Irish minister Noel Dempsey : I was wrong to take State jet to Derry
Irish Transport Minister Noel Dempsey has admitted he was wrong to use his government’s jet to fly to the MacGill Summer School — but stopped short of apologising.
The Meath politician has also lashed out at the media for stirring up outrage over his use of taxpayers' money.
Despite using the nearly £6,600-an-hour jet to fly from Dublin to Derry, while simultaneously sending his State car by road, the minister believes that it was not as big an issue as has been suggested in the papers.
Addressing the annual Ogra Fianna Fail Summer School at Queen's University, Belfast, Mr Dempsey conceded that with the “wonderful benefit of hindsight” perhaps alternative arrangements should have been sought.
His use of the jet sparked a major cross-border security operation involving gardai and the PSNI. Mr Dempsey had one Garda-driven car bring him from his Navan home to Baldonnel Airport in Dublin, where he boarded the State jet.
At the same time, his normal State car — an Audi A6 — was driving to Derry airport, where it was waiting to bring him to Glenties in Donegal as soon as the flight touched down.
The minister's office had previously stated that the Irish government jet was the only practical form of transport for the event, as he had to be in London earlier the next morning for a meeting.
The Department of Transport estimates the total cost of the journey at around €13,000 (£10,700), although some observers say it could have been significantly more.
According to Queen's student newspaper The Gown, Mr Dempsey told the gathering his office advisers had examined every alternative arrangement to the jet.
And he denied wasting public funds because he believed his meetings in London had the potential to create jobs in Ireland.
However, he has been widely criticised for the expense, with opposition parties arguing that he could have availed of a commercial flight for as little as €50 (£41). During the same speech, Mr Dempsey also suggested that Irish politics needed to move away from corporate donations and go “back to grassroots” level.
He said party members could be asked to make a monthly contribution, rather than the current situation where political parties relied on big business. He went on to criticise the current electoral system because it promotes so-called “parish pump politics”.
The minister argued that the single transferable vote system was “bad for the system”.