PSNI investigating claims of ‘exploitation’ of Roma community
Head of representative group allegedly threatened to have people who speak to authorities taken ‘out of the country’
The PSNI has confirmed it is investigating allegations of ‘exploitation and criminality’ affecting the Roma community in Northern Ireland.
He made his comments after it was alleged that a member of a Belfast Roma representative group threatened to have people who speak to the authorities taken “out of the country”.
It was also alleged that some members of the Romanian Roma Community Association of Northern Ireland (RRCANI) were charging members of the Roma community for filling out welfare forms.
“This investigation is ongoing and is being conducted in partnership with a number of agencies,” said Det Chief Insp Reid, who also appealed to anyone with information to come forward.
In a secret recording broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show on Monday, Aurel Nicola, chairman of the RRCANI, is heard saying certain Roma could be removed from Northern Ireland for talking to the authorities.
Mr Nicola, speaking in Romani, appeared angry that some Roma community members were speaking to the authorities, and in particular to a health worker.
“I’m going to bring the women in front of the community and what you decide to do to them, that’s what we’re going to do to them,” he said at a Roma service in the City Church in south Belfast.
“If it is to take them out of the country with their families… if not, they can stay here,” he said. “Because you can’t live with people like this. Because they give away everything that is happening in the community...It is giving away everything. Everything I do the police know right away - why is that?”
The Nolan Show also quoted a member of the Northern Ireland Roma community who said some Roma members were being charged up to £150 by Mr Nicola’s son, Nicolae Nicola for filling out forms for benefits such as working tax credit and child tax credit.
No one from RRCANI could be contacted on Monday. However, solicitors for the two men denied the allegations.
Lawyers for Aurel Nicola said he spoke at a church service in August and that he “denies that any of these issues were dealt with in the course of his sermon”.
Solicitors for his son denied the claim of charging for filling out welfare forms. “Our client is engaged in assisting the Roma community not in exploiting them,” they said. It is not illegal to charge for such work.
A number of issues have arisen in recent months in relation to how the Roma are treated in the North. In May, the Belfast Health Trust removed an “early years” service it provided at the RRCANI centre.
“Early this year the trust became aware of a number of concerns raised by people using services delivered by RRCANI. We advised those individuals to report their concerns to the PSNI and to other appropriate statutory agencies,” said a trust spokeswoman.
At that time the Sinn Féin South Belfast MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir accused the trust of creating a “cold house” for the Roma community. On Monday, Mr Ó Muilleoir told the BBC the first time he was made aware of any complaint relating to the Roma community was on August 16th and that two weeks earlier he had been told by the PSNI that there were no inquiries going on relating to the community.
He said Sinn Féin was “opposed to all forms of racism, exploitation and intimidation” and called for a thorough police investigation of the claims.