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Poland concern over Belfast attack

Published 14/04/2015

Shutters shield the damage to a beauty salon owned by a Polish woman that was set on fire in Belfast
Shutters shield the damage to a beauty salon owned by a Polish woman that was set on fire in Belfast

The Polish government is very concerned at an upsurge in racist attacks against its citizens living in Northern Ireland, an official representative has said.

Honorary consul Jerome Mullen accused Stormont's political leaders of not doing enough to tackle racism in the region.

He was commenting after the latest in a spate of hate crimes targeting the Polish community which saw a beauty salon in east Belfast extensively damaged by arsonists last night.

The business is managed by a Lithuanian but it employs a number of Polish staff and, days before the attack, graffiti saying "Polish Out" was daubed on the shop front.

Last week three homes occupied by Polish people were targeted in north Belfast. All four of the incidents happened in loyalist areas.

A Polish couple were also verbally abused on a bus in Belfast city centre late last month.

While racist attacks have been on the increase across Northern Ireland, there has been a particular escalation in Belfast. In 2013 there were 307 racist hate crimes reported in the city, and last year there were 476 - 88 of which targeted the Polish community. Police believe loyalist paramilitary elements have been involved in some of the attacks.

Mr Mullen praised police efforts to hunt down those involved in the crimes but said politicians needed to do more.

"It is a very serious situation that we are all facing at the present time in relation to the attacks on the Polish community," said.

"The government of Poland, I can tell you, are very concerned at the serious escalation of attacks on Polish citizens coming to live here.

"The Polish community are the largest ethnic minority community that are living in Northern Ireland. They have come here to work hard, to earn a living and to make a living for their families, and to find themselves now at the centre of this particular recent escalation of attacks on their homes is an appalling situation that has to stop and must be stopped as quickly as possible.

"I am obviously very concerned. From the political point of view I believe there needs to be much more effort made from our politicians and particularly from our Government. I am not satisfied that sufficient efforts have been made in relation to dealing with the whole issue of racism and race crime."

Mr Mullen said he doubted that politicians would prioritise the issue in the General Election campaign.

"Of course it should be an election issue, but the question is will it become one?" he said.

"I doubt very much they are interested in making it an election issue because they are not voters - the ethnic minority communities don't present many votes to the local politicians here, so they may not concern themselves too much with that, but I believe they should."

Police believe four men travelling in a black 4x4 vehicle were involved in last night's arson attack.

The shutters of the salon were forced up and accelerant was poured inside and set alight.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin branded the perpetrators "thugs".

"As a police service we absolutely condemn the recent attacks," he said.

"They are unacceptable, we live in a European Union - people are entitled to travel within that union, they are entitled to come here to work, to live and should be able to thrive and contribute to society.

"And it is a blight on our community in Northern Ireland that we are treating people, who come here to contribute, in such an awful and terrible way."

Mr Martin said that, while "elements of loyalist paramilitary groups" had been involved in racist attacks, the issue goes "much wider".

"Unfortunately there are people within some parts of our society who just can't accept and appreciate difference and people of difference," he said.

Mr Martin noted that the salon in east Belfast had received offers of support from members of the community in the wake of the fire.

"That is one ray of sunshine in this terrible experience," he said.

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