Dáil Éireann - Volume 446 - 02 November, 1994

Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Use of Government Jet.

2. Proinsias De Rossa asked the Taoiseach the criteria used in deciding whether or not to approve the use by other Government Ministers or Ministers of State of the Government jet; the number of occasions on which such sanction was issued since 12 January 1993; if the use of the Government jet to fly the Minister of State at the Department of Social Welfare, Ms Joan Burton, TD from Zurich on 13 October 1994, was sanctioned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2599/94]

The Taoiseach: The use of aircraft as ministerial transport is subject to my authorisation, taking into account several factors such as the necessity to undertake the engagement and the amount of notice received, the demands of the particular schedule, the availability and suitability of other travel arrangements, overall cost considerations, the numbers in the delegation, security considerations etc. The service is provided for the President, members of the Government, Ministers of State and authorised officials of the public service. In addition, husbands and wives may use the service if they are accompanying their spouses in a representative capacity on Government business. The use of the Government jet has been as follows. In 1993 there were 193 missions and to date in 1994 there have been 114 missions.

The use of the Government jet from Zurich on 13 October 1994 was approved by me in advance. The particular circumstances in this case were fully outlined by the Minister for Defence in reply to the Adjournment debate on 27 October 1994. Deputy Joan Burton, Minister of State at the Department of Social Welfare, and her [1450] husband travelled, at the request of the Government, with the President and Mr. Robinson on the State visit to Tanzania. It is customary for spouses to accompany Ministers on State visits, if possible. The dates of the President's state visit were from 6 October 1994 to 13 October 1994.

The return date as scheduled was 13 October 1994 and originally the whole party was to return from Dar-es-Salaam on that date. The arrangements for the President changed and she went to Rwanda — a visit which was unconfirmed until a very late date. The rest of the party of nine returned to Europe as arranged. The ministerial air transport service was used to bring the Minister of State, Deputy Burton, and the other members of the presidential party home from Zurich on the evening of 13 October as previously arranged.

I might add that the jet was provided to facilitate the presidential delegation, many of whom had spent more than three weeks in Africa accompanying the President on what were both State visits and lengthy and comprehensive visits to Irish development aid projects throughout Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

I am satisfied that the use of the aircraft on that occasion was entirely appropriate and in accordance with long standing practice.

Proinsias De Rossa: Would it not have been appropriate on that occasion, since the President had decided to continue to Rwanda, for the remainder of the presidential group to return to Dublin by scheduled flights? Surely the cancellation by the President of her return flight to Ireland was not such a last minute event that it could not have been arranged to leave the Government jet in Ireland. Presumably the jet flew empty to Zurich and returned with passengers on board. Will the Taoiseach indicate not only the cost of the fuel but the allin cost of that trip?

The Taoiseach: The latter part of the Deputy's question should be directed to the Minister for Defence. Regarding the [1451] first part of the Deputy's question, the presidential party of nine, excluding the President and Mr. Robinson, returned to Europe and the original arrangements were let stand. That decision was made when all circumstances were taken into consideration.

Proinsias De Rossa: It is argued that the reason the party, including the Minister of State, returned was that they wanted to get home that night. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the jet could not land in Dublin and had to be diverted to Shannon and that the group stayed overnight in Shannon and did not return to Dublin until the next day?

The Taoiseach: I do not have such information available on the file. That is a separate operational question which the Deputy should put down to the Minister for Defence. The purpose of these questions seems to be to create the impression that too many Government missions took place in 1993-94. For comparison purposes I will tell Members what happened in 1990-92. In 1992, 195 missions were flown; 281 were flown in 1991 and 341 were flown in 1993 1990. The 193 missions flown in 1993 and 114 flown to date in 1994 compare very favourably. Rather than supporting the case the Opposition is trying to prove because of the forthcoming Cork by-election, the figures for previous years discount its argument.

