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Saturday 21 October 2017

Taoiseach is not shy about using €3,790-an-hour jet

DON LAVERY

Fearful of the media's austere disapproval, most government ministers are now afraid to use the government jet -- but that hasn't stopped Enda Kenny, who is its most enthusiastic customer.

New figures show that the Taoiseach used the €3,790-an-hour Gulfstream GIV jet on 26 occasions from March 2011 to June this year, mainly flying to Brussels but also taking in Washington, London, Warsaw, Berlin, Zurich, Edinburgh, Chicago and Knock.

While Cabinet use of the jets has declined overall, the Taoiseach's use has increased, with flights for Mr Kenny accounting for almost 45 per cent of the costs of all ministerial air transport missions in the past year. This includes four missions to the US at a combined cost of €206,000.

Mr Kenny also used the often forgotten second government aircraft, the Learjet 45, which costs €4,200 an hour, on two occasions to Cork and Brussels.

The Cork trip saw Mr Kenny board the Learjet to fly from the capital to Cork to bid farewell to Queen Elizabeth at the end of her state visit -- a journey that cost €5,600.

The Taoiseach also used an Air Corps AW139 helicopter (cost: €3,410 an hour) for flights to Tullamore and Cork Airport.

Sources within Brian Cowen's government during its dying days said that the Sunday Independent led the way in discouraging politicians from using the 20-year-old Grumman Gulfstream IV jet by drawing media attention to its cost and luxury.

That new-found timidity of politicians has continued inside the Coalition Government as Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar last week confirmed.

Speaking at the MacGill summer school, Mr Varadkar said the jet was so underused -- out of fear of media criticism -- that its pilots have to fly without passengers so they can keep up their hours.

He said the ongoing policy of not using the jet was time consuming and if it was not reversed, would prevent Ireland doing its job properly when it holds the EU presidency next year.

"To feed the lions, ministers travel out the night before for meetings in Luxembourg, stay in a hotel at the expense of the taxpayer, and lose most of the next day travelling home just to attend a two- or three-hour Council meeting," he said.

In the process Dail debates were missed and important meetings at home put off.

"With a European presidency coming up, and the demand to spend a few days a week in Brussels, Luxembourg or Berlin, it is hard to see how continuing the current policy will allow us to do our job as presidents of Europe properly, let alone well," said Mr Varadkar -- who then admitted that he had never flown in the government jets. Meanwhile, busy Finance Minister Michael Noonan is a frequent flier on the Learjet -- with 21 trips to destinations such as Brussels, Berlin, Frankfurt, Budapest and Warsaw.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's Department of Foreign Affairs used the GIV jet 10 times.

The aircraft used in the Ministerial Air Transport service also operate in other roles; the Learjet, for example, can be used as an air ambulance and airlifted Irish citizens from Malta during the Libyian revolution last year.

Sunday Independent

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