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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 17:16 GMT
Talks under way to save shipyard
Harland and Wolff
The shipyard has been in decline for many years
Last ditch negotiations are under way in an effort to secure the future of the Belfast shipyard Harland and Wolff.

The company has put a proposal to the British Government for a restructuring of the business, but if it fails then it is expected Harlands will face closure.

This latest crisis has been prompted by the usual problems - a lack of new work - and now it is compounded by a shortage of money.

With the banks and the government unwilling to bail it out - and with large debts to its parent company, the Norwegian firm Olsen Energy, Harlands has been casting around for ways to finance another restructuring.

Redundancies

Founded in 1852 by Yorkshireman Edward Harland and a German, Gustav Wolff, the yard reached the pinnacle of international shipbuilding excellence with the launch of the ill-fated Titanic in 1912.

It has been the economic mainstay of loyalist east Belfast for decades.

On Thursday, the company put forward a business plan to the government which would involve about 140 further redundancies - and would see it focus on areas of business where it believes it can compete.

However, to raise the money, it needs to sell another chunk of its land - and this will require the backing of both the Stormont Enterprise Minister Reg Empey and Regional Development Minister Peter Robinson.

If the company fails to secure ministerial backing it will face little option but close the yard and management are already preparing to issue redundancy warning notices to all 500 workers in the shipbuilding company.

Taxpayers' money

The workforce was at its peak of 35,000 men during World War II and in the immediate post war period.

However, the yard faced serious financial difficulties from the mid-1960s when there were serious cashflow problems. By the mid-1960s it was in serious decline.

At one stage in 1966, the management of the yard went to the old Stormont government and pleaded for a subsidy because it did not have enough money to cover the next pay day.

That was the start of more than 30 years of subsidies, during which about 1,000m of taxpayers' money was pumped into Harland and Wolff to keep it afloat.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's business editor James Kerr reports:
"The shipyard seems to be like the cat with nine lives, but they are running out"
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