Scottish Parliament Under Attack For Failing To Investigate Discrimination In Justice System

Marcello Mega is a freelance journalist who has been unable to get this story in any newspaper. 107 Cowgate carries it in full below.

By Marcello Mega

THE CATHOLIC Church has condemned the Scottish Parliament for
failing to address ‘visceral anti-Catholicism’ in Scotland by dismissing an
academic report calling for an investigation into possible discrimination in the
justice system.

The Equal Opportunities Committee at Holyrood decided it had
spent enough time discussing possible anti-Catholic bias 24 hours before Hearts
fan John Wilson was sentenced following his ‘exchange’ with Celtic manager Neil
Lennon at Tynecastle in May.

Wilson was jailed yesterday for eight months for breach of
the peace, but having been detained for half his sentence already he was
expected to walk free immediately.

Controversy still rages in certain quarters over Wilson’s
acquittal last month by a jury at Edinburgh Sheriff Court of carrying out a
sectarian assault, or even of assaulting the Celtic manager.

The verdict appeared perverse given that 16,000 fans
witnessed events in the stadium, millions more watched footage on news
bulletins, and because Wilson had admitted assault while denying any sectarian
motive.

The timing of the EOC’s decision the previous day to dismiss
a petition submitted to the Public Petitions Committee by retired Fife
businessman Tom Minogue might be seen as unfortunate.

Mr Minogue, who ran a successful engineering firm, had asked
the PPC to investigate why a disproportionate number of Catholics were in
Scottish jails.

The question arose from data showing that while only 13% of
Scots were Catholic, they made up 26% of the prison population.

Numerous MSPs dismissed the question by pointing out that a
greater number of Scotland’s Catholics lived in poorer areas and might be more
likely to fall into crime.

Census data showed that Catholics were the largest religious
group in Scotland’s poorest areas, with 19% living in the 10% most deprived
housing areas, compared to 14% of Muslims and 8% of Church of Scotland members.

But Mr Minogue managed to keep the petition alive suggesting
that this should also be investigated since the potato famines were more than
150 years in the past.

Last year, Dr Susan Wiltshire, an expert in criminal justice
processes, was commissioned by the PPC to advise on whether further
investigation was warranted, and she expressed the view that it was.

She warned that prejudice might even exist in our justice
system, a suggestion routinely dismissed until that point.

The timing of the PPC’s publication of Dr Wiltshire’s report
underlined the fact that the content was potentially embarrassing. It was put
online on Christmas Eve 2010 without any alert to Mr Minogue or the media.

Dr Wiltshire wrote: “There is evidence across a range
of social spheres that Catholics score worse on a variety of social indicators,
such as health and housing. Moreover, evidence on the stark relationship between
deprivation and offending is compelling.

“The question therefore should shift from asking why
Catholics are disproportionately represented in Scottish jails to why so many
Catholics continue to live in areas of deprivation in Scotland.”

She also refused to accept that there was no need to question
the integrity of our justice system, stating: “Discriminatory and
prejudiced attitudes continue to feature in modern Scottish society.

“It might be expected that such attitudes could
manifest in the criminal justice system, accounting in part for
disproportionality.”

Dr Wiltshire also said anti-Catholic sentiments and hostility
in Scotland were “inextricably linked to Irish identity and issues around
ethnicity”.

Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland,
said last night: “Scotland remains a country where often visceral
anti-Catholicism is widespread.

“The current ‘debate’ on sectarianism is depressingly
superficial.

“None of the legislation passed or proposed has changed the
fact that in recent months a Catholic church has been set on fire (St Ronan’s at
Bonhill), an ancient stone cross outside a Catholic school has been destroyed,
nuns have had their home vandalised and attacked and Catholic schoolchildren
have been intimidated and spat upon in the street.

“Progress will only be made when we accept that sectarianism
in our country overwhelmingly comprises ant-Catholicism.”

The composer James MacMillan said: “Blatant anti-Catholicism
is the elephant in the room that the Government refuses to acknowledge.

“The parliamentary committee appeared shifty and
uncomfortable every time they were forced to discuss this issue.

“You could almost feel their disappointment when an excellent
research report by Dr Wiltshire was submitted to them, giving them less room for
squirming out of their responsibilities.

“Did it simply deliver conclusions they didn’t want to see?
Of course it did.”

Mr Minogue said the obvious distaste of the PPC in dealing
with his petition was exacerbated by Dr Wiltshire’s report and led them to ‘pass
the buck’ to the EOC, which had discussed the matter for 11 minutes and 48
seconds before deciding its duties had been fulfilled.

Mr Minogue said: “As the person who asked the question, I
cannot see where or by whom it has been answered.

“Perhaps the EO committee thinks that RCs have more than an
equal opportunity to experience the inside of Scottish prisons.”

He added: “Scotland and our justice system is under
world-wide scrutiny because of the bombs addressed to Neil Lennon and other
prominent RCs, and the astonishing jury decision in the attack on Neil Lennon,
yet the politicians choose not to examine apparent evidence of societal
anti-Irish/RC bias.

“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.”

Claudia Beamish, Convenor of the Equal Opportunities
Committee said: “The Parliament carried out an investigation into the reasons
for the disproportionate number of Catholics in prisons.

“The research established that more than one faith group was
affected in this way, there was no link to discrimination on the part of the
justice system, and that a link has been drawn to deprivation.”

ENDS

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