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By Staff Reporter

DOCUMENTS obtained by the Belfast Media Group show that a South Belfast community worker who claims she told her LORAG employers about Roma people being forced to pay for ‘free’ advice services made no mention of this alleged abuse in a glowing letter to colleagues as she left her post.
Ms Denis Long wrote the email, which heartily commends the work of the Roma Centre she now says was exploiting vulnerable people, as she was stepping down from her role with the Roma Romanian Community Association of NI (RRCANI) in October 2016.
Belfast Trust services to the Roma community were led on the ground by Community Development Officer Stephen Long, a former Sinn Féin election candidate, who is married to Denis Long.
LORAG has vociferously denied the allegation by Ms Long that they knew about exploitation of the Roma using its services and has rubbished claims made on the BBC Nolan Show that Denis Long informed her LORAG managers about the abuse.
It’s believed LORAG, which has won awards for its work with minority communities, has initiated a series of legal actions over the highly damaging claims.
Last month, the Belfast Trust told the Belfast Media Group a claim in an internal Trust document that LORAG knew about the charging for advice services was “not accurate”.
And now, in another explosive development, the Belfast Media Group can reveal that Ms Long made no mention of any exploitation of the Roma in a letter circulated to almost 200 community leaders in South Belfast as she stepped down from her job with LORAG as manager of a project with RRCANI.
In her ‘signing off’ email on 21 October 2016, Ms Long wrote: “15 months ago I started on a journey which allowed me to support the development of RRCANI as an accountable and effective Roma grass roots organisation. I believe that the work that I set out to do is completed and that RRCANI now has a good foundation which they can continue to build on.”
She added: “It is amazing what we all achieved in a relatively short period of time, most times relying just on friendships and a lot of good will. A heartfelt thank you and very well done to you all. I hope you will continue the good work with the Roma communities.”
Remarkably, recipients of the email include her line manager at LORAG and the community group’s CEO Gerard Rice – both of whom Ms Long now claims were aware of her concerns. Both say they were not alerted to any concerns with the project until issues were raised by the Belfast Trust in late May 2018.
Another recipient of the email is her then fellow LORAG worker in the RRCANI project, spokesman for the Roma community of Belfast, Nicolae Nicola. Ms Long now says that he was the person charging vulnerable Roma for services, a claim which remains unproven and which Mr Nicola vehemently denies. Also copied into the email is Ms Long’s husband, Stephen Long.
LORAG Chairperson John Gormley said: “We reject the claim that was broadcast on the Nolan show. LORAG had previously told the BBC Nolan Show that the first we became aware of an allegation of charging by RRCANI was through a conversation on or about 23 May 2018 with Belfast Health and Social Care Trust officials. We were funded from June 2015 to March 2018 to provide mentoring and capacity-building support to RRCANI, in partnership with other agencies. At no time during the funding period was any allegation of charging by RRCANI made to LORAG by any of the other partners or by any LORAG staff member.”
We contacted Ms Long via email but no response had been received as we went to press.

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