Belfast Telegraph

Sectarian violence 'is grotesque'

The idea that British culture can be defended by loyalists in Northern Ireland attacking the police is grotesque, the Northern Ireland Secretary said.

The region cannot reach its full economic potential while sectarian violence continues, Theresa Villiers told the Conservatives Party Conference in Manchester.

"Let me be clear on this, 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, blast bombs and ceremonial swords is grotesque," she said.

A group of Whitehall ministers is to consider how to boost the amount of bank finance flowing to Northern Ireland businesses.

Ms Villiers said the Government was committed to helping rebalance the region's economy in favour of the private sector.

"Working with the Executive, we're determined to strengthen the private sector and rebalance the economy ... and deliver the kind of change for which the Northern Ireland Conservatives have campaigned so strongly over recent years," she added.

In June the Government unveiled a new package of measures designed to help Northern Ireland compete in the global race for investment and jobs.

Ms Villiers said this boost included not just spending public money but using imaginative measures to boost business and enterprise.

"So the Government's highly successful Start Up loans scheme has been extended to Northern Ireland, with the first loans going out to young entrepreneurs there within weeks of the package being signed at Downing Street," she said.

"But talking to businesses in Northern Ireland, I know just how difficult it still is for them to get the bank finance they need.

"So as part of the package 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 in Northern Ireland."

Stormont finance minister Simon Hamilton and enterprise minister Arlene Foster met Business Secretary Vince Cable to discuss access to finance challenges.

The discussion in Northern Ireland was attended by representatives of the local banking and finance industries.

The meeting considered what banks and others are doing to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to invest and grow; the availability of other forms of finance, including the level of awareness among the business population; and the level of participation in Government and Northern Ireland schemes for businesses.

Mr Hamilton said: "We stressed to him (Mr Cable) how important it was for our local banking system to be more competitive and to have a structured approach to working through the legacy of the past where a significant proportion of current debt is no longer performing.

"We don't want this acting as a drag on our recovery for any longer than it needs to be."

Ms Foster said access to finance for companies was more challenging in Northern Ireland than other parts of the UK because of the structure of banking and the collapse of the property market.

"It is vitally important that businesses can access affordable finance to help them grow and prosper," she added.

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