Stormont was right to try save the crucial New York air route

Morning View
Morning View

Public money is at times spread around liberally in Northern Ireland.

This is in large part because the economy was damaged by decades of conflict and terrorism.

In the pursuit of peace, a significant amount of public cash has ended up in the hands of ‘community groups’ and sometimes dubious organisations. There is a grudging acceptance of such funding if it ultimately secures stability.

The principle of offering state aid for strategic reasons, however, is more readily accepted across the political spectrum, be it grants luring companies to invest in deprived areas or tax breaks to encourage types of economic activity.

If anything therefore deserved a slice of taxpayer cash in the pursuit of normalising the Province, it was the only direct scheduled air link to north America.

The United Airlines flight between Belfast Aldergrove and Newark has made Northern Ireland a more attractive place to do business for American entrepreneurs and powerbrokers. In the absence of a direct flight, they must travel via London or Dublin to get here, a more tedious journey.

The direct air link was a big boost for tourism too, flying in and out of the heart of America’s east coast, where so many affluent people with Irish links live.

Seeking and maintaining warm relations with the United States is a thing on which the two main traditions in Northern Ireland have long agreed. There was a large amount of Protestant Scots Irish emigration in the 1700s, that was influential in the fledgling United States because it was so early. There was a later wave of Catholic Irish emigration that was influential because it was so large in number.

As Billy Kennedy, who has often crossed the Atlantic to retell some of that history, writes on these pages, Northern Ireland is almost considered a 51st state.

Stormont was right to give assistance in a bid to save that route. We can only hope that some other way is found to re-establish a direct air link from Belfast to New York.