Northern Ireland

Harland and Wolff shipyard workers hand letter to PM

workers sit on carson with placards Image copyright PAcemaker

Shipyard workers have been allowed into Stormont House to hand in a letter to the PM urging him to renationalise crisis-hit Harland and Wolff.

They said it was given to a senior Northern Ireland Office official and a commitment was made it would be given to one of Boris Johnson's aides.

Unions say the shipyard is at risk of closure after its parent company ran into severe financial problems.

On Wednesday morning, the PM held meetings with Stormont parties.

As meetings continued, Harland and Wolff workers gathered outside Stormont, along with protesters from other groups calling for action over the Irish language, Brexit and legacy.

Shipyard protesters joined with Irish language group An Dream Dearg for a bi-lingual demonstration.

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Media captionHarland and Wolff workers in bi-lingual Stormont protest

The workers said it was not good enough that Mr Johnson did not meet them and showed a "complete lack of respect".

On Tuesday, the government said the crisis at the Belfast shipyard is "ultimately a commercial issue".

A government spokesperson said there was "every sympathy for the workers".

They added that the government would "do all it can" to offer support.

Steel worker and employee representative Joe Passmore said the letter, on behalf of the employees, spelled out to the prime minster why they do not believe it is a commercial issue.

"It is much greater than that," he said.

"The economic impact that the closure of Harland and Wolff will have on Northern Ireland is immense and I don't think Boris realises that," he added.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said she had spoken to the PM about the issues facing Harland and Wolff and Ballymena-based bus manufacturer Wrightbus.

"We will continue to work the prime minister and his team to try and find solutions on these areas," she said.

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The shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Tony Lloyd, said the crisis was the new PM's "first big test".

"We've heard from the government that they simply regard this as a commercial issue. It's not," he said.

"Harland and Wolff is not simply an icon of the past, though it is that.

"It is about the future of shipbuilding and ship repair for the whole of the UK and we know there's a future in this," he added.

Image caption An extract from the letter sent to the prime minsiter

The firm's Norwegian parent company Dolphin Drilling put Harland and Wolff up for sale late last year.

There were exclusive negotiations with a potential buyer but they cooled in the last two weeks.

It is understood administrators are now expected to arrive on Monday.

On Monday, workers said they had taken control of the site and established a rota to ensure their protest continues around the clock.

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Image caption A rally in support of the shipyard workers took place in east Belfast on Tuesday

The yard employs about 130 people, specialising in energy and marine engineering projects.

They said they would continue the protest until a solution is found.

What is Harland and Wolff?

Harland and Wolff is one of Northern Ireland's best-known businesses and its two huge cranes dominate the east Belfast skyline.

It was founded in 1861 and at the height of production during World War Two employed about 35,000 people.

Its best known vessel is the Titanic, which was built at the yard between 1909 and 1911.

More than 100 workers attended a rally in east Belfast on Tuesday in support of the shipyard workers.

The Unite union said workers decided to take the action ahead of the expected arrival of administrators.

Trade unions have been hoping that the yard could benefit from plans to build more Royal Navy ships in the UK.

But now there is a risk it will not survive for long enough to benefit.

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