Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Arlene Foster has expressed her deep regret at today’s announcement by JTI Gallaher that it plans to close its Ballymena factory in 2017.
Arlene Foster said: “Today’s announcement is devastating news for the affected workers, their families and the local community as a whole. Many of the staff have been with the company for much of their working lives and will have expected to stay there for the foreseeable future. My thoughts are with them as they struggle to come to terms with the prospect of having to seek employment elsewhere.
“The loss of around 800 jobs is not only a hammer blow for Ballymena and north Antrim, it is bad news for the Northern Ireland economy as a whole.
“JTI Gallaher is a major employer, contributing over £57million per annum to the local economy through annual salaries. The company also provides business for over 200 other local firms, with total spending of £20million per annum.
“JTI Gallaher had warned that the European Tobacco Products Directive, which will introduce minimum pack sizes, would mean it would have to reconsider its presence in Europe - and it is deeply regretful that these warnings have today come to fruition.
“I have repeatedly raised concerns over this issue on the company’s behalf. Just last week, I wrote to the Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt MP, to express my concerns regarding the proposed introduction of the European Tobacco Products Directive and its potential effect on the JTI Gallaher factory at Lisnafillan. I urged him to commission further research to ensure that any health benefits were not offset by an increase in the trade of illegal tobacco and I am deeply concerned that the magnitude of the implications for the NI economy were not fully considered.
“I want to assure the affected staff that, together with Invest NI, the Department of Employment and Learning, and colleagues in the entire Northern Ireland Executive, we will do all that is possible to limit the impact of the redundancies.”