Ballymena jobs: Union vows to keep pressure on politicians

Spectators at the rally watch Liam Neeson's video message on a big screen
Spectators at the rally watch Liam Neeson's video message on a big screen
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Politicians will be “expected” to attend a “large community assembly” held by the Unite trade union in Ballymena to answer questions on job prospects and investment in the area, it has emerged.

Regional officer for Unite in the Ballymena area, Susan Fitzgerald, told of their plans for the troubled town after around 1,000 people attended a rally calling for investment to the area.

A pipe band lent its support to the cause at Saturday's rally

A pipe band lent its support to the cause at Saturday's rally

Almost 2,000 people will lose their jobs in the next two years when Michelin and JTI Gallaher close.

Hollywood actor Liam Neeson, who is originally from Ballymena, has lent his voice to the campaign and on Saturday a message from him was played to the crowd on a big screen.

The rally took place on the same day that B&Q ceased trading in Ballymena.

Local politicians including Ian Paisley MP, TUV leader Jim Allister, several Assemblymen and councillors turned up to show their support for the rally’s aims.

Susan Fitzgerald said Unite wanted to have an impact on the fight for new jobs

Susan Fitzgerald said Unite wanted to have an impact on the fight for new jobs

Ms Fitzgerald said Unite “have a whole series of events coming up” and they will “continue with a targeted response to politicians in the short term”.

Mr Allister said what he saw on Saturday “was a grassroots reaction that demands a response from Stormont”.

“The reducing of corporation tax which is imminent did not save one job at JTI or at Michelin,” he said.

“So those companies did not think much of it and it could be there are other issues at play like the cost of their energy or the attraction of cheap labour in Eastern Europe.”

Mr Allister added that he believed Invest NI “have a lot of questions to answer about north Antrim”.

“Out of the hundreds of visits of investors to Northern Ireland few came to north Antrim. We have been neglected,” he said.

Ms Fitzgerald added that during the upcoming meeting, where Unite plan to “pack out a large venue in Ballymena”, they will ask politicians “to answer questions that the community have in terms of investment, prospects for young people, their attitude to minimum wage jobs and if they will fight for jobs where people have a bit of respect and an income they can live on”.

She said workers in the town were “understandably running a gamut of emotions at the moment”.

“We are very conscious that in May, a very short period of time, hundreds of Gallaher workers will walk out of that factory and never again walk over the threshold of it.

“It is a depressing cycle of events and we want to have an impact on that.”