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Traders call for customers Backin' Belfast

Licensed traders in Belfast fear protests could costs more jobs.

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

Monday, 21 January 2013
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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.