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Opinion: Calls to save the Harland & Wolff shipyard

Ian Knox cartoon 30/7/19: The iconic ship building heart of industrial Belfast appears to be beating it’s last, ironically on the eve of a flood of new orders. Like the captain of the Titanic, asleep at the wheel, the local MP Gavin Robinson seems scarcely to have been aware, and acts like a frightened rabbit, trapped in the headlights. When asked if he backs the workers demands for nationalisation, he is incoherently circumspect. One wonders how different would be the situation were Naomi Long still the MP 

THE NEWS that the world famous Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast could be closed within a matter of days will have shocked many people.

Perhaps it is because the company has been in a slow, steady decline for many decades that we have become immune to the almost always bad news stories which surround the company. Be that as it may the local DUP MP Gavin Robinson said that administration was a very real possibility, as soon as in 48 hours.

One could argue that the poor outlook for the shipyard goes hand in hand with the decline of the British shipbuilding industry not just since the dawn of the second millennium but also during a large part of the 20th century. The last ship to be built in Harland and Wolff was launched 16 years ago.

One trade union representative said that just three years ago 2,500 were directly employed by the shipyard

Attempts have been made to diversify into the production of, for instance, equipment for the harvesting of wind-generated power sources. But even with such thinking outside the box the workforce has shrunk to 130.

That is a far cry from the shipyard of a bygone era, when it provided employment for tens of thousands who learned and plied their many trades on a multitude of vessels, the most famous of which – The Titanic – is remembered in a hugely successful centre which tells the story of the ship's construction and demise after striking an iceberg.

There were calls yesterday from some members of the workforce who had locked themselves inside the gates for the British government to intervene and variously provide work through the ordering of naval vessels or for the yard to be nationalised.

Hopefully for the sake of the 130-strong workforce some sort of solution can be found to save them from unemployment. But whatever happens, whether it is a takeover by another company or intervention by the British government, it will have to take place very quickly.

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