Belfast Telegraph

Shipyard will ‘consider offers’ as workers plead for council intervention

Harland & Wolff worker Joe Passmore addressing Belfast City Hall yesterday
Harland & Wolff worker Joe Passmore addressing Belfast City Hall yesterday
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Harland & Wolff has said it is still considering offers to take over the stricken shipyard which faces 48 hours until insolvency if a deal is not finalised.

A spokesman for the company said it "continues to examine all offers to ensure that they are in the best interests of all stakeholders".

Workers yesterday made impassioned appeals to save their workplace as they addressed an emergency Belfast City Council meeting on the threatened closure of the famous Harland & Wolff yard.

They have been holding a protest at the gates of the yard since last Monday. Yesterday a delegation of workers spoke to city councillors as dozens of their colleagues watched from the public gallery in City Hall.

Meanwhile, the man behind US-based investment firm Flacks Group has said he's now made an offer for H&W.

He told the Belfast Telegraph he intends to join forces with a European shipbuilding firm to run the business after first revealing his intentions on Tuesday to bid for the company.

Michael Flacks said he had made a "very strong offer" for the shipyard, which has faced prolonged financial difficulties. Its turnover slumped from nearly £67m in 2015 to £8m the year after. In 2016, the company also recorded a loss of £7m. No accounts have been filed by the firm since.

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Mr Flacks said: "I have offered to take the company entirely and I am prepared to go in as managing director for six months, move to Belfast and roll my sleeves up.

"People might wonder what I know about shipyards but I have made an offer after joining with a 300-year-old European shipbuilding company to be our partner on this."

An H&W spokesman said: "The company cannot comment on individual bids as they are commercial in nature."

Administrators are due to be called in on Monday to run the business after its prolonged financial problems.

A last-minute deal could mean administration - which is a form of insolvency - is averted although a deal to buy the shipyard could still be made after administrators are appointed.

In an emotional speech at Belfast City Hall, steelworker and union representative Joe Passmore said the city's proud shipbuilding tradition was facing extinction.

"This is my city and I believe in it very strongly, and I have a great affiliation and I am very proud to be from here, but I don't want to see our greatest industry, that iconic industry, going down the drain," he told councillors at the start of the meeting.

"I am not prepared to let that happen and all my fellow trade unions are not prepared to let it happen... I want to know what you can do to help because we are on our last legs right now.

"We don't have much time to go before all these people go on the dole. When we lose these skills how are we ever going to get them back? "When that closes and they build a marina down there, how is industry ever going to come back into Belfast? It's the beginning of the end.

"Let Belfast take the lead on this, let Belfast take the lead for the whole of the United Kingdom and let us concentrate on our industry," Mr Passmore added.

Trade unions Unite and GMB have called for renationalisation of the shipyard, which was in government ownership from 1977 to 1989. According to economist Dr Esmond Birnie, the government then put around £600m into the business to keep it afloat and is unlikely to wish to commit to bailing it out again.

Following the emergency council meeting yesterday, the DUP Group on Belfast City Council said it was working on achieving a successful outcome for the yard.

"Now is the time for all agencies and departments to work together to get a strategy in place, in the short term to secure the future of Harland & Wolff and its workers, [and] in the longer term to grow their presence in the markets of the future," a DUP council group spokesperson said.

Belfast Telegraph