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.
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?
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.