Fury as Belfast market traders moved on by police minutes after food critics get tour of stalls
Market traders in Belfast's Bank Square have said they have "had the rug pulled from under their feet" after they were moved on by police yesterday for operating without a licence.
Stalls selling goat meat and fresh fruit and veg were told to pack up or face legal action.
Minutes earlier a number of Irish food critics had been given a guided tour of the market.
It is understood the licence for the Folktown Market expired on December 18. The traders said the market organisers had not let them know.
Charlie Cole, who runs a stall selling goat burgers and artisan meats, called the shutdown an "embarrassing start" to the Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink.
"This morning a tour guide from Belfast Food Tours came round the corner," he said while packing up his stall.
"She had with her 10 of the delegation from the Tourism NI launch last night for the NI year of food. There were 10 reporters all from the south who came round the corner to see what we had to offer. Two minutes later the police came over and told us to pack up. What a start for the Year of Food."
Farmer Seamus Breslin was also told to pack up his fruit and veg stall. "I'm depending on this market to sell my veg," he said. "Although I do others, we've committed all year to this market to make it work. Now we're told we can't even be here. We were given the expectation we could be here all year."
Seamus' wife Alicia Breslin - who sells diabetic preserves at the market - said a lack of communication between traders, organisers and the council was to blame for the closure.
"We have a good group of weekly customers who come here to trade at Folktown," she added.
"This leaves a bad taste in our mouths. Customers assume now the market will be closed for a long time and it will take a long time to win them back."
Disappointed customer Bettie Heron said she had been forced to go elsewhere.
"I'm shocked - I meant to come here to spend money and ended up having to go to Tesco instead," she added. "That's fine but it's nowhere near as good quality."
Folktown Market opened in April last year, organised by the Folktown Community Interest Company, which obtained a licence to run until December 18.
Sophie Rasmussen from the company denied the traders were not informed on time.
"They're well aware they shouldn't be there - I certainly didn't ask them to go down and set up stall," she said.
She added that the company had decided to take a break until Easter, but would consider putting in an early application for a new licence.