Almost one year after being gutted in an arson attack the Alliance Party’s Carrickfergus office has been officially reopened.
Party leader David Ford returned to cut the ribbon at the West Street premises which were targeted in December of last year.
Extensive damage was done to the building after a loyalist protest over the Belfast City Hall Union flag controversy erupted into violence. At the time the incident was labelled “an attack on democracy” and Mr Ford picked up on this point on Friday as he praised East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson and his team on their determination to provide a service to constituents.
Mr Ford said: “I was delighted to formally open Stewart’s renovated office and see Alliance continue its proud record of service to the people of East Antrim. As well as representing East Antrim in the Assembly he is a strong defender of key Alliance principles - the rule of law, shared society and politics for everyone.”
The office was closed for seven months whilst repairs were carried out and was reoccupied in August.
Mr Dickson said: “Whilst my team and I continued to run our constituency services from the my Larne office, it is undoubtedly much better to operate from the full suite of offices at my disposal.
“I want to pay tribute to my staff team of Councillors Noel Williams and Gavin Norris, who were resolute in their endeavour to ensure that the quality of our support remained focused on individuals and their issues. They went beyond the call of duty, putting in many extra hours of work with the shadow of the continuing threat against Alliance staff and representatives hanging over them. That threat is still life and real. However, if the reopening of my office demonstrates anything, it is that we will not be deterred from working for everyone in East Antrim.”
With the first anniversary approaching of Belfast City Council’s decision to fly the Union flag on designated days, which Alliance voted in favour of as a “compromise”, Mr Dickson appealed for no repeat of violent protest.
He said: “What happened last year was an attack on democracy and democracy must prevail over the actions of those who would drag us back to a past where political disagreements were expressed with violence. Those people must move on and engage in the appropriate, democratic manner or they will be left out of debates and decisions on how to improve education and health care, create jobs and have a shared future as well as dealing with the past.”