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Unionism refuses to outlaw sectarian chanting

Unionism coalesced yesterday on the floor of the Northern Ireland Assembly to block an amendment to the Justice Bill which would have outlawed sectarian chanting at sporting games in this region.

Only a week after a small minority of local fans brought themselves and their shirt into disrepute it seems bizarre that anyone would have a problem with this proposal.

What was even more bizarre is that the Justice Committee had been debating the need for this measure for some seven months and the proposed amendment, introduced by the Minister for Justice, had the unanimous support of the Justice Committee which is made up of member of the DUP, UUP, SF and SDLP.

Many will be scratching their heads that Basil McCrea led the opposition to the proposed amendment on the floor of the house. He will have a fair amount of apologising to do to Reg Empey and David McNarry who represent his party on the committee following suggestions he made on yesterday’s Nolan Show that the committee were not up to the job!

I have been in politics long enough to see a lurch to the right and a return to the trenches coming. Political unionism reverted to type yesterday. Faced with the option of doing the right thing and setting a real example or falling back on old fears and prejudices, they chose the latter. The bizarre u-turn will also alarm many who are concerned about the state of the UUP under Tom Elliot’s leadership.

The Justice Committee meets this afternoon. I will challenge the committee to stand by its decision to ban sectarian chanting in sport. There is still an opportunity for unionism to catch up with society, the sporting organisations and the many people across our region who support this move.