Liam Neeson backs Ballymena jobs rally in video message as hundreds take to the streets
Liam Neeson has addressed a rally in Ballymena via a video message about mass job losses in the area.
The Hollywood star Liam Neeson has added his voice to a campaign to bring jobs back to his home town in Northern Ireland after a spate of major redundancies.
Neeson said the rally is part of the fightback against cuts as he demanded action and investment for the Co Antrim town in the hard-hitting message.
The rally, that saw hundreds take to the streets, was addressed by a series of speakers representing local workers, local young people and a representative of the Save Our Steel campaign in Britain.
Fellow Ballymena-born actor James Nesbitt is also backing the call for more investment in a once-thriving town that has witnessed a series of large-scale job losses in recent years.
The announced closures of a Michelin tyre factory and the JTI Gallaher cigarette plant have left more than 1,600 workers facing unemployment.
In his video message, Taken star Neeson said: "Firstly I want to congratulate the workers of Michelin and Gallahers. They did not simply accept that nothing more could be done. They made a stand, not just for themselves, but for future generations.
"Through their work in building this campaign .. they have shown the way to a better future for everyone.
"For generations Ballymena has produced incredible craftspeople and skilled workers - the raw materials for manufacturing and businesses to flourish.
"We are calling on political leaders and those in authority to match the ambition of the people and to deliver the investment needed. They must work together to bring manufacturing back to Ballymena.
"Giving up on manufacturing is not an option. Local people and businesses need an infrastructure to thrive that means quality public services, investments in roads and transport and capital investment to attract and keep well-paid jobs."
"Without opportunity our incredible confident, talented and educated young people will be forced to leave taking their skils and creative potential away. Today’s rally for jobs and a future shows the people of Ballymena won’t let that happen. Today is the start of the fightback.
"Let this be the first day in a campaign that wins; a campaign that delivers for everyone in our town, for all traditions and backgrounds; a campaign that lights the path forwards for everyone in Northern Ireland."
Speeches at the campaign called for action from Stormont and demanded investment for the future of the town.
It included speeches from young people who told how the job losses have far reaching impacts on families and the youth of the town.
They too called for Stormont to take action to prevent Ballymena becoming a "ghost town".
There were calls for local workers to come out on the street to join the rally which made its way up the main road in the centre of the Co Antrim town.
Ireland Secretary of Unite, Jimmy Kelly, congratulated the local organisers of the rally and demanded action to secure investment and jobs for the town.
"I want to congratulate those local activists who initiated this campaign. They have showed that working people can make a difference.
"Today workers, students, traders and employers in Ballymena have demonstrated that they stand as one in the demand for jobs and investment.
"I also want to particularly thank Liam Neeson who sent a special message of support to the Rally. He has gone the extra mile and demonstrated his commitment to his hometown with real passion.
"This Rally sends the strongest possible signal to our political leaders that we need action to secure large-scale foreign investment to fill the gap left with the loss of Michelin and JTI-Gallaher.
"We will continue to build this campaign in partnership with the local community holding people’s assemblies to consider our next steps and put the hard questions to our politicians.
"We will hold Invest NI and Ministers accountable for their promises over the last weeks – they will be judged on their delivery."
Cold Feet star Nesbitt also sent a message of support.
"I share the pain of the loss of so many jobs following the announced closure of the JTI Gallaher and Michelin factories in Ballymena," he said.
"While my career has taken me far from home, I've always had a great affection for the town and its people.
"The loss of these well-paying and stable jobs not only threatens those affected directly and their families, but will have a devastating impact on the wider economy and community.
"We must seize this moment to show Ballymena and Northern Ireland's ambition to be a highly sought after centre for international business."