Minister for Agriculture’s St Patrick’s trip ‘producing more CO2 than average Irish house in a year’

Energy company reveals likely carbon emissions impact of flights by Irish Ministers

A long-haul flight to New Zealand by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue will generate the most emissions – almost 15 tonnes of CO2 equivalent – among St Patrick’s Day flights being embarked upon by Government Ministers, according to analysis by an Irish energy company.

The data compiled by green energy specialists Wizer Energy shows party leaders Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar were likely to produce a combined 8.6 tonnes of CO2e – based on business class flights.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, who is Minister for Environment and Climate, was initially ranked as the sixth worst polluter in the data – taking in Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai – with emission totalling 8.4 tonnes of C02e based on a long-haul flight in business class. It has since been confirmed all green Ministers flew economy class. On that basis, his emissions total 2.89 tonnes.*

The average daily emissions of a household in Ireland per year is 11 tonnes of carbon, while a typical Irish car produces 3 tonnes over a year.


The data generated by the Cork-based company shows Mr McConalogue’s business class trip to New Zealand “is the worst polluter”; producing 14.84 tonnes of C02e.

A spokesman for Wizer Energy said they could not confirm if individual Ministers were flying business or economy class, so they included the emissions scenario under both headings. It had established, however, that Ministers usually flew business class on long-haul flights, he added.

The argument submitted previously is that Ministers must take business class flights due to the sensitivity of Government material that they work on during trips.

If all Ministers take business class flights, they will have average emissions of 5.57 tonnes; 3.44 more tonnes than if they took economy seats, Wizer Energy note.

The average emissions of the Green Party is 4.5 tonnes if flying business class and 1.27 tonnes under economy flights, it suggests, with the equivalent figure for Fine Gael being 4.42 tonnes and 1.51 tonnes respectively – Fianna Fáil’s total is 5.89 tonnes and 2.03 tonnes.

The five lowest polluters were Ministers Heather Humphreys and Paschal Donohoe, and Ministers of State Ossian Smyth, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, and Kieran O’Donnell – none of whom are taking long-haul flights as they are flying to the UK or countries in Europe.

When the issue arose last month, a spokesperson for Mr Ryan said that, while the Green Ministers’ itineraries had not been finalised, “I am sure they will make every effort to keep their emissions as low as possible”.

It was “not a serious proposition for a minister” to travel by land to locations like China or India, he added. “The Green Party didn’t go into Government with a promise to end all flights.”

A Green Party spokesperson said: “The Government’s long-running practice of sending Ministers abroad for St Patrick’s Day is widely regarded as offering an invaluable opportunity to promote Irish values and interests internationally. As an island nation, representing the country abroad inevitably involves an element of travelling by air. Although their itineraries have not been finalised, all our Ministers will be seeking to travel economy class.”

“As we all try to be more climate friendly in our daily lives, it is important to consider the impact that our most famous day is having on the environment and what it is saying about our commitment to fighting climate change,” Wizer Energy said.

“Flying is one of the biggest polluting activities that an individual can undertake, and these yearly St. Patrick’s Day trip for TDs dramatically increases the emissions that Ireland is responsible for producing,” it added.

Trips to New Zealand and Australia top the list in terms of carbon produced. Wizer said its calculations did not take into account which Minister will be taking the Government’s private jet or the emissions created by driving between cities.

* This article was amended on March 16th.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times