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Reprieve granted for HMS Caroline

The long-term operation of the ship is still to be confirmed but an interim agreement means that staff will remain employed until the end of 2020.

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Manager Ben Robson walks the deck of the HMS Caroline in Belfast, which like many attractions, has been closed to stop the spread of coronavirus during the pandemic. (Niall Carson/PA)

Manager Ben Robson walks the deck of the HMS Caroline in Belfast, which like many attractions, has been closed to stop the spread of coronavirus during the pandemic. (Niall Carson/PA)

Manager Ben Robson walks the deck of the HMS Caroline in Belfast, which like many attractions, has been closed to stop the spread of coronavirus during the pandemic. (Niall Carson/PA)

The HMS Caroline museum has won a reprieve following months of uncertainty over its future.

The Battle of Jutland veteran turned Belfast tourist attraction faced a major loss of income after closing during lockdown.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) closed Caroline and other visitor facilities in Portsmouth, Gosport, Hartlepool and Yeovilton at the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Manager Ben Robson checks on the engine room of the HMS Caroline in Belfast which, like many attractions, has been closed to stop the spread of coronavirus during the pandemic (Niall Carson/PA)

Manager Ben Robson checks on the engine room of the HMS Caroline in Belfast which, like many attractions, has been closed to stop the spread of coronavirus during the pandemic (Niall Carson/PA)

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Manager Ben Robson checks on the engine room of the HMS Caroline in Belfast which, like many attractions, has been closed to stop the spread of coronavirus during the pandemic (Niall Carson/PA)

It says the loss of ticketing revenue during lockdown has left it with a £6.35 million budget shortfall.

While the Treasury has offered the museum an emergency grant to reopen its sites in England, in Northern Ireland its funding arrangement is with the devolved executive.

On Friday the NMRN confirmed that it has now come to a joint understanding with Stormont’s Department for Economy.

The terms will allow the museum to continue to operate until December 31, and jobs which were at risk of redundancy following the end of the furlough scheme are no longer considered to be at risk.

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Manager Ben Robson checks on the sailors’ mess aboard the HMS Caroline in Belfast which has been closed to stop the spread of coronavirus (Niall Carson/PA)

Manager Ben Robson checks on the sailors’ mess aboard the HMS Caroline in Belfast which has been closed to stop the spread of coronavirus (Niall Carson/PA)

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Manager Ben Robson checks on the sailors’ mess aboard the HMS Caroline in Belfast which has been closed to stop the spread of coronavirus (Niall Carson/PA)

In a statement the museum said it regrets the “stress and uncertainty” which staff faced.

“However, negotiation was required around a number of clauses in the agreement to ensure that the staff, ship and museum were protected from financial uncertainty,” a spokesman said.

“Whilst the long-term operation of the ship is still yet to be confirmed, this interim agreement means that staff will remain employed until December 31 2020 when a decision about the future operation of the ship is hoped to be in place.

“The museum is relieved that it has been able to protect its incredible team at HMS Caroline from redundancy for the next eight weeks and wants to assure them that it continues to work exhaustively with DfE for a longer term solution that means that visitors will be able to once again climb on board this breathtaking 100-year-old survivor, the only surviving ship from the Battle of Jutland.”

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UUP MLA Andy Allen. (Liam McBurney/PA)

UUP MLA Andy Allen. (Liam McBurney/PA)

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UUP MLA Andy Allen. (Liam McBurney/PA)

Ulster Unionist East Belfast MLA Andy Allen welcomed the development, but urged that the long term future of the museum is secured.

“While I welcome the halting of the redundancy process, I would encourage the Department for the Economy to bring forward detailed plans before 31st December 2020 outlining the way forward to secure this historic ship’s future in Belfast and give some much needed certainty to the employees and staff,” he said.

“HMS Caroline is the last surviving ship from the 1916 Battle of Jutland, the key naval battle of the First World War.

“She has been resident in Belfast since 1924 and deserves a great deal more respect than she has been shown in recent times.

“It would be simply unforgivable if she were to be removed from Belfast and sent to Portsmouth or indeed anywhere else.”

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