Belfast Telegraph

Incessant bomb alerts 'could put city pubs out of business'

Rebecca Black

Repeated security alerts in greater Belfast this week has dealt a blow to our already struggling hospitality industry.

Pubs of Ulster chief executive Colin Neill warned that another Christmas season of disturbances could put venues out of business, and that the disruption was a bad signal to send out during the international investment conference aimed at bringing money and jobs to Northern Ireland.

He said the collapse of the Botanic Inn group earlier this year was partly attributed to the effect of the Union flag protests in Belfast.

"It's early to say but it will have a considerable impact at the weekend if people think there is going to be further trouble," he said.

"Anything that sends a signal to customers not to come into Belfast or indeed any of the town centres is a direct hit on our sector."

There have been 10 security alerts so far this week in the greater Belfast area.

These include three yesterday, causing traffic chaos. North Queen Street was closed down yesterday morning and a number of homes evacuated during the first security alert.

It was declared a hoax when it ended around 1.15pm.

Another security alert on the Shore Road in Newtownabbey ended at noon and was described as "nothing untoward".

A third security alert at Rosebery Gardens close to Connswater Shopping Centre in east Belfast finished at 4.30pm yesterday. It was declared to be a hoax.

On Wednesday, up to 50 homes on the Silverstream Road area in north Belfast were evacuated after a suspect device was found in Silverstream Gardens.

It was declared to be a hoax.

On Tuesday, separate security alerts at East Belfast MP Naomi Long's office on the Newtownards Road and Finaghy were declared to be hoaxes.

Monday was the most serious day of disruptions with four separate security alerts – two of which involved viable devices.

Mr Neill said pub owners will only realise the full cost of the disruption to their trade on Sunday when they analyse how the week has gone.

"It's not for us to get into politics, but anything that disrupts the normal commercial heart of the province is bad for business.

"It's also a very bad signal as the international conference is on, because businesses are looking at stability and what the long-term stability is going to be like.

"There are big challenges for businesses recovering from the flag protests, the receivers for Botanic Inns actually attributed part of the collapse to the flag protests.

"It also means a lot of companies don't have the cash reserves that they would normally have at this time of year.

"They are still struggling and hopeful that there will be no disruption coming into the busiest period of the year for us.

"Two years in a row with that, Christmas trade will undoubtedly cripple some more.

"In our industry, in the six weeks coming up to Christmas we do a third of the year's turnover."

STORY SO FAR

Security alerts have taken place across all over Belfast this week, causing massive disruption. The Continuity IRA was blamed for a series of four alerts on Monday which caused the M1 to be closed from 3am-8am due to an object on the Kennedy Way offslip. There were a further two alerts on Tuesday, one on Wednesday and three yesterday. All but two were declared hoaxes. Last Thursday, an alert at Finaghy Halt station in south Belfast saw the rail line closed for more than 24 hours.

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