Anti-censorship campaigners last night stepped into the row over sectarian songs at football games.
A political storm erupted after Rangers Football Club fans chanted the ‘Famine Song’ during an Old Firm game last month.
The controversial song refers to the Great Potato Famine that killed over a million people in the 1840s and includes the lyrics “From Ireland they came. Brought us nothing but trouble and shame. Well the famine is over. Why don't they go home?”.
It sparked widespread outrage off the pitch and led to Irish diplomats making representations to the Scottish Government demanding they tackle the issue urgently.
Now however in the latest twist of the ongoing song saga, the Index on Censorship, one of the world’s leading repositories on free expression issues, has branded attempts to silence fans as a “dangerous” assault of free speech.
Irish-born Index spokesperson Padraig Reidy, said the matter should be handled by football clubs, not the Scottish state.
He said it was the Rangers fans’ right to insult the Irish over the Great Famine if they so wished: “Considering we all know that there have been nasty, offensive songs at Old Firm games for years, making it into a national issue seems absurd and dangerous. It’s trying to set a legal limit on speech that isn’t incitement to violence. Rangers and Celtic agreed themselves to sing what they want.
“It’s different to anti-discrimination laws, which are a very good thing, but seeking to outlaw any kind of insulting or offensive speech/songs does become very problematic, because someone will always take offence,” he said.
Mr Reidy said that while the song was undoubtedly offensive, behaviour at football matches should not be a state concern.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Sports Minister Gregory Campbell has written urging Celtic Football Club to do more on pro-IRA chants. with particular reference to Celtic’s visit to Fir Park at Motherwell and a recent pre-season friendly match at Southampton.
The East Londonderry MP, who turned down an invitation to Celtic Park, wrote to club chairman and ex Northern Ireland Secretary of State, John Reid, asking him to deal with the problem.
“It’s great to see the positive step that Rangers have taken to try and stamp out offensive songs and my letter to John Reid was an attempt to find out what Celtic has been doing to try and put an end to songs that support terrorist campaigns,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
The Scottish Executive is working with Rangers and Celtic Football Clubs to lower sectarian tensions.