Northern Ireland news

PSNI probe after exploitation claims involving Roma organisation

The PSNI said it is making enquiries. Inset, how Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir responded to the allegations
Brendan Hughes

THE PSNI is investigating "possible wrongdoing" following exploitation allegations involving a Roma community organisation.

A series of anonymous claims were made online last week involving a south Belfast organisation called the Romanian Roma Community Association of North Ireland (RRCANI).

It was claimed that Romanians in the area were being exploited, and that concerns had led to Stormont funding for the organisation not being renewed and services moved elsewhere.

Following the online posts, Sinn Féin South Belfast MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir took to Twitter to publicly defend the group, saying he was "proud to stand with RRCANI".

"Spoke with top PSNI officer in South Belfast. He confirms that there is no criminality associated with Roma centre. No investigations under way," he said.

"Relations between RRCANI and police are excellent. Roma leaders and police to meet next week."

He later added that in relation to the "vile report" widely shared online, "I have instructed my solicitors to issue proceedings against all those involved in publishing this junk".

The Irish News understands that following the online claims, police have visited and made enquiries with members of the Roma community from south Belfast.

In a statement, PSNI detective chief inspector Gary Reid said police are aware of the online claims and are "making enquiries into possible wrongdoing".

"Police are aware of comments made online and on social media platforms last week, regarding the community in south Belfast," he said.

"While we have not received any reports or complaints to date, we are making enquiries into possible wrongdoing.

"If anyone has information that could help us, please call detectives at Musgrave on 101."

In the statement, police added that information can also be passed anonymously through the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

The intervention comes after the PSNI last week told The Irish News there were no investigations in relation to the allegations.

In a statement last week it said: "The Romanian Roma Community Association is one of a diverse range of representative organisations, community groups, local representatives, workers and political representatives the Police Service of Northern Ireland works alongside to address local issues."

Some of the online allegations centred on funding which supports RRCANI, and claims surrounding the provision of Early Years services.

The Lower Ormeau Residents Action Group (LORAG) last year received £74,000 through the Minority Ethnic Development Fund (MEDF) to support RRCANI, but it emerged in April it was unsuccessful in securing another year of funding.

And in June, Belfast Trust moved Early Years services for the Roma community from RRCANI to another location.

At the time Mr Ó Muilleoir hit out at the decisions for impacting on services at RRCANI.

It was alleged online last week that various concerns involving RRCANI had led to these decisions.

Belfast Trust did not address the claims, but said its relocated Early Years service is run by the trust and Sure Start.

A spokesman said: "We are currently looking at the best way to deliver this service and whilst this work is ongoing we have temporarily relocated the service.

"The trust are currently liaising with RRCANI to address any issues that have been raised."

The Executive Office (TEO), which runs the MEDF project, also did not address the online allegations.

A spokeswoman said that since 2015/16, LORAG has received almost £200,000 from MEDF to "mentor and develop" RRCANI.

"LORAG made its application for funding for 2018/19. They were advised they had been unsuccessful and were provided with feedback. LORAG appealed the decision which was not upheld," she added.

RRCANI did not respond to requests for a comment.

A Sinn Féin spokesman said: "Sinn Féin has always stood firm against racism and championed the cause of the Roma and other ethnic communities in Belfast. We will continue to do so.

"Anyone who has evidence of lawbreaking or hate crime should bring that information to the PSNI."

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