President McAleese meets the Limerick players before the Munster final

PRESIDENT Mary McAleese used a €2,950-an-hour government jet to travel to destinations within Ireland at least nine times this year, it has emerged.

The travel, which is estimated to have cost at least €60,000, came despite McAleese having the permanent use of two garda drivers and cars.

Air Corps sources confirmed to the Sunday Tribune that use of the Learjet had become largely routine for engagements and functions in the North. On each occasion, the jet was used to fly McAleese – and a small delegation – to Belfast or Derry.

The Learjet is also understood to have been used by the President to fly to Kerry to attend the Munster football final during the summer.

Last week, the Sunday Tribune revealed that McAleese used the Learjet to fly to Belfast to open a school and a community centre. The day after her Belfast trip, Ireland's four-year recovery plan was announced and the following day, the president gave a speech in which she spoke of understanding the "distress" of Irish people.

At the beginning of November, she made a similar trip to Belfast, using the Learjet, to attend a presentation of awards at a choral-singing event.

This newspaper has established that the President took at least seven other return flights to destinations within Ireland.

They included a trip to Donegal for a series of engagements there in June and another trip to Belfast in May of this year.

The jet was also put at the president's disposal for at least two overseas trips this year, although those arrangements are considered routine.

McAleese used the €7,890-an-hour Gulfstream IV on a week-long official visit to Russia, which included stop-offs in Moscow and St Petersburg.

One of the government jets was also made available for a trip to Turkey earlier this year when the President visited Ankara, Gallipoli, and Istanbul.

A spokesman for McAleese said: "The President's travel arrangements are based on programme scheduling and security considerations. All costs relating to the Office of the President have been and will continue to be reviewed in light of the current economic circumstances."

Under Freedom of
Information (FOI) legislation, details of the President's travel costs remain exempt and can not be made available to the public.

Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes said McAleese's office should not be excluded from Freedom of Information and that her costs should be made available, as with other politicians.

He said: "No one should be excluded from Freedom Of Information – this is public money and given the current constraints on public expenditure, people have to lead by example.

"That goes from the top right down through the political system. The President's office is an integral part of the Oireachtas and really it should not be excluded from FOI.

"I think it is crucially important that value for money is at the absolute centre of any politician's travel."

Hayes added that travel by government ministers, the Taoiseach and the president would have to be "radically reviewed" following the next election.