Northern Ireland news

Marks & Spencer insists stock will return to shelves in north following ferry crisis

P&O ferries have suspended crossings between Larne and Cairnryan for a number of days following the sacking of its UK workforce last week. Picture by Cliff Donaldson.
Paul Ainsworth

Plans are under way by Marks & Spencer to minimise disruption to its food supply caused by the suspension of the P&O ferry between the north and Britain.

The supermarket issued a statement insisting that solutions were being sought to a lack of produce appearing in its outlets in the north following the sacking of 800 UK staff by the ferry operator.

The mass redundancies, described by East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson as "absolutely brutal", saw staff learn of their fate via a pre-recorded video message last Thursday. It is thought up to 50 staff from Northern Ireland are affected by the move.

P&O advised that its service between Larne and Cairnryan will be unavailable "for the next few days" and has urged travellers to seek alternative arrangements.

It was confirmed that operator Stena Line will offer additional services in the days ahead in order to assist retailers which rely on the route and ease the disruption caused by its rival company.

However, the impact of the lack of sailings has led to fears shoppers here will be still be unable to access certain products.
This has prompted M&S to state that customers will still be able to buy goods at its Northern Ireland outlets in the days ahead.

The move followed images of empty M&S shelves at a south Belfast store being circulated on social media and linked to the ferry crisis.

The firm admitted it had "experienced some delays" over the weekend following last week's move by P&O, but urged customers to "continue to shop as they would normally in Northern Ireland".

A spokesperson added: "We are working closely with the government and other ferry operators to find immediate solutions and minimise disruption to customers - stock will be arriving in the coming days."

Meanwhile, the P&O sackings have prompted Larne FC to state it was seeking a meeting with the firm to get "further information" on the situation and how it may impact its sponsorship deal with the soccer club.

The NIFL Premiership team has spoken out against the "devastating impact" of the job losses in the Co Antrim port town, and is offering fans free entry to its match this Friday as a "show of support" to fans following the P&O crisis.

A spokesperson said: "Throughout the club's development over the last five years, we have placed a great emphasis on working for the betterment of our community.

"P&O's sponsorship, and other companies who have come on board in recent years, have allowed us to increase our off-the-field operation and in turn recruit people from the local community.

"We are actively working to increase this further with applications having recently opened for five new jobs at the club, through the JobStart scheme."

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