Thursday 22 February 2018

Taxpayers take €400,000 hit as ministers jet off

Government jaunts create huge bill in months

DANIEL McCONNELL , Chief Reporter

Taxpayers have been hit for €404,916 to ferry our globe-trotting Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his ministers on the two government jets since they assumed office in February, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

The records reveal that on May 20, Mr Kenny used the Learjet for a whistle-stop visit to Cork in order to bid farewell to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, who were leaving Ireland from Cork Airport.

The government jet was in use for a total of 80 minutes at a cost of more than €6,000 to the taxpayer, according to the figures seen by the Sunday Independent.

Latest figures from Minister Alan Shatter's department reveal that the jets have been used 24 times since the Fine Gael/Labour coalition came into office, with attendance at EU meetings accounting for the majority of the trips.

According to the figures, it has emerged that on March 10, the day after Mr Kenny became Taoiseach, the government Gulfstream left for Brussels from Baldonnel for his first summit as leader. However, on its return to Ireland two days later, the jet landed first in Knock to drop Mr Kenny off close to home before heading back to Baldonnel. The diversion cost the taxpayer €3,790.

Three days later, the government Learjet was dispatched from Baldonnel to Shannon to collect Finance Minister Michael Noonan and others before taking them on an overnight trip to Brussels.

At the same time, Mr Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore were boarding the Gulfstream jet for their four-day jaunt to the White House in Washington for St Patrick's Day. According to the records, the jet was in use for almost 14 hours at a cost of €53,060 to the taxpayer.

In early May, Mr Kenny was back on US soil, this time in New York where he made a good impression on Wall Street and among a number of US business leaders, according to US reports on the trip. Mr Kenny and his entourage again travelled in the Gulfstream at a cost of €51,500 to the taxpayer.

More recently, Mr Gilmore and his officials hopped aboard the jet for an overnight jaunt to the romantic city of Vienna. That trip cost just under €19,000.

Just last month, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney went off to Algiers on the same jet.

The seven-hour round trip cost the taxpayer €26,500.

Mr Noonan's trips to various finance ministry meetings in Brussels, Poland and Luxembourg make up most of the trips on the Learjet.

The Ministerial Air Transport Service is primarily provided by the Gulfstream IV and Learjet 45 aircraft, which were specifically acquired for that purpose.

The cost of maintaining the jets is calculated by the hour of flight.

According to Mr Shatter, the average direct cost per hour for the Gulfstream is €3,270 and for the Learjet is €1,940. The average total cost per hour for the Gulfstream is €3,790 and for the Learjet is €4,200. "These costs are average costs which take a number of variables into account. It is not possible to assign an exact cost to any particular mission or minister," he said.

The figures also show that the jets have been used repeatedly as air ambulances, including in the case of teenager Meadhbh McGivern from Co Leitrim. She missed out on a liver transplant in July because of a protocol foul up, but when another liver became available, she travelled to London on the jet.

In total, the use of the jets as air ambulances has cost €190,950. The Learjet also took part in a Maltese air show in September at a cost of over €27,000.

Sunday Independent

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