The NI Executive was caught out last week and, in time-honoured fashion, tried to blame the European Union for its own failings.
It should be obvious – but, alarmingly, isn’t – that Government cannot just give public money to a business. It certainly cannot do so when the case for the service it is thus acquiring has not even been proven. And it most certainly cannot do so when the business is based abroad and has a turnover of billions.
If it were established that Belfast absolutely must have a direct air link to New York – and the case for that is dubious given the availability of 155 flights from Dublin to North America every week – then it would be quite possible to tender for one. Airlines could compete for a reasonable subsidy in return for a reasonable service of clear economic value.
What is outrageous is for the Executive simply to hand money to an airline, which has not proven that it is uniquely placed to deliver value for money and when, in any case, the economic value of such a service has not been demonstrated.
Worse, the relevant Minister and the Executive as a whole were told all of this by their own civil servants. The Minister issued a “ministerial direction” overruling the advice of his officials in order to subsidise an American company already worth billions with our money. He need not act surprised now that this has proven to less than legal – he had already been told this.
Then the First Minister sought to make a European point out of it, but actually this is about basic corporate governance.
Thank goodness that this outrageous throwing away of our money was blocked. It turns out the European Commission had little directly to do with it. More’s the pity – it would have demonstrated its value if it had!