It's victory for cat lovers as kind pensioner wins temporary access to feed Stormont Three
A fearless pensioner's fight to feed three Stormont felines has resulted in a victory - albeit temporary.
Yesterday, we revealed how the Stormont Three - Ginger, Maggie and Furby - had become the unwitting victims of the political stalemate after the 76-year-old east Belfast woman who had cared for them for years was deemed a "security risk" by senior civil servants.
However, hours after the Belfast Telegraph challenged Secretary of State James Brokenshire to allow Edna Watters to feed her much-loved moggies, the Department of Finance granted temporary access for three people who feed the animals.
Giving 'paws' for thought, it added: "Longer term solutions will need to strike a balance between animal welfare and security."
Cat champion Edna said she was "happy" that she would be granted access to her favourite felines once more, but called for permission to be granted on a permanent rather than a temporary basis.
"How can three retired civil servants in their 70s constitute a security risk?" asked the incredulous pensioner.
"It's a load of rubbish, and I believe they are just looking for an excuse to get rid of us and the cats.
"I would love to know who the jobsworth is who gave out the information that we were not to be admitted.
"We just want to be allowed in for five minutes a day. I was distraught at being banned from seeing them - they are like my family."
Earlier, negotiations appeared to have reached an im-puss, with Edna left heartbroken as the four-legged companions who she had cared for come rain, hail or shine were left to fend for themselves. The Stormont Estate Management Unit (SEMU) is understood to have previously circulated an email instructing all security guards to "ensure that only those visitors with a valid business reason are permitted access to the restricted areas of the estate."
The 'securocats' email added that "providing food for feral cats does not constitute a business need and as such entry has been refused and will be so going forward."
At a press conference in Antrim Hospital yesterday, the Belfast Telegraph tackled James Brokenshire on whether Edna, who has looked after cats on the estate for three decades, would be allowed to provide sustenance to the floundering felines.
A taken-aback Mr Brokenshire replied "Well, I'll, ah, I, I, ah, that's one I'm not familiar with."
He added with a wry smile: "But I think that it's interesting if there are all sorts of different people who have been affected by the political uncertainty in the community as a whole.
"And I suppose the message is we need to get on with this, we need to see the Executive in place delivering for everyone of whatever character and I think it is that sense of momentum that we need to maintain that I'll be taking back into the talks this afternoon and seeing that we have an Executive that is delivering for Northern Ireland."
While Mr Brokenshire fell short of rubber-stamping Edna's access to the Stormont estate, the Belfast Telegraph mounted an attempt to deliver a food parcel to sustain Ginger, Maggie and Furby in their hour of need.
Arriving at the security entrance to Stormont House with a large bag of cat food and treats, we met a bemused security guard who appeared sympathetic to our aim.
However, the need to gain permission from a higher power meant that we spent nearly an hour standing at the gates wrangling with press officers.
Although our bid to gain access was thwarted due to "talks ongoing", we were able to deliver a bumper bag of cat food to ensure Stormont's newest stars wouldn't go hungry overnight.
Meanwhile, two separate petitions have gathered more than 100 signatures calling for Edna to be granted access.
Abigail Garratt, who created one of the petitions, stated: "This is a lady who finds joy in caring for those who need it, a woman with compassion for animals and feels a duty of care for them.
"She should be allowed to continue to feed these cats freely, and should not be deemed a 'security risk.'"