UK committed to £61m aid plan for Hualon plant

Britain yesterday restated its commitment to a plan to subsidise a Northern Ireland textile factory being built by Hualon, a controversial Taiwanese company. Baroness Denton, Northern Ireland Economy Minister, met EC competition and regional officials dealing with the UK's plan to provide £61m for the plant. Textile companies throughout Europe have mounted a challenge to stop the aid being given in the European Court of Justice, which has demanded further clarification of the EC's position.

The Hualon aid was originally blocked by the EC, but the ruling was retracted after strong lobbying from the UK Government. Sources in Brussels said Baroness Denton was attempting to head off calls for another EU inquiry.

The Northern Ireland Office would only confirm that Baroness Denton met officials, including EU competition commissioner Karel Van Miert. The Government argues that the project would create 1,800 jobs at a factory producing low-value material of the sortalready imported from the Far East.

Opponents believe Hualon will produce high-value goods in direct competition with UK and European factories.

Hualon has been tainted by fraud scandals. Its head, Oung Ta-ming, has been released on bail pending investigation into an £81m default on the payment of shares.

Last year a non executive director of the Northern Ireland Industrial Development Board, Jennifer D'Abo, resigned after saying important financial details about the project had been withheld from her.