AN SNP MSP has apologised privately for falsely claiming a bus company was discriminating against Irish Catholics after receiving pressure from Edinburgh’s SNP transport convener.
Glasgow Cathcart MSP James Dornan caused fury after suggesting in a Holyrood debate that publicly-owned Lothian Bus believed “Irish Catholics were to blame for the rise in anti-social behaviour”, after services were cancelled on St Patrick’s Day following a spate of attacks on drivers and vehicles.
Mr Dornan added: “Why else cancel buses only for the night of an ubiquitous Irish Catholic holiday when pubs were not open and there was a stay at home order in place?
“Can you imagine if this has happened around July 12 or if it had happened around a Muslim festival or a Sikh festival? It is just not acceptable.”
Buit the company was forced to withdraw services on several days after anti-social behaviour intensified in order to protect the safety of drivers.
The false claims led to Edinburgh City Council’s SNP transport convener, Lesley Macinnes, writing to Mr Dornan, calling on him to “put the record straight”.
In her letter, seen by the Herald, Ms Macinnes, who is also the chair of Transport for Edinburgh which heads up Lothian Bus, told Mr Dornan she was “dismayed” by the comments.
The SNP councillor said: “While Lothian Bus makes operational decisions separately from the council, they kept me informed throughout the sustained period of anti-social behaviour towards Lothian Bus drivers, the buses themselves and, of course, their passengers.
“This period, which was over some months, resulted in injury to Lothian Bus drivers, considerable damage to the buses themselves and a very frightening experience for passengers and drivers trying to do their job.”
Ms Macinnes added: “Having spoken to the MD (managing director) of Lothian Bus and from my own knowledge of decision-making throughout this period, no links were made to St Patrick’s Day or to particular groups in any sense. Further service changes were also required on other days as the anti-social behaviour continued.
“The ongoing campaign of destruction resulted in further damage, injury and fear. With the return of the schools it seems to have quietened, no doubt helped by the 38 arrests of primarily young people that have been made by Police Scotland.
“Lothian Bus, as a municipally-owned public transport provider and an award-winning bus company, is incredibly popular in Edinburgh, both for passengers going about their business and as a symbol of Edinburgh.
“The assertions you made in Parliament will have upset many people in Edinburgh, whether they are directly linked to the company or not.
“I would ask you therefore to actively consider ways in which you could put the record straight, both in Parliament and on social media.”
In response to a motion by Conservative councillor John McLellan, Ms Macinnes has published the private apology she received from the SNP MSP.
Mr Dornan said: “For clarification purposes I want make it clear that I am aware that Lothian Bus went on to have further changes to their service routes as the campaign against the attacks on buses progressed.
“My speech was meant to highlight how a section of community can be almost invisible when decisions, including corporate, are made.
“I never at any stage meant to imply that Lothian Buses or their staff were by this action anti-Irish or anti-Catholic. For that I do sincerely apologise.”
Ms Macinnes has shared his apology with the management of Lothian Bus.
Tory Lothian MSP, Sue Webber, who remains a city councillor in Edinburgh, had written to Mr Dornan, calling on him to apologise for his “unfair and unjust comments”, but is yet to receive a response.
Yesterday, councillors including the SNP group at City Chambers backed the motion by Mr McLellan which “calls upon Mr Dornan to make a full public apology to the company for casting groundless aspersions on the integrity of its staff”.