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Rally in aid of Ballymena's embattled workforce

By Nevin Farrell

Published 01/02/2016

Support: Liam Neeson
Support: Liam Neeson

Organisers say momentum is building ahead of a major rally calling for fresh investment in Ballymena, as the town gets braced for the impact of more than 1,700 job losses.

The Unite union is hoping thousands of people pack into the town centre this Saturday for their 'Rally For a Future'.

The demonstration comes on the back of the recent news that Michelin tyre factory is to close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs.

That blow followed the devastating news of the shut-down of the JTI Gallaher tobacco factory in the town by next year which will see 870 posts being shed.

Many local people fear for the future of the town if new jobs are not found.

Unite said Invest NI must focus its resources on actively seeking to attract foreign direct investment in manufacturing.

Jimmy Kelly, Ireland Secretary of Unite the Union, said: "The Rally for a Future initiative was initiated and has been driven by our members working in the JTI Gallaher and Michelin factories in Ballymena. They decided that they would not be bystanders as their town suffered devastating job losses.

"From my discussions with those who are busy campaigning on the ground day after day, Rally For A Future has really hit a chord and is being received with huge enthusiasm in the town.

"The public backing of Liam Neeson and the endorsement of the campaign by Ballymena United Football Club has created a real buzz in the town. There's also a growing awareness, and interest, from workers in other parts of Northern Ireland."

Neeson once worked for a bottling plant in Ballymena before achieving acting stardom.

Mr Kelly added: "This is a vital campaign for all manufacturing workers. We simply can't accept that the sector is finished, as it appears Invest NI has. Ballymena, like many other parts of Northern Ireland, can offer a huge amount to foreign investors but without a focused effort that potential will be lost."

The union has applied to the Parades Commission to march from their offices in Ballymena's Ballymoney Road to Broadway in the town centre this Saturday.

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