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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 19:42 GMT 20:42 UK
'End the poison and save lives'

Celtic Football Club's chief executive is appealing for an end to the singing of songs paying tribute to the IRA. Sectarianism can be a deadly part of life in the west of Scotland

Celtic and its chief executive Ian McLeod are to be commended for sending out this strongly worded letter to supporters in a move to stop the singing of sectarian songs.

This follows IRA chants being heard during the minute's silence for the 11 September victims before the start of the Motherwell v Celtic game last week.


Rangers and Celtic have a responsibility to society and the families of the young fans who have lost their lives and those that may die in the future through this poison

Hopefully Mr McLeod's plea will prove to be part of a larger meaningful and publicly accountable strategy to address sectarianism within the Celtic support.

The authorities in Scotland collect statistics on racially motivated crime and fortunately the last set of figures reported no such murders during 1999 and 2000.

Over the same period, Nil By Mouth has identified eight murders that have a sectarian element to them.

The majority happened in the aftermath of Old Firm football matches. Two were after Old Firm reserve games.

Hate-filled words

After Celtic v Rangers games, 999 calls increase. The health union Unison has shown that in some hospitals such as Monklands, admissions to accident and emergency awards arising from assaults can increase as much as nine times on the evening of a game.

Nil By Mouth believes that the majority of people who sing sectarian songs are not bigots, they are decent people who join in with a hard-core minority of real bigots because they believe its harmless fun - a bit of a laugh.

Unfortunately there are people in the crowd who deeply believe in the hate-filled words and fired up by what they believe is the support of those around them will later maim, or take the life of, somebody's son.

Ibrox
Both clubs have a "responsibility"

Many will read about the incidents the following day and shake their heads and say: "That's terrible, I mean I sing the songs but I'm not a bigot - my wife/friend etc. is a Catholic/Protestant."

In the long term, change will occur through education. Both Celtic and Rangers have been active in this area, although to date separately rather than a joint initiative.

Both clubs are also to be commended for their involvement in Sense Over Sectarianism campaign that provides money to individuals to develop projects and events that address sectarianism at grass roots level.

Nil By Mouth has proposed to both Celtic and Rangers that when sectarian singing is heard at their matches, they should identify via their considerable CCTV networks, 10 offending supporters and ban them for life.

Rangers and Celtic have a responsibility to society and the families of the young fans who have lost their lives and those that may die in the future through this poison.

Positions of power

The Scottish Parliament can also help by changing the law to make sectarianism an aggravated offence.

This means that if a judge is sentencing someone, for say a year for assault, he can add on a further term if sectarianism has been an element in the crime.

The next time a person dies from sectarian crime will we all ask ourselves: "Could I have done more to stop this from happening?"

There are people in positions of power in the Scottish Parliament, and at Celtic and Rangers who can make a real difference.

Parkhead
Celtic: "Brave step"

But the majority of decent Rangers, Celtic and other football fans and the Scottish people can make a difference by making their voices heard to isolate the bigots.

Celtic's Ian McLeod has taken a brave step; it is time for others to step forward with him.

As was once said: "For evil to flourish good men only need do nothing."

Sense Over Sectarianism (SOS) is an organisation set up to encourage and fund projects to address sectarianism and bigotry in any form.

SOS aims to encourage individuals to come up with projects to address bigotry. A fund exists of about 400,000 to be given out as grants.

Call Alison Logan, project manager, on 0141 287 8301.

See also:

17 Sep 02 | Scotland
29 Apr 00 | Scotland
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