all forms of sectarian and anti-social behaviour on the part of supporters. Despite this we recognise that there are still problems in this area not only on the part of supporters of this Club but other Clubs across the country.
You specifically mention what has come to be known as “the Famine Song”.
This song or more correctly the chorus has been the subject of much attention in the Scottish media in recent months and the club has taken steps to warn supporters that they face the possibility of arrest for singing its. At one match we printed 50,000 leaflets on this subject and distributed them to supporters.
That being said we believe that as a Club we have made great strides forward in dealing with sectarianism not least of which has been the development of our Study Support Centre at the Stadium. Hundreds of thousands of people have benefited from attending sessions at this facility, which demonstrates our commitment to longer term, solutions to this problem through education. Where we continue to see anti social behaviour in our stadium we work with our partners in the police to enforce the law and arrest those responsible. Finally where circumstances warrant we use banning orders to Exclude Offenders from Ibrox.
It has to be pointed out that we as a Club believe that the focus of attention often centres unfairly on this club alone and that the wider anti social behaviour of supporters goes unchecked across Scotland. Last Saturday for example we had significant numbers of visiting Aberdeen supporters racially abusing one of our players as well as directing disgraceful abuse at one of our disabled supporters. This was in addition to shocking references being made to the Ibrox Disaster. I mention this only as one example of widespread unacceptable behaviour in football.
Of course two wrongs do not make a right and I can assure you that Rangers Football Club will continue to work to reduce the type of behaviour I refer to. We would however welcome a debate on wider responsibility in Scottish football as a whole.
I hope my comments are of some assistance to you.
Head of Security and Operations.”
Scott’s letter is interesting on several points. There is no attempt to address the issue of racism. Moreover the Ibrox security man differentiates between the full famine song and the chorus that is heard sang in stadia where Rangers are the away team.
There is mention of the leafleting of the Ibrox crowd at the Motherwell match warning Rangers fans that they were at risk of arrest if they sang TFS.
The crucial omission in Kenny Scott’s letter is any condemnation of TFS.
The lack of any apology to Alan Shatter’s constituent for what he and his son had to listen to on August 31 when they sat near the Rangers support at Celtic Park.
Labour TD Tommy Broughan was contacted by a constituent who had also been at the August 31st match at Celtic Park.
The Labour deputy wrote to Michael Martin as Alan Shatter had, but he also wrote to the Scottish government and to Gordon Smith of the SFA.
Smith’s reply to Broughan’s letter is worth looking at in some detail.
Dated the 21st October this year the SFA CEO stated:
“I am sorry to heart that Mr.xxxxxxxx has suffered distress as a result of the racist and sectarian abuse being directed at celtic fans at Parkhead. There are currently great efforts being made to curb the songs and chants from supporters that are deemed ‘unacceptable’. The clubs with the largest numbers of fans are Glasgow Celtic and Rangers FC. Both of them are fully aware that their fans are guilty of abusive chanting but have worked extremely hard in recent years to try and eradicate it. It is not always possible but it is at least recognised by both the government and the football authorities that work should continue on all fronts to improve the attitude of those fans who perpetrate this distasteful behaviour.
Most people agree that there have been great improvements of late and I am surprised to learn that Mr.xxxxxxx feels that there has been a significant in crease in racist and sectarian abuse. He can be assured that this is a problem being addressed by the government, police and football authorities in Scotland.
We are not in contact or discussion with the FAI or any other countries’ governing body as we feel we are dealing with this matter internally.
I hope this answers any concerns you have regarding this matter.
I had been contacted by one of the constituents of Tommy Broughan. Tommy had, quite correctly copied his constituent with Smith’s reply.
What I wanted to know was what questions the Labour TD had asked of the ex-Rangers player who is now CEO of the Scottish Football Association?
Thanks for your recent email and calls to my office.
I did specifically complain about racist (and sectarian) abuse of Irish fans of Celtic F.C. and the appalling impact on xxxxxxx s children and other young Irish fans in my recent representations to the Scottish F.A. and Scottish government.
I completely understand the upset and distress of fans like xxxxxx and the children and young people he takes to Celtic matches.
