A SINGLE trip aboard the government jet to South East Asia and Australia for a delegation from the Department of Foreign Affairs cost the taxpayer €287,000 last year.

A Labour party TD has called the bill "simply obscene" and queried why the party did not use scheduled flights.

The total spent on flying TDs abroad on state aircraft last year was €3.63m, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

The €287,000 round-the-world trip started in Dublin as the party of 10 travelled to Brussels before heading to Dubai in the UAE, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and onwards to Dili in East Timor. From there, they travelled to Darwin in Australia and came back via Dili and Kuala Lumpur as the Gulfstream IV aircraft they used has a limited flying range and must make frequent stops.

The Department of Defence named the passengers on the trip as then foreign affairs minister Dermot Ahern and nine other passengers: Sinead Ryan, Michael Lonergan, Noel White, Anne-Marie Green, Peter Doherty, Sean Boyne, Eamonn McKee, Barbara Cullinane, and Ciaran O'Cuinn.

The actual flying time on the trip was 36.5 hours – or 2,190 minutes – which involved an hourly flying cost of €7,700. The enormous cost of the flight, in February 2008, does not include the accommodation and food bill, which would have accrued during the official visit.

The Department of Foreign Affairs failed to return phone calls querying the nature of the visit and why commercial airlines were not used. Had the party used commercial flights instead, the total travel bill would likely to have been less than a third of the cost.

Labour TD Joe Costello said: "The figures involved are outrageous and to have that size of a bill for a single flight is simply obscene. Having half a dozen aircraft employed for government travel is just not acceptable in the present economic circumstances.

"So much of this travel could be done through standard regular flights. Ministerial travel is normally well-planned so they know arrangements weeks and months in advance, which means there is no reason why scheduled flights cannot be arranged.

"The amount of money being spent on ministerial air transport is outrageous. There needs to be a major review of what is acceptable in terms of overseas and domestic travel."

The €287,000 flight was one of more than 200 undertaken last year by various government departments, which routinely used six different aircraft last year to transport ministers and advisers around the globe.

The bill for their travel, which amounted to 702 flying hours, came to €3.628m during the course of 2008. A detailed list of travel for 2008 shows that Taoiseach Brian Cowen approved the use of two government jets and also signed off on ministers using another Beechcraft airplane, two different types of helicopters, and a fisheries patrol vessel for official business.

On board the Gulfstream IV, where hourly flying costs are in the order of €7,100, ministers flew for 345 hours last year at a cost of €2.722m. The Learjet 45 was airborne for 237 hours with the bill running to €700,133. Ministers also used the Beechcraft, a back-up plane that costs €1,600 per flying hour. It was used for a total of 70 hours last year, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show, and cost the taxpayer a further €125,080.

Several journalists also accompanied politicians on flights last year, including RTE political correspondent David Davin-Power, reporter Anne-Marie Green, Lise Hand and Tom Brady of the Irish Independent, Conor Lally of the Irish Times, Catherine Halloran of The Star and Sunday Independent editor Aengus Fanning.