Cullen dismisses criticism of his use of Air Corps helicopter


MINISTER FOR Tourism Martin Cullen yesterday dismissed continuing criticism of his use of an Air Corps helicopter to travel to appointments in Killarney and Dublin.

Asked if he considered using the helicopter a waste of taxpayers’ money, Mr Cullen said there had been no unnecessary spending on his travel.

“Ninety per cent of those costs were fixed costs; going to be there whether I travelled on it or not, so the actual real cost as far as my usage was very small.”

It has emerged that the cost of Mr Cullen’s travel in an Air Corps AW139 helicopter between Waterford, Killarney and Dublin on Monday was close to €6,000, including personnel, depreciation and fuel.

However, the total cost could be higher as Mr Cullen’s first flight from Killarney to Dublin was forced to make an emergency landing shortly after take-off when one of the helicopter’s doors fell off in mid-air.

A second helicopter took him to Dublin.

The helicopter door has since been recovered and is being technically examined, a spokesman for the Defence Forces said yesterday.

Mr Cullen, who had been addressing the Irish Hotels Federation’s conference in Kerry, was meeting the Minister for Finance in Dublin at 5.30pm.

When challenged on whether the use of a helicopter showed leadership at a time when the economy was in crisis, Mr Cullen said: “There’s a question of whether a Government can function and people can do their jobs.

“If you would consider spending nine hours in a car to do one function, or doing what I did to cover 10 functions, that’s the choice.”

Among Mr Cullen’s engagements on Monday was a visit to the newly decentralised headquarters of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism in Killarney.

No date has been set for its official opening, according to spokespeople for the department and for the Office of Public Works yesterday.

Mr Cullen said the demands of the Dáil made it difficult to get to the headquarters more often.