BUSINESS owners in Belfast are in urgent need of action to stop the disruption caused to trade by the flag protest and support to help them to recover, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers was told yesterday.
Meeting with businessmen and their representatives in the city centre, Ms Villiers was warned that the situation was now critical with some businesses suffering a 50 per cent drop in trade.
Among the worst hit have been the pubs and clubs which have seen trade fall by 30 to 40 per cent, said Pubs of Ulster chief executive Colin Neill.
Stating that the losses were set to cause serious and in some cases irreparable damage within the sector, he said: “It is clear that the situation is now critical.
“Fears of closures and job losses are fast becoming a reality, with some pubs not expected to make it to the end of January.
“It is clear that the industry cannot take much more. We hope that today’s meeting demonstrates that urgent action needs to be taken to get our economy back on track and to save jobs.”
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the independent retail group NIIRTA, said: “This is a political problem and can only be resolved by politics, and we would urge all of our political leaders to go the extra mile to resolve the flag issue and other grievances and above all to take this problem off the street.”
Speaking after the meeting, Ms Villiers restated her message that violence had to stop but said there was a need for perspective.
“Northern Ireland is and continues to be a great place to visit, great for tourists and to invest, so we shouldn’t let the protestors blind the world to all that’s great about Northern Ireland.
“I’d like to see people coming out and doing their shopping, going to restaurants and showing solidarity with traders.”