Irish News

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Shatter broke Cabinet rules over State jet

Philip Ryan

Published 15/03/2014 | 02:30

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Justice Minister Alan Shatter and a Gulfstream similar to the state jet

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has been reprimanded by the Taoiseach for breaking strict Cabinet rules on the use of a government jet.

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Mr Shatter booked the Government 's Learjet for a return trip from Brussels without first seeking approval from Enda Kenny's office.

The Department of An Taoiseach wrote to the Justice Minister about the breach of policy and his officials were forced to admit they "regretted" the "confusion" caused by the violation of government rules.

Use of both the Gulf Stream IV and the Learjet have been closely monitored by the Taoiseach's department since Mr Kenny made a commitment in his Programme for Government to reduce ministerial air miles.

Ministers are required to make an application in writing to the Taoiseach's department outlining their reasons for not taking significantly cheaper commercial flights.

The Cabinet Handbook states: "The relative cost of Ministerial Air Transport Service travel to possible alternatives should always be borne in mind in preparing travel plans."

Mr Shatter, who will be in Mexico for St Patrick's Day, clocked up a €267,110 bill travelling around the globe in state-owned private jets last year.

In November, the Taoiseach's department wrote to his office asking for why Mr Shatter requested the Air Corps to pick him up in Brussels without first seeking approval.

He was attending an EU defence ministers' meeting with four other officials when he asked for the Learjet to return him to Dublin on November 19.

Two days later, Mr Kenny's private secretary highlighted the cabinet rules on ministerial air travel and wrote: "This is to be observed with regard to all missions."

He added: "Please set out the circumstances as to why this was not observed on this occasion."

Mr Shatter's private secretary replied the next day, explaining that the jet was requested because airline strikes in Belgium would have delayed his return to Dublin.

He acknowledged that "normal procedure" was not followed and said the minister intended to inform the Taoiseach but did not get the opportunity.

"It was the minister's intention to brief the Taoiseach personally on his return as to the circumstances which gave rise to the flight.

"However, because of pressure of time and his need to travel to Brussels again on Thursday morning, he did not get an opportunity to do so before your letter was issued," the reply stated.

"Any confusion which may have arisen in regard to this matter is regretted."

Junior Minister for European Affairs Paschal Donohue and two of his officials accompanied Mr Shatter and his four staff. The cost of the one-and-a-half hour journey from Belgium was €926 per passenger. A similar ticket with Aer Lingus would cost around €65.

Mr Shatter had previously booked the government jet for the Brussels trip, but cancelled it in favour of commercial flights, according to officials in the Taoiseach's Department.

CRUCIAL

A Justice Department spokeswoman said the minister had a number of commitments that week and it was "absolutely crucial" that he come back to Dublin that evening.

The following week, the Department of Defence booked "back-up" commercial flights costing more than €16,000 for Mr Shatter and five officials after receiving permission to take the jet on a state visit to the Middle East.

These flights were subsequently cancelled and the department incurred cancellation fees totalling €725.16.

The taxpayer was billed €64,260 for flying the minister and his delegation between Lebanon, Jordan and Israel during the official visit.

While in Jordan, Mr Shatter's private secretary spent €488 on "entertainment" in the luxury Sheraton Hotel in Amman, according to expense claims.

He did not provide a detailed receipt for the spending, but the Department of Defence said that it was spent on food and drinks for 15 people.

A spokeswoman said: "This was a working dinner attended by representatives of the UN, EU External Action Service and NGOs."

Mr Shatter's wife, Carol, joined him on a two-day state visit to Lithuania for EU ministers of justice and home affairs meetings in July last year.

They stayed in the five-star Radisson Blu Astorija in the capital, Vilnius, at the expense of the Lithuanian government.

While the minister and the rest of the delegates took part in high-level meetings, his wife and the spouses of other attendees enjoyed sightseeing trips around the "mysteries of the Old Town".

A Justice Department spokeswoman said it was "often forgotten" the amount of work the minister did in his dual roles as head of the Department of Justice and the Department of Defence. She said: "He's one minister running two separate departments. There's no question of him not working hard."

Irish Independent

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