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Shipyard workers make plea to council to help save their jobs

Councillor Brian Heading addressing workers outside Belfast City Hall Credit: Pacemaker

Workers from Harland and Wolff shipyard have appealed to Belfast City Council to help save their industry.

The plea was made in the council chamber on Friday as a delegation spoke to a packed chamber which included fellow workers in the public gallery.

Workers have been joined by trade union representatives from Monday afternoon when the campaign came to public attention.

Many have stayed out overnight at the east Belfast site to try and convince the Government to re-nationalise the shipyard but on Tuesday, Westminster labelled the ongoing crisis as 'a commercial issue'.

The shipyard is seeking a new buyer before the start of next week when administrators are set to visit.

It is after the parent company of Harland and Wolff fell into financial difficulty.

A motion was tabled by SDLP Cllr Brian Heading and the Green Party's Cllr Anthony Flynn which proposed convening a forum of trade unions, the Department for the Economy and Invest NI which would discuss how to save the business.

Harland and Wolff workers stand outside Belfast City Hall Credit: Pacemaker

In an emotional speech, steel worker and union representative Joe Passmore said the city's proud shipbuilding tradition faced extinction.

"This is my city and I believe in it very strong, and I have a great affiliation and I am very proud to be from here, but I don't want to see our greatest industry, that iconic industry, going down the drain," he told councillors at the start of the meeting.

"I am not prepared to let that happen and all my fellow trade unions are not prepared to let it happen.

"What we don't want you to tell us, we don't want you to tell us what you can't do, because we have had that all week.

"I don't want you to tell us 'tea and biscuits and there, there'. I have had that all week and I am sick of listening to it.

"I want to know what you can do to help because we are on our last legs right now. We don't have much time to go before all these people go on the dole. When we lose these skills how are we ever going to get them back?"

Trade Unions addressed the crowd outside Belfast City Hall Credit: Pacemaker

At the meeting, councillors unanimously agreed to call on the Government to provide interim funding to allow the yard breathing space to secure its long-term future.

They also called for an emergency meeting with newly appointed Secretary of State Julian Smith.

Belfast Lord Mayor John Finucane said: "What we saw was a unified message leaving City Hall and that's that there needs to be urgent action and attention given to the workers at Harland and Wolff."

More than 130 people are currently employed at the site which now specialises in wind energy and marine engineering projects.