4 years ago today I lodged my petition
PE 1073 with the Scottish Parliament to: “investigate and establish the
reasons for the apparently disproportionate number of Catholics in Scottish
I did so because over 6 years before this, in January 2001,
Jim Wallace, then Justice Minister, had promised to investigate the anomaly
raised by Pauline McNeill MSP that Catholics were twice as likely to end up in
prison as their Protestant peers; but Jim Wallace never kept his promise.
In the 3+ years that the petition was with the PPC there was
little more than an hour of public debate on the petition and it was obvious to
see that the members were dealing with an issue they were not comfortable with.
It was as if they were handling a parcel of rotten fish keen to pass it on to
The obvious distaste that members of the PPC found in
dealing with this topic was exacerbated when the PPC passed the parcel to an
expert on the matter, Dr Susan Wiltshire of Leeds University. The good doctor’s
diagnosis was that this imbalance might be caused by anti-Irish racism or
sectarianism in the justice system and further research was needed to establish
This was too much for the PPC and as a last act in the
previous session of parliament and with elections looming they passed the
parcel on to the next session of parliament, referring it to the to the Equal
Opportunities Committee (EO) instead of the Justice Committee where it should,
as a justice matter have went.
The EO like their predecessors found this petition a
distasteful matter and yesterday after 11.48 minutes (from
48min 15sec to 60.03 on this tape) closed the petition on the basis that
the reasons for the petition had been fulfilled.
Now perhaps I am stupid, but as the person who asked the
question “why are there so many RCs in prison” I cannot see where or by
whom this question has been answered.
Perhaps the EO committee thinks that RCs have more than an
equal opportunity to experience the inside of Scottish prisons?
Scotland and our justice system is under world-wide scrutiny
because of the bombs sent to Neil Lennon and other Irish or Irish descended RCs
and the astonishing jury decision in the sectarian attack on Neil Lennon yet
the politicians choose not to examine apparent evidence of societal
Instead our last two justice ministers and a host of MSPs
keep repeating the mantra “there is no evidence of bias in our
justice system” without having the guts to examine this anomaly that
their own commissioned expert reported might exist and needed further research.
The research Dr Wiltshire suggested might have looked into
the membership of organisations such as the Orange Order or Freemasons, groups
hostile to RCs and Muslims, among members of our justice system that would
explain—or go some way towards explaining—the disproportionate number of RCs in
Research might have found that juries are selected from the
Old Boys network and this might have explained the Edinburgh jury’s verdict in
the Neil Lennon assault case if research found they all belonged to the same
So where do I go from here? I will ask the Convenor of the
EO to give me a clear answer to my question in one sentence. “What
is the reason for the disproportionate number of RCs and Muslims in Scottish
I expect to get a long winded answer about criminality in
socially deprived areas with large RC/Muslim populations.
This will probably lead me on to my next petition; “why
are RCs/Muslims disproportionately represented in Scottish slums.” Or “why,
one and a half centuries after the potato famine are the Irish Scots still
living in slums”
I am a retired businessman having successfully set up and
ran an engineering company for 25 years. I do not practice any religion having
parted company with the Catholic Church some years ago and raised the petition
on the basis that I perceived an injustice being enacted on one section of the
community. I was happy to expand my petition to Muslims when their
disproportionate rates were brought to my attention.
I am considering contacting the leaders of the RC and Muslim
communities in Scotland and ask them to petition the Scottish Parliament in
identical terms to PE 1073 and see if they can get any meaningful explanation.
I wholeheartedly agree that this issue should not be swept under the carpet in the manner which it appears to have been. The disproportionate representation of any group (religion, race, sex, etc.) in the prison system warrants close investigation, especially as this situation can not only stem from discriminatory feeling and policy, but can also propagate such sentiment. It’s an issue which must be addressed fully if we are truly aspiring to an equal community.
The only aspect of this article I’m not entirely comfortable with is the assertion that the Freemasons are a group ‘hostile to RCs and Muslims’. I do agree with the statement about the Orange Order. Now, I don’t profess to know a great deal about the specifics of Freemasonry (being female makes that a little difficult), but I’m not sure that this is a fair statement. Firstly, there are plenty of Muslim masonic lodges – there’s even one in Edinburgh itself (Masjid-i-Suleman). Secondly, I don’t believe that the Freemasons as a group can be labelled anti Roman Catholic. I believe there are many Freemasons who are, and this number is probably disproportionate itself in an organisation which is strongly opposed by the Catholic Church, but I still don’t think this label can be applied to the group as an entity. Once again, I’m aware of Catholic Freemasons and I’ve asked them about this issue. None of them has ever told me of a conflict with their faith.
I absolutely agree that there is an ‘Old Boys’ network and mentality and this is without a doubt one of the most important contributing factors (if not THE most important) to the inequalities in our society. It’s a huge issue in many aspects of life and I fully support any investigation into this matter.
I definitely think you should contact the relevant community leaders and that this petition should be continued. Hopefully it will eventually receive the attention it is due. I’ll sign it.