Belfast Telegraph

'Outside the box' thinking required to save Harland and Wolff says former Northern Ireland minister

Harland & Wolff twin cranes
Harland & Wolff twin cranes

A former Northern Ireland minister has said that Secretary of State Julian Smith must "think outside the box" to try and save Harland and Wolff shipyard.

The iconic Belfast company entered administration last week after a period of financial difficulty.

Labour peer Angela Smith was responsible for classifying Harland and Wolff's cranes as "scheduled monuments" while working in the Northern Ireland office, where she served from 2002 to 2006.

The move meant that the landmark cranes could not be removed without government permission.

Baroness Smith serves in the Labour shadow cabinet alongside her role in the House of Lords.

Speaking just days after her Labour colleague, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell visited the shipyard and said his party would renationalise it, Baroness Smith said more needed to be done to save it.

"When you are involved in politics you have to find a way, you have to think outside the box and think of things that might look impossible first of all and see if there is a way forward," she told the BBC.

"I've seen what the secretary of state has said and we need a bit more meat on the bones, said Baroness Smith.

"All options need to be considered including whether royal naval ships, or part of them can be built there, because the cost of losing those jobs to all of Belfast is enormous."

Baroness Smith suggested that the shipyard could be renationalised, even temporarily to explore options for its future.

Angela Smith
Angela Smith

"You have to look at every single option and if it is practical then you have to go ahead with something like that," she said.

"It isn't just a commercial decision because it has such a wide impact.

"Governments have to be far more interventionist than they are used to being and see what can we do to help."

"They should do everything possible to try and ensure a sustainable future for the yard."

The government had previously said the future of the shipyard was "ultimately a commercial issue", while the Northern Ireland office said Secretary of State Julian Smith "continues to do everything he can to secure the future of this historic site and ensure workers' interests are protected during this difficult time".

Baroness Smith said her decision to protect the shipyard's iconic cranes was the right one.

"These are iconic landmarks about the history of Belfast and as such we felt that they shouldn't be able to be removed or altered in anyway until the decision was properly looked at and examined," she said.

"But it was also a pragmatic decision because what everyone wants to see is that type of industry coming back to Belfast, and once they were gone they were gone."

Hardland and Wolff's 130 strong staff have continued their protest at the shipyard since the company entered administration.

The administrators have confirmed staff have agreed to be temporarily laid-off - a move which secures their contracts of employment while the administrators try to find a buyer.

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