Northern Ireland's £9m handout to United Airlines 'madness', warns MLA
The Northern Ireland Executive's decision to give United Airlines millions of pounds without scrutiny to keep the Belfast to Newark air route open is "madness", an Alliance politician has claimed.
Lagan Valley MLA Trevor Lunn was speaking after a meeting of the Assembly's Public Accounts Committee, in which it was revealed that the Executive had rushed through approval for the £9m aid deal - £6m of which will come from the Department for the Economy.
The committee also heard that concerns about the value for money of the transaction had been expressed by the department's permanent secretary.
"This move by the Executive is an act of madness," said Mr Lunn. "For the department to consent to giving millions of pounds to United Airlines each year in the absence of any detailed business case is breath-taking, particularly when it appears to have disregarded the concerns of the permanent secretary.
"There remains no guarantee United will even stay beyond three years. The Executive has effectively promised this money without any proper scrutiny in place, and questions need asked."
Mr Lunn's intervention came as it emerged the Executive is poised to step in with a rescue funding package to save the troubled City of Derry Airport.
The loss-making airport's future was dealt a heavy blow this week with Ryanair's decision to cut services to London and Faro and reduce flights to Liverpool.
Talks on a rescue package have been ongoing between the airport board, Derry City and Strabane District Council and the DUP and Sinn Fein.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the "disappointing" Ryanair announcement had threatened the airport's "future existence".
But he also indicated that Stormont was willing to intervene and save it.
"It is incumbent upon us at the Executive level to deal with that," Mr McGuinness said.
"I am totally confident that we will be able to rescue the situation at City of Derry."