Friday 28 November 2014

High-flying Martin clocked up €30,000 bill jetting home to Cork

Published 06/07/2014 | 02:30

IN DENIAL: Micheal Martin ‘heads up an organisation that still seems to believe it is a pre-eminent force in Irish politics’. Picture by Don MacMonagle
IN DENIAL: Micheal Martin ‘heads up an organisation that still seems to believe it is a pre-eminent force in Irish politics’. Picture by Don MacMonagle

FIANNA Fail leader Micheal Martin clocked up a massive €30,000 bill on commercial flights jetting between his constituency in Cork and Dublin while he was Minister for Health, figures obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal.

The figures show the taxpayer paid for 266 flights so Mr Martin could travel between his native Cork and Dublin during his tenure in the Department of Health.

Mr Martin billed the taxpayer for the commercial flights even though he had access to a chauffeur-driven State car.

The spending is revealed in Freedom of Information documents released by the Department of Health for the first time.

Mr Martin regularly chastises the current Minister for Health James Reilly over his handling of the health service and has called for his resignation on a number of occasions.

Mr Martin was appointed to the health portfolio by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in 2001. Department of Health records show Mr Martin spent more than €50,000 on commercial flights during his time in office.

The majority of the taxpayers' money was spent on flights to and from Cork where he lives and runs a constituency office. The total bill came to €30,530.67, according to the documents.

During his first two months in office he flew home to Cork on commercial flights every Thursday - the day Dail sessions finish for the week.

Analysis of Mr Martin's flight details show the majority of the journeys to Cork took place on Thursdays and Fridays.

Mr Martin also regularly flew to Dublin on Tuesday, when Dail sittings begin, and then returned to Cork on Thursdays or Fridays.

At the time, all ministers had a State car driven by a garda driver but this privilege was abolished by the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition.

The total cost of hiring garda drivers for ministers and other individuals in high office cost the taxpayer €5.2m in 2004. The previously unreleased figures are a prime example of the reckless spending by the Fianna Fail administration while in Government during the Celtic Tiger era.

Mr Martin escaped relatively unscathed by the ministerial expense controversy which caused huge embarrassment for his party and led to the resignation of former Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue.

However, his spending on commercial flights to his home county is indicative of the spending by his party during the Boom years.

While Enterprise and Employment Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Martin was one of the most frequent fliers on the Government's jets.

Ministerial air transport records show Governments jets stopped in Cork to facilitate Mr Martin rather than landing in Baldonnel in Dublin where the planes are based.

Mr Martin also became embroiled in the Fas expenses scandal when it emerged he travelled to the US as a guest of the abolished State agency and lauded its controversial science programme.

The training organisation for the unemployed was abolished after its splurging on entertainment and overseas travel was revealed.

Fianna Fail regularly hails Mr Martin's time in the Department of Health which saw the introduction of the smoking ban.

However, he also abolished the old health boards and established the Health Service Executive, which Mr Martin and his party now regularly criticise.

A Fianna Fail Spokesperson said the flights were "necessary on a regular basis" because at the time it took 
five hours to travel to Cork by car.

"This allowed Micheal to optimise his time as minister and attend the maximum number of official meetings and events," he said.

"The subsequent massive investment in both the rail and road network across the country has transformed journey times nationally, with the trip to Cork now taking just two and half hours."

Sunday Independent

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