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Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
Yard's decades of decline
The Canberra is launched
1960: Launch of H&W's last cruise liner, the Canberra
The Belfast shipyard was founded in 1852 by Yorkshireman Edward Harland and a German, Gustav Wolff.

It reached the pinnacle of international shipbuilding excellence with the launch of the ill-fated Titanic in 1912.

Despite its untimely end after striking an iceberg in the north Atlantic, the Titanic was acknowledged as a luxurious liner fitted out by Belfast craftsmen to the highest standards of the day.

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

Wartime shipbuilding at H&W
139 ships built during World War II
During the conflict, the yard produced 139 naval vessels, including battleships and minesweepers.

The launch of the Canberra in 1960 marked the last cruise liner to be built at the Belfast yard.

Many believed this was a golden era, but in fact the yard was already on the slippery slope.

Contracts were not profitable and there were serious cashflow problems. By the mid-1960s the yard 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.

The once enormous workforce of thousands was shrinking rapidly towards the hundreds.

Workers on the march

The sprawling shipyard had been the economic mainstay of loyalist east Belfast for decades.

In 1971, soon after the Troubles began in Northern Ireland, thousands of shipyard workers went on the march in Belfast.

They were calling on the government to intern leaders of the of the Provisional IRA which had launched a campaign of bombings and gun attacks, mostly on the police and British Army.

Yard workers protest at Anglo Irish Agreement
1986: Yard workers protest at Anglo Irish Agreement
Three years later, men from the yard played a key role in the Ulster Workers' Council strike aimed at bringing down the power-sharing government of the day.

In 1986 they protested again, this time against the Anglo-Irish Agreement which gave the government of the Republic of Ireland a say in the running of Northern Ireland.

During the darkest days of the Troubles the closure of the shipyard would have been a major blow to Northern Ireland's struggling economy.

But more than that, the government feared the prospect of putting thousands of unemployed men on the streets of Belfast.

Harland and Wolff shipyard
H&W's huge building dock - now it's empty
The government - which had taken over the yard in 1975 - put it back into private ownership in 1989.

Politicians and church leaders were among those who bought shares to support the management employee buy-out in partnership with the Norwegian shipping magnate, Fred Olsen.

There were attempts to enter the fast-growing and lucrative market for cruise liners but there was bitter disappointment in March 2000 when an order for the new Queen Mary II went to a French yard.

Harland and Wolff's order book was empty and management issued the remaining 1,745 staff with protective redundancy notices.

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