Loyalist flag protests have cost police £15m

The cost of policing the continuing Union flag protests in Northern Ireland has soared to over £15 million, the region’s chief constable has said.

• Around 130 police officers have been injured so far.

• French hotel development could be abandoned due to protests.

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Matt Baggott outlined the financial implications of the last nine weeks of public order policing as he briefed members of his oversight body, the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

Loyalists have been holding demonstrations since early December when Belfast City Council voted to limit the number of days the flag flies over City Hall.

A number of the pickets have descended into serious rioting with around 130 police officers injured.

Mr Baggott was updating the board in Belfast at its first public meeting since the new year.

Meanwhile it has been revealed that a major French hotel development in Belfast city centre could be abandoned due to the protests.

Hospitality firm Accor is trying to get out of its agreement for the planned hotel, the city’s Chamber of Trade and Commerce has claimed.

Pull out

There have been weeks of roadblocks and sporadic violence but the situation has been relatively calm in recent days.

Chairman Joe Jordan told Stormont MLAs: “Accor hotels are now saying to me that they want to pull out of the lease for the Novotel. We have lawyers working on that at the minute.

“They are trying to get loopholes to get out of this agreement and the whole reason they are trying to get out of the agreement is purely based on the last nine weeks.”

Mr Jordan blamed perceptions encouraged by media coverage of street protests.

“This is one or two streets in East Belfast where it continues to happen,” he said.

“If you listen to the media, next to Syria is Northern Ireland.”