Belfast — Ulster's bleak unemployment level, which is already twice that of Great Britain, may not improve until at least 1982, according to the Northern Ireland Economic Council.
In its annual report the council says that unemployment could top 100,000 by next July. Sir Charles Carter, chairman of the council, said: "The prospects for 1980-81 are deeply worrying."
The present figure of nearly 90,000 represents an unemployment rate of 15.6 percent. In the first 10 months of this year over 10,000 jobs have been lost.
One of the biggest blows recently was the announcement (Oct. 14) by the British industrial giant ICI that its plant at Kilroot, north of Belfast, was to close with the loss of 1,160 jobs. The company's decision was part of a restructuring program throughout its United Kingdom plants, where a total of 4, 000 jobs will be lost. But Kilroot and another plant in West Scotland are the only two to be closed completely in a bid to stem the loss which ICI says has amounted to $:38 million in the last six months.
This has been brought about by factors including a world glut of synthetic fibers production, rising material and energy costs, US imports, a high exchange rate, and domestic inflation. The Kilroot redundancies have created despair in the nearby town of Carrickfergus.
In the 1960s, Carrickfergus was a "boom town," benefiting from the synthetic fiber industry centered on ICI and another major producer, Courtaulds. But over the past two years cutbacks and closures have led to more than 3,000 layoffs.
One of the more worrying aspects of the downward spiral is the way in which the larger companies have found themselves in difficulty. In early summer, the West German Grundig Company announced the closure of its factory at Dunmurry, south of Belfast, with the loss of 1,000 jobs. In September the American-based Du Pont company closed its Orlon plant at Londonderry and another 420 jobs were lost. The Belfast shipyard of Harland & Wolff has reduced its labor force by 1, 000 in the past two years because of the decline in the world demand for shipping.
Equally worrying for Ulster is the loss of jobs in small firms. These are not as spectacular as the closure of a large multinational plant, but they add steadily to the numbers in the unemployment queue. The textile, linen, and shirt industries have been badly hit.
The jobs crisis is so bad that leaders from the Roman Catholic and Protestant communities have been trying to find some common ground from which to ameliorate the consequences. Prime Minister Thatcher does not intend to alter her economic policy, and high interest rates and a strong pound sterling are likely to continue.