PM urged to spend no-deal Brexit cash saving threatened shipyard
The Prime Minister has been challenged to spend a fraction of his no-deal Brexit fund saving a closure-threatened shipyard in Belfast.
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Tony Lloyd told workers who have occupied the famous Harland and Wolff yard that the business must be nationalised if a new buyer cannot be found before administrators are due to move in on Monday.
Workers demonstrated at Stormont on Wednesday while Boris Johnson was meeting the region’s political leaders, demanding that the Government step in to rescue the historic shipbuilder.
Mr Lloyd referenced the £2.1 billion Mr Johnson was spending preparing the UK for a no-deal Brexit as he addressed the 24/7 picket at the front gates of the east Belfast yard.
“Boris Johnson, who has just announced he will spend £2 billion on a no-deal Brexit that would be disastrous for Northern Ireland, let’s see a little bit of that money put into this yard to guarantee not your future only, your community’s future, this yard’s future,” said Mr Lloyd.
“It’s common sense to say to this Government if you are prepared to spend £2 billion on a potential no-deal Brexit, which would cost 40,000 jobs across Northern Ireland, spend a little bit of money investing in this yard, making sure there is a manufacturing future here in Belfast.”
Harland and Wolff, a business synonymous with Belfast’s industrial heyday, has been up for sale amid serious financial problems at its Norwegian parent company.
The yard, which once employed thousands but currently has a workforce of around 130, has diversified away from ship building in the last two decades and now primarily works on wind energy and marine engineering projects.
The Government has not intervened in the situation, insisting it is a commercial issue.
Mr Lloyd said if a private sector buyer could not be found then the Government must move to nationalise the business.
“Your battle, your fight here today is right and it’s just,” he told the workers.
“This yard should be brought into public ownership to give it that guarantee of a future.”
An emergency meeting of Belfast City Council will be held on Friday to discuss the crisis at the yard.
Harland and Wolff, whose two iconic yellow cranes Samson and Goliath dominate the Belfast skyline, is known around the world for being the birthplace of the ill-fated liner Titanic.
The workers have maintained a demonstration at the gates of the shipyard since Monday afternoon.
Assistant General Secretary of the Unite union, Steve Glover, also addressed the workers on Thursday.
He vowed that the occupation would continue until the yard’s future is secure.
“It’s your solidarity – just as it’s always the solidarity and unity expressed by working-class people – that will win this fight,” he said.
“I pay tribute to you occupying this yard – we will not leave this yard, this will be a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week picket until such times as we have got a secure buyer for this yard and a secure future for the current workforce and all of those who hope to come here in the future.”
Mr Glover said the future of shipbuilding could be secured if the Government committed to using UK shipyards to build Royal Navy vessels.
“Our members are going to be here now until we get a buyer – a sustainable future for this yard,” he said.
“Of course there is a sustainable future for this yard and the Government needs to take immediate action to stop this falling into liquidation on Monday.
“If we get breathing space I know there is a future for this yard. There are buyers in the pipeline that will pick up responsibility for this yard, including this workforce.”
Members of other trade unions joined the picketing workforce at Harland and Wolff on Thursday morning.
They have been providing support throughout the demonstration. Workers from the nearby Bombardier aircraft factory, whose futures are also in doubt, delivered lunch from their staff canteen.
There are plans for a rally at City Hall on Friday to coincide with the emergency council meeting.
The workers have urged local politicians to back their calls for the Government to nationalise the shipyard.
On Wednesday, they brought their Save Our Shipyard protest to the Stormont estate during the Prime Minister’s first official visit to the region.
They were not admitted to meet Mr Johnson, and instead handed in a letter for him.
The emergency council meeting has been called by SDLP councillor Brian Heading and Green Party councillor Anthony Flynn.
They have tabled a motion which would see the council convene an urgent forum between trade unions, Invest NI, the Department for the Economy and the UK Government to secure the future of the shipyard.