A letter from the Irish community in Scotland.

24th March 2011

Dear Sir/Madam,

May we bring to your attention the comments made by Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill and Assistant Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police Campbell Corrigan following the Celtic vs Rangers Cup Final on the 20th March 2011.

“The players, management and fans contributed to a memorable occasion, and I urge that their positive example inside the ground is replicated outside it over the course of the evening and beyond.” Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill

“I think the atmosphere at the ground was excellent and the match was a great advert for our football. I hope that this atmosphere is replicated across the force and that we see a drop in the levels of alcohol-related violence that blights so many communities.” Assistant Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan

In the lead up to the aforementioned match we had been led to believe following the high profile summit involving the First Minister and Government Representatives, Strathclyde Police, Celtic F.C. and Rangers F.C. that a zero tolerance approach to bigotry, racism and sectarianism would be implemented.

The Cup Final of 20/03/2011 saw tens of thousands of Football supporters indulge in vicious discriminatory chants expressing anti-Catholic and anti-Irish sentiments in the form of songs outlawed by Europe’s governing football body UEFA and recognised as both racist and sectarian in Scots Law: the songs in question being ‘The Billys Boys’ ‘The Famine Song’ and ‘No Pope of Rome’.

These songs call on British citizens of an ethnic Irish background to return to their country of ethnic origin while expressing an intolerance of around 17% of the country’s population who follow the Catholic faith from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds beyond the Irish, including Scots, English, Polish, Italian, Indian, Nigerian, Sri Lankan to name a few.  These communities, along with Scotland’s largest ethnic minority group the Irish diaspora, have helped build and develop the infrastructure of the country and should feel comfortable to play a part as full citizens while maintaining and celebrating their ethnic heritage.

It is noteworthy that previous Scottish Governments have addressed this issue only within a distorted ‘sectarian’ framework, while they continue to miss the fact that much of the noted behaviour and attitudes amount to discrimination against one particular ethnic and faith community. It is time that the government and relevant stakeholders start tackling the real problem within the discrimination legislative framework and move beyond the constructed narrative, as the problem goes deeper than popular superficial understandings of so called sectarianism.

It is with regret that in Scotland in 2011 songs which expose both anti-Catholic and anti-Irish sentiment are expressed with impunity within such a high profile showcase event screened around the football world.  Of the 51,181 attendees at Sunday’s game we are told that the zero tolerance policy towards religious prejudice and racial abuse yielded 2 arrests: 0.0039% of the capacity crowd. The comments attributed to our Justice Minister and Assistant Chief Constable are incomprehensible within the context of the reported ‘positive’ nature of the atmosphere and behavior of supporters.

Scotland’s Irish community recognises fully our responsibility to celebrate cultural diversity and promote active citizenship.  We look to interact with people from all backgrounds in cultural initiatives expressing both our Irish heritage, promoting cultural diversity and submitting fully to the idea of ‘One Scotland Many Cultures’ Indeed, this was reflected in the positive nature of cross party support expressed by MSP’s led by the SNP and supported by Scottish Labour and Conservative colleagues respectively at the members debate held on 12/01/2011 in the Scottish Parliament.  At this event all parties roundly praised the work of Scotland’s Irish community and its importance in the dynamic of Scotland.

It is with concern we highlight the continual inaction of Government, NGO’s and the Scottish football authorities to address the overwhelming issue of anti-Catholic bigotry and anti-Irish racism in the Scottish sporting arena which has contributed to undermine the Irish community as active citizens. We recognise the need for positive dialogue to address these problems and look forward to engaging with the relevant bodies in the near future.

We call on the future Government, the European Human Rights Commission, the Police, the voluntary and education sectors and all relevant stakeholders to start looking into existing as well as new methods and initiatives which can be deployed to address these problems.

Is mise le meas (with respect)

IRISH DIASPORA IN SCOTLAND ASSOCIATION (National Umbrella of Irish Societies)

Danny Boyle (Project Manager, Harps Community Project)

Joe O’Rourke (Secretary, Celtic Supporters Association)

Ciaran Kearney (Scottish Development Coach, Gaelic Athletic Association)

Patrick Callaghan (Scottish Development Worker ‘Scottish Region’, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann)

Seán Ó Gallchóir (Chairman, Conradh na Gaeilge Glaschú)

Pat McAleer (An Scéal, Irish Community Newsletter)

Joe McAleer (Chairman, Glasgow St.Patrick’s Festival Committee)

Danny Gallagher (Glasgow St.Patrick’s Festival Committee)

Jack Trow (Chairman, Harps Community Project)