Differences put asideto welcome new jobs

John Manley Political Reporter

PETER Robinson and Martin McGuinness appeared to temporarily set aside their differences yesterday as they welcomed the creation of 1,000 jobs in Belfast.

The pair, who put forward a united front during a trip to drum up business in NewÈ York last month, were once again all smiles for their brief tour of Stream Global Services - a US-based call centre company - which announced a £3.3 million government-funded investment.

However, the jobs announcement was not without controversy.

Two years ago Stream wound down its operations in Derry where it had once been one of the city's biggest employers.

Foyle MLA Maeve McLaughlin asked how the company could be running down its operations in the north west while at the same time creating jobs in Belfast.

The call centre company is to receive £3.3m of taxpayers' money -- Invest NI offered £2.8 million of support while Department of Employment and Learning has provided almost £500,000 for training.

"Why could these jobs not have been located in Derry to compensate for the recent redundancies?" the Sinn Fein assembly member asked.

"From the announcement made today it does not appear that any particular skill base different than what was already available at its Derry facility is required."

The posts have been created from Invest NI's Jobs Fund, an initiative designed as a response to the economic downturn that promotes employment with companies where salaries are lower than the average.

Stream said the salaries would be between £14,000 and £18,000, with around 250 of the posts paying up to £30,000-a-year.

More than half of the jobs - which will be based at Airport Road West in east Belfast - are already in place.

Stream's chief executive, Kathy Marinello, said the company - which has more than 50 offices worldwide - was committed to bringing further jobs to the region.

Mr Robinson said Northern Ireland was beating all the regions in Britain for attracting foreign direct investment.

"It is absolutely fantastic and exactly what we need for Northern Ireland," he said.

"To have so many of these jobs already in place at this new facility is fantastic news for us."

Mr McGuinness added: "Stream's investment underlines our ability to meet the needs of global companies.

"Its expansion is positive news for our economy and creates much-needed jobs that offer flexible employment and the opportunity to develop transferable skills."

The ministers donned a set of headphones and sat beside each other laughing.

Mr Robinson joked that the wires were not connected.

Both men admitted there were big problems at Stormont.

Mr Robinson said: "I have never used the word crisis. There are real problems and there always will be.

"This is politics, every day creates another problem on our desk, but problems are there to be solved and that's the business we are in."

The relationship between the DUP leader and Mr McGuinness has become increasingly strained following months of loyalist rioting linked to disputes over flags and parades and the DUP's turn-around on the Maze conflict resolution centre.

Earlier this week Mr McGuinness warned there could be no wider de

velopment of the Maze site unless it was on the basis of the peace centre deal.

Mr Robinson hit back, claiming it was cruel to punish the public over the issue.

Speaking yesterday, Mr McGuinness said: "I have always said whenever challenges and differences appear in the process we all have to be in problem-solving mode.

"There are severe difficulties but those difficulties have to be resolved and that is our responsibility. We'll see over the course of the next while whether that can be done."


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