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Monday, 8 October, 2001, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
MSP learns about sectarian divide
Sectarian warning
Sectarianism has led to violence in Scotland
Liberal Democrat Donald Gorrie has been speaking to politicians and police in Belfast about their first-hand experiences of sectarianism.

The MSP is currently drafting a Bill which would see sectarianism made an offence in Scotland and punishable with a jail term of up to seven years.

During a three-day visit, Mr Gorrie will meet a number of experts, from academics and police to community leaders and members of human rights organisations.

We can learn a lot from the Irish in tackling our own Scottish sectarianism

Donald Gorrie, MSP
"I will be listening to well-informed people who will tell me about their experiences of sectarianism and their suggestions for how we should tackle it," said Mr Gorrie, MSP for Central Scotland.

The Bill, which has received enough backing at Holyrood, proposes to make sectarian behaviour an aggravation of a criminal offence, and to create a code of conduct on tackling sectarian behaviour.

Consultation process

Mr Gorrie said the need for such a Bill had been underlined by recent attacks on mosques and Muslims in the wake of terrorist attacks on America.

He added: "Although there are many differences between Scotland and Northern Ireland, sectarianism has a common historical basis.

Donald Gorrie
Donald Gorrie: Visit to Belfast
"It involves many of the same activists on both sides who shuttle between Belfast and Glasgow.

"So we can learn a lot from the Irish in tackling our own Scottish sectarianism."

Mr Gorrie's visit is part of the consultation process required before the Bill is put before parliament.

The MSP said he would be circulating a formal consultation document to many groups in Scotland in the next fortnight.

Mr Gorrie has previously claimed that his proposals to outlaw sectarianism in Scotland had been "largely adopted" by Westminster.

He made the claim after home secretary David Blunkett announced plans to widen the law on incitement to include religious as well as racial hatred.

Anti-sectarianism poster
There have been efforts to end sectarianism in Scotland
The Scottish Executive says there "might be merit" in making sectarianism an offence and has agreed to look at the backbencher's proposals.

A spokeswoman for the executive said: "When the Bill is available, we will listen to the debate and consider arguments in relation to it before reaching conclusions about whether to support it."

Mr Gorrie says existing laws are strong against racial harassment, but do not mention sectarian or religious harassment.

He hopes the Bill will be drawn up, introduced to parliament and placed before a committee for stage one consideration by September 2002.

See also:

02 May 01 | Scotland
New move to end sectarianism
08 Feb 01 | Scotland
Fury at MP's Taoiseach warning
29 Apr 00 | Scotland
Woman's bid to beat bigotry
22 Sep 99 | Scotland
Violent reminder of sectarianism
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