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Sad day as shipyard goes into administration

Despite valiant efforts by the workers and their union representatives, the world famous Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast went into administration yesterday.

There was a time that the closure of the shipyard would have been absolutely unthinkable, given its importance in employment terms and the iconic status conveyed by its history and deep roots in east Belfast.

But the bleak reality is that the yard has been in economic decline for decades.

The days when tens of thousands were employed building ships are long gone, a situation reflected in Britain where shipbuilding as an industry is a shadow of what it once was.

The last ship built by Harland and Wolff was launched 16 years ago and in recognition of the altered landscape, the yard has focused in recent times on other projects such as wind energy and marine engineering.

Even so, the workforce has dwindled. According to a trade union representative, just three years ago there were 2,500 directly employed by the yard. Now that figure is around 130.

Those remaining workers have mounted a vigorous campaign to save their jobs and keep the yard open.

Among the high profile figures supporting them is the shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who visited the site yesterday and described the British government's failure to intervene as inexplicable.

He argued that nationalising the shipyard would have given a breathing space to protect jobs, pointing out there are naval contracts that could ensure its long term future.

Workers are clearly disappointed that the DUP's pivotal position in keeping Boris Johnson in office has not translated into government action.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said rescue efforts foundered because of EU rules surrounding state aid, the lack of time available and the inability of a non-profitable company to accept a loan.

He insisted that there is a business there, an infrastructure in place and people with the necessary skills.

Unfortunately, if the jobs of the remaining workers are lost, then those skills will also go.

It is sad to see a once great industry brought to this point and sadder still that employees are facing redundancy and an uncertain future.

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