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Council calls for UK Government to take "Urgent Action" on Union Connectivity gap



The UK Government must take “urgent action” to address the internal gap in Union connectivity created by Ryanair withdrawing from both of Northern Ireland’s airports – that’s the message from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Union Connectivity Working Group.

Led by Alderman Billy Ashe MBE and Councillors Peter Johnston, Andrew Wilson and Timothy Gaston, the Union Connectivity Working Group was established with the principal aim of boosting links between Mid and East Antrim and wider Northern Ireland and the three other regions of the UK. Following last week’s news that Ryanair will withdraw all routes from Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City Airport in the coming weeks, the Working Group met to discuss the implications for Northern Ireland. In a joint statement, they said:

“We, the members of the Union Connectivity Working Group were deeply alarmed to hear the news of Ryanair’s withdrawal from both of Northern Ireland’s airports and are gravely concerned about the detrimental impact this could have on our connectivity with the regions across the UK.

"Strong Union connectivity has never been more important for Northern Ireland, particularly as we embark on our journey to economic recovery in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and continue to meet the many challenges associated with the NI Protocol.

“It is our links with our partner regions of the UK that will enable us to realise our full potential for sustainable economic growth, not only through exports and east-west trade but through invaluable opportunities for tourism. Any factors threatening that connectivity must be addressed and mitigated as a matter of urgency.

“Chief among these is Air Passenger Duty (APD), which Ryanair attributed as a key consideration leading to its decision to withdraw from Northern Ireland’s airports – and, in particular, the UK Government’s decision to reduce or suspend the levy.

“As such, we urge the UK Government to take urgent action to address this critical issue and prevent further catastrophic withdrawals from Northern Ireland’s airports. We would also call upon the UK Government to set out its plans on how it intends on closing this internal gap in Union connectivity.”

Earlier this year, the Union Connectivity Working Group launched a robust and comprehensive action plan, setting out four key themes: Engagement, the East-West Economic Corridor, Air Passenger Duty and the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Key to the group's work is Mid and East Antrim's role within the Government's current UK Connectivity Review. The review, led by Sir Peter Hendy, is examining how best to improve road, rail, air and sea links between all four UK regions and to bring forward funding to accelerate infrastructure projects.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is also part of a North Chanel Partnership body, comprised of councillors and officers from the Scottish council and the local authority that is working with other bodies including ferry companies to progress shared interests such as ports and infrastructure including a long-awaited upgrade of the A75/77 routes in Scotland which the local authority believes would also be of benefit economically to Mid and East Antrim.