O’Neills to lay off 950 staff as collapse in demand cripples manufacturers

STRABANE-based sportswear giant O’Neills became the latest business to suffer the impact of the Covid-19 last night, with 950 layoffs across the island until further notice.

The La Mon Hotel also said yesterday that it will temporarily lay off the majority of its 190 staff. The north Down hotel said it will remain open for business, but appealed for clarity from government on financial assistance, and called for urgent intervention from the Executive to protect all businesses in Northern Ireland.

It came just hours after the Bank of England cut interest rates from 0.25 per cent to a record low 0.1 per cent, in a further emergency move to shore up an economy shaken by the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s understood major airlines will similarly move to temporarily lay off staff in the coming days. Aer Lingus is to halve the working hours and pay of staff as it moves to cut its capacity by 75 per cent.

O’Neills’ managing director Kieran Kennedy said last night that the drastic measure to lay off workers followed the collapse in demand in the face of widespread cancellation of sporting activities.

He said it was the only option to safeguard the long-term future of the company.

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O’Neills employs around 750 in the north, most of them based at its Strabane factory. Around 200 are employed at its operation in Walkinstown in Dublin.

It’s understood that the firm had initially tried to reduce staff to a two-day week, but was left to virtually close the entire operation at 6pm on Thursday.

The new O’Neills shop on Royal Avenue in Belfast which was officially opened by Mayor Daniel Baker. Picture: Hugh Russell

“It is not yet known for how long this will continue,” said Mr Kennedy. “However given the latest information to hand it is likely to be until Tuesday 5th May at the earliest.”

He said the company was awaiting clarity from the Department of Economy in relation to support for our employees.

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Apologising to the workforce, the managing director added: “We’d like to make categorically clear this is not a closure, it is a pause based on circumstances beyond our control. We fully intend to be back in action stronger than ever as soon as possible.”

Irish think tank, the Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI) said the total number of job losses in the Republic is set to pass 350,000 in the next few weeks, more than the total lost in the four years after the 2008 financial crash.

The north is fast closing in on the 40,000 jobs it lost between 2008 and 2012. An estimated 10,000 jobs have been lost in the north’s hospitably sector to date alone.

The economic think tank said only a massive state intervention can prevent a deep recession.

Meanwhile the surging demand for food is creating jobs in some sectors of the economy.

Chicken giant Moy Park said yesterday it needs hundreds of temporary workers to meet the surge in demand following recent panic buying at supermarkets.

But while manufacturers for retail are witnessing a spike in demand, the food service industry, which produces produce for the hospitality sector, is bracing itself for catastrophe.

Chief executive of Manufacturing NI, Stephen Kelly, said:

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