Flag protests 'cost Belfast £15m'

The flags trouble has cost businesses in Belfast up to £15m, according to the Confederation of British Industry.

Published 10/01/2013 12:00

Protests have been held across the city since the start of December, when the council voted to restrict the flying of the Union flag to designated days.

Local businesses said they have lost out over the busy Christmas period, with the CBI in Northern Ireland estimating the total losses at between £10m and £15m.

Nigel Smyth from the organisation said: "We are aware that figures quoted before Christmas estimated the loss of revenue to Belfast City retailers, following flag protests in the city, were around £10m to £12m.

"Based on these estimates and following the continued protests in the city, we would envisage that figure to have risen to between £10m to £15m."

Traders hit by the flags protest in Belfast are expected to ask local politicians for a bailout at a meeting of business owners planned for next week.

These people are not defending our national flag ... they are a dishonouring our national flag and our country.

Theresa Villiers

For Chris Suitor, in December the books at his menswear shop show a downturn of 25% on the previous year.

He told UTV that potential customers stayed away from the city centre because of the protests.

"Between our two businesses we're maybe £20-25,000 down on the month of December," he said.

"That's a lot of money for any businesses to lose. We're going to not so much struggle, but we are definitely going to have to cut a few corners in the future to try to make things work."

Six consecutive nights of violence have flared in east Belfast over the past week, however Wednesday was largely peaceful. Sixty-six PSNI officers have been injured policing the unrest.

At a special Policing Board meeting on Thursday, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott again called for an end to any disturbances.

"It's damaging the reputation of Northern Ireland, that has been very clear. It's starting to damage the investment in our future and it's certainly damaging the future of our young people," he told UTV.

During the meeting, it emerged that the cost of the first two weeks of policing in December cost £4m.

Mr Baggott said there PSNI resources are not at crisis point, but admitted that it is tight and there are "implications for the future, should the violence continue".

Speaking at Westminster, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said the damage inflicted to the economy has been "considerable".

She added: "Huge efforts have been made in recent years to project a modern, confident, outward-looking Northern Ireland that's a great place to do business.

"But the pictures beaming round the world of riots and disorder make it far, far harder to compete in the global race for inward investment.

"Jobs and livelihoods are under threat so it is essential that these protests and this violence stops now."

Shadow Secretary Vernon Coaker said: "Although this violence is serious, worrying and wrong, and that it must stop, we will not and cannot let it undo all of the good work being done in Northern Ireland. We have continuing work to do to reassure people outside of Northern Ireland that it is a fantastic place, open for business and tourism."

Unionists on Belfast City Council said they will press for a rates cut to help traders affected by the disruption over flags.

A joint statement from the DUP and UUP laid the blame on nationalists and the Alliance Party for "pushing through" the flag policy changes.

Sinn Féin accused them of "abdicating responsibility" and asked them to explain to people where the cuts would come from to pay for a rates cut.

The issue will be discussed by the council in February.

Meanwhile the first meeting of the new Unionist Forum has also taken place amid ongoing efforts to end the unrest over flags.

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