The Government has spent €4.4 million on ministerial air transport since coming into office three years ago with costs for the first quarter of 2014 reaching almost €385,000. Figures published by the Department of Defence show that the Government jets and helicopters were used on 15 occasions between the start of the year and March 20th.The highest costs related to a trade mission and a serious of diplomatic engagements which saw the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and Minister for Trade and Enterprise, Richard Bruton travel to the Gulf region in January. The cost of the use of the Gulfstream jet for the trip which originated in Baldonnel and flew to Riyadh, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai before returning to Dublin via Brussels stood at €81,317.
The second highest running costs in the year to date relate to this year’s St Patrick’s Day visit to the United States by the Taoiseach which included stops in Washington, Boston and White Plains at a cost of €80,127. The cost was significantly less than the previous year when the €127,000 price tag for the 2013 St Patrick’s Day visit was the single largest bill accrued on the Government jet since the Coalition came into power in March 2011. The expanded US trip which took place between March 15th and March 23rd 2013 included stops in White Plains and Washington as well as Orange County and Burbank in California and Seattle. The jet, which carried 15 passengers including the Taoiseach, then stopped off in Edmonton in Canada before making its return flight to Ireland.
The Government has used the jet on 218 occasions between coming into power and March 21st last.The Taoiseach was the most frequent flier in that time, having used the jet on 71 occasions, the first of which was a trip from Baldonnel to Brussels and onto Knock in his home county of Mayo on March 10th 2011.The Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore has used the jet on 61 occasions since taking office, the most expensive of which was a €73,780 trip to Washington last year with an entourage of five others where he met with members of the US congress to lobby for their support for new immigration legislation for an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish living in the US. The Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan has used the jet 55 times since the Government came into power. Over two thirds of these trips were to Brussels or involved a stop in the Belgian capital. Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter has used the jet on 19 occasions since the formation of the Government the most expensive of which was an official State visit to the Middle East during with stops in Beirut, Amman and Tel Aviv at a total cost of €64,260.
Many of the trips listed in the Department of Defence’s database saw two or more Cabinet members travel together. Between taking up office on March 9th 2011 and the end of that year the Government used the Ministerial Transport service on 37 occasions at a cost of €612,000. In 2012 Ministers and Ministers of State used the service on 66 occasions running to a cost of €1.3 million. The cost rose to just over €2 million in 2013 covering 100 trips. In the first quarter of 2014 Government Ministers and Ministers of State have used the facility on 15 occasions at a cost of €384,867.
A Government spokeswoman said careful control was maintained over all areas of public expenditure, including the use of the Government jet which is strictly controlled by Department of An Taoiseach. She said it was important to note that Ireland’s EU Presidency took place in 2013, which entailed significant additional travel for Government members. “The Government continues to prioritise active engagement at EU level to best represent the interests of Irish taxpayers as well as targeted trade missions to increase exports abroad and create jobs at home,” the spokeswoman said.
Words Pamela Duncan, Graphics Paul Scott