herald

Tuesday 21 August 2018

As Ministers run up €500k jet bill, where are those cuts Enda?

TAXPAYERS have forked out almost €500,000 to fly the new Government's ministers around the globe, the Herald can reveal.

Despite Taoiseach Enda Kenny's pre-election pledge to limit the use of the Government jets, ministers have clocked up tens of thousands of airmiles since February -- all from the public purse.



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Figures obtained by the Herald reveal the Government's two official jets have been used on 17 occasions under the Fine Gael-Labour coalition.

Mr Kenny was aboard eight of the flights including a 14-hour return trip to Washington for St Patrick's Day along with his wife Fionnuala.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan used the Government's Learjet 45 aircraft on four occasions, racking up flight bills of over €64,000.

And Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore flew privately on three occasions, with the jets also being used by ministers Alan Shatter, Phil Hogan, Simon Coveney, Pat Rabbitte and Lucinda Creighton.

Most of the huge costs came from flights aboard the Gulfstream IV jet with bills totalling almost €204,000.

The figures will be seen as rubbing salt into the wounds of the family of Leitrim teenager Meadhbh McGivern who lost out on a vital operation despite the jet being available.

The Gulfstream jet was available to the Leitrim teenager but the HSE opted instead for a Coast Guard helicopter that was too slow to make the necessary journey to Britain.

The Gulfstream has been predominantly used by the Taoiseach and his officials to fly to locations such as Washington, Brussels and Vienna.

And Mr Kenny was also aboard the multi-million euro aircraft in May when he travelled to New York and New Jersey -- a flight which alone cost over €51,000.

The bill has prompted fresh calls for ministers to use commercial flights -- a plan supported by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar when in opposition.

Independent TD for Donegal South West Thomas Pringle said the costs showed that the government is still out touch with the public.



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"Despite all the talk of new politics, these figures show that the trappings of power are too much for them to resist," he said.

"There are certainly enough commercial flights from Dublin to meet the needs of the Government. We are now a province of Europe so we don't need these Government jets at all."

Dublin North Central TD Finian McGrath said the ministers should consider the "desperate measures ordinary people are going through".

"I'm sick of hearing the government saying they are different than the last when clearly they are nothing but the same," he said.

"The public want to see proper leadership. They want to see their Taoiseach and Minister for Finance setting examples but they are not."

However, ministers have yet to embark on the kind of flights organised by previous governments to cities such as Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Darwin, Bahrain and Dili.

Former Justice Minister Dermot Ahern flew to East Timor and Australia in February 2008 -- at a cost of €259,150 to the taxpayer.

And the then-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern took a 24 hour round trip of America, visiting cities like San Jose, Washington DC and Winnipeg which cost €168,000.

hnews@herald.ie

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