Page last updated at 10:17 GMT, Monday, 6 April 2009 11:17 UK

Ministers 'in dark' over closure

Worker at Visteon plant in south Belfast

Government officials who were in talks to save a west Belfast car factory were not told that it was shutting down.

Visteon closed its doors in Finaghy last Tuesday making 210 workers at the plant redundant.

The government may now try to claw back more than £97,000 given in grant aid to Visteon six years ago.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said her department held meetings with Visteon managers in February and March and had been due to meet on Wednesday.

"The decision to place Visteon UK in administration was taken without any reference to Invest NI or the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment," she said.

In answer to Assembly questions put forward by West Belfast MP Gerry Adams, Mrs Foster said Invest NI had met Visteon managers to discuss help and training to encourage the company to continue its Belfast operation. But discussions were overtaken by the closure.

It has also emerged that Invest NI paid £97,210 to the company in 2003.

Workers at the plant are now beginning the second week of a sit-in an effort to secure a better redundancy deal amid claims Ford reneged on guarantees about severance payments.

Last week, workers at two plants in England were also made redundant and joined in the protests started by the Belfast staff. Union representatives from a sister plant in London were heading for court to fight eviction.

Talks in New York could secure a better deal for 600 workers across the UK who had lost their jobs at Visteon's car factories.


Leaders from the Unite union are calling for compensation from the company's former owners, car giant Ford.

On Sunday, workers held a family day in the city to show support for the workers' sit in.

Mr Adams said: "The representatives of Unite will meet with senior management. I think that gives all of us the opportunity to lobby."

He said he had spoken to Ford's Europe CEO John Fleming and had already raised the issue with him earlier last week. He said a statement on the dispute was also expected from the influential New York City Comptroller's office.

"Workers' rights must be protected. Sinn Fein is committed to pursuing this issue. We will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Visteon workers until they are treated properly," Mr Adams said.

Union representatives said if Wednesday's talks did not deliver, then they were prepared to continue their protest sit-in.

Workers at the plant have received food and support from the local community.

They were also given 5,000 euro by workers at the Waterford Crystal plant in the Republic of Ireland in a show of solidarity.

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