President Mary McAleese with her husband Martin in Belfast on Tuesday

President Mary McAleese used the government jet to fly from Dublin to Belfast on Tuesday, just two days before telling the people of Ireland that they all had to play a role in solving the country's problems.

McAleese opted to take the €2,950-an-hour Learjet flight despite having the use of two full-time garda cars and drivers. She opened a school and social centre in Belfast before flying back to Dublin.

The trip was one of two on the government jet that the president has made this month.

On 14 November, McAleese travelled on the jet to the North to present awards at a choir of the year competition that was taking place at the Waterfront Hall.

Air Corps sources told the Sunday Tribune that the cost of the two flights to Northern Ireland was likely to have been in the region of €9,000. On both occasions, a garda car also had to drop the president to the airport and another was dispatched to the North to collect her on arrival there.

On Thursday, McAleese said she understood the difficulties of the Irish people and said that everyone had a role to play in addressing the 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.

"We are confronted by massive problems and while so many of our people have had no role whatever in creating these problems, each one of us does now have a role in resolving them."

The president's office declined to make a statement on theuse of the government jet, saying it never comments on her travel arrangements.

A cloak of secrecy surrounded McAleese's travel arrangements on Tuesday and it is unclear if the jet picked her up at Dublin Airport or at Baldonnel Aerodrome.

She had a relatively late start in Belfast and was not due at the newly-completed St Dominic's Grammar School on the Falls Road until 10am. Leaving Dublin at 8am by car (especially with the benefit of a garda driver to whom speed limits do not apply) would have seen her arrive on time.

After the school opening, the president was driven to the Shaftesbury Community and Recreation Centre where she cut the ribbon on a new sports facility.

President McAleese had one more engagement in the Park Avenue Hotel, where she made an address to the St Columbanus Feast Day Lunch.

It is not the first time the spending practices and travel arrangements of the President have come under scrutiny, despite the fact her office remains exempt from Freedom of Information legislation.

A month ago, the Sunday Tribune revealed that a single night's stay for the president in a luxury hotel in Rome had cost €3,198.

The cost was revealed in a document released by the Dep­artment of Health, which detailed a €21,000 accommodation bill at the Hotel de la Minerve for just one night for the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005.

Among the entourage was McAleese, her husband Martin, then taoiseach Bertie Ahern, health minister Mary Harney and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny.