Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Closing Harland & Wolff would be a hammer blow

Harland & Wolff ship yard workers hold their protest at the gates of the yard in east Belfast
Harland & Wolff ship yard workers hold their protest at the gates of the yard in east Belfast

Editor's Viewpoint

Harland and Wolff are names woven into the very DNA of Northern Ireland. For the yard which built the Titanic and which employed 35,000 at the height of its powers to be now just days from closure will strike a blow at the very psyche of east Belfast, from where it drew most of its workers.

The sight of what is now a relative handful of workers protesting at the gates of the yard in a bid to save their jobs shows how much it means to them. Closure would also have a wider impact on the supply chain and the casual workers needed to complete large jobs.

The easy answer to the financial woes of the yard is nationalisation, but the Westminster government's cool reaction to such a move virtually rules that out.

In the past the yard was very generously funded by the government, but a Boris-led administration is unlikely to move in that direction again, especially with Brexit looming.

Our story that a Miami-based company is keen to buy the company sounds promising on the face of it, but undisclosed issues have been raised in Northern Ireland, again diminishing hope of a new lease of life.

However, time is short to find some way of saving this iconic company, whose massive cranes, Samson and Goliath, are symbols of the city they tower over.

Suggestions that the company could play a part in new orders for the Royal Navy are simply that - suggestions - and a much clearer road to recovery needs to be signposted.

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The best that could be hoped for would be some assistance from government to allow the company to seek a buyer or new orders over the summer before administrators close the gates for good.

Northern Ireland has suffered some severe blows in recent years and just recently the innovative Wrightbus company in Ballymena was seeking new investment. With threats still hanging over Bombardier, also in east Belfast, these are worrying times for the manufacturing sector. Brexit has added to the concerns.

The new Prime Minister Boris Johnson is visiting the province today as part of his whistle-stop tour of the UK, dispensing money and optimistic noises about the economic outlook as he goes.

He probably has enough problems in Northern Ireland to prevent him visiting another one at the shipyard, but it will take all his famed charm to bring any solace to the men whose jobs could be gone by this time next week.

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