Calls to scrap Prevent strategy

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Irish Flag

CONCERNS have been raised over the fashion in which the British Government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy—for tackling terrorism—is being used in Scotland, with allegations that elements of the Irish community in Scotland are being targeted.

A leaked e-mail published by The Ferret—Scotland’s most-respected investigative journalism platform—outlined the way in which the ‘Scottish Government and Police Scotland have taken a very different approach,’ to their counterparts in England and Wales.

Criticism has already been levelled at the scheme after suggestions that the strategy targets Muslims unfairly through its attempts to tackle radicalisation; with an acknowledgement in the leaked e-mail that there are concerns Prevent may be ‘promoting Islamophobia.’

However, the latest controversy around the scheme sees allegations that north of the border it is being used as a tool to tackle sectarianism and extreme right wing ideologies, despite being part of a complex and wide-ranging anti-terror strategy.

Community fears

Danny Boyle, Parliamentary and Policy Officer at BEMIS—the national umbrella body supporting Scotland’s ethnic minorities—spoke to The Irish Voice about the implementation of the strategy, and the fear among the Irish community in Scotland (above) that elements of their identity may not only see them placed within a ‘sectarianism’ framework, but even targeted by the authorities through an anti-terror strategy.

“The Prevent strategy implementation in Scotland is complicated and doesn’t sit in isolation of prevailing social issues particularly unique to a Scottish context,” Mr Boyle explained. “The ambiguity exists because beyond the statutory guidance and public information it is unclear as to how the ‘Prevent duties’ operate in practice, which is understandable to an extent in relation to an anti-terrorism tool.

“What we must ensure is that Prevent doesn’t exacerbate a situation due to misunderstandings or negative stereotypes. In relation to the multi-generational Irish community specifically, this would appear to reside within the concept of ‘sectarianism.’

“It is important to note that ‘sectarianism’ is a social concept in Scotland with no legal character. In that sense we are aware that its definition continues to be contested by some Irish community organisations based upon what they perceive to be a negative stereotype of their broad cultural identity. This was highlighted in the recent Scottish Government review into Hate Crime in Scotland, so there is evidently significant work to be done in relation to ‘sectarianism’ and how it interacts with various policy strategies, including Prevent.

“To be direct, the fear would be that aspects of a community’s identity are wrongly characterised as ‘sectarian’ and in turn fall within the scope of the Prevent duties. This would illustrate a prevailing gap across various policy areas within which ‘sectarianism’ plays a fundamental role in driving legislative or statutory response”

Criticism

Within the Irish community in Scotland there were calls for the strategy to be abandoned, and among those who reacted in such a fashion was Jim Slaven of the James Connolly Society.

Speaking to The Ferret as they broke the news of the leak, Mr Slaven commented that the strategy was doing nothing to address what he identified as ‘Scotland’s long-standing problems with sectarianism and anti-Irish racism,’ while adding that, in his experience, Prevent is ‘instrumental in targeting specific groups and communities.’

“Politicians and senior police officers are quick to say Prevent is not aimed at the Muslim community without offering clarity on who and what is being targeted in a Scottish context,” Mr Slaven said to The Ferret. “For the Scottish Government to be quietly using the conflict in Ireland as a pretext for targeting the Irish community with Prevent—20 years after the final IRA ceasefire—is scandalous. This repressive programme is also being disproportionately targeted at working class communities.

“In fact it underlines the state’s reluctance to acknowledge their own role in these problems and their continued willingness to criminalise communities.”

Government response

However, in responding to the criticism the Scottish Government defended the use of the strategy and rejected the notion that individual communities are disproportionately targeted by authorities through the scheme.

Saying that the allegations are ‘completely unfounded,’ a government spokesperson said: “We are committed to working with communities and partner agencies to safeguard vulnerable individuals from radicalisation and a concerted effort has been made to position Prevent in a Scottish context, reflecting the specific challenges faced in Scotland.

“In Scotland we work to address all forms of violent extremist activity, no matter what the ideology, and the focus is on the early identification of risk.”

Election issue

However, with an election looming the criticism of Prevent may be coming at a crucial time, with the Liberal Democrats including the abolition of the scheme in their election manifesto and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn previously reacting to the capacity of the strategy to target certain sections of society disproportionately and in a way which can become counter-productive.

“I talk to people in the Muslim community, I talk to people in mosques, I talk to people in churches, I talk to people that go to synagogues, all kinds of different faiths and different groups,” he said of the perceived victimisation of minority groups in England. “I think what Prevent has often done is seen to target the Muslim community, not anybody else, looks to say there is a kind of suspicion over the whole community and it’s actually often counter-productive.

“Deal with the issue of far-right extremism within our society, deal with the issue of racism in our society, deal with the issues of discrimination within our society, deal with the issues of the perceptions of stop and search within our society—above all be inclusive of people.”

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