Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

'Belfast has taken on transition and matured, even if we'll be guilt-tripped for a long time to come'

Over 10% of primary school places in South Belfast are now filled by children for whom English is not their first language
Over 10% of primary school places in South Belfast are now filled by children for whom English is not their first language

Over 10% of primary school places in South Belfast are now filled by children for whom English is not their first language. This is a testing process but teachers, parents and fellow pupils are handling it well.

The city has taken on transition and matured. Even if we will be guilt-tripped for a long time to come, Belfast is a tolerant place

Last week, former Labour Home Secretary, David Blunkett, said "We have got to change the behaviour and the culture of the Roma community, because there's going to be an explosion otherwise. We all know that." He called on those in his Sheffield constituency to change aspects of their "behaviour" such as congregating on the streets and dumping litter, which was "aggravating" local people.

Later, Nick Clegg a Lib Dem MP in the same city described the Roma as sometimes "intimidating" and "offensive" adding, "We have every right to say if you are coming to live in Britain…you have got to be sensitive to the way that life is lived in this country."

If either of these politicians had said this only a year or two ago they would have been hounded off the airwaves and grilled mercilessly by the BBC. If a Tory MP had said it their career would be over.

So it is worth reviewing what happened four years ago in South Belfast. A number of such immigrants’ homes had their windows smashed and around 100 Roma took refuge in a local church. They were flown home. The world and the PM condemned the actions of a very few young men who had also attacked a left wing solidarity demonstration.

Was Belfast exceptional? Apparently not, it would seem from Blunkett and Clegg’s views.

In truth, some of those families filtered back to Belfast. They had not been driven out permanently and seem to have settled down to lead regular lives here. The community around them has become used to their presence, without aid or assistance from the state or the Socialist Workers.

Locals will get no praise or recognition from those whose income level ensures they will never become neighbours of a new immigrant family on the breadline.

The unspeakable truth is that the less prosperous are expected to cope with rapid demographic and cultural change, even though it is not explicable to many older people and tests younger men and boys.

South Belfast has been managing and indeed coping with the accelerating number of arrivals, particularly lately of Somalis from other EU countries. About such drastic adjustments, people are of course not consulted.