15/10/2013

Robinson Flag Protest Warning

First Minister Peter Robinson has told those intending to protest against the removal of the union flag from Belfast City Hall this Christmas should consider the negative impact it will have on trading in the city centre.

The announcement follows Mr Robinson's claim that he had "heard of some proposals to hold protests leading up to the Christmas period."

The First Minister cited the weeks leading up to Christmas last year, when traders blamed the union flag protests for a slow season.

Loyalists staged protests across Northern Ireland every day, after Belfast City Council voted to only fly the union flag on designated days, rather than all year round.

Belfast city centre was effectively sealed off, as loyalist protestors attacked police with bottles, golf balls, bricks and planks of wood. Those in the restaurant and pub trade said the protests had damaged the local industry at one of the most important times of the year.
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"I hope people will reflect on the damage that would cause to Northern Ireland and to traders in Belfast, potentially leading to a loss of jobs," Peter Robinson said.

However, Alliance Belfast Council Group Leader Maire Hendron said the First Minister and DUP leader should have spoken out against flag protesters sooner.

"While I welcome the comments from Peter Robinson warning about the impact of union flag protests on jobs and businesses, it is hypocritical given what his party were doing before last year’s vote at Belfast Council," she said.

"It was his party and the UUP that distributed the 40,000 leaflets that created the tension that led to the protests and riots which severely harmed many businesses last Christmas. It was also the DUP and UUP who encouraged people to protest at Belfast City Hall on the day of the vote last December, which turned violent and led to many police officers being injured. It was their campaign that stirred up Unionist fears for their own political gain.

"If Mr Robinson had said similar comments in the run up to last year's Belfast Council vote, then perhaps we would not have had such a difficult Christmas."

(IT/JP)

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