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Sunday 25 June 2017

Ministers get wings clipped

Politicians grounded as helicopter flights cost taxpayer €417,000 over five years

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

TAXPAYERS spent €417,000 ferrying government ministers to events by Air Corps helicopter in the past five years, Department of Defence records reveal.

But politicians have found their wings clipped of late, with expensive chopper flights becoming less frequent as the financial crisis deepened.

Just two ministerial helicopter journeys were taken last year, compared with 16 flights in 2009 and 39 in 2008.

It is unsurprising the perk got the chop as one class of helicopter used for the journeys, the Agusta Westland AW139, costs over €3,100 for each hour it is in the air.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was the most frequent user of Air Corps helicopters while on government business, according to the flight records released under freedom of information rules.

He racked up more than €75,000 in costs for 32 helicopter journeys between 2005 and mid-2008.

The flights included six visits to the Druids Glen golf resort in Wicklow, which is just 56km drive from Mr Ahern's Drumcondra base.

Taxpayers

Most of the Druids Glen trips, which had a combined cost of over €14,000, were for speaking engagements at conferences, but one in 2005 was to mark the resort winning an award.

Of the ministers and former ministers currently seeking re-election, former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea had the highest bill.

Some 15 helicopter flights by Mr O'Dea cost almost €49,000.

Most of these flights were between locations in Dublin and Mr O'Dea's base in Limerick, where Sarsfield Barracks was frequently used as a drop-off or collection point.

Outgoing Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin accounted for costs of just over €14,000.

Flights by Green Party leader John Gormley cost just over €13,500, while Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin took one helicopter flight at a cost of €2,347.

The third highest user of Air Corps helicopters was former Transport Minister Noel Dempsey, who is not running for re-election. His seven flights cost just under €40,000.

These included flights from his local GAA pitch in Trim, Co Meath, to Kerry, Knock, Nenagh and Shannon. Seven helicopter journeys by outgoing Taoiseach Brian Cowen cost taxpayers just over €28,300.

Destinations included Omagh, Kilkenny, Cork, Limerick and Farmleigh in Dublin.

Former Art Minister Martin Cullen, who retired from politics on health grounds, accounted for helicopter flight costs of over €13,400 from four journeys.

The trips included one in March 2009 where a door fell off a helicopter while Mr Cullen was on board.

No one was injured, but the chopper was forced to make an emergency landing at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club.

Irish Independent

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