FOLLOWING a public meeting in Harryville Community Centre in Ballymena attended by hundreds of people a public statement from ‘Concerned Residents’ says they are now entering “phase two which will see more direct action”.
The Ballymena Guardian received a statement from ‘Concerned Residents’ which said: “The turnout of almost 400 residents from all backgrounds demonstrated the depth of feeling regarding the influx of Roma gypsies and the impact it has on our every day living.
“Their anti-social behaviour cannot continue to be tolerated. Although this was, and continues to be, a highly emotive subject, it was not possible to get the people the answers they so desperately needed to due to a lot of invitees from various political parties, businesses, statutory bodies and agencies not attending. This was very frustrating and does not encourage good relations.
“Those who either refused or failed to attend, some at the last minute, were DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP, PSNI, Ballymena Ethnic Forum, Tarsin bus company, Moy Park and Diamond Recruitment.
“We believe the people deserve to know who did not see fit nor make the time for the people of this town, it’s scandalous.
“Their absence, in our opinion, shows the blatant disregard they have for the concerned residents of Ballymena and how little we matter!
“We would like to thank Jim Allister MLA and Robin Swann MLA who put themselves in the hot seat to answer questions, it was appreciated.”
The statement said an individual “came along to represent the traditional Romanian community and we hope the round of applause he received would encourage him to reassure the people he represented are welcome in our town.
“Phase 1 of our strategy for change included meeting with agencies and statutory bodies in an attempt to problem solve together and help ease the building frustrations in Ballymena.
“As a consequence or approach must now change.
“Our community showed their support so we must prioritise their need to feel safe in their homes and when walking anywhere around their town with intimidatory behaviour being directed at them.
“We will now enter phase 2 which will see more direct action,” ended the statement.
The Guardian reported there was a brief verbal altercation at the Harryville meeting when a member of the ‘Britain First NI’ group came to the front of the hall and tried to make a speech.
The paper reported that at that stage a number of people left the hall, some stating they were against the presence of Britain First but that others felt the group should have been allowed to make a statement in the context of the meeting.
The Guardian also reported that after the meeting, the TUV’s Jim Allister said he had been left in no doubt that the Roma issue was a major concern for a large number of people.
The paper also reported that both Mr Allister and Mr Swann (Ulster Unionist) stressed the need to act within the rule of law.
It quoted Mr Swann as saying: “I recognise the strength of feeling which surrounds these issues but first and foremost I must stress the need for people not to take the law into their own hands”.
Traditional Unionist Voice councillor Timothy Gaston had tweeted a picture from the meeting (see above).
Mr Gaston wrote on Twitter: ‘Full house at the public meeting in Harryville. Only MLAs to attend are @JimAllister & @RobinSwannUUP, no show from @duponline , SF or SDLP. Well done to the Romanian speaker who came to outline his concerns about the Roma Gypsies influx to Ballymena.’
Before the meeting a Facebook page set up by ‘Concerned Residents of Ballymena’ said the meeting was “for the residents of Ballymena to ask the local MLAs and others to answer your questions on the problem of Roma gypsies invading our town”.
The Facebook page had more than 4,200 ‘likes’.
A message on the page mid-afternoon on Saturday said: ‘Ok folks the page has done it’s bit. The page will now be closed at 8 o’clock tonight and we move to phase two, you will find out in the next week or so what’s happening. Hope your behind us, take care and thanks for all the support”.
The page was later taken down.
The Ballymena Guardian reported that a new ‘closed group’ Facebook page was opened over the weekend.
Meanwhile, the Concerned Residents of Ballymena Facebook page had previously shared photos of a statement released to them by the PSNI.