Belfast Telegraph

Union chief visits Harland and Wolff as protest enters fourth day

Shipyard workers protest outside Harland and Wolff in Belfast as the shipyard is threatened with closure (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Shipyard workers protest outside Harland and Wolff in Belfast as the shipyard is threatened with closure (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
DUP leader Arlene Foster speaks to Harland & Wolff workers who were holding a protest over the future of the shipyard
Irish language activists at Stormont

The head of the GMB union has visited the Harland and Wolff shipyard as the workers' protest against its closure enters its fourth day.

General Secretary Tim Roche said he came to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with GMB members who work at Harland and Wolff.

"This is a fight for our members’ jobs and livelihoods, but it’s about the wider future of our manufacturing industry too.

"This government needs to stop worrying about leaving the EU and put forward a proper plan to save UK manufacturing," he said.

An emergency meeting of Belfast City Council has been called over the crisis at the shipyard.

The meeting will take place on Friday, just before administrators are due on Monday at the historic shipyard known around the world for being the birthplace of the ill-fated liner the Titanic.

Harland and Wolff workers have maintained a demonstration at the gates of the shipyard since Monday afternoon.

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They have called for the UK Government to nationalise the shipyard.

Yesterday, they brought their Save our Shipyard protest to Stormont during Prime Minister Boris Johnson's first official visit to the region.

They were not admitted to meet Mr Johnson, and instead handed in a letter for him.

Steelworker Joe Passmore said: "If nationalising the shipyard is the issue here, you can call it whatever you want.

"We want the money. Back us up here, we don't care how you dress it up, make it count.

"Because we are going to go down the drain next week and you are going to have to act now or we will be the start of British industry going down the drain.

"Stand up for your words Boris and mean what you say."

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald met workers from the shipyard which was once a bastion of working-class unionism. As too did DUP leader Arlene Foster and local MP Gavin Robinson.

Irish language activists were also at Stormont estate and sang: "Save Our Yard" in Irish in a striking symbol of solidarity.

It was a sign of fraternity in Northern Ireland's at times deeply divided society.

An emergency meeting of Belfast City Council has been called by SDLP councillor Brian Heading and Green Party councillor Anthony Flynn.

They have tabled a motion which would see the council convene an urgent forum between trade unions, Invest NI, the Department for the Economy and the UK Government to secure the future of the shipyard.

Mr Heading described Harland and Wolff as one of Belfast's "iconic" landmarks, saying "we cannot let it go without a fight".

"That's why the SDLP and the Green Party have pressed for an emergency meeting of Belfast City Council to bring together agencies that can save the shipyard and preserve this skills base," he said.

"We stand in solidarity with the workers and we're going to do all we can to help.

"I want to pay tribute to the workers who have waged a fierce campaign to save their yard and to their union representatives who have taken the fight to the very top of the political agenda.

"The shipyard is a remarkable story of diversification.

"From a mighty history as a premier location for an old industry, it is now at the cutting edge of green technology and innovation as the site of assembly for huge wind turbines. That story can't be lost.

"We're hoping to secure cross-party support for this proposal."

The meeting will take place at 1.30pm on Friday.

The Harland and Wolff yard, which helped define the city's industrial past, has been up for sale amid serious financial problems at its Norwegian parent company.

The yard employs around 130 people and works on wind energy and marine engineering projects.

Its two huge cranes dominate the east Belfast skyline, but its peak period as an employment powerhouse was during the Second World War.

The last ship built there was the Anvil Point in 2003.

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