The First Minister, Peter Robinson, says he is impressed with the determination of workers at Coleraine’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing office to keep their jobs.
Staff met with the DUP leader and MP for the area, Gregory Campbell, last Wednesday and put a number of options to him in the hope that he can raise the issue with Prime Minister David Cameron.
Earlier this year, a proposal was made to transfer all work from County Hall to Swansea in Wales, a move which would result in the loss of 300 jobs.
At a meeting of the environment committee last month, Alliance MLA Anna Lo said £22m a year would be removed from the Northern Ireland economy if the move went ahead.
Among the suggestions put to the First Minister were devolution of vehicle licensing to Northern Ireland, as well as highlighting the irony to the Prime Minister of removing jobs when he visits for aninvestment conference here later this month.
Mr Robinson said he would take the ideas on board, agreeing to raise the issue with Mr Cameron and speak to Finance Minister Simon Hamilton.
He told the audience: “You have the jobs that are here in Coleraine. You also have the jobs in Armagh and Omagh and so forth, but you also have the knock-on jobs because these people put money into the economy, to local shops and local businesses.
“When they don’t have the money to spend, then local businesses are hurt and jobs are lost there as well.
“So I think we are talking about the loss of 500 jobs were we not to win this campaign.”
Jonathan Holmes, who will have worked in the Driver and Vehicle Agency office for 13 years this week, said morale was currently low but added that staff would continue to press the issue.
“Mr Robinson told us he was impressed that we were putting up a fight for the jobs,” said the 33-year-old from Limavady.
The office – one of the biggest employers in the Coleraine area – currently has husbands and wives working there, as well as a family which includes a mother, father and daughter in employment.
Amanda O’Donnell, 40, from Coleraine has worked in the DVA office for 21 years and is the branch secretary for NIPSA.
“I am hopeful for the future,” she said. “We have already seen all the parties agree to a motion opposing the proposal, and we have a trade union delegation travelling to London next month, so it is all very encouraging.”
Ms O’Donnell added that they had been told a decision may be made on the matter before Christmas.
“The local people are on our side, the politicians here are on our side, the Chamber of Commerce has backed us and we are hopeful we can retain these jobs,” she added.
Mr Campbell said: “There is an extremely strong case and cross-party support to retain the jobs.
“The DUP, along with others, have been campaigning on this matter directly with Government ministers in Westminster, and I hope that the First Minister will be able to promote the workers’ case at an even higher level.”
Local DUP MLA George Robinson welcomed the visit of the First Minister, and said: “ The First Minister is fully behind the campaign to protect the employment in all the DVA centres throughout Northern Ireland, and indeed has welcomed the unanimous and cross party outcome to the debate last week in the Assembly on the retention of these jobs which I proposed.
“Those of us who have been fighting this case over a number of years are still committed to securing this vital source of employment for the region and, as history proves, will aid the staff in whatever ways we can”.