Heaton-Harris sparks traders’ wrath after his back door exit

Heaton-Harris sparks traders’ wrath after his back door exit

15 November 2023

SECRETARY of State Chris Heaton-Harris came in for heavy criticism when he refused to meet members of Downpatrick’s business community last week.

Mr Heaton-Harris arrived at the front door of the town’s Saint Patrick Centre last Wednesday afternoon — but later later left by the back door.

His arrival came just hours after he announced a £15 million financial package to support businesses affected by the floods.

Mr Heaton-Harris was welcomed in the foyer by the centre’s director, Dr Tim Campbell, and spoke briefly with two local businessmen before going upstairs for a one-on-one meeting with South Down Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard.

While Mr Heaton-Harris was upstairs, more traders arrived at the centre expecting to talk with Mr Heaton-Harris after his meeting with Hazzard has ended.

Already disappointed with the amount of financial support on offer and Mr Heaton-Harris not doing a walkabout of the town, their disappointment turned to anger when world filtered down that the Secretary of State would not be meeting them.

Bartley Murphy, whose family-owned bar and restaurant was particularly badly damaged by the flood water, said: “We are all finished.”

My life, my pension is down the tubes, is sitting in skips now. I am angry and cross and I am not afraid to vent my anger.”

Noel Traynor, whose dry cleaning business will not be reopening, said Mr Heaton-Harris should have spoken to business owners.

“It’s an absolute disgrace,” he said. “He’s a coward that couldn’t come and tell the people or go and visit their businesses.”

One trader wept openly and accused of Mr Heaton-Harris of ignoring the town’s traders. Another said he had shown “great discourtesy”, while another said it was “another kick in the teeth” for Downpatrick.

One businessman asked: “Why did he come at all? We have been left on our own.”

Mr Hazzard said the Secretary of State’s failure to engage with local businesses was “illustrative of a Tory government attempting to walk away from responsibility to deliver a flood relief scheme”.

He was also critical of the amount of financial support on offer and that there would be no additional money from Westminster .

He continued: “It is hugely frustrating that one week on from the flooding in Downpatrick we still have no clarity; no detail; and not a single penny of emergency support from the British Government. 

“Instead the British Secretary of State is attempting to repackage money from already stretched local government departments in an effort to disguise the fact the British Government is not making any new money available to respond to this emergency. 

“This is completely unacceptable. The British Government must listen to the concerns of those affected; they need a significant funding package, and they need it urgently.”

Mr Hazzard added: “I’m hugely disappointed that the British Secretary of State added insult to injury this evening by evading the opportunity to meet with local business owners who had gathered outside to speak with him.

“His failure to listen was a cruel blow to those who have suffered so greatly this past week.”