Flag protests 'cost Belfast £15m'

Published Thursday, 10 January 2013
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The flags trouble has cost businesses in Belfast up to £15m, according to the Confederation of British Industry.

Flag protests 'cost Belfast £15m'
Shoppers waiting at a bus stop in Belfast watch riot police march by. (© Getty)

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.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
Matty in Newry wrote (748 days ago):
Clearly Gazza doesn't know what he's talking about, the Union flag is a flag of the island beside us, the Irish flag represents Protestants here more so, orange is in it. Dill,what? How can you be a nationalist if you're happy to be part of the UK, that doesn't make sense?
Tommy Atkins in London, England wrote (749 days ago):
Well folks, Norwich Luton,and Tyneside have received interested investment companies to open up new businesses. Keep up the good work protestors! You are now truly showing your loyalty by adding jobs to the motherland
gazza in belfast wrote (749 days ago):
No this was caused by sinn fein and alliance , people were not bothered by the flag flying there , community relations wasnt considered either...do sinn fein think of the protestant community when they vote to have the flag removed in nationalist controlled councils? they wont even vote to let it fly on designated days so they are not interested in equality for protestants.
paultbay in Belfast wrote (749 days ago):
were is the proof that the flag protests have cost business's this money? right across the UK trading was down, in some places by up to 15%. what is the rest of the UK blaming for this down turn? in my opinion the flag protest is the easy excuss
SAB in Belfast wrote (749 days ago):
Why is it when unionist or loyalists do something the media and government attach a price tag? How much did IRA cost the country over the last 40 years and the enquiries have cost a fortune. Its the usual biased media in Northern ireland. And to all the so called unionists who arnt supporting the cause, remember this is about more than a flag and if we dont stand up now and fight now its going to be to late
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