We haven't gone away you know.....

Published on Tuesday 8th May, 2012 by Celtic Trust

Packed meeting considers the way forward

A lively and well-attended public meeting took place in the Deeprose Lecture Theatre of Glasgow Caledonian University on Saturday 5th May.  The meeting was organised by FAC and co-sponsored by a number of Irish cultural organisations including Cairde na h'Eireann, the Irish Heritage Foundation, the Garngad Irish Heritage Group and the Irish Diaspora in Scotland Association.  The meeting was chaired by Danny Boyle of IHF and was addressed by Michael McMahon MSP and Professor Tom Gallagher, the author of Glasgow, the Uneasy Peace.  The meeting should have also been addressed by Gerard Lynch, the brother of Kevin Lynch but he had to call off at short notice due to work commitments.  However, he sent a statement which was read out to the meeting and which attracted a sustained round of applause.  The speakers were extremely interesting and came at the subject from a variety of standpoints.  The theme of the meeting was to highlight the early experience of the implementation of the Act, which only came into force on 1st March 2012.  The FAC campaign are concerned that there seems to be evidence of the criminalisation of Irishness, Irish symbols and Irish political expression, hence the invitation to the Irish cultural groups to join forces with them. 

Danny Boyle developed this idea and gave a detailed analysis of how this is currently affecting the Irish community;  Tom Gallagher gave a very detailed and extremely interesting political analysis of the context into which the Act was introduced and Michael McMahon gave a very detailed historical account of how the Act came about and what we needed to do to challenge it.

The speakers were followed by a very lively debate from the 150+ crowd which was made up of people of a wide variety of ages and backgrounds. Some key issues emerged:

  • It is extremely important that FAC is made aware of all charges under the Act so that evidence can be presented to the Scottish Government when the Act is reviewed in 2013.  This information can be forwarded to any of the groups involved in FAC or via any of the Irish groups mentioned above.
  • FAC has a Legal Defence Fund which can be used to support anyone facing charges under this Act.  Again the same organisations can be contacted.

Chris McCann from FAC summed up the meeting and thanked the speakers and asked the crowd to let everyone know that FAC hasn't gone away.  As a result of the meeting FAC has been invited to discuss our concerns with the Irish Consulate in Scotland and arrangements are being made to have discussions with opponents of the Act in Holyrood to prepare our strategy for contributing to the review when it comes around.

We reproduce below the statement from the Lynch Family and the outline of the speech by Tom Gallagher.

 

 

Tom Gallagher has supplied this text

Disobedience in the eyes of  anyone who has read history is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion’.

Oscar Wilde

Not all Celtic fans may be that well acquainted with the writings of the Irish poet and wit Oscar Wilde but I think what is one of  his many apt sayings will resonate with quite a few of them.

Most people from Scotland, and indeed Ireland, who have inconvenienced and defied power-holders have done so beyond their home countries.

Scotland has been stony ground for individualists and nonconformist thought and action.

One of the features I like about Celtic is the way it neatly combines a respect for individualism with an ability to express group solidarity in the face of challenges and adversity. It has enabled it to grow from being a football team into an important social institution. 

 My own views on  what Celtic is for and its overall social value have never been static.   But for some time now I’ve viewed  it as a welcome corrective to the tendency in Scotland to be relentlessly conformist. It is also one of the few institutions left which  ordinary folk are able to mould through their enthusiasm, and support, a commitment that is expressed sometimes in very witty and talented forms, beyond the ability of any political party to emulate.

Celtic still goes against the grain and rankles with establishment Scotland. In modern Scottish history a shifting cast of power-holders have demanded submission from a population who have been told to hold their tongues – or else.

Thanks to some of its recent actions, I’ve discovered that a high-flying party  like the SNP now offers a new glossy version of this old conformism. I see  Alex Salmond’s movement as the New Conformists. They are uncomfortable with any self-confident expression of identity, that they cannot  umpack and bend to their own will.

If Mr Salmond  and  Roseanna Cunningham MSP,  really  knew  about what needs to be challenged in their own nation’s history, they  would have run a mile from the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill. It contravenes the civic and plural values  that they claim will enable Scotland to  have a fresh start.

The bill attempts to criminalise   people’s heritage, culture and values. It places Celtic fans under massive police surveillance not to root out violence but to carry out arrests for fans singing songs whose illegality is not certain. Remarkably, it  is left up to a police officer to decide if a reasonable person is offended.  

By choosing a gagging act as the first law they intended to enact upon acquiring their majority at Holyrood, it convinced me  that they simply wished to reshuffle the pack...and run the country in the time-honoured way – where political insiders, closely entwined with powerful interest groups, crack down on any gestures of defiance towards establishment values.

Sorry if this talk is suddenly becoming rather political in tone. But I think politics is what has given this law momentum.

Having neglected sectarianism for years because it did not fit with the cosy narrative of one big lovely Scottish family, Salmond rushed into action with tough measures meant  to tackle the probably at it supposed core, in and around football stadiums when, in fact group antagonism on religious or quasi-religious grounds has arguably caused far more hurt and social disruption in the employment , and other,  fields .

There is something odd about the liberation and freedom rhetoric  of the SNP when from  a 66-strong party in Holyrood  there emerged  not a single dissenting voice when this bill was under discussion.

The disinclination to work with the array of groups which had expressed their deep unease about  a poorly-worded bill and its likely social effects was an unhealthy  sign. People and associations who normally did not have  a great deal in common saw this act as being bad for individual freedom,  football,   social stability and indeed the image of Scotland.  Celtic and Rangers, both at club and organised supporters level  made clear their opposition the bill.

