Northern Ireland

JTI Gallaher: Arlene Foster and Stephen Farry hold talks

The JTI Gallaher factory in Ballymena
Image caption The JTI Gallaher factory in Ballymena is among the largest employers in Northern Ireland

Two Northern Ireland Executive ministers have had what they described as a "useful" meeting with representatives of JTI Gallaher.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said options are being explored "to avoid the complete closure of the factory" in Ballymena, County Antrim.

Earlier this month, the Japanese-owned tobacco giant said it planned to shut the factory by 2017.

That would result in the loss of 877 jobs.

Mrs Foster said among the options being explored included support for research and development work, a category of activity that could attract taxpayer aid.

"We are in the unique position of having a considerable period of time to explore every available option to maintain some presence at Lisnafillan," she said.

Employment Minister Stephen Farry also attended the talks and further discussions are planned next month.

"The meeting indicated that JTI Gallaher management would commit to working with my department to explore all options should the consultation (with staff) result in a factory closure," he said.

The company said the introduction of the EU tobacco products directive had impacted on the plant.

It also added that the jobs could be relocated to Poland or Romania - which would result in a considerable saving on its wage bill in Ballymena of £57m.

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