Factory closure to hit 900 jobs
A cigarette factory in Northern Ireland is to close with the loss of almost 900 jobs.
The JTI Gallaher plant in Ballymena, Co Antrim has fallen victim to a restructuring programme announced by its Japanese owners Japan Tobacco International (JTI).
The closure is set to take place between 2016 and 2018, JTI announced.
JTI's factory in Belgium is also closing, with production shifting to Poland and Romania.
A JTI spokesman said almost 900 people work at the Northern Ireland factory.
"Japan Tobacco International (JTI) today announced a proposal to restructure its manufacturing facilities as a result of significant and sustained changes impacting its global business
"The challenging economic environment, excise tax pressure coupled with illegal trade has triggered industry volume contraction in a number of key European countries."
It also said tightening regulations on packaging in the form of the EU Tobacco Products Directive had been a factor in the decision.
The company said around 1,100 full time jobs across the EU would be hit.
It said a consultation exercise would take place on the restructuring proposals.
The spokesman said: This restructuring proposal will allow JTI to optimise its operations, strengthen its competitive position and achieve its financial commitments in a challenging operating environment.
"Its implementation is to be phased, recognising the needs of each country, with factory closures completed between 2016 and 2018.
"JTI will not provide comments on financials during the consultation period."
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley described the announcement as "devastating news".
He criticised those he accused of calling for "over-regulation" of the industry in the EU. "I am not in the habit of scaremongering or crying wolf," he said.
"For the past five years since I became Member of Parliament for North Antrim I have warned about the serious unintended consequences for jobs in North Antrim if government locally nationally and in Europe continues to over-regulate the already heavily regulated tobacco industry.
"Indeed, in July 2012 I warned that 1,000 jobs were under threat. Unfortunately those warnings fell on deaf ears. This was despite me arranging over twenty on-site visits for politicians from all parties and the government to see the impact more regulations would have on jobs.
"Today my warnings have been realised with the announcement that effectively starts a 90-day consultation with workers not only in Ballymena but across JTI 's European footprint to cease production. This effectively marks the end of an era."