Belfast Telegraph

Ministers in last ditch talks with Ballymena cigarette factory Gallaher's following news 900 people to lose jobs

By John Mulgrew

Ministers have been involved in last ditch talks with members of JTI Gallaher in attempts to save the iconic Ballymena factory from complete closure.

Jobs minister Arlene Foster said her department would "explore every available option to maintain some presence at Lisnafillan" - following the announcement earlier this month that 900 jobs were set to go.

That's in an attempt to save the cigarette plant - which has manufactured tobacco for more than 150 years in Northern Ireland - from total closure.

She said support for research and development was one avenue being explored to "avoid complete closure of the factory".

But the firm announced earlier this month it would cease production at the facility by 2017.

And business owners in the town said the loss of wages to the economy – said to be £60m – could lead to the closure of more firms as a result.

Workers at the factory told the Belfast Telegraph earlier this month, of their shock and devastation at the news.

Further talks are to take place next month.

The Enterprise Minister met with members of the firm, alongside Employment Minister Dr Stephen Farry.

"I will explore every option available to the company in terms of, for example, support for R&D, to avoid complete closure of the factory," Ms Foster said.

"We had a very useful meeting and have identified the issues that would need to be addressed.

"We understand that the company is undertaking a process of engagement with its employees as part of its overall consultation and we look forward to having further discussions with management early next month."

Dr Stephen Farry said if the factory were to close completely the possibility of re-skilling and training could be one option for the hundreds of staff facing the dole queue.

"If this situation arises I will investigate all options including opportunities for re-skilling and access to training courses in partnership with the further education college network particularly the Northern Regional College," he said.

The announcement that 870 staff would lose their jobs at the Ballymena cigarette factory came as a severe shock to the town.

And while Belfast has witnessed an upsurge in a series of major job announcements in recent months and years, manufacturing has witnessed a handful of severe blows.

Just last month Bombardier announced it was cutting almost 400 jobs at its Belfast base.

BACKGROUND

JTI announced it planned to close its Ballymena factory with the loss of almost 900 jobs. North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said the decision was a "body blow" to the economy. "Each year almost £60m is pumped into the local wage economy by JTI. From 2017 that will be over," he said. JTI said it was restructuring "as a result of significant and sustained changes impacting its global business". Gallaher, founded in 1857, was bought by JTI in 2007.

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