Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Welcome news for a town in the doldrums

Business Editor Margaret Canning
Business Editor Margaret Canning

The town of Kilkeel often finds itself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. It has suffered particularly badly from the ill-effects of the recession thanks to its previous dependence on the construction industry, and the decline of commercial fishing.

And even last year, as the economy appeared to start to pick up to pick up for most of us, the Kilkeel Development Association (KDA) described the town as still in the throes of "the worst economic downturn of living memory".

A poignant consequence has been high levels of youth emigration. In 2011, An Riocht, a GAA club outside the town, reported that it had lost 30 members who had emigrated to Australia and New Zealand.

Club secretary Joe Donnan reflected that of the team that had won 2007's All County League, 14 players had left the country to seek work abroad – a sobering statistic. And an article by Belfast Telegraph journalist Adrian Rutherford reflected that the demographic most likely to emigrate – the 18 to 30-year-old – was also the age group needed to build GAA clubs – and, more broadly speaking, to help build a cohesive sense of community.

The development association also reports low levels of educational achievement in the area, with anyone from that part of the country who is educated to third level tending to leave and not return.

KDA has suggested that those who have been laid off in the fishing sector could be retrained to take advantage of emering sectors like offshore energy.

Recently the town was given a reprieve from mass job losses from aircraft seat manufacturer B/E Aerospace. The American company, which employs 900 people locally, restructured by dividing its business into two separate companies, keeping employment in Kilkeel safe – at least in the medium term.

But there is now a glimmer of hope from the less likely source of the fishing industry, as Kilkeel Seafoods announced a £1m investment in its scampi shelling and processing facilities, with the creation of 33 jobs.

The investment – which is being carried out by Yorkshire parent company, Whitby Seafoods – is being helped by the Jobs Fund, and Invest NI estimates that the jobs will provide around £500,000 per year to the area – suggesting an average salary of £15,000.

Such jobs may not be keep Kilkeel graduates in the town, and they may not entice young men back from Australia, but they will certainly be a lifeline for some. And for that reason, it is good news for Kilkeel and perhaps its sports clubs, too.

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