Belfast Telegraph

Belfast traders fear retail disaster as loyalist flag protest parade gets go-ahead

By CHRIS KILPATRICK

A large loyalist parade must not be allowed to destroy traders' takings in the run-up to Christmas by turning Belfast city centre into a ghost town, a retail chief has said.

Fears of a devastating impact on retail have been voiced after a parade which applied to allow 10,000 loyalists converge on the city centre on Saturday week was given the go-ahead by the Parades Commission.

The rally will take place on one of the busiest trading days of the year.

Loyalists will gather at City Hall, where the popular Christmas Market is currently trading, and make their way along Royal Avenue, the Shankill Road, and on to Tennent Street.

Earlier this week, First Minister Peter Robinson urged the organisers to rethink the plan but his request has to date been ignored.

The Parades Commission yesterday issued its determination regarding the rally, due to take place on Saturday, November 30.

The parading watchdog ruled the parade should have departed City Hall by noon and be clear of the junction of Royal Avenue and North Street by 12.30pm.

The commission said it came to its determination after representations from traders in Belfast city centre, and from the hospitality and tourism industries.

No unionist politicians engaged with the commission before its determination, it was revealed. No restrictions were placed on the numbers taking to the streets.

Around 5,000 are allowed to take part, including 40 bands, with another 5,000 loyalist supporters scheduled to attend. It is unclear whether those numbers will actually turn up on the day.

The organisers of the protest stated in their application to the Parades Commission that the purpose of the rally was "human rights, political policing, PSNI brutality".

It comes just a few days before the first anniversary of the eruption of the Union flag row at Belfast City Hall.

Last night, the organisers were urged to ensure it remains peaceful.

And an appeal was also made to Christmas shoppers and revellers to come into the city in the coming weeks and not be put off by any protests.

Glyn Roberts, chief executive Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, told the Belfast Telegraph: "The organisers need to ensure this parade is peaceful and it doesn't descend into violence.

"Secondly, they need to be clear by lunchtime so they limit the disruption to trade in the city centre, that's vital. There should be many shoppers, many going to Belfast city centre to socialise... we don't want them to think 'we better not', 'it's better not to risk it'."

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"There should be many shoppers, many going to Belfast city centre to socialise... we don't want them to think 'we better not, it's better not to risk it'. We simply cannot afford for that to happen. This is a vital time for traders in Belfast city centre. It is vital the community as a whole get behind the city traders."

Glyn Roberts, NIIRTA chief executive

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