Workers at the famous Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast - where the RMS Titanic ocean liner was built - have urged the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to come to the yard’s rescue.
Mr Johnson is visiting Northern Ireland on Wednesday, 31 July, as part of his tour of the devolved regions of the UK and the trade union Unite is seeking to put Harland & Wolff’s plight at the top of his agenda. On Tuesday night Mr Johnson had a private meeting with Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, whose 10 MPs prop up the Conservatives and allow them to have a majority in Parliament.
I know how vital Harland and Wolff is to Northern Ireland.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) July 31, 2019
With it now facing closure, Boris Johnson must listen to the workers and back Labour's call to take it back into public ownership, so £1bn of shipbuilding contracts can be delivered in the UK.#SaveOurShipyard pic.twitter.com/5mJW5XmblO
On Wednesday he arrived at Stormont for talks with Sinn Fein and the other main political parties, in the hope of restoring power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
But the crisis at Harland & Wolff is threatening to distract politicians in Belfast.
Although the yard only employs 130 people - down from the thousands it employed in its heyday - it remains a powerful symbol of industrial strength, especially among the unionist and loyalist communities.
Irish language activists and anti-Brexit campaigners join Harland and Wolff shipyard workers to protest at @BorisJohnson visit at Stormont. Quite the scene as they all start singing “Save our shipyard” in Irish. pic.twitter.com/YK6J4855Rc— David Young (@DavidYoungPA) July 31, 2019
The unions have called on the government to nationalise Harland & Wolff but a UK government spokesman has the company’s predicament is "ultimately a commercial issue".
Dolphin, the majority owner of H&W, also has a fleet of four oil drilling rigs and two drillships but has been hit by a downturn in the industry.
The message is clear ⬇️— Unite the union (@unitetheunion) July 31, 2019
It is now up to prime minister Johnson’s government to seize the opportunity to save not only the jobs of workers currently employed at Harland and Wolff, but the thousands of direct and indirect jobs that could be created #SaveOurShipyard https://t.co/c8Ns6UUSbB
Formerly known as Fred. Olsen Energy, Dolphin had debt of just over US$1 billion at the end of 2018 and made a net loss of $300 million this year.
Dolphin was hit hard by the a collapse in oil prices from 2014 to 2016 and its major lenders - Danske Bank, DNB, SEB and Swedbank - are not impressed by its long-term plans to turn itself around.
Dolphin said in a statement on Wednesday: "Regretfully, the creditors of Dolphin Drilling ASA have not been able to agree on the terms for a consensual restructuring, and the secured creditors have demanded payment of all amounts outstanding under the secured debt of the company. As per the resolution of the board, the company will file for bankruptcy today.”
The RMS Titanic - which famously sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in 1912 - was the sister ship of two other liners, the Olympic and the Britannic, all of which were built at the Harland & Wolff yard.
Ironically Titanic Belfast - a museum which opened in 2012 - is now one of Northern Ireland’s biggest tourist attractions.
A short clip of my contribution to the Harland and Wolff @UniteunionNI @GMBNI rally today. Critical that the UK government intervene immediately to protect the jobs @irishcongress @NIC_ICTU #ReNationaliseNow https://t.co/lp1bbeiiOL— Owen Reidy (@owenreidy) July 30, 2019