Saturday 22 July 2017

Northern Ireland street violence forcing potential investors to walk away

Michael McHugh

Potential investors in Northern Ireland have walked away because of the street violence, business chiefs have warned.

As First Minister Peter Robinson confirmed a new initiative to try to end the disorder by loyalists in Belfast, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) claimed jobs will be lost and shops shut unless there is an immediate end to trouble sparked by a reduction in the number of days the Union flag flies from Belfast city hall.

A fifth consecutive night of violence in east Belfast on Monday saw rioters attack police and their vehicles with hatchets, sledgehammers and petrol bombs.

CBI Northern Ireland director Nigel Smyth warned: "We are already aware of investors who have lost interest because of these disruptions."

Last night the Police Service of Northern Ireland fired water cannon and used "non-lethal" baton rounds in response to violence on the Lower Newtownards Road, an inner city largely unionist working-class area.

The unrest has continued intermittently since Belfast City Council's decision last month to reduce the number of days the flag flies to 18. Tomorrow will be the first of those dates, the Duchess of Cambridge's birthday.

Three police officers were injured and eight people arrested on Monday night, bringing the total number of arrests since the flag protests began to 104. A total of 66 officers have been hurt.

Mr Smyth said: "The violence and disruptive actions of those involved in the street protests is having a detrimental impact on local businesses, as well as damaging prospective tourism and investment for the year ahead.

"There is now a very real risk of job losses as the very livelihood of the business owners and staff in the communities affected is threatened."

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said a unionist forum to discuss issues of concern with the loyalist community would meet later this week. It is expected to include politicians and community groups.

The violence is being watched closely by business leaders, Mr Robinson said.

"We know the people considering investing. We know the nervousness of some of those who have invested in Northern Ireland," he said.

"The only outcome is that (the riots) damage Northern Ireland's prospects of bringing more jobs here, damage the prospects of young people who want to get into employment and damage the prospects of us having prosperity in Northern Ireland."

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