Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Belfast traders urged to call for halt to parades and protests during Richard Haass talks

Some of the protesters taking part in a loyalist parade through Belfast city centre
Some of the protesters taking part in a loyalist parade through Belfast city centre

Belfast business owners have been urged to call for a moratorium on all parades, marches and demonstrations while the Haass talks continue.

The SDLP suggested retailers should make the stand after yet another disruption to Saturday trading in the city centre because of a large loyalist parade.

The party's justice spokesman Alban Maginness said business owners should ask for all protest activity to be suspended while US diplomat Dr Richard Haass is chairing all-party talks on tackling issues such as contentious parades, flags and the past.

"Traders should be calling for a moratorium on all parades, marches and demonstrations during the currency of the Haass process," Mr Maginness said.

"This will give an opportunity for business to stabilise themselves and enjoy the run-up to the Christmas holiday."

The North Belfast MLA's comments came after a breach of a Parades Commission determination on Saturday by a group calling itself Loyal Peaceful Protesters.

Some 3,000 protesters took part, but around 1,000 were initially involved in the march which took off from Belfast City Hall at 1.30pm, in breach of a Parades Commission determination that it should begin at 12.30pm.

The PSNI gave several verbal warnings to protesters about the restrictions on the parade.

Police also used digital display screens to advise them that: 'This parade is now unlawful.'

The parade left the city centre without incident and continued on to the Shankill Road before finishing at Woodvale Parade.

Mr Maginness said it was unacceptable for businesses in the city centre to be impacted by breaches of Parades Commission determinations and also said that the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service must act to protect lawful authority.

"On Saturday there was deliberate defiance of the Parades Commission determination," Mr Maginness said. "That has got to be addressed by the PSNI and PPS, otherwise it will be allowing the Parades Commission to be diminished in terms of lawful authority."

In a TV interview yesterday, CBI Northern Ireland chairman Ian Coulter said the increased number of protests and parades in Belfast over the last nine months were a significant factor in the reported dip in retail sales.

He also said they added an extra layer of uncertainty and that business owners had the right to trade uninterrupted.

CBI NI – the voice of business in Northern Ireland – estimates that the flag protests earlier this year cost the retail industry up to £15m in lost trade.

On Friday Mr Coulter was among the business leaders urging all parties to focus on finding solutions through the Haass review.

He said securing a successful conclusion to the all-party talks by December was a key economic requirement if Northern Ireland was to secure more jobs, greater and shared prosperity, and build our reputation internationally.

He said over the summer months there had been a return to growth in Northern Ireland "albeit more muted and patchy" than elsewhere, but there was an opportunity to set the economy on an upward trajectory, if legacy issues could be dealt with.

Mr Coulter said many businesses "seriously worried about further street protests and violence" and the long-term impact on the livelihoods of the citizens of Northern Ireland.

He added that the business community wanted a greater focus on issues and actions that benefit the whole community and "a shift away from tribal party politics of the past".

Meanwhile, a senior PSNI source has told this newspaper that the police will not be broken "physically or financially".

He was commenting after the huge security operation on Saturday.

Around 600 officers were on duty as the parade left the City Hall and moved along Royal Avenue towards North Street on a march towards the Shankill and Woodvale.

Commenting on the cost of the weekend operation, the high-ranking officer said it was "another shedload of money down the drain".

He described a sense of frustration "with a lack of resolution to this stuff", but added: "We are not going to be broken."