Scotland’s shame to the fore again

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Liam Kelly

CELTIC Football Club called for action after their players were subjected to racist and sectarian abuse when they arrived at Ibrox on January 2. One man has now been arrested for sectarian offences, whilst the rest have got away scot free—pardon the pun.

A contingent of Rangers fans flouted Covid-19 measures to gather at the stadium and welcome the team buses. When the Celtic players disembarked and walked towards the main entrance, a number of people approached them and launched into a tirade of anti-Catholic and anti-Irish abuse.

Celtic were, of course, founded by Irish Catholic immigrants, primarily for the suffering Irish community in Glasgow, who had been forced across the sea due to An Gorta Mór and the subsequent economic devastation that followed.

Migration and mistreatment
Prior to that wave of migration from Ireland, Glasgow boasted a small population of Norman Conks. These people originated from the clans who moved to the East End of the city following the Highland Clearances. They constituted Glasgow’s first Catholic community and were Scottish as opposed to the Irish who would arrive in the next century. This small group of Highlanders settled in an enclave of Bridgeton called Glengarry. They were very much a minority and were not made welcome. Indeed, it was proudly reported in the 1790s that Glasgow had 39 known Catholics and 43 anti-Catholic societies.

Half a century later—when the first Irish immigrants entered Scotland—they moved to a country that was somewhat inhospitable to their very presence. There was little sympathy for their plight from the incumbent population, who had by then bought into the Darwinian idea of ordering society through hierarchical structures.

Scottish society began to order itself along racial lines and viewed those of a Celtic background as inferior. That included Gaelic Highlanders as well as the Irish, though interestingly, the Protestant Irish (Unionists) were exempt from ridicule.

The Irish (Nationalists) were depicted as apes in the Scottish press. The Church of Scotland invested a lot of money into proselytism, which was the practise of attempting to convert Catholic children to Protestantism when they opened their soup kitchen doors to provide food for the poor. By convincing Irish immigrants and their offspring to relinquish their faith, it was hoped that their culture would soon be eroded too, and they would then assimilate to become pure British Scots. The Church of Scotland also ran a campaign to have Irish immigrants and their descendants deported back to Ireland. For this, the Church has apologised in recent years.

A persistent problem
Fast forward to the 20th century and we saw signs on the doors of several establishments across Scotland which read: “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish.” Many people in Scotland will be old enough to remember seeing such posters.

It wasn’t too long ago that schoolchildren were given a day off to celebrate a Catholic man being given a job in a bank in Coatbridge either. Meanwhile, many are all too familiar with the consequences of revealing what school you attended on a job application form. It took until 1991 for the Irish and their descendants to reach a position of occupational parity in Scotland, as compared to 1901 for those in America. Vast improvements have been made but the problem of anti-Catholic and anti-Irish hatred has not vanished yet.

Many industries are modern and forward thinking these days. The likes of IT and Public Relations, for example, are said to be inclusive and professional in their approach to recruitment. However, I am told that there are still issues with discrimination against our community in the construction industry. Meanwhile, a blind man can see that problems persist within the Scottish media, establishment and certainly football.

Neil Lennon, a man vilified for his Irish Catholic identity and passionate demeanour, has received bombs in the post. I repeat, a football manager in 21st century Scotland has received bombs in an attempt to murder him, simply because he is an Irish Catholic from the six counties and is passionate about his identity.

Lennon has also received bullets in the post—along with Northern Irish Catholics Paddy McCourt and Niall McGinn—and has been assaulted and knocked unconscious on the streets of Glasgow.

However, the problem is not confined to the west of Scotland as some suggest. No doubt the issue is worse in that part of the country, but who could forget the time when Neil Lennon was attacked by a Hearts fan on the touchline at Tynecastle—a stadium located in the east of Scotland.

Moreover, there are songs about the Billy Boys, a fascist razor gang, with the lyrics: “Up to our knees in Fenian blood” bellowed across Scotland when Celtic play against a number of clubs, not just a team from Ibrox. We also hear ditties such as the ‘Famine Song,’ telling those of us of Irish descent to go home (above). Would such songs be tolerated if another race or religion of people were being told the same? “Go back to Pakistan,” “Up to our knees in Muslim/Jewish blood.” I don’t think so.

Tackling the issues
Such behaviour has no place in the 21st century and must be eradicated. Cleaning up the problem will be no easy task though. Such attitudes have been prevalent amongst a contingent of society and supporters at Ibrox for decades. For the better part of a century, Rangers had a policy of refusing to sign Catholic or Irish players. Glasgow is one of the few places in the world with a huge Irish population stemming from the famine to not yet have a memorial, although that will be rectified this year.

The incident which triggered this article—the aforementioned scenes outside Ibrox on January 2—was only partially dealt with when the club asked Police Scotland to investigate the matter. The scene was caught on camera and officers were just yards away from the incident, yet only one individual was arrested several days later.

The authorities need to start taking the issue seriously and stop looking to label everything as sectarian, playing into two sides of the same coin agenda. A good start would be by acknowledging that the problem is multi-layered. It is not simply sectarian, but it is also racist. We are hated by some for a combination of our assumed Catholic faith AND because we take pride in our Irish heritage and celebrate that culture that has been passed down the generations to us.

The Offensive Behaviour Act aimed at evening up the score by criminalising Irish rebel songs—which weren’t previously illegal—wasn’t the answer. Recognition and protection against racism and sectarianism would be much better.

Many people these days identify as Scottish and contribute to the country. They like living here. However, they also celebrate their cultural, political and religious roots from Ireland. We should never be ashamed of that. It is part of who we are.

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