Legal advisers have told Shetland Islands Council its involvement with the Lerwick Up-Helly-A’ and Junior Up-Helly-A’ is legal and not in breach of equalities rules.
The fire festival has been mired in controversy over recent months amid a growing gender equality campaign pressing for all aspects of the senior and junior events to be opened up to women and girls.
Both the Jarl’s Squad and Junior Jarl’s Squad only include men or boys. Women do not take part in the torchlit procession as all the squads only include men.
The SIC sought advice after a number of complaints were received in the relation to its involvement in the annual Viking fire festival.
Every year the Jarl’s Squad is invited to a civic reception at Lerwick Town Hall and squad members visit both the Sound and Bell’s Brae Primary Schools which are local authority operated. The schools and the town hall are also used as halls during the nighttime Up-Helly-A’ celebrations.
All that will continue, in light of the new legal advice, which came from the council’s own legal team.
SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison said a thorough legal investigation had been completed to assess whether there were any issues in relation to the Equalities Act. That investigation concluded that there were not and the SIC was acting legally.
Ms Sandison said that while some people would not be happy with the response, the issue had been taken seriously.
She said: “I’m very well aware that there are strong feelings across the community about the involvement of women and girls in Shetland’s largest fire festival.
“It is not for Shetland Islands Council to pass judgement on how other organisations run their own business, but I did want to be assured that, as an organisation, the council acts and behaves appropriately in this respect.
“I am satisfied that this is the case. However, this has given us a welcome opportunity to clarify some existing guidance, particularly for our schools, on issues such as visits from Jarl squads.
“While I understand the outcome of this may not be universally welcome, I can reassure everyone that we do have a robust system in place to make sure every complaint is taken seriously and handled with care.”
• For the latest reaction to this council update don’t miss Friday’s Shetland Times.