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Bombardier will leave Northern Ireland if UK exits Europe, claims Naomi Long

By Liam Clarke

Published 14/04/2015

Gavin Robinson aims a shot at Naomi Long as the two square off at the east Belfast hustings last night
Gavin Robinson aims a shot at Naomi Long as the two square off at the east Belfast hustings last night

Aircraft manufacturer Bombardier - East Belfast's biggest employer - would take flight from Northern Ireland if the UK voted to leave the European Union after the next election, the area's MP has said.

Alliance MP Naomi Long issued the stark warning last night at an election hustings event in Willowfield Church of Ireland organised by two Christian organisations - the Evangelical Alliance and Care.

Ms Long recalled a meeting with Bombardier executives in Canada.

"If we exit the EU, Bombardier will exit East Belfast," she said.

Ms Long added that one of our main attractions to the massive company was as an entry point to the European market.

She was directing her fire at Gavin Robinson, her DUP rival who is ahead of her in the polls.

His party is in favour of a renegotiation of European membership, followed by a referendum on whether to leave.

This is in the DUP's shopping list of demands if their support is required to form a government in a hung parliament.

"It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Mr Robinson said.

Security precautions were in place for the hustings and the Lower Newtownards Road - a hotspot of loyalist flag protests and violence two years ago - was closed.

Niall O Donnghaile, the Sinn Fein candidate, said: "We were warned by the police that certain people were about."

However, the meeting was largely good-humoured, and a small group of flag protesters who had sat at the back only heckled once or twice.

Ms Long and Mr Robinson clashed over the flag dispute, when the Alliance Party backed restrictions on the flying of the Union flag on City Hall after nationalists proposed removing it altogether. But there was applause when Peter Lynas of the Evangelical Alliance and Ms Long raised questions over a controversial unionist initiative to issue 40,000 anti-Alliance leaflets before the vote.

The two main candidates have clashed before. Then, Mr Robinson, who was Lord Mayor at the time, denied he had taken any part in distributing the leaflets.

Ms Long claimed he had said he helped pay for them, but Mr Robinson denied this. Ms Long then gave the date and background of the alleged exchange.

"I have no idea what you are talking about," he said.

Each politician then questioned the other's integrity.

Ms Long defended her party's position on the Union flag and said that it was not a relevant issue in a Westminster election because it was "a matter only the councillors can decide".

It is the fifth such hustings event that the church has hosted, according to rector Archdeacon David McClay.

SDLP candidate Mary Muldoon had been at a previous Q&A before the last election, but she failed to get elected.

"I never got in but if I keep coming back, perhaps I will one day," she quipped.

All parties, with the exception of Green candidate Ross Brown, opposed the extension of the 1967 British Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

Ms Long was opposed to any change in the abortion law, except in the case of foetal abnormalities and if the mother chooses the option.

Mr O Donnghaile also supported some liberalisation, but not the 1967 Act, which has been described by its opponents as abortion on demand.​

The event was attended by five out of the six general election candidates in East Belfast.

The absentee was Tory candidate Neil Wilson, who was not included in order to keep the event manageable, according to Mr Lynas.

Bombardier response

The Belfast Telegraph asked Bombardier for a response to Ms Long's claims.

The company said it "will not speculate at this stage on the future of the UK’s participation in the EU".

A spokeswoman added: "Bombardier remains committed to its operations in Northern Ireland. We have a long history of engineering innovation and manufacturing excellence, and over the past 25 years, we have invested more than £2.5 billion in our business here to ensure we stay at the forefront of the global aerospace industry.

"That includes our on-going investment of £520 million in the production of the CSeries aircraft wings – the largest ever single inward investment in Northern Ireland.

"In addition to building a new facility in Belfast to produce the wings, in the past few years we also acquired a new site in Newtownabbey to facilitate growth."

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