NI Executive agrees multi-million pound funding for City of Derry Airport

Announced yesterday was the news that the City of Derry Airport, currently owned by Derry City & Strabane District Council, is in line to received an as yet unspecified sum (although Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said it was a multi-million pound deal, and that it had been signed off).

Many will know that the airport runs at a loss to the ratepayers of the council of £2.145 million per year. Ryanair announced recently that they would be cutting their Derry-Stansted route and the Derry-Faro route, and reducing the Derry-Liverpool route to just twice a week. Leaving the beleaguered airport with just seven confirmed stable flights in and out per week.

Northern Ireland has 3 ‘major’ commercial airports, at a rate of 1 airport for every 600,000 citizens or so, England has a ratio of 1 airport to 2.5 million citizens.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MLA said,

With the future of Derry Airport lies too the future of Derry’s economy, opportunities for our people and their ability to build a life here. The Executive cannot fumble it.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA said that the funding would allow for future growth for the facility,

What we are trying to do is reach a stage where City of Derry Airport is sustainable financially… [it is] the right thing to do.

Looking back in to the not-too-distant archives of the Derry Journal (February 27th 1989), we can find a previous Sinn Féin MLA passing comment over a similar investment.

During a discussion over a £300,000 grant from the Ireland Fund for the City of Derry Airport (or Eglinton Airport as it was then), a young Sinn Féin Councillor, now-former speaker of the assembly, Mitchel McLaughlin said that the money would be better spent on social and cultural amenities for the city. Cllr McLaughlin added that Sinn Féin was not and never had been opposed to the concept of a viable local airport, he had concerns however that the airport could eventually be proved to be a white elephant…

Local SDLP Councillor Pat Devine said the airport was a necessary part of Derry’s development and a sound investment for the future.

The Derry airport went on to receive £10.5 million from the European Regional Development Fund between 1989 and 1993 (Over £23 million today when adjusted for inflation).

Again in 2006, there was roughly €15 million (€17.5 million today when adjusted for inflation) invested from the British and Irish governments into the City of Derry Airport, once more with the view of turning its fortunes around and widening its reach.

This article from the Belfast Telegraph in 2008 talks of the wonderful potential of the North West’s airport.

Since 2007, the passenger figures have dropped by 33.5% and losses are mounting.

What was suggested as a potential white elephant all those years ago in 1989 is still draining public money but yet still being vaunted as the saviour of the north-west.

Many politicians, mainly nationalist, talk up the importance of the City of Derry Airport to the whole of Ireland’s North West… between 2014 and 2015, Derry’s passenger figures fell by 18% alone, whereas passenger figures went up 3.2% at Donegal Airport (albeit on much smaller aircraft generally), for that matter – it’s only 90 miles from Donegal town to Belfast International Airport… not a great distance in the grand scheme of things.

Then again, the NI Executive seems to have a new-found love for all types of aviation expenditure. As Mick Fealty points out here, “the downsizing of government to just two parties has at least led to some form of action.”  But is this a case of throwing good money after bad because nobody wants to be the leader who puts the poor thing out of its misery?


Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.

  • Dan

    Sure, it’s only public money, eh?

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    Been suggested for decades, never done. Time to cut our losses. A train station there is not going to be the silver bullet in the same way the tens of millions of pounds over the last few years hasn’t been.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    It’s also with knowing that there are 6 check in desks.
    There will shortly be seven flights per week.
    That ratio somehow seems very, very, very wrong.

  • Katyusha

    it’s only 90 miles from Donegal town to Belfast International Airport

    Sure, but try getting there by public transport.

  • OneNI

    Ernekid the line actually runs through the end of the runway and trains have to stop if a train is arriving/departing (no seriously) However given how infrequent BOTH airplanes and trains are there is rarely a problem!

    A local station wouldnt help – in fact it would simply make City of Derry airport LESS economically viable as it would cut their parking revenue.

    The chief problem is a lack of passengers as the population isnt substantial enough

  • OneNI

    In addition to the above huge grants has anyone got any idea what the cumulative loss to the ratepayer has been? It must be £20m+.

    The ‘slush fund’ the SF/DUP are sanctioning in a pathetic attempt to show their ‘responsiveness’ and ‘ability to act’ should be used to Fast Track the Dungiven bypass.

    If it was built in the next three years alongside the M2 to Castledawson roundabout scheme then Derry city would only be an hour from Aldergrove

  • Gopher

    Another day another inauspicious action from the Executive. Not that the Opposition or rather the collection of disparate MLA’s are much better. This decision taken in conjunction with the profligate United Airlines largess are of the worst vanity projects of a parochial nature with a level of inefficiency incredulous even by Assembly standards. The trouble is the collection of amoebas that are not in government offer no alternative. Where is the radical counter proposal where we rationalise are airports into one first rate gateway to the North? Where is the integrated transport plan that the “opposition” would implement if they were in power? Surely to god there must be more to politics than holding a LGBT flag or posting on Twitter a photo of eating a bun at some state funded money sink! I know 2 year olds who can hold a flag and eat a bun.

