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Calls to tackle rise in sectarian attacks on Catholics in Scotland

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Minister: Annabelle Ewing

Minister: Annabelle Ewing

Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

Minister: Annabelle Ewing

Sectarian attacks on Catholics are on the increase in Scotland, new figures have revealed.

And a fifth of all charges for sectarian crime in the country last year happened at a single football match.

Now Catholic Church leaders want to meet ministers in Edinburgh to demand a campaign to tackle the 'hate crime' problem.

Religiously-aggravated crime accounts for more than half of all hate crimes (57%) targeting Catholics or Catholicism, according to the official religious hate crime statistics.

The increase comes despite the fact that Catholics account for less than a fifth (17%) of the population in Scotland.

Peter Kearney, director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office (SCMO), said the figures show Scottish society "remains scarred by past hatreds and tumults".

In an article written for The Scotsman newspaper, he added: "Were any other type of crime to be dominated so completely by a single type of behaviour, we might expect a targeted strategy to emerge, ­promoted by the authorities as a response to a particular problem."

Recent figures show there were 673 charges reported in 2016-17 - an increase of 14% on the previous year and the highest total over the past four years.

More than half (377) were made under laws which are aimed at tackling sectarianism in football.

Charges under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act increased 32% on the previous year, with 140 of these related to the Scottish Cup final between Rangers and Hibernians in May last year.

The Scottish Labour Party brought forward proposals to have the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act scrapped, a move which has the backing of other opposition parties in the Edinburgh Assembly who could join forces to defeat the SNP government.

Now, following the summer recess period, Catholic Church leaders are to hold talks to urge ministers to acknowledge the frequency with which Catholics are being attacked. They are planning to meet Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing next month after a series of Parliamentary Questions was lodged by the Labour MSP Elaine Smith.

The church leaders are concerned the current approach is too "vague" and there is a need for a more targeted strategy.

Mr Kearney said there appeared to be a reluctance to bring in a 'name and shame' approach.

Rather than overall appeals to people, Mr Kearney argued similar campaigns against drink-driving or people using mobile phones while driving were backed by campaigns which targeted the behaviour directly.

"The approach is sensible and logical. Before a problem can be tackled, it must first be identified and addressed," he said.

"Surprisingly, this doesn't happen when it comes to religious intolerance and the criminal behaviour which goes with it.

"An indication of the government's unwillingness to adopt a name and shame approach to religious hate crime came in the recent parliamentary exchanges."

Mr Kearney said the response from Cabinet Secretary Angela Constance for a public campaign pledged to raise awareness in "wider society" was vague.

"In the view of many, it is a narrowing focus on this problem which might be most appropriate, not a wider one," he concluded.

Belfast Telegraph