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Brothers who both worked at Gallaher factory get closure news on holiday... and a couple face losing two salaries

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Tony McAvoy

Tony McAvoy

KEVIN SCOTT / BELFAST TELEGRAPH

Sadie Millar

Sadie Millar

KEVIN SCOTT / BELFAST TELEGRAPH

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Tony McAvoy

Families have had a day to digest the news – but it hasn't made it any easier to bear. More details about the dramatic impact the closure of the JTI Gallaher factory will have on people in Ballymena and beyond continued to emerge yesterday.

The Millar brothers, Billy (49) and Ian (45), were enjoying a sunshine break in an apartment Billy owns in Cyprus when they got the cruel news that they will be without jobs.

And for 62-year-old former boxer Tony McAvoy – who was alongside Barry McGuigan at the Commonwealth Games in Canada in 1978 – the factory closure was a big blow.

His wife Liz (60) also works at Gallaher and yesterday as they contemplated the loss of double wages coming into their Brigadie Gardens home in Ballymena, Tony said a cloud had descended on the whole town.

The Millar brothers' mother Sadie (73), speaking to the Belfast Telegraph from her home in the Wilson Crescent area of Harryville in Ballymena, said the sledgehammer blow of the JTI Gallaher factory closing in the town was not just hard news to take for her two boys but for hundreds of other local families.

Sadie used to work in the North Packing Department of the Gallaher factory herself where her father William Telford once held an unusual position at the plant many years ago – that of commissionaire.

And that summed up just how grand the Gallaher factory at Lisnafillan was in its heyday as the huge wages had local people flocking through the gates.

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Another benefit of working in the factory was that they had a reputation of really looking after their staff.

"It was like one big family," said Sadie and she said that maybe explains how her two sons ended up working there.

Staff had pensions and many other fringe benefits including – according to Mr McAvoy – some staff still getting 200 free cigarettes at the end of the month along with their pay.

And over the years the achievements of staff were recorded in the company's own magazine like the time when a young Sadie Millar, then Telford, and her friend Sally Houston – now living in Canada – were part of the Seven Towers School of Dancing which won an Irish Dancing world title in Edinburgh.

Sadie still has the cutting of her and Sally surrounded by trophies and it takes pride of place in a family photo album. Sadie worked in the factory from when she was 14 to the age of 22.

Ian still lives at the Millar family home and Billy and his wife Mandy a short distance away in Harryville.

Said Sadie: "They are in Cyprus on holiday and they got an email from some of the workers to say what had happened and as you would expect they are not very happy. They are due home on Monday. This is a disaster for Ballymena."

Billy is the pensions co-ordinator at the factory and has fought hard over the years, according to Sadie, to ensure that the workers get good packages.

"He is sure to be busy over the next few years before the factory closes," added Sadie.

Ian works in the pouches section of the factory but now he and Billy face a hunt for a new job, said their mother.

"It is pathetic. Where are all these people going to get jobs?" she asked.

Tony McAvoy – a coach at Liam Neeson's former boxing club, Ballymena All Saints – has worked in Gallaher for 31 years and his wife Liz has been there for 15 years.

He said the wages at the factory were good and over the years he already has the mortgage paid off and their family is mostly grown-up and away.

Although there will no longer be two wages coming into their home from Gallaher, he said: "We are in a good enough position in life although it was hard at the start."

He added: "It is the younger workers I really feel for and the closure is going to be a big strain on the town."

Tony was not on shift until 6am on Wednesday and the first he learned of the factory closure was on the 6 o'clock news on Tuesday.

He added: "We knew something was coming but we thought they would offer redundancies to some of the staff and the factory would stay open.

"You couldn't have asked for a better place to work and some of the older workers still get 200 cigarettes a month.

"We are all disappointed, it is a big blow for this town and it is going to be hard without the factory," said Tony.


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