Northern Ireland’s jobs creation body has been lambasted in the Assembly for displaying “resigned acceptance” after massive job losses at one of our biggest manufacturers.
Most MLAs backed a joint UUP and SDLP motion accusing Invest NI of meekly accepting that almost 800 jobs were going to China.
The UUP insisted it had been a mistake for Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton to suggest on radio that he would have made the same decision as owners Caterpillar to move the FG Wilson jobs to China.
And the SDLP argued much more could be done if Invest NI took a “pro-active approach” to boosting our flagging economy.
The UUP’s Roy Beggs said while the positive work of Invest NI was well regarded, it was right to criticise certain comments made after the 760 jobs losses in September.
He said: “When (Mr Hamilton) was asked by the BBC if he would have made the same decision and moved some of the manufacturing jobs to China, he said: ‘If I was in that job, in all possibility, yes.’
“I do not think it is appropriate for the chief executive of Invest NI to be saying that. I hope that, with hindsight, he will have accepted that that was a mistake.”
The SDLP’s Alban Maginness, who chairs the Assembly committee which monitors Industry Minister Arlene Foster’s department, said: “It is all very well for the minister to get upset about this debate, but she has to listen to constructive criticisms.”
But Ms Foster launched a stout defence of Invest NI, calling it “utter nonsense” to suggest an attitude of “resigned acceptance” was displayed over FG Wilson.
“It is obvious to all of us that we cannot just ignore global trends and hope that they will go away, although some in the House clearly would like to. We need to be open, honest and transparent, as I believe that Invest NI was in its response,” she said.
The minister said she was “hugely disappointed” that two parties had launched a personal attack on Mr Hamilton.
“It is shameful. I find it quite shocking. If the chief executive of Invest Northern Ireland did not have an appreciation of global trends, I would be more concerned. He was open and honest,” she said.
In a statement, Invest NI said it does not accept that it displayed ‘resigned acceptance’ to the job losses at FG Wilson.
The agency said: “Invest NI has worked tirelessly to support the FG Wilson investment and there has been a high level of engagement between Invest NI and Caterpillar management to identify any opportunities that could mitigate the job losses.
“In addition, since the announcement was made Invest NI has worked with the Department of Employment and Learning and other agencies to run a series of redundancy clinics providing practical advice on how redundancy will affect those involved.
“A series of jobs fairs are also being held across the three Caterpillar sites, the first of which took place yesterday.”
Invest NI’s Alastair Hamilton told Stephen Nolan on Radio Ulster: “If I was running that organisation and accountable to shareholders the way they are to do the job they've got to do, then absolutely, around that board table as a businessman I can tell you people will be looking at ‘what are the dynamics of our market?’” Asked if he would have made the same decision to move 760 FG Wilson jobs from Northern Ireland to China, he replied: “If I was in that job, in all possibility, yes.”