Jobs shock a real wake-up call
The impact of the decision by Michelin to shut its Ballymena tyre manufacturing plant cannot be over-exaggerated. When the factory finally closes its doors in 2018 the town will have lost almost 2,000 jobs in four years, following on from the closures of the JTI Gallaher cigarette-making plant and building firm Patton.
When JTI announced it was ending production it was estimated that the local economy would lose around £60m annually. Michelin's closure will probably double that loss. That is a devastating blow to a market town that is already showing signs of hard times.
Of course, our first sympathies have to be with the workers who are being made redundant and with their families. While Michelin is regarded as a good employer and is contemplating enhanced redundancy packages, that is not the same as a regular, well-paid job.
Some of those workers are contemplating the future with such desperation - and with so little faith of finding alternative comparable employment in Northern Ireland - that they are planning to move their families to other parts of the UK where Michelin is investing in its plants and where the company has promised that workers from Ballymena can be relocated.
The plant closure in Ballymena is the result of an economic perfect storm. It makes truck tyres, demand for which is already falling in Europe and where the market is being flooded with cheaper imports from Asia. In addition, high energy prices in Northern Ireland have driven up production costs.
Yesterday's announcement appears to have come as a surprise to the Stormont administration and should certainly be a wake-up call to the politicians. While there have been several encouraging inward investments in recent times, few of the jobs are of the calibre of those which are in the process of being lost in Ballymena.
The closure of such internationally known firms as JTI and Michelin - and the reasons for them - make it imperative that the Executive gets down to real business as soon as possible. The current talks are dragging on interminably while ordinary people face a very uncertain future. We need lower energy costs and the introduction of reduced rates of corporation tax as soon as possible if we are to ensure NI plc is really open for business.