Lord Mandelson yesterday warned against calls to ring-fence jobs for UK citizens after comments by Northern Ireland minister Sammy Wilson.
The Stormont Environment Minister caused controversy when he argued that the local unemployed should get jobs ahead of migrant workers.
But Peter Mandelson — a former Northern Ireland Secretary — warned against such demands. Critics of Mr Wilson accused him of effectively arguing against employment legislation banning discrimination on grounds of nationality.
And yesterday, during a series of meetings with Northern Ireland political and business leaders, Lord Mandelson said such calls for protectionism could be counter-productive.
“There will be companies in Northern Ireland which will have specialist requirements that I am afraid won’t or can’t be met from the workforce in Northern Ireland,” he said. “Of course we want to see people being able to find work in their communities... but to say that we should then start excluding workers from Europe or internationally, well, I think that could prove counter-productive.” Mr Wilson caused controversy when he said: “You’ve got to be very careful when you talk in those terms because people always accuse you of being racist and xenophobic.
“However, when it comes to a downturn, I think if jobs are becoming vacant and you’ve got people with equal skills, and can do the job, etc, then I think preference should be given to people from Northern Ireland.”