Belfast Telegraph

End 'protection money' scandal

Editor's Viewpoint

The latest worry in east Belfast is about the number of people in business there who feel forced to move out, through no fault of their own. This is due to the level of paramilitary intimidation, including the disgusting practice of demanding protection money.

The going rate of payment for some businesses is £15 a week, as well as special payments of £500 in holiday times such as Christmas and July.

These thugs are also intimidating foreign nationals.

The Poles, apparently, are not only very hard workers but are also the best at paying protection money, and it is obscene that these good people, who bring so much to the community, are being targeted in this way.

All of this has a knock-on effect concerning the prosperity of the area.

The people who choose to trade in east Belfast, and their employees, bring much-needed income to restaurants, cafes, filling-stations, supermarkets and other businesses in the area.

Sadly, it is clear that large parts of east Belfast are not "neutral", with the result that employers cannot risk bringing Catholics or other non-Protestants into these areas. which are not safe for them.

Two years ago the police introduced an "Operation MORS" project, to try to clean up anti-social behaviour in east Belfast, and they made 175 drug seizures and 115 associated arrests during the past year. However, a great deal still needs to be done.

Many people will have sympathy with the law-abiding people of east Belfast who live under such tyranny and feel that there is little that they can do to counter it.

The local Alliance MP, Naomi Long, has shown great courage in working for justice for all, and she is right to speak out against the sinister malpractices that are talking place.

This is more than the simplistic cry that "something must be done".

The situation in east Belfast has been so bad, and for so long, that the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton and his colleagues, as well as all the statutory agencies responsible for the area, need to mount a concerted campaign to drive the bully-boys off the streets.

They also need to show that there can be no easy pickings from decent, honest people who are trying to provide employment and to earn a living in east Belfast.

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