Flags unrest 'decimating' businesses

Published Tuesday, 15 January 2013
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Seven weeks on from the beginning of the flag demonstrations, UTV looks at the full cost of the violence on everyday business life in Belfast.

Flags unrest 'decimating' businesses
Businesses have been hit hard as fewer shoppers come into city centre. (© Getty)

Traders in the city say the protests and riots arising out of changes to City Hall's flag policy have had a devastating effect on trade.

According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), an estimated £15m was lost to the economy over Christmas because shoppers avoided Belfast.

It has also now emerged that the cost of police overtime in December was up almost £3m compared to the same time last year.

Peter Gilroy, who runs Restaurant Victoria, said levels of business in the past week were some of the lowest he has ever seen.

"These protests have decimated - and I can't repeat that word enough - decimated our business," Mr Gilroy told UTV.

Last week was just short of the worst I've seen in 20 years in this industry

Peter Gilroy, Restaurant Victoria

"We expect a quiet January but not this. What I think we need to highlight is the effect it's having on personnel working in the hospitality industry.

"Waiters that are used to getting 40 to 50 hours a week last week would have got 10 - how are they going to live, pay their rents?"

Jason Shankey, who runs his business on the Newtownards Road, said the shop is left empty every time trouble flares.

"The knock-on effect is immediately when the riots erupt the road here just dies completely and as a result of that a lot of customers aren't able to get to our premises," he explained.

"The shop just becomes empty. A lot of our customers travel a long distance to come here so they are unable to make their way to the shop."

Pub owners have also been hit hard, with trade down by as much as 54% and one publican claiming losses of £60,000 since the protests began.

During a meeting with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers on Monday they described the current situation as "critical".

Meanwhile it has been announced that a major education conference which was due to take place in Belfast has been postponed as the fallout continues.

The Girls' Schools Association, which represents the heads of 177 independent UK girls' schools, had planned to hold its annual conference in the city this November.

It typically attracts in the region of 200 delegates plus exhibitors, but organisers said they have now postponed their visit to Belfast due to a risk that members may not come.

Charlotte Vere, executive director of the GSA, said: "We are very sad that we have had to postpone our visit to Belfast and we really hope that we can visit in the future.

"The reality is that we just can't take the risk of a significant proportion of our members deciding to stay at home."

It would hit us hard financially and that is not a risk that we can prudently take

Charlotte Vere, GSA

The decision to reduce the number of days the Union flag flies at City Hall has led to protests across Belfast and Northern Ireland since December.

Belfast Lord Mayor, Gavin Robinson, promised action after holding an emergency meeting with retailers, representatives of the hospitality industry, business organisations and local traders on Tuesday.

He said: "It was an opportunity for those present to vent not only their frustrations and fears but perhaps more importantly come up with ideas and initiatives to deal with the problem.

"The council is giving this matter some urgency and will consider all the issues that were discussed and come up with a joint plan of action to encourage people who work in the city centre to stay beyond work time and for others to come into the city and support our bars, restaurants and shops, while also supporting the retailers in their own localities."

Last week Belfast City Council agreed a rates freeze to help traders affected by the flags trouble.

A motion to cut rates by 2% was put forward by the DUP but was defeated by Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Alliance Party.

An urgent crisis meeting with city retailers has been called by the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce to discuss ongoing disruption caused by flag protests.

Chamber President Joe Jordan said the meeting, which will be held on Wednesday, will discuss the downturn in trade and the "continuing hardship on the business community".

© UTV News
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40 Comments
heather in newtownabbey wrote (679 days ago):
for goodness sake stop believing all this propaganda !!!! everyone knows january is a bad month for retailors !!! just another way to try to get united ireland through the back door !!! if its nor july parades it will be something next month !!! catch yourselves on stop whipping up these kids into a frenzy !!! and to the retailors ,, have a word with banks ,, after all it was them that started the recession !!! but there again that would be too simple wouldnt it ????
realistic in planet earth wrote (681 days ago):
prepare for the desolation of any high street in northern ireland.among the many pressures on all businesses at present this current unrest will be the straw that breaks the camels back for many.all we will be left with are the supermarkets..... after all we all have to eat, lol
Gerard in East Belfast wrote (681 days ago):
Simple in Londonderry, not illegal except the illegal parades, the illegal blocking of roads, and of course hiding faces behind masks. Please protest, but honest get off the roads. The rest of us have work to do and families to support
CATCH 22 in THE REAL WORLD wrote (681 days ago):
The problem of socio-economic deprivation is very much at the heart of this issue. This underclass will continually be whipped into a frenzy and take to the streets to create mayhem and anarchy until such times as they have a greater stake in society. When they have jobs, mortgages, aspirations and ambitions for themselves and their children they'll be more concerned about creating and maintaining peace and stability than wrecking it. Problem is it's a catch 22 situation. Unless and until there is sustained peace and stability their situation will never improve. They are not doing this country any favours but their greatest dis-service is to themselves.
Lynda in Belfast wrote (681 days ago):
(Simple-londonderry) im glad somebody mentioned the silence in the media when republicians were wrecking maghaberry and having dirty protests. Didnt hear many calls to end that. (Belfast-Belfast) you really should learn how to spell before you leap into politics, your grammar is awful!!
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