Northern Ireland

Teresa Villiers: Northern Ireland secretary says Belfast is open for business despite protest

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Media captionSecretary of State Teresa Villiers visited Victoria Square days after a car bomb attack on the centre

Belfast is open for business despite a deterioration in the security situation, Secretary of State Teresa Villiers has said.

Ms Villiers's comments come after a city centre car bomb attack last weekend and a loyalist protest march planned for Saturday.

During a walkabout on Thursday, she said that "disruption and lawlessness, could damage the economy.

The protest is due to take place on one of the city's busiest trading days.

"Belfast is very much open for business," the secretary of state said during a tour of the Victoria centre.

"I certainly would emphasis the importance of this weekend for the city's economy and ensuring that the protest is both peaceful and lawful."

Contentious parades

Thousands of people are expected to take part in Saturday's march, which was organised to demonstrate opposition to a Belfast City Council decision to limit the flying of the union flag to designated days.

The protest marks the first anniversary of the council's decision. Marchers will gather at the city hall before walking to the city's Shankill Road area.

The Parades Commission, the body set up to monitor contentious parades, has given the go-ahead to Saturday's demonstration but has placed restrictions on it.

Organisers had applied for up to 10,000 people and 40 bands to take part.

The commission has ruled that the parade should be finished at its main assembly point of city hall by noon, and should be clear of the North Street/Royal Avenue junction by 12:30 GMT.

The application for the parade was made by a group calling itself Loyal Peaceful Protesters but the identity of the organisers remains unknown.

'More transparency'

Ms Villiers was asked by the BBC if the names of parade and protest organisers should be made public, given that some events affected the lives of thousands of people.

She said: "Certainly I'm happy to look at proposals along those lines for more transparency.

"I wish the protest wasn't happening at all. I think there are better ways to have a debate about flags and I'm concerned at the impact the protest will have.

"But it seems clear it's going ahead in which case it is vital that it's peaceful and lawful."

The secretary of state said there was "a concern about having a protest like this affecting the city centre during one of the most crucial weekends for retailers of the entire year".

"I think there's a better way to make a case on flags and British culture and identity," she said.