Proinsias De Rossa: The Taoiseach is simply setting up aunt sallies to knock them down. The purpose of my question is to elicit whether a cost effective use is made of the jet in terms of whether a Minister of State and spouse returning to Ireland should be enabled to summon the jet to Zurich to return at their convenience. It seems the cost to the taxpayer of that journey is not set out in the Taoiseach's brief.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not contained in the Deputy's question.

[1452] Proinsias De Rossa: Will he undertake to give me that information by way of letter?

The Taoiseach: I have already told the Deputy that I do not have that information. It is a matter for a different Department and he should direct his questions to that Department. The Minister of State, Deputy Bruton, did not summon the Government jet to Zurich as misrepresented by Deputy De Rossa. It is incorrect to create the impression that the Government is overusing the jet, I gave the figures for missions flown in the years 1991 to 1994. The comparisons do not support the Deputy's case and it would be as well for him to forget about it.

Mr. Bradford: Will the Taoiseach publish the detailed ruling as to the circumstances under which the use of the jet can be sanctioned by his Department? Will he indicate which regulation allowed him to sanction the use of the jet to attend the Cork county football final last month and——

An Ceann Comhairle: That is a separate question.

Mr. Bradford: ——also allowed him avail of the opportunity to attend his party convention?

An Ceann Comhairle: I need hardly remind the Deputy he has a priority question tabled to the Minister for Defence which relates to that subject matter.

Mr. Bradford: I ask the Taoiseach under which regulation was the use of the Government jet sanctioned to travel to the Cork county football final?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should put down a specific question.

Mr. Bradford: What criteria allowed the Taoiseach to use the Government jet to travel to the Cork county football final?

[1453] An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy, that is a separate question.

The Taoiseach: The second part of the Deputy's question is a separate one. I read details of the criteria. The Deputy asked that I make them public and they are public following my response, but I will read them again.

Mr. J. Bruton: What criteria cover the use of the Government jet to travel to the Cork county football final?

The Taoiseach: I might, if I was tempted, check Government transportation covering such things as honeymoons and so on if I were so driven.

Mr. Bradford: The Taoiseach should stick to the Cork county football final.

The Taoiseach: If I opened the files people might get red faces. It may be better for Deputies to stay quiet.

Mr. J. Bruton: I do not think so. What about scheduled flights?

Mr. Bradford: The honeymoon gives me something to think about.

The Taoiseach: The records will show that matters are different. I have been criticised for travelling abroad for a fortnight, but I notice that the former leader, Deputy FitzGerald, when Leader of Fine Gael, travelled abroad for a fortnight mainly in a private capacity to attend the Bilderberg conference, then travelled to see Cardinal O'Connor in New York and later visited Governor Dukakis. If that represents a good fortnight's work on behalf of this country I would not compare it to the work I do when I go abroad.

The use of aircraft as ministerial transport is subject to my authorisation taking into account several factors, such as the necessity to undertake the engagement, the amount of notice received, the demands of the particular schedule, the availability and suitability of other travel arrangements, overall [1454] cost considerations, the numbers in the delegation and security considerations etc. That service is provided for the President, members of the Government, Ministers of State and authorised officials of the public service. I hope that clarifies the position for Deputy Bradford. I use Government transport whenever my timetable demands that it be used to carry out public engagements.

An Ceann Comhairle: A final relevant question.

Proinsias De Rossa: I have a relevant question. The criteria which the Taoiseach read included a reference to cost, namely, that his Department and he decide on use of the jet on the basis of cost. The Taoiseach must know the cost to the State of the return trip to Zurich. Will he indicate if it is in the region of £30,000 as estimated by some in the media? Does he consider that is a fair cost in view of the fact that a woman I know of in Cork had to thumb a lift to bring a young child to hospital——

An Ceann Comhairle: This is tending towards debate.

Proinsias De Rossa: ——because she could not get assistance from the health board, yet Ministers can summon the Government jet to travel home from Zurich because they did not want to stay in Zurich overnight.

An Ceann Comhairle: This is becoming out of order.

Proinsias De Rossa: It is a disgrace.

The Taoiseach: What about the trips to Moscow? Who paid for them?

An Ceann Comhairle: I am proceeding to Question No. 3.