Northern Ireland

Union flag protests: Belfast pub trade 'fallen off cliff'

Flag protests have been taking place since 3 December
Image caption Flag protests have been taking place since 3 December

Some pubs and restaurants in Belfast will "not survive" the drop in trade caused by flag protests, the chief executive of Pubs of Ulster has said.

Colin Neill said the licensed trade had been "affected badly" by the protests.

He told Stormont's enterprise committee that members had seen their December turnover "fall off a cliff".

Loyalist demonstrations have taken place since 3 December, when Belfast City Council voted to restrict the flying of the union flag at city hall.

The majority of the street protests passed without incident, but some resulted in serious rioting.

Mr Neill said the hospitality industry usually took in a third of its yearly revenue in the last five weeks of the year but last year there had been a 54% downturn in this key period, and that was "unsustainable".

Mr Neill said that although they had seen success with the Backin' Belfast campaign, the situation was "so fragile" and "any word of a protest" saw custom "tail off".

Image caption Colin Neill said festive trade had "falled off a cliff"

He also said international reporting of the flag protest caused Northern Ireland's reputation worldwide damage.

"It gave the impression that all of Belfast was a no-go area," he said.

"We have a big job to try and repair Northern Ireland's international image."

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, hailed the successes of the Backin' Belfast campaign and said offers to encourage people to shop and eat out in the city centre had been continually reposted on Twitter.

"Sometimes when you have times of crisis, the best innovations come out," he said.

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