Belfast’s iconic ‘Titanic’ shipyard on the brink of collapse

Harland & Wolff

Time has run out for Belfast’s iconic Harland and Wolff shipyard to find a buyer.

Workers had been urging the government to throw them a lifeline before Monday – an extended deadline for a deal.

They have staged a protest at the gates of the yard for the last week but have since been told that administrators will be appointed on Monday afternoon.

Speaking ahead of the announcement, shipyard worker Barry Reid said: “I’m fighting day and night for this place.

“I’m willing to stay on for as long as it takes until one of our politicians decides to get off their backside.”

His brother Eddie added: “There’s a lot of people whose fathers came over here 40, 50, 60 years ago to settle in Belfast because of the shipyard.

“It means a lot, not just to Belfast but to the United Kingdom as a whole.”

Unions urged prime minister Boris Johnson, who visited Belfast last week, to re-nationalise the yard.

The government said it had “every sympathy for the workers” but that it was “ultimately a commercial issue”.

The firm’s Norwegian parent company, Dolphin Drilling, put Harland and Wolff up for sale last year.

Exclusive negotiations with the sole potential buyer proved inconclusive, putting 132 jobs on the line.

The shipyard, which opened in 1861, employed 30,000 people in its heyday.

It played a pivotal role in both world wars but is renowned for the building of Titanic.

The liner, ironically branded “unsinkable”, was unprecedented in scale with three million rivets used on the hull.

It took 3,000 men two years to complete the task and 20 horses were required just to transport the main anchor.

Robert Childs, the fourth generation of his family to work in the shipyard, said: “It is very emotional.

“I’ve worked for this company for 37 years now and it’s absolutely in the blood… it’s in Belfast’s DNA.

“This city was built around this company and it would be a terrible shame if we were to lose it,” he added.

Until recently, it has been engaged in the restoration of offshore oil rigs and been building renewable energy turbines.

Gavin Robinson, the DUP MP for East Belfast, says the work has dried up but the yard still has vision.

He said: “We have a national shipbuilding strategy which the government is embarking upon, written by a man who was the chief executive of Harland and Wolff, Sir John Parker, so the work is going to be there.

“We just have this difficulty in this short space of time where there isn’t any work at this stage,” he added.

For decades, the two yellow shipyard cranes have dominated the Belfast skyline.

Known locally as “Samson” and “Goliath”, some might regard their loss as biblical.