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The Council, the Police and the truth: anti-Catholic marches in Glasgow

Ahead of 34 anti-Catholic, Glasgow-wide marches slated for September 18, both Glasgow City Council and Greater Glasgow Police issued respective tweets which implied Call It Out had lied to both the public and its supporters in relation to Police Scotland/GCC communication on contentious parade routes.

For the avoidance of doubt, we present below our exchanges with both organisations.

Throughout our existence we have worked closely with the police. We inform them of planned vigils and protests, they listen to our concerns surrounding anti-Catholic marches, and they commend us on our general conduct and commitment to the safety of attendees.

In the interests of that relationship - which we believed was important to spreading our community's message - and, as a matter of courtesy, we have never released copies of any correspondence of any kind with the police. With regret, we now feel forced to do so. We asked both the council and the police to delete their tweets, or issue clarification, but the council has refused and the police have not responded. Even now, we will not use the names of the Police Liaison Officer or the more junior council official, but we will use the names of the senior officials of both organisations.

Following the notification published on the Council webpage that 18 anti-Catholic marches would take place in Glasgow on 18/9/2021, we inspected those as best we could to determine if any of them would pass Catholic Churches. We immediately noticed two, both of which were the sites of incidents on previous occasions. It appears that we may have missed at least one more. We also noticed that a route was being used at which a woman was assaulted in July 2019 - the last occasion before the pandemic when the so-called 'big walk' took place. On that basis, we wrote to the Public Processions Officer of Glasgow City Council on 6/9/2021 in the following terms:


I am writing to you on behalf of Call it Out to register a formal objection to a number of upcoming public processions and to express our concern at the number of processions being approved on a single day in September.

On 18 September 2021 there are 34 processions listed as being notified. Among those are one which passes St Benedict's RC Church on Westerhouse Road, Glasgow and one which passes Blessed John Duns Scotus RC Church on Ballater Street. There may be others which pass Catholic churches but the number of them and the limited information provided on the Council website in relation to the routes makes it difficult to identify. You can take it as read that our objection is to any anti-Catholic organisation processing past any Catholic Church. By anti-Catholic organisation we mean the Orange Order, the Royal Black Institution, the Apprentice Boys of Derry, or any of the so-called Loyal Orders and any marching band marching in support of them. You will be aware that there is now enormous public concern about both the nature, the number and the routes of such processions among the Irish/Catholic community in Glasgow and among citizens who are opposed to the intimidation and criminality which often accompanies such processions.

Specifically, on 6 July 2019 (the last 'Boyne Celebrations') myself and other members of Call it Out personally witnessed the conduct of those processing past Blessed John Duns Scotus in Ballater Street. The marchers consistently and steadfastly ignored the instructions of police officers to cease playing music as they passed the church and to keep moving. Instead, they stopped for some minutes directly in front of the church, increased the volume and tempo of the drumming and played a tune which is well known as normally being accompanied by the words 'The famine is over, why don't you go home'. Indeed this is the same racist song, the singing of which in the city centre recently, which is currently the subject of a police investigation. This conduct (on 6/7/19) was filmed by police officers who were on Ballater Street - I know this because I asked the officer filming if he had captured it and he said that he had. This should have been conveyed to the committee by the police as the statutory consultees.

There are other routes currently notified, which have been the site of disorder, also on 6 July of 2019. Specifically, on West George Street a woman was assaulted by pushing and spitting by two members of the Drumchapel Protestant Boys Flute Band who were subsequently identified, charged and convicted on 20 December 2019. On that basis, we are objecting to this route being used again by organisations which are associated with this flute band or those of a similar nature.

A further objection is hereby lodged to a notified procession on Sunday 14 November 2021 by the Apprentice Boys of Derry, the route of which takes the march past St Mary of the Assumption RC Church on Abercromby Street. This route has been changed in the past and we ask for that to be done in this case for the same reasons. This church, its parishioners and it's Parish Priest, have been the subject of intimidation and criminality in the recent past and is regularly the subject of associated disorder caused by anti-Catholic bigots and racists, including, in the very recent past a group of women who sang anti-Catholic songs before urinating on the church steps.

To be absolutely clear, we, as an organisation, are not asking for a blanket ban on anti-Catholic process. We are aware that the Council has no powers to implement such a ban. However, Sheriff Reid's judgement on 31 May 2018 (which was the outcome of a case defended by Glasgow City Council and the link to which I give below for your convenience) makes it abundantly clear that there is no human right attached to processing along a particular route and, moreover, local authorities have the power to limit the number of processions on a given day in order to balance the needs of the local community against the rights to process of any organisation. We would like you to review these applications on the basis of our objection and taking Sheriff Reid's judgement into account.

We look forward to your response.

This communication was acknowledged on 8/9/2021 as follows:

Thank you for your email regarding the above.

I acknowledge receipt of your email, noting your comments.

We are currently engaging with our statutory consultees and other stakeholders, and will respond to you in due course.

