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Locals: ‘We’re not racist’

By Paul Ainsworth

MEMBERS of the Lower Ormeau Road community have insisted “we are not racist” in the wake of a row sparked by a public meeting in which the area’s Roma residents were discussed.

The debate earlier this month originally focused on anti-social behaviour, but descended into chaos when “racist slurs” were made against Roma people living in the community. The meeting was the subject of a front page story in the South Belfast News.

Many were outraged at the tone of the meeting – which the South Belfast News was asked to leave – and felt the subsequent outrage over the racist name-calling overshadowed the debate that’s needed about the ongoing integration of the Romanian migrants into the ethnically diverse neighbourhood.

In a bid to gauge the thoughts of those living in the heart of the Lower Ormeau, the South Belfast News visited the area and spoke with a range of residents and business owners about their legitimate concerns regarding the Roma households in their midst.

Due to the sensitive nature of the issue, residents were unwilling to be identified by name, but one elderly gentleman living on Farnham Street said: “Anyone living here will tell you about what we have seen regarding our bins. They are continually ripped open by our Roma neighbours and emptied out all over the place. Then we have to pay for the damage ourselves. In this street alone we have had clothes taken from our clotheslines, and neighbours have even seen them being worn after by some of the Romanians.

Leave us in peace, plead local Romas

“I have no problem with anyone from any background living here. As long as you obey the law, your ethnic background doesn’t matter. This isn’t a race issue, but an anti-social one, and it’s a pity that racism became the headline, rather than the law-breaking.”

In nearby Hatfield Street another male resident told us: “We have all seen them rummaging in the bins, but it’s not as bad in this particular street. This is such a diverse community, and we have people from many backgrounds here over the years, so we cannot be termed racist. It’s only since the Roma arrived that this sort of thing has happened.”

However, another resident of the same street told us: “To be honest, I’ve never had a problem with them at all. I see them around, but have never seen them engaged in any sort of anti-social behaviour.”

Addressing the accusations, Ormeau Roma community spokesman Nikola Steva told this paper: “It must be stressed that a small minority from just one family is linked to the complaints over the bins and alleyways. We are actually working on initiatives, including litter collecting, to help with the image of the area. It must be stressed that it’s wrong to judge all Roma by the actions of a few.”

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