Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has said he would “probably have been arrested for trying to sell the City of Derry Airport” if he’d listened to the SDLP’s financial advice.
The Minister repeated a gibe originally levelled by his predecessor Sammy Wilson, who during previous budget debates at Stormont and on the Northern Ireland economy at Westminster, claimed that the SDLP wanted £37 million from the sale of the Londonderry Airport.
Mr Hamilton regurgitated the claim - which Mr Wilson said had originally been made in Margaret Ritchie’s ‘Partnership and Economic Recovery’ paper in late 2010 - in response to comments by SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley.
Mr Bradley stated: “What I welcome about the Minister’s statement is his Damascus-like conversion. He previously told us there was no more money available; there was no point talking to the British Government. Well, he has spoken to them — all the parties have spoken to them — and apparently there is. I am glad he has taken his lead from the SDLP.”
In his reply Mr Hamilton stated: “If I had listened to the SDLP for financial advice, I would probably have been arrested for trying to sell the City of Derry Airport, which does not belong to the Northern Ireland Executive, so I will not listen to the advice of his party.”
Later during the same debate Foyle MLA Pat Ramsey said people in Londonderry would not be impressed by Mr Hamilton’s broad statement that unemployment was falling.
“I am sure that he will agree with me that many in the North West, including in your constituency, Deputy Speaker [John Dallat] will resent and be angered by that.
“In light of the Executive decision to set up a small Executive group to look at regional balance, particularly in the north-west, will the Minister outline to the House the importance of ensuring that that is resourced effectively to make a difference?”
In his reply Mr Hamilton said the Executive was supporting the North West but that it couldn’t force people to invest here.
“There has been an undoubted commitment by the Executive to Londonderry and the north-west, whether it is in relation to the City of Culture or in trying to attract investors. We cannot force investors to invest anywhere, but we have tried to encourage, as best we can, people to go to the north-west.
“That has been manifested in significant FDI projects and, indeed, the expansion of indigenous companies in that area. The first enterprise zone in Northern Ireland is located in the north-west as well. There are many things that the Executive have pursued to assist and support that area.”