These are “difficult” times for the Mid-Ulster town of Magherafelt mainly because of the slump in the construction industry, a local councillor said yesterday.
SDLP representative James Campbell said he was not surprised to hear that in the 12 months up to November last year, the Co Londonderry town had the UK’s biggest leap in the |number of people claiming unemployment benefits.
“The signs were not good for Magherafelt and we were made aware of the rising unemployment rate in a council meeting last week.
“We once had a very low rate of employment but that has increased dramatically in real terms with around 100 more people signing on every week.
“There are no big companies here who have made big lay-offs like there are in other parts of Northern Ireland, but we have suffered the cumulative effects of smaller businesses laying off |people.”
He said the closure of Woolworths in the town had added around 20 people to the dole queue — but said the slowdown in building accounted for most.
“Magherafelt — the town and the small villages around it — has always been dependent on building. With the way things have been in construction, small operators and businesses have laid off people and things have slowed down for tradesmen and businesses like kitchen manufacturers.
“Nobody knows what is around the corner and I don’t like to be pessimistic, but these are difficult times for people.
“A lot of people are dependent on two incomes coming into the household. I feel sorry for families who are affected.”
Nobody knows what’s around the corner and one doesn’t like to be pessimistic, but these are difficult times for people
Local businessman Sean Owens, chef-owner of Gardiners Restaurant in Magherafelt, described the figures as “disappointing but not surprising”.
Mr Owens, a champion of the Northern Ireland food industry, said the rising unemployment figures “definitely had a knock-on |effect” for local businesses.
“We were over reliant on construction and it doesn’t come as a surprise that Magherafelt has seen the biggest increase in the number of people claiming the dole,” said Mr Owens.