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Howden closure a 'savage blow' for its 100 workers

By John Mulgrew

Published 02/05/2015

Naomi Long MP expressed her regret at the job losses
Naomi Long MP expressed her regret at the job losses

One of the "stalwarts" of east Belfast manufacturing is shutting its doors, dealing a "savage blow" to the 100 workers losing their jobs.

Howden UK - formerly Sirocco Engineering Works - is set to close its east Belfast factory.

Based at Queen's Road, it is one of the area's longest-running firms and was originally set up by Samuel Davidson in 1881.

It is understood staff were told this week that the factory would shut by the end of the year.

The US-owned company makes fans and heat exchangers and operates in more than 17 countries.

The firm said some of the work in Northern Ireland would transfer to Glasgow, and staff may be offered alternative employment.

Davy Thompson of the Unite union said the "savage blow" ends the company's "134 year association with Belfast".

And he added Northern Ireland had lost close to 2,000 manufacturing jobs over the last year.

"With the announcement of the closure of the JTI factory in Ballymena, formerly Gallaher's cigarettes, this means two of Northern Ireland's oldest manufacturers have announced their closure in a period of six months - the loss of almost 300 years of manufacturing experience," he said.

In a statement, the company said it had "significant overcapacity in our divisional manufacturing footprint". It added: "As part of our efforts to align our business with the needs of customers, Howden has carefully reviewed all of our operations and proposes to close our Belfast factory, with some of the current functions and roles transferring to our Renfrew site."

Alliance East Belfast Westminster candidate Naomi Long said the closure of the "stalwart" of manufacturing was worrying for the area.

"This is concerning news, especially following similar closures in east Belfast lately," she added.

"The most important issue is the future of workers there. I have spoken directly to my colleague, Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry, in relation to the staff, so his department can offer support where required."

Mr Thompson said the latest manufacturing blow "highlights the need for Stormont politicians to get serious on ensuring an improved operating climate for the manufacturing sector, addressing such concerns as high energy costs and transport delays caused by traffic congestion.

"They also need to support the development of supply-chains which will help bind manufacturers to Northern Ireland," Mr Thompson added.

A part of the industrial landscape in east Belfast for more than a century, the former Sirocco Engineering Works made its name by developing the Sirocco fan -helping revolutionise conditions for miners and factory workers.

Maurice Kinkead, of the East Belfast Partnership, said it is always heartbreaking when a long-standing business chooses to close it's doors.

"It's always disappointing when any business closes," he added. "The key is trying to make sure people get opportunities somewhere else.

"And we are also always building to get new businesses in all the time."

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