DETI minister should consider quitting over Bombardier job losses: UUP

Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell
Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell
  • Invest NI had offered £75m to firm over more than a decade
  • Mr Bell says his thoughts are with the workforce
  • UUP compares him to ‘King Canute’

The Ulster Unionists have called for the trade minister to resign over the latest round of mass redundancies for the Province – a call echoed by the SDLP.

The party was one of many to have reacted with horror to the news of the widespread job losses.

Jonathan Bell MLA with China's vice-president Madam Liu Yandong

Jonathan Bell MLA with China's vice-president Madam Liu Yandong

SEE FIRM’S FULL STATEMENT HERE.

It is the second time in a week the party has suggested Mr Bell should quit (the previous time being over the closure of a renewable energy scheme last week – something which, it is claimed, would cost a significant number of jobs).

The latest job losses were described as a “hammer blow” for Northern Irish industry by Unite the union.

The cuts will be across all operations in Northern Ireland.

The firm has facilities in Belfast, Newtownards, Newtownabbey and Dunmurry (to the south-west of Belfast).

Adrian Cochrane-Watson MLA, the party’s enterprise spokesman said: “The loss of 1,080 jobs in Belfast comes hot on the heels of the announcement of significant manufacturing job losses at JTI and Michelin in Ballymena.

“The Bombardier announcement is yet another concrete example of a Minister and Department that is out of touch with the grim reality of the challenges that are facing manufacturing in Northern Ireland.”

He referred to a previous statement by minister Bell at the DUP party conference, in which he said: “Don’t let anyone tell you that manufacturing in Northern Ireland is in a difficult position.”

Mr Bell later clarified the remarks in the Assembly, telling MLAs: “When manufacturing is growing in Northern Ireland, it does not serve any purpose for small people to try to make themselves look tall by talking about where jobs have been lost.”

Mr Cochrane-Watson added on Wednesday that the minister is “in denial”.

“He is sitting like King Canute as wave after wave of job losses wash over him. Now it is a tsunami for Bombardier’s workers, with 20 per cent of the workforce facing redundancy.

“Jonathan Bell needs to finally admit that these job losses are real, they are happening, and they are devastating the lives of real people and real communities in Northern Ireland. He needs to stop engaging in sound-bites and selfies and actively work to address the nightmare that is befalling our manufacturing industry.

“I say to Jonathan Bell – stand up or stand aside.”

The SDLP leader later on Wednesday made a similar call.

Colum Eastwood said he should “look closely at his record and his ability, and reflect on whether he is fit to carry out the responsibilities of the office.”

The chairman of the enterprise committeee, SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone, also said: “There are too many red flags being raised about the minister’s competence...

“Minister Bell visited Bombardier HQ in Montreal four months ago and said he was confident that the long standing and successful relationship between Northern Ireland and Bombardier would continue to ‘bear fruit in the future.’ It gives me no pleasure to say I believe he is out of his depth in this portfolio.

“Minister Bell must realise the very serious consequences of this. He said it was probably impossible to take over from Arlene. Sadly this appears to be true.”

At dinnertime on Wednesday, the DUP hit back at Mr Bell’s critics with a statement from Gavin Robinson, East Belfast MP.

Trade minister Mr Bell and employment minister Dr Stephen Farry had issued a joint statement about the new losses earlier in the day.

In it Mr Bell said: “The impact of this decision will be hard felt in Northern Ireland, in particular by those personally affected. First and foremost, my thoughts are with the workers and their families as they absorb today’s news.

“The company has taken this decision to rationalise its workforce across all its sites in order to ensure its viability for the future.

“Between 2002 and 2015, Invest NI offered £75m of assistance to Bombardier, including £21m for the CSeries, in support of investment commitments totalling £844.5m.

“While Bombardier has said there is nothing we can do to reverse this decision, we will continue to work closely with the company and to explore other ways to support their drive for greater efficiencies.

“While today’s news is deeply disappointing,

“Bombardier Inc has made it clear that the decision has been taken to safeguard the company’s long term future globally and here in Northern Ireland.

“I want to assure the affected staff that, together with Invest NI, the Department for 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 and help with possible retraining.”

Dr Farry said: “The job losses announced today by Bombardier are extremely regrettable, not only for those who have lost their jobs, but also for the families, communities and the economy as a whole.

“My Department will be proactive in determining what steps we can take to assist employees facing redundancy to provide them with advice and guidance regarding re-skilling, training and alternative employment opportunities.”

See reports of the news about previous mass job losses at JTI in Ballymena, and at Michelin, also in Ballymena.