Harney defends use of State jet

 

MINISTER FOR Health Mary Harney, who accrued a bill of €735,000 for using the Government jet over 2½ years, between February 2006 and September 2008, has defended the expense.

Ms Harney said all the trips were on Government business.

“The vast bulk of the foreign travel is to EU meetings, either formal council meetings or informal council meetings, or to WHO meetings.

“The trips outside that, I think there were three to the United States, one was a trip to Canada in relation to the cancer control programme, another was to Philadelphia to a major research conference that I was invited to participate in as tánaiste, and the third I think was to look at cancer facilities as well.

“Every single trip that I make and my colleagues make is legitimate.

“Many of my colleagues at European level also use government facilities.

“I was tánaiste for two of those three years. Many of the events I attended in my capacity as tánaiste . . . but clearly every single visit is legitimate and has to be legitimate.”

Asked if the number of people taken on the trips could be justified – she was accompanied by advisers and her husband Brian Geoghegan on several of them – she said it was appropriate to take medical advisers from the Department of Health and administrative back-up with her.

“We keep the numbers on those visits to a minimum and clearly, if we are using the Government jet regardless of the numbers on it the actual cost of the plane is the same.”

The Minister insisted that she kept her foreign travel to a minimum.

Meanwhile Ms Harney has said she had no interest in the job of a European commissioner.

“My focus is on reforming the health system,” she said.