Speaking on a Radio Scotland discussion programme on Monday night about football and sectarianism, McBride twice referred to the problem in relation to the two Edinburgh clubs. “It’s not merely confined to Celtic and Rangers,” he said on the first occasion. “We’ve got Hearts fans singing ‘Rangers-lite’ sectarian songs. We’ve got some Hibs fans singing that as well.”
Later, after two replies from listeners were read out, McBride returned to his theme. “I’ve heard them at Tynecastle singing ‘We’re up to our knees in Fenian blood’, “ he said. “And I’ve heard songs being sung at Hibs about the IRA as well.”
Hibs fans responded indignantly to the suggestion on message boards, and several emailed club directors to ask for an official response. That came yesterday afternoon on www.hibernianfc.co.uk, when club chairman Rod Petrie said: “The suggestion by Mr McBride QC on national radio is wide of the mark. I am pleased to say that religion and politics are not part of the fabric of our club and they are not part of Hibernian supporter singing and celebrations at Easter [Road] Stadium.”
The website statement also reiterated Hibs’ commitment to stamping out all offensive behaviour from their ground.
It read: “Hibernian FC and its supporters are not complacent in their quest to ensure a match-day
atmosphere free of sectarian chanting or other offensive behaviour.
“Supporters’ groups and the club work very effectively together with the police to eradicate offensive behaviour of any kind at Easter Road Stadium. Any supporter attending Easter Road who indulges in offensive behaviour is immediately dealt with by the police and club, as the swift action against 11 individuals following the Sunderland match earlier this season clearly demonstrates.”
Hibs supporters welcomed the club’s statement, with one saying McBride had simply been mistaken to say he had heard fans of the club singing pro-IRA songs. “No, he’s not,” said Frank Dougan, the former treasurer of the Hibs Supporters Association.
“In the last 30 or 40 years of going to Easter Road, I’ve never heard any sectarian chanting from the Hibs fans. Hibs fans take great delight in not being sectarian.
“Yes, Hibs are very proud of their Irish ancestry. But I’m very friendly with a lot of people who go to matches, and I think very few of them are from that background.
“There was a problem way back in the 1960s with songs, but even then they were not meant in a sectarian way at all. And they died out around 1969 or 1970 when the troubles in Ireland started. “And Paul McBride is what, 45? He can’t possibly remember that. He’s just trying to spread the muck around.”
Mike Riley, chairman of the Hibs Supporters Association, was heavily critical of the club at last week’s annual general meeting for their record of managerial appointments.
Last night he, like Dougan, said that on this issue he was completely in agreement with Petrie.
“It’s an absolute disgrace to say Hibs supporters sing IRA songs,” Riley said. “I’ve been going to Easter Road for the best part of 50 years and I’ve never heard them.
“I back the board 100 per cent on that and I’m delighted with the statement the club have made. We’re not a sectarian club at all. The club has had players of every creed and colour, and it’s the same with the supporters’ club as well.
“I’m disappointed in Paul McBride – I think he’s just trying to switch the blame away from Celtic and on to other clubs. It’s a shame, because we have a good relationship with Celtic and never have any bother with their fans. All good Celtic supporters don’t sing IRA songs.”
The SPL inquiry into pro-IRA chanting at Celtic Park will focus on the recent match against HIbs. The league’s operations director Iain Blair said that police match commander Eddie Smith had notified them following the game, a goalless draw on 29 October.
“Eddie mentioned there was pro-IRA chanting, but we need to find out more about what happened,” Blair said. “It was included in the report and is subject to an ongoing investigation.”
The Uefa hearing is into alleged “illicit chanting” during Celtic’s home win against Rennes in the Europa League tie. That will take place on 8 December.
• In Monday’s edition of The Scotsman, a headline stated that ‘Celtic must satisfy Uefa on sectarian songs charge’. This was published in error, with the Uefa charge referring to “illicit chanting” and making no reference to songs of a sectarian nature. We apologise for the misleading headline.