Belfast Telegraph

Ronan Keating leads charge in big push to entice shoppers to Belfast

By CLAIRE MCNEILLY

Yesterday – Black Friday – may have been one of the busiest shopping days so far this year, but there are numerous good reasons to come into Belfast this weekend.

Traders from across the world will be distributing their wares at the Continental Market at City Hall, while the new funfair and ice rink at Custom House Square are both making their debut.

Shops, restaurants and bars are also offering a myriad of special deals, many of which were set up by this newspaper as part of our 'We're Backing Belfast' campaign.

So why not come into the city and show your support for local businesses and help get the festive season off to a cracking start.

Lending his support yesterday was Boyzone star Ronan Keating. The singer was spotted shopping with his family in Victoria Square ahead of the Boyzone Anniversary Tour in the Odyssey Arena.

He said: "I'm delighted to be in Belfast. It's one of our favourite cities in the world as we've said for 20 years.

"The streets are hiving, seriously it's incredible, especially in this area. It's a great time of year and great to see people out and about and spending some money."

Helping launch the campaign yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to Belfast which described as "a fantastic city with so much to offer and so much potential".

His message was echoed by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who urged shoppers to throw their weight behind traders this weekend and beyond.

As the support for 'We're Backing Belfast' keeps on growing, Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill and Mark H Durkan, the Environment Minister, were the latest MLAs to show support.

"Businesses in Belfast have already suffered financially this year due to ongoing protests and the violence that has accompanied some of those protests," Ms O'Neill said.

"I would encourage people to support 'We're Backing Belfast' and show their support for local businesses by not letting those who engage in violence or have no political mandate or direction drag us back to the dark days of the past."

Mr Durkan said: "These are tough economic times and traders in this city have had a particularly difficult time.

"I would encourage people to come out to shop and socialise and support their local businesses."

Also voicing support was Shadow Secretary of State Ivan Lewis MP who said it was "a great initiative which highlights the importance of supporting the local economy in Northern Ireland".

Mr Lewis added: "I hope that people will come out in their droves to back this campaign and show Belfast in its most positive light over the Christmas period.

"It is essential that we do not see a repeat of last year's riots."

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said: "Belfast needs a break.

"I want to see Belfast city centre packed with shoppers, diners and those out enjoying the festive season.

"Our vibrant city has plenty to celebrate – let's make sure we do."

His UUP party colleague Jo-Anne Dobson called on everyone to "get behind our local businesses which fuel the local economy".

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell MP said he supported "any efforts to encourage local people back to the city and bring visitors here".

"Belfast has great shops, resilient traders and, above all, people who welcome visitors," he said.

East Belfast MP Naomi Long said she hoped "everyone takes the opportunity to reclaim ownership of the city this weekend and beyond".

Author Glenn Patterson said the city, with its capacity for reinvention and surprise, has much to offer. "Belfast, like any city, is a dynamic place based on a dynamic relationship between the people who work there and those who go into it," he said.

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