Sunday 18 November 2007

€155 — the total spent by ministers on public travel

GOVERNMENT ministers have spent a mere €155 on bus and rail travel, despite overseeing ambitious policies aimed at encouraging the public to use alternative forms of transport.

With the exception of the Green Party’s two departments, junior and senior ministers have returned no receipts for bus or rail travel, preferring to use their ministerial cars, jets and helicopters.

Government aircraft, costing between €1,600 and €7,100 per hour to operate, have been used 31 times since June.

Green Party ministers have opted for more economical commercial flights, but party leader John Gormley has submitted bus receipts for a mere €6, plus €85 in rail costs.

His party colleague, Eamon Ryan, has submitted €64 in rail costs but nothing in bus expenses since June.

The reluctance of ministers to adapt to alternative modes of transport appears to be at odds with the Government’s Power of One campaign, which encourages members of the public to reduce the amount of energy they use.

Last night, Labour’s Liz McManus said the €155 bill across government departments was a “dismal reflection of the state of the public transport system”.

“It is also an indication that there is no desire at government level to change the practice of using ministerial cars and aircraft,” she said.

“It’s a serious issue in terms of leadership. These are the people are asking everyone else to use alternative transport. It would be a good idea for ministers to start to lead the way.”

While the Green Party is sincere about its transport and climate change policies, Ms McManus said it is “not being taken seriously” by its major partners in government, Fianna Fáil.

According to figures provided to the Labour TD following a parliamentary question to each of the departments, a trip by junior minister Tom Kitt to Macedonia and Kosovo on the Government’s Gulfstream jet cost the taxpayer €54,430 last month. The aircraft costs €7,100 in total costs per hour. A trip by Defence Minister Willie O’Dea on the Learjet this month cost €13,300.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Gormley said he was one of the first ministers to travel by train to an official government function, but this had only been possible on one occasion due to “multiple trips and functions” in a variety of areas on any given day.

Despite Transport Minister Noel Dempsey pledging to use bus and rail to attend functions where feasible, he has submitted no expenses.

Irish Examiner

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