Bat OKeeffe: flies and drives

A STATE car and garda driver had to be dispatched to both Donegal and Kerry to collect education minister Batt O'Keeffe and drive him to and from his lift aboard an Air Corps helicopter.

O'Keeffe attended the Irish National Teacher's Organisation (INTO) congress in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, and the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) conference in Killarney, Co Kerry, on Tuesday of last week.

He travelled on board an Air Corps helicopter to both conferences at an estimated cost of €4,000, but controversy has now arisen over the use of state cars on both occasions.

On Monday, the Minister was collected near his home at Cork Airport by the Air Corp's EC135 where he was flown to Raphoe in Co Donegal. A ministerial car had already been dispatched to meet him and collected him for the 17-mile round trip from Raphoe to the congress in Letterkenny.

The following day, a different chopper was sent to Donegal to collect O'Keeffe and fly him to Farranfore, 10 miles from the ASTI conference in Killarney.

From here, a second ministerial car drove the minister the short distance to the conference before transporting him back home to Co Cork.

The INTO, at whose congress O'Keeffe had spoken, said it was "past time" that arrangements for ministerial transport were changed to reflect cutbacks in education and across the public service. General Secretary John Carr said that while they accepted the minister needed a helicopter to attend both conferences, ground transport should have been organised locally.

Military sources told the Sunday Tribune that a decision was made that the chopper would land some distance away from the teaching conferences to minimise any "adverse publicity".

One source said: "There is huge concern now over how this type of ministerial transport is perceived by the public, especially when the minister involved is heading to two conferences, where there are a lot of disgruntled teachers."