DUP's Foster 'shares vision' of stricken H&W workers as shipyard enters administration
DUP leader Arlene Foster has said she "shares the vision" of the unions and workers on saving Belfast's Harland & Wolff shipyard and will work with the administrator to bring it about.
The historic shipyard which was the birthplace of the Titanic entered administration on Monday putting at risk around 120 jobs.
Workers have staged a week-long protest calling for the government to intervene saying it is not too late for a last-minute rescue. They have vowed to continue their fight to protect their jobs and called on the DUP to use its influence with the Prime Minister to help.
The government has so far said the matter is a commercial one.
Gavin Robinson and I have just finished a very constructive meeting with GMB and UNITE regarding the future of H&W. Recognising the difficulty today brings, we share a vision for the yard and will work with the administrator to deliver it. @GRobinsonDUP pic.twitter.com/5U6Hl8bnXe— Arlene Foster (@DUPleader) August 5, 2019
DUP leader Mrs Foster and East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson met with unions on Monday.
"Recognising the difficulty today brings, we share a vision for the yard and will work with the administrator to deliver it," She said.
MP Mr Robinson said it was disappointing a solution could not be found for the Belfast workforce.
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He said Monday did not mark the end of Harland & Wolff.
"There is a future there and we need to seize it to make sure that it is not only beneficial for the workforce more broadly, but for the city and economy as a whole."
He said rescue efforts foundered because of EU rules surrounding state aid, due to the lack of time available and the inability of a non-profitable company to accept a loan.
"How can the Government put money into a company that at the minute does not have an order book, it does not have the ability to be productive or produce profit?"
He said work was available, including Ministry of Defence contracts, and the skills were accessible in Belfast.
"So whether it is ship building, ship repair, renewable energy, there is a business there, there are people with the skills and capacity. We have the infrastructure and the assets at Harland & Wolff, we need to seize that for the future."
The UUP said the government's response had been "disgraceful". MLA Andy Allen said given the DUP/Tory link-up he expected more.
Shadow Chancellor, the Labour MP John McDonnell also attended the shipyard on Monday.
I am saying to Boris Johnson very specifically he can't stand on the sidelines. John McDonnell
Mr McDonnell said he was there to express solidarity with the workers.
He claimed Boris Johnson had failed the shipyard workers in his first real test as Prime Minister.
"We know this is a viable concern, we know the Government has naval contracts it can put here to ensure the long-term future," he said.
"I am saying to Boris Johnson very specifically he can't stand on the sidelines."
Mr McDonnell then travelled into the centre of the facility to join workers at a meeting to discuss the next steps.
Fielding questions from workers, Mr McDonnell was asked whether the Government would fall if the DUP withdrew from the confidence and supply deal over the issue.
Workers broke out in a round of applause when a union official suggested that if the DUP did not make the ultimatum to the Government, then workforce representatives would stand against them in future elections.
Mr McDonnell said the Government's failure to intervene was inexplicable.
"It wouldn't take much for Boris Johnson the Prime Minister to say 'we as a Government are going to intervene, we will nationalise'," he said.
"That gives the breathing space to protect the jobs, prepare the long-term plan, working with the unions to ensure that happens, so we will stabilise for the future.
"It's nationalise to stabilise and to give this yard a future."
He told the workers: "I am here with one message - solidarity. We will be with you throughout."
He said the Prime Minister was too focused on Brexit and on leaving in October, urging the government to intervene.
Susan Fitzgerald of Unite said political parties have simply "ticked boxes" in terms of their efforts to try and save Harland & Wolff.
"The political parties here have made representations, they have written letters, they have sought meetings, they've met us etc," she said.
"They have ticked all the boxes, but that's not providing an answer. We need political leadership here, that's what is not emerging.
"We have every union on this island and across the water prepared to do whatever it takes, prepared to kick down doors, we're talking about exceptional measures here, that's what the politicians haven't done.
"Our members have sent a delegation of workers up to meet the DUP today, but what they are going to say is 'if you don't go to bat for us in a more genuine and serious way given you can potentially hold the balance in Boris Johnson's government, we'll stand against you in your constituencies'. That's what is being said today."
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