THE Government made no effort to seek a pairing arrangement with the opposition before deciding to use the jet to allow a junior minister attend a Dáil vote, Fine Gael said last night.
After controversy arose over the use of the jet by Dara Calleary, the junior enterprise minister said he would have used a commercial flight if Fine Gael had granted him a pair for the Dáil vote on holding the three by-elections on September 29.
Instead, he stayed in the Dáil for the late-night vote before using the Government jet to get to Brussels that night for a meeting of EU finance ministers the following morning, at a cost of €9,000 to the taxpayer.
“If we had a pair, we would have chosen a commercial flight,” said Mr Calleary.
However, Fine Gael insisted last night that there was no request for a pair on the Wednesday evening. A pair – in which Fine Gael withholds a vote to allow government ministers to travel on state business without reducing their majority – would have been granted in this case because Mr Calleary was travelling for EU business.
A Fine Gael spokesman said they were asked for a pair for the following day and it was granted.
Mr Calleary also used the jet on the Monday of that week, September 27, to fly in and out of Brussels for an EU meeting on high-level financial reform, stopping off at Knock Airport en route.
He had to be at home for a launch in Dublin on the Tuesday. After flying out to Brussels again on the Wednesday, the jet was used to bring him home to Mayo, flying into Knock Airport on Friday, October 1. The total cost of his use of the jet for the week was €34,000.
Both Fine Gael and Labour have expressed concern that taxpayers’ money will continue to be wasted by using the Government jet to ensure the Government has the numbers in Dáil votes.
“This Government, as it desperately tries to stay in power coming to the end of its term of office, will probably use the Government jet a lot more to bring people back, simply to vote and try and keep their numbers up,” said Labour TD Joe Costello.
In March, the Irish Examiner revealed the jet was dispatched to collect junior minister Billy Kelleher from London at a cost of €5,900, when it emerged the coalition may have been short on numbers to vote through the cabinet reshuffle.
In a further example of waste, it emerged over the weekend that TDs claimed €2.3 million in expenses between June and September, despite the Dáil being on a summer break for most of this time.
The highest claims were Cork South West TDs PJ Sheehan (Fine Gael) who received €21,180 and Christy O’Sullivan (Fianna Fáil) who received €20,680.
Four TDs – Niall Blaney (FF Donegal North East), Jimmy Deenihan (FG Kerry South) Michael Moynihan (FF Cork North West) and Tom Sheahan (FG Kerry South) – all claimed €20,428 in expenses over the summer period.
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