Retailers say plant closure will hit business sector hard

Ballymena is a thriving shopping centre.
Ballymena is a thriving shopping centre.

Retailers in Ballymena were yesterday agreed that the loss of hundreds of jobs from the Michelin plant in the town will hit business hard.

Eugene Diamond runs Diamond’s Newsagents just five minutes from the factory.

“This is devastation for people’s lives,” he said.

“People said it was going to happen, but I had a lot of those people in my shop this morning and not one of them had an inkling about this.

“A lot of the older hands got packages over the past year and they were recruiting new workers.

“Where will they all go now? There is nothing for them in Ballymena. Manufacturing is leaving this part of the world. This will be taking a terrible money out of the town.

“I have been dealing with these fellas for a lifetime. They were not just customers, they were friends that you would have a yarn with.”

Darren Millar of fish and chip shop Sizzlers said the announcement would probably affect Sizzlers, some six miles away from the plant.

“I am sure a lot of customers from houses around here probably work there,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Benny Fish and Burger Bar, 10 minutes away from the plant, said it would probably affect them too.

“You see plenty of Michelin jersey around town,” she said.

“I am sure it will affect quite a lot of businesses.”

Christine McGill of the News Rack newsagent is located three miles from the plant.

Asked if many of her customers work at Michelin, she said: “I would say quite a few. I would say it will hit the place [Ballymena] hard in general living terms.

“It is the talk of the town. The television cameras have been here all day.”

Chair of the Assembly Enterprise Committee and SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone said that the announcement of the closure reveals that ministers are “asleep at the wheel” of Northern Ireland’s economy and comes after the company had “consistently flagged concerns about the viability of industry in the area with rising energy prices”.

He added: “Where is the response to spiralling energy costs and the massive grid infrastructure deficit throughout areas outside Belfast?

“These issues were raised with the Enterprise Minister and he has not resolved it.”