€30k bill to fly minister home in time to vote
THE TAXPAYER footed the €30,000 cost of jetting a junior minister and other officials back to Ireland in time to vote in the marriage and presidential age referendums, the Herald can reveal.
Use of the Government jet was requested on behalf of Europe Minister Dara Murphy to attend a summit with former Soviet bloc countries on May 21 and 22.
Permission was granted for the flight in the Air Corps' Learjet by the Department of the Taoiseach. The trip was among more than 80 flights taken by ministers on state aircraft since the start of 2014 at a cost of around €1.7m.
Rules for the Ministerial Air Transport Service require those requesting the jet to explore commercial options before seeking its use.
The request form for Mr Murphy's trip, seen by the Herald, states "there are no commercial options which will enable the minister and delegation members to return to Ireland in time to vote in the referendums".
Two commercial options were listed. One came in at €7,698 - less than a third of the cost of the Government jet.
But the arrival times in Ireland were "too close" to the 10pm close of polling stations to allow the delegation to get back in time to vote.
The defence department puts the cost of having the Learjet, including depreciation and personnel at €2,370 per hour regardless of how often it flies.
The hourly cost in the air including maintenance and fuel is more than twice that - €4,940 - putting Mr Murphy's trip at €30,875.
He attended the meeting in Riga along with a special advisor, private secretary and two other officials, and posted pictures of himself with European leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron on social media.
A statement from the Taoiseach's Department said that Mr Murphy was at the Eastern Partnership summit to "discuss conflict resolution" amid "heightened tensions" in the region. It said the use of the jet is "strictly controlled" and said that this was the only occasion Mr Murphy used it this year.
A spokesman said he has a "huge issue" with how the jet's costs are laid out on the defence department's website.
He said even if the jet was "sitting in Baldonnell there would be a cost" and argued that taking the running costs of the jet in isolation - which he put at €15,000 - would be a "fairer reflection" of the cost of the trip.