€13,000 flight to Donegal was 'most viable option' -- Dempsey
TRANSPORT Minister Noel Dempsey last night defended his decision to use both a government jet and his ministerial car to attend the MacGill Summer School in Co Donegal last month as "the most viable option".
His department confirmed that the cost of using the jet for the trip had amounted to €13,000 as opposition TDs claimed he could instead have taken a commercial flight at a cost of just €55 and called on him to pay the money back.
Mr Dempsey used the luxury Gulfstream IV jet to fly from Dublin to Derry -- the smaller Learjet was unavailable because it was undergoing maintenance.
When he landed, his garda driver was on hand to pick him up in a ministerial car, having driven 247km from Dublin.
Mr Dempsey was then driven the 90km from the airport in Derry to the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, so that he could be in time to deliver his speech at 4pm on Monday, July 19.
Fine Gael's communications spokesman Leo Varadkar said he had also flown to Donegal for the summer school but had done so on a €55 flight, whereas Mr Dempsey had the government jet in the air at a cost to the taxpayer of €7,890 per hour.
Mr Varadkar said the use of the jet and the ministerial car showed that Mr Dempsey was "out of touch" with the financial realities people were facing on a daily basis.
"Mr Dempsey and his colleagues don't pay tolls, book flights online or undertake the day-to-day tasks that ordinary taxpayers are faced with.
"It is quite simple -- the minister and his colleagues have lost touch with reality," he said.
After giving his speech at 4pm, Mr Dempsey was driven back to the airport in Derry by his garda driver, from where he took the government jet to London at 8pm for an official meeting.
But a spokeswoman for Mr Dempsey insisted last night that the use of the state jet was still the most viable option after all the alternatives had been investigated.
"By the time the minister had finished in Glenties, there was no commercial flight that he could have taken from Derry, Donegal, Belfast, Sligo or Dublin that would get him to London in time for his 7.15am meeting in London the following morning," she said.
That 7.15am meeting was a briefing from officials at the Irish Embassy in London in preparation for an official meeting at 8am, which the department said was about "potentially securing very significant investment in Ireland".
It is understood that the meeting related to aviation business, for which a number of other countries are also in competition.
Mr Dempsey has told the Irish Independent that he could not give any specific details about the meeting because it was sensitive government business relating to aviation.
"The meeting was a very, very important one and in this instance it was the best, most effective and probably the only way I could do it," he insisted.
Mr Dempsey also said he had not wanted to renege on his commitment to speak at the MacGill Summer School, where he spoke about the need to reform the electoral system.
"I didn't want to break my commitment to the MacGill school because I have been involved in various festivals and I know the annoyance that can be caused by people pulling out at the last minute," he said.
But Donegal Sinn Fein senator Pearse Doherty said last night that Mr Dempsey should personally pay back the "money he has wasted".
He added: "The fact that the minister was travelling to Donegal to take part in a debate on the need to change political culture in Ireland makes his actions all the more disgraceful."