Traders call for customers Backin' Belfast

Published Monday, 21 January 2013
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While Belfast traders say seven weeks of protests have brought them to their knees, the 'Backin' Belfast' campaign hopes to stop the decline.

Traders call for customers Backin' Belfast
Licensed traders in Belfast fear protests could costs more jobs. (© UTV)

Up to 35,000 people are employed in the hospitality industry across Northern Ireland, but in the wake of the violence or disruption that has accompanied many of the loyalist flag protests, takings are down and jobs have been lost.

Gerry White, general manager at the John Hewitt bar, has described Belfast city centre on a weeknight as a "ghost town".

"We are trying to get tourists to come into Belfast and you can't bring anybody or invite anybody into a city which is completely void of people. It breaks my heart because I'm deeply in love with Belfast, it's a city I've great passion for," he said.

Last week it was revealed that at least 50 jobs have already been lost across 16 premises, with fears that a further 300 could be at risk.

With the economic climate and everything else that's going on at the minute we are really in a state of crisis.

Gerry White

Pubs of Ulster, a body that represents licensed traders in the region, launched the Take Back the City campaign - formally known as Backin' Belfast - in an attempt to prevent further job losses.

"It's a call to civic pride. Our industry is in crisis," said Colin Neill from Pubs of Ulster.

"We are seeing people paid off. We are about to see buildings close, premises close, it's a call to action. We want people back in our pubs, back in our restaurants, back in our evening economy."

They called for Finance Minister Sammy Wilson to provide support to protect the industry following a meeting at Stormont on Monday.

"The Minister stated his commitment to helping the industry and said his department will look at ways to ease the pressure on pubs, including the possible deferral of payments," said Mr Neill.

"In addition, he also promised to speak with other departments and the banks to look at ways to help the industry".

Stephen Reynolds owns the Front Page Bar in Ballymena and said his fellow traders need immediate help.

"The impact of the flag protests has brought Belfast to its knees and affected pubs right across Northern Ireland, with many struggling to get people through the door over the last few weeks.

"As a publican myself, I know all too well the challenges and difficulties that this can cause a business and the sad reality is, many pubs will close if the industry does not get the immediate support it desperately needs," he explained.

On Tuesday the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau will outline further plans to restore confidence and customers to the city.

© UTV News
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13 Comments
tell us in belfast wrote (636 days ago):
people should name and shame the pubs etc who rip us off.
fedup in belfast wrote (637 days ago):
This whole thing is a joke....it is a fast and craft move by traders to get some money from gov and more money from people. I would love to see comparison figures from Jan last year and year before. The reason there is less is due to lack of money all around as well as people going to other venues in other places, staying in etc. Anytime I am out in Belfast it is buzzing on a Fri or Sat night - i guess the real question is when will traders even be happy, how much is what they are looking for?
Ryan in Belfast wrote (637 days ago):
People, both protestant and catholic, should stop being afraid and threatened by these loyalist protests because thats what they want. Its important we all go out and have a good time in our bars, resturants, etc we shouldnt be held to ransom by loyalist extremists.
dan in Belfast wrote (637 days ago):
I'll not be rushing into Belfast to support the pubs either, given the surly attitude of so many of their doormen/women over the last few years to anyone who wasnt wearing the right clothes, had trainers on, a tattoo, wore a poppy, a Northern Ireland shirt or any of a hundred other reasons for them to refuse you entry to have, god forbid, a pint in their premises. Let them review their attitudes to the punters before they come crying to the public to come rushing to their aid.
Rick in Coleraine wrote (637 days ago):
As a son of a publican in another area of the country, I can tell you that no where is doing well. The protest doesn't help, our takings are down a good bit on last year and we had no protests up here. Truth is it's a variety of economic factors that's killing the pub industry including high duty, rising costs, stagnant incomes, cheap supermarket booze, changing of habits and fear mongering within the media* (regarding the economy) that's stopping people from spending money on luxuries. Also people would rather go for a coffee and a scone than a pint nowadays. Truth is things will get worse, when pints hit a fiver within the next five years and the minimum wage will be no more than £7 an hour, that will really thin the bars out. If people don't get behind there local pub, they will be watching them diminish like we have watched the local high streets in this country have diminished over the last 5 years.
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