Pedal to the metal: 'Sometimes car hire is unavoidable'

A SIMPLE public transport alternative was available to Green minister John Gormley, instead of the controversial €2,200 chauffeur-driven car ride he took on an official trip to Wales.

The Green leader said the trip required the use of a Mercedes people carrier because the event he was attending was in an area with "no direct public transport links".

Ultimately, a car was sent on the five-hour drive between London and Holyhead to collect Gormley, who had travelled by ferry in an attempt to keep up the appearance of being environmentally friendly.

It has now emerged that the environment minister could easily have travelled to Hay-on-Wye, a Welsh village on the border with England, by train and bus.

A direct train service operates between Holyhead and Hereford every day and a feeder bus service is then available for the rest of the journey.

In total, the trip by public transport would have taken around five hours and would have cost £11 one way on the train and just a couple of pounds on the bus.

Instead, Gormley elected to travel by car on an expensive chauffeur-driven journey which, according to online route planners, would have taken around three hours and 45 minutes.

The cost of the use of a limousine to transfer him from Holyhead to Hay-on-Wye and then onward to Cardiff airport the following day came to around €2,200.

Gormley insisted last week that car hire was sometimes "unavoidable". In a letter to The Irish Times, the minister wrote: "The journey itself was a five-hour trip in the back of a people carrier – with three officials and a driver – over hill and valley to a Welsh village with no direct public transport links.

"Sometimes car hire is unavoidable. At times, the costs have been excessive but as soon as I was made aware of those costs I worked to have them reduced for the future.

"I have never used the government jet in the course of my work and in general I have reduced foreign travel in the past 12 months in order to save money, but some visits abroad are essential to the proper discharge of my duties."

Controversy has also arisen over Gormley's expenditure of €12,500 on research carried out into "political attitudes in Dublin South East" by Red C.

It has since emerged that the survey was conducted not only in Dublin South East, but also in the constituencies of Dublin Central and Cork.

According to details of the document, obtained by the Sunday Tribune, the research covered a whole range of areas including: determining current reaction to the Green party, a review of leadership performances, planning towards the European elections, and understanding the key issues of the day.