Despite dismal weather conditions, the Ballymena ‘Rally for a Future’ brought a sizeable turnout onto the streets of the town centre at lunchtime.
The rally, organised by the Unite Trade Union, aims to highlight the need for jobs and investment in the area in the wake of the forthcoming job losses at JTI and Michelin.
In fact, the march to the Broadway bandstand took place on the same day that B&Q ceased trading in the town.
Local politicians including Ian Paisley MP and several assemblymen and councillors, incuding Deputy Mayor Timothy Gaston, turned up to show their support for the rally’s aims.
It may have been a little uncomfortable for the elected representatives because one of the main criticisms voiced by speakers was the perceived failure of politicians to act on the economic and employment front.
Around 150 -200 union activists, led by a pipe band, marched from the Unite offices to the speaking platform on Wellingston Street where they were applauded by several hundred onlookers.
Ireland Secretary of Unite, Jimmy Kelly, congratulated the organisers of the rally.
He said: “Today workers, students, traders and employers in Ballymena have demonstrated that they stand as one in the demand for jobs and investment.
“I also want to particularly thank Liam Neeson who sent a special message of support to the Rally. He has gone the extra mile and demonstrated his commitment to his hometown with real passion.
“This Rally sends the strongest possible signal to our political leaders that we need action to secure large-scale foreign investment to fill the gap left with the loss of Michelin and JTI-Gallaher.
“We will continue to build this campaign in partnership with the local community holding people’s assemblies to consider our next steps and put the hard questions to our politicians.
“We will hold Invest NI and Ministers accountable for their promises over the last weeks – they will be judged on their delivery”, Mr Kelly concluded.
In his message of support sent from New York, Liam Neeson said: “Without opportunity our incredible confident, talented and educated young people will be forced to leave taking their skils and creative potential away. Today’s rally for jobs and a future shows the people of Ballymena won’t let that happen. Today is the start of the fightback.
“Let this be the first day in a campaign that wins; a campaign that delivers for everyone in our town, for all traditions and backgrounds; a campaign that lights the path forwards for everyone in Northern Ireland”, he continued.