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5 May 2005 Edition

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Belfast political vetting row erupts

As racist attacks on foreign nationals continue throughout the Six Counties, a row has erupted over the decision by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) to withdraw funding from a West Belfast anti-racist group for the production of a welcome pack for ethnic communities.

The pack, titled Comhar na gComharsan, based on the ancient Irish concept of neighbourly co-operation, is intended to provide people from minority communities working and living in West Belfast with information on services and facilities within the area. It also informs them of the area's social, political and cultural context.

The British government had offered the West Against Racism Network (WARN) and the Falls Community Council £10,000 for production of the pack, but withdrew the funding after the group advised people against dealing with the PSNI.

WARN described the distrust of the PSNI held by local people and advised people not to deal with the PSNI unless necessary.

Now the OFMDFM has withdrawn funding, saying "it was not in the public interest that potentially vulnerable members of society, to which the booklet is addressed, should be discouraged from seeking the assistance of the PSNI".

The department also objected to the use of its name and logo in the pamphlet.

WARN spokesperson Flair Campbell, (above) reacting to the decision, said his group was outraged.

He said that anti-racism groups had applauded the pack and that the issue of policing was dealt with in two paragraphs. "The text explains that policing is far from a neutral issue in West Belfast and most residents have no confidence in the PSNI."

He explained that there is a policing vacuum in West Belfast and said the leaflet does not suggest that people from ethnic minorities should "shun" the PSNI. "It is entirely a matter for members of minority ethnic communities as to their relationship with the PSNI but the pack provides information about the realities of policing in West Belfast so that members of minority ethnic communities can make informed choices regarding contact with the PSNI," he said.

The group is seeking a meeting with the department to urge it to reconsider.

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