Cash crisis threat to anti-bigotry charity
A CHARITY which has led the fight against sectarianism in Scotland could fold within weeks because of a lack of Government funding.
Nil by Mouth was founded in 2000 to combat religious bigotry following the murder of a teenage Celtic fan by a Rangers supporter.
The campaign group has been widely praised by politicians of all parties, but will close early next year unless the Scottish Government renews its funding. Over the years Nil by Mouth has launched poster campaigns and educational sessions aimed at tackling prejudice in hundreds of schools across the country.
But trustees say a lack of commitment to future funding from the SNP administration has left them with no other option but to consider winding up the Glasgow-based group.
Lyndsay Hill, Nil by Mouth's campaign co-ordinator, confirmed the charity's future was currently on a knife-edge.
She said: "Our current strand of funding from the Scottish Government will see us through until March 21, 2009.
"We are currently in talks with the Scottish Government and have appealed for their continued financial support for our core costs beyond this date. We sincerely hope they will consider our request favourably."
Last week the Scottish Government awarded 412,731 to the Sense Over Sectarianism partnership. The organisation is run by Glasgow City Council and has links to Celtic and Rangers football clubs, the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church and Nil by Mouth.
Hill said: "Although we are part of the Sense Over Sectarianism partnership we don't benefit financially from it in any way. It is excellent news for them and we welcome the announcement, but it does nothing to end the uncertainty hanging over us."
An insider at the charity admitted they were "extremely concerned" about the future. He said: "We sent a letter to Alex Salmond making a request for a renewal of our core funding and asked for a response by last Friday. That date has come and gone and we are still waiting for a reply. We are desperate to get an answer one way or another.
"A lot of people have said to us, 'Don't worry. They won't let you close.' But unless we get our funding, that is exactly what is going to happen"
The uncertainty over the organisation's future is a matter of concern for former First Minister Jack McConnell, who led a high-profile offensive against sectarianism which he labelled 'Scotland's secret shame'.
McConnell said: "Nil by Mouth is one of those organisations that make life difficult for politicians by telling home truths without fear or favour. But that is precisely why they should continue to be funded by Government.
"Nil by Mouth have helped change the face of Scotland over the past decade and I hope ministers will realise the vital role they have played and back them for a further three years."
The charity's trustees will meet tomorrow and it is understood they will discuss the legal formalities necessary to shut the organisation down. For the past six years Nil by Mouth has received its core funding of 50,000 directly from the Scottish Government and its predecessor, the Scottish Executive.
The charity was founded by Cara Henderson, a young Glaswegian woman who was appalled by the 1995 sectarian murder of a school friend.
Mark Scott, a 16-year-old Catholic and Celtic supporter, died after his throat was slashed in a Glasgow street by Jason Campbell, a Protestant and Rangers fan.
The tragedy led Henderson, then a teenager, to take a stand, which resulted five years later in the formation of Scotland's first organisation dedicated to challenging sectarianism.
In opposition, Labour has accused Salmond of "letting his foot off the pedal" over sectarianism. Labour's justice spokesman Richard Baker said: "Nil by Mouth has played an important role in the progress we have made in recent years. Bigotry and intolerance shame Scotland and Alex Salmond needs to take this issue seriously."
Football For All, an umbrella organisation which aims to tackle discrimination, said the uncertainty over Nil by Mouth sent out the wrong signals.
A spokesman said: "It means bigoted fans are bolstered in their belief that they can break the law with impunity."
In recent weeks Nil by Mouth was praised by Irish MEP Eoin Ryan, who met members of the group during a visit to Scotland. He said: "I was impressed by the work going on in Scotland. There is a real commitment to tackle sectarianism.
"It's impressive as it is not about wagging fingers but is about encouraging good behaviour and healthy lifestyles."
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said that a final decision had not yet been made. She said: "We are totally committed to tackling all forms of religious bigotry."
Community safety minister Fergus Ewing said: "If we are to succeed in changing attitudes we need to educate and promote understanding of the hurt and offence these attitudes can cause."
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