Ballymena has been dealt a major body blow with claims that the JTI plant in the town is facing closure.
The news was broken on Tuesday afternoon by North Antrim MP, Ian Paisley who said a 90 day consultation exercise on redundancies was about to begin.
He said: “I am not in the habit of scaremongering or crying wolf. For the past five years since I became Member of Parliament for North Antrim I have warned about the serious unintended consequences for jobs in North Antrim if government both locally nationally and in Europe continues to over regulate the already heavily regulated tobacco industry.
“Indeed, in July 2012 I warned that 1000 jobs were under threat. Unfortunately those warnings fell on deaf ears. This was despite me arranging over twenty on site visits of politicians from all parties and the government to see the impact more regulations would have on jobs.”
Mr. Paisley added: “Today my warnings have been realised with the announcement that effectively starts a 90 day consultation with workers not only in Ballymena but across JTI ‘s European footprint to cease production. This effectively marks the end of an era.
“I have spent the past two decades in public life working with the employees in my constituency who have contributed to the local economy and today my heart goes out to these people, many of whom are personal friends, who are effectively being told that the Gallaher era is coming to an end. From May 2016 the first redundancies will commence and the key will be turned for the last time in the factory a year later.I know that my efforts have sustained production in Ballymena for an additional two years but that will be small comfort to those now facing redundancy .This is devastating news.
“Those who championed over-regulation of this industry, and I am prepared to name them, should today hang their heads in shame that they have effectively accelerated over 800 local bread winners onto the ranks of the unemployed. Each year almost £60 million is pumped into the local wage economy by JTI from 2017 that will be over.
“I intend to meet with the unions representatives in the next few hours and formulate whatever arguments are necessary to put to the JTI corporation; I have asked to meet with the owners and make that case directly to them in Geneva or Japan if necessary and see if anything can be done to soften this devastating blow. I am in no doubt that this news equates to the same magnitude of the loss of Northern Ireland’s other key manufacturing jobs and is a very dark day for our province.