The Scottish Parliament will this week examine a petition to investigate the high numbers of Catholics in Scotland's prisons and in the poorest housing.
The Public Petitions Committee of the Parliament, has broke from usual procedure where the petitioner has a few minutes to speak on the issue, and has denied Mr Thomas Minogue, the author of the petition a chance to speak.
Here follows the Sunday Herald report on the matter, along with a Press Release from Mr Minogue sent to media outlets.
The Sunday Herald reports (print edition, without online link)
Sunday Herald 30 Sept 2007
RC prison numbers to be examined
By Marcello Mega
QUESTIONS about the high numbers of Catholics in Scotland's jails and in Scotland's poorest housing will be faced by the public petitions committee of the Scottish parliament on Tuesday.
But the retired Fife businessman who raised the petition has been denied the chance to address the committee by its convener, Frank McAveety.
Tom Minogue is asking that the Scottish government keeps promises,made six years ago by then justice min-ister Jim Wallace, to examine the social issues behind the disproportionate numbers of Catholics in jail and in the most deprived housing.
His petition has been signed by Alex Mosson, former lord provost of Glasgow, the composer James MacMillan and several academics and clergymen.
In 2001, a study of Scotland's prison population showed that Catholics were 66 more likely than their fellow Scots to end up in jail. By 2004, that figure had risen to 100, with Catholics making up only 13 of the Scottish population but 26 of the jail population.
Petitioners commonly have three minutes to address' the committee, but Minogue has been told that McAveety would not allow him to speak.
A spokesman for the committee said Minogue had submitted a detailed petition and it had not been considerednecessary for him to expand on it.
Press Release from the petitioner Mr Thomas Minogue :
Press release in lieu of 3-minute address in support of Public Petition to the Scottish Parliament PE 1073, to be considered by the Public Petitions Committee of the Parliament on Tuesday 2nd October 2007 at 2pm in Committee Room 1.
Broadcast live on the Internet at http://www.holyrood.tv/committee.asp
Release 29/09/2007 09:05
Submission: In June 2005 I Googled “Donald Findlay, Q.C.” as part of my research in connection with a complaint I had lodged with the Faculty of Advocates that Mr. Findlay had acted in a racist and bigoted manner and brought the Faculty into disprepute1.
Of the many controversial articles thrown up by Google about our best-known senior counsel one in particular struck me as unbelievable. It was an article from the Sunday Times of January 21st 2001, relating to the disproportionate number of RCs in Scottish Prisons which were said to be: “ almost double the percentage of Catholics in the population as a whole.”
The article entitled: “High Catholic prison numbers spark probe”, reported how Pauline McNeill MSP had raised the question of the disproportionate number of RCs in Scottish Prisons with the then Justice Minister, Jim Wallace who—after denying any discrimination in the legal system—stated: “The most puzzling issue to emerge from the statistics is why Catholics should be represented in prison at twice the level they are in society. These figures merit further investigation.”
The Times reporter sought the view of the legal establishment from Donald Findlay, Q.C. Mr Findlay explained the anomalous disproportion by stating “I would guess any distortion has less to do with religion than with the strong presence in the west of Scotland of people with Irish roots.”
Being predominately Irish descended, and nominally RC, I had a personal interest, and also a general concern in this shocking statement, as well as the statistics that elicited it. Consequently I wrote to the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) to see if this disproportion still existed. To my surprise I was told by the SPS that the disparity had got worse, the “almost double” had increased to “double”! So I wrote to the First Minister Jack McConnell to ask: Did he know about this? Care about it? Could he explain it?
For almost a year I attempted to get a response from the First Minister but after much correspondence in this period I eventually gave up and lodged Petition 1073 with the Public Petitions Committee (PPC). The nearest I had got to an answer—which I was promised—to my three questions from Mr. McConnell, was a statement from an official purportedly speaking on his behalf, which explained the disproportion away by stating that more RCs lived in slums in the West of Scotland. A statement that there was no bias in the justice system accompanied this explanation. As in the case of the statement for the Justice Minister in 2001, this defence was of an accusation that had not been made.
Since lodging my e-petition there has been a fairly brisk discussion on the PPC website about the petition and possible explanations for the facts that spawned it. Many of the comments linked Catholicism and Irishness and many of these were derogatory towards the Irish and Catholics and had to be removed. It was also apparent that many critical contributions in the discussion of the petition were anti-Irish and anti-Catholic and blamed Catholic schools and the Catholic religion for criminality.
Of the more reasonable contributions, one contributor argued that sectarian or tribal bias exists in social provision or judicial process and must be expunged, another contributor argued that the possible cause could be freemasonry which is “greatly present” in the criminal justice system, and because freemasonry and the Catholic religion were opposed to each other there might be a bias by those dispensing justice against non-masons. Another maintained that freemasonry wasn’t anti-Catholic.
Two contributors in particular impressed me. The first a former Lord Provost of Glasgow simply stated that he agreed that there was prejudice in society against Catholics, and the second, from a prison inspector living in England, who perceived that the disproportionate number of Catholics in past years in goals in England was now being replaced by a Muslim predomination. This contributor also had a perception that anti-Irish and anti-Catholic residual prejudice was still present in Scotland.
This latter perception is supported by the fact that as recently as 2002 the Church of Scotland, (to their credit)—after over 100-years of preaching, or condoning by silence, anti-Irish racism and anti-Catholic bigotry—frankly and unreservedly apologized for their long history of anti-Irish racist preaching, which they described as being akin to Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech.
The March 2007 case2 of a Procurator Fiscal in Greenock who resigned after using the word Fenian (derogatory reference to Irish/Irish descended Catholics) in an offensive manner when drunk suggests that residual anti-Irish/Catholic bigotry is alive and well in the legal establishment. I am inclined to think that the disproportionate number of RCs in Scottish prisons is in some way linked to such residual anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudice as well as the influence of the predominately non-Catholic freemasons whose members are present if not prevalent in the police and the legal establishment.
It is my perception, based on personal experience that there is a degree of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudice entrenched in Scottish society. This is hardly surprising and is only to be expected when it was part of the established view for so long. Perhaps this proposition is what Mr. Findlay was alluding to in a cryptic way when he appeared to simply blame the disproportionate number of RCs in prison on the Irish.
It is hard to tell what Mr. Findlay means as he has two roles in life, one as an advocate and one as a comedian/entertainer. Assuming it was the barrister and not the buffoon that spoke to the Times reporter I can only guess that Mr. Findlay was blaming residual anti-Irish anti-Catholic prejudice for the disproportionate RC prison numbers—any other interpretation of his remarks would surely be racist and if such overt racism existed in the ranks of our senior barristers then we are in trouble.
Regardless of my perceptions, I trust that the PPC will ensure that the new Scottish Government does not allow this unexplained stain on the Scottish criminal justice system to remain ignored or simply swept under the carpet as in the past. I would urge the PPC to recommend a full and far-reaching investigation into this matter with no preconceptions or limit of remit. And as a first step to ask the Justice Secretary in the new Scottish Government for his comments on this issue.
Yours sincerely, Tom Minogue. Petitioner.
Note. 1 On 14th December 2005 a Faculty of Advocates Complaints Committee consisting of 2 senior Q.C. and 2 Scottish Executive Lay-members found Mr. Findlay guilty of bringing the Faculty into disrepute in relation to my complaint.
NB. A recital of this release was timed at just under the 3-minutes that I would have taken to deliver it, had the Convener of the PPC not refused me permission to speak to the petition.