Primark fire: It might well have been better if it had fallen down, but it didn’t

First things first and, after a difficult week for traders all around Belfast city centre, it’s only right to acknowledge Primark’s commitment to its Bank Buildings staff as it confirmed on Friday that they will be paid ‘til the new year.

Primark staff to be paid until end of year as firm commits to Belfast city centre

A tragedy has turned rapidly into a nightmare for the traders of Belfast

A tragedy has turned rapidly into a nightmare for the traders of Belfast

That however may be the sum total of positivity around the cordon in the week that the full impact of the fire that ripped through the store almost two weeks ago finally began to sink in.

That’s because one week after the initial blow came the hammer blow from City Hall that the cordon around the burnt out shell is “likely to be in place for a minimum of four months”.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Belfast is set to be seriously disrupted throughout the entire Christmas trading period - a time of year when the high street stores are in full battle against their online rivals and where a good or bad year can mean make or break.

And if there’s any doubt about the actual scale of the problem and the reality of the cordon, then all you have to do is try to navigate the city centre, working around the fact that it has been not cut in half but quartered by the fencing that cuts access at critical points on Donegall Place, Royal Avenue, Castle Place and Castle Street.

You really couldn’t make it worse if you tried.

Day by day businesses on the outside of the cordon are being hammered as they find themselves at the end of a cul-de-sac that was before a thriving and profitable throuroughfare.

Inside, one the biggest stores closed since the fire is Argento, founded and built by Northern Ireland born Pete Boyle into a UK-wide chain .

Standing close to his store he succinctly summed up his feelings.

“I would have got a ball on the end of a chain and put it through the front of the building immediately and we could have got on with tidying up afterwards,” he said.

It’s estimated that 1,000 jobs are affected at present and the situation clearly cannot continue without serious implications for at least some of those.

Yet on Friday, the Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey made it clear that even if that is the final option, knocking the building down may take just as long as securing it for repair.

In short, a tragedy has very quickly turned into a nightmare with no clear solution in sight.