Bitter racists grew up on a diet of hatred
In the aftermath of the attacks on Romanian families in south Belfast, the one question that no-one seems capable of answering is why racism seems so embedded in that part of the city.
The greatest number of racist hate crimes happen in south Belfast and before the Romanians, it was Poles or Lithuanians and before them it was Chinese who were targeted.
There seems to be a pocket of racists in the Village area. Previously the same sort of hatred was evident in the Donegall Pass district, mainly directed towards Chinese families.
Even some people who don’t condone the violence directed towards ethnic minority groups, do seem to have a problem with the Romanians in particular, living among them.
One man was quoted in a Sunday newspaper complaining about Romanian’s begging or selling the Big Issue magazine and he argued that local people and the Roma would both be better off if the Roma returned home or went to some other part of Europe.
Other people complain that the Romanians live in huge family groups and that they create a lot of disturbance for neighbours.
But these complaints just don’t hold water. Even if – and that is not the case – most of them were beggars or even if they create a nuisance at night time – again a massive over-generalisation – that would still not justify what happened this week.
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There are plenty of job-shy people living in the Village and other areas of Northern Ireland (remember we have the highest level of Disability Living Allowance claimants in the UK) and plenty of rabble rousers who hold noisy parties every night.
As for begging, give me a Romanian with a copy of the Big Issue over a loyalist paramilitary asking for a ‘donation’ to prisoner welfare any day.
The amount of money the UDA and UVF have extorted out of their local communities in the last 30 years would make the Romanians seem like very amateur beggars indeed.
The simple fact is that there are an uncomfortable number of racists in Northern Ireland. For some reason they seem more prevalent in loyalist areas – perhaps it’s because they are just more stupid than racists in other areas and cannot hide their bigotry so well.
Another reason is the racism is really just another form of sectarianism. Yes there are sectarian bigots on both sides of the fence in Northern Ireland – as witnessed by the attack on the Tour of the North Orange parade passing Ardoyne the other night – but again it seems more ingrained in loyalist areas.
People in those areas have been told for generations that Catholics are their enemies; that Catholics want to bring down the state and drive all Protestants into an united-Ireland.
Fed such a diet of hate, it is little wonder that some people living in such areas view any outsiders as a threat. If they cannot vent their sectarian bitterness against Catholics because of lack of opportunity, then they turn on others that they view with suspicion, be they Romanians, Poles, Chinese or whatever nationality.
But that should not detract from the majority of people living in areas like south Belfast who are as ashamed of the bigots living in their midst as the rest of us.
They are the people who stood outside Romanian homes to protect families at no little risk to themselves.
They are also the people who brought the frightened Romanian families in and gave them food and a bed for the night.
We should be ashamed of the bigots in our midst, but we should also praise those who went the extra mile to help people in need.
They are the people who make you proud to be from Northern Ireland.