Irish community left out in the cold?


THE place of the multi-generational Irish community in Scotland within the sectarianism framework in Scotland was once again the focus of discussion and challenge as Collective Leadership held an event (above) on tackling sectarianism in Scotland as part of the Fire Starter Festival.

The festival hosts a range of cultural and social events highlighting innovation and creativity in Scottish public services, as part of which Collective Leadership hosted a group examining sectarianism.

Call It Out: the campaign against anti-Catholic bigotry and anti-Irish racism were among those in attendance, and made representations—along with others—as the discussion examined issues which affect the Irish community in Scotland.

Among those forming the leadership group were Dr Anthony Allison, Affiliate (Theology & Religious Studies), University of Glasgow; Professor Duncan Morrow, Director of Community Engagement at Ulster University; Rev Ruth Harvey, Director, Place for Hope; Abdul Rahim, Director, Centre for Good Relations; Dr Michael Rosie, Senior Lecturer in Sociology; Programme Co-Director, Nationalism Studies, University of Edinburgh; Lorraine Gillies, Chief Officer, Scottish Community Safety Network; Diarmaid Lawlor, Architecture & Design Scotland; Dave Scott, Nil by Mouth, and Mark Adams, Development Officer, Sense Over Sectarianism.

Several of those participating have previously been criticised from within the Irish community for their work on sectarianism unsatisfactorily identifying anti-Irish racism and placing it within a purely ‘sectarianism’ framework. Such attempts to prevent anti-Irish racism being properly contextualised have even led to suggestions, such as previous comments by Dave Scott, that the very existence of an Irish community in Scotland can be questioned.

Description of event
“Sectarianism remains a real issue that affects the lives of individuals and communities across Scotland,” Fire Starter explained in their description of the event. “It is a complex and emotive issue that is not even handed—its impact is not felt in the same way across the country.

“Despite this complexity we continue to see people taking encouraging and effective action to bring about positive changes. In the past year, a group have experimented with the collective leadership approach to see whether this has the potential to provide new ways of approaching the systemic problems that lead to sectarian attitudes and behaviour.

“Join them to hear about their journey; their perspectives on the issues; their feelings on collective leadership as an approach to tackling social issues and whether they believe there is a role for this approach in helping to shape government policy.”

Call It Out interaction
Call It Out’s attendance at the event was reported by the group, with several issues raised by the representative who observed and participated in discussions.

“The Collective Leadership event in Edinburgh was interesting partly for what was said and for what was not said,” a spokesperson said. “The first part of it made no sense to me at all as a member of the Irish Catholic community in Scotland—I almost literally had no clue what it was about.

“The discussion only became real when a young schoolboy spoke up and said this terminology is a cover-up and does not address the problems he faces as a Catholic who encounters anti-Catholic bigotry on a regular basis.

“Another contributor backed him up and said: ‘I don’t understand why we use the word sectarianism, it is false equivalence,’ and that ‘this is never the language used in terms of other groups with protected characteristics.’”

Entering the discussion the Call It Out representative outlined the many difficulties faced by the Irish community in Scotland through the current approach to this issue, which focuses doggedly on a general opposition to ‘sectarianism.’

“The Call It Out representative said the discussion was upside down, that the actual evidence was relentlessly ignored, that the issue was not about individual instances of people being mistreated on the grounds of their religion, ethnic background or sexuality but about the public policy imperative of identifying which groups were disproportionately affected and addressing this,” the spokesperson explained. “This happens in every other case bar that of anti-Catholic bigotry and anti-Irish racism.

“She argued against looking to Ireland for answers, given that in Scotland we are not in a post-conflict resolution situation. Our problem is a very straightforward equalities matter for which there already is a legislative framework, and policy is lagging behind and always has.

“[There was] no mention of the other elements of discrimination which Catholics/Irish Catholics continue to suffer in terms of poverty, health and the justice system. It appeared that few in the room actually knew that was the case.”

Same old story?
Some elements of the discussions were welcomed by those in attendance, with some comments made by those from the Irish community being conceded, however Call It Out concluded that the continued reliance on the same sources for insight must change if policy is to be successfully implemented.

“Duncan Morrow agreed that it was important to identify those who are disproportionately affected albeit acknowledging that the human impact was felt by everyone,” the spokesperson concluded. “Dave Scott acknowledged that most of the instances of bigotry reported to his organisation were anti-Catholic in nature, while Michael Rosie indicated disagreement with the CIO spokesperson on interpreting the statistics.

“In summary, the discussions among the Scottish Government and their advisers and other third sector organisations, if this is anything to go by, would be incomprehensible to any affected community.

“The concept of policy being developed across a number of departments of government and externally is fine, but it has to be informed by those who experience the problem and we seem a very long way from that. Continued reliance on the same voices saying the same things will not do.”