Business community urges Stormont to solve row over parades
The business community in Belfast has called on politicians to show leadership and resolve parading disputes to avoid repeating the violent scenes that have hit trade in previous years.
The Belfast Chamber of Commerce said future investment and job creation depended on traders in the city and elsewhere in Northern Ireland being able to operate in a positive environment.
In the last 20 months, retailers and hospitality providers in the city centre have been knocked by a series of flare-ups of public disorder linked to parading and flags controversies.
And for a number of years serious rioting has broken out in north Belfast on July 12, the most important day of the loyal order marching season, amid contention over an evening Orange Order parade.
The violent scenes have had an effect on the number of people willing to venture into the city centre to shop on the day.
Amid fears of further clashes over the event this year, after the Parades Commission again banned Orangemen from passing the nationalist Ardoyne neighbourhood, the chamber called for a collective political response.
On Thursday, Stormont's two main unionist parties – the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists – walked out of a new talks initiative in protest at the commission's determination.
Paul McMahon, president of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said: "Clearly there are difficulties at present around parading.
"However, we as a Chamber call upon our political leaders to find a solution which helps protect our economy and businesses. It is critical that Belfast and indeed the wider business community in Northern Ireland operates in a positive environment, which will help secure continued investment, leading to job and wealth creation.
"We know from past experiences that negative images of our city directly impact upon business performance and consumer confidence."
Mr McMahon added: "It is time for the Executive and our elected representatives to show leadership, find a solution and create an environment which supports the business community."