11 February 2006

Celtic to speak to IRA victims

Belfast Telegraph

Club is firm on tackling sectarianism

By Peter Winter
11 February 2006

A group that represents IRA victims is set to travel to Glasgow to tackle Celtic Football Club over alleged sectarianism.

The famous soccer team has invited Willie Frazer to visit them, after the Families Acting for Innocent Relatives boss launched a blistering attack on Celtic.

He lashed out at the club following an incident in which two of its stars were filmed amid a republican sing-song in Donegal last April.

Mr Frazer said he was planning to accept the Celtic offer - although no date has yet been fixed for his visit.

News of the meeting has emerged ahead of tomorrow's Old Firm clash between Rangers and Celtic.

Celtic has emphasised that it "stands firm against bigotry in all its forms and will continue to be a club for all".

The club issued the invitation to Mr Frazer in response to his letter of complaint about the Donegal sing-song, at which John Hartson and Stephen Pearson were present.

The pair admitted singing The Fields of Athenry but insisted that they did not participate in any pro-IRA chanting.

The club has proposed demonstrating at first hand that it is "tackling sectarianism, racism and religious intolerance".

Speaking today following the invitation, Mr Frazer said: "We hope they genuinely want to rid football of this intolerance."

He added: "Rangers seem to have knocked this sort of behaviour on the head."

Mr Frazer referred to an incident in 1999 when Rangers vice-chairman Donald Findlay quit the club after he was filmed singing a loyalist song in a club.

But the FAIR chief has himself been the target of strong criticism. A Belfast Telegraph reader has complained that his website contains fierce references to Celtic and republicans.

"Why should he bring the club into it?", the reader asked.

Mr Frazer responded that he represented those who had suffered at the hands of the IRA, and he would always challenge both the terror group and any apparent support for it.

"For too long people have thought it is OK to attend a function where others chant IRA slogans," he said. "Anyone who finds themselves in that situation should at the very least get up and leave."

In a statement, Celtic denied the two players had shouted anything promoting political or paramilitary organisations and stressed the event at Clanree hotel in Letterkenny was not organised by the club.

The statement continued: "People who indulge in sectarian behaviour or in the promotion of paramilitary organisations, have no place within the Celtic family."

Mr Frazer, however, said he was frustrated by the way many perceive republican songs: "We want to change the whole idea that the IRA were fighting some romantic, colonial war and it's therefore OK to sing these songs."

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