Don't sell us out, plead St George's Market traders as lucrative Web Summit conference booking clashes with busy market days
Traders at St George's Market could be evicted from their historic home to the lawns of Belfast City Hall because of an international conference.
But the 300 market traders affected face a potential loss of up to £250,000 if no suitable alternative is found in time.
The Web Summit has booked the popular city centre market from June 14-19.
It is an international business event which has taken place in Dublin every year since 2010, and attracts more than 22,000 visitors.
Organisers identified St George's Market as their preferred venue in Belfast.
Visit Belfast confirmed that it is the only venue in the city that provides adequate conference and exhibition space for the event. But it means workers could be forced away from their stalls on two busy summer trading days - a Sunday and a Friday. The market is available for hire on non-market days - Monday to Thursday - but this conference represents the first time an event is set to clash with the market days .
Pat Dyer, chair of the St George's Branch of the National Market Traders' Federation, said more than 300 market traders could be affected and up to £250,000 worth of business could be lost.
"This conference should come to Belfast but please do not let them affect our business," he told the council.
"January, February and March are bad months for us so we have to make up for it in the summer months," he said.
"For us to close on two days in June would be a scandal.
"You are our landlords, please don't allow this to happen to us."
The venue hire by the conference would generate around £10,000 in income to the council, while the cancelling of the two market days would represent a loss to the council of £5,000 from the traders.
It was not known how much it would cost to relocate the traders to another venue, such as the City Hall lawns.
Last night Sinn Fein councillor Niall O Donnghaile proposed that a way should be found that would enable traders to operate in the market on the two days which clashed with the summit, or an alternative venue for the traders be found. He told council it was "pivotal" that they try and support the traders, while stressing he appreciated the importance of the conference coming to Belfast.
DUP councillor Christopher Stalford seconded Mr O Donnghaile's amendment.
"It is in the city's financial interests that we bring conferences in, but it is also in the city's interests that St George's Market is the success that it is," he told the council. "There are questions to be answered about how we arrived at the situation where St George's Market was effectively promised to people."
Alliance councillor Laura McNamee also backed the amendment and she said wanted clarification about how the situation where there was a clash arose.
SDLP councillor Declan Boyle said he felt the market traders had been treated very poorly. "The cost of relocating them would be phenomenal. These traders are not for sale," he said.
UUP councillor David Browne queried how the situation had been allowed to arise. "I was totally shocked to hear we were literally going to sell the traders out," he said.