Northern Ireland economy faces uncertainty with double blow

Unions, politicians, and business leaders in Northern Ireland are expressing significant concerns over the economic impact following major developments with two of the region’s leading employers.

Airbus has agreed to acquire parts of Spirit AeroSystems’ operations in Belfast, a move that has stirred fears regarding job security for many employees. This transition is part of a larger deal where Boeing will purchase Spirit AeroSystems for $4.7 billion. However, the agreement only covers around 40% of the 3,500 workers at the Belfast plant. Spirit intends to sell other parts of the factory that do not support Airbus manufacturing programmes, raising concerns about the future of these operations.

Alan Perry, senior organiser at GMB Union, highlighted the uncertainty facing workers, describing them as being left “in limbo.” Meanwhile, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) representatives and members of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) have voiced their concerns, with DUP’s Ian Paisley Jr. suggesting that a single buyer for the entire site would be the most effective way to safeguard all jobs and maintain the site’s sustainability.

The historic Spirit Belfast operations, originally part of Short Bros, have played a crucial role in Northern Ireland’s aerospace industry. Michelle O’Neill, the First Minister of Northern Ireland, and Economy Minister Conor Murphy have both pledged to support Spirit and its workforce during this transition.

In another development, trading of shares in Harland & Wolff, the Belfast-based shipbuilder, was temporarily suspended as the company failed to publish independently audited accounts on time. The shipbuilder, which employs about 1,000 people across Belfast, Scotland, and Devon, is seeking a £200 million government loan guarantee to secure its finances.

GMB Union’s Perry commented that the suspension of Harland & Wolff’s shares was “concerning but not alarming,” adding that recent reassurances had been received about the company’s financial health.

Unite the Union estimates that an additional 7,000 jobs in Northern Ireland are linked to supplying Spirit AeroSystems’ plant, emphasising the broader economic impact of these developments.

Suzanne Wylie, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, underscored the importance of the Spirit site to the regional economy, noting its role in providing skilled jobs, boosting local supply chains, and enhancing Northern Ireland’s international reputation. She stressed that maintaining all parts of the business in Northern Ireland is crucial amidst the proposed ownership changes.

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