  • hgreen

    Indeed. Decent roads would have a bigger impact on the economy of the north west rather than a clearly unnecessary airport.

  • Brendan Heading

    I suspect that the two airport stories are connected, Kris. SF may well have required a deal for the Derry airport in exchange for supporting the unprecedented state intervention in favour of the New York route.

    A big part of this is parochialism but, for the government, it’s about using public money to keep people in jobs to create the illusion of a functioning economy. Needless duplication of services is a hallmark of the Executive’s economy strategy. It duplicates teacher training; and the teacher training colleges turn out duplicated teachers, who are employed in needlessly duplicated schools. Belfast has duplicated airports. When the UK government acted to close the duplicated DVA licensing office in Coleraine, politicians stood up to protest it. We’ve got duplicated hospitals, duplicated quangos and a government full of duplicated press officers and party-appointed officials whose job is to defend all of this.

    I find it especially ironic as Conor Murphy, and other senior SF politicians, have proposed the elimination of duplication as one of the benefits of a united Ireland. Yet, presented with opportunities to eliminate duplication today, they run scared. Fascinating duplicity, if you’ll pardon the pun.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    The sentiment in general I agree with BH, but what makes you think that SF would have been in anyway opposed to the United Golden Handshake? The finance minister MoM has spoken plenty of times about the importance of a direct air link between NI & USA.

  • john millar

    As long as the Derry ratepayers are footing the bill WTF. Its their baby
    It would be helpful if no other taxpayer contributed.

  • Brendan Heading

    I didn’t say that SF may have been opposed to spending the money on United. But they may have been opposed to the money being taken from something else’s budget.

  • chrisjones2

    Here a bung there a bung everywhere a bung bung

    What is it with Derry

    We have million spent on the trains, then the airport and the A5 but the bottom line is still,



  • chrisjones2

    It would have been shocking if SF had had to travel to Dublin to catch a plane to the USA.

    Oh the irony!!!

  • chrisjones2


  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    “we need more money spent here in Derry”
    “ok, here you go”
    ….time passes…. it doesn’t work….
    “We need even more money spent in Derry.”

  • chrisjones2

    It will soon be cheaper to close Derry and pay each of the citizens say £10k to move to somewhere else

  • aquifer

    But closing the airport will be a bigger news story than opening bits of road ever will be.

    Never mind that Belfast Airport is currently a dump without a rail connection that is closing itself in favour of Dublin Airport.

  • john millar

    Take that light away —stop shining it these corners some might see

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    I have genuinely never heard that said of Belfast. I’ve heard it said of certain areas I guess…. but I’m not sure the last time there was £10million… no wait, £15 million… no wait, £30 million, spent in the Old Park area.

    But they aren’t currently demanding more money to shore up a white elephant. Invest in the North East, sure, but invest smartly, not just for tokenism.

  • Reader

    Ernekid: Get the Goldline 261 or 212 to the Europa Bus Station. Get the Shuttle bus to the airport. It’s doable.
    Train from Derry to Antrim, bus from Antrim to Airport. That looks a bit more sensible on the map.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    NI has so many points of entry now we should surely be thinking about making provisions for people who do come here?
    E.g. better transport links for all, incentives for businessmen and tourists ( when the HBO types pointed out a few cold truths about Belfast’s nightlife they were met with flegger levels of hysteria), rate reductions so that we can fill some of the empty shops etc and stricter planning for places with tourist potential?
    “No, we can’t ” You say?

    Ok then…

  • SilentMajority

    The criticism of any funding for Derry or the west is unreal. The NI Executive concentrates the vast majority of the ‘subsidy’ from the UK government (accounting for 75%+ of NI GDP) in Belfast:- Invest NI promoted jobs, the relocated university, subsidy of seven ‘quarters’ and fails to make the bold decisions on regional balance and development. Does no one ask how and why most of the jobs, office blocks and employment are located in Belfast? Why are there two airports near Belfast/ Why are there two universities? The list goes on. It is structural bias.

    Derry should seek some form of arrangement away from Belfast / NI as perhaps as sub region of Scotland or the North of England (or joint authority with the Republic but remianing British) . This would get it away from the Belfast giant that gobbles up all the UK taxpayers subsidy before it get to anyone else and leaves other places less developed with their populations not having the same life opportunities and forced to emigrate etc., This is criminal and questionable that it has been allowed to happen within the UK and EEC and under the auspices of a SF partnered government!

    The Derry airport funding is criticised but does no one look at the funding of the two Belfast airports over the years. They might be in for a surprise at the funding, but the minute any thing is intended for elsewhere it is criticised. Why is there no integrated transportation plan? Would this question everything being centred in Belfast?

    Why does the Government not force the issue and transfer cross atlantic flights to Derry, certain European flights etc., and people from the East can travel west just as easy a the people from the west have for years.

    There is more to NI than Belfast.