I very rarely agree with David McNarry, but he does have legitimate concerns about football supporters being singled out under the proposed Justice Bill. He asks why sections of the legislation dealing with ticket touts and banning orders apply only to football matches.
Of course fans of Gaelic games and rugby, the other sports affected by the Bill, point to the comparatively few incidents of disorder (off the pitch at least) which take place at their matches. That’s hardly the point. If an offence is committed which justifies a ban, or if touting takes place, surely it’s best to have the requisite legislation in place, whether it’s needed very frequently or not?
The specific provisions dealing with football are designed to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom, in terms of crowd safety, but common sense would suggest that there is no reason to restrict useful law to one sport only.
McNarry being McNarry, though, a valid point isn't allowed to get in the way of a pathetic mope. According to Mark Devenport, he alleges that targeting football discriminates against 'working class Protestant males'.
Firstly, any discrimination will be against a much more specific group (no women at the games McNarry attends obviously). It will apply only to someone who commits an offence at a football match or attempts to sell on a ticket illegally. Law abiding fans need not worry one jot.
Secondly, so long as we're generalising, someone had better inform the supporters of Donegal Celtic, Cliftonville, Newry City and, heck, even the Polish hooligans whose misbehaviour hastened the drafting of this section of the legislation, that they are all ‘working class Protestants’.
And that's before we get started on 'football for all'.
Why does every issue, for someone like McNarry, have to come down to religion, communalism and putting people in a box?
There’s a reasonable point to be made here on the basis of parity between the sports. There’s a legitimate argument that rugby and GAA should be ’regulated matches’ for the purposes of the touting and banning order sections of the Bill, just because the law is relevant. There’s even a valid question as to whether some of the other sections of the legislation, pertaining to alcohol and aspects of conduct by spectators, are properly drafted and necessary.
But a campaign of persecution against the poor downtrodden Protestant? Give me a break.