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Former NIO head Kenneth Bloomfield defends west Belfast 'ghetto mentality' tag

Sir Kenneth Bloomfield has defended his record in regards to west Belfast. Picture by Mark Marlow

THE former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service has defended remarks he made in the 1980s about west Belfast's "ghetto mentality".

The comments by Ken Bloomfield in 1987 were made in a memo to the then secretary of state Tom King amid efforts to tackle poverty, unemployment and paramilitarism in the overwhelmingly nationalist area.

The memo was among historical documents released last week by the British government.

In a report by Mr Bloomfield – now Sir Ken – on west Belfast, where Catholic male unemployment at the time was 47 per cent, he noted that other areas had similarly acute social and economic problems.

He added: "What makes the area unique is the scale and concentration of these problems and their very close association with grave political and security difficulties; the strength of PIRA/Sinn Féin and their influence in the area; the alienation of a large section of the population from the institutions of government (and indeed, in some respects, from normal civilised behaviour); the ghetto mentality and the widespread sense of hopelessness and lack of faith in the government's interest in the problem."

But nearly 30 years on, the former civil service boss's comments attracted criticism from West Belfast MP Paul Maskey, who said they would not come as surprise to his constituents.

"They are indicative of the attitude of the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) and British government to west Belfast for decades," he said.

"West Belfast was subjected to a systematic campaign of state-sponsored violence and murder and was starved of funding and investment for many years in an attempt to keep the community down."

In a brief response to The Irish News, Sir Ken said his remarks were "not perhaps the happiest form of words".

"But in practice I made the task of meeting human need in less prosperous parts of Belfast a top priority during my tenure , through the programme MBW ( Making Belfast Work )," he said.

"And after my retirement as Chairman of BBC Children in Need I prioritised help to less prosperous areas."

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