THE use of Government jets to fly ministers around the country like a “taxi service” has been defended as necessary to meet the demands of their hectic schedules.
Minister for Defence Tony Killeen admitted that there is “a considerable cost” to the taxpayer arising from 42 flights by the Learjet and the Gulfstream to transport ministers within Ireland since the start of 2009. But he said most ministers now travel by Aer Lingus or Ryanair.
Transport Minister Noel Dempsey recently sparked outrage when he used a government jet to fly from Dublin to Derry, for a speaking engagement, and on to London, at a cost of €13,000.
The Government jets landed in Cork 12 times this year to facilitate Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, and once for Enterprise Minister Batt O’Keeffe. The Learjet landed twice in Derry this year for Tánaiste Mary Coughlan.
The taxpayer is paying for a “personal taxi service” for ministers by collecting and dropping them at locations convenient to their homes, according to Fine Gael’s Lucinda Creighton. She said ministers were “completely oblivious” to public sentiment and “refusing to change their habits,” adding that the jets should be used strictly for foreign travel and not for a “drop-in and drop-out service”.
Mr Killeen responded yesterday that the use of the jets was “carefully controlled and “most ministerial overseas travel is done by Aer Lingus and Ryanair”.
He said the use of the jet has halved since 2005, when it was used 266 times compared with 126 last year.
“People at government level are doing their best to use commercial flights where possible, but there are a lot of instances where that is not possible,” he said.
He gave an example of European Council of Ministers meetings which take place in Brussels or Luxembourg where flights depart for from Ireland “at unsuitable times”.
He said: “They either get you in after the meeting has started or you have to go the previous day and incur the cost of an overnight.”
Internal flights are used when ministers are “trying to get to more than one commitment in a short period of time,” the minister said. “It is a considerable cost, but ministers do attend all these meetings.”
He said Noel Dempsey would not have been able to attend the Magill Summer School, if he had not taken the flight at a cost of €13,000 to the taxpayer.
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