The Stormont Enterprise Minister has vowed to “leave no stone unturned” to replace hundreds of jobs being lost with the closure of Michelin.
The tyre manufacturer said it intends to shut its Ballymena plant in 2018, putting almost 900 people out of work.
News of the mass redundancies at Michelin, described as a “body blow” to the local economy, came a year after another major employer in Ballymena – the JTI Gallaher tobacco factory – announced plans to close its operation with the loss of around 870 jobs.
Speaking during Question Time, Minister Jonathan Bell said: “We have got a two-and-a-half-year period to 2018 to try to get this right. And, I’ll tell you, I will leave no stone unturned to try to bring jobs in to replace what has been there.”
The DUP minister also told MLAs he has held a series of meetings with factory chiefs to discuss their plans.
He added: “We acknowledge the work with the Michelin management that people will not be out of work until 2018 and the hope is their ambition, and it is an ambition that everybody in this House should actually have, is that they can leave work to another job with a healthy pay cheque in their hands.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson has challenged the forthcoming factory closure in the European Parliament.
Speaking from Brussels after meeting with the EU Office Director of Michelin to discuss the company’s decision, she said: “Michelin guaranteed that they would work with local manufacturers and undertake a reskilling and retraining programme. I sincerely hope that this programme has the sufficient depth and resources to assist workers seeking re-employment.”
SDLP North Antrim Representative Connor Duncan has called for intervention from DETI and Invest NI to secure employment in Ballymena and surrounding areas following the loss of substantial jobs over recent years.
He said: “I have been talking to businesses, trade union representatives and local workers in the wake of the Michelin announcement and it’s clear to me that the people of North Antrim want to work, they just need to be supported and given the opportunities.
Also expressing ‘deep concern’ at the closure, the Bishop of Connor Rt Revd Alan Abernethy, said: “As well as the wider impact of these job losses, of course, they come at personal and family cost of stress as people look for employment alternatives and we in the Church will hold them in our prayers and offer pastoral support in our parishes”.