Sunday 18 February 2018

Ministers flying high as taxpayer foots €400,000 bill

Cormac McQuinn

GOVERNMENT ministers have used the Ministerial Air Transport Service on 23 occasions since the Fine Gael/Labour coalition came to power in March, costing the taxpayer in excess of €400,000.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is by far the biggest user of the Air Corps jets, clocking up more than 53 hours of flight time with €195,000 spent on the 10 flights he took.

He shared aircraft with other ministers on four of the trips but was dropped to Knock Airport in his Mayo constituency on two occasions, at an additional cost of at least €4,000.

Records show the following trips: in May Mr Kenny travelled to New York on the Gulfstream IV where he attended business meetings on Wall Street and visited Ground Zero, the total cost of the flight, including a stop-off at Knock, coming to €53,000.

The previous March, Mr Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore attended St Patrick's Day celebrations at the White House, the flight to Washington DC costing €52,100. In September, flights for Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney on a trade mission to Algeria cost €26,500.

A flight taken by Justice Minister Alan Shatter to Brussels and the Polish city of Wroclaw the same month cost €25,200.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan racked up a €23,100 bill on a flight to Budapest in April.

Mr Kenny took a €5,600 Learjet flight to Cork in May to bid farewell to Queen Elizabeth at the end of her state visit.

After Mr Kenny, the next best-travelled cabinet minister was Mr Noonan whose six flights, mostly to meetings of finance ministers in Brussels and Luxembourg, cost €97,300.

Meanwhile, Mr Gilmore took flights to such destinations as Washington and Vienna costing €90,000 and Mr Shatter's three trips on the jets cost about €50,000.

The three ministers all shared aircraft with other ministerial colleagues for some of their flights.

Usage of government aircraft has been curtailed drastically since the boom years when the costs of flights ran into the millions annually. The bill for the years 2006-2009 has been estimated to come to €10m.

With just 28 ministerial missions flown to the end of September this year -- five under the previous government -- it's a far cry from the 266 missions approved by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in 2005.

In total, ministerial flights so far this year have cost approximately €675,000, not including usage by President Mary McAleese, the details of which have not been disclosed.

Irish Independent

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