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The closure of Gallaher's is like a death in the family for Ballymena

By Margaret Canning

Few towns in Northern Ireland – even Ireland – can match the industrial heritage of Ballymena. The town has long punched above its weight with a tradition of innovation and job creation.

Wrightbus, still with the close involvement of octogenarian co-founder William Wright, is one of the most innovative companies in its field.

Gallaher, now part of Japanese Tobacco International, has employed around 1,000 people at its site for generations, while family-run Patton Construction made its mark on the town until its closure two years ago.

Yet companies that cannot innovate are falling out of favour, or they face an irresistible legislative tide.

While Wrightbus has become more competitive than ever, Gallaher, part of JTI since 2007, has been placed in an impossible position.

Anyone's first reaction to the news of the likely closure of the factory in Ballymena will be deep sympathy for the people who work there. Like Dupont in Londonderry, Gallaher's has been inextricably linked with Ballymena, and members of many families from Ballymena have worked there.

But a cocktail of global market and policy issues facing JTI means there is a sad inevitability about yesterday's news, which should not diminish our great concern for its workers.

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