Harland & Wolff being sought by several bidders

The Samson crane at Harland & Wolff shipyard in east Belfast. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association

HARLAND & Wolff's future looks set to be secured after the shipyard's administrator said it has received several non-binding offers for the business.

BDO Northern Ireland said buyers had shown a "healthy level of interest" in purchasing the iconic yard as an on-going concern.

A temporary unpaid lay-off of the workforce is being extended until September 30 to allow the administrators to explore different rescue deal options.

The lay-off means that although the workers are not being paid, their contracts of employment remain unbroken.

The shipyard, best known for building the Titanic, went into administration earlier this month with the potential loss of 120 jobs.

In recent years, it has focused on green energy projects including offshore wind turbines.

In a statement released yesterday morning, BDO said: "There has been a healthy level of interest with regard to purchasing the business, assets and safeguarding the existing jobs since the commencement of the administration process.

"This has resulted in a number of non-binding offers for the business, assets and employees on a going concern basis.

"There are also other interested parties who are in constructive discussions with the administrators which may result in further offers.

"The administrators, along with the unions and employees, have extended the unpaid temporary lay-off position beyond the August 16 2019 to September 30 2019 to allow additional time to seek to complete a sale of the business."

The news came hours before workers, who are continuing to occupy the site, and trade unions held a rally at the shipyard to call again for the business to be nationalised.

At the same time as the rally, Unite officer Davy Thompson challenged Secretary of State Julian Smith about the British government's "inaction" over the under-threat shipyard.

Mr Thompson questioned Mr Smith during a meeting of Belfast Manufacturing Forum.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Thompson said the government had not shown the same commitment to the shipyard as its workers.

"The workers who have occupied the Harland & Wolff shipyard for four weeks now have demonstrated tremendous ambition for the future – not just for their own jobs but that of future generation," he said.

"We need to see a similar ambition from the UK government for the Northern Ireland economy, in particular the manufacturing sector.

"That must start with a commitment to safeguard jobs and skills in Harland & Wolff but must also extend to real action across the economy including investment to ensure that the skills-base for future manufacturing success is sustained."

Unite officer Susan Fitzgerald said bids for the business showed the workers were right to fight for their jobs.

"The bidders who are visiting the site and looking around offer not just a fix but the promise of a vibrant future of growing numbers of high-value added jobs," she said.

"There is now a competition between commercial bidders to buy this shipyard whereas only weeks ago it was being pronounced dead.

"The reality is that we can secure a future where heavy industry can be brought back to Belfast."

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