A small business owner struggling to cope with the impact of Union flag protests has shared her feelings of “powerlessness” and “sheer frustration” at receiving a summons for unpaid rates.
Award-winning chocolatier Deirdre McCanny runs Co Couture in Chichester Street, just yards from Belfast City Hall where loyalist demonstrations have been focused since December 3.
She took to Facebook and Twitter at the weekend to comment on Land & Property Services’ (LPS) lack of flexibility regarding her business rates bill, which she has partially paid.
It’s understood all those with unpaid or part-paid business and residential rates bills have received a reminder letter or court summons from the Department of Finance and Personnel agency in the last week or so.
Last month, the Confederation of British Industry said Belfast business owners had lost £15m as a result of the protests.
Writing on Co Couture’s Facebook, Ms McCanny said: “Many of you will be aware our business is right beside City Hall Belfast which has been affected for coming on eight weeks.
“This evening I was forced to walk home in the rain as all buses had been cancelled due to flag protests.
“A cab was not an option as I am not yet taking a salary from Co Couture.
“On way home I passed a road blocked by around 20 protesters surrounded by police and Land Rovers.
“This is the reality of owning a business in Belfast.
“I truly feel like this is an abusive relationship — beaten up by the system at every turn for circumstances which are out of our control and not of our making.
“No amount of marketing spend in the world will fix this.”
A Belfast City Council spokeswoman said people would have to contact LPS about rate relief.
A Department of Finance and Personnel spokesman said: “There is little scope within the rates legislation to provide relief in these circumstances and it would take too long to develop a rates policy to deal with this which would then require new legislation.
“LPS, however, is prepared to consider flexibility in terms of payment arrangements for those badly hit by current disturbances.”