More than €280,000 has been spent by two Government departments on VIP services at Irish airports over the past three years.
This figure includes facilities for European Commissioner Phil Hogan, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, and more than €30,000 in costs related to the visit of Pope Francis. The bulk of the money was spent by the Department of Foreign Affairs, which provides VIP services for visiting heads of states, ministers, royals, and senior diplomats.
The Department of the Taoiseach paid for luxury services at Dublin Airport for former taoisigh Enda Kenny and Bertie Ahern, current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and Mr Hogan, according to records obtained under Freedom of Information.
VIP facilities for Mr Hogan cost €1,003 for five flights that took place between 2017 and 2019. Asked why these services were used by the commissioner, given his €270,000 annual salary, a spokesman said the arrangements were a matter for the Department of the Taoiseach. Records previously released by the department have said that this was part of a “standing arrangement” with the Dublin Airport Authority.
Mr Ahern has also made use of the VIP facilities for four flights that took place in July and September of last year. Each time he used the ‘platinum service’ at Dublin Airport, the Department of the Taoiseach paid a bill of €225 per flight.
Mr Ahern is only allowed to use the VIP facilities because of a decision made by Mr Varadkar in 2017 to reintroduce such perks for former taoisigh.
They had been scrapped by his predecessor, Mr Kenny but Mr Ahern has been the only ex-taoiseach to avail of the arrangement so far. More than €220,000 has been spent by the Department of Foreign Affairs on platinum services and ramp transfers at Dublin Airport in the past two years.
The bill for 2018 hit €120,000, fuelled mainly by the high costs involved with the two-day visit of Pope Francis to Ireland. Two separate bills were paid by the Department of Foreign Affairs for the papal visit, the first for €18,600 and the second for €11,600.
That covered the costs of VIP facilities for Pope Francis and his more than 100-strong delegation, according to the records.
Just over half of the bill related to the mysteriously titled Vamp Media (Vatican- accredited media personnel) journalists, who are officially accredited to cover all things pope-related.
Costs for visiting royalty included a €2,000 bill for when Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visited Ireland in 2018, and a €2,375 bill for the trip of Prince Albert of Monaco in March 2019.
The red carpet was also rolled out for Donald Tusk, who, as then president of the European Council, was a key supporter of Ireland in Brexit negotiations.
Platinum services and a ramp transfer were provided for him in 2018 at a cost of €2,000, later for €2,000, and again of €2,375.
Visits from prominent US politicians also incurred large bills with €12,540 spent on VIP services for US vice president Mike Pence in September 2019.
While the department usually footed the entire bill, there was one invoice where they shared the costs.For a €3,100 bill related to the visit of Austrian politician Gernot Blümel, a deal was struck for the Irish taxpayer to pay €1,890 of the bill.
A department spokeswoman said:
“Given the use of a commercial flight with a tight travelling schedule, it was necessary to bring more than the usual number of individual passengers through VIP services, therefore it was agreed to share costs.”
No detail is available is President Michael D Higgins.
One record of a trip by him, in and around April or May 2018, has been redacted from the invoice on the basis that records relating to the President still remain exempt from Freedom of Information law.In a statement on the VIP bills, the department said: “For the entry and departure of high-level visitors and representatives, it is standard practice internationally to provide enhanced passenger services at the airport.“This is a matter of courtesy and also to facilitate a secure and prompt entry and exit from the airport.“The costs associated with providing these services differs from year to year and is subject to the varying number of high-level representatives coming to Ireland, with a particularly high number visiting in 2018 and 2019.”