Published Wednesday, 09 January 2013
Shoppers waiting at a bus stop in Belfast watch riot police march by. (© Getty)
Trouble has flared in the city since the council voted last month to restrict the flying of the Union flag at City Hall to designated days.
Many businesses said they lost out over the traditionally busy Christmas period.
A joint statement from DUP and UUP councillors has laid the blame on nationalists and the Alliance Party for "pushing through" the flag policy changes.
It said: "The decision by the nationalists and Alliance to push through their unwanted and unneeded change to the flags policy in the teeth of Christmas, and the fallout from that decision, has hurt many of our traders in the city centre.
"As responsible representatives, we are determined to do all we can to help repair the damage created by those three parties and to give our businesses a much needed boost.
"Accordingly, the DUP and Ulster Unionist members of the council will be supporting a cut to the rates in Belfast. In these pressing economic times, we must do all we can to protect our business sector, and creating a low tax environment is one way of doing that."
Sinn Féin called the statement a "disgrace" and accused the Unionists of abdicating responsibility.
Councillor Deirdre Hargey said: "Once again unionist councillors have used the intemperate language of 'tearing' down a flag and also washed their hands of all responsibility to do with the flag protests. That is a disgrace and an abdication of their responsibilities.
"The blame for traders poor return at Christmas lies at the feet of the protestors and those who stoked up tension around the democratic decision taken by the council.
"Unionists now advocating a setting of the rates at a minus need to explain to people where the cuts are going to come from to pay for this. This would affect the investment package announced by the council and would have a knock on affect on creating new jobs."
Tim Attwood of the SDLP condemned the "unholy alliance" of the DUP and UUP.
He said: "The economy of the city is far too important to play party politics over.
"The DUP/UUP statement is inaccurate as it claims parties want to increase taxes, the reality is the SDLP and other parties have been building a consensus around a zero rate increase, an effective decrease given inflation. This would be a positive result for the ratepayer and businesses who have suffered from the economic downturn and flag protests."
The issue will be discussed by the council in February.