Northern unions call for Boris Johnson to nationalise Harland & Wolff

Ailing Belfast shipyard said to be just ‘days’ from closing doors

Trade union leaders in the North are appealing to the new UK prime minister Boris Johnson to nationalise Belfast's historic Harland & Wolff shipyard to save it from closure.

Unions have warned the yard, where the Titanic was built, is just “hours and days” from closing its doors and is struggling to find a buyer.

Susan Fitzgerald, Unite's regional coordinating officer, said Mr Johnson should step up to save jobs and the shipyard, whose giant cranes dominate the Belfast sky line, but which currently has no contracts. The operation, whose majority Norwegian owner filed for bankruptcy in June, has been in existence for 158 years.

Ms Fitzgerald said: “Harland & Wolff – with the world’s sixth-largest dry dock – is facing insolvency next week. If that happens, the skills of the workers, as well as the yard’s infrastructure, will be lost, diminishing the economy’s potential now and into the future.


“Harland & Wolff is of vital economic and strategic importance – and the asset-stripping vultures are already circling. The government needs to intervene immediately to nationalise the ship yard, securing it and the jobs that workers and their families depend on,” she added.

Ms Fitzgerald said that the British government should follow the Scottish government’s lead when it comes to Harland & Wolff, pointing to the possible nationalisation of the Ferguson shipyard on the Clyde, which is also facing an uncertain future.

First serious test

According to Michael Mulholland, regional organiser for the GMB in Northern Ireland, Harland & Wolff could prove to be Mr Johnson's first serious test in the North and a key issue for his DUP supporters.

“Working people and the trade union movement need to know whether jobs are a red line when it comes to the DUP’s support for the Tory government,” Mr Mulholland said.

“In the short-term, we are calling on the government to nationalise Harland & Wolff and we are calling on the DUP and others to use all their influence to ensure this happens,” he added.

Harland & Wolff management in Belfast have said the company is still in negotiations with a number of potential bidders in an effort to agree a sale that achieves the best outcome for all stakeholders.

Francess McDonnell

Francess McDonnell

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