Peter Robinson calls on flag protesters to minimise festive trade disruption
The First Minister has appealed to those taking part in this Saturday's loyalist parade through Belfast city centre to minimise the impact on traders.
DUP leader Peter Robinson is calling for people involved in the parade, to mark the first anniversary of Belfast City Council's decision to restrict the flying of the union flag at city hall, to protest in a way which causes the least damage to the economy.
The November 30 parade – to mark the historic December 3, 2012 vote – will take place on what is expected to be one of the busiest shopping days of the year for Belfast traders.
Organisers have applied for up to 10,000 people and 40 bands to take part, although far fewer supporters are expected.
Yesterday, Mr Robinson told the BBC's Sunday Politics show: "It is a legitimate right of people to protest... but I ask them to have their protest in a way that does the least possible damage to the traders of Belfast."
Following representations from traders in Belfast city centre, and from the hospitality and tourism industries, the Parades Commission has given the go-head for this Saturday's parade – organised by a group known as the Loyalist Peaceful Protesters – but has imposed restrictions on it.
The commission has ruled that the parade should be finished at its main assembly point of the city hall by noon, and should be clear of the North Street and Royal Avenue junction by 12.30pm.
The commission has also said once the parade sets off ,there should be "no undue stoppages or delays".
However, there have been indications that the parade is planned to run late and remain in the city centre until 2pm, while a second parade is understood to be leaving the city hall at 2pm to Tennent Street.
The First Minister's comments follow a stand-off between loyalists and police in north Belfast on Saturday.
A small scuffle broke out as an elderly man who attempted to pass police lines was held back by officers complying with restrictions placed on a parade organised by a group calling itself The Civil Rights Camp.
Organisers had applied to march down the Crumlin Road past the Ardoyne shops and then back to Woodvale.
When police blocked their route, a number of protesters verbally abused PSNI officers.
Sunday Life reported one man was heard shouting: "If there are any Protestant police there, they should be shot."
On December 3, 2012, Belfast City Council voted to limit the days on which the union flag flies from city hall. In the loyalist violence that followed, hundreds of officers have been injured and hundreds of people arrested and charged, costing tens of millions of pounds to police.
Since July, when the Parades Commission ruled an Orange Order Twelfth parade could not march past Ardyone, there have been protests and a camp set up at Twaddell Avenue.