Ryanair boss urges Northern Ireland to stay in EU as seven new Belfast routes revealed

Michael O'Leary, Chief Executive of Ryanair, one of Europe's busiest airlines

Michael O'Leary, Chief Executive of Ryanair, one of Europe's busiest airlines

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has urged Northern Ireland to vote to stay in the EU as he launched seven new continental routes for Belfast.

The carrier will operate flights from Belfast International Airport to Alicante, Berlin, Krakow, Lanzarote, Malaga, Milan and Tenerife from the autumn.

Ryanair also confirmed the expansion of its recently unveiled Gatwick service from the Co Antrim airport.

The airline said the investment in its operations in Northern Ireland was in excess of £200 million - the cost of the three Boeing planes it is basing at the airport - and claimed the move would support 750 jobs.

Mr O’Leary used the route launch event in Belfast to reiterate his belief that the UK would be better off in the EU.

“This large inward investment and new job creation is the latest example of how Northern Ireland benefits from the UK’s membership of the European Union,” he said.

“Low-fare air travel, which was pioneered by Ryanair in the UK and Europe, is one of the EU’s great success stories. We are calling on everyone in Northern Ireland to vote ‘Yes’ to Europe in the Brexit referendum in June, because staying in Europe will mean stronger economic growth, more tourism and more jobs for young people, whereas leaving will reduce the UK to the same status as Norway - namely outside the EU, but part of the single market, but with no role in setting EU policy or strategy.”

Tourism Ireland has welcomed the new services.

Chief executive Niall Gibbons said: “Today’s announcement is excellent news for tourism to Northern Ireland as we roll out our 2016 promotional drive.

“We already work very closely with Ryanair and we look forward to co-operating with them to maximise the promotion of these new flights from Berlin and Milan to Belfast and to grow tourist numbers from Germany and Italy.

“As an island, the importance of convenient, direct, non-stop flights cannot be overstated - they are absolutely critical to achieving growth in inbound tourism. Tourism Ireland is committed to working with Ryanair, Belfast International Airport, as well as other tourism interests, to promote and help maintain vital routes and services to Northern Ireland.”