On-going protests over the decision to limit the flying of the Union Jack over Belfast’s City Hall to only 17 days a year are beginning to become costly as well as affect both the retail and tourism trades within the area.
The Belfast Telegraph reports on the protests, which organizers have vowed to not slow down. The protests have already cost the Northern Ireland government an estimated £11m ($18m).
Sources told The Belfast Telegraph that policing the protests has already exceeded £3m, while economist John Simpson estimates that local businesses have lost £8m.
A source close to the loyalist protesters said, “The feeling hasn’t changed. When the flag goes up the protests stop.”
Indeed, the protests will be continuing, with a big march scheduled for this coming Saturday. Protesters are planning to march from four separate locations across Belfast to converge on the City Hall at 1pm. Another demonstration is scheduled for January 20th.
Bob McCoubrey, owner of the Mourne Seafood Bar in Belfast and Dundrum, said the local economy cannot sustain any further disruption caused by the protests.
“If protesters are planning to converge on Belfast on Saturday, it’s not only bad news for retailers in the city centre but it also puts a massive question mark over Saturday evening trade as well,” said McCoubrey.
“We live in a competitive world and we cannot afford this anymore,” added McCoubrey.
“Northern Ireland needs to appeal to tourists, but if you were in London, Cardiff or Glasgow and thinking about a weekend away, you would certainly think twice about going to Belfast after seeing the news recently.”
Economist John Simpsons added that “We’ll be paying for this for the next two to three years until we get away from being seen as an unstable destination.”
“Our reputation for having reached peace and stability has been thrown into question by recent events as far as the rest of the world is concerned.”
Some sources have said that an agreement to permanently fly the Union Jack at the Cenotaph in the Garden of Remembrance could help calm the brewing tensions in and around Belfast.
However, until an agreement is reached, loyalists are vowing to march not only in Belfast, but now Dublin as well. Victims campaigner Willie Frazer said that protesters are offended by the tricolor flag and want it removed from the Houses of the Oireachtas at Leinster House.