A LOCAL councillor has accused BT of "stalling" and "dithering" at a recent meeting on the issue of 300 potential BT job losses in Enniskillen.

Alliance Councillor Eddie Roofe told Fermanagh and Omagh District Council Chamber on Tuesday that a 30-minute meeting had been convened with BT last week, but claimed it had proved to be "incredibly frustrating", and a "masterclass in not answering the question" on BT's part.

Councillor Roofe said he was particularly stunned when he heard one of BT’s Customer Care Directors say that the company's priority was "the welfare of staff", at a time when  fears are that hundreds of Enniskillen workers are facing unemployment.

"Those words still ring in my ear," Councillor Roofe told councillors at the Grange, Omagh.

"This was a slap in the face of the people who are looking at a job loss after 30 years. It was an embarrassing turn of phrase." 

At Tuesday's meeting, the Chamber heard impassioned representations from councillors, who discussed ways to highlight the plight facing hundreds of local BT workers.

SDLP Councillor Adam Gannon said the potential job losses had placed such workers in a "terrible position".

"They [the workers] are at the heart of the issue," Councillor Gannon said. "Their lives and livelihoods are at stake.

"They have to put food on the table, and heat their homes. They are massively worried, and there is still a great deal of uncertainty."

Councillor Gannon said that he welcomed a recent statement from the Minister of Finance, Conor Murphy, which warned BT of "serious reputational damage".

"This is a good step, but it needs to be the starting point," the Erne West councillor said.

"Ultimately, these companies only care about their bottom line, and this is where Conor Murphy and Invest NI need to intervene."

Councillor Gannon then proposed that the Council write to Mr. Murphy to investigate the possibility of "packages and grants" that could help keep jobs in Enniskillen.

He also mooted the idea of sanctions on BT.

"He [Mr. Murphy] needs to be asked if he is exploring some sort of sanction along the lines of government contracts or Invest NI funding.

"Even if he says this is being looked at, well, that will have a massive impact."

A later proposal from the Vice-Chair, Anne Marie Donnelly, requested an urgent meeting with Mr. Murphy.

UUP Councillor Diana Armstrong said that a recent meeting between the Council and BT proved "very frustrating", and served to add to an ongoing “lack of clarity" among the local workforce.

"Employees haven't been getting answers, and we need to look for solutions," said Councillor Armstrong.

"We have an excellent workforce in Enniskillen who have regularly outperformed any other district in the UK.

"Is there an option to look at opportunities for those employees to test innovative and new products for BT, in situ, in Enniskillen, as an outreach of BT actual? They have that top-level experience."

The Chair, SF Councillor Thomas O'Reilly, agreed to add this question to the earlier letter proposed by Councillor Gannon.

UUP Councillor John McClaughry told the Chamber that during last week's meeting, it emerged that another company, Telereal, was also involved with BT.

“The only piece of info that came out of [last week's] meeting was the name of another company [Telereal] that is involved,” the Erne North councillor told the Chamber.

"They are a global leader with links to Orange, but they are not being named at all. Maybe they need to be included in anything that we send to BT/EE, as this company is involved here somewhere?"

SF Councillor John Feely blasted what he described as "obscene" profits from BT while local staff face an uncertain future.

"Last year, BT made £1.73bn in profit," Councillor Feely said. "It galls me that they take public subsidies while making obscene profits, all while treating staff like this."

Weighing in on the debate, Councillor Roofe said that the figure of £1.73bn in profit was a pre-tax figure, and that the company had actually made £1.9bn after tax due to government subsidies.

"BT made even more after subsidies, yet they used those subsidies to take jobs from Enniskillen," he said.

"This is the reality for a company which is getting taxpayers' money to facilitate work."

Councillor Roofe proposed that the Council seek a meeting with BT after the closure of the Voluntary Paid Leavers scheme offered by the company until Thursday, March 28.

"It's clear that they don't want to speak to us before that date," he claimed.

"We should arrange a meeting after this, and get clarity on what the next steps are."