Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Alliance MLA with burnt-out office tackles Theresa Villiers during tour

Theresa Villiers

It's a long way from the London suburb of Chipping Barnet to the Newtownards Road.

Theresa Villiers yesterday took the time to engage with politicians and business owners on the ground after six weeks of protests, violence and disruption across the city.

The 44-year-old barrister left her north London constituency and the grandeur of Westminster behind for the more modest surroundings of an area of east Belfast which has suffered some of the worst violence during the flag protests.

Arriving at the Alliance Party office of East Belfast MP Naomi Long, where only weeks previously a police officer narrowly escaped death in a petrol bomb attack, her first major public engagement out on the streets got off to a rather uncomfortable start.

Among the raft of party members jostling for space among the cameras and reporters, Carrickfergus Assembly Member Stewart Dickson — whose office was destroyed during loyalist violence — engaged in a tense eye-to-eye with Ms Villiers.

The East Antrim MLA was critical over the amount of time it had taken her to meet those caught up in the trouble.

“I’m just sorry I can’t see you in Carrickfergus today because, as you know, I don’t have an office; it has been burned out,” he said.

“Why has it taken you six weeks to get here?”

Ms Villiers answered in a hushed tone. “I’m sorry you feel like that,” she said.

“It (the attack) was disgraceful. I condemned very vocally all attacks and threats and intimidation,” she added.

Following that, she made her way to a coffee shop only a few doors down, one of the businesses that is suffering as a result of the continued unrest. The gaggle of reporters was very much on a tight leash, with photographers and camera crews told they were not allowed to film Ms Villiers as she talked to traders in their businesses.

There was no opportunity to further question the Secretary of State as she braved the miserable weather to speak with business owners — an earlier Press meeting at Stormont seemingly deemed sufficient.

After her visit, coffee shop owner Neil Lindores said that Ms Villiers had been enquiring into how his business had been affected by the unrest.

“She was asking me how it is going, making sure that everything is all right,” he said.

Ms Long said that traders were “pleased” that Ms Villiers had come to speak to them, but realised that “she doesn’t hold the situation to resolve their problem”.

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