Bidders for Harland & Wolff must provide details by Friday

Unions calling for stricken 160-year-old Belfast shipyard to be nationalised

Potential bidders for the stricken Harland & Wolff shipyard must provide details of any proposals that could keep it afloat by midday on Friday, according to union leaders in Belfast.

The joint administrators to the yard have confirmed that a number of “interested parties and potential bidders” have made contact with them and that their priority is to “find a viable, commercial solution” for the historic east Belfast shipyard.

But an arrangement that allowed Harland & Wolff’s 130 workers to be temporarily laid off expires on Friday and union leaders believe the best option for the yard and its workforce is re-nationalisation by the UK government.

Susan Fitzgerald, the regional co-ordinating officer with the trade union Unite, said shipyard workers, who have maintained a 24-hour protest at the yard since it entered administration, have "kept the door open for the business to be transferred as a going concern" but UK government has, so far, let them down.


Ms Fitzgerald highlighted the Scottish government’s willingness to step in to save the Ferguson shipyard in Port Glasgow, which could also enter administration this week, as an example.

“Unfortunately the failure to date of the UK government to intervene and take the facility into public ownership has left the workforce reliant on bids coming in from the private sector.

“Serious bidders will base their offers on a genuine interest in taking the shipyard forward as a going concern with all the workers’ jobs and skills intact but they need to be aware that if the bids do not reflect a genuine interest, this workforce is going nowhere,” Ms Fitzgerald added.


Both Unite and the GMB union are adamant that renationalisation would give Harland & Wolff, which has been in business for 160 years, a lifeline.

Ms Fitzgerald said: “The skills of this workforce could be directed at a wide-range of productive sectors, including shipbuilding, renewables infrastructure and civil infrastructure.

“Investment in such opportunities offers the potential for thousands of highly skilled jobs to be created here in Belfast in the just transition to a more sustainable economy”, Ms Fitzgerald said.

Denise Walker, senior organiser for the GMB union, has called on political leaders in the North to also "use any influence they have to compel the UK government to act".

“In recent days and under pressure from the workforce there, the Scottish government has committed itself to nationalise Ferguson Marine shipyard. There can be no excuses for protracted failure to act similarly in Belfast,” she said.

Francess McDonnell

Francess McDonnell

Francess McDonnell is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in business