The business community in Belfast has called on politicians to show leadership and resolve parading disputes to avoid repeating the violent scenes that have hit trade in previous years.

The Belfast Chamber of Commerce said future investment and job creation depended on traders in the city and elsewhere in Northern Ireland being able to operate in a positive environment.

In the last 20 months, retailers and hospitality providers in the city centre have been knocked by a series of flare-ups of public disorder linked to parading and flags controversies.

For a number of years, serious rioting has broken out in north Belfast on 12 July, the most important day of the loyal order marching season, amid contention over an evening Orange Order parade.

The violent scenes have had an effect on the number of people willing to venture into the city centre to shop on the day.

Amid fears of further clashes over the event this year, after the Parades Commission again banned Orangemen from passing the nationalist Ardoyne neighbourhood, the chamber called for a collective political response.

Yesterday Stormont's two main unionist parties, the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists, walked out of a new talks initiative in protest at the commission's determination.

President of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, Paul McMahon said: "Clearly there are difficulties at present around parading."

He said: "we as a Chamber call upon our political leaders to find a solution which helps protect our economy and businesses."

"It is critical that Belfast and indeed the wider business community in Northern Ireland operates in a positive environment, which will help secure continued investment, leading to job and wealth creation" he added.

"We know from past experiences that negative images of our city directly impact upon business performance and consumer confidence."

Mr McMahon added: "It is time for the Executive and our elected representatives to show leadership, find a solution and create an environment which supports the business community."

Orange Order issues warning

The Orange Order has warned supporters that violent protests against a controversial decision to limit one of its parades will only serve to harm its cause.

Grand Master of the main protestant loyal order Edward Stevenson called for a peaceful response to the Parades Commission ruling after he met to discuss the controversy with unionist political leaders in east Belfast.

Senior unionists are considering the next phase of a pledged "graduated response" to the decision to ban the north Belfast parade from passing the nationalist Ardoyne neighbourhood on 12 July, the most significant day in the parading season.

But Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has urged the Irish and British governments not to acquiesce to unionist "threats".

Today ministers from both parties pulled out of planned cross border meetings in Dublin.

The DUP and UUP have joined forces with smaller unionist and loyalist parties in the region, including two with links to paramilitary groups, to present a united front in regard to the parading dispute.