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Monday 24 July 2017

Kenny vetoes Shatter's €20,000 Poland jet trip

Minister told to fly Ryanair instead

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter requested the use of a government jet to fly to Poland at a cost of more than €20,000 -- but was vetoed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Mr Shatter is the only minister to have been denied use of one of the Air Corps jets since the Government came to power in March, the Irish Independent can reveal.

Instead of racking up a flying bill of €20,000 for a return trip of about six hours, Mr Shatter was told to travel on commercial airliners instead.

It is understood he ultimately used an SAS commercial flight to travel to the informal gathering of EU justice ministers in the Polish resort of Sopot, and returned by Ryanair.

The cost of commercial flights for Mr Shatter's proposed seven-person delegation would have been about €3,000.

Mr Shatter submitted several arguments as to why he should be allowed a government jet for his trip to Eastern Europe -- including that flying commercial would require a "lengthy stopover" in Copenhagen.

But later correspondence, seen by the Irish Independent, shows that this stopover would have delayed the minister by just one hour.

Ministers who wish to use government aircraft must first write to the Taoiseach's office for approval -- outlining the commercial travel options that have been explored as a cheaper alternative.

An email from an official in the Department of Justice to the Taoiseach's office shows how Mr Shatter believed he needed the jet because there were no direct flights to Gdansk airport, near Sopot, on the evening he wished to travel.

The official said that use of the jet was required to comply with the "Taoiseach's wishes" that ministers improved attendance at EU meetings.

Mr Kenny had criticised the previous Fianna Fail-Green coalition for what he called "disgraceful" attendance rates.

The aide also said Mr Shatter was "extremely eager" to return to Ireland promptly after the meeting, to participate in the final week of Dail business before the summer recess.

But despite his request, and accompanying written argument, Mr Shatter was denied use of both government jets by Mr Kenny.

A spokeswoman for the Taoiseach said: "Use of the government jet was not approved on this occasion as commercial options were more suitable."

It is understood Mr Shatter flew to the meeting using Scandinavian airline SAS to get to the Polish city of Gdansk via Copenhagen and then returned home direct to Dublin on a Ryanair flight.

A spokeswoman for Mr Shatter last night said the request to use the government jet was "considered appropriate".

She said it was requested "in light of the very heavy schedule of work in the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Defence that the minister was engaged in around the time".

Government ministers have used the Ministerial Air Transport Service (MATS) on 23 occasions since the Fine Gael-Labour coalition came to power in March, costing the taxpayer more than €400,000.

Costs

Mr Kenny is by far the biggest user of the Air Corps jets, clocking up more than 53 hours' flight time, with €195,000 spent on the 10 flights he took.

He shared aircraft with other ministers on four of the trips but was dropped to Knock Airport in his Mayo constituency on two occasions -- at an additional cost of at least €4,000.

And Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, who is also Foreign Affairs Minister, racked up flight costs of more than €90,000 each.

Mr Shatter made three trips on the jets during this period, costing about €50,000, but he was also the only minister whose request was turned down.

He had sought the use of a government jet from July 17-19 for the informal EU justice and home affairs (JHA) council meeting in Sopot, on Poland's Baltic coast.

The email to the Office of the Taoiseach written by a justice department official on July 1 outlined a "busy two-day programme" and explained how "the attendance of a high-level Irish delegation" was "considered very important".

The official continued: "There are no direct flights from Dublin to Gdansk on Sunday, July 17."

He said that flights via Copenhagen "would mean a lengthy stop-over for the minister. . . followed by a transfer from Gdansk to Sopot late on Sunday night".

The official also highlighted the "urgent reforming pieces of legislation" that Mr Shatter wanted to work on back in Dublin before the summer break.

He wrote: "Minister Shatter has indicated that he is extremely eager to return as promptly as possible after the JHA has ended and this would be best facilitated by the use of the government jet."

A subsequent email from the same official five days later described the legislation that Mr Shatter was eager to return to oversee and outlined the commercial flight options that had been explored by the department.

Irish Independent

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