Football Offences Act

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 am on 11th June 2007.

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Photo of Brian Wilson Brian Wilson Green 3:30 am, 11th June 2007

1.   asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what plans he has to commence a consultation on legislation equivalent to the Football Offences Act in Great Britain, as promised in ‘A Shared Future: First Triennial Action Plan 2006-2009’

          (AQO 26/07)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Primary responsibility for leading consultation on legislation equivalent to the Football (Offences) Act 1991 in Great Britain rests with the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) under the Northern Ireland Act 2000. I can confirm that Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) officials have been working closely with NIO officials on the development of proposals on the intro­duction of new public order offences in Northern Ireland similar to those in the Football (Offences) Act 1991. I will shortly be considering those proposals and plan to discuss them with the NIO Minister responsible for that area.

Photo of Brian Wilson Brian Wilson Green

I welcome the Minister’s response, and as a regular spectator at international matches at Windsor Park, I welcome the improvements that have been made by the Irish Football Association (IFA) in recent years to eliminate sectarianism and hooliganism. However, there is still a problem that must be tackled, particularly as the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) is getting much more strict about that sort of conduct. The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 identifies an offence of crimes aggravated by religious prejudice. That should be considered as a basis for new legislation. Will the Minister discuss that with the Northern Ireland Office?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The proposed legislation deals with pitch invasion, the throwing of missiles, offensive chanting — which has already been mentioned — the control of alcohol, ticket touting and the need for banning orders similar to those that exist in Great Britain.

Photo of David Hilditch David Hilditch DUP

Some tremendous work has been carried out by the IFA recently, through the Football for All programmes such as Give Sectarianism the Boot and Give Racism the Boot. Does the Minister believe that the Northern Ireland Office has been obstructive towards introducing legislation?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I, too, acknowledge the work that the IFA has done on that. We should also acknowledge the work that has been done by the amalgamation of the official Northern Ireland supporters’ clubs, which was awarded the Brussels International Supporters’ Award in September 2006 for its efforts to stamp out sectarianism in the game. This is not exclusively a matter for legislation. It is a matter that can also be dealt with by other means. I would not go as far as to say that the NIO has been obstructive in where we are at present. However, DCAL is very willing to work with all bodies, including the NIO, for the introduction of the legislation.