Belfast Telegraph

Our new laws may be hard to enforce

By Liam Clarke

Here in Northern Ireland, David Ford's Justice Bill attempts to outlaw sectarian behaviour on our terraces and make matches more family friendly.

The aim of the bill - which came into force last month - is laudable, but the Scottish court's "not proven" verdict on Neil Lennon's assailant shows how difficult it is to prove a sectarian or racial motive. John Wilson admitted lunging at Lennon at a soccer match and striking him on the head.

A witness claimed to have heard him utter a sectarian insult, but this did not amount to a sectarian assault. Instead he was found guilty of a breach of the peace.

It remains to be seen whether sectarian chanting and pitch invasion, which are amongst the activities Mr Ford has made into offences, will be any easier to prove beyond reasonable doubt.

It is notoriously tricky to prove motive. Only one person, George Seawright, has been prosecuted under our incitement to hatred legislation. That happened in 1984 after Mr Seawright told the Belfast Education and Library Board that Catholics should be incinerated.

A defendant is entitled to the benefit of the doubt and Mr Wilson, who denied any sectarian motive, got it.

Time will tell whether our new laws against sectarianism in sport are effective and enforceable.


From Belfast Telegraph