Loyalist flag rioters' claim to be defenders of British values is grotesque, says Theresa Villiers
The belief that rioters who wrap themselves in a Union flag as they attack the PSNI are defending British culture is grotesque, the Secretary of State has said.
Speaking on the final day of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Theresa Villiers – who was mistakenly introduced as the Secretary of State for Scotland – also announced a new ministerial taskforce to improve the fortunes of the private sector in Northern Ireland.
But she warned that sectarian divisions and violence could destroy efforts to boost the Northern Ireland economy
"It's hard to see how Northern Ireland can reach its full economic potential while sectarian division continues to spill out on to the streets with disgraceful scenes of rioting and violence," she said..
"The idea that British identity and culture can be defended by people who wrap themselves in the Union flag and attack police officers with bricks and blast bombs and ceremonial swords is grotesque.
"We in this party have always stood four-square for the rule of law and we condemn all those who seek to attack and undermine it, whether that attack comes from rioters who call themselves loyalists or from the lethal dissident republicans who continue to plot murder and mayhem.
"So we stand fully behind the Police Service of Northern Ireland."
Announcing the package of support, Ms Villiers added: "I am setting up a new cross-Whitehall ministerial taskforce to make sure that we do all we can to ensure that vital finance gets through to businessmen and women in Northern Ireland, because it's by backing their efforts, people who just want to work hard and do the right thing, that we'll deliver the boost to the private sector that we all want to see."
Ms Villiers' speech was held away from the main auditorium, which Labour had said was evidence of the Tories' semi-detached approach to Northern Ireland.
A Labour source said the Secretary of State and Northern Ireland were being snubbed by the Conservatives "in an almost empty side room".