Loyalists who attack police 'grotesque' - Theresa Villiers

Theresa Villiers was speaking at the Conservative Party conference.

The NI Secretary has said the idea that British identity and culture can be defended by people wrapped in a union flag attacking the police is grotesque.

Theresa Villiers made the comments in her speech to the Conservative Party conference on Wednesday.

She also said NI could not reach its full economic potential while sectarian division and violence continues.

Ms Villiers used the conference address to condemn loyalists and republicans who use violence.

"It is hard to see how Northern Ireland can reach its full economic potential while sectarian division continues to spill out onto the streets with disgraceful scenes of rioting and violence.

"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."

Speaking to a small crowd on the final day of conference she also said: "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."

On the Richard Haass multi-party talks which deal with flags, emblems, parades and the past, she said progress would be be painful but it would require real leadership.

"It's right that politicians take ownership of these decisions if we're to have lasting solutions. I don't underestimate the task ahead," said Ms Villiers.

Addressing the economy, she told the conference that business activity in Northern Ireland is up.

"There are now signs that the economy is recovering.

"Business activity is up… unemployment is down… and the property market is starting to stabilise."

Ms Villiers also announced that she was setting up a group to try to help businesses.

She said: "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 is 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."

She also referred to the G8 summit that took place in Fermanagh and said it showed off Northern Ireland as a great place to work and invest.

The secretary of state was speaking away from the main hall in an adjoining auditorium with colleagues from Wales and Scotland. Her speech did get off on a wrong note when she was introduced as the Secretary of State for Scotland, prompting jokes amongst some audience members that a planned cabinet reshuffle had started already.

The speech was criticised by the Labour Party who said the very fact she was speaking away from the conference floor showed that the Conservatives were "literally semi - detached ".

A party spokesman said: "What we had from the secretary of state this morning was 'sound and no vision'.

"Her speech only served to reinforce the growing perception that the government has a semi-detached approach to Northern Ireland, and is totally out of touch.

The spokesman also said: "Working people in Northern Ireland are £800 a year worse off since David Cameron came to power. Small businesses are struggling to get credit while bankers' bonuses are up 82%.

"Reducing the secretary of state's speech to a panel discussion in an almost empty side room shows just how little the Tories care, and how far removed they are from the lives of people in Northern Ireland."

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