Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Hopes now sinking for Harland & Wolff

There was a time when Harland & Wolff was the most productive and important shipbuilder in the world. (Liam McBurney/PA)
There was a time when Harland & Wolff was the most productive and important shipbuilder in the world. (Liam McBurney/PA)

Editor's Viewpoint

Administrators have been appointed to Belfast shipyard and today will file for insolvency, which could spell the end for one of the most iconic names in industry, not just in Belfast but on a global scale.

There was a time when Harland & Wolff was the most productive and important shipbuilder in the world.

Even allowing for the ill-fated Titanic, it produced some of the world's most luxurious liners, the last being the Canberra, which launched in 1960.

Its contribution during the Second World War was immense - producing 140 warships, 123 merchant ships and more than 500 tanks in spite of being targeted by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz.

Today the firm may be a pale shadow of the one that once employed 35,000 people, but its workforce of 123 feel as strongly about the company as any of those who worked in it in the past.

Their occupation of the firm is a desperate last-ditch effort to secure their jobs, or at least keep the firm in existence until all hope is extinguished.

The plea for nationalisation has been dismissed almost out of hand by the Government, saying the firm's plight is a commercial matter.

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That is true, but it takes no account of what the shipyard, even in its current state, means to the city. It reminds thousands of when Belfast was a manufacturing powerhouse and of the thousands of families it sustained in good times and bad.

The impending closure of the yard is a real challenge to the DUP as the workforce has voiced dark mutterings of union reps standing against the party in the next election.

There is an undercurrent of feeling that the party has not exploited its pivotal position at Westminster enough to secure at least breathing space for the company. That may be an unfair assessment in the eyes of the party, but it is one which it has to answer.

So what faint hope remains? The workers are pinning their hopes on jobs being secured until orders start flowing from the UK shipbuilding blueprint drawn up by a former head of Harland & Wolff, Sir John Parker. The problem is no one knows when that will be and/or if Harland & Wolff could secure any of that work. Even a loan shark would have second thoughts about putting up money with so little certainty that it could be repaid.

Yet the workers are to be commended for fighting for their jobs and demanding renewed efforts to save the company.

Belfast Telegraph

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