Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Beleaguered businesses in Twelfth peace plea

The scene at the Ardoyne interface in north Belfast as police remove protesters blocking the road ahead of an Orange Order march 2010
Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly speaks to residents in Ardoyne during a rally at Brompton Park to highlight opposition against those who have been rioting in the area in recent nights
Colin Neill CEO of Pubs of Ulster w
Colin Neill CEO of Pubs of Ulster w

Northern Ireland business owners fear financial ruin if tensions around contentious parades spill over into violence in the coming weeks.

Many are already struggling to stay afloat given the huge disruption to trade caused by the widespread disorder during loyalist flag protests at the start of this year.

Retailers also reported a drop in customers as a result of the overhaul of Belfast's traffic system, which brought much of the city centre to a virtual standstill either side of Christmas.

Ahead of the Twelfth commemorations, Northern Ireland's most influential business leaders have warned that a peaceful marching season is crucial to safeguard investment and economic growth. Traders on the ground have gone one step further, saying many of them will be forced to pull down their shutters for good if there's a repeat of the disorder which surrounded the flag protests.

Pubs of Ulster, which represents pubs, bars, cafe-bars, hotels and restaurants across the province, said many owners are still picking up the pieces from the combined devastating impact of protests, the roadworks and downturn in the economy.

Chief executive Colin Neill said more trouble would be the last straw for many.

"It is not for us to comment on politics, parades or flags but obviously we don't want any negative images of Northern Ireland as the damage that goes round the world lasts an awful lot longer than the incidents themselves."

He added: "Many (traders) are still trying to recover and it is still a very critical time financially. Any impact would have severe costs and an impact on economic activity."

The disruption caused by flag protests alone cost hundreds of jobs in the hospitality sector in Belfast, with some premises reporting losses of over £150,000 during a seven-week period.

The Belfast Telegraph launched a campaign – We're Backing Belfast – in an effort to rally behind traders.

A separate initiative, Backin' Belfast, was also launched to encourage people to come into Belfast city centre to shop and socialise.

So far the marching season has been largely trouble-free but the litmus test will be this Friday's contentious Twelfth of July parade through the Ardoyne area of north Belfast.

Despite unprecedented talks between nationalist residents and the Orange Order, no breakthrough was made in relation to a compromise ahead of the march, which in recent years has been marred by fierce sectarian clashes.

CBI Northern Ireland, which represents around one-third of the private sector workforce and over 60% of the largest employers in Northern Ireland, said it was essential the mood of positivity in the wake of G8 summit is capitalised on.

It has called on politicians and community leaders to play their part in ensuring forthcoming parades pass off peacefully.

"As we approach the main 'parading season' we would encourage those involved to provide the necessary leadership on contentious parades and related protests," a statement read.

"We should encourage all those involved to go the extra mile in demonstrating a high level of respect to others, ensuring every effort is undertaken to create space for dialogue and discussion, and endeavour to reduce tensions within our community."

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