AGRICULTURE Minister Simon Coveney has defended his use of a government jet on a trade mission to Algeria.
The Irish Independent yesterday revealed that Mr Coveney flew to the North African country on the Gulfstream government jet last September at a cost of more than €26,000 even though alternative commercial flights were priced at €16,331.
The itinerary for the trip included a meeting in the Algerian agriculture ministry, an Irish Dairy Board (IDB) dinner for local dignitaries and three ribbon-cutting events in Oran, one of which was the opening of a supermarket.
Last night Mr Coveney said he was justified in his use of the jet because of the importance of trade links with Algeria and that no suitable commercial options were available. "You don't go to North Africa for a junket," he said.
"Whenever it's possible for me to travel on commercial airlines I do. . . and I've no problem with that."
He said commercial flights to the cities of Algiers and Oran "were not available in the timeframe that I was there for".
However, the emailed request to use the government jet, submitted by Mr Coveney's private secretary to the Taoiseach's office in August, clearly shows how he could have completed all engagements even if he had used commercial flight options.
An itinerary shows that after meeting his Algerian counterpart, Rachid Benaissa, on September 25, Mr Coveney had five hours to travel to Oran for the IDB dinner, due to begin at 8pm.
The commercial options show a flight departing Algiers at 6pm and arriving in Oran at 7pm, an hour before the dinner was due to take place.
A flight back to Algiers the following day, to catch a connecting flight to Paris, departed from Oran at 10pm, long after his engagements that day were due to finish at 12.30pm.
A spokeswoman said: "The main reason for the decision to use the government jet was so Minister Coveney could be back in time to attend the September 27. . . cabinet meeting at 10am."
She said that "this would not have been possible using commercial flights" as the minister would have had to fly through the night and would not have arrived back in Dublin until 11.10am.