John Gormley: 'no limo'

A CONTROVERSIAL €2,200 chauffeur-driven journey taken by environment minister John Gormley could easily have been carried out using rail and bus.

The Green Party leader said there were simply "no direct public transport links" available, as he defended the use of a car that had to be sent 300 miles from London to collect him at Holyhead.

The minister had been attending a climate change event in Hay-on-Wye, a Welsh village near the border with England in May 2008.

However, it has now emerged that Gormley could have taken a direct train from Holyhead to Hereford. From Hereford, a regular shuttle bus is available to Hay-on-Wye, 22 miles away.

The journey would have cost around £15 one-way and would have taken no more than 90 minutes longer than the option of having a chauffeur-driven car.

The Mercedes people carrier had been hired through the London firm of Cartel Limousines and dropped Gormley off at Cardiff Airport the following day.

A spokesman for the minister said that the option of public transport had been looked at but it was not feasible due to time constraints.

He said: "That option was looked at but it had to be ruled out due to the time involved."

The environment minister also had full use of a chauffeur-driven car for a week-long visit to London to coincide with St Patrick's Day celebrations in 2008. Whilst there, Gormley stayed at the £326.50-a-night Dorchester Hotel and attended the Ireland-England rugby match, where the car remained outside Twickenham throughout the game.

The Green Party leader said: "There was no limo in Wales. A limo conjures up an image of a long sleek vehicle, you know, and people drinking cocktails in the back of it.

"This was a people carrier. The only way we could get to this venue was by car."

The minister's spokesman also said expenditure of €12,500 on research into political attitudes in the minister's own constituency and two other constituencies had been "in order".

He said: "There is ample precedent for it and the payment of €12,000 including Vat was sanctioned and receipted. The topics dealt with included a wide range of political and environmental issues."