Fear protests could harm North's prospects
Further violent protests on the streets of Northern Ireland could jeopardise future investment by major retailers and cost jobs in the hospitality sector, business leaders have warned.
Retailers, pubs, cafes, restaurants and hotels in Belfast have reported a significant fall in trade since loyalist protests began over a decision to fly the Union Jack flag only on certain days at Belfast City Hall.
The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC), which represents retailers and supermarkets, said the loyalist protests were having a “detrimental effect” on businesses throughout Northern Ireland.
Aodhán Connolly, director of the NIRC, said feedback from its members suggested that some shoppers were worried about being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“There is an element of people being afraid of what might happen and we have definitely seen a drop in the number of people going into Belfast City Centre at what should be one of the busiest times of the year.
“We know in Northern Ireland this is a blip but political leaders need to make sure this is a problem that goes away. We need to reassure people that Belfast and Northern Ireland is a safe, inviting place with an exciting retail offer.”
Mr Connolly said one of the major concerns was that the unrest could impact on investment decisions by international and global retailers. “We need to ensure that Northern Ireland is a better place to do business, we don’t need over-regulation and we don’t need organisations that invest or might invest in Northern Ireland to look at the pictures of what is happening and decide to look elsewhere when it comes to investment decisions.”
But Pubs of Ulster, the professional body that represents the retail licensed trade in the North, said the flag protests were having an immediate and alarming impact on its members not just in Belfast but throughout Northern Ireland.
Chief executive Colin Neill said December should be the busiest time of the year for the industry but trade was down by between 20 to 30 per cent.
“Pubs, restaurants and hotels are being hammered because people are uncertain about going out. They are not sure about what might happen so the result is Christmas parties are being cancelled and hotel reservations over Christmas and new year are being cancelled,” he said.