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Government slammed over Michelin plant job losses

By Liam Clarke and Margaret Canning

Published 05/11/2015

DUP's Ian Paisley
DUP's Ian Paisley

Government ministers have been criticised for saying "naff all" after it was announced that 860 jobs will be lost with the closure of a Co Antrim tyre factory.

The DUP's Ian Paisley - the MP for the Ballymena area where Michelin has been based for more than four decades - also accused Westminster of treating Northern Ireland as "a place apart".

In a passionate intervention in the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Paisley said: "Twenty-seven hours ago the single largest job loss announcement was made in Northern Ireland with the loss of 860 directly employed in Michelin in my constituency.

"There has been not as much as a squeak from the front bench, not a statement, not a press release, quite frankly, naff all.

"It bothers me that a convention appears to be arising in this House that Northern Ireland has become once again a place apart, where ministers think because there's a devolved institution they have no responsibility to, with urgency, get to that despatch box and issue statements about important matters that affect 860 people in Northern Ireland."

His DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds also asked the Prime Minister to help after the announcement that the truck tyre factory is to close in 2018.

David Cameron replied by pledging to help industries such as Michelin with high energy costs, by sparing them the 'green levy' - charges to pay for climate change policies.

The Prime Minister added: "Secondly and specific to Northern Ireland, we have passed in this House historic legislation to allow Northern Ireland to set its own rate of corporation tax. The sooner we can put together all the elements of the Stormont House agreement, the sooner Northern Ireland will be able to take action to try and build a stronger private sector, which is exactly what I want to see."

Meanwhile, it has been claimed that Northern Ireland will not be able to replace the jobs lost by Michelin's withdrawal from the province.

An economist said that the exit of the French tyre giant showed the difficulty of keeping high-quality manufacturing jobs, as well as attracting new ones.

Tobacco giant JTI last year announced it would shut its Ballymena plant with the loss of around 900 jobs by 2017.

Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey said: "Michelin is a stark warning to policymakers that while the focus is on attracting new foreign direct investment into Northern Ireland, existing FDI is highly mobile and cost sensitive.

"Michelin jobs will not be replaced nor will JTI's."

Efforts by Invest NI, the economic development agency tasked with attracting job-creating investors to Northern Ireland, have focused on the IT and business processing outsourcing (BPO) sectors.

A spokeswoman for Invest NI said the firm was not actively seeking foreign manufacturers to invest here. She said: "When working to attract new foreign direct investment (FDI), Invest NI has focused on the sectors where Northern Ireland has the strongest competitive advantage, such as financial and professional services and ICT."

Economist Andrew Webb said Invest NI was correct to seek opportunities in areas where he said there were global opportunities. But he added: "There are still opportunities in manufacturing foreign direct investment - the UK is particularly strong in attracting automotive, aerospace and life sciences."

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