'Statutory consultees' are Police Scotland. We asked who the 'other stakeholders' were but have received no reply as of yet.

Shortly thereafter, I, as Chair, was contacted by text by a Police Liaison Officer (PLO), which has come to be normal practice, to ask if we would have a presence at any of these marches - specifically outside any Catholic Church as the marchers passed. I spoke to him on 8th September and asked whether the police had advised the council about the conduct of marches on 6/7/2019. Bear in mind, the conduct on Ballater Street had been filmed by the police and I had spoken to them at the time and asked if they had captured the conduct and they had confirmed that they had. The PLO undertook to find out if that information had been conveyed to the Council as part of their response to the marches notified for the 18th.

On 13 September the PLO texted again to ask to speak to me that day or the following. We agreed 5pm on the 14th. That discussion took place while I was at dinner with 5 other people. My partner was sitting beside me was able to hear and noted my side of the conversation. In that conversation the PLO told me that the police had 'objected' to the marches we had discussed but that the Council had decided to deal with this by way of having conversations with the march organisers to impress upon them that such conduct would not be tolerated in the future.

For the length of time I have been involved in organising marches or objecting to marches, the practice is that if the police object to a march or a route then the Processions Committee invariably take action. I was so surprised by this that I asked on two separate occasions, 'are you telling me that the police objected to these marches and that the Council have decided not the change the route?' He said yes. I asked again shortly later, indicating that I would be sharing that information in the public domain and he again indicated that my understanding was correct. This was clearly heard by my partner, Eddie Toner.

Later that evening, after consulting with the Call it Out Committee, and after realising that the Public Processions Committee had not met since October 2019, we tweeted the following:

I also texted the PLO to enquire about who had taken the decision to ignore police advice, given that we could see the PPC had not met since October 2019. Here is the exchange:

Please note that the officer is referring specifically to police advice/recommendations given and how the Council chose to deal with them. The next message (seen here at the bottom of the screenshot) is dated 15/9/2021, and follows the tweets by both GCC and the Police which are discussed below.

The following day (Wednesday 15th September) at 10.53 the PLO called me to 'clarify' his remarks in the previous evening's call. He told me that the police had not sent a 'written formal objection' to the routes of the marches. I asked him to tell me what the police had done. He said they had provided a 'debrief' to the council about the conduct. He was unable to say when, and he was unable to say what - if anything - the police had communicated to the council when the marches which were notified for the 18th had been consulted on. He undertook to find this information out and come back to me.

Before he was able to do this, the Leader of the Council took it upon herself to personally tweet: Someone has been 'misinformed no such advice has been given' as a response to a citizen asking about this matter. This was followed up by a tweet from the official Glasgow City Council twitter account:

This was followed by a tweet from the Glasgow Division of the Police Service of Scotland.

Both tweets, taken individually and together, are clearly an attack on Call it Out. They call into question my honesty as Chair, and Call It Out as an organisation. I contacted the PLO again in the following tweet, and note that the officer offered to call me last night himself but I declined to engage given that this situation was now at a level that required a senior officer.

The Divisional Commander for Glasgow, Chief Superintendent Mark Sutherland, sent an email on 15/9/2021 at 17.29 to discuss the matter - an offer which has not yet been taken up as it was only a short time ago - in which the following paragraph appears:

As I understand it our liaison officers have discussed what was captured in the de-brief following the 2019 processions which included incidents at both parish churches in Easterhouse and the Gorbals, all of which was shared with GCC.

This is very different from Police Scotland providing formal notice to GCC about existing information and intelligence where we believe there is significant threat to public safety and or serious disruption to the life of the community. Following such notification GCC would then consider a processions committee which may lead to a re-route or other decision by the committee.

While these communications with police were going on the following emails were sent from a senior official at Glasgow City Council in relation to the same matters:

GCC response and our reply 14 September 2021
Download PDF • 59KB

CIO and GCC re tweets
Download DOCX • 17KB

On any view, both the texts from the PLO and the email from the Divisional Commander clearly indicate that GCC were given advice/recommendations which relate to misconduct at at least two of the routes to which we raised objections. For both organisations to issue public half-truths which suggest that nothing had been said in relation to these routes is a serious matter. The question of whether the concerns - which were clearly conveyed to the Council at some point - were sufficient to elicit a 'formal notice' is a judgement which both organisations took, and is, at the very least, questionable and subject to challenge. In any event, to suggest that nothing had been said - and therefore publicly brand our organisation as liars - is beyond contempt and raises serious, democratic issues.

The correspondence with GCC shows also that a judgement was made, which stands out of line with the response of the Council in 2019 when it defended its decision to re-route an anti-Catholic march.

Clearly both organisations - who have had very little to say about the upsurge of anti-Catholic bigotry and anti-Irish racism in recent times - have no difficulty finding their way to the keyboard when it comes to smearing the good name of an organisation from a minority community. Again, we say this is institutional anti-Catholic bigotry - in every matter our rights come second...or last.


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