Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Mary McAleese spends €2.9k on jet trip to Northern Ireland

President Mary McAleese faces questions over why she used the Irish Government jet to fly from Dublin to Belfast despite having two full-time garda cars and drivers at her disposal.

Ms McAleese took the €2,950-an-hour Learjet flight to open a school and social centre in Belfast before flying back to Dublin.



However, when contacted yesterday, a spokesman for the President turned down the opportunity to explain the decision to fly.



"We are not commenting on that," he said.



When pressed, he insisted there was "no change" in what he was going to say.



Fine Gael's Brian Hayes said public figures need to lead by example.



"I think, in the first instance, all public office holders including the President must ensure that value for money is obtained in their travel arrangements," said Mr Hayes, who is the party's spokesman on public expenditure.



He added that the whole issue of "Government jets and ministerial cars" needs to be "first on the agenda" for radical cuts.



Mr Hayes insisted there is "extraordinary waste" in the system whereby office holders past and present have State cars and garda drivers. "We expect that people at the top have to lead by example," he said.



Ms McAleese used the Government jet to Belfast last Tuesday, just two days before saying everyone had to play a role in solving the country's problems.



It was one of two trips she has made on the jet this month.



She flew to the North on November 14 to present awards at a choir of the year competition at the Waterfront Hall.



The combined cost of the two flights to Northern Ireland was estimated to have been in the region of €9,000.



A garda car dropped the President to the airport on both occasions, while another collected her in Befast.



Two days after last week's trip, Ms McAleese said everyone had a role to play in addressing the country's problems.



"I want to acknowledge the understandable distress and dismay being experienced by people all around the country who feel fearful about their future," she said.



It is unclear if the jet picked her up at Dublin Airport or at Baldonnel Aerodrome on Tuesday. She was due at St Dominic's Grammar School on the Falls Road at 10am.



Afterwards, the President was driven to the Shaftesbury Community and Recreation Centre for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.



She had a further engagement at the Park Avenue Hotel where she made an address to the St Columbanus Feast Day Lunch.



Ms McAleese's travel arrangements have come under the spotlight before. It was revealed a single night's stay for the President in a luxury hotel in Rome had cost €3,198 in 2005.

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