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Coronavirus: Strabane sportswear firm O'Neills to temporarily layoff 750 staff


O'Neills business has been hit by the virus. (stock photo)

O'Neills business has been hit by the virus. (stock photo)

PA Archive/Press Association Images

O'Neills business has been hit by the virus. (stock photo)

Sportswear firm O'Neills has announced it is temporarily laying off up to 750 staff, as the business feels the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement, the Strabane-based firm said all operations are to be suspended as of 6pm on Thursday and it would not reopen until at least May 5.

A small number of staff will be retained on a temporary basis to service existing customer requirements.

Kieran Kennedy, O'Neills' managing director, said the company had made the decision due to the postponement and cancellation of sporting fixtures and the "complete cessation" of orders received from clubs and retailers.

He said the company had no alternative but to take "drastic measures" to safeguard its long-term future.

"As of yet, we still have no clarity from the Department of Economy in relation to support for our employees. We are doing our utmost to get this clarified and will advise our workforce as soon as we have any further information," he said.

"We’d like to make categorically clear this is not a closure, it is a pause based on circumstances beyond our control. We fully intend to be back in action stronger than ever as soon as possible.

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“We are very aware of the strain this places on many of our loyal and dedicated staff and we wish once again to convey our sincerest apologies to each and every employee affected. This closure is unprecedented in our 102 year history and this decision has not been made lightly.”

Sinn Fein MLA Maoliosa McHugh has said the closure of the O’Neills factory is a devastating blow to the area.

“My first thoughts are with the workers faced with losing their jobs and their families at this time of great uncertainty," he added.

“This has been a major employer in the town for many years and its loss will have a huge impact on the local economy in Strabane and across the wider north west.

Mr McHugh called on the Executive to put in place measure to deal with job losses as a result of the crisis.

O'Neills is the latest in a series of business closures across Northern Ireland in recent days.

On Thursday, The Kane Group, which operates several pubs in Belfast city centre, announced a raft of closures the layoff of 90 staff.

Pubs to shut include: The Spaniard, Muriel's Cafe, Poblos, Panama City Garden Cafe, The Jeggy Nettle and The Chester Bar.

In a post on social media, Kane Group bosses Janine and Christine Kane said: "We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our hardworking staff, loyal customers and suppliers for their support. We will re-group and hope to see you in the future once Covid-19 abates."

Earlier this week, hospitality heavyweight The Beannchor Group announced the temporary layoff of up to 800 staff and the temporary closure of the majority of its portfolio of bars and hotels.

In response to the virus, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an emergency funding package for help business affected by the pandemic, including some £330bn in government-back loans.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said there would be a three-month rates holiday for businesses, from April to June.