Published Tuesday, 18 December 2012
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Business hard hit
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The loyalist demonstrations have now continued into a third week following Belfast City Council's decision restrict the flying of the Union flag at City Hall.
Local businesses have been left to count the cost, with takings at pubs and clubs down a fifth in what should be the busiest weeks of the year, in the run-up to Christmas.
And with retailers already hard pressed because of the downturn, there's a warning that major high street shops may look elsewhere when it comes to future investment.
In a joint statement, CBI Northern Ireland, Institute of Directors and the NI Chamber of Commerce told the protesters "enough is enough".
They said: "The damage to local businesses created by on-going street disturbances and violence associated with the 'flag protests' must now be brought to a rapid end.
Our hard pressed retail and hospitality sectors have already been suffering from the economic downturn and cannot afford to bear any more hardship.
NI business leaders
"The violence and disruptive actions of those involved in these street protests are being beamed around the world and will have a detrimental impact on tourism and investment. This is now putting jobs at risk and threatens the very livelihood of the business owners and staff in these communities. Visitors and investors can and will invest elsewhere if they cannot be assured of a peaceful environment."
The body representing the pubs and clubs industry said it's not for them to comment on the flags issue, but they want it to be sorted out urgently.
"We're seeing a downturn of 20% - that's a fifth of the busiest time of our year," explained Colin Neill from Pubs of Ulster.
"In these number of weeks we do a third of our yearly turnover so it's crucial for our survival in January and February when there's nobody about.
"I don't know how to solve this but somebody needs to very quickly."
The hotel federation have echoed that call - meanwhile as evening trade takes a knock one restaurateur said the disorder has not done the NI brand any favours.
Michael Deane said: "I think it's had a devastating blow to the city centre.
"No matter what we think about flags I don't think this is the time or place to make these calls and I think Belfast is very upset about what's happening."
The continental market at City Hall was also affected by the protests and has been extended an extra weekend to make up for lost time.
On the streets of Belfast on Tuesday, UTV asked shoppers whether they have been discouraged from coming into the city during the trouble.
"It doesn't put me off," one woman said. "But the traffic - we had to queue for a while."
Another woman told us: "I got caught on Friday night and had to walk 20 minutes in the rain so it wasn't happy times."
A couple said: "No - why should it put us off? There's been protests throughout the years."
And a man said: "Sure we've been through the 70s, we carry on."
As the unrest continues, local businesses encouraged politicians to work to stop the protests and called on shoppers to support local trade.
The joint statement continued: "The business community in Northern Ireland is now calling on every politician and community leader to bear any influence they have to stop these street protests and start focusing on rebuilding a strong economy for Northern Ireland."