It looks as though Portadown is being asked to absorb more than its fair share of social problems these days, with plans to build a permanent 15-unit facility for ex-offenders in Edward Street – as part of an overall scheme to rehabilitate that sector of society – and the large concentration of immigrants in certain parts of the town.
The unit, plus the inclusion of another two smaller units, one of which the Simon Community says will be hostel accommodation, will mean quite a concentration in an area which has been closed off from the rest of the town for the past 40 years, with the security barriers at the High Street end, and the ‘hut’ opposite the police station.
There are indications that the police station – simply an inquiry office these days – will soon be moved to the health centre, and the commercial and residential life in Edward Street will be restored to the normal life that it hasn’t known for almost half a century. The sooner the better.
The residents and commercial people in Edward Street have understandable misgivings about the latest developments. They are uneasy that the quiet character of the street will be disrupted, and cite incidents that have occurred with the present unit that is being replaced.
The Simon Community has issued a statement that they have consulted with residents, business people, councillors and politicians. But a meeting with a group of residents and business people and the Portadown Times would seem to indicate that the consultations have not been satisfactory.
A further meeting with all sides is being held later this month, and hopefully the Simon Community will answer the relevant questions – especially what type of ex-offenders are being accommodated now and in the future, given that the area includes a nursery school and junior dance classes.
On the foreign national issue, this is in sharp focus just around the corner from Edward Street – in Clonavon Avenue, where most of the street has been given over to migrants and where the council are doing their best to effect integration.
Bags of rubbish are being left almost weekly in the alley-ways between the houses, rather than in the bins provided. The council is doing its best to educate the residents in the proper use of bins. And there seems to be a real problem of multi-tenancies which further exacerbates the situation.
The PSNI also reports that a quantity of Class A drugs was seized in Clonavon Avenue, with a number of arrests. And while there is no indication of nationality, it is further evidence of the demise of the avenue which not so long ago was a by-word for a happy, well-ordered community where neighbours cared for and interacted with one another.
Other communities in Portadown have an immigrant population that is well integrated, and that is how it should be. Statistics show that the immigrant population is contributing to society, be it in hospitals, factories, commerce or wherever.
But they must be properly integrated. Northern Ireland has had its fill of segregation (still has) and the new residents must mix positively with the indigenous people.