A building firm has been forced to close after more than half a century at the helm of the construction industry in the north west.
O’Neill Brothers announced the closure to their 24 staff at the company’s Pennyburn Industrial Estate base in Londonderry this week.
The company, which opened in 1956 and has been in the family for generations, has |now entered into a voluntary arrangement, with directors hopeful that creditors will be fully paid.
Phelim O’Neill, one of four relatives who inherited the firm, said telling staff was heartbreaking.
“I think of all the things I have done in life, yesterday was probably the most difficult — to inform long-term employees that unfortunately this is where we are and we can’t go any further.”
Mr O’Neill told local radio that the firm had tried to ride out the economically disastrous conditions for the building industry, but now had no choice but to close the company.
He said: “It’s horrendously hard to sit here today and say to yourself, how has this come to an end? How did this happen?
“This company has weathered the storm many years ago during the 1980s, early 90s.
“Recently nobody could have predicted the length of time it has lasted.”
Mr O’Neill added, however, that it was the family’s intention to pick up the pieces and return to business one day when conditions improved.
SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan said the closure was “a terrible loss” to the local economy and called for more government support for building firms in the present economic climate.
Mr Durkan said: “We have to feel for all the workers who have been hit with this terrible news coming up to Christmas.
“The banking and financial crisis over the last few years obviously provides the backdrop to this closure, but more could and should be done with government interventions to support the construction sector.
“The fact is that measures have been deployed in both Scotland and Wales using devolution to provide job-keeping contracts to construction firms.
“Creative planning of capital expenditure, responsive maintenance programmes and measured, timely and deliverable projects have helped to deliver good work for the public estate and local construction firms to survive in other places.
“We should have been bending our systems and our budgets here to achieve the same.”
O’Neill’s has been involved in some of the north west’s most prominent buildings, including Derry City Council’s offices on Strand Road and the Verbal Arts Centre. Other projects included fitting out the interior of Derry’s Catholic St Eugene’s Cathedral and reconstructing O’Doherty Fort in Inishowen, Co Donegal.