Traders call protest crisis summit
Published 14/01/2013 | 03:35
Belfast traders have called a crisis meeting to discuss the downturn caused by the Union flag protests.
Talks will be held at what was once the most bombed hotel in Europe, the luxury Europa, in the city centre on Wednesday.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) estimated £15 million was lost to the economy over Christmas because some people avoided the commercial centre.
Almost 100 police officers have been injured during sporadic rioting and parts of Belfast brought to a standstill by loyalist road blocks.
Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce president Joe Jordan said: "There is no doubt that the past two months have been incredibly difficult for traders in Belfast. We want to hear the first-hand experience of businesses, along with their views and opinions on the current crisis."
The trouble was prompted by Belfast City Council's decision to only fly the Union flag from the City Hall on designated days like royal birthdays.
Businesses in Belfast's city centre struggled to cope with the impact of the resultant protests, as some customers avoided the area over fears of encountering trouble. Many restaurants and shops have reported declined levels of custom.
Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are due to meet with the British and Irish governments later this week to discuss the protests.
The DUP leader said talks with Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore would address all outstanding issues. He has previously warned that potential and current investors are watching the violence.
Sectarian clashes on Saturday between loyalists returning from a city centre protest and republicans living in Short Strand in east Belfast were broken up by police, who braved bricks, fireworks and other missiles thrown from the angry crowd. They responded with water cannon and non-lethal baton rounds. Around a thousand people attended a peace rally at Belfast City Hall on Sunday.