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Belfast Christmas market defies dissident campaign

Christmas Market run by Belfast City Council located in the grounds of Belfast City Hall.

Christmas Market run by Belfast City Council located in the grounds of Belfast City Hall.

 

The annual Christmas market in Belfast city centre appears to have been completely unhampered by the recent security alerts.

The fair, also known as the continental market, is currently up-and-running for the ninth year, and claims to be on course to break its previous attendance records.

The number of visits is expected to exceed 750,000 by the time it ends this Sunday, in spite of an upscaling of dissident republican attacks in the city. Last year, the figure was about 560,000.

However, prior to last year the market claimed to have had “over 850,000 people visiting the market”.

A spokeswoman for the market, which has been running since November 16, said: “The activities that have gone on in the city centre haven’t had an impact on us at all. This year particularly, footfall has increased tremendously.”

She said there were probably several reasons – including a bigger publicity push, and a general determination among punters to have a good time following last year’s “wash-out”, partly blamed on flag protests.

Last Sunday – two days after a bid to blow up part of the Cathedral Quarter, and three weeks after a car bomb was left in Victoria Street – she said 17,000 came to the market, 3,000 to 4,000 more than would normally be expected.

There was an attempted firebombing of a shop in Corn Market on Monday evening, but she said that Tuesday trade appeared to be “pretty steady” too.

At the bigger end of the city’s shopping scene, Aodhán Connolly from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC), representing big-name chains, said: “What we have seen anecdotally is that the people of Belfast are resilient and want to do their best to make this as good a Christmas as any.

“What I can say is there are still throngs of people on the streets.”

Translink said that it had seen more people than it had expected using public transport over recent weeks.

Overall trading climate still tough

NIRC said official figures for shoppers in December will not be available until January 10.

But even if the December figures turn out to be relatively rosy given the circumstances, they come against quite a dismal backdrop.

NIRC said shoppers in November for the whole UK registered a 2.9 per cent drop when compared to November 2012. In Northern Ireland, the figure was even more stark – a 6.8 per cent drop.

That followed a fall in October too.

 

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