Northern Ireland’s shipbuilding asbestos legacy tops £40m in compensation

Northern Ireland’s shipbuilding asbestos legacy tops £40m in compensation

The United Kingdom has paid more than £40m in compensation for asbestos-related illnesses in Northern Ireland in just over a decade, according to a new report from BBC News has revealed.

The prevalence of asbestos-related disease in the county is linked to the historical shipbuilding industry, with more than 30,000 Belfast shipbuilders employed at the height of the industry.

Asbestos has historically been used widely in shipbuilding because it is inexpensive, strong and heat resistant. It was used in insulation, concrete, floor tiles, wall panels, fireproofing materials and protective clothing.

The Department for the Economy handles the payments for asbestos-related illness, as well as managing claims against the former shipbuilding company Harland and Wolff.

Martin Hanna, a solicitor who specialises in asbestos-related cases, said: “The amount of compensation being paid out and scale doesn’t surprise me because asbestos was a very dynamic insulating material which was extensively used in all sectors over decades.

“If you take the shipbuilding industry in Northern Ireland, during the 1950s and 60s, upwards of 40,000 people were working there, it was like a city in itself. And those people were exposed to vast amounts of asbestos.”

He added: “A diagnosis of something like mesothelioma is one of the most horrific diagnoses that you can receive. It is a very painful death.

“In my opinion, you can’t get those individuals and their families enough compensation, because it’s a devastating condition which ruins lives, and really, what is the price of a life?”

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