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Air subsidy objector 'is no friend to NI's people'

By Noel McAdam

Published 08/11/2016

Ecomony Minister Simon Hamilton
Ecomony Minister Simon Hamilton

A mystery complainant against the Executive's £9m subsidy to United Airlines - which was overruled by the EU - is "no friend of Northern Ireland", the Economy Minister has told the Assembly.

The DUP's Simon Hamilton said the complainant may have been a rival airport, or more likely another airline, but under EU rules the Executive is "not privy" to who it is.

He also revealed the Executive went to the European Commission over the package at the insistence of United Airlines, who have only received £1m of it so far and are paying it back.

The SDLP's Sinead Bradley said it was "quite disturbing" there appeared to have been no communication between the Executive and the European Commission before the package was put in place.

"There was no room for blunder, and yet blunder has happened", she added.

But Mr Hamilton hit back: "Ultimately it didn't work, but faced with the same set of circumstances I would do the same thing."

He said his job is to "stand up for Northern Ireland, to do my best for Northern Ireland", and the Executive did not believe the three-year package amounted to unfair competition.

"We did not believe that having one flight a day was in any way unfair competition compared to Dublin, where there are 155 flights (to north America) every week," he said.

TUV leader Jim Allister asked the identity of the complainant and argued there had been a failure for many years even before devolution to develop a "strategic, holistic approach to develop the airport, with the roads around it the same as they were 10 years ago.

Mr Hamilton said he conceded: "Perhaps because we have left the three airports in Northern Ireland too much to their own devices."

Earlier, First Minister Arlene Foster spoke of her "deep regret" over the loss of the United Airlines service from Belfast to New York.

And she said it was a practical example of the need for the UK to leave the European Union.

Speaking at Question Time in the Assembly, she said: "If we weren't in the European Union we would have been able to do it."

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