Liam Neeson calls on Stormont to protect manufacturing jobs
HOLLYWOOD star Liam Neeson lent his support to a rally in Ballymena on Saturday saying "today is the start of the fight back" for jobs.
Hundreds of people marched through the Co Antrim town as part of the demonstration, organised by the union Unite.
The announced closures of a Michelin tyre factory and the JTI Gallaher cigarette plant have left more than 1,600 workers in the area facing unemployment.
Political representatives including North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Junior and TUV leader and MLA Jim Allister were among those in attendance.
Addressing the crowd via video message, Mr Neeson said: "I am with you in solidarity and support today. I stand 100 per cent behind Unite and their campaign for jobs and investment.
"I want to congratulate the workers of Michelin and Gallaghers who didn't simply accept that nothing more could be done. They have made a stand, not just for themselves but for future generations.
He added: "We know that for generations Ballymena has produced incredible craftsmen and skilled workers."
The Taken actor warned that "without manfacturing jobs our town will wither away."
Mr Neeson, who took part in a promo ad ahead of the rally, said: "We are calling for our political leaders and those in positions of authority to match the ambition of our young people.They must work together to bring manufacturing back to Ballymena in the face of thousands of well-paid jobs vanishing.
"Our young people will be forced to leave, taking their skills and creative potential elsewhere. Today is the start of the fightback. I assure you of my continued support in that campaign."
Fellow Co Antrim actor James Nesbitt has also backed the call for more investment in a once-thriving town that has witnessed a series of large-scale job losses in recent years.
Unite's Ireland secretary Jimmy Kelly told the crowd: "We will hold Invest NI and ministers accountable for their promises over the last weeks - they will be judged on their delivery."