Concern over sale of Bombardier's Belfast operation

Yesterday’s announcement by the Canadian aerospace firm Bombardier that it is placing its Northern Ireland operation up for sale has major implications both for the workforce and the wider community.

Bombardier, which purchased the former Short Brothers PLC in 1989, employs almost 4,000 people at its east Belfast headquarters and three other plants in Newtownabbey, Dunmurry and Newtownards.

It was estimated in 2017 that wages at the four outlets put almost £160m into the regional economy, and they collectively represent the largest manufacturing concern in Northern Ireland.

As Stephen Kelly, of Manufacturing NI pointed out yesterday, the change of ownership could have an impact on a total of 12,000 jobs across the region when suppliers are taken into account.

Montreal-based Bombardier, a massive international corporation, with more than 68,000 staff spread across 28 countries, said it was consolidating all its aerospace assets into a "single, streamlined and fully integrated business".

It stressed that it is committed to finding the right buyer, and intended to work closely with employees and trade unions through any transition period.

Significant job losses have already taken place at the Belfast business over recent years, and, although there were no suggestions that it is to be further downsized, the company immediately acknowledged the alarm yesterday’s statement would cause among its workers.

It is in everyone’s interest that a new owner is found as quickly as possible and it is inevitable that pessimism will grow if a prolonged period goes by without any indications of progress.

In the absence of a devolved administration at Stormont, it is essential that the British government is firmly focused on the Bombardier case in the coming months.

There will be obvious fears that, with Westminster still in the grip of the Brexit crisis, the problems in Belfast’s aerospace sector will be pushed down the cabinet’s list of priorities.

What is needed is a transparent process in which all the main players are kept fully informed of developments and efforts are concentrated on protecting jobs and preserving a vitally important company.