But for most of 2011, the crusade against  chants and songs was pursued by a headstrong politician, a very ambitious police chief and civil servants. The  role of the last group  has often been overlooked but shouldn’t be. In my view, they are the real rulers of Scotland as the SNP concentrates 24/7 on campaigning for what it claims will be political independence. From the perspective of these middle-class secularists,  Celtic is an anachronism, along with other institutions which have emerged from, or fashioned the Irish diaspora community that provides its main support base.

Glasgow needs another make-over, so it is claimed.   With the Commonwealth games coming in 2014, the city needs to raise its game so as to be part of a successful re-branding of Scotland before an international audience. Therefore, symbols of identity associated with Celtic (and not it alone) stand in the way of this  rebranding exercise.

Arguably,invoking and expressing the Irish heritage of many people in Lowland Scotland is now old hat (not that it was ever politically fashionable)and should be junked in favour of a new bright image as Scots at last going places in the world. It just confirms what some long suspected: One Scotland many cultures’ does not apply to those for whom Celtic Park is a focus of identity.

The intoxicating  dreams of  Scottish embassies in four corners of the globe, a UN seat  for Scotland and top EU posts in Brussels, have driven out any duty of care to a lot of ordinary Scots who face a daunting  future.

I doubt  if the First Minister has lost too much sleep about  seeing  young people being criminalised because they fall foul of a Monty Pythonesque law where there is no agreement about the circumstances in which it is violated.  The new law refers to symbols, songs, chants and expressions in the football sphere but does not state what they are or even the context in which they should be deemed offensive to both Celtic and Rangers supporters, or to this  fabled ‘reasonable person’.

Its  political architect  is supremely relaxed about making common cause with Rupert Murdoch, part of whose press empire has caused social havoc and personal distress than is beyond the capacity of all but the most delinquent soccer  fans.

This is a huge exercise in sweeping a real problem under the carpet and branding it as one that begins and ends with football. Bigoted, sectarian

attitudes unfortunately still resonate across Scottish society. They are not confined to one geographical corner or social class as the family background of the two who were convicted of assaulting Neil Lennon made crystal clear.  They are directed mainly against minorities, principally – as statistics confirm – the Catholic minority. Minorities themselves of course are not blameless, especially when they find themselves in majority situations.

The lack of thought and failure to heed the views of many apprehensive civic bodies, and the extraordinary powers granted to a very fallible police force (soon to be an all-Scotland affair) , means this act is destined to fuel controversy and be a cause of injustice not a solution for  public disorder – existing legislation is more than adequate in that respect.

The draconian way the Offensive Behaviour Act is starting to be implemented suggests that the police are not equipped to handle such an inadequate and politically-loaded bill. Until it is repealed  and some honest thinking is done in powerful places about sectarianism (which no group has  a monopoly of), then the Offensive Behavior Act will turn out to be a poisoned chalice for its architects.

Tom Gallagher is currently writing a book called Scotland and Sectarianism: A 200 Year Pre-occupation.  His book The Illusion of Freedom: Scotland Under Nationalism was published in 2009 and re-issued in 2011.

 

Statement from Gerard Lynch

Statement on behalf of the Lynch Family

I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to speak at today's event, I

sincerely apologise that due to circumstances beyond my control I could not attend.

However, I would like to stress that the Lynch family fully support the campaign

against this new legislation.

31 years ago my brother Kevin was  preparing to go on hunger-strike;  a strike that

would ultimately lead to his and 9 of his comrades deaths. They died as a direct

result of the British government's policy of trying to criminalise the Republican

struggle for Irish freedom. Maggie Thatcher failed to criminalise our struggle and

Alec Salmond will ultimately fail to criminalise Celtic fans for singing songs

remembering that struggle. I should point out that I am a Celtic supporter and have

travelled to Celtic park on many occasions. On a recent trip to Parkhead, I was

informed about this new legislation which a lot of supporters feel is aimed at the Irish

in Scotland. I was also recently told of fans being arrested under the new legislation

for singing the Roll of Honour, a song which commemorates my brother and his 9

comrades.

Songs like this do not glorify armed struggle nor do they incite people to take part in

armed struggle, nor do they glorify any death as a result of armed struggle. These

songs simply remember brave men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for

Irish freedom.

It is ironic that it is not an offence in Ireland or indeed any other country. Ireland has

moved on now but never forgets her past. I would appeal to the Scottish government

to allow the Irish in Scotland to remember the past without trying to criminalise them.

In life they tried to criminalise the hunger strikers, they failed. In death they are still

trying to criminalise them and people singing songs to remember them, they will fail

again.

Gerard (Ollie) Lynch.

 

 

 
 

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1 comment
 
Bob Storrar says:
2012-05-09 17:35:30
 

Hoping you'll allow this one.
Delighted to read the excellent statements from Tom Gallagher and Gerard Lynch and pleased to see The Garngad Irish represented at the meeting. I admit to voting SNP in the recent past, but no more. Salmond queered his pitch with this Act followed by his whingeing plea to HMRC on behalf of the Govan crew.
Your printing of the above statements means a lot to someone like me who is unable to attend such meetings. I'll be printing them for circulation.
Go raibh mile maith agat.
Bob Storrar, Livingston (But still a Garngad man and unrepentant Fenian B------d)

 
 
 

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