Taoiseach gives the thumbs up to trips on state jets
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen yesterday defended the use of Government jets by ministers -- insisting they were not expected to "thumb home".
Mr Cowen denied trips by Junior Minister Dara Calleary and Transport Minister Noel Dempsey had been an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer.
Instead, he insisted they were taken to ensure the ministers made official functions and Dail business.
The revelations come amid continuing concern at the use of the two government jets in the wake of the economic downturn.
In September, Mr Calleary took a €9,000 trip on one of the jets so he could vote in the Dail against the holding of three by-elections and then take a flight to Brussels.
It also emerged that Mr Dempsey used a government jet to attend the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, at a cost of around €13,000 to the taxpayer.
Speaking in the Dail, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said there was no need to use the jets for small trips and insisted possible travel alternatives should be always borne in mind when the Government was preparing travel plans.
The Cabinet handbook of 2007 said that applications for the use of ministerial air transport should be submitted to the Taoiseach in respect of every mission, to include destination, route, timing, passenger details and purpose of travel.
But Mr Kenny argued the handbook had been breached on a number of occasions by some "peculiar" trips taken by ministers on government jets.
However, Mr Cowen defended the use of the jets -- insisting Mr Dempsey had to be abroad the morning after attending the summer school.
"It was not a question of simply going to Glenties. Rather, it was a question of doing Glenties and being in London the following morning,"he said.
"He was therefore seeking to attend two functions, one after the other and he had to ensure he reached London by a certain time.
"In relation to his second point, the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, was on official business in Brussels.
"He completed his business there and was required back here in the House.
Is there a presumption to the effect that he should have thumbed home?"