Batt O'Keeffe: regularly ran up bills of over €1,000

One of the Taoiseach's closest political allies, education minister Batt O'Keeffe, regularly ran up airport charges of €1,000 and more during his time as a junior minister at the Department of the Environment, new records show.

The combined bill for airport costs and charges on just seven trips – understood to include the cost of access to VIP airport lounges and services – claimed by O'Keeffe and various members of his travelling party comes to over €5,700 .

These sums are in addition to flight, accommodation and other expenses paid to O'Keeffe, who was frequently accompanied by his wife Mary on the excursions.

The total bill for one of these trips, to the US and South America for St Patrick's Day 2006, was over €54,000.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that O'Keeffe and his travelling party frequently availed of airport services during trips abroad , and paid significantly for the privilege.

This includes a bill of €1,149 in "airport costs" when he and his private secretary attended a Kyoto protocol meeting in Montreal in December 2005 and €979 for a trip to Shanghai for the 10th anniversary commemoration of the fourth World Conference on Women in August of that year.

Two years later, in March 2007, O'Keeffe, his wife and his private secretary spent €1,020 on airport charges during a St Patrick's Day trip to Hanoi in Vietnam and Siem Reap in Cambodia. The trip cost a total of €21,481, including over €15,000 in flights alone.

O'Keeffe had also previously spent €1,054 on airport charges when he and two officials attended a conference in Cairo in November 2006.

Overall, O'Keeffe ran up an expense bill of over €47,200 between 2004 and May 2008, when he was promoted to minister for education.

However, this figure does not include the cost of overseas travel for the then junior minister with responsibility for housing and urban renewal.

Figures previously re­leased to Fine Gael TD George Lee following a Dáil question showed that O'Keeffe claimed €205,368 in expenses during his four years as a minister of state.

A spokesman for O'Keeffe declined to say what the airport charges related to, but said they were "legitimate expenses for official business abroad".