James Kelly, above, a Labour member of the Scottish parliament, has accused the government of ‘treating the Catholic community with complete contempt’ because a working group set up to define sectarianism contained no representatives of the Catholic Church or Irish community.
According to this report, during a debate last week, Kelly said:
I welcome the setting up of [the sectarianism working group] because definitions are important … However, there is a real problem for the government in terms of membership of that group. There is no formal member of Roman Catholic Church.
At this point, he was interrupted by the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Annabelle Ewing, who referenced a member of the group, Margaret Lynch, who runs a consultancy firm.
The minister is saying Margaret Lynch – with all due respect to Margaret Lynch she is not an official member of Roman Catholic Church. By that I mean a bishop or priest or somebody appointed by the Church. I believe that to be a major flaw. I say this seriously to the minister: you really have to address the flaw in that group … you must properly involve an official member of the Roman Catholic Church.
Fellow Labour MSP Rhoda Grant for the Highlands and Islands criticised the tone of the debate.
I would ask the minister to look at this working group on sectarianism because there were concerns expressed about its membership, If people don’t have confidence in the membership of that working group then they won’t have confidence in what it comes out with.
At the end of the debate, Ewing said:
I wish to clarify a matter with regard to the membership of the working group on sectarianism. Group members will be individuals who have a track record of involvement or legal expertise in tackling sectarianism; they will not be there to represent an organisation, be it a church or any other body. When the group has reached its conclusions, there will be full engagement, which will take place with all interested bodies, including churches.
Speaking after the debate, Kelly said:
The SNP is treating the Catholic and Irish communities with complete contempt and it is wholly regrettable that the minister has failed to include any representative of the Catholic Church on her working group.
Despite raising this very point with her in the Scottish Parliament, Annabelle Ewing heckled me and failed to take the point seriously
SNP MP James Dornan, who spoke during the debate about a cross-party group on sectarianism he has established, hit out at Kelly on Twitter.
I’ll tell you what was disgusting, James Kelly using a debate about hate crime and how to combat it to play to what he considers his audience. I’ve just come back from a country brutally scarred by this kind of language and he should be utterly ashamed of himself.
Asked about Kelly’s remarks, a Scottish government spokesperson said:
As the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs made clear in parliament on June 7, members of the definition group are participating as individuals because they have a track record of involvement in tackling sectarianism or legal expertise.
They are not representing any organisations. When the group has reached its conclusions, there will be a full consultation on these which will be open to all interested parties including churches.
In April it was revealed that the group does have two Church of Scotland ministers on the panel. The group’s members were chosen without consultation with the Church or the Catholic or Irish communities.
Newly released figures show that in 2017-2018, half of all victims of religiously aggravated crime in Scotland where Catholic, despite Catholics making up less than 15 per cent of the Scottish population.