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Liam Neeson to star in TV ad to boost beleaguered Ballymena

By Nevin Farrell

Published 12/01/2016

Liam Neeson accepts Freedom of Ballymena in 2013
Liam Neeson accepts Freedom of Ballymena in 2013

Liam Neeson has pledged to take to the small screen to help his home town of Ballymena bounce back from two major employment blows.

Almost 2,000 jobs in a town with a population of 30,000 will be lost in the near future after two of the area's biggest employers - Michelin tyres and JTI Gallaher tobacco - announced plans to close.

The 63-year-old actor, who accepted the Freedom of Ballymena in 2013, has agreed to shoot a special advertisement to promote parts of Northern Ireland.

Mid and East Antrim mayor Billy Ashe said the council had contacted Neeson after the Hollywood star said recently he would back moves to promote Ballymena.

"He has agreed to work along with Tourism NI and the council to shoot a special advertisement featuring areas back home... and has agreed to appear on camera," he said.

The council's chief executive is now working with Tourism NI to organise filming, he added.

In November Neeson - who now lives in New York - described the news that the Michelin factory was to close as "tragic" and called for the Executive to "get to work".

"I've always maintained that our wee corner of the globe is one of the world's best kept secrets, not least in its potential for development in all areas of industry," the Taken star said at the time.

"All the more reason for the Executive and Invest Northern Ireland to really get to work now and promote the hell out of the province. They have and always will have my full support."

The Michelin factory will wind down until its closure in mid-2018, with 860 jobs going.

A similar number of jobs will be lost with the shutdown of JTI Gallaher next year.

There are concerns for future employment in Ballymena, and people are to take to the streets to demand new jobs and more investment.

A Rally For A Future will be held at Broadway bandstand in the centre of the town at noon on Saturday, February 6.

Campaigners say the job losses "threaten a permanent erosion in job prospects for future generations".

Neeson featured in a video in 2014 encouraging people to visit the province.

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