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Community / Hamilton renews call for council convener to facilitate Up Helly Aa talks

Peter Hamilton outside Lerwick Town Hall two weeks ago. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

EQUALITY campaigner Peter Hamilton has renewed his appeal to council convener Malcolm Bell to facilitate talks which he hopes could result in women and girls being able to fully participate in the Lerwick and the Junior Up Helly Aa festivals.

Hamilton says his main contention is that he believes Shetland Islands Council (SIC) has been neglecting its legal duties of promoting equality by hosting a civic reception in Lerwick Town Hall and making available the King George V playpark for the burning of the galley.

He has previously threatened to report the convener and the SIC to a number of watchdogs including the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman and the Scottish Human Right Commission this week but has now said he had postponed this until 4 March in the hope of progress.

The council has always maintained that it had no role to play in helping to resolve the controversial issue, and councillor Bell has repeatedly stated that it is the view of the SIC that it is not in breach of any of its equality duties.

Bell has also suggested that in his view the current postponement of the festivals due to the Covid pandemic offered an ideal opportunity for both sides in the debate to engage constructively with each other.

Hamilton said: “My initial deadline was for the convener to ask the [Up Helly Aa] committee in for talks,” he said.

“I guess we all hope that he will reflect on his decision to leave this to the community to resolve. I have asked him to publish the legal advice and await his reply.

“I am watching the debate now with interest and will review whether complaints south are needed on 4 March.”

In a letter to the convener at the weekend Hamilton added: “I hope this four week breathing space can be used well to progress community understanding, build ambition and acknowledge the need for changes to a community festival that should be welcoming of women, girls and others at risk of being marginalised simply because of who they are.”

Speaking to Shetland News on Monday afternoon Bell said: “I confirm that I recently received correspondence and I will reply directly to the correspondent in due course.

“I have made it clear that I will not conduct debate with individuals through the media or social media nor can I respond to ‘open letters’.

“I have repeatedly made my position on this issue very clear.  If Mr Hamilton wishes to refer the matter to any other organisation or authority then, of course, he is quite at liberty to do so.

“There is clearly a debate to be had between those involved but if that debate is to be fruitful it must be conducted constructively, in a proper manner and with respect for the opinions on both sides.”