HEALTH Minister Mary Harney personally requested the use of the Government jet for the controversial FAS trip to Florida at a cost of up to €80,000 to taxpayers.
The massive cost of using the Gulfstream IV jet is in addition to hotel bills and other transport and meal costs associated with the trip.
The Irish Independent has also learned Ms Harney, who travelled to Florida with senior FAS executives, department officials, and her husband, Brian Geoghegan, was receiving more than €100-a-day subsistence money from the taxpayer when FAS picked up her hairdressing bill in a Florida hotel. Like all government ministers travelling abroad, she was entitled to a daily allowance for "incidental expenses".
As well as the daily allowance for travelling abroad, Ms Harney, like other ministers, was receiving other "general expenses".
She is entitled to unvouched allowances of €13,390.66 a year.
The Irish Independent has also learned that FAS took five ministers to visit its "Space Challenge" project in Florida in the past five years.
These included Ms Harney, Minister for Enterprise Micheal Martin, the then Minister for Education Mary Hanafin, Junior Minister Tony Killeen (then Labour Affairs) and former Junior Minister Michael Ahern (then International Trade).
After it emerged Ms Harney procured the jet for the FAS Florida trip, a spokesman for the Minister insisted the Taoiseach of the time -- Bertie Ahern -- would have personally approved its use by Ms Harney.
"The matter of the Government jet is entirely a matter for the Taoiseach," said her Ministerial spokesman.
Though given permission to use the jet, FAS officials also provisionally booked business-class return tickets for the entire party -- in case the jet should be called away on urgent Government business.
The trip was arguably a non-urgent use of the Gulfstream IV, which costs the taxpayer €7,000 an hour to operate. The return trip would have cost around €80,000 in fuel, with added landing premiums for private aircraft.
FAS has banned first-class travel for executives and cut spending on credit cards in the wake of "public outrage" about its overseas travel bills.
The Irish Independent has also learned that the spouses of ministers also receive daily allowances when they accompany ministers representing the State on foreign trips.
Spouses (partners are not eligible) are paid 50pc of the daily unvouched allowance of around €100, most commonly when ministers travel abroad for St Patrick's Day.
A spokesman for Mary Harney said she has never claimed any allowance for her husband, Brian, who regularly accompanies her on foreign trips.
Also yesterday, the Public Accounts Committee heard incoming GAA president Christy Cooney was part of an interview panel which recommended a controversial FAS executive for a promotion this year.
The executive, corporate affairs manager Greg Craig, had been disciplined by the agency after an internal audit revealed a series of spending irregularities in his department.
He went on sick leave last June, and he was officially suspended on full pay this week after further information of "concern" came to light.
The committee heard the FAS credit card of former director general Rody Molloy was cancelled yesterday.
He had spent €27,000 on it in 2005, €6,000 in 2006 and €118,000 in 2007, mainly to cover the cost of hotels and air flights while on official business.
Mr Cooney said the practice of senior FAS executives booking first class or business class flights went back to the "early 1990s".
The Department of Finance's "travel expert" Dermot Meehan said he believed that first class flights were not allowed, and that business class flights were only allowed for journeys of six hours or more.