A NATS MSP was today accused of “making up bigotry” after linking the cancellation of bus services due to anti-social behaviour to “anti-Irish racism”.
James Dornan said the decision by Lothian Buses to suspend evening services on March 17 suggested the operator had concluded “Irish Catholics were to blame for this rise in anti-social behaviour” because it coincided with St Patrick’s Day.
He made the claim in a parly speech and later tweeted to say he’d raised “the ongoing issue of anti-Catholic bigotry and anti-Irish racism”, adding: “For far too long accepted as part of Scottish life. Things are changing but we still have a fair way to go to sort this out.”
But Mr Dornan, SNP MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, was slapped down by opposition politicians, who insisted buses were axed because of “straightforward vandalism” after vehicles were pelted with bricks and drivers abused by yobs in some parts of Edinburgh - and not because of a “sectarian slight”.
Ian Murray, Labour MP for Edinburgh South, said: “A Glasgow MSP making up bigotry about Edinburgh. What a fool. For the record, it was because bricks were being thrown through bus windows endangering lives.”
Alex Cole-Hamilton, Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western, said: “I’ve clashed with (James Dornan) before, but this is utterly contemptible.
“Lothian drivers had suffered nights of abuse and physical assault via stoning before the company suspended services. This was not some sectarian slight.
“He should apologise to Lothian and to parliament.”
And Neil Findlay, former Labour MSP for the Lothian region, said: “When the situation emerged I contacted Unite Scotland to find out what was going on with attacks on their members and urged government to help resolve the situation.
“At no time was sectarianism mentioned - it was straightforward vandalism.”
Lothian Buses announced it was cancelling all services after 7.30pm on the night of March 17 across Edinburgh and the Lothians to ensure customer and driver safety following a spate of attacks.
And in April it confirmed some of its services would be diverted away from particular routes.
Police have since charged 38 children and young people during an operation targeting antisocial behaviour and violence towards Lothian Buses drivers.
During a Scottish Government justice debate at Holyrood Thursday, Mr Dornan pointed to March 17 being St Patrick’s Day and said he could “only assume” Lothian Buses had concluded “Irish Catholics were to blame for this rise in anti-social behaviour”.
He added: “Why else cancel buses only for the night of a ubiquitous Irish Catholic holiday when pubs were not open and it was a stay at home order in place.
“Can you imagine if this had happened roundabout July 12 or if it had about roundabout a Muslim festival, or a Sikh festival. It just is not acceptable.”
In response, top lawyer Roddy Dunlop QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said: “As a Glaswegian who now lives in Edinburgh, this vacuous nonsense for an elected MSP is utterly bizarre.
“People in Edinburgh saw the damage caused to buses by bored/disaffected youths throwing bricks.
“Nothing to do with St Patrick’s Day, or religion in any form. Just safety.”