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Tough Times in "the Wee Six"

Northern Ireland, the statelet masquerading as a country, is undergoing tough economic times. The closure of the Maze internment camp threw hundreds of prison warders on to the unemployment rolls. With the advent of the Good Friday Agreement members of the security forces, including police, began to face the prospect that only emigration could offer hope of employment. Now comes news that the last ship to be built by the world famous Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast-yes, the shipyard that built the ill-fated liner Titanic that sank on its maiden cross-Atlantic voyage-will be completed in a matter of weeks.

The remaining workforce will total just 130 employees. At one time it numbered 35,000.

"When I started here there were 24,000 and we're down to a handful now. It's like a dead city down here now where it used to be a teeming city." So said shop steward Drew Kane. "It's the end of an era."

No new ships are on order.

Said Bill Alexander, the company's Chief Executive Officer, "This marks a new chapter in the company's history as we adapt to new markets and reposition ourselves as a successful engineering services company."

That Northern Ireland, or 'the Wee Six" as it has been commonly called since it was partitioned from the Twenty-Six counties that comprise the Republic of Ireland, is facing tough times, was further underlined when the world famous Belleek Pottery recently revealed it would continue to operate a three-day work week.

It has been operating on a restricted schedule since August 2002, and if sales of its parian ware do not pick up soon, its workforce will also shrink.

A fall in tourism and a decline in the American market have been blamed for the difficulties the pottery is experiencing.


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