Northern Ireland

Defence firm Thales to cut jobs in Belfast and Crossgar

Missile warhead
Image caption Thales is seeking to future-proof its business

Defence engineering firm Thales is cutting 50 jobs from its operations in Northern Ireland, the BBC has learned.

It said global defence spending cutbacks mean they need to cut their east Belfast and Crossgar workforce by 10%.

The Northern Ireland arm of the company was originally Shorts Missile Defence until it was bought over by the French firm Thales in 2001.

They make defence products, chiefly ground-to-air missiles like the Starstreak.


The company told the BBC: "The current business environment is unlike anything we have experienced in recent years and prospects and programmes in our defence sector - both domestic and export - are experiencing significant reductions in volumes and workload."

Thales is seeking to future-proof its business because worldwide trends see governments cutting back on defence spending.

The loss of the 50 high-tech jobs will take place throughout 2013, and the company has begun the process of briefing staff.

It said it will "make every effort to minimise permanent job losses and provide support to those affected".

East Belfast MP Naomi Long described the job losses as "deeply regrettable".

"I have spoken with management at Thales, as well as Employment Minister Stephen Farry," the Alliance representative said.

"Discussions are currently on-going to assist staff who are being made redundant with a view to finding at least some of them work in similar fields, in an attempt to ensure as many workers as possible remain in gainful employment and that their expertise does not go to waste."

Michael Copeland from the UUP said the job losses at Thales were a "big blow to the local economy".

"These are well paid, high skilled jobs - precisely the type of jobs we should be creating in Northern Ireland. It is very disappointing to learn that we cannot even hold on to those which are already in place," the East Belfast MLA said.

Multi-million pound deal

Ironically, the decision to cut back staff in Northern Ireland comes just days after Thales signed a multi-million pound deal to supply the Starstreak missile to the army in Thailand.

The contract for the missile, made at the Northern Ireland plants, was announced during a visit to the UK by Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra earlier this week.

The deal stemmed from the missile's successful deployment during the London Olympics in August, where it served as a deterrent to air attack by terrorist groups.

It is understood the decision to cut the jobs was taken prior to the Thai contract being signed, but that it is not enough to alter the company decision as it looks ahead to overall markets.

In the first half of the year the Thales Group as a whole made profits of 138m euros, but director Luc Vigneron, said: "The increase in revenues in our civil activities mitigates the impact of strong budget pressures in defence and our results continue to improve."

Unfortunately for the 500 employees in Northern Ireland, their work is purely in the defence end of the business, which is not doing well.

The weapons-orientated section of the business has not made profits for the parent company since before 2008.

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