Belfast restaurateurs and publicans have criticised the city council for sparking unrest that has hit trade over Christmas and the New Year, and have backed a Twitter scheme to get more consumers to support their local hospitality businesses.
Last week saw restaurateurs, publicans, and members of the public throw their weight behind Tweets by search , a campaign on social networking site Twitter, designed to get more people to visit their local eateries and watering holes.
Trade has been down ever since Belfast City Council voted to change its policy on flying the Union flag over Belfast City Hall at the start of December, sparking violent loyalist protests.
Hospitality business operators in the city have become increasingly frustrated as they watched revenues fall as a result of the protests, which have continued into the New Year.
But a remark by Twitter user Tweets by AdamTurks , who suggested that city dwellers fight back against the protest by staging a sit in at their local hostelry, has sparked a movement to support businesses in the area.
The movement started to gain traction on Friday of last week, helped by media attention, and operators said it had made a small difference to their business so far.
He said that his business would continue to market heavily using the hashtag. Meanwhile, he was scheduled to have a meeting with Belfast's mayor this week to discuss the challenges that the ongoing protests have presented to the industry.
Mourne Seafood restaurant in the Dundrum area of Belfast said the campaign hadn't made a big difference in cash terms, but provided "more of a morale boost".
Meanwhile, Tony O'Neill, chef-director of Thornyhill Restaurants, which has four restaurants, including two in the east of the city where many of the protests are taking place, said Belfast City Council needed to make amends for the trouble its decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag has caused.
"I would ask for a reduction of rates for the money we have lost through this period. It has been 40 days now and January is a bad month anyway," he said.
And he said that media coverage of the situation had not helped trading. "Belfast is such a wonderful city and it kills me to see how it is being portrayed worldwide. It is about a mile stretch of a road that is being affected in the whole of the city, whereas it sounds like the entire city has erupted into chaos and anarchy."
And he agreed that OperationSitIn had made some difference: "The weekend was good for us, trade did pick up. People were having a good time and they were doing their bit in their small way, so we just gave people a glass of wine as they came in."
The campaign is expected to run for as long as the protests continue.
TWEETS IN SUPPORT OF #OPERATIONSITIN
[@Im_Dan_Stewart ](Tweets by Im_Dan_Stewart )As a bartender I've lost a day's pay by not having to come in due to protests. I urge people of #belfast to support city bars Tweets by search
Picture: Press Eye/Rex Features
By Neil Gerrard
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