Business Irish

Friday 23 August 2019

End of an era: Titanic yard Harland and Wolff to file for insolvency today

Shutting down: Samson and Goliath, the famous Harland and Wolff cranes, lie idle. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Shutting down: Samson and Goliath, the famous Harland and Wolff cranes, lie idle. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Ian Graham

Harland and Wolff - the Belfast shipyard that built the Titanic - was put into administration yesterday after its bankrupt Norwegian owner failed to find a buyer and calls for its nationalisation were rebuffed.

The shipyard, whose towering yellow cranes dominate the Belfast skyline, has been occupied by workers fearful for their jobs since last week.

They said yesterday they would block administrators from entering the site.

A spokesman for Harland and Wolff said accountancy firm BDO was appointed as administrators. The company will file for insolvency in the High Court in Belfast today.

The business was put up for sale last year by Norwegian parent Dolphin Drilling, which filed for bankruptcy in June.

Opened in 1861, Harland and Wolff employed more than 30,000 people in its WWII heyday and remains a potent symbol of Belfast's past as an industrial engine of the British empire.

It has been in decline for more than half a century, however, and now employs just 130 full-time workers, specialising in energy and marine engineering projects - although it hires in large numbers of contractors when it secures work.

"It's a sad day. I don't know what I'm going to do," said a 54-year-old worker with 38 years' service at the plant, who declined to give his name.

Harland and Wolff, the yard that built the Titanic. AP Photo/Library of Congress
Harland and Wolff, the yard that built the Titanic. AP Photo/Library of Congress

He said he understood all workers had been given notice of redundancy.

The workers locked themselves into the yard last week and are taking turns occupying key buildings in a bid to take control of a process they fear will deprive them of their jobs.

They voted yesterday to continue with the occupation, with union representative Joe Passmore saying it will continue for "as long as it takes".

John McDonnell, finance spokesman for the British Labour Party, visited the yard yesterday and called for the state to step in and renationalise it.

"We know this is a viable concern, we know the government has naval contracts it can put here to ensure the long-term future.

"It would not be difficult today for [Prime Minister] Boris Johnson to say he will give this yard a future," Mr McDonnell said. "If you close now you lose the skills, you lose the future."

A British government spokesman said the fate of the yard, which was state-owned from 1975 to 1989, was a commercial issue.

Susan Fitzgerald, an official at trade union Unite, said she was concerned by reports the yard might be sold by administrators without liabilities such as pensions and workers' contracts, adding: "This would be a cynical move designed to jettison jobs."

Irish Independent

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