Alan Shatter took government jet after being refused use
Published 25/03/2014 | 01:07
Justice Minister Alan Shatter was officially told that he could not take a government jet to Brussels – before he broke cabinet rules and booked a state-owned private plane without permission.
The minister’s office was forced to admit that it “regretted” the infringement of strict cabinet guidelines after Enda Kenny's department had demanded an explanation for the flight.
This newspaper has since learned that Mr Shatter made a formal application to take the jet to the EU defence ministers’ meeting – but this was rejected by Mr Kenny’s officials.
Cabinet members must apply in writing to the Taoiseach’s department for use of either the Gulf Stream IV or the Lear Jet. The rules were issued to ministers after Fine Gael and the Labour Party made election promises to reduce the number of air miles clocked up by jet-setting politicians.
Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show Mr Shatter applied to take the jet on a one-day round trip to Brussels on November 19 last year. It later transpired that meetings would take place over two days and the minister’s office withdrew the request and sent in an updated application.
The second request form stated that the minister was scheduled to attend three meetings in Brussels and needed to return on the following day to open a conference in Ireland.
It added: “If the minister is to fulfil his Defence and Justice obligations, the government jet is his only option.”
A spokesman for the Taoiseach said a “phone conversation” took place with the Department of Defence after the second application and the request was turned down. The spokesman said: “We didn’t interpret it as a refusal; we thought it wasn’t going any further after the phone conversation. But Defence obviously interpreted it as a refusal because they were not going to get the jet.”
However, despite having been told he could not use the jet, Mr Shatter then bypassed the Taoiseach and contacted the Air Corps while in Brussels because he feared that he would be stranded due to airline strikes.
The government-owned Lear Jet then flew the minister and four of his staff, along with European Affairs Minister Paschal Donohoe and two of his officials, back to Dublin.
The taxpayer-funded trip cost €926 per passenger. Similar commercial flights would cost around €65.
The Taoiseach’s office wrote to the Justice Minister’s department two days after he returned from Brussels, demanding to know why he did not seek permission to use the jet.
The minister’s private secretary explained that Mr Shatter booked the jet because of airline strikes and said he planned to “brief the Taoiseach personally” on his return.
“Any confusion which may have arisen in regard to this matter is regretted,” he added.