Politicians condemn anti-Irish abuse of Neil Lennon

Hibernian manager Neil Lennon. Picture: Bruce White/SNS
Hibernian manager Neil Lennon. Picture: Bruce White/SNS

Holyrood politicians have backed Neil Lennon's claims that Scotland has a major problem with anti-Irish racism and condemned fans who target the Hibs manager.

Politicians and anti-sectarian charities lent their support to Mr Lennon after he likened the abuse he receives to the actions of the Ku Klux Klan.

Mr Lennon said he had not experienced racist abuse while working in English football but when he came back north of the border it had “reared its ugly head”.

The Hibs manager was struck by a coin at this week's Edinburgh derby against Hearts after he signalled to opposition fans to calm down after a disallowed goal.

James Dornan, the SNP MSP who convenes Holyrood's cross party group on “Combating Sectarianism in Scottish Society” said the behaviour of fans was “ridiculous”, adding that action should be taken against them.

“Neil Lennon is quite right to highlight what he considers to be anti-Irish racism, given the numerous attacks on him and his character over the years,” Mr Dornan said. “Many football people have been abused on a regular basis, but none has had to put up with what Mr Lennon has. It's hard to see what reason there could be for it, except for the fact that he comes from a particular culture and that seems not to meet with the favour of a minority in Scottish society.

“I don't think we can hide the fact that we still hear (sectarian) chants. There is an issue with some people with Irish Catholics.

“I am trying my hardest and that's why I brought this cross party group together to tackle sectarianism. I am hopeful that the likes of Mr Lennon will come and speak to the group in the future to highlight to the public and parliament what it is like for someone in his situation. I am hoping that we can start taking action against football fans and get the message across to football fans that this behaviour is completely unacceptable. You know, we are in 2018 you would think sometimes we were in 1690 (the date of the Battle of the Boyne) or the early part of the last century. It is just ridiculous.”

Read more: Neil Lennon compares abuse to actions of the Ku Klux Klan
David Scott of the anti-sectarianism charity Nil By Mouth said: “Scotland does have a problem with sectarianism and there is a religious and ethnic dimension within that.

“Yes there is a problem with anti-Irish racism and it is a component within sectarianism in Scotland. It is not the only form of racism in Scotland, but it does exist.

"Neil Lennon has been the target of sectarian abuse and has had far more than his fair share of it. So it is always worth listening to him when he highlights the issue. Scottish football has singularly failed to tackle sectarian abuse."

he former Northern Ireland international has previously been attacked at Tynecastle and suffered a number of other crimes in Scotland, including being knocked unconscious in the street and being the recipient of a parcel bomb.

Read more: Neil Lennon bomb plot pair lose appeals

The message 'hang Neil Lennon' was daubed on a wall near Tynecastle on Wednesday. At a press conference ahead of Hibernian's fixture with St Johnstone, Mr Lennon said.

"That's the basis of it, has been since 2000," said Mr Lennon.

"You call it sectarianism here in Scotland, I call it racism. If a black man is abused, you are not just abusing the colour of his skin, you are abusing his culture, his heritage, his background.

"It's the exact same when I get called a Fenian, a pauper, a beggar, a tarrier. These people with the sense of entitlement or superiority complex. And all I do is stand up for myself.

"I've been subjected to this for 18 years. I'm 47, I'm fed up of it. I'm the manager of Hibs now and I'm still getting it. Hanging people is something the Ku Klux Klan did in the 60s to black people, so maybe that's the mentality of the people who write this stuff.

"There's a problem. It's a big problem. And you all turn your back on it, you all laugh about it, and brush it aside. It's right there. I keep hearing all this 'One Scotland', we are open to everyone. At times it hasn't been the case to me.

"I had a career in England unblemished by all this stuff. I had two years at Bolton - no abuse, no attacks, no suspensions. As soon as you come back to Scotland, it rears its ugly head.

"It's there right in front of you every week, you hear the songs in stadiums. That's got to be stamped out but people don't want to do it. They say 'there's 40,000 people in there, there's 60,000 in that stadium, you can't do anything about it'. You can, if you really want to.

"And I'm not the only one to suffer from sectarian abuse. There are plenty of Rangers players who suffer it and I think it's disgusting in this day and age. Sometimes its worse here than it is back home."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Everyday racism or bigotry is completely unacceptable, and it is wrong for anyone to be the subject or victim of it. We are resolved to do everything it takes to ensure that Scotland is a place where there is zero tolerance of racism or prejudice in any form.”