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Belfast International Airport defends sponsoring DUP dinner as bid to create jobs

By Jonathan Bell

Belfast International Airport has defended sponsoring a DUP dinner saying it was a bid to create jobs and that it lobbies and supports all Northern Ireland parties and takes part in their events.

Sinn Fein MLA Declan Kearney criticised the airport's involvement saying he was concerned about the transparency of the event and who was to benefit. 

Tables of 10 at the event held in the Galgorm Resort cost £1,500 for those organisations or people attending. In a letter inviting to Mid and East Antrim Council to take a table, the event was said to assesses the "potential for local businesses to capatalize on [Brexit]".  It did not mention the event was the annual DUP North Antrim dinner.

Former Cabinet minister Priti Patel attended and was interviewed by North Antrim MP Ian Paisley. It was hoped the former international development minister would provide "valuable insights and offer strategic advise".

Defending the cost of seats, former MLA Phillip Logan said it was "important the war chest is always ready for battle".

South Antrim MLA Mr Kearney said he intended to question the airport owners on if they thought it "appropriate" to sponsor the event.

"It would raise questions and perceptions regarding partisan support for one political party," he said.

“I am also concerned that the International Airport may have been sponsoring an event which was positively promoting Brexit at a time when the Tory Brexit agenda poses one of the biggest threats to face the airport and the future of the regional and island economies, by putting jobs and workers’ rights at risk."

However, the airport defended its involvement. It has lobbied all Northern Ireland parties extensively on government policy matters which directly affect its business. It has in the past been involved in numerous events organised or associated with the other parties including Sinn Fein.

A spokesman said: “Belfast International Airport is a privately owned company and doesn’t receive Government subsidies or assistance.

"We support all our political parties where it is clear the events they organise, or are a part of, are to the benefit of the airport.  We are currently campaigning for the removal of Air Passenger Duty and that means engaging with senior Government figures to get our points across.

"We have created almost 1,000 jobs through attracting increased passenger numbers, but that is only a fraction of what we could achieve if we didn’t have this tax.

"We will continue with our efforts to remove APD and to engage with all politicians from whatever party to achieve that objective.”   

The DUP also said it would be following the appropriate rules regarding event sponsorship and political donations.

"All income and expenditure arising from the event will be handled in accordance with our rules and regulatory obligations," A DUP spokesman said.

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