Outspoken broadcaster Esther Rantzen has refused to withdraw her controversial accusation that the people of Northern Ireland are “addicted to violence”.
Ms Rantzen was speaking following her comments on Thursday night’s Question Time programme when, discussing attacks on Romanian families, she said of Northern Ireland: “They are addicted to hatred, they are addicted to violence as if it gives them some kind of exhilaration.”
Last night two people were arrested as part of an ongoing police operation into the attacks nvolving searches of properties in the Donegall Avenue. A PSNI spokeswoman said the two teenagers were helping police with their enquiries.
A PSNI spokeswoman also said Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde held a “positive” meeting with Romanian ambassador Dr Jinga yesterday.
She said he outlined measures taken to ensure the families are safe, protected and cared for.
“Also discussed were steps taken to prevent attacks happening,” she said.
“The ambassador was assured that the PSNI do not tolerate this type of crime anywhere within Northern Ireland and will pursue those who carry out these attacks with vigour and determination.”
Although the attacks continue to attract widespread condemnation from across the political divide, Childline founder Esther Rantzen refused to withdraw her claims that racist violence has replaced sectarian violence across Northern Ireland.
Speaking to the BBC she said: “It is clearly irrational bringing violence to a small group of people, including women and children, and making their lives so miserable and dangerous, that they have to take sanctuary in a church. That isn’t rational.”
Even when she was challenged about the horrified reaction of people across Northern Ireland as demonstrative that only a small number of people are behind the violence, Ms Rantzen maintained her controversial stance.
“Why do they feel uninhibited to do this?” she asked.
“You see a lot of prejudice in the rest of the UK but why turn it into violence? Is violence so close and so fresh in peoples’ memories they remember it with affection? It is highly possible that throughout the Troubles that people who took to violence were a small minority, and that I hope to be the truth. Maybe people miss the old days.”
An anti-racism rally will take place in Belfast this afternoon.
Event organiser Barbara Muldoon, of the Anti Racism Network said: “It is not with shame that most people I have spoken to have reacted to these racist attacks but with anger; anger that arguments against immigrants - particularly Roma - have found their way into the local media, anger that these attacks took place over months and nothing was done, anger that the families were left for days without any hope of protection, anger that the families were treated with contempt, anger that the politicians are deliberately blaming immigrants for the lack of jobs and resources that has been caused by their handling of the recession.
“We believe we need a co-ordinated response to these attacks and we need to find space for people to express both their sympathy with the families and their anger against the racists. We are hoping that this rally will be the first of many called to protest these attacks, and we are urging people to take the time to come down to the rally on Saturday.”
Meanwhile, the church which offered a safe refuge to the families after they left their homes has described the amount of help they have been offered.
Belfast City Church is currently redirecting all food donations to a project called Storehouse, run by the Vineyard Church in Belfast.
A spokeswoman from the church said: “Since Tuesday evening we have had a constant flow of communications from interested individuals and churches all wanting to help practically in some way. The most common request we have been asked is what can we do to help. Many have wanted to respond in a practical way.”