Sinn Féin demands probe into car parts plant closure

There should be a full investigation into the controversial closure of the Visteon car parts plant in Belfast, Sinn Féin said today.

There should be a full investigation into the controversial closure of the Visteon car parts plant in Belfast, Sinn Féin said today.

The manufacturing company, a spin-off from car giant Ford, ended a bitter dispute with its workers on Sunday when staff voted to accept improved redundancy terms following a sit-in at the west Belfast site.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams told the Assembly that the workers in the North and Britain who pressed for a better deal deserved credit for the outcome, but he said questions remained over the episode.

“They have conducted their campaign with dignity and unity,” said Mr Adams, as former Visteon workers looked on from the public gallery.

“They have staged a sit-in at the plant for the last 36 days.

“As a result of these efforts and the public support for their campaign, the Visteon Corporation has been forced to negotiate a resolution.”

But Mr Adams said his party was pressing for a full investigation into any public funding used to support the factory and into the pension arrangements for workers.

To ensure that Sinn Féin’s full list of concerns were read into the parliamentary record, and despite the speaking time limits imposed on individual Assembly members, Mr Adams and five other party colleagues read sections of a lengthy speech attacking the handling of the factory closure.

Mr Adams said he had raised questions with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment to determine possible levels of funding supplied by Invest NI and the Industrial Development Board.

The party has also raised workers’ concerns over pension schemes and has been in contact with the Pensions Regulator, the Minister for Employment and Learning, and the private company handling Visteon UK’s administration.

The Sinn Féin president said he will also be contacting the New York City Comptroller and members of the United States Congress over the affair.

He was joined by Sinn Féin MLAs Jennifer McCann, Paul Maskey, Paul Butler, Sue Ramsay and Fra McCann who took part in the debate on the issue sponsored by the party.

Democratic Unionist junior minister Jeffrey Donaldson also told the Assembly he had concerns over how workers were handled and that the new deal from Visteon did not extend to all workers from the plant.

Mr Donaldson said employment law should be reviewed to ensure workers’ rights are protected.

Ulster Unionist Basil McCrea said he had visited the west Belfast plant during the workers’ sit-in and he echoed Sinn Féin concerns over the failure to save the factory.

The SDLP’s Alex Attwood said the workers’ campaign had succeeded in attracting public support and had set down a marker for large corporations.

Mr Adams said: “I would like, on behalf of the Assembly, to welcome workers from the west Belfast Visteon plant who are here with us today. They have conducted their campaign with dignity and unity.

“They have staged a sit-in at the plant for the last 36 days.

“As a result of these efforts and the public support for their campaign, the Visteon Corporation has been forced to negotiate a resolution.”

On Sunday the former Visteon staff backed a deal to end the bitter dispute over the collapse of the Belfast factory by 147-34 votes.

There are improved redundancy payments and compensation for holiday pay and in lieu of notice.

They have refused to leave the Finaghy premises until the payments are actually in their bank accounts.

Around 600 jobs were lost at Visteon’s three plants, in Belfast and in Basildon and Enfield in England.

The staff objected to the original settlement offered to staff and demanded the same entitlements as Ford workers.

Mr Adams said he and his party had been directly involved in talks around the future of the west Belfast site at various points over recent years and said the full circumstances of the closure must be probed.

“The Belfast workers worked for Ford,” he said. “Some of them had given up to 30 years service to Ford, through the worst times of the conflict.

“When they were presented with an assurance by Ford that they would have mirror terms and conditions, in employment and pensions, with lifetime protection, they agreed to the ’spin-off’.

“In Sinn Féin’s view Ford cannot evade its moral, ethical and contractual obligations to the workers.”

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