A grievous blow to NI that puts our energy policy in the spotlight

Morning View
Morning View

The closure of Michelin is a devastating blow to one of Northern Ireland’s largest towns.

The 860 redundancies are on top of the JTI Gallaher closure– almost 1,800 jobs gone in Ballymena.

This will hit an appallingly high proportion of families in a town that has a population under 30,000 people.

And as Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) points out, spending power in the region will be hammered, thus hitting small businesses.

But the consequences of yesterday’s news will reverberate well beyond Ballymena. Northern Ireland’s high energy costs are due to the fact that we are a small, isolated market, yet there is inconsistency in the political approach.

Sinn Fein dislike the ugliness of the North-South Interconnector, and want it buried. But that would cost an extra £500 million, and Sinn Fein utterly oppose savings in the one area they could be made – welfare (this newspaper revealed that the annual cost of Disability Living Allowance is up £200 million since 2010).

Sinn Fein (and it seems all main Stormont parties) reject the almost carbon free nuclear power. If Ireland used nuclear as much as France per capita, the island would have six reactors.

Stormont parties act as if wind power alone is the solution to energy. As Robin Greer wrote on these pages, Mark H Durkan, a fracking opponent, did not just rule out a £250 million waste-to-energy plant, but seemed to reject the technology.

We must, however, acknowledge that there are also issues in the Michelin closure outside NI control, relating to globalisation. Michelin cite the huge influx of tyres made in Asia.

In the meantime, Northern Ireland needs urgently to reform welfare, freeing up money for infrastructure, and to lower corporation tax. This will be no panacea at a time when UK rates are falling and the EU remains unhappy at any super low rates. But we have to try major business friendly policies.

Michelin is at least offering enhanced redundancy, but that will be limited consolation for affected families as Christmas approaches.