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Call for ministerial carbon budget after President flies in Government helicopter to Kerry and Clare

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An Air Corps Agusta Westland AW139 helicopter. Picture: PA

An Air Corps Agusta Westland AW139 helicopter. Picture: PA

An Air Corps Agusta Westland AW139 helicopter. Picture: PA

An environmental organisation has called for a ministerial carbon budget after President Michael D Higgins used a Government helicopter to fly on official business to Kerry and Clare.

The President, accompanied by six others, flew from Baldonnel in Dublin to Kenmare GAA, to St Flannan’s College in Ennis and back to Baldonnel in May as part of official engagements.

His total travel time on a Government helicopter was two hours, costing the taxpayer nearly €8,000, the Irish Mirror reported.

However, concerns have been raised on the environmental impact of his journey, after the Government signed off on carbon emission cuts for all sectors in recent weeks.

Friends of the Earth chief executive Oisín Coghlan said that while politicians may need to fly to get to official engagements quicker, a ministerial budget would see the “prioritisation” of more carbon efficient ways of transport.

“We accept that elected officials in the course of their business need to get places faster than the rest of us sometimes and that’s part of the job,” he said.

“We would support a proposal for an overall carbon budget for ministerial travel, Government travel and official travel, so there’s a limit on pollution from the State and so they prioritise, so they can only do it when it’s absolutely necessary,” he said.

Mr Coghlan said Government policies need to improve public transport to such an extent that “nobody” has to fly on the island of Ireland.

“We think the focus of Government policy and Government subsidies should be on improving the public transport links around Ireland, rather than flights within Ireland. We need to get to a place where nobody needs to fly inside Ireland,” he said.

One Green Party TD, speaking privately, said there probably are options with “less emissions” for travelling around the island.

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Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley, who is a member of the Dáil’s climate action committee, said Government ministers, especially the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, should fly more often for Government business on the island.

“The helicopter is a fixed cost anyway, even if it was sitting above in Baldonnel, there is a cost to the State,” he said.

“There’s a requirement for pilots to keep up their flying hours, so, if they weren’t flying Michael D to Kerry and Clare, they’d probably be flying around with nobody in the helicopter around Baldonnel to keep up their proficiency,” he said.

He said pilots’ skillsets “would drop” while they were not using the helicopter for Army duties or as an ambulance.

“I think the President and more Government ministers should utilise the service more. Ministers have moved away from it because of the negative stories but, the truth of it is, the cost of the operation of the Air Corps is there,” he said.

A spokesperson said the President travelled with his wife Sabina Higgins to open two public parks in Kenmare, Co Kerry, on Friday May 27.

The following morning, he then travelled to the Samaritans Clare office in Ennis as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations.

“Later, the President spoke and joined with the local community in celebrating Ennis’s achievement in winning the 2021 Tidy Towns competition,” the spokesperson said.

“This was the sole helicopter usage by the President since 2018 when the President opened the Fórsa conference in Co Kerry and visited with the late [cervical cancer campaigner] Emma Mhic Mhathúna.

“Travel arrangements are made in line with the President’s programme of engagements.”

“The Office of the President followed normal protocols under Ministerial Travel with the Department of the Taoiseach,” the spokesperson said.

 


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