Unionists hail decision to create flying ambulance service in NI

DUP MP Ian Paisley junior
DUP MP Ian Paisley junior

The decision to grant funds for an air ambulance service in Northern Ireland has been hailed as the culmination of a “hard-fought campaign”.

The idea of a flying emergency rescue service has been mooted for years, and formed just one of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s announcements in his Budget speech on Wednesday.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers

Both the UUP and DUP issued statements hailing the provision of the cash, which will amount to £4.5m.

The chancellor George Osborne said he was “delighted” that the Province will no longer be the sole country in the UK not to have such a service – a move which was also hailed by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

In a statement, HM Treasury also said that the government remains “committed to the devolution of corporation tax rate-setting powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly”.

However, it added that “in producing a budget after the May elections, the Executive need to demonstrate continuing progress towards sustainable finances” if it is to achieve the objective of slashing the rate in 2018.

Theresa Villiers

Theresa Villiers

It also pointed to what it dubbed “significant additional funding and flexibility”, provided in connection with the Stormont House Agreement and Fresh Start political deals.

The charity Air Ambulance NI, which has campaigned for an aerial emergency service, praised the chancellor’s statement as “a very welcome step to bring this lifesaving service to Northern Ireland”.

Ian Paisley Junior, DUP MP for North Antrim, said of the air ambulance announcement. “This has been a hard-fought campaign, one which I am passionate about, so I am absolutely delighted with the announcement...

“Budgets don’t always bring such positive news, but this is truly welcome news indeed.”

He also paid tribute to motorcycle-enthusiast and medic Dr John Hinds, who had long campaigned for an air ambulance before his dead as the result of a road crash in 2015.

“I think it’s important to pay tribute to the fantastic work and unwavering commitment of one of our late ‘flying doctors’, John Hinds who campaigned for an air ambulance in Northern Ireland for many years. Without John’s dedication and tireless work, this announcement may not have been made today, and I hope that will be of some comfort to his friends and family.”

Meanwhile Tom Elliott, UUP MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, said of the budget generally: “The cost of transportation is a huge burden on the budgets of our businesses and also on families. I am glad this has received recognition in today’s Budget with the continued freeze on fuel duty.”

He said there would be “great public support” for the air ambulance, which looks set to be paid for using money taken from LIBOR fines; that is, fines imposed on banks as a result of interest rate-rigging.

“It is unbelievable that we are the only region of the United Kingdom not to have an air ambulance,” said Mr Elliott.

For more on the budget, click here.