Page last updated at 10:03 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 11:03 UK

Anti-racists 'fed NI Roma crisis'

A Roma carries belongings
News of the attacks made headlines around the world

A leading advocate of Travellers' rights has said anti-racism activists were in part responsible for members of the Roma community leaving Belfast.

More than 100 immigrants returned to Romania last month after a spate of racist attacks in the city.

Derek Hanway, writing in Fortnight magazine, has claimed anti-racism activists hastened their repatriation.

He said activists' presence outside Roma homes, which had been attacked, attracted unwelcome attention.

"Anyone with a knowledge of Roma people would have known about a general reluctance by Roma to attract attention," the director of An Munia Tober Travellers Centre said.

"While the Roma families were still in their damaged homes, they were being 'protected' by anti-racist activists. I witnessed many acting like pumped up vigilantes, some bringing cider carry-outs to the garden of one home.

The Roma families were extremely supportive of the stance that we took and if Mr Hanway was there he would have seen the hospitality we received from the families."
Anti-racsim activist Gary Mulcahy

"This response strengthened the Roma families' sense of fear and attracted more unwelcome attention to their homes."

Mr Hanway also criticised the police, saying they should have realised the detrimental impact anti-racism activists were having.

"The PSNI should have mitigated the need for these 'protection people', reassuring families of their protection, along with sending a confident message to all that they were now in control," he continued.

"This would, I believe, have provided enough confidence for families to remain in their homes and avoided the need to 'evacuate' the families to City Church, escalating the problem and the problem of what to do next."

Gary Mulcahy, who was involved in organising a protest against the attacks, said Mr Hanway "did not know what he was talking about".

"He claims that the anti-racist activists and anti-racist protests drew attention to the houses, yet he ignores the fact that there were nine separate attacks on all three of the houses on the Lisburn Road before the protest was organised.

"He also tries to claim that the fact that there was protection organised by local residents in the area against the racist attacks strengthened the sense of fear amongst Roma families - this is untrue.

"The Roma families were extremely supportive of the stance that we took and if Mr Hanway was there he would have seen the hospitality we received from the families."

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