Belfast Telegraph

Minister reins in officials over meal deal sign fine threat to city bar

By Claire McNeilly

The boss of one of Northern Ireland’s largest pub chains has welcomed a Stormont minister’s decision to step in after a Belfast city centre bar was threatened with a £2,500 fine for trying to entice customers in with a meal deal.

An enforcement letter was sent to The Apartment in Belfast by the Department of the Environment warning the company it had two weeks to remove a large window banner that they said was illegal.

But Environment Minister Alex Attwood intervened and over-ruled officials, instructing them to take no further action while he reviews current signage regulations.

Measuring around 6ft in height and up to 15ft wide, the sign in question is positioned above the front doors of the Donegall Square West bar, which is situated opposite City Hall.

The intervention by DoE officials comes at a time when Belfast city centre traders have seen their profits plummet amid ongoing protests over the decision not to fly the Union flag at City Hall all-year round.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Stephen Magorrian, managing director of Botanic Inns, which owns 13 well-known venues in Belfast including The Apartment, said he had spoken to Mr Attwood upon receipt of the DoE letter.

“What annoyed us was the timing of the letter more than anything else,” said Mr Magorrian.

“We received it the day after we probably had our quietest day ever in The Apartment because of the protests and we’d sent staff home because we weren’t busy enough to keep them.

“However, when I spoke to the minister he was very good about it and he said that nothing will happen until he has had time to look into it and decide on the right course of action.”

He added: “We actually thought we were within the legislation because this is an internal banner, not an external banner, but seemingly it needs to be three feet back from the window.”

Businesses are being hit by the fallout over the flag row by people opting to stay away from shops, restaurants and bars in the city centre.

Mr Magorrian said that his pub chain was nevertheless trying to work through the disruption by trying to find new initiatives to attract customers.

John O'Reilly, general manager of The Apartment Bar, said: “We’ve had a banner of some description there since we opened almost 12 years ago; in fact, it used to be a bigger sign.”

“It seems a bit petty to receive a letter like that, particularly after the events of the last six weeks, when Saturdays in particular have been extremely tough.”

Mr Attwood confirmed that three such enforcement letters were served on Tuesday.

“I have instructed officials that no further action will be taken at this time and asked for full details to be forwarded to me,” he said.

“I will then decide what should or should not happen. The timing of these letters is unfortunate and I regret that it has caused upset,” said Mr Attwood.

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