Administrators’ visit to Belfast shipyard delayed ‘due to public pressure’
Harland and Wolff workers have been protesting at the gates of the under-threat facility.
A Belfast shipyard under threat of closure has been given a brief reprieve after a visit by administrators was delayed.
Harland and Wolff staff have been protesting at the main gate to the historic yard, where the ill-fated liner Titanic was built, since Monday afternoon.
Administrators were due to visit on Wednesday if no other solution had been found to save it.
However, GMB union shop steward Paul Beattie told a rally at the gates that company bosses had said the administrators’ visit has now been put back to next Monday.
He thanked the crowds of workers, union members and shipyard supporters for their backing, claiming the public pressure had helped “stave off” the visit.
“The pressure that we have brought to bear from yesterday until today, not only has it focused the minds of the politicians but it has also sharpened the pencils of the senior management team and the administrators have been staved off until Monday,” he said.
“Hopefully what that will do will give us a bit more breathing space until we make representations to Boris Johnson.
“He may well not want to come to the yard, but there is nowhere in Northern Ireland that he can hide from us because we will follow him right round the province. If he doesn’t want to speak to us, we will put our faces in front of his media.
“If he wants to go about waving the Union flag and saying ‘UK jobs for UK workers’, we’ll be saying ‘Boris, you’re about to close one of the biggest facilities shipbuilding-wise in the UK, and we’re not going to stand for it’.”
Workers have maintained a demonstration at the gates of Harland and Wolff since Monday afternoon.
They have called for the Government to nationalise the shipyard.
In a statement on Tuesday, the UK Government said the crisis at the shipyard is “ultimately a commercial issue”.
East Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson, who attended the site on Tuesday, said he is trying to work towards a solution.
“The next number of days are critical for the shipyard and we are working towards a solution so I understand entirely their frustrations,” he said.
Politicians from across the divide attended the rally on Tuesday.
Ulster Unionist MLA Andy Allen said: “I came to show support for the workers, it’s difficult obviously under the circumstances and we would certainly hope the workers wouldn’t have to come to this but we are where we are.
“We as a party alongside other parties have been working to try and get a financial package delivered for the shipyard. The shipyard has been part of the Northern Irish fabric for decades and we hope to see it continue.”
Alliance MLA Stephen Farry said: “There is more at stake here than a solely commercial consideration. Harland and Wolff has played a huge role in placing Northern Ireland on the international map.
“The implications for its closure could have much wider repercussions in calling into question Northern Ireland’s economic image.”
SDLP MLA Pat Catney said: “This is a viable proposition and we as a community see the support that has come here at short notice. We the community need to be out and be supportive.”
DUP councillor George Dorrian said: “It has a rich history and we believe a very vibrant future if we could get a package to secure the immediate term and then hopefully build from there.”
PUP councillor John Kyle said: “I think that this is a historic manufacturing base in the city that we really cannot afford to lose. There are skills here, history, there’s a knowledge here that it would be a disaster if that was lost.
“The shipyard has suffered from a lack of investment in the last number of years and it’s time that the Government stepped in to really turn this around.”
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.