Belfast Telegraph

Businesses flee UVF extortion in east Belfast, reveals MP Long

By Deborah McAleese

Business owners are leaving east Belfast to set up elsewhere because of the level of control loyalist paramilitaries have in the area, it has been warned.

MP for the area Naomi Long said that jobs and financial investment have been lost because a number of employers felt they had no other choice but to sell up.

Ms Long said that business owners have told her they believed "the neutrality of the area had been compromised" to such a degree that they could "no longer bring a mixed workforce into the neighbourhood".

"Unfortunately the trappings of paramilitarism does drive businesses out of this constituency and has done so," the Alliance MP told the Belfast Telegraph.

She added: "We need to try and communicate the impact that has on day-to-day lives. When these businesses were here they were buying their lunch here, filling their cars in the petrol stations here, they were investing in jobs here. When you remove that business you remove those knock-on effects."

Two years ago the PSNI launched Operation MORS to tackle criminal activity by members of the loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, in the east of the city.

Police have insisted that the paramilitary gang is continually being disrupted. The PSNI said there were 175 drug seizures and 115 related arrests in the area last year.

However, residents living in UVF strongholds in the east have told the Belfast Telegraph how they have to "toe the line or face the consequences".

And they claimed the paramilitary group was taking advantage of foreign nationals, forcing them to pay protection money.

"They say that the foreign nationals, particularly the Polish, are good payers. They're an easy target to make big money.

"I know an Orangeman who was warned off by the UVF after he asked his Polish neighbours to turn their music down. He was told by the UVF they were good payers and to leave them alone. It's now cash before the sash," one resident said.

Another added: "They are thugs but you have to toe the line or face the consequences. They can make your life hell if they want."

A large portion of businesses in the area are forced to pay "protection money" to the terror group. The fee is around £15 a week, but at Christmas and over the July fortnight business owners must pay a £500 bonus. If they refuse they face the risk of having their business burnt to the ground.

A businessman told this paper: "I sold up and got out. I just got fed up constantly battling with them and being ordered to hand over my money."

Ms Long said that the police and other statutory agencies must be challenged to stand up to the paramilitaries.

"If they don't, then the ordinary people on the street will not have the confidence to do it," said Ms Long.

She added: "As an MP I deal a lot with people who have issues with paramilitarism. They come to me because they know I have taken a stand against it.

"We do our best but it is not always easy. There are still parts of this constituency where paramilitaries are able to intimidate local residents where they feel they have no say in their own community. We need to work with police and agencies to try and break the hold they have."

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