Belfast Telegraph

This is what it looks like to lose your job: PM 'has questions to answer' over axing of 300 DVA workers in Northern Ireland

BY CLAIRE MCNEILLY

This is Sheelagh McCloskey just moments after being informed that she'd lost her job.

The 38-year-old is one of 300 employees at Northern Ireland's Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) whose positions were axed without warning on Thursday.

It was a swift and sudden blow but, almost worse than that, the shell-shocked staff were told the shattering news by email.

"Everyone is devastated. We don't know what's in front of us.

"There have been a lot of tears," Sheelagh said.

"I was working at my desk when an urgent email came through from the agency boss Paul Duffy telling us our jobs were going.

"It was an enormous shock to hear such terrible news that way.

"Nobody has been told anything else yet, so we don't know what's in front of us."

In Coleraine, Co Londonderry – which will be hardest hit by the loss of 235 jobs – the bleak announcement was a bombshell for workers.

Their fates were sealed after Westminster Transport Secretary Stephen Hammond decided that all licensing services would be centralised in Swansea, Wales.

Operations will cease in July and all eight Northern Ireland motor tax offices are expected to be completely wound down by the end of the year.

"It's frightening that our jobs are going in a couple of months; it's just so soon," said the mother-of-two.

"Morale has hit rock bottom and we're feeling more and more unsettled about our futures as time goes on. All that we want to do is to keep on working here in Coleraine so that we are able to pay our mortgages to keep our houses and to look after our families."

A failed campaign to retain the DVA services in Northern Ireland had the backing of all of the province's political parties and business leaders.

Stormont Environment Minister Mark H Durkan, who is currently in America on a trade mission, described as "bizarre" the timing of the decision.

He said the Prime Minister had questions to answer.

"David Cameron is talking on the one hand about the need to rebuild the Northern Ireland economy, yet with the other hand ripping jobs out of it," he said.

His SDLP party colleague, local MLA John Dallat, said he wanted to know if Mr Cameron had signed off on the job losses.

"The Prime Minister gave an undertaking that any decision-making on this would be a matter for his own office, so I'm calling for an investigation into whether the correct protocol was followed before axing these positions," he said.

DUP MP for the area Gregory Campbell said he was "exceptionally disappointed" but not surprised by the news.

For now, amid assurances that everything possible will be done to find them alternative employment, beleaguered DVA staff must try to soldier on.

It won't be easy.

As Sheelagh – whose children Dylan and Aimee are aged 12 and seven – said: "Most of us can't afford to relocate so if there's nothing available locally, who knows what'll happen to us?"

STORY SO FAR

About 300 jobs at Northern Ireland's Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) are being lost following the UK Government's decision to centralise licensing services in Swansea from July. All eight local motor tax offices – in Coleraine, Armagh, Ballymena, Belfast, Downpatrick, Enniskillen, Derry and Omagh – are due to be completely wound down by the end of 2014. The decision was taken by UK Transport Secretary Stephen Hammond, who said it would save £12m a year. Coleraine will be hardest hit by the loss of 235 jobs. Retail chiefs predicted a loss of £22m from the local economy as a result of the decision.

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