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No financial lifeboat for Harland and Wolff

It’s the end of an era in Belfast with the winding up of the Harland and Wolff shipyard


By Anthony Neeson

Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipyard – which at its height employed over 30,000 workers – is to be placed into administration.

The firm had been up for sale over the last few weeks with no buyers on the horizon. Its 130 workers have been facing up to the realization that the business, whose iconic yellow cranes – Samson and Goliath – have become a symbol of Belfast, could close its doors for good.

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Workers’ calls for the company to be nationalized have fallen on deaf ears.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said: “We’ve pulled all the political levers that we can.”

Founded in 1861 by Edward Harland and Gustav Wolff, the yard was one of Belfast’s main employers, building the ill-fated Titanic.

During the twentieth century the yard was also a by-word for not-an-inch unionism, with its overwhelming Protestant workforce.

It built its last ship in 2003 and since then has mainly worked in marine engineering and offshore wind turbines.

Belfast’s shipbuilding history, which once defined the city, has all but disappeared in recent years.

Last week, Belfast City Council passed a motion calling on the government to support Harland and Wolff, this during an emergency meeting at City Hall.

Workers also took their campaign to the steps of Stormont where they joined forces with Irish language protesters calling for the yard to be saved, chanting, “Sábháil ár glós!”

On Monday, workers were handed their redundancy notices.

A Harland and Wolff spokesperson said: “There has been a series of board meetings, the result of which is that administrators will be appointed over the course of the day.”

Susan Fitzgerald, coordinating officer of the union Unite, said: “Harland and Wolff workers have the expertise and experience to turn the yard around. Re-nationalisation would allow them to get on with the job, rather than lose their jobs.”