Protestant soccer fans 'targeted'
Protestant working class men could be unfairly affected by new laws promising a crackdown on crime linked to sports events, the Assembly has heard.
The claim was made during a debate on Justice Minister David Ford's Bill overhauling the law and order system, which includes measures to tackle drunkenness, offensive chanting and ticket touting in sport.
Ulster Unionist David McNarry complained that the new penalties would effectively target soccer, and not rugby or gaelic games, and risked singling out fans of Irish league and Northern Ireland international football.
The Department of Justice said the new laws would extend to all major sporting events, but the Strangford MLA cited research that he said suggested "Protestant working class males" could be unfairly affected.
Mr McNarry said: "With all the superb efforts made by all sports to tidy-up and remove images which no one can be proud of or find acceptable - I find the pitch of the legislation against soccer offensive in itself, and I believe that as soccer is the sport being picked-on unfairly, it deserves to be given a better press or presentation than it is in this proposed legislation."
The UUP member claimed the Bill did not go far enough in explaining how to enforce laws against offensive chanting or drunkenness, or the implementation of banning orders against offenders at sports grounds.
He also argued that football clubs that boosted their income by selling alcohol risked being penalised.
He called on the minister to reconsider his legislation and added: "To the extent that in citing and highlighting soccer in an over-the-top fashion, the department cannot escape responding to the charge that was alluded to in the Sports Consultation paper - that Protestant working class males are unfairly impacted upon."
Other MLAs backed the Ulster Unionist's concerns and said Irish league teams, plus supporters of the Northern Ireland team, had been internationally commended for their efforts to combat violence, drunkenness and sectarianism or racism.
Mr McNarry added: "I believe the ordinary decent soccer fans will recoil from the typecast being created here which paints a wrong picture that soccer fans, more than any others, are a bunch of drunken hooligans."