More dialogue needed to address sectarianism in Scotland - report

Sectarianism often taints matches between Glasgow teams Rangers and CelticPA

A new report backed by the Church of Scotland has outlined measures to tackle sectarian divisions in the country.

'Responding to Sectarianism' was authored by Professor Charlie Irvine, of the University of Strathclyde, who was commissioned to write an independent evaluation of the 'Place for Hope' project.

The project was set up by the Church of Scotland in 2009 and funded in part by the Scottish Government earlier this year.

It has trained ministers and lay people in facilitation and mediation, and is involved in addressing congregational conflict throughout Scotland with a view to developing "creative, positive and life-giving ways" to explore and address differences.

Place for Hope conducted a series of community dialogues on the subject of sectarianism between September 2012 and March this year, with a focus on rural Scotland.

It aimed to increase understanding of sectarianism, break down barriers, and to demonstrate the value of dialogue.

A total of 70 people from both the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions were asked to discuss the impact of sectarianism in their communities, and what they felt the response should be.

In his report, Professor Irvine underlines the key issues that were highlighted by the Place for Hope project, including levels of anti-Catholicism and ignorance about the causes of sectarianism.

Participants found that these were two of the greatest sources of division in Scotland, in addition to anti-English sentiment and the secular/faith divide.

The impact of sectarianism was found to be far-reaching, with the report concluding that sectarianism "does exist outside Scotland's Central Belt, with Catholics rather than Protestants relating the great majority of incidents".

Professor Irving noted that comments made during the dialogues and interviews tended towards "anti-Catholicism rather than sectarianism".

"There were no voices saying that the problem is anti-Protestantism rather than sectarianism," he noted.

Those who felt victimised by divisions said they had been made to feel "like a second class citizen", while some noted that Christians often find themselves worst off.

"It's not politically correct to down other faiths, but it's alright to kick Christianity because supposedly it's a Christian country," one participant claimed.

According to the report, those who took part in the project said that they appreciated the opportunity to speak with those of other traditions, but felt that "the approach could both go to a deeper level given more time, and could be taken to more challenging groups".

Professor Irving received "affirmation that community dialogue was positive," but also that it "could be used in more fraught/risk setting", such as a meeting between Rangers and Celtic supporters.

Other areas for development are named as engaging with schools, increased inter-denominational working, and deepening the dialogue in order to empower participants to believe they can make a change in their communities.

Place for Hope has been granted further funds to broaden its work in Scotland and the project will initially be continuing in rural settings, while also initiating new dialogues in West Lothian and Lanarkshire.