The former minister for arts, sport and tourism John O’Donoghue took the government jet from Cannes to Kerry to attend a private constituency event at a cost to the taxpayer of €11,300, the Sunday Tribune has learned.
O’Donoghue secured the use of the government jet for six consecutive days in May 2006 to fly to the film festival at Cannes, a Ryder Cup event near London and the Heineken Cup final in Cardiff. The total cost of using the jet was an estimated €32,450.
However, a day after taking the jet to Cannes, O’Donoghue commandeered it again and flew to Farranfore airport in the heart of his constituency where he attended the opening of new offices of the Fexco money-transfer firm.
This was despite the fact then minister for finance Brian Cowen officially attended the event and spoke at it on behalf of the government.
O’Donoghue specifically asked to use the jet to get to the event because he had cancelled on the company on two occasions. He previously described the company, founded by Kerry businessman Brian McCarthy, as “not forgetting its [Kerry] roots”.
While O’Donoghue attended the launch, the government jet flew back to Baldonnell aerodrome in Dublin, where it lay on the tarmac for the night.
The following day the secretary general of the department met the jet at Baldonnell and flew back to Farranfore where he collected the minister, the minister’s wife Kate Ann and private secretary Therese O’Connor.
The jet then flew to Cardiff where O’Donoghue attended the Heineken Cup final and witnessed Munster’s narrow triumph over Biarritz; he was a guest of the IRFU.
O’Connor justified the use of the government plane to bring her boss to see the match because “this is an important opportunity to showcase Ireland overseas and accordingly Minister O’Donoghue is keen to avail of this occasion”.
Immediately after the final whistle blew he took the jet to Nice airport where two chauffeur-driven cars met the O’Donoghue party and drove to Cannes.
After staying the night in a four-star hotel, O’Donoghue went to Sunday mass which was celebrated in French in the Eglise Notre Dame de Bon Voyage in Cannes.
The minister spent Sunday and Monday in Cannes where he attended a black-tie dinner accompanied by ministers of culture from various European countries.
On Tuesday afternoon the party flew from Cannes to Northolt airbase in Middlesex; they travelled from there to Wentworth golf club, where O’Donoghue was guest of honour at an event to promote the Ryder Cup.
The following morning O’Donoghue boarded the government jet for the final leg of the tour and touched down at Baldonnell at lunchtime before being driven back to his department office.
The detour from Cannes to Kerry, back to Dublin, the return leg to Kerry and onwards to Cardiff involved the jet being in the air for three hours and 50 minutes. It costs €2,950 an hour to operate the jet – meaning the taxpayer had to spend €11,300.
Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar has called for an investigation into the use of the government jet by John O’Donoghue: “There has clearly been over-use of the government jet and I think the Comptroller and Auditor General might be the best person to investigate this and see if the jet has been used appropriately.”
A spokesman for the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism said: “The use of the government jet in this case was in accordance with the standard government guidelines for ministerial usage.
“The department’s understanding is that there was no commercial-flight option available which could facilitate the minister executing his responsibilities as minister for arts, sport and tourism at a series of official engagements during the specified timeframe.”
“The attendance of the minister at the promotional and other events listed above supported and enhanced the promotion of Ireland as an international location for film making and a venue for international sports events."
The spokesman added: “Cost relating to the government jet is a matter for the Department of Defence.”
O’Donoghue was a regular user of the government jet and ran up a bill of nearly €75,000 on trips to Venice, Stuttgart, London and his six-day visit to Cannes, Cardiff and London.
The cost of the use of the government jet is in addition to the €126,000 in expenses accrued by O’Donoghue, his wife and his private secretary, as disclosed in last week’s Sunday Tribune.
Among the items claimed in expenses were a series of €900-a-night hotels, €7,591 on “airport pick-ups” during a two-day trip to London, €120 hat rental for an official function and €250 for water taxis in Venice.
The department originally demanded €523 to release the expenses under the Freedom of Information Act and many of the documents that have been disclosed have had sections blacked out.
One document released by the department shows that on 16 June 2005 the minister ate alone at the exclusive Lord Edward restaurant near Christ Church cathedral in Dublin, which is the capital’s “oldest seafood restaurant”.
He started with a bowl of French onion soup, had grilled sole for mains and a fruit salad for dessert, all washed down with a pint of stout. The bill came to €48.95, to which the minister added a €10 tip.
He paid the bill and was later refunded by the department.
The Sunday Tribune asked the Labour Party if it would put forward a TD to comment on O’Donoghue’s expenses.
No TD came forward but a spokesman for the party said: “Details of the sort of expenses incurred by John O’Donoghue when he was minister for arts, sport and tourism, revealed in the Sunday Tribune over recent weeks, are symptomatic of the profligate waste of taxpayers’ money that was such a characteristic of Fianna Fáil in government between 1997 and 2007.
“Ministers on official duties abroad are entitled to have their reasonable expenses paid, but there is an obligation to ensure that expenditure is kept within reasonable limits and that the taxpayers are not taken advantage of.
“This does not appear to have been the situation in a number of the cases revealed in these stories.
“We also believe that there is a need to review the circumstances in which Air Corps aircraft are used, particularly given the cost of keeping these aircraft in the air and the current difficult economic situation.”
25th April 2006
Mr Nick Reddy,
Ass. Private Secretary
Department of An Taoiseach
Mr John O’Donoghue TD, Minister for Arts, Sport and tourism proposes to travel to Dublin – Cannes outbound on Thursday 18th May returning either very late on the night of 18th May or early 19th May, Cannes – Kerry. As Minister with responsibility for the Arts he is required to officiate at the premiere showing of a new Irish Production/Irish Film Board funded film ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’ which has been selected for international competition at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. To contextualise this achievement, this is the first Irish film to be selected since ‘The General’ in 1998 when it won the award for Best Director and is a major fillip to the Irish film industry abroad.
Prior to the Irish film, above, being selected, I had verbally requested the use of MATS (government jet) for an outbound journey, Kerry – Cannes, on Saturday 20th May with a return, Cannes – London, on 23rd to facilitate the Minister’s participation at a Ryder Cup promotional event on the evening of Tuesday 23rd in the Wentworth Golf Club, London. The final return leg being London – Dublin on Wednesday 24th May. From Saturday 20th – Tuesday 23rd Minister O’Donoghue has a series of engagements including participation in Europe Day Conference with his European cultural Ministerial colleagues at the invitation of Madame Redding of the European Commission.
However for some considerable time and following two previously cancelled dates Minister O’Donoghue accompanied by Minister Brian Cowen is scheduled to participate in a series of events in Kerry on Friday 19th May. To facilitate this day’s activities going ahead, with both Ministers present it will be necessary to avail of MATS. In addition to all of the above, following the Munster team’s recent win over Leinster in the Rugby Heineken Cup, Minister O’Donoghue has been invited by the IRFU to attend the Cup Final on Saturday 20th May in Cardiff. As Minister with responsibility for Sport and Tourism this is an important opportunity to showcase Ireland overseas and accordingly Minister O’Donoghue is keen to avail of this occasion.
In summary, the use of MATS is required to facilitate the following itinerary:
Thursday 18th May – Dublin to Cannes
Friday 19th May – Cannes to Kerry
Saturday 20th May – Kerry to Cardiff
Saturday 20th May – Cardiff to Cannes
Tuesday 23rd May – Cannes to Northolt
Wednesday 24th May – Northolt to Dublin
I would like to request use of the MATS for these dates. The Minister will be accompanied by his wife Mrs Kate Ann O’Donoghue, Mr Barry Murphy, Principal Officer in the Film Unit and the undersigned.