United Airlines: No consultation with Ó Muilleoir ahead of Hamilton's £9m aid

The aid for United Airlines was signed off with a ministerial direction

ECONOMY Minister Simon Hamilton did not consult with his counterpart in the Department of Finance ahead of granting United Airlines millions of taxpayers' money.

The controversial £9m subsidy for the north's sole transatlantic flight was signed off by Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness in July using a ministerial direction that overruled civil service spending guidelines.

However, the bid to save the Belfast-Newark route later floundered because it breached EU state aid rules. United has since said it plans to scrap the only regional air link with North America in January.

The Irish News previously revealed how the plan to save the United Airlines route was not supported by a business case – a fundamental requirement when spending public money.

It has now emerged that Mr Hamilton did not ask the Sinn Féin Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir for an exemption to the public spending guidelines, known as the 'Northern Ireland Guide to Expenditure Appraisal and Evaluation'.

The information has emerged following an assembly question from Green MLA Steven Agnew, who has also discovered that there were no discussions between the two executive colleagues ahead of the funding announcement.

A Department of Finance spokesman said: "As this decision was taken by urgent procedure, the finance minister's approval was not required."

Mr Agnew said it appeared the DUP economy minister had "shot off on a solo run".

"A proposed £9m spend without a business case is a flagrant breach of government spending rules," the North Down MLA said.

"The public are still reeling from the incompetence shown by the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme fiasco."

Mr Agnew said it was critical that robust public spending procedures were followed at all times.

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