A challenge has been laid down for the organisers of Lerwick’s Junior Up-Helly-A’ to set out its policy on equal opportunities.
Until then, a funding application to cover rent due for ground on which the “Peerie Galley Shed” sits has been put on hold.
The event organisers were seeking £82.12 to cover costs. But on Monday evening Lerwick Community Council agreed to postpone a decision, amid concerns the voluntary group should adopt a more “progressive attitude”.
It comes against a backdrop of extensive debate over the role of women in Up-Helly-A’, and a recent opinion piece by Shetland Times columnist Helen Robertson, on the issue surrounding girls’ involvement in the junior fire festival.
Cash requests are regularly submitted to the town’s community council for the junior event, and a similar application – for £81.07 – was granted by members last year.
This time round a five-page application form was submitted. But member Andy Carter raised questions over the assertion on the form that the committee held “an approved equal opportunities policy”.
Mr Carter said: “Is there any way we could encourage this organisation to adopt a more progressive attitude to this issue. I ken it’s a bit of fun, but with what’s going on internationally, I wonder if it’s time to look at our own affairs.”
SIC councillor Allan Wishart said it was always possible that the committee would have a policy in place.
“Whether it’s mandatory, or followed, that’s another question,” he said.
Seconded Anderson High School pupil Eve Thomson was asked for her views. But she appeared to dismiss the concerns, insisting the flagship fire festival was not worth taking seriously.
“I’ve never felt oppressed in any way,” she said, when questioned by fellow members. “You can’t defend Up-Helly-A’. It is silly. And it is nonsense.”
Another member, former Lerwick Guizer Jarl Andy Johnson, was not in favour of seeing any differences between the Junior Up-Helly-A’ and the main event.
“The big one and the small one have to run together. One wouldn’t work without the other,” he said, later adding that the community council had decided long ago its contribution would be to pay the rent for the ground.
Brian Johnston wanted to get things moving. “We’re asked for assistance,” he said. “I think we could spend months discussing this.”
Vice-chairwoman Averil Simpson said the community council should have sight of the policy.
After some discussion a decision was made to hold over the application until the next community council meeting, by which time the equal opportunities policy should have been made available for scrutiny.
After the meeting Junior Up-Helly-A’ secretary Ian Spence said he held the equal opportunities policy, although he admitted he did not know whether or not it was up to scratch.
“It passed all the tests for getting lottery grants when we built the shed,” he said. “If they [the community council] don’t want to give us the money I’ll just pay it myself.”
Mr Spence insisted the determination to stick with the existing set-up had “nothing to do with lasses”. Rather, he said committee members felt better able to ensure safety if they worked with those who had a long-established involvement in the event.
“On the Hillhead on Tuesday night, you have to run a procession. And when you run a procession, you have to make sure that everybody there is totally safe.
“That is done by a whole community of folk. It’s done by men that come there and ken what they are doing. You end up with the thing
being as secure as you possibly can, that nobody gets hurt. If you can’t guarantee that happening … then you can’t have a Junior Up-Helly-A’.
“I don’t ken if I can get folk there if we change Up-Helly-A’, or if we get more numbers. We were struggling this year as it was.
“You needn’t take any Tom, Dick or Harry in there. It needs to be folk that really kens what they are doing. It’s nothing to do with lasses.”