Please keep in touch,
Very Best Wishes
Tommy Broughan T.D.”
Tommy Broughan had written to the SFA regarding the racist behaviour of the Rangers fans and received an “old firm problem” reply from the formers Rangers player. This seems to be a standard ploy. If Rangers are highlighted as the problem then bring in Celtic and discuss it is an “Old Firm” problem.
Not only had the Irish in Scotland in general been subjected to TFS, but also specifically a 17-year-old teenager called James McCarthy who decided to declare for the Republic of Ireland rather than Scotland.
McCarthy’s mother’s side are from Donegal. Donegal North East TD Joe McHugh, newly elected to Dail Eireann in 2007 for Fine Gael raised the FS and the specific racist abuse of James McCarthy with Foreign Minister Micheal Martin:
Question No. 167
To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a person (details supplied) has been subjected to anti-Irish racist abuse from the terraces at Scottish premier league games this month; if he will write to the Scottish First Minister, the Scottish Football Association, and the Scottish Premier League requesting that they take action to stamp out this anti-Irish racism; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
– Joe McHugh.
· For WRITTEN answer on Thursday, 30th October, 2008.
At this stage you can probably guess what the Dept of Foreign Affairs would make of this clear and concise question.
Ref No: 37731/08 Proof: 173
Ireland U-21 and Hamilton Academical FC player James McCarthy
I am aware of the on-going issue of sectarian behaviour at Scottish premier league games and of the distress and offence that this can cause. Since its opening in 1998, the Consulate General of Ireland in Edinburgh has maintained a wide-ranging dialogue with the Scottish Government on issues. In recent weeks the Consul General has been in close contact with senior officials in the Scottish Government in relation to incidents of sectarianism of the kind referred to in the question. Following from these discussions, I am assured that tangible new steps to tackle sectarianism and racism in sport are currently being reviewed by the Scottish Government and I am hopeful that the proposed measures will help to improve the situation. The Consulate General will continue to monitor closely developments in this regard.
No county in Ireland suffered in the Famine, as did my father’s county.
“We’re from Mayo god help us!” was the strap line of the Famine. The impoverished West is, in the main, where the million starved.
Therefore it isn’t surprising that once this story broke in the media that people in Mayo would be approaching their political representatives to find out what the Irish government was going to do about this outrage.
Mayo TD Michael Ring was also contacted by constituents outraged by this racist song, like Alan Shatter, Tommy Broughan, and Joe McHugh; the Westport man submitted a written parliamentary question to Foreign Minister Micheal Martin.
Question No. 334
Parliamentary Question – Dept Details
To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will raise an issue regarding
lyrics of a song (details supplied) with his counterpart in Scotland; and when he will make contact with this person.
For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 4th November, 2008.
Ref No: 37921/08
Song is called “Famine Song”. This is being sung at Celtic vs. Rangers
games in Scotland. People were at a match recently where it was sung and
they were deeply upset and concerned by it as they felt it was very racist.
They were extremely offended by the words of this song
I am aware of the on-going issue of sectarian behaviour, including the
singing of offensive songs, at Scottish premier league games and of the
distress that this can cause.
Since its opening in 1998, the Consulate General of Ireland in Edinburgh
has maintained a wide-ranging dialogue with the Scottish Government on
issues. In recent weeks the Consul General has been in close contact with
senior officials in the Scottish Government in relation to incidents of
sectarianism of the kind referred to in the question. Following from these
discussions, I am assured that tangible new steps to tackle sectarianism
and racism in sport are currently being reviewed by the Scottish
Government. I am also aware of ongoing efforts by the football authorities
in Scotland to discourage this kind of behaviour. I am hopeful that the
proposed measures will help to improve the situation. The Consulate General
will continue to monitor closely, and to keep me apprised of developments.
If these parliamentary questions prove little else is that the Department of Foreign Affairs currently do not consider the Famine Song is a manifestation of racism.
Given the influence of revisionism within the Dublin state over the last thirty years then this should really come as no surprise to anyone.
There was another political development from Mayo. A man in Achill contacted Marian Harkin MEP. Ironically Achill is one of the few places where people had a fighting chance of surviving the Famine because the sea provided food to the island folk in those dark years. Ms. Harkin has developed a reputation for tackling various issues of discrimination and equality during here time as an MEP.
