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Blair praise for work of PA after office blaze

Tony Blair has praised the role of The Press Association of Ireland after a fire destroyed the agency’s Belfast office last month.

In a letter to Ireland editor Deric Henderson, the Prime Minister said he was shocked by the destruction.

He said: “I know the PA plays an important part in the community of Northern Ireland. It’s very sad this should have happened, but I know you won’t be deterred.”

Within four weeks of the fire, new offices were found and made fully-operational at Donegall Square West overlooking the grounds of City Hall.

The fire failed to disrupt the agency’s wire service. Belfast Telegraph editor Ed Curran offered spare desks for Belfast-based reporters while PA sub-editor Joe Kearney moved to the Dublin office to make sure there was no interruption to the service.

The listings team was re-located at the News Letter after the paper’s managing director Jean Long provided a temporary office.

Deric said it was a huge all-round effort, adding: “The level of support from all our customers in Ireland was incredible. Everybody offered assistance.

“The staff were magnificent. Obviously the fire was an enormous setback, but we’re grateful there was no loss of life. So much was lost, including a lot of personal mementoes collected throughout the years of the troubles in Northern Ireland.

“The fact that we were able to maintain our round the clock service is a tribute to PA’s resilience to meet all sorts of challenges.”

PA editorial director Tony Watson said: “The speed of PA’s response to this setback was in the best traditions of the agency and a great credit to our staff. The response from our customers was terrific and we’re grateful for all their assistance during this period.”

Police say the fire, which broke out in the reception area of a firm of solicitors on the third floor of Queen’s Building, Royal Avenue, was started deliberately by burglars who stole mobile telephones and laptops. The blaze quickly spread to the top floor where the PA offices were based and once the roof collapsed fire chiefs said there was no chance of saving the building.

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