CASUAL traders at St George’s Market could soon be rewarded for their loyalty to the historic venue if new plans being discussed by stallholders and  Belfast City Council plans are implemented.

The market, on the south side of the city centre, hosts stalls on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and currently operates a first-come-first-served policy for non-permanent traders looking to turn up and sell their wares.

However, this has led to stiff competition among casual traders, with some forced to camp out overnight so they are guaranteed a chance to do business in the busy market the following day.

Demand for stall space is always high – but it’s particularly pressing during those times of year when shoppers are out in the greatest numbers. In a bid to make the process more fair, Belfast City Council’s Development Committee are considering a new ‘loyalty points’ system to recognise the commitment of casual traders who queue all year round for the chance to set up a stall, and not just at peak business times, such as Christmas and the summer tourist season.

St George’s trader Pat Dwyer, Chair of the local branch of the National Market Retailers Association, explained: “We are looking to make the whole thing a bit more fair. What we are discussing is the idea that we look back over the last six months and see who has been trading casually the most, even in the lean periods, so that their loyalty is rewarded when it comes to landing a stall on a certain day.

“It’s got to the stage where – particularly in regards to the Saturday morning – casual traders are coming down as early as 1am so they can claim a spot.

“This is obviously easier for some traders than for those, for example, with family responsibilities.

“A new system will allow everyone to turn up at the same time in the mornings, and their points will ensure they can trade.”

A spokesperson for Belfast City Council said: “To address these issues, traders from St George’s Market – both casual and permanent – have suggested the issue of loyalty points for casual traders. Further discussions have been taking place with the St George’s Market traders committee on this issue and they are also keen for loyalty points to be introduced.”