Traders in protest crisis 

BELFAST traders have called a crisis meeting to discuss the downturn caused by the Union Flag protests.

Talks will be held at what was once the most bombed hotel in Europe, the luxury Europa, in the city centre tomorrow.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) estimated £15 million was lost to the economy over Christmas as people avoided the commercial centre.

Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce president, Joe Jordan, said: “There is no doubt that the past two months have been incredibly difficult for traders in Belfast. We want to hear the first-hand experience of businesses, along with their views and opinions on the current crisis.”

The trouble was prompted by Belfast City Council’s decision to only fly the Union Flag from the City Hall on designated days such as Royal birthdays.

Businesses in Belfast’s city centre struggled to cope with the impact of the resultant protests, as some customers avoided the area over fears of encountering trouble.

Many shops and restaurants, in particular, reported significant declines in custom in the weeks prior to Christmas though some stores have reported hitting their targets.

Almost 100 police officers have been injured during sporadic rioting and parts of Belfast brought to a standstill by loyalist road blocks.

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are due to meet with the British and Irish governments later this week to discuss the protests.

The DUP leader said talks with Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore would address all outstanding issues. He has previously warned that potential and current investors are watching the violence.