As a member of the European parliament she sought a European route to deal with TFS.
Marian Harkin MEP contacted UEFA apropos TFS on the 10th November writing directly to Michel Platini. Her letter to the UEFA president stated that she was concerned about reports of “racist chants from the Rangers supporters.” She wanted to know what UEFA could do about this, as she was concerned that such racism “can escalate out of control.”
The reply from UEFA’s Peter Limacher (Head of Disciplinary Services) on November 20th was prompt and concise.
Limacher stated that as it was a domestic match that was being complained about then it was a matter for the Scottish football authorities. To this end Ms. Harkin’s letter has been passed onto the relevant Scottish bodies.
One wonders if Marian Harkin MEP will receive a similar letter from Scotland to that Tommy Broughan received from Gordon Smith?
“Famine song? Racism? Rangers? Yes we have a big problem with Celtic and Rangers sectarianism…”
Enclosed with the letter to Marian Harkin from UEFA was a copy of the judgment in 2006 about the behaviour of Rangers supporters in Spain at the Villarreal game.
It was, perhaps, a diplomatic UEFA way of saying to the Irish MEP:
“ look, we know there is a problem here. We believe you, we have taken action against Rangers in the past and we will be ready for them next time.”
It was, of course, UEFA, which put “The Billy Boys” on a list of banned songs.
After I had received copies of this correspondence between Marian Harkin and UEFA I interviewed Marian to further explore the issue with her.
I put the question to her that the song was, according to those in Scotland who defended the song, merely a manifestation of ironic humour, satirising a mawkish pretend Irishness of some Celtic fans.
“No, no, this is horrible stuff, vile, utterly vile.”
Of those who wrote the Famine song and sing the first few lines at football matches her opinions were equally unequivocal:
“Their intentions are very clear to me. They wish to diminish people.”
It is highly unlikely that anyone in County Mayo would view TFS as “humour”.
“We’re from Mayo God help us!” was the strap line of the Famine story in the grim years of the Irish holocaust.
At least, however, the TFS issue is now on the Irish political radar.
I had commented to Matt Cooper of Today FM’s “The Last Word” that the story of TFS wasn’t the song itself but the official inaction in Scotland at a sporting and political level that had, quite understandably, led those who sang TFS to consider that they could do so with impunity.
Slowly that political inaction is being chipped away.
TFS suggested that the Irish community in Scotland should “go home”.
Wriggling on the hook of public scrutiny and facing police action those who initially sought to defend TFS dismissed those who condemned the song for its racist content as missing the point that the song was merely “banter”.
TFS controversy has, I believe, served the public good. It has stripped bare the nature of the Ibrox belief system. When the issue was presented as one of “sectarianism” then Rangers apologists could look at the number of Catholics signed by RFC since 1989, a catholic captain and a catholic manager. That was progress. However the ban on Catholics playing for Rangers was only ever a handy way of excluding the Irish Catholics who the Rangers sub- culture despise and hate. Hatred of the native Irish Catholics and their descendants is what defines the Rangers sub-culture.
At time of writing there, is on remand from Kilmarnock sheriff court, one of the queen’s loyal underclass.
At Kilmarnock Sheriff Court the week before Eoin Ryan’s visit to Scotland, a 20-year-old Rangers fan was found guilty of committing a breach of the peace – aggravated by religious and racial prejudice – during Rangers 4-0 victory over Killie on November 9.
A Rangers fan had been arrested at Rugby Park for singing the chorus of TFS.
Sheriff Iona McDonald stated that even singing the chorus of TFS rather than the entire song was still racist.“That, in itself, is a racist sentiment,” said Sherrif McDonald.
I started writing and broadcasting about the Famine Song in September.
I largely did so because those in Scotland who have sports columns did not seem to grasp the importance of this issue.
Hopefully the courts will deal with this issue now as and when required.
As for the soccer authorities in Scotland they have failed to act.
UEFA know of the “famine song” and when Rangers are in European competition next season the Ibrox club can expect a far different response from Europe’s governing body than the “Rangers men” who run Scottish football.