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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 06:19 GMT 07:19 UK
Green light for H&W land sale
Harland and Wolff
The shipyard has been in decline for many years
Belfast shipbuilder Harland and Wolff has been given the green light to sell part of its land which would go towards restructuring costs at the struggling yard.

Northern Ireland Regional Development Minister Peter Robinson has agreed in principle to allow part of the shipyard's land to be sold for redevelopment.

The firm, which is owned by the Norwegian company Olsen Energy, has been unable to secure enough shipbuilding work.

And a lack of money to keep the business going during continuing hard times means it has been threatened with closure.

I do not want people's hopes to be raised and to be subsequently dashed

Sir Reg Empey
Enterprise minister

The money raised by the deal will help to pay for a restructuring of the business.

Mr Robinson told the assembly's regional development committee on Thursday that the proposed land deal involving 78 acres was in the "public interest".

Enterprise Minister Sir Reg Empey said the public interest would be protected in any deal aimed at saving Harland and Wolff.

Sir Reg said there was still some way to go before a deal was finalised but the public interest would be a key factor.

"I do not want people's hopes to be raised and to be subsequently dashed," he said.

"If people read Mr Robinson's statement to the committee, he made it clear there was still much to be done.
Peter Robinson: Regional Development Minister
Peter Robinson: Approved the land sale on Thursday

"He also indicated wider political consultation was needed, the executive has to be involved and a range of issues have to be considered."

Sir Reg said his department would have to ensure the company had the necessary resources to fund the plan.

First Minister David Trimble said the executive would probably look at the matter next week.

"We will look at that and consider the matter then," he said.

"We haven't looked at all of the details yet."

Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan said he did not want to pre-empt the executive's discussion of the matter.

Something isn't right, something stinks about someone grabbing at your crown jewels

David Ervine
East Belfast MLA

"We are aware that there are some proposals. They will have to make their way to the executive and the executive will consider them on the basis of the information we then have," he said.

East Belfast Progressive Unionist assembly member David Ervine said it was time to stop being sentimental about the shipyard and let it close if it was not a viable operation.

"Something isn't right, something stinks about someone grabbing at your crown jewels," he said.

"Harland and Wolff were conceded Titanic Quarter in order to offer some form of stability for Fred Olsen Energy - their parent company."

The decision was welcomed by Bobby Carson from the trade union GMB.

"Obviously the trade unions, along with the company and a number of politicians, have been pressing for support for the company's business plan," he said.

"I think it is positive news that Peter Robinson has given the go-ahead and obviously he has done that on the advice and support of Reg Empey, the Minister for Enterprise Trade and Investment."

However, the agreement still requires the formal approval of the power-sharing Northern Ireland executive.

'Entertainment sector'

Last month the company announced that it was to lay off another 140 staff following a raft of redundancies over the last few years.

Harlands' management had placed their hopes of stopping the business closing altogether on a restructuring plan.

The company has been preparing to issue redundancy warning notices to the yard's remaining workers in case the recovery plan is not accepted.

Olsen Energy has been increasingly focusing on the opportunity to make money by making its land in Belfast available for development for other uses.

There are plans for the area around Harlands to be developed as a new commercial and entertainment sector called the Titanic Quarter, after the famous liner built at Harlands.

GMB union spokesperson Bobby Carson:
"I think it is positive news that Peter Robinson has given this the go-ahead"
The DUP's Sammy Wilson:
"Any business proposal is risky"
See also:

22 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Shipyard's future hangs in balance
22 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Lay-offs herald fears for shipyard
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