Loyalists 'choking life out of Belfast traders' as new protest parades planned
Fresh loyalist protests through the heart of Belfast will choke business in the city, it has been warned.
Loyalists are planning major protests on two Saturday afternoons within the next month, a move last night described as "beggaring belief".
Thousands are expected to take part in the demonstrations which will cause serious disruption in the city centre.
Those behind the parades – next Saturday and February 1 – have been urged to reconsider.
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, called on loyalists to "give the city a break".
Mr Roberts told the Belfast Telegraph of the frustrations of traders.
"Finishing before lunchtime and keeping peaceful are the two most important things, and obviously ensuring disruption to the city centre is kept to a minimum," he said.
"These are still important times for traders."
SDLP MLA Alban Maginness appealed to unionist leaders to help end the regular protests or risk "serious damage" to the city.
"It is beggaring belief there is a continuation of the disruption and blight which took place in 2013," said Mr Maginness.
"It will choke the city in terms of its retail and business unless there is an end. It seems to me, despite the fact these organisers have made their point about the flag, they are intent to continue.
"There needs to be leadership shown among loyalism, and that leadership needs to be saying 'we will solve this, but not this way'."
The outgoing Parades Commission has ruled on next Saturday's demonstration.
Organisers predict up to 10,000 will take part, and it has been arranged by a committee calling itself Loyal Peaceful Protesters – the same name used by those behind a parade in the run-up to Christmas which became unlawful when restrictions were flouted.
The purpose given for the parade was to highlight "PSNI brutality, loyalist prisoners, the flag, civil rights, (and) political policing".
Protesters are due to gather at City Hall, setting off along Royal Avenue no later than noon. To remain lawful, it must be clear of the city centre within 30 minutes.
Organisers had planned to walk at Ballysillan Leisure Centre in North Belfast, but were denied permission to march past Ardoyne by the Parades Commission.
The February 1 march, staged by South Belfast Young Conquerors Flute Band, will be considered by the commission this month.
"It is disappointing there was not more progress during Haass in this regard but I still think that process is very much ongoing.
"I think the Orange Order took a very sensible decision before Christmas to postpone a parade and maybe the organisers of these parades should take a leaf out of their book."