Bert and I went out for breakfast this morning to a 'caff' in an industrial estate. Whilst waiting for the food I perused the local rag which I rarely buy for it is overpriced and full of shite. I was interested to read about a public meeting of 'concerned residents' concerned about the influx of Roma gypsies into the town. There is so much concern in Ballymena about the Roma people that they have a dedicated Facebook group which has five of my FB friends on it. There hasn't been as much 'concern' in Ballymena about a group of incomers since - well, since the last lot of incomers, the folk from Eastern Europe who came over here to do the jobs that Ballymena people preferred not to take or were unable to do. A lot of those folk have returned home as standards of living in their own countries have risen just as ours stagnates. And, of course, the Brexit factor means that 'foreign nationals' don't feel particularly welcome in North Antrim.
I have a sense of how they must feel. A majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the Brexit referendum but not in North Antrim where I live. North Antrim, a place of great beauty and charm (the landscape) is also a right-wing, intolerant and sectarian hole. A place where the local Westminster representative, like his father before him a right-wing, intolerant bigot, can line his pockets with all the lovely free money and perks that power can offer the corrupt politician. At least the Da had some sense of decency when it came to graft. Or maybe he, being smarter than the son, just didn't get found out?
None of this 'concerned resident' stuff is new. In the early 1980s, a number of Vietnamese refugees were settled in Ballymena. Some of the families were housed in the estate where we lived and we got to know one person, a girl of about seven called Quyen. She spoke very good English (the rest of her family didn't) and she seemed mature beyond her years. The refugees were hard working people and many started small businesses, such as chip vans. But the locals didn't like them. Ridiculous rumours abounded. They were thieves, they stole people's pets and trapped wild animals to sell as food. The locals moved against them, a pigeon shed was burned down, vehicles were vandalised. Poor Quyen was bullied and scapegoated at the local school. Local parents even went to the headteacher to complain about her.
The Vietnamese people got out of Ballymena as soon as they could. They went to live in English cities and I hope they made a good life for themselves away from the backwater that was (and is) Northern Ireland. Our loss.
I don't know any of the Roma gypsies. When I'm in town I notice that they prefer to move around in groups and that they avoid eye contact. I expect that feels safer. My sister tells me that another group of people who avoid eye contact are Travellers. They are another people despised by 'concerned residents'.
There was one funny thing on that Concerned Residents page. One woman referred to herself as indigenous to Northern Ireland. Typically, she didn't manage to spell the word properly but I got the gist. It's my belief that very few of the Concerned Residents of Ballymena are indigenous to Ireland. I can't even claim that for myself with Scottish ancestors who probably originated from Eastern Europe.*
*Hopefully, there is not too much Welsh as they voted to leave Europe, the fools. And perhaps those rumours are true, that Great-Grandfather Steen who became a Catholic and whose people came from Scotland may actually have descended from a Jewish ancestor?