Irish ministers join the battle to rid Scottish football of sectarian chanting
A GROWING campaign to rid Scottish football stadiums of sectarian chanting has reached the top levels of the Irish government.
Dublin's minister for foreign affairs Michel Martin has expressed concerns over the "intimidation" at Celtic vs Rangers matches, following protests from politicians in the Irish Dil. He said he had received a promise that "tangible new steps" will be taken by the Scottish Government.
The row comes after an Old Firm game in August when Rangers fans were heard singing the Famine Song, which includes the line "The famine's over, why don't you go home." The song also refers to how the Irish in Scotland have brought the country "nothing but trouble and shame". Rangers FC have asked fans to refrain from singing the song.
However, TDs in Dublin are now urging Irish foreign ministers to raise the matter in Edinburgh. Alan Shatter TD said some of his constituents who had travelled to the game from Ireland had complained about what he described as "offensive anti-Irish songs". He added: "The singing of such songs is a regular event and has caused fear and concern to Irish residents and their children who on occasion visit Glasgow for such football matches."
Martin said: "I am assured that tangible new steps to tackle sectarianism are currently being reviewed by the Scottish Government and I am hopeful that the proposed measures will help to improve the situation."
The matter was first raised at a meeting between the Scottish Government and the Irish consulate last month, and Martin said the consul-general has now been asked to monitor the situation.
But sources last night suggested that the strength of feeling in Ireland is such that the matter may be taken up by Irish MEPs, who will seek tougher sanctions against fans.
In 2006, ministers introduced new Football Banning Orders under which sectarian singing can lead to a 10-year ban from UK games. However, some now say that singing such songs should lead to an immediate arrest.
A spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond last night said: described the exchanges in the Irish parliament as "very helpful and constructive". He added: "The Scottish Government is funding and supporting many initiatives to combat sectarianism, including Promoting Citizenship Through Football launched this week. Last month, the First Minister reaffirmed his commitment to tackling sectarian bigotry and will make a statement in due course."
Last month, former first minister Jack McConnell attacked the Scottish Government for failing to follow through his own high-profile bid to stamp out sectarianism. He claimed this was allowing the "cancer" of sectarianism to grow back.
However, the SNP insists it is rolling out a series of measures. Ministers are funding groups including Sense over Sectarianism and Nil by Mouth. The Government is also backing a 150,000 football project known as "Kick Out Bigotry".
Last week, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill also unveiled a partnership between football chiefs and the Government to weed out sectarianism by promoting "positive citizenship" through sport.
The row over the chanting of the song at the Old Firm game on August 31 is unprecedented even in the turbulent history of rivalry between the two clubs. Celtic chairman John Reid condemned the song as "racist".
However, Celtic fans have not escaped censure. A Northern Ireland sports minister said he was unlikely to accept an invitation to Celtic Park because of pro-IRA chanting by fans. DUP MP Gregory Campbell wrote to Reid about songs sung by Celtic fans during their September 13 game away to Motherwell and demanded the club take more action.
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