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Silence falls as Northern Ireland is united in honouring Paris victims

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 17/11/2015

Lord Mayor Arder Carson looks on as French Consul Regine McCullough signs a book of condolence
Lord Mayor Arder Carson looks on as French Consul Regine McCullough signs a book of condolence

Silence descended across Northern Ireland as people paused to reflect on the horrific events in Paris.

At Stormont, politicians from all sides stood together in Parliament Buildings in honour of the victims. The Great Hall was packed with MLAs and staff, but not a sound was heard.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers stood between First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

In Belfast and Londonderry, books of condolence were opened ahead of the silence.

Ms Villiers travelled from Stormont to add her signature to the book at Belfast City Hall.

"I felt it was really important for me to be here to show my solidarity for all of the people of France at this very, very difficult time after these shocking and indeed terrifying attacks," she said.

"It is true that the people of Northern Ireland will be feeling very strongly for the French people at the moment, having suffered here for many years during the Troubles. There will be an understanding of the huge damage which is done by attacks of this nature."

At Parliament Buildings, Mr Robinson said: "As elected representatives and people who are in government, it is right we stand with the people of Paris at this dreadful time. The events are horrific. I think they brought back many of the deeply sad moments we have had in our own past, waiting for family members to come home, uncertain whether they would, knowing events had taken place.

"One can imagine that multiplied out so many times with families in Paris over the last few days."

Mr McGuinness said he hoped the peace process in Northern Ireland showed what could be achieved, but warned that negotiation would be unlikely to work with Islamic State, or Isis.

"I think the Isis situation is markedly different from what we are seeing elsewhere in other conflicts," he said.

"Clearly the people involved in Isis are people who are in all probability beyond negotiating with, and I think that represents a real challenge for leaders around the world."

Representatives of all the Assembly parties paid their own tributes at the start of plenary business.

At Belfast City Hall, where Lord Mayor Arder Carson led the tributes, queues formed from mid-morning to sign the book of condolence.

Mr Carson said the people of Belfast had been stunned by the brutality of the attacks and stood in solidarity with Paris.

He said: "Belfast is a compassionate city. The multiplicity of attacks on people going about normal social activities at sporting venues, restaurants and music concert was shocking.

"And what really resonated with us as a city was the amount of young people who lost their lives in those attacks."

On Saturday, the City Hall was illuminated red, white and blue following requests to show support for France.

During an impromptu walk through the continental Christmas market in the Belfast City Hall grounds, Mr Carson expressed sympathy with French traders.

Stallholder Peggy de Saint Jorre, from Normandy, was touched by the expression of sympathy for her countrymen.

"I am happy and touched to see how Belfast people have united with France. Every customer yesterday and the day before was showing solidarity with French people and we are very glad for that. My family live not too far from the first bomb, but everybody is okay."

Regine McCullough, French honorary consul in Belfast, also praised the global support.

She said: "There is just so much grief for the people of France, for the people affected and their families.

"It means an awful lot to have this book of condolence, not only for the French community in Northern Ireland but for the people of France.

"I received so many emails from people from Northern Ireland expressing their sorrow, which was really touching. All the solidarity throughout the world is amazing - it means so much."

Describing the attacks as "unimaginable horror", Ms McCullough, who has family living and working in Paris, said she was fearful for the future.

She added: "You just couldn't believe it was happening in France, in Europe - you don't see that sort of thing here.

"I have family working and living in Paris, but luckily they were not out on Friday night - they could easily have been though - that is the thing that makes you really fear for the future. You don't know what is going to happen, if it is going to happen again